Friday, April 27, 2012

The Clique

When we arrive, the hallway is already crowded, wheelchairs and walkers making a curious-looking processional, as the residents wait for their various activities. 

On one side, the smokers are obviously getting antsy. On the other, the coffee-drinkers are also beginning to lose their patience. 

As Daddy and I duck through, one of the ladies in a wheelchair meets my eyes. "Excuse me." She says, her gravely, smoker's voice announcing which activity she's waiting on. "What time is it?"

Daddy looks at his watch. "9:20. You've got ten more minutes." 

Collectively, they all begin to sigh and grumble. Ten minutes might as well be an eternity when you're waiting to smoke, drink coffee, and socialize. Especially here.

Having properly riled up the crowd, we make our way through them and back to Meme's room.  

She's already in her wheelchair, blue eyes sharp and bright. Today's another good day

We begin our visit by making small talk. The weather, politics, family, and Meme's favorite subject: the past. She speaks of events that happened twenty or thirty years ago as if they happened yesterday. She brings the dead back to life, referring to them as if they're waiting in the next room. She thrives on this talk of history and days gone by. And I'm happy that she spends the majority of her days in that happy past.

As our conversation begins to wane, Daddy suggests that we go down to the cafeteria. Meme immediately perks up at the idea. 

The trip back down the hallway is no less entertaining than the one upon our arrival. Except this time, Meme's with us. It's a bit clearer than before; the smokers have all moved outside for their morning smoke break, and the coffee-drinkers have gathered in the cafeteria, our destination. 

On our way, Meme pokes fun at nurses, admonishes "slow pokes" in front of us, and seems to have something to say to just about everyone. She keeps the hallway laughing, and it turns out this is just a preview of coming attractions.

The second we push through the swinging doors of the cafeteria Meme comes even more alive. 

Still unaware of her transformation, Daddy and I choose a table away from the crowd and settle down for a nice chat and a cup of coffee. 

From across the room, a woman with light red hair and a full face of makeup gestures, "Mary! Mary!" She waves madly. "How are you this morning?"

I watch, astounded, as Meme yells back across the room. "Doin' good! How about you?"

A few other residents near the red-headed woman notice Meme and join in. They carry on a conversation...although I suspect each person may be on a different subject...from across the room. 

Realizing his mistake, Daddy stands and says, "Guess we should move over there."

And so we do. We crowd around a few tables that are already crowded by what I've come to think of as The Clique, and appropriately, the final pieces of the morning seem to click into place, no pun intended.

Like a queen holding court, Meme becomes the center of this small group, cracking jokes and flirting madly with a man named Billy. My Meme, the same one with Alzheimer's, the same one who spends many of her days in a fog, laughs and smiles and entertains us all as if there's nothing wrong, as if a disease isn't eating away at her mind. 

Looking across the room, I notice others, those not lucky enough to be part of The Clique, those not lucky enough to know they are even part of this world. 

One lady colors furiously, bearing down her crayons onto a coloring book filled with pictures of puppies and kittens. 

Another gentleman stares off into space, drool trailing from his bottom lip to the top of his hand where it rests on his wheelchair. 

A man I know only as Bubba watches us all from the corner of the room, taking everything in and thinking deep, and what I imagine to be, sad thoughts. 

The mixture of sad and happy in the room is one that I didn't expect, but then again, no trip to the nursing home is ever quite what I expect. Some days, like today, are good. There's laughter, easy conversation, and plenty of smiles. These are the days we all have to hold on to, keep replaying in our minds over and over so that we can smile and feel good again. 

Because too many of the days are bad. They come too often and stay far too long. Days when the biggest response we can get out of Meme is a blink. Days when we can only stand in her room and cry.  

When those days come again, and they will, I'm going to think of The Clique. I'm going to think of how they yelled across the room at each other, how they chatted and giggled, how they almost seemed like teenagers carrying on at lunchtime in high school. 

I'm going to think of those fleeting moments of youth, lighting on their shoulders like butterflies, bringing them back to life in colors as vivid as an old woman's crayons.  

                                                                             Source: via Gabriel on Pinterest

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Monday, April 23, 2012

The "I'm Sorry" Jar

                                                             Source: via Lauren on Pinterest

I'm not going to start by saying I'm sorry. When I'm at a loss for words, when all seems to be said and done, "I'm sorry" is my stand-by, my go-to phrase. It's the nervous tic I've never been able to conquer, the bad habit I just can't break. It's the motto and slogan and tag-line of a life-long people pleaser, of a self-conscious, socially-anxious, neurotic weirdo with an incredibly guilty conscience.

So, I'm not going to start this by saying I'm sorry. Because I haven't done anything wrong.

And I usually haven't done anything wrong when I say it. The things I apologize for are often beyond my control and have nothing to do with my thoughts or actions...and yet, I still apologize. In fact, I over-apologize.

About two weeks ago, in a meeting with my boss, I found myself uttering those dreaded words again. The meeting had run long, due to no real fault of my own, and I scurried to apologize.

My boss sighed. My tendency to overuse "I'm sorry" wasn't new to her. In fact, she'd admonished me for it before. "Katie, you have nothing to be sorry for."

And I knew that. Logically, I knew that my apology wasn't warranted or necessary.

Logically, I know a lot of things.

As we headed up the hallway from her office, my boss continued, "We're going to break that bad habit of yours. I'm going to start charging you every time you say 'I'm sorry.'"

One of my coworkers who happened to overhear our conversation piped up, "Yeah, we'll start her an 'I'm Sorry' Jar. Kinda like a Cussing Jar. She'll be broke in no time flat!"

The problem is she's right. Absolutely, completely, and embarrassingly correct in every way.

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about my tendency to apologize for anything and everything and nothing. I've been thinking about how those simple words undermine me, about how they take away my power and make me appear weak, about how they justify the actions of others...good or bad.

And when I use them too much? It strips away the power of the words themselves, making them pointless to say and pointless for others to hear.

Out of all the reasons to stop saying "I'm sorry," this was the one that really got to me, that really made me start thinking about how to break this bad habit. Sincerity is important to me. I'm not much of a talker; when I do talk, I want people to know that I mean what I'm saying. I want them to understand that I value words, and I value their meaning. I don't say something just to say it...

...unless I'm saying "I'm sorry."

The compulsion to utter that phrase has become less about the meaning behind the words and more about my own neuroses, my own need to avoid conflict, my own, nearly overwhelming, need to please others.

But I'm sick of being that person. I'm sick of having a perpetually guilty conscience for things that I haven't even done wrong. I'm sick of being a push-over who gains no respect from those around her, who has a reputation of being weak. 

I'm not sorry for who I am or for the decisions I make. I'm not sorry that I have opinions that don't match yours. I'm not sorry that you're having to do your job. I'm not sorry that I made one little mistake; everyone makes mistakes. I forgive them for theirs; when will I forgive myself for my own?

When I need to be sorry, I'm sorry. But for the hundreds of thousands of times that I haven't even done anything to be sorry for, I'm not sorry. 

Do you have an "I'm sorry" compulsion? How do you keep from apologizing all the time for nothing?

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Friday, April 20, 2012

The Tiny Thumb Theory

Source: via Angelena on Pinterest

Disclaimer: The "scientific theories" herein are neither scientific nor particularly theory-like. I'm just poking a little fun at myself and my fellow cell phone addicts.

In the future, we all have tiny thumbs that make the touch screens and the tiny keyboards of our so-called "smart phones" infinitely easier to use. I only wish that I could speed up this inevitable evolutionary process, because I currently suck at text messaging on my own not-quite-smart, touch screen phone. It can sometimes take as much as an hour to send one text that says, "Wut r u doin? :)." My huge, gangly thumbs stumble over each letter, hitting the "d" when I mean "s," throwing in a period when I intend a comma. It's really very annoying. I'm sure you'll agree.

You know what's also annoying? Grammar. Capitalization. Punctuation. Spelling.

In the future, with our tiny text-messaging, angry-bird-launching thumbs, things like spelling, grammar, and proper word usage will have become obsolete, because Autocorrect--note the capital A--will take care of all of those pesky errors.

In the future, Autocorrect is a well-honed AI that also happens to be President of the United States. By then, all of the bugs (read: human error) will have worked themselves out, and websites like and will be a thing of our past, replaced (much like our good sense and any remaining language skills) with websites like and

Ah, the future. A place ruled by computers and humans with tiny, ridiculous-looking thumbs. I can hardly wait. By then, we'll probably even have formed a new language consisting entirely of emoticons.

We're already well on our way:

(=^.^=)   <*)))-{   o/\o   *\o/*   (-_-;)

<_< I think you get the point.

Now don't get me wrong. I love technology. I think it has the potential of leading us into all kinds of Jetson-like awesomeness complete with personal space mobiles and robot maids named Rosie. But in this current age of smart phone apps and autocorrect, I do wonder, in all that we're gaining, if we're also losing a little bit of something along the way.

Things like hand-writing. Will the children of the future know the feeling of tracing letters in a phonics book? Of learning cursive?  As antiquated as it may seem, I often still write my stories and poetry in long-hand...there's just something about putting pen to paper that helps me connect with my words and characters on an even greater level.

Things like spelling and grammatical skills, the fine and beautiful art of favor of short-hand and text-speak. "You" becomes "u." "Are" becomes "r." "Love" becomes "luv." And for what? A second saved by cutting down a word and effectively butchering language as we know it.

Things like face-to-face conversation, meeting a person's eyes when you're talking to them, the common courtesy of not staring at a phone while ordering dinner or spending time with a date. Politeness and respect and the manners that our parents taught us long ago.

Coming from a social-network-using, cell-phone-wielding blogger, this all may seem a little hypocritical. Essentially, I'm criticizing the effects of the technology that makes all that I do easier and more successful. Texting, mobile apps, twitter, facebook. They all go hand-in-hand with my world of blogging. They are my teammates, my tools of the trade.

But I'm not asking for these things to disappear. I'm only asking that we think a little bit about our future and our present the next time we text. The next time we launch an angry bird. The next time we stare at our phones instead of participating in human interaction.

Think about how much we've gained, yes...but also, about how much we stand to lose if we allow our phones to take over our lives. And most importantly, think about our tiny thumbs, because who wouldn't laugh when they think of that?

Are you a cell phone addict? Do you think we're losing anything with the ever-increasing popularity of cell phones?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Land of Missing Pets


The dreaded sound of Mama’s voice beckoned me from my perch in the tree house. The sun was setting gold, yellow, and pink over the horizon, and I knew it was time to go back inside. Still, I pretended that I didn’t hear. I would stay in that tree house as long as possible, eyes scanning our yard, the neighbor’s yard, searching desperately, desperately for Mollie.

It was my fifth afternoon in the tree house; the fifth afternoon I’d spent calling her, watching the woods, watching the driveway, watching everything for any sign of her gray and white coat.

Mama and Daddy had all but given up, but the eight-year-old I was stubbornly held on, keeping vigil on Daddy’s plywood and the limbs of an old oak tree for as long as possible. I don’t remember how many more days I stayed in that tree house from after school until nightfall calling Mollie’s name, but I do remember she never came back.

She wasn’t my only pet that went missing, but she’s the one I remember the most…except for Danny of course. Danny was an escape artist. If there was a hole in a fence, he would find it for you and help himself to the always greener grass on the other side.

Not unlike many of the horses I’ve known, Danny was food motivated. Extremely food motivated. He loved cheese puffs, animal crackers, and apple treats. Not to mention sweet feed, alfalfa, and carrots.

If there was nicer, sweeter, more fragrant grass on the other side of the fence, Danny would find a way through and indulge. Thankfully, he escaped only twice (we think), but both times, he managed to get himself in a whole heck of a lot of trouble.

The first escape resulted in a nasty collision with a car.

Thankfully, the driver of the car escaped with only a few scratches, but Danny wasn’t quite so lucky. The accident tore a nasty gash on his beautiful face. Forty-three stitches and three thousand dollars in vet bills later, we decided it was time to move on to greener—and more secure—pastures. Danny’s new home provided better fencing and a little peace of mind.

Several years passed without incident. We checked the fences religiously, patching where needed and always keeping an eye on our big, flashy blonde Appaloosa, lest he should revert back to his old Houdini ways.

And eventually, he did.

When I came home from school one day, Mama broke the news to me.

“Danny’s missing.” She said with a grim tightness around her lips. “Daddy’s already out looking for him.”

Missing? The word didn’t compute. Danny was huge. Hard to miss. How could a 1500-pound horse possibly be missing?

But he was.

We called the Sherriff’s Department daily, drove up and down the streets calling his name. We did all the things you do when a pet a missing, even though our pet happened to be a horse.

About three days out, we got a lead that Danny was spotted in a church parking lot on a Sunday; I guess he was praying that we’d find him. At the time, I imagined him milling about the church goers, nibbling on the floppy hat of the pastor’s wife, saying his “hi, how are you’s” and nodding his gigantic head.

The church lead never did pan out, but all the praying I'd been doing did finally pay off.

Daddy was the one who found him. On one of dozens of drives down country roads. Like me holding vigil for Mollie in my childhood tree house, Daddy just wasn’t willing to give up.

Danny was pinned in the front yard of a mobile home of a family who claimed they’d tried to find his owners, but I suspect they hadn’t. They had a nice setup going on, new (temporary) fencing, fresh hay. We figured they intended to take him to the livestock sale, make a few extra hundred dollars. 

Thankfully, we found him just in time. Thankfully, he wasn't destined to disappear to the land of missing pets, that elusive place where cats and dogs--yes, I suppose even horses--go when their people can't find them, that place where they all sit and wait patiently until we finally come to take them home.

The Blonde Who Still Has My Heart

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Before It Slips Away

You and Mawmaw
It seems odd to me that I hardly ever write of you, odd that I think of you almost every day and yet do not wrap my words around you and the memories I have of you. Why would that be? Why would you whom I love and miss so much almost never find your way into my words?
You're Pawpaw. I think of you often. I talk of you often. You're the man who gave me my love of cats. You're the man who paid me a dollar to scratch your back. You're the man who sailed the ocean and fed hungry sailors. You're the man who could talk for hours about nothing and about everything.
You defined my childhood; in many ways, you define my now.
The memories I have of you I keep close to my heart, cherishing each one, replaying them in my mind over and over, grasping constantly for the little pieces that might be slipping away. And yet, I write none of them down. Me: the writer of words, the recorder of thoughts and dreams and yesterdays.
Mawmaw spoke of you last night. Equal parts sadness and sweetness evident in her voice, tears and the ghost of you reflected in her eyes. She spoke, and I drank it all in, eager to hear stories I'd heard a thousand times before, eager to see you again through her words. And I did see you again.
Just as her story ended, she said something that pierced my heart and made me deeply ashamed.
"I wish I could write it all down. It could almost be a book."
I don't have many talents. I'm not particularly athletic or crafty. My cooking is mediocre at best. I don't paint or take photographs. But I do write. I write because I love to. I write because I'm driven to. I wish I could share my writing with you now. You don’t know how many times I’ve wished that.
Over the years, I’ve wished many things that involve you.
I wish you could have been there to see my horses, to see me and Danny sail over fences, to see Suzy looking so fine all prettied up for a show.
I wish you could have been there when I graduated high school and college…even though I felt you there in each moment.
I wish you could have met Jeremy. You would love Jeremy. He’s honorable and kind and so smart. A lot like you. He’s quiet though; you would’ve enjoyed ribbing him and uncovering that quiet exterior. You two could have talked on the porch for hours.
But I don’t have to wish one day that I had written your’s and Mawmaw’s stories down. I won’t wish that someday. Mawmaw may not be able to write it all down, but I can.
The story she told last night was about your time in the Veteran’s Hospital, back when you fought your battle against tuberculosis. For two years, you were away from Mawmaw and your children, my mother included, fighting to get well. For two years, Mawmaw visited you every weekend, wearing gloves and a mask and unable to even be near you or touch you.
It’s unfathomable to think of you, strong, virile, full of life, reduced to a bed and a hospital for two years of your life. But you were. You lost a lung, lost much of your physicality during those two years. Mawmaw says when they first took you into the hospital that you were so strong needles would break in the muscles on your arms. And when you left, for a long time you couldn’t even get a job because of your limitations and others’ fear that you could still be contagious.
It’s just like you to bounce back. It’s just like you to fight against all odds to rebuild your life and your family and do whatever was necessary to provide for them. And you did bounce back. You went on to live a full and happy life, with three children, six grandchildren, and Pawpaw, now you have five great grandchildren.
But that’s a story for another day, and I promise, Pawpaw, to write it all down.
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Friday, April 6, 2012

Hide and Seek

Her playhouse was made of leaves and vines, of sticks and trees. Sunlight filtered into it, setting her stage of childhood and sorrow with spackles of brightness and shadow.

Inside, drawn up against the forest floor, she counted to ten, again and again, a whispered repetition that became more frantic, labored breath catching on each hurried number.

Somewhere, a twig would snap. A bird would call. And the girl would freeze, thinking her adventure over, knowing her freedom was fleeting. He would find her. He always did. No matter how still she grew or quiet her counting.

He always did.

Author's Note: Fiction inspired by #100WordSong, the brilliant weekly writing challenge from my buddy Lance of My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week's song was "Runaway" by Jefferson Starship chosen by the delightful Kir of The Kir Corner

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mirror, Mirror

Perception. Such a tricky thing. There’s how others perceive me:





Since I was a child, people have made similar snap judgments about me, as people are wont to do.

Oh, she’s quiet? She must be shy.

Oh, she’s blushing? She must be nervous.

Oh, she wants to please people? She must be malleable.

Oh, she avoids confrontation? She must be weak.

And maybe I am all of those things. But I’m not just those things. I’m not just a neurotic introvert with tendencies of being a pushover. And I’d prefer if people didn’t boil me down to that. Because I am so much more.

Would you ever guess that this shy girl loves to argue? Would you ever guess that when she’s driving she cusses like a sailor? In your skewed and narrow-minded view of me, would you imagine that I’m crazy competitive? Did you know that I have a quick Irish temper? The soul of a poet? The heart of a fighter?

Funny, while in high school, everyone said I was shy. They would say it with a twinge of sympathy coloring their voices: “Oh, Katie? Well, she’s shy.” In the South, we add “bless her heart” to the end of things like that, and all the sudden, insulting someone or talking about them behind their back suddenly becomes okay. At least that’s what we tell ourselves.

To be fair, being called shy wasn’t particularly insulting. I’ve been called much worse. But as a child, I remember perceiving that three-letter-word as the nastiest of insults. Hearing it would make me cringe, because I knew it minimalized me and my abilities; I knew that as long as that word hovered over my head, I would be held back by it.

In middle school and high school, I was help back by it. I was held back by it, because I started believing it. It was the word used most often to describe Katie, the word that popped out of nearly anyone’s mouth when asked about me.

I was Katie. I was the shy girl. I was boiled down to nothing more than a label.

I think that’s what happens to many of us in high school. We get labeled. We’re jocks. Or nerds. Or outsiders. Or shy girls. We’re square pegs forced into round holes. Never mind about how we perceive ourselves. In high school, it’s all about how others perceive us.

I realized today that life hasn’t changed much from high school.

Even though I turn twenty-nine in two days, I’m still allowing myself to be defined by others. I’m still letting someone else tell me that I’m shy or a pushover or not true to myself. I’m still letting someone else tell me what’s wrong with me, why I don’t quite fit.

Today, something broke inside me. A flood of feelings, a barrage of pent-up frustrations, each one assaulting both heart and head and leaving me exposed and sure of nothing. Afterward the dam broke, I sat in front of my computer for nearly two hours, the day’s events replaying shot-by-shot in my head, regrets and confusion bubbling to the surface.

And I wrote this post, then made this vow:

My last year of my twenties will not be defined by friends or enemies. My last year of my twenties will be about me: the good, the bad, and the ugly. I will be myself. I will be kind, caring, goofy, and strange. I will worry about everything. I will laugh about nothing.  I won’t let the negativity of others drag me down. I won’t let the opinions others have of me define me. I won’t let their misconceptions rule the day. I will be me, and I will love that person, flaws and all.

Have you ever been defined by a label? Do certain people in your life have misconceptions about who you are?

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