Wednesday, October 26, 2011


A man, standing along the exit ramp from I-435 to State Line Road, respectfully waited for drivers to make the first move.  He held no sign; he did not look pleadingly at the people sitting in their cars waiting for the light to turn from red to green.  He stood next to his backpack, stuffed full of all of his worldly possessions, with a look of determination and shame.  Passersby knew why he was standing there so there was no need for a big production or sob story.  One by one, five drivers in a row rolled down the windows of their BMWs, Jeeps, Chevys, Mazdas and Saturns and handed the man dollar bills and coins.  He nodded humbly at each of them, held their hand in both of his as he accepted the money and as the light turned green, and cars started to roll forward, he brushed his hand over his eyes and walked slowly to his backpack. 

What's his story?  Imagination and first impression led my mind to believe that he is newly homeless, in a phase of coming to terms with his situation and realizing how easily it all slipped away.  Maybe, as he stands next to his backpack, he mulls over how he got here and wishes he could go back in time while realizing it was probably actually out of his control.   I will never know.  What I do know is that when I handed him the only cash I had on me, four dollar bills, he gave two of them back.  He held my hand in his and said, simply, "In case you run into someone else."

A few miles away, a few days later, I drove past the Honeywell Kansas City plant where machinists, on strike, were lined along the road waving and holding their professionally printed signs high.  The only words I could read as I cruised by were Machinists  and  Unfair.  The word unfair piqued my interest.  What could possibly be happening in the plant that would be so unfair people would stop working to hang out and wave at strangers?  Is it a sweat shop?  Did the company cut benefits or do away with them completely?  Are they forcing workers to kick puppies?  Did they start hiring underage children to work 18 hour days with no breaks?

I'm not going to get into the details of why the machinists are striking or attempt to start a debate about unions and labor practices and what is or is not fair; however, if you would like to read about the strike, click here.  I will state that I do not support the strike.  In fact, I can't even drive down Bannister Road because the sight of the strikers infuriates me.  The conditions surrounding the strike are not extreme or inhumane. They are based on unfair labor practices.  To be clear, unfair is not the same as illegal.  I would like to stand across the street from them with a sign (I can't afford to have my sign professionally done so it will be handwritten on a posterboard) that says:

Solution:  Maybe find a new job.  Oh wait, the Kansas City Metropolitan unemployment rate is 8.7%. . .so get back to work!

My job isn't always fair, is yours?  Do you have the luxury to stop working and while you are not working, do you expect to continue receiving benefits and to go back to your job once you get your way?  I didn't think so.  For most of us, if we stop working our employers shrug and replace us, as they should. Many Americans, who never voluntarily stopped working and who were loyal employees have been laid off of jobs.  Many of these jobs are the type that most of us would consider suitable only for teenagers, or those without college degrees, and yet individuals were attempting to support their families off of those hard earned, very low wages.  And others, who may even have college degrees, would now do anything to have one of those jobs. Want to talk about fair now, union machinists?

There is a man, standing somewhere along a road or interstate, who knows the reality of what unfair means all too well.  He understands it so well that he selflessly gave back money that he needed in order to be fair to someone else who might need it, maybe even more than he does.  Difficult to imagine.  Difficult to forget. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Girl on Fire

The first memory I have of my cousin Luke is from when we were toddlers.  My parents went on a canoe trip with friends and family leaving my elder brother and I with Luke's mom.  Luke was fun but I remember his mom getting on to him quite a bit and feeling shocked when he deliberately disobeyed.  I was shocked yet drawn to the behavior because it was the total opposite of me.  He was fearless and unpredictable; I knew this even as a 4 year old.

After warming up to one another, Luke, my brother, and me were playing nicely in the backyard when suddenly, Luke dropped his pants, whipped around and peed all over us.  I stood there horrified as he laughed and laughed and continued to pee.  Suddenly I was whisked into the house by Luke's mom, drenched in urine.  All the while, my toddler brain was thinking that my parents must be playing a joke to have left me in a situation where some kid would pee on me, for no reason other than to laugh hysterically while doing it.  After a quick bath, I had to sport Luke's little brother's clothes until mine were washed and dried.  Luke was banned from playing the rest of the day.  I was glad and a little sad.  Something about that kid was captivating. . .but terrifying.

And so, our relationship commenced.  I lived in Kansas City and he lived in Arkansas but when my family would visit once or twice a year, Luke was the first cousin I sought out.  I was always careful to watch for signs of a pee attack, but luckily he never tried that again.  He did, however, live to prank me.  Prank is probably the wrong word.  Torture and terrify are more accurate descriptions of our time together.

Once, when were nine, we went floating down a creek on a blow up raft with my brother and cousin, Sarah.  We were all city-kids so Luke paddled the raft.  "Have any of you ever rafted off a water fall?" Three nervous "No's" were spoken in unison.  "It's really fun!"  Luke paddled faster and faster toward the waterfall and gave us instructions, "Now, when we go over the edge hold onto the raft really tight.  Can you guys swim?"  We tried convincing Luke that it wasn't a good idea, told him we would get in big trouble.  My cousin Sarah and I then started yelling, "Let me off!  Let me off! Right now!!!"  He did.  He paddled over to the muddiest part of the bank he could find and dropped us off.  We immediately sank, thigh-high, into the mud.  The more we struggled to get out the further we sank.  The situation was made worse when our jelly shoes were sucked off of our feet in the struggle and we just knew we were going to be attacked by snakes.  Luke laughed and laughed and paddled away with my brother and yelled, "I wasn't really going to take you over the waterfall!"

When we were 16, he drove his jeep out onto a frozen pond and did donuts.  I was imprisoned in the vehicle and calmly tried to talk him out of it, justifying that if we lived in Alaska this might be acceptable because it's much colder there but there was no telling how thick the ice really was on this Arkansas pond. "Ohhh, it's fine."  So, I resorted to my nine year old tactics.  "Let me out!  Let me out!  Right now!!!"

With Luke, I have army crawled across snow covered fields, rifle in hand, to avoid a farmer, whom Luke claimed would shoot at us if he caught us on his land.  I still don't know it that was true, but I army crawled anyway.  I have been chased by a bull, barely clearing a barbed wire fence into safety.  I have walked across an icy log over a raging creek, while on the brink of having an asthma attack.  I've been pushed off of cliffs, shot at with a homemade bottle rocket launcher, and ended up reaping the consequences when Luke's mom came home and found us shooting rifles at targets outside through an open window in the kitchen. 

Needless to say, over the years, Luke has desensitized me.  He's less terrifying to me now and I still sort of crave the adventures of hanging out with him.

A few weeks ago, sitting around a bonfire with family, Luke started hitting the left side of my chest.  It didn't phase me.  I continued talking to my other family members thinking, "Really, Luke?  We're nearly 30!"  Then, my family members started yelling FIRE! and some of them jumped up to run toward me.  Confused, I slowly realized the reason Luke was hitting me was to smother a large ember that had escaped from the bonfire and landed on my hoodie.  When he did, it scattered and burst into flames.  I decided to continue to remain calm and let him beat the fire out until someone yelled, "Her hair!"  At that point I started yelling too, "Get it off!  Get it off!  Right now!!!"

Everything ended up fine, my hoodie was a little melted and I had a few small burns near my neck, but it mainly resulted in a good story.  It's funny how the person who makes you think you could die at any moment is the one who saves your life, or in my case, my face and hair.  It's a good thing he relentlessly attacked the fire because if he would have just yelled, "You're on fire!"  I would have rolled my eyes, "Whateverrrrr" and would now have a half melted face and burnt hair.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fear Itself

"Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease.  Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry.  Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that.  Faith did that.  People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that.  But fear itself?  Fear herds us into a prison and slams the door." 

I read  this quote a couple of years ago in a book by Max Lucado called Fearless.  It took me 6 months to read Fearless because everytime I read a portion of it I, ironically, experienced major anxiety.  I would read a bit and then have to put the book down and convince myself not to burn it!  I would go days and weeks before picking it up again. 

Fearless is about letting go; having faith. The act of letting go, or the lack of the appearance of control is what causes me to experience anxiety, so the very essence of the book makes me nervous.  There were times, when reading the book, that I thought maybe Max Lucado had been stalking me because his examples and scenarios were right on point and lined up with my life.

I am admittedly a fear-based individual. Not fear-based in that I hide out or am afaid of the dark.  In fact, most of my friends and family would prefer that I check in with them more often, spend less time alone at night, or cease taking random trips without letting them know. Some of my earliest memories are of fearful situations.  Some of my earliest coping skills were derived from handling situations no one should ever have to handle, especially at a young age.  I struggle, yes struggle, with anxiety, both situational and chemical and tend to think in a worst-case-scenario mindset.  Fear.

It's tough for someone who doesn't experience random panic to understand all that's involved; the energy it takes to get through every day and experiencing heart palpitations in your twenties. That lack of understanding is why I often joke about anxiety or am anxious about sharing about it in a real way.  I don't like having to justify it, hide it, show it or listen to everybody's opinions about how to "fix" it and I definitely do not want to be labeled by it.  If I can make it funny then there's some relief.

Everybody has something that they have to deal with.  One of my "things" is anxiety and panic attacks.  I realized  recently there are people in my life who deal with this same issue. Reading through the last couple years of my blog posts, I discovered multiple, vague references to anxiety, OCD and panic.  While this coping mechanism of deflecting how serious it is might work for me, I think it may be an injustice to anyone out there who may be dealing with the same types of issues but who may not find any humor in it.  Someone who struggles with it may just need to know that someone else is struggling or coping, too. We have different coping mechanisms and varying triggers but I hope we can relate to one another.  The hope is also that those who don't struggle with or relate to this topic in any way will at least gain a topical understanding and have compassion.

Mind of Me is obviously a blog about what's on my mind and what makes me, me.  I try to be real; I try to take individual experiences, good and bad, happy and sad, funny or devastating, and transform those experiences to appeal to the masses; to help us relate to one another.  In order to be true to that, I have to acknowledge that I also have to be real about anxiety, the triggers, my past.  It can't always be funny or topical.  Sometimes, it just is. . .what it is.  That becomes all too apparent when you freak out in the check out line at Whole Foods, for no reason. 

While difficult to deal with, anxiety also makes me stronger.  My defiance towards it makes me adventurous.  Anxiety is the reason I purposely put myself in scary or uncomfortable situations and the reason I take on new things; to prove to myself that I can.  I refuse to be completely owned by it.  I refuse to live in that prison Max Lucado referenced in his book. 

Every part of me wants to give a thousand disclaimers about how much I've grown, what I can handle, that I'm not crazy, but you know what?  I won't.  Disclaimers are ultimately fear-based, preventative measures to possible negative reactions from others.  If nothing else, this post is just to get it off my chest and to hopefully inspire someone else to feel okay with themselves despite the struggle.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Power of Reese's and Nerdy T-Shirts

Have you ever had the type of day that leads you to imagining, for one glorious second, that leaping at someone, wrestling said someone to the ground and waxing his/her eyebrows off of his/her face is totally acceptable in retaliation to their complete lack of common sense?

Me too.

But in the midst of a whole week made up of days like that, I  discovered that someone anonymously left a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on my desk.  I arrived home yesterday, after a weird work day and a frustrating and disheartening trip to the doctor, to find a package from my BFF Arizona that included not just one, but two (!), handwritten cards and quite possibly the coolest and nerdiest t-shirt ever.  Funny how a nice gestures and perfect timing fix everything.

Happy Friday!

Geek Chic

**Disclaimer:  I would never leap at or wrestle anyone to the ground and wax his/her eyebrows off his/her face nor do I condone or promote such behavior from others.  However, I do suggest that you eat and share ridiculous amounts Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on a regular basis. Reese's makes the world go 'round.. . .and so do BFF's who send random, t-shirt filled packages.

Monday, October 3, 2011

An Extremist Word Lover's Take on a Children's Book

Words are priceless and powerful, both spoken and written.  The things we profess and confess, the inflections we use and the structure we choose to organize words with influence everything around us.  Words are used to inspire peace, sacrifice, hate, and war.  Words educate, formulate imagery, stir our emotions, bind us to one another, and segregate us.  Words can be used to build up and to tear down.  I fell in love with the power of words and sentence structure as a child through books. 

Books took me to other lands and cultures, introduced me to new ideas, inspired me to investigate the world around me, increased my vocabulary, and taught me how to relay stories of my own, effectively.  Some of my most valued possessions are my books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, and my eight thesauruses.

My 4 year old nephew has always used correct speech, which is something I am proud of.  He emulates what he hears, as do all children, and since the majority of my family speaks very well, so does he.  He is consistently and gently corrected when he does not speak correctly.  When he tells a story and says, "I rided my bike," an adult, without fail will say, "You rode your bike" to which he responds, "Yes, I rode my bike."  It's a simple teaching process and he responds well to it. 

This past weekend, my little well-spoken nephew kept using the word ain't  and would say no more  instead of any more.  It was an obvious regression in his normal speech and was, for lack of better words, driving me crazy!  After a full day of periodic correction, I finally asked him, "Why are you speaking incorrectly?  Who do you know that says ain't and no more?" 

To my horror, he exclaimed, "It's in my BOOK!"

I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, is a cute, colorful story that lends to learning about colors and rhyming.  However, the cuteness of this book is overshadowed completely by the fact that the book is based on the grossly grammatically incorrect phrase, I Ain't Gonna Paint No More. The phrase is repeated throughout the story.  Rhyming and color comprehension aside, the book is a detriment to children who are in the early years of forming proper speaking skills. I am positive there is another way to tell this story without ingraining improper speech into a child's head.

I do not understand why a children's book that is so blatantly grammatically incorrect would be written and published in the first place!  What were they thinking?  I'm sure it was meant to be light-hearted and many of you probably think I am nuts for feeling so strongly about this.   But I will give you three guesses as to how I feel about that.  If you guessed that I do not care, you are correct.