Taking the Long Way

A celebration of late bloomers.

Archive for April 2011

Soundtrack of my life – part one

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SCAD’s District Quarterly magazine launched its music issue last night. I had planned to submit an article for consideration, but procrastinated to the point I missed the deadline. Still, it got me thinking: if I compiled a mix tape of my life, what would be on it?

This list isn’t even close to comprehensive, but it’s a start. In part one, we explore the early years from ages 3 to 13.

Let it Be by The Beatles

My earliest song memory: I’m laying in the front seat of the car with my head in my mom’s lap (this was years before seatbelt or car seat requirements), this song is playing on the radio, and the deejay is talking about how the band has broken up. I don’t understand any of it, but I do have a visceral reaction to the sound of Billy Preston playing the organ and George Harrison’s guitar. I gently weep.

Burning Love by Elvis

I am five years old, and I’m about to buy my very first album EVER! I have saved every bit of birthday and Christmas money plus the quarters I get here and there for helping around the house. I can’t even see to the top of the counter at Sanger Harris Department Store in Irving, Texas, but I carry the album and my change up to the cash register and count our five dollars for the nice lady. I take Elvis home with me. It’s almost as good as going to Graceland.

Run Around Sue by Dion and the Belmonts

My mom suffers from agoraphobia, so we don’t get out much. We do, however, dance around the house. She puts this record on and teaches my brother and I how to jitterbug and swing. I’m the only kid in first grade who knows that the slide isn’t just something on a playground.

Penny Lane by The Beatles

My older brother is in a school production, and his group is performing a marching routine to this song. I am mesmerized by Quentin Askew, one of his classmates, who mouths all the words. I am in puppy love for the first time.

Start Me Up by the Rolling Stones

Eighth grade and first school dance. Had my eye on Mike Jumes all night, but never got the courage to ask him to dance.

I was such an innocent, though. Homer Patino had to explain to me what the final lyrics of this song meant. At first I was appalled. Then I read Judy Blume’s “Forever” that summer and it became clear that this was something I would really like in the future.

Off the Wall by Michael Jackson

Karen Highfill’s slumber party. I fall asleep first. Bra is frozen solid by morning. My reputation as a complete nerd remain in tact. I’m hoping high school next year changes everything.

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Written by The Long Way

April 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Soundtrack of my life – part deux

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Thriller by Michael Jackson

So it’s debatable whether or not I got any cooler by high school. In fact, it’s pretty evident I wasn’t. We were late getting to the football game that night, because we waited for the premier of the Thriller video. Revolutionary! That’s when I really learned how to dance.

Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds

Who knew we were all the brain, the jock, the princess, the basket case and the criminal? I identified most with Brian the brain, with a dash of Allison the basket case thrown in. This movie and song remain timeless to me, lo these many years later, because – frankly – we’re all still trying to belong.

Like a Virgin by Madonna

For this repressed Southern Baptist who wore plaid pencil skirts, vintage bowling shirts, argyle socks and penny loafer, Madonna was a revelation and a liberator. I got into the groove.

Modern Love by David Bowie

Favorite outfit: black stirrup pants, white tuxedo shirt with costume jewelry brooch at the collar, Limited vest, vintage men’s jacket in blue and black herringbone pattern, mismatched earrings, spiky hair, white socks, black flats, and deep red lipstick. A spritz of Bill Blass. That’s how I rolled.

New Year’s Day by U2

I finally grew a social conscience.

Purple Rain by Prince

He could drive me Let’s Go Crazy in his Little Red Corvette under the Cherry Moon while I donned my Raspberry Beret. The most sublime hips in the universe. ‘Nuf said.

Long Time by Boston and Friends by Michael W. Smith

Graduation – 1986. Time didn’t wait for us, it kept on rolling.

Take My Breath Away  by Berlin

I’m working at the Texas Wesleyan library when a guy invites me to the Lambda Chi party. First frat party of my life. Toga (cliche in a very good way) and Andy Dunkin asks me to dance. Yea, college!

Your Song by Elton John

It was a little bit funny, that feeling inside, when I fell in love for real the first time.

Trouble Me by 10,000 Maniacs

Theme song for that first love, who turns out to be a delightfully fun alcoholic. But also, irresponsible and undependable. I learn that sometimes love isn’t always enough.

Call Me Al by Paul Simon

Senior year. I move into the dorm and am the first one there as an RA. Friend Laura comes over and we crank up my new stereo. This song plays and we dance down the halls, singing at the top of our lungs.

A Road is Just a Road by The Dixie Chicks

I worked for Downtown Fort Worth, Inc., and we hired the original foursome to play during lunch hours. We discovered them playing for change in Dallas’ West End. I bought the band’s CD “Little Ol’ Cowgirl” out of the back of their van. It was a revelation to listen to these amazing talents full of spunk and sass. I still have the cassette case with their signatures all over it!

Changes in Latitude by Jimmy Buffett

I pack up the car and move to Miami for a one-year internship in 1993. I stay for the next 16 years.

Freedom by George Michael

South Beach was a mecca for the young, rich and beautiful. I had the young down, got behind a few velvet ropes, went for no tan lines on the clothing-optional beach, and began drinking cafe con leche.

New York State of Mind

How do you properly celebrate turning 30? You invite three of your best girls to NYC and live it up: peach bellinis at The Rainbow Room at the top of Rockefeller Center, “Rent” on Broadway, Wo Hop’s in Chinatown, Teresa i Mimo in Little Italy, walks around Central Park, bagels at Barney Greengrass – the Sturgeon King, shopping through Soho and Greenwich Village, where we stop for an Italian ice. I ran into the writer Spalding Gray at an intersection, then I’m waiting to cross the street near Tribeca and notice that the guy next to me was the bug expert in “Silence of the Lambs.”

I Can’t Help (Falling in Love) by Elvis

Elvis has always been present at the big moments of my life. The Hotel St. Michel in Coral Gables, FL. Chocolate souffle. Candlelight. A diamond ring. So I answer, “In a heartbeat, yes, Brian, I’ll marry you.”

All You Need is Love by the Beatles

I now pronounce you husband and wife. Love. Love. Love.

I Could Not Ask for More by Sara Evans

The first dance.

Not Ready to Make Nice by The Dixie Chicks

My boss at the time told me it was okay to tell little white lies if it meant getting the deal done. When I caught him telling one to me, he tried to dig his way out of it. This song got me through.

Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson

For my father.

The Long Way Around by The Dixie Chicks

Ally McBeal had her theme song. This one is mine.

“No, I could never follow. Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else. Maybe some day I’m gonna settle down, but if you ever want to find me I can still be found, taking the long way around.”

One-in-a-lifetime Love by Keith Urban

Pretty much how it still feels nine years later.

Short Skirt and Long Jacket by Cake

God, I hope I get a job.

Written by The Long Way

April 30, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Wedded bliss

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Lady Diana, Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Charles, Wedding

Diana, Princess of Wales, riding in her carriage next to her prince on her wedding day, July 29, 1981. Photo Courtesy of Brittanica.com.

Early on the morning of July 29, 1981, my closest friend Melynda Poet, her two sisters Tami and Melani, their friends, and I awoke to watch a real-life fairy tale occur half a world away from our homes in Saginaw, Texas. It was the summer between our seventh and eighth grade years, and I was getting braces put on later that day.

We had followed the story of Lady Diana Spencer from the moment she was introduced to us – shy and blushing in her blue suit as she showed the world her sapphire engagement ring. We devoured every magazine to follow her fashion sense. I wanted a prom dress some day that looked like her emerald formal engagement gown.

Princess Diana's formal engagement photo.

C'mon. It was the '80s for goodness' sake - puffy sleeves were IN.

I wore white hose with red dresses and red ballet flats. I cut my long hair to a shorter, London look. Needless to say, we were enchanted.

We did not yet know that princes and princesses are all-too human, with faults and needs and secrets. We believed in Cinderella story. By the time we went off to college, we were a little wiser.

We knew a little more.

By the end of college, we had kissed a LOT of frogs.

I rose at 4 a.m. the morning of her funeral, and I watched her sons walk behind her casket – not sharing their grief, but understanding that some fairy tales don’t have happy endings.

But, I’m pulling for Wills.

Written by The Long Way

April 28, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Valedictory

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One year ago today, Brian and I drove 18 hours straight through from Savannah to Fort Worth. My father’s hospice nurse Kendra had called earlier that morning and said simply, “We may not even have 72 hours.”

We had been waiting for this call every day for several weeks – almost a year, really.

In May 2008, BioBob (my nickname for him)  was stricken by something called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (gee-on-bar-eh). It sounds like a French wine, the way it fills the mouth and lands on the tongue before evaporating.

I had no clue what GBS was, so I googled it and learned that it is a rare autoimmune disorder affecting one in 100,000 people. It causes the body’s disease-fighting mechanisms to attack the peripheral nervous system – the branches of the brain-spinal column that control movement and touch. Respiratory or gastrointestinal infections can trigger it. BioBob had suffered from a persistent sinus infection that wouldn’t go away.

It causes weakness, tingling in the arms and upper body, and can interfere with breathing, blood pressure and heart rate. It can cause temporary paralysis. It is rarely fatal.

When he first went into the hospital, I was still able to talk with him. He was sitting up in bed, reading the newspaper and trying to work on a land deal for oil and natural gas leases. His words were hard to understand, slurred as if he’d had a stroke.  He was more annoyed than scared. He said something about getting out of “this place tomorrow.” I laughed and thought, typical Bob, 10-feet tall and bullet proof.

We never spoke again.

The next day, Bob suffered cardiac arrest and was without oxygen for at least four minutes, maybe longer. It would have been more merciful had the attending nurse not revived him.  Since then, my marathon-running, Hotter-than-Hell-racing, six-foot-four father had laid in suspended animation in a nursing home. Not here. Not there. Nowhere.

****

BioBob and I never were much good at actual talking. We bonded over tequila.

One night I ran into him at a ramshackle blues bar near downtown Fort Worth while I was out with friends from college. He regaled us with the story of the night in the ‘60s when he and his pals drove to Laredo to buy a bottle of Mescal. A friend told him how I was the only one fearless enough to get the worm when a guy brought a bottle to the Lambda Chi party.

He nodded toward me, as if I’d finally earned some measure of respect. “She’s daddy’s girl,” he seemed to say.

Daddy's girl. BioBob and Baby Amy. The only picture I have of us together.

I had longed for this kind of acknowledgment, but it still came as a surprise. He and my mom divorced before I turned one. I didn’t meet him again until I was 10, when my mom, brother and I ran into him at Crystal’s Pizza Parlor. He wore a white Stetson hat, work boots, and pressed Wranglers.  And I remember looking up and up, because he loomed so large. We looked alike – long oval face, sharp crooked nose, straight dark hair – except his eyes were grey-blue.

He had drifted in and out after that meeting, usually around the holidays.

It was only when I grew into an adult that he seemed to want to know me.  He would ask my advice on some project he was working on, inviting me into his world, trying to connect with mine. But, I’m not sure he really knew how to talk to me as his daughter.

I moved to Miami not long after that night at the blues bar. He missed my going away party, but I can’t remember if I told him when it was. I usually relied on my grandmother to relay messages.

****

When I finally arrived at the nursing home, I hesitated in the doorway and surveyed the shrunken landscape of my father. Such a colorful figure, he now appeared translucent. He blended into the bright white walls and gray tiles.

A young woman dressed in teal scrubs came over to me. Without looking at her tag, I knew she was Kendra.

“I think he has been waiting for you,” she said in the gentlest voice I had ever heard. She took me by the hand and led me to his bedside.

I smiled, knowing that this was just something people say because there really are no words. The truth was, he wasn’t waiting for me any more than I had waited for him all those years.

Bob held on for another five days, rallying then subsiding back into the white sheets, until finally his breath grew rattled and infrequent. I think during those final days he was working free a pesky knot, one that tethered him to the land that gave him so much myth and identity.

Letting go was the only half-hearted thing he had ever done.

Written by The Long Way

April 28, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Hoppy Easter

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To the blogosphere, I wish you a Happy Easter with a cartoon that just tickled me.

Around this time of year, I also love the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercial that shows a chocolate bunny and jar of peanut butter gettin’ it on to the sounds of Marvin Gaye. It speaks to the fertility of Spring and the solstice, don’t you think?

Easter Bunny Cartoon

Written by The Long Way

April 25, 2011 at 1:00 am

No simple answers

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Feisty New York Timescolumnist Gail Collins

New York Time columnist Gail Collins

Gail Collins courtesy of the New York Times.

– yeah, the one who called out Donald Trump and he called her “dog face” in return – brought her unique and witty perspective on second-wave feminism to the Arnold Hall Auditorium, April 12.

She visited SCAD to discuss her most recent book, “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”

When Everything Changed

Sitting in the stack of books by my bed that I've yet to read. Courtesy of amazon.com.

Instead of Collins’ talk taking the usual course of cataloging how far we women have come but far we have to go, she focused on the triumph of affecting so much change in a short period of time.

I clearly am one of the beneficiaries of these foremothers’ efforts. When I was in high school in the 1980s, it never occurred to me that I could not get an education or be anything I wanted to be – maiden, mother, or crone. Collins’ message hopefully got people excited about feminism and alleviated some fears about embracing it.

What stuck with me, though, was less Collins’ content, but her responses to questions from the audience. Her answer to a question about the current political climate and its assault on female reproductive rights proved measured and compassionate. She acknowledged a woman’s right to choose while avoiding damnation of those who fight so vehemently against abortion.

Collins also refused to address a question raised regarding religion’s role in the subjugation of women, but we’ll talk about that later.

It occurred to me that so often when we ask questions of lecturers, we are asking for them to give us definitive answers to complex issues on which we can hang our hats. We are looking for agreement, acknowledgment, permission, and guidance.

I think of my own struggle with how I feel about reproductive rights. While I most identify with liberal values, I do not agree that abortion should be a form of birth control when we have so many affordable and less destructive means of preventing pregnancies.

I do not demonize, however, a woman who chooses abortion because she sees no other way forward. I think most women agonize about the decision, especially the ones I know who have made that choice. And, I am thankful they were afforded safe, sterile environments rather than back alleys with coat hangers.

Courtesy of Google Images.

At the same time, though, I do not understand fighting against the death penalty and not fighting for the life of an unborn child.

In turn, I do not understand someone who calls him- or herself pro-life but actively fights FOR the death penalty, and against funding social programs that provide decent, egalitarian educations, hot and healthy school lunches, affordable housing, living wages, and access to health care. Should not a pro-life agenda also include lifting up the quality of life for those who walk among us today?

So, if anyone asked me what I thought about the assault on reproductive rights going on in Congress today, I do not know how I would answer. What I would tell the audience, though, is to remember that rights come with responsibilities…and they can be taken away at a moment’s notice.

Written by The Long Way

April 23, 2011 at 10:11 pm

Rest and renewal

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Exhausted

Courtesy of Google Images.

That was me yesterday.

I couldn’t get out of bed. I slept until 10. Those who know me know that I get up between five and six every morning so that I can write before the day sweeps me away.

Paula Deen

Paula Deen courtesy of Google Images.

Martha Stewart

Martha Stewart courtesy of Google Images.

Noontime rolled around and I still lay in bed, flipping back and forth between Paula Deen and Martha Stewart.

By the second episode of House, I just accepted that I had hit a wall and needed to recharge my batteries. My usual MO is just to power through any dip in the road, but not today.

I thought maybe I should read for pleasure, so I picked up the copy of Slaughterhouse-Five that Jenny loaned me because I had (shamefully) never read any Kurt Vonnegut.

Kurt Vonnegut

Meet Kurt Vonnegut, courtesy of Google Images.

Although the first 20 pages were a breeze, I found I suffered from wandering mind – classic exhaustion symptom and evidence I wanted nothing to challenge my brain.

I switched to pretty pictures instead. I grabbed a stack of three months’ worth of Better Homes and Gardens, Garden & Gun, and Savannah magazine, and leafed through the pages looking for inspiration.

I dog-eared pages that caught my fancy, cut out pictures to put in my “design” book (ideas for my home when I actually have the funds to make something happen), and listed things in my idea book (a wall painted to look like puzzle pieces! Contemporary art or whimsical accent wall?)

Lo and behold, by 6 o’clock I was up, cleaning the kitchen, changing the bed sheets, sorting laundry, organizing homework, making a list of to-do’s for the weekend.

By midnight, I felt so refreshed I couldn’t fall asleep.

This is me today:

sleeping polar bear

At least he's smiling. Courtesy of Google Images.

Written by The Long Way

April 22, 2011 at 3:43 pm