Psycho analysis of a psycho writer chick

If you could step into a TV show for a day, which one would you choose?

The answer’s easy for me. Psych.I’m addicted to the show. My favorite Christmas present? A pair of Shawn and Gus talking bobble heads. Whaaaaaat?

If only real life could be as hilarious as the adventures of Shawn and Gus. Shawn is a psychic, a fake one. He reads people and hones in on their little clues. He drags Gus, his trusty sidekick, into all sorts of adventures.

Sounds like my kind of life. Really.

People readers notice the most subtle of clues and analyze, analyze, analyze. It’s fun until we people readers drive ourselves paranoid. But let’s have a little fun and re-create a scene from Criminal Minds, The Closer, or even Psych. All we need is an unsub.

What if an investigative crew found a picture of your personal belongings? What do your things say about you? Just to keep it easy and short, let’s stick to our desks or work tables. I’ll go first. Take a look at the photos.

On the left I have a variety of cat paraphernalia. Two plastic jars of Pounce Caribbean Catch Tuna Flavor cat treats. A fuzzy mouse that can be filled with catnip. And a plastic baggie of catnip.

At first glance an investigative crew might assume that I am a diehard cat lover.

Wrong. I like cats, but I like dogs better. I love one cat—Stevie Ray, my blues cat, who showed up about a year ago. I probably shouldn’t call him my cat. He comes and goes as he pleases. If I wanted to, I could trap him inside and buy him a litter box, but he’s too dignified for that.

I can’t help but remember that stupid quote from my junior high years:  If you love something, let it go. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If not, it was never meant to be.

Stupid, sappy love quote. All the other girls wrote on their composition books. Not me. Anyway, I haven’t seen Stevie Ray all day. Stupid quote.

At second glance, the investigative crew might inspect the plastic baggie of catnip with the pipe lying beside it. Officers, I can explain.

See, it went down like this. Number Two Son saw the baggie of catnip and busted a gut as only a twelve year old can do. He peeled the label off the catnip baggie and laid the pipe next to it. I know it does not look like catnip, but it IS catnip.

I was framed.

And that brings us back to the pipe, courtesy of Number One Son.

Number One Son received the pipe from his girlfriend as a gift. It is not a real pipe. It blows bubbles. Number One’s girlfriend thought it was funny. Said girlfriend also gave Number Two Son a week’s worth of fake mustaches for Christmas. This girl is as warped as the rest of us. I like her.

And what about the other items? Let’s start with the Aerosmith CD. Whaaaaaat? The unsub profile suggests a Steven Tyler fan lives here. Well, duh.

An iPod. A new metronome. Speakers. Check. Check. Check. Music lover. Got it.

Ducks. There is no explanation for the ducks. Sorry. Your guess will have to suffice.

Bottled water. Unsub does not like soda. (And I HATE calling soda, soda. It’s Coke. I don’t care if it’s Pepsi, Sprite, or Dr. Pepper. But a Sundrop is always a Sundrop…if you’re a true blue Southerner, which I am.) A pen. The unsub likes to write. A red folder with only one sheet of writing. The unsub almost always types everything and only writes in notebooks and journals when she is on a special writing adventure.

And the laptop. That’s a blog unto itself. Investigators would surely snatch up that bad boy and take it to the lab for further analysis. (The unsub wishes that while they are at it, they’d tidy up the first manuscript inside and send it to the editors and agents who requested it. Yeah, it’s time to get back to work.)

A really good investigative team, however, would not stop there. The team would also analyze what is not there, i.e.—who took the picture.

Judging from the angles in the picture, whoever took the picture had to be standing on something looking down on the items. If the unsub took the picture, the unsub must be short. The laptop does not sit on a desk. It sits on a bistro table with a regular office chair in front of it.

Wow. The unsub must be a little off, for if the unsub is short, the unsub’s chin would break even with the edge of the table, making for a very uncomfortable, goofy-looking typing situation. (Fortunately, a brown box that holds a new desk waits in the corner.)

The unsub must be more than a little off. Again, the picture angles suggest the unsub stood in a rolling chair to take a picture of a baggie of catnip and a bubble pipe lying next to a computer.

Stupid! Why would anyone do that?

Honestly, I hope no one tries to profile me based on my belongings. Sheesh. Psychoanalyzing me could drive a person insane. Just ask. I’ll tell you. Better yet, I’ll write it.

Now, it’s your turn. Tell me what’s on your desk, table, or work area. I’ll psycho analyze you for free. Let’s see how close—or far away—I can get.

“You know that’s right.”

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Merry Christmas 2011

Last January I wanted to find the perfect snow day picture. I think I came pretty close. The barn and the trees covered with snow paint a picture of peace and serenity.

I wanted to write the perfect Christmas blog, but I couldn’t find the perfect words. These will have to do.

A couple of days ago I made a quick trip to a convenience store to buy some cleaning supplies. I couldn’t tell if the woman in front was older or younger than me, but her eyes told me she had lived a hard life.

I was in a hurry, but the lady wanted to talk. “Today has been a bad day,” she said to the cashier. The cashier said nothing but scanned and bagged the items.

“My mother died today.”

All of a sudden it didn’t matter to me that I was in a hurry. The cashier looked up with empathy and muttered, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I knew I had to say something. I felt this woman’s pain even though we had never met before. I told her my parents had died recently and that I was so, so sorry that she had to go through such a difficult time. I didn’t have anything else to offer her except a sincere heart that said I cared.

“Yeah, no one’s ever died on me,” she said. We stared at each other for a few seconds. I just kept telling her I was so sorry. Then the cashier handed the woman her bag. The woman and I looked at each other again, but I was out of words. My heart hurt for her.

“Merry Christmas,” she said and walked out the door. I never saw her again.

I believe with all my heart that people’s paths cross for a reason. Some people call it divine appointments. God lets me call it serendipity. I hope that my simple, imperfect words comforted the lady who had just lost her mother. She needed to tell someone. I didn’t do much, but I was there. All I had to offer was a sincere heart.

The last blog I wrote was all about my obsession for shopping, but the truth is material things really mean nothing to me. I wrote the blog because it seems everywhere I turn everyone seems so perfect, especially at Christmas.

People throw on their cloaks of piety and perfection and mask their true natures. They give handouts of grace and mercy to the unfortunate. Once Christmas is over, however, they take off their cloaks and then wrap themselves in self righteousness. The grace and mercy go back in the attic until next season.

The most important gift anyone can receive at Christmas or any other time is love, specifically Christ’s love, but nonbelievers turn away from the gift because they don’t feel worthy of receiving it.

I don’t know about you, but people who demand perfection make me uncomfortable. Sometimes believers come across that way. I hope no one thinks I think I’m perfect. I am far, far from the target.

But what I do know is that God loves imperfect people, and He can make the impossible happen. Even when we make bad decisions, He can choreograph life so that we can get back on track and be happy again.

I always wanted to be a writer, but teaching wasn’t my original plan. Yet through teaching I have met my audience, the teens for whom I want to write, and I have learned from them, and I’ve learned to love them.

Christmas day is coming to a close, and I still haven’t found the perfect words. I simply am not perfect. I don’t say the perfect thing at the perfect time, but God has given me this heart that loves like crazy.

So that’s it, all I have to offer, just a few imperfect words and a very sincere heart.

Merry Christmas.

True confessions

I’m always searching for interesting blog topics, and think I found one—true confessions. Have you seen these posts on Facebook? A person confesses his or her secret for the cyber world to see. Makes for interesting reading.

Why would anyone do that!

But I’ve decided to follow the trend and publish my version of true confessions. Okay, here it goes.

The question? If you were to be granted only one wish for Christmas this season, what would it be?

My answer?  A black 1969 SS Camaro with racing stripes and a variety of other muscle car features that I really know nothing about but nevertheless excite me.

Wrong answer.

The correct answer, of course, is world peace, love, and harmony for all the children of the world.

I would have made a terrible Miss America.

My true confession is I can be horribly selfish. I don’t mean to be bad. I just am.

Case in point, Black Friday, THE day for maximum Christmas gift shopping. But I rarely buy anything for anyone else on this day. All I think about is how cute those shoes would look with the outfit I bought at the last store. Or how could I possibly pass up a bargain on a sweater or a pair of jeans.

When I walk into a store, my eyes light up at all the beautiful things, clothes especially. I’m not usually materialistic. It’s that I love shopping—for me.

And when it comes to gifts, I know it’s the thought that counts, but I really like opening up presents. I really like surprises.

According to Dr. Larry Chapman, who wrote the book The Five Love Languages, I’m not materialistic. I [thrive] “on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift.” It’s true. I associate people with things. Take jewelry, for example. I don’t wear expensive jewelry. I don’t like expensive jewelry, but I like cheap, unusual necklaces if they hold special meanings.

I’ve worn rings from candy machines, and I’ve worn shell necklaces from the beach just because one of my little boys gave it to me. When I wear these gifts, I feel as though I have a part of them with me.

Sappy, huh?

Allow me to clarify the gift of an expensive ’69 Camaro.

I would have no problem accepting that gift from anyone at anytime. So, last minute shoppers, just throw the keys into your shopping cart, and send that sucker to me. I won’t complain.

The four other languages include words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and physical touch. My mother always told me, “Actions speak louder than words, and, ironically for a writer, I have always lived by her advice. But each person has his or her own language.

I know that at the holidays it’s better to give than to receive, but, true confession, I really have a difficult time doing that. Fact is receiving brings out the kid in me. I get sooo excited.

Selfish.

When I get something in my mind, that’s what I want, and nothing else will do. I remember writing to Santa one Christmas for a blue banana seat buzz bike. I pictured it in my mind. It was all I ever wanted. And on Christmas morning, I woke up and found a sparkling metallic gold bike with a basket and tassels hanging from the handlebars.

I couldn’t hide my disappointment. I didn’t get what I wanted. I got what somebody else picked out for me. How could Santa do that when I specifically asked for a blue bike?

My parents were disappointed too—in me for my lack of gratitude. My heart sunk when I realized I had let them down, but I couldn’t believe Santa didn’t read my letter closely enough. I’ve always been a perfectionist with outstanding handwriting. He should have caught my specifics. Looking back now, I realize the gold bike was the prettiest one at the North Pole. But it wasn’t what I wanted.

Selfish.

I attach way too much sentimental value to objects. Even chocolate donuts.

When my husband and I first married, we rarely saw each other because we were going to school and each working many, many hours just to be able to afford rent. Typical meals consisted of pork and beans and unsweet Kool-Aid. (I HATE pork and beans.)

In addition to my scholarship job and working at the library, I also used to babysit our neighbor’s little boy. To my horror, I saw the little boy in our living room, watching our TV, and eating one of my prized chocolate donuts that my husband had given him.

You probably don’t understand how special those chocolate donuts were to me. (I don’t eat them now—too fattening.) Chocolate has always been my drug of choice, and this kid was eating one of the last ones in the box. Pay day was weeks away, and I didn’t have the money to go buy another box.

After the father picked up his kid, I lit into my husband and picked up one of the last remaining donuts, zinged it like Josh Beckett straight at the man who invaded my stash. I caught him in the left ear.

I always kept my donuts in the refrigerator because I like cold chocolate. Plus, my father taught me how to throw a baseball. I didn’t throw like a girl, so I dinged him pretty good.

That was stupid. One, he is a lot bigger than me, and two, I threw away a perfectly good donut. This incident was totally out of character for me. I usually keep everything in. But when it comes to chocolate—

The donut was more than a donut to me. It was a symbol of reward after hours of sacrifice. That kid didn’t deserve my donut.

Selfish.

Just a couple of weeks ago my journalism students and I played Secret Pal, and we brought small gifts to our people. I had a nice chocolate candy bar picked out for my person. But I was so stressed out that I ate it before I could give it to him.

Selfish.

I’m working on my selfishness. But I still have a terrible time during the Christmas season. I despise the commercialism, but I love shopping. I just don’t like shopping for others in general.

But when I’m shopping for a SPECIAL gift, I will go to the extremes to get it, even if it means traveling over the hills and far away.I put a lot of thought into special gifts. It really bums me out when people don’t appreciate my effort. That’s why I have to work on my own selfishness. Not everyone shares my love language of receiving gifts. Not everyone associates sentimental feelings with material things.

My efforts might be better spent focusing on one of the other four remaining love languages rather than worrying if my present sends the right message.

All the better for me—more time to shop—for me.

I know, say it with me. Selfish.

I don’t mean to be bad. I don’t want to be selfish. I just am. True confession. But I’m working on it.

Santa probably won’t bring me anything but a sack of coal this season, but I’ll still have fun opening it.

Run away

Back in the old days when we walked to school uphill both ways in snow knee deep, we teenagers had nothing better to do than to cruise the four-lane and eat burgers at the Burger Queen. We had a few game rooms, where for a quarter, we could play Ms. Pacman and Joust. We could always bat a dot back and forth on a game called Atari.

But we didn’t have iPods and iPhones and laptops and 3-D game systems. We just had each other face to face. “Message me” meant “Hey, sneak me a note across the room during Spanish class when the teacher isn’t looking.”

We also didn’t have Bonnaroo. I bet a lot more people I graduated with would have stuck around had they known the world would come to them.

What we had was the county fair—the highlight of every year.

When I was a little kid, my backyard swing set transformed into the Zipper and the Himalaya. And when the real fair rolled in every September, my cousins and I counted the quarters we had saved in the glass baby food jars we kept on my Mom Bell’s window edge.

I begged my parents to let me go every night. They didn’t. I always entered my artwork in the competitions, and I always won a ribbon. My Mom Bell pulled okra from her garden and slapped my name on the entry slip. I couldn’t wait to see if I won anything. I always felt as if her garden was mine. It was all of ours really.

But my feelings for the fair changed my senior year. It was one of the best days of my growing up years–and one of the saddest because it came to an end. I went with a group of my friends, all of us band geeks. The last night we vowed to stay until they shut it down.

And we did.

Sometime after midnight the carnies pulled the plug on the rides, and they let down the canvas covering their games. And the midway without its lights lost its magic.

We had a grand idea. “Let’s follow the fair to wherever it goes!” And, suddenly, the magic was back—but short-lived when we faced the reality that Monday morning we had to go back to school.

It’s true though. Every year some kid would run off with the carnival. It happened when I was in high school, and for years after I began teaching I always lost one or two who ran away. Kids today don’t go. They don’t need the fair anymore, and they don’t believe in magic.

I still believe in magic. I have a dreamer’s heart. It’s the one thing I hope I can pass on to my students. One of mine caught it. He ran away with the circus.

Literally.

I have been so blessed to have had students in class who have gone to do great things in life, but I never expected to teach a student who would someday become an official Ringling Bros. clown.

A former journalism student of mine, Chris Sullivan joined me and my current newspaper staff for lunch Thursday when we celebrated the publication of our third issue.

Chris captivated me with his stories of being a part of the Greatest Show on Earth.

He never set out to be a circus clown, but his work with theater put him in the right place at the right time. He tried out but didn’t expect to get the job. He waited for the call. Meanwhile, he received a spiritual call to go to India to share his clown talent with orphaned children during a Vacation Bible School program. He answered that call, and when he returned, another call waited for him—an invitation to join the circus.

So now he lives his life traveling all over the nation on a circus train, living in a 5 x 7 room that he calls home. He has learned to simplify, simplify, simplify—not just materialistically but philosophically too. He focuses on his job at hand…publicizing the circus, helping transport the elephants to the arena, or meeting children during the pre-show. He lets his other worries go. He leaves them miles behind somewhere down the track.

Seeing Chris again was good medicine for a weary soul. He reminded me life doesn’t have to be so complicated and running away with the circus isn’t always a bad thing.

I doubt that I’ll be boarding the circus train anytime soon. Nor will I follow the fair.

But I do have a fascination with gypsies and Travellers. Ethnically, I don’t think I qualify to be either one, but who says I can’t use my imagination and run away with them in a story I write.

Ah, imagination. I hope my students never lose theirs. I’m so proud of Chris for following his dream and never betraying his imagination.

Sometimes it’s the student who teaches the teacher. Maybe it’s time I enjoyed my imagination again and let the magic lead me to a story I can treasure.

One fewer brick in the wall

Most of the time I like to keep my posts upbeat, but lately I’ve been dealing with a heavy heart and mind, so I decided to break the rules and lament a bit.

I am coming to the end of my teaching career. I feel it. I know it. In fact, I was very close to not going back to school this year. For five years or longer I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to my ideal little dream town and trying something new. I almost had my chance this summer. I went in for the interview and kept my fingers crossed, but it didn’t happen.

It’s no secret. My principal knows what I’ve been going through, and I told him he truth about how hard I knew this year was going to be. I don’t always speak, but quiet doesn’t always mean shy. Sometimes it just means keeping a distance.

My parents were like that. They were very stoic. I guess that’s why I have such a difficult time opening up to people. They certainly didn’t open up to me. Today was a rough day. For the first time since my father died, I drove out to the cemetery and visited the grave sites. Funny how life is. Only a few months ago, he and I sat a distant relative’s house picking out the tombstone. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t realize that only days after it would be ready for my mother’s grave, his name would be inscribed on it as well.

But what really hit me was the little headstone next to theirs—infant son. I stood in front of my brother’s grave, a brother I never knew, nobody knew. For five years before I was born, my father and mother had a different family of three, a mother, a father, and a baby that never took his first breath.

But my parents never shared anything about him with me. They were too private. They kept it all inside. Until today I didn’t even know his birth date. I found it ironic how my mother died on the 25th, my brother on the 26th, and my father the 27th.

And now they’re united in Heaven.

But after all these years it just now dawned on me how my parents never showed any emotion. I went on with my happy little life, oblivious to what they must have felt ever time his birthday rolled around. They never gave him a name, but I think I recall my dad telling me what they had planned to call him—or maybe it was the name they had chosen to call me if I were a boy.

I do know they almost named me Cindy. I look in the mirror sometimes and try to picture myself as Cindy. No. I don’t feel like a Cindy. But I never liked the name Teresa. I never could say it right. I pronounce it Treesa. I even consider changing it to Terri in college, with my father’ s blessing. But all my high school friends called me Tee, so I stuck with that.

I was named after the singer Teresa Brewer. I’ll never know the impact she had on my parents’ life, but it was enough to name their only living child after her.

During the last year I’ve undergone tremendous change. And as I stated before, I didn’t want to go back to school. Teaching requires a lot of giving of oneself. To be honest, I felt as though I had nothing left to give. But to make matters worse, not only did I receive a new curriculum for my dual-enrollment classes, I also received a new class, giving me a total of four preparations.

I’m used to being super woman, but not his year. I just didn’t have it in me. When I walked in to face this new class of students, I didn’t want to teach, I saw a roomful of trouble. The students didn’t want to stay in their seats. They were chronically late. They didn’t work. They never had their materials.

But they grew on me, and I opened my heart to them. I think they really believe I love them. And you wouldn’t believe what a change has overcome them. They work hard now. I’m so proud. It pays to invest in someone else’s life, especially if you are a teacher.

My greatest fear with all this state testing is that we teachers will become very self-centered and competitive, thinking about ourselves and forgetting about our students. We may find a way to wrangle out of teaching the low students. But the lowest students need the greatest investment and often yield the greatest return.

Kids don’t participate because they’re afraid to open up. They’re afraid of ridicule. They’re afraid to be vulnerable. That’s why I model vulnerability in front of them.

I know how it feels to to be imperfect. But I want my students to know I care about them unconditionally.

I’ll be honest. The most difficult people I’ve ever had to work with are religious people. Many of them have led such blessed lives they don’t understand desperation. They don’t understand people will do just about anything when they can’t find the love they need.

Mother Teresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” She also said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

My parents taught me to be tough, to keep up my guard. There are very few people who see the real me. Trust me, I can be rather annoying. I’m like a naïve child in an adult’s body. I’m so far from sophisticated and pretentious, that I’m playful. Not everyone likes playful. Students included, but I try to stay as far away from pretentious as I can. Most of my students who have been hurt appreciate the vulnerability.

I don’t think it’s possible to love without being vulnerable. And I do love these kids, especially this special rambunctious group of hooligans that I dreaded teaching at the beginning of the year. They changed my life.

Children, even almost adult children, have a way of doing that, changing lives. One of our fantastic English teachers asked her students to honor their favorite teachers this week. I was surprised to receive letters from a couple of my journalism students. Here are just a couple of excerpts (used with their permission).

“You, as our fearless leader, have taught us, not only about journalism, but also about life as a whole. One never stops learning. Cupcakes can be suicidal. Chocolate helps. When in doubt, Febreeze-Run it out. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you’ve been strong for a long time. There should be a Rock ‘n Roll setting in lazer tag. Never pass up the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. Haters need to be shown more love. The best time for good music is all the time.  ~  E. W.

“The newbies don’t know it yet cause they haven’t been around long enough, but we are a family, and we love each other like a family. All I have to say is you’re the best Newspaper Family Mom anyone could have.”  ~  H. E.

I’m looking forward to my last days of teaching, but I’m ready to move on to my next career. Why? Because I think God has a plan for me to use what I’ve learned to help kids in a way I can’t help them in a school environment. Who has time to care when all we focus on are the tests? I’m not planning on retiring soon, but the day will come in God’s time.

Remember Dian Fossey, the woman who lived with the gorillas in the mountainous forests of Rwanda for years and years? Well, she and I are a lot alike. I’ve feel as though after the decades of teaching teenagers, I know them as well as anyone can.

I understand their vulnerability because I give them mine. Becoming vulnerable allows a person to be target for ridicule and revenge, but it’s hard to love behind a wall. So if I take down the wall and make myself vulnerable, you know I’m serious about love.

And that’s why I want to write for teens. I want to give them something real to hold onto–even if it’s a book. S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders changed my life and made me feel what love was meant to be. Maybe I can do that for teenagers someday.

If I ever get the chance, I hope God allows me to publish my book and then travel around the region hilding workshops in writing to teach teens how to write. I want them to find their own success. I don’t want to give up teaching. I just want to try it in a new environment.

I’m not the best teacher. I’m not the smartest. I’ve won numerous awards and been recognized on television a couple of times for my success. I look great “on paper.” But all of that means nothing if I don’t get into the heart of a student.

Today I receive one of my honorable awards—a Christmas card from Kimberly, a student I had in class ten years ago. She still remembered me, and she told me I made a difference in her life.

I call that success. And opening up that part of me was worth the risk of vulnerability.