Blogging from A-Z – peace

Today’s post is brought to you by the letter “P.” (I’m blogging the alphabet in April. Read the details at Suzy & Spice here or the Blogging from A-Z page here.)

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PosterFrontWhenYoureAtPeaceWithYourself

I really don’t know what quality I possessed as a 17-year-old that would prompt my journalism teacher to give me a poster depicting a kitten asleep on a flowerpot with a message about being at peace with yourself. Baffling me even more was the note she wrote on the back:

PosterBackMissFeltsNote

Posters were Miss Felts’ graduation gifts to the 10 of us, her journalism class. That’s us, below. Can you pick me out? (P.S. I went by my exact middle name, “Sue,” instead of Suzy, in 10th through 12th grades; it was easier.)

SpiritOfThePioneerStaff1980
Juanita Felts (far right) and her journalism class, 1979-80.

If Miss Felts thought I was “at peace with myself,” I’m not sure what kind of Kool-Aid she was in the habit of drinking (seems to me she drank Tab), but I dare say that was not the case 35 years ago.

It is much more the case today.

I wouldn’t say I’m totally at peace with myself, or my life in general, but I have learned that what I used to believe brought peace (the absence of conflict, the outward appearance of competence, “enough” money) is just an illusion.

After having walked my faith journey for so long (all my life, but beginning in earnest when I was in college), I’ve come to understand the things that bring true and lasting peace. (I know that ultimate peace comes from a relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.)

Miss Felts gave me that poster 35 years ago – two-thirds of my life ago – because she saw something in me, and I’ve never forgotten its message. I’ve never ceased to ponder the message itself, why my teacher gave it to me, or why, in my yearbook, she said I had been “a great inspiration” to her.

On the contrary, she was a great inspiration to me. (Funny how that works.)

The poster stayed on my bedroom wall – just north of my headboard – until a couple of years after my dad died, when Mom sold the house I grew up in. I didn’t even realize we still had the poster until recently. It resurfaced when we started rearranging some rooms, going through boxes and drawers, purging clutter.

Finding it again was like getting a surprise visit from an old friend.

In high school, journalism was my favorite class, Miss Felts my favorite teacher, and every memory of that time happy.

Maybe she is the reason I had peace – or at least a high school girl’s version of it – for that nine months of my life (plus our time in sophomore English). I was as angsty as any other teenage girl, and Miss Felts was a calming force during that hour every day when we “practiced journalism.”

Or at least she tried to be. With half a dozen boys in the class, most of them pranksters, we didn’t have many dull moments. And Miss Felts could give as good as she got. When one of us whined, her version of “sympathy” was to rub her index finger around in circles on her thumbnail. Something like this:

“You know what this is?” she said the first time she used it. “It’s the world’s smallest record player.” Or sometimes she’d do another finger motion for “the world’s smallest violin.”

Translation: I’m playing sad, sad music for you poor thing.

(Imagine really dramatic music during the above 2 seconds of video. Please imagine that, because otherwise it just looks like you’ve caught me rolling a booger.)

I didn’t set out today to write about high school, journalism class or my favorite teacher – or even peaceful felines in flowerpots – but I guess those things began to converge when I got to thinking about my writing of late. I was reading Stephen King’s book On Writing (I reviewed Part 1 yesterday) and simultaneously pondering my P topic for today. On my lunch break at work, I had written parts of two drafts about “perspective” and was dissatisfied with both. I did a virtual crumpling of the paper. (Don’t you miss paper sometimes?)

Then, for some reason, “peace” came to mind.

As I read the book, particularly the section about good writing and bad writing, that “competent” writers can become “good” writers – and how that can come to be – I realized that I’m slowing moving from being merely competent toward being a “good” writer (at least in my own estimation, which admittedly is often skewed in my favor).

And the reason for that is that I’m at peace with my writing.

That’s not to say I’m satisfied. That’s a different thing.

I’m at peace.

I’m free. I’m unself-conscious. (Well, not really, but less so than I used to be. I still feel the need to qualify everything in parenthetical phrases. I still over-explain. I still don’t trust you enough to get what I’m saying on your own.)

Not perfection. Peace.

Not every day, not every time. But there is evidence that it’s true.

I’m comfortable writing about boogers. (If Stephen King can talk about the newspaper he created in high school called The Village Vomit, I can write about boogers.)

I didn’t say it was good evidence.

Peace is hard-won. It takes practice. It takes deliberate action. (Sounds contradictory, I know. Peace should be a passive thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t. You have to cultivate it. Water it. Give it light.)

Knowing I can admit things here, in this space, and not fear your reaction – you may call it self-confidence, bravery, stupidity, reading too many Anne Lamott books, whatever.

I call it peace.

Miss Felts, I’m raising a glass of Kool-Aid to you.

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Monday: Q is for … ??? Got any ideas? Toss ’em my way.

Follow me on Twitter: @OakleySuzyT

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Hello, old friend

I’ve been neglecting Suzy & Spice lately. No longer. I’ve committed to writing in this space once a day through 2013.

I don’t know how it’s going to look, as I’m certainly no less busy than before, but I’m going to give it a whirl.

Just so you know, I’ll totally be stealing Sarabeth‘s “friday faves” idea. Not only have I always liked her Friday posts, it will take some of the pressure off, once a week, to come up with something original.

Here’s to creativity.

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Only half the BS, but twice the fun!

One of my favorite things about being married to Bruce is that we laugh a lot. We laugh at our dogs, at each other, at life – at pretty much everything. We’re pretty silly people, and we love to laugh.

Laughter is healing. Just two weeks ago, we attended the memorial service of a dear friend … and we laughed. The chaplain and the loved one’s son – both of them spoke at the service and told funny stories of the person who had just died. In the car on the way to and from the service (a six-hour round trip), Bruce and I, along with my mother, reminisced about our friend … and laughed. Barney would have liked that.

While Bruce and I are similar in many ways (both analytical, pragmatic, left-brained types, both trained journalists [it’s how we met], both lovers of words and books), we are also very different in some ways (the key difference being our approach to matters of faith; I’m a born-again Christian, and he’s an atheist).

And while we have similar senses of humor, there are some differences: He’s more into things like Monty Python than I am. I’m more into a toned-down version of MP; give me Food Network’s Alton Brown any day (he’s the best comedy writer on TV, in my opinion). Bruce likes AB, too, but I am more likely to watch a Good Eats marathon, while he is more likely to watch all of the Monty Python movies or TV episodes without moving from his spot on the couch – while I do a few loads of laundry, pay some bills, balance the checkbook, bake something, paint my fingernails, write a blog post, check my email and catch a few episodes of Law & Order on the other TV. (But the division of household labor is for another post … which, in the interests of marital unity, probably will never get written.)

Bruce and I are both “writers.” At the art and craft of writing, he is the more elegant. When we were copy editors at the same newspaper, he could write me under the table when it came to headlines – still can. He has a way with words, both written and spoken, that I don’t possess. I plod along, hoping to make someone think, or do, or laugh (and a combination of the three wouldn’t hurt); my writing kind of disappears into its pedestrian nature. (The same could be said of our running styles. He is efficient, light on his feet, can finish a workout in no time flat, and I’m there plodding along, just trying to get enough oxygen to my lungs so that I don’t collapse before the finish. I wear shoes marketed to “heavy runners.”)

Sometimes he and I follow the rules, and sometimes we break them, but usually not the same ones at the same time. I’m more likely to be rigid and legalistic in how things should be done, and more likely to be frustrated with him for not following said rules … until it’s the other way around. Sometimes he chooses to be the good boy, standing in contrast to my rebellious streak.

And a lot of the ways we communicate, with others and with one another, are different. That can be frustrating at times (he’s sanguine on some topics that I think are important and worth some effort, and I try to put a positive spin on things sometimes when he tends to be negative; we both can get defensive and a little testy when we’re tired or stressed, but usually it’s not at the same time – there again, we tend to balance each other out).

With the “positive spin,” you never know which pole one of us will be sitting on. OK, sometimes you know. For instance, when our merry band of runners (I’m talking about the remnants from the women’s running clinic, not the local, official running club we belong to) gets together on a new course for the first time, the ladies always ask Coach Bruce the route. “Are there a lot of hills?” is one of the first questions.

I quickly figured out – and I try to spread this gospel – that when you need information about hills, you don’t ask Bruce. Talk to Suzy.

Bruce has been running for three-quarters of his 52 years. He refers to hills as “bumps.” Suzy will give you the straight talk. She is a newbie like you, overweight and overstressed, physical ailments, job pressures, crunchy knees, whiny attitudes and all. Coach Bruce is not trying to put a “positive spin” on hills; he actually believes they are MERELY BUMPS. We have established in previous posts that he is insane (I believe he was brainwashed in running school), so we know that when you want to talk hills – unless you’re in a gas-powered vehicle – talk to Suzy.

So when we were wogging (walking/jogging) this morning, I by myself because my surgically “repaired” knee was feeling funky, I got to thinking about hills, and the different ways that Bruce and I approach them (not so much physically but philosophically).

And I came up with this handy formula that pretty much fits the way we approach most matters of communication:

(B + S) / 2 = A

In words: Take what Bruce says, add what Suzy says, divide by two, and there’s your Answer, somewhere in the middle.

So if you just remember that simple formula, you’ll get only half the BS but twice the fun. And you’ll be A-OK.

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Farewell, Barney Sellers

My family said goodbye to a dear friend on Friday.

Barney Sellers, faithful husband, father, grandfather – and friend – passed away on Jan. 2, 2012, at age 85. He and his wife, Betty, had just celebrated their 64th wedding anniversary on Jan. 1, and he died about three hours after midnight.

Barney was an award-winning photographer, known for capturing on film everything from civil-rights marches to celebrities to heads of state, including at least two kings: Elvis Presley, the king of rock and roll (happy birthday, Elvis), and “Martin Luther the King Jr.,” as the hospice chaplain who spoke at his memorial service jokingly told the gathering.

But I knew him as a gentle man devoted to family and friends first and to taking pictures second.

When Barney retired to Batesville after 36 years as a staff “photog” (as he called it) at The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, he and Betty Sue moved across the street from my parents in 1988, while I was in college at ASU. Barney and I had that in common: We both earned journalism degrees at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, not too far from Barney and Betty’s old stompin’ grounds in Walnut Ridge.

While he and my dad became fast friends (they both loved to tell stories, and lots of them), I looked to him as a source of teaching. As a student journalist, I, too, was interested in photography. Beyond technical skills, however, the tips I picked up from him had more to do with composition than f-stops and shutter speeds.

Dad and Morgan at Barney’s

Barney wasn’t one to photograph people – although one of my favorites is a black-and-white picture he took of my dad and niece sitting together on a bench in Barney’s front yard when Morgan was about 3. And, as a favor, he took my wedding pictures (and wouldn’t accept payment). In fact, it was on my 14th wedding anniversary last week that my mother told me of his passing. (If you subscribe to The Batesville Daily Guard, take note of Page 1 of the Jan. 3 edition, which features not only a photo of Barney accompanying the article but a shot he took of downtown Batesville under a huge full moon.)

My house and my mother’s house are adorned with pictures Barney took, and I can’t recall being allowed to pay him for a single one of them. I would be at his house, admire a picture among the dozens (or sometimes hundreds) he showed me on a particular visit, and the next thing I knew the photo was double or triple matted (by Barney) and given to me or my family as a gift. Mom was responsible for taking them to the frame shop, although the birthday gift he gave me one year (an aerial shot of the White River dam in Batesville), a wedding gift (of a huge full moon above a barn) and my favorite gift from Barney – a photo of double streaks of lightning in the night sky above the Memphis bridge – came complete with frame. He was very generous with his artwork.

Barney’s newspaper years were successful and spanned decades, but, after his official retirement, he was better able to indulge his passion for rural scenes. His “business” was called Barney’s Barns and Rural Scenes, but he was more teacher than businessman. He held photography workshops, taking eager students around scenic Arkansas and elsewhere, teaching them how to see the beauty in a simple dirt road, falling-down barn or old rusty plow.

His son Stanley – or “Chobee,” as I’ve always known him – told me Friday that probably 80-90 percent of Barney’s work centered on his beloved Ozarks.

Yes, Barney saw things that no one should have to see – he photographed civil unrest in the Memphis of the mid-20th century, he went to war (serving two stints in the Navy) and he was there the day singer Jerry Lee Lewis lost his 3-year-old son to drowning in 1962. But despite that – or perhaps because of it – he was able to see the beauty in God’s creation that many of us are too busy to notice.

I remember the time he was visiting my dad at the shop Dad had built in our back yard, and Barney saw a spider web hanging from a corner of the building. Barney said, “Don’t touch that,” or some such admonition to leave the web alone. He trudged back up the hill to his house, returned with a squirt bottle, misted the spider web and shot a typically stunning picture of it, water droplets sparkling in the moonlight.

If not for Barney, I probably wouldn’t have had the “eye,” or the presence of mind, to snap a picture of the spider-web-covered jade plant in Morro Bay, Calif., when Mom and I visited in 2006. In fact, I’m sure that my affinity for photographing “plant life” over “real life” had something to do with Barney. When I spent a summer in Guatemala after college graduation, I took lots of shots of hillsides, mountains, rivers, lakes and volcanoes, and when I returned home and proudly showed my parents all my wonderful pictures, Mom said, “Where are the people?” (She is more of the “line people up like statues” school of photographic thought, whereas Barney wasn’t so much into that.)

Barney liked to tease my mom; he had a wonderful sense of humor – sometimes mischievous, sometimes dry like mine. He loved to laugh, and he loved people.

Barney’s “uniform,” as I recall it, was a pair of khaki pants, a chambray shirt, a bandanna, sometimes a vest, thick eyeglasses and – more often than not – two cameras hanging from his neck. And when he would amble down the hill to our house – whether on foot or in his Jeep on the way to photograph some dilapidated thing down some dirt road (Chaplain Brent said he was told that Barney “knew where every barn was in the state of Arkansas”) – he frequently carried a can of Coke supplemented with Metamucil. “He’d nurse that thing all day, it seemed like,” my mother recalled Friday as we reminisced on the way home from the service. To me, the Coke and Metamucil were simply part of the Barney package.

Barney was old school and had his own way of doing things (hence the recording of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” at the memorial service). According to his family, he took “thousands and thousands and thousands” of photos in his lifetime, all of them with a film camera. His daughter, Susie, had tried to convert him to digital photography but didn’t succeed. Chobee told me about all the prints and negatives in the house, in the garage, in a 10-by-16-foot storage building. Chobee had tried to get his dad to let him sort and catalog them but, again, didn’t succeed.

“He had his own way of cataloguing them, and none of us knew what that way was.” Chobee tried to reason with his dad: Someday we’ll need to know your system. Barney promised to teach him the system, but that day never came.

Barney’s health hadn’t been good in several years. His children had been trying to persuade their parents to leave the split-level house in Batesville – where Barney didn’t do well on the stairs “and kept scaring the daylights out of all of us,” according to his son Richard. They wanted their parents to move back to Memphis, where Barney’s cardiologist and other doctors were. So, even though “his heart was in Arkansas,” according to Chobee, he and Betty Sue finally left their home state and in 2007 moved back to the Memphis area, where Barney died.

There are a few things I regret in life – not getting my Nanny or my Aunt Jo to teach me how to quilt (I paid for classes at a store after both of them had passed on), not getting my Grandma Tressie to really teach me how to sew garments, not spending more time with Dad underneath all those cars he worked on, so I’d know how to change my own oil … and not spending more time at Barney’s elbow, soaking up his knowledge of photography and his love for all things rural. Now it’s too late for all of that.

But if there is anything Barney taught me, it is to keep doing what you love – and to love your family and friends while you’re doing it. I’m determined to keep working on that lesson.

We will miss you, Barney.

It’s appropriate that Barney’s family had his remains deposited in a vintage camera case. On a date to be announced, his ashes will be scattered at his favorite spot in the Ozarks.

I took a small portion of information for this post from The Batesville Daily Guard and The Commercial Appeal. To view some of his work, please visit both newspapers’ websites (links above). The Commercial Appeal‘s site includes a gallery of Barney’s news and feature photos.

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Random thoughts 01/10/10

I was writing an e-mail to a college roommate this afternoon when I realized that if she clicks the link below my signature and goes to my blog – which she’s likely to do because we haven’t been in touch since I started the blog – she will see very few recent posts.

So, even though I can’t seem to form a coherent thought lately, you need to know that I am not dead.

Random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon:

  • I’ll begin Accounting II on Saturday, Jan. 16, after withdrawing last semester so as to avoid a heart attack from everything that was going on in our lives (I mentioned the latest heart symptoms in my Sept. 12, 2009, random thoughts). I decided to try a Saturday morning class because I simply hate having to rush home from work, gulp down a few bites of something and rush to class, sit there for nearly 3 hours trying to stay awake and get home just before bedtime. Besides, I’m a morning person, and that’s when I do my best thinking (if you call me after 9 p.m. – or if you’re a former roommate [hi, Di!] – you’ll understand). My class this semester will be 8-10:40 a.m.
  • I finished reading In Cold Blood, although I never told you I finished it. I mentioned it in my March 22, 2009, post (a random-thoughts post that was a LOT more interesting than this one, and a lot less depressing than the 09/12 one, so check it out), and I finished it months ago, but now I have closure since I have told you about it. 🙂 The book was great, if creepy. Killers with no remorse. And it’s a true story. I read somewhere that when Perry and Dick were hanged, Truman Capote (the book’s author) became physically ill and had to remove himself from the crowd of onlookers. Interviewing the killers, retracing the events of the heinous murders, left a lasting impression on him, and he was never the same. I believe it was his last book.
  • And this year I finally started reading the book on which my favorite movie was based – To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Since the first time I saw the movie about 20 years ago, I’ve been in love with Atticus Finch (Bruce understands – I think). I kept telling myself I needed to read the book, but when I checked for it at the local library, it was always checked out. After several months (maybe even a year) of checking, I finally inquired about it at the desk, because the electronic card catalog kept saying it was NOT checked out. They said it probably had met the same fate as a lot of the other classics: Someone simply took it and never brought it back. Before Christmas, I finally checked again, and they had 2 copies! (Bruce was an English major and has many, many of the classics, but we’re not sure whether this book is in one of the boxes-upon-boxes of books that we have packed, ready to move “someday.)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Part 2 (because the above paragraph was getting long and this really should be a separate post): So I’ve been reading it, along with dealing with the usual Christmas chaos, which this year included getting new windows installed all over the house (the “2 1/2-day” job took nearly 3 weeks!), and trying to read a little of my Accounting I book to refresh myself since taking a semester off, and being tired and going to bed early. And from the very first sentence of this long-desired book, I was hooked. It just draws you in immediately, this tale told through the eyes of a 5-year-old tomboy in a small 1930s Southern town. I have to say, though, that this is one of the rare cases in which I didn’t immediately start to think, “The book is way better than the movie.” The movie is just so darned good, it actually enhances the reading of the book. When I read a book after I’ve first seen the movie, I try not to imagine the actors as those characters. Most times, the actors are too Hollywood, I guess. But in this case, I am imagining Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus, and the kids who played Scout and Jem and Dill, and of Calpurnia and the schoolchildren and the neighbors. … I’m in chapter 10 or 11, and we haven’t even gotten to the rape trial yet. But it’s not slow reading. It’s written through the eyes of little tomboy Scout Finch, and it’s just delightful, because the actress they picked to play Scout is just perfect  – not Hollywood at all (please, if you know anything about the actress that will burst my bubble, keep it to yourself!). And Scout and Jem and Dill and Atticus – and even Boo Radley (Robert Duvall), even though the kids haven’t laid eyes on him yet – those are the faces I see as I read. Brilliant casting.
  • This bullet point is sort of To Kill a Mockingbird (hereafter referred to as TKAM), Part 3, but it’s technically about the author and not the book, so cut me some slack. 🙂 Did you know that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends? In fact, Harper Lee was Capote’s research assistant for In Cold Blood. And her character Dill Harris in TKAM was based on old friend Truman. Some say Capote was the real author of TKAM, but others say it’s a ridiculous notion, the different writing styles being one clue among many.
  • (Link to info about the movie To Kill a Mockingbird.)
  • The next book I read may be Breakfast at Tiffany’s (by Capote), another book I’ve never read but I’ve seen the movie. I didn’t like the movie the first time I watched it – not in spite of Audrey Hepburn but because of her, or at least the character she played. Audrey Hepburn is delightful to watch, but I did not like Holly Golightly the first time I experienced this movie (I tend to judge people I perceive as flighty and irresponsible). Fortunately, my favorite song, “Moon River,” is a big part of the movie, so there have been times when I’ve popped the DVD into the player just to hear that beautiful Mancini tune. So, because of the wonderful song, I’ve grown to love the movie and appreciate the sadness and lostness of the main character. But I imagine this will be one of those times when the book will be much better. It has to be – Capote has written so many wonderful books, and the film version of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (BAT?) is somewhat Hollywoodized, I think. And I want to know what the sad, lost Holly was thinking that early morning as she stood outside Tiffany’s looking in, after having partied all night in that iconic hairdo, dress and black evening gloves. All dressed up in party clothes yet all alone, and I want to know what she was thinking. A movie doesn’t give you that. (Unless it’s Ferris Bueller.)
  • Last year I decided to read more of the classics and am gradually getting around to them. I read slowly, and I tend to get sleepy when I find the perfect comfortable spot to read in, so it takes me a while to finish a book. But now that the holiday season is over, I won’t be watching Food Network as much, so I’m already reading more than I did in the fall. I tried some Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and Upton Sinclair (The Jungle), but those are books I didn’t finish. I’ll eventually get back to Solzhenitsyn, but the only thing I liked about The Jungle (it’s a really gross expose on the meatpacking industry) is that it has caused me to eat less red meat! I think the problem with Denisovich is that I’ve read too many concentration-camp books (I had the same problem with the movie Schindler’s List); maybe I’m desensitized to the issue, or maybe it’s that nothing on the subject comes close to my all-time-favorite book, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (“No pit is so deep that the love of God is not deeper still!”). That is a book that I’ve read several times already but could read every year and never get tired of it. I’ve loaned my copy several times and just told the friend to keep it, then I go buy myself a new paperback copy. The tale of God’s light in a sea of darkness never gets old.
  • I’ve decided – officially – that Naps are a Good Thing. Because I finally have a job that allows me to take actual holidays off (I may never get used to that!), Bruce and I have spent a few long weekends at Mom’s lately (Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s). Thanksgiving weekend, I took a long nap (really, a short nap but a long rest) every single day. At Christmas we were busier, so not so many naps, but New Year’s I got a couple of good breaks in, with the exception of the day that Mom was noisy in the kitchen and I got up cranky at her (don’t worry; I apologized). Just goes to show how important naps have become to my mental health. I turned 47 in November, so I am not a spring chicken anymore. For sure, Naps are a Good Thing. (I’m thinking of trademarking that expression.)
  • A soft bed, a warm puppy and a good book – who could ask for more?
  • I have written a set of “goals” – not New Year’s resolutions – for 2010 (it will include naps, although not in so many words). I didn’t get them posted by the time we rang in the new year, so it may be March before you seem them here! Or I may post them tomorrow – just depends on how tired I am when I get home from work.
  • And of course I’m supposed to be reading my accounting book!

This concludes another portion of our semiregular feature, Random Thoughts. Tune in again, when you may hear Suzy say, “Has it been that long since I posted?”

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