Saturday, September 13, 2014

No one Else Can Play Your/My Part

This week I stumbled across the site To Write Love on Her Arms which was promoting a project called "No One Else Can Play Your Part" designed to bring awareness to World Suicide Prevention Day September 10th. I wanted to participate, but the early part of my week was too full for me to sit down and write a blog post. The challenge was to explain why no one else could play my part.

This concept haunted me all week. Why can no one else play my part?

No one else can play my part because no one else can be me with all my imperfections and perfections.

That's my pat answer. It's the answer that sums it up and yet it somehow feels incomplete. It has taken me years to get to the point where I believe I am enough. I spent much of my life "trying to be..." in order to be lovable, acceptable, respectable. Yet, as I stand here I remember a time when I didn't care who liked or didn't like me, who stayed and who left, who thought well of me and who thought ill of me. I remember that time, and I remember the crushing blow that changed how I saw myself when I looked in the mirror. I remember spiraling into a place of self-destruction and suicidal thoughts. I remember thinking the world would be better off without me in it. I remember thinking I brought nothing but misery to everyone around me. I remember believing with my whole heart that the only way to spare my family the shame of having me as a daughter was to stop existing. I never thought of it as dying, just as no longer existing.

I rarely think about that time in my life and I talk about it even less. It seems so inconsequential to who I am now yet if I hadn't gone through it, I wouldn't be the person I've grown to become. Recently, when I read about Robin Williams suicide, these thoughts came back. Not because I knew him but because I understood how the outside world can see us as happy when we're spiraling into that abyss. I know how hard it is to find the way out of that abyss. If we're lucky someone sees and someone intervenes.

When I spiraled years ago, a friend noticed and told another friend, Emery, because she thought maybe he could reach me when she had failed. At first, apparently, dismissed her concerns. Then he saw me on campus and saw something in my demeanor that concerned him. He reached out. He did little things. He elicited a promise from me every day that we would talk the next day. He asked if I was eating, sleeping, and otherwise taking care of myself. He inquired about my plans for the day, the week, the month, the summer, the next Fall. He asked me what happened. I told him. He listened. He didn't judge. He simply reminded me of the good in me even when I refused to believe him. He even managed to coax a laugh or two from me. Most importantly he kept eliciting that promise that we'd talk the next day. He, like most people who know me well, knew that I hate to break a promise. I will go to great lengths to keep the promises I make.

Sometimes the little things are the biggest things when it comes to being there for someone.Somehow, without me even being cognizant it was happening, he reminded me there was only one me and that I had much to offer the world.

Eventually, I began to see that the longer I survived, I... well, survived. It took a long time for me to feel like I could do more than survive. Sometimes, we have to accept that survival is enough until we can move to the next level and eventually to thrive.

Today when I look at those around me, I can generally see a million reasons why no one else could play the parts of the people in my life except the people who play them. I still sometimes have to remind myself that no one else can play my part. That's okay because I know, deep in my heart, that I am uniquely me. I am the only me there will ever be just like each person I meet can only be who they are and no one else can be that person.

So the reason no one else can play my part or your part is simply because we are all enough just as we are and we all have much to offer the world just as we are.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Verse of Ages

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Phenomenal Compassion

I've been participating in the latest 21 Day Meditation Experience by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. Today the topic was radiating compassion. I was excited about this meditation because I believe compassion is where we find the courage to see ourselves in those we are often encouraged to refer to as the other. As I meditated, my heart ached with a longing to see and feel more compassion in the world around me. I was reminded of compassionate people I've known and times when I've found compassion easy to express and other times when I found compassion almost impossible to find in my heart.

Part of the meditation experience involves answering questions built around the day's topic. Things got interesting as I delved into my thoughts on compassion. Lately, I've been witnessing such a lack of compassion in the world that I have moments when I can't help but wonder who benefits from pitting us against one another. The more others we create, the more discord we orchestrate. Hate, violence, and discord hurts us all including the perpetrators and the victims.

One of the questions in the writing part of the meditation asked me to think about someone I considered an example of compassion and list three reasons why. The first person to pop in my mind was my Grandma Stamm followed quickly by Dr. Maya Angelou. As I wrote about these two women, I was reminded of the dream I had the night before Dr. Angelou died and the poem I wrote as a result of that dream.

Two Women

Last night I dreamed
Two women sat at a table
One black,one white
Both wise enough to see
They must speak truth
Cups in hand
Platter of biscuits between them
They talked of love
They shared stories of life
Their laughter free
Their smiles genuine
Their insights built from experience
Two lives so different
One world-traveled
One always focused on home
Both reverberating a message
Of acceptance and truth
Of seeing people as they are
Of strength and beauty
These two women
One I called Grandma
One the world called legend
Both marked the world
With indelible ink
To create change within their influence
Both opened my eyes
To see people truly are
More alike than unalike

My thoughts drifted back to that dream and the poem. I felt a sudden insight; my perspective of these two women had much in common. I see them both as accepting, loving, caring women who were strong enough to set boundaries that commanded respect for themselves and demanded it for others. I realized the dream had as much to do with their influence on me as anything else. Much of what I believe about compassion I learned from these two women, and I'm sure they influenced others similarly. To me, they are both phenomenal women who encouraged women to phenomenal women and men to be phenomenal men. They pushed everyone in their circles to embrace their own wonderful selves.

As I examine my life and look for the compassion in it, I see I sometimes fall short, and when I do it is generally because I am fragmented within. It is difficult to offer compassion to others when you feel none for yourself. When you are fragmented within, it is hard to feel compassion for yourself. This is precisely when I discover it is imperative I withdraw and focus on finding compassion for my fragments. As I send compassion to my fragments, they heal and I more easily offer compassion to others, even people I will never meet and who will never know I am feeling compassion for them.

Compassion lifts us above the pettiness of our differences and puts us in touch with our commonalities. Compassion allows us to see where we can connect and where we can learn. Compassion drives us toward unity. Compassion is never wasted.

Compassion provides us all the opportunity to be phenomenal.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

T. L. Cooper Reads at Third Thursday Poets

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Someday... Revisiting Combs Hall, Eastern Kentucky University


So many memories...
 When I learned in February that Eastern Kentucky University planned to demolish Earle Combs Hall, built in 1962 and named for Baseball Hall of Famer, Earle Bryan Combs, at the end of the Spring semester, I felt an influx of myriad emotions. I felt momentarily overwhelmed. Returning to Combs Hall was something I always intended to do someday. Combs offered mixed memories and emotions for me. In the five semesters I lived in Combs Hall, many, many good things happened along with a few bad things. The reason I had avoided returning to my old room had to do with a life-changing event that happened in that room. I'd always felt like I needed to return there for closure, and I'd always found a reason not to go through with it. I didn't want to face what might surface once I stepped inside the room. So someday was always out there somewhere waiting to come. Suddenly, someday might be gone...

I emailed the EKU Alumni Office to ask when the building would be demolished. They responded that dismantling the building would begin in April but couldn't provide a demolition date. For some reason, I got the impression it would likely happen some time in May. I resigned myself to an opportunity lost for closure. So much for someday. Oh, well, I lived this long without it, life would go on. It always does.

When we drove down Lancaster Avenue in early June, and Earle Combs Hall still stood looking as it always had from the outside, I gasped out loud and blinked back a tear. I'm fairly certain I tapped my husband's arm and mumbled something along the lines of. "It's still here. It's still here. I can't believe it's still here.", but I don't remember for sure. I couldn't take my eyes off the building. Then I reminded myself we weren't there for me.Well, we kind of were. That day I was donating copies of my poetry books to the EKU Library, but we were in Richmond for my niece's Summer Orientation. This was about Kaylee, not about me. Still, when she went to housing to see if she had been assigned a room and roommate yet, I asked if it would be possible to get into my old room in Combs not really expecting them to let me.

They did!

Two staff members accompanied us as we entered the building. Many things had changed; some hadn't. Funny after all these years the things one remembers. I immediately remembered my mailbox number when I walked into the lobby. (I wish I'd asked if I could have the mailbox door, but it didn't occur to me at the time. Oh, well.) We headed down the stairs I'd walked so many times.

My room was in the basement. There were only 13 rooms for residents, two of which were half-sized rooms for only one occupant. All the rooms except two faced the parking lot. Our floor also housed the laundry room, for the entire building if I remember correctly, a bathroom and, I think, a janitor's closet.The numbers on the resident rooms were 1-13. None of this floor designation followed by the room number stuff for us! Apparently, at one time the basement had been the rec room. There was still a cable hookup in room 13 that some of the residents managed to make use of. That was before cable was in all rooms. I think it was one of the smallest floors, possibly the smallest, on campus.

Talking to our escorts about
how my room had changed
with my friend, Karen, when
this really was my room.
Note the doors
I walked straight to my room. The door looked wrong, but I wasn't sure why. Later I realized it was because it was gray instead of wood. I looked up. The room number was all wrong. It was 107 instead of 5. I felt a gut resistance to that small change.  I didn't even want to think about how many people have lived in that room since I did. It doesn't really matter. It was my room.

I stepped inside.

Upon initial
re-entry...
Teddy and me...
Note the built-ins and windows
I expected this flood of... something... nostalgia? regret? anxiety? bad memories? panic? vulnerability? bittersweet memories? some kind of emotion? to overwhelm me when I stepped inside the room. After all, the someday I thought was gone had unexpectedly arrived. It felt smaller. It looked so different. The built-ins were gone. A sink had been installed at some point. There were no beds, metal or otherwise. Furniture was stacked willy-nilly. The phone jack was still in the same place. The closets were the same except the doors were gray now instead of wood. The walls were no longer pale yellow. They were more of an off-white. The huge windows had been replaced with a smaller window. I felt a small wave of nostalgia and great relief flood over me. Yet, it wasn't at all what I expected to feel even though I still can't tell you what I expected.

Time had moved on. I had moved on. Even my room had moved on.

Built-ins gone... Sink added.
Window size reduced...
Studying...
As I posed in the window for photos, I remembered the poem I wrote in February, "Come Knock on My Window", and knew the girl I thought I'd left behind in that room with all those memories survives, lives, thrives in the woman I've become. Sometimes we have to let go of what we were to step into our truth, our strength, our selves.

Well...
I think this corner looked much
better like this!!
As I stood in the middle of the room, a thought started to niggle me. I pushed it away, but later that night it became a poem "It's Only a Room" because when I stood there and remembered the past, looked at how the room had changed and how it hadn't, I fully realized numerous people had lived between those four walls since me. They never knew either the joys nor the sorrows I experienced in that room even though I'm sure they experienced their own. Each of us left behind some small part of who we were as we grew into who we became. The pending demise of the room and the building would change nothing about my life.

with 2 of my Combs Hall friends
Terri and Melanie
Note the orange wall.
With my niece, Kaylee, outside
my room in Combs Hall
I walked up and down the hall peeking in the rooms where I'd laughed and cried with friends, spent nights drowning in sad music, celebrated... well, just about anything good because in those days we looked for excuses to celebrate, and made friends I still cherish to this day. The wall between what had been rooms 1 and 2 (one of the half rooms) had been demolished creating what I'm guessing had served as a kitchen and lounge area of some sort. The bathroom looked sadly the same, and I wondered if the most recent residents had organized their showers to use the first shower because it was the "best" of the three showers. One of the first tips Kelly Peck shared with me! The laundry room was just a big, empty space now.

Remembering
Making memories
I stepped back inside my room for one last look around. Both the room and I had
changed even while holding on to pieces of our selves. I smiled as I turned and walked away without a backward glance, well, okay, maybe one or two backward glances...

As I understand it, the building was demolished on July 31st though I've been unable to confirm that as of this posting. I, however, got my someday. Goodbye, Combs Hall, thank you for the memories and the friendships cultivated between your walls!!

Someday rarely waits for us, so we have to embrace it when we find it.

Did I find the closure I sought? I'm not sure there is really closure for some things. Some events happen in our lives, and they change us at our core. What I do know for sure is that standing in my strength in the middle of that room, I remembered that far more wonderful things than terrible things happened in that room, my room. I knew for certain something I sometimes forget - No single moment defines me.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Remembering Lessons from Maya Angelou...

Today, the world lost a voice that often exuded calm strength in the middle of chaos, Dr. Maya Angelou. Thank you Dr. Angelou for inspiring us and for sharing your insights with the world.

I had the great privilege of attending a talk presented by Dr. Maya Angelou in 2010. It was a wonderful evening, and she was a delightful speaker. I wrote about my impressions of her talk the next day.

Here is that blog post. (typos corrected because, well, I just couldn't not, but otherwise it is just as I wrote it on June 4, 2010.)

06/04/10
Lessons from Maya Angelou

Last night I attended a lecture by Maya Angelou.  She spoke at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem, Oregon.  State Senator, Jackie Winters, introduced Dr. Angelou with heartfelt words.

When the curtain rose to reveal Dr. Angelou sitting in a chair on the stage in a long cream colored dress and a beautiful necklace, I was struck by the energy that emanates from her.  She looked frailer than I expected, but at eighty-two she has the right to look a bit frail.  As soon as she began to speak, the strength of her character, her words, and her convictions displaced the initial frailty I noticed.

I’ve long wanted to hear Dr. Angelou speak in person.  I missed her years ago when she was in Boise because I was silly enough to think attending by myself would make me look like I didn’t have any friends.  This time, I guess I’ve matured because I really don’t care about that anymore.  I attended by myself though a friend who also attended met me for dinner before and a coffee after.  Plans we made after we found out we were both attending.

When Maya began to speak - or rather sing ”When it lookd like the sun wasn’t gonna shine anymore, God made a rainbow in the clouds” a tear threatened the corner of my eye.  I blinked it back and concentrated on her words.  After the song, she spoke of her life experience and of accepting others.  She spoke of helping others and loving those unlike what we see in the mirror.  She spoke of the humanness of all of humanity.  She quoted others’ poetry and read/recited her own.  She encouraged the audience to read and memorize poetry that means something to us.  She injected funny moments, comments, and anecdotes at just the right moments to keep my tears from actually falling.  She never forgot her appearance was part of a fundraiser for the 50+ Center in Salem seamlessly working comments about the organization into her talk.  She told an audience full of people they matter in a way that made each individual feel she spoke directly to him/her.  She opened, reiterated, and closed with the idea that we all have the potential to be rainbows in other people’s lives.

I thought about people from my own life.  I thought about moments of acceptance and love I’ve witnessed.  I thought about moments of absolute rudeness and cruelty I’ve witnessed.  I thought about the excuses I’ve heard for people’s racism.  I thought about misconceptions I’ve held that have been disproven.  I thought about people I’ve admired and loved.  I thought about people who’ve influenced me throughout my life.  I listened to her honesty about events in her life and wondered when I’ll be able to be so honest about events from my past.  It’s not that I’m dishonest now, it’s more that I’m not comfortable to talk openly in a public setting about certain events from my life.  I understand those events have helped create the person I am today, but I hesitate to share them with strangers.  Perhaps I still fear judgment or pity though I’m loathe to admit that even to myself, so I fight even writing it as a possibility.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening sitting only a few feet away from the stage as Dr. Angelou spoke.  I walked away inspired to continue writing about issues that are important to me in a way that will both entertain and provoke conversation.  I feel encouraged to continue living the life I’ve chosen for myself - one based on love, understanding, and acceptance.  I am invigorated to tackle projects that require me to delve into that sense of honesty that makes me feel too vulnerable.

Dr. Angelou spoke the words I needed to hear.  Often when we open ourselves to listen we hear exactly what we need to hear even when the same words are spoken to a room full of people who will each come away with their own interpretation of the words based on their own individual needs.

The only thing that would have improved an already perfect evening is if she’d read her poem, Human Family.  It is my favorite poem.  To that end, I’m going to take her advice that poetry belongs to us all and quote the beginning and the end of the poem.  It begins “I note the obvious differences/in the human family./Some of us are serious,/some thrive on comedy” and ends “We are more alike, my friends,/than we are unalike.”

I request you find the poem and read the middle because it really is the best part.

Wishing to hear Human Family live is a selfish conceit after such an uplifting and beautiful talk.  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to listen to Dr. Angelou speak in person.


And, don’t forget, you can be a rainbow in someone’s life because in the end we really are more alike than unalike.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mentored by Mentoring

"Me? Mentor? Can I mentor someone? Am I qualified?" When Kelsie Manley contacted me via email with a request I mentor her for her Senior Class Project at Calvary Chapel Christian High School (now Watersprings), these thoughts battled in my mind with thoughts that it might be fun and interesting, perhaps I could even make a difference in someone's life.

I thought about it for a little while and looked up the school online. Her request seemed simple enough and the requirements seemed reasonable, so I responded in the affirmative.

I signed the "Mentor Agreement" and emailed it to her teacher. Then Kelsie and I planned how to implement the mentoring long distance. We opted for email and Skype. We set our first meeting for just after Thanksgiving, and she emailed me what she'd written to that point.

I had no idea what to expect. She'd sent me what she'd written and her plans for rest of the story. I immediately realized her story line would overflow from a novella to a book and could likely be turned into a series. Her story idea was solid and interesting and her writing showed promise. Her writing intrigued me.

Our first meeting, we chatted for a few minutes and then dove right into the work. She listened intently and answered my questions. She asked me a few questions. We discussed what she hoped to get out of the experience and how to achieve her goals while staying within the guidelines of her assignment.

She wrote. I read what she wrote. We met and discussed her work as well as her struggles to find time to write. Her deadline loomed in front of me and stressed me as much as her mainly because having experience writing I knew the project would likely take longer than she anticipated, especially if she tried to fit her full idea into the book. At one point, I asked her to email me her daily word count for a week to get her in the habit of scheduling time to write. I encouraged her to try different methods of writing to complete the project. She tried writing without editing, editing as she went, the aforementioned daily word count accountability, etc. I pushed her to explore what worked for her and discussed not only what worked for me but what worked for my writer friends. It's easy for us to think our way is the only way or at least the best way. Sometimes when something didn't work for her, I had to step back, look at it, and think about other options to recommend she try. Everyone is different, and writing is an individual undertaking.

We discussed issues with grammar, typos, timeline, and plot. I pushed her on a couple of plot points to see if she would stand up for her work. She did!

After each meeting, I felt energized, encouraged, and inspired. I often found the advice I gave her applied to something I was working on. For example, a few days after a discussion about the importance of describing her characters, I edited a short story and realized I'd completely forgotten to describe my main characters but had described a minor character! When I confessed this to her during our next meeting, she smiled. Sometimes showing our mistakes is as important as showing our successes.

Mentoring Kelsie reminded me why I write and to embrace the joy I find in writing. It awakened the intoxicating feeling of a new story taking shape as the words move across the page. I've been editing and delving through some of my older work for quite a while. I find sometimes in the process I'm harder on myself than I should be. Encouraging Kelsie reminded me to see the work where it is and move forward rather than getting mired in where it began even as I paid homage to its origins.

I looked forward to each installment of her novella, The Planet Jumper (later Escape), in which a young girl who can travel between planets and the journalist who befriends her try to outrun the government who intends to exploit the girl's ability.

As we neared the end of the time allotted for the project, I edited the first part of Kelsie's manuscript reminiscent of the way a professional editor would. I must admit I felt a bit nervous, and I think it showed, as we went over the pages with my comments that I had emailed her. I know professional writers who don't don't react well to having their work dissected line by line. As we discussed my comments, criticisms, and suggestions, I watched her face closely to see how she reacted. To my surprise, she handled the intense editing like a professional. She listened intently, asked questions, and seemed to actually welcome the feedback. At one point she even reassured me that my feedback was helpful and not too harsh.

When she went into hyper-drive mode to finish the project on time, I encouraged her via email but we didn't meet again during that time.

There were times throughout the process when I wondered if I was doing enough or if I was giving her what she needed. I encouraged her to tell me what she needed from me throughout the process, and I often asked her if there was something more she needed. I thought about what I would've have wanted someone to say to me when I wrote my first novella and used that to inspire what I told her. Often though what I planned to say fell to the wayside as I responded in the moment of our meetings. Eventually, I realized that my role as a mentor was as much about hearing what she was saying as it was about guiding her.

I attended her Senior Class Presentation via Skype. She gave a great presentation. Her teacher and the panel who listened to her presentation asked me to stay for a few minutes after the presentation to answer some questions. I did. We discussed the mentoring process and how I perceived Kelsie's performance and attitude throughout the process. It felt so final.

The rewards of mentoring Kelsie far outweighed the time commitment it involved. I worked with her and often asked her what she needed from me rather than just telling her what she needed to do because I wanted to make sure she was getting what she needed out of the process. I hope she did.

Mentoring is about empowering someone else. When we empower others, we empower ourselves. Give yourself permission to mentor someone, and you just might find the experience mentors you in some unexpected way.