Catty, Corny Challenge

I made a pledge on my Facebook to post these GIFs of a cat eating corn if I got 10 “Likes” on the screen shot I took of the GIFs (GIFs aren’t allowed on FB, hence I put so many of them here on my blog). In the “challenge,” I stated that I’d either post the GIFs as a stand-alone blog or donate $10 to my own bank account (cue the sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell). I only got 3 “Likes,” but I’m still posting the GIFs (mainly for my own amusement) and I’m also donating $50 to Imagine No Malaria, which is an initiative by the United Methodist Church to end malaria. To be quite frank, there’s plenty of people dumping gallons of clean, perfectly good ice water on their heads when plenty of children in Africa don’t know what cold, clean drinking water is. We flush our toilets full of sanitized water multiple times a day. It’s no laughing matter to me when people are wasting all this perfectly good water to raise $$$ for a cause, no matter what it is. So yeah, I invented my own challenge and donated accordingly.

I think it’s a shame we’ve resorted to such gimmicks to fund medical research in this day and age. That being said, plenty of things being sold rely on gimmicks, whether it be pop music or candy bars. Kudos to the ALS for all the $$$ they’ve raised. I think it’s one thing for teams to dump leftover ice from the sidelines on a coach or player, but all the clean drinking water and ice that’s been wasted on this fundraiser quite frankly disgusts me. But that’s just my opinion and we’re all entitled to our own thoughts on such issues. On that note, enjoy the cat eating the corn…no clean drinking water or ice was wasted frivolously posting these to my blog.

Stay cool, everyone!

brt

[Off my catty soapbox now]

Mix Tapes

tape recorder gif

“The question that dances like a firefly in my mind is: Are we following a pre-written chronicle of our lives that’s unfolding as a surprise to us but that is as planned as a Disneyland ride? Or do we have free will, and a set of lessons to learn, which, if we don’t get them the first time, will come back in a different form until we do?”–Stephanie Beacham, ‘Many Lives’, pages 3-4.

I’m currently reading La Beacham’s–AKA Sable Colby’s–autobiography in which she goes into much detail about her past lives. I can’t say this is something I believe in, so I continue muddling through it in hopes of her dishing a bit of old fashioned showbiz gossip. But she does share some thought-provoking quotes, such as the one above. Her spiritual connection to God is very evident, and I can appreciate that for sure.

The current #1 album in America is the soundtrack to Guardians of the Galaxy, subtitled Awesome Mix Vol. 1. I’ve not seen the movie, so I’ve no clue if a second volume is in the works/exists/is being planned for the already greenlit sequel. The noteworthy thing about this soundtrack reaching #1 is that all the songs are from the 70s, which makes them all 35+ years old. Apparently this sort of phenomenon has never happened (a whole album of vintage tunes reaching the top spot). Pretty cool in 2014, right? I saw the GIF above on Tumblr and it reminded me of the tape recorder I had growing up. I still have it, actually, and use it to play my old mix tapes from high school on every once in awhile. Okay, I won’t lie, I was still making a few mix tapes when I lived in Nashville, and that was 2003-06. But the memories I have of laying in bed at night with my boombox on my nightstand, waiting for the next hit to play on the radio so I could hit “Record” and capture it on the tape loaded in the double deck. (That boombox long ago bit the dust.) And the travesty of when the tape ran out during the middle of a great song I was capturing…it still makes me cringe! I was usually insightful enough to pop out the tape beforehand and tell if I only had a bit left on it, but if I was on a roll of recording, it would inevitably happen that the tape would run out and I’d have to pop it out lightning-fast to let the song continue recording on the other side. I didn’t really ever make mix tapes for anyone else; just for me to listen to in my car and in my room. Some were heavy on the hits and some were admittedly lackluster. I went through all of them before I moved out to Las Vegas and brought only the cream of the crop with me. It’s funny once I pop one in that I can usually predict what the next song is going to be on the tape. That’s how many times I’ve listened to most of them over the years.

La Beacham’s quote got me to thinking about how our lives are a bit like a collection of old mix tapes…many times we feel as though we can predict what’s coming up next around the bend. Sometimes our lives are a series of hits; other times our existence might seem a bit lackluster. Life–like the songs–can be upbeat and pulsing or seemingly sad and slow. We certainly have a degree of power over what route this takes, but it’s often times out of our control. I think of my friend Chris recovering from his stroke; that’s absolutely nothing he would’ve ever chosen to deal with, nor would any of us who are close to him. One gets through such events, pops the tape out, and turns the tape over in hopes of hearing/living “a better song.”

tape GIF

So are our lives pre-written? I don’t believe so, but I don’t know that for sure. I do think God gives us the free will to make good and poor decisions, and the chances to learn from those decisions. And heaven help us if the mix tape gets eaten up by the tape player…hah! We’re never alone, though…never. That I do know. Life is indeed a mixed bag–a mix tape of hits and misses–but we are indeed never alone, by the grace of God.

brt

Diction

The older (and hopefully, wiser) I get, I have learned the hard way that it’s better to hold my tongue about many things. I read a quote awhile back to the effect of, “Maturity is realizing how many things don’t require your comment.” One knows when a valuable lesson is being/has been learned because it sticks with you each and every day, as that quote has with me. There are several things I could/would like to comment on right now; I’m restraining my fingers from typing about them as examples, because maturity is also realizing that’s a very passive-aggressive tactic of *still* commenting on them (i.e., “how _______ is in trouble with the law” or “how _______ won’t return my calls”). Funny thing is, I’ve been both of those “i.e.s” at one/many points in my life, so I also shouldn’t be judging those people. Not to mention I could be one of those “i.e.s” in the future, especially the latter as I’m notorious for not returning calls promptly.

Sabella Colby, as played by Stephanie Beacham

I’ve been rewatching one of my favourite guilty pleasures online: the ill-fated ‘Dynasty’ spin-off ‘The Colbys’. It aired from 1985-87 on ABC–sometimes right after ‘Dynasty’, sometimes in its time slot (to trick viewers), and at the time it got cancelled it was airing opposite ‘Cheers’ (enough said). It was a stellar cast made up of Oscar winners Charlton Heston and Barbara Stanwyck–accompanied by the brilliantly British Stephanie Beacham–as well as some players brought over from ‘Dynasty’ and some eye candy in the form of Maxwell Caulfield. The main thing which has struck me about the show is the diction: Barbie Stanwyck was a pro at enunciating, for starters. And no one of a certain age can mistake Charlton Heston’s booming voice. Then we have the lovely Stephanie Beacham. I’ve always been a sucker for a posh British accent…Joan Collins, Hayley Mills, you name it. I’d forgotten how much I loved Beacham’s accent until I’ve been re-watching the series. In fact, I’ve been mimicking her myself at all hours of the day; my roommate caught me just the other day doing one of her, “Dahhhhhhhlings” to myself as I came down the stairs with my laundry. It’s the enunciation of the “T” at the end of words which particularly stands out to me. As a Southerner, this is something I dropped the moment I came out of the womb, I believe. Diahann Carroll is also a pro at enunciating; she guest starred on several episodes of ‘The Colbys’ as a crossover from ‘Dynasty’. Her ex’s name was Garrett and she literally pronounced it, “GarretT.” So yes, I’ve been practicing my enunciation as of late. I’m still very clumsy with it, but I just had to re-record my outgoing voicemail message for the first time in roughly 1o years and one of my friends told me I sounded so, “Harsh and serious.” Well, I was enunciating…using proper diction. It can come off harsh and serious, but it’s also fun to do after a lifetime of dropping the consonants off the ends of words. “Hello, darlin’,” anyone?!?

Maxwell Caulfield, AKA MIles Colby

Maxwell Caulfield, AKA MIles Colby

Here’s a *fun clip* from ‘The Colbys’ if anyone is bored and so inclined to take one of my informal, 80s-tastic elocution lessons. In the meantime, hope everyone’s enjoying their summer. And take it from me: It pays to think before you speak. Especially when commenting on someone else’s decisions. Use that energy in a more positive way; say, to improve how you yourself say things. Just a thought, dahhhhhlings.

brt

Back to Black(berry)

Baking in the heat, along with my mobile

Baking in the heat, along with my mobile, out of sight to the R

A couple of days ago I was doing some long overdue laying out. I’d laid out a tiny bit in Palm Springs whilst visiting my friend Chris, but no more than a few minutes at a time. This was the first time I’d purposely decided to lay out without any cares, at least for 30 minutes or so. Well–and I must laugh now–such was not the case. Even just having my phone out in the heat that long fried it…it spazzed out and I ended up taking it during a freak desert thunderstorm to my local AT&T store, where my options were to purchase a new one for $______ ($500+), or wait until I’m due for a renewal in 90 days and go from there. So I went home to fetch my old phone, which was coincidentally a Blackberry which my sister had given me after my previous phone died in the rain in Kennesaw, nearly three years ago. The staff at the store were more than gracious enough to switch out the SIM cards (kudos to the testament of AT&T customer service right there), and I got home and charged the four year-old phone. Once it was up and running, I hated it. Like, LOATHED it. I’ve never been one to covet a cell phone, but this one seemed so old and out of date! I had my little hissy fit and calmed myself down; “I can tolerate this for 90 days,” I told myself. It’s just a dumb phone, and all I use it for is to take calls, take a few pics, and check my Facebook when I don’t have my laptop handy. I took a pic…it must’ve been 2 megapixels, max. FML, I thought. All of a sudden, I no-holds-barred was coveting a new phone, though I was ashamed to admit it. (Not really, though…the pic I took was horrendous…I won’t even share it here. I’ve decided to just start toting my digital camera around to take pics until I get a new phone…which is what I used to do before I had this Samsung Note which just melted down.)

Then I thought back to a video I’d also–coincidentally, no joke–watched on YouTube earlier in the day. I’d actually been watching videos on a channel I subscribe to re: abandoned places. Most of them are abandoned amusement parks, abandoned rides inside amusement parks…you get the picture…kind of silly fun. Well, YouTube suggested one to me entitled, China’s Empty Cities House 64 Million Empty Apartments.” I couldn’t resist watching, even though I’d seen another YouTube video on China’s ridiculous, non-sensical overbuilding phenomenon awhile back. WordPress won’t let me insert the link properly, but here it is…watching this put all my  #whitewhine cell phone debacleness in perspective. I have a roof over my head, I have my own bathroom, I live in a very nice, cookie cutter subdivision in a country where our government doesn’t–how shall I put this delicately–do many things with our $$$ which aren’t helpful to the high majority of the population. Anyway: here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm7rOKT151Y The whole video is astounding, but if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing, start at 8:20 to see the story of the Beijing couple living in their 1-BR slum down a long alley. That’s essentially what I thought back to when I had my little meltdown over reverting to a four year-old phone. This couple has a daughter they only get to see once a year; they share a sink/bathroom/common outdoor kitchen area with what I gathered was about 10 other 1-BR apartments. Right then and there, where are the validity of my complaints? Cutting to the chase, do I think it’s any coincidence I viewed this video on the same day I experienced such a–and i use HUGE quotes–“such a material loss?” The answer, very clearly, is not at all. I still have a phone…I still have my own room, my own bathroom, an indoor kitchen I only share with three other people, and I can fly home to see my family any time I dang well please. Forget frying a cell phone whilst laying out in a clean, open-air backyard…those are small (fried) potatoes.

The "ancient" Blackberry I'm using...doesn't it look all new and shiny polished up?

The “ancient” Blackberry I’m using…doesn’t it look all new and shiny polished up?

There’s not much more I need to say except that I’m impossibly humbled. Please take the time to watch the video link I shared above…you’ll concur with me. Hope everyone’s having a safe and happy summer. My friend Chris is making great strides in his recovery from his stroke…thanks for all the prayers and concerns sent his way. He’s now able to stand and make small sounds out of his vocal cords. I’m thankful every single day that he’s made such progress in such a relatively small amount of time.

Be thankful for what you’re given, and when it’s given to you when you need it most.

BRT

Like an Old Pair of Tennis Shoes

We had a garage sale as a fundraiser for Class Cabinet during my 9th grade year and for some reason this anecdote has stuck in my head all these years later. One of the popular cheerleaders–I won’t name names because of Google searches–was getting mercilessly teased by another one for not putting her dirty, sweaty Asics tennis shoes in the sale which she’d had since she was like 12 years old. First of all–and bless her heart–the girl was wearing them on her feet right then. Secondly, and in her own words, “They’re my favourite pair of shoes. They’re worn in and I don’t know what I’d do without them.” She didn’t put them in the sale and for all I know she still has them to this day, 19 years later. (I doubt that, but she was a sweet girl and it makes me laugh that this is my main memory about her, because there are so many, much classier memories that should outrank this silly one.)

When I went to visit my friend Chris again a couple of weeks ago, I was so very nervous because it was the first time I was going to see him since he was conscious after his stroke. I knew he still wasn’t able to talk, so when I finally tracked him down after figuring out he’d been transferred between rehab facilities, I just held his hand. I stroked his hair and held his hand for awhile, excused myself and cried in the bathroom, and came back and held his hand some more. He’d just been moved about 70 miles that day and I didn’t feel like BS-ing with him about what a nice place he’d been moved to…it’s nice, but it’s a nice nursing home. I don’t know anyone my age who’d be happy somewhere like that. Anyway I went back the next day and he seemed to be in better spirits, as I was, too, after plenty of rest and laying out a bit at my hotel in Palm Springs. I’d brought a card and a small potted plant and read the card to him; he teared up and tried to talk, which is impossible with the trach in his throat. I told him he’d be able to talk soon and he shook his head, “No.” I told him that wasn’t true; that he’d be back to normal soon, but it would just take some time. He shook his head, “No” again. My heart was broken, so I just sat there with him not knowing what else to say, holding his hand and stroking his hair from time to time. He finally motioned towards his lips and I thought he wanted to tell me something. Knowing he couldn’t talk, I held my ear up to his mouth anyway. He kissed my ear. Touched, I kissed his forehead and told him I loved him…that we all loved him and that he’d be better very soon if he just did everything they told him to do in rehab. He cried and shook his head to the negative again and pressed his buzzer for the nurses. I excused myself and went into the bathroom and just sat on the toilet and sobbed. I came back in and kissed Chris and told him I’d see him again soon.

This past week my ex messaged me on Facebook and wanted to meet for coffee that morning (well, I don’t drink coffee, but to meet at at coffee shoppe). We chatted a bit online and then I called him once I got off work. The call lasted less than 25 seconds…he was rushing me off the phone so fast I hardly had time to think. Then it all came rushing back to me…all the lectures, all the one-sided conversations, all the instances last summer when I depended on him for my validation. My therapist hit the nail on the head last year: I’d put him up on a pedestal, and it had all come crashing down when he didn’t meet those expectations (and I didn’t meet his). I told him thanks, but no thanks to coffee. Why, then–even for a moment–did it feel right to meet up with him? Perhaps because–and I apologize for the comparison and the repetitive sentence structures right off the bat–he’s like an old pair of tennis shoes. In all honesty, I thank the Lord for the flash of insight. That being said, it got me to thinking about Chris back in the nursing home. I was at a total loss for how to comfort him. When I used to stay with him in Palm Springs, he had a(n extremely uncomfortable) double bed that we’d share and sometimes we’d cuddle during my stay with him. We’d go for long periods without saying a word to one another, even when we were both awake. It was never anything serious or intense, but I realize now that’s what I reverted back to when I was visiting him this last time. Embarrassing? Perhaps. Did it comfort him? Yes. Was it like a slipping on a comfortable, old shoe? Sure. But not a sweaty, dirty one I’d give up at a 9th grade garage sale. He’s a person, and one whom I care about very much. And no, I don’t know what I’d do without him.

So I’m not sure exactly where I was going with this confessional. And the horse tripping backasswards over the fence in the GIF at the top of the blog? That’s about how I feel right now…stumbling around and making lots of mistakes as I go along. I know this much: God gives us as much as we can handle when we can handle it, with His help. We can’t do it without Him, nor should we try. Notice the pause right before the horse darts off to its undoing…this Bible verse has been in my head this past week (paraphrasing here): “Be still and know that I am God.” I’ve been taking a lot more time to stop all the whirring thoughts, all the over-thinking, and to just be still. There’s nothing I can do to change the current circumstances, but I can pause and be still to change how I react to them. Sometimes that’s all I need to do…just do nothing and be still.

brt

You Are Loved

In the past week I’ve sent a get well card, a graduation card, an anniversary card, and am getting my nephew’s third birthday card ready to send to him. The get well card was for my friend Chris, whom I wrote about in my previous blog. His condition has greatly improved–he’s conscious, for starters–and I plan on visiting him again next week in the private hospital he’s been moved to for rehab after the stroke he suffered. I picked out a sort of silly card to make him laugh, but I found myself writing very heartfelt sentiments in it: “You are loved. You have so very many people praying for you.” That sort of thing. I dropped the card in the mail and my thoughts turned to last summer when we reconnected. He’d moved from Palm Springs to LA and then back again, and the first time I saw him again in Palm Springs last July we had some very–well–heartfelt conversations while we laid out and soaked in the Jacuzzi at his condo. He confided to me that he was lonely and afraid he’d be single forever. I was in a fragile place emotionally and was at a complete loss for words; I think I finally mustered up something half-assed like, “Quit looking and he’ll come along outta nowhere.” Which is true, but looking back now…why couldn’t I have said out loud what I wrote in the card the other day? Why did it take him nearly dying for me to remind him he’s loved by so many people? (Romantic love is overrated, but that’s an entirely different blog.) It’s somber occasions like that and giddy accomplishments like graduations, birthdays, and anniversaries that we save those deep sentiments for. Very few of us throw them around at will except with our families and significant others. Maybe that should change; it’s easier said than done. Actually, it’s not easy to say, which is the whole challenge.

For whatever reason, WordPress won’t let me insert this video directly into the blog like I thought it would, so here’s the link to Josh Groban’s 2006 song “You Are Loved,” which I pawned this blog title from. It’s a great song and I intended to quote some of the lyrics, but instead I want to end with these words from Maya Angelou. She passed away yesterday at the age of 86 after living a wonderfully fulfilling life in which she blessed us with so many quotes chock-full of wisdom, humility, and self-awareness. So listen to Josh’s song if you’d like, and enjoy these words from the gifted wordsmith Dr. Maya Angelou:

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’ I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

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Neon-Shirted Trail Guide

I woke up yesterday afternoon after three hours of sound sleep. There was no way I could sleep any longer. Without hesitation, I hopped in my truck, leaving my cell phone and my wallet behind. I’d found an elusive, lesser known trail branching off of Red Rock proper several days previous and I wanted to go back there to clear my head. After the 15-minute drive, I parked in the rest area-like parking lot and began walking the opposite way I had the first and previous time I’d been there. The further I got down the trail, the more the tears came into my eyes and began falling down my face. My friend Chris is in ICU out in Palm Springs; I’d just messaged him a few days ago to tell him I’d be out again on Monday, but that I’d booked a hotel room, since I felt like I was always imposing by staying with him. We agreed to hang out while I was out there, even though he was going to pick up overtime at work and wouldn’t have his normal Mon/Tues nights off. (He works overnight at a hotel front desk like I do.) His cell phone never has a signal in the condo he rents, so I hardly ever talk to him on the phone. Seeing on my Facebook feed that he was admitted to the hospital on Saturday night, I was stunned. I still don’t know what’s happened to him or how he’s doing, except that he’s supposedly in stable condition. I’m driving out later today as scheduled and plan to visit him during visiting hours.

As I walked down the trail, my eyes were blurred from the tears. I’d foolishly worn my trusty Reebok slide sandals, which necessitated stopping every now and then to fetch out a stray rock caught under my open-toed feet. One of the times I stopped, I looked back and saw someone approaching from a distance behind me in a neon yellow shirt. The person appeared to be a runner, so I started measuring my pace against how fast I assumed he/she was running so I’d be prepared to let them pass. The person didn’t catch up and didn’t catch up and there was a fork in the trail, so I continued straight ahead and hoped maybe they’d fork off. Frustrated by the thoughts whirring in my mind and wondering why this mysterious runner hadn’t caught up to me, I finally stopped in my tracks and turned around. Less than 20 feet behind me was the neon-shirted person, who–now that I could clearly see her–was hiking just like me, not running at all. She greeted me and commented that we seemed to be the only ones out on that part of the trail. I could tell my face was still tear-stained and I felt like a mess, but she didn’t seem to notice as she smiled and commented on the gorgeous spring weather. I asked her how far the trail went and she told me it wound around the mountains ahead of us, under the highway running slightly parallel, and/or deep into the Red Rock park, depending on which fork you took. And then she said this:

“You might’ve noticed all the pink plastic tags every 50 feet or so. I’m part of a 100-mile run that’s been going on this weekend. In fact, everyone’s finished except for one runner. We think she has about three miles left and that’s why I’m out here in my neon shirt, hoping I spot her and she spots me. It’s been a great weekend and we’d hate to lose anyone.”

I was barely able to wish her luck as she headed briskly on her way, and then I lost it. All the tears I thought I’d cried out poured freely again. I realized how even though my friend being in intensive care has nothing to do with me, it absolutely scares the hell outta me. How do I drive four hours and visit someone in a hospital room who may not even know I’m there? I don’t know how to do that because I’ve never had to do it before. And then I thought, I don’t have to do this; I’m really good when it comes to avoiding responsibility. But as I dried my tears and looked forward down the trail, I saw the race guide in the bright neon shirt and I realized she didn’t have to go in search of the missing runner, either…she wanted to be doing it. That’s what people who care about others do; they suck it up, block out their own fears, and blaze down the trail as efficiently as they can to help those in need. Besides which, we’re never on the trail alone, even when we feel like we are. Just like that neon-shirted guide who knew that many-miled trail like the back of her hand, God knows exactly where we’re going and where we are long before we get there. And He meets us there, just as she was willing to do for that last, lone, weary runner. My heart was broken upon realizing the simple metaphor of all this. I’d been doubting myself and fearing the trip to Palm Springs so much that I’d forgotten I wasn’t going it alone. The hot pink plastic ribbon tags blowing in the breeze every 50 feet on the way back to my truck reminded me I wasn’t alone on the trail, either.

The point of sharing all this is that the last 30 or so hours have been a hefty lesson in maturity to me. I’ve been incredibly sheltered during my life; the few times I’ve visited someone in the hospital it’s usually been a grandparent. And feeling how I feel right now, I also realize I have no clue what my parents were feeling when their parents were in the hospital. I still don’t know how that feels, and I hope to heaven I don’t know any time soon. But none of us are guaranteed an easy road…or an easy trail. I wish I could sit here and recount some heartwarming conversation that Chris and I had the last time we “really talked.” Truth be told, the convo was about how we both wish we had better jobs and how we can’t believe we’re doing what we’re doing at age 34 (he’s the same age as me). It’s all so bizarre…whatever life-threatening has happened to him was not supposed to happen. But it has happened, it has nothing to do with me, and I need to be man enough to drive out and visit him. That’s the point where I find myself, scared and ill-prepared.

Sometimes there’s no heartwarming way to end a blog, either. Except that I know I’m not alone on this journey, and I’m grateful for that. Eternally grateful.

brt

Gruntled

I ran across this post on Tumblr and have pretty much had a field day trying to make gruntled  happen (it’s the new “fetch,” y’all). Not really, but I’ve said it a few times. It just sounds so…negative. But I thought I’d share it on here since I’ve gotten such a kick out of it. And yes, I’m indeed feeling gruntled these days.

It’s been awhile since I last blogged a “real” blog; a month, in fact. Ironically, I’ve had more hits in the last month than in any one month since I’ve written the blog. All those hits definitely forced a huge hit to my sometimes self-aggrandizing nature, and so I chose to step back and take some time off while the blog continued to propel itself. The truth is I wrote two blogs that are still sitting in my drafts unpublished. I had someone near and dear to me tell me I have a bad habit of involving everyone around me in my trials and tribulations, and it hurt to hear that. But then I read a quote–on Tumblr as well–to the effect of, “If you tell two or three people about your problem, you’re seeking advice. If you tell more people than that, you’re just seeking attention.” And I think for all practical purposes that’s probably true. Not to sound coarse, but I have a bit of the attention whore streak in me. That feeds into the addiction to drama, and I’ve certainly been doing my darndest to distance myself from that. I have a good life which I’m trying to uncomplicate on a daily basis; there’s no reason to bitch and complain. We all have our challenges and one can either go to therapy and deal with them or it’s probably best to keep your trap shut and let the bad times pass. Because they always do.

On the sobriety front, I am doing well. I’ve had a couple of relapses, the last of which was one of the one-day, ending-in-bad-results kind (vomiting in bed all day). I share this matter-of-factly because I’m in a good place where I know I don’t need to drink. There’s really nothing else to be said about it, except that I’m proud of all the progress I’ve made in the last year. While I may have stumbled, I’ve gotten up, kept going, and am determined to be happy and seek out unfettered peace of mind in appropriate avenues away from alcohol. I no longer feel the need to have my sobriety validated by anyone, or to dramatize the issue or drag anyone else into it. It’s something I’m doing for me because I want to feel my best each day, and I honestly feel so much better when I don’t drink.

On the relationship front, I’m trying to dial down the speed dating concept I had going on because that became exhausting and the stories quit being funny, quite frankly. I had brunch with a guy on Sunday whom I literally have absolutely. nothing. in. common. with. Super nice, handsome guy whom I’ve chatted with online pretty much since I lived in Vegas, but just no connection. I enjoy my own company too much, perhaps…but then again I say I’m lonely and don’t want to end up alone. I’m simultaneously reading Jennie ‘90210’ Garth’s autobiography and a bio on Tennessee Williams (because that’s how I roll when I check out books from the library), and it’s fascinating in a way to me that they both dealt with a great deal of loneliness in their lives. Jennie still does, obviously, being as how she’s very much alive. A reminder again that we all have issues, and it’s all in how we deal with them. Jennie turns to her ranch for peace of mind and contentment, since she grew up on a farm. Tennessee turned to his alcohol and sex addictions. A telling reminder that we all make choices; some good, some bad, some which fulfill us, some which destroy us.

I hope everyone is having a great Holy Week and is gruntled enough to experience a very Happy Easter. I’ll be sharing mine with my family back home in Georgia, and for that I truly do feel extremely and unabashedly gruntled.

Until next time,

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Best Ever

Untitled

This isn’t so much a full-fledged blog entry, but a thank-you to whomever linked my blog to QVC.com yesterday. Out of my personal best 228 views yesterday, 39 were referred from the QVC message boards, and 145 of the total views were of my Lee Radziwill blog. Not to toot my own horn–well, actually that’s exactly what I’m doing!–I knew when I wrote that one and assembled all the accompanying photos that it was one of my best. Mainly because a lot of my heart at the time was invested in that piece, and it by far took the longest to compose of any blog I’ve written thus far. Ms. Radziwill is a fascinating, polarizing personality; if I might say, I’m reading a 2013 bio on Ava Gardner right now that pales in comparison to the one I read on Lee. Coincidentally, the defining difference between the two is that Lee confronted her alcoholism and Ava chose to wallow in hers. (This coming from a stolid Ava fan who’s read her 1990 autobiography. The one I’m currently reading is Ava Gardner: The Personal Conversations written by her chosen ghostwriter Peter Evans, who was sued by her ex-husband Sinatra and fired by Gardner herself for planning a more factual autobiography. The one he finally published last year is harrowingly factual. Based on their recorded conversations, Ava was inebriated most of her last few years.)

So thanks for the views, thanks for the links, thanks for the comments, thanks for the clicks and referrals…it’s all much appreciated and (yes, I must admit) makes me feel validated in the work I’ve done on here. I just renewed the SouthernAristocracy.org domain name for another year, so here’s to a great year ahead, chock-full of many more inspired posts.

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ReLentless Pursuit of Optimism

“Part of the fun of working on ['Son of Ali Baba'] was getting to spend a lot of time with Davy Sharpe, the stuntman who was my stand-in. Over his career, Davy appeared in more than forty-five hundred films–no one knows the exact number–which means he may have appeared in more films than anyone else in US film history. [...] Davy was twenty years older than I was, in his forties, but he was a superb athlete. He could take off his hat and fling it up in the air without looking at it, and it would always land on his head. When Davy was rehearsing, he always had a cigar in his mouth, and he could throw the cigar up in the air and catch that between his teeth. One time early in his career, a director filmed a rehearsal scene without telling him, and Davy vowed never to let that happen again. That was why he always kept a cigar in his mouth during rehearsal. He knew the director would ask him to take the cigar out when it was time to roll film. Davy was always upbeat, and a joy to be around. His signature line was, ‘I greet you with cordiality and good cheer.'” (page 135)

–From ‘American Prince: A Memoir’ by Tony Curtis

I purposely postponed writing this blog, hoping the funk I was in would pass and I’d feel more upbeat. One of the things I wanted to give up for Lent was entertaining negative thoughts. I read somewhere that it’s not so much what happens to us as how we *think* about what happens to us which determines our reactions. And I think–quite literally–that’s true. All that said, I feel as though I’ve done a decent job of exercising the optimistic outlook lately, especially with the infection I’ve had in my foot and feeling drained from the antibiotics. In fact, being grateful daily for good insurance and healthcare has been a source of great joy for me. I’ve been exhausted at work, however, and since the busy tourist season has started I’ve been tested more than I’d like under these circumstances.

Reading Tony Curtis’s anecdote about the stuntman Davy Sharpe inspired me: “I greet you with cordiality and good cheer.” Wouldn’t the world be a wondrously different place if we could all say that to one another! Instead, most of us are lost in a boggle of thoughts about who-said-what to us, what bills are coming due, romantic entanglements, who cut us off in traffic, etc. I wish I could sit here and type how easy it is to do a few meditative breaths and let all that go and greet everyone with a smile and such an affirmative greeting as Mr. Sharpe was known for, but it’s not easy for me. In fact, I feel like the sore thumb in this GIF much of the time:

camel meme

I’ll be 34 in a few weeks and I’d like to be a bit more clear-headed and happy with my station in life by then. The guy who works overnight at the hotel next door just told me tonight that he put in his two weeks notice, as did his supervisor AND my old supervisor who’s a manager over at that property. It got me to thinking, what am I still doing here? Am I happy, or am I just biding my time? A job’s a job and all that jazz, but life’s too short not to be happy. Meh, so that’s where my thoughts are at right this minute. I *am* grateful and I *do* feel blessed; I just want that to come across in my reactions and interactions with others.

Best wishes for a safe and fun St. Pat’s Day to everyone,

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Salad Days

Athens, 10.2002

University of Georgia, 10.2002

In her 2009 self-titled autobiography, Cloris Leachman tells about her complicated friendship with fellow actor Marlon Brando. From everything I’ve ever read about Marlon, he himself was an extremely complicated person. Alas, Cloris writes the following:

“I remember our salad days at the Actors Studio, the shining young things we were then, so brimming with anticipation, so unaware of the startling events that lay ahead.” (page 110)

Both their sons got involved in drugs and died due to the effects, for starters re: “startling events.” And then Marlon held a grudge against Cloris when she didn’t send condolences after his son died, but that’s their story to tell. It had been a long time since I’d heard the expression “salad days,” and I’ve coincidentally been feeling downright elderly this week hobbling around due to a fungus infection on my left foot. Totally gross, I realize, but a PSA for anyone who steps on anything to immediately disinfect it with an antibiotic. (I stepped on a tiny piece of glass a couple of weeks ago and that’s all I can think of that might’ve caused this nightmare. Three doctor’s visits later, it’s being slowly but surely treated.) But back on track: I looked up the expression after enjoying Cloris’s eloquent use of it, and I began wondering when my own salad days had been. “Before or after 9/11?” immediately rang through my mind as a deciding factor. I looked through some vintage photos on Facebook and found the one above. So I’ll share about my own approximation of my salad days at the ripe ol’ age of 22.

It took me a few–and I do mean three or four or five–stops and starts to decide I really wanted to be in college. By 2002, I was holding down a part-time job at the Ramada Inn in my hometown and also taking three or four classes. I found after trying school full-time and working full-time that this hybrid of both worked well for my psyche and work ethic. Anyway, I’d just won Employee of the Month at the Ramada and had just had a letter to the editor published in InStyle magazine, which for whatever naive reason I considered to be the creme de la creme of magazines at the time. Armed with that issue of the magazine and my sarcastic excitement about “being published,” I accompanied my mother up to the University of Georgia for a conference she was attending on campus. I set up meetings with an advisor at the journalism school to discuss transferring and majoring in Magazines. (A dozen years later, I wonder if that slightly antiquated major still exists.) The advisor seemed happy with the writing samples I’d e-mailed her and my transcript that I’d brought along. She showed me a huge bulletin board where jobs were posted, specifically seeking out graduates of the UGA journalism program. I was so giddy I remember asking her back in her office if writing professionally was anything like how Sarah Jessica Parker made it look on Sex & the City. The advisor laughed and told me I’d find out soon enough.

Everything was going according to plan until there was a hold-up with one of my transcripts getting to UGA. My tech school transcript covering a whole quarter of non-transferrable credits, at that. Having missed the deadline for transferring the semester I had my heart set on, I gave up the dream of being a UGA student. I could still write, I told myself. I could still get one of the jobs on that bulletin board without the UGA degree. Or any degree at all? The salad days were surely over. I wondered from time to time how things might’ve been different if I’d not given up so easily on transferring. One of the jobs I’d seen on that big bulletin board was for one of Martha Stewart’s niche magazines, so in my mind I would’ve moved up to Yankee country and snagged that job. Wishful thinking at best, and I laugh now to think if that magazine is even still around after Martha’s fall from grace.

The funny thing is, now that I’ve revisited that time in my life, there wasn’t much salad-y about it. Maybe for a few weeks it seemed I was on top of the world, but then plans fell through and it was back to the grind at the Ramada. Well then, were my salad days in Nashville after I left my hometown behind? I’m not so sure about that either. They certainly weren’t when I drank myself through finally finishing my English degree a few years ago in the suburbs of Atlanta. Being on the verge of turning 34, I think I’ll stop here and politely ask for the fat-free Caesar dressing to be passed my way. Turns out my salad days aren’t behind me yet.

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Tammy and Judy: A Pair of Pills

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“The sad part about happy endings is there’s nothing to write about.”–Tammy Wynette (page 322)

“I was always lonesome. The only time I felt accepted or wanted was when I was onstage performing. I guess the stage was my only friend, the only place where I could feel comfortable. It was the one place where I felt equal and safe.”–Judy Garland (page 22)

Unintentionally, I began simultaneously reading biographies of Tammy Wynette and Judy Garland: Garland’s while at work and Wynette’s back at home. The one Jimmy McDonough wrote on Wynette in 2010 is a weighty hardcover which I picked it up at the library on a whim, having never been a fan of Wynette. The one on Garland is another meticulous, 70s bio by Anne Edwards, who also wrote the one on Vivien Leigh which I profiled in my previous blog. She published this one on Judy in 1974 before she wrote the one on Vivien in ’77, and I felt like I could tell a vast difference in how much she delved into the subjects’ lives. Or perhaps it was just because Judy isolated herself much more than Vivien and therefore there weren’t as many interviews to be had and insight to be gleaned. I read Lorna Luft’s biography ‘Me and My Shadows’ a couple of months ago, and it offers much more of a picture of what Judy was really like, as opposed to spouting off Judy’s chronic woes and tribulations as Edwards does in her book. Still, Edwards is able to do it unbiasedly, so I learned things from her book that Ms. Luft left out when writing about her mother. It might also be mentioned that McDonough writes about Wynette as a hardcore fan, though he’s written other biographies (such as one on Neil Young) and he interviewed so many people for his book on Wynette that a clear picture is painted of her.

I’ll say this upfront and be clear about it: I was intrigued while reading about both of these talented ladies that–though they each brought so much joy to their millions of fans–they were both so unhappy and lonely. Neither one of them was very sure of themselves and therefore turned to men and pills to bolster their self image. Both of them were married five times, and Tammy–whose signature song was ‘Stand By Your Man’–was also quoted as saying, “How can anybody really believe what I sing about, knowin’ what a mess I’ve made of my life?” (page 181) For most of her life, Judy blamed MGM for getting her hooked on uppers and downers as a child star, not only to perform non-stop but to lose her baby weight. That doesn’t explain why she never quit taking the pills, even after several stays in psych wards and having her children choose not to live with her towards the end of her life. At one point when Judy’s house had been foreclosed on, she delusionally told an interviewer, “Well, if worse comes to worse, I can always pitch a tent in front of the Beverly Hilton and Lorna can sing gospel hymns! That should see us through…Lorna is already showing signs of becoming a fabulous singer.” (page 234) Tammy got hooked on diet pills first and then began taking pain pills after her hysterectomy. She developed such a reputation for faking pain in Nashville that local doctors and hospitals would no longer dole out the painkillers to her, and so she began cancelling shows on the road to con whatever ER she might wander into to supply her with her drugs of choice. Said Tammy’s ex-husband George “Possum” Jones:

“I don’t think [Tammy] was ever content. It seemed like one moment she was happy, another she wasn’t. She was a lonely person, that I’m sure of. She lacked satisfaction or somethin’, and she couldn’t get it all her life.” (page 211)

It’s hard to say anything else about these two great legends which hasn’t already been said countless times before. The one funny parallel I wanted to point out is that Judy had her legion of gay fans and Tammy had her troop of lesbian fans. I would say I wish each of them would’ve gotten the help they needed with their addictions, but Tammy went to Betty Ford and was released after a couple of weeks for emergency surgery. While recovering, she was given a “medal of completion” for addiction treatment by Betty Ford herself and never returned to the center. I can’t help but wonder how much this medal had to do with Tammy being a die-hard Republican all her life, though I hope that’s not the case. I wanted to end by sharing this unfinished song lyric Judy wrote right before she died, in June 1969:

“When you’ve learned and you’ve grown
Through years of just living
Then you’ve earned every right to be
Proud of your years
Not too old, not so young
The quietness of age
Well, then the young man comes along
To smile, to take you up with him
And hold you strong along a way to love…”

Frances Ethel Gumm/Judy Garland was only 47 when she died in 1969 and Virginia Wynette Pugh/Tammy Wynette was only 55 when she passed away in 1998. They were a pair, alright. A pair of pills who unfortunately succumbed to the pills they relied on so heavily. At least now they are both singing sweet songs with the angels.

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Fiddle-dee-dee

Scarlett takes a smoke break

Scarlett takes a smoke break

Tuberculosis. Nymphomaniac. Manic depressive. Alcoholic. Chain-smoker. None of these are words one associates with beloved movie heroine Scarlett O’Hara, but they were the reality of the woman who won the Oscar for playing the role, Miss Vivien Leigh. This isn’t intended as a “shock blog;” Miss Leigh lived her privileged yet troubled life with great dignity and was happiest when working on the stage or in a film. Anne Edwards, author of 1977’s simply titled ‘Vivien Leigh: A Biography’, writes:

“Tennessee Williams says of Vivien, ‘Having known madness, she knew how it was to be drawing close to death.’ Having often been close to death, I might add, gave her fearlessness, a daring, sort of insolence toward life, and a kind and tender and incredibly affectionate regard for the living. She was a good deal more than a film star who received two Oscars for two of the most celebrated roles in film history (Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois), or a stage actress who won acclaim for her Juliet, Antigone, and Cleopatra. Vivien Leigh was a woman of great extremes and greater excesses. A woman whose candle surely did burn at both ends, and yet refuses, through the incandescence of her friendships and film portrayals, even now to be extinguished.” (page 287)

Best known for playing Scarlett in 1939’s ‘Gone With the Wind’, Leigh was also an esteemed stage actress, which is how she secured her second Oscar-winning role as Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ (by playing the part on the London stage first). She and Laurence Olivier both left their spouses and small children–she had a daughter and he had a son–to live together and finally marry in 1940. Leigh was mentored by Olivier to find film vastly inferior to being on the stage, and for that reason never appreciated her success in Hollywood as much as she should have. Her relatively slight voice did not project in playhouses nearly as well as his, but her stunning beauty radiated from her performances on the silver screen. Realizing this and playing up to her strengths, she took roles in Hollywood which coincided with Olivier’s, or if they needed money to put on productions back in England one or the other would take on film roles at separate times.

A poster for the 1940 Geary Theater production of 'Romeo and Juliet'

A poster for the 1940 Geary Theater production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’

As her manic depressive spells became more apparent and more frequent, Hollywood friends such as George Cukor and Kate Hepburn would look after her if Vivien was left alone in Los Angeles, while friends such as Noel Coward and her mother would watch over her back in London while Olivier was working. (This was well before the days of suitable medications and Vivien received infrequent shock treatments and self-medicated with alcohol and pills.) No matter how manic or depressed she got, Vivien was the consummate performer and was able to put everything aside when she was working on the stage or set. The one exception was while she was filming ‘Elephant Walk’ in 1953 in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka); she suffered an acute breakdown and was rushed back to Los Angeles in hopes of salvaging the film. It was not to be; a 21 year-old Elizabeth Taylor was brought in to replace 39 year-old Vivien. (Miss Leigh can still be seen in long shots filmed on location in Ceylon and salvaged for the production–here’s an interesting compilation of a few of them, as well as photos of Vivien during the production and when returning to London with Olivier a few days after her breakdown: *Elephant Walk with Vivien Leigh*)

Vivien enjoys a play with good friend Noel Coward

Vivien enjoys a play with good friend Noel Coward

Owing to the age of the biography by Anne Edwards, salacious details about Miss Leigh’s nymphomaniacal tendencies are left out, with only a brief mention of her fantasies divulged to close friends. Which is just as well, as any of her manic actions were part and parcel of her illness which went virtually untreated–at least by today’s standards–for most of her life. Vivien told those closest to her that she related strongly to Blanche in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ because she knew what it was like to be on the verge of madness. She also feared growing older and losing her looks; her weight and facial features fluctuated greatly depending on how much she’d been drinking and the symptoms of her tuberculosis. When she won the Tony for 1963’s ‘Tovarich’, she was in the best shape of her life and delighted the Broadway crowds by dancing the Charleston nightly as part of her character’s performance.

As Blanche DuBois in 1951

As Blanche DuBois in 1951

In 1967 at the age of 53, Vivien Leigh died at her beloved Tickerage Mill home due to complications of tuberculosis. She looked much older than her years in her last few years of life, but continued to entertain friends such as Winston Churchill at her home while acting as much as possible. I think this quote from the original Tennessee Williams version of one of her last films–1961’s ‘The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone’–sums her up best:

“‘I am not going to lose my dignity, no matter what happens I am not going to lose it,’ but just as continually she caught herself doing things that were not at all consistent with that resolve.”

Vivien Leigh chats with Ringo Starr during a chance meeting at the airport during the Swingin' 60s

Vivien Leigh chats with Ringo Starr during a chance meeting at the airport during the Swingin’ 60s

By the way, the title of the blog obviously comes from Scarlett’s signature catch phrase, but it’s also one that Vivien gladly repeated to fans upon request for the rest of her life while touring with plays, at movie openings, and even at the re-release of ‘Gone With the Wind’. She had a great sense of humour in that respect. Rest in peace, sweet Vivien.

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This Is What It Looks Like

In yet another entry in the anthology of “I wasn’t going to post this, but it’s what was on my heart…”

‘Looking’ premiered on HBO a week and a half ago. Great pilot–one of the best I’ve seen in years, actually–and Jonathan Groff hit it outta the park with his character Patrick. I could relate to him, definitely a bit too much: meeting guys online who look really good on “paper” (computer screen?), and then something goes amiss. And I include myself in that translation to real life from the Internet; inevitably, I’ll open my mouth and something will spew out that offends/makes me look like a jackass. This is why, though I utilize it to the hilt, I still consider online dating to be cheating the natural system. One knows entirely too much about the other person before one even meets them, and therefore expectations are heightened. Thus, there’s the opportunity to fall much, much farther down from said expectations. Been there, done that, many times over.

At this rate, I’ve been on dates with everyone except the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker in the last several months. Rack ‘em up: a dentist, a lawyer, an architect, and even a priest (actually a rector–long story on that one). Had a lunch date with a pilot last Tuesday that went nowhere fast, even though he was late (flight delay). The main reason Patrick in the show reminds me of myself is that he’s over the moon to go on a date with a doctor (pictured above). The doctor guy looks good on “paper,” but he’s not the nicest in real life. Patrick learns his lesson and after meeting a Latino barber/nightclub doorman on the subway immediately after the date, he gives the nice guy from real life a chance. (Things don’t work out between the two of them either, but that’s saved for the second episode.)

The same night ‘Looking’ premiered and I watched it online, Bob messaged me from Puerto Vallarta. He’s supposedly returning in a few weeks. My immediate, aspirational thought was, “This is what it looks like when he returns…” And I optimistically envisioned myself being well put-together, moving on with my life, not trying to get back together with him. It’s tough and it sucks and in a fleeting moment, I felt like I’d sleptwalked through all these silly dates to prove a point that wasn’t worth proving. That I was over him and, “Oh, look at me moving on…” Have I been moving on or has it all been for show? If I have to ask the question, clearly I don’t know the answer myself. Actually, I know the answer and just don’t want to admit it.

So this is what it *really* looks like…I’m glad my friend–supposedly my best friend–is coming home soon. God grant me the clearness of mind to look passed the past and look towards the future. In the meantime, I still have plenty of ridiculous dating horror stories to laugh about and learn from. At least they’re not televised on HBO.

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Bette-isms

For most of my life Bette Davis has scared me; she always seemed gruff and in a huff about something, not to mention always puffing on her ever-present cigarette. Have I conjured up the Big Bad Wolf yet? Sure, she was a phenomenal actress–Jezebel, All About Eve, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? all come to mind–but the person herself intimidated me. Something about her gave me the impression if I’d met her that she’d be a bit of a bully. And that’s what her daughter wrote about her in her book My Mother’s Keeper, which I read a couple of years ago. Bette, who worshipped the ground her daughter walked on, bullied her own grandchildren (or so her daughter claimed in her book). But the truth usually lies somewhere between she said-she said, and the fact is that most people who use bullying tactics are hiding great insecurities.

Such was the case with Bette, who finally let down her guard late in life to her friend Charlotte Chandler over the course of several interviews which Ms. Chandler used as the basis of her 2006 book about Ms. Davis entitled The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette comes across in the interviews much less as a bully than as a lonely old woman with a few regrets about how she lived her life. Here are a few quotes I found noteworthy:

“One must live in the present tense, but I have always lived in the present tensely.” (page 5)

“My daughter B.D. once told me she thought I was permanently 14. Actually, I like that.” (pg 19)

“”The reason most people look back on their youth as the best time of life is because a blank page looks better than one that is filled out and not according to youthful dreams. Personally, I’m proud of the way I’ve filled out the pages of my life; I’m enjoying my life as Bette Davis now, since I won’t be around to read about it when it appears in the obituaries. When I am honoured with a tribute, I think of it as part of my living obituary. More fun that way.” (page 22)

“Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out really what I am like or what I’m not really like. I could always understand my character on the screen better than I could understand myself. And when I had to play myself in ‘Hollywood Canteen’ and ‘Thank You Lucky Stars’ I was utterly lost, utterly. You cannot imagine.” (pg 123)

“The trouble with playing hard-to-get is that the other person may choose not to play. Just this once, I acted this way because I cared so much. I was never able to profit from the lesson. There was never another Willie [William Wyler]. So all these years I’ve had my precious pride, and now–I have IT to keep me company.” (page 133)

“Wit, especially sarcasm, is a dangerous weapon. Bright people are often too sarcastic. [...] I’m still direct, but one can carry directness too far, where one goes around being so bright and so honest that you hurt people.” (page 281)

“I see my life now as a voyage of discovery. My problem was that I didn’t know myself. I used to think it was because I didn’t understand others, but now I know it’s because I didn’t understand me.” (page 293)

Dick Cavett lightin' up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

Dick Cavett lightin’ up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

That’s really all for this week. In the last couple of months I’ve also read some great autobiographies by Tab Hunter, Marie Osmond, Marnie Nixon, Oscar Goodman, Ryan O’Neal, Alison Arngrim (Nellie from Little House on the Prairie), Patty Duke, and Debbie Reynolds. And biographies on Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland (by her daughter, Lorna Luft), and I’m just starting one on Vivien Leigh. So those have been keeping me (and the inter-library loan clerks) busy. Perhaps too busy…I’ve been thinking I need to take my nose out of the books and start living a little bit more. But the good news is that I’m staying outta trouble. So we’ll see. Hope everyone’s enjoying a safe, Happy MLK Weekend.

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Southern Manners

Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in 1938's 'Jezebel'

Bette Davis and Henry Fonda in 1938’s ‘Jezebel’

On reflection, of course, what finally drove me away from the South was the very same code of customs and manners I look back on today with such wistful admiration. For better and for worse, Southern manners were the defining influences of my life. They made me love the South and hate it, too, sent me away as surely as they now draw me back.

What I was feeling, it’s clear to me now, was a growing discomfort with the unforgiving rules of the old Southern social order. As a child I had lived within those rules as within a warm blanket, nurtured and protected by the sense of security they offered–but at a price. This culture of honour and chilvalry, which defines Southern society and gives it so much of its decency and beauty, has a dark side, and that is shame.

Honour, after all, is something that can only be conferred by others. So if you’re raised in a society obsessed with personal honour, you’re likely to spend an awful lot of your life worrying about what others think of you. And more often than not you’ll be willing to contort yourself to no end in order to save face, or to keep others from losing face.

–Sela Ward, ‘Homesick’, page 60*

I seriously pondered letting this week’s blog just be the above quote from a fellow Southerner whom I’ve admired since her Emmy-winning days on the ABC drama ‘Once & Again’. I thought to myself, she said it all; there’s nothing more I can add. But then I realized I was afraid to add anything else, and I still am. I’m afraid of slandering my upbringing. Reading this quote in her memoirs, however, made me realize how much my mentality has changed since I moved across the country nearly two years ago. I’m still a proud Southerner, but what has changed is that–just as I see Las Vegas–I can now see the South, Georgia, and my hometown as very flawed places. I mythologized the South the same way many born and bred Southerners do when I lived there. Probably more so, having been a daydreaming English major. The more you whitewash and sugar-coat something, the less the cracks show. (And, therefore, the less one questions the cracks.)

From a distance, I can now see the intolerance. I can now see the racial divide (from both sides, black and white). I can see the young man who was so scorned when he came out to a select few at 23 that he moved to Nashville to get out of town and start over. Nashville was still the South, but at least it wasn’t my hometown. I see all of that now instead of glossing it all over…just as I can see the ugly side of Las Vegas with its pandering to addictions of all sorts. That doesn’t make either place better or worse than the other; I love where I’m from and I love where I live now. But neither are perfect. The realistic outlook has served me well in that respect.

And I wouldn’t change my upbringing or where I’m from, or the name of this blog, for that matter. Southern Aristocracy was always chosen as an ironic, aspirational title. I’m proud of who I am and who I’ve become. I’m honoured to be me.

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*Sela Ward and her husband own property outside her hometown of Meridian, Mississippi where they raise their children part of the year, away from Los Angeles. She’s also been very active in rehabilitating downtown Meridian and starting Hope Village, a safe haven for the foster children of Meridian. She, too, still considers herself a proud Southerner.

The Date I Blocked Out

This is not the first blog of 2014 I had in mind, but it’s the one which is on my heart and which I need to write. Notice the title is not “The Date I Blacked Out”…that’s important to differentiate. I’ve been joking on Facebook that I was going to write a book about my less than stellar dates as of late; such will thankfully not come to fruition, though this one popped into my head yesterday morning on my way home from work after a few months of me literally blocking it from my memory. And for good reason.

I met this lawyer on Okcupid.com in the late summer who wasn’t much older than me…38, perhaps. He was very articulate and put-together, both in his online profile and the e-mails we exchanged. The subject of neither of us drinking was soon broached, and it turns out both of us were active in AA. He asked me out to coffee and to attend his “home group” with him–his AA meeting of choice. I was flattered because to me this was (and still is) a very personal thing. It’s almost like being invited to meet one’s family. The meeting was on a Saturday night, and even though I had to work that night, I prepared myself since he’d asked me several days beforehand. He had also let me know that his home group was a gay AA meeting, which I was incredibly apprehensive about. Not so much because of who was going to be there, but because in my mind I felt I needed to be dressed to the nines. (I still don’t know where this shallow assumption came from.) Anyway, the Starbucks we’d picked out to meet at near both our suburban homes turned out to be inside a grocery store, to both our surprises. So we wandered around the grocery store making small talk, all the time which I spent whole-heartedly trying to brush off the fact that he was easily 50 pounds heavier than in his online profile pictures. After all, even though this was a date of sorts, we were both trying to better ourselves by going to the meeting, and I didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. He had also come directly from working out, so he was in gym shorts and a cut-off T-shirt and I was in…not that. A summery date outfit contrasting with his working out clothes is what I was wearing.

He began driving us into downtown Vegas for the meeting, and as we began talking, I could tell our philosophies on sobriety were a bit different. He shared about how much he’d been drunk in law school, and I shared the same about finishing up college. But the similarities ended there; he was (still is, I assume) hardcore Buddhist. Nothing at all wrong with that; I think he’d even mentioned it in his online profile. I listened intently as he shared his story of interacting with monks and receiving great wisdom from them over the last three years or so. Then he asked me about my own sobriety experience. I admitted my stops and starts, my relapses and come-to-Jesus moments, and as we passed the lights of the Strip–and I’ll never forget this now that I’ve unblocked it from my memory–I told him about taking Topamax, and how it was keeping me sober. I explained some of the side effects, which were still quite prevalent then, and he said, “So basically you’re taking an amphetamine.” My heart pounded and I was at a loss for words. Jokingly, I muttered, “Yeah, I guess so, but it keeps me from drinking.” He muttered a curt “Hmmm” in response, and there was mostly silence until we arrived to the meeting. I still don’t know why I didn’t defend myself or the medicine, but I didn’t.

Before I share how abysmal the meeting was, I do want to share that we had a heart-to-heart of sorts before we went into the meeting. He asked me what else was going on in my life after he parked the car, and I began crying and shared about Bob and all that was happening on that front. It was awkward, but he assured me things would get better and I needed to take care of myself first and foremost. I recall being very grateful for that interaction. We headed into the meeting, which was held in a very decrepit, empty, open-air shopping centre on the second-level. As we walked up the stairs, a lady with an oxygen tank was hobbling up the steep stairs and he greeted her like they were old friends. Once we arrived in the dimly lit meeting room, very 60s, hanging lantern lights greeted me from the popcorn ceiling. I’ll be honest–those were my favourite part of the room. He leaned over to me and whispered, “We just renovated the meeting room…what do you think?” To say I thought he was pulling my leg was an understatement. I asked where the restroom was and he led me to a shelf where a huge, heavy chain-link hung with a key attached. He said, “This way,” and led me outside and showed me down the second level balcony of the shopping centre to the locked bathrooms four or five doors down. When I finally unlocked the restroom, the burnt orange tile was clearly from the early 70s. I felt like I was in the ‘Twilight Zone’.

Once I arrived back to the meeting room, the meeting had started. I returned the prison-like bathroom key to the shelf and took my seat next to ______. Our knees touched under the table and for a split second I wanted to hold his hand…it honestly felt like a date. (I realize now that sounds bizarre to say, but it did.) At some point in the meeting they began handing out anniversary tokens. The lady with the oxygen tank had 20-something years of sobriety. I kid you not–and bless her tired heart–after she got up to get her token, she took out a pillow and rested her head on it for the rest of the meeting. I couldn’t help but think about what a long life she’d lived. Another guy at our same table had 16 years. I was able to congratulate him after the meeting and he responded with the old AA adage, “One day at a time.” Another guy came into the meeting well after it had started; the speaker was already speaking, which is equivalent to sermon time in church. As he mosied up to the very front row with his female companion, my date whispered, “That’s ____, and even though he claims to be sober 30+ years, I always smell liquor on his breath.” I asked if ____ was married to his female companion and my date didn’t know. Once we got back out to his car after the meeting, my date confided that it bugged him every time _____ got up to talk about his long-term sobriety or to receive an anniversary chip. I kept my mouth shut. What I really wanted to say was, “What a crock of crap. Someone should call him out. Pun intended.”

There’s some more stuff I could share about the meeting, but it’s regarding what the speaker said and it’s pretty personal. I will say that as dreary as the meeting was, I needed to hear what the speaker had to say. That’s the main reason God wanted me there that night. The meeting ran over about 20 minutes, the money basket was passed twice (big quotes) “because we haven’t gotten what we need to pay our dues this week” (something I’d never heard in AA). It was a learning experience…the meeting, the date, all of it. I would not go to the meeting again–not my cup of tea. I would not see the lawyer again–he may or may not think I’m an amphetamine junkie. But it all happened for a reason, which was incredibly hard for me to accept at the time. I want to share this card I’ve been keeping in my wallet the last few months and then I’ll end.

“Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

I also want to say a quick thank-you for an incredibly rewarding 2013 on SouthernAristocracy.org…more views and clicks than I ever imagined possible, and I appreciate each and every one of them. Even if they are inexplicably for the ‘Head of the Class’ blog, which must just be to see the cast photo. (I’m definitely not complaining; it’s just an unremarkable blog otherwise!)

Warm wishes to everyone during this record-breaking chilly weather,

brt

Redefining Serene in 2013

“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.”—Søren Kierkegaard

As I sit here trying to type an introduction to this year-end blog, my thoughts are once again scattered. It’s hard to think back on the last 12 months without blocking many things out. Much happened that I’m not proud of; I nearly did lose myself a few times. And I don’t fool myself into thinking I’ve found myself yet, but I’ve made an awful lot of progress. My most favourite things this year are my sanity, my sobriety, the optimistic outlook, the realistic outlook, and–the one I’m still working to get a grasp on–the Christcentric outlook. Here are some of my other favourite things from 2013:

Favourite song: “Roar” by Katy Perry. Looking back at *last year’s blog*, I wrote these words: “…I just couldn’t name a Katy Perry song as my favourite song of the entire year.” Ouch, and what a difference a year makes! The lyrics, the beat, the chorus…all perfection thanks to Max Martin. Job well done, Katy.

Favourite TV Show: Ja’mie: Private School starring Chris Lilley. At only six episodes, this Australian sitcom knocked my socks off. Ja’mie appeared as a character in two of Lilley’s previous series and therefore already had a huge following. The one-liners in this series gave Veep a run for their money, which is probably one of the reasons HBO picked it up after it aired down under. Bawdy, ridiculous, hysterical…this one-off series brought it all and brought it hard.

Favourite New Website: Deadline.com, the current go-to website for all things entertainment news. Deadline has been around several years but has only just recently received a mainstream following. After an embarrassing falling out with founder Nikki Finke–which played out on Deadline in view of readers a few months ago–things are back to normal and the short-form blog format is one I enjoy catching up on every couple of days or so.

Favourite Obsession: Reading/the library. After months of not being able to focus enough to read more than a few pages at a time, I now consume at least two books a week and have learned how to put the Clark County ILL (inter-library loan) department to good use. Since reading all the celebrity bios at the library closest to my house which interested me, I can now use the library website to search for books from all the libraries in town and they’ll deliver them to my “home library” in a few business days and e-mail me when they’re ready to be picked up. All free of charge, and all space I’m not taking up buying more books!

Favourite Comeback: The Hills alternate ending. I blogged on this *right after* it streamed online, and it’s still as campy and amazing now as it was then.

Favourite Catchphrase: “Stop it.” You have to say it in a deadpan voice. I’m not sure which of my friends this originated with, and I actually don’t say it that much because I’m usually the one hearing it. And believe me, I heard it a lot this year.

Least Favourite Fall from Southern Aristocracy: Queen Paula Deen…need I say more? The Duck Dynasty guy tried to give her a run for her money, but Paula lost millions in 2013 with her snafu. I knew it didn’t look good for her when I snagged a jar of her marinade for $1.5o from the very bottom shelf of the clearance section in a Caesars Palace gift shoppe (she had buffets at several Caesars properties and therefore had merchandise in their casino stores). I follow Paula on the Facebook and she seems to be getting back to her roots and enjoying life. Everything happens for a reason, as the saying goes.

In this publicity image released by NBC, celebrity chef Paula Deen appears on NBC News' "Today" show, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in New York. Deen dissolved into tears during a "Today" show interview Wednesday about her admission that she used a racial slur in the past.  The celebrity chef, who had backed out of a "Today" interview last Friday, said she was not a racist and was heartbroken by the controversy that began with her own deposition in a lawsuit. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network and as a celebrity endorser by Smithfield Foods. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

In this publicity image released by NBC, celebrity chef Paula Deen appears on NBC News’ “Today” show, Wednesday, June 26, 2013 in New York. Deen dissolved into tears during a “Today” show interview Wednesday about her admission that she used a racial slur in the past. The celebrity chef, who had backed out of a “Today” interview last Friday, said she was not a racist and was heartbroken by the controversy that began with her own deposition in a lawsuit. Deen has been dropped by the Food Network and as a celebrity endorser by Smithfield Foods. (AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

Favourite Memories: I should perhaps retitle this category, as these aren’t all my “favourite,” per se, but I do try not to dwell on the negative ones. After several months of boozing and hiding it and medicating and self-medicating, May 10th sticks out because I met some really cool people at a mid-century modern cocktail party that I wasn’t even supposed to attend. I spent most of the week sobering up in Palm Springs and drove back in time for the party, which was ironically attended by a group from Palm Springs. Bob was my date and that’s really the first time we’d hung out, as I’d never wanted him to see me drinking. (First date at a cocktail party newly sober=story of my life.) After the party, we hopped in his friend Brett’s Porche–with me sitting in Bob’s lap–and went to dinner. Thus began our whirlwind relationship, which consists of many, many memories, both wonderful and forgettable. I’ve shared most of those before, but this night sticks out for me because I met several great people whom I still consider friends.

One of the best things I did for myself this year was to get back into therapy. I owe a great deal of who I am today to those sessions–which I’m currently taking a break from–because my psychologist helped me to differentiate my opinion from that of others. I struggled a great deal reconciling my own thoughts to those of my AA sponsor and the organization as a whole; he helped me to realize I wasn’t a “bad person” for questioning these things. He also helped me to break down my obsession with my image and focus more on my self-image, something that has helped me every day. I no longer dwell nearly so much on what others think of me, or what I should do in certain situations; instead, I follow my own instincts, which are normally right. (This is a big step forward for someone so used to overanalyzing everything and second-guessing himself all the time.) I no longer insert myself in situations where there’s drama or where I’m put on the spot to explain my motives to someone for no apparent reason other than to gain their approval. That in and of itself has brought me much peace of mind.

Finally, I’ve grown an awful lot in the last two months since my Granny passed away. For about a month, I lost all interest in things which used to occupy much of my free time–antiquing, walking the casinos and the Strip, and dating. Perhaps I had to go through that time of mourning to process her absence, but I knew I had to snap out of it. Since I got my library card, I admittedly stay home much, much more. I’m just as content snuggled up with a book as I’d be driving around town, and that’s fine with me right now. I still miss her; it was tough going home at Thanksgiving and her not being there. And making my Christmas card list and not having her name on it. But I know she’s in a better place.

Last photo of me and Granny, June 2013

Last photo of me and Granny, June 2013

I’m grateful for my family. We were all together for the first time in quite awhile during my trip home in June, as well as in October for Granny’s funeral. I’ve also been blessed to get to go home at Thanksgiving, and Mama and Daddy came out earlier this month for a week and we took a road trip to Palm Springs and San Diego. Fun times…

Father’s Day 2013

Mums & Daddy in Bellagio, 12.8.13

Mums & Daddy in Bellagio, 12.8.13

Mums & me on the beach outside San Diego, 12.12.13

Mums & me on the beach outside San Diego, 12.12.13

Serene for me right now doesn’t mean blissful perfection; it doesn’t even mean striving for perfection. It means casting my cares on the Lord, knowing He’ll sustain me. If I did the calculations, I drank almost as much as I’ve been sober this year. The torn stomach muscle on my left side still reminds me daily of my last major relapse a few months ago. (I continue to tear it, or at least irritate it, doing the back stretches I have to do to keep my poor back in shape…what a catch-22.) My version of serenity is taking what I’ve learned in AA, in therapy, in church, from others, and in life and applying it the best I know how. Here’s to becoming more serene in 2014.

brt

_________ My Life

FML. That’s what immediately popped in my head as I was watching this episode of ‘Match Game ’78’ on YouTube. BTW, I highly recommend the 70s ‘Match Game’ eps as quality entertainment…they never fail to make me laugh, and of course the set and the clothes/hair/everything of the guests and panel are absolutely a time capsule. But I digress…the actual top answer for the above question was “Love of” (my life). I mean, really, how times have changed! Tab Hunter was one of the guest panellists and he guessed, “You Light Up” (my life) and I thought he was joking. Then I remembered what a huge song that was back then. Everything’s relative, especially with word play.

Heads up: I’ll have my annual year-in-review blog up next week, with some of the old “Best of” categories removed and some new ones added. No need for a “Favourite Movie” category when I’ve only seen one new movie this year. (‘We’re the Millers’ was funny, but I can’t pick it as my fave when there’s so many great Oscar contenders this year. I’ll leave the movie critiques to the professionals.) So stay tuned for that…obviously my opinions are no more important than anyone else’s, but the year-end blog is something I look forward to compiling each year, so the tradition continues.

I wanted to re-address something I said in the last blog very quickly, and I’ll be done for this week. I believe my exact words were, “Truth be told, I don’t know how much of that relationship was real, all these months later. I honestly don’t; the more time passes, the more it seems like we were both in bad places and were fortunate to have one another to lean on for a brief while.” Bob doesn’t read this blog–I know because he’s told me several times–and I wanted to set the record straight (pun intended). Summing up things with him in two sentences was unfair. I still care about him a great deal, to the point I ask him the other night if he’d ever hypothetically give me another chance. (A resounding “no” was the answer.) Then I got another message from someone else in which they said they knew of my “deep-seated loneliness,” and I thought, am I coming across as that pathetic to everyone? I think where I’m going with all this is that I stand by saying Bob is the “______ my life.” I got some flack for that–from him and from others–back at the end of August when I wrote it. Feelings are a funny thing, though, and I still feel that way. We’re just friends now, but I keep thinking back to that quote which asks something like, “Where does the love go when you break up with someone?”

I think for anyone who reads this blog, it’s clear I’m still in love with him. He makes me want to be a better person. No one else in their right mind would go on and on about someone if they didn’t still have feelings for them. Part of growing up and moving on, however, is rationalizing those feelings and being realistic about the pros and cons of the relationship. I can stay friends with him because I care about him. But I do indeed owe it to myself to move on, as I told him after I received the resounding “no” of an answer to my not-so-hypothetical question. None of this is stuff I would mind him reading. And if you’re covertly reading, Bob, don’t be mad I screencapped our convo from tonight. It was a heartfelt exchange and I’m proud to call you my best friend.

Merry Christmas to everyone,

brt

Real Happy

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how to be real(ly) happy. This, as opposed to the fleeting, sometimes manic happiness that seems to come and go depending on my mood, situations, etc. As corny as it may sound, I’ve learned to like myself a lot more lately, and also to pat myself on the back when I make progress toward a goal. Or even when I exercise patience and/or compromise on something–both things that not so very long ago were difficult for me to do without being fairly passive-aggressive. All this plays into being happy with myself and becoming more centred, but I still have much work to do. Anyway, I read the above quote and immediately had a flashback to a scene from my last relationship. We were in Walgreen’s one night and Bob wanted to buy me a toothbrush, because in his words, “You’ve been staying over so much and you should have a toothbrush at my house.” I immediately teared up because that’s just the way I rolled for those several months after sobering up. He put his arm around me and asked me why I was crying. I pulled myself together and smartly replied there was no way he was buying me a toothbrush unless he bought me a Sonicare, knowing he wouldn’t do it. I explained that having a toothbrush at his house would jinx the relationship. The relationship that was perhaps a week-old at this point. Herein is where I’m reminded of the above quote: “Sometimes people just want to be happy, even if it’s not real.”

Truth be told, I don’t know how much of that relationship was real, all these months later. I honestly don’t; the more time passes, the more it seems like we were both in bad places and were fortunate to have one another to lean on for a brief while. I do miss holding hands with someone and laying next to someone in bed; both those things make me feel safe and calm the thoughts from whirring in my head. I don’t know when I’ll be ready for a relationship again, as I’m admittedly selfish with my time and am challenged when it comes to compromising on things. When I was at the beach with my parents last week, I had to just step away as they held hands and waded in the surf, so I went and meditated on the seawall. I realize I need to be happy with myself before I can be happy with someone else. Someone buying me a toothbrush or wading with me in the surf doesn’t equate to happiness, either.

Dame Elizabeth Taylor said the following in her 1987 book Elizabeth Takes Off:

“Today I think I am happier than I have ever been. There have been other times in my life marked with joy, like the blissful years I shared with Mike [Todd] and Richard [Burton]. But this is the first time that I’ve made my own happiness. It didn’t fall into my lap because I was young or lovely or famous. Nor did it come about because I was in love with a man. This happiness wasn’t ‘bestowed’ on me: I earned it.” (page 255)

Here’s to earning happiness each and every day,

brt

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