Paper Cuts

I hate being cold.  I loathe that feeling completely.  I know, I know. NO one likes to be cold.  It’s the same argument I use when people tell me, just before I draw their blood, that they hate needles – I’ve never met anyone who likes needles.  Perhaps normalizing their experience a little bit makes them feel a little less odd, and therefore, less nervous.

When I reflect upon my life thus far, the two coldest memories presenting took place on opposite sides of the globe. While the second is a brain drain for another time, the first is a collection of childhood memories from growing up in Kansas.

We lived on a ranch.  I was number 5 of 6 in the birth order, and the first girl born.  I can’t recall ever wearing anything but hand-me-downs from my brothers – shirts, jeans, socks, and outerwear – until I was old enough to have my own money.  In fact, I never knew you had to actually buy a coat. It was standard practice to just take what was hanging by the door, or crumpled in a wad on the floor.  If you were so unlucky to have to wear what you found on the floor, you had the added possible drama of trying to navigate your time in the coat with the mysterious odor of cat piss from whichever cat found it previously on the floor – the litter box probably was full, after all.

The bulk of our childhood was spent working. We owned a 500+ acre ranch, the brain child of my father who had big dreams that always seemed to be so far away from his normal: an only child, a city boy born to doting Chicago parents. He was a pathologist who supported his family with a microscope, and my mother was his secretary. My brothers spent all of their spare time outside, feeding cattle and sheep, mending fences, moving fencing, stacking hay, delivering and tending to newborn lambs, and everything else it took to run a ranch. Sometimes, it meant dragging unfortunate bovine or ovine carcasses down to the area where we would pile them up for the coyotes. My brothers’ knees and backs were jacked up by the time they hit 16 from the hard work they put in as “kids”.

My younger sister and I were the inside help.  We did laundry for eight (never catching up), washed dishes, cleaned, peeled potatoes and carrots daily by the bagfuls, and whatever else we were instructed to do.  I still don’t know to this day how we were able to cram the 4 carts of groceries my mom would bring home weekly into that tiny kitchen and single refrigerator.  Four gallons of milk, alone, were enough to take up a good chunk of the space. We were true artists, my sister and I, in the stashing and stuffing departments.  To this day, there is no one else in the world who understands my upbringing like my baby sister, my best friend through it all.  All we ever did was take care of others, like my brothers took care of the ranch. 

Fun was not on the schedule.  But once in a while, we would sneak out to help my brothers.  I loved throwing hay bales, even as a small girl, and I could do it! I grew really strong from the ranch. Moving cattle and sheep from the back of a horse is something I could still do today if I had the opportunity.  And it was so much fun standing in the bottom of a giant burlap sack that was hung in a steel stand, as balls of wool fleeces tied with thick string would fly in from the top on sheering day.  Our job was to stomp them down to the bottom of the sack so we could fit as much wool as possible before changing the sacks.  The smell of lanolin sets off a wave of memories and emotions that flood my soul to this day.

I learned to drive a 3-gear stick shift Ford truck by the time I was nine.  I’d have to stand up and use all my weight while balancing with the steering wheel just to shift the gears. My sister and I were assets for my brothers when we showed up outside because it meant for one day, they could get us to go out into the cold to open the many gates for the truck to pass.  It wasn’t because we wanted to do it, but rather, because we were the youngest, and would get our asses beat if we didn’t do what my brothers said.  In our too big, cat-piss-smelling outerwear, we did what we were told. It was miserable, but it was necessary to get through the day.  I never heard my brothers once bitch about the load they had to pull daily on the ranch until years later.  In hindsight, it was a really rough way to grow up. 

But I digress…

My grandmother made my dad promise her on her deathbed that the kids would go to Church.  And we did – a lot.  Not my dad or my mom.  Just the kids.  Most days, I didn’t bother trying to find a coat.  I didn’t want to wear cat piss, cow shit or sheep afterbirth to school.  It sounds gross now, but back then, we just called it “Tuesday”.  I’d take my shower in the morning, throw on jeans (hand me downs that might be clean, but probably weren’t) a K-State tee shirt (men’s, of course), and get into the car to be driven by my brothers to the Catholic school we all attended. 

In the Flint Hills of Kansas, there is nothing to stop the wind.  It whips all the time in the winter, and it is brutally cold.  One day, for no reason at all, sticks in my memory and has become the memory to which I assign all days at this time in my life.  I remember the temperature in the car was 9 degrees Fahrenheit.  The sun was shining and the cold felt like a slap in the face as soon as we took the first step out of the house.  My hair was icing from being wet (no hair dryer in the house), and me and my little sister were seat-belted and huddled in tiny balls against the back seat of the car, trying to grab any warmth we could from our own bodies.  Sometimes, huddling in the back seat was the safest place to be when I was growing up.  It reminded me of the tornado drills we’d have to participate in during school in the hallway, when we’d crouch down and hide our heads between our knees to protect our precious mind from flying debris.  Huddling is good protection for little girls surrounded by lots of things and people that could hurt them. It would take at least 15 minutes or more for the car to come to an acceptable temperature. I remember looking at my little sister on the back seat bench with me, her eyes closed as if she was concentrating every bit of energy she could muster on magically generating heat.  She was just as miserable as me, and she was smaller.  I always was so afraid for her because she was little.  Huddling kept us safe some of the time, in the car. The only time it didn’t work was when my parents would drive and smoke with the child locks on.  They didn’t do it on purpose.  They were just oblivious to the kids in the back as they smoked and talked and sometimes fought.  We didn’t dare interrupt.  That would always result in something bad.  So we’d huddle, hands cupped around our faces as if we held the only clean and precious air in the world. My parents were really self absorbed, most of the time. I can say that quiet part out loud, now that they’ve both passed away.

I love the winter! I love the beauty of the snow.  I adore the barrenness of the naked trees, strangely and confidently standing strong, tense until the spring when they can let themselves just grow, unafraid.

Now that I’m in my 50s, my body is no longer original. I have an artificial hip, and so much hardware in my back that you’d probably gasp if you saw an x-ray.  Sometimes, the nerves around my new hip get fired up, and I can’t put any weight on or walk normally on my right leg.  I get a weird limp.  And forget about my back – any effort that involves using my entire body causes debilitating spasms that if I’m not careful, will put me on my back for days, no matter what the temperature.  So any physical exertion must be planned for.  And to think I used to love throwing hay bales…and playing catch with my son. It’s like a part of me has completely atrophied, yet I’m still here. 

I feel the cold different now.  It hurts!  No matter what I put on, I can still feel it cutting me deep inside.  A wave of memories come with it that gut punch me all over again. Old paper cuts I don’t remember getting, they are always tender.

I hate being cold so much that I have a fear of death – not the actual act of dying – that doesn’t scare me.  It’s the thought of being in the ground, cold, with no protection from anything or anyone that can hurt me – huddling in a heap of cold bones.

When the day comes and if you must bury me, please bury me with a really warm blanket – a clean, thick, warm blanket.  Please!

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Uniquely Human

I’m in a funny place these days. The past two years have brought so much change, pain, insight, and plain old confusion. Simply put, I’m lost, and when I’m lost, I write. So here goes…

In 2020, we collectively came to terms with a pandemic, ignorance and deadly politics that were unforgivable, in my humble opinion. The start of 2021 came in like a quiet, sleeping beast. Then, January 6th rolled around, and the country lost it’s damn mind! An attempted coup at the Capitol, our sacred, national shrine, paralyzed us as we watched it unfold on live television. I sat then with a sinking feeling in my gut, very similar to the feeling I’ve had for the past 24 hours.

Is it possible that the person responsible for this action, the one that could’ve ended it, will never be held accountable for the damage caused by his malignant narcissism? The deadly events that unfolded did so, and will continue to do so as long as this conman struggles to stay out of prison, not just for this, but for all the crimes he’s committed in his lifetime.

Newsflash: That’s what this is all about: one man’s efforts to avoid prison, and nothing else. Prison will destroy him. I can’t even imagine what would become of him if he ever donned the orange jumpsuit. But I will feel exactly zero remorse. In an effort to stay free, he will run again for office to make himself immune to prosecution. Simply put, if he dies in office, he’ll never go to jail. That, I believe, is the goal – is HIS goal – at any cost. We will all suffer because of it, even his staunchest supporters. He’s not stupid when it comes to himself. That’s what malignant narcissism is: an inability to feel empathy, to admit any fault or deficiency, and to always put himself first, even above close family members. And he will turn on family, eventually, when his feet get too close to the fire. He has to! He can’t help it – he is mentally ill. He is incapable of doing the right thing because the science tells us this.

Don’t believe me? Don’t want to look up the traits of malignant narcissism (and there are more than what I mentioned)? Don’t feel like consulting with a psychotherapist or analyst?

Fine. If you are one of those people who disagrees with me, you will never agree because you’ve dismissed science in the first place. So I can say that Darwinism, which you don’t believe in, will do its thing. That is, sadly, very preventable. Don’t underestimate the power of the natural world.

We humans have the capacity to think, to question, to analyze, to solve, to care for something or someone other than ourselves. This sustains us and our collective continuity. This is why we are still around as a species. We’ve learned how to use our thoughts and reason to cross oceans, to grow crops in massive amounts, to make artificial limbs, to transplant hearts, livers, lungs, corneas, to travel to space, to make vaccines that will combat those forces that can take us out. It’s an adaptation for our survival, the same way that other species adapted their respective abilities to stay alive (like camouflage, the growth of limbs, lungs and thumbs, the development of lethal toxins to ward off challenges from other species, etc.).

And if you believe in God, you believe He/She doesn’t make mistakes. We were given this mental capacity for a reason: to improve our lives and to stay alive!

But we also do stupid things with our innate power of choice. Face it: When was the last time you watched another species (a cow, a dog, a turtle, a bacteria) get in a car and wrap it around a tree because they drank too much? It’s a funny thing to envision, but not funny because we should know better, given our advanced brains. We sure can be so very stupid!

The ability to think, to question, to analyze, to solve, to CHOOSE at this high level exists only in humanity. The ability to destroy, to lie, to neglect, also, only exists there.

Think about it.

I sit here this New Year’s Day morning, typing and trying to make sense of my thoughts and emotions. Yet, I’m still in my funk from last night. My reflection on the past year brings about pain, sadness, loss, and very little hope. I see death everywhere I turn. Sure, there were things that affected me positively in 2021. But they seem so irrelevant as I observe the larger problems all around me.

I will be 53 this year, and it feels to me that growing old means I’m living just to watch others die. My dear, late friend Stanley Kay used to say that growing old meant growing lonely, as you watch dear family and friends go before you.

Death doesn’t scare me. Loneliness, on the other hand, terrifies me!

My New Year’s plea to everyone is to simply use your God-given, very human brains in the upcoming days. Take care of life – in EVERY form – not just the human one. Study history so you know the terrible mistakes we’ve made, and so you can see the warning signs of repetition when they appear! Be proactive when it comes to your community and your health, since that level of involvement IS within your scope of power.

God created humans with all sorts of gifts and talents. Do you think God would approve of you neglecting the fruits of our species’ collective labor?

I implore everyone to get vaccinated!!! Do your homework!

It takes an entire planet – not just a village.

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Letters from Home

I thought I’d be okay. After all, it’s been nearly three weeks since he passed. But I couldn’t make myself open even one of the letters. They were written on his signature yellow legal-pad paper. As I stared down at the pile, I could see the backward-slanting, strangely beautiful writing through the folded paper. I know his writing won’t be much easier to read once I open the paper and peer at the forward-slanting, always first-written inked words: “Dear Liesl”.

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Telling on myself

I am a white middle aged woman. I’m a daughter, sister and mother. I’m an active duty soldier. I’m an animal advocate. I’m a jazz musician. I’m an empath. I’m a recovering Catholic who loves the art and ritual but hates the learned guilt. Continue reading

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“The victim wasn’t wearing a seatbelt”

“The victim wasn’t wearing a seatbelt”

How many times have we read that line at the end of a fatal accident report? When you read it, your lips purse, and the thought goes through your head, “Why didn’t they just buckle up? It would have been so easy.” We put our seatbelts on every single time we get in the car for many reasons. It’s the law! It took a long time and thousands of deaths before people listened to the science and statistical data, and enacted mandatory seatbelt laws. Some of us remember the days when we were freely tossed into cars as youngsters. My sister has a permanent inch-long scar on the side of her face because she wasn’t wearing a seatbelt in the back of our Griswold station wagon. My mom had to slam on the brakes suddenly, and her tiny body was thrown into the back door. I don’t remember why she didn’t have it on, but I don’t think any of us six kids were wearing seatbelts. It wasn’t the norm. It was inconvenient, especially for large families like mine, to make sure everyone was strapped in all the time. And, even with the best made plans, kids sometimes take their seatbelts off for no good reason. But the fact is that seatbelts save lives. We know that now. So why do people still get into cars and skip this step? Continue reading

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Gratitude…It’s Enough

If we all belong to the Infinite, then we need no further justification for our existence. Explaining the miracle of life is impossible for our limited genesis. The spark that lit us up from the moment we came to be has never been recreated from an empty human page. Therefore, we are part of what has always been from the beginning, created by a Power that we are incapable of wrapping our heads around other than knowing It exists. Continue reading

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Diva with Nancy Wilson

It’s hard to believe this is nearly 17 years old.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Forever, a legend, Ms. Nancy Wilson…

The Incomparable Nancy Wilson

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The Rinse Cycle

When I think back upon the misadventures of my life, I have been slow to attach labels to the things that I felt in various stages.  After all, once we attach a label to something, we rob ourselves of the freedom to describe it any other way.  We build a box around the thing to which no other identification shall seep.  Perhaps it’s easier for us to digest truths when we decide to understand them by giving them a name – an example of our very human need to be in control. Continue reading

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The Power of One

I began blogging in 2012 after several exchanges with a newly found friend via email as I toured the country with the Jazz Ambassadors. The correspondence started as friendly banter but quickly developed into a sort of personal discovery as we grew a friendship across the miles. While touring presented opportunities for growth and study, it also created an environment of danger for someone like me: a prisoner of abysmal loneliness in the absence of my family and despite the presence of my peers. My friend, based in New York City, encouraged the daily conversation that I needed at the time. I don’t think he knew what a simple gift he so selflessly provided. To say I was grateful would be a complete understatement, now. Continue reading

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In Full Retreat…

“The worst of life looks beautiful, as it slips away in full retreat.” – Bonnie Raitt

Winding down another tour with the Jazz Ambassadors, I’m reflecting on the roller coaster of emotions we’ve ridden since this trek began. Losing one’s spouse suddenly is not something that anyone ever anticipates, but that’s exactly what happened to one of our musical brothers in the hours after we left Fort Meade for this 37-day tour. Stolen from him in a moment, our dear colleague’s wife and soul mate was gone, and his future, forever altered. How does one recover from that? Continue reading

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