Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Hello. My name is Kennith and I must admit that I have a problem. I truly despise having conversations on the telephone. I am a phone-a-phobic person and desperately need an intervention!

While I write this somewhat tongue in cheek, there is an element of truth to this post. I find talking to someone on the phone to be extremely impersonal because I can't see their expression. I want to look at you eyeball to eyeball and ascertain what you're thinking. If there is a task to be done that requires I either place a call or drive out of my way to interact with a person, I will choose the extra mileage in order to avoid the phone call.

Sadly, this hatred of the phone has spread into my personal interactions with friends as well. It hasn't always been like this. There were nights that I looked forward to the phone ringing in order to speak with those who were spread across the country and even the world. (The summer my roommate was in Germany was not a happy time for my phone bill! That one still brings back an ache to my wallet.) Sometimes it appears that I am avoiding phone calls because I don't value my friends. The truth is that I'm being selfish! When I talk to these men and women who are so important to me, I become homesick for their company and very dissatisfied with my present situation. Eventually I just don't think I can handle the sadness anymore and pull away....and I stop returning calls.

When I finally realize that not talking to them is worse than becoming homesick, I feel awkward that I have allowed so much time to pass since my last phone call. I want to catch up on what's going on with them while I feel as though I desperately need to apologize for my neglect of them. I know I would be upset if someone had ignored me in the same way that I have ignored them. It's completely understandable.

I always tend to make an excuse for not calling that seems completely reasonable. It's most convenient for me to call while driving during the day. Since most of them are in other time zones and hold traditional jobs, they are either at work or still in bed. I don't want to disturb them, so I decide to wait. When I assume it's a more appropriate time for them to talk, I'm so tired that I put it off again. I often wonder which is worse -- phone silence or a voicemail left during an inopportune time of day?

Before beginning this post, I began to make some phone calls that I feared were going to be very awkward. Two voicemails later, I'm waiting to hear back from a couple of important friends. The third that I actually got on the phone was a great conversation. It felt so good to share with my him and know that even when we don't talk on a regular basis, we both hold a special place in the other's heart.

I've not made all the phone calls that are on my plate right now. So if you've not gotten a voice mail, don't assume you aren't important to me. I'm just working through a very long list. (If you know you're on my list and want to move up to the top....give me a call!) Here's my pledge to myself: for the next few weeks, I'll not screen calls when I'm free and will make return calls as soon as I can. Why? Because the people in my life are worth the investment of my time. I realize that now!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Bad Bully

At the end of church on Sunday, I learned that we had a case of bullying in our Children's Ministry this week. While speaking to the victim and the culprit, my mind returned to my own issues with bullying and the effects it has had on me. I am not proud of my response to my bully nor do I suggest this as an appropriate response to anyone reading. It is, however, a rather funny scene to picture.

My third grade year was a tough year for me. I wasn't very fond of my teacher since she didn't really want me to do anything extra when I finished my deskwork early. I always felt like I was a bother to her. I became further alienated from her when I had to have two teeth surgically removed from the roof of my mouth which led to nearly 6 weeks out of school and a hard knot that made speech challenging. (That's another story for another day.....too much trauma to deal with in one post.) Since I didn't think my teacher was particularly fond of me, I spent much of the year suffering at the hands of a bully that I didn't think I had any recourse against.

Sitting directly behind me every day was a nasty girl named Gloria Davis. She was larger than everyone else in the class since she had repeated several grades (I'll allow you to form your own opinions of what that says for this crazy girl's intelligence level) and knew that she was in charge. My problems began when she tried to get answers from my math paper. I didn't just cover my answers with my arm; I used the loudest voice I could muster to tell her to STOP CHEATING AND KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR OWN PAPER. I knew that would get the teacher's attention and force her to address the issue that I had brought to the attention of the entire class. When Gloria got in trouble, I became Enemy #1 on her radar.

Gloria was tall and she was the girl that everyone in Crawfordsville Elementary feared. Quite simply, she was one mean, tough black girl. She wasn't all that pretty to look at either. Personally, I was convinced she wasn't human. I just knew that she was the bride of Satan. Gloria found everything in the world to tease me about: my clothes....my hair.....my parents......my lunchbox (a really cool Dukes of Hazzard metal box)....being the teacher's pet.

I don't remember exactly how I ended up in this situation, but I found myself standing outside one afternoon waiting for my mom to pick me up. No one else was around.....no one else except Gloria, that is! She began to taunt and bully me, telling me of all the mean things she had planned for me. By this point, I had stood all I could stand and I knew that it was time to stand up for myself. In my 3rd grade mind, I weighed all the possible punishments the teachers and principal could give me. I readied myself for a fight to the finish with this girl.

Gloria continued to threaten me, so I told her to leave me alone. Obviously she wasn't going to give up that easily. My fingers clutched the handle of my prized lunchbox because I was so mad! I screamed at her now. "I said to SHUT UP YOU N*****!" (I never claimed to be perfect.) With that primal yell, I swung the brightly-colored Dukes of Hazzard lunchbox at her head and landed it firmly on her temple. I saw her bend over in pain, but wasn't going to stand around and gloat. I ran inside the building to the music room where I found Ms. Keith, my piano teacher, whose classroom window overlooked the pick-up zone. We sat there together and waited for my Mom to arrive. Gloria came down the hall, blood streaming from her head, seeking revenge. Ms. Keith looked Gloria in the eye and dared her to make a move at me.

Later I would learn that Ms. Keith had watched the entire situation unfold and was ready to come to my defense if needed. Before she left the area, she told me that she cheered for me from her classroom when she saw the lunchbox hit its target. Ms. Keith never reported the offense and told Gloria that if she said anything, the principal would be told that I was simply acting in self-defense. For the rest of my third grade year, I never had any more problems with Gloria. Whenever she started her old ways, I would just raise my lunchbox and get ready to swing. I think she got the message that I wasn't going to live in fear of her anymore. Gloria tried to resume her reign of terror in later years. When I threatened to tell everyone how this tough black girl had been slugged by a wimpy white boy, she backed off. This story being told was more than her juvenile pride could take.

I've often wondered what happened to Gloria and if she even remembers the things she did to me. Honestly, I doubt she does. When I finally got to leave the nightmare that was Crawfordsville schools, Gloria was pregnant and headed nowhere fast. The only thing that I am certain of is this....my life became a success despite her torture and abuse. I have a sneaky feeling that the same cannot be said for her. In a way, I find vindication in that realization. So for everyone who has ever experienced trauma at the hands of a bully, I raise my lunchbox overhead and proudly tell you that my bully couldn't handle it when I decided I wouldn't be a victim anymore.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Family Meals

Sundays are always one of the highlights of my week. Before you decide to ignore today's blog because you don't want to read about how much I enjoy going to church, think again! While it's true that I am a Christian, the highlight of my Sunday comes after the morning service. It's the time I get to spend with my family sitting around a table laughing, talking, and enjoying each other.

The weekends are always full of work for me. Sundays are an "on" day for me as this is when the majority of my responsibilities with the church are fulfilled. When the morning service is over, I know that I normally get to enjoy the rest of my day. Without fail, my parents and siblings make every effort to leave the church as soon as we can so we can get to the restaurant table sooner. That's actually the reason why we now select restaurants for Sunday lunches a month at a time. We were wasting too much valuable time trying to make decisions about lunch plans that we would rather spend relaxing together.

What do we talk about? No topic is too heavy or too frivolous for discussion. We may share about the joy or dread of returning to work, a funny thing that happened this week, or share our hopes and fears. It's always a lively conversation.....anytime you have 8 or 10 of us participating in a single conversation (with the occasional off-shooting dialogue), it's certainly going to be a hoot!

Lots of time is devoted to laughing at with each other. More often than not, my mother is the one that we are all laughing at. She's often naive, but there's also a very sharp wit that makes an appearance from time to time. That's when the laughter starts rolling and quickly transforms into a cackle.

As this week is finally drawing to a close and most some of the responsibilities on my overloaded plate are nearing completion, I'm looking forward to taking some time for myself this weekend and then treasuring my Sunday lunch with those that I love the most.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


This post has been on my mind all day, but since it's been a very full day, I'm just now getting to sit down and write. Eleven years ago today, the world paused as we watched in horror the terrorists events in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania unfold before our eyes. Today, I have had a lot of time to reflect on that fateful day and how my life was effected.

That beautiful Tuesday morning of 2001 was the final semester of my master's work in piano performance. The day was scheduled to begin at 10:00 with a voice lesson in Dr. Pamela Gaston's studio and would continue until I had my piano lesson late that afternoon. I had gotten myself together, dressed, and had warmed up when I decided to sit down on the sofa to watch a bit of news before leaving for the school. I sat in absolute horror as I listened to Matt Lauer attempt to sort through the confusion of what was happening in the earliest stages of the tragedy.

I knew that this would be a historical event, so I immediately called my mom and told her to make sure that she was watching the news. The rest of the morning is a blur and I somehow pulled myself together and managed to get into my car to head to school. As I drove, I remember seeing several crop dusters beginning to work in this agricultural region and I nearly lost my mind with every sound. I think that's when I finally knew that things were not alright -- and I wasn't either.

As I drove, my cell phone began to ring off the hook. My sister-in-law and sister were trying to reach me. It was Patsy, my brother's wife, who finally got through and asked exactly where I was. Reports were coming in that both bridges into Memphis would be shut down to all traffic later that morning since there was fear that the city might be a terrorist target. If I found myself in Memphis when the bridges were closed, I wouldn't be able to get home....and at that point we didn't know how long it would last.

I turned around and went home. I didn't have the presence of mind to call anyone and cancel my appointments for the day. I thought the world was coming to an end anyway and none of it was going to matter. I tried to think about other things when I got home, but I sat glued to the television. I was frightened of what was going to happen next. I feared for the safety of my friends living in New York as well as those in Los Angeles -- so many were assuming that the entire nation was under attack.

As aircraft were grounded around the nation, I saw the immensity of the situation. Then television stations began to go off the air as a show of respect to those who had been lost. I couldn't believe what was happening.

Later that afternoon I learned that the bridges were not going to be closed and got a phone call from my boss that the church was hosting a special prayer service that evening. I had mixed emotions about going to be perfectly honest. I wanted to be in a place of prayer, but I was not looking forward to being 45 miles from home while the world was in chaos. I made the drive to East Memphis. I sat outside the church on the hood of my car and talked with friends before the service began and was shocked at the silence that was all around. The church normally had lots of air traffic going overhead due to flight paths to the international airport. That afternoon was strangely and eerily silent.

As I sat in the quiet, I began to think about many things. I had to teach children's church on Sunday morning. How was I going to address how God could allow so many people to die who had done nothing to deserve it? How was I going to assure them that in this craziness God was still in control? Was I honestly convinced of that myself? Then I started to think about my upcoming calendar. I was supposed to get on an airplane in just a few weeks and travel to Los Angeles for a performance. Would the airlines be up and running again? Would I have the courage to fly? (I made the flight to LA in early October, but I was completely petrified, reading a large portion of the New Testament with a white-knuckle grip.  My return flight wasn't much better since the US had attacked Afghanistan the day before and the airports were on high alert in case of retaliation.)

I got back to a semi-normal routine with the rest of the country in the weeks after 9/11. I had convinced everyone I was fine, but I knew that I wasn't. I had to face this fact when the drama series The West Wing returned to the air. I had been a regular viewer of the show since its beginning and hadn't missed an episode. The show immediately after the hiatus dealt with terrorist attacks as their response to the tragedies. I started watching the episode but couldn't bring myself to watch it because I was so disturbed. Truthfully, I have not watched an episode of The West Wing since that evening. I own the entire series on DVD and have made efforts to watch them from the beginning, but I can't make it because of the knowledge that I will have to face that episode in order to finish the series.

So here I am 11 years after the events of 9/11.  I wasn't in New York City on that day. I didn't know anyone personally who was among the victims. Still, I find that I was scarred on that day and don't know that I have ever fully recovered.....or that I ever will.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Book Clubs

Today was filled with lots of activity and appointments that simply had to be kept. Since I knew the day was going to be crazy, I got an early start, knowing that I needed to knock a few things off my to-do list before leaving the house for the morning. I decided I needed some incentive to get things done, so I made a deal with myself. Once I finished the first three things on my list, I could spend the rest of the morning reading until I had to leave. I didn't even get to pick up a book. That made me very sad.....

And my sadness grew as I heard a radio announcer wishing everyone "Happy Read a Book Day" (honestly....it's celebrated on September 6). On September 8, we'll also celebrate International Literacy Day. I have been desperate to dive into a book all day long, but didn't have the time to spare. I have been thinking about how much I love books and how I desperately desire to be a part of a book club.

One of the primary reasons that I have been a student for so long is that I really enjoy getting to interact with books. It's not just reading the book that is so enthralling though. I love the conversation that ensues when a group of people come together and bring their various experiences and opinions to the table as they consider the implications of the written word. I couldn't imagine not having time to read while I was in my undergraduate program. So what did I do? I declared a second major in English literature. I knew I wasn't the best student in the program, but I knew that I was passionate about the material.

The social activity I would most enjoy participating in on a regular basis would be a reading group. I've had no luck finding one though. I've joined groups at the local library and area bookstores, but have always been disappointed because the members either didn't commit to participate regularly or the group only dove into a single genre of literature. When I participated in an office reading group, things never got off the ground. We tried to meet during our lunch break, but the demands of work kept calling us back. We were all too exhausted to consider committing to an additional night during the week.

Some have suggested that I start my own reading group. I'll admit that I have tried, but it still didn't provide what I was looking for. A church book club limited material that could be included due to language and topics that might offend some members. A group of performing artists is a rehearsal (read social party) waiting to happen....and there was little discussion of the material read.

Oprah's Book Club was the closest thing I've ever found. I enjoyed the wide variety of books selected and appreciated the passionate discussion that would normally occur. I missed the human interaction and building relationships though. Oprah has now reorganized her book club as version 2.0 which all occurs online. Everyone has the opportunity to communicate via Twitter and other social media, but the intimacy is lost.

I was intrigued by one of Oprah's latest suggestions for starting a book club. She suggested reading as a family and discussing the book as part of your family get-togethers. I see how this could be really fun in many families. Probably won't work for my situation though....while many in my family enjoy reading (and others do it just to keep their brain active), we're not reading for insight as much as we are for the entertainment value. There's only so much I can say about why I enjoyed a book without wanting to consider the moral, political, and philosophical implications.

So what is it that I'm really looking for? Ideally, I would find a group of 8-12 other readers who come from different backgrounds, professions, spiritual journeys, and education levels. I envision men and women who share a love for reading, a desire to think deeply about issues, and a willingness to listen and speak honestly without constantly being offended when/if they disagree. I don't want to be forced to be politically correct....especially if my opinions are not PC! We might share food together....but the focus is really on the book.

And, oh the books!  How wonderful would it be to read a self-help book followed by the latest best-seller. Then we dive into the heart of a classic American novel. Throw in a little philosophical writing and maybe even some religious (possibly non-Christian?) texts and you have a recipe for exciting and intellectually invigorating conversation.

If any of you have suggestions about where I can find a book club in the area, I'd love to hear from you! Until I find what I'm looking for, I'll keep dreaming about the day I'm able to participate on a regular basis and keep reading for my own pleasure and intellectual stimulation.  Now I suppose it's time I give in and spend some quiet time with my book.  Scarlett and Rhett, I'm coming to Tara for a visit now!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Search for the Elusive Mechanic

Have you ever realized just how hard it can be to find a good mechanic? Thankfully I have had good luck with cars most of the time -- except for the nightmare with the rebuilt engine that exploded on I-5 while heading to a performance in downtown Los Angeles -- but I'll save that story for another time. In the past month, I have had to put my car in the shop for some body work and general maintenance. To put it simply, it is probably one of the most frustrating things I ever have to deal with.

I consider myself very intelligent. There aren't many things that I can't figure out if I put my mind to it. Auto mechanics, however, is equivalent to nuclear science to me! I just don't get how everything works together. I suppose part of the confusion is that it's a discipline that requires lots of hands-on attention and I don't touch things that might get my hands dirty. It's just that simple! It was tough enough for me to get over the sensation of touching raw food....but greasy, filthy machinery is not going to happen.

My knowledge of how a car works under the hood is limited to knowing that I have to keep gas, water, and oil in it. Many of those lessons I have learned because I have experienced what happens when I let one (or all of them) run out. Being stranded in rural Arkansas is a great teacher! Gauges and lights work great for me. If there's a ding that's not normally there, I know something needs attention.

I know that tune-ups are needed, tires must be rotated, and filters have to be replaced. My problem is understanding WHEN these things need to happen. I have gotten the oil change routine down since a wonderful college roommate (thank Heaven for Power!) explained the 3,000 mile rule and showed me how to add water when I am in a pinch. I've asked for similar mileage rules for these other recurring maintenances, but the answer I get is that you just "know" when it's needed based upon the car's response. Last time I checked, my car didn't give a "verbal response" that it needed help, so I'm pretty clueless to listening to it talk!

A very helpful friend suggested that I simply schedule my maintenance along with someone else's trips to the garage that I could easily observe. That sounded like a perfect idea and an easy solution. I would just send my car to the mechanic every time my dad sent his in. Then I came to a horrible realization....my dad doesn't maintain ANYTHING! He reacts to problems rather than having regular, preventative maintenance done. (Sadly, this applies to all areas of his life and is becoming a major source of frustration for me as he ages and needs more health check-ups than he wants to handle. Again, another topic for another day!)

So I continue to search for a reliable mechanic. What do I want? I am hoping beyond hope to find someone who will communicate with me about my car without using lots of terms that mean nothing to me. I would love to develop a relationship of trust with him, knowing that he is going to recommend maintenance that is necessary and provide the service at a price that is sufficient for his professional knowledge without ripping me off just because he can!

As you can see, I have had really bad experiences with mechanics. The local shop that I used stopped servicing cars, so I've been on the hunt for what feels like an eternity. The local Goodyear seemed to be promising until I took the car in repeatedly with the "Check engine" light coming on. After running tests, nothing could be found. The mechanic's advice? Ignore the indicator. Not an answer that I can live with since that indicator light is the only thing that gives me any clue that it's time to get to the garage. After lots of prayers and an expensive trip back to the dealer, the engine light problem has been solved, but now I'm constantly getting messages about low tire pressure. Why not just fill them up with air? The tire gauge indicates that they are at capacity (I did learn how to do SOME things in college, after all!)

So now I'm back to the drawing board, looking for someone to help me maintain my car. Since my mom and I are the ones who try to take care of the cars (more frustration should be heard in that statement), when these types of issues begin to occur, we both get frustrated and start shopping for a new vehicle. That's an entirely different problem that I really don't want to start dealing with at the moment!