Drinking the Kool-Aid

Some memories stand out as critical turning points in one’s life. In my life I can remember a significant time period of discovery and learning and it was the impressionable late adolescence/early teen years when I, for good or bad, faced lessons in trust. This is an awkward stage in life for most, the values provided from home compete with the necessity to be cool in school and on the social scene. At the time I don’t think I had much thought about what I believed to be right for how to behave, I was caught in the drama of keeping up and nothing else mattered.

Keeping up in middle school meant talking about friends behind their backs, ironically to try to prevent others from talking about me behind my back. There was a lot of best friends who didn’t speak for weeks and would be reunited again by someone else’s falling out later. It was a constant need to confide ugliness in others and repeating shock and devastation when the confidant divulged the secrets. Like a dog chasing it’s tail and gets hurt when she finally reaches it. This cycle of manipulation was vicious and isolating at that age.

By eighth grade I was well conditioned as a mean girl. I had a core group of friends who had withstood rips and tears into our relationships, and one friend of the group I shared the closest bond with. Beth and I had met the previous year and quickly grew tight, by 8th grade we had given up passing cleverly folded notes between class and began passing a notebook. (If only our notebook was staring Ryan Gosling this story could be so much more attractive.) Our notebook contained our diary of events, doodles, gossip and trash talk. We wrote during class, in the halls and even at home to each other. I drew a lot of pictures; cartoons mocking peers in my class, funny characters and my own imitation of my teacher as her alma mater mascot a razorback. We made jokes about our teachers – how they looked, what they taught and how they spent their free time. We shared middle school news of who was “going out” and our own crushes. And we talked even more personally about things happening outside of school and with our own families.

One morning Beth and I were in a class together sitting at separate tables, I could see she was writing to me when the razorback approached her and asked for the notebook. Attempting to be a reasonable 13-year-old, I respectfully went to the teacher’s desk and communicated an apology for not staying focused, understanding the need to be punished and how important it is for the notebook to stay private. I turned to go back to my seat and by the time I sat and turned to face the teacher’s desk the notebook was open in front of her. My mind raced to consider all the hateful things which had erupted from my adolescent head to my sloppy pen. I was enraged at the teacher for disrespecting me and my friend. Even more, the razorback took our notebook to the other teachers to encourage them to read our messages. When my mom, school social worker and principal all were involved the razorback pleaded to keep the notebook until after lunch. She was obviously very entertained by what we had to say, maybe she wanted to make photocopies?

On to high school only a few months later, friendships continued to evolve and my difficulty with trust remained. Except after the incident with the notebook I also became weary of trusting authority figures. Instead of making the naive assumption school faculty were there to help all students, I became increasingly aware of hidden agendas, personal priorities and governing rules which directed what happened in the classrooms. I tried to be polite in school and still I wasn’t afraid to call bullshit when I felt it necessary or lie to avoid trouble later. In high school I withdrew from joining activities, didn’t socialize much and put just enough work in to graduate and get into college. I didn’t make the connection about who I was becoming and why until years later when a college class required me to make a timeline of major life events and that 8th grade day came to mind as significant.

The realization of how the teacher violated my trust in her authority carried on to all authority figures, my eyes were wide open to understand the deeper meaning and not take for granted what I was told. This served me well in many areas of my life, to speak up for what I felt was right despite the popular opinion. To question for the facts and find what is missing from the explanation. And to advocate for individuals who don’t have the skills to speak for themselves. Over the years I have learned to differentiate discussions worth being had and battles worth fighting for. When I worked for state mental health it only took me a little over two years to realize there were too many illogical battles for me to take on and I couldn’t numb my ethics enough to continue to be a part of the system.

The other day I heard a remark my uncle said to my mom regarding me “drinking the kool-aid.” I respect my uncle greatly, I know that he loves me and appreciates who I am and not just because I am his first niece. My uncle and I have a wonderful relationship despite having very diverse images of the world, politics and religion. And I suppose the mere fact I would question major national events and the government’s involvement puts me in the category of loosing my marbles in my uncle’s mind. It would be absolutely impossible to imagine, given our government’s perfect tracked record of honest behavior, national situations which have happened in my lifetime could be reported to the public wrong. Because in my lifetime, I have already learned when there are hidden agendas, personal priorities and higher controls which dictate what happens. This is often not in sync with what is right, what is fair or what is true. When you consider the perspective of what one stands to gain and lose from the truth; power, control and profit. These are not the motives for truth seekers who question facts contrasting public perceptions. Those individuals deal with ostrification from family, friends and the majority of society. Valid questions go unanswered and most people continue on with their days unaware of what lies are making impressions on our lives.

Two of my uncles, my mom's brothers

Two of my uncles, my mom’s brothers

So yes, if you must look at it this way. I have been drinking the kool-aid, and I like it. Funny thing is, back in the 70’s my uncle appeared to be the guy mixing the kool-aid. I imagined him being the kid who always questioned authority and challenged what he was told in a puff of jolly green smoke. Makes me wonder if he had a similar yet opposite defining moment in his life. Perhaps a major governing official came to my uncle’s rescue, provided him safety and security in a way he never knew before. Maybe my uncle was reassured in his faith for authority figures and he learned to listen, obey and not question the facts which don’t correlate with the story.

This blog is where I focus on living inspired, finding appreciation for the ordinary and being aware of people, places and events which have shaped who I am. There is purpose in every experience, good or bad. The lesson I learned back in eighth grade helped program me to be aware. I can’t change everything I see wrong with the world, right now I can be at peace with really seeing what’s happening.

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Bula! From Fiji

I met T. Jay and Crystal, also students from K-State when we entered the study abroad program and all chose to attend James Cook University in Townsville, Australia. Despite being nearly strangers, we figured it would be fun to travel together to get there and make our journey there an adventure. In order to get from Kansas City to Townsville, this required six flights, so we decided to take a break for a few days to explore Fiji and then another quick sight seeing tour of Sydney.

8 February 2003:
Bula!
We have finally arrived in Fiji after 18 hours of traveling. The flight to Fiji was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on where I was sandwiched between two guys for eleven hours straight. The plane was huge and completely jam packed. Every seat was taken and mostly by college students on their way to study abroad in Australia. Our flight arrived in Fiji at 5:30am and we finally left the airport a little after 7:00.

-cabinA short drive took us to turn at the McDonalds, down a long eroded street and then dirt road to the Club Fiji Resort. We checked in and were lead to one of the furthest cabins on the land (room 24). It’s small, no air conditioning, no phone and no TV – it’s the most rustic we’ve ever been and it’s perfect.

Crystal and I showered the plane off and sat down near the beach to write in our journals. A guy raking the sand stopped to talk to us, his name is Neeko and it turned out he is the activities everything person. He talked us into snorkeling today after breakfast (which really didn’t seem like breakfast since we have been awake for so long).

We met up with Neeko at 10 and he took us on a boat straight from the bay our cabin is on out to a reef. The boat had water in the bottom and a fish swam around inside of the boat, Neeko said he caught it yesterday. The reef, coral and fish were all beautiful, it makes me look forward to learning to scuba dive when we get to Australia. The schools of teal and silver fish that shimmer in the light were my favorite.

After snorkling we showered, yet again, and headed to the center of Nadi for some shopping. The stores are pretty much the same as many islands I have been to, and sellers follow shoppers harassing for a sale. One guy stopped me on the sidewalk and started a conversation. Initially I believed him to be another shopper until he insisted we go with him to a particular store. I dunno if T. Jay wanted to or if he didn’t know any better because he followed him, and we followed T. Jay.

kavaThe guy lead us straight to the end of the store and instructed us to take off our shoes and sit on the mat. We then participated in a kava ceremony in preparation for trying the drink. Kava is made from dried and ground kava root, then mixed with water in a ritual fashion. Everyone in the circle took turns sipping the drink, it really didn’t taste like much – water with a powdered substance in it. It made my tongue numb for a minute and I supposed if you drink more it causes a high effect.

From where I am sitting, looking out across the bay I can see the sleeping giant. Another traveler, Canadian named Murry, pointed it out to us. It really appears like the ridges of the hills are an outline of a man from head to toe. So far, I love Fiji. The people are friendly and the environment is beautiful. It is fun observing the birds, their calls and the unique vegitation. I don’t know what’s planned for tomorrow, I do know as long as we are in Fiji it will be wonderful.
-giant

Lost the Fiesta and I’m Not Cursed

So many sports fanatics can relate to the roller coaster of emotions which come with cheering for players, sports and your team. The first time I declared myself to a team was with the Minnesota Vikings, most of it had to do with being oppositional about moving to Kansas City. Prior to this I had only seen football as a slow-paced game where huge men hog piled over a ball. Luckily as my knowledge of the positions, plays and players grew I came to respect the game and love watching the sport.

My real true passion for cheering a team came as a freshman at K-State in the fall of 2000. It would have been near impossible not to get drawn into the sport with the majority of the campus and community clad in purple every Saturday. I remember eagerly turning to the sports page of the university newspaper to measure the rise and fall of our ranking each week dependent upon the game before. And the very first and only game I attended during the season happened to be one of the most memorable games I have ever gotten to witness. K-State played a rival team Nebraska for their last home game, by the end in heavy snow conditions. I stood with my brother, sister-in-law and their friends with heated pouches in my mittens and boots to watch Nebraska get defeated. In my very first game not only did I finally get to participate in the Wabash, I got to storm the field with several thousand other deliriously chilled K-Staters.

I was hooked, college football was cemented into my college experience.

k-state tickets

It wasn’t until my senior year when I finally bought my first set of season tickets. My roommate, Sheila, and I attended every game and dedicated ourselves to standing, yelling, high-fiving and absorbing every second of every play. We enjoyed the football as much as our own pre-football festivities with a Game-Day CD blasting our Saturday tailgating anthems. Sheila and I were so invested in the games I remember standing near tears devastated at the loss to Marshall, holding onto hope until the very last second ran off the clock. I picture it raining that afternoon as we stood shocked looking at the scoreboard, maybe that is just how my memory puts me during that crummy emotional state. kstate

Despite the loss to Marshall, K-State went on to have a great season and was invited to play in the Fiesta Bowl. Being an irresponsible new graduate I hopped in with Sheila and a group of friends to road trip to Tempe, Arizona for the game. The whole trip was an adventure from the walkie-talkie game of “Would You Rather” I am happy there is no record of, to the hotel suite way too many of us shared, to the dangerously ingenious ride back after celebrating New Years in the downtown area. The spontaneous trip would have all been worth it, had it not been for the bowl game. K-State entered the stadium with odds against them, a fresh accusation against our prized quarterback overshadowed their ability on the field. K-State lost to Ohio, and I haven’t been able to smile at a Buckeye since.

Fast forward to this year, even a few hours away from Manhappiness, I continue to be a dedicated football fan eagerly anticipating every Saturday with more and more purple added to my wardrobe every year. My friend Crystal and I had decided to abandon mommy duty and drive to visit our friend, JoJo, in Texas. Simultaneously as K-State won games week after week and worked their way higher in the rankings we heard from JoJo, our mini-vaca happened to be the same weekend K-State would be coming to town and she could get us tickets. BEST NEWS EVER!

K-State continued their season undefeated and was finally placed at number 1 in the rankings as we made our way to Waco. JoJo showed us around Waco, introduced us to her favorite places to eat, drink and karaoke, she took us hiking, to the farmers market and to the Baylor campus where she is employed. We merrily enjoyed our freedom from changing diapers and wiping up slobber to have adult conversations for hours on end. And then Saturday evening rolled around, we walked the entire loop around the Baylor stadium and I was amazed at the personally labeled parking spaces and the high-end tailgating equipment sported by the alums. I was used to seeing cornhole, washers and ladder golf at tailgates, not high-definition flat screen TVs.

Fortunately we ran into a familiar sound and crowd finding ourselves at the K-State band playing in the parking lot just before going in. JoJo had gotten us tickets in the visitors section and I was pleased to see so many football fans in purple ready to cheer on the undefeated season. In front of us stood a group of K-State frat boys in button up shirts, khaki shorts and top-sider deck shoes – kind of laughable – yet they were for the good team so it was okay.

Baylor began playing better than K-State from the very beginning and I wasn’t worried. I had faith all of the excitement I had leading up to this game, driving all the way from Kansas City to Waco wouldn’t be for nothing. And then the game just kept getting worse. The refs made some horrible calls where the entire purple crowd cursed and screamed to the field. One of the frat boys in front of me appeared so infuriated, his face matched his shirt when he barely took a breath in his yelling commentary. I almost felt the need to stop my attacks on the ref to comfort the kid and prevent an early heart attack.

At halftime K-State went to the locker room behind in scoring 17:28, my confidence in the win never wavered. “They are a better second half team,” “Snyder is setting them straight now,” “They can do this.” I audibly reassured myself and anyone else near who was listening. And when the second half started, it didn’t get better. I sensed the desperation of thousands of K-State fans witnessing this on television watching the dreams of a perfect season vanish to a team we were/are better than, except I was watching it in person. In the second half Baylor continued to score while K-State floundered. With each Baylor touchdown the green people celebrated with greater enthusiasm jumping and dancing as the stadium played House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”

Over and over it played until the score reached 24:52. “Pack it up pack it in, let me begin…” I tried my best to sooth the lump in my throat and avoid looking at the Baylor crowd. I could imagine the excitement of being a student in attendance at the game to witness their team crushing the number one team in the country, at the same time already beginning to grieve the loss of the number one spot for my team.

I was so sour and depressed after the game we retired back to JoJo’s and went to bed early. Crystal and I got up before the sun on Sunday morning to flee Waco and return to Wildcat country. “Pack it up, pack it in…” popped onto our XM Radio channel within hours of our drive resulting in both of us lunging to turn it off.

K-State went on to play an outstanding season, never regaining a number one ranking, non-the-less they were invited to once again play in the Fiesta Bowl. Despite the temptation of making the trip to Phoenix, I was beginning to wonder if I carried a curse for away games. Logically I know I don’t have any sort of power to control the outcome by simply attending the game, and still the superstition concerned me.

I was glued to the TV to watch the opening kick-off return to see Oregon score against K-State. Unfortunately for K-State the Ducks took over, and I was reassured to know I’m not cursed.

The Anaconda III – Sailing in the Whitsundays

I spent a semester studying in Australia back in 2003.  I caution using the word “studying” because the semester was more about enjoying the opportunity to travel, have fun and adventure far from home while taking a few classes.  When I first inquired about the option to take a semester abroad I set up a meeting with the study abroad office to check out some universities in Europe that I could go to.  When I arrived for the appointment there was another student there at the same time for the same purpose except she was interested in Australia.  The adviser laid out a map of Australia to show her the options.  She pointed to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney talking about what type of students go to each school and how they spend their time.  She then pointed to Townsville on the Northeastern coast of Australia.  She explained that students go to James Cook University, they get to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef an hour off the coast and the rainforest an hour inland.  The adviser reported that most of her students that attend James Cook call back to make arrangements for staying an extra semester.  After she was done explaining the schools in Australia I told her there would be no need to look at the  schools in Europe, I wanted to go to Townsville.

The next semester I was living life to the fullest and signing up for every adventure imaginable.  I kept a journal for parts of the trip, writing about random nights, tricks to learning the Aussie lingo, stories about bus rides, hearing songs and logs of rugby games attended.  One of my favorite entries is about sailing in the Whitsundays, a trip that I went on with a group of friends over Easter weekend:

Sailing in the Whitsundays, The Anaconda III

Tom, Amy, Crystal, Sarah and I took a 3 day sailing trip in the Whitsunday Islands over our Easter break.  In those 3 days we had quite a few adventures.

One day we stopped at a small island so people could snorkel and lay out.  Crystal, Sarah and I decide to walk around the island.  We get 3/4 of the way around and come to giant boulders that we can’t walk over.  Our options are either to swim around and risk being stung by jelly fish, try to get through the middle of the island which is dense bushes and trees, or try to scale over the rocks.  We attempt the rock climbing.  Even though Sarah and I are in flip-flops we managed climbing over these boulders.  Then we got to a point that we couldn’t cross.  It was too far to jump and we couldn’t get through the woods.  Meanwhile one of the deck hands from out sailboat is watching us from a dingy. (The dingy is the small boat that brings people from the big boat to shore.)

After he realizes that we have nowhere to go and we are freaking out, he manuevers the dingy right up to the rock wall.  One by one he helps us climb down 15 feet.  The 3 of us were laughing hysterically the whole time about what idiots we were that we had to be rescued.

I asked the deck hand if he had ever had to rescue anyone before and all he said was “Not quite like this.”

—-

One night on the boat a whole bunch of people were being entertained by the activity in the back of the boat.  The boat’s cook brought her 13-year-old son on board sometimes if he was off of school.  He was on the back of the boat throwing bread in the water to attract fish…  And then the fish would attract squid.  The kid would throw a lure in the water when he saw a squid and try to catch it.  

When a squid gets scared or attacked its defense mechanism is to spew this black ink stuff.  When the kid felt the squid on his lure he jerked it out of the water and the squid shot it’s ink in the direction it was being jerked.  Imagine the reaction of a dozen young college aged guys and girls when squid ink and guts is flung up at them and over their heads.  That ink made it back 20 feet on the deck of the boat.  Nasty – that is all that could be said.  All of us screamed like it was a horror movie.  

The funny part is that all the same people gathered five minutes later and watched the kid catch another one and the ink shot up again another 20 feet.  I was lucky but some of the people, including Sarah and Crystal for squid ink on their clothes.  

—-

Our last day in the Whitsundays Sarah and I wanted to go diving.  We figured that we could handle going out on our own without a dive master.  So we get all of our equipment and plan that she will lead and I will follow.  We go down and are swimming along at about 6 meters.  The visibility was really bad, you couldn’t see past about 8 feet around you, so you don’t really know what is in the water with you until it is right in front of you.  

After swimming for about 3 minutes Sarah turns around and points to me and then points in a direction signaling for me to take the lead.  But I hate being the leader, I hate having to turn to check if my buddy is still near me, I can’t navigate well underwater and I hate not knowing what’s ahead.  When I follow I feel much more comfortable.  So, I pointed to Sarah and pointed in the direction so that she would lead.

She pointed at me again and I pointed at her.  We pointed back and forth for a minute before agreeing to surface to talk.

After I explained that I cannot lead, Sarah decided that even though she wasn’t very comfortable she would try leading again.  We went back down and I got really scared.  I love diving, it’s like an underwater dreamland but when you can’t see very well it’s like a nightmare.  So I made Sarah end our dive early.  We got back to the surface and laughed about what big wimps we were.  

The same deck hand that rescued us from the rocks came to our rescue again and took us back to the boat.  We weren’t charged for our 7 minute dive.

I am constantly reminded of memories from Australia, people I met and experiences I had during that trip.  For the record, I did return home after one semester – only because I had one semester left before graduation.  My biggest recommendation to high school graduates planning to attend college is to make plans to spend a semester overseas – it is worth the effort and expense.  Studying abroad is an opportunity to learn more about yourself and the world than you could ever learn in a classroom – which is really part of the point of going to college right?

JoJo LOVES Theater.

JoJo, Sheila and me

My friend JoJo just celebrated her 30th birthday. She is outgoing, and I remember this vividly because it was the first impression that I had of her my freshman year of college. We met as floor mates in the dorms at K-State the moving in weekend. JoJo introduced herself to me, and most everyone on the floor, and invited us to a house party. Looking back it’s hard to differentiate whether that was JoJo being outgoing and friendly or if part of it was pressure from her brother and his friends to bring some college freshman girls to their house party. Whichever the truth was, we have been friends ever since.

Several years after leaving the dorms we became roommates and shared a house with another friend Sheila. While I know that I invested more time in my education in college than I ever came close to in high school, I also realized that JoJo dedicated way more time to her degree than I did mine. She was so passionate about the theater program, theater activities, people from the theater program and theater classes that sometimes it even consumed Sheila and I’s time participating with her. It felt like I was living and breathing lighting design for those years living with JoJo. She went on to get her master’s in the field and teaches it at a major university currently.

Just tonight I talked with JoJo and she brought up a moment when she felt challenged by her investment in this passion. Her sophomore year of college she had her first opportunity to be the lighting designer for a KSU production. The same day that she needed to be in the theater setting up the lights and writing cues happened to be the same day that Mason died in a car accident. Mason was a friend of hers and if I remember correctly, he lived in the house where we went the first weekend as freshman to party.

The timing of these two events happening on the same day for JoJo strike me as significant. There is never an okay time for a tragic loss like Mason’s. However, in that moment she was shown that some sacrifices may have to be made in pursuit of her passion. “The show must go on,” so JoJo finished her job with the lighting while friends of Mason gathered to share stories and mourn the loss together. Today it still sounds like JoJo regrets missing that time with friends while in the theater. Despite the learning that she had to have processed that day about what she may have to give up for involvement in theater she continued to pursue the job she loves.

I wonder what it would be like if everyone had a job they could be passionate about? She inspires me to think about what am I dedicating myself to and is it worth the effort if it is something I don’t really love?

Okay so theater did involve a lot of long hours, late nights and some monotonous tasks. It did also have its perks – a long list of larger than life cast members who love to cut loose and have a great time too. We had a fantastic college experience together full of important traditions, funny memories and support for each other when it was needed. I put a photo album together for JoJo to recognize her birthday and our friendship.

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