Category Archives: Life lessons

The summer I spent watching movies by myself or How the Dixie Theater saved my life

 

Today I went to the Alamo and bought tickets for a show tonight. As I walked back to my car the heat of the concrete felt like it was burning the soles off my Keds.  Memories are strange things. The summer of 1971 in Ruston, Louisiana came rushing at me in a puff of stifling pavement heat.

I lived with my grandmother then in a big old house with no central air and no car. I couldn’t spend my whole summer reading and watching TV in her bedroom/sewing room where the window unit blew out semi-cool air.  Many afternoons I’d walk down to the Dixie Theater to see what was showing. Sometimes I’d hang out in the record store/bookstore on the corner across from Railroad Park until it started. Sometimes I’d just buy the ticket  and sit in the cool, beautiful theater and wait. The Dixie was one of those beautiful old theaters with a crystal chandelier and elaborate artwork on the ceiling.

I never minded going to the movies alone. If I was alone nobody was going to tell me what I ought to like. I grew up in the South in one of those families that can turn out writers and/or eccentrics. The Dixie and the public library helped me become some version of the former and saved me from becoming too much of the latter.

My experience with movies before I started going by myself reflected my parents’ taste and their perception of what my taste should be. We went to Disney movies and musicals and sweeping historical flicks.  We’d go to comedies that weren’t too sexy. Once we walked out of a movie called What’s New Pussycat because they had gone in thinking it was another Pink Panther movie.  This sort of thing seems kind of innocently adorable now, but embarrassed the fire out of me at the time. Anyway, going by myself let me try out all kinds of films and discover what I liked.

That was the summer Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory came out, the Gene Wilder version. I think that was the first film that made me think about the people who make films rather than just the story itself. I’d read the book and the visuals and casting changed how I felt about the story. I liked the movie more than the book.

I was huge western fan at the time. Support your Local Gunfighter starring James Garner and Big Jake starring John Wayne didn’t disappoint. I might have gone to Big Jake more than once.  And cried every time. That was the film that caused me to demand an animal body count before I’d commit to go. Apparently I’m not the only one. If only there had been doesthedogdie.com back then.

That summer I found out how much I like sci-fi. The Omega ManEscape from Planet of the Apes and The Andromeda Strain all came out that summer. So did  Willard. The cheesy horror  flick started a life-long guilty pleasure. I love creepy creature and apocalyptic disaster movies even when they are bad. Sometimes bad just adds to the pleasure.

That summer I saw four films about teens that don’t end with happily-ever-after:  Billy Jack, Red Sky at Morning, Summer of ’42, and Bless the Beasts and the Children.  Summer of ’42 was rated R but nobody checked me for id. I’d read all the books except Billy Jack before I saw the movies, so I knew what to expect anyway.

I thought most of the people I knew were  living happily in their two-parent, air-conditioned, retail-purchased bubbles.  I lived outside the “norm” and movies like these made me feel less lonely.  I’d had enough things go down in my life to appreciate the idea that even if my face cleared up and even if I somebody loved me romantically, life might not work out. I remember wondering if “bubble” people entertained that possibility. Red Sky at Morning and Summer of ’42 confirmed that some of them did.

If the camp in Bless the Beasts and the Children had been for girls I would have fit in there. I wasn’t ever going to be one of the “bubble” kids, but there might be other misfits keeping a low profile at Glenview Jr. High School who might want to hang out with me. This idea significantly expanded possibilities for a social life and gave me some hope for the next school year.

I cried at Billy Jack . Not the quiet Big Jake tears but ugly loud sobs that made somebody behind me lean forward to tell me, “shut up, it’s not even that sad.” I was really embarrassed and left quickly right after the movie before the lights came up. I cried because I’d never thought about having a defender and I wanted one. And a commune where I could think and say what I wanted without being bullied and ridiculed. Sometimes a story becomes personally influential because of where you are when you see it.

I never got a defender who knew martial arts but I got pretty good at defending myself with verbal martial arts. Going to the movies will do that for you.  I’ve used movie take downs and one-liners more than I care to admit.  I wish I could say they were all original.

That summer the Dixie was my refuge. A cool place full of stories was exactly what I needed. The Dixie Theater closed in 1980, the year after I left Ruston. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and is now the Dixie Center for the Arts.

 

 

 

 

 

T

 

Reflections on losing two friends to cancer in less than a month

On Monday I went to a celebration of life out at the Oasis. Josh died on May 18.  Today I’m missing a funeral in Houston for my Wanda who died June 4.  Wanda and Josh each held a special place in my heart. My world is diminished because neither of them is going to be around, but the thought of eternity and seeing them again makes me feel hopeful and strong.

I believe that Wanda and Josh still are and that they continue to exist as their uniquely recognizable selves. Out at the Oasis on Monday someone said that Josh was always emerging from experiences, even challenging ones, as a better version of himself, but always authentically himself.  When this life ends, when all the fears and distractions and false perceptions are stripped away for good, we are always God’s creatively intended versions of ourselves. I look forward to spending time again with Wanda and Josh as our fully authentic selves.

Wanda was my friend for 37 years and Ted knew her over forty years. Wanda was grounded in simplicity. She was interesting and she was interested. She noticed and processed things with great perception and intelligence but she was also approachable and communicated great affection and respect toward the people in her life. I would always feel smarter after talking with her.  I will miss Wanda.

We’ve been friends with Josh and Connie and their daughter, Charlotte for nine or ten years, but it seems longer. Josh was so chill and in the moment.  Monday night people kept saying the same things about Josh: easy to talk with,  great listener, accepting, incredibly empathetic, perceptive and funny. People said these same things because Josh was the same authentic guy no matter no matter the company or the context.  I will miss Josh.

Cancer sucks. Why can’t modern medicine figure out how to kill this bitch? Wanda was 58, my age, and Josh was a year older. In general, life expectancy in the U.S. for women is 86 and for men is 84. Wanda and Josh were robbed. We, their family and friends, were robbed. I’m mad. I know it does no good but I am.

Maybe this is selfish. Inevitably, when peers die, our own mortality looms large. Even with the promise of eternity, which does take away so much of the heaviness,  don’t want my life to be over. I don’t want theirs to be over either.

With many ailments, certainly with cancer, people do reach a point when they just want it to be over and recognize it’s time. It seems to have been that way for both Wanda and Josh. Near the end they both spoke of futures not in this world. I am glad they are both cancer free now. I’m so glad we got to say goodbye to each of them before they left here and got to let them know how much we love them.  I’m glad they are now always experiencing God in unimaginable, delightful, transcendent ways that are barely perceived in this life. That’s a comfort. It really is.

Now that I think about it, Josh and Wanda actually had a lot in common.  They didn’t know each other in this life but maybe they do now. I can imagine them jamming on guitar and viola.

P.S. I don’t know why there is a little hole in the picture I took at the Oasis. If it was bigger I’d say it’s the hole their passing left.

What I learned in 36 years of marriage

I learned that deciding to keep deciding has a lot to do with staying together. Oddly, though I don’t like other kinds of risk, I do like adventure sports. So I decided think of marriage as an adventure sport. It’s supposed to be unpredictable and it’s supposed to be fun. There’s a lot you can’t control and little bit you can.  I’m glad that I didn’t let fear keep me from deciding to jump into the unpredictable unknown with a guy I’d known for less than two years.

Thanks to Ted, I have learned to call myself a cautious optimist. Very cautious, but still, for a professional glass-is-not-only-half-full-but-the-water-is-probably-contaminated pessimist, getting anywhere close to optimism in 36 years is progress.

Thanks to Ted, I can engage in personal conversation.  I would rather wait for people to volunteer information about themselves. I feel like I’m being nosy even when I ask people the basic get-to-know you types of questions. Ted has a gift for walking up to total strangers and walking away with a dossier about them. He can ask friends really personal stuff and it comes off as caring instead of nosy. I’ve become a much better conversationalist because of Ted.

I learned that some things are worth the pain of negotiation. Ted is a really patient negotiator. He’s taught me a lot about getting to agreement. The back and forth required in negotiation has always seemed more exhausting to me than just settling for something I think I can tolerate just so I don’t have to keep talking. I am still learning to manage the stress and patience required to get to agreement when two people want different things. I don’t even have to be one of the people involved for this process to stress me out.

I’ve also learned that avoidance creates just as much stress as conflict. So our wedding is an example of when negotiation would have been a better choice than avoidance. Ted really wanted to get married at our church even though it was a hideous building. There were a lot of people who meant a lot to him and he wanted to invite them. All. I’m more informal, plus I’m a bit of an introvert. I also find it stressful to have to make “events” and “occasions” out of gatherings. I just wanted to invite a few people and eat barbecue or send out for pizza. At the time I wanted to think I was being gracious because having the whole thing seemed to matter more to him than not having it meant to me. But it did mean as much to me as it did to Ted. I just didn’t want to tell him and create conflict. On a tight budget, I planned the whole thing myself except for all the unsolicited advice. I got really stressed out. Then the AC broke on our wedding day and I don’t do well when I’m hot and sweaty. I got shingles a month later. I’ve learned to speak up about stuff that matters to me. I’ve learned not to get so stressed out about stuff I can’t control. I am still working on re-framing the wedding day narrative into something more positive. All the anniversaries have been fun. A few have even been “events” but I didn’t have to plan them.

I’ve learned that experiences last longer than stuff. Experiences form connections with people and cause perspective shifts that owning a thing – unless it’s a pet or really great works of art – can’t. I didn’t register for any gifts when we got married because it seemed weird to me to tell people what present to buy me. I don’t think we had to buy towels for 10 years. For years Ted and the boys made it a tradition to buy me some random “as seen on TV” item because I didn’t specify what I wanted. Now I get cool things like art lessons and game night. Because now I know what I want and how to ask.

We learned the art of doing nothing together early on and still enjoy it. For our honeymoon we rented a cabin on a beautiful mountainside in Estes Park, CO. I still associate the fresh scent of evergreen with new love and new beginnings. It was fun to start life together living right off campus with more flexible student schedules and a city full of cheap, fun stuff to do (ATX was way cheaper then). Staying in is doing something in our book.

We learned that houses occupied by more than two people need two bathrooms. By the mid eighties we had grown-up jobs and bought our first house. It was two bedrooms, one bath and under 1000 square feet. It sat on a cul-de-sac with a stick in the yard called a tree down a street with a line of sticks in a line of yards in southeast Round Rock. Probably not the most thought-out purchase we ever made. As soon as Eric and Nick both started using the potty we moved.

This is an important life lesson. Life is too short not to have a cat and a dog. When we got back from our honeymoon we got a cat, Nadia. She lived 20 years. Now we have Daisy. She’s almost 16. Two cats in 36 years is a decent record for picking cats I’d say.

Right after we bought our first house we got a sweet Collie dog named Rusty. After we lost Rusty way too soon. When we were finally settled in the house on Crosstimber Ted came home with Elvis, our delightful little span-huahua mix. Something Ted learned about me. I prefer it, but you don’t actually have to ask first if you bring home a dog. We had Elvis 13 years through four more moves. He loved us all but was really Ted’s dog. A couple of years and a move later, we’ve got Greta. She’s a two-year-old long haired dachshund mix. She makes us smile. We can’t make her do anything.

I learned that even when you take a risk and lose, regretting the loss is better than wondering what would have happened if we’d tried. In the early 80’s Ted had an idea in the shower. We took a risk with a start-up business and took that idea from concept to market. It didn’t work out. We lost a lot but we learned a lot. I like to call this our experiential MBA. I also learned that I never want to be an entrepreneur and that Ted is a serial entrepreneur but promises it will be nights and weekends. I promise cautious optimism.

I’ve learned, and Ted agrees with me on this, a more curated set of possessions makes life simpler and happier. After 11 moves we’ve learned how to pick a sufficient house in a convenient location, furnish it comfortably with what we need, periodically cull our stuff and let go of everything extraneous. Learning this was a process because relatives kept dying and I kept thinking I couldn’t say “no” to dead relative relics without hurting someone’s feelings. What a relief when I finally learned to say “no thank you.”

I’ve also learned that I need big trees around me. It took buying in three different house-farm suburban neighborhoods for me to figure out why I was so uncomfortable there. Besides hating to drive. I am happier in a neighborhood with mature trees even if it means the house is older. No more sticks in the yard.

I’ve learned to stop worrying about what other people think. When I was in my early 40’s I had a couple of friends who were in their 50’s. Both of them told me the same thing in almost the same words: “One good thing about turning 50 is that you just don’t give a damn what other people think anymore.” I listened. Honestly, my 30’s and part of my 40’s were marred by worrying too much about what other people thought, and worrying about being judged, and worrying about losing credibility. I think learning not to give a damn earlier would have been made me a better wife and mother.

I’m not sure where I learned this, probably from Jesus. I don’t remember not knowing it, but grace and forgiveness are free and unearned. People who hurt me don’t owe me any kind of penance. Relationships matter more than being offended or seeking retaliation. That alone has made my relationships with other people, especially Ted, so much better.

In 36 years of marriage I’ve learned that a very short list of things actually matter. But they are all big things. God matters. Love matters. Relationships matter. Experiences matter. Perspective matters. If I could change anything about the past 36 years it would be that I wish I had learned this stuff earlier.