Thursday, December 12, 2013

Slices of Life

The young brunette behind the Apple store counter swiped my credit card and smiled. “Is this your first Mac?” she asked.
I started to tell her – but suppressed the words because they would make me sound like one of THOSE old people– that I’ve been using an Apple keyboard since about 10 years before she was born. Basically my entire adult life.
Slice 1: 1984. One small black and white Mac sat on a desk in an airless newsroom at the University of Arkansas. A hippie in the personal computer world. It was really just a fancy typewriter – a quicker but not always more convenient way to string together words. I still carried a reporter’s lined notebook and a couple of pens.
The newspaper adviser wore baggy khakis, one of his three velour pullovers and worn brown loafers. He was really old – probably at least 50. His graying blonde hair was rumpled and too long in the front, often falling across his eyebrows. There was always something either caught in –  or hanging from – his thick moustache. He kept a black flask in the bottom right drawer of his metal desk. Journalism students hung out in his office or upstairs in Hill Hall, swapping stories about university administrators and student senators. 
Slice 2: 1986. I met a copy editor in an Oklahoma newsroom. He was bearded, overweight, grumpy. A temper tantrum from this man could mean that a trash can got thrown across the newsroom or books were swept violently off of a desk. Some things got kicked too.
When he met me, a 22-year-old reporter anxious to show off my knowledge of leads and paraphrased quotes, he looked over his glasses and let out a grunt-sigh.
“Have you ever used a Mac?” he asked sullenly.
We spent many Saturday nights discussing trains and classic cars, eating cheeseburgers and listening to the police scanner.
From him, I learned how to send clandestine “intranet” messages to co-workers and how to do everything – well, that was possible at that time – on a Mac.
Newspapering was still a dirty job, and I would leave the office with X-Acto knife finger cuts and smelling of wax, ink and smoke, sometimes at 5 p.m., sometimes at 2 a.m.
Slice 3: 1990. I worked in a sterile, bare office run by a tall, gray-haired physician who wore a dark suit every day and could afford to publish anything he wanted in a full-color monthly magazine. He was punctilious about the time sheet. I always finished my work in about two weeks, so there was plenty of time to write poetry and drink Dr Pepper. 
Once, the doc surprised our four-person staff with a field trip to Braum’s. “Order any kind you want,” he said, waving his arm toward the ice cream bar. I was thinking chocolate almond and butter pecan but hesitated, since the double dip cones weren’t the $1.99 special. He ordered first and asked for a small scoop of vanilla. In a cup.
I used to sneak into the art director’s office to see the only Mac and, of course, to play with the fountain pens. The latter proved hazardous and resulted in a tetanus shot.
Slice 4: 1991. A one-bedroom apartment near the campus in Stillwater. The first Mac I ever owned – a little Classic that weighed 16 pounds and came equipped with four megabytes of memory, a floppy disk drive and a year of $100 monthly payments. The handy carrying case was a bonus!
Two years working toward a doctorate meant lots of time studying in the library, talking about professors over Hideaway pizza and eating in the car.
As a graduate assistant, I took the class none of the professors wanted – teaching undergraduates in the news writing labs. My adviser said I got the job because nobody in the department knew how to use the new Macs.
Slice 5: 1993.  A classroom that looked more like a storage room – crammed with Mac Classics and tucked in among the offices and the real classrooms on the second floor of the building.
I spent most of my time trying to keep all the computers running at the same time while figuring out how to teach PageMaker to 20 students who were sitting thigh-to-thigh. 
Nobody at the new instructors’ orientation meetings warned us about the real hazards of teaching. So, when two female students started pushing and slapping each other in my classroom, I ran out of the room. 
Soon after that, I changed my policy to allow students to pick their own group members.
Slice 6: 2013. An almond milk latté and my new MacBook Pro. I’m sitting in a bright, bustling coffee place. Sunshine streaming through the windows. My ears fill with conversations, music (CCR’s greatest hits), the clinking of forks against glass plates.
A young couple is meeting with a wedding planner, discussing candles, flowers, colors, whether to hand out rice bags or bubble bottles, dresses, location, music, finger food, decorations. (Whew!) A group of college students is assembling a presentation, looking intently at a shared laptop screen. (Should I offer advice?) Four moms, strollers parked, are laughing over Diet Cokes and a plate of blueberry muffins. (Sigh.)
The gray-haired man at the table next to mine looks frustrated. He’s using a new MacBook Air.
“What do you do when everything freezes?” he asks.
(Just so you know, command/option/escape will resolve many issues you may encounter when using a Mac. Well, the technical issues anyway.)
“You can escape,” I reply. “But I prefer to restart.”
Slice 7?

*Apple and Macintosh (Mac) are registered trademarks of Apple Inc.
*Braum's is a registered trademark of Braum's Inc.
*Hideaway is a registered trademark of Hideaway Pizza -2 Inc.
All are awesome. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm Tethered

The muscular 20-something man grabbed the hook attached to my waist and snapped it to a metal bar on the rail leading up the side of a tall tree.
“Go on up,” he said. I hesitated on the stairs.
“No worries!” he said, smiling. “You'll be tethered the whole way.”
I climbed cautiously to the top of the stairs and firmly set my feet on a small wooden box. Another young man unhooked me from the bar and onto a thin metal line stretched between our tree and one that looked about a million miles away.
He grinned. “Ready for the birthday jump?” he asked.
That’s a really thin wire. Is there a weight limit? The hook looks a little rusty. What if I get stuck in the middle? Are there snakes in these trees? What made me think that riding a zip line in Mexico was a good idea?
There will be more risks.
After the devastating May tornados in our state, I researched dozens of companies that claimed their safe rooms could withstand any storm.
Would I feel safer buried under my garage or packed into a small building in the backyard? Concrete? Steel-enforced? Fiberglass? Accredited or certified? I don’t even like being in an elevator with more than one other person!
There will be more uncertainty.
After recovering from the zip line adventure via a beach chair in Cancun, I left Dallas headed for home in the back of a small, crowded plane. We spent most of the flight in the throes of a thunderstorm. The engines revved as the plane bounded, up and down. In the darkness, lightning burst against the windows. A flight attendant, sitting across the aisle from me, closed her window shade and then her eyes. The only other sound was that of the few people who chose to pray out loud.
My stomach churning, I tightly squeezed my eyes and reached for my friend's hand. “Just breathe,” she said quietly. Clinging to her hand, I focused on letting air in and out of my lungs – and prayed.
There will be more fear.
The truth is – the only security in life is in being tethered to God – the One made this world and controls everything in it.
Through the darkness, the lies, the anger, the sadness, the fear. Into the light, the truth, the freedom, the joy, the strength.
As the plane bounced onto the wet runway, we sank into our seats and reveled in the sound of the roaring brakes. I glanced over at the flight attendant, who slowly stood up, smoothed her skirt and made the announcement: “Be careful while gathering your bags from the overhead bins,” she said. “Some contents may have shifted during the flight.”
You're telling me.

Psalm 139:10 (NIV)
Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 18:28 (NIV)
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

18 & Still Fighting It

Eighteen comes crashing into my world today. 4:05 p.m. to be exact. It’s stealing the childhood of my first-born.
My only son. 
He fits the part. Tall, broad-shouldered. Handsome. Intelligent. Funny. Kind. Well-spoken. Independent. I feel his beard stubble when I kiss him good night, good morning, goodbye.
I’ve spent the past 18 years reminding myself that my job was to prepare him for adulthood. I know that he belongs to God and always has. Unfortunately, my head and my heart rarely agree.
Along the way, I’ve taught him some really important stuff: how to tie his shoes (somewhat delayed because he liked Velcro), write his name, ride a bike (sorry about the broken leg, Sweetie), hold open doors, drive (and communicate with other drivers), type using the home keys.
Our conversations run deep and include such topics as: the ways in which “Seinfeld” has impacted society, my solution to the “Lord of the Rings” plot, the inherent danger in misplaced modifiers, how neither of the major political parties represent any of us, the significant contributions of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, why the original Star Trek captain is still the best one.
It’s not fair the way this happens. I mean, I finally figure out how to strap him into a car seat in the minivan and suddenly he’s pulling his Grand Marquis out of the driveway.
A few days after Nicholas was born, my sister sent a greeting card with a list of 129 things I needed to teach my new son. This morning, I found it in his baby book. It’s a pretty good list, and I have done well on some of them: No. 22 (how to order pizza), No. 26 (rock & roll), No. 28 (God), No. 45 (wash your hands), No. 49 (how to mow the lawn), No. 58 (toilet training), No. 62 (the Pledge of Allegiance), No. 78 (peanut butter), No. 91 (the joy of grandparents), No. 118 (cookies!).  
Nick, since you’re an adult now, I’m not going to remind you to eat at least one green vegetable a day, apply sunscreen, put your plate in the dishwasher, don’t bite your nails, make your bed, clean the litter box, use the weed eater, finish your homework, don’t forget your backpack, put the lid down, wear your retainer, wash your clothes, lock the door, just say “no,” put away your shoes before I trip over them, exercise, comb your hair, dry your hands, drive carefully, use shampoo, turn off the television, go outside, be nice to your sister.

Here’s my advice today:
Eat chocolate chip cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.
If a cat’s asleep in your lap, don’t get up.
Sit outside to watch a thunderstorm.
Turn up the music.
Add extra cheese.
Don’t give up chocolate milk. It IS an adult beverage.
Stand up unless God tells you to get on your knees.
If you’re in the middle of a good book, read all night.
Wear whatever’s comfortable.
Laugh often. And loudly.
Don’t bother going to bed until you’re really sleepy.
Get sand between your toes.

Happy Birthday, George.

“It’s OK, you don’t have to pay. I’ve got all the change.”
– Ben Folds
"Still Fighting It"

Nicholas, 5

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Other Side of 50

I was the kid who squeezed my eyes shut on roller coasters. Sat in the middle car. Clung to the metal bar and screamed – even while my older sister wildly waved her arms above her head.
Colored inside the lines.
Didn’t jump off the diving board.
Never smoked anything – ever.
Always chose truth instead of dare.
I have structured most of my life around alarms, notices, reminders – a mishmash of appointments, deadlines, meetings, ball games, classes. On those rare times when my iPhone gets left on the nightstand – I have to go back for it.
Planning can be comforting – like fried chicken and mashed potatoes.
Recently, I convinced God that I was quite capable of planning less, of actually living one day at a time. I even added it to the to-do list:

Call the vet.
Buy more Gatorade.
Plan a life of spontaneity.

But as I sat outside one morning, I planned nothing and felt everything in a single moment: a train rumbling, the birds chattering, some leftover rain dripping, the neighbor’s terrier yipping.
“Going through a divorce was like stepping off the edge of a cliff,” I told a friend. “I just closed my eyes.” Of course, when I went tumbling over that particular cliff almost two years ago, I envisioned myself crashing on the rocks, sinking to the bottom.
“Why did you close your eyes?” he asked. “Didn’t you want to see the view from the other side?”
So, here I am, standing on the edge of another cliff. But now I know that life is a moving montage, not a still picture. It’s not a blur; it’s a collection of clear moments:

Singing “Rock of Ages” in an old church with a high, stained-glass ceiling. Waking up to a cat purring loudly in my left ear. Seeing the sun set over Lake Overholser. Dancing in my living room. Cooking with my son. Planning a trip to the beach. Sleeping through the alarm. Getting a pedicure with my daughter. Laughing over Mexican food with my Mom. Starting a Netflix movie at 2 a.m. on a school night. Playing the Wii when the kids aren’t home. Watching a thunderstorm on friends’ back porch. Soaking in a bubble bath by candlelight.

It’s girls’ night out.
It’s an ocean view.
It’s a good-night kiss.
It’s Vintage Game Night.
It’s a late-night phone call.
It’s a foot rub.
It’s that first cup of coffee.
It’s an inside joke.
It’s a good book.
It’s roses on the kitchen table.
It’s crispy bacon on a Sunday morning.
It’s getting a check in the mail.

I will probably never open my eyes on a rollercoaster. But on the other side of 50, I intend to enjoy the spectacular view.


Acts 26:18 (KJV)

“To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light…”