Living: Making Space

When I got to that place in my life where I was sitting in the shambles of what I had created, I felt really defeated. What a mess! It was all a shambles, and I had created it. The woman that told me that I could create something different gave me those words to live by. And, I set out to do that.

I’ve done a lot of things to put my life back on track. And, I promised in my first blog that I wanted to share that with others so that we can all have better lives. I’d like to set aside Friday to blog about things that give life, great fun things to do, great music, whatever I feel like sharing that’s inspiring and joyful. If I do this on every Friday, by the end of the year, we will have 52 things that we can use to make our lives better, happier, more fun, more fulfilling, or whatever else we decide we want them to be. This is my blog space, but I also want to invite you into this space. Ask me questions, share with each other, tell me I’m crazy (I’ve certainly heard that before), but talk to me. That’s what blogging is all about for me. I’m still building community. Somewhere out there in internet land, there are people on the same journey as I am, and I want to know you.

When I decided I needed to change my life, I had to create a sort of map to get where I wanted to go. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive”. My life always changes. Every January for the past two years, I’ve taken some time to think about my priorities for the past year and make some decisions on whether or not I want to keep those priorities. In 2012, I realized that one of my main priorities for the past 2 years was running. I ran lots of races, traveled to races and spent quite a bit of time on that hobby. But, I wanted a change. No reason, I just wanted something different for awhile. So, I decided to take the spring off from racing. I’d still run for fun, but I’d free up some time for other things I like to do. I went to Hawaii on a retreat. I couldn’t have done that if I’d still been traveling for races all over. It was a trade. I also do this anytime it seems like there’s no joy in my life anymore. There’s not always fun everyday but there should always be joy.

The real issue is that my time is limited. I used to work all the time. I had no life. That’s one reason I ended up where I did. I finally made the decision one day that I was going to go home at 5 PM everyday and just leave the stuff for the next day. I just made the decision and stuck to it. And, you know what? I got promoted- twice. I doubled my salary in 6 months. I have a really satisfying career, but I can still work too much. I have a very firm boundary on my work hours. I get kidded about it all the time. “Don’t get in Sharon’s way at 5 o’clock.” It doesn’t bother me anymore. I am who I am, and my life is very full. I don’t want to look back at my life and wish that I’d done it differently. We only have 70 or 80 years in this place. The clock is ticking.

A real issue I had was that I didn’t know how to set boundaries. I couldn’t set boundaries on myself or on other people. My 5 PM departure time was a boundary I had to set with myself. Unless there is a really important reason to stay and work (and sometimes there is), I need to go home. It was not easy at first nor is it easy when people kid me about it because I want to be liked. I want to be respected. I want to fit in. But, sometimes, I have to set priorities. And, I can’t please everybody else. I have had numerous Senior Leaders come to me in private and tell me how much they admired the fact that I got out of there at a reasonable hour. I am actually MORE respected because I respect myself.

Below are some really good books I read to learn about boundaries. I had to practice. I had to have support from people to stick with my boundaries. I often have “after-burn” when I set boundaries. I feel guilty for saying no. I question myself. But, I have friends in my corner who assure me that the boundary was appropriate, and that I can make my own choices with my life.

Boundaries are critical. If I can’t set boundaries, I will never move forward in my life. I’m not exaggerating. There will always be other people or other causes that need my time and energy. The world is an incessantly needy place. I have to take charge of my time. And, it’s not easy.

Just to let you know, my boundary around writing is that I will publish Monday – Friday. Have a great weekend….

The Balding of the Beaver

Dating has changed a lot in the past 30 or so years. I dated between my two marriages in the late 90s, but the culture has changed since then, too. I met my second husband in a classified ad in the newspaper. A lot of people frown on that, but you still have to do all the same legwork. It’s just a way to meet somebody. In the past two years, I’ve been doing a lot of online dating. It’s the way to go if you want to meet people especially if you haven’t lived in the town forever. And, I’m really busy.

I’ve had a lot of fun with it. I haven’t had many relationships from it. Some of them weren’t attracted to me. I wasn’t attracted to some of them. Many of them have become friends but not romantic partners. Suffice it to say that there have only been one or two that I was willing to invest some time with to see if we might be compatible. One of them, and I’ll call him Greg, was a really cool guy. He was into the outdoors like me. He loved hunting and fishing. He had an upbeat outlook and loved to laugh. We just really hit it off. One of the things I really liked was he was as busy as I was. We practically had to have a secretary to find time to be together, but we did. As things progressed a bit, I started to think that it was time to take it to the next level. And, as this culture does now, we started texting about our upcoming “opportunity”.

Greg: Can I ask you a question?
Me: Sure
Greg: I like my woman with little or no body hair if I may be so bold. I’m just askin’.
Me:

Well….I didn’t know what to say. He’s asking me to shave…or wax..totally?? The last time I had sex with somebody was when I was with my ex, and he was perfectly fine with my body hair. (And, if you don’t get it, we’re talking about pubic hair here.) The topic was just not something that had ever been brought up to me before, and I naively never knew that anybody did anything different with pubic hair than just clean it up a bit for a happy event such as this.

Well, then I got a little irritated. First of all, “my woman”. Really???? He’s certainly not talking about me. I haven’t been with him yet. So, he’s ordering me up like he “likes his steak medium rare.” It just didn’t sit right with me. The only thing I could rationalize was that this guy was used to having women the way he wanted them when he wanted them. Pornography..…So, I called him. I know he was so excited to hear from me; we were already having a “talk”. “How much porn do you use?,” I asked. Well, he started blubbering, “WHAT??….not much…some…well, when my friends email it to me.” He’d had this conversation before. He went on to tell me that his ex had put a moratorium on porn in the house, so he subscribed to Playboy to spite her. Hmmmmmm…..I had to really think about this. This wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I was used to men who were just so damn happy to have me in their bed that they wouldn’t have cared what I did with my pubic hair much less risk the opportunity of it happening by making a request like this.

So, I needed to do a little research. I mean, I could be naive. Maybe Momma didn’t teach me right about grooming my nether regions. I am a country gal. So, I called a friend of mine. She was stunned. She’d never heard of this either. So, she called her 20 year old daughter.

My Friend: Honey, when I tell you that I’m going to ask you a personal question, I mean it’s a really personal question.
Her daughter: What is it, Momma?
My friend: Do you have pubic hair?
Her daughter: No, Momma. It’s gross. Nobody does. Well, one girl does but everybody makes fun of her.

WOW!! When did this happen? A culture had shifted while I was in a married bedroom, and I had no idea. It’s not like women run around naked with each other when you’re adults. And, well, you just don’t really have a need to discuss your pubic hair. And neither one of my husbands was into porn, so all they really saw was me. I called one of my best friends. She had been married for 20 something years and had started dating again after a divorce. I knew she was sexually active so maybe she could tell me what I should do. When I told her what happened, she said the same thing happened to her. Well, the guy told her AFTER they had sex the first time. She was mortified. That’s what she said…mortified. Is that how you should feel after sex? She felt like he thought she was disgusting and dirty.

Dating Tips for Guys:

  1. Do not text this request to a woman you have not seen naked.
  2. In the afterglow of a first sexual encounter with a woman you like, do not spoil the moment by asking her to shave her pubic hair.

They are both DEAD END MOVES.

She got a Brazilian Wax to see what it was like. She took the choice to continue doing it because she liked it. But, she never saw him again.

Well, this was all very interesting. So, I talked with a male friend of a friend on Facebook about my latest discovery. He said that most of the women our age don’t shave or wax except for just “grooming”. Some of the younger women do the full Brazilian Wax on a regular basis. He liked it, but he said he also feels a little funny about liking it. The pedophilia image gets in the way for him. In the end, he prefers a nicely groomed pubic area but he doesn’t request it up front.

One of my friends is a psychology major, and she said that they studied this cultural shift in their gender issues class. There is a whole generation of men and women running around without pubic hair. This generation was raised in an era where pornography was readily available on the internet. So, whatever the porn industry published became a norm. It certainly doesn’t mean there is anything pornographic about it, it’s just the way it came about. I remember when I grew up, and Playboy was all about the full “bush”. It’s just a change in the culture. It’s so popular that, in some areas, there are shops called The Pretty Kitty that do just waxing. And, this isn’t just the norm for women, most younger men are hair free as well. I certainly don’t get that; I sort of like a man with hair. It just seems …..well….manly.

The irony is that its supposed to be more hygienic, but in my research, the medical field says its just the opposite. When you wax, the “ripped out” hair follicles create small wounds that are in an area that’s really not the most sanitary area on the body. And, a physician friend of mine treated a woman who had a Brazilian wax, and she was burned. When the wax was pulled off, it pulled the skin off. It was a very serious injury. I don’t imagine she’ll be getting another one.

So, let’s get back to my story. I eventually decided to try out my options before deciding what I’d do with this little fashion dilemma. I mean, I’m an adventurous woman. And, I won’t tell you what I settled on because that’s not internet material for this girl. But, I can tell you that I told this guy that he was not a candidate for me. I told him that at a time when I should be excited about having sex with someone I really liked, I was losing sleep over what to do with my pubic hair. It just really spoiled the mood. Sure, he gave me a choice, but would I really want to get vulnerable with someone when I already knew they didn’t like something about me? Or, worse yet, do I want to start changing myself for a man before he’s even had a chance to experience me?

What I’ve really decided is it’s a personal choice. There are pros and cons for both “styles”. But, men, if you care more about how I fashion my pubic hair than you do about respecting me and my choices, we’re not a good match. Besides, isn’t there some mystery about what a woman looks like under all those clothes? Are you really that scared of what you will find that you have to spoil it? Or worse yet, hurt her. There are some women who just don’t know. Send them a link to this blog. ūüôā

If you want to know more, here’s a great article about this cultural shift in “the Atlantic”.

The New Full-Frontal: Has Pubic Hair Gone Extinct in America?

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Me and my first husband, John

I am divorced. I’m actually divorced twice. But, a divorce of any number sucks. I know why God hates divorce. It’s not that he wants us to suffer in an unhealthy marriage, it’s just that divorce is horribly, wretchedly painful. No matter how you slice it, if it can be worked out, it’s better than this alternative. But, sometimes it can’t.

Me and my second husband, Rick

Now, I am truly happy with my life. Don’t get me wrong. But that has come as a result of a lot of grieving and adjustment. And there are still days – rare – that I wish it hadn’t ended this way. I often get really mad about it when I have to carry a 40 lb bag of kitty litter into the house. That’s what HE was supposed to do. I also get angry (which is almost always a coverup for sadness or hurt, by the way) when I get rejected by someone I’m dating. I shouldn’t be back dating again. That was not Plan A.

The worst part of the aftermath of divorce is the guilt. If you are new to this game, the guilt never really goes away. It lessens. But, it’s always there. The other day, someone posted a picture of an elderly couple on Facebook. The caption was something like: “How did you make it 65 years? Answer: We lived in a time when something was broken, you fixed it. You didn’t throw it away.” Really? Do you really think that divorced people just thought it would be easier to quit? Only a person that has never been divorced would think that. They have no idea how horribly painful the choice of divorce really is. I do.

The divorce process itself is painful. Both of mine were relatively simple legally. We had no kids. I basically took the toys I brought and went home. But, it was still painful. It really is a ripping away. It rips away the family that you learned to love as part of your own. It rips away the dreams and plans for the future. It rips away the person that knows more about you than anyone else in the world. It just leaves a gaping hole in your life. I cannot even fathom how parents feel when they are divorced. I, at least, don’t have to see my exes after it is done. Even with that, it took me about 3 years after each divorce before I felt like it was really over. Not everybody takes that long, but that’s what it takes for me. I’ve read that the average recovery time is 2-3 years.

When my friends are going through a divorce, I feel honored to listen to their story. I know that when you are going through it, you have to tell your side of the story a million times. You don’t come to the decision to divorce because you were great at resolving conflict. It was such a gift when someone really listened and empathized with me. Later, I could look at both sides more realistically and see my part in the problems. But, that was long after the hurt and anger died down. So, when someone I care for goes on and on about their ex-spouse and how badly they were treated, I listen. And, I empathize. I validate their feelings. And, I give them the dignity to move through the very ugly and painful part of the grieving process that is ANGER. It is normal, and if you don’t process the anger, you will never get through the rest of the grieving process. When I do this for my friends (and sometimes strangers), I see it as giving back what I was given in a really tangible way.

I have a rule that I don’t date anybody that’s less than a year from their final divorce date. They are crazy, insane, mixed up and scared. I made that mistake once. And, I made this rule because I know that I’m insane when I’m going through a divorce. And, the weird thing is, I don’t feel insane at the time. So, I just don’t trust post divorce feelings, promises or desires. I have men that argue with me about it all the time. I’m over her…. I never really loved her….it was just the final legal paperwork, it was over years ago….blah…blah…blah…It’s not about you, baby. It’s about me and what I can tolerate.

As scary and painful as divorce is, it happens to a lot of us. So, we cope. I went through Divorce Recovery, twice. I hired a counselor. Many times, I paid that counselor to listen to me while I cried just to have a man validate the feelings I felt. It was worth every dime. I took a 2 year break from dating. In fact, I wasn’t even friends with any man that wasn’t gay during that two years. I took care of myself, walked my spiritual path, learned to exercise, surrounded myself with friends, did comforting things for myself, got massages, ate right and just did things that gave life to me. I rebuilt my life in a way that was supportive of who I am. Oh yeah….I cried a lot. I take that back, I sobbed. I cried so much for the first year that I could have floated my kayak on my tears. And, then, slowly, I stopped crying and started living. What was ripped apart was finally mended, stronger and with scars, to be sure. And now, when someone says they are going through a divorce, my heart softens for them because I’ve been there. And, if they will let me, I give them a really big hug.

Open Your Heart

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I’m a big fan of Melody Beattie’s books and work on codependency. Her work really speaks to me. Today’s reading in her book, Journey to the Heart, was on opening your heart.

Part of my reason for starting this blog was my need to practice being vulnerable and letting the world see the good and bad, as I see it in myself. To be sure, my writing is definitely censored to some extent, but I’m trying to lay myself open because I hope to grow from it, and I hope to inspire others to be themselves.

A great deal of my life has been about being whoever or whatever the proverbial “you” wants me to be. I’ve been chasing the “shoulds”. It has left me empty, and it’s frankly lonely in a fortress. So, I want to try something different. It may not be the answer…maybe writing about my life on the Internet is a little weird, but I’m willing to give it a try. I know I’ll learn something from it, and I’m no longer afraid of the experiences of my life. I’ve managed to survive and often thrive despite adverse events and chilling consequences.

Another person that has inspired me to open myself up is Brene Brown. She is a Shame Researcher. What a job! Her video on The Power of Vulnerability is profound. I have really found, through practice, that vulnerability is strength. And, my being vulnerable and real allows others to be strong and courageous as well. And, to be honest, relationships are just so much more fun when people are getting real with each other. Why would I want to play with someone behind a mask? I know you have demons and shortcomings and fears just like I do. Let’s not dance around it. We only go around once in this life. Do you really want to miss being truly known? I don’t. I’m jumping in. If you think I’m nuts, you may be right. Who cares?

Skinny Dipping or Swimming in the Sunshine

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I don’t remember skinny dipping when I was young. All we had was the Amite River and Thunderbird Beach and neither was really clean enough or private enough to get nekkid, and, yes it’s nekkid. Naked is way too formal to be associated with an activity as lighthearted and fun as skinny dipping.

My second husband was my first skinny dipping partner. We were spending time at a rustic cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There was a lake out front, and there was nobody but us there. We took this little boat out on the water, and he wanted to go skinny dipping. I was a little nervous, but eventually I said, what the hell! It was awesome. I felt so free and like a kid again. It wasn’t just the coolness of the water against my skin, but it was also the rebelliousness of it all.

I’ve also skinny dipped when I’ve been out hiking and it’s really hot. I was hiking the Honey Creek trail in the Big South Fork Recreation Area a few years back, and it was brutally hot. That trail is really physically challenging so I was really tired. My ex and I walked up on this small pool, probably no larger than a large jacuzzi. I just said, “I’m going in,” and I stripped off and jumped in. It was freezing. It was similar to the ice baths I take to recover from log runs. I couldn’t stand to stay in it long, but I was totally revived afterwards.

I took my friend Elizabeth skinny dipping this weekend in Sylamore Creek. It was her first time. Now, it takes some courage to to strip down in front of somebody that you actually don’t see nekkid on a regular basis. Interestingly, we had a long conversation the night before about body image, and this seemed to be an appropriate way to validate that talk, at least for me.

It was absolutely beautiful out, it was in the morning, the temperature was perfect for swimming, and the water was perfectly cool. I had already jumped in earlier that morning with my dog when we were hiking, so I was getting a double dip. Pun intended.

There’s just something fun about sliding around in the water in your birthday suit, especially when you are in a beautiful place with somebody you love and you can be yourself. It’s really not about being nekkid at all other than the fact that you are. For me, it’s a about experiencing a feeling of being a child again and being naughty all at the same time.

I hope you’ll take an opportunity to try skinny dipping if you get to a place where your heart says, “let’s jump in.” It’s not just for the young. It’s for the young at heart, too. ūüėČ

Girl Talk

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A fellow blogger, Jessica Sprenkel, who happened to be a really important supporter of my writing a blog, suggested that I come up with some regular topics that might keep readers coming back on certain days for certain topics. Another friend of mine, Elizabeth Shaffer, suggested I do one on Girl Talk. We just happened to spend an entire weekend camping, and, of course, there was lots of girl talk on that trip. It ran the gamut from talking about men, weight, food, recovery, family and on and on. Girls just love to talk. So, why not do a blog with you ladies as my audience?

So, on Mondays, tune in for Girl Talk. Now, you guys may want to read Girl Talk for the information it might bring and for its entertainment value, but just keep in mind that the audience is women. The other days of the week, you will be included as part of the audience. I’d love to hear from you, ladies, about what we might talk about in Girl Talk. I know dating is a big topic. It’s actually the topic that I’ve written about most on Facebook that people like to comment on. So, we’ll definitely chat about that. We’ll also chat about weight, self-esteem, men, makeup, clothes, accessories and food. What else do you want to chat about?

I’ll tell you that I used to have difficulty in relationships with women. After all, we were kind of in competition with each other, or so I thought. It was not until later in life that I realized that we were on the same side. And, in fact, I learned that, not only are we on the same side, but we just can’t navigate this world successfully without each other. What a relief that was to come clean with some women and find out that I’m not the only one who has body image issues, crazy thoughts and fears about the future, and fears about never being lovable.

What I love about women is that we understand and embrace the emotional roller coaster that we ride. Men try to get it and try to understand it, but they can’t possibly know how difficult it is to ride this up and down cycle that is often hormonally driven. In fact, since I’ve started into the phase of life with perimenopause, I’ve often felt that my emotional life was completely out of control. In the months where my cycle doesn’t “cycle”, I’m amazed at how peaceful it is to wake up every morning feeling pretty much the same. I actually can’t wait to live like that full time. Sometimes, it’s unfathomable to me how we manage to hold down jobs and manage relationships. But, we do. And, it is really hard work. Men will just never realize what that’s like. A man was talking to me awhile back about one of the women in his life. He said he couldn’t be expected to change his life when the feelings she’s having are “irrational”. I explained to him that they mean seem irrational to him, but we can’t tune out or shut off our emotions as easily as men can. It’s just not possible. And, really, all we need them to do is listen and validate what we’re feeling. If I’d had a man do that, it would have rocked my world.

It was when I started to really love and care about women and develop stronger relationships with them that I started to love myself. I think all my life I was really comparing myself to men, and I was left wanting, because, hey, I’m not a man. I’m going to do things differently. I’m going to struggle with my emotions. I’m going to struggle with upper body strength. I’m not as fast. But, I’m better at a lot of things like understanding my emotions, talking about how I feel, developing and maintaining relationships and being cooperative rather than competitive. In the past, I don’t think our culture valued those feminine qualities as much as masculine ones. Sometimes, we still don’t, but I do think it’s better. And, I think as all people age, we become more like the opposite gender.

We all carry both feminine and masculine energy. We use each type of energy in different situations. For many years, my masculine energy was more defined because of my work in corporations. The masculine is just more acceptable there. In my family of origin, masculine energy was more dominant. In sports, masculine energy was more valued. So, I developed that side of myself more. In recovery from divorce, my walk down my spiritual path and in my yoga practice, I have developed more of my feminine energy and power. It’s taken a long time to be balanced in this way, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’ve struggled a bit in my romantic partnerships. But, now, I treasure my softer side. In fact, I often show my softer side at work, and I was afraid to do that for a long time. It’s just as important there if not MORE so. We need feminine role models.

So, I dedicate Mondays to girl talk. See photos of my girlfriends that I love and cherish so much. Without them, I would not be able to breathe.

Camping: Mountain View AR

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Travis, the friendly Barista
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Elizabeth in that beautiful handmade chair. What is she reading?
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View from our Campsite
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Table at Turner Coffee Tree designed by Rachel’s family

For a month I’ve been absolutely dying to get into woods. July and August are just too hot to go camping, and I won’t do it until things start to cool down. I was thrilled when the temps started to drop into the 80s the second week of August. I was ready! My trusty friend and adventure partner was ready and willing when I texted her and said, “You up for camping next weekend?” She’d been having a bit of a rough time herself and was needing a break.

Mountain View, AR and, specifically, Blanchard Springs Recreation Area was our destination of choice. We’d been there last year, Elizabeth and I, but it was in May. It was cold, and the spring thaws were happening in yankeeland so the streams were overflowing. In fact, there was some fear that we might have to move our campsite due to flooding. So, we were stoked.

Camping is always an act of adaptation. When you camp with the public, you have to adapt to living in fairly close quarters with strangers. The weather is ALWAYS a wild card. When we went last spring we both packed for summer. At the last minute, I realized that, although 55 is fairly nice when you are sleeping inside, it’s pretty darn cold in a tent. I packed some jackets and things, but neither one of us really packed warmly enough. And, frankly, it can be uncomfortable with bugs and humidity and public showers. But, that’s part of why I like it. It helps me strip away all of the protections that I have, and makes me aware of the things I really need.

It’s Mountains, Music and Motorcycles weekend in Mountain View. Literally hundreds of motorcycles are in this small town. They have a Poker Run, a bike show, a concert and a Biker Church. Talk about great people-watching! And, if you want a sleazy tank top, you can get it here! How about a white with pink leather fringe adorning your cleavage? That one was drawing a crowd.

Wood’s Pharmacy is a place you must stop for a good old-fashioned soda fountain treat. While I waited on my Hot Fudge Sundae, the soda jerks were hand blending malted milk shakes squeezing fresh oranges for an Orange Ade. Everything was as beautiful as it was good! They have a Facebook Page, and, ironically the last post on their page was my pic of their Hot Fudge Sundae that I had in May 2011.

I needed a caffeine boost, so we stopped at Turner Coffee Tree for a mocha. This is where I decided to write this blog. It’s a great little place with comfy sofas and wi-fi. Most of the furnishings are designed and crafted by the owner Rachel and her family. Travis, the barista was as nice as he was good looking. He is a musician who hasn’t spent much time in Memphis, so I was trying to persuade him to come play at Otherlands. He and the owner of the coffee shop are both runners, so we chatted about that as well. And, I have to say, he makes a mean Mocha. Anybody that can steal my heart with chocolate and coffee is a star in my book.

Fires aren’t allowed in the campground due to the drought and a burn ban, so I’m not sure what we’ll be doing tonight. I love chatting with Elizabeth. She’s one of my friends that I know so well that we can discuss any subject – and we do. When I know somebody that well, I love to find out more and more about their childhood and history. It helps build context for who they are. People are just fascinating. I’m sure there will be stories tonight. If your ears are burning, one may be about you. ūüėČ

So long for now…

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Daddy

Me and Daddy in Destin FL – 1965

Everybody knows my Dad as Sam King. And, EVERYBODY knows Sam King. I can’t remember any family trip we ever took – and we traveled a lot – where someone, somewhere didn’t yell across a room, a lake, a street, “Is that Sam King?” We would roll our eyes and laugh. We just could not escape the wide, wide world of Sam King, the sportswriter.

The irony is that Sam is not his name at all. I actually don’t even know where that moniker came from. He was born Gordon Leon King, Jr. into a family where nicknames became more known than real names. My Grandfather, Gordon Leon, Sr., was always called Buster. But, my dad was known by many names – Rick O’Shea was a pen name used at the Denham Springs News or, as Daddy called it, The Dinky Springs News. Momma always called him G.L. unless he didn’t answer, and then she would yell “Sam”. For a short time, people called him Columbo¬†because he looked a lot like the cigar smoking character Peter Falk played on television. Of course, we called him Daddy. My nieces and nephews call him Poppie. And the countless kids that he coached in basketball and baseball called him Coach Sam or Mr. Sam.

I was the first born¬†child to Linda Fair King and Daddy. He was 22 when I was born. As the story goes, my parents were at an LSU¬†– University of Tennessee basketball game the night before I was born. Of course, Daddy was a sportswriter even then, and he stayed after to write and do the things sportswriters do. They got home late, and Momma went into labor. Daddy jumped up and drove as fast as he could to the Baton Rouge General Hospital. Unfortunately, Momma’s physician was at The Lady of the Lake. I can’t even imagine how that conversation might have gone. The other big surprise of the event was me. You see, my Dad wanted a boy, and Momma wanted whatever he wanted. Now, I’m sure in the mind of really young parents, you just really count on the fact that there won’t be¬†disappointment. If you just know you are having a boy, you are! Well, HELLO! I’ve been rebellious since the womb. My name was to be Michael Jerome. Daddy chose my name while Momma was still unconscious because they were so sure I would be a boy that they didn’t even think about girl names. Surprise!

Momma and Daddy’s Wedding Picture

By the time Daddy was 30, he would have 4 children – me, Susan Rae, Terry Michael and Sammy Lee. They also tried to name my sister Michael Jerome, but she surprised them, too. After that, I think they just thought that name might be the kiss of death. Daddy continued to work at either the State Times or The Baton Rouge Morning Advocate until he retired. I don’t know that most people know this, but journalism is generally not a financially lucrative career.¬†Daddy was determined that he be the sole breadwinner for his wife and four children. And he did. My grandparents had a huge vegetable garden where we got most of our food, and Daddy fished. He fished a lot! We ate fish a lot. I had no idea how lucky we were to have homegrown vegetables and fresh caught fish as our staple diet.

The things I remember most about Daddy are actually things I’ve taken on for myself. He was a runner. He used to load us in the car with our bikes, and we’d ride down some lonely country road with him while he ran. He wrote all the time. He had his writing ¬†job, of course, but he was always taking on¬†second or third freelance jobs. I always remember him sitting in his office or at the dining room table pecking away at a typewriter until the wee hours of the morning after some sporting event. And, that cheap cigar was always hanging out of his mouth-although he would argue they weren’t cheap.

I think all of us played on one of his sports¬†teams at one time or another.¬†We were always at some ball field everyday during the summer. He was¬†adamant that we would all go to college. He didn’t finish his degree because of the mouths he had to feed, but he was determined¬†we would. And, we¬†did. He has an daughter¬†that is a Creative Writing Teacher, two kids with their Masters Degrees that work in corporate fields and a son with a Ph.D.¬†that is a Wetlands Biologist¬†at LSU. Most of all, he taught us discipline. At times, I will argue it was too much, but in reality it taught me that I had to have a focused plan and stick with it in order to succeed.

He was an avid outdoorsman. I HATED it growing up. Well, it was okay when I was a kid. But, when I got to be¬†a teenager, I did not want to camp, and I definitely didn’t want to fish. I mean, where would I blow dry my hair?¬†You can’t put makeup on in a tent. I wish I could find this picture of my sister and I at 15 and 16 in Colorado. We’re standing in front of this fabulous scenery with scowls¬†on our faces like we’re being walked to the death chamber. I have come back to these things later in my life by choice. We camped a lot in the summer because Daddy had lots of vacation time, and we basically didn’t have the money to spend on hotels. We spent most summer vacations camping in Destin FL. It was nothing like it is now. It was a fishing village. The highlight of each day was going to the Dairy Queen. And, we had fun. Even though all of us fair skinned¬†Irish¬†kids were sunburned¬†from day one, we had a blast. Daddy worked all the time during¬†the sports seasons, so the only time we really saw him a lot was in the summer. Sportswriting is not the ideal career for a family man. I found that out myself when I married one. I’m not sure how they did it. (Except everybody says Momma is a Saint.)

Relaxed…probably scotch and water…

To be a child in Sam King’s household, you had to be tough. You had to have a work ethic. You also had to have a great sense of play when it was time to play. Daddy was and is funny. He loves to laugh and play practical jokes. I could write an entire story on his practical jokes and maybe I will. But, for now, this is a tribute to him. His birthday is coming up on August 23. He and Momma spend their summers as a campground host in Red River, New Mexico these days. He never did like the heat. So, they choose to stay in cooler climes when the Louisiana heat is at its worst. He’s doing what he loves to do. And, that’s something else I learned from him, stubborn as I am.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.

Running through Elvis Country

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I am an athlete. Sometimes I pretend that this is a relatively new development, but the truth is that some type of regular athletic activity has been a constant in my life. It keeps me sane. I have a lot of anxious energy, and exercise helps take the edge off. I have also suffered from chronic depression, and exercise is a necessity in keeping it at bay. Besides, all the things I love to do, hiking, kayaking, camping require that I stay in shape.

A guy on Match.com rejected me because he said he’d just broken up with a runner, and “you runner types are strange.” That’s what he said….as if all runners are the same…haha. I know all kinds of athletes – lazy ones, skinny ones, overweight ones, serious ones, socially motivated ones, ones that “dress up” for runs, those that haven’t washed their gym clothes in months. I know runners that approach running very scientifically and keep all kinds of data and charts to predict and track their progress. I also know runners that refuse to run in the heat and runners that refuse to run in the cold. I know one runner that dresses up as a hot dog. We are as diverse as the non-athletic population.

Memphis is a very active running city. Its known to be one of the fattest cities in the country, and, it definitely has its challenges in the health department. The Memphis Runners Track Club is the fifth largest running club in the country. It has over 3,000 members. It’s summer running program for women attracts some 1500 plus runners year after year. In fact, they’ve had to cap it at 1500 because it is just too difficult to handle more than that safely. There are numerous races every weekend in this town. Its definitely a great place to be a runner.

But, I’m not hard core. This is how my athleticism looks for me. It’s really self-care. I don’t run fast, but I do run far – that’s where the endorphins kick in, and I run to feel good. I don’t push myself when I’m tired, sick or am busy having fun. I balance my running with strength training and yoga because it keeps me healthy and injury-free. I’ve run three full marathons and a host of half marathons, and I’ve never even had a blister. I also get regular massage and acupuncture. It’s all really very sane, and it probably takes up about 8-10 hours a week on a “perfect” workout week.

I love my long runs. My favorite hometown course is what I call my tourist route in downtown Memphis. I get up really early so that I can run the 3 miles downtown before dawn. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll take a short detour down Marshall and run by Sun Studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis among other greats spent a great deal of their time. At dawn, I’m usually running down the Main Street trolley line, waving at the street sweepers and cops. I run from there down Beale Street where I encounter some late night/early morning partiers still enjoying themselves. They usually look pretty rough, and they always have to yell at me and my dog. Some of them have even called me their hero. Through all of this is the overshadowing aroma of BBQ cooking already in the wee morning hours. It seems so odd to be smelling BBQ before breakfast, but the smoke is billowing out of all the restaurants I pass.

After I get through the short stretch of Beale Street, I like to take a break and hit the Starbucks across from the FedEx Forum. A small friendly crowd from the Westin is usually gathered there for their morning lattes, and they love to chat me up about running with my dog. We take off past the Gibson Guitar Factory where legends buy their custom guitars and we run down Main Street, paying our respects at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. King was killed. There’s a fire station on Main Street, and I can usually catch a smile from a cute fireman out drinking his morning coffee. We run past the oldest restaurant in Memphis, the Arcade Diner, Ernestine and Hazel’s and the Amtrak station. If we’ve timed it right, the train dubbed the City of New Orleans will be in the station taking a midway stop between Chicago and The Big Easy.

My favorite part of the route is running around the corner onto Riverside Drive in the morning sun. I can literally feel the energy of the mightiest river in the world dragging me to her. There is so much history on that river, and every time I’m near it, I can just imagine the lives and heartbeats of all who have seen her before me. It’s really powerful. And…dang it, it’s just a beautiful sight with the Pyramid and the Mississippi River bridge laid out before me. I just love it. When I pass through that stretch, I thank God for bringing me to Memphis with all its quirky, soulful charm. Despite its problems, Memphis is a cool place to live.

The final stretch takes me back to the Garden District in Midtown Memphis where I live. Beautiful old homes and perfectly manicured yards greet me at a time when I’m getting pretty fatigued and am ready to stop. I get home, take a hot shower or a cold one if its really hot outside, gulp down a chocolate milk and maybe a light breakfast. A mid-morning nap revives me and helps me recover. At noon I’m up again and ready to start a regular day, with my long run done and the weekend stretching before me. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

The Gift

Me at 19 years old

I was a blackout drinker. I gave up alcohol in my mid-20s because I was smart enough to realize that my drinking was not normal. But, I had my fill before then. I really can’t recall drinking being fun for me. And, the reality is that I can’t recall most of it. The times I drank are largely blocks of “lost” time. I just don’t remember a thing. Nothing…nada…black hole.

I know other blackout drinkers, but not all drinkers experience blackouts. And, not all blackout drinkers experienced blackouts like I did. I’m a small woman, and I don’t metabolize alcohol very well. I would blackout early, sometimes within just a few strong drinks. But, I would continue to function for hours. I know this because other people would tell me what I did. And, some of it would be pretty scary. Some of it would be funny, and we would all laugh about it. But it wasn’t funny for me…really. I was terrified.

I was in my late teens to early 20s, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t remember long stretches of time and why I was seemingly functioning, walking around, driving, eating, and I couldn’t remember any of it. I didn’t know how to stop it from happening. More than anything I was afraid of seeing anyone who I had spent time with because I couldn’t remember what happened. I didn’t know if we argued, if we had a good time, if we shared any great conversations. I just didn’t know, and to “save face” I just avoided people. Inside, I was a scared little girl. And, I didn’t know what to do. So, I kept my secret and lived that story over and over again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a blackout. For a long time, I managed to keep the people I knew back then in the past. Then, Facebook came along. All of a sudden, my past and the people from my past started to show up on my computer. The first college friend that showed up threw me into a tailspin. I just didn’t know if I could face it. What on earth did people think of me back then? I was a lush? I was easy? I was nuts? I just had no idea how much they knew. And, I had no idea who knew what.

But, I sucked it up, and I decided to reconnect with those people and let the past be the past. Maybe they didn’t remember either. Maybe they were so focused on their shortcomings that they didn’t really notice mine or remember them. Then, one day, a man whose name and face I remember started “liking” my photos. I remembered him, and, of course, there was always the possibility that I may have spent time with him. But, I certainly didn’t remember it. And, I didn’t remember much interaction with him when I wasn’t drinking. We started to have conversations over text. As we discussed more, he finally said we had spent some time together and hung out in college. “Oh God,” I said. He laughed. My heart sank. I did not want to hear about this. I wanted the past buried. I wasn’t the same girl I was back then, and I was disgusted with her.

For some reason, he wanted to tell me about the night we were together. At first, I wanted to text back and tell him to stop…that I didn’t want to know these details. I mean, hell, this was 30 years ago!! But, I sensed there was a reason that this conversation was happening. I didn’t know if it was for me or for him, but it was happening for a REASON. I believe in a God who holds my hand through the pain. So, I read on as he texted me the events of that evening…”we had fun dancing.. and after dancing…you were a really sweet girl back then”. I asked him if he liked me, and he said, ” yes….I still do.” There were other details that don’t really mean that much to the story, but what began to happen inside of me was that I started to see that I might have been a “sweet girl”. Even though I didn’t remember, a man might have had fun dancing with me and actually liked me. I began to see a different possibility of who I was, of how others saw me, and of what may have happened on all of those invisible nights. The reality doesn’t really matter as much as what I began to feel inside.

I don’t know why this man showed up at this time to say these kind things to me, but I know that it has changed my vision of myself at an age where I really needed to love myself. I hated looking into that darkness and wondering what happened; and, now, I can look into those blank spaces and truthfully say that I wish I had that memory. It just might have been something really nice. It might have been a night worth remembering. I just might have been a girl worth remembering…..even 30 years later. What a gift….thank you..

What “gifts” have been given to you that have changed your life? What have you given others? Are there things you need to say or hear even 30 years later?

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