My new happy home: (Slowly) sowing on the mountain

It is Oct. 1, and I live in New England.

That means the tapestry is unfolding – red and yellow leaves dot my new surroundings, still a minority to the green, and that’s good. I want this to move slowly.

Something within me has slowed down these last few months. Not in an unhealthy, geriatric sort of way – I turned 42 last week, not 92 – but I’ve felt myself walking slower, moving slower, being more deliberate, thinking more. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, but I like it.

So many things have changed in the last year. Hell, so many things have changed in the last five years, but the last year has been a doozy. There are days I don’t understand how I got here. After a long week of the routine of work (which has changed a ton too), adding in my new commute (42 minutes on a normal day, closer to 50 when following behind an ever-present farm or trash truck), my weekends are spent in my house, puttering around at my own pace, feeling out the place, getting used to it. Driving to “town” for groceries. Working in the yard. Walking Miss Maddie. It’s new, but it oddly feels more like home than I’ve felt since I moved to New England.

Home, of course, is Muskogee, Oklahoma. Also Tahlequah, Oklahoma, where I spent a decade of some of the best times of my life. But this place… how did I get here? It’s heaven, it’s soul-satisfying, and it feels like forever. I drive with the windows down even when it’s cold because it smells like rural Oklahoma mixed with the damp, autumnal glory of Connecticut. This place where I’ve only lived a month but can’t wait to come home to each night? This place where my dear, dear stepmother said, “It’s like you’re on vacation every weekend.” How did I get here?

Well, here’s the short answer. I had my heart broken earlier this year and I kind of went on a “finding myself again” mission. How did I allow this to happen? Why did I react so meanly when it abruptly ended? Why was I missing him when I knew he wasn’t right for me? Why did it take so long for me to recover? Why was he so awful to me and how did I let that happen in the first place?

I sought out answers by going on a few dates. And again, I found nothing. I was interested in a guy who, again, said all the right things, but disappointed me. I also met a nice guy who wanted to change me – No. I don’t think so. Rather than wallow and wish for the best, I cut it all short. I wasn’t heartbroken at all, just frustrated and glad I hadn’t formed any real connections. Dating sucks, and as it turns out, I wasn’t lonely. Just in need of a change. I had to remember that I am fine single – that romance, while desired and lovely, isn’t what made me who I am.

So I redeployed the “finding myself” mission, but in overdrive. I very quickly evaluated my life and the one thing I was missing in this super-blessed, super-fruitful life of mine was tranquility. I had been seeking serenity on the weekends, leaving behind bustling Bristol for mountainous Western CT, where I would hike, drive or just daydream about living there. I realized I wanted to return to something like where I grew up, in rural Muskogee. Somewhere where, as my mom used to say, “You don’t have to put on a prom dress to get the mail.” Somewhere I could start over. Again.

The timing was there. My brother and his now-fiancee were moving back to Oklahoma, so one day, tired of all the bullshit and seeking some sort of break, I looked at Craigslist for rent houses in the area where I like to hike. It’s pretty fancy out here, so I wasn’t optimistic about finding a rental.

But I did. I found a house about 15 minutes from the hiking routes that gave me solace and comfort when I was getting over a heartbreak coupled with the death of a family member. A place where I could lie on my back after climbing a mountain and forget all the pain, all the questions, all the regrets. Somehow, I got the place. And in a matter of weeks, I was on the road to my new home.

Turns out this house is also less than five minutes from some pretty great hiking grounds, and it’s a town that has a community of people who seem to like each other and appreciate life. I will make new memories. I will hike new grounds. Ones where, hopefully, I won’t have to go to get over sadness, but where I can go to feel the sun on my face, listen to the birds and overcome obstacles just for fun, like when I first started hiking. A place I can memorize and forget, a place that will always be new and magical.

This is such a far cry from where I was when I moved to Connecticut from Oklahoma. I don’t bemoan anything from my past, and I have few regrets, but I just don’t understand how I was basically an indoors person who became an outdoors person. The lack of Oklahoma heat has a lot to do with it, I’m sure. But that joy I feel when I go outside – that “The hills are alive with the sound of music” moment I experience every time I’m in the woods—where did it come from?

I’ve also been living differently since I moved here. I go to bed early and get up early, which, for those who know me well, is SHOCKING. I get my chores done. I am more organized, while still living by the seat of my pants. I cook dinner nearly every night and take my lunch every day. Fast food dinners are a thing of the past, though I do enjoy a good Taco Bell run every once in a while.

I don’t know where this all is coming from, and I’m not going to question it anymore. I’m just going to enjoy it. I also am no longer questioning why my past romances have failed, why I haven’t met “the one” yet and why I am still alone. I used to say I wouldn’t do this or that until I was in a good relationship, because I wanted someone to share it with. That seems so silly to me now. I am no longer waiting for something to happen. I will go it alone – and maybe that’s the plan that was picked for me. Maybe I should just really live a day at a time, and if I meet someone, great. If not, I’m still happy.

Yeah, that’s what I’m going to do.

In the meantime, I’ve got the best golden retriever on the planet, the best job a person could ask for – with bosses and co-workers who (mostly) get me — a wonderful house surrounded by a community of interesting people, and all of life’s necessities. I have family and friends who I cannot believe put up with me. I have satisfaction in my soul, a smile on my face, food in my belly and a joy I didn’t know I could find.

I am happy. I could have saved a lot of words and led with that, but that’s not my writing style. I am moving more slowly – not because of age or pain, but because I don’t want to miss anything. I don’t feel like I’m running to something anymore.

I feel like I’m here.

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Filed under Connecticut, Hiking, Love, Personal musings

This bird has flown: The KD heartbreak from an Oklahoman’s perspective

It finally hit me the other day, and I’ve finally formulated my words so they hopefully sound less insane.

He’s gone. Really gone.


A meme I built when the Thunder went to the NBA Finals in 2012. I was so damned proud of that team.

I feel like I’ve known him so long, and now, he’s just… gone. Silly to think I knew him… silly to think of this as anything beyond a “basketball decision.” But though I had no say in the matter, and didn’t deserve any say in the matter, I still hate it.

Many of you know by now that I’m into birds. And music. And sports. The three things have bumped around my head lately, all on the topic of my (former) favorite NBA player of all time, Kevin Durant. It seems only natural to my little brain that I compare the departure of KD from the Thunder to that of a bird leaving its nest, looking for something else… And, like those left behind, we just watch him go. Because we can’t stop him. He’s not ours. He never was.

 “And when I awoke I was alone, this bird had flown
So I lit a fire, isn’t it good, Norwegian wood?”

On July 4, when the news broke, I was crushed. Now that I’m over the anger, I guess I get it. He’s NOT required to make us happy. He has his own life. He can do his own thing. We’re not his bosses. We’re just fans. We’re just awestruck Oklahomans looking for a distraction from our lives.

I guess I just thought that meant something more to him. As naive as that sounds. But you have to understand where that naivety comes from – more on that in a bit.

Now, I’m in the sports business. I’ve seen people come and go on teams, people who I didn’t have any “feelings” for. People like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, James Harden – heck, even DeMarco Murray… people who are huge stars, or huge in the hearts of people who cheer for the Sooners, haha… DeMarco left the Cowboys to join the Eagles (then was traded to the Titans, thanks Rod Walton for checking my memory!) and I hated it, but I didn’t take it out on HIM. It didn’t feel personal… I didn’t love LeBron’s approach to “The Decision,” but it didn’t affect me personally. Just kind of made me roll my eyes.

So why do I take Durant’s departure so seriously?

Before I tell you, I want to set up a scenario. I just got back from a trip to Oklahoma last week. I flew first class, because I can every now and then and not feel guilty about it. Often, on my trips out of Bristol, CT., I am joined by a colleague on the plane. This time, it was a very well-known college sports anchor who, knowing my favorite teams, asked me in a very frank manner if I was OK after Durant. It’s like they’re asking me about a death in the family. Hushed tones, head down, eye contact – “Are you OK?” All he needed to do was hold my hand and pat my head.

“He’s just not who we thought he was,” I said. He looked at me like I was crazy. “I don’t agree with that,” he said… but nicely. He doesn’t understand our naivety.

I tried to explain, as I’ll do here…

kdsonicWe thought he was ONE OF US. Oklahomans believed that, for once, someone chose us first. Someone, who wanted to play in the state of Oklahoma FOR MONEY, BY CHOICE, not just for the good ol’ football team. Not to ride Bob Stoops’ coattails to an NFL job. Someone who chose to live their life WITH US. Someone who was just doing it for the fans, and falling in love with our state, which WE all know is great, but suffers from a lot of bad press. And bad politics, but we manage to overcome that. Someone who could help us grieve our many tragedies.

Many people question why we choose to live in Oklahoma. It’s poor, there are tornadoes, there’s “nothing to do,” it’s hot, it’s broke… you name it. But hey, guess what? Many of us were born there, and realize its beauty regardless of the bad press. It’s like a huge secret to Oklahomans – we don’t get why YOU don’t like it. That’s on you!

And yes, I got out – but I left for the best job a sports journalist could have, or I’d still be there. I’d be demanding a change politically, but still. (Living up here in Yankeeland, my vote FINALLY COUNTS!)

But I chose to make Oklahoma my home for 37 years. OK, choice isn’t the right word. I was born there. But I chose to stay after I graduated college. I worked long, hard hours for the newspapers in Oklahoma. I made lifetime friends. I ALWAYS had something to do. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart… you just gotta poke around.”

My people are buried there. It’s home, and it always will be. I miss it every day, though my life path has taken an interesting turn. But I resent the notion that there’s “nothing to do” in Oklahoma. I resent the idea that we’re all stupid and unable to do anything else, so we just stay. I resent the idea that we’re all racist welfare queens with little to no ambition. Oklahoma GAVE me ambition, education, and a deep love of people. A deep respect for nature, kindness, and love. A love of the land. I left after years of hard, gratifying work with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I left after doing everything I could in Oklahoma. I left because I needed another challenge.

KD left because he wants a ring. An easier road to a title. A trinket. An accolade. He doesn’t want to be in charge anymore, and he doesn’t care how he gets there. I thought he was … tougher?

THAT’s what I meant by “He’s not who we thought he was.”


Kevin Durant was so kind to the people of Moore after the tornado, donating $1 million from his own pocket. That’s one of the reasons we thought he’d stay.

KD presented like a man of the people, even though he’s a Longhorn, haha. We believed, perhaps foolishly, that he LOVED US! Just the way we are. He gave us many great years. He visited the Murrah Building and took new players to the Memorial. He picked up debris left from countless tornadoes. He spoke like us, heavy on the “y’all.” He was in Sonic commercials. HE PLAYED FLAG FOOTBALL WITH US. He hit so many late-game shots, we came to count on him.  Like he could somehow solve every problem we’ve ever had as a state. Undo the race riots. Undo the stupid abortion laws and Ten Commandments debacles. Fix the teacher salaries and wage gaps.

We all got mad when a rogue copy editor used the headline “Mr. Unreliable” after KD missed a big shot in the Playoffs. REALLY mad. We took to the radio waves to tell him how sorry we were about that, to try to let him know that no, we don’t all feel that way. Please stay, we almost begged. He seemed to accept our apology, on the court at least.

We felt his physical pain. We studied his foot from every angle when he missed most of last season. We knew all the foot ailments he could have, how he may have what Yao Ming had, how he may never recover… and then, when he returned, we cheered like he was our son.

I actually called him “my son KD.” I loved his mom like she was the governor. Hell, she could have been! She’s be an improvement even with no government experience.

I sound silly, and certainly not journalistically ethical. But I didn’t care about my bias (plus, I’ve been in the biz long enough to separate myself from real bias.) My first year at ESPN, I sat in a crowded newsroom with famous TV people and watched KD sink a 3 to beat the Mavs. I heard one of our most famous anchors shout “THAT’S WHAT WINNERS DO.” He wasn’t on air. He was just watching KD work. I felt so proud of him, like the world was seeing him through our eyes, FINALLY!

When I first read his anemic Players Tribune note that he was leaving, I felt nothing for a few days. It honestly felt like a breakup. I, fortunately, was off work, so I stayed away from SportsCenter and tried to stay away from the stories. After a few days, I began to read the Internet again. Many people were laughing at us Oklahomans, making fun of us for being so “butthurt” and behaving badly.

Many people thought it was just hilarious. Especially former Sonics fans. I get that, but 1) don’t sell your team to known land thieves (Sooners) and 2) be better fans. I know you find our pain hilarious, but keep in mind, we’ve attended EVERY GAME. Even the shit ones. Where were you?

To us, it’s not funny at all, of course. Because we don’t have a lot more options. The Thunder are our only pro team, and KD was our franchise face. He was our first, our last, our everything. KD was the choice of a new generation. KD was the great lanky hope. And now, he’s gone. Just like a bird.

I’d watched him since his freshman year at Texas, just barely 18. All 6-9(ish) of him, unable to lift the bar to benchpress. Lanky, but more Dirk Nowitzki that Dirk. He always looked kinda sad, or just determined. Like there was something going on behind his eyes.

“He was no more than a baby then. well he seemed broken-hearted, something within him…
But the moment that I first laid eyes on him, all alone on the edge of 17.
Just like a white-winged dove.”

But now, he’s a full-grown man with his own life and a new start. We had to free him from the nest. But I’m not happy about it. I know that may sound weird to people NOT from Oklahoma. But we’re very proud of those we call ours. We’ll claim just about anybody, too. Because WE know what makes Oklahoma great. WE know why we stay. We don’t understand why people leave unless they have a damn good reason. And we don’t get KD’s reasoning.

I love him like a son, though I don’t know him personally, as odd as that sounds. I want the best for him. I just had hoped the best was our home. It’s not. But I get it. It’s his life. I’m not mad, just disappointed.

And he can’t expect us to be happy about it. He can’t expect us not to be disillusioned. He seems angry that we’re angry. WHAT DID YOU EXPECT? And I ask, KD, that you leave the villain routine alone. It’s not your strong suit. Just be a man and take the boos. Don’t be a dick. We raised you better than that.

We thought he was an Oklahoman-in-the-making. Instead, he’s a bird that’s flown to better, easier terrain. And Oklahoma is left to clean out his nest, hoping we can make it with what we’ve got. Because we’re very, very proud of what we have. And we intend to keep it in working order.

Russell Westbrook, if you’ve got hero mode in you,  and I suspect you do, now is the time to become one. The state is yours. Please respect it. And if you leave, do so after winning. And please don’t join the enemy. We can’t take it again.

But Kevin, I wish you sorta-kinda well. I hope you realize someday how much you were loved, and what you meant to us. What you could have become to us. Josh Heupel will never forget… you were above him in the hierarchy. But still, thank you for everything. Thank you for those late-game shots that made us so sure you loved us… but we get it. It’s not us, it’s you.

Vaya con dios.

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Filed under ESPN, Family, Haters, Kevin Durant, Moving, NBA, Oklahoma, Russell Westbook, Thunder

This one goes to 11: Songs that got me through an honest-to-God rough patch

Stop me if you’ve heard this, but I went through a breakup recently. It was the first one in many years, and it was an intense relationship, so I wasn’t prepared for the emotional folly that followed. Let’s just say that it didn’t end well, and, truth be told, I never actually HEARD from my ex – he just sort of disappeared, but left me with the blame. Yay! Nothing like wading into the waters and meeting a cowardly ghost-shark first thing.

No big deal, really – I should be thankful it’s over. And despite his sharkness, I’m not afraid of the water. But it took me a lot longer to get over than I expected. I think it’s mostly because A) I’m a  journalist, and if you leave me with a thousand questions, I almost can’t recover; and B) I’m an ENFP personality type, and leaving one of us in the lurch with no closure or comeuppance is almost life-threatening.


On a recent hike I took… I’m fine now, I swear. Hiking was also huge in getting over a lot of shite.

Couple that breakup with several rounds of sickness, the death of my stepfather and lots of traveling, and you have kind of a delayed response to “just getting the hell over it.” But the breakup – that was the biggest bee in my bonnet. It hurt. Like hell. Still does. Just less sharp, more dull now. Much easier to tolerate.

And as usual, my friends and family came through for me. As usual, my team of sisters and one brother, my parental units, my BFFs, co-worker BFFs, my cats, my backyard birds and the voice of my mother got me through it. As usual, I chose the wrong person – but hopefully there’s an end to that someday. Lord knows I haven’t been in a big hurry to return to the dating world. Not that I haven’t had offers, but every time I think I want to accept, I just haven’t. Not because I want The Jerk back, but because I don’t want to pick The Jerk again, ya know? “We won’t get fooled again” or something.

Anyway— I am especially thankful for another group of friends who helped me through one of the more awful periods of my life – my musical BFFs. In these last few months, my tastes have been all over the place. I didn’t listen to any love songs at all for the first two months — just hardcore rap, smooth hip-hop and “why don’t you just go ahead and get eaten by a bear” songs. This is a departure for a hardcore optimist like me. I kind of hated it, but I also knew it was necessary.

Some true winners emerged from that dark time, and I want to address them here.

  1. Beast, “Mr. Hurricane.”

I heard this song one morning right after the breakup. I was walking into work, sunglasses on to hide my sleepless eyes, trying to look happy and optimistic. Faking it. Completely and totally faking it – because inside I was so confused, hurt and angry, and wanted to run away from it all. I wanted answers, but my pride (and the voice of my mom from beyond the grave, not to mention all my family/friends) stopped me from calling him to get the answers, which probably wouldn’t have helped my anyway.

I was so overcome by the lyrics, I went back to my car and listened to the song on full volume. I cried. I screamed. Security was NOT called (thankfully). But, just like everyone going through a breakup or new love situation, you think the lyrics are written FOR YOU. It spoke to me. It was a big first step to healing.

“I stopped bein’ the victim

But you weren’t there to see

I never felt bitter

Till you crippled me

I felt like a refugee from the pain

I had to wear that shroud with no shame

Deceit and lies

Were your crying game

I never fell in love so deeply in vain

So I stay a while

Knife in my side

While I slowly died

Defeat from the inside

Now I scream ’til the end of the day

Never again, Mr. Hurricane”

2. Personality Crisis, New York Dolls

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear. There was something magical that happened the day this song came on. It was like a life raft. It was music to my hears. (Yes, that was on purpose). Punk music in all its iterations is usually very “fuck you”-centric, and this one is no exception. And since I’m convinced that a personality crisis led to some of homeboy’s issues, it was perfect. I have since listened to this about 3 billion times. One day it’s all I listened to – over and over and over again. Perfection. Yes, I kinda lost my mind there for a bit. I don’t think most people would blame me.

“And you’re a prima ballerina on a spring afternoon

Change on into the wolfman, howlin’ at the moon, hooowww

All about that personality crisis you got it while it was hot

But now frustration and heartache is what you got…”

3. Bad Blood, Taylor Swift

Points if you knew Tay-Tay would be on this list… she was made for breakups. I get that now. Immediately after it happened, I had to go to Oklahoma for my stepdad’s funeral. (Of course it all happened at the same time!) So I downloaded a bunch of Taylor that I could listen to on the plane and try to make sense of what the hell had just happened to me. It helped, this song especially. I wanted to have one of those scenes like from a movie – I wanted to get up and sing it to the rest of the passengers, and have them sing the chorus and chant “HE’S AN ASSHOLE (clap, clap, clap-clap-clap)… I wanted an audience to feel what I’d been through — me and Taylor – and it was somehow very soothing. I love you, Ms. Swift. Forever. Thank you for writing what we all feel. (And of COURSE “Shake it Off” was listened to on repeat. The whole 1989 album, really – just this one, I feel like I finally GOT, ya know?)

“Did you have to do this? I was thinking that you could be trusted

Did you have to ruin what was shiny? Now it’s all rusted

Did you have to hit me, where I’m weak? Baby, I couldn’t breathe

And rub it in so deep, salt in the wound like you’re laughing right at me…”

4. No Chump Love Sucker, Red Hot Chili Peppers

A song of immense pride mixed with a healthy dose of hurt. Written from a male perspective, of course, but just perfect when you’re FURIOUS. I heard this one day and basically trashed my office jumping around, throwing things (like boxes of Kleenex, nothing damaging) and scaring my cats. Looking back, I wish I’d videotaped that. Good times.

“I’m through with your bluefish

I’m through with your gash

I’m through being screwed with

By you and your whack attack

5. Eazy-Duz-It, Eazy-E

This unfortunate time coincided with me watching “Straight Outta Compton,” which was also kind of a rebellion, as he didn’t see the need to watch the movie because “he lived it.” OK. I think you missed the point of biopics and are just attempting to sound like a tough guy, but whatevs.

So after watching the movie, I was like “THIS IS WHAT I NEED.” Angry music that has nothing to do with love. Angry political music. Real people music. It led to my mind being kind of steered back to more important things, and I immersed myself in old-school rap of all sorts afterward.

Who knew Slick Rick, NWA, Public Enemy and the like could be so soothing.

“Rolling through the hood, cold tearing shit up

Stick my head out the window and I say what’s up

To the (omitted) on the corner cold bumping the box

But you know that’s an alibi for slanging the rocks…”

  1. Beyonce, “Sorry.”

This is a more recent addition, and damn I wish I’d heard it sooner. It would have been No. 1 on this list. It could have been so good for me. But I got it a few weeks ago, and it still works. I don’t care if this whole Bey-Jay thing is fake beef or not. It’s powerful, and it’s meaningful, and most people can relate. Most women, for sure. When I listened to the lyrics to this song, I felt BETTER. And I do every time I hear it. Thank you, Beyonce, for being strong. Even if it’s not real. Also, I want to be Serena when I grow up and I so wish I was on this bus with these beautiful women. They look like they’re having fun and I NEED FUN!🙂

“Middle fingers up, put them hands high

Wave it in his face, tell him, BOY, BYE

Tell him, boy, bye, middle fingers up

I ain’t thinking ’bout you…”

  1. Fuel My Fire, The Prodigy

This one has gotten me through a few breakups. This one was no different. Pure bitterness with a great beat. Also an awesome song to take with you on the elliptical machine, when you’re running on pure fury and pain. And yes, L7 wrote it—but this version is better, I think.

“I’ve got a word of thanks

that I’d like to say

for the way that I feel today.

Got stacks, got stacks

stacks of chips on my shoulder

in everything I do cuz I made, I made

I made the mistake … the mistake of trusting you

Yeah, people like you just fuel my fire

Yeah, people like you just do

You liar… You liaaaaar”

  1. For the Time Being, Edie Brickell

After a dressing-down I received at the hands of a friend of the ex – to which I never responded, because it was all lies and bullshit anyway, and why engage? – I heard this randomly. I’ve liked the song since I saw the movie “The Way Way Back.” But it fit the moment well. And still makes me laugh when I hear it. The impassioned response I got was, looking back, pretty hilarious. (But again, I never heard from him, just her.) There’s so much more to this story, but I learned my lesson about blogging unhinged.

“It must be nice to be full of good advice to say

It must be sweet, but I’ll call you if I need it

I’m doing alright for the time,

Fine for the time being

I’ll need professional help if it does get any worse than this

I’ll be out on a ledge if it does get any worse than this

I’m doing alright for the time,

Fine for the time being

You think you know me well

You think you know me well

But you don’t know me at all.”

9. Bulletproof Soul, Sade

Ms. Adu has been a part of my life since I was a wee tot. The album “Love Deluxe” is still in my top 10. This song developed new meaning for me, 25 years or so after I’d first heard it. I was still really hurting and listening to a lot of mopey stuff. This came on one day and it was like that beautiful woman was sitting next to me, patting my hair, singing soft words of encouragement. I love you, Sade, you brilliant badass beauty. And I DID leave like a lion, TYVM!

“You were trigger happy baby

You never warned me let me free

It’s not that complicated

But you’re going to need a bullet proof soul

Think you got it but you got all the trouble you need

I came in like a lamb

But I intend to leave like a lion.”

10. Electric Relaxation, A Tribe Called Quest

Coinciding with this terrible time in my life were the deaths of some of my favorite musicians – David Bowie, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, and of course, Prince. But Tribe was there for me during all this. Well before the breakup, I’d been on a huge Tribe kick. For the last year or so, it’s been on a regular rotation. The smooth, relaxing beats were medicine to me during the hard times. Dawg’s death just led me to listen to them more. It took my mind off the bitterness and gave it room to explore. It gave my brain a reprieve. And the joy – the pure, simple, melodic joy that is this song – was the best thing for me. I thank Tribe so much for this. Tribe made me chill the fuck out. Tribe led to peace. RIP, Phife.

“Relax yourself girl, please set-tle down

Stretch out your legs, let me make you bawl

Drive you insane, drive you up the wall

Staring at your dome-piece, very strong

Stronger than pride, stronger than Teflon…”

  1. 28,000 Days, Alicia Keys

I heard this in a commercial or something while I was working the SEC Tournament in Nashville. I fell in love instantaneously. It was like a lifeline. Like Alicia was shouting “HEY STUPID, GET YOUR PRIORITIES IN ORDER!”

I had a one-day hotel stay at the airport in Orlando after the tournament, then I would meet my Best Good Friend Renae and her son Oliver for our trip to Disney World. This was after a nine-day stretch of SEC tournament basketball and travel… a few weeks after all this mess.

That night, sick as a dog but somehow OK, I felt like myself again for the first time. I was excited about seeing my people, happy with how things had gone at the tournament, and not thinking about Mr. Hurricane. I danced around my hotel room, playing this song on my little iPad speakers, acting it out, flailing, being an idiot. I realized that life is, indeed, too short to just throw it away. I’ll leave that to him. He can be self-destructive as long as he wants. Thank God he didn’t pull me down with him. I swear to God this song fell into my lap at the exact right moment. God works in mysterious ways, huh?

“Back from hell with my angel wings

Ain’t no fear in my voice

Cause I’m making a choice

The devil ain’t no friend of me

And that clock on the wall is telling me

There’s only 28 thousand days

Who would you love? Where would you go?

What would you celebrate?

I’m telling you that life’s too short to just throw it away

So have the time of your life, so have the time of your life…”

And that’s what I intend to do from now on, Ms. Keys. Thank you.


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Moments of grace at the Orlando airport: The long, beautiful goodbye

She asked to hold the baby one last time.

It wasn’t in English, but I put together that the older woman was saying goodbye to a grandchild.

The infant, who had no idea what was going on, was passed into the older hands for likely the 100th time that morning, cooing, eyes wildly darting to and fro. The older woman clasped the baby in her arms, held her aloft and stared into her deep brown eyes. She kissed her cheeks, cradled her, bounced her. The next time she saw the baby, she’d be walking – talking – who knows. It could be years.

The older woman’s hands were weathered, heavily veined, working hands. One of those hands gave the baby back to the younger woman, her daughter. The other hand snaked up her daughter’s back, finding her long, black braided ponytail. She worked the ponytail holder up and down, moving her fingers along the plaiting. It was as if touching her daughter — feeling her hair, running her hands up and down her back, grasping at her arms — would slow the Security line down, make the time crawl backward. They had to be the only people in line who wanted that. But my time observing the family made me hope it would last, too.

I was trying to figure out, in this crowded Orlando security line, who was leaving whom. The entire family was Indian, and after some studying of their body language, I put it together that the older couple was heading back somewhere far away. Tattered bags rested on the older man’s shoulders as he and – I’m assuming his son-in-law – made small talk while the women clutched each other and the baby.

The older woman’s eyes were filling with tears. How far was she flying away from her daughter and the baby? Likely to countries far away, where Americans don’t often go. I pictured the younger woman’s decision to leave her family in India. I picture her husband, who was standing ahead of her in line, getting a great job that would get them out of India. I pictured the younger woman’s deliberations, her pain at the decision she knew she had to make. She had to get a better life for herself, her husband and the baby that would surely come. She saw no way to that but to leave. She tortured herself at the notion. Meanwhile, her parents practically pushed her out, hoping for the American dream to take hold of her daughter and son-in-law.

The younger woman and her husband left home. And she knew these moments in the airport would be inevitable. It would never be easy.

This wasn’t the first time they’d said goodbye, but maybe it was the first time they’d said goodbye to a baby, too.  Maybe her parents had come to America for the fifth or sixth time. Maybe they went to Disney World. Maybe they ate terrible fried food, laughed and held each other’s hands, drinking in every moment. Maybe the older woman had held her grandchild for an entire week, and also done her daughter’s laundry, folded every piece, cooked her child’s favorite meal.

I dared not look at the younger woman’s eyes yet for fear of being completely emotionally overcome. How did they do this? How were they not wailing? Their silent goodbyes were a marvel to me – as American as they come, a loud, brash, obnoxious girl who cries about everything and is not shy about sharing emotions. This quiet, touching moment was something I’d give anything to have with my own mother.

The older woman wore the mark on her forehead and another in her hairline. Her Sari was wrapped perfectly, indicative of culture and practice. Her eyes were so deeply sad, yet so happy to have these moments. She tried to hide her emotions with a big smile. It didn’t work.

The daughter was almost identical to her mother in looks, hairstyle and clothing, but maybe with a touch more modernity. But not much. She clutched her mother’s fingers, tracing the bones of each digit.  When I finally braved looking at her, her eyes were looking down, trying not to look at her mother, it seemed. I imagined her train of thought. Her mom was fiddling with her braid again, and it felt so good, so normal… how she missed those hands playing with her hair, styling it, her words of praise for her appearance. How she wished those hands were constant, helping to raise the baby in her mother’s arms. How she wished this security line would go on forever. How she wished she could return home with her mother. But her husband, who turned to look at her at that moment, knew her pain. Seeing him, she was reminded of her new life, what they had to look forward to now.

The younger woman said something to her husband at that moment. Something to the effect of: “We need to go. We have to go before I completely lose it.” The younger man and older man shook hands. The women embraced for long, long minutes, clinging to each other, the baby between them. The line was moving more quickly now. They were ushering us into another line, one that would take us to another part of security. It was time to say goodbye.

I never saw long rivulets of tears. I’m not sure if they were wiped away before anyone saw them or if they actually fell. Maybe these women were capable of hiding their tears better than me.

When it was over, the young couple turned around and left. The older woman’s eyes followed for seconds. Seconds only, then averted back to the front of the line.

“Never watch out of sight,” my mom used to say. For watching someone leave until you can’t see them is bad luck. To this day, I do exactly what this older Indian woman did. I say goodbye, then avert my eyes as quickly as possible as not to invite bad luck into an already awful goodbye.

I watched as the older man presented his passport to the TSA agent. The agent was frustrated with the man’s lack of speaking much English – it was obvious – but the man patiently handed the agent his passport and ticket once barked at. His eyes trained on his wife, who had her back to me at this time. The wife moved up in line and presented her own passport. Then the two headed in a different direction from me. I passed them again later in the line, and the woman’s mind was a thousand miles away. A bemused smile sat on her face. I could almost read her mind. She was replaying the week she’d just had, the moments with her daughter and granddaughter, the fun they had, the moments she took with her… the sadness sat on standby, just under the surface, waiting to emerge.

I bet, when she was alone on the plane, the tears started falling. I bet she rested her head on her husband’s shoulder on the flight home. And though no words may have been spoken, he re-assured her everything would be OK and they would be back before they knew it.

I hope they see each other again soon. I later heard a young woman at my gate talking about the pair and the goodbye – it had to be the same scenario. It seemed that, while it was quiet and not obvious, those not bereft of emotion picked up on it. “It was just so meaningful,” I heard the young girl say to her flying partners. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen.” Yes it was, my friend. Yes it was.

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Mom’s song

mom farm

Mom, pregnant with me, in 1974 on my grandparents’ farm in Henryetta, Oklahoma.

There’s so much going on in the world today that is bigger than “my feelings.” So many social injustices, so many fights to fight, so many things I should be doing instead of moping.

But I’ve lost the strength, at least for today. It’s been a disappointing few weeks for me personally, with a lot of changes happening that make me nervous, and my dating life continually in the dumps… I won’t go into that, but suffice it to say, online dating sucks, and I suck at it. And as usual, I pick the absolute worst person possible. Plus, I’m continually saddened by the awful things that people say and do to each other. I want to run away and hide, or as Jenny said to Forrest, “Dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far, far away from here.” I seriously considered becoming a Mennonite and living in corn country.

When I get in these moods, which thankfully are rare, I tend to drown myself in music, not the Mystic Heated Wine that Jim Morrison loved. I tend to find songs that perfectly quench a thirst I didn’t know I had. I cry. I dance. I cry some more. I write. A lot. Then I feel better.

This particular moodiness cycle is probably on its way out, but presented itself in me today in the form of a stomachache. I worked from home, and have gradually felt better as the day wore on. Being absent from the office when the DeflateGate decision came down was just dumb luck! But I’ve been in the dumps for two whole days now, which isn’t common for me at all.

As usual, a song came along to make me re-evaluate myself. And as usual, the lessons of my mom came through. And as usual, I cried. A lot.

The day I found out my mom had been burned in a fire, I knew she would die. She lived for several months after that, but I knew she’d never be the same, and that she’d die from this. I didn’t know when, but I knew. My grieving has this strange tendency to be early-onset. I don’t know if I’m psychic or what, (haha) but I know when bad shit is going to go down.

I got a call that mom had third-degree burns over about 40 percent of her body. I put the phone down, went to my bedroom, and collapsed. I cried for hours. I cried every bit of myself out on my bedroom floor. I cried more on that day than on the day she actually died.

I did not go to work the next day, of course (though I did go the day she died, but that’s another blog). I was getting ready to head to the hospital the next morning when this song came on – and it’s forever my song TO my mother. It’s forever the song that makes me lose my shit. I only play it when I really, really need it.

Yes, Natalie Merchant’s “Kind and Generous,” which is kind of a love song to all women and all those who do great things, is my song to my mother. When I heard it that day, I sat down on the edge of my tub and cried some more. Again, I knew she would be gone. It was like God played this song for me that day to further cement that knowledge to me, that she would die. And I moved on from fear of her dying to appreciating everything she did for me in no time flat.

Maybe it’s the journalist in me – I process emotions very quickly. It’s how we deal with all the bad shit that’s happening around us so quickly. It’s how, when kindergarten kids are shot in Newtown, we can still go on the air. It’s how, when riots break out in Baltimore during a baseball game — and you worry about the violence, but still understand and empathize with why the riots are happening — you put aside your thoughts and work. It’s how, when a reporter and photog are shot on-air, we can still report about it. Iron-clad at the time, but soft as cotton off-deadline. It spills over into the real world, clearly. Because I was able, throughout the next few months when Mom was in the hospital, to appear strong. It was all an act, of course, but somehow, Natalie Merchant’s voice, her thank-yous, her la-la-las, saved me that day.

Of course, having an older sister who’s as dear to your AS your mom, who’s named Natalie, probably meant something to me too. Plus, my mom loved Natalie Merchant dearly. So it was just a perfect song for a terrible time. And now, 12 years later, it still has the power to straighten my ass right up.

I listened to it today – something I don’t do often, as I don’t want to be a miserable heap – and now, I think I’ll be OK.

So to you, Ms. Merchant – I want to thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – thank you, thank you – I want to thank you for your song. I want to thank you for your generosity.

But mostly, I want to thank my mom. I miss you, of course. Thank you for still influencing me beyond the grave. Thank you for still being a touchstone in my heart when I know I need to buck up and deal. Thank you for reminding me, through your pithy phrases I’ve memorized, when someone needs “a good ol’ fashioned lettin’ alone” or that I “can get glad in the same pants I got mad in.” Thank you mama. You are the reason I’m here, quite literally and figuratively. I love you.

“Kind and Generous”

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
For your selflessness, my admiration
And for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

You’ve been so kind and generous
I don’t know how you keep on giving
For your kindness I’m in debt to you
And I never could have come this far without you
So for everything you’ve done

You know I’m bound…
I’m bound to thank you for it

I want to thank you
For so many gifts
You gave with love and tenderness
I want to thank you

I want to thank you
For your generosity
The love and the honesty
That you gave me

I want to thank you
Show my gratitude
My love and my respect for you
I want to thank you

I want to…

Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you
Thank you


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A Real American Hero: Why everyone should be cheering for Ronda Rousey

“Oh, I’m sorry — did you think YOU were going to win this?”

I did something in the ESPN newsroom last night that I don’t often find myself doing due to the unspoken rules of the newsroom – I clapped like an idiot over a sporting event.

Just like baseball, journalism has its own unwritten rules, especially sports departments. You don’t say “We,” as in “We (the Sooners) are going to be really good this year,” you don’t wear team colors, and you don’t show too much emotion over results of events.

There are exceptions – one of my favorites being watching Oklahoma State make it to the Final Four on the back of John Lucas III in the Tulsa World newsroom in 2003, two more coming during my ESPN years — Tim Tebow’s entire 2011 season and American Pharoah’s ride to the Triple Crown this year. In those instances, we all shook off those rules, watching and admiring from our impartial seats. It didn’t matter who you were a fan of – in those moments, you are just a sports fan, watching history being made. We crowded around TV sets and just went with it, tearing down that Fourth Wall for a few moments and living like the regular fans live.

It’s one of the most satisfying, sweetest things – and I don’t even know if there’s a word for that feeling. Joy, I guess – joy and pride, a heady combo that makes some people start fights after feeling it (looking at you, Vancouver.)

I felt it last night. And it felt like the entire world – minus a few negative ninnies – agreed with me.

Watching Ronda Rousey become the greatest at her sport — and let’s face it — the greatest draw the UFC has and the face of the brand, has been a strange and wonderful experience for me. Back in 2011 when I started at ESPN, I had no love for UFC, and certainly none for Ronda Rousey. She seemed like a bully to me then. She seemed like a one-trick, armbar-laden pony.

But after researching her and learning more about her, I realized hers is a skill and talent that is unique, precious, and deep down inside her. She channels a place that we all know – fear, resentment, aggression, extreme sadness, withdrawal from society, poverty and shame. She is the walking embodiment of turning yourself around.

I met Ronda this year at an ESPN Women event in which I sat in a room with her and about 20 other women. It was an open Q&A session moderated by Jemele Hill. All of us – Jemele included – sat in wonder as we listened to Ronda speak. It was like talking to a family member or a close friend. It was like she knew all of us and was honestly, openly talking about her life, her past, her future, her fears, her love life – she’s an open book, really. Now, despite the fact that she gracefully took a picture with me and my friend Elanna at work, she also told me she liked my necklace. She looked me in the eye. She put her arm around me and smiled for the camera. She was wearing a cool dress and house shoes.

She was possibly the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on. I was in awe – and still kind of am. Her past is similar to many of ours – wild, full of things you probably wish you hadn’t done. But she realizes that you have to turn the page, move on, live your life and roll with the punches… in her case, those punches are deadly, but she can absorb them as well as dish them out. She’s been taking punches her whole life

Ronda was a bartender, drinking too much and partying too hard, and living in her car. Then she unlocked that place in her that wanted more. She has always listened to her mother’s advice, and she kept her father’s suicide in her heart, the grief slowly turning into motivation and strength. She’s tough and vulnerable at the same time.

I think that’s why I clapped like an idiot last night – I knew the 34-second beatdown of Bethe Correia was for her daddy, whose suicide Bethe – knowingly or not – made light of a few months before the fight. Bethe taunted and taunted in the buildup of the fight. Ronda stood firm, never lowering herself to such trash talk. She just gave Bethe that terrifying look that said, “You know what, keep talking. This’ll work itself out.” And it did. In 34 glorious seconds.

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-231228 ORIG FILE ID:  20150801_ads_db3_526.JPG

Aug 1, 2015; Rio de Janeiro, RJ, Brazil; Ronda Rousey (red gloves) fights Bethe Correia (blue gloves) during UFC 190 at HSBC Arena.  (Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports)

The look on Ronda’s face the second she knew she’d won was not evil. It’s pure joy. That same joy you and I feel when our team wins – the same joy you get when you do something you’ve always wanted to do professionally. That same glee you find in yourself when you know you’re really good at something. The intense pleasure of knowing people are proud of you.

Ronda Rousey is as much like you and me as you and your sister. She’s charming, funny, emotional, tough and brilliant. If you don’t believe me, read up on her reading (she’s an avid reader), read her interviews, watch her on YouTube – she carries herself in a well-spoken, introspective, genuine way. She loves animals. She has had bad boyfriends too. She’s the most “real” athlete we have right now. Every ounce of her perfect body is genuine. Every pore on her beautiful face has been filled with blood, sweat and tears. Even after movies, TV shows, countless interviews and junkets, Ronda is Ronda, and always will be.

It’s what makes her climb to the top so fabulous and fun to watch. She is creating fans. More importantly, she is creating a legion of female fans who are so glad to have another female role model who isn’t a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader, a Kardashian or someone who’s thought of as beautiful first, athlete second. (Serena, Venus and the entire U.S.Women’s National Soccer Team were getting lonely.)

Between her and Serena, I don’t think I can pick. Both are dominant and both are the best in their fields. Today, I am more on the Ronda bandwagon because of her domination, pure strength and emotional vulnerability – something the sometimes-aloof Serena can seem to lack, though we know she really doesn’t – but that’ll change for me the next time Serena does something awesome. I’ll say this – they are 1 and 1A in terms of top female athletes. They may be 1 and 1a among ALL athletes. They have certainly had to dominate more, and for longer periods of time, to be thought of as such.

But that’s what women are used to doing – having to work just a little bit harder than male counterparts to prove they’re good at what they do. I am in a male-dominated field, so I speak from experience.

I read a tweet today that Ronda Rousey is “almost a household name.” I think she’s closer than that – like she already is, and once more and more people watch the (Illegal) Vine video of her beatdown of Correia, her status will just tenfold. Women and men alike are falling for her, not because she’s beautiful – that’s just a happy coincidence – but because she’s an Everyman with panda buns and boxing gloves. She’s a soldier intent on her goal, and she doesn’t need Hollywood or stardom to do it. She’s doing it IN SPITE of those things. She’s making hay(makers) while sun shines on her.

She’s a role model, pure and simple. And she made me lose my composure in the newsroom last night.

I don’t think anyone judged me too harshly. They were too busy clapping too.

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