Category Archives: Connecticut

2016: A Spaced Elegy

So many low points.

So many illnesses, deaths, heartaches, heartbreaks and stabs to my soul. So many slaps across the face, tears in their wake, shouts thrown into the night. A few bad decisions, a few good ones that turned out to be bad, and a few too many days alone… that was 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

Eff off, 2016.

But I don’t want to talk about those, as I’m not even close to alone on that. Most people appear to have had a shite 2016. Most people were so glad that the calendar turned to 2017 that they expected some sort of magic moment on Jan. 1, like they’d turn on their phones and all the pains and woes of the world would have been eradicated by Prince and David Bowie, who came back to fix the world aboard the Resurrectium Falcon piloted by Carrie Fisher with Leon Russell riding shotgun.

They expected Donald Trump to tweet something benevolent on New Year’s Day. WRONG.

They expected all 25 pounds they’ve gained to just magically shake off Sunday morning.

They expected their wishes — people to grow a soul and do the right thing – would come true.

Reminds me of that horrible phrase my stepdad used (may he rest in peace… thanks 2016) – “wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which one fills up fastest.”

So yeah, let’s leave the wishes in the dust. Let’s leave 2016 in the dust too, but first, the miracles of 2016… yes, they were there, just fewer and far between.

mountaopI climbed this mountain this year. My heart was broken, wrung out, on the 60-day DL for repeated fractures. I wanted to see Dr. James Andrews and have him put me on the exempt list. (Sports humor, y’all…)

It was the first warmish day of an incredibly long, warm , beautiful Connecticut summer, and I climbed this mountain. Me, who used to weigh 315 pounds. Me, who had never shown much interest in hiking before… me, who found that it was life-saving.

Me, who a few months before was in “the best relationship of my life” only to have it disappear in a few short months. Me, who had it “all together.” I was not OK on that mountain that day, not on the inside.

But I was much better when I left. After I had gotten to the top, laid down and spaced out for an hour or so, listening to the world teach me lesson after lesson, dripping with the time-honed wisdom of the trees and breeze.

I had a staredown with a buck, keeping my quiet while he and a fawn behind him traipsed through low underbrush.

buckstaredownI watched as tender new June leaves danced in the intense mountaintop wind, and as the sun beat down on glittering quartz-filled rocks. I heard crows everywhere – Connecticut is home to enormous, beautiful crows – and the warblers were out at every treetop. Mountain laurel was blooming and the forest floor carpeted with moss and new grass. But the higher I got up the mountain, the quieter it got and the flora and fauna more scarce. It also got more peaceful. A peace I’d never really felt.

I lay on that mountainside and felt the elements underneath me and around me. I felt the heat of the rocks below me. I gazed into the abyss and realized how close I could be to violent death should I amble too far and tumble off. I nearly fell asleep in the peace, though my heart was racing. I looked up at the brilliant sky and I cried out at the top of my lungs, saying aloud to everything that could hear: “THANK YOU.” I meant it. I still do.

ontopofoldsmokyThe mountaintop brings gratefulness. I had to climb it to find that out. And though I’m not anywhere near fitness perfection, I’ve climbed two mountains in my short hiking career, and multiple trails have welcomed me for their miles of glory. I have come to find solace and strength in the quiet brilliance of a mountain trail, and I don’t question anymore why that is – especially after that day.

I was broken. Broken by a man who I still don’t understand, and probably never will. Broken by life and its many foibles. Broken by death, grief and misunderstanding. I was fixed when I came down the mountain. I’d be dinged again later, but at that moment, I was OK. I spent the weekend camping and the rest of the summer planning to do what would make me happy.

Maddie. My heart.

Maddie. My heart.

Part of that happiness, I didn’t realize, would be adding to my family in the form of Maddie, my senior citizen Golden Retriever who makes me so very happy. Going to get her was an adventure – a first date (and there would be no second) in the car to gather her up from Maryland. Once she was in the car, it’s like the guy didn’t exist. Kevin Durant left the Thunder the next day and all I could think about was the joyful red girl lying on my living room floor. She’s been about the best thing to happen to me in a long time. And her owners wanted her to be put down. How lucky can I be?

So a few months later, I moved to a place that’s not far from the mountain I hiked that day – Washington, Ct. – to be closer to nature and the people who appreciate it. I am a mile from hiking now, living in a tiny village with real people who do real things and make real memories.  There are family farms out here that are 300 years old. There are places I can walk in, pick up fresh produce and leave cash in an “honesty basket” without ever seeing the farmers. There are memories to be made here by the boatload, and I will make them, I can tell. It was a whim that I moved here, but it was rooted in a need to be where the peace is. I felt something, and I don’t think I’ll be leaving here anytime soon.

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game... or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I went to LA to hang with Renae for her 40th birthday. We also went to the first Rams preseason game… or should I say, the first DAK PRESCOTT GAME!

I traveled a ton this year as well… and realized that city life is just what I have to tolerate when I travel. I spent a few days in Nashville (sick) to cover the SEC Tournament in March, and then spent several at Disney World (sick) with people I love. I took two trips to Oklahoma and Texas (sick), went to Los Angeles (healthy, but exhausted) to celebrate my BFF’s birthday, and finally moved out to where I really wanted to be (and got sick almost immediately. For two weeks.) Since I’ve moved out here, traveling is about the last thing I want to do. Long weekends at home are spent, with me hardly ever leaving, and not feeling like I’ve missed out.

I spent quality time with family and friends, and have already had my parental figures, one sister and one brother over to the new house. Considering I live far away from everyone, that’s a big thing. This year, I’ll spend more time with friends, if I can pull myself away from my haven out here.

Oh, and I should mention — my career, bracing for all the change of the coming wave of technology — is ever-changing, as usual,but still one of the most important things ever for me. I’m just glad that I now have something that can shut off the work voice on my way home — my new scenery. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still count my lucky stars and pinch myself every now and again. FIVE YEARS AT ESPN. What the hell.

So yeah, the year that started off beautifully quickly landed in a heap on the ground — wings broken off, smoke and ash blocking the fresh air and taking hunks of my humanity with it. But I rebounded. I made some mistakes along the way, I said some things I shouldn’t have, and I spent a few months in a dark place. But it went away. And now there is light. There may be no answers for why it went the way it did, but I’m not going to worry about that anymore. Not everything has a reason. Sometimes, life is just bullshit.

But you gotta find a trail to get over the mountain of bullshit to get to the mountain of peace. It’s there. Just look.

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Filed under Birds!, Connecticut, Hiking, Kevin Durant, Love, Moving, NBA, Personal musings, Politics?, Relationships, Sports, Thunder, Women

Watching the birds (and wheels): John Lennon’s lessons are alive and well

Ringo may be my favorite Beatle – but only because he’s an underdog, and I always support underdogs.

But let’s be honest here… John is really, truly my favorite.

That’s because I’ve always wanted to be like Mr. Lennon. Our birthdays are a few days (and 30 or so years) apart, and that may have something to do with it.

Lennon’s vision of peace, love, understanding and doing what you want with your life has always emboldened me, made me feel like I wasn’t alone for being this big ol’ sap with a bit of a revolutionary bent and a romantic heart the size of the Harlequin library.

In times like our current political climate, I wish John was here. I wish he could put into beautiful words and music what we’re all going through – and urge us to give peace a chance. Because, let’s face it – that’s what we should be after. We should be encouraging that in all walking facets of life, not just looking for our side to win.

But politics is not why I decided to write today.

It’s another John Lennon song that has my attention today, and it’s helped me get through some stuff in the past:

I feel like I’ve reached this point in my life. As I sit here on a fairly gorgeous fall day in my little mountain town, I’m thoroughly happy watching the birds at my feeder. All different types have made my backyard home, with a few more babies coming each day. Tiny tufted titmice, charming little chickadees, bodacious blue jays, charismatic cardinals and nutty nuthatch (they eat upside down from the feeder and kind of bob-and-weave when they fly. They’re hilarious.) New to the party are the glorious goldfinch (wearing fall brown), brown-headed cowbirds, a Carolina wren who lives in the pocket of a huge maple, and the various and sundry sparrows that dot this canvas. Oh, and of course the ever-present mourning doves, who strut around looking for seed on the ground (I wrote a short song with that exact line in it a few months ago. I’m weird, OK?)

I have other things I should be doing, but I don’t. I agonize over that. That’s a point John makes in this song –

“People say I’m lazy

Dreaming my life away

Well they give me all kinds of advice

Designed to enlighten me

When I tell them that I’m doing fine watching shadows on the wall

“Don’t you miss the big time boy, you’re no longer on the ball?”

That passage could be applied to many parts of my life. Don’t you miss the city? Don’t you miss the easy commute? Don’t you miss dating and grocery stores that stay open past 6 p.m.?

Not yet. (Maybe never on the dating, but alas.) But again, I’m still getting used to it, and I find myself wondering WHY I don’t miss those things. Is there something wrong with me? How can such a social person enjoy hermitude so much?

Well, how could John Lennon give everything up for Yoko? How could he walk away from the most famous band of all time?

I’m sure he agonized, just like me, and I’m sure writing “Watching The Wheels” was kind of a protest of that agony. But I know – because he’s a self-doubting, balancing-act Libra – that he did agonize.

I enjoy loud craziness. I enjoy people. But in my home, I could sit for hours just looking out a window, alone, not really thinking about anything at all.

But then the chores pile up and I call myself names.

Why?

Because I’m not listening to THIS LINE enough:

“I’m just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round

I really love to watch them roll

No longer riding on the merry-go-round

I just had to let it go…”

I hereby would like this to serve as an attempt at “letting it go.” I would really rather not brutalize myself for enjoying my life instead of folding clothes. And as a Libra (I don’t know how much I believe in all this stuff, but I am a textbook Libra) I must balance. I must make time for folding clothes or else I will feel like a failure.

But not when there are five birds at the feeder, taking turns eating the high-quality seed I put out for them. Order. Kindness. Patience. All on winged display.

They’re so beautiful. Most of them don’t fight with each other, though I did just watch a male and female cardinal chase each other around. They just exist. I NEED to see this.

We all should. Why am I kicking myself for being lost in a moment?

John wouldn’t let me, that’s for sure.

“People asking questions lost in confusion

Well I tell them there’s no problem

Only solutions

Well they shake their heads and they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind

I tell them there’s no hurry…

I’m just sitting here doing time…”

Doing time. Balancing. Watching the nutty nuthatch scamper upside-down down that same tree where the wren lives. Wondering how he keeps his balance. Wondering where they nest. Hoping I see it someday, but not feeling like a failure if I don’t.

From my little writing/birdwatching nook (some folks call it a dining room, but not me!) I am decompressing. Learning, though in a different way. This is what I came out here for.

I am done agonizing over why I enjoy it.

So back to the beginning – literally. The first verse of the song would have been enough:

“People say I’m crazy doing what I’m doing

Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin

When I say that I’m o.k. they look at me kind of strange

Surely you’re not happy now you no longer play the game…”

 

Thank you, John. I’m no longer riding on the merry-go-round. At least for today. Balance and all…

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Filed under Birds!, Brain Disorders, Connecticut, Music, Relationships, Women

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

He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at

My mom, me and Nick in Branson at “Hound Dog Nellie’s,” another inside joke.

My little brother is one of my best friends. I heard “No Rain” by Blind Melon first thing this morning, and I’m reminded of our wonderful friendship.

I’ve known he was one of my best friends since 1990, when he stopped annoying the shit out of me and started being a cool little dude who I could drag with me anywhere I went. He became my sidekick.

He’s 30 now, and to this day, we still get along great. He’s lived with me on and off many times through the years, and moved to Connecticut a year after I did. It’s been the biggest blessing I could have – someone who looks and sounds like me, and knows my history, knows my pain, knows what makes me laugh, right here in my new home,1,500 miles away from our real home.

We’ve been through terrible things together, including the death of our mother. We have so many stupid inside jokes — a lot of them came from driving back and forth to Wichita when Mom was in the hospital.  I would not have made it through that without him. I felt like I had to be there for him, and I know he felt the same.

He’s one of the first people I called when I got the job at ESPN, and he knows everything about me. And he still likes me! Now that he’s up here, he’s finding a new part of himself – the outdoorsman who appreciates life, beauty and conservation (and good Vermont beer!) He and I recreate Oklahoma in the kitchen, making biscuits and gravy, Mexican food and other things we like that people up here don’t get. How could I get too homesick when I’ve got one of my favorite parts of Oklahoma living with me?

He’s gone this weekend, and I miss him. He’s free to do whatever he wants in his life, but when he decides to leave my nest, it’s going to be hard for me to adjust.

He’s grown into this great man who can do anything, just like his dad and my mom. I’m not sure how I got so lucky to have four wonderful sisters and one awesome brother, but I don’t take it for granted. Ever. (I hope.) He pushes me to do things. He saves me from myself. He believes that, yes, someday, I’ll get married, and that someone will like me enough to actually spend their life with me! 🙂 Of course I believe the same about him. But he’s much better at relationships than I am – he’s been in a steady relationship for two years now up here in New England, and the only thing I do is work. We have different priorities, but he makes me think about mine.

I remember the day Nick and I started being “friends” instead of “siblings.” He was 5, and I was “babysitting” him at our house in Muskogee, Oklahoma. I had just learned to drive and we were both sick and tired of sitting at home. He was a very picky eater then, which is hilarious now because he would eat anything you throw at him… but I dragged him to Hamlin’s East in Muskogee and forced him to try foods he wouldn’t normally. He loved it. And we laughed our heads off. I started picking him up from school. I loved that – I felt so grown-up when I would leave Muskogee High and stop by Creek Elementary to pick up the little dude. I’d force him to listen to tapes in the car, then he started actually liking the songs I played him. I made him mix tapes. I warped his precious little mind.

But I have this one moment in our childhoods that I cherish. I don’t really know why, but it’s one of my happiest memories of our time together, and my life.

We were in the gameroom of our house. He was maybe 8, and I had just completed my first year of college at Northeastern State in Tahlequah. I stayed with him over the summer, my last summer at home. We were, of course, watching MTV, and I think 120 Minutes or a show like that was on. I heard the beginnings of “No Rain” by Blind Melon, then saw the Bee Girl on stage. Now, I should mention that I deeply identify with the Bee Girl. I was a bit of a weirdo/unpopular girl, kind of a misfit, and I’d even had a bee costume I wore for Halloween as a kid. I had just started meeting my core group of friends, who were Bee People too. I’d just started feeling accepted, and just started realizing I wasn’t a complete freak. That video hit me square in the gut. It still makes me cry happy tears.

My mom never encouraged us to be like anyone else. And there was something about that song – at that time – me being 18 or so and “finding myself” and the friends and family I’d have for the rest of my life. Every day felt like a rose opening. Every day, it opened a bit more, and I felt something new and exciting, something awe-inspiring about growing up and just living. And my brother — little and cute and curly-headed – was always there with me, never judging me or trying to emulate me, but just being my brother and friend.

So on that day, in the gameroom, we watched the video. When it was over, I looked at Nick and said, “Hey, you wanna go get that CD?” Of course, these were the days before Internet radio, Spotify and the like – you actually had to haul off and buy the damn CD, with his two-foot long plastic case around it.

I was working at McDonald’s then and not making a lot of money. So in typical Sarah fashion, I blew what cash I had on music. I drove like a woman possessed to Hastings, with him in the car, and bought the first Blind Melon CD and drove home. At that time, Mom was working crazy hours as a nurse, and Nick’s dad, Pat, wasn’t home yet. So I’d started dinner when I got home. I brought my little jambox into the kitchen, put on the CD, and hit play. We danced in the kitchen to “No Rain” on repeat. It is, to this day, one of my very favorite songs.

I’m not sure why I love that memory. It felt like a moment of freedom, independence and just having fun with the people I love. Nick has never, and will never, judge me. Hopefully that works both ways. I was such a self-conscious kid, and Nick was the same way. We felt like we had to act a certain way, and couldn’t really goof off or anything, lest we get in trouble or make a “scene.” Not sure where that came from, but that day in the kitchen, we danced like idiots and sang and danced some more. We realized we had each other’s back – subconsciously of course, as I wasn’t as introspective then as I am now.

My brother is one of my best friends. I don’t want to ever think about living a day without him.

When Nick was little, our mom told me, “I wish I could be more like Nick.” She was right. He’s just a great little dude, and I’m lucky to have him. Thanks for being you, Buster Thurperson. And I miss you, Shannon Hoon. And Mom.

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Filed under Connecticut, ESPN, Family, Friends, General Nonsense, Music, Oklahoma

Today’s Song: “Dancing in the Dark,” Bruce Springsteen

Lemme tell ya’ll little story ‘bout a girl who is me… a poor journalist, she was broke to a T. But then one day, she was pissed off, to say the least, so she applied for jobs and she moved to the big east… Connecticut that is, ESPN… lots of insurance… She is: The Connecticut Hillbilly! (cue the banjoes.)

Yes, that’s how it felt to move to (cue “Immigrant’s Song”) the Land of the Ice and Snow, but before I got to that place, I had to realized my life need changing.

So back up. And cue the Bruce Springsteen.

When I was growing up, I HATED Bruce. I mean, I thought his style was the most corporate, jingoistic crap you could imagine. I thought he was all-pro Reagan, anti-progression, etc. – even at 10, I had this streak in me, I remember. But later, I realized Bruce was 100 percent Sympatico with my beliefs of the power of the working man, the beauty of compassion and the wonder and mystery of small-town life. He’s exactly who I wanted to be when I grew up – but I didn’t know it then.

I didn’t know that until a few years after my mom’s death, when I found myself surrounded by people who weren’t good to themselves, or who had gone on with their lives, settled down and started raising families. I was broke – I mean, BROKE, emotionally and financially — and was living in a house I should never have bought, with friends who had other ideas about life’s meaning. I didn’t know who I was anymore, really. I just knew that I’d worked too hard, and felt like I was entitled, to more. And that I couldn’t relate to people I’d related to before… partying wasn’t as fun anymore, I’d had my heart broken by death, love and everything else, and I was just tired of everything.

Getting over that entitlement was a good first step, but acknowledging that I needed MORE from life was a better one.

So it was maybe 2008 or 2009, and I had started to understand the whole Bruce Springsteen appeal, but I hadn’t had my “I LOVE THIS MAN” moment yet—but was about to. I was in my bathroom, getting ready to go out. I had the music player on Shuffle. “Dancing in the Dark” came on, ushering in memories of Courteney Cox dancing with The Boss on stage in the 80s video. I’d picked up along the way that “Born in the USA” was about the least-patriotic song ever, and that Bruce was about as far from corporate jingoism as I was. So I let it play, thinking, “wow, maybe I like this song more than I remember.” As I applied mascara, leaning over to look in the mirror, I really listened:

“Message keeps getting clearer

Radio’s on and I’m moving ’round the place

I check my look in the mirror

I wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face

Man I ain’t getting nowhere

I’m just living in a dump like this

There’s something happening somewhere

baby I just know that there is

You can’t start a fire

you can’t start a fire without a spark

This gun’s for hire

even if we’re just dancing in the dark”

And it was like it was a whole new song. I was old enough, wizened enough, experienced and enlightened enough to GET Bruce. I also got really into Bob Dylan at that time, but that’s a blog for another time. Working, living, heartbreak, love, desire, loss – those are all anthems in both of those troubadors’ life’s works. And I’d finally lived enough to understand. And the message WAS getting clearer. By the second – and I always dance around my house, which I found a little coincidental. I wasn’t aging, really, but I didn’t know who I was anymore when I looked in the mirror, so CHECK. I wanted to change everything, but didn’t know how.

But then came the guitar solo, and with it, a call to action:

“You sit around getting older

there’s a joke here somewhere and it’s on me

I’ll shake this world off my shoulders

come on baby this laugh’s on me

Stay on the streets of this town

and they’ll be carving you up alright

They say you gotta stay hungry

hey baby I’m just about starving tonight

I’m dying for some action

I’m sick of sitting ’round here trying to write this book

I need a love reaction, come on now baby gimme just one look”

If I’d stayed on the streets of Tulsa, they would’ve carved me up alright. The last straw was when a woman I was working for (doing way too much for a part-time PR person, let me tell you) treated me like a dog, calling all my hard work into question. I let her make herself better by tearing me down. So I needed a love reaction — and that reaction was self-love and self-confidence. I’ll show you, I thought — and I meant it.

Then I went home that night and applied for every job I could. And now I live in Connecticut and work for the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

I didn’t leave right away, but the night I heard that song while getting ready to go out and probably drink too much, Bruce Springsteen broke through. And he was the spark that started the fire for me, the one that told me to get my shit together, to forgive those who hurt me and forget those who refuse to admit they’d hurt me, to shake the world off my shoulders.

My life changed that day, a little. Through the next few years, I lost friends, some forever. But for the first time in my life, I’d found ME – and I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I was willing to let go of the reins long enough to look around, and gave myself enough credit to believe a dream might come true.

Working at ESPN has been a dream – and a nightmare sometimes, but just a short one that’s worth it. I’m not sure I would’ve realized the dream if A) my mom hadn’t died and changed everything and B) I hadn’t lost so much in the way of love, money, friends, etc., C) I hadn’t embraced my faith and D) If I’d elected to hit skip when that song came on.

“Dancing in the Dark” was at least 30 years old when it changed my life. And I seriously doubt it’ll be the last time a Bruce lyric has that profound effect on me. I’ll never doubt him again.

 

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Why I Love Oklahoma (and a few things I don’t like about it)

I just got back from a week in Oklahoma, my native land, where my people are buried. And though I’m glad to be home, overjoyed to have the job I do and happy where I’m at, I still was a complete wreck on the plane, crying my eyes out watching Tulsa County slip away out of the tiny airplane window. I wore my sunglasses on the plane – I usually make fun of people who do that. But maybe they’re trying to hide their tears too.

It was cloudy, so my view was a bit obstructed. It cleared closer to Texas, and we began our descent into DFW in time for me to see the Red River snaking across the view. “We need rain,” I thought, my one-generation-removed-from-the-farm mind still kicking in.

In a few hours, I would be in New England again. I finally stopped crying once I left DFW on the second leg, but the tears came back on my road back to Bristol from Bradley. I was listening to Oklahoma music – I thought I’d better get all those emotions out now, before I go back to work. I certainly don’t want to cry in front of an NFL Hall of Famer or anything.

But I was thinking a lot on the drive home. About why I’m not in Oklahoma anymore. It’s not permanent, as I know I’ll be back there to retire whenever that is. Or whenever the Thunder want to make me head of communications… whichever comes first. But anyway, I thought of a co-worker of mine at ESPN who flat-out asked me once, “Why do people live in Oklahoma?” This was after a tornado, not just a general condemnation of the Sooner State. As I drove home, I thought of some of the reasons I love it, but also a few why I don’t. So without any further ado…

WHY I LOVE OKLAHOMA…

 It’s NOT:

  1. The heat. I was a few moments into a 90-degree Monday afternoon when I realized I just can’t hack the heat anymore. Fortunately, 99 percent of Oklahoma is cooled to the hilt with the best AC money can buy. But I’m quickly becoming an East Coaster who can’t tolerate anything over 80.
  2. The politics. Seriously, I’m sitting with my friends, many of whom have children, are teachers or just interested in education, and I’m realizing just how bad the schools and government are. Seriously, people, put politics aside – who cares who’s wrong and who’s right? You’re getting lapped by everyone else because you take tax breaks out on kids. This will have long-reaching effects. People won’t want to stay to raise their kids if the schools are the worst in the nation. And the job market isn’t as good as it should be. Oklahoma is an affordable state with natural resources out the ying-yang. If you wreck it now, it’s going to wreak havoc for years and years to come. What happened to the lottery saving education? Where is that money going? Quit trying to marry church and state again and let your kids get smart enough to make their own decisions.
  3. The roads. Yes, we pay high taxes in Connecticut. But our roads – even after 100-plus inches of ice and snow this winter – are in great shape. I got carsick on Oklahoma roads this time. Fix your infrastructure, or it’s all going to come crumbling down someday.

Now on to the good stuff.

 It IS:

  1. The people. Oh my God, it was great to be around people who genuinely seem to care about each other, even if they don’t know each other. I was in Reasor’s in Tahlequah on Saturday and saw so many people saying hi, thank you, excuse me, etc. – Hey, New England: It’s called human kindness. Try it. You’ll like it. Today, back in Bristol, I went to the grocery store and acted like an Oklahoman again. I will NEVER lose that part of myself, I hope. And besides – all my friends are there. I will never forget that. We had a full house in Tahlequah at Arrowhead, to celebrate the life of one of our great friends. I love them all, and realized that I couldn’t lose them if I tried. (And why would I do that? They like me in spite of me!)
  2. The weather (but not the heat). I had missed thunder and lightning so much – I got to hear and see it again. Also, thanks, weather gods, for the absolutely PERFECT Saturday afternoon on the Illinois River in Tahlequah! I also miss that winter lasts about 45 minutes, not six months like Connecticut.
  3. The food. Holy shit, ya’ll. Oklahoma food is just so much better than anything in Connecticut. Taco Bueno is so, so much better than anything they attempt to sell as “Mexican food” up here. It’s funny to see them try up here… but not funny to eat. Blargh. My first stop was Bueno, my last was Rib Crib. I somehow lost weight on vacation, but I think it’s because I was walking a lot.
  4. The accent. Because it makes everyone up here go, “Where  ARE you from?” It’s not Southern, really, and it’s not Texas. It’s Oklahoman, and it’s a thing of beauty.
  5. The music. Woody Guthrie started it. Let’s not let Crazy Wayne Coyne finish it…
  6. The heritage. A little bit of everything we are — mutts, half-Indian or 1/128th Choctaw, whatever you are. We look different than people do on the East Coast. And it’s beautiful. Oklahoma girls and boys are… well, HOT!
  7. The way it makes me feel. Oklahoma, for me, is a state of mind. When I first arrived last week, I walked off the plane and my Inner Oklahoman was fully engaged, like it had been on standby for three years, ready to spring back to life. It’s slower. It’s friendlier. It’s peaceful. And it’s home – always has been, always will be. The bones of my mother, grandparents, aunts, uncles and many friends take up residence in Oklahoma dirt. I ran my 1969 Cutlass into the weird wall in the parking lot of the Braum’s on 32nd in Muskogee. I got on stage with Tripping Daisy at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa (and had many, many more great times there, both pre- and post-air conditioning.) I drank to excess for the first time in Park Hill, Oklahoma, in a trailer full of people who would go on to become some of my best friends. I have fallen in and out of love, made and unmade friends, lost family, gained even more family, and found that I had to leave to get where I wanted – all that happened in Oklahoma – 36 of my 39 years were in Green Country. It’s who I am.

I could go on and on like this. And I guess crying every time I leave is going to keep happening, so I had better save some of it for the next trip. I’m going to leave part of myself in Oklahoma every time I go, I guess. But really, I’m already all the way there, and taking part of me to Connecticut every time I leave the Red Dirt State. It’s where I know I’ll end up someday, even if I talk real big about how I’m going to live out my days in San Francisco.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to do anything I want with my life, and moving to New England will help make that possible, thanks to my career and the wonderful company I work for – but I know that, for me, all roads lead to Oklahoma. Despite all that stuff I said above about what I don’t like about Oklahoma, I know I’ll be back. And when I do get back, meet me under that Oklahoma Sky.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKTUZ-ig57M&feature=kp

 

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The Electric Christmas Card: 2013 (Happy Holidays, ya’ll!)

First things first, let me wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope your holiday season is fantastic – and you get everything you want, physically or spiritually! Thanks for reading, for being my friend, and for supporting me and laughing at my lame jokes. Mucho amor, ya’ll.

Here it is, Christmas Day, and I haven’t sent out a single card. I had some written, but just like everything else I can’t get done at a computer, they wallow in the bottom of a tote bag somewhere, unstamped.

I did this last year, so yeah, we’ll call it tradition that I’m going to do an electronic Christmas card to all y’all. And I’m sure all y’all were just holding your collective breafs waiting for this.

So wait no more! Exhale! It’s time for the Electronic Christmas Card, 2013 Version.

 Part 1: Aunts Marching

elliottWhile I already had two perfectly acceptable nephews (Jesse and J.T., my sister Lila’s boys) my other sisters took it upon themselves to have more babies and increase the nephew population. Apparently my sisters are incapable of birthing girls, because Natalie, my oldest sister, WANTED a girl and got a boy anyway. I think she’s pretty happy with Elliott regardless. But he is sleeping in a Barbie princess bed.*

 (Key: * = UNTRUE.)

(But seriously, what gives? You can’t pick your baby’s sex nowadays? No flying cars AND only a 50 percent chance of getting what you want? Thanks, Obama!)

Elliott’s pretty great, even though I met him when he was a really-boring three weeks old. I Skyped with him (and Natalie – she just HAD to be there) recently and he appeared much more fun. Natalie didn’t want me to meet him when he was already fun for fear I’d steal him.* I would, too. Natalie says he’s a really good baby, so even I could probably keep him happy, or at the very least, fed.

Anna, my youngest sister, had a boy too, Henry. He’s OK, if you like ridiculously cute babies who love you right back.henry

I don’t know why, but for some reason, Henry really liked me right off the bat – except for the moment he did almost a complete backbend when I was holding him… But otherwise, I think he could tell then, at just under four months, that I’m that aunt who will give him everything he wants. I’ve already got a pony on back-order.

Meanwhile, Lila, the only sister still living in Oklahoma, is very kind and sends me pictures of Jesse and JT even though I never send her pictures of my cats or dog. J.T., her youngest, is having a hard time adjusting to Elliott being the baby. I bet he’ll end up loving his cousin… or maybe they’ll play on opposing professional basketball teams. Elliott will be with the Heat and J.T. with the Thunder… it’ll be epic! (Why yes I do work in sports, TYVM.) Her oldest son, Jesse, is in college (at the unheard of age of 7! Amazing!)* at Bacone in Muskogee. He’s kind of a big deal.

 Part 2: Katydid!

robkateMy middle sister Katy, who lives in Seattle, brought home news on Thanksgiving. Someone wants to marry her! I know! I can’t believe it either! Kidding, she’s fabulous, and her beau/betrothed Robbie is pretty great too. They are getting married in August in Seattle in a swamp or something hippie-dippie like that. And she’s not having a wedding party, which makes me ecstatically happy. I look terrible in every single bridesmaid’s dress ever made. I’m so proud of her, and so happy for both of them. But now I’m officially the old-maid sister.

 Part 3: My Brother the Roommate

My brother, Nick, has lived with me since early January. It’s made life in Connecticut better by a country mile (though I don’t think they say that or even have any nscountry miles here) and I don’t feel like the only weirdo in New England anymore. He graduated with his master’s, didn’t know what to do with his life, and moved to Connecticut. I might have promised him streets paved with gold and water made of wine – I really wanted him to move here. And I’m still glad to have him. He met a great girl who he took to Oklahoma for Thanksgiving. She’s still dating him, so I guess she liked our great state. If she didn’t, Nick might have ended it.

We are the biggest Okie-loving people in Connecticut, for sure. We have a full-size Oklahoma flag in the basement. We continually educate people about the Sooner State (no we don’t live in teepees, no we’re not all related to each other, yes there are hills in Oklahoma, yes I’ve met Carrie Underwood/Zach Swon, yes [insert name here] really is from Oklahoma…)  We also spend a great deal of time trying to replicate our home state’s delicious foods. I have become a damn fine biscuit and gravy chef, and I made chicken fried steak a few weeks ago. It wasn’t Hungry Traveler off Highway 40 near Henryetta good, but it cured what ailed me. It’s amazing to me still that you can’t find plum jelly here. And if you want something spicy at a restaurant, it better be Asian or you’d better be packing your own Sriracha.

We also have the NBA League Pass package, which takes me back to when we were kids, watching an NBA game every night. It’s good for my career… or something.

 Part 4: My Phone Autocorrects “Obama” to “Ibaka” and Other Sports Tales

ESPN campus in the fall -- it's really purty.

ESPN campus in the fall — it’s really purty.

Notice that all the love-life updates are about my family? It’s because I’m married to Mickey Mouse. So without further ado, let’s talk shop.

It’s my third Christmas in Connecticut, which is beyond bizarre because it honestly seems like I just got here. Work is all-encompassing, and I don’t mind at all. I love the job still, even though there are times I’m so far-removed from the “real world” that I forget to live in it. I no longer watch any news at all, it seems. I read headlines, AP wires and Bottom Line-style scrollers, but I don’t know what’s going on outside the sports world – at least not in-depth. My phone really does autocorrect our president’s name with the name of the 7-foot center-forward for the Thunder. I’m OK with this.

Regular holidays are work days to me. Having time off means I only check my email 10 times a day, as compared to 100. I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s a blessing to have this job, and this year was exciting. The highlights in news breaks and events:

NBA Draft: Nearly a full week in NEW YORK CITY and I get to go to the draft, serving as an editor? It was a lot – LOT – of work, but it was also an amazing experience. I got to see how live TV happens outside a studio setting. It ain’t easy, folks. The next time you see something weird happen on TV and think everyone’s just out getting stoned or whatever, keep in mind that making television is hard and what you just saw was a tiny crack in the porcelain. It could be so much worse!

mel

Melissa in Greenwich Village

Live TV aside, I got to meet all the top picks in the draft too. Most were gentlemen – Victor Oladipo, the Indiana stud who’s now with the Magic – was a gent in every sense of the word. Our reporter, Andy Katz, was interviewing him when Victor realized I was in the room. He stopped the interview to introduce himself to me and another woman who was there, apologizing for not doing so as soon as he walked in. Right then and there I wished for him to become an All-Star one day. I’m a sucker for a gentleman, especially a really tall one in fantastic clothes.

The trip was great – my wonderful stepmother, Melissa McConnell-Hart, stayed with me most of the week. We went to Little Italy, walked all over Greenwich Village and toured Ground Zero. She traipsed all over NYC while I worked, revisiting her stomping grounds from her early days with American Airlines, when she was based there. It was hotter than hell that week, but we had a great time. I ordered room service like three times. And learned to hail cabs. What a country!

Aaron Hernandez: During the NBA Draft, the Patriots tight end was arrested on homicide charges. Needless to say, that whole thing kinda took over the summer.

Boston Marathon Bombings: It was a dark day, one I felt compelled to work on. It was a very Boston-rich year, with Hernandez and the marathon bombings, then the World Series. I can’t say I’m a fan of Boston sports teams, but I do admire their grit. They take tough situations and use them as fuel. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots ended up winning it all this season too.

Biogenesis: So there was this little steroid sting this year that caused all sorts of chaos in the baseball world, especially with my favorite player, Ryan Braun. He was suspended 65 games for testosterone use. Alex Rodriguez was suspended too but hasn’t yet accepted that. Braun was suspended on the second day of the worst vacation I’ve ever taken (Leon was sprayed by a skunk on the first day, so the rest of it was spent cleaning and pouting) so I just think of it as the dark part of the summer. When A-Rod’s news broke (211 game suspension) I was NOT on vacation, and subsequently worked one of the longest, but more satisfying, days in my career. It’s something I can’t really explain—being a part of the news, watching it unfold, sitting in the control room while it’s happening… it’s just what I always wanted, and I had no idea. Small favors and all that… I’m thankful.

Interesting people I met this year: Besides the whole cast and crew at the NBA Draft, I met a lot of neat people this year.

kenjKen Jeong, from The Hangover and Community fame, was a guest host on SportsCenter this year. He was incredibly gracious, charming and did a really great job on SC.

Lovie Smith, a former University of Tulsa player and coach, was in Bristol shortly after being fired from the Bears. I nearly tackled him (like I did Mike Gundy when he was in Bristol) to talk Oklahoma. He obliged, very happy to talk about his former life in T-Town.

David Koechner, aka Champ Kind from Anchorman: We had to cancel Will Ferrell because of breaking news about Jameis Winston (the Florida State quarterback and Heisman winner). But we still had Champ in-house to make the rounds and shoot some promos for us. He was so nice – and he says he loves going to newsrooms because they all remember his lines from Anchorman!

Part 5: In Closing

A few more bullet points:

  • My group of friends suffered a huge loss this year, with my friend Clark dying unexpectedly right before my NBA Draft trip. Clark and I were planning to go to a Yankees game while I was in town. But he was taken from us so quickly. It nearly dropped me to my knees. I miss him—he was one of those souls who just made the air sweeter, one of those people who never treated anyone like a stranger. I’ve already blogged about him, so I won’t get into details on this Christmas day. It’s too sad. All of us are getting together in Florida in February to memorialize him. There have been a few Big Chill jokes already made… I’m looking forward to it, even if it’s a gathering for a sad event.
  • My parents finally came to Connecticut, and we had a great time. Dad, Melissa and I went to the Hill-Stead museum in Farmington, and it was a beautiful, crisp fall day. This autumn was exquisite, and I’m so glad they got to be here for that week. After they left, the temperatures dropped and it snowed.dadmel
  • My brother and I took a trip to Philly because my fabulous boss gave me her tickets to a Brewers-Phillies series. It was a fun drive, except for when we drove home and somehow ended up on the George Washington Bridge in New York City with my brother at the wheel. It was a complete panic situation for both of us, and I felt like Kevin Nealon in “Happy Gilmore,” giving Nick useless advice the whole time he navigated through NYC traffic… looking back, it was kind of hilarious.
  • When I met Elliott, I did so in his hometown of West Palm Beach, where Natalie moved a few years ago. It is the eppy-tome of gorgeous cities.
  • I went to opening day of the NFL season and tailgated to boot! My fantastic friend Fran, a proud Jets season ticket holder, took me to Bucs-Jets. It was glorious – I get why fans are the way they are about the NFL even though it’s not my favorite sport.jets
  • When I was in Dallas for Thanksgiving, I finally got to go to a real NHL game, and with my Canadian hockey-loving bro-in-law and Sharks season-ticket-holding cousin John. Now I’ve been to every type of pro game (except soccer and cricket… and those other non-‘Murican sports – kidding, kidding…)
  • I didn’t get to go to Oklahoma this year, which is a real travesty. But it only fueled my desire to get there next year!

So one more time, Merry Christmas, ya’ll! Let’s talk more next year, OK?

–Sarah

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