And The Winner Is…?

Debbie, I liked your previous post because it paints an interesting picture of a common struggle. Last night being the Academy Awards, I began thinking about the leading role in my own musical soundtrack to life.  I don’t happen to be a fan of the character Guilt, but if you take these sentences and insert the crowning performance of Fear, then I can identify!

Even sadder and more isolating than the loneliest number is the mental music we play when we lose ourselves in FEAR. FEAR is the indulgence of the unquiet mind. FEAR is the musical we can’t dance to.

I have only recently learned to avoid the opening nights of that little number. Life is so much better if I can stop the intro to the music of Fear and just pray about the topic that prompted the first few strains. Sometimes I’m powerless to take a negative thought captive. That’s when I ask for help, if I’m smart. Sometimes it’s prayer, sometimes it’s a call to someone else. Either way, it’s identification of the musical and choosing to listen to something else.

Yesterday I was scouting out a new oil site and was afraid I was going to get lost. That was a legitimate fear. I was 8 miles away from Nixon, Texas (no, not Richard, but John T, as in rancher and founder) and aside from mesquite and dusty roads, it was all desert-like wasteland. The more turns I made into the wasteland, the harder my heart pounded. It wasn’t hard to recognize the leading role in my imagination. It was Fear without costume or makeup!

The leading role of Fear is not always so rational and obvious. In fact, it’s the no-so-obvious cameo appearances that really ramp up the fear musical that plays in my head.

Like one this morning. I have Zune on my laptop so that I can transfer music and pictures from there to my new Sourround windows phone. Ever since I installed Zune, my picture program, Picasa, stopped working. I uninstalled and reinstalled Picasa, just now but to no avail.

I have a love-hate thing going with technology. I love it when it works, but it can tank my day when I don’t know how to fix problems. It’s fear that really causes my day to start going south. Okay and maybe a little frustrated anger. I wanted to post a picture of the area around Nixon for this piece, but no. Just for the illustration of how stark life becomes when Fear takes the lead, I’ll leave this blog without a picture.

I am sure that some of our readers would suggest other emotions that mark a downward descent in their day.  I would like to ask them.

So, all you Lurkers out there…who takes the leading role of your negative musical?

Guilt: The Musical

Do you remember the song One by Harry Nilsson? One made it to number five in 1969 when  Three Dog Night used it as the cover song on their debut album. I wasn’t quite a teenager yet but I remember the opening  line “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.” It would be hard to forget since it’s repeated a zillion times in the chorus. The song struck a chord with people. People who felt alone or isolated or different, or who were terrified they might, at some point find themselves alone or isolated or different.

Sad song. Even sadder and more isolating than the loneliest number is the mental music we play when we lose ourselves in guilt. Guilt is the indulgence of the unquiet mind. Guilt is the musical you can’t dance to. Sometimes guilt self inflicted. Often times guilt is flung by those oh-so-not-subtle looks or throw away sentences. We know when we’re expected to feel guilty.

“When she can’t bring me to heal with scolding, she bends me to shape with guilt.” — Libba Bray (The Sweet Far Thing).

There are some who seem  immune to guilt. There’s the Frank Sinatra, I Did It My Way (with just a few regrets) group. These folks seem to have a natural immunity. Others hear a different type of music: repentance, redemption, amends, dancing music. But for many, the song they can’t get out of their heads is guilt.


1: the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly: guilty conduct

2: the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously

3: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach

Guilt has a fan club. They seek out those with the proclivity for self-reproach. It makes their world go round. They are always busy watching, waiting, whispering, preying on perceived weaknesses; too shallow, or too mean to be reflective enough to experience what they so forcefully project.

Guilt is communicable. We catch it from our children, our parents, our neighbors, our friends, in churches, in grocery stores, in social action meetings. They inflict damage with the callousness of a virus, indiscriminately self-righteous.

Guilt, in varying degrees, comes naturally enough without the help of others. Most struggle with guilt: periodically or perpetually. Beyond real sin or mistakes, we’ve even invented new things to feel guilty about.  We’ve created a sub-category we call guilty pleasures.

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”
— Michael Pollan

Things we deem to be guilty pleasures include, but aren’t limited to: eating food that isn’t nutritious; reading books that aren’t found on the “100 novels you should read before entering college”/or Oprah’s Book Club list; “wasting” free time by doing anything “non-productive”; sleeping longer than the 7-8  if you’re an adult under the age of 75; watching television programs that aren’t on The History Channel or Discovery; listening to music that isn’t considered current, cutting edge or classical.

It isn’t enough to feel guilty about something bad or  just regrettable. We’ve learned to feel guilty about the innocuous, even the good.

When Aldous Huxley wrote Brave New World in 1931, he certainly got at least a portion of his anti-utopia right:

“Chronic remorse, as all the moralists are agreed, is a most undesirable sentiment. If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time. On no account brood over your wrongdoing. Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

Every moment spent wallowing in guilt is a moment of living, lost. Guilt is the loneliness number that you’ll ever do. Repent if  repentance is called for. Make amends if you’ve wronged another. It’s time to dance to your own soundtrack and let Guilt be the musical that plays to an empty house.

Butter Knife Security Works

January 3, 2011 by Debbie

I got up around 5 to find we’d made it through the night intruder free, butter knife latch in place. As the title indicates, we’ve been here for a week now. It  seems longer than I week ago when I think of getting the call while sitting in the out of commission Jeep, but the days never drag (calamities may contribute to the perceived speed of the passage of time).

This morning I began reading The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller in preparation for doing a book study with my daughter and was immediately challenged and encouraged. After a time of study and cinnamon rolls, Henry and I headed out on our morning jaunt.

Often when I’m especially discouraged or hurting, God reveals Himself in the most obvious ways to tenderly remind me that my heart matters to Him and that He is always present. Today wasn’t one of those days.

I headed out with Henry feeling happy and grateful. I chose the road less traveled (actually the side of the road less traveled by me since there’s less gravel on that side and I’m often rock-hounding while I walk). Sue, from Gold Beach, called last night and I was thinking about her and agates and the ocean as a giant white crane swooped overhead.

By the time I could unsheathe my camera, the crane was gone but at my feet, there were little white sea shells – in the middle of a dirt road on a ranch in southern Texas!

OK, I think they were actually snail shells that fell off the gravel truck. But I smiled at the Lord and thanked Him for such a sweet surprise on a day when I didn’t think I needed Him to do anything extra ordinary.

Funny part is that I felt apologetic at first and found myself saying, ‘I’m OK today, You really didn’t have to go to all that trouble’.That thought stopped me and made me question my theology and my philosophy. What is grace but a continual out pouring special treatment, unmerited and often unnoticed but never unavailable.

Half In, Half Out

January 2, 2011 (written by Debbie)

Sunday, January 2,2011 started out as a quiet, if chilly new day. I got up just before 6 to find Henry shivering in his bed. The little space heater that had seemed more than adequate the night before, set at half power, couldn’t keep up with the plunging Texas temperatures as we went from 70+ to 27 overnight! I gathered up Henry and his blanket, lit the oil lamp, not because it gives out any heat, but the flame looks warm, and held Henry until he finally quit shaking around 8.

We’ve fallen into a semblance of a routine: I take care of the garbage,, and you now who well that’s ‘workin for me’. I’m hoping that the dump will have come back tomorrow since the Jeep is smelling a little ripe and now we have to set the garbage in the hall to take a shower. I work the gate and write posts we can’t post because we have not internet, and take care of Henry. Heidi organizes, solves problems, fixes all things in need of fixing and cooks (homemade cinnamon rolls today)!

I just sat down to start recounting our uneventful but very cold morning when the bells rang. Since leaving the computer meant crawling over Henry, two chairs and wrestling into my bright orange security guard vest, Heidi left her organizing and bounded out to open the gate, slamming the door enthusiastically behind her.

The tanker lumbered past and I waited for Heidi to come back in. Nope. Not then and not for another 5 hours. The door latch that had acted up on occasion over the past couple of years outdid itself today and latched up for good. Heidi was locked out and Henry and I were locked in.

We started passing things through the kitchen window: keys, screwdrivers, tea, advice. After completely disassembling our door mechanism and finding it still stubbornly locked, we migrated to the front window.
First came the step-ladder that our boss in CA was going to throw away last summer; then the pricey Camping World leveling blocks that we don’t use for leveling but that have come in handy several times for other things, like making them into a giant yellow Lego platform today; and finally the little collapsible step which usually serves as a seat but today was a much-needed step.
Next in the window was Heidi, who examined the door, made a sweep through the RV, replacing, storing and gathering, and then back out the window she went. She thought it best to make a few practice runs in and out in case we had to keep using that option for a few days.

We called the county sheriff’s office to get the name of a locksmith, but the sheriff was ‘in the field’ and didn’t have a phone book. He thought the only one was Pop -A-Lock in San Antonio. The only other number we had was one of the gate guards Heidi met yesterday. She called Gloria and got the name of the only RV repair guy in the area and then got his answering machine (Sunday).

So, after passing Henry in and out of the window to go to the bathroom, Heidi sat outside in her Gander Mountain chair with a book and some tea and opened and shut the gate. Larry, our supervisor drove by yelling “Hi, Heidi!”. Shortly after that, Bob, another gate guard Heidi met yesterday, stopped by to see if we needed anything from town since he was headed in. He took a look at the door and made an attempt to let me out or Heidi in but couldn’t figure it out either.

Bob talked to Larry who came roaring in a few hours later. “Sugar, why didn’t you call me for help?” Larry calls everyone Sugar but it never seems inappropriate. Of course I call everyone Honey, so what do I know. Sounds like the lyrics to an Archie’s song, huh? Anyway, Larry crawled in and out of the window for about an hour and a half with his wrench and screwdriver and one of our butter knives.

It’s dark now and we have a nice square hole where the door latch used to be, a crack in the door, a very bent butter knife we’re using as a temporary latch and a dishcloth to keep the flying things out.

Henry would like to me to add that in spite of being left alone in the RV on Interstate 10; left and lost in the Catholic church parking lot; being locked in the Jeep at the dump in the sweltering heat; being terrorized into constipation by the 19 long-horns and bulls; being nearly frozen in his own bed; and finally, being passed in and out of the RV window to do his business, all in all, life is good.

Disappearing Dump

December 31, 2010

Heidi’s day 4 began @ 3:30 a.m.  A tanker came in to get, of all things, salt water? He was here for about an hour. That was it for sleep for Heidi. The rest of the day we had the usual : the Foreman, the Gauger, and the Ranch-hands, the trucks and the tankers. The RV has been transformed from looking like a crash pad for the homeless to a real home.

So much progress was made that I was given a second chance to go to the dump to take the garbage I forgot yesterday and check out the town. Much to my surprise, the dump was gone altogether today. That would have really confused me yesterday but would have been much nicer for Henry! I guess it was time for the pickup to dump the dump. I tied my bags a little tighter and headed back into Tilden.

Inspired by Thornton Wilder, I was determined to really see ‘Our Town’.

My first stop was the Post Office where I asked what I needed to do to set up general delivery mail? The cross lady in the Peace is for People Too shirt said she had no idea but would call her boss. The answer: my name, General Delivery, Tilden TX, 78028, but only for 30 days? I asked her if she needed to see my driver’s license or some ID? She said: “Oh no, we have gate guards doing this all the time”. Maybe they just don’t come in when she’s working or know better than to disturb her peace.

Fully informed on the postal regulations, I crossed the street to the Shell Station /Mercantile to see what staples they might have and get some directions. It turns out they stock a whole lot of camouflage shirts and cowboy hats, broasted chicken, dusty bottles of wine, Texas shaped souvenirs and whole, but not Sskim milk. I stood in line, empty-handed to ask inappropriate questions like is there a laundry mat? (Pleasanton), a car wash? (just a smirk at that one), a park? (you can let them play on the play ground at the school since it’s Christmas break). I said they actually ‘they’ are just a Schnoodle in need of a little romp and stomp time so the clerk sent me to the rodeo.

As it turned out, Henry and I had the rodeo grounds all to ourselves and he did romp and stomp for a while until I started worrying about sunning rattlesnakes and stray scorpions and put a halt to his exploration of the many, many fun smells.

The fun smells that waylaid me on the way home come from Max’s Motel and Diner. When Cliff brought me home yesterday, he mentioned the food was really great. He must have mentioned that to a lot of other people too because the parking lot was packed.

I ordered a hamburger and fries and an order of Max’s Special Nachos to go and waited and waited. It wasn’t especially hot or sunny today and Henry has become so used to being locked in abandoned vehicles that when I went out to check on him, he was asleep in his bed in the back seat.

Back inside  I began to wonder if I should have asked what makes the Max’s Special Nachos ‘special’ after surveying the wall ornaments: at least a dozen trophy buck, the pre-requisite ox skull (I think they’re from oxen, maybe not), a ram, but the worrisome part was the extremely large boar’s head in the main room and the wall of boars above a long table of beer drinking, camouflaged cowboys.

I took my pictures over the tops of their hats thinking that might be less intrusive and more subtle. As if there’s anything subtle about a middle-age woman in a Stonehenge t-shirt ducking between tables, flashing a point and shoot.

40 minutes later, I left with my two Styrofoam containers of food, many pictures of stuffed animals and a $5 4-H raffle ticket purchased from the waitress’s daughter.  If my name is drawn Monday night, I could win a Remington Shur-Shot 12 GA. Shotgun or a Kenmore upright freezer or one of many other swell prizes!

I raced home (40 is 5 mph over the speed limit for our road) fearing Heidi might think I was roasting Henry again. When we sat down to eat we both were amazed! It was the best beef  we’d had since leaving Iowa. It may even be better than Iowa beef. As a matter of fact it may not have even been beef at all!

The day wound down with Heidi taking a nap to catch up from last night, me reading Angry Housewives and falling a sleep in the chair, still holding my coffee and book like the really old person that I am, and Henry on high alert, protecting us from the 3 bulldozers laying a new water line just up our lane. I lost all three hands of Gate Guard Rummy (since we have gates and no Gin, it seems like a better name) and we each won one game of Cribbage. And on a very quiet note, 2010 came to an end.

Excuse Me…I’m In a Panic

December 30, 2010  by Debbie

Having spent my first 50 years in the mid-west, I still can’t believe it can be 85 degrees at the end of December. I love seeing pictures of snow and I think I miss winter until it gets to be about 36 and I’m whining about being cold. Maybe I’ll just learn to enjoy the more subtle seasonal changes.

As the gate slowed down early this afternoon, it was decided that Henry and I should take a drive into Tilden to find the town dump. Always game for an outing, Henry settled in the back seat in his bed and off we went.

My directions were to go into town and turn right at Hill Top Cemetery Road and go to the new cemetery. Tilden also has an old cemetery, Boot Cemetery, which is something of a historic landmark. To be buried in Boot Cemetery, it was necessary to not only be dead, but to be buried with your boots on. As fashions changed, a new cemetery, Hill Top Cemetery was established about 100 years ago, for the bootless.

Henry and I drove the 6 miles out our road to the hwy and then around 4 more to the crest of the hill. As we rounded the final corner, I was inexplicably surprised to find out that it was a Port-a-Dump. I jumped out with my camera to take a quick picture! A dump, hooked up to a pickup, now that was something!

It was hot and the flies and bees were buzzing so I threw my camera and keys on the front seat and manually unlocked the back door to grab the trash bags. I kicked the driver’s door shut while reaching for the handle of the back door, almost simultaneously.

Clearly not quite simultaneously since the door slammed and the Jeep locks clicked as I stood, staring at my camera and keys, resting inside. I made the quick, futile trip trying each door and the hatch, in case of malfunction. But no, all locks had latched appropriately. No extra key hidden and no cell phone, all I had was a $20 in my pocket.

With a brief explanation to Henry, I set off to begin my 10 mile hike back to the RV, hoping to find someone in town I could pay to take me home. I walked past the cemetery cats and the small herd of cows and grave markers in the shape of cowboys and the great state of Texas.

After about a quarter of a mile, I came to a house with 2 men in the driveway. I sputtered out my story, waving my money and pretty much begging for a ride to the RV for the other set of keys. I nearly cried with relief when Cliff, who’d just returned from deer hunting and was sipping his first beer, said “Sure, hop in.”

15 minutes later, we made it to the RV. Another 15 and Heidi (she insisted on going because she was sure Henry would be dead) was back at the dump with Cliff to find a man there calling the county sheriff because ‘some fool had left a small dog locked in a Jeep in the sweltering heat’.

In typical fashion, Henry remained unperturbed while Heidi gave him an abundance of water to drink. He was happy to sit in the air conditioning in the front seat but was less impressed with the pint or two of water she poured over his head to lower his body temperature. He pranced into the RV, tail wagging as usual, completely unaware of the peril he’d been in. I felt awful and gave him lots of extra attention which he cheerfully took full advantage of.

Heidi decided to put a hummingbird feeder on the fence near our gate and then walk off her residual fear. First task accomplished, she headed down our road toward the lake. 5 minutes later she came running back for the camera to take pictures of the  “4 beautiful cows” that had suddenly appeared at the fence right next to her. Heidi loves cows! I was so happy that the day was taking such a pleasant turn, until I heard her shouting: “The cows are coming! The cows are coming!”

Heidi loves cows. Heidi hates/fears bulls (childhood trauma that may be elaborated on at some future date). The 4 beautiful cows turned out to be 19 Longhorns steers and bulls that had broken away from the other 181 confined to a different part of the ranch.

As afternoon drew to a close, they grazed around the hummingbird feeder and we prayed for no gate business since we’d need to walk up and say ‘Excuse me’ to open it. No one came, Henry happily accepted a variety of apology treats, and soon the small patch of grass was depleted. At dusk, the renegade herd ambled off into the sunset of our 3rd day in Tilden.