What are we talking about today?

I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week, but this is the a basic idea of what you can expect to read about when.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

23 February 2017

Public Performance

The amazing Angela wrote an excellent thing about public grief for celebrities a couple months back, which got us talking a little bit about performative grief and why humans engage in it. I still don't have answers, but sometimes putting fingers on keyboard yields coherent thought. Let's see.

Speaking of performance--why
else would this expression resonate
with so many?
I first learned the expression "performative _____" in an Introduction to Theatre class my final semester at UT. Our instructor spent an early lecture talking about the distinctions between theatre and performance, because all of life is performance. (Think about the choices you make this morning-- showered or not? Shaved or not? What do you wear? How does your hair/makeup look? Do you drive, walk, bike, or take transit to work? And the critical one--what do all those performances say about you?) Calling it a performance doesn't make it any less genuine--I walk to work instead of driving and it's absolutely a statement about what's important to me, but that doesn't change the fact that I get there every day. Ditto for those who drive in and daily complain about the traffic. We still arrive. Transportation was performed, by different people with different lifestyles and preferences.

Social media adds an extra dimension to our performance, and one of the reason I love it so much is that it gives me the chance to reflect on my own performance as well as those happening around me, share those thoughts with friends, get feedback--my whole life has devolved into one long metadiscourse, and engaging with others' metadiscourses at the same time. You know what? I'm okay with that--if for no other reason that it allows me to know people differently than if I merely saw them at the water cooler a couple times a day. It's still a performance, and a carefully curated one at that, but there's a reason I call many folks I know from Twitter "friends" even if we've only met in real life once or twice. Or never. What's presented face-to-face is no less curated, but it's a different collection of what makes me me than I can share online. Or of what makes you you.

What does this have to do with public grief? As Angela points out, it would be so much cooler to read the stories of how this or that celebrity touched lives. And that's what many folks share, and it's beautiful. And many more of us content ourselves with "RIP _____" or "Enough already!" or something in between. Because, I think, not knowing the deceased personally makes it a bit of a struggle to know how to respond appropriately, but the human brain craves that connection with others, to collectively acknowledge that something has shifted in the world. And, for many, there's a need to be seen engaging with the story of the day. So we post our memes and sad emojis and favourite YouTube clips, and after a couple of days our desire for that connection and/or display is met. And a new performance stands ahead of us, waiting for us to engage.

So is it a good or bad thing? I'm not sure I can say. What do you think?

22 February 2017

Ground Transportation

This tweet came rolling across my timeline a couple weeks before my latest adventure in roaming the country to escape my emotion of the day:
I can't speak about Disney from personal experience, although I have anecdotally heard similar sentiments about how everyone loves Main Street, USA, because of its car-free walkability and nostalgia and whatnot. If only they'd all go home committed to asking their city council to make their own main street more like that one, eh?

Airport transportation, however, is another thing. I use it almost every time I travel, usually to transfer between terminals, although during my layover at DFW on Monday afternoon I absolutely took Scott's excellent suggestion to ride around on the Skylink to combat boredom. (It's possible he was joking. I did it anyway, mostly in search of better food than what was on offer at my gate.)

I didn't take any pics on the DFW Skylink, nor on the train
in Houston, but I did see this back home. These signs are
 all through the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport
to remind folks to be active while waiting for a plane.
Sure beats standing in another Starbucks line.
The Cincinnati airport has a train, too, although the trek through the underground tunnel between the terminals in a nice one and I've not yet been tempted onto the train. (In the interest of research for this post, I was planning to use it Monday night, but it was at middle-of-the-night service levels and as such, was not worth the wait.) I can certainly see its usefulness for the exhausted, the mobility impaired, those with small children, women wearing high heels, and anyone who isn't trying to squeeze a few more steps into her day to win a challenge on her wearable activity monitor.

So, here's my extremely unscientific observation: yes, airport transportation is a microcosm of our greater public transportation, in many ways. (Click through and read the whole thread above, by the way; it's great.) Folks stand anxiously in front of the doors staring up at the sign, then back at their ticket, then back at the sign again, before finally stepping aboard hoping they've made the right choice. They aren't certain what to do once inside--crowd by the door? (No.) Move further in and grab a rail to hang on? (Yes.) They're equally timid about stepping off again, in case they got the wrong exit. (Actual conversation I overheard in Houston on Friday: "This is our stop." "Are you sure?" "Yes, I'm sure." "How do you know?" "It's on the board right there, and there was just an announcement." "There was an announcement??" In fact, there were at least three.) And that's in an airport filled with employees who are literally paid to get you where you need to go. No wonder folks are so shy about using transit in places where mistakes in navigation take a lot longer to adjust, if the airport train causes that much anxiety.

But I don't think that's a good enough excuse. The things that make airport trains useful and attractive--frequency, reliability, safety, easy-to-understand wayfinding, speed--are the same ones that make all transit user-friendly and successful. Or the opposite, when those factors are missing. What if cities approached all public transit with the idea of moving a bunch of people in a hurry for low cost while minimizing their inconvenience?

That would be a great step toward making all our Main Streets the happiest place on earth.

21 February 2017

Teaser Tuesday #47

Image source: Goodreads.
What the Living Do, Marie Howe

In the dream I had when he came back not sick
but whole, and wearing his winter coat,

he looked at me as though he couldn't speak, as if 
there were a law against it, a membrane he couldn't break.


Soon I will die, he said, and then 
what everyone has been so afraid of for so long will have finally happened,

and then everyone can rest.

(Yes, I really turned to a random page. The whole book is like this.)

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, once upon a time hosted by MizB from Should Be Reading (and now I just can't tell if it has a host at all. But why stop?). Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (Make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

20 February 2017

On a Break

Yesterday was the end of the sad stuff; it's safe to come out now! (Who am I kidding. People love it when I post sad stuff. It's more like, you can go back to whatever other sad things you were reading, because I'm done for now.)

Fantastic race logo from the
@springfootep Twitter.
Next week I'll tell you all about the race and what my time was (well, maybe) and whatnot. In the meantime, it's probably all over my Twitter, if you're desperate to hear about it.

Also in the meantime, I'm on a running break to give my legs some time to recover. Next Monday I start training for the Indy Mini (Meb is going to be there again!!). Ten weeks to go until I run 13.1 in Indianapolis chasing a PR--if not an absolute PR, which may still be out of reach, then at least my fastest once since my absolute fastest.

See you next week. For now, I have my feet up.

19 February 2017

What Not to Say, Updated

Writing my weekend blog posts before I go out of town is the closest I'll ever get to time travel. Right now, while you're reading this, I'm probably asleep in El Paso. But while I'm writing it, I'm very much awake on Thursday night in Cincinnati. What's it like in the future, y'all? You don't have to tell me-- I'll be awake and running in the future in just a few hours. I tried doing the math on how many hours, but going two time zones west is too much for my puny brain.

Anyway. Today's post is an update on one I wrote back when I'd only been widowed a few months, now that I've had a bit of time to recover from the bizarrely dumb things some folks said. Whether we like it or not, the wrong words will pour out of our very human mouths when faced with other peoples' grief. Can you avoid that? Probably not, but I'll give you a few ideas. A cheat sheet, if you will. Please do remember that grief is somewhat idiosyncratic, and what seems callous to one person will seem reasonable to another.

I honestly didn't take photos of
fancy old gravestones so I'd
have images for my grief-y
 blog posts, but I do admit it's
worked out well.
Things that are good to say

1. "Please text/call/Facebook me, even if it's the middle of the night."

This is not for casual acquaintances. You should only say this to someone with whom you already have a text/call/Facebook relationship. You should also edit it to fit your own boundaries--if you have small children in the house, 2 AM phone calls may not be how you can help, for example. Only say this if you are willing for the person to take you up on it.

I have about six people, scattered across multiple time zones and with assorted sleeping habits, who I took up on this offer (and still do, from time to time). I can usually find someone awake during my middle of the night when it's not that hour for them.

2. "What can I bring you?" 

This one works for anyone, unless the bereaved has some sort of restraining order against you. Be prepared with suggestions if the person says "I don't know." Be prepared with non-food ideas if the person says "My fridge is full." Be prepared to get a gift card if the person says, "No, thank you," but gift-giving is still one of your love languages. They'll appreciate it later. Promise. (You know, apart from the aforementioned restraining order people. Those folks should stay away.)

3. "Can I go to the bank/supermarket/library/etc. for you?"

Yes. Yes, you can. Again, maybe this isn't something you'd say to someone you've only said hello to twice. If you don't know them well enough to know if they're too private to accept this offer, skip straight to a nice sympathy card with some kind words inside.

4. "Do you want to go to (fun thing you guys usually do together)?"

Give this one a while before asking the first time, and keep in mind that the answer will likely be 'no' for a while. Please, please don't stop asking. One day, the answer will be 'yes' again.

5. Sharing a favourite memory or something you liked or appreciated about the departed person is always welcome.

Note: this means other kinds of stories, like "most embarrassing moment" or "something horrible he did to me when we are kids," are probably not welcome. Don't be the weird cousin who tells awkward stories at the wake.

6. Go to the funeral.

It's the best chance to show that you care. You don't even have to say anything. I'd be lying if I said I have instant recall of every person who was at Chadwick's funeral, but I do know that every person who stepped through the door made my heart swell a bit more. Especially those who travelled long distances and were a surprise. You never know how much your presence will bless someone.

7. "I care about you."

Just don't be creepy. If you don't know the person well enough to be non-creepy, there's always the standard-issue and perfectly acceptable:

8. "I'm so sorry to hear of your loss." 

Cliched? Sure. Appreciated? Oh, yes. Ever so much more than the ones we're about to go over.

This one was both sweet and sad. I wonder if Martha
has any living descendents who know she and her baby
are remembered here.

Things That Are Better Unsaid; or, Please See #7 Above

1. For the love of everything, please don't race to post your condolences on Facebook. And if you do, don't act surprised if the family is less than pleased.

If you don't know for sure that all family and friends who should hear the news firsthand have been informed, find something else to do with your fingers for a couple hours. I recommend a good cup of tea and perhaps a crossword puzzle. Honestly, the deceased is not going to get any less dead if you don't say something right away. Even if your intentions are good, please wait. Go ahead and send a text to the widow(er) if you like, though--but again, don't expect an immediate response, or indeed any response at all. It's not a grief-off.

Also, if you think you should have been among the first to get a phone call and weren't, or you read it from someone on Facebook before you got the call, take any aggravation/resentment you may feel about that and deal with it, appropriately and quietly. "Appropriately" is not saving it up for a couple years and then airing your grievances, by the way. Give the bereaved some slack--some of mine and Chadwick's relatives and good friends found out from Facebook, because there are only so many times anyone can say, "My husband died this morning" before it gets to be too much.

2. "S/He's in a better place."

This may be true, but that doesn't mean you have to say it out loud in the presence of family members who are struggling just to stay upright. (Hawaii is also a better place, but I wouldn't want him going there and leaving me behind, either.)

And the next is like unto it:

3. "It's comforting to know that s/he's with Jesus." 

It may not be, actually. So keep that one to yourself and enjoy being comforted by the thought, if it helps you.

4. "God needed him/her more that you did."

No, God bloody well did not. If this is the best you can do, just sign the guest register and take a seat with your mouth closed. This is a terrible thing to say, not only because it's not comforting, but also because it turns God into some kind of weirdo body-snatching alien from a bad horror movie. Just don't.

5. "Did you guys know he was sick?" or "Was this a surprise?"

I cannot stress this enough: there's a good chance this is none of your business, and in the first few weeks, the bereaved probably doesn't want to share it hundreds of times. Other people have almost certainly asked before you. I honestly got asked this so many times that I started telling people that a pulmonary embolism is an acute condition that can happen to anyone at any time, which is not 100% true, but usually gave the questioner reason to ponder his or her own mortality, preferably somewhere I wasn't.

After a while, people started to phrase it as, "Can I ask what happened?" which at least gives the bereaved a chance to say "I'd rather not talk about it" if that's how they feel. If you simply must ask, this is probably the way to do it.

6. "How are you?" or "How are you, really?"

I know, I know. It seems like a well-intentioned, innocent enough question. The problem is, every second person asks it, putting the emphasis in those exact places. The further problem is, when asked that way, this question implies a close relationship that the person in grief may not feel right then. A better option than this is #1 from the "What to Say" list, which gives the widow(er) the choice about when and how much to talk to you about how she/he really is.

7. Anything that might be trying to get the person to look on the bright side.

We're not going to get to the bright side any faster just because some dimwit is trying to "help" get us there. This is, in fact, one of those times when looking on the dark side is totally appropriate. There's a road out, but in no universe does someone come out of the darkness faster if you shine a Maglite into their face. Again, sit down and be quiet if you can't come up with anything else.

I've probably missed some important ones, but this should be enough to get you started. Above and beyond all else, think before you speak. Always. That's the best way to save everyone some aggravation, embarrassment, and heartache.

18 February 2017

Two Years

I was just going to get up early and go to Ash Wednesday service before work. Maybe take a long break in the middle of the day to finish my reading for class that night. Remind Chadwick that he needed to call his doc to see if he could get right away since he hadn't been feeling well and we couldn't figure out why.

The service was forgotten, the reading never got done, and the doc wasn't needed, although the "why" was answered within 24 hours, because there was an investigation underway that urgently needed a coroner's report.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Some folks have asked because news in those first few days was slow to spread after the initial word went out. (I probably never wrote it down anywhere, truthfully.) And there are a lot of people in my life now who I'd never met two years ago. So for anyone who's still wondering, here's how it all went down.

He wasn't feeling well on Tuesday evening. We went to the Pancake Dinner at church, and someone gave us a lift home after, which was a good thing because I'm not sure now he would have made it if we'd taken the bus. (On the other hand, had he collapsed on the side of the road I would have called an ambulance and they may have saved him. But that's the last of the what-ifs I'm going to let myself wander down, honestly.)

He didn't love the show, but he loved this line.
We sat on the couch, I tried to do some homework, and he scrolled through Netflix and told me all the details of whatever episode he'd last watched of everything. He ate all my post-half-marathon ice cream I hadn't eaten yet (with my permission). At 11:30, we said goodnight and I went to bed. The last thing I said to him was, "I love you. I'll see you tomorrow."

Sometime in the night, I heard him come into our bedroom. I immediately went back to sleep and didn't get up until my alarm went off at 5:45. I found him where he'd fallen on the bathroom floor, and when he didn't respond to my shaking him I checked his pulse (none), then called 911. The operator had me do chest compressions until the ambulance arrived, which in the immediate aftermath I suspected was just to keep me occupied until the paramedics arrived. Of course, I do know that it could have made a difference if it weren't already too late. At the time, and in the weeks that followed, I felt robbed of that last chance to sit and hold him. I guess I still kind of do.

The medics pulled him out of our bedroom and into the living room, and one of them sent me away while they worked on him. Another came to talk me through what was happening. I think I was probably praying? I really can't remember. Nor do I remember them stopping and calling him DOS. It wasn't until they were packing up their stuff that I snapped back into reality as the woman who'd been talking to me said they would stay until the police arrived. I made the first few calls (to Denise, my mom, and somebody from church, if memory serves) before the police arrived to tell me there was going to be an investigation.

This is the part that always horrifies people--that I was (or would have been, if the coroner had ruled his death suspicious) a suspect for that first day. I asked the police if I could change my clothes (I was still in pajamas) while they talked to the medics, they said I could but I had to leave the door open. In the meantime, I couldn't touch anything in the house--no making a cup of tea, no having breakfast, and I hadn't even used the loo yet. To the officers' annoyance, first Denise and then a string of folks from church started arriving while they were still getting photos from the scene and a statement from me. (Maybe a statement from Denise, too? I can't remember that, either.) Their grief counselors sat with us until the Red River Church contingent arrived and there was just no more space in my bedroom. A lot of people saw my bedroom that day.

Meanwhile, back in Indiana, my mother was on the phone with a travel agent, my father was on the phone with his employer, and my sister-in-law was on the phone with my niece's school. More or less. Somehow, they all managed to get on a plane in the wee hours the next morning. (It was 9° in Indianapolis when they left. It was 65° in Austin when they arrived. So that was something.)

I don't know how many calls I made before I couldn't do it any longer. I asked one person in Lubbock to make a couple calls for me that I would have liked to make for myself if I hadn't run out of steam. I asked Keely to find a way to reach Dawn in Scotland--the internet on my phone wasn't working (I was still stuck in my bedroom), and it wasn't until later that I'd find out that was because the medics had unplugged my modem to plug in their machinery. I knew that I had to call Chad's dad in California pretty early, earlier than I would have liked, because the flood of incoming text messages had already let me know that the news was on Facebook.

After the coroner took him away and the police left after letting me know that they'd be in touch, I finally got to use the loo. And have a cup of tea. And the pastor went to Starbucks and brought me breakfast before gently mentioning that there would have to be a funeral, of course Red River Church was at my disposal, and did I have anyone in mind to conduct the service? I probably said, "You!" before he even finished the sentence.

The photo we used at the funeral. (We didn't have his body
there, because to do that you have to pay for embalming,
and the cost for embalming is kind of a waste when
you're just going to cremate the body.) It's pretty accurate.
People and food started arriving, the church elders and their wives cleaned the house despite my protests, and I put Chadwick's glasses on a shelf so they didn't get crushed. The organ donor folks called to confirm the tissue donation. By the way, they were great--not only did they walk me through the process as kindly as possible, but I also got a series of very kind thank-you notes and some follow-up grief resources. Someone took me for a walk around the block and asked how Chadwick and I had met.

The next day, the coroner called to tell me it was a pulmonary embolism, probably caused by all the walking around he did at the Austin Marathon three days earlier. The police called to tell me the investigation was closed. I called a funeral home to tell them they had a customer. (The funeral home called my mother "Mrs. Wilcox" twice. I can understand their confusion--the widow isn't usually the youngest one in the group.)

"To love another person is to see the face of God," and it's important to remember that love is a verb. I've never been so loved in my life as I was those first few days. People brought hugs, and cleaning supplies, and paper products (it was literally a year before Denise and I had to buy toilet paper), and M&Ms (which my father promptly ate), and Torchy's Tacos (which Denise swears she'll never eat again), and more food than our fridge could hold. I don't know how I got through those days, but I know it wouldn't have happened without the steady, constant wall of people coming and going and bringing and talking and taking out our rubbish. (And our recycling. We had a joke about that, but it doesn't write down well, so you'll just have to think funny thoughts about recycling on your own.)

At some point I gave up writing thank-you notes, and if I missed you I'm really sorry about that, but I haven't forgotten your kindness. I have to love for two people now, and the love I feel when I think about those first days overwhelms me, that kindness can so alleviate grief, that burdens can be so beautifully shared.

The song we played at his funeral. I wasn't kidding about it being LOTR-themed.

17 February 2017

When the Only Way to Cope is to Leave

I'm headed to El Paso tomorrow to run a half marathon--I may have mentioned it once or twice before now. But there's another reason I'm leaving town.

For the first Deathiversary, I went to Dallas. This year it's El Paso. I don't really want this to be a thing--that I have to go to a major Texas city every February 18--but the timing worked out well to go see some kind, welcoming friends on a day they know is hard. It'll be nice to cry at familiar faces instead of ones I've just met. And then the next day I can literally run away from my feelings. Brilliant.

I have standing permission to swipe (with credit, natch) photos
from Scott's social media, although now that I think about it he may have
only extended that permission if I were going to use them for BikeTexas.
I'm not sure we ever discussed me using them on my blog. Huh.
So, thank you, Scott! Also, wow, look at this sunrise. Can't wait to see that
in person. (And the race starts at 7 AM, so I'll get a good look at it.)
Photo source: @sbwhite on Twitter. (You should follow him. He's great.)
I work in a mental health office, with coworkers who are amazing and talented and just incredible at what they do, but you can understand why I hesitate to make the "running away from my feelings" joke in a building full of mental health counselors, in case they start to worry about me. Don't get me wrong; they probably should worry, but I don't want them to know that, either. Fortunately, not that many people who have to see me every day want to read my thoughts when they go home.

Anyway. Sitting alone in my apartment, even if I stocked up with ice cream and cookies and all the Netflix I can handle, does not appeal. If this day has to come round once a year, I'd rather greet it by being up and going and doing and running off to another city instead of hanging out here with the ghosts and memories and what-ifs and bitter regrets. This one day a year, I can't cope with solitude and silence. I can't take being alone on the day that began a long journey of loneliness. I can't.

And so far, running away from my feelings has been a valid coping strategy, so I'm not about to mess with that. See you tomorrow, El Paso.



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