Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Family Rules

Think I could write a book of reunion survival tips?
It’s family reunion time! This weekend yours truly is kickin’ it with the kin for the annual Lawson Family Reunion. We’ve been going strong for five years now. Yes, our reunion gatherings are fairly young, but momentum continues to build. The reunions have been in a variety of places including Belle Glade, Jacksonville, Atlanta and Orlando. This year we’re heading to West Palm Beach.

Family gatherings are always a joyous occasion for me. What’s not to enjoy? You’re together with all your family. The family elders talk about the past. The young folks talk about the present. The babies dream about the future. Family love is just all over the place.

There might be some people that find family gatherings less than appealing. Well no need to fear. If you’re headed to a family gathering anytime soon, I have a few survival rules to make the day as entertaining as possible.

1. Prepare funny responses to annoying questions and comments from family members, particularly Grandpa Buford, who you haven’t seen or talked to recently. If he asks, “When are you getting married?” just respond, “Never. I want to be a cat lady.” Then start meowing and rubbing your imaginary cat. This works if you’re a male or female.

2. When Uncle Buster starts telling you the stories from back in 1902 begin singing every last word of the sentence. He’ll look at you crazy, stop sharing and go tell Cousin Bridgette instead.

3. Do not, I repeat, do not eat anything cooked by Aunt Bessie who lives alone with two cats, three dogs, a ferret and a snake. They probably helped in the preparation process because she considers them her children. If she asks why you aren’t eating her runny potato salad, start asking to see pictures of her “babies.” She’ll forget all about it.

4. Once Cousin Bob and his new flavor of the month, Beatrice, start to argue, immediately find Grandma Bertha. Then grab a bag of popcorn to watch the fireworks that are sure to come when she gets to fussing at everyone. For some extra cash, pre-sell tickets to the upcoming fight of the century.
Ok maybe none of this takes place at your family gatherings. But just in case it does, you’ll be prepared.
*Disclaimer: Try at your own risk. I assume no responsibility for your family putting you in a jacket that makes you hug yourself all day.*

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Chatting with Grandma

One of my favorite columns to read on a daily basis is Dear Abby. People have so many interesting issues, and I just love to read about them. A column on Sunday piqued my interest because it was about grandparents, particularly grandmothers.

The writer, who is from Florida, wrote that family members don’t call her grandmother because she talks too much. Apparently Granny is a Chatty Cathy and enjoys two-hour conversations. The writer is the only one willing to call, so relatives send messages about their lives through her. Unfortunately, she is also tired of the conversations. Poor Granny is oblivious to why they won’t call and told her she’s the only one that cares.

Abby essentially said to tell the grandmother the others don’t call because of her lengthy conversations. She said telling her so wouldn’t be cruel but really doing Granny a favor. Abby also encouraged telling the grandmother to get out and meet other people so she could talk to them.

The whole question and answer for this so-called issue annoyed me. Grandparents are my favorite things. How can you not like talking to them? I all but lived with my maternal grandparents, my two favorite people in the world. Most of my fondest childhood memories are from spending time with them. I went to church conventions with my granny, learned to read from my granddaddy and lived every child’s dream of having awesome grandparents.

I wasn’t as close initially with my paternal grandparents, but over time that changed. Grandma Pearl is my only grandparent still alive. I used to think she was mean, until I started to really pay attention to what irked her (other people in the family). Her remarks to them and about them were hilarious. Soon every encounter with Grandma Pearl, especially when she was fussing at someone else, became a memorable experience. Since college I’ve made sure to visit her every time I’m home. Our conversations are probably two hours at a minimum (I like to talk and she does too).

Perhaps since I had close relationship with my grandparents I can’t understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy talking to theirs for hours. Don't want Granny to dominate conversation? Then contribute a little more. You only get grandparents for so long in life. How hard is it just to map out time at least once a month for your family elders?

There were things about all my grandparents that irritated me, but nothing strong enough to keep me from wanting to talk to them. Sure a phone call or visit might require a packed lunch or two, but it’s a small price to pay for quality time with a loved one. I would give anything to have my grandparents back, because you truly miss them when they’re gone. Maybe, just maybe, if those family members called a little more regularly Granny would reduce her talk time.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A true story

Jennie and Winnie: Will they be cool after this movie?
It is my desire to become a famous writer. The world will read my works and want to know more about the great mind behind them. Hollywood will then create a biopic about my life. Hopefully, if I’m still alive, they consult me. Who knows my story better than me, right? Then again I might forget details, embellish others and want anything bad not included. Perhaps that is the reason Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, was not consulted for her upcoming biopic.

A few months ago it was announced Jennifer Hudson would play the starring role in a movie about Mandela. Unfortunately one person crying foul is the main character herself. Mandela said she will not support the movie, according to CNN. She feels it is an insult to make a movie about her life without consulting her, especially since she’s alive. Hudson wanted to meet Mandela, according to her reps, but the movie producers thought it was a bad idea. I can see where Mandela is coming from on one hand. It’s her life, and she should have some say on how it’s translated on the big screen. But they might tell a much better story without her input.

One of the best profiles ever written was “Frank Sinatra has a cold” by Gay Talese published in 1966 by Esquire Magazine. I read it in my college literary journalism class, and the story is phenomenal. It felt like I was a fly on the wall during Sinatra’s daily life. It is interesting to note Sinatra refused to be interviewed for the profile. Talese instead spent several months observing Sinatra’s actions and talking to members of his entourage. The final product is considered the greatest profile about Sinatra and one of the best pieces of magazine journalism. And it was made all without Sinatra’s consent.

As a writer, I interview people on a daily basis for their stories. Often they want to read the final draft before it’s published. The answer is no, but I do fact check. Most newspaper and magazines don’t let sources preview a story. It creates a lot of headaches because they ultimately want to change every single detail. It also eliminates the journalistic integrity of the article. My job is to gather the facts and tell the story accurately as a neutral observer. Not write what will make the source look amazing.

Mandela should wait to see the movie before giving her blessing or curse. At the very least the producers know enough to gather the correct facts for conveying the story. Hopefully, they will tell her true story, not the romanticized version. That’s the way any story should be told.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

See my vision

“Don't get too influenced by one person's opinion. You might as well look within yourself and get influenced by your gut instinct.” ¬– author unknown

My life is an open book to my circle of friends. They hear about almost everything in my professional and personal life – the good, bad or in-between. Talking is my specialty, and I am all too happy to tell my stories. Unfortunately I have learned sometimes you can’t share your vision with certain people, even if they are close friends.

I’m trying to focus my life in a new direction, and a conversation about my plans with one friend felt somewhat discouraging. It was as if I was on trial and had to defend my particular choice. Her intent was probably not to bring me down. She said she was just trying to help me make the right decision. I appreciated the concern, but not really the delivery. I did my research to determine the best route for me, and didn’t just come up with a random plan from the sky. She forgot we are two unique people with different expectations for our lives. Her standards, while great for her, are not necessarily in line with what I am seeking. Still I was second guessing myself after our conversation.

I mentioned my newly formed doubts to the fantastic Cee and Ma Dukes, and they reassured me about my plans. Both echoed the sentiment that everyone can’t always see the vision you have for yourself. Their opinions might plant seeds of doubt, and what they think is helping is really hurting. I told my friend my plans to receive encouragement, not hear her opinion. Ultimately the direction I take is my decision. I have to experience my life for myself.

It should be everyone’s goal to support a friend’s path, (unless it’s illegal and destructive behavior). You might not think their plans are the best choice, but who are you to rain on their parade? As much as you might know about your friends, I am pretty sure they know themselves better.

The vision I have for my life is ever evolving as I grow as a person. There will be ups and downs, which I will share with my friends. But I’ll keep the overall vision to myself if someone can’t see it with me.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

pay it forward

I tend to lose things a lot, namely my keys. Usually my keys are hidden by the paper monster at my desk. Paperwork has a way of covering everything in sight. I blurt out nearly every day, "Where are my keys?" 

Once I thought cats stole my keys. In my defense, there is a red band attached to the keys. It's a known fact, according to the "Cat Who Series" by Lillian Jackson Braun, that cats sense and like the color red. I assumed I dropped my keys unaware outside and the cats snatched them up. It turns out my keys were behind a box. But I digress.

Most things I "lose" are never really lost (except for maybe my mind, but that's a story for another day). Quite naturally I didn't think too much of it when I noticed my wallet was missing. I had it on Friday, but somewhere between the Chinese restaurant and my house it disappeared. It didn't bother me too much because I had my driver's license and debit card in my purse (I lose debit cards a lot too). The only thing in the wallet was my business cards, library cards and college ID. I thought the missing wallet was yet another item I left at my parents’ house. Imagine my surprise when I got a call at work from a woman saying she found my wallet. What? I really did lose it?

She and her husband found my wallet  on the ground and tracked me down via my business cards (I knew there was a reason I keep those handy). I profusely thanked them for finding my wallet and offering to mail it to me. The husband merely said it was their good deed of the week. 

It's nice to know people are willing to do good in this world, despite all the bad we see. Doing good should also spark a chain reaction in others. I have been inspired to pay it forward and perform a random act of kindness for someone else. Making someone's day doesn't require much effort. For me it was as simple as someone saying they found my wallet and sending it to me. Perhaps I can do a good deed by giving someone a latch to keep their keys handy. Maybe others won't have to worry about losing their keys to the paper monster too.