Tag Archives: Disaster Relief

A Light From Within (Part 2): Stories From Joplin

23 Jun
A/N: Most images seen in this posting are not the property of nor created by ©MusingsOnOther. Photos featuring ©Red Cross Disaster Relief in Clinton, MS and Joplin, MO, however, are owned by this author (KJN). Today’s essay, per usual, is unbeta’d and any typos or grammar bobbles are all mine. Also, for whatever reason, PlayList disallowed the Auto-start feature, despite my and Buff’s attempts at usurping.  If the music doesn’t start automatically, and you would like to hear today’s music Playlist, hit PLAY on the player in the right-hand column (below the Twitter Feed) —–>

This Special Edition Musings is my tribute to the incredible souls I encountered over my 13-day stint as a mental health therapist with the Red Cross Disaster Response Team earlier this month. There is an army of Otherness of Rebel Warriors cultivating and swelling in the south. Here are a few of their stories. I am but a student to their sage lessons in growth, faith, balance, compassion, reframing and perspective.  Make room on the Other Homecoming Float for these Rebellious Royals. NOTE: All names of people in the following stories have been changed out of legal/ethical practices of confidentiality…but moreover in a gesture of utmost respect.

“People are like stained – glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” ~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

I already knew that in volunteering for deployment that I was going to emerge on the other side, changed. I’ve flown countless places in my life, but never with a mission like this. The three-and-a-half hour red-eye flight from my Cali city to Fort Worth, Texas was slightly uncomfortable as I was wedged in the middle seat between a young man who appeared to be heading on his own mission (I’ve seen dozens of SouthEast Asian men leave their home country to join the working ranks of hard-working Cruise ship staff; I recognized his running-shoes-encased feet and the Royal Caribbean pins attached to his hiking backpack) and an older gentlemen with a Jolly Santa-belly who immediately launched into snores as the plane leveled out at cruising altitude. It was midnight and every single seat on the plane was filled. My laptop was snugly packed away in my backpack in the overhead bin, so I couldn’t access all the fanfic pdf-documents I lovingly downloaded for my reading pleasure. But I did have my iPhone which was loaded with all my music, and I had my copy of Entertainment Weekly with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss from The Hunger Games movie. I also had picked up a couple of actual BOOKS to begin reading in the off-chance I’d get some down time. Thank goodness I had these survival kit items because when I saw that the In-flight movie was Bieber’s Never Say Never I could immediately retreat, retreat, for the love of The Goddess, retreat!!!

I didn’t exchange more than a nod and a brief “hello” with my aisle mates, and I did not feel relaxed enough to sleep on the flight, so I remained awake until we arrived in Fort Worth. Now, you all know I’m a fairly talkative chica, but it wasn’t until my flight into and then a few days later out of Clinton, Mississippi that I was present enough and in the right mindset to actually hold a coherent conversation with anyone else. And oh, my my, those initial conversations were my first indicator that I was participating in something extraordinary.

I didn’t wear the Red Cross vest while on the plane, although my liaisons had insisted I do, so that we volunteers could represent the organization but also identify ourselves to other volunteers in the airports. I was too self-conscious to wear the bright red vest just yet. But I did wear my neck identification. And as soon as I slipped the identifier over my puffy, humidity-treated hair, people began to approach. And talk. And share. And hug. And cry. And change me with their stories.

Unfinished Business

“Hello,” he said to me. I glanced over to see a white-haired gentleman with brilliant blue eyes framed by attractive lines indicating countless moments of crinkling, winking laughter. He gestured to my badge and said, “Thank you”. I tucked my copy of One Day in the seat-back pocket in front of me and turned to my aisle mate at the window seat. Stunned, though I realize later I shouldn’t be, I only nodded my head in acknowledgement of his gracious statement directed at me. The lump in my throat that had been growing prohibited any speech from me just yet. The gentleman, who I came to learn was called Macwore a beige polo shirt with a patch over the left side of his chest. Avoiding any copious staring, I could just decipher the words “Fire Fighters”.

“He always wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest. Now he finally is home.” 

Mac had answered the call and was going to Texas to tame the wildfires that had consumed the western part of the state. Retired for nearly six years, Mac donated his time and services with the volunteer fire fighter association. He and his wife were happy Illinois residents, but they were eagerly looking forward to relocating to the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, Washington, more specifically. His blue eyes twinkled when he heard I was a West-Coaster. Then those eyes teared up with an ancient ache when he mentioned his only child, a daughter, who lives in Bellingham, Washington with her 18-month old son. Mac’s daughter raised Mac’s grandson alone since his daughter’s young husband Bryan was killed in Afghanistan 11 months prior.  Mac and his wife hoped to move to Washington to provide support for their daughter and their grandson, and to carry on Bryan’s wishes. Bryan, a fairly new army recruit, had grown up in Chicago, Illinois, dreaming of a time he could live in The Pacific Northwest, near the ocean, the Olympic Mountains, amongst the evergreen trees. After his death, Bryan’s wife ensured Bryan’s ashes were scattered among the Snake River. And now Mac and his wife would move to Washington as well to ensure  their daughter–Bryan’s wife–and her son would thrive. It would begin once Mac returned from his mission to fight the fires of Texas. 

Bryan's home

If this was any indicator of the people and stories I was to encounter the rest of my deployment, I was in trouble. Deeeeep trouble. My plane hadn’t even touched down in Joplin yet, and I was wiping tears and my leaky nose on a paper cocktail napkin in the comforting presence and  kind face of this retired firefighter. “I didn’t mean to upset you,” Mac said to me. “I just wanted to thank you for what you’re doing. There are such good people out there.” Still unable to properly speak, I croaked, glimpsing his Retired Fire Fighter’s Badge: “Yes. There are such good people…everywhere.”

With My Hands

I alluded to it before in Part 1, and maybe in a few of my tweets. But I will say it again now. Nothing, nothing could truly prepare me for the physical destruction left behind in the wake of the Joplin Tornado. I felt better prepared to address and comfort the emotional wreckage, but when I walked through the neighborhoods my first morning out at what’s called The Footprint (where the Tornado actually touched down and carved 12 miles through the city), I was utterly speechless. Any pictures I’ve shown you, or that you’ve seen on the news are pathetically pale in comparison. And certainly, the tales told from the survivors will never, ever be properly conveyed by me, but I will try to the best of my abilities to grant the respect and compassion that these battered but resilient warriors deserve. Because I met a fair share of Other Warriors. Royal Hell-Raisers and Majestic Misfits are prominent in Joplin, Missouri. I was one fortunate little therapist to meet just a few of them. But I will never, for as long as I am included among this plane of existence, forget them.

My first day doing outreach was a scorcher. Approximately 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) and the heavy humidity left me sweating, sticky and sunburned (which is a feat in itself. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve burned in my lifetime). I walked amongst the neighborhoods seen above, having conversations and impromptu storytelling sessions with anyone wandering around or cleaning up, or assessing the unfathomable destruction.

Eighty-three year old Mr. Leland was visiting a friend  just a couple blocks away when the tornado touched down at 5:41PM that Sunday evening. He attributes this visit as the only reason he is still alive today to tell us his story. His house along with his entire neighborhood was completely flattened. When he heard the warning sirens, he and his buddy, who was in his seventies, attempted to duck into the crawl space in the house. Mr. Leland pats his belly and says to me, “I’ve eaten too many fried suppers. I was too fat to fit in the crawl space.”  He held onto the banister along the stairs leading to his friend’s basement and prayed that his four cats were able to escape the violent funnel cloud ripping through his neighborhood.

Leland's neighborhood

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. Never,” he says. Mr. Leland escaped with only the clothes on his back and the rings he accrued from long-ago visits to Mexico on his fingers. He reported that all of his cats survived and any thing salvageable in the rubble is packed in his beaten up camper. He settled on a sagging, cracked plastic chair to eat his breakfast–french toast and eggs provided by Salvation Army in a styrofoam takeout box. With a sigh he turns to me, his withered hands gripping a slender tree branch crafted into a walking cane, and muses, “We will rebuild this neighborhood,” and a moment later: “I’m hungry.”

I. Am. Done.

The Ultimate Fighters

“K, I need you. Can you help me connect with this young man here? He’s lost everything. His house, his car, his place of employment. He won’t talk. He…he’s still in shock.” A case worker, Carolyn, pulled on my sleeve, guiding me to a foldout table and chairs set up in a make-shift counseling center in the middle of a convention center/skateboard park. I didn’t know it at the time, but this first meeting with nineteen-year-old Scott would determine the constructs of my role in Joplin. I was named, “Cute Young Thing” by fellow Red Cross cohorts, some of whom were heading into their seventh and eighth decades of life. I became the go-to gal for the “young folks”. To say I was busy is a gross understatement. It became extremely clear, though, that the survivors and wounded of this disaster are not designated to one age group, ethnicity or family background. The grief and pain felt was a universally shared and understood language in Joplin. People who were once strangers moving anonymously side-by-side amid the community were now comrades and co-soldiers from the trenches.

Laura rested her head in her hands while she awaited the case worker to call her in for her interview. She closed her eyes and  began counting her exhalations out. This is how I found her. Slumped forward, murmuring numbers to herself. “Four…threeee….two…one…”

Laura can’t stop crying. She started as soon as she sat down in the fold out chair in that convention center where we Red Cross workers were administering counseling, case work and linkage to financial assistance, home associations, dry goods and medical help. She looked at me when I sat down next to her offering her bottled water and said, “It’s the first time I’ve been able to sit down. And I can feel it now. And it hurts. And I can’t stop crying. I can’t. stop. crying.”

I sat next to Laura and cried alongside her while she spoke of the nightmares that assault her every night when she tries to close her eyes. She simply cannot sleep. It was on her property, in her pond that the body of 18-year-old William** was found, to the heartbreak of a community and nation. Up until the discovery of his body, there was hope that the newly-graduated teenager was found alive, even after he’d been torn from his SUV while driving home with his father. Laura’s nightmares all centered around the discovery of William’s body, sometimes inserting twisted images of her own children or grandchildren’s bodies. Thankfully, her own family members (composed of four males aged 18 through 27 and their families including three grandchildren aging from 3 through 6) were spared, but their houses were not. Laura recounts the survival story of her three-year-old granddaughter and her parents. Granddaughter laid flat in the bathtub, beneath the body of her father as the twister removed their house from its foundation. All that could be heard in the silence after the roar of the storm was a three-year-old’s prayer:

“Please please please please please…Protect Mommy. Protect Daddy….Please please please please please….” 

While the chair holds her upright, and the grief and exhaustion settle over her, this day, Laura is confident that her fiercely brave granddaughter’s pleas were the powerful protectors for her family. She gripped the card with the local counseling center’s crisis phone number on it, counting through her deep exhalations. “Four….three….two…onnnnnnnne…”

My heroes: Search and Rescue

“I guess I fell in love with Joplin. I will rebuild my city. I will.”

Scott wore a thin white tank top and baggy jeans. His blonde, spiky hair was making a point: keep your distance. A bouncing knee, and shaking fingers were the only indicators of discomfort displayed. He tilted his chin up at me when I settled into the foldout chair across the table from him. “Thirsty?” I offered him a cold bottled water. The heat of the day hadn’t yet reached its peak, but it was climbing, and the skateboard park housing our resource center was packed wall to wall with folks seeking aid and resources for rebuilding. Scott waved me off, but not unkindly. He was a handsome guy, and his soft tone of voice and manners only enhanced his looks. He was not exactly sure why he was face-to-face with a stranger talking about the disaster that befell his work place (the twister had completely wiped it out–a casual dining house) and home (“I’ve nothing to go back to”).  I’m not exactly sure what the  catalyst was, but suddenly Scott felt comfortable enough to tell me his story.

He was driving into the parking lot of his restaurant when he saw the twister rip the roof off of the building where customers and several co-workers were inside. He spoke of the single thought that rumbled through his brain: “GET THEM TO SAFETY. GET THEM TO SAFETY”, and how adrenaline must have gifted him with strength to gather four or five co-workers and form a human chain via latched arms. He wound one of his arms onto the piping below the industrial kitchen sink, and held onto one of the line cooks with his free hand…until his vision went black. He later learned that he was knocked unconscious by a rogue brick.

A restaurant on Main street

When Scott finally smiled, I caught a great view of his chipped front teeth. “Is that from the tornado?” I asked.

Scott leaned back in his chair and shook his head ruefully. “Nah, that’s from a fight.”

He motioned to his ear that appeared to be missing a chunk. “So is this.”

He showed me several bruises on his arms, and a gash on his head, results of the flying tornado debris, and several pictures of his demolished restaurant  on his cell phone. It turns out that our young hero Scotty is originally from Louisiana, near New Orleans, where he was moving up the ranks in the Ultimate Fighting world. When he moved to Joplin two years ago, in an attempt  to walk a path less physically taxing, he never believed he’d grow so protective and prideful of this new city. Now, in the aftermath of the tornado, he is determined to rebuild his shattered neighborhood using his own hands. Since relocating to Joplin, Scott has grown fond of rebuilding cars and greenhouses. He had saved his co-workers on May 23 but he himself was also redeemed when he called his family in Louisiana to ensure them he was alive, and for the most part, unharmed. Because while he had felt aimless two years ago, leaving his family and Ultimate Fighting back in New Orleans, he realized he had finally found in Joplin a place for home, a place worth defending.

"No, Joplin is Home now for me," he assures me.

To Have Found Their Way Out

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a psychiatrist, activist and pioneer in researching grief and loss and dying. She founded the Kubler-Ross Model, otherwise known as the Five Stages of Grief in her seminal book On Death and Dying. The Five Stages explore coping mechanisms and raised sensitivity in the aftermath of great or impending loss, and I found that everyone in the community was experiencing elements of every stage of grief in Joplin, MO.

When I arrived in the city, it was a Monday afternoon, exactly seven days from the original disaster. People were just now shaking themselves out of the shock and numbness. They were feeling the crash after the burnout of adrenaline. While I settled into my sleeping quarters (my army cot was one of seven in a classroom within a large Baptist Church, with no working showers), I was given the orientation about the fiercely determined people that formed a community in Joplin, MO. Every day had been riddled with power outages, new medical emergencies, new discoveries, new losses, and many, many funerals. As you can imagine, there were moments of unfathomable, devastating, horrifying heartbreak…along with glimmers of miraculous, loving, compassionate light. I encountered reframing and perspective-changers with every single hour. I heard shrieking, rebellious yells. I was inundated by OTHERNESS and a wild, unconventional beauty.

While I was profoundly effected by every single person I encountered in my mission, including colleagues and other staff,there are two different stories in particular that I believe were the culprits for literally consuming and then altering my essence, my soul. Both events took place within 24 hours of each other, near my last days of deployment. I couldn’t speak of these stories to anyone for days, weeks afterwards, and not even my husband N understood the profundity of these tales until I shared them with him just three days ago. See, three days ago, I had received a wonderful gift of a massage, and the therapist had started working on my neck and upper back, accessing painful muscle tension that I referred to as “Joplin Knots”. Not at all surprisingly, I cried through the final ten minutes of the bodywork session, and through the time it took for me to redress afterwards.

Our bodies will hold onto grief and emotional unrest long before and after our brains recognize it as grief, for what it is. And while I was in the Grief Stage of Depression in the two weeks after my return from my deployment, I can say that the massage induced my dive into the fifth and final stage of grieving: Acceptance. Which is why I can  now share with you a little of what I saw in the fields.

Angela and Chris  are very young parents. She’s still in her late teens and he has just entered his twenties. They are engaged to be married, after Chris proposed to Angela a couple of months ago. But they will postpone the wedding until later, much later. When I met the young couple, it was under the most horrific circumstances I’ve ever witnessed. She was in a wheelchair covered head to toe in bandages and her right arm was wrapped in a splint and held in a sling. She had two metal pins holding her forearm together before her scheduled surgery in 5 days. He had an angry red gash, held together with staples, in the back of his head, and a swollen ankle the size of a grapefruit. They both came to the convention center for assistance since their home and their car had been completely shattered. They couldn’t come sooner because up until that morning, they were both hospitalized for their injuries. But the loss of their home and even their own physical wounds could not even begin to hint at their utter devastation.

Angela and Chris were at home with their roommate when the massive F5 Twister touched down in Joplin. It was just the typical Sunday evening for the household: Angela tossed around ideas on what to prepare for dinner, Chris watched  TV. Their sixteen-month old son S ** snoozed in Angela’s arms. Afterwards, Angela and Chris could only tell me about the sounds they heard (the roar of the wind) and the agony of impact (from the wooden planks that sliced through Angela’s arm, their roommate’s torso, and Chris’s head). They can tell me that Chris threw his body on top of Angela, the baby and the roommate in the only protective stance he could think of, when they heard the roof caving inward, on top of them. Chris did tell me, with tears streaming, that he saw his two beloved dogs crushed beneath the plaster and debris. But it is wordlessly, that Angela shared the depth of her grief with me. She silently showed me her cell phone, pressed a few buttons, and launched a slide-show featuring a smiling, cherubic, sixteen-month old Baby S.  It is then that I realized  I sat with the heartbroken, shattered parents of the youngest tornado fatality.**

Unbelievably, Angela and Chris’s story grew even darker before the dawn. Stories of ghastly “family” greed (in the form of looting and stealing) and another death of a family member issued an almost lethal blow to their fragility. I sat next to Chris and held his hand when he received the phone call  from the hospital advising him that their roommate had just died from her injuries. That’s about as far as I’ll speak of their experience because I cannot possibly convey how crucial privacy and respect is. However, I can tell you that I spent four hours with this young couple and I am absolutely certain that I’ve never met a more courageous, more beautiful pair of people in my entire existence. And I’ve never cried over clients like I did for Angela and Chris. After my time with the young couple was over, my colleagues Don and Ginny found me curled up in the fetal position, sobbing on the bench in the smoker’s area behind the skateboard park/convention center-turned resource center.

As Angela and Chris recalled the murky horrors of their week to me, there were tears, there were moments of anguish and fury, there was shock, sarcasm and desolation. There were, miraculously, a couple of moments of levity too: I asked Chris to tell me how he proposed to Angela, and it was slightly scandalous. She had another boyfriend at the time. And I can tell you that with the combined efforts of various social, governmental and religious organizations, this young family was able to create and hold a proper memorial service for their beautiful Baby S, they were able to link with housing assistance, and they were able to cover their medical bills including Angela’s impending surgery.

“There was never a night nor a problem that could defeat a sunrise or hope” ~Bern Williams

Quiet Moments of Majesty

Before I share the second story that stripped me down to nothing, I did want to inject a moment to breathe and ground. I know it’s intense. I’m at nearly 4000 words already and this is my edited version! I’m panting and aching along with you, believe me. This is the most difficult Musings I’ve ever written, and it’s taken me nearly three weeks to gather the courage to try sharing it with you. Do you see now why I groveled and thanked you so profusely in the last essay? For providing me with a little bit of lightness while I was away?

To protect the aching rawness I felt, I found myself withdrawing from nearly everybody when I returned from deployment. I was coming down with the flu, of course, and I had just spent about two weeks in the trenches of an emotional battle ground. The grieving process, as well as the time warranted to process the flooding of information can vary in presentation and behaviors, from person to person. We all have our own way of recuperating and recovering from adrenaline rushes and shocks to our systems. It’s crucial that we employ self-care to prevent any destructive propensities. Remember we’ve talked about self-care here? I pulled back from an online presence and began taking long walks in the park each day. I began reading books that I had placed aside. Our Reigning Other Queen Kristen employs self-care by withdrawing from the public eye to cocoon. I imagine she reads voraciously, tries out new recipes discovered on the cooking channels, plays guitar, listens to music. Indulges in her self-proclaimed obsession with her cat Max “Jella”. She hangs with her beloved family. However, when she emerges again, she is exquisitely splendid.

Although her grounding trumps anyone else's grounding.

Just two days after dazzling us in Balmain at the MTV Movie Awards, our lovely Rebel Queen Kristen surfaced in London, England in another strapless mini-dress designed by Balmain, to present GlamourUK’s  ‘Man of The Year Award’ to her On The Road costar and friend Garrett Hedlund. She arrived looking like this:

And then this picture of them:

Makes me almost unbearably excited for….

And while I nurtured wounds, and cocooned away these past couple weeks, the Ambassador of Otherness herself reminds me and everyone else how time away from the race and the chaos can be beautifully rehabilitating. She reminds us that while there are sadnesses and stressors in our world, life will continue to move onward regardless. And …also she reminds us to keep perspective. There are natural disasters of wildfires, tornadoes and floods; great losses as well as great triumphs happening every single day. Do we really have the time and energy to spend on set-stalking and online bullying? Can we instead appreciate that people (famous and otherwise) have a talents and gifts to contribute to the betterment of society without engaging in Twitter fights or online discussion-board-mud-slinging?

I think we can. I know we can. I know we can take a look around us and see the blessings bestowed upon us in forms of family, friendships, faith, work, play and rest. I know we can exist consciously, with an in-the-moment awareness; contributing to society by living joyfully and authentically and honestly.

Take a page from Ms Stewart’s book on Royal Otherness Etiquette: show support and build up your fellow Dreamers and Rebel Royals.

Chris and Kris. Mutual Admiration Society.

Take pride in encouraging Royal Rebels like Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and the battered but not-beaten Joplin residents for their pioneering, unconventional ways of being. Let’s stop picking apart how other people choose to live their lives, and instead encourage a little embracing of unconventionality (Otherness= Beauty) within ourselves.

I’m wrapping up now. This is the longest Musings on record, and I’m still planning on sharing one more sliver of Otherworldly Beauty that emerged from Joplin AND I wanted to show you the item for another MOO Giveaway. So hang with me just a leeeetle bit longer, yes?

An Anonymous Grace 

Joanne and her husband Bill were in the grocery store parking lot when the lethal funnel cloud descended upon them. The couple looked forward to sharing dinner at home together, and had stopped at the market to pick up the ingredients needed for their meal that evening. The darkening skies were ominous and there were the warning sirens, but the couple wondered, were they perhaps more about precaution than true urgency? The sudden deafening roar of the winds encompassed the middle-aged couple, and before Joanne knew what was happening, Bill shouted at her, “GET DOWN, ROLL UNDER THE TRUCK! ROLL. UNDER. THE. TRUCK…NOW!” Joanne, stunned and frightened, froze and didn’t  feel the slap of concrete on her shoulders and arms when her husband shoved her to the ground.

“He didn’t know me. He just held onto me.” 

She didn’t have to be reminded to roll under their truck, because the 200 mile-an-hour gusts of wind had already blown her beneath it. She felt the jolt of her own body hitting what she thought was a wall. However, “The Wall” grunted, “OOMPH“, and wrapped an appendage around Joanne’s midsection. He did not let go. Joanne suddenly realized that the “wall” she had hit was really another person. A large man with a huge expanse of a chest had hooked one of his biceps around the front axle of the truck, and wrapped his other arm around Joanne like a vice. And he held on. He held onto Joanne as she screamed and thrashed  in the wind; as she called out to Bill, needing to know his whereabouts…

The Wall held onto Joanne so tightly that her ribs cracked. The Wall held onto Joanne even as they watched Joanne’s husband flip and toss away into the funnel cloud. The Wall hung onto Joanne as she sobbed beneath that truck, after the winds died down and only an inconceivable horror and silence hung in the air. And somehow, that stranger, The Wall of a Man now known as The Man Who Saved Joanne’s Life, learned Joanne’s name, and attended the funeral for Joanne’s husband Bill, five days later. 

So there you have it. This essay was a tribute and love letter to a few of the many Royal Others I met, fell in love with, cried with, and changed with in my little journey to the South. This is me brushing aside pettiness, snark, sarcasm and blame, all components interlaced with fear. This is me bowing down in awe, humility and deep gratitude for the reminders of grace, compassion, resilience, strength and courage in our moment-to-moment living.

We are Other.

Kristen is Other.

Others’ true beauty is a light from within.

Embrace your Other.

*   *   *

An Epically Long A/N including GIVEAWAY Deets: 

**William is the one name I kept as is for this essay. Will Norton was 18 years old, having just graduated from Joplin High School when the tornado winds pulled him out through the sunroof of the Hummer he and his dad were driving. After nearly 5 days missing, his body was discovered in the pond of my client “Laura”.

**Baby S was the youngest Joplin Tornado victim. He was ripped from his mother’s arms during the storm. CNN did a special report on his story.

A NEW MOO GIVEAWAY

A few months ago I found a local mom-and-pop T-shirt making business. As an experiment I made a couple of shirts with a few MOO-inspired phrases on them. I sent one to Ms. Kristen Stewart, Ms Queen Other herself as a birthday gift (A burgundy shirt that said “I AM OTHER“). That leaves just one One-of-A-Kind Musings Tee (made on uber-soft American Apparel fabric, in Women’s Size L) that I’d like to give away to one of you Majestic Misfits.

You can enter to win the drawing for the T-Shirt by leaving a comment answering at least one (or all) of these questions:

1. When did you know you were Other?

2. How do you embrace your Other in your daily life?

3. Have you encountered moments of quiet majesty in unexpected places? 

4. How do you employ self-care? 

I’ll announce a winner in a MOO MEMO posting Thursday, June 30.

*   *   *

Specific shout outs and vice-like hugs to: 

My sister Puss for letting me cry. CC for texting check-in requests. Mari-Pai for asking if I’m ok. Bouffant for talking me through some dark, dark moments.

To PrimaryColors1 and Beammeup_00 for your generous offers of shelter and supplies upon the word ‘Go’.

To MyCleverAlias, Kate_Suena, JRollin5, Mel452, That_Bitch86, DeeDreamer16, ThistleandFi, TakeMeToBliss, Buff_82 and KStewsBtrThanU for checking in on me and cheering me on.

Last but never, never least: Thank you to my CYBER SISTERS & READERS  You provided the most powerful web of support by being your brilliant, compassionate, witty selves.

TODAY’S PLAYLIST (PUSH PLAY)

Look For Me As You Go By ~ The Innocence Mission

Satisfied Mind ~ Jeff Buckley

Price Tag ~ Jessie J feat B.O.B.

I Feel Pretty/ Unpretty ~ Lea Michele & Dianna Agron of GLEE

After The Storm ~ Mumford & Sons

Fix You ~ Coldplay

All That She Is

19 May
A/N: Images seen here are not owned nor created by (c)MusingsOnOther. Today’s essay is unbeta’d per usual. Forgive me any mistakes or imperfections you may find. But that is how I roll. This post is a long one. Make yourselves comfortable.

“You’ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you”

~Stevie Nicks, Silver Springs

I hope this new MOO finds everyone well. Did all you incredible Mothers, Parents, Aunties, Mentors, Providers, Caretakers and Grandmamas have a lovely Mother’s Day? My hope is that you did. I was able to pull off an impromptu visit down south with my own Mother, spending treasured time with my immediate family in the same city, which is a first for us, in a very long time.

In Royal Rebel news, it has been a pretty quiet, sighting-less week of our Stealthy pair, our NinjaQueen and her Royal consort. And it makes me happy. Between his punishing world promo-tour for Water For Elephants, the six months of international gallivanting for Breaking Dawn filming, plus recent birthdays for both of them, any quiet, unduh-covah time they can grab right now is probably sweet, sweet salvation. And it probably isn’t long enough, this break. Rob returns to work, starting the gritty, raw film Cosmopolis at the helm of esteemed (and frankly, in my opinion, really cool) director David Cronenberg (History of Violence, Eastern Promises) on May 23rd in Toronto, Canada (where he and Kristen have been spotted walking the infamous puppy dog Bear on more than one occasion).

I’m ridiculously eager to watch this project unfold, if anything for its stark difference in roles for Rob. Hello, apathetic billionaire-business man seeking connection through increasingly self-destructive ways….How fun does that sound??

Ok, how ’bout now?

My name is Eric Packer. I need a haircut. And financial advice.

We’ll talk more about this film as it progresses, okay?. . .The little “break” time that Kristen may be enjoying now isn’t all that much longer for her either. She is scheduled to begin her work on the small film K-11 soon, as well as preparation work for Snow White and The Huntsman. We received the great news that the titular role of The Huntsman was finally cast (well hello there, Thor) last week, but also the nice surprise that the film will be released six months sooner than originally projected. Filming begins in August, and the premiere is scheduled for June 1, 2012. A summertime kickoff by our Reigning Other Queen! So while our Royal Rebels are under the radar, hopefully grounding and recuperating in privacy, we are not lacking reasons to celebrate their growth and successes and remember why we began admiring and supporting them as artists in the first place.

Oh, for Pete's sake, that's just ridonk pretteh.

 What the Fangirl Learned

“Did she make you cry, make you break down, shatter your illusions of love?” ~Stevie Nicks, Gold Dust Woman

For today’s topic, as the first discussion in this new feature, I had planned on discussing a woman’s incredible capacity to love wholly but also to acknowledge her capacity for destruction (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not) in her passionate wrath. I was going to explore some of the themes I saw in our own community, in our fandom, because I’ve met the most incredible women, brilliant women, as a result of being a Kristen and Robert supporter. Conversely, I’ve observed in public venues no less, the most shocking behaviors emerge from my fellow sisters.  *This was the last section (the Fangirl Learned) I needed to complete today (I write MOO in all kinds randomness…the Muse visits when she is damn well ready, y’know?). But since receiving a phone call that I’m detailing down below, I may re-work how to address this topic…

The (M)Other Within

*ANNOUNCEMENT*  

Remember when I told you lovelies that while I have no money, I do have time and skills to contribute in these dire hours? I literally received the phone call right now as I’m finishing up today’s post. I have been cleared for and accepted onto the Red Cross Disaster Response Team as a therapist. I’m deploying out to the Tornado/Flood Zones back east (Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina-esque areas) next week to administer frontline counseling and emotional support to the tornado and flood victims. Its looking like  it will be Tues or Wednesday when I fly out. I will be gone for at least 10 to 12 days and could potentially remain out in the field for up to three weeks per cycle. *side note*  Even if I leave on Tuesday morning, I’ll still have been able to see SAM BRADLEY perform the night before. PHEW! A girl still has a couple of #priorities.

The American Red Cross

So while I’m away for potentially the next 2 to 3 weeks, I’ve asked my fellow Team Other Captains (CC, Buff and a behind-the-scenes technician Bouffant) if they wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on MOO and perhaps contribute some of their brilliance to continue the support of Otherness in my stead. The wonderful gals that they are, of course, all stepped up immediately and exuberantly. So I’m going to thank you amazing Readers in advance for welcoming them warmly and wonderfully as you have in the past when they’ve contributed. And besides, CC and Buff already have their own mass followings (because they’re geniuses and I kinda hope to be a little smarter just by associating with them). My friend Starlust may contribute a written piece as well. She has been my  good friend since the very beginning and I trust her with heart and soul. You will too when you meet her.

This leads me to discuss what I had hoped to, even before learning that I was going to deploy. Look back to one of the earliest Musings ever. I wrote an essay called Aphrodite and Kristen Go Against Code  <—–click it to check it, yo. I responded to the Entertainment Weekly preview of the roundtable interview that Kristen, Rob and Taylor did in promotion for Eclipse.  Remember this hotness??

The Musings  written in response was almost one year ago, on June 24, 2010. What did I see at the bottom of the brief EW preview back in June 2010? Within moments of going viral, the preview had already garnered nearly one hundred commenters’ reactions to the excerpt and these comments were quite criticalNo, worse. The majority of comments were cruel and hatefulI won’t go into specifics because I don’t have the energy nor do I want to taint this supportive Kristen and Rob site with anything remotely negative. But I will share my observations. The majority of commenters both critical and supportive, presented themselves with female monikers. And the harshest, most cruel of the comments were from women. Women who reported they were mothers, professionals.  Also, I noticed that most comments were disproportionately supportive and defensive of Rob, but were incensed and enraged towards Kristen. She was torn down for anything from her physical appearance to the way she phrased her responses. In those commenter’s eyes, those predominantly female commenter’s views, she could do nothing right. The need to tear others down to feel imposing and powerful and bigger has perhaps been an evolutionary trait, leftover from our earliest days on earth–survival of the fittest…but the way that women attack is especially fascinating and …disturbing. 

Today, in 2011, when I watch my Twittah timeline and scan the PMs filled with updates from around the fandom, I notice that the anger and resentment towards our Reigning Queen has become more specific and therefore illuminating about the folks who spew the Haterade. After witnessing success after success for Kristen as a professional and as a woman, her Critics–the Bullshit People as she dubbed them last year in an interview–grapple with any new angle from which they can attack.

Their options are becoming pretty limited.

Criticizing her relationship with Robert as publicity-driven holds little weight since Kristen’s professional and critical success has only increased in the past year, what with the ovations from film critics and audiences flooding in for her work in stellar performances in The Runaways and Welcome to the Rileys (Example: MIFF Award–to be addressed in a bit).  Plus there’s Robert’s direct statements in interviews that his relationship with Kristen is in no way calculated or “nefarious”. So the anti-Kristeners focus on…her abilities to walk young Bear…??

This gangly, awkward, beautiful creature caused major damage to the Bullshit People's campaign. Powerful little guy.

 And instead of calling Ms Stewart some of the degrading and hateful names they’ve given her over time, many Nonsensicals simply refer to her as “That Girl”, which in the scheme of things isn’t the most horrendous, not compared to what they’ve called her before. Also we have identified some of the boldest of the BullShit People in the past year. Kristen and Robert have names and information about the particularly heinous of the Unhappy Ones. When attackers are no longer faceless, offensive plans can be created. Kristen and Rob’s incredibly good-looking effective security teams have been quite active and occupied this year.

Another shift I’ve noticed over the year, is a growing, greater compassion emerging in this fandom. Perhaps it’s because we have been in the trenches together now for several years. We have created friendships and support networks and camaraderie. We have faces and voices to names…This again, is in that universal movement to remove the masks we wear, and efforts made to consciously embrace our Otherness. We’re finding we have so many more commonalities than differences.

Last year, my Welsh Muse Kathryn wrote me a poignant letter detailing her journey embracing her Otherness and it was in embracing her abilities to be a new M0ther. It was in her exploration of what motherhood meant for her that she realized she was truly embracing her authentic self, quirks and oddities and all, that she already had the propensity to accept herself in all that she is. She was similar to me, in that she hadn’t planned necessarily on having children, opting instead to focus on pursuit of bliss and career and expression. And yet now she’s all of those things: beautiful, kind, compassionate, artistic, and a Mother. (I miss you, K).

When we sit down and examine all the ways someone can be “motherly”, we conjure up feelings and associations with universal, human qualities such as:

LOVINGNESS…DEVOTION….PROTECTIVENESS…CREATIVITY….COMPASSION…SELFLESSNESS…KINDNESS

When I survey the descriptors above,  I don’t feel as defensive of  my near-certain decision to not have children. Believe me, society and peers are pretty critical (i.e. harsh and judgmental) about people who decide to not have children too. One of the most incredible things a couple of my Cyber Sisters Nail and Mari have said to me in the past few months involved the employment of my favorite strategy: REFRAMING. They said,

“You are mothering and providing, even if you’re not technically a child-bearer. You give nurturing and compassion and protectiveness to your clients, to your friends…and to MOO Readers.”

See? We all gotta do a little reframing sometime. And I can see this next step on my path in my work for Red Cross is an extension of that concept. I do carry a wish that as we each evolve and thrive and stumble and then pick ourselves back up again that we are finding, that there is less of a need to deconstruct or tear Others down coasting on fear or ignorance. Because we’ve gotten to know each other a little more. Our (M)Otherness has kicked in, perhaps?

Anyway, in light of the somewhat unexpected events occurring in this moment, I won’t delve further today into the reasons why, psychologically or emotionally, women behaved in appallingly harsh ways over the past year. But I certainly can appreciate some of the improvements and changes that have occurred …and I can pin some hope that the changes have made due to steps closer to embracing Others’ Otherness.

And lets take some time to get to know and then celebrate these incredibly brave Unconventional Beauties, shall we?

 Featured Royal Rebel: Stevie Nicks

Stephanie “Stevie” Lynn Nicks, called everything from eccentric, legendary, a gypsy, a witch, a sorceress, and a poet, since her debut in the music industry forty years ago, is the epitome of Other to me. I have my own fascination and adoration of her, have since the early 1990’s when I accidentally stumbled upon a music video on VH1 called “Gypsy” and then later heard songs from the Fleetwood Mac live reunion tour “The Dance”. I didn’t know it then, but with a few bars of the haunting song “Silver Springs” soaring from my car radio’s speakers, I had encountered music’s Other Royalty.

A little background: Stevie’s grandfather Aaron was an aspiring country singer, and from the moment Stevie could speak, she was singing country ditties and picking out melodies on a guitar which was handcrafted for her by said proud granddad. Stevie credits her grandfather for teaching her to love music and for inciting her passion for songwriting and musical crafting. It was at a northern California high school that she met a singing-songwriting-guitar-playing boy named Lindsey Buckingham. Stevie and Lindsey immediately forged a strong bond which would ultimately prove to be an outrageously productive musical and intimate partnership. Stevie tells The Guardian (UK) that she believed joining the band Fleetwood Mac in 1975 was predestined, but that upon reflection, she ventures that Lindsey Buckingham feels the opposite.

You have NO idea how loud I screamed when I snagged this vinyl off Ebay years ago. Yeah, and they're nekkid.

At the start of the year 1975, Stevie and Lindsey (apart of the rock band Fritz) had already been cultivating a small, devoted following in San Francisco, CA. Their time with Fritz granted them once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to observe and learn from rock legends Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, both for whom Fritz performed opening sets. When Fritz disbanded, Stevie and Lindsey became the duo “Buckingham Nicks” and recorded their one and only debut album by day, and worked as servers, house cleaners and carpenters by night. The album did not meet commercial success, and the duo was dropped from their record label. Meanwhile, British blues band Fleetwood Mac had just parted ways with yet another guitar player and as the now-legendary story entails, Mick Fleetwood, the group’s co-founder and drummer approached Lindsey and invited him into the band. However, in a serendipitous exchange, Lindsey refused to join without Stevie, saying, “We’re a packaged deal”. So the California hippie kids joined the British Blues Crew.

And so it began. Fleetwood Mac 1975

Ok, novels and ever-expanding Wikipedia entries can barely cover the expanse of this Majestic Gypsy’s forty years in the music industry, and I will not attempt to reiterate the glorious peaks and valleys of Ms Nicks’s life here today (but sit down with me in person and I’ll happily chatter on with you about my adoration for her). But I can try to highlight a few reasons why she, for me, is a true Rebel Queen.

Of course we cannot overlook Stevie’s distinctive, raspy-growly voice, her whimsical, journal-entry intimate lyrics, and her propensity for flowing, ethereal dresses. And it’s quite a testament to her artistic influence when she can count among her legions of fans some musical greats such as Billy Corgan, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, Courtney Love, Adam Levine, and Taylor Swift to name a few.

In days long preceding concepts like Stalkerazzi, Twitter and Celebrity Rehab, Stevie Nicks navigated the pitfalls and customary practices of a Rock-and-Roll lifestyle in an extremely human, relatable manner. There were the drugs–she had a ten-year cocaine dependency stemming from early days with Fleetwood Mac, and then in the late eighties through early nineties developed a harrowing addiction to prescription medications, namely Klonipin which she weaned from after a painful near-fifty day course of rehab. There were personal tragedies, including the death of childhood best friend Robin Snyder who succumbed to leukemia two days after giving birth to Stevie’s Godson Matthew; and there were the emotional and physical illnesses such as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, depression, anxiety and weight fluctuation (which was relentlessly criticized by critics and “fans”). And then there was the love. Always the love.

“In ’75, ’76, we were beautiful, fast,  sexy, love was everywhere and we were moving from person to person. That’s it. Love was around every corner”

Of course there was/is her musical and personal soul mate Lindsey Buckingham, with whom she shares an “Edward and Bella-like” love, but there were many other lovers and inspirations famous and not-so-much (including her Fleetwood Mac band mate Mick Fleetwood, Eagles rockers Joe Walsh and Don Henley; music industry legend and current American Idol mentor Jimmy Iovine). Her relationships with these men informed and influenced her songwriting and musical creations engendering some of rock and pop music’s most famous songs…ever. We’re talking songs that have permeated our collective consciousness. For instance: Landslide has been remade or covered by everyone from The Smashing Pumpkins, Tori Amos, and The Dixie Chicks, to, recently, Gwyneth Paltrow on an episode of Glee). Last week alone was a Nicksapalooza with Glee dedicating an entire episode to Fleetwood Mac’s seminal and legendary album Rumours (which detailed the band’s scandalous divorces, break-ups and affairs with each other and as a group).  Also, my new favorite TV show The Voice featured competitors singing Stevie’s song Leather and Lace and in conclusion Maroon 5’s frontman and Voice Coach Adam Levine reverently declared, “Stevie Nicks is The Greatest.”

At 62 years old, the woman is showing no signs of stopping. In fact, she just released her newest solo album, her first in a decade to the highest reviews of her career. She admits to an obsession with The Twilight series and even wrote a couple of songs on this new album inspired by Our Reigning Queen Kristen’s portrayal of a broken Bella Swan in New Moon. Ok, seriously. How do you not LOVE that???

Stevie Nicks has your back, Bella!

Ms Nicks is about to embark on a tour to support the new album titled In Your Dreams, but also a world tour with Fleetwood Mac in 2012. Perhaps my admiration for Stevie Nicks stems from her grace in managing conflict and life while in the public eye. Perhaps it’s because Stevie struggles with body image, insecurities, relationship concerns, and anxiety, channeling angst into catharsis byway of songwriting and musical performance. Maybe it’s because the tambourine-shaking, leg-warmer-wearing, spinning, whirling songstress never compromises her beliefs or ambitions when all of society pressured her to.

Stevie’s new album sounds more like vintage Stevie than ever, recalling early Fleetwood Mac rocker sentiments while also preserving her poetic whimsy. Admirably, she rebuffed traditional gender-specific expectations when she was younger (she was a lady of rock in an arena of men) and later regarding marriage and motherhood in order to pursue “freedom in following [her] art.” I can relate on such a basic, visceral level to this decision, as I’ve shared with you all earlier today. Because Stevie twirls through very personal and genuine tribulations gracefully while wearing 4-inch platform-boots and diaphanous dresses that Couture designers have tried to emulate since 1975, she forever is a stunning Queen of Other.

Offenses of Otherness:

*Emphatically celebrates her feminine divinities: love and beauty

*Invites an intimate and realistic connection to her personal heartbreak and struggle

*Opted out of the gender role expectations of marriage and motherhood

Reigning Other Queen: Kristen Stewart

While we may not have seen Ms Rebel Queen herself in a while, we have been gifted with a few wonderful events that are pretty spectacular all the same. From the interview that keeps on giving, i.e. Uk Elle, we have some more “outtakes“…And good gracious, I do not envy the photo director who had to make the final cuts on these beauties…

The prestigious Cannes Film Festival is wrapping up this week and while this landmark annual event is designed as a showcase for new and developing films, it is a coveted  forum for filmmakers to exhibit and sell projects based on their artistic quality to distributors from all over the world. This year, a six minute trailer from one small but mighty film was shown to a Cannes audience of potential buyers.

According to attendees, after watching the diminutive six-minute trailer, buyers rose to their feet, passionately clapping. With the warm reception of the highly anticipated Francis Ford Coppola-produced project, On The Road has emerged as prevalent and desired today. Now. This adaptation from the book about restless souls seeking the elusive “It” to soothe post-war disillusionment has been anticipated for something like 30 years. Director Walter Salles and his outrageously gifted cast wrapped filming in the fall last year, and the news of positive reactions to the short film teaser gives us one more reason to hope that we will be seeing Sal, Dean, and Marylou on screen very soon. I cannot tell you how excited I am for this movie. If I did, it would sound something like this: $#!(*$*@#@&!@#!)&%//!!

nope. Not even close to getting old.

Hmmm, what else? Our Reigning Other Queen has had quite the week, as we’ve said. Even though we haven’t laid eyes on her since we saw her in New York, we have had plenty o’ reasons to rejoice. At another International Film Festival, Milan this time, another one of Kristen’s films, or more specifically, Kristen herself was the toast of the town. On May 11, we learned the news that Ms. Kristen Jaymes Stewart received the coveted honor of being named Best Actress at the Milan International Film Festival (MIFF) for her portrayal of the electric, vibrant, almost “feral” but vulnerable teenage stripper, Mallory in the effecting Welcome to the Rileys.

Congratulations, Kristen!! 

ICU dedicated actress with the bruised up legs and arms

One might observe that being called “THAT GIRL” as almost complimentary…? That Girl has been named Elle’s Woman of the Year…That Girl has a Young Hollywood Award, several MTV Movie Awards and a BAFTA. This same lady has the respect and love of legendary colleagues and filmakers. Ms. Stewart may very well be one girl who doesn’t really need introduction. She doesn’t need a label to garner praise and respect and prestigious awards. She does after all, make a living dressing up and portraying everybody else other than Kristen Stewart. But it’s still wonderful to watch as the authentic, grounded, intelligent, witty, kind, dedicated, compassionate, articulate and talented woman named  Kristen Jaymes Stewart continues to follow her genuine path, and embrace her royalty and Otherness.

Offenses of Otherness:

* Celebrates her feminine divinities: compassion and protectiveness.

*Unapologetic about displaying confidence, assertiveness and independence.

*Spurns the idea of downplaying her intelligence or genuine emotional response.

*  *  *

Stevie accepts all that she is. And is Other.

Kristen accepts all that she is. And is Other.

Others accept themselves and all that they are.

Embrace your Other. 

*  *  *

Notes: 

Wellllll. This one was long and it was all over the place, I realize. There were a lot of Royal Rebel events that occurred, on the sly, as well as over the course of the WFE promo tour….And in tying it up here, I struggled to organize and address all the goodies as well as the Otherness stuff.

Thanks for hanging with me, everyone. It’s been a crazy few weeks and now it’s gone outer limits with this new Adventure I’m heading on in a matter of days.

I don’t know exactly where I am going to be stationed on this assignment. I don’t know exactly how long I’ll be there. I don’t know where I’m sleeping. I don’t know if there’s a consistent stream of electricity and I doubt there will be steady internet connection. I don’t have a good set of work boots since I gave my Doc Martens away last year. But I will communicate as often as I can with my girls on Team Other, and maybe through Twitter if I can get a signal. I’m  @MusingsOnOther . . .

I DO know that this has always been my life’s hope–to combine humanitarian work in the fields. Its why I became a therapist in the first place. I am ecstatic and nervous and proud and scared all at once. I totally told @DeeDreamer16, @Kate_Suena, @KStewsbtrthanU and my CyberSisters today that I “want to vom right. NAO.”

Oh. And I also know that I kinda love you all. Madly.

The pristinely talented and lovely author @PrimaryColors1 (Firefly in Summer) is already out there on site in Alabama donating, transporting supplies, giving water to workers and folks in shelters on a daily basis. Consider donating time or money to assist the victims of the Tornados and Floods. Every little bit helps, especially to folks who have lost everything.

Talk to you laters, Lovelies. Until then, be well and be kind to one another. We’re really all Other together.  Yours, xo, KJ 

More:

This Essay’s Playlist

Trampled Rose ~Robert Plant & Alison Krauss

I Shall Believe ~Sheryl Crow

Starlight ~Muse

Gold Dust Woman ~Stevie Nicks

Winter Winds ~ Mumford & Sons

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