Red Leigh Cooper

Red Leigh Cooper

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Just Say "No"

     My evite response was "Maybe..."

     Going back to the NOOMA video I mentioned in my very first blog, Rob Bell says, "How can you say 'No' unless you know what you've said 'Yes' to?"

     Up until now, my whole life has been "maybe."  Maybe I'll try this college major, this direction musically, this occupation, this group of friends; it's been and endless road of maybes never leading to what I really was supposed to be doing with my life. My hands, and my life, are full of "shells..."
     My friend Dixie is pretty fabulous.  She is great to spend time with and a person from whom I have learned much.  So, when I saw her text message that she was going to have a girl's get together this weekend and was sending an evite, I almost felt a kind of defeat.  While I have been trying let go of the "shells" keeping me from living my life and being on the road to my actual purpose in it, this was a week like one I haven't had in a long time.  I knew in my heart eventually that the answer to her evite may have to be "no" but I vowed that I was really going to try to rearrange the "shells."  So for now the answer was "maybe" as perhaps this once I just might win the "shell" war.

     Saying "no" isn't easy nor is it something I have been able to do easily.  Saying no doesn't mean that I don't want to hang out, that I don't care, or that I don't want to be invited to other events down the road.  Wait a minute...where did I get the idea that saying "no" can cause such misunderstandings?  Why do I feel that saying "no" can cause such an irreversible detriment to my social life?  Oh yeah...because, in the past, it has.

     No two things stunted my social life more that being in a band and being a dog trainer.  I used to say, "I can't have a boyfriend unless he's in the band because I wouldn't have time for him..."  Good thing my husband, Eric, is musically inclined!  I may have never gotten married because when you are chasing these kind of dreams, nothing else seems to matter.  I knew what I had currently said "yes" to.  May not have completely been the right "yes" for my life, but it was a "yes" nonetheless so I had no problem saying "no" to other things outside of that parameter. I noticed that there is a serious gap in friendships among my Facebook friends between college and recent years.  I didn't make many lasting friendships during the "musician" years. The ones I did make during that time and still have though are pretty good ones fortunately.  Some friendships however, didn't survive the next phase completely unscathed.

     The dog training years were the worse as far as any social life. I was still holding down an accounting job while catering to client needs which were mostly weeknights and weekends.  It's no wonder I never saw my friends, much less my husband. Once again though, right or wrong, I had said, "yes" and had no time for anything else.  Just planning a trip to see family was hard let alone trying to accept a friend's invitation to a party.  Needless to say, the invitations started being fewer and fewer.   I even started my own dog training business thinking that would make it easier for me to arrange my schedule, but in fact, that came with it's it own set of unimagined demands and worsened an already bad situation.

     Two reasons I am no longer in the band and dog training.  While I once said "yes," both were unsatisfying enough to where I eventually said "no."  Which now leaves me here to figure out what I need to say "yes" to on my way to the eventual "starfish." 

     So what about this particular week?  What was important enough to say "yes" to that I had to say "no" to something else? Well, I guess that would completely end any reason for the existence of my blog if I knew all the of the "yes" items, but I can say I am starting to figure out what is important in my life. That has to be one of the first steps.  Know deep down who you are.

     For me, some of those things have to be important as they put food on the table and some of them have to be important because it's the right thing to do. My manager at work is leaving on a two week vacation.  I need to be available to help tie up loose ends there. A friend of mine was going out of town and needed me to care for her animals. Another friend is starting a non-profit to help families in crisis and charities are an absolute passion for me.  I am helping with the data research and we need to start moving with this.  Yet another friend has a brand new adolescent Labrador Retriever and needs my help to make it stop chasing the cat. I need to make time to exercise because of my double scoliosis for which I'm in treatment.  The stronger my muscles get, the less pain and other resulting issues I have. Eric is leaving on a week long trip soon so I want to spend time with him all I can. We also need to clean the house, grocery shop, work on the lawn; normal weekly domestic activity that can't wait.  I want to go to church and Sunday school.  I need to be spiritually renewed and make that time to worship my Lord. I teach a bible study and I need to go over my lesson plan for the week.  I wanted to write this blog.  It's part of knowing my "starfish."

     I guess deep down I may know who I am.  I am a hard worker. I am charitable. I am a friend who is there when needed. I am an athlete. I am a wife. I am a Christian. I am a leader. I am a writer.  I know what I've currently said yes to and maybe these aren't "shells" to just rearrange or let slip back onto the proverbial beach. I also know that while it may not be this particular week, I will not continually be so busy that there isn't still room in my life for great friendships. I find I am better these days at investing time in my friendships and ultimately better at choosing the people in whom I invest that time. I feel I am at a place in my life where my friendships can endure the occasional...wait...I need to go change something...

     My evite response is "No..."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A "Red" rose by any other name...

     As a 9 year old I was also reading Shakespearean plays.  I loved the idea of acting; the idea of performing in front of people. The adoration of the crowd; to hear them calling my name was Dana Pooters...

     Do I need to say more considering the last name? I'm sure anyone who remembers having the mind development of a 10 year old boy can figure out the problem with that just by isolating the first syllable! The last name actually wasn't a problem until I moved to Oklahoma at the age of 12.  The kids I had grown up with previously, while sometimes made fun of me, knew who I was, and it wasn't an issue.  However, entering junior high, the time of life when kids develop their warped sense of "in" and "out," was a whole different story.  Then being the new kid on top of it?  I was the subject of much verbal, and sometimes, physical abuse. All due to the last name.  That and sometimes my Mother made me dress differently as if we were still in the 70's with polyester pants and all. While I am grateful for the friends I did have, and still do thanks to the advent of Facebook, earning the adoration of a crowd was even more important by the end of high school.  I felt inside that I just wanted to be truly loved. 

     Here is where that is all twisted, because a crowd of "fans" doesn't truly love you.  They don't personally know who you are and most never will.  They will just fill the void of the place where you have to love yourself.  However, it's hard to love yourself when getting rubber bands shot at your head by other teenagers...

     I'm a huge reality TV watcher.  I'm not sure if it's just because it's entertaining fluff or because I can look at it and go "Whew!  My life is so much better than that,"  but I find myself being truly invested in a few shows.  I was watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew on VH-1 and picked up and interesting fact.  People who change their names don't like themselves. Or at least they don't according to Dr.Drew.  He's a professional.  I'll take his word for it, because yes, I wanted to be someone else.  Anyone else. 

     There is a difference between nicknames and stage names, which is what Dr. Drew is talking about.  I picked up a few nicknames in High School here and there.  Mostly derivatives of Dana, like Dani or Danie.  I like nicknames.  I find them endearing.  I also find them addictive.

     I wanted something bigger.  I wanted to escape all the torture of my classmates and ultimately of my Mother.  Remember I said that the corrective shoe deal was only the beginning of the issues with my Mother.  She could not admit to her faults or the faults of her children.  If her children failed in any way, well, there was hell to pay for it.  I eventually would never be pretty enough, sing good enough, or be smart enough to be her daughter and she would remind me of it on a daily basis.

     I left Bartlesville, Oklahoma at age 18 for good never to return. Hopefully, by now in the story, no one wonders why. 

      I spent some time in college under the moniker of  "Sondae."  This name was taken from the day of the week Sunday, of course misspelled for dramatic flair. I inherited the "nickname" originally for a short period of time in high school due to a bad joke made by a friend.  I had said that "my boyfriend called me Sunday," and got the idiotic, "well, I thought your name was, Dana?" Insert eye roll here and note to always include prepositions in my sentences...he called on Sunday...on Sunday.  This nickname turned retreat from everything I was eventually worked. It worked my entire freshman year of college.  I was free from the oppression of my Mother, of Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and the oppression of being that high school kid...until a year and a half later when a bad breakup that sent me spiraling back into the self-loathing world of Dana Pooters.

     Fast forward another year later and my arrival in Austin, TX. Eventually, I was befriended by Radio, Television, and Film majors at The University of Texas. My friend Dave started doing camera work on a local music show called Virtual Noize and they needed a host.  Enter my new "moniker" Dana Leigh.  Now this isn't far from my actual name, taking out the last name and inserting my middle for the last.  However it was during the filming of this show that I would discover something I didn't want and would lead to who I am now..  Excessive inappropriate attention.

     I was born blonde.  I was also born with a very outgoing personality.  Put that on T.V. and you'll attract every dude who equates blonde and bubbly with easy.  I literally could not go out without hearing, "Hey, baby; I've seen you on T.V.; can I buy you a drink?" you can't...and the thought of it makes me nauseous.  There were people who were nice too, but I was getting recognized in the 7-Eleven and for some reason, for someone who wanted adoration, I was uncomfortable with all of it.  I knew it was ultimately insincere.  Like I said earlier, they didn't know me.  I had people getting into the back of my car to talk to me when I picked my visiting Father at his hotel (he still thinks that was cool...).  It had to stop.

     I dyed my hair red.

     The response was a complete opposite from what I was used to.  People stopped talking to me even though I was still on T.V.  Apparently red-heads are more threatening.  Good. I could escape Dana again.  It was just in a different way.  Wouldn't be long though until name would follow hair.

      I credit my friend Raymond for coming up with the "nickname" Red.  We were working together, as remember this whole time while on T.V., I was also an accountant to pay the bills. And I just remember him using it one day.  It stuck, and to this day still does, with many of the people I worked with at that time as my "nickname."  you know I couldn't just be satisfied with that though.

    "Red" Leigh Cooper became my stage name. Soon after I started working with Raymond, I got married and started a band.  I had been in a few before, as Dana Leigh, but now "Pooters" was completely gone due to marriage.  Needless to say I sprinted to the courthouse to change it upon receiving my marriage certificate.  I went through variances like Dana "Red" Cooper, but in then end, it was  "Red" Leigh Cooper.  I wanted Dana out of there.  I was never comfortable with Dana if that's not obvious by now.  Then, just like I had happen back in college, a bad breakup, this time the band's, would have me burying "Red" Leigh Cooper for along time. Eight years to be exact. Two years into that eight years, I went back to being blonde.  I was so unhappy, to think of "Red" Leigh Cooper, that I willingly went back to Dana.  I went so far as to capitalize on volunteer work I had done at Austin Humane Society and plunge fully into studying to be and being a dog trainer and behavior consultant.  I was in so much pain, "Red" Leigh Cooper had to pushed far down into the nether regions of my mind and soul. 

    After about five years of being blonde, something began to change.  First, I would look at pictures of my being "Red" Leigh Cooper, and miss being her.  She was fearless. She was fun.  She was most of all confident.  She was also helpful to others and kind.  The reality is I wanted to purge all the ugly feelings about myself and really be "Red."  I wanted "Red" to once again just be a nickname and not be a completely different entity that I put on for an evening on stage.  Something else happened, too, that I never expected.  I woke up one morning, looked in the mirror, and realized I was beginning to look like my Mother.  As I was still dealing with the damage done there, the blonde hair would have to go.

     Two years later, I'm still redhead and loving it.  Loving it because it's fun and vibrant.  Because it matches my green eyes.  Sure, it also covers the "grays," but in most ways, I am no longer hiding behind a hair color and a name. I have a God and a husband who love me for who I am and after a lot of processing, I can accept and be Dana and Red as the same person.  I have also in my heart forgiven my Mother. I'm not sure if I'll ever go back to Bartlesville again, but you never know.

     I guess if you look at it, in order to figure out what your "starfish" is, you have to figure out who you are.  What things in your life do you really enjoy doing?  What do people often ask you to do that they don't ask of others around them? What have your nicknames really said about you?  Is it just a hair color or is there something else you are really striving to be?

   And Raymond, I still love the nickname...

Happy Fishing!

--Red (no more quotations)   



Sunday, June 12, 2011

You have to do math before you do algebra...

     You know what I really wanted to do when I was 9 years old?  I wanted to be a Marine Biologist.  Oh yeah...we lived in Florida.  I can't tell you how many trips we took to Sea World.  We actually had a lake in our neighborhood.  Apparently there was an alligator on the other side of it eating small domestic animals, but I digress.  I had a container of shells that I would study.  I would make lots of notes on them and try to put them into classifications.  I even had...wait for it...a starfish.  The starfish came from our time spent on Fire Island off of Long Island, New York when I was a kid.  I loved that starfish.  And I so badly wanted to be a Marine Biologist... 

     ...and a singer......and a writer...

     So for me, wanting to be a Marine Biologist was kind of like the typical little girl fantasy about being a princess.  That was never going to happen.  C'mon...I couldn't swim in the pool by myself because I was afraid of "Jaws" getting me; how was I going to be a Marine Biologist?  Last time I checked, they study sharks. So I started singing, and as I mentioned before, writing around that time as well.  I wasn't just writing poetry/lyrics, but my creative writing and other school work was quite good. So impressive  for my age that they had talked about gifted and talented programs for me.  Unfortunately, nothing came of it but talk.  My Mother didn't want me set apart from the other kids in my class for fear I wouldn't be deemed as "normal" in their eyes.  This is also the reason I didn't get corrective shoes for being "pigeon toed" as a child. And probably the reason that I went through a "Goth" period when I was 21, but I digress again. This would be the beginning of my troubles with my Mother...and my troubles staying on any kind of life path whatsoever.

     I have had a laundry list of jobs/occupations...Accountant, Wedding Consultant, Singer, Dog Trainer...wait...there is actually something poignant to that last one...

     I actually trace my love for dogs, and dog training back to that time of my life in Florida.  The next door neighbors had a loveable mutt named "Cookie."  Cookie came over to our yard all the time.  My mother would actually buy dog treats at the store every week so I could give them to Cookie.  I would make him do "sit" and other tricks.  I was so excited with myself.  I thought I had trained this dog!  The reality was, he probably already knew those things and looked at me as nothing more than a vending machine...

     Years later, when I actually got into Dog Training, my mentor's favorite phrase was "you have to do math before you can do algebra."  I would liken that to "you have to crawl before you can walk" and other sayings like that. So how does this apply to dog training?  So many people come in and they want their dogs to do all of these elaborate tricks, but the dog doesn't even know something as basic as "sit."  You have to train basic "behaviors" before you can do something more advanced.  To learn a "behavior" more advanced requires a foundation of basics some of which may be used in the advanced behavior desired.

    Given that example, it's easy to see why I have so much trouble navigating the waters.  I have never concentrated on my basic "behaviors..."  You could say that I was thwarted from concentrating on them, given the previous information, but there is a point where you have to take some kind of responsibility for who you are and where you are going.  If I haven't before, I publicly declare now that I take that responsibility.

     This last New Year's Eve, I got to spend the day with a longtime friend of mine from High School.  I hadn't seen Laith since I was 21 years old probably.  I especially value the friendships I have had for that long because these are the people who most often times know me the best.  I don't think I've changed much in my basic personality this whole time.  Sure, I've grown, I am more mature in ways, but I think basically deep down, I am the same person I've always been.  Laith knows and remembers a lot about me, and the quality of my schoolwork it seems. I don't remember much about high school, but do remember failing Algebra three times in college only to finally graduate with a "C" in basic math.  Upon reminding Laith that I was an Accountant, he said something to the effect of, "but Dana, Accountants do math..."

   Story of my life, Laith...story of my life...

Happy Fishing!

--Red (formerly known as "Dana" - more on that next week)