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I am a Jedi Master of Professional Writing

Posted in About Me with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2010 by Jessica Lada

The fifteenth of May, 2010, I graduated with a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma.  The next day I took off in an 18-wheeler with my fiancé and was pretty much off the grid without internet.  I’ll try to fill the gap, starting with commencement itself.

My mom, dad, fiance, and brother in front of the Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

I’m not one to preen in the mirror and obsess over outfits, but it took me a good hour the night before commencement to choose what to wear.  Not because I needed to find the perfect little dress to wear under my gown (like anyone can see what you’re wearing anyway) but because I had to find a way to hide my lightsaber.

Yeah, that’s right.   Lightsaber.

The week before commencement, one of my friends pulled me aside at a party and said, “Dude, have you heard about the flash mob at graduation?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well… you should go buy a lightsaber.”

“Oh hell yes.”

Toys R Us had two pretty awesome ones.  One was a foot long, a couple inches across, and spring loaded.  The other was two feet long, not spring loaded, smaller around, lighter, and had better sound effects.  Naturally I bought one of each.  What’s the point of having a lightsaber if there’s no one to do battle with?

In the days preceding commencement, we all schemed and plotted and laughed and then eventually people started to chicken out.  I saw the flash mob dwindling around me and I thought about backing out too.  I’m shy by nature.  I don’t like people looking at me and I don’t like feeling stupid and embarrassed.  While normal people have nightmares of showing up to school naked, I was now having nightmares of being the only person to jump up and whip out a lightsaber during graduation.  I texted my friend and fellow writer, Marisa.  It went like this:

ME: Hmm… so I dunno if I’m going to do the lightsaber mob now since so many people are backing out.

MARISA: I know. I’m worried. But I’m going to bring it, I think, and see if anything happens.  Ben is still in.

ME: Okay, so at least there would be three of us together…

MARISA: Like the three musketeers of bad ideas…

ME: EXACTLY like that.

MARISA: Let’s make shirts!

ME: With stick figures.

MARISA: And light sabers.

ME: Drawn by that xkcd.com guy.

MARISA:  Baller.

I almost backed out again, right before leaving for the ceremony.  I am such a wuss.  I sighed and paced around and then my brother, ever helpful, offered advice.  “Remember,” he said. “Do or do not. There is no try.”

That did it.  There’s nothing like a Star Wars quote to encourage mayhem.

I chose the lighter saber without the spring loaded action as my weapon of choice the day of commencement.  That brings me back to how on earth you hide the lightsaber under the robe.  My friend Ben had it easy because, of course, he’s a dude.  The saber just went in his pocket, no problem.

Marisa took another tactic.  Her lightsaber was el cheapo and tiny, so she stuck it in the “pocket” (the little dangley bit that hangs off each sleeve of a Masters gown) of her sleeve.  When professors and other students asked what the heck was weighing down her sleeve she deadpanned, “Oh, that’s my Sprite bottle full of vodka.”  Everyone laughed.  I’m disappointed she didn’t just say, “Oh, that’s my Lightsaber.” It would have gotten the same reaction.

The Three Musketeers of Bad Ideas: Ben, Jessica, and Marisa.

My solution was to wear a super-tight, skinny belt and tuck the saber inside it, strapped to my hip and tucked under my arm.  It was less comfortable than I had hoped, but it worked.  I carried my Master hood and hat to block the slight bulge until we lined up to process into the ceremony.  As we filed out of the holding area someone shouted, “Robes open!”  And that’s when I saw the hoard of security officers.

I turned to Marisa, panicking.  “Crap, crap, crap!”

“You’re cool, dude. You’re cool.  Just keep walking.”

Profanities and fear ran through my inner monologue and I unzipped my robe and held the right side open.  I held the other side tight over the lightsaber and folded back just the edge.  I prayed the guards would notice my awesome boots or just about anything else but the weapon.

I made it safely past security without being searched, reprimanded, or passing out, and then we got to our seats.  There we were, the triumvirate, sitting in the very front row, directly in front of the podium. The Dean made his welcomes and thanks and then told everyone that the entire ceremony was streaming LIVE online and would be archived for posterity.

Hell.

People spoke at length and after 45 minutes of me flipping out silently the outstanding senior got up to give her speech, which turned into a blur of noise in my head.  But then she said, “For pretty much any event, you can find a Star Wars metaphor.”

My heart started trying to fight its way out of my chest from the inside.  I was shaking.  I slid my saber onto my lap under the robe and clutched it for dear life.  Onstage, the girl started talking about Luke Skywalker and how when he was our age he joined a rebellion.  I looked left at Marisa and right at Ben.  We were all in—sink or float.

“Take a chance. Take a risk.  Now is that time in your life to take that chance and try something crazy.”  Here I am about to get a Masters degree with a lightsaber under my gown.  I think that counts.

She concluded and said “May the Force be with you.”

Applause.

Wait, wait, wait…

And then from an iPhone a few rows back I hear John Williams’s iconic and triumphant fanfare that opens the Star Wars theme.  I whipped out my saber with a flick of my wrist and it gave a proud hum and I battled.

This is the photo and headline the school chose for their link to the archived commencement video. http://www.ou.edu/gaylord

The crowd applauded, we sat down again, and I could breathe again.  We walked across the stage and got our hoods and diploma covers and then we talked, heckled, and texted as the rest of the graduates did their thing.  We were Masters.  Jedi Masters.

After the ceremony I met my proud parents, gave them big hugs, took lots of photos, and introduced my family to my friends and professors.  Someone asked, “Are you all going over to the journalism building for the reception?”

“Oh, heck no,” I said.  “We’re going to see Iron Man 2.”

____________________________________

To witness the epic battle, jump about 47 minutes in: http://gaylord.ou.edu/convocation/

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Okay, here’s a slightly longer tornado story…

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Yesterday, May 10th, 2010, the storms were developing so quickly, there often wasn’t much warning about where the tornados would pop up.  Usually when you look at a radar of thunderstorms, there are lots of storms and only a few rotations. This was different.  Every spot that popped up on the radar had MULTIPLE rotations.  It was crazy.  So when they said “storm heading toward Norman,” I wasn’t paying much attention.  The weather men warned about a storm heading toward Norman, but they indicated one between Norman and Moore also.  I didn’t realize they were separate rotations.  It was hard to keep track.

I also blew off the warning because nothing ever hits Norman.  Seriously.  There’s ancient Indian protection from bad weather, the tornados are scared of Barry Switzer, we’re on top of a hill that diverts tornados around us, and the National Weather Center is here, so that means we’ll never have any interesting weather ever.  (If you aren’t from Norman, Oklahoma, you probably think I’m kidding.  I’m not.  I’ve actually heard each of those things as explanations for why we don’t get severe weather here.)

Gale-force winds hit my house suddenly, buffeting the trees in my yard.  We’re the first line of houses in this area, so we got the wind before it was turned into full-fledged tornado.  You might think I would have taken cover or rushed to the window to see what was going on.  Instead, I decided it might be a good time to put on some shoes and real pants in case it actually turned into an emergency.  Not that I have a storm shelter anyway.  The lights flickered and the power went out.

The wind passed quickly (because all of the storms were moving fast today) and my favorite mocking bird, Pat, returned to the yard looking for food.  I figured Pat wouldn’t be out flying around if severe weather was still headed my way.  My brother and I decided to head to a local bar so we could keep an eye on the radar and grab some dinner.  When we left the house we realized things were a lot worse off than they were at our house.  HW-9 was barricaded and a phone pole was broken and leaning over.  Police were diverting all the cars and detouring them off the highway.

One of many power poles broken near Classen and HW-9 in Norman, OK.

When we arrived at the bar and started watching helicopter footage of the tornado damage.  It wasn’t until they mentioned an intersection a mile from our house that we realized the destruction was caused by the same wind we’d experienced, only since then it had turned into an actual funnel.  It was surreal to see landmarks we recognized blown over.  We had no idea until we saw it on the news, and it was within spitting distance of our house.

Sometimes the big tornadoes touch down in areas where there’s nothing but trees and fields and we don’t notice them.  Sometimes the little tornadoes touch down in the middle of towns and neighborhoods and families.  This is the closest I’ve ever been to a tornado, and I’m incredibly glad it wasn’t bigger or closer than it was.  My power’s back on, but there is massive cleanup going on still.

TORNADO APOCALYPSE 2010!

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 11, 2010 by Jessica Lada

Today has been a very interesting day to live in Oklahoma.  It’ s a strange thing to look at the radar and see 1/3 of the state covered in tornado warnings.  Not tornado watches–tornado WARNINGS.

A tornado touched down about a quarter of a mile from my house and flattened fences, houses, and telephone poles.  I could tell a long, drawn-out, exciting story about it…but I’ve already told the story several times.   Everyone wants to know if I’m okay.  YES, I’M OKAY.  Our house is fine and we are fine, but we have no power.  OG&E is saying it may take several days to get power back up and after seeing footage of the demolished power poles and towers, I’m not surprised.  We had 100 mph straight-line winds, but we were the lucky ones.  The tornado grew after it buzzed our house.  It leveled brick homes, smashed sheds, and blew vehicles off HW-9.

A Love’s truck stop in Choctaw was basically leveled.

This photo was posted on KFOR.com earlier with the caption "Choctaw Loves tornado damage." No I'm not kidding.

A puny tornado isn't enough to stop a determined cashier from doing her job. Photo posted on KFOR.com

All this during “TORNADO WEEK” as every news station in Oklahoma takes the time to simultaneously remember the May 3rd, 1999 tornado that wiped out most of Moore, OK and also scare the crap out of viewers by showing out of context tornado warnings.  But today the hook echoes were real and so was the damage.  Here’s hoping everyone out there is safe tonight.

Earth Day Festival in Norman, Oklahoma

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Jessica Lada

The Little River Zoo in Norman, Oklahoma
wants to teach kids and remind adults about being kind to the earth, wildlife, and each other. That’s the message they teach every day at the zoo and this Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day, the Little River Zoo is bringing that message to the community. The 11th Annual Kids for Kindness festival is being held at Reaves Park in Norman from noon to 6 p.m. There will be booths from local businesses, lots of fun and educational activities, a petting zoo, and a menagerie of local mascots.

The Little River Zoo is not just your normal zoo where you might spend the afternoon looking at animals through cage bars or perhaps grab a snow cone. From the moment you walk into the Little River Zoo, you’re up close with the animals. When I did the interview for this article, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a full-grown skunk named Honey and I even got to pet a porcupine. Each animal at the Little River Zoo has a story. Most are rescue animals and all are socialized so that they can interact with humans. This zoo does not believe in spectators but in hands-on education. And hands-on education is exactly what they have planned for Sunday.

Director of Operations Mickey Pierce, says, “We have furry little ambassadors, which makes it an easy concept to understand—to love your planet.” The Kids for Kindness event Sunday is free of charge so that everyone has the opportunity to participate and have fun. Co-founder and Director of Little River Zoo Janet Sadler Schmid says, “In the past we’ve had well over 100 different organizations from the community that come together to support the zoo and to put on the event and to send their message from a humane educational level.” Janet says there are activities appropriate for all ages, even toddlers.

At the end of the day, kids will go through a graduation ceremony of sorts. They will make a promise to be a kind kid and be good to the planet, and then get a certificate. “They get their little cup of lady bugs to take with them to understand about letting the ladybugs go—not in the back seat of the car, but in your yard. And that’s kind of a furthering of the message. It’s a life changing thing for a lot of kids,” Janet says.

Each organization that sets up a booth is bringing a message and showing how they work that message into their business. For example, Home Depot will be teaching kids how to plant flowers. Even businesses who are not setting up booths have contributed in other ways, such as providing food for the volunteers, ice, water, transportation, and even a tent for the petting zoo.

It isn’t too late to help out. Janet says they always need more volunteers and Mickey says there is still room for more booths. “It’s a big park. I’m going to take them if they want to come,” Mickey says, even “if I have to write your name on 1000 maps on Saturday.” If you are interested in volunteering or setting up a booth, contact Mickey Pierce at (405) 366-7229.

Whether you come out for an hour or for the entire afternoon, “Kids for Kindness” promises plenty of fun and education for kids and adults alike. And even if you can’t make it out to Reaves Park on Sunday, you can find the same message at the Little River Zoo 365 days a year.   Check them out at http://www.littleriverzoo.com/

–originally posted at Blogcritics.org