Apr 28 2012

Power of Words

Melissa Crytzer Fry

I’m not going to lie. I took one look at the shotgun and its giant shells, and I quickly questioned just who I thought I was and what I thought I was doing slipping into the passenger seat of the patrol car.

This is the bad boy to which I refer. Click to enlarge.

My eyes swept over the barrel, and a thousand stories sprung to life – you know, all the scenarios in which officer, detective and sex crimes specialist Suzie Ivy might operate that firearm while I sat alongside her cowered beneath the dashboard during my citizen ride-along.

Is this glass bulletproof? I thought as I snapped my seatbelt in place. Then I looked at the space beneath my feet. Could I even fit under the dashboard if necessary? And then, Really… I met this woman on Twitter, and now I’m seated in her police cruiser? Voluntarily.

I’m actually familiar with guns. I have a .22 caliber semi-automatic handgun within arm’s reach under my desk. I grew up shooting my dad’s Beretta, and we have a 20-gauge shotgun that packs a nice punch against my shoulder blade (okay … admittedly, the punch comes more from the ammo choice than the gun, but it’s still a little kick).

So maybe it was less my writer’s imagination and more the stories Suzie had already told me: about the serial killer she’d nabbed, the sex offenders she monitored, the victims of sex crimes for whom she still has so much compassion. Maybe it was because I knew the pivotal role she played as lead detective on a nationally known homicide case a few years back (yes, her first day on the job). Maybe I was in awe that this woman, at 5’ 3″, was such a badass.

Suzie Ivy (code name) works in Small Town, AZ (not tellin’ where). At age 45, she decided she wanted to switch careers and attend the police academy. She became the first female officer in her small town and two years later a detective. Now she’s a supervisor. Oh yeah … and a writer.

As it turns out, my ride-along wasn’t a high-action homicide kind of day (though I learned, the next day, a car exploded into flames in a field, and two neighbors decided to settle their differences by shooting at one another during Suzie’s shift).

My introduction to the officer’s life included patrolling within the city limits and driving past places known as Pee Pee Lane (use your imagination), Drug Alley and Little Mexico. I heard stories of the female resident in town who, scantily clad, walks her sheep down the road (Yes, I said sheep); about the man who once lived with so many goats in his house that boots were a necessity upon entry. (Yes, I said goats. And, yes, use your imagination about just what was piled on the floor).

We drove past sex offender houses and trailer parks known for their drug activity; and I eavesdropped while Suzie dealt with vehicle towing issues, stolen property and heartbreaking domestic situations*.

Suzie shared with me how she packages evidence to be sent to the crime lab after a case. I saw, from a distance, the stack of folders belonging to known sex offenders (gulp) in this small town. Click to enlarge.

We surveyed an abandoned house that officers use for building-clearing training. When a man walked through the doorway (the only escape route, mind you) and yelled, “Hey, what are you doing?” I nearly jumped out of my skin. Suzie later said, “I’m glad I didn’t give you a gun.” Yes, I’m jumpy. And yes, I’d have blown the friendly (and known to Suzie) man’s kneecap off in fear. His greeting was meant as a joke. Click to enlarge.

But of all of the components of this surreal (but exciting) experience, what really amazed me was Suzie’s skill. With people. With words.

During patrol, a young man walked right up to the cruiser, poked his head in the passenger’s window (a bit too close to my face … I could see his scraggly teeth…), and said, “You didn’t hear this from me, but 28 over there …” he pointed to a trailer, “I’ve heard they’ve been drying their weed in the morning. Thought you should know.”

Apparently Suzie has a knack for getting people to talk. Like this situation – unsolicited. During confessions and not during confessions. And about nearly everything. When I asked her how she did it, she said, “It’s all about talking, not acting like you’re better than anyone else.” The power of words.

Me… Um … I’ll stick to writing my words on paper… (Though Suzie has me beat there, too. She’s written a few books about her adventures on the police force: Bad Luck Officer and Bad Luck Cadet Suzie Ivy).

Some patrol, some play. The weekend wasn’t all work. We took a hike through a gorgeous canyon on Suzie’s mother’s property. It will not surprise you that the apple did not fall far from the tree. Mama is pretty hardcore!

Mom Ivy bought a remote parcel of 100 acres, the only thing on it a garage. She renovated it into a loft home by herself (electrical wiring, plumbing, built her own walls). It’s not on the grid, either. She powers it with solar and wind. She’s also seen a resident mountain lion that Suzie and I hoped to catch a glimpse of. All we saw was scat (and I found some petrified wood!). Click to enlarge.

Margaritas may or may not have played a role in the taking of this photo & the hat wearing. Me (left) & Suzie (right). Click to enlarge.

This corral, outside of Small Town, AZ, captures Arizona’s spirit. Look at those blue skies! Click to enlarge.

For Readers & Writers: As readers and writers, we understand the power of words to transport. I was reminded, however, during my ride-along last weekend of the power of spoken words to move people to action – the power of those words to heal.

Do you think written words and spoken words hold the same weight? Is one more significant than the other? How do you hope the words in the books you read will affect you? In what ways do you want to influence those who read your words?

*Update: Suzie helped find a solution for a homeless young mother of three who had ME in tears while Suzie talked with her in the squad room. She is GOOD.

** Read about the first time Suzie and I met in person on her blog, BadLuckDetective. Her Twitter handle: @SuzieIvy.

And, when you get a chance, read Suzie’s humorous account of our visit!


57 Responses to “Power of Words”

  • avatar Julia Munroe Martin Says:

    What a great post and a wonderful visit (and ride along)… I know after reading this that I too will be happier sticking to the written word. I am absolutely in awe of Suzie — have always been impressed when reading her blog but now moreso. And I have no doubt I’d have been even more cowering under the dashboard, Melissa! As for the power of words, I think that on a one-to-one crisis basis, the power of spoken words is necessary and hold more power to heal and sustain; but in the long term, I think the written word may hold a little more power and meaning — if only in its permanence. Such a fabulous post — loved the pictures, especially the one of you and Suzie! Beautiful!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Suzie did tell me at one point, “If something really bad happens, just hop over the console and get the hell out of there.” Yes. I gulped. As far as awe: you hit the nail on the head!

    I loved your thoughts about the permanence of the written word. Now we need to get you out here to ride with Suzie.

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  • avatar Shary Says:

    I agree with Julia that in the short term, spoken words have a lot of power both to incite and to diffuse, but written words have so much influence over how society thinks. Except that now we’re in the age of the sound bite, so maybe spoken words are taking over. That scares me a little. I think many of us need time to compose our thoughts, unlike Suzie who seems to be very quick with just the right word. I’m looking forward to exploring her blog and her writing, so thanks for the introduction. I did a ride-along once and it made me doubly sure that I belong behind a desk and probably not anywhere near the public since I can’t think fast on my feet.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Where did you do your ride-along? And BOY do I hear you about the “think on your feet” ailment. I PANIC in stressful situations (ones that most people wouldn’t find stressful – like seeing a robber’s butt hanging out of my neighbor’s window… I was hiding in the oleanders watching before I called police … Or the time I managed to set the microwave on fire… There’s always dancing and fretting and arm-waving, then, with shaky hands, calling 9-1-1). Can you IMAGINE how I’d have been if something BIG had gone down in Small Town?

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    Shary Reply:

    We lived in Anaheim about 12 years ago and they had a program where citizens could learn about various departments of the local police force. I participated for research purposes thinking I might one day need the info for a story. So far I haven’t, but it was an enlightening experience, to say the least.

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  • avatar Lisa Ann Hayes Says:

    Wow – what a great post! You’re both amazing. (takes cajones to do a ride along with that woman):) I think the spoken and written word hold an equal place in society. Lives have been forever changed by spoken words – think Hitler or Martin Luther King, Jr. The written word is such a powerful transportation process. Readers sitting at home can go anywhere in the world, experience so many deep emotions. I find both styles life changing.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I have to admit that Miss Suzie is awesome – and her fearlessness is so completely enviable.

    I agree with your thoughts about the spoken word’s role in history, and the written word’s ability to transport. Yes – both are life changing, indeed.

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  • avatar Suzie Ivy Says:

    Police officers must take emotion out of reports. When I speak to victims/survivors, I can express some of my feelings though not all. The whole process is sad, really. Then I write my blog and I’m able to pour my heart, soul, and humor into my stories. Without this outlet I could not continue in my job.

    I had such a wonderful time with Melissa and it was incredible to see my life through her eyes. She has a gift and I was in awe of her perspective. Thank you Melissa!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thank YOU, fearless woman! What an absolute treat to see you in action. It’s wonderful that you have your writing as an outlet to quench the emotional sparks that are a daily part of the job. You exhibit great strength, even when you’re interviewing. I’m a bonafide crybaby, so that’s another reason I would not be good as an officer. If someone is telling me her sad life’s story, you can BET I will blubber right along. Not professional.

    You are INCREDIBLE, woman! Next time, my small town in AZ, in the Jeep.

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    Suzie Ivy Reply:

    Yes, I want to ride shotgun in the Jeep and be bounced around. Really truly what fun!

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  • avatar Shawna Says:

    Great article, Melissa! I’m inspired now to go on a ride-along with my nephew, who is Tucson officer. My kid’s already been with him numerous times, as well as most members of my family. But when I hear my sister (his mother) talk about how he does 100 mph down residential streets while talking to someone on the radio, fiddling with the sirens/knobs, etc. and punching buttons on a dashboard computer, I’m not real sure I’d have the iron guts to stick it out. (:-o

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    Melissa Reply:

    Hey lady! Glad you liked it. I’m not sure I’d be all that comfy with your nephew either… Eeks! Though, how eerie is this… Minutes before you posted this comment, I was thinking about the strong women I know. And I thought of YOU. Seriously. We might even be talking mere seconds… So, yeah, I think you have the iron guts for it.

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  • avatar Laurie Buchanan Says:

    Ohmygosh – what a FANTASTIC post!

    The “power of words to transport” hits the nail on the head, as with your words you created a PHENOMENAL virtual ride-along for the rest of us!

    I loved all of the photographs, but my favorite is the perhaps-margarita-induced photograph!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m so glad I could share this experience with other writers. I’m not sure my words did this incredible woman justice. Did you read her hilarious companion piece? Not only is she tough, she’s also got a killer sense of humor (pun intended).

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  • avatar Denise Says:

    Great post! Some day I’d love to ride along with Suzie. She’s fabulous. (Nice to meet you!)

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    Melissa Reply:

    So nice to meet you, Denise. Thanks for stopping by. I couldn’t agree more about Suzie’s incredible-ness :-). You MUST do a ride-along with her if you’re in the state.

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  • avatar Karen Sandoval Says:

    Hi, after reading Suzie’s blog about your weekend together, I hopped over here to see your civilian take on the ride along, and your visit! You girls look like you could be sisters! It sounds like you both had a wonderful visit despite the domestic thing that made you cry (so glad she fixed it). And nice to meet you!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I would be honored to be Suzie’s sister. SO nice to meet you, too, Karen. Happy you stopped by.

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  • avatar Donna Says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your post, Melissa! I am so glad that Suzie guided me your way. You have a new fan. I agree with Karen – you two look so much alike!

    Both written and spoken words can have powerful effects or consequences. I think the most powerful thing about the written word is that it is exactly that – written and forever there and accessible to us in the future. Yes, spoken words are as well, but in a way. We never forget words of kindness just as we don’t forget ugly things that have been thrown our way. As for words in a book – I love it when the words an author choose cause me to react, either by laughing, crying, panicking, thinking, whatever. Take me to a new place. If I were to write something, I would want my readers to do the same and maybe think about things in a new way.

    Thank you, Melissa, for making me even ponder the power of words! I get in my wide open “get ‘er done” mode and this kind of thinking seems to take a back seat! I look forward to reading more of your posts!

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    Melissa Reply:

    Such a pleasure to meet you, Donna. So true about the power of ugly things – and positive things – to stick with us with the same kind of permanence of written words. I’m with you 100% about what I want I want fictional words to do for me: make me “feel” in some way, experience some sort of emotion, and take me new places!

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  • avatar Cynthia Robertson Says:

    What a fun (and exciting) day for you, Melissa. I follow Suzie’sbolg too. Great writing and strange adventures to be found there. How cool that her mom is ‘off the grid’, that’s my fantasy. 100 acres and no electric bill sounds like Heaven. I’ll pass on the mountain lion though. Just knowing it’s out there would make me nervous!
    Beautiful photos. Love the one of the old paddock. Lovely, fascinating post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    We, too, would love to be off grid sometime (and are planning for it, finance availability, of course). Glad you like the paddock shot; one of my favorites. The skies were gorgeous that day!

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  • avatar Virginia Kahler-Anderson, aka HomeRearedChef Says:

    Thank you, Melissa, for a wonderful read! You made me feel like I was a third party riding along with you two ladies. And I am so very jealous that you’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting my Hero. 🙂

    I am very anxious and looking forward to reading your next adventure with Suzie.

    ~Virginia

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    Melissa Reply:

    Next adventure with Suzie will probably involve some trips into the mountains in my neck of the desert in my old Jeep, Betty. Like Betty White, she’s 1) white and 2) a trooper for her age!

    I fully understand why Suzie is your hero. Mine, too. Pretty darn awesome.

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  • avatar Lucy Says:

    I read Suzie on Blogher and she writes about her life like it is normal and I felt way more like you! Loved the way your words described your visit, I totally ‘got it’

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    Melissa Reply:

    Yay! That’s what I was hoping for as a writer – for you to at least ‘get’ how I felt about the experience! I agree: people shooting at one another is just “another day at work” for Suzie. Incredible. I’d be a bit apprehensive to go to work each morning…

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  • avatar Leah Says:

    What a great post! I’m excited you went on a ride-along. I’ve always wanted to do that too. That’s a great question about whether the spoken or written word has more weight. I can’t say for sure, but I think they go hand in hand. I remember watching one of my favorite TV shows (still is), “The West Wing.” I’d be so moved by the dialogue and things the characters said. And then I remember that it was Aaron Sorkin, the writer, who scribed those words. I’m in awe of him. But then of course, it takes the right person and power to deliver them as well. What a great question!!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I love that you pay tribute to the invisible folks behind these wonderful television shows (and movies). To me, they are, indeed, the unseen and unsung heroes. Acting would not exist without the stories behind it.

    PS You SHOULD do a ride-along.

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  • avatar Tom Honea Says:

    thanks for sharing ! … this is just the best kind of experience. new friend and new adventures. … i am happy for the both of you. … makes me want to plan a trip to arizona.
    tom honea

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    Melissa Reply:

    You summed it up PERFECTLY, Tom: “new friend, new adventures.” I’m sure Suzie would be happy to show you the ropes in Small Town, AZ.

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  • avatar Jolina Petersheim Says:

    Wow! What a terrific experience, Melissa, and — for the record — I’m pretty sure I would’ve been cowering under the dashboard with ya! I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that when I married and moved, I checked the sex offender lists to make sure I would recognize faces if I came across them during my walks. The creepiest thing of all, though, was when one scrawny, blue-eyed guy came waltzing into our store one day, and I knew his face from that list. The office remained my haven until he left. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Oh my GOSH… I would have done the same thing with creepy-blue-eyed man. In fact, I might STILL be locked in my office. I’m half afraid to check the sex offender list in our area, which is a very, very small town – because I’m darn sure we’ve got folks on the list.

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  • avatar Annie Neugebauer Says:

    What a cool experience! Wow, Suzie sounds amazing. And I love the picture of you two in the hats. =)

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    Melissa Reply:

    I knew those hats would get us in trouble!

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  • avatar StoriesAndSweetPotatoes Says:

    What an amazing experience! And it appears I have a new blog to check out… After working at Trader Joe’s and meeting all sorts of people I checked the sex offender database because I was SURE I knew at least one. I didn’t…

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    Melissa Reply:

    Glad you didn’t know any of the folks on the list. And, yes, check out Suzie’s blog for sure. Always inspirational!

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  • avatar Shari Lopatin Says:

    Wow Melissa, what a cool experience! And Suzie sounds like someone I’d want to spend an afternoon with, too. 🙂 It’s amazing, the power that words can have on other lives, huh? I don’t think either the written word, or spoken word, is stronger. I think it depends on the actual words, and the way in which they’re used. Great post! I really enjoyed reading it. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    SO true that it’s all about the words themselves and how they are used. Insightful (and yes, you’d definitely want to spend an afternoon with Suzie. Oh the stories she can tell!)

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  • avatar Erika Marks Says:

    I am so in awe of BOTH of you. Suzie, I’m sure you hear this plenty but you are an inspiration–I cannot even begin to imagine all you have to cope with in any given day (though Melissa, you did a wonderful job of giving us a front-seat view in this amazing post!). All I know, Melissa and Suzie, is that your words (spoken and written) are certainly making a huge difference in our world and I want to thank you for them. 🙂

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Erika, for saying our words are making a difference in the world. I think that’s the greatest compliment ever!

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  • avatar Millivers Travels Says:

    Wow. It may not have been a high-action homicide kind of day but it sounded scary enough! Also looks like you had a blast (eek, didn’t mean to pun) during your off-time.

    Mama Ivy sounds amazing too. I would love to see her off-the-grid ranch.

    I’m so jealous you had this adventure! On the other hand, hmm. I might have been too chicken to actually get in the patrol car.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Nah. You wouldn’t have been too chicken. Suzie would have made you feel right at home. And safe!

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  • avatar Mahesh Raj Mohan Says:

    I’ve always wanted to go on a ride-along with a police officer. Thanks for sharing this. I’m not at all surprised that you know how to shoot various weapons (good skill to have in general). As to your question, I tend to put more stock in written communication, but I’m biased because I generally express myself better that way. And spoken communication takes definite art and skill, as Suzie Ivy demonstrates in your blog post!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m like you, Mahesh. I think I express myself better with written words — maybe because of the extra time afforded to getting the words just right.

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  • avatar Kimberly Brock Says:

    You are a brave soul and Ms. Susie Ivy is an inspiration! It takes something special to face what she sees every day and keep faith in humanity. But I also think a person who does her job must have a great deal of faith in general, they see the good in folks, see past themselves and that’s why they’re approachable. I really admire that brand of genuine.

    I think that is the power in her words and in ANY words. We tell our truths through our words, even when we are lying. When I write, I am always aware of the fact that one or another my words will reveal the character and the story and ultimately, me, as the author, on a thousand levels I never imagined. You gift of a ride with Suzie Ivy is a reminder to me to be transparent. And know when to shoot at kneecaps, but that’s another post.

    Now, Melissa. You need to wear that hat. Seriously. I want to see your Gravatar sporting the new look. 😉

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  • avatar Tracy Mangold Says:

    Oh how fun that would be! Emotional highs and lows. But so very interesting! Love that you blogged about it! I think spoken words – because of the inflection used – conveys more power in one way while written words carry a totally different power to them. I can physically destroy a letter of scathing words. I cannot destroy that which someone has spoken. And yet the written word is there in black and white and sometimes that has a more devastating effect. It’s hard to say because it depends on the situation. I hope that makes sense. GREAT post.

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    Melissa Reply:

    You make a good point about being able to physically destroy written words, but that spoken ones can rattle around in our heads for an eternity. You’re right; it depends on the situation. Here’s to words in all their forms.

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  • avatar Christi Craig Says:

    What an experience! And, you ask an interesting question. Like many have said, both the spoken and written word carry a similar weight but a different effect. I know this isn’t quite on the same vein as your post… But, as a reader, I love when the written word transports me. I love even more when I can hear the author read those words aloud, as the listening experience adds a whole other level to the way a story can resonate with me.

    Great post, Melissa!

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    Melissa Reply:

    I’m like you, Christi. I enjoy “hearing” the author’s voice in the things I read.

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  • avatar Lori Parker Says:

    I want to be Suzie when I grow up! And I’ll post on twitter every day how many kneecaps I took out. I’m a firm believer in “to the pain.” Arthritis, a limp, and crutches from now on, buddy boy… Hee-Hee!

    For the words part, I think written is stronger just because of longevity and it can’t be remembered incorrectly, but during a crisis, calmness is the ticket. Personally, I am not calm. Alas. =) Fabulous post, Melissa. Your fun just jumps off the screen.

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    Melissa Reply:

    I am with you, friend. NOT calm. And why does it not surprise me that you’re all about “to the pain” — after reading your delicious Lucky 7 Post, I’ve seen just how hardcore your characters (and YOU)can be!

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  • avatar Linda Anselmi Says:

    Wonderful pictures Melissa! I particularly loved the last one. Perfect! So evocative of AZ cattle country!

    Sounds like you really did a “ride along” of Suzie’s life adventure! I don’t know how Suzie does it in person, it is hard enough to read about even some of the heartbreak.

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    Melissa Reply:

    Thanks, Linda. I loved the last photo of the corral as well; such beautiful country. And I certainly don’t know how Suzie does it, either — a heartbreaking job.

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  • avatar Eden Says:

    What great insights into Suzie’s life and work and skill. I’m way too scared of guns to be near that rifle. Of course I’m also terrified of jumper cables and car batteries, but that’s a personal problem. Thanks for letting me live vicariously through you writing.

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  • avatar Susan Okaty Says:

    What a fabulous opportunity, Melissa! And what an amazing woman (oh, and you, too). Loved the last picture of the corral.

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  • avatar Nina Says:

    What I love about written words over spoken is the ability to go back over parts we didn’t understand or parts we love. Personally, I have a hard time remembering information that is not written down.

    That said, a really great speaker is very powerful.

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