The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Wednesday Wars

Sometimes, my stubbornness pays off. This book is one of those times.

I got through one chapter of The Wednesday Wars– and I wanted to quit.

My passion is middle grades fiction. I adore it. And this book had a Newberry Honor Medal right on the cover. But I was bored. I didn’t take to Holling Hoodhood, the protagonist, right away. He kept prattling on about Treasure Island, which I’d never read & didn’t give a flying fig about. Plus, he seemed kind of whiny.

But I kept reading…

The Wednesday Wars turned out to be one of the most moving, gut-punch real feelings books I’ve read in a while. I will cop to being enamored that much of the book works its way around and through Shakespeare’s plays (the Shakespearian curses–and the big themes, too). It’s set in 1967-68, so the book also reckons with the Vietnam war and the tense political climate (A+.for being historical without feeling preachy or teachy).

I loved all those things… but  most loved that Gary D. Schmidt creates a seventh grade protagonist who likes Shakespeare AND baseball, who says stupid things AND cares deeply that he said them, who is learning AND feeling AND making the reader laugh. (And maybe cry, too.) Schmidt’s artful turns of plot and his ability to narrate with stark honesty and beauty made this book a stand-out.

We need more protagonists like Holling: boys who are sensitive, kind, brave, and real. And seventh graders need more adults who take them seriously, who listen, and who remember how hard seventh grade can be.

If I Was A Character In A Book…

Play along! If you were a character in a book, what would you be like? Leave your description in the comments.

If I was a character in a book, I would be…

40 years old. Single, but in an on again off again relationship with a woman I loved but just couldn’t quite seem to commit to. And I’d have a perfectly trained German Shepherd, named Jack, who seemed to be able to read my mind. He’d ride everywhere in the passenger seat of my pickup truck. No leash necessary for Jack. He’s a good boy.

I’d live somewhere in the mountains, where I could hike and camp often. And I would. I’d be the kind of woman folks would refer to as fiercely independent. I’d be able to set up a campsite in my sleep. I’d know how to make the best damn coffee you’d ever had, just sat the sun pushed it’s way into the morning sky (I’d definitely be an early riser). And I’d be able to catch a fish, clean it, and cook it over the campfire on a moment’s notice. I’d spend a lot of time in the woods because I’d enjoy the time to myself, in the quiet, where I could think (Jack, the German Shepard, would always be with me, of course). I’d be both deeply spiritual and deeply insightful. I’d cuss like a sailor at the drop of a hat. But I’d be unfalteringly kind and patient, especially with kids and animals. From adults, I’d take no bullshit.

I’d be a straight-talker. Unafraid of speaking my truth. My mom would be my best friend–and we’d spend lots of afternoons fixing up her house or baking together. She’d always get after me to settle down and have kids. I’d tell her to go get her a dog to keep her occupied.

A journalist by trade, I’d get to travel all over the United States. Intrepid reporting, that’d be my calling. Readers would call me fearless. My editor would call me a pain in the ass. But I’d always come through with the story. And sometimes those stories would actually change things.

I’d have blondish curly hair that hung past my shoulders, which I’d usually pile into some crazy ass looking bun on the top of my head. I’d be not quite tan, but definitely sun-kissed. With lots of freckles and luminous green eyes. Jeans and cowboy boots would be my go-to, along with well-worn button up oxfords. And I’d never, not once, be caught dead in a dress.

I’d be completely devoted to helping LGBTQ kids in crisis that sometimes passed through my small town on their way to somewhere else, often letting them crash in the studio apartment adjacent to the barn. Of course I’d have a barn. And a horse. Named Clyde. The kids would come and go as they needed. They’d know I was always there for tough love and compassion. I’d love each of them more than I’d admit to myself. I’d end up adopting one, a young man named Miles, right before his 16th birthday. Because when people are meant to be family, they just know it.

I’d be happy and strong. Independent and kind. And I’d never give one flying fuck what anyone had to say about me or the way I lived my life. Because I’d be absolutely sure, 100%, that I was loved by the Universe. And that life was a grand adventure, and I was lucky to be along for the ride.

If you were a character in a book, who would you be?

Shhhh… (Rise and Shine)

I’ve got to get up before the sun to get some peace & quiet… and to enjoy a cup of coffee before the litany of questions begin.

My hair’s kind of all over the place lately. It’s growing out from a pixie cut. Which basically translates into chaos atop my head. But it’s managed chaos. And I kind of like it.

Unless I have to blow-dry it.

My hair is wavy. Unless I break out the blowdryer. Then it’s flat as a pancake. No… flatter. A crepe. It’s as flat as a crepe. And then I hate it and want to shave it off.

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So, obviously, I’ve got motivation to let it air dry. The GI Jane look is so 1997, you know?

Anyway, I asked my buddy, who has much curlier hair that is actually styled by a professional (my last haircut was almost a year ago), if she let’s her hair air dry even in the winter. She sure does. I think she saw my perplexed look–because it’s about 30 degrees in Atlanta in the mornings.

“Well,” she said slowly… “I wash my hair an hour before I leave the house. So it’s dry before I go to work.”

Ah, yes. Of course. Got it.

But I can’t do that.

Not because I am not up an hour before I leave the house. I am. In fact, I’m up TWO hours before we leave the house.

But…

I purposely get up before the sun so I can start my day the way I want to. I get up and read and meditate and prepare for the day before any of my people (even the dog) have stirred from their slumber. Well, at least that’s the plan. Sometimes, I swear Jane can smell me wake up. And then she’s up, too. But the very hope of having a moment to start my day, of having a cup of coffee without a soul asking me questions, that hope’s enough to drive me out of bed at 5:30 a.m.

And then, by 6, the circus has begun. And it’s a lovely circus. These are, in fact, my monkeys and my circus.

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But they’re distracting. And before I realize it, it’s 7:10. And my hair cannot handle another round of dry shampoo. Well, maybe it could, but we don’t really want to test that, do we?

But here’s the thing, no one can follow me into the shower. I mean, they could technically. But they won’t because they’ve got relatively good boundaries. And while Jane won’t follow me into the shower, the very sight of me with a book in hand makes her remember the 145,000 things she forgot to tell me. Even though she just saw me a moment ago and her only concern then was whether or not I remembered to buy her a Lunchable.

That’s one of a million things they don’t tell you about being a mom: You will not be able to get a minute to yourself. Not for the first 8 years at least. But, while I’m jockeying for just one moment alone, I’m also very conscious of the fact that, one day, I’ll long for this time when she both wanted and needed me. One day, I’ll have all the time alone I could ever want.

Which makes getting up at 5:30 a.m. just to get some peace & quiet seem not so bad.

 

 

Let’s All Play to Our Strengths: I’ll Make the Coffee

My husband just popped his head out of his office. I could feel him peering at me tentatively. “Hello…” he began.

I turned around from where I’d been reading and writing at the dining room table my desk. Really, I’d just been trying not to make any sudden movements and wake up the dog, who has a propensity to be a close-talker and follow me everywhere I go when she’s awake.

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He continued: “If, at any time, you know, over the next hour or so you wanted to make coffee, that’d be really nice. I’d love a cup.”

I stared back at him for a moment. “Maybe you should just ask for what you want,” I replied.

He looked unsure but proceeded anyway. “I’m on a conference call. Can you make me a cup of coffee?” He paused for just a beat. “See why I didn’t want to do that? It sounds like you’re my secretary.”

“Yeah,” I concurred. “I thought that’s what I wanted you to say. But now I just want to punch you.”

Ah… marriage.

I made him the coffee, by the way. It’s brewing right now. He didn’t ask because he’s a chauvinist asshole who thinks that women should make the coffee. He just really sucks at making coffee. I have no idea how it goes so sideways. But it does, every time. So, I take mercy on him, and I make the coffee.

Truth be told, I like to do nice things for him now. There’s something about actively choosing the person that you’re with–and not at all in a theoretical sense–that brings clarity that every day is a choice. And so is kindness. And love. So, I make the coffee. To save him from himself.

It’s this constant refrain of choice in our relationship that makes me bristle when people hear about Simon’s transition and they utter a little sigh and say something akin to “Love is love.” It used to bother me because I thought such a glib statement somehow diminished my identity struggles. But now I hate it because it doesn’t honor the hard work we put in to stay together. It overlooks the absolute honesty with which we had to face each other–and ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of bravery to be completely honest in a 10+ year marriage. The greeting card version of our relationship can’t even scratch the surface of what I feel for him–and the pain, and loss, and work it took to uncover those feelings. I am so proud of us. But none of this came easily.

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We laughed recently about how completely normal our lives are. I mean, on some level we must thrive on chaos, since once we got 100% on board with staying together, we moved. Then I decided I’d open a bookstore. But it’s normal in that nothing is imploding. And our lives don’t feel like constantly shifting sand anymore. In fact, our lives feel solid–like ground that we can build something real and lasting on.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Parable of the Sower

Holy Hell Fire.

I haven’t read something that shook me to the core like this since I read The Handmaid’s Tale in college. I wish every person over 18 in the United States had to read this novel. Because it’s scary as fuck. And I wish I didn’t believe Octavia Butler had prophesied our future as a country–but it seems more and more plausible by the day.

I picked up the book simply because I was embarrassed to say I hadn’t ready any of Butler’s books. I picked Parable of the Sower for no other reason than the cover made it clear the protagonist would be a young black woman–she kinda looked like she was going to kick some ass.

By the end of the first page, I forgot I was reading a book. No time necessary to settle into the story or to adjust to the narrator/protagonist. There was just the story. And, Good GOD, what a story.

It’s a futuristic, dystopian novel. Don’t expect to be spared blood, gore, or pain. If you are too fragile–or jaded–to be horrified, look somewhere else. But, if you want what feels like an objective view of our future if we don’t halt civil rights infringements, the ever-evolving militarization of our police forces, rampant racism, and escalating climate change–read on.

Do not read this right before bed. And find someone who will listen as you sort your feelings about this novel. Because you’ll have feelings. Big ones. Necessary ones, I believe.

Just Surrender Already

Some lessons are harder for me than others…

Foot pain.

Seriously. Foot pain.

Just saying it makes me feel about 100 years old.

Foot pain isn’t funny. And I hadn’t learned a lesson from it. Which is why I haven’t written about it–until today.

So, here it is: I’ve been struggling with aching and burning in my right foot since October. First, I thought it was plantar fasciitis. So, I did exercises to strengthen my feet. I stretched. And it, mostly, went away. Until around Thanksgiving, when it came raging back. My mom suggested it might be a bone spur (she’s capable of going form zero to bubonic plague in 3 seconds or less). I shrugged it off and kept running. Because, the honest to God truth was that it hurt whether I ran or not. And sometimes it felt better when I ran. I certainly wasn’t going to give up running without evidence of direct causation. And I had none.

Then, 3 days ago, I was standing in mountain pose, and I swear to the sweet baby Jesus that it felt like my foot was on fire. ON FIRE.

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It couldn’t possibly have hurt worse if I was actually walking over hot coals. (Okay, it could have hurt a little worse, but who’s story is this anyway??) That was the moment when I began to believe this might be an actual problem.

Then, that night, the pain. in. my. foot... it woke me up THREE separate times. The next morning, my first sensations were pain and a little bit of desperation. (I need a lot of sleep to be a regular human. Now, my foot pain was interfering with that. Not today, Satan)

So, I surrendered. (Things always work so much better when I surrender, but I’m a slow learner of that particular lesson) I started googling folks I could see about this pain.

Part of my reluctance to have anyone look at my foot wasn’t just pigheadedness. It was flat out fear. My arch collapsed when I was 12 or 13. I’d been running in shitty shoes because I didn’t know any better. I saw a podiatrist who created orthotics for my shoes. Swell. I wore them. But that same podiatrists wanted to do surgery on both my feet when I was in college. He wanted to rebuild my arches. Each surgery would have meant I was non-weight-bearing on that foot for 6-8 weeks. So, basically, he wanted to take an otherwise healthy college kid in her early 20s out of commission for about 4 months–even though I wasn’t in any pain.

You can guess the profanity I let fly in the general direction of that idea.

Add to that experience that my arches have been wildly sensitive ever since then (I don’t like foot massages because I’m afraid someone will touch my arches), and I had a real recipe for avoidance.

But, in my google search, I ran across a foot massage practice right in my neighborhood. In fact, I’d noticed it several times as I drove by. I’m pretty into supporting our local businesses, so I booked an appointment.

That’s right: I booked an appointment, the sole purpose of which was to have someone massage my feet.

Good GOD.

But I was surrendering, you see.

When I got to the place, it looked a little haphazardly cobbled together (which isn’t too out of character for the neighborhood). The massage place was housed in a side building attached to a larger building (our neighborhood gym). The entrance was kind of hidden. And I knocked and didn’t get an immediate answer (it didn’t look like a place you just wander in). I almost left.

But, then, someone opened the door and invited me in.

And I surrendered.

I went in and sat down in a recliner. I soaked my feet in warm water with Epsom salts, apple cider vinegar, and essential oils. Already my foot felt better than it had in months. So, when they took out the massage cream and a scraper to break up the fascia in my arches, I took a deep breath–and surrendered to the process. I hated the scraping. It tickle/hurt, I almost flew out of the damn chair. But I did as I was told–I breathed deeply and let it pass.

My foot got massaged, pulled on, popped, shaken, and scraped. I probably smell like essential oils and fear. Or maybe relief. Because it’s not all better. But I can see, from here, a time when it will be better. And I am very grateful for that.

And all I had to do was surrender.

Stop It. That Cupcake is Not BAD.

What I eat does not define me. It does not make me “good” or “bad.” We’re selling ourselves short to think otherwise.

I dislike it when people talk about food.

No… that’s not quite right.

I dislike it when people imbue foods with odd mystical powers: like the idea that they can make you good or bad, if you eat them.

I hate it when I tell people I ran recently, and they say something like “Oh, then you deserve that cupcake.” Wait. What?

I get miffed if someone tells me how many calories are in something. Or, even worse, turns their nose up at something I’m eating because it’s not healthy enough or isn’t “worth it.” What the fuck?

I like food. Done right, food has the potential to be a communal gathering spot where we can come together to nourish our bodies and souls. Everybody’s gotta eat, right? And I think we should–by and large–eat foods that we love. And we can love a vast array of foods, if we expose ourselves to them.

But hell if I am going to eat something just to be thin. No. Not a chance. ‘

I spent half of high school walking around in an undernourished daze. I ate so little that my stomach hurt constantly. I couldn’t think clearly. I was anxious and depressed. It was horrible. Anxiety controlled what I was able to consume (which was very, very little). Then, later on, I grasped on to restricting my food intake as a way to control something in my life. Much of my pride and self-worth was tied to my thinness.

That’s a shit way to live.

What I eat doesn’t make me worthy. Or unworthy. Sure, I have a weight at which my body feels most right. Because that’s what’s most important to me: feeling good in my own body.

That’s why I run. Mentally & physically, it makes me feel better. I think more clearly. I feel more capable.

And when I eat, I choose my food based on flavors, preferences, and overall common sense about nutrition. I don’t think foods can be “good” or “bad.” That salad doesn’t make me a better person. Not even a little. And that cupcake doesn’t make me “bad.” Gross. I wish people would stop pushing that rhetoric on to the next generation of girls. Because, yes, they are listening.

I want to be healthy and strong. I want to have enough energy every day to really embrace my life. I want my daughter to see me eat food and appreciate it for exactly what it is: fuel to live the rest of my life. Nourishment. An opportunity to gather together.

And if my daughter asks me if I want to have ice cream with her, the answer is going to be yes. Yes, I want to embrace this moment of your childhood. Yes, I want to celebrate the here and now. And, yes, my life is defined by so much more than the amount of calories in this ice cream cone.