The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Grant Park (Leonard Pitts, Jr)

I didn’t immediately get swept away in Grant Park’s narrative. The cover promised a lot: a thriller that critically examines race in America. The thriller part never quite delivered for me. But the nuanced look at race in America, that rang a lot truer. I’m glad I hung in for it.

Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote columns for the Miami Herald for years. And it shows. He’s able to write characters that grapple with racial issues (internally & externally)–as well as expose the less noble parts of folks exasperated by the national conversation about race (or lack thereof). He lets you inside the heads of a successful black journalist and a kind-of-successful, white newspaper editor–both of whom are fed up with the racial tableau in America. But, because this is a good piece of writing, nothing about the two men is quite as straight forward as it seems.

As a white reader, I never felt preached at. But I also didn’t feel pandered to. Pitts showed dogged determination in giving his readers an honest look at what it’s like to be black in America. Pitts creates a narrative that demonstrates that no group exists as a monolith–not black folks, not white folks–and that we can still be redeemed. But redemption means wrestling with our own selves first, conquering our own demons. And then listening to each other. One by one. Redemption isn’t wholesale. According to Pitts, the fight might be won one soul at a time.

Puzzling Through

Know what grace looks like for me? It looks like reckoning with a 1000 piece puzzle. It looks like family. It looks like gratitude.

It’s been a few weeks since Jane and I embarked on our Epic Puzzling Adventure. One day at Target, more or less on a whim, I picked up a 1000 piece puzzle because I am a glutton for punishment adventurous. A puzzle seemed like a nifty, wholesome way for Jane and I to do some quality time. I mean, usually I opt for giggling with her as people face-plant on AFV or expressing my deeply held belief about Pilgrims in our spare time. But, I mean, a puzzle could be fun, too.

 

We dumped the entire puzzle on the dining room table and set about sorting through ONE THOUSAND PIECES to find all the edge pieces. The sheer volume of little funny shaped cardboard pieces meant they got shuffled all about, some teetering precariously on the edge of the table. Our boxer pup slimed at least one of them as she sniffed to figure out if they seemed edible (that dog and I have VERY different ideas about what might be edible). Occasionally, Jane and I would hear a piece quietly thunk to the floor. And then we’d yell, “DON’T LET THE DOG GET IT!”, as we both scrambled to find it before Delilah used it as her daily dose of fiber.

Pro Tip: If it’s going to take you weeks to finish a puzzle, you probably shouldn’t leave it on the dining room table. If you do, pieces will get shuffled under papers. Someone might use your puzzle as a coaster. The dog might occasionally try to snag a piece off the table, not really because she’s interested but because it’ll get a rise out of the whole family.

Jane and I took to doing the puzzle in spurts. We’d start on it and get really engrossed in finding a specific kind of piece. I liked the aqua camper. She got entranced by the fire. Then, invariably, one of us would get bored and wander off (usually her) while the other puzzled on valiantly (usually me). But even if Jane wandered off, she’d pop back in frequently, always finding a piece to snap into place or cheering me on when I was on a hot puzzling streak (you wish you were me, don’t you? I know. I’m hella cool.)

These moments, when we were working together toward something that seemed almost unreachable, they gave me hope. The whole trope about mothers and daughters not getting along really bugs me. I love my kid a lot. But I also really LIKE her. I value her input. I think she has stellar ideas. She’s introspective and kind. I want her to choose me when she’s an adult. I am hyper aware that children do not have to choose to allow parents to be part of their lives. I hope I am the kind of mother that she will want to rely on, that she will trust, that she’ll look to for encouragement and support. And the fact that we could work together on this damn puzzle, even when one of us got frustrated, meant something to me. It meant a lot, really.

As we got close to the end, Jane kept wanting to count the pieces. And I tried my hardest to stop her. I just knew, after all the shuffling, falling, coaster-using… I knew we’d be missing some pieces. Well, I didn’t know. But I assumed. And I didn’t want to know for sure. Because why would it be worth it to do this crazy big puzzle, if we couldn’t even get all the pieces together?  I mean, what would be the point even?

And sure enough…

IMG_7796-2

But, in the most bizarre twist, I realized that I wasn’t bothered. Not really. Because if you leaned back a little, that missing piece wasn’t as noticeable. My eyes kept landing, instead, on the parts of the puzzle Jane & I had adopted as our own, the ones we’d worked so hard on.

IMG_7795

And if I stood back even further, all I could really see was all the bright colors, and the woodland creatures wreaking havoc on a hapless campground, and the hours of fun and camaraderie. Unless I looked for it, I really couldn’t see that missing piece at all.

IMG_7794

Jane keeps asking if it bugs me, that we’re missing ONE piece. I get why she asks: I kind of acted like it would be the dawn of the apocalypse if we lost a piece. But I keep assuring her that it doesn’t matter.

For my first 33 years, I spent so much time fixated on what was lacking. Looking back, it feels like sometimes lack was ALL I could see. I missed lots of beautiful people, experiences, moments … they were all muted, drowned out by what I thought I didn’t have.

Know what grace is for me? Realizing that lack no longer defines my worldview. That each day, I’m astounded by what I do have. Because my whole life could’ve gone down so very differently. Getting sober taught me to see all the beauty that weaves itself together, so that lack isn’t apparent. It taught me to look at the bigger picture–and to be grateful for the 999 pieces that we do still have.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Dark Places (by Gillian Flynn)

I was simultaneously repelled and sucked in. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And I hid from my family to read it over Thanksgiving vacation. So, yeah, it was a pretty good read.

Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn (of Gone Girl fame), scared the ever-loving shit out of me.

And there you have it.

The story both sucked me in and repelled me. I wanted to know more, to solve the puzzle, to KNOW what happened. Simultaneously, I just wanted to get it out of my head.

It’s grizzly y’all. The scene that plays over and over again is horrific. It gave me nightmares. And I couldn’t shake it, couldn’t stop it from running on a loop in the back of my mind.

But what’s really compelling about the book is that there are no heroes. Everyone (save perhaps one character) is multi-faceted, complex, and far from perfect. The points of view vary, which adds a texture that builds suspense and draws out the mystery. And it relies on the one principle that shoots abject fear through my heart: everything can rest on one decision. One decision can end life as you know it.

But can it really?

Or is there something bigger at play, beneath the surface, in our subconscious, in events that other people set in motion?

I’m not sure this book will answer that question. But it sure as hell will make you ponder it. And isn’t that what horror is supposed to do: make us wrangle with the light & darkness within ourselves and question what really separates the good from evil?

And maybe that line is much thinner than we think.

 

 

The Sam I Am Chronicles

This is Sam I Am. I love him. But we had a falling out earlier this week. I’m trying to forgive. Really. But he’s an elf. He has ONE JOB. I just need him to do that job. Is that too much to ask?

This is Sam I Am, our Elf on the Shelf. This little dude caused me some serious angst earlier this week.

Let me start out by clarifying that the elf & I, we are buddies. I love this damn thing. He’s mischievous. And silly. He gets into a kinds of stuff. Makes Jane laugh first thing in the morning. And, above all, our elf is NOT a snitch. He doesn’t report back to Santa. Because we’re not living in an Orwell novel. He just hangs out with us at Christmastime. End of story.

Every year, Sam I Am magically appears right after Thanksgiving. One time he showed up in Nana’s red button drawer (yes, Nana has SO MANY BUTTONS that there is a special drawer just for the red ones). But most times, he’s chillin’ somewhere in the house when we return from Thanksgiving.

That’s what happened this time. He was taking a little snooze in one of Jane’s doll beds when we got home. We ooohhhed and ahhhed over his adorableness. We talked about how tired he must’ve been from his trip. Jane was over the moon with excitement. She’d been looking forward to his visit all the way home from Florida (for all SEVEN excruciating hours in the car).

This Christmas Season was looking all kinds of promising.

Then the little bastard didn’t move during the night. So when Jane woke up the next morning, he was in EXACTLY the same spot he’d been the day before.

And she was CRUSHED.

Did someone accidentally touch him? she fretted. What if LiLi sniffed him and he lost his magic? What if he was NEVER GOING TO MOVE AGAIN?!?!

If I were to begin to describe to you exactly how awful I felt, what a failure I felt like as a parent, because this damn elf hadn’t moved, you’d think I was exaggerating. But, for real, y’all… holidays are kind of hard for me. But this elf is pure magic. Joy. I love him so. AND HE HADN’T MOVED. And now our whole house was in mourning.

Fortunately, because he’s magic, Sam I Am pulled his shit together, broke ALL the elf rules, and moved during the day, while Jane was playing in her fort outside. He left a note, which I didn’t photograph because I don’t keep tangible evidence of my worst parenting moments, but it went something like this:

Jane, 

Sorree I made yoo askared. I wuz tired.

<3, Sam I Am

Jane found him on our bookshelves with a cup on his head and various other stackable cups strewn about around him. She forgave him right away. Because she’s good like that. I’m a little slower to forgive, but I’m coming around.

Then he went and put his butt in our cereal:

IMG_7752

Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Asimov’s I, Robot

I, Robot. It’s about adverbs & adjectives. I mean, it’s about robots. It’s sci-fi with interesting ethical dilemmas. After you get through the adjectives.

Recently, a friendly stranger proffered boxes of sci-fi and fantasy books to fuel my used bookstore dreams. I know enough to admit what I don’t know. And I don’t, at all, know sci-fi. I told my super-rad benefactor this. “No experience with sci-fi at all?” he asked, quizzically. “Well, I did love Battlestar Gallactica… the TV series,” I offered sheepishly. “Oh,” he responded with relief. “You’ll be fine then. Start with Asimov.”

So I did.

I picked I, Robot for the most basic of reasons: it sounded familiar. My copy (a 1983 edition) features a little girl & a pretty dang benign looking robot on the cover. Cool. I’m fascinated by the concept of robots actually developing feelings—evolving into them. Because can they be feelings, if they’re programmed “experiences”? And how the hell is the robot supposed to know what’s up?

I’m sure there are technical, sci-fi-y ways to describe this conundrum. Of course, I don’t know them.

But I do knowthat I could barely FIND the robots in the book for all the adjectives and adverbs Asimov through at me continuously. So many, many words to describe, well, not too much.

The book took me weeks to complete. Weeeeeeeks. But I learned the 3 Laws of Robotics, which tie the stories about nanny robots, mind reading robots, self-righteous robots, playful & clever robots, and machines together. And, ultimately, I was left with some weighty ethical & philosophical questions about free-will versus the greater good.

But it took so very many adjectives to get there.

I Went to Demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. And I (re)Learned an Important Lesson about America.

I went to the Capitol to demand that Georgia Count Every Vote. I left with a much deeper understanding of race in America.

When this came across my Facebook feed earlier this week, I immediately cleared my schedule to go:

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 10.19.24 AM

I believe that protest DOES matter, that it can change things. And I’ve also come to believe that it is time for white women to shoulder a far more significant share of the burden of protest. Women of color have carried us for far too long. It’s time to step up and do work that benefits ALL women and all people (white feminism is notorious for it’s disregard for the plight of WOC, trans women, poor women).

Protests also connect me with other folks waging an internal war against the injustices in America. They make me feel like I am DOING something. Something tangible. Something real.

I marched through the streets of Atlanta during the summer of 2016 to protest the murder of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. And I believe it mattered. Seeing white faces protesting black deaths changes the narrative. This is not a “black problem.’ It is an American problem. It is a race problem. And white folks must play a role–a significant role–in solving it.

At every big march I’ve attended, with thousands of people protesting impending fascism, blatant racism, & police brutality, I’ve been aware of the potential for violence from the police. When I walked into the Capitol on Tuesday, the thought never crossed my mind. Why would it? We were there to demand that the state of Georgia count every vote. That is a concept SO BASIC to democracy that there couldn’t possibly be an issue.

Right?

The rally/protest began with a prepared statement about why we were there & what we wanted:

IMG_7624
I wish I knew all the social justice activists in these photos. I don’t. They’re doing the hard work on the ground, and they deserve recognition for it.

From there, we headed to the Secretary of State’s office with a demand to, you guessed it, count every vote. That looked a lot like a bunch of folks trying to crowd in an itty bitty room:

IMG_7626
Don’t think my claustrophobia wasn’t in high gear in this situation.

Are you bored yet? Good. Because that’s the thing… NOTHING wild was happening. People weren’t shouting obscenities. Or zip-tying themselves to furniture. But, one of the Georgia State Patrol officers was NOT feeling us being there. He muscled his way through the crowd, insisting that we couldn’t sing or chant because there was BUSINESS going on in the Capitol. (He’s right. Legally, it seems, singing & chanting is a no-go. But the defense of basic democracy is pretty serious business, too)

At that point, the officer said if there was singing or chanting, we’d be removed from the Capitol. Now, maybe it’s my white girl naiveté, but I thought “removed from the Capitol” meant kicked out. What else could it mean?

These are images of the protest in full swing. Clearly, I did not sense any danger lurking. I’m taking goofy pictures of a statue of a dead white guy & my super-cool sign, for God’s sake. Yes, people cheered. And yes, they started to sing. Singing. They were SINGING.

IMG_7646
This woman was the first one SNATCHED up by police. Literally. The photo is blurry because I was shaking.

I could sense the cops, especially the one who’d been on & on about the BUSINESS occurring in the Capitol, getting more tense. And then, suddenly that same Georgia Patrol pushed past me to grab the woman pictured above. I was doing the exact same thing she was. Exactly. Yet, he pushed me out of the way to grab her (roughly. Way too forcefully, since she’d been SINGING and holding a sign just a minute before). She started yelling because her purse had been on the floor next to her, and she was being dragged away from all her personal belongings. He was screaming at her that they’d get her purse to her. Screaming.

I finally pulled my shit together enough to grab her purse for her & start taking pictures. But I was hella freaked out. Hence the burry, shaky pictures.

Knowing, intellectually, that black people are more at risk for arrest is one thing. Seeing that kind of racism play out is another. And, through my head the whole time ran the refrain: What if they kill her? What if they kill her? What if they kill her? And I knew, in that moment, that I didn’t do enough. Because I was scared. But I should’ve put myself between her & the officer. Because he only targeted her because she was black. And I knew it. But I didn’t put myself between him and her. And I regret it.

This is what unfolded as I was processing my own fear & regret:

IMG_7638
This was all happening SO fast. This young man was in the first round of arrests. He’s not resisting.
IMG_7649
And, if he wasn’t resisting, why did it take SO many officers to subdue him? He was upset his glasses got knocked off his face–because he couldn’t see. And he lost his phone. But I’ve seen people behave more intensely in a grocery store checkout line than this young man.
IMG_7643
This is the Georgia State Patrol that manhandled the first black woman arrested (the one he pushed PAST me to get to). He did not like this woman filming/photographing him. So he yelled at her to get back. Then he put his hands on her. For no reason. At all.

None of the arrests that took place yesterday should’ve happened. But the force with which these first arrests were executed by some of the officers was frightening. And illuminating. I know black folks move through a different America than I do. I am privileged simply because of the color of my skin–and that’s some bullshit right there. But KNOWING it and SEEING it are different. And it cannot be unseen.

In the face of all this excessive force and the questionable nature of the arrests themselves, there were 2 officers that I saw trying damn hard to do their jobs with integrity. Both of them are visible in the photo of the young black man being handcuffed above. The black officer made every attempt to de-escalate an incredibly tense and increasingly volatile situation. From where I was standing (and I was close), he appeared to be patting the young man on the back to reassure him and was speaking to him in low tones in an effort to calm the situation. The white officer next to him (with his back to the camera) showed basic humanity by picking up the young man’s glasses and phone and handing them to one of the man’s acquaintances, ensuring that they didn’t get lost or broken.

After the initial round of arrests, the police presence remained tense. They were prepping for more arrests on their walkie-talkies. NOT preparing to ask folks to leave. Preparing arrest them. And arrest them they did. One after one, they paraded out black protesters. And apparently, even being a state senator didn’t offer any protection:

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 11.56.13 AM.png

But whiteness was enough to protect Representative David Dryer, who was standing right next to Senator Nikema Williams, from getting arrested. He knows it. Anyone who was there yesterday has no doubt that it’s true. Listen to him tell the story:

Nothing I experienced yesterday was unique. Not in America. The idea that somehow we live in a post-racial world grows more absurd by the day. And it is only my privilege as a white woman that has kept me from experiencing this type of police aggression and blatant racial targeting before now.

Black folks have been telling us what’s up for years. Good for you if you’ve been listening. But as racism and aggression grows in America, it’s not enough to be intellectually opposed to racism. As white people, we must become virulently anti-racism. We must put our bodies between black bodies and the aggressor that seeks to harm them. And I’ll be the first to tell you that’s going to be scary as hell. But the future of our country depends on it. Be certain of that.