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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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:

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This was all happening SO fast. This young man was in the first round of arrests. He’s not resisting.
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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.
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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:

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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.

Thanksgiving Convo Fail

Let’s just say that, after our Thanksgiving convo mishap this morning, I am VERY thankful that successful parenting doesn’t hinge on ONE conversation. Especially if it takes place in carline before I’ve had enough coffee.

Jane & I talk a lot. I mean that in the sense that we’re both superbly loquacious AND that we have lots of pretty cool conversations.

This morning, on the way to school, we were chatting about Dress for Success Day. She’s dressed as a teacher, although her first choice was scientist. Her Bobby & I failed her on that one–her lab coat and goggles are still languishing somewhere in storage. (We’re like 85% moved in, but both Simon & I are avoiding the storage unit like the plague. I’ve suggested just burning it to the ground instead of trying to weed through all that random/extraneous stuff, but Simon seemed to think that was a little extreme. Whatevs.) So, Jane opted to be a teacher, complete with a bun, glasses, an apple, and a name tag. Super cute.

Mornings are Jane’s best time of day. She’s optimistic, energetic, loving, and kind. Definitely a morning person (x 1billion). She had just finished listing things she was excited about (they are numerous), when I decided to jump in with, “Let’s chat about Thanksgiving for a sec.”

Now, by the time she’d paused for a breath and I got around to this topic, we’d just pulled into the morning carline. I rushed on, “You know, that stuff about the pilgrims and the Native Americans… it’s not really true. They weren’t friends.”

Puzzled silence. 

At this point, I’m not sure if she doesn’t remember this conversation from last year. Or if she doesn’t want a lecture about human rights first thing in the morning. Or if she just wonders why they lie about pilgrims at school. But something is amiss. Because she’s just kind of looking at me (I’ve turned my head around to have this conversation, because carline in a weird time warp in which time actually stands still).

Instead of realizing this is not the right time, or that I’m running up against disinterest, or any of the other things I could’ve realized, I pressed on. (It was early, y’all. I’d only had one cup of coffee)

“White settlers weren’t friends of the Native Americans. They wanted to take their land and send them away, not live in peace with them.”

Then… Wait for it….

“It would’ve been better if instead of helping the settlers, the Native Americans had just let them die.”

What the FUCK?!? Who says that???? Me, apparently. Me, first thing in the morning in carline.

Good Lord.

But, problems with my hasty/half-ass narrative aside, her response was perfect. She looked at me, sighed, and said, “Mommy, I’m going to get out of the car now, okay?”

How she kept from rolling her eyes all the way back into her head at me, I’ll never know. But she did. And, fortunately for me, talks about social. issues, race, and representation are ongoing in our house. And usually my timing isn’t completely sucktastic. So, I’ll get another stab at this in which I don’t suggest letting anyone die.

I’d always wondered, though, if I’d know if she was completely uninterested in what I was sharing with her. Turns out, yes. She knows how to be crystal clear.

Good on her.

 

Here’s a New York Times piece on the myth vs. reality of Thanksgiving. I’ll probably read this & a few other resources before embarking on this conversation again. And I’ll have another cup of coffee. Couldn’t hurt. Might help.

Getting Unstuck

I’ve working on getting myself unstuck from a pretty significant rut. But good news… I found 5 relatively simple things I could do to reconnect with myself & the world around me.

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I’ve spent the past few weeks re-examining my life a bit. I guess that’s to be expected since I’m (ahem) . . . middle aged. (WTactualF?!?)

I first realized there was a problem when I caused a online scuffle on Facebook with some other folks, and I was completely unable to let it go. Like hella unable. As in not-gonna-let-that-shit-ride. As in personal interior devastation and destruction.

Holy shit. Hello, outsized response to criticism. (Let’s be clear: I’m talking about my own outsized response here. I’m not trying to take other people’s inventories.) So, yeah, something was WAY wrong with my internal balance. And upon further examination, I realized my personal growth had kind of stagnated. And I just didn’t feel the same muppet-like enthusiasm for life as usual.

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(Actual footage of me on an average day)

How’d I get out of my rut? So glad you asked. Segues are SO hard.

5 (Relatively) Quick & Easy Ways I Got Emotionally Unstuck

  1. I got me a therapist. I am 100% on board for therapy. We’d all be much happier (and more well adjusted) if we ALL had a therapist. Sure, they require an investment of time, money, and emotional energy. But (and I think as women we sometimes forget this) I am worthy of that investment. So are you. Yes, it’s hard work sifting through some of the past events and current hangups that landed me in emotional quicksand in the first place. But you know what happens if you stay in quicksand too long… (I mean, as an adult I haven’t really encountered quicksand as much as I thought I would. But as a kid, I knew all about the hazards of quicksand. So, I’m always prepared for a quick escape)

2. I delved into my spiritual practice. Over the years, my spirituality has looked wildly different–depending on where I was in my journey. Right now, it looks a whole lot like reading a lesson from A Course in Miracles each morning, practicing the exercises throughout the day, and finding a crystal that resonates with me (I them to set intentions and to return to as a touchstone so I don’t wander during the day). I’ve had to learn about 100 billion times that a spiritual practice is crucial for me. Like, I absolutely cannot exists happily without it. And, you know it’s kind of the whole foundation of my recovery:

It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.

So, yeah, NBD… spirituality is just the key to EVERYTHING.

3. I started striving toward being fully present. During those two days when I was so in my head about a conflict going on in the ether, I couldn’t even participate in conversations happening right in front of me. This undercurrent of ugly self-talk, picking arguments with ghosts, and just general bullshit that my brain pulls sometimes had me miles away from where my feet were. It sucked. So, I made a conscious choice to be more curious about my immediate surroundings. What did I hear, see, smell, feel? What made this moment unique? Where could I find joy, or love, or hope, or connection? The pictures at the top of the post, they’re where I’ve been the past 2 days: physically, mentally, and emotionally. They are real. They are here. The present matters. It’s all I’ve really got. So, I sure as hell am going to make an effort to embrace it.

4. I put down my damn phone. Well, I put it down MORE than I had in any recent memory. Suddenly, it seemed foolish that some flat rectangular object could have that much pull over me. Instead of enhancing my life, it was really bringing me down. So, I cut it loose(ish). And I created some hard and fast rules for myself about engaging on social media. It turns out that it’s MUCH easier to be present if my nose isn’t always pressed up against my phone. Who knew?!?

5. I made it a point to connect. I love people. Which is why I love social media. But nothing beats looking someone in the eye and really connecting with them. Small connections, seemingly inconsequential interactions… they make up so much of our lives. The way we move together in the world and develop empathy and understanding can be truly beautiful. So, I committed to letting more of that beauty into my life–to really see people, to interact with them in ways that are kind and compassionate, and to laugh. In real life.

And these 5 things, well they’ve got me feeling a lot more like this these days:

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So, when you find yourself in an emotional rut, what do you do to get unstuck?

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars (A Neuropsychologist’s Odyssey Through Consciousness)

The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars is a mash-up of sorts. He loosely chronicles his wife’s end of life journey & his own grief, which he views thought the lens of neuropsychology, philosophy, myth, and atheism.

 

I took an Intro to Philosophy Course in college. I remember the distinct feeling of my brain aching, because it had no solid idea on which to take hold. Everything—ideas, the world, my very self—felt illusory. It was unsettling.

What does that have to do with The Darker the Night, The Brighter the Stars: A Neuropsychologist’s Odyssey Through Consciousness by Paul Broks? Everything. This book is a mash-up of sorts. He loosely chronicles his wife’s end of life journey & his own grief, which he views thought the lens of neuropsychology, philosophy, myth, and atheism.

“But those are multiple lenses!” you’re probably protesting. Why, yes. Yes they are. And that’s precisely why I could make it through the book without being launched into an existential crisis (although it took me 10x longer than usual).

Broks works hard to make complicated concepts accessible. He tells stories, draws parallels, and guides the reader through an examination of human consciousness—in part using quantum physics of all things. Here’s my favorite bit: 

“There’s a tantalizing pleasure to be had the unfathomability of quantum physics. But what if we ourselves are unfathomable?…[what if] human beings are, to the human mind, fundamentally, intrinsically, incomprehensible. We might get glimpses of what we fundamentally are . . but only glimpses.”

How beautifully…cosmic. The whole book felt like a grand wandering through time & space and the opportunity to get a rare glimpse at the mystery of what makes us who we are.