I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
Jane has developed a slight listening problem lately.
Don’t be alarmed. I’m sure it’s not permanent. Symptoms include not hearing me tell her to do something the first (second or third) time, an inability to cut that shit out when I tell her to, and a profound misunderstanding of what “put your stuff AWAY” means.
As you can imagine, this new affliction she’s developed is trying for the whole family. For instance, “Jane put your boots & jean jacket away” might mean they they end up in the closet where they belong. OR they may move from the dining room to the center of her bedroom floor. Because obviously that’s where I wanted her to put them.
And if I tell her to, let’s say, make sure she wipes her face off before school–because she has ketchup from the day before smeared faintly across her cheek–she may or may not do it at all. Which I take kind of personally. Because now I’m that mom that sends her kid to school with day old food on her face that she’s apparently saving for later. In case there’s a run on ketchup in the cafeteria.
But the one that is about to drive me bat shit is when I tell her to stop doing something–invariably something hella annoying that she KNOWS is annoying–and she does it just one more time before she stops.
The truth of it is that all this not listening bullshit, the doing whatever she wants whenever she wants, makes me feel disrespected. It makes me feel undervalued and under-appreciated. And it hurts my feelings.
Simon and I strategized a few times (as parents do) about how to deal with Jane’s Not-Listening-Itis. I, for instance, threatened to throw everything she leaves laying around the house into our front yard. She isn’t sure I’d do it (I would TOTALLY do it). I’ll keep you posted on how that one unfolds. Simon & I also outlined some effect-her-piggy-bank consequences for not tidying her room and bathroom before she leaves for school and before she goes to bed. (Money 100% talks for that kid)
But I went a little rogue yesterday on the way to school…and I just told her how all this not-listening business makes me feel. Honestly. Like she was a real person with capacity to feel empathy and to understand the nuances of a situation.
I copped to the fact that there are books ALL OVER THE HOUSE (apparently, that’s what happens when you hatch a scheme to open a used bookstore). But I also told her that I’m writing like I always do and prepping for the bookstore–which is a lot like having TWO jobs. I am trying the best I can–but I can’t always keep my (book) mess confined to one room.
And then I asked her if she was trying as hard as she could to be a helpful member of the family.
It took her less than a second to say no. Not guiltily. Not even sheepishly. Just straight up: No. And she told me she’d do better. Unprompted. Let’s be real: I both believe her and I don’t. Because she’s a kid. But I do believe she will try to do better.
I try to approach life with gratitude. I think Oprahtold me to do that once, and I listen to Ms. O. Also, the AAers may have mentioned it…. So, yeah, Attitude of Gratitude over here.
The gratitude portion of today’s programming goes something like this:
I am grateful that my body is healthy and strong enough to run. Also super grateful that my foot healed–and that my incredible massage guy taught me how to properly care for my body before & after a run. Running brings my mental, emotional, and spiritual life into balance. For that, I have much gratitude. And for Spring in Atlanta… it’s beauty far outweighs the threat of impending death by pollen.
See me? So grateful. Legitimately.
Gratitude gets me get out of my own head–and helps me stop creating my own problems and my own suffering–long enough to take stock of the world around me.
As I was running through my neighborhood, full of gratitude, nose running from crazy amounts of pollen, taking in the Spring morning, here’s an ugly truth I ran right up against: toxic masculinity SUCKS.
This is not news. I get that. But there’s a direct way that it’s impacting me lately–and it has to do with my ass.
You read that right. No reason to read it again. My ass is the issue here. Okay, not really my ass… the comments about my ass while I’m running are the issue.
Right now, you’re probably thinking “You’ve GOT to be kidding me.” Nope. Wish I was.
In the past two weeks, every time I’ve run some wanker finds it necessary to comment on my ass, turn around to stare at my ass, ask me if I can run back by so he can see my ass again, make his whole group of wanker friends laugh at some lewd comment about my ass, or whistle or shout at me (always after approaching me from behind–no pun intended).
Some of these guys probably genuinely think they are paying me a compliment. Fuck that. Objectifying someone is never a compliment.
Some of them like to sexualize random situations and intimidate women. Fuck that doubly hard. Because it DOES scare me when someone catcalls me out the window of his van as he drives slowly by. And what I want to do is flick him off or tell him to fuck himself. But I don’t. Because I can’t. Not without putting myself at risk for physical violence. Men have killed women for telling them no. So what does that leave me with? Impotent rage. A need to grit my teeth and fight my way through it.
Men, you have to do better.
It is absurd that I can’t run in my own damn neighborhood without fending off lewd comments. Not one but two men today found it appropriate to comment on my body. That is fucking infuriating.
Guys, my body is not yours to comment on. Not ever. It’s not yours to ogle as I walk by. My ass is none of your business. I don’t care if you like it or if you don’t. I don’t want to hear it. At all. Ever again.
If all the events of the last 4 years hadn’t shaped me into a much more indomitable spirit than I used to be, I’d probably consider just not running.
Let’s stop there: at a different point in my life, I would have considered giving up something that brings me joy and balance, that enhances my mental health, because toxic masculinity taught guys that it’s fine to make comments about a girl’s ass as she runs by.
I will spare you the litany of profanity that this inspires.
But I will say this: If you are a guy, you have a moral imperative to do something about this. And don’t even tell me that you’d never act like this. I don’t give a shit. I know not all guys catcall women. But you have a responsibility to call out your friends, your coworkers, your brother, your dad when THEY do it. Tell them to STFU. Tell them they are assholes. And, while you’re at it, go on and tell them that what women feel when they are catcalled is likely not flattery at all but an intense desire to take a baseball bat to their car.
I spent the last 2 days hanging around writers, booksellers, and publishers.
I think, as humans, one of the very best things we can do for ourselves is find our little group of like-minded weirdos. Everybody is weird (some prefer “unique,” but whatever). Being in a group of similarly weird people makes you feel connected and understood. You don’t have to explain yourself, or search for just the right words to make someone understand your point of view. Your Weirdo Tribe is just going to GET IT.
Me, I walk through the world thinking about words about 85% of the time. See, weird. But I’m a writer and an aspiring bookseller–that’s, like, ALL the words.
But 2 things happened during my sojourn with these bookseller/writer types that gave me that blissful feeling when you see something of yourself in someone else–when the very innermost parts of you feel represented and seen:
#1: One of the presenters from Southern Fried Karma (“a multi-media production company developing projects in music, films and books”–but c’mon, isn’t that just the best name?!?) started talking about the power of books to establish community. Because we know that reading builds empathy. And empathy paves the way for community and connection. The more you read, most often the wider your worldview. The more you see similarities and understand the way other people experience the world, the less strong your impluse to “other” people. The more likely you become to reach out, to seek diverse communities, to support people–even those seemingly unlike yourself.
And that’s precisely what the dude from SFK was expressing when he told the story about white supremacists coming to his small, Georgia town to have a rally–and the black and white communities uniting to keep out the white supremacists, creating a space where hate could not thrive. And as he talked about the power of books to create this kind of empathy, to unite two seemingly disparate communities in rural(ish) Georgia, he began to tear up.
And OH. MY. GOD. Yes.
I tear up when I talk about books all the time. Because they are so powerful. And stories–every story–can change the world (that’s why the tagline for Bookish is “Every Story Matters.”) And hell yes, that’s something to get emotional over.
We need change. Books ARE that change. We just need to get them into the hands of the people and remind them about the magical ability of stories to change lives.
#2: On the Bus Tour of Atlanta Bookstores, I met an author from North Carolina who’s debut novel is coming out this Summer. That’s a BIG DEAL. We chatted about how tough the writing process can be (there are no bon-bons involved. It is NOT, in fact, a cakewalk). And I gave her the brief rundown about the progress on my middle grades novel. Honestly, I’d never talked to someone who was just a short stretch ahead of me on the road to becoming published. Most folks I meet are either established authors… or they are going to write an book someday. But this woman had just emerged from the trenches of rewriting, revising, and editing… and now she had a BOOK that other people were going to READ. I just found it all so hopeful. Like maybe it would happen for me, too.
The next day, the same woman was a presenter at the conference I attended. She spoke about the blurry line between memoir and fiction that is autofiction. And that was amazing in and of itself, because I’ve been thinking about memoir writing, but hesitating because–for real, y’all–once upon a time, I drank so much that my memory isn’t entirely trustworthy. But autofiction opens up a whole new world where things can be true AND not true. Whoa.
But, also, in describing the ways that readers react to autofiction (often by trying to determine how much of the fiction is “true” and how much authority you really have two write about certain themes), she shared part of her story with us. And I swear, it was just like my story. And nothing like my story. And the things she said made me feel so visible, and I thought she was so brave to have shared them, that I ran right up to her afterwards to give her a hug. Because how often does someone tell your story that isn’t your story and remind about so much of what was and what isn’t but what always is?
Rarely. And oh my Lord, is it a gift.
Stories are so much bigger than us. They take on a life of their own. They reach people in ways we can’t begin to fathom. And they do change lives. Hell, they can change the whole world.
(And, yes, I totally cried the whole time I wrote this. Whatever.)
Productivity has been taking up a lot of my brain space lately.
I know. I know. Snooze fest.
But really, it’s more about life management. And coping. Just stick with me.
I’m relatively new to planning anything in my life. I totally wish I was kidding. But I’ve always had some sort of ad hoc organization system in my head–and resisted putting anything on paper. Or into the ether on my new fangled ‘puter.
But 2019 brought me into the land of the organized with an Ink + Volt Planner (courtesy of my best friend, who really gets me, you know??). And I am totally getting shit done. It’s a miracle.
But, I’m also learning about my own work flow. And my need to shift focus when I get stuck on a project. Which means that things don’t always go exactly as planned. And that’s okay. (Right?!?)
Yesterday, I had big plans to knock out a chunk of client work. But first, I needed to clear out some of the books taking over my house. (For those who haven’t been following along, there are 3 major things going on over here: starting a used bookstore, freelance writing, and editing a book manuscript).
I started on the books first thing in the morning. And totally got sucked in. Sorting and boxing the books is a process. It involves taking all the books out of the boxes I brought them home in, sorting them into categories, wiping them down with a magic eraser, scraping stickers off of them & removing goo, and reboxing them.
Simon, my sweet, long-suffering husband, works in the room where the books wait to be sorted and boxed. That means he’s always stepping over boxes of books to even get to his desk. So, while he was out of town for work, I really wanted to clear some stuff out of that room. Because marriage.
I was making real progress. Boxes to be taken to the storage unit started accumulating by the door. Then I looked at the time and realized I should have already started the client work*. But I also knew that, if I shoved the books back in the room without completing my sorting and reboxing task, I’d feel defeated. Like I’d wasted hours and hours and got nothing done. And Simon would still come home to a workspace that was a flaming hot mess. So, I ignored my original plan and stuck with the books. Until 11:30 pm.
What’s currently blowing my mind: I feel really accomplished even though I totally blew off something on my to do list. Whoa.
Here’s something else to add to my current mind scramble: I’ve been getting up each day at 5 am to revise my book manuscript. And it’s been going brilliantly. Until yesterday. When I became convinced I was a fraud that shouldn’t even be allowed to write the copy on the back of a cereal box. Everything about the manuscript felt hollow and lame.
So, I left it alone this morning. I purposely slept in until 6:45 am.
Wha???? BUT THAT WASN’T IN THE PLAN. (Obviously, spontaneity is an issue for me. I’m working on it)
This book I’m working on is kind of a big deal to me. It’s middle grades fiction. And I love it.
And making the commitment to revise it every day felt–and still does feel–right. But I’d reached a point in the narrative that wasn’t well executed in the initial draft. So it needs a lot of work. Which requires a whole new level of focus. And I’m gonna need to regroup for that. And look at it fresh. The story and the characters deserve that. Hell, I deserve that.
So, I didn’t touch it today. Instead, I’ve had two relatively leisurely cups of coffee and am about to get around to that client work I meant to do yesterday.
So, yeah, work flow and mini-burnout and getting shit done… That’s what’s been up over here. I’m digging being in a place in my life where enough is going on that I have to learn to strike a balance. It’s carefully managed chaos. But it’s mine. And I kind of love it.
*No clients were blown off in The Epic Sorting of the Books. It was a self-imposed deadline. I’m WAY too much a Virgo to ever miss an actual deadline.
I feel all kinds of capable right now. And DAMN, it feels good.
I know, I know. I’m a grown ass woman. I should feel capable, right?? But for so long, I didn’t. Not because of imposter syndrome. Nope. That requires actual achievements first.
I didn’t feel capable because I wasn’t. Full stop.
We could have a little chat about how I got to the point of believing I wasn’t capable and, therefore, becoming a stellar self-fulfilling prophesy. But it’s really not that interesting–besides, my therapist might get jealous if I started chatting you up about that.
What I do know, 100%, is that booze kept me in that place, that I am only capable of mediocrity place, for a long time. And I wanted it to. Not achieving much of anything felt pretty blasted safe. Trying… now that is scary. It involves risk. And failure. And, oh my GOD, so much vulnerability.
Getting sober didn’t make me feel capable. It made me a lot of other things: clear-headed, introspective, thoughtful, less scared of hard work. I was functional, sure. But capable is a whole new level.
Bringing my daughter, Jane, into the world gave me a giant shove toward living that Capable and In Charge Life. I mean, keeping another human alive is not nothin’.
Once she was in the world, and with me 24/7, I started thinking about how I wanted my daughter to see me (that was easier then than thinking of how I wanted to see myself. I wasn’t quite there yet). What did I want to teach her about being a woman? How did I want her to see me navigate the world?
With that in mind, I embarked on several trial and error adventures. My first job back from 3 years as a stay-at-home mom was as the Children’s Director at a small church. Let’s just say that job didn’t play to my particular strengths. And I had such a need to be validated that I suffered through some things I’d never countenance now.
And then… Simon & I took a trip to Paris. Something about that trip changed me. Maybe it was being away from Jane for 10 days–and having to reckon with my perception of myself as something other than her mother. Maybe it was having a real, honest to God, Parisian croissant for the first time in my life. Or maybe it was that O Magazine I got a hold of on the flight home (Lord have mercy, do I love Oprah). But I came back from that trip with a full, guttural understanding that if I didn’t pursue my calling (what I was meant to do, my big dream) that it would tug at the back of my mind, linger in all my what ifs until I gave it a shot. Dreams can’t be ignored forever. And we pay a very real price for trying to stifle them. So I quit my job as a Children’s Ministry Director (it was time, y’all)…
And I started writing. For literally cents per page. About things like luxury hangers (like, clothing hangers). I shit you not. Then one of my freelance pieces got published. And then I started contracting with businesses as a writer/consultant (quick shout out to women helping other women: all 3 of my initial gigs were because other women (friends of mine) took a chance on my inexperienced writer self). Something funny–yet probably totally predictable–happened. The more I wrote, the more capable I felt. I didn’t shy away from the big clients (even an international corporation!). I dove in. I tried. Full on hard-core tried. And s-l-o-w-l-y I came to believe that I could do it. Really do it. And do it well.
It took a few years before I was wiling to self-identify as a writer. It just felt so impossible that this thing I’d wanted to be since I was 8 years old… that I’d become that very thing. Because capable. And because I finally got out of my own damn way.
I’m not world famous. I don’t have a blog following of tens of thousands. In fact, I don’t even have a byline for most of what I’ve written. But, still, writing changed everything for me. It changed the way I see myself. The way I interact with the world around me. And as I get ready to open a used bookstore this Fall, I realize that I am in this place–this big, scary, exciting, risk-taking place–because I chose to admit I might be capable after all.
Stephen King has been a favorite of mine since I was 12. I was spellbound then, as I am now, by his masterful storytelling (I mean, c’mon, The Shining is second to none). I fell in love with his horror stories, but I’ve come to realize that he can write anything. And that’s real talent.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams offers a collection of Stephen King’s short(ish) stories. The bizarrely imaginative plots range from a monster car (which is very different than a monster truck, trust me) to an ill-fated fireworks display. My favorites, though, were about an otherworldly Kindle and a sanity threatening Cookie Jar. Really.
Each story has a brief intro, where King explains his inspiration for the story (literary or otherwise). I love that these intros acknowledge that other writers have influenced King’s craft over time… and none more so than the ones he really immerses himself in. Which is likely why so much of the creative work I’ve done recently is heavily Stephen Kingesque. He’s the kind of storyteller whose style and way of envisioning the world colors your own reality. Or at least it colors mine.
I get drawn back to King for the power of his stories but I stay because he’s a magician with words. I didn’t love every story in this collection. But the ones I did love return to my consciousness over and over again. They have staying power. And they are something to aspire to.
Today, as I pulled pair after pair of boxer briefs out of the dryer–stripped, polka dotted, red, navy, Hogwarts, all manner of colors and patterns–I thought, “Huh. I didn’t sign up for this.”
Not the laundry part. That was, in fact, part of what I signed up for. I think it was in our marriage vows.
No, it was the boxer briefs that weren’t on my radar when we got married almost 13 years ago. But then I got to thinking: 13 years in, is anyone in the marriage they thought they’d signed up for?
Marriage is a funny thing. You can get all swept away with the “for better or for worse” thing. But that shit gets real when life starts happening all around you. When you say “I do” you don’t get to pick from a menu of experiences you’d like to celebrate and endure together. Some of that is a roll of the dice. And some of it comes down to the friction (or chemistry, depending) that happens when two people with free will try to navigate the world together. And that can be hella unpredictable.
I love being married to Simon. But two and a half years ago I decidedly did NOT love being married to him. Because he’d exercised his free will, taken charge of his life, and changed it so that he could live into who he was meant to be. And I felt left behind. And duped. Because it wasn’t what I’d signed up for.
But it’s not logical–or even really interesting–to expect someone to stay exactly the same from the time you marry them until you… what? Die? Come on. You’d be bored to tears and so would they. Simon never promised me he’d stay exactly the same. And I didn’t promise that either. I mean, sure, I still resemble the girl he married.
But I’ve had two careers (adjunct writing instructor and freelance writing consultant). He supported both, just like he’s enthusiastically supported my used bookstore dream (like real enthusiastically. It’s cute, y’all). He never rolls his eyes at my continual spiritual quest (he has to hear about it frequently over our morning coffee). And he only gets mildly irritated when I launch into social justice hour right before bedtime.
I get real quippy about my anxiety sometimes. Because it’s easier to be glib and light-hearted about anxiety than to admit that sometimes it threatens to suck all the air (and joy) out of my world.
I’m fortunate that, over the years, people (qualified, professional people) have given me tools to cope with my anxiety, to reign it in, to flourish in spite of it. Sometimes, it’s relegated to the dark recesses of my mind. And, sometimes, my anxiety lives much closer to the surface. Close enough to remind me what it felt like to exist under it’s really shitty, tyrannical rule.
Because, let’s face it: anxiety is an asshole.
And anxiety really likes to harp on one particular topic: Jane. Which is some unmitigated bullshit.
Parenting is hard enough as it is, without anxiety getting all irrational. But that’s what it does–plays on your darkest fears, destroys your peace of mind, robs you of your joy.
Unless you say, unequivocally, unwaveringly, NO.
When I was pregnant with Jane, I coexisted–decidedly unpeacefully–with the fear of stillbirth. I’d miscarried once. And it had taken us TWO years to conceive Jane (doctors visits, shots, blood draws, inseminations). And now I was absolutely terrified of losing her. My therapist knew these things. But she also believed something I didn’t–that I deserved joy. And that Jane deserved a mother who was ruled by love, not fear. She gave me this brilliant piece of advice that I’ve carried with me since:
“You are afraid of stillbirth. Then she’ll be born, and you’ll be afraid of SIDS, cancer, accidents… When will it stop? How are you ever going to feel the joy of being a parent, if you live in constant fear?”
And in that moment, it became clear as day to me: fear is the death of joy.
But she wasn’t finished yet: “Our children aren’t really ours. They are on their own journey, entrusted into our care. Our job is simply to help them grow toward who they were meant to be. The job of a parent is to start letting go the minute they are born. Because they are only loaned to us for a short time.”
Every time my anxiety tries to keep Jane locked down, without enough freedom, too close to me for her own independent nature, I remember that she isn’t mine. It would be tragic for my fears to impede her journey. Wildly unfair. And I won’t let it happen.
I’m letting Jane go on an adventure with one of her friends this coming weekend. And I’m hella anxious about it. Like my brain keeps screaming, “HOLY SHIT! I CAN’T LET HER DO THAT.” But I can. And I will. Because she deserves great adventures and joy. And so do I.
“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
Bad things happen every day in this world. I am not naive. But I also know that fearing pain and loss don’t keep them at bay. Instead, they take the joy out of the NOW. Which is all we really have, isn’t it?
So, I’m gonna suck-it-up-buttercup & let Jane have a big adventure with her buddy. I’ll feel the way I feel. And I’ll let that shit go. I’ll keep my anxiety in its own lane, and let Jane navigate the world free from its fetters.