Contradictions

It’s absolutely stunning in Atlanta today. The sun is glorious. Everything is blooming in an explosion of color. It is as perfect a spring day as I can conjure.

Days like make it seem like anything is possible, probable even. Like the cosmos have aligned to heap blessings upon me.

Then, I watched a hearse back its way into the driveway next to mine.

And all day long, I’ve been sitting with the contradiction of the beauty of the day & the man who is suddenly absent from this beauty.

We weren’t friends, he and I. I don’t think he liked me much, to be honest. But I still found myself tearing up as I stood at the window and looked at the hearse.

Something about this death, one that I was aware of but existed wholly outside of, that happened on this perfect Spring day in Atlanta, made me hyper-aware of the contradictions, the both/and of the every day.

I am the cosmos. And yet, I am dust.

I am light. And darkness.

I am filled with wild potential. Yet, I gain the most through surrender.

I am my own. But I am bound to those I love.

I feel expansive, full of hope, energy and love. I also want to turn inward and shrink from a world that can be ugly, too.

I found out, shortly after watching that hearse back its way down the driveway next to mine, that a friend needs a miracle to beat the cancer that has dogged her for a year or more.

So, I did what I do when shit gets too real, scary and overwhelming: I laced up my shoes and I ran. I needed forward motion, to remind myself that the earth is still there.

And I prayed. Because she asked her friends to. And that’s the kind of request you do not ignore.

And, as I ran, this became increasingly clear: She deserves a miracle. Everyone deserves a miracle. Hell, we all ARE miracles.

I ran in the brilliant sunshine and I explained to the Great Mother exactly what kind of miracle my friend deserves.

It is the best kind. The most brilliant kind. The long life full of health and vitality kind.

I know it is possible.

Because we are all the cosmos, full of stars and dust, infinite and finite… and we are all unfolding miracles.

Dream Big (or even at all will do)

One of the greatest joys of being sober is doing shit you never even dreamed of…

I didn’t have such a great imagination when I was drinking. Sure, I could sit on a barstool & tell you I was going to run a marathon the year I turned 30 (even though I’d never run more than 3 consecutive miles in my life). Or that I wanted to be a professor one day (even though I barely finished my Masters’ degree because that shit takes work). Or that I wanted to be a writer (even if I’d stopped writing anything at all because drinking doesn’t leave a lot of time for creative pursuits).

I was good at talking. Not as good at dreaming.

Dreaming gets a bad rap, I think. There’s idle dreaming… the kind you do on a lazy afternoon. More like wishful thinking. And then there’s big dreaming, real dreaming… the kind that catches you unaware and propels you into action before you even realize that you’re planning to take a big risk. Even if you’re not a risk taker. Not even a little bit.

When people ask if owning the bookstore was a lifelong dream… I mean, I hate to burst their bubble and all (they always look so hopeful when they ask…), but no.

Honestly, it was something even better.

It was this random idea on a day when I was leaving the coffeeshop in my neighborhood. I wanted a book. There was nowhere to walk to buy one.

And I thought, “There really should be a bookstore in this neighborhood…”

By the time I got home, it’d turned into “Maybe I should open a bookstore right here, in my neighborhood …”

From conception to reality was just under a year.

Because it was the kind dream that catches you–and you just know it’s right.

Even if you’re not a risk taker. Even if you’ve never dreamed of owning a business. Even if you’re scared to death of signing a commercial lease. Even if…

Things fell into place, one right after another to make this bookstore a reality. Never once did I believe I couldn’t or shouldn’t do it. The Universe pushed me one affirmation after another that YES this was right. That YES this would work. And that, in fact, this was more than a dream. It was a calling.

And none of it would have been possible at all, if I’d kept my head buried at the bottom of a pint glass. Instead, now I’ve got my nose in a book, living just beyond where my wildest dreams used to end.

Do No Harm–It’s My First Rule of Bookselling

The other day, this lovely young woman came in to the bookstore and asked if we had any Christian books.

Ahem.

It was kind of awkward… because we have a spirituality section. But let’s just stay it leans heavily toward Buddhism, general spiritual pursuits (mindfulness, crystals, auras), and witchcraft. We do have a few Christian books. But they’re ones folks happened to donate. Which is to say, it’s certainly not a well-curated selection.

And, unexpectedly, as I was looking at this rather earnest young woman, I felt really bad about that.

My dance with Christianity has been long and storied. And, let’s suffice it to say that I have closed the chapter on that part of my spiritual journey. But, as often happens when you’re grieving a loss (and finally understanding that your childhood religion will no longer work for you–that it’s actually causing you great harm–is a loss), I got angry. Like, real, real angry.

So much so that I haven’t been able to not be angry when the topic of Christianity comes up. Which is problematic for several reasons:

  1. I don’t want to be an angry person. For real. I appreciate anger. I think it can be cleansing and empowering. But then, something shifts and it begins to erode joy. To increase negativity. To make you into one of those people who can only identify what they don’t like, what they have a problem with, what is wrong with things. Those people are an energetic drag, and I have no desire to be one of them. But that’s totally what happens if anger hangs around past its expiration date.
  2. 65% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. So, you know, it comes up often.
  3. That young woman who came in the store? I would never want to make her think that I believe her spiritual beliefs are somehow less than. That’s gross. Also, some of the people I most admire identify themselves as Christians.

All of this adds up to… you guessed it…

Time to let that shit go.

Letting go of anger on a personal level is one thing. But, also, as a liberal, queer bookseller, one of my biggest caveats is to carry books that will do no harm. Especially to the queer folks that walk up in here trusting me because they see that big Pride flag in the window & feel like this is a safe space.

So, I feel like I have to vet every Christian book that comes in here. But, again, that’s problematic, because that is not a healthy space for me. And … where would I even find time to do that?!?

See the problem?

But it is on my heart (you can take the girl out of youth group, but you can’t take youth group out of the girl) to offer folks of all spiritual stripes books that will nourish their souls and cause no harm. It’s also become apparent to me that this is the first step in letting go of anger that is no longer serving me.

So, I’d love to hear what y’all have read that falls into the Christian or Christian-adjacent category written by authors who celebrate the LGBTQ community (not just tolerate it).

P.S. I just need to take a minute and let y’all know that I’m 100% in love with Nadia Bolz-Weber. I read her Sunday Morning Prayers every week, and they break open my heart in beautiful ways. If you haven’t checked her out, she’s worth your time no matter what your faith tradition.

The Nitty Gritty: The Yellow House

The pull to a specific place has occupied my thoughts for the better part of 5 years now. This idea of place as a piece of who we are is what drew me to Atlanta. This city called me until I could no longer ignore it. I had to be here, in a way that I couldn’t describe to most people.

Atlanta resonates through me–my whole being–even though I didn’t grow up here. It is home in a visceral sense. I am happy here because I belong in the very deepest sense of that word.

So, I’ve often wondered if other folks feel the same way about place–that it takes on a life of its own, shares space in our psyches. Consequently, this wondering brought me to both Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (by choice) and The Yellow House (completely unwittingly).

I knew 3 things about The Yellow House before I read it: it was a memoir; it won the National Book Award; and it centered on a family that lost their home in Hurricane Katrina.

I’ll tell you up front that I’ll try to avoid spoilers–and also that I’m not sure there are spoilers for this book. Because it isn’t so much what happens in Sarah M. Broom’s family or to the house they inhabit, but the lens through which she views it that makes the book.

The Yellow House both is and is not a Katrina book. For instance, if you read the fiction work Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward–THAT is a Katrina book. The whole narrative centers around the storm & its impacts. While the yellow house meets its ultimate demise in Katrina, the story begins decades before the storm… and continues afterward, because families and people continue on with or without the structures they’ve called home.

The book is more broadly about New Orleans. About what it’s like to grow up black and poor in a city that holds an almost magical sway over most of America. Broom weaves New Orleans history–including an analysis of the pervasive colorism in New Orleans–throughout her narrative. All while exploring the pull of this place that she grew up in. She leaves and returns to New Orleans, looking for something. But she’s never quite sure what. She’s pulled in particular back to New Orleans East, where she grew up–which has long been neglected by the city and devolves completely after Katrina decimates the infrastructure in a part of town even more flood prone than the rest of the city. The fate of New Orleans East is tragic and infuriating. But it’s fascinating and instructive to watch Broom navigate these complex emotional spaces. For me, there was something simultaneously intimately familiar and ultimately unknowable about her quest.

This book is going to leave you with more questions than you had when you started. Broom will wrap nothing up tidily for you. And, if you’re an introspective sort, she’ll have you picking at your own family history, your sense of place.

Ultimately, The Yellow House begs the question: What constructs us? Is it family? Place? Home? Ourselves?

I turned 45 this week. And I wonder if that has anything to do with the pull of this book for me. I’ve been thinking a lot about family and roles we play in our family of origin versus the self the we construct outside those bounds. And, for me, that also calls up the places I grew up (all over Florida with parents born in the Deep South) and the places I remained connected to throughout my childhood and now choose to claim (the South, Atlanta, and South Georgia). The Yellow House gave me footing to think about these things & introspect in a way that felt important and a little esoteric.

This book laid out for me issues of family, place, and self I’ve been pondering–and allowed me to see that there are no easy answers. That there are always more questions. And that they are worth asking.

I’m Improbable? No, You’re Improbable!

My current life is highly improbable. Maybe that’s why I find it so beautiful. It’s a bit of a mystery to me how I got here. But, yet, here I am.

From the time I was 8 years old, adults constantly nudged and prodded me toward leadership roles. But I was having none of that. I had no intention of leading anyone anywhere. Because, not only did I not think I was capable, I also didn’t want to be seen. Other kids, they were smarter, more popular, more stylish, more together… I just wanted to settle into being (relatively) smart, blending into the background. Leadership takes confidence. And all I was confident of was that I was the world’s biggest dork.

Even in college, I chose the path of least resistance–for my studies at least. I opted to major in literature, with the idea that I’d teach high school English. Not because I really wanted to teach. I just couldn’t think of anything else I might be good at. Which is about the world’s worst reason to be a teacher. But it seemed accessible and didn’t require much vision on my part. (It would’ve been a disaster, by the way. Teaching really is a calling. And I did not have it. They would’ve eaten me alive).

But somehow a few of my undergraduate professors convinced me that grad school was a good idea (my parents seemed less sure. They though perhaps I should just go on and get a job). Grad school was both a good idea and all kinds of humbling. And, concurrently, I was navigating my path toward addiction at breakneck speed. It took me 6 years in total to get my Masters degree. It’s supposed to take 2. It took me a hella long time to pull my shit together enough to write that thesis. But I did it.

And then I quit. Without perusing my doctorate. Not because I didn’t want it. I still want the damn thing. But because I knew I’d have to contend with folks smarter than me in my classes and later compete with said smart people for a job.

Path of least resistance.

I took various communication jobs I hated. They paid the bills. I was okay at them. I didn’t really want to do any of them.

Then I taught writing at the University of South Florida. I was pretty good at it. But more importantly to me, I loved it. I loved the students. Loved my colleagues. Loved mentoring and working on the textbook. I felt totally alive.

But, when the director encouraged me to get my PhD so I could move beyond adjuncting (which is a ton of work for an itty bitty amount of pay, and virtually zero professional recognition), I said no. Because I didn’t think I was worth the investment. It would’ve cost too much (even though I was spending thousands and thousands of dollars a year to drink myself into oblivion). I didn’t want to move where the tenure track job might take me. But really, I just didn’t believe I deserved more than I had.

After I got sober, after I gave birth to our daughter, when I was ready to remake myself (career wise), I knew I wanted to write. Not teach people how to write. But actually write words on a page, which ideally folks would pay me for.

The problem?

I hadn’t worked in the field in a decade.

So, I took a contract job writing about hangers. Luxury hangers, to be exact. No, not airplane hangers. You’re thinking too exotic there. Hangers to hang one’s clothes upon.

I was writing SEO content, so I had to carefully consider words to describe and refer to hangers–but I couldn’t use the same word too often or the search engines would flag the content. It was like a game: a thousand ways to describe a hanger.

No one said it was an exciting game.

For these efforts, I earned approximately $2 an hour.

But, I’m nothing if not stubborn. So I kept at these weird contract gigs, earning about $50 a week until I had some writing samples collected. Which was a crucial part of the plan. Because, when a friend called with a potential gig with a multinational client, I had writing samples to send her–even if they were about those godforsaken hangers.

I got the gig.

To be clear, the only reason I got this gig, which in turn led to another friend offering me a gig with her agency–thus kicking off my writing career–is because my friend took a chance on me.

Every writing job I got after that fell into my lap. Someone would refer a friend or a client to me. Or hand me a lead to pitch. I brought approximately zero percent of my business in on my own.

Let’s be real clear here: this is not a humble brag. This is me telling you that even when I was doing something I was good at, I did not have the confidence to market myself or my craft. At all.

After 3 years or so, I’d collected enough steady clients providing me with ongoing work and leads for new work that I finally started making some decent money writing.

Just in time for me to decide I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Which sounds bananas, right?

But, even though I was good at writing and I generally enjoyed doing it, I just couldn’t see this being my long-term path. It just didn’t resonate and bring me joy the way I’d thought it would. I suppose, ultimately, I didn’t feel fulfilled. Which turned out just fine, because then I got this wild bookstore idea.

Let’s review real quickly, so we’re all on the same page: I’m the same kid that refused any sort of stab at leadership (informal or otherwise) because I believed I was too dorky to be effective. If I was going to put myself out there at all, I relegated myself to runner-up position, not the spotlight. I quit grad school without pursuing a PhD, not because I wasn’t interested but because I might fail if I had to compete. I’d carved out a niche for myself as a writer, but could’t ever find the confidence to market myself.

Obviously, I’ve got some real risk aversion going on here.

And yet. I knew.

When I told my partner, Simon, that I wanted to open a used bookstore in EAV, and he responded with enthusiasm instead of taking my temperature and tucking me in for a long nap, I knew. I knew this, this was the right thing.

I had no zero clue how I’d get from the inception of the idea to an actual brick and mortar store. I didn’t have any business or retail experience to speak of.

And still.

I’d finish one step in the process, look around, and ascertain the next right thing. And then I’d do that.

All the toxic things I’d always believed about myself, all the reasons I’d fabricated about why I couldn’t do whatever… I just kind of said fuck it and did exactly what I wanted to do. Exactly what felt right.

It was like a switch flipped.

I definitely got pushback from some grown-folk I respected who I thought would support me. They did not. In fact, they actively discouraged me. I did it anyway.

Not because I am strong. But because I was tired of limiting myself. Tired of being afraid of failure. I was tired of a half-ass stab at life.

And so.

I opened myself to all the encouragement I received–from people I knew and people I didn’t (yet). I let myself believe that my little contribution to our southeast Atlanta community would be met with goodness and support (it has been). And I finally tuned out the inner voice that tells me I am not enough–and listened to the Universe as things fell into place one at a time and I received confirmation after confirmation that YES. This is right. This is what you are called to do. Now go the hell forth and do the damn thing.

And so, with the help of so many good souls who sent money, and good vibes, and donated books and helped in huge and small ways, I now have this bookstore–that is so much bigger than me. That brings joy–and books!–to other people. That is the calling I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Because I got out of my own way and opened myself up to the possiblities.

It’s improbable that this risk-adverse human would own her own bookstore. But the improbable has turned out to be just what I needed.

Which is to say, if I can do this thing, anyone can do anything.

Note: I saw Glennon Doyle’s post (linked above) come across Facebook last night, and it made me laugh–but it also made me think about the ways in which my story is a bit improbable, too. Maybe we’re all improbable–and that’s the magic of it all.

Book Nerd Love (a Thank You)

Almost 2 years ago, I got this wild idea to open a bookstore.

What could be better for an extrovert with an immense enthusiasm for both people & books, right?

Except that I tend toward the risk-adverse. And I have a well-documented history of sticking with what I’m good at. Running a business? Well, that was uncharted territory…

Opening a bookstore involved writing a business plan (I resist even making a to-do list), figuring out funding (I’d rather eat a bug than think about finances 90% of the time), and securing a commercial space (a daunting task requiring contracts and commitment and other scary stuff).

If I’d attempted to embark on this bookstore adventure at any other point in my life, I wouldn’t have gotten past the daydreaming stage. But an incredible alchemy spiritual lessons I’d internalized from some folks who don’t even know they are spiritual teachers and the pull of committing to a neighborhood like EAV and putting down roots to serve the community–well, it made me brave(r).

And, really, the Universe kept nudging things into place to bring this little venture to life. Every time I got nervous or wondered what the hell I was thinking, another piece would magically just fall into place. To the point that opening a bookstore felt like a calling–an answer to a question of community and place, a real labor of love.

From its inception, so many folks pitched in to make Bookish happen. In big ways and small ways, they offered support, money, encouragement, connections. When the Grand Opening finally happened, and the store was packed with southeast Atlantans–most of whom I didn’t even know yet–I felt it… that knowledge that community spaces are always bigger than the people that run them. And that Bookish really was going to be a place centered on connection and community.

That connection, and the dedication of loyal customers to spreading the word about Bookish, is what has carried us through this pandemic. We’ve been delivering books to people’s doorsteps since we closed to the public on March 15th. We’ve Facetimed with our customers to show them what we’ve got in stock that hasn’t made it on the website just yet (pivoting from zero online presence to getting an e-commerce site up & in a groove has been something real special). We’ve texted recommendations (complete with pictures!) to customers looking for books to keep their kids entertained or something they can escape into to shut out the pandemic world for just a bit. We’ve ordered (and sold) what feels like a metric ton of antiracism books. And we’ve fielded special orders through just about every communications means possible (except carrier pigeon).

People have rallied around Bookish, and we’ve been happy to respond by keeping the community in books throughout the pandemic.

The bottom line is Bookish has been fortunate, and I know it. And I’m so very grateful.

So, when the air conditioner broke just over a week ago, I figured it would suck but I could figure it out. And then our trusty AC guy called with the repair bill. I knew it was going to be pretty shitty when he asked if I was sitting down.

Damn.

When the number came in at over a thousand dollars, I cussed the folks who leased me a building with an 20+ year old AC unit, and I railed against commercial leases in general (you really don’t want to get me started on this particular topic. It makes me a tad stabby).

And then I thought back to 2 of my favorite customers who, on separate occasions completely independent from each other, made me promise if finances got dire I’d ask for help.

I suck at asking for help.

But staring this AC bill in the face didn’t leave me a whole lot of wiggle room.

I thought, when I posted the GoFund Me to Keep Bookish Cool, that I’d raise a couple hundred dollars. Which would at least put me in a financial position that felt less precarious. It was a relief just to consider not having to swing the whole bill. I felt lighter.

And then the donations started coming in. Some in $10 increments. Some closer to $100. Every single one felt like a tremendous gift. I watched the number steadily rise. And I kept blinking back tears. Because what was even happening?!? I started looking at the names of donors… and they were my neighbors, my customers, people from Parkside (hey, Pandas!), folks from Burgess-Peterson Academy, people I know well, and people I don’t. But all of whom I now love. Because within a few hours the GoFundMe was 100% funded.

The amount of gratitude I feel isn’t easily quantifiable. To ask for help and have the whole community rally around me has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life.

It’s the most clear affirmation that Bookish truly means something to the community–that it really is so much bigger than me & my dream. And that investing in community is 100% where it’s at.

Not that I ever really doubted… but still.

So, for every friend (whether they be long-distance or an ATLien, new or old), every customer (regular or less frequent flier), every person who loves the idea of Bookish even though they’ve never been in the door, every EAVer who supports local business always–because it’s what we do, every single soul who donated even a dollar to this campaign–THANK YOU.

Everyone needs a bit of hope every now and again. And I don’t think I knew how much I needed y’all’s light until you gave it so freely.

The love that poured in through this GoFundMe has buoyed me. And it’s also paid for an AC repair AND July’s rent.

I am humbled. I am grateful. So from one book nerd to another: THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

Not Nothing

Somehow, I’ve found myself teaching a writing class to a handful of 9 and 10 year olds.

That’s weird in and of itself. I typically regard groups of kids the way I might regard, say, a murder of crows. Beautiful, but best to keep one’s distance.

I’m easily overwhelmed by the chaos, caw-CAWing, and furious flapping of wings.

Their unpredictability (groups of kids & crows) unnerves me. And my patience doesn’t near approach even backsliding saint level.

But, earlier this summer, I was clearly possessed by a benign, somewhat random spirit because I floated this idea for a summer writing camp. We could chalk the whole idea up to the fact that the bookstore needed an additional revenue stream. But, truthfully, it doesn’t feel that simple.

Deep down, way deep in my subconscious, I think I’m being pulled toward being the kind of adult that I needed in my world as a kid. One that would’ve encouraged my pull toward writing, pushed me to share and open up. I needed an adult to celebrate my creativity in all its quirkiness and to push me to color outside the lines. Hell, what I really needed was an adult to show me that you could obliterate the damn lines.

Before we started the writing class this week, it was a check box on my To-Do list. I wasn’t sure I’d be any good at teaching/facilitating a group of kids at all. But something happened to me when I saw their little faces pop up on my screen (it’s all virtual because it’s still all pandemic-y out there).

I saw them.

In all their weird, kid glory.

And it clicked for me, deep in my soul somewhere quiet and a little bit sacred, that what I also needed as a kid was other kids who would let me fly my weirdo flag without judgement. I needed a place to nerd out where I felt safe and valued.

Like magic, the murder of crows in my head flapped off in a flurry of feathers. And I was just left with these kids. Wide-open, quirky, sweet kids.

And seeing them made room for all my excitement about their stories–hell, about them in general–to come rushing out. It’s like someone rubbed off the dust of their kid coping mechanisms (muting the other kids, shrugging their shoulders, mumbling “I dunno…”) and let me see all their internal kid stuff that makes them pull back and want to close down.

Instead of becoming one giant sigh of exasperation, I suddenly find myself redirecting without any judgement. Because I see what their doing–and what they’re trying to hide from–so clearly. And I get it. But I also whole-heartedly believe that this togetherness, the vulnerable space they have to exist in to put themselves out there by writing and sharing, is greater than their fear.

And I’m kinda just wowed by their creativity and the scope of what some of them want to write. I’m sure as hell not going to stand in their way.

I don’t want to teach them to color outside the lines. I want to be the one who sets the paper ablaze, so we can all watch it burn.

But, grandiose Dead Poet’s Society dreams aside, at the very least, they’ll leave this little writing camp knowing that there’s one more adult out there in the world who thinks they’re awesome and believes in their creativity, who heard their story and their vision and celebrated it.

And that’s not nothing.

Now, What Happened Again?

Sometime around 6th grade or so, I got ahold of The Diary of Anne Frank. And suddenly, my world was awash in both the goodness and insight of a 13 year old European Jewish girl from forty years ago and the abject horror that human nature can unleash.

Both. At the very same time.

I, a WASPy eleven year-old living in the Florida suburbs, was completely enchanted by Anne’s urbaneness (she was a German girl living in Amsterdam–I couldn’t fathom that I’d ever visit either place) and her energetic and observant nature. I desperately wanted to be her friend. Or to be like her. Eleven is a hard, confusing age and reading Anne’s diary let me feel close to someone–another kid–that I admired and looked up to.

And then they killed her.

I was bereft.

Of course I knew what would happen when I picked up the book. I knew, intellectually, about the Holocaust. We’d covered the facts and figures–the loss of life, the utter devastation, the depravity of human nature–which are simply staggering. But numbers don’t speak to me like they speak to some people.

I didn’t understand what happened until I picked up The Diary of Anne Frank. And once you know–on a deep, soul level–the beauty and horror that occupy this life side by side, you can’t unknow.

I was obsessed.

I read and read and read. Every time I went to the library, I grabbed a book about the Holocaust. My mother tittered about my obsession. But I had so many questions. How could this have happened? I felt such loss. I loved Anne. And that love for her pushed me to examine the very hardest truths about life.

Stories change everything.

Anne Frank has been the gateway for reaching and teaching children about hope, strength of character, the destruction wrought by hatred, and the horror of war since the late 1940s. She made me better because she made me curious.

Stories make my daughter, Jane, curious, too. Some stories I wish I didn’t have to tell her, though. Like the story of what happened to George Floyd.

She listened quietly. I think she thought I was making it up at first. Because who puts their knee on someone’s neck and leaves it there as they scream “I can’t breathe!”? In Jane’s consciousness as a 9 year old, that doesn’t seem possible. It seems so absurd. Why would he do that?! she asked. I’ve never seen that look on her face before. That disbelief.

Because George Floyd was black.

That’s the answer I gave my 9 year old for why George Floyd died. Because that’s the truth.

We live in Southeast Atlanta. Jane is constantly surrounded by black excellence, black joy, black friends, black teachers and leaders all the time. That is a gift we gave her by moving here. She hears and sees the stories of black kids all the time–living, dreaming, laughing, just being. So when we talk with her about racism, she has an emotional understanding that I couldn’t have fathomed at her age–because she has something to connect with.

She can extrapolate. She knows her friends’ stories. And she knows the story of George Floyd. And that look of utter disbelief I got from her–it was about knowing how quickly that could become the story of someone she knows, someone she loves. It was the horror of knowing that, in this country, we allow people to die with someone’s knee on their neck for nothing more that being black.

She asks about George Floyd’s story. And Ahmaud Arbery’s. And Breonna Taylor’s. Over and over again.

So I tell her. Again.

She’s trying to make sense of something utterly senseless. She’s a bit obsessed. She’s been confronted with the horror of the war against blackness in this country.

And now that she knows their stories, she can never unknow them. Because stories change everything.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Check Yes or No

When we moved to Atlanta, we walked up into a ready-made group of friends we lovingly refer to as The Tacos. When we’re all together, there are 21 of us (adults & kids). And, pre-quarantine, every Thursday we’d taco. All together. In a restaurant. (Actually, there may be 23 of us … this is why no one ever asks me to do the final headcount before we get seated on Thursday nights).

We’re oh-so-lucky to have had this big group of friends in Atlanta from the get-go. Because, let’s be honest: making friends as an adult can be tricky at best.

I mean, where is one supposed to find these friends, exactly? Sure, you can be friends with your neighbors. And sometimes that evolves organically. You say “hey,” then you bbq together, then it’s all Saturday-afternoon-hangouts and backyard luaus.

Not really. I’ve never even been to a backyard luau. Ever.

You can be friends with your kids’ friends’ parents. But that can be as convoluted as it sounds. Just because your kids bonded over a great (and obsessive) love of building intricate Minecraft worlds doesn’t mean you will have a damn thing in common with the people who spawned that tiny human that your own tiny human finds so delightful.

Or maybe you stumble upon someone at work, or while you’re volunteering, or between the barbs flying at your neighborhood association meeting, that seems like quality potential-friend material. But then what?

You basically have to ask them on a friend date, for coffee or drinks or something of the sort. And friend dates have always made me even more nervous than regular dates–which means I bring all my awkward and only a fraction of my charm. And for the first few minutes, I’m so anxious I can barely hear myself think, much less hear the words coming out of my trial-friend’s mouth.

Fun times.

But something weird and cool has happened during quarantine. It’s like there’s a sensitivity/truth switch that’s been flipped on. I watch what people post on social media, and these posts have stopped being something to just kill time while I wait in line somewhere, something I scroll through while my mind is really somewhere else (how many distractions can I take on at one time, and still not really feel distracted?). They’ve become these little portals into other people’s worlds–not a constant stream of vacations and parties and activity, but a look into what really makes them them.

Because I own a bookstore, people also reach out to me all the time via text or email to see if I have a book, can recommend a book, have heard anything about a book.

I love books of all types. And I love to chat (much to Simon’s dismay sometimes).

So, when someone requests a book that I loooooved or they hit me up with a list of books about a topic that sets me on fire, I get to see a piece of them that might take about forever to get to in regular chit-chat out in the normal world. Which is so cool. Like truth serum. But with books.

Three times in the past (almost) 3 months now, after texts back and forth about books and then about kids or BIG life issues or COVID or protests, I’ve found myself texting: Hey, when this is over, let’s be better friends IRL.

And it’s not even like asking someone on a friend date–because I already know. I already know we can be friends because we are. We’ve built a friendship in this super-weird quarantiney world one text, one social media post, one one-liner joke at a time. I know more about them, I can guarantee you, than if we’d had 5 awkward coffee dates.

There’s something so simple and straightforward about sending that text. It’s like sliding them a note that says: Can we be friends? Check yes or no.

They’ve all checked yes (with smiley face emojis & exclamation marks), in case you were wondering.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Wolfy Wisdom: Home

If there is but one force which feeds the root of pain, it is the refusal to learn beyond this moment.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run with the Wolves

I left Florida because I couldn’t live my life on cruise control anymore. Yeah yeah. I know: palm trees and beachy breezes. But, enticing as they are, they’re a poor substitute for really living–which requires guts, grit, and a healthy dose of openness and vulnerability.

Suburban Florida life was never the dream. But, when you’re simply putting one foot in front of the other, even if the path is beautiful, it doesn’t leave a lot of space for dream discovery. And when you don’t have dreams of your own, it’s pretty easy to fall into co-opting someone else’s, just so you have something that you can (erroneously) call your own.

For most of my 20s, my life closely resembled a train wreck. But, once I hit my 30s, bit by bit I began to piece myself, and my life, together: I got sober; Simon & I finally had that baby we’d been trying for; we found the perfect house in a beautiful neighborhood; I started ever-so-slowly writing things and putting them into the world; Simon transitioned and began living into the big, amazing life he was always meant to have.

So far, so good.

All of these things were unfolding in real-time around me. Which didn’t leave a lot of time or energy for deeper dreams. And plus, the scenery (physical & psychic) was a beautiful diversion.

Then, as the endless barrage of a decade of change began to settle, I started to sense it: the uncomfortable emptiness. I had all these beautiful things, a life I’d built piece by piece, against some pretty damn serious odds. And yet.

The ache let me know: something was missing.

If you’d asked me, I could have calmly told you what I thought was missing. But intellectual knowing isn’t the same as soul-knowing. At least for me. Just wrapping my head around something wasn’t enough to compel me into action. But, the soul has a way of finally making itself heard.

My way looked a lot like sobbing in bed in the middle of the night. And I finally had the words: I am living someone else’s dream for my life.

Once you know a truth like that, you can’t unknow it.

People look at me a bit askance when I tell them that the dream–absolutely, without question–is Atlanta, Georgia. Being here. Living here. Making a big, beautiful–sometimes messy, always true & real–life in this city.

But when you are called to something, it’s best not to try to ignore it. Because it is going to keep calling, relentlessly, until you answer.

Atlanta has called me since I was 19 years old. And it’s the call of home, y’all. I belong here like I have never belonged any place else.

It took me 21 years to make my way here. And I am so filled with gratitude to finally, finally be home that the right view of the skyline or the riot of flowers blooming in the spring (that I’m hella allergic to) still make me tear up. And that’s the god’s honest truth.

Taking a chance on this dream–just finally picking up and moving— launched me into this open space full of possibility. Honoring one of my deepest desires gave me the courage to trust myself in ways I hadn’t even fathomed.

I’ve found the space here to learn beyond this moment. To ask hard questions. To wrestle with uncomfortable truths. To take risks. To be vulnerable and open.

It’s a scarier way to live. There no numbing out. And sometimes the lessons are hard. And there’s virtually nowhere to shove the psychic clutter. But the reward is being really alive.

And it’s terrifying, beautiful, raw, and glorious. It’s home.