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.

Doing Hard Things

Somehow, I beguiled the 9 year old into taking a run with me yesterday.

Well, actually, it was more like a directive: Put on your running shoes. Do not lay on the floor and cry like last time. That will not work this time. Pull it together, Tina, and let’s go. (Yes, we totally call her Tina when she’s being obstinate. No, we don’t think it’ll take too much therapy for her to work through it.)

The thing is, Jane is a good runner–when she’s not flailing about and acting like she’s marching into Armageddon when I insist she tie on her shoes. And quarantine has forced us to work on a little concept over here we like to call you-are-nine-and-don’t-get-to-make-all-the-decisions-and-yes-I-AM-the-boss-of-you.

Catchy, right?

So, off we went. After I issued some threats (i.e. bedtime at 7pm if she started acting a fool on the run). Look, I’m not above threats. Especially on quarantine day one-million-seven-hundred-eighty-thousand. And I’ve wised up to her favorite strategy of resistance: doing what I say (technically), then making the whole damn experience so miserable that I wish I’d never made her do it in the first place.

Checkmate, Tina.

Atlanta is hilly. Which makes it beautiful. And makes running both harder and infinitely more interesting. We live at the bottom of a hill. So, runs don’t start out easy. But Jane made it up the hill loping like an antelope. She’s taken to running a bit like a muppet–maybe because her arms & legs have gotten really lanky? But it’s a little silly and incredibly endearing.

I’d strategically planned frequent stops on the run. And also, through subterfuge, trickery, and downright avoidance, managed not to tell her how far we were going (5K). Things went shockingly well for the first kilometer.

En route to kilometer #2 she may have yelled over her shoulder: “Mommy, STOP TALKING TO ME.”

YOWZA. Touchy, touchy.

But all was forgiven after we walked up a big hill versus running up it (see, I’m a benevolent dictator). And, blessedly, we’d hit a flat stretch and got to cruise along, chatting and just hanging out together for a bit.

It was uneventful and lovely… until we hit the two mile mark.

I don’t know when the last time you watched a small human begin to emotionally unravel was… but it’s not pretty.

Before we go any further, here’s a quick bit of background: Jane ran her first 5K with me when she was 7 years old. And we did a Girls on the Run 5K together last spring. Her PE coach at her first elementary school here in Atlanta pulled me aside specifically to talk about getting her into track because she’s a stellar runner. All that is only to say: I’d didn’t ask (wouldn’t ask) her to do something she wasn’t capable of. But running is HARD if you don’t do it frequently. And she’s dug her heels in recently and refused to run. So this was HARD.

I need to stop, she whined in my general direction.

Nope, you don’t. You’re okay. Let’s slow down. You can do this. Stay where your feet are and breathe.

I can’t.

You can.

And so it went for a while.

Then I look over and she’s starting to sniffle. Now, I’ll cop to the fact that (belatedly) at nine years old, the kid is honing her dramatic acting skills. And she’s learned that crying–when it seems genuine and not like a tantrum–can sometimes get her what she wants. So I was wary. But still… she broke my heart a little bit.

We pulled over to a shady little corner.

Buddy, what’s the matter? I pulled her close to me, she put her head on my shoulder and cried quietly.

It’s hard.

It is, I agreed. Because it really IS. But we can do hard things.

She nodded and continued to cry, leaning in for a minute. I waited a bit, kissed the top of her head, asked her if she was ready to finish. She nodded, and we were on our way.

But the whole way home I kept thinking that standing on a street corner deep in our neighborhood, sweaty and completely focused on the moment felt like an epiphany: Jane cried because something was hard. It was a pure expression of what she felt. She didn’t pry and twist that emotion until it came out sideways. It was honest. And transparent. And vulnerable. And I got to be there to experience that emotion with her–without trying to fix it, or reason with it, or in any way control it.

It was just the two of us together, in the moment, understanding that we CAN do hard things. But sometimes we need to cry about them, too.

She finished the 5K by the way. And she was wildly proud of herself. And she should be. Running is hard. Emotions are hard. Vulnerability is even harder.

But she’s a champ–one who can, in fact, do hard things.

I can see your pain, and it’s big. I also see your courage, and it’s bigger. You can do hard things.

Glennon Doyle

House/Home

I’ve got an itch.

It happens every two years or so: I start looking at houses online. I daydream about fresh, unsullied spaces. Blank-slate walls. Freshly scrubbed baseboards. Intoxicating possibility.

Our daughter is 9 years old. She’s lived in 4 different houses and one apartment.

I’d just chalk up the constant itch to move as part of my charming quirkiness. Except that this time we’ve found the perfect neighborhood, a house we like, community that we want to put down roots in.

So, what do I do with this itch? Because, it’s there. Oh, it is THERE.

And I’ve come to a realization: I’m going to have to start LIVING in this house. Like I intend to stay.

That means actually hanging pictures & art in our bedroom. And painting the walls. And figuring out where the hell to store our stuff. It means wrestling with what isn’t working and finding a solution.

It means not leaving.

I’m in the process of psychic cleansing right now. Letting go of what has not served me. Welcoming what heals.

Now I need to take that outside myself. Into the space I live.

I want this house to be a place to renew, to explore, to be.

I want this house to feel like home.

I don’t believe in a “forever home”–life is too dynamic for that. But I do want this house to live into the possibility of home. It deserves a chance to do that.

I think the 3 of us deserve that.

Quarantine is…

new, punk-rock haircuts. Because, why not?

a whole lot of Little Debbies. (Literally. New day, new Debbie.)

worrying about folks who play like they’re oblivious to the pandemic.

walking the dog, running, and taking a bike ride. All in the same morning.

deep, real grief at the loss of physical connection.

watching our 9 year old entertain herself by “chickening.” (It’s real weird. Looks and sounds about like an asthmatic chicken in a tizzy. It’s a special time, y’all.)

getting angry when folks can’t seem to measure 6 feet properly (I’ve got zero spacial orientation, but I know if my arm can brush yours, you sure aren’t 6 feet from me).

wanting Zestos ice cream so bad I can imagine-taste it.

buying shirts from our favorite ATL places in the hopes that they’ll still be here when this is over.

wondering if this is endless. Like eternity. Or the television run of Law & Order.

laughing at the itty bitty bunch of grapes we got in our grocery delivery (If we were field mice, they might’ve been enough. But only if we were field mice that didn’t really care for grapes that much anyway.)

reading books just because I want to–no agenda, no timeline, just me & the book. (the best kind of bliss)

quitting washing my hair–because when else will I have the opportunity to see what happens?

a month in, wishing I’d never taken the opportunity to see what happens.

wondering why wearing a mask around your neck ever feels like the right thing to do?

having coffee each morning with my guy and knowing we don’t have anywhere to be. And being grateful (mostly).

listening to our kid lay out the backstory for her favorite cats in the Warrior Cats series. It’s kind of epic. And weird. And she knows a helluva lot about those damn cats.

finally embracing FaceTime. (But I’m still 10 kinds of awkward on a video call)

crying when our daughter cries about missing her friends.

crying because I miss my best friend.

crying because.

laughing. More often than I cry.

time to think, to examine, to unearth who I want to be.

meditation, and yoga, and deep breaths.

gratitude that I really like these 2 that I live with.

gratitude that I’m alive.

time.

and more Little Debbies.