The Nitty Gritty: A Review of There Goes Sunday School (Alexander C. Eberhart)

I had so many feels about this book, it’s hard to even get them into words. I love LGBTQ Young Adult novels. For real. They’re a gut-punch reminder of what it’s like to be young, falling in love, and figuring out your sexuality… while trying to navigate the impeding (and inevitable) doom of folks finding out you’re gay. Add into the mix that There Goes Sunday School is set in Atlanta… Totally swoon-worthy.

What I didn’t expect was for this YA novel to unearth so many feelings for me. I mean, I didn’t just relate to the protagonist… at one point I WAS the protagonist. Anti-gay upbringing? Check. Conservative Evangelical church? Check. Being told I was for sure gonna burn in hell? Check. But, perhaps especially when it’s rooted in pain, it turns out that representation is just as important at 43 as it is at 13. Watching my own story play out (with some significant plot deviations, of course) was cathartic.

Eberhart wrote believable characters with realistic responses to their surroundings and upbringings. He managed to create a tender novel that didn’t read as over-dramatized or simplistic. And he got in some wins for his characters that, for me at least, are incredibly important to see in print.

Being gay isn’t a tragedy. In fact, coming out and living into your truth is a victory. Even when it’s hard. Being who you are is worth risking everything for. And that’s a truth that everyone needs to hear more of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books! Books! Books!

So many books! Why? Because literacy is everything. Think I’m exaggerating? Nope. Wait ’til you see the statistics. Oh, and also, because bookstores require A LOT of books.

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Jane seems to have inherited my book nerdiness.

I’ve had this crazy love affair with books since I was a kid. I like being around them, holding them, scouring the back cover for my next adventure. I get sucked in by real outstanding cover art. And, yeah, I’ll totally pass on a book with a lackluster cover. Because I want the whole experience. I want to catch a glimpse of the book laying on the table and not be able to resist picking it up—just for a minute—just to read a page or two.

I’ve been lucky with reading. It came easily to me, and right away I was able to find books I adored, ones where I saw myself in the characters. They made me dream bigger than my suburban reality. They made me want to know more, be more, do more. I had constant accrsss to books. I had books that were given to me, books I bought at the Scholastic Book Fair with quarters scraped together from my allowance, and a precariously leaning pile of books I’d dragged home from the library.

Not all kids are as lucky. 

Representation is still a big hurdle in literature, although publishers—especially publishers of children’s books—are making a concerted effort to include more diverse protagonists (children of color, protagonists from various ethnicities, differently abled children, LGBTQ protagonists).  But for those books to make a difference, children have to be able to access them. The need to appear in abundance on booksellers shelves, in Little Free Libraries across the land, in traditional and school libraries, and in used bookstores.

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And books, all kinds of books, need to make there way into the homes of kids. And not based along class lines. ALL kids. All kids need to have a go-to library of books they love that they can read over and over again. Why? Check out the findings of a study done by the Australian National University: “Growing up with few books in the home resulted in below average literacy levels. Being surrounded by 80 books boosted the levels to average, and literacy continued to improve until libraries reached about 350 books, at which point the literacy rates leveled off.” 

80 books. Kids need 80 books in their homes, in order to achieve average literacy levels. And what happens to kids who don’t reach average literacy levels? 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. So, yeah, I was lucky. But it shouldn’t come down to luck.

As I was checking out of Value Village today with an entire cart of books, the rad young man boxing the books up for me said, “Man. You REALLY like books.” I laughed. As he loaded them into the box, he kept pausing at the kids’ titles: “Hey! I read the Boxcar Children when I was in school. I loved those books.” After he’d done this multiple times, he said, “Does your kid like to read?” I affirmed that she is pretty hyped about books right now. “Good” he nodded. “Tell her to keep it up. Reading is important.” Indeed.

“I’m thinking of opening a bookstore,” I blurted in his general direction. He gave the box of books a bit of side-eye. “Okay, okay. I’m guess I’m a little more committed to the idea than just ‘thinking about it.’”

“It’s a good idea,” he said. “Get people things to read.”

Yep. That’s it right there: I want to get people things to read. Books they are passionate about. If people believe they don’t like to read, maybe it’s just that no one has ever put a book in their hands that opened up some part of the world for them. A book that exploded their imagination. A book that spoke to them. And that’s crucial because reading makes us see outside our own small worlds. Makes us more empathetic. Reading just flat out makes us better. 

Everyone should have access to books. In their home. Books they can afford. Books of their very own. 

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That’s my dream: to open up a used book store that has something that will spark (or reignite) a love of reading in every single customer that walks through the door. I believe it’s possible. 

Besides. what else am I going to do with all these books?!

Be part of the building of the dream: What is the very first book you’d look for if you walked into a used bookstore?

Want to know more about literacy? Check out these resources:

We Need Diverse Books

Empowered Readers

Reading is Fundamental

Moving On Up (or, really, just east a bit)

5 Helpful Tips for Moving (from someone who apparently thinks she needs to move every 2 years or so, even though she’s got a hoarder(ish) kid and a messy as hell dog. Ahem.)

I’ve dropped hints. I’ve insinuated. But now, I’ll come right out and say it: We’re moving. Again.

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Apparently, this is a thing we like to do every few years. You know, to keep things fresh. And to test the limits of my sanity.

We’re not leaving Atlanta. (My love for Atlanta is welldocumented. Like, real well.) We’re just moving about 2 miles down the road–from Grant Park to East Atlanta. (Moving just down the street from our current home is also something we really like to do. In Florida, we moved a quarter mile down the road once.) But, look, what I’ve come to understand is that place matters. And, sometimes, you’ve just got to make a move to a place that really fits who you are.

Since I’ve unwittingly become a seasoned mover, I’ve created this handy 5 Step Guide to Surviving a Move:

  1. Give everything away. I mean, keep your family members. And your dog (if you have one. But for God’s sake, don’t go out and get a dog. They’re hella messy.) But seriously, if you haven’t used it in a year, toss it. It’s messing up your chi (or something). Living in clutter is not living your best life. And, if you can put it in storage (or in the garage or basement or attic… wherever) for months or years, do you need it? Let me answer that for you: no, you do not.
  2. Bribe your kid to get rid of stuff. Look, I don’t usually support this kind of behavior, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Kids are like little, tiny hoarders. They develop sentimental attachment to broken pencils and scraps of paper. Ship your kid off to a friend’s house, throw away anything that might escape their attention while they’re gone, then bribe them to get rid of stuff you’re sure they’ll notice if you pitch. I’m talking cash money here, people. Pay up and get that stuff out of your house.
  3. Mentally prepare yourself to face the dirt. Unless you are a self-avowed compulsive cleaner, you have no idea how dirty your house is. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to live there. Dirt is lurking everywhere. Put on your adulting panties, throw soap & water in a bucket and start scrubbing. “Getting ready to show the house” is a whole separate category of clean, like next-level clean. Usually, my family lives in “clean enough.” And I’ve got no trouble admitting it. But now, my baseboards sparkle. For real. Will it be like this after we move? Hell, no. It’s too much work. But for now, we’ve got sparkle…
  4. Label boxes clearly. This is going to be super-important when your kid is freaking out because they can’t find their Piximonkuncle Kerflauflehead. You aren’t even going to know what that IS, much less where you put it. Especially if your kid had so much junk in their room that you filled up 5 full-size moving boxes with just their stuff. (No, I’m not bitter. Not at all) And, no, labeling boxes “Random Shit from Jane’s Room” isn’t going to help. Especially if your kid isn’t even named Jane.
  5. Pray for serenity. You’re going to need it. giphy

Oakland Cemetery Run

This morning dawned dreary and cool(ish) after last night’s rains. What better time to take a run through one of Atlanta’s most famous cemeteries than on a cloudy Monday morning? Right. No better time. So, off I went.

This morning dawned dreary and cool(ish) after last night’s rains. What better time to take a run through one of Atlanta’s most famous cemeteries than on a cloudy Monday morning? Right. No better time. So, off I went.

The best thing (the VERY best thing) about running in the summer is feeling free to do whatever I want during a run. No pressure. It’s hot as all hell outside, so taking it slower & just staying in the moment becomes a survival technique. And it’s also a technique that lets me take a lot of pictures on my running adventures.

Here’s Oakland Cemetery in Grant Park, Atlanta, in all it’s summertime glory:

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Beautiful. And peaceful. Such a chill way to start my Monday.

I’m grateful I live in Atlanta. Every day, I’m grateful.

 

5 Things I’ve Learned Today

If you go on & on about how hot Florida is, Georgia’s gonna get all jealous and show off. It’s okay to change plans. Seven year olds are non-truth tellers. Everyone needs to own their part. Today is always a good day for a do-over.

  1. If you go on & on about how hot Florida is, Georgia’s gonna get all jealous and show off. That’s why today it was 87 degrees by 10:30 a.m. And why, on a 5K run, I thought I might simply evaporate into thin air. Or spontaneously combust. Which one is more likely under oppressive heat that sucks all the oxygen out of the air? Either way, hot as actual hell. Sorry, Georgia. You are hot, too. The whole South is hot. So there.

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    Wait! Am I actually in hell?! No, no… that’s just the Atlanta Zoo parking lot. Whew!
  2. It’s okay to change plans. Like if, say, you’d planned on taking a nice jaunt through the cemetery on your run. But then you realize that the cemetery doesn’t have much shade to speak of. Then you might just decided that–unless you want to make the cemetery your permanent home–you should run through the park, where shade abounds and you’re likely to be hot and tired but ALIVE at the end of your run. Maybe, if something like that happened, it’d be okay to change plans.

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    Ah, shade: so beautiful… and life sustaining. 
  3. Seven year olds are non-truth tellers. I discovered this 3 days ago, when I started excavating Jane’s room. Normally, she frowns upon me touching her stuff. But she’s vacationing in Florida right now… which meant I got to venture in to her room and discover that it was DIRTY. Like, real, real dirty. Holy shit. She was supposed to be straightening, dusting, and sweeping her room every week. But, I guess I was also supposed to be checking that she done that oh for, say, the past year. Oops.

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    Jane in Florida with her aunt & her cousin. Shhh… don’t tell her I touched her stuff.
  4. Everyone needs to own their part when shit goes wrong. I know Jane tried to clean her room. There’s just too much STUFF in there for her to clean anything. I let her accumulate all that stuff. Then I didn’t check if she was really cleaning–because I’m overwhelmed by the stuff. I was lazy and wanted to avoid a hard conversation about hanging on to and collecting things …. and I paid for it for the last 3 days.

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    Me, after cleaning Jane’s room.
  5. Today is always a good day for a do-over. I tell Jane we can start our day over any time (thanks A.A. for that little nugget). So, I’m calling a do-over on cleanliness and orderliness. Whatever I’ve been teaching Jane about either one of those so far is a load of horseshit. No one needs as much stuff as she has. And cleanliness is next to godliness–or something like that. I just know that if I ever go into her room again and it’s that dirty, all she’s going to get for the next gift-giving-holiday is a Wet Swiffer and some dust cloths. And maybe a hutch to keep the dust bunnies in.
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    The clean version. For a before shot, imagine if a tornado swept through here. A very dirty tornado.

     

 

 

 

Header Image by Franck V. on Unsplash

#SummerRunning

I’ve been exploring Kirkwood, Edgewood, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, and a little bit of Decatur. It’s Georgia hot out there, which means that by the time I start running at 9 a.m., it’s already 80 some-odd degrees. That frees me up to not worry about my time and just enjoy the run. And I have! Like, for real. 

I’m really FEELING running right now. This isn’t always the case. Sometimes I trudge through a run because I know I’ll feel better later (running is a central part of my mental health maintenance routine). But, for the past few weeks, I’ve woken up excited about each new running adventure.

I blame this guy:

I mean, come on! Adventure! Fun! And he always seems so genuinely thrilled to be running. So, I got kinda thrilled, too.

I’ve been exploring Kirkwood, Edgewood, Cabbagetown, Reynoldstown, and a little bit of Decatur. It’s Georgia hot out there, which means that by the time I start running at 9 a.m., it’s already 80 some-odd degrees. That frees me up to not worry about my time and just enjoy the run. And I have! Like, for real.

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My 4 big takeaways over the last few weeks:

  1. Things are rarely what they seem. The hill that looms so large… once I start climbing it, doesn’t seem so bad. The air that feels cooler because of the cloud cover is going to produce inescapable sticky-hot humidity that will ultimately slow me down. I’ve stopped trying to anticipate the future–even the next few minutes–and just go with what is.
  2. There’s an adventure waiting–but you have to look for it. I found a forest in Kirkwood! And a completely shaded, lovely trail… that’d I’d been by a million times but simply never turned the corner to explore it.
  3. It’s easier to enjoy the moment with no agenda. There’s a time & a place for plans (and training). But just being… taking things as they are, walking when I need to, stopping to take pictures makes running so much more exciting and enjoyable. No expectations. It’s really lovely.
  4. Make time for what matters. I rarely feel so enamored with running. So I don’t often devote this much time to it. But, lately, it helps me feel grounded, connected to myself. Making the time to do this for myself makes me a better mother, partner, writer.

Running… it’s how I’ve spent my summer so far. What’s your summer been about?