The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Capitalism in America–A History

I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.

I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages. 

Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over. 

But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.

In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.

On Being a Writer

I always harbored romantic notions of what life as a writer would look like:

I thought I’d live in a cabin in the mountains. I’d leisurely make coffee each morning, warming my hands on the mug, preparing for another day of brilliance. I’d walk my Irish Setter, Maggie, unleashed along the sun dappled mountain trails, wearing a sweater (both me and Maggie), still holding that cup of coffee. Then I’d settle down at my desk overlooking the forest and a small creek, and begin to write. I never envisioned a computer, so God only knows what I was writing on. A typewriter, maybe? Which would work. Because writers never make mistakes and they never have to revise. Not really. Just an added comma here and there. Brilliance would emanate from my very being. And my sage wisdom about life, my tremendous insight into the inner working of the universe, would flow into my characters with ease. People would clammer to buy my latest work. I’d be revered and mysterious.

Here’s the reality of my life as a writer:

I get up at 5:30 a.m. not to write, but so I can grab a minute to myself for mindfulness & meditation–which is key to my being able to write later on. I do get to sip a leisurely cup of coffee as I bask in my morning quietude. That’s about the only similarity between the romanticized version of me and, well, ME.

I do have a dog. She’s a bouncing, drooling mess who I adore but who will never, ever go anywhere unleashed. And I can’t have a cup of coffee while I’m walking her, unless I intend to rejuvenate my skin with the wonders of caffeine. Because you know I’d be wearing that cup of coffee.

I write at my kitchen table, while telling the dog to stop barking at passersby and intermittently throwing a toy for her to keep her entertained. I have written a middle grades novel, which felt brilliant as I was writing it. But now it needs revision. As all writing does. And that doesn’t feel brilliant or romantic. It feels like work.

I write not serenely staring out at the lush mountainside but casting sidelong glances at the mountains of books that need to be cleaned, scanned, and sorted–inventory for the used bookstore that became part of the dream. Because every story matters. Mine. Yours. The ones in books and the ones yet to be told.

Writing involves practice. It’s the constant jotting down of thoughts and ideas. It’s grabbing a minute to write a blog post. It’s revising for the good of the story–because you believe it deserves to be told and is therefore worthy of your work, your effort.

Writing is messy. It’s not linear. But that makes it a lot more like me. I can relate to its ever evolving nature, its immediacy, its fits and starts. Nothing is more rewarding to me than immersing myself in stories.

But I’m going to be honest: my dog hates wearing sweaters.

The Shark Stands Alone (with coffee)

One of my girlfriends, who I adored with what I’m now sure must’ve felt like stifling intensity, really enjoyed spending time alone.

No, not like time alone with me. Time alone. Like by herself.

This baffled me.

What did she think when she was by herself? Didn’t she get bored? What was going on in her head that required time without me?

If my response to her wanting a damn minute to herself seems a bit off-the-wall to you… GOOD. That’s likely because you’re a well adjusted human.

Good work.

I, on the other hand, was a college-aged kid who was terrified to spend a minute alone with my own thoughts. I was so afraid of my own interior life that I didn’t even believe I HAD thoughts to mull over. It never occurred to me that thoughts were supposed to be a precursor to conversation. Nope. I didn’t really analyze much of anything until it was flying out of my mouth.

I discovered a lot about what I thought and believed by hashing it out with other people. Which was great, mostly. But I still couldn’t stand to be alone. And I resented the hell out of my girlfriend for wanting a private thought life.  Or maybe it was less resentment & more jealousy. I wanted to be interesting enough to spend time alone.

I tried that once… spending time alone. I went out to a cabin in the woods by myself. Not that I’d planned it that way. I’d been dating a girl for a couple years. We’d booked the cabin for our anniversary. Then we broke up a few weeks before the trip. I decided to go anyway. I was filled with all kinds of I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar independence. I’d go and relish the time alone. I was sure of it.

In the woods, by myself, I was struck with the most breathtaking loneliness. Even well over a decade later, if I’m outside when the light hits the trees just right, I can still feel the aching emptiness in my chest. Even thinking about the forest brings on this intense melancholy.

I wish I was kidding. I am not.

So, yeah, solo camping isn’t for me.

But being able to think IS for me. Digging through my internal landscape and using my brain to uncover what I thing about something before I open my mouth… yeah, that’s for me, too. It’s such a gift, this ability to be alone. To not be terrified what my mind will turn over and over if don’t fill every second with constant chatter. To like my own company. Hell, to like myself.

I’m so grateful that I reckoned with enough of my emotional wreckage to not ever have to wonder again why someone might need a minute alone. The peace that comes with solitude, and the connection to myself and the world around me, is a grounding force in my life. Running, yoga, meditation (which I’m awful at. So bad) connect me to myself. Which feels a little miraculous and a lot triumphant.

Because that’s what I’d been running from the whole time: ME.

 

 

Big Plans, Y’all.

WTacualF do folks mean when they tell me to “get organized”?!? Shouldn’t this organization stuff come with an instruction manual or something?

Know what my 4th grade teacher said about me? That I needed to be more organized. What a weird thing to say about a 9 year old. Or, more to the point, what a confusing thing to say with no further instruction on the matter. She might as well have told me to make my freckles disappear. Because I was just as likely to do that as to get more organized out of the blue.

As I made my way toward adulthood, my mom hopped on the organizational bandwagon, too. She and my father bought me a very professional looking bonded leather planner with my initials engraved on a gold nameplate in the bottom right hand corner (90s chic, for sure). But I had no idea how to use the damn thing. I’m sure I made an attempt. I’ve always made (half-hearted) attempts to “be more organized”–for real, what does that mean?!?–to satisfy the people around me. But it never sticks.

Simon really wants me to use the calendar on my phone. (No.) He’s been butting his head against that wall for years. Poor guy.

But so constant is the organization refrain that it’s seeped into my self-narrative. I am unorganized, I think. I should get a planner. So I do. And I used it for approximately one week. Same thing with blocking time on my calendar. One week is the lifespan of my organizational endeavors.

But, y’all… New Year, New Me! I know, I know. I just told you that it’s hopeless, this quest for organization that’s been happening since I was 9. But 2 things happened recently that caused an epiphany of sorts:

  1. Simon got all geeked out about Michael Hyatt, who’s apparently some sort of organizational & leadership guru. Or something. You know this stuff makes me roll my eyes (interiorly, of course. Outward eye rolling is just rude). But Simon was so excited about goal setting and organizing and blah blah blah that somehow I agreed to watch some videos about a planner Simon is using in 2019. And–lo & behold–they made sense. Things like breaking down projects into smaller goals (wait… what?!? Is that what people have been asking me to do all along? Because NO ONE SAID THAT.) and checking in frequently to make sure daily activities are moving me toward a weekly goal, that supports a monthly goal, that supports… you guessed it… an ANNUAL GOAL. Well, shit. I could’ve been getting more stuff done ALL ALONG, if I’d known this crazy alchemy for productivity!
  2. My best friend got me a planner for the new year. She handed it to me and said (and I quote), “Because you’ve got a lot of big goals this year, and you don’t always remember things as well as you think you do.” This is obviously the Universe conspiring to make shit happen. Because, although I am resistant to taking direction from most people, my BFF gets Platinum Status in being able to gently direct (read: boss me around) in a way I can actually hear.

So, where does that leave me for 2019? Well, right now, with  annual goals, goals for January, and weekly goals written out in my rad planner in pink pen… and possibly a roadmap to opening this bookstore I’ve been talking about and finally publishing that middle grades novel I wrote almost 2 years ago.

But, mostly, it leaves me with more faith that the Universe is working together for my good. Because it seems like the entire UNIVERSE is conspiring get me organized. And who am I to back-talk the Universe?

Books, Tea Parties, and Local Atlanta Magic

I’d never had much use for tea, until I encountered Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in Atlanta.

 

I was raised on coffee. I drank coffee-milk as a preschooler (it’s a delightful concoction of milk, sugar, and a little coffee. It’s warm, sweet perfection). So, I never really gave tea much thought. I mean, sure, it was fine… for other people. But I couldn’t take it seriously.

But, like so many things, that’s shifted for me since I moved to Atlanta. Primarily because of this whimsical, amazing, quirky little place Candler Park:

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When you walk inside the shop, everything feels like gloriously cluttered and warm. Chalkboards with list after list of various types of tea line one wall. They’ve snugged together several small tables in the front room that feel intimate and lively. Paper ornaments and lights dangle from the ceiling. And the tea is nestled behind the counter.

It feels close. Connected. Alive with thoughts and ideas and conversation.

In the next room are two long tables nestled right next to tall, full bookshelves that remind me both how much I love to read and how much knowledge, how many stories, I’ve left unexplored. The lights stay low, which makes it feel like a rather intellectual, bookish type place. And folks are always typing way on their computers. I’m sure some of them are just doing plan old work. But in my mind, all of them are researching, and writing, and forming networks of thoughts and experiences that will shape the world. Or that will at least shape them. And, amid all this amazingness, are dozens of paper umbrellas–in various states of repair and coherence–dangling upside down from the ceiling.

I was instantly in love. From the second I walked in the door. In love and compelled, because I wanted the full experience of being in such an eclectic teahouse, to drink tea. And, because if I’m going to drink tea I want to be the valedictorian of tea, immediately I decided I wanted to attend a High Tea at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party.

But something as special as a high tea needed to wait for just the right occasion.

And then I forgot all about it. For months.

Until I picked up There Goes Sunday School, by Alexander C. Eberhart, where the protagonist (bless his heart) finds himself in Atlanta at Dr. Bombay’s Underwater Tea Party in one of the most charming scenes I’ve read in a while.

And right then, I knew: when my sister brought her family to Atlanta to visit, we’d go to Dr. Bombay’s for High Tea.  And so we did:

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I adore the fact that I picked up a random novel in a bookstore and not only did I find parts of my own story represented that random LGBTQ YA novel but I ALSO remembered something important to me, an experience that I wanted to give to people I love that I’d forgotten all about. But then I remembered. And being there, felt like doubly a gift–because I am blessed with people I love who I want to share experiences with AND because I’d been given a story that reminded me of those very things.

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The Sam I Am Chronicles

This is Sam I Am. I love him. But we had a falling out earlier this week. I’m trying to forgive. Really. But he’s an elf. He has ONE JOB. I just need him to do that job. Is that too much to ask?

This is Sam I Am, our Elf on the Shelf. This little dude caused me some serious angst earlier this week.

Let me start out by clarifying that the elf & I, we are buddies. I love this damn thing. He’s mischievous. And silly. He gets into a kinds of stuff. Makes Jane laugh first thing in the morning. And, above all, our elf is NOT a snitch. He doesn’t report back to Santa. Because we’re not living in an Orwell novel. He just hangs out with us at Christmastime. End of story.

Every year, Sam I Am magically appears right after Thanksgiving. One time he showed up in Nana’s red button drawer (yes, Nana has SO MANY BUTTONS that there is a special drawer just for the red ones). But most times, he’s chillin’ somewhere in the house when we return from Thanksgiving.

That’s what happened this time. He was taking a little snooze in one of Jane’s doll beds when we got home. We ooohhhed and ahhhed over his adorableness. We talked about how tired he must’ve been from his trip. Jane was over the moon with excitement. She’d been looking forward to his visit all the way home from Florida (for all SEVEN excruciating hours in the car).

This Christmas Season was looking all kinds of promising.

Then the little bastard didn’t move during the night. So when Jane woke up the next morning, he was in EXACTLY the same spot he’d been the day before.

And she was CRUSHED.

Did someone accidentally touch him? she fretted. What if LiLi sniffed him and he lost his magic? What if he was NEVER GOING TO MOVE AGAIN?!?!

If I were to begin to describe to you exactly how awful I felt, what a failure I felt like as a parent, because this damn elf hadn’t moved, you’d think I was exaggerating. But, for real, y’all… holidays are kind of hard for me. But this elf is pure magic. Joy. I love him so. AND HE HADN’T MOVED. And now our whole house was in mourning.

Fortunately, because he’s magic, Sam I Am pulled his shit together, broke ALL the elf rules, and moved during the day, while Jane was playing in her fort outside. He left a note, which I didn’t photograph because I don’t keep tangible evidence of my worst parenting moments, but it went something like this:

Jane, 

Sorree I made yoo askared. I wuz tired.

<3, Sam I Am

Jane found him on our bookshelves with a cup on his head and various other stackable cups strewn about around him. She forgave him right away. Because she’s good like that. I’m a little slower to forgive, but I’m coming around.

Then he went and put his butt in our cereal:

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Holiday Hangover (No Booze Required)

Ever had a emotional hangover? Like from all the ups and downs of the holidays? Yeah, they’re real. And they’re hella tough. So, this Monday, take it easy on yourself. You’re worth it.

When I quit drinking, the first miracle was that long string of hangover-free mornings. If that doesn’t seem in any way miraculous to you… well, you’ve probably never spent half an hour deciding if an egg sandwich sounded delicious or like something you might immediately upchuck, while anxiety zips through your body like a high-speed train.

Just saying.

Sometimes, even a decade later, I wake up marvel over the fact that I feel GOOD first thing in the morning. It’s glorious.

I wish I was immune to ALL kinds of hangovers. But I’m not. I’ve had a sugar hangover. And a caffeine hangover. (I know. Cute, right? But, trust me, dehydrated & fuzzy headed is not a good look on me) But the worst is the emotional hangover. And there’s nothing like the holidays to bring on a killer emotional hangover.

For lots of us, the holidays can be fraught. It’s like life gears up for these made-up days that we’re supposed to be full of joy & gratitude and love for our families. And that’s great. Except when it’s not.

Like when Uncle Bob thinks tear gassing refugees is the way to protect ‘Merica.

Or when Cousin Sally wants to know if you’re still living in sin with your boyfriend.

Or when half your family is racist (sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, fill in any other thing that makes your stomach clench as you’re trying to digest your cranberry sauce).

Or when you’re just trying to work up the nerve to come out to your family through the entire holiday meal, but all you can imagine is your mom running away from the table in tears and your dad disowning you.

Or when you just don’t measure up to anything your family wants you to be. And you just wonder why they can’t accept you.

Or maybe you suffered a loss this year, and nothing is the same. And it won’t be. And you have to navigate that hard truth as you walk through the emotional landmines of the holidays.

Here’s the thing, some version of one (or a fun mix-and-match set) of these things goes on in most families I know.

So what does that mean?

Maybe that you love your family but that they drive you batshit crazy. Or maybe that you have to fight falling into old patterns just to emerge from the holidays virtually unscathed. Or that the holidays leave your wrecked and depleted, instead of joyous and renewed. Or that you call out bigotry in the middle of the Thanksgiving meal & let the chips fall where they may.

All these BIG (and conflicting) feelings can add up to a massive holiday hangover.

Holiday hangovers leave me feeling especially stuck. And vulnerable. It takes me days to get over them. My inclination is always to muscle through, to woman-up and show them.

This NOT a good plan.

If I’m a frazzled mess (hypothetically speaking, of course), the last thing I need is to start trying to prove something. Because no one is watching. And there’s no one to prove anything to but ME.

So, I’ve tried to talk myself into being less black and white. Holidays are not good or bad. There are good & bad parts to everything (which really helps me delve into the moments of joy without wondering when the other shoe is going to drop).

And I try to remember that everyone’s got their own shit going on. And sometimes I don’t  now anything about it. So a little grace is required. Sometimes, a lot of grace.

But most importantly, I remind myself–frequently, consistently, insistently–that I write my own narrative. No one can take that power from me. I do not have to play a part in someone else’s drama. I can throw out the whole script and start over. And that knowledge shines bright when things get tough. It helps me hold on to who I am, instead of being called back into who I used to be. And who I am now is a helluva lot better than who I used to be–and it’s worth writing a whole new script for.

On this Monday after Thanksgiving, be gentle with yourself. Especially if your holiday didn’t look anything like you wanted it to. Your worth isn’t determined by how much you accomplish today. You ARE important. And worthy. Connect with someone that makes you feel that way. Do something special for yourself. And don’t let anyone else write your narrative. Not ever.