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.

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of I Don’t Want to Be Crazy

I Don’t Want to be Crazy, by Samantha Schultz, made me a little cagey.  

But only because her truth resonated so profoundly with me. I wanted to run away from it, brush it off, escape from the memories of living with panic disorder. 

It is hell. 

Schultz captures the experience of being young, wildly self-absorbed (100% a rite of passage), and battling a serious mental health issue with a laser precision. If I could, I’d make this required reading for everyone.  

Period.  

Because in the thick of it, all I wanted was for people to understand what it felt like to be fighting for my sanity at a party while everyone else laughed and acted like they were really alive, while I was just barely exisiting, engulfed in utter hopelessness, sure that there would never be a normal.  

This book frustrated me, too—in the way that things do when they remind you of a self you hope you’ve left behind. But ultimately I felt seen, and I wish my younger, panic ridden self (or even my early 30s panicked self) could have read this book. Because then I would’ve known that I wasn’t alone. And maybe no one is really normal, after all. 

Ultimately, Schultz draws hope out of despair. And she lays out the most promising part of her truth: you can get better. But it’s gonna take a helluva lot of work, perseverance, and determination. But there’s always room for hope.   

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn

Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn lays out a meandering history of two prominent Atlanta families: the Allens and the Dobbs.  

Both instrumental in guiding Atlanta toward living into its promise. Both local royalty in their own right. Both produced Mayors of the City Too Busy to Hate. 

One was white. One was black. 

Through this whopping 550 page narrative, Gary M. Pomerantz masterfully wove storytelling and history. Each page was a delight.  

Reading this tome beefed up my understanding of Atlanta history. And it laid bare the wounds of racism that, at times, have almost torn the city apart. But it also uncovered brave acts by members of each family-that lead Atlanta toward a more egalitarian footing. But the little glimpses of the BIG names in Atlanta being so utterly human—for better and for worse—are what really immersed me in the saga.   

I was completely taken with both these families. I admire Ivan Allen, Jr. wholeheartedly for the way he shifted his views on race through his life. The quiet ways he did the right thing resonated with me.  

And Maynard Jackson, Jr…. Let me tell you, I would give almost anything to zip back in time to be at his first inaugural address—to see him do what the old school white establishment said he could not. To see him win. 

But I’ll have to settle for sending my daughter to the Southeast Atlanta High School that bears his name. And that feels pretty good, too.  

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Hey, Kiddo.

True confession time: I’d never read a graphic novel before Hey, Kiddo.  

I know.  

But, of course, the first graphic novel I grab is a memoir that tackles super-heavy stuff like addiction, loss, and belonging. Because tights and capes are overrated. 

I picked Hey, Kiddo specifically because it addresses addiction. I often wonder about how to talk to my own kid about recovery (I’ve been sober for 10 years). And I was eager to see if a graphic novel could stand up to the challenge of representing the ugly, heartbreaking side of having an active addict as a parent.  

It did. And it was brutal. 

But it was often hopeful. And funny.  

I loved Jarrett’s emotional journey toward finding his peace with his family as-is. Because, addiction or not, we all have to reckon with the family we’ve been dealt. We can embrace their idiosyncrasies, forgive their faults, own our part in the whole giant mess, and love them anyway…or not. We can create our own families with friends we collect along the way. And, no matter who we are or how we grew up, we can break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect.  

My ultimate takeaway (a pretty powerful one for teenagers reading this book): Your family contributes to who you are. They do not define you. They are part of your story. The beginning. Only you can decide what happens from there.  

Hey, Kiddo is not always a happy story. But it’s a real story. I respect that.  

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Amy Bloom’s collection of stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, sucked me in right away. I didn’t even mean to read the dang book. I was just moving it to a new location and, on a whim, flipped open to the first page. By the end of the first paragraph, I was hooked.  

It’s not magical writing. Quite the opposite. The realism of her prose that drew me in. Not gritty. Just straightforward. The simple moments that slip into big ones. The miniscule choices we make that amount to a life upturned, broken wide open to make room for something else. In Bloom’s stories, things don’t turn out like you want them—they turn out the way they likely would if they were unfolding in my life or your own. I found myself nodding, thinking “yes, yes, that’s the way things are sometimes.” It was therapeutic to read a world so unromanticized. Bloom seemed to be nodding at her readers, reminding them that they aren’t alone, that no one’s life works out exactly as they had planned. But still, we all press on. And manage to live vibrant, imperfect lives. 

Some of Bloom’s stories build off each other. Those were my favorites. The ones that explored grief, loss, parental relationships, and the ways that love is both more than we expected and so much less. But they all brought forth a nugget of truth for examination. And I loved them for that & for their utter relatability.  

The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Shakespeare’s Trollop

I didn’t even mean to read this book. Not really. 

I meant to read one of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, because I think they’re Urban Fantasy, and I’m supposed to be checking that out. Like field research for the bookstore.  

But this one caught my eye instead. Because Shakespeare’s Trollop is about the best title ever. So, I read it. In just over 24 hours.  

This is the kind of book people like to pigeon-hole as frivolous reading–“beach reading” people call it when they’re being polite. But all reading is important… because books will speak to you, if you let them. They’ll meet you where you are and teach you. 

Shakespeare’s Trollop made some pretty strong observations about human nature: our willingness to judge others without considering the life events that shaped them; our desire to be in control constantly battling with our need for connection; our drive to categorize and label other people, without acknowledging that people can be multifaceted, complex, and human. 

The truth is I didn’t love the protagonist, Lily Bard (but what a GREAT name for a book set in Shakespeare, Arkansas), or feel any real connection to her. Which is usually a deal-breaker for me. But there I went, turning one page after another because I needed to know who had committed the murder in Shakespeare and WHY. Ultimately, I appreciated Harris’ glimpses into human nature (including my own). And her writing. Which is smooth as butter.  


The Nitty Gritty: A Remotely Intellectual Review of Rubyfruit Jungle

The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%. 

24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.  

But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.  

Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.