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.

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.   

Under Pressure

At 16 years old, I found myself behind a cash register, with the beep beep beep of the scanner droning on. It was my very first job–at Target–and I was god-awful at it. 

Here’s the thing: I cannot be rushed. It’s like I have a biological something that creates an inverse relationship between urgency & the speed at which I move. 

At 16 years old, I found myself behind a cash register, with the beep beep beep of the scanner droning on. It was my very first job–at Target–and I was god-awful at it.

Here’s the thing: I cannot be rushed. It’s like I have a biological something that creates an inverse relationship between urgency & the speed at which I move.

If you are, say, a cashier, this is quite the liability. I’d see customers lining up, looking more impatient by the second, and things would start to unravel. I wouldn’t be able to get the UPC code to scan. I’d feel my face getting hot. I’d try to scan it again–I mean, we’re talking a flat item here–like a cereal box. Nothing. Then, out of nowhere, it would scan properly. But by then, I was breaking out in a cold sweat. Then, invariably, I’d need to call for a price check. This was 1991. Not everyone had a walkie talkie. Price checks took nigh on forever. So, there I’d stand, light flashing, face bright red, waiting… and waiting… and waiting.

Unsurprisingly, about 2 months into this gig, my hours started to dwindle. I started out with at least 15 hours a week. Soon I was down to three. I finally mustered up the courage to go talk with the front lane supervisor. It took a lot of mustering. She was old (at LEAST 30). She was mean (like she actually wanted us to do our jobs well). And, well, she kinda scared the shit out of me. But I figured I was going to get fired anyway–or the Target version of fired where they just decrease your hours until it cost more in gas money to drive to work than you earn–so in I went.

I asked her why I only had 3 hours on the schedule. I will never forget the look on her face–somewhere between bewilderment and clandestine amusement. “You are AWFUL at this,” she said, without malice. But STILL.

“I know,” I said quickly. I hadn’t rehearsed this part. In fact, I’d only practiced the part where I worked up the courage to walk up to her. I was totally winging it. What was that look on her face? Was she really about to laugh at me? “I know,” I carried on quickly before she could kick me out. “I like sort of suck under pressure. But maybe I could, like,  move to softlines? I think I could, like, you know, be pretty good at that.”

She rolled her eyes. And I thought, maybe, I saw a smile. But it could’ve just been a break in her scowl. Either way. “You have two weeks. That’s it. Two weeks. If you aren’t amazing over there, you’re out.”

“Yes. Yes! That’s great! You won’t regret it.” I started to walk back toward my register.

“No. No. No. No more register. Please. Just go back to softlines. I’ll radio back and tell them you’re coming.”

That was the rather inauspicious start of a job that would last the next 4 years and that would save me from myself–and my growing agoraphobia–in high school. But that’s another story all together…

 

 

Photo by Jordan Whitfield on Unsplash