Six Years a Southerner

“Looks like Michelangelo is getting a bath,” said the dad, bending over the grate where his offspring had wedged an action figure into a ground sewage stream. “Do y’all understand how this happened?”

One of the funniest scenes during our time in the South played out within the first month of our arrival, some six years ago. Loverpants and I still laugh when we walk by this spot in front of the Tennessee Aquarium, a destination that is the heart of Chattanooga’s renaissance as a Southern city. We think how the aquarium houses pods and plants and all manner of sea and river creatures. It also the little-known bathhouse of ninja turtles.

My own immersion into the South was almost as abrupt as Michelangelo’s. We arrived to our rented ranch house on three acres and felt the distinct awe of our new rural-burbia life, waking up to the sounds of cows mooing when only days prior, we had known only tinkering shopping carts rattling down city blocks, the siren cry of ambulances so familiar we barely noticed. We were soon introduced as newcomers to my workplace. We were awkward and unwieldy. Baby Girl couldn’t find her sleep groove for weeks. I couldn’t find time to lesson plan. Loverpants couldn’t find an office space to lease. Little Man couldn’t find his walking feet.

But then we did. We found ourselves doing life in the South as people who worked and churched and bought Aretha Frankenstein pancake mix to make at home on Sunday mornings. The difference, I think, is that finding a rhythm is not the same as finding a fit, which is how I would classify my time in the South. Just because Michelangelo is placed in the gutter and he stays there doesn’t mean he belongs there.

I have not found belonging in the South. This is not a criticism of the South, just a witness to my experience. Mercifully, though, I have found pockets of being known and that has been the great treasure of my life here.

Belonging in the South, specifically in a more junior city, specifically in a conservative religious community, requires a certain extroversion that eludes me. Small talk is currency in this environment where one mills in small concentric circles of interconnected folks. I am allergic to small talk so I am most likely to enter into conversation with, “I cannot freaking believe I am buying sex ed talk books for my kid already,” rather than preferred pleasantries about the weather. There is also a pervasive lack of directness that is borne of the aforementioned interconnected network. If good fences make good neighbors, then a lack of fencing can lead to a superficial neighborliness. Being authentic, after all, is a liability. And being authentic in one social circle where any misdeeds in one patch might bleed into another can leave us defenseless. The need to “play nice” at the expense of addressing conflict or wrong behavior is something I’ve observed too often. My natural bent is to be as direct as possible, even if it is hard. So whenever I have found others willing to join me to climb the chutes and slide down the ladders of directness, I have desired to call those people my kin.

There are a whole host of other aspects that I have found so foreign about the South (The expression “might could.” The frequent use of styrofoam in restaurants. The lack of sprinkler parks in spite of the heat much of the year). But if I dwell on these things then I fail to see the good and to celebrate the great things about the American Southeast (Publix Grocery Stores, hallelujah! The lushness of spring. Savannah/Tybee Island. Charleston. Birmingham. Nashville. Memphis. Crepe Myrtles. Sitting in the bleachers for Used Car Night at a minor league baseball game in the fall). There is so much to adore about this region that has been our home for six years, this city that has, at turns confused and enchanted us.

We will return to the Northeast from whence we came, with children six years older, with wisdom poured like a fine wine aged six years. And we will be glad for the friends we have made, the places we have served, the houses where we have worshiped.  We will count it all a blessing to not only have gotten wet but to have been fully immersed like Michelangelo in the sewer, with passersby asking if y’all knew how it happened.

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Why La La Land would’ve wrecked me if I were still 22

There is a gaggle of girls in this coffee bar spoiling the ending of “La La Land” and I take umbrage. They are loud and sighing and I’m annoyed.

But I should warn you that this post probably contains a spoiler or four, as well.

Like the rest of earth that needed to see what would happen if Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling put on tap shoes and started singing, my beloved and I went to Los Angeles last night for a couple of hours. We also went back to our twenties when we were full of friend-roomies and durrnnk parties and all the ideals our 22 year-old hearts could contain. I would not go back to that time on a permanent basis, though. I needed Jesus and a budget more than I can articulate.

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We loved “La La Land” like the rest of the universe. We were wrecked by it, too. From this vantage, though, Loverpants and I can safely wonder and wander through all the What Ifs and not be completely devastated. We are committed to the happiness and holiness of each other and our children and right now that looks like trading off time to write blog posts and play frisbee in equal measures.

However, if I had seen this film when I was 22 and was fully convinced I needed to move to NYC and get an MFA and find my voice in the basement of moody unnamed coffee bars, I probably would have tore a page out of main characters Mia and Seb’s playbook. They decided they needed the space to pursue their own dreams. Their creative endeavors could not come to fruition if they stayed together in the same geography, looking up at the same stars from the same latitudes and longitudes.

And that’s a lie I so wanted to buy when I was in my early 20s. The lie that one can *only* pursue creative dreams when given the maximum space and resources one can afford. It all seemed easier to clean house to make space for more short story drafts than to have to compromise with another whose time and talents pulled equal rank.

I tried to break up with Loverpants and he with several times. I felt ashamed that I was doing the un-feminist thing by moving to be closer to him after college. Even a month before our wedding, I was still fighting to get into law school until I realized that law school wasn’t what I wanted. I just wanted stable professional footing. Even more than than that I wanted a happy, stable marriage. I deferred law school and ultimately never went and have exactly zero regrets.

Throughout our relationship and marriage, we have pursued various degrees, moved to support one another’s professional dreams. I was pregnant and adjusting to life with a baby for much of grad school. Some would say these were not ideal circumstances, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. They added a richness and a texture to every pursuit. I worked harder and more efficiently because I had a baby who napped for two hour windows. My degree mattered to me because I wanted to make my daughter proud. Loverpants built a private practice from our kitchen table. I wrote a book while rocking our son to sleep. Time and Fit are the non-negotiable factors in a relationship’s survival, whether starry-eyed millennials or obedient Dave Ramsey-like Baby Boomers.

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Mia and Seb’s relationship is familiar, I’m sure, to many creative dreamers who don’t want to trump one another’s artistic aims. It’s familiar to me but allow me this microphone: It’s not the only narrative that will net a Mostly Happily Ever After. Partnership adds something wonderful to the creative life, whether one’s role is co-author or sideline cheerleader. I’m glad to have been able to play both roles and look forward to wearing a many more hats before the curtain falls.

Here’s to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.

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2016 recap

I like the rhythm of asking myself the same questions over and over again, so here’s the survey I usually do at EOY.

1. What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?
The two biggest newnesses were:
a.) Starting a new job in marketing at a private school.
b.) Spending Thanksgiving at Tybee.

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Also memorable this past year were:
Surprising my old man upon his reception of the Bellarmine Award.
Watching Loverpants get sworn in as an American citizen
Watching my brother-in-law get remarried in a beautiful garden wedding.
Taking a couple of weeks to see my parents this summer, just the kids and I.
Reconnecting with my cousin Carrie and sharing in the joy of her pregnancy.

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2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I tried so hard to focus on nutrition and staying injury free. I fully embraced cold-pressed juice as part of my lifestyle and I did pretty well to stay injury free. I ran 2 5ks (one in TN, one in GA). I am still overweight but I can’t let myself get too sad about it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Congrazzles to Carrie on welcoming Murphy Sloane! #birfmurph
Totally enamored of little Nika Joy, too, the daughter of my friend Kessia Reyne.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
I’m extra grateful to answer no this year.

5. What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?
Time to write, write, write for pleasure.

6. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Opening my Etsy shop. It has connected me meaningfully to a craft that I enjoy and to a community that uplifts me + other makers.

7. What was your biggest failure?
My book deal fell apart after a year of working and waiting. I see it as a failure of a small publisher that bit off more than it could chew. I suppose I failed to pursue other avenues but I can’t change what I didn’t know.

8. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Earlier in the year, I spent a lot of time at the acupuncturist for a foot injury. Good times.

9. What was the best thing you bought?
I purchased a student membership to the Modern Calligraphy Summit. Game changer.

10. What did you get really excited about?
I thought the DNC was a remarkable showcase of the Democratic party’s strength. Loved speeches by my future BFF Michelle Obama, former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.
Also was surprised by “Stranger Things” on Netflix.

11. What was the best book you read this year?

Fiction: Peace Like a River, Eligible: A modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice
Non-Fiction: Loitering: New and Collected Essays, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted

12. Compared to this time last year, are you:
– happier or sadder? I have a lot to be happy about
– thinner or fatter? Fatter
– richer or poorer? Paid down some debt, so…woop!

13. What was your favorite TV program?
This is Us
Stranger Things

14. What was your favorite music from this year?
https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/home/productlinks/customize?asin=B00U0YD5L2&request_source=quicklinks&subflow=sp_
The Hamilton Mixtape (Edited)
CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! (Original Song From DreamWorks Animation’s ”Trolls”)

15. What were your favorite films of the year?
Really wasn’t able to catch as many films as we would have liked. I know we saw “Race” in the theater.
I think “13th” on Netflix should be required viewing for every American.
Zootopia was important.

16. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
On my 36th birthday, I had a great weekend. My hubby got me some wonderful books and took the kids and me to a new favorite for brunch.

17. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.
The depths to which people are capable of furthering evil are staggering, but not as great as they are able to achieve reconciliation. And that’s beautiful to me.

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