Helplessness means you’re doing it right

1 Oct

file_000Picture it: Baby is napping, the laundry is running and I finally have a chance to take a shower before our neighbors’ barbecue. At the end of the shower, I hear a gurgle. Water is slow to drain but I think we’ll have to get a coat hanger and clean my hair out of the drain later. (Not my first clogged drain.)

I am drying off and then it happens.

The rising.

A darkened sludge starts to accelerate its pace from the drain upwards, carrying with it the wriggling legs of a thousand cockroaches.

The horror!

Just as I’ve come to grips with what is in front of my face, the toilet water joins the assault and spills onto the floor. I race to the closet and throw down Aaron’s strangely XXL-sized towels to stop the water from gushing down the hallway. I send a bunch of emergency texts to Aaron because as I gaze upon this sewage attack, I realize I have no idea how to make it stop.

I am instantly helpless and grateful.

That turns out to be the perfect way to explain how parenting feels.

When I think back to those seemingly endless nights of my son NOT sleeping, I was brilliant at spinning it into a positive to maintain my sanity. Here’s an actual thing I said to Aaron one night after sleeping for an hour and over-reading about infant sleep: “He just needs our help more than other babies.”

HE NEEDS US. THIS IS NORMAL. I AM AT PEACE WITH THIS SLEEP DEPRIVATION. NO ONE IS HELPLESS HERE.

This mentality led me to sleeping for, at one point, 30 minutes a night. There’s no spinning that: my demise was near. So I broke ALL THE RULES and slept with him for two months until he was ready to transition to his crib (which remained right next to our bed until he was 7 months old because ARE WE SURE HE’S READY?)

He was ready. He immediately started waking up less when we weren’t right next to him waking him up. Turns out he’s a light sleeper.

Sleep eventually became a dependable commodity in my house, but there was a period near the end of the school year when my stash of frozen milk was dwindling and I wasn’t pumping enough at work to keep up with baby’s appetite. It was May. I had almost finished six months of pumping three times a day and teaching six periods a day with 25 minutes of planning and no lunch because pumping. To be that close to the end and not make it induced panic. Had I started supplementing with formula several months before, this probably wouldn’t have fazed me. But one more month might as well have been a broadsword dealing the final stroke against working moms.

At the time, Aaron was buying formula just in case and reassuring me that it would be fine. That’s nice, honey, but I am too deep into crisis mode to hear rational thought, so just hand me some pumping supplies at 10 p.m., so I can do this for the 5th time today instead of sleeping. 

It became a weird challenge for myself–another moment of helplessness I was trying to control. If I just do more, I can conquer this. Fox would have been fine either way–this was about me. I needed to win this one. The whole school year had been a blur, me trying to balance this thing that kept me connected to my son while away from him, while also trying to do right by my students.

I decided I would not be taken down by 30 days on a calendar, and so I doubled down.

Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. Teach. Pump. BABY! Pump. Dinner. Dishes. Grade. Pump. Sleep. Repeat.

Day by day, the helplessness faded and the formula stayed on the shelf.

The cockroach water receded, the towels were washed and a Roto-Rooter visit later, we could flush the toilet again.  It was as if nothing had happened here.

Before bed that night, I gazed down the clean hallway past the door of my sleeping baby and the only thing I felt was grateful.

This is not a Mommy blog

9 Apr
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Baby at 4 months old

Note: I wrote most of this post in November and kept meaning to perfect it, but never did. But here it is, perspective may be fresh off maternity leave, but most of it still applies. Fitting in real reading and writing that is non-work related is still on my to-do list. 

Let’s get this out of the way: I reproduced. I created progeny. I am technically a mother.

That identity feels pretty foreign to me, however. It’s more like I have a full-time job caring for an infant, a job I sometimes outsource during the day to two nice ladies who love babies.

I love this baby. I am probably addicted to this baby. I can be found staring at this baby when he is sleeping instead of sleeping myself. If I am not his mother, I am a creepy baby stalker (or an oxytocin addict looking for her next fix, one of the two).

Despite this, when I get tricked into reading “Mommy posts” that Facebook and Pinterest suggest to me after thoroughly spying on my Google searches, I do not identify with most of the writers. It feels awkward to write about motherhood without swimming in cliches or trying to sound above the entire process.

When a friend suggested I start blogging about motherhood, I thought it would be too much like that story at the beginning of recipe blogs–no one cares about the origins of your eggplant or how apricots make you feel in summer; we are all scrolling down for the recipe. I imagined that unless I was offering practical tips–like how to make flying with a baby easier (lists I did read before our Christmas flight), I didn’t think anyone would want to read it. Having a child is such a common experience after all, and I didn’t feel like I fit these common types of Mommy bloggers:

Crafty, organic, picture-perfect, precious Mommy. These blogs feature gorgeous photography of not only the home-grown foods she will feed her children, but also the children preciously posed in the garden with hand-sewn clothing. Posts use phrases like “grateful she chose me”and “so honored to love him.”

Perfectionist, organized, master of scheduling Mommy. Focus is on how to do everything better because they are definitely doing it better than you and here’s how!

Sarcastic, cool, I’m not taking any of this seriously Mommy. Posts contain profanity, constant jokes, and frequent mentions of hip culture references so you know they haven’t let motherhood downgrade their fashion sense or taste in TV. They have time to parent and watch Orange is the New Black. F**k yeah!

Angry, complaining, no one has ever been this tired Mommy. The writing is aimed outward, never inward–posts focus on the worst parts of parenting and the people who make it harder. These blogs read like advertisements for never having kids or associating with anyone who does.

* * * *

The following topics dominate the discussion in those recommended posts I mentioned above; they unite and divide mothers, yet I don’t have a firm stance on any topic. I say mothers specifically because the expectations are so high for them and the criticism so strong for perceived failures. Fathers enjoy the benefit of low expectations (which are insulting to them, by the way).

A father takes a nap with his baby and it’s precious: he’s #1 Dad! Meanwhile, a mom co-sleeps with her baby and gets a lecture on SIDS.

  1. Infertility 

It took us close to four years to have a baby, so this is a subject with which I am quite familiar. The road was long and emotionally fraught at times, but worth the outcome. Whenever I read that sentiment about the baby choosing the parents, it doesn’t register because in our case, in all the ways we could choose to have this baby, we CHOSE. I imagine that goes double for adoptive parents. The exception of course is when parents adopt a child they already know; in that case the child chose them and the parents chose the child, and I will now stop trying to explain all potential choosing scenarios. We chose, the end. I learned during our journey just how many people I knew were struggling with the same issues. This support helped to see us through and while I don’t have dramatic feelings about our process, Aaron and I are both open to talking about it with others if they ask. When people find out it took a while for you to get pregnant, they sometimes get tragic eyes. It’s sweet of them, but it always makes me uncomfortable. I never felt like we were dealing with something unconquerable, even if we were never able to conceive.

What I learned: You’ll never know how you’ll feel on the issue until faced with this situation. We had to listen to our gut and ignore the rest.

2. C-Sections

Whoa, does this one get people going. One in three babies born in the U.S. is born via Cesarean section and we know they are not all medically necessary. This leads people to doubt reasons why anyone would need to have a C-section, and calls to challenge the medical establishment ensue. So when I found myself with recommendations from both my doctor and a specialist to have a C-section because it was medically necessary, I was crushed at first. Once I accepted it and saw the risks in my situation were too great, I actually felt fortunate to know in advance. A scheduled procedure seemed much less stressful than a last minute surgery plan after a long labor.

Yes, the recovery was challenging while caring for a infant, much more so in retrospect than I realized at the time. During those early weeks, you are head down, plowing through like a bulldozer.

What I learned: I wrote this part four months ago, what C-section?

3. Breastfeeding

Again, four months ago I had much more to say on this topic. Long story short: given our road, this was the one thing I had hoped would be “natural.” It was very it takes a village at first, and I learned quickly why people would not choose this path, but fortunately, we made it to the other side, and I am still going, pumping twice a day in a dark closet in the back of my classroom. There is a light, don’t worry, but it’s less awkward to get walked in on this way.

What I learned: I am willing to pump in a dark, mostly empty movie theater at 10 am to see Star Wars with my husband.

4. Sleeping

When I started this post in November, I had planned a symbolic ending on how parenting is like infant sleep with the image of me taking it one night at a time by holding my baby’s hand until he fell asleep.

How precious. How patient. How only-four-months-in.

Four months later I am not allowed to talk about this topic anymore. Let’s just say I joined a Facebook group about sleep and I recently lol-ed at a parenting podcast that had a segment on naps. My sleep obsession has yielded some results, yes, but at what price?

What I learned: The sleep book was only the beginning.

 

From hospital room to stateroom

3 May

My 2013 was pretty great until August when it sunk into fear and loathing in hospitals. As a result of the clarity that emerges from losing control of situations, I began 2014 with a renewed focus on how lucky my unlucky August actually was. Even worse than last year, it’s halfway through 2014 before I’m publishing this reflection. I am nothing if not inconsistent. Here are three things that happened right when the current school year started:

1. NOT ROUTINE SURGERY, Part One

It was mid-August. Our bedroom was draped in blankets and sheets to buffer the echo of our terrazzo floors. Aaron was talking to the producer of the Judge John Hodgman podcast prepping for us to go live. About an hour prior, I had talked to my mom about my dad going in for hip replacement surgery. They were expecting him to wake up four hours later. She would call me then. Only an hour and a half later, my phone lit up with the words “Mom.” I stepped out of the pre-taping sound check to take the call.

My dad had stopped breathing and they’d sewn him up mid-surgery and rushed him to ICU. My mom was alone at the hospital, the promise of routine surgery now broken along with Dad’s hip. I was 1000 miles away about to tape a podcast about an egg chair. Mom told me she’d call me when the doctors came back to report his progress. I could sit there and imagine the worst or continue with the taping. I walked outside and took several deep breaths and said my first honest prayer in a long time. Fifteen minutes later I was explaining to John Hodgman why I didn’t think a 70’s era pod chair belonged in our living room.

Sixteen hours later I was on a plane to visit my dad in ICU.

Twenty-four hours later I listened to the podcast with my dad in his hospital room. He thought it could use some editing.

One week later, my dad was recovering at home after a successful second surgery.

Five months later,  that pod chair was in our third bedroom. IMG_2100

2. NOT ROUTINE SURGERY, Part Two

At the end of August, one week into my new classes, Aaron woke me up with severe abdominal pain. Within minutes, I was driving half-asleep to the nearest hospital. After an educational middle-of-the-night ER experience that our nurse friend later described as working in the back of a restaurant (completely accurate comparison), a doctor told Aaron he had appendicitis and would be sent to surgery as soon as possible.

At this point we could definitely rule out Aaron’s previous fear that this was just SEVERE GAS.

Early the next morning and a couple of narcotic doses later, Aaron was asleep and I was operating on one hour’s sleep. They moved us to a holding room prior to surgery. I notified our families of the situation and became so tired that I finally crawled into Aaron’s hospital bed with him and took a nap like two cats in a hammock.

Surgery to remove Aaron’s vestigial appendix proceeded normally and we hoped to be home by the next day.

Instead we logged close to a week in the hospital because of the internist’s poor management of Aaron’s type I diabetes post-surgery that led him into Ketoacidosis (DKA).

Without going into the details of the poor care Aaron initially received after surgery, I choose to focus on the excellent care he received when the hospital moved him to more capable nurses and doctors in the IMCU. The surgeon was amazing–in fact, it was her phone call to me in the middle of Aaron’s DKA that got action taken to move him. She had the direct and gruff manner of a surgeon, and was not popular with the nursing staff, but that’s exactly what we needed right then. Someone to take us seriously and cut through the red tape.

I finally resorted to rolling my eyes at the doctor who caused Aaron’s decline, yet continued to defend his actions and treat Aaron as some kind of anomaly. It was a strong reminder of the importance of admitting when you are wrong. That’s been difficult for me to do in the past, and this doctor was young.

Hey doc, the one thing that could have made us feel better about your wisdom being consumed by confidence (to borrow from Julius Caesar) was for you to apologize. At least for what happened to Aaron. I know you see admitting mistakes as permission for us to sue you, but honestly the more you insisted you were right, the more we wanted to punish you.

Aaron’s doctor didn’t listen to him when he expressed his concerns over how his diabetes was being treated. Aaron lives with the disease every day; he understands it better than a doctor.

In an interview with Marc Maron, comic actor and former doctor Ken Jeong (best known for The Hangover and Community) said the most important thing he learned about practicing medicine was to listen carefully to his patients. That internist hadn’t learned that yet. He was still in the “I must project that I am right at all times” phase of not knowing what he was doing.

Our surgeon was the first to tell us when she didn’t know why something was happening. She was blunt with the staff, but she never feigned knowing. She took action to find out instead. That is a trait I admire. (Mostly because younger me did not possess such a trait.)

I realize that should make me feel sympathy for the internist, but NO. *Rolls eyes just thinking about it.*

That week in the hospital feels like a distant place, a pin on the map during a long road trip. Only this pin shredded most of the paper and stabbed us first.

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3. NERD CRUISE

Two weeks after Aaron was discharged from the hospital, we hopped a cruise ship at the Port of Miami and headed for the Bahamas for a long weekend. We booked this getaway long before hospital August, so at the beginning it felt like another thing to endure.

This looked exactly like the cruise we took two years ago. Same port. Same boat. Same destination. Only this time there was a significant faction of cruisers who all listen to the same podcasts. Enjoy the same music. Laugh at the same comedians. It was the Atlantic Ocean Music & Comedy Festival, and they’re doing it again in July if you’re into nautical irony.

The rest of the boat featured typical cruisers. You saw an extended family reunion, a lady wearing a mesh dress, a man forever shirtless, etc.

It was fairly easy to pick out the nerd cruisers with their graphic tees and Warby Parker glasses. Aaron and I looked more like native cruisers with our “we live in the tropics” maxi dresses and guayaberras, so I think we proved a challenge to diagnose.

On our first cruise, we only lasted one night in the main dining room. Our assigned tablemates were a pair of 21-year-olds on their honeymoon and a regular-cruising French Canadian couple in their 60’s who could only talk about motorcycles or nothing at all. Awkward was served with every course.

We fled to the Windjammer the next three nights to gorge ourselves at the buffet instead.

On the nerd cruise, table conversation flowed as freely as the cultural references. We all knew what we had in common before the bread came. And we all had the same reaction to formal night when the entire wait staff stopped service to sing and dance.

“Nobody wants this.”

Instead of choosing between the juggling comedian and salsa lessons, this time we got a private show of comedians and musicians we would pay to see separately, all on one bill. Three nights of talented and hilarious performers who happened to also be nice, generous people.

I still couldn’t deal with swimming in the Caribbean next to people I used to watch on TV. I turned around and Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac was a few feet from my face. *Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…*

But we did meet John Hodgman the first night and because of his brief involvement in our life at the start of this triology, it was a welcome weirdness. Though he plays a snooty, eccentric billionaire on TV, in person he’s incredibly genuine, despite what this photo implies.

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And this is where I leave you. John Hodgman was with me in the middle of a horrifying moment (though he doesn’t know it), and was on the other side of a second one.

All on a giant ship in the middle of the ocean.

We lived life through a porthole window last fall and it’s just the right amount sometimes. It taught me not to worry about the entire ocean and chart the course at hand.

It also taught me to use nautical cliches.

There are always side effects.

 

To live and die in New Orleans

22 Sep

Over the summer, I spent two weeks in Austin, then a few days back here in SoFlo, then joined my husband in his former home of New Orleans for a four-day work trip.  Austin is the fastest growing city in the United States, and I can see why. It’s full of Texas charm laced with live music, barbecue, and taco trucks. To satisfy the influx of new residents, Austin floats at the top of the trends. South Congress St. is sprinkled with cupcake shops, thrift stores, and fashion boutiques. It’s shiny and clean and declares its sense of coolness as you walk by. I found the hipsters to be friendly and helpful and I left thinking Austin was a great city to visit. Looking back, the highlight was seeing Cyndi Lauper perform the entire She’s So Unusual album live at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. That venue was real Austin; the rest of my memories have to do with the other transplanted journalism advisers who were there with me. Now in my rear view mirror, Austin feels more idealized and less alive. It delivers what’s advertised, but for me it’s too much image, not enough heart.

It’s hard to live (or die) in the Big Easy

In contrast, New Orleans’ tourist campaign promises debauchery and a history lesson, but the reality is less beads and textbooks, the truth as thick and murky as the Mississippi.  While the Colorado River in Austin is clean enough to kayak and swim in, the muddy Mississippi, heavy with silt, leaves you clinging to your seat on the ferry. Walk west from the riverbank to the Marigny, and you’ll see people sitting on their porches and chatting up walkers-by. People know their neighbors here, the neighborhood that houses the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed. It’s also the neighborhood that’s escalated in property value the most since the storm.

During our three night stay, we walked regularly down Frenchmen St., home to at least 10 live music venues, most of which host jazz. While Austin claims to be the live music capital of the U.S., I learned the focus was more quantity over quality. A guy + a guitar singing pop music covers equaled “live music.” Every single band we heard on Frenchmen St. injected life into traditional jazz and stirred the dormant loneliness in each of us. The loneliness that once you feel it, makes you feel connected to everyone in the room. Louis CK recently called it our forever empty.

On our first night in NOLA, we ate dinner at local favorite Adolfo’s, a Creole-Italian upstairs nook that only accepts cash. On our way in, we ran into an attractive couple also dining there. He smiled and apologized for his girlfriend who was glued to her phone and stopped in the middle of the stairway, blocking our passage. Later we watched him dine with friends without her. The next night he stood next to us at the Balcony Music Club while we listened to a woman sing Sade. Just 24 hours later, we heard him joking with his buddies at the bar at the venue Vaso. The night before at the same club, we talked to a man with a cognitive disability who we had trouble understanding; that man was now playing trumpet on stage with a brass band. After the song ended, our jovial guy at the bar headed for the stage and took his normal place with The New Orleans Swamp Donkeys. He’d simply given stage time to that gentleman; this was his band, and he was the star trumpet player. That is the beauty of NOLA. Four days in the same neighborhood and we were a tiny part of that community. Aaron felt that way when he lived there, and for the first time I understood exactly what he meant.

The community builds around ruins, around cobbled streets many tourists perceive as dirty. The roads and sidewalks in New Orleans burst with tripping hazards: potholes, cracks that become near ravines, and ever-shifting pavement.

They say the city is sinking. The dead cannot be buried in the ground because of the high water table. People who can afford it have loved ones buried in above-ground mausoleums that house several family members. Once the body of one decays and the remains settle to the bottom (which happens quickly in NOLA humidity), another family member can be added to the top.

The dead do not stay buried here.

Holt Cemetery, land of the rising skulls

My husband took me to what has been deemed a “pauper’s cemetery” or a makeshift public burial ground for those who cannot afford the large stone tombs or community mausoleum plots. photo(34)

You walk through overgrown grass and weeds and handmade grave markers, stones sinking into the earth. You see messages of love and tribute scrawled in Sharpie on a hand-forged cross and a tree stump with a hand-carved epitaph. Synthetic flowers garnish mulch, rocks and garbage bags that house loved ones’ remains. The oaks send down arms of moss to cradle these graves. photo(35) photo(36) photo(37)

Walking through this cemetery you feel the love and loss at its rawest surface. That’s how everything in New Orleans feels. Charmaine Neville, who survived Katrina’s flood on a roof top, spoke to the crowd at Snug Harbor as if she held her community inside her raspy voice. On the night we were there, she called up a stone-faced 14-year-old girl to play bass with the band like a pro. The 17-year-old boy next to us filled in on drums. Sister to the famous Neville Brothers, Charmaine wants to share her stage with young people. She urged a 16-year-old from Seattle visiting with a volunteer group to come down and sing with the band, but she was too nervous.

“We start young here,” she said, after noting the drummer started playing at 5, the guitarist at 7.

Charmaine did her best to make the 16-year-old comfortable. She encourages anyone in the audience with musical abilities to be on stage with her. She has the way of making everyone feel a part of her show, just like her city takes you in and makes you its own.

The higher the humidity, the more you dig in

People in Austin complained about the humidity, but I didn’t get it. Compared to the rest of Texas, it’s steamy I guess. On July 11, Austin was 100 degrees with 25 percent humidity. Meanwhile in New Orleans, it was 78 degrees with 90 percent humidity. Here at home it’s regularly 90 degrees in the summer, but the humidity can vary. You never completely accept the unbearable days. In NOLA, the high humidity hovers and residents have no choice but to settle in. To accept the swamp.

The swamp’s the thing.

When connecting with a community is a choice, it’s easy not to choose. Something about the humidity in New Orleans hangs on you, the ghosts of its past, the struggles of its present. Even as a visitor, you start to embody it. The tourist campaign for the city promises a party, and if you never leave the French Quarter at night, that might be all you find. But if you spend a few days in the real neighborhoods of the Crescent City, you’ll find the community is a living organism that rises despite its geography. Despite the river that tries to swallow it. To live there requires one to connect and to create. The image outsiders have of the city is a lie. The truth is dirtier than Austin, but it’s real. You can tap into the arteries that lead to the heart of New Orleans. In Austin I was just looking at a pretty face.

“That’s the story we’re going to tell”

3 Jul

In the season six finale of Mad Men, Don Draper is making a pitch to Hershey executives that the chocolate bar is synonymous with affection. He threads a familiar yarn about his middle class father who rewarded his yard-mowing with a Hershey bar.

“That’s the story we’re going to tell,” he tells the executives with authority.

Don Draper is always in control of the story. He’s spent his whole life creating that narrative. His career in advertising was built on telling the story people want to hear.

Only it’s not real. It’s a fabrication that tastes like the rush of sugar candy. After the initial buzz, all you can taste are the artificial flavors. After too many Pixy Stix, you feel sick and full of regret.

Draper didn’t have the stomach to control the campaign anymore. He interrupts the satisfied executives with the truth that he was an orphan raised in a whorehouse. He ends his anecdote explaining that the Hershey bar was “the only sweet thing in my life.”

*******

Today the art of professional branding has crossed over into our personal lives thanks to social media. We think we’re in control of the narrative because we craft it so carefully, but is what we’re saying true?

After spending two weeks with journalism advisers as an Association of News Editors (ASNE) fellow in Austin, Texas, I was reminded how much of journalism is listening. The talking heads and hyper-posters seem to miss this. The older I get, and the more experience I have, the less I feel I should talk. This works against my extroverted talky-talky nature. I had to work at this. What is natural for me is listening to people’s stories. But the writer in me needs to write it down.

[The] facts can obscure the truth, what it really felt like.

                                                       ********

That’s what I write. What it really is like. I’m just telling a very simple story.

Maya Angelou

In April, I started interviewing people for a personal project on community. I’ve been transcribing these interviews into my Moleskin and trying to decipher them for patterns. This project is a long-game. I don’t know what will come of it, but it’s fascinating to hear people’s tales; I’ve learned more than can be articulated clearly yet. The most important thing this project has done so far is invigorate my love for interviewing and storytelling in general. I am interviewing to understand.

People are relieved to tell their story if they think you want to hear it. I find most people don’t think their story is important or that it’s relevant. Others worry that the truth sounds bad. They’re afraid to say it.

Don Draper’s confession comes at the crux of his own alcoholic breakdown. It took him completely losing control of his own contrived identity to create an honest moment. It was as hard for him to tell as it was for his audience to hear. But never has an audience felt more about a Hershey bar than in that moment. The story told itself precisely because Draper let go of the reigns.

The question then becomes how do you let go? From a journalistic perspective, you can’t have an agenda. You have to listen. If you think you know the story before the interview, you’ll miss the best stuff. My favorite interviews have been with people I didn’t know well, or in some cases had just met. This means the comfort level isn’t there to facilitate free conversation. It forced me to listen deeper. What are they not saying? What do they want to say but are afraid to? What do they need permission to say?

My personal interviews are purely for research and I won’t be citing people specifically in whatever I write in the future. Even in that anonymous context, people still hesitate. Sometimes they feel like they have to make excuses for how they feel. The hardest thing for a person to do is just speak the truth. That’s why stand-up comedians are so important to our culture. The good ones stand up in front of large crowds and say it straight. That’s their selling point. We laugh because we can’t do that. When they hit that nerve we’re relieved.

“She said it so I don’t have to.”

I’m a fairly open person now, but I grew up an incredibly private one. Most of my real thoughts were never spoken aloud. I imagine that’s true of many of the young people I teach. What is not said keeps me up at night.

This is why I’m excited to advise my school’s newspaper next year. I want my staff to tell the real stories of our school. Not the sanitized versions, not the two-minute interview snapshots. The stories that first make people uncomfortable, but eventually help them understand.

One of the first things one of my colleagues said on the first day of the ASNE institute in Austin was “Students aren’t looking for more information. They’re looking for more ways to connect.”

In that moment I knew I didn’t have to change into some kind of Twitter-happy news hound to advise the newspaper. I could be myself and help the kids tell honest stories. As a young yearbook adviser, I didn’t have the perspective I do now. I was more concerned with not offending people, and pleasing everyone in the school. I’m sure I missed many chances to connect because I saw the book as a publicity tool instead of communication tool.

Stunned by Draper’s childhood admission, one of the Hershey executives asks, “Do you want to advertise that?”

Draper responds, “If I had my way, you would never advertise. You shouldn’t have someone like me telling that boy what a Hershey bar is. He already knows.”

We all know. We just need to see it in print.

 

Show your shame

12 May

The other morning my car wouldn’t start, so I had to take my husband’s to work. He winced when he offered me the car.

“It’s the worst it’s ever been.”

I didn’t have time to worry about that, so I climbed into the front seat, shoved a board out of the way and hooked the handle of my coffee mug onto the butterfly net riding shotgun with me. I clicked on NPR and ignored the empty Powerade bottles and gym shorts with the tags still on them next to me. Before I exited the car and headed into school, I glanced into the back seat to find a halogen light, rubbermaid containers filled with rolled up strips of cardboard, a beekeeper’s veil, and a 4 x 250 ft roll of laminating plastic. I didn’t even open the trunk, but it was filled with at least two dozen coconuts. photo(5)

Later in the morning I received the following text:

“After seeing my car at its worst, do you still want to be married to me?”

My husband was horrified that I’d seen his shame. It’s the same reason he gets uncomfortable if I walk on his side of the bed because it means I might trip on clothes, comic books, empty boxes, a suitcase, or general trash.

The only difference between his shame and mine is that I keep mine off the floor. I prefer to put it in a closet or on top of a dresser.

This whole anecdote got me thinking. Everyone needs a corner of shame. No matter how much we gloss up the outside to look organized and healthy, our humanness dictates that we allow ourselves a place for disgrace. A place we pray no one will accidentally discover. Because if we know they’re coming, we’re going to clean it up first.

What we present to the outside world is often not our complete truth. But we write it as if it were. The internet is full of “how to live your best life!” advice and tutorials. The mecca of these places is Pinterest. If you’re not DIY-ing your sugar-free life of quinoa recipes while doing squats on your Chevron-print rug, you’re not really living.

DIY Burlap Wreath!

#Eat Clean

#Abs

Homemade gluten-free bagels!!

How to organize your jewelry with wine corks.

DIY Toddler Adirondack chair with Anchor Decal (adult version comes with wine holders!)

DIY Mason Jar Herb Garden

I am not against any of these things separately, but when presented all together as prescriptions for living “happier and healthier,” I carve out a space to eat Cheez-its and watch Oprah in protest. Pinterest has upped stress in the lives of many, but I still find it useful for ideas I turn into reality, especially recipes and home improvement inspiration. The key is to focus on the things you want in your life, not the things other people want.

This is difficult because people present these options as all-or-nothing propositions. You’re either eating clean or eating dirty. Fit or lazy. Crafty and DIY or unskilled and materialistic. Organic parents or mainstream parents. They forget it’s possible to be both at different times. I think it’s because we try to convince ourselves by convincing others.

In my quest for the best workout routine, I’ve found the path of least resistance has been the easiest to maintain. The go hard-or-go-home approach is only sustainable for so long. For periods of time in my life, I’ve exercised and lifted weights obsessively; I’ve become a regular runner; I’ve taken three exercise classes in one day. I could not be stopped. Until I stopped completely. Which happened every time.

Now I’m at a period in my life where I feel like I’m doing the least amount of regular exercise, but I’ve been able to maintain the same weight the best this way. I take a weight and cardio class at least once a week, I started doing push-ups every day, and I cook healthy meals. I walk/bike/run to supplement but it’s in moderate amounts. We use our rare night of eating out to indulge in more high-calorie foods, and we eat dessert more than I ever have in my life. Small amounts at a time, but more frequently. My next feat is to work this kind of manageable routine into my job and my writing life.

While I understand the need to present our best selves publicly, I respect people more who aren’t afraid to show their corner of  shame. Or they’re terrified but go through with it in order to better themselves. I am working to develop this type of openness as I’m less and less interested in looking good and more interested in feeling good and actually being good at something.

When I moved out of my house in Richmond, I was horrified for people to see my “room of shame” upstairs. After two friends helped me start to clear it out, I felt more motivated to cipher through the rest of the house. By showing them my shame, it removed the stigma and I was able to move forward. Me seeing my husband’s car motivated him to clean it out and get the air-conditioning fixed just a week later.

I’ve been mulling over this post for the past couple of weeks (and not writing it), then today I watched a Creative Mornings talk author Austin Kleon gave in Austin, Texas. His talk is about showing your work online instead of waiting until the perfect finished product is unveiled. His talk is about honesty in the creative process. His talk is very similar to what I wanted to write this post about. He has an insanely bigger internet audience than I do, but I like to think my emphasis on shame over work makes this unique?

For the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing people about their transitions in life, and by slowly understanding how people overcome obstacles, be they self-inflicted or outwardly-inflicted, I’m getting a deeper understanding of how to actually cut away what you don’t want in your life.

I believe you have to cut away to create.

You can’t create anything while hiding in your corner of shame.

Craftlandia

27 Mar

Back in early February, I attended a Buckler Craft Fair in Fort Lauderdale. These fairs are held all over Florida; this particular one was held in the same space as the orchid show Aaron and I went to in January. A few weeks later there was a gun and knife show there. Very different vibe.

I admit, I ventured into Craftlandia ironically. I even convinced my friend to join me because I needed back-up in case they could sniff me out as an imposter. I thought I might need craft cred. Would I have to show a glue gun upon entry? Was there a crochet test? Entry with children in hand-stitched garments required? Mandatory glitter donations?

I walked into the War Memorial Auditorium a professional noncrafter and it felt like that was cross-stitched on my forehead.

Then I started to walk through the exhibits and realized Buckler held a loose definition of the word “craft.”

Bedazzled

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So much to take in.

And the award for Best Bedazzled Tee goes to…

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And so began the “crafts” devoted to whimsical alcoholism.

This one just made me mad.IMGP0040

$5.00 for a poorly painted sign about drunkenness and denial? Is this your idea of custom home decor, Buckler? This is your woodworking?

I tried to move on, but there was this.

IMGP0042 I get that the manatee is supposed to be sad because the boats are making wake and he’s grumpy about it, but after walking a day in his flip flops, I think he needs a margarita. I hear it’s happy hour somewhere.

I feel like this is what outsiders think of Florida: cheap and drunk. On a podcast once, Michael Ian Black described Florida as full of people who’ve “given up.”

I get it. There are those people here, roasting themselves on the boardwalk…becoming beach “lifers” in the way of the older, cynical members of a chain restaurant wait staff. Vacations are meant to be temporary, and when your lifestyle is permanent relaxation, it gives you the illusion of bliss without any of the heart to back it up.

When I worked at the Olive Garden at age 21, I met lifers who never meant for a temporary job to turn into their career. I found myself trying to win over the 45-year old, grizzled veteran who reminded me constantly that I was in her way. She snapped at everyone, and I never saw her smile. It wasn’t until I crashed an entire tray of dishes onto the floor in the middle of the dining room and then amidst seconds of silence, stood up and took a bow, that she ever acknowledged me as a human. Her face lit up and she ran over to tell me that I handled that disaster in the best way possible. She smiled at me plenty after that.

I had a similar experience at the beach yesterday. I was unlocking my bike next to an orange man who wore the small black swim trunks and weathered skin of a lifer, and in my quick judgment, the pointed gaze of a creepy old man. As I mounted my cruiser to ride away, he smiled at me and said “and you’re off again!” His lighthearted tone encouraged me to smile. “Have a great ride,” he called as I pedaled away. Instantly he morphed in my eyes from creeper to sweet retiree who’s earned his beach bliss.

We pass out judgment like candy on Halloween. It’s an obligation to make ourselves feel better. I walked into the craft fair a noncrafter, so naturally I spent the majority of my time feeling better than everyone else.

“I’m a little bit country”

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Look, I’m from a small town in Virginia. My family is from southwest Virginia, which is even more “country” than where I grew up. Biscuits were part of life, but no one real has ever said this. And if they did, they read it on this sign.

Also according to this vignette country people “Cherish the Simple Things.” Like Santa Claus riding a rooster while hoisting the American flag.

And for further exploitation I bring you the following, sponsored by Comic Sans:IMGP0024

Look carefully, bet you can’t see me. IMGP0046

At this point, I told my native South Floridian friend we needed to seek refuge from stereotypes. I found the one place I am relatively snark-free: children’s hairbows. IMGP0032

I dare you to deny the cuteness of handmade hedgehogs and turtles. I bought these for our littlest nieces. They don’t know yet, so shhhh. Actually they can’t read yet, so it’s probably fine to reveal their gifts on the internet.IMGP0061

Fear the frame man

And now comes the portion of the post where I break a craft man’s rules.

Despite the darkness of the War Memorial Auditorium (as demonstrated by poor picture quality), no one objected to me (or other patrons) photographing the items for sale. I snapped photo after photo without so much as a “please don’t do that.”

My friend and I were looking at a series of framed prints. They were of animals, people, patriotic images, famous quotes, etc., but nothing out of the ordinary. No original art to protect here. We came upon this print and I snapped a photo:IMGP0052

My friend then took a picture with her phone thinking she might ask her formerly cat-hating friend who now has four cats if she’d like this. At this moment the craft man emerged from behind the frame wall and demanded that she delete the photo. He pointed frantically to a tiny sign we had missed with a camera and the “no” sign. I apologized and told him we’d missed the sign. Instead of being gracious, he hovered over my friend’s camera until she deleted the photo. He was aggressive and rude to a potential customer. She was considering buying the print and he’d now missed a sale.

Vengeance is ours, frame man. I shall post this crappy photo on the internet for ALL TO SEE!

So feel free to spread this as an example of how not to keep customers.

The Golden Girls

Finally my heart was softened again after meeting two retirees who sold banana bread. They’ve been doing it since 2010.  These Palm Beach ladies had labeled samples, aprons, signs, and enthusiasm. IMGP0049

Banana Nut Heads, LLC’s secret is the nut crust on the top. They have varieties of bread involving cranberry, apple, orange, and the like. I can attest it was delicious and bought a loaf.

The best part of their story is these two friends thought of this idea while having lunch together every day. If you choose the right people to hang out with and talk to them about your crazy ideas, you might just inspire each other to action.

It was a reminder of the other stereotype of Florida: 55+ communities. Seeing these ladies proves that these seniors haven’t given up; they just got tired of being cold. It’s never too late to make a dream happen.

And to close, I’d like to present you this final treasure of the craft fair: IMGP0037