Opening the Book

Laocoon Group

Laocoon and his sons. Ancient statue unearthed in 1500s and now on display in Vatican.

This is what my writing ritual looked like this morning:

  1. Eat all the carbs left over from the Leukemia Society bake sale.
  2. And drink two Diet Cokes.
  3. Feel all the guilt for abandoning my beloved children for a few hours so I can go downstairs and write. (They were both staring contentedly at their respective electronics.)
  4. Gather more carbs, the computer, a 44oz plastic cup of ice water, and that book written by the guy I get to study with in a couple of weeks.
  5. Plug in computer, eat a caramel apple (simultaneously).
  6. Stand in the morning sun as it makes shadows of the heart-shaped redbud leaves and read the last 10 pages of The World’s Largest Man. It’s so good, I can’t sit down. So good, I want to stand in the sun.
  7. Snot up 5 tissues because it’s over, along with so many other things in this life. Cry for my daddy, cry for Richard, cry for all those chipmunks that Biscuits has brought to the back door this week. Cry for autumn. Cry for carbs. Cry because the kids might be up there right now eating the last of the fudge cake that is supposed to be my reward for writing. Cry for my kids because they have an awful selfish mother like me.
  8. Climb quietly up the basement stairs to listen to the family up above. I don’t want to go up there and have to explain the red face, but I need to get close enough to hear three sets of footsteps (or at least the buzz of three screens) to confirm that no beloveds have died while I took a few minutes to pursue my dream.
  9. Skulk back down to the office and wake up computer from Sleep mode. Beg Facebook friends to harangue me into writing.
  10. Look up Harrison Scott Key on Facebook then suffer mild panic attack because this uproarious and visceral memoir that he’s written has won the Thurber Prize for American Humor. I sent him 25 pages of my manuscript to critique about a week ago. He’s probably at the store to buy more red pencils.
  11. Pull up manuscript. Spot every obvious flaw. Gnash teeth.
  12. Put on some music. Shuffle lands on Counting Crows “Long December” just as I’m thinking about almost writing that part of the story from December 31 of that awful year when Richard called from Baltimore, heartbroken because a doctor had told him it was time to go home and die. I sat in the sun on the last day of that longest December and didn’t know what to say to him. But I knew that this year would not be better than the last.
  13. Pace around small office. Lean in corners to cry. Rest head on molding around door. Crawl into grandmother’s platform rocker and try to remember what it was like before life got big.
  14. Sit down at the fucking hateful computer again.
  15. Glance up to the bookshelves and spot the green Mead notebook that I wrote in when Richard first got diagnosed. Take it off the shelf and contemplate opening it for the first time in a decade.
  16. Chicken out.
  17. Chicken back in.
  18. Step back into July 4, 2014.
  19. Wish I hadn’t.
  20. Distract myself with googling images of the Laocoon group because MAN, I GET THAT GUY. He was a Trojan priest who tried to warn them that the Trojan Horse left by the Greeks shouldn’t be allowed into the city. Athena, protector of the Greeks, struck him and his two sons with serpents. Basically, he tried to tell the truth, he tried to expose the lie that would kill them all….and died for it. Some say that he didn’t die from the venom. He was left to live and carry the loss of his sons, his city, his position, his everything. Telling the truth gets you snakebit, kids.
  21. Conclude that maybe I’m being a bit grandiose and should just get back to writing the simple story of a woman who made it through a couple of snake fights and might have some teeny grains of wisdom to share with other, equally snake-grappling folks.
  22. Write two paragraphs.
  23. Erase one.
  24. Listen to Bonnie Raitt sing “Not the Only One.”
  25. Write another paragraph.
  26. Call it a day.
  27. Climb upstairs, broken but unbowed (maybe a little bowed).
  28. Kiss children on heads.
  29. Eat some cake.

Ready I’m Not

Carlos invited me to play Hide and Seek in his room yesterday afternoon. “Mumma? Mumma? I count to ten and you hide, Mumma.”

Ten? That didn’t give me much time to find a hiding spot. I tip-toed across the hall and hid behind the open door of my bedroom.

“Seben, eight, nine….TEN! Ready….” He paused then shouted, “Ready I’m not…Here I come!”

My son, trying out a new game and trying to remember how the words are supposed to line up. And BOOM–his version was even better than what was supposed to be. My heart cracked open with a little more love for him than I ever thought possible. There we were, filling up a Saturday afternoon with playing. Him using new words. Me letting him boss me around. Shrieking and giggling and tumbling around, together.

Ready I’m not…Here I come.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek

That’s how we head into parenting. I don’t care if you’ve been a big sister to twelve kids, or spent 10 years as a nanny, taught second grade, worked as a NICU nurse–not one of us goes into parenting READY. For the first couple of years of Vivi’s life, my therapist’s main message to me was “You don’t have to be perfect, just good enough. Good enough parenting is what parenting is. Stop trying for an A+. Shoot for ‘Satisfactory.'” You’re in it, ready or not.

I had spent the first part of my life hiding. Hiding anything that I messed up. Hiding from anything that I might mess up. Hiding my shame. Hiding my own needs. Hiding myself because I had become absolutely convinced, somewhere along the way, that I wasn’t enough. Good enough, kind enough, smart enough, pretty enough. So I hid. Ready I’m not.

But here I come. Parenting is urgent and tedious, immediate and theoretical, all in one moment. It’s incessant. Still, I keep showing up. Less hide, more seek. I get up every day reminding myself that my good enough is enough. We’ve gotten this far and we’re having a pretty good time of it. I pour the milk and I add a blue bendy straw because blue is his favorite color.

So, today? Ready I’m not…here I come!

What Does Love Carry In Its Hands?

It seems that every time our country starts to boil over, we summon the ghost of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr to remind us:


darkness cannot drive out darkness


With all the respect that is due to the man who said this, I think this quote is getting a rubber stamp feel to it, kind of like “sending thoughts and prayers.” It’s a quick way of dispensing with the flayed feelings we face after ANOTHER “nothing can be worse than this” moment.

When we keened after the Charleston Nine were murdered at prayer meeting by a twisted little white boy who wanted to start a race war….darkness cannot drive out darkness.

When we howled in anguish after five police officers were ambushed in Dallas by a madman with a rifle while they were protecting the protestors at a peaceful demonstration against police brutality…only light can do that.

When we woke to wail at the news that a homegrown hater had slaughtered 49 dancing queens and kings at The Pulse in Orlando…hate cannot drive out hate.

When we watch another traffic stop turn into another bodycam video turn into another hashtag and the rage begins to boil so that fists fly into the air and some take a knee and we cry #BlackLivesMatter only to hear #AllLivesMatter in a weary call and response, we ask the question, “How much longer until we are all safe and free?”…only love can do that.

monk hands

Monk. Image courtesy Pixabay.

OK. Love can do that. 

But what does love carry in its hands?

What tools does love need to tackle this responsibility we have lain at its feet? “Oh, that? Love will handle that. Love takes care of the dirty work. Love’s got it. We can wait. Go on, Love. You’re strong, Love. You can do it, Love. Let us know when you’re finished, Love. We’ll be over here, out of the way…just waiting on you, Love. Let us know if there’s anything you need, Love!”

Love carries sandwiches to the hungry and water to the parched. Love carries a slender book of poems for the heartsick. Love carries a bucket and sponge when it shows up to clean that bathroom. Love carries a scalpel. Love carries a crochet hook that makes something warm to shield your shoulders from shivers. Love carries a clipboard from door to door to door. Love makes a casserole. Love will hold that baby while you take a nap. Love hands five dollars out the car window to the man with the sign. Love picks the daisies. Love picks up a pen. Love matches the socks and folds them together into a ball. Love turns the dirt and trains the vines along the fence. Love carries a lantern.

Yes, I know Dr. King was right when he said “Only love can do that.” But love can’t do anything with empty hands.





A Heart Walking Around In a Body


I’ve been quiet lately.

I can’t get one thing written before another something happens and then I have to sit and think about that, but before I can get my ideas to line up next to words, something else happens. Kap. Tulsa. Star Spangled Banners. Syria. My own backyard. Charlotte.

Today, I found myself in a simple story that summed up some of what I’ve been trying to say. I had a moment in the basement of the hospital that opened my heart to how pervasive racism is in my world.

Part of my job is to share good news. When one employee wants to recognize another for a kind deed or superior service, it’s my privilege to hear those stories and share them with the whole health system. What a delight–I get paid to make sure good people and good work get recognized! I get a front row seat to watch people being their best–the people who are being thanked and the people who are taking a moment to thank others.

Yesterday, I received a recognition note from a nurse up on the floors. She had witnessed a pair of transporters (the people who move patients from one area of the hospital to another) go out of their way to care for a patient. While the patient was being wheeled back to her room from a procedure, she confided that she didn’t have any family nearby who could visit her. Naturally, she was feeling low and lonely. The transporters, a young man and a young woman, decided to cheer her up. They went down to the gift shop and bought her a flower and a balloon, wrote her a kind note of encouragement, and let her know that they cared. The nurse reported that the patient had smiled all day long thanks to their kindness.

Their hearts were filled with love. With the best kind of kindness–kindness to a lonely stranger.

Heart with seeds. Image courtesy Pixabay. Kindness

Heart with seeds. Image courtesy Pixabay.

A few hours after I read this gracious story, I walked over to the main hospital to run an errand. As I turned a corner, I almost bumped into a man in black scrubs–the transporter uniform. I glanced at his name tag and saw that it was the same man who had been recognized for great kindness to a lonely patient.

I had knowledge of this man’s heart.

But my first response to him–the first thing I registered–was his body. He is a tall, broad-shouldered, young Black man. He wasn’t carrying a rose with a balloon tied to the vase. He wasn’t even smiling. In the second before I saw his name tag and realized this was the gentle heart of kindness, I saw his skin and his frame and I reacted as I am programmed to do: you are other; are you dangerous? Should I be afraid of you? In less than a second, I was assessing him based on his body.

What I often forget is that he has been programmed to have the same reaction to me. He almost walked into me and probably went through the same assessment: You are not like me? Are you dangerous? Should I be afraid of you? As a middle-aged white woman who has grown up in Georgia, I know that I am the most dangerous thing a young Black man can run into when walking around a corner. Fifty years ago, he could have been lynched if I had walked into him and knocked us both down.

I wanted to apologize to him for not looking where I was going, and all of that history that neither one of us caused but that both of us carry. I wanted him to know that I knew he had a kind and caring heart. To meet his eye. To strike up a conversation. To represent all white people everywhere and prove that I’m not one of the bad ones.

Then again, I wanted to leave him alone to live his own life without my whole internal narrative being projected onto him. Maybe he was just walking down the hall, doing his job, and didn’t need a bleeding heart white woman all up in his space trying to save the world because the world can’t be easy for him right now. Maybe my feelings about his feelings aren’t central to the story? Maybe I should keep walking and do my errand. Just like with my writing these days, I was thinking so many thoughts that I couldn’t find any words. I missed the chance to say, “Hey! I heard about a really nice thing you did! That was cool.”

Instead, he went his way; I went mine.

I walked away thinking, “What must it be like to be him, walking around in this country today? Where no one knows his heart but everyone sees his body? Does he live in genuine fear of people like me because of his body?” Yes, I think.

I guess what I learned today is this: We live afraid of each other because we don’t have a way of seeing the heart that’s walking around in the body. We have to learn to lengthen those seconds that we spend seeing each other. That which is holy in me honors that which is holy in you.

I didn’t have time or words to get there today, but for a moment I imagined what it’s like right now for that gentle heart to live this life, walking around in that body.

We Can Do So Much Better: Luvvie Ajayi’s “I’m Judging You”



I used to have a bad habit of flipping to the last page of a new book and reading the last sentence first. It’s not usually a spoiler, because I don’t read a lot of mystery or suspense, but reading the last sentence gave me a general idea of where the author plans to take me. Here’s the last sentence of Luvvie Ajayi’s new book “I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual”:

“We just need to start now. We can start doing better any time we want.”

Amen. Don’t let the title scare you off–Luvvie’s judgement is cast far, wide, and right in the mirror too. In four sections, the mind and tongue behind Awesomely Luvvie lays out the myriad ways we are not living up to our full potential.

In Life, she had me laughing about these awful people we all know: Dinner Scrooges, Lannister Friends, otherwise sensible friends who have fallen under the spell of Island Peen, booty-hole bleachers, and the fun house mirror culture that calls a size 4 actress “curvy.” This section is classic Funny Awesomely Luvvie. I laughed, but I kept waiting for the insight that I know she can deliver.

And that insight knocked me on my ass in the section on Culture. Luvvie lays it out. Racism isn’t just white hoods and burning crosses. Privilege isn’t nullified if you have to work for a living and studied hard in school. The single story of Africa that we’ve been sold (or clung to because it’s comfortable) is a farce. Rape culture is real and #YesAllWomen. Feminism, homophobia, the frailties of religion–it’s all in there. This is the section that I read slowly so I could learn from a friend who’s not much like me. For example, I know intersectionality is a problem in feminism–the goals of Feminism have often been the goals that benefitted white, hetero, cis-gendered, Western, Christian the most. Luvvie makes it so concrete:

“The misogyny that white women get looks different from ours, and our struggles aren’t in the same box. They might be called “bitch,” but we get called “nigger bitch.” They might make 77 cents for every dollar that a white man makes on the job, but a Black woman gets only 64 cents out of that white man’s dollar.”

If you’re starting to think that this book might be too heavy for the end of summer, Nope. Here’s how Luvvie, a Christian, takes down those who cling to one verse in Levviticus as the foundation of their homophobia but skip over the verses about shellfish, tatoos, and poly cotton culottes:

Leviticus, my ass.

Leviticus, my ass.

The section on Social Media should be a must-read for any child who is about to be given a phone of their own. #WeMustThinkOfTheChildrenForTheyAreTheFuture. We must also put a stop to #HashtagAbuse (#hash #tag is a totally different topic and actually kind of fun, but messy). We all need to get some behavior when it comes to Facebook oversharing, flirting on LinkedIn, falling for fake news, or curating a life made of eSmoke and eMirrors.

And all of that wisdom (and side-eye) leads to the final section of “I’m Judging You”…Fame. Luvvie is famous. She started out Internet-famous and now she’s getting to be famous-famous. She drops some facts about microwave fame, sex-tape fame, reality show fame…all forms of Lame Fame (TM Baddest Mother Ever, all rights reserved).

So what ARE we to do?

  1. Buy the book and enjoy laughing and learning with Luvv.

B. Call out foolishness in all its forms. We all have a platform and a sphere of social influence. Your influence may reach thousands, or it may reach a circle of friends and family. Expect better. Shut down the fat jokes. Call out the casual racism. Speak out on that board you’re on or the club you’re in or the school where you work and speak up for inclusion. Vote. Vote with your dollars and your voice.

iii. Get creative when it comes to spelling. I’m talmbout expanding your vocabulary as much as you worry about alphets. Learn words like “yansh” and “mtchew” and “minuswell.” We often have to search for new words to match our growing world views. Skim the footnotes, iSweaterGawd.

2a. Start doing better. We can start now.

V. One more thing. I started following Luvvie so I could learn how she creates success (and for Game of Thrones recaps). She’s been doing this social networking game since Facebook had 20 members and two of them were those Ken Doll twins. I’ve learned that it’s not all magic. There’s a good bit of magic, but there’s a shit-ton of WORK. Hustle. Consistency. Drive. Determination. All those football coach words. I’m learning to believe in myself. It might take a few more years, but this thing I wrestle with on the weekends is going to be a book one day.

Until then, click the cover to order “I’m Judging You” for yourself!

(This is an affiliate link.)

Household Spirits

“Mommy, I’m having that anxious feeling again.” Vivi and Pengy curled up on the couch next to me, ten minutes past bedtime. I stretched her legs over mine so i could rest my hand on her knee.

“What’s got you feeling anxious?”

“I’m scared of ghosts.”

Roman statue

Roman statue

I gave her a skeptical look. “Are ghosts real?”

“No…I know, but Myca was talking about maybe Biscuits is a ghost cat. Like there’s this cat spirit and it lives in the woods until it decides to come out and haunt a family…”

Biscuits heard her name and promptly hopped up on the couch with us. I tucked a long curl behind Vivi’s ear. “Honey, if you know ghosts aren’t real, it doesn’t really make much sense to get worked up thinking about them.”

“I just can’t stop thinking about them. They might hurt us.”

“OK. Well, if you are going to think about ghosts that might want to be hurtful, then why don’t you also think about the ghosts who are on our team?”

She twisted up her face and gave me a sideways look.

“So let’s say there is some kind of life after this one and there are some ghosts that linger on. If that’s the case, then the spirits that want to take care of us hang around us too?” She was thinking about it. “Like Papa. You’d have Papa on your team of friendly ghosts.”

“And he’d be…” She threw her voice down into a gentle growl. “…you better get in here!”

“Right! When you were a little baby, there was one night when I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep. I remember leaning over your crib and wishing I could quit worrying and go to sleep. So I summoned my protector spirits and asked them to sit on the roof of the house and watch over us.”

She lit up. And I did too.

“I imagined my Pop on one corner, and my Grandmama Eunice on another corner and Daddy’s daddy–the first Carlos Jose–was out there, and I imagined Richard right up on top of the roof because he wasn’t afraid of heights. Now we’ve got Papa up there too, watching out for us.”

Vivi shook herself back into worrying and stuck her finger in her mouth. “But how could they keep us safe from mean ghosts?”

“Papa was a really good shot when he was young. He won riflery medals. And he was strong! He could throw a cow to the ground with a rope and his bare hands.”

She caught the tail of the story and held on. “What about your grandmama?”

“Oh, well she was a gentle lady but she would not tolerate any foolishness. And if you messed up, she made you pick your own switch. Do you know what that means?”

“Like you had to spank YOURSELF?”

“No, you had to go out to the yard and break off a switch and then she would spank your bootie with it.”

“What about your Pop?”

“Pop wasn’t a fighter that I know of, but he chewed tobacco…”

“So he could SPIT AT THEM!”


G walked into the den. I asked him, “Hey, Daddo. What would your father do to protect us if he was a friendly ghost?”

“Oh, my father, he was a pretty laid back guy.”

“Right, but if someone threatened you?”

“He’d get his father’s Beretta from the war.”

Vivi hooted at the idea of all these fiercely friendly ghosts hanging out on the roof.  “What about Richard?”

“I always pictured him right up on top of the roof, sitting lookout. Richard knew a lot about how to take care of himself. He knew how to fight…”

“Like karate chops?”

“Not exactly, but, well, just stuff. He wouldn’t let anybody get in this house.”

It took a few more minutes, but eventually we sent her off to bed with no more worries about ghosts in the night.

Our talk got me thinking the Roman belief in household spirits. The lares domestici were the spirits of family ancestors who watched over the home and hearth. Each lare protected a specific physical spot (for example, a 1961 ranch house with a little girl trying to avoid her bedtime).

If the family moved, they took their lares with them. The lares sat out on the table during meals. They received offerings on important days and they witnessed family events like marriages. Remember, in the movie “Gladiator,” those small carved figures that Maximus carried with him in a little leather pouch? Those were his lares.

Roman bust

Roman bust

On that night several years ago, when I couldn’t imagine a way to let myself rest now that I was responsible for a tiny sleeping wonder of a child, I called upon my lares domestici. Pop, who smelled of Levi Garrett and I can hear his smooth fingertips glide over the pages of a Louis L’amour novel while he guards his corner of the roof. Grandmama Eunice, dressed for church in a purple pantsuit with her purse on her lap, keeping watch over her corner with a Sunday school teacher’s all-seeing and all-loving gaze. Carlos Jose the First, quietly singing a lullaby in Portuguese and watching over the dark backyard where the hummingbirds sleep. Richard sitting watch on the crest of the low shingled roof, never in need of sleep, never daydreaming.

Now I see Papa sitting beside him. Telling stories, talking politics, enjoying each other’s company. Keeping watch until morning.

When my child finds herself wandering off into the frightening dark maybes of the world, I call her back and remind her that there is more good, more protection, more fierce and unfailing love around her.


Tight Shot/Wide Shot: Dark and Stormy

Two years and four days ago, I wrote a story that got great reaction: Tight Shot/Wide Shot. In a few photos taken around my palatial showcase of a home, I illustrated the disconnect between what we share with the world (the carefully posed tight shot) with what we actually live in (the messier wide shot).

I had another moment like that this evening, when the stress of the day drove me to spend the last of my weekly Weight Watchers points on a mixed drink. This beautiful cocktail is called a Dark and Stormy:


Dark and Stormy: Gosling’s Black Seal rum from Bermuda mixed with the strongest ginger beer you can find. Serve over crushed ice at sundown.

Richard and I discovered this drink in Bermuda, at The Reefs. We two damn near perfect vacations there. We planned to get married on the pink beach beneath the cliffs. Every evening at about sundown, we would mix up a couple of soda bottles filled with Dark and Stormys then drink them in the hot tub on the side of the cliffs.

Yeah, that was a while back. Waaaaaaay back. Today, I mixed my Dark and Stormy then took it outside to the deck to take a deep breath while the Ore Ida french fries cooked in the oven and some turkey burgers sizzled on the indoor grill. I took it outside in hopes of getting a little sip of Special and Exotic and Vacation because today has been a whole heaping dish of Another Damn Monday.

Tight shot: I could have shared the photo and left you thinking that this is what my life looks like.

But writing and sharing isn’t about the tight shot. It’s about the wide shot:

Real life pool

Those towels are from Saturday, which was the last day that the pool wasn’t too green for swimming.

Sooo glamorous.

By 9:30 this morning, I had already been up for 3 hours but still late for work, because I had school drop off, a conference with Carlos’ special ed teacher, and a booster shot appointment at the veterinarian for the kitten. Which cost me $80 and five minutes of crying in my car because when Biscuits got scared before the second injection, the vet said, “Settle, settle” to her and it hit me right in the heart because Daddy always said “Easy, easy,” when an animal started to panic.

I got to work in time to get caught in a pissing contest between two smart and capable people who have very different expectations. Work these days feels like so much of life, where the things I know how to fix I’m not allowed to fix and the things I’m supposed to fix I don’t know how to fix. But there was lunch with my friend and a free cookie and for a little while, we talked about writing and ideas and how it all comes together. We walked in the sunshine.

I got some stuff done, because I’m a bitch and bitches get stuff done. Because I was so good at getting stuff done, I left late to get my kid so the whole way down the staircase I switched from victory to guilt.

I gave hugs and kisses and answered questions about imaginary worlds and puberty and what’s for dinner. I corrected math homework. I started the laundry and added chemicals to the pool and I forgot to call the water office about our $400 bill from last month. I looked through the mail and worried about college savings accounts, small bank failures, neighborhood meetings about schools, and the half-life of our 18 year old mattress. I worried that we weren’t doing anything special for Labor Day. 

I served french fries because the locally sourced organic okra rotted AGAIN while I dithered over finding a way to cook it other than frying us all to death. I cooked with low sodium, reduced fat, slim bread and fucking french fries in hopes that my son will eat something that isn’t a cracker or a chip. He didn’t eat any of it. He doesn’t eat anything but his pants are too small. Which reminds me that he needs clean uniforms. And who ever thought that white shirts were a viable option for kindergarten uniforms? OxiClean, that’s who.

Screen time and vitamins and grams of protein and signed behavior sheets and kitten fights and french fry guilt and work emails and steel wool scrubbers and fabric softener and bills and …and underneath it all I feel that pull to write, to make something, to create. To make something other than dinner. To create something other than a finely crafted email.

So I made a drink and I stepped outside. When the wide shot hit me and my brain started chasing all the things I needed to do to make that wide shot perfect, I narrowed my focus. I brought it back to my breath. To my senses. To the cold wet glass in my hand. To the bite of the ginger and the warmth of the rum. To the smell of the neighbor’s cut grass. To the sparkle of sundown through those pine trees that I was looking at when Richard told me that he needed to know I would be happy again one day, after he was gone.

I drank it all in.