Let’s be good to each other.

My favorite shows — ever, with the possible exception of Barney when I was three — are Parks and Rec and The Office.

They are two of the only shows I return to for reruns (other examples: Friends, Gilmore Girls). Everything else, I watch once and then place permanently on the (figurative, digital) shelf.

Both shows are hilarious, they’re smart, and they meet you where you are when you feel like you have a small job in a small place. But that’s not why I keep returning to them. Both shows are about people who are good to each other.

They’re not about people who are saccharine-sweet to each other. Both shows are full of fights and stumbles. But in both, there is very little cruelty, very little backstabbing, less of a sense that people are being judged by a slim criteria of acceptable traits, physical and otherwise. There is a respect in both for who people are — even the bumbling Michael, even the ridiculous Leslie.

So many shows aren’t like that. Even Brothers & Sisters, my current binge-watching show of choice, features a whole lot of family backstabbing — even though it’s about, the whole show is about, this big, rambling family and their loyalty to each other. That’s the episode format — someone gets stabbed in the back, someone goes way over the line, and then they make up.

That is not the kind of life I want to live. I want to live in community with people — my friends, my coworkers, my family especially — and, yes, I want to fight with them! I want to have honest arguments. I don’t necessarily want to make mistakes — but I don’t want to be a robot either, so I know that I will often say the wrong things.

I don’t want to prioritize myself over other people. I don’t want to set off the laugh track by making easy digs at people who don’t fit seamlessly enough into the culture around me.

I want relationships that are built on stumbling and mistakes, a life that cuts people some slack — a life someone would be comfortable returning to in reruns.

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Let me tell you about my best friends.

Once every couple of months, I find myself settling in on hand-me-down apartment furniture, or uncomfortable chairs at Whole Foods, or outside cafe tables at old favorite restaurants, laughing and reminiscing and arguing and feeling more like myself than I have in weeks.

My two closest friendships came together during my fourth (but not final) year of college, over pilfered mini-bottles and bleary sleep-deprived mornings and ferocious fights about commas in the office of the campus newspaper. Now, friendship between the three of us feels like a given, like something that will fluctuate and flare but will, in any event, still be around. 

I was completely intimidated at first because, as is often the case in friendships that last, we are very different — at least in some ways, at least outwardly. They were louder than me, less reserved and repressed, less willing to hold something back and just get along.

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We were all fiercely ambitious, sometimes climbing and tripping over each other on the way up the ladder, often fighting about the best action to take in a work setting that seemed so very, very important at the time.

And we are still, in some ways, completely different. I am God-struck and religious; they believe in humans more than anything. When they visit me in Atlanta; they, like most 20-somethings, would rather shop and eat in the younger, cooler neighborhoods. I really want to go to the aquarium and the Coke museum.

They have taught me about diversity as more than a buzzword. Because of them I have really understood, for the first time, although humans are probably 98 percent alike, how much breadth and variety and validity there is in those two percentage points.

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They’ve also taught me how to relax — to stop analyzing every phrase and gesture with the same intensity I apply to work — how to be interested in things, how to debate, how to fight fair. They have taught me about forgiveness.

As I was packing to leave Hudson for Atlanta, there was a conversation about whether we’d all be in the same place again. Conversations about whether we were willing to move to be in the same place — and the answer was no, not right now. It wasn’t the right time and we needed our own people and our own lives and our own space. It’s very possible it will never be the right time, and that was a tough realization to make.

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But that’s okay. The right thing, even. I will continue to love our weekends together — and I think they’ll last.

Good things I’ve read recently (this might be part three?)

“At the time of writing, I don’t write for my friends or myself, either; I write for it, for the pleasure of it. I believe if I stopped to wonder what So-and-so would think, or what I’d feel like if this were read by a stranger, I would be paralyzed. I care what my friends think, very deeply—and it’s only after they’ve read the finished thing that I really can rest, deep down. But in the writing, I have to just keep going straight through with only the thing in mind and what it dictates.”

Interview with Eudora Welty // The Paris Review

“I should be able to sleep now. And I do, until Labor Day, when I begin to worry and grow melancholy about my final tomato of the summer. Is this my last stuffed tomato, the concluding sandwich? Will the farmers market still have them available next week? In my novel Now You Know, the character Libba, who is dying, sadly realizes that, ‘You can never look back and say, then, that was the last time I rode a bicycle. Or then, that afternoon, was the last time I ever climbed a tree. You can’t pinpoint it. Because you won’t know.’ So it is with summer tomatoes, that fruit Eve most likely handed to Adam. Like childhood, and seasons, and General MacArthur, that most summer of summer foods — the tomato — slips away with scant notice.”

Our Summer Food // Our State Magazine

 

 

“My husband and I have worked hard to keep my mom’s spirit alive for her grandson, who was 18 months old when she died. Despite my own marrow-jolting exploration of the endless wells of grief, with him, we focused on the joy he associated with his grandmother. When he begged to continue our daily routine of calling Nana in the morning on the ride to and from daycare shortly after she died, I played my favorite voice-mails for him. We both were comforted by the familiar lilt of her voice. Modern technology is an amazing thing; it can help you breathe a special kind of life into vapors of memory.”

What do you say when your child asks about death? // The L.A. Times

“It’s a process that moves in fits and starts. I sometimes wake up and head over to the computer and absolutely hate everything I wrote the day before. That phenomenon applies to my book and to the blog. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder what I was thinking when I wrote that. But I’m moving forward. I have sent the first few pages of the book to publishers, and all I have heard back so far are automatically-generated rejections or silence. But I keep writing. And I’ll keep writing until I start to get my confidence back, either by virtue of positive feedback or my own organic awareness that this is the thing I’m supposed to be doing, writing.”

Confidence Lost // from this blog

 

 

 

101 in 1001 update [march - july]

I haven’t finished up as much of my 101 in 1,001 list as I would’ve liked, but I haven’t dropped it, and we’ll call that a success. My focus was on breaking myself out of my comfort zone in little ways, and I think it’s working. Here’s an update on the things I’ve crossed off my list: 

All done: 

Goal: Take a day trip to Athens. This one was actually for work, but I was able to stay long enough to walk around the UGA campus, do some shopping downtown and grab a meal at the delicious Last Resort Grill.

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Goal: Visit five towns in Georgia. I made it to St. Simon’s, Macon, Swainsboro, Greensboro, Rome, and a few more — sometimes in a work capacity and sometimes not. If you’re a Georgian, where should I go next?

Goal: Invest in a new comforter and new sheets. Thick, white, faux-down comforter and coral sheets. I’m in love.

Goal: Hang up outlines of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia in my home. My best friend hand-designed these for me and I love them. I ended up hanging them in my office, close enough — but I think that’s close enough to count as a completed goal.

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Goal: Send three small online giftcards to friends/family members. My brother and best friend got Starbucks gift cards during exam week, and my parents both got gift cards to their favorite stores. This might be my favorite thing on the list so far. It’s nice to do something unexpected for people you love.

Partially complete:

Goal: Go to 10 restaurants I’ve never been to before. I’ve had barbecue, sandwiches, and breakfast in Norcross; pizza in Buckhead; seafood in Savannah; fried green tomatoes in Athens and tacos at the Perimeter. Just need to make it to three more.

Goal: Go to ten local coffee shops: Have only made it to one, Espressos in Alpharetta, which I really liked.

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Goal: Visit ten local bookstores. I’ve made it to one of these too, Read it Again. Pricy for a used bookstore, but great atmosphere and selection. I got The Lovely Bones and Finding Superman, both of which were good.

Goal: Take five trips to visit people. I made it to Boone for Hannah‘s graduation and Columbia for Morgan‘s. Three more to go, who wants a visitor? :)

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Goal: Go to a Braves game and a Falcons game. I’ve been to a bunch of Braves games, but knew going to one while living in the city would be a different experience. I made it to a shutout game with my family a few months ago. I’m sure I’ll get my brother up here to go to a Falcons game with me in the fall.

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I’ll post another update in a couple of months. I would definitely recommend making a 101 in 1,001 list if you haven’t already…it’s a fun way to push yourself and add some variety to your days.

Thank you.

I have learned over the past month how very, very bad I am at saying thank you. 

It is really weird when people, especially people you don’t even know, take time out of their lives to help you or even think about you. It’s disorienting, I guess. 

And I know I haven’t offered adequate thanks to the people who cooked meals, stayed with my brothers, sent flowers, prayed, sent text messages and emails and Tweets and cards, kept me company at the hospital.

And I can’t find any way to thank my parents, who essentially gave up their lives for the past month to sit in the hospital with me, then drive me back and forth and feed me and remind me to take my medicine.

 All of those things deserve more thanks than I know how to give. I’m a completely over-emotional, effusive person, but I find myself giving the most basic thank-yous these days. Many Facebook posts and texts offering help and prayers and thoughts have gone unanswered.

The thing is, I don’t know how. I get overwhelmed — and I want my “thank you” to be real. I don’t want to sound like I’m speaking from obligation, but I don’t want to sound like a greeting card, either. 

 But I do want to say thank you, however inadequately and from the bottom of my heart (see? Hallmark card) to anyone who has taken even a second to make my life a part of theirs.

Moving to a new city is exhilarating and refreshing and fun and very, very lonely. You are away from so much, you’re not in the midst of the life you’d built, and it can feel like you don’t have a support system at all.

That isn’t true, though — it’s never true — and this experience has reminded me of it. Some of the people who stepped up this week are people I talk to often. Some are people I don’t even know. But I am far from alone.

So, although I don’t know how to say it eloquently — even in this post, with the pressure more or less off — thank you all very, very much.

If I had known.

I wish I’d known when I moved into my first college dorm, with its hideous speckled tile floors and wall-length closets and metal-framed beds, with its stadium view, and a sloping hill within walking distance where I’d go on to read at least a hundred books, how much I’d miss it all one day.

Similarly, I wish I’d known as I sprawled across dorm floors and talked about nothing, and stirred terrible spaghetti in shared kitchens, and trekked through snow in double-scarves and double-gloves, ready to fling ourselves down hills, how rare it is to live so communally, and how good it is while it lasts.

I wish I’d had, when I started my first job out of college, a better understanding of the people around me. It was hard to see at first, in part because of the natural clash between the writer and the written about, but most of the people I met in that year were good and wanted good for their town. I knew how lucky I was to spend my work days on horse farms and eighteen-wheeler practice lots and in vending machine museums, but I didn’t understand the rest until much later.

And I wish I’d known, as I scrambled through the woods at my grandparents’ house in a pile of cousins, that although the future held its own joys, no days after the end of childhood would be quite the same color of gold.

I’m not a regretter. I cringe, I stare back into my own past in disbelief, but I believe that old cliche — that our experiences become pieces of us. That you can’t tell you different you’d be if that moment that makes you squirm (still) was wiped from the slate.

But there are things I wish I had known. I wish I’d known about the things I would love, just so I could be sure to taste them more.

 

July grateful things

It goes without saying that I’m grateful to be tumor-free and alive, but more specifically I’m grateful for the incredibly kind ICU nurses at Gwinnett Medical Center, for my home church and the way they mobilized to help me and my parents, and for what now seems like the best thing in the world — freedom from headaches.

I’m grateful for the rare opportunity to’ve had a month of time with my family, to actually feel like a part of the rhythm and traditions of their house, to have relationships in person instead of relationships that are all voice.

I’m grateful for friends who can lighten up any situation, any time.

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I’m grateful for unseasonably cool Georgia weather, and the hot-pavement cool-rain days, for having a few minutes to sit on my porch and be out in the world before everything starts to sizzle again.

I’m grateful for my apartment, and the fun of decorating it in hand-me-downs and thrift. I can’t predict what I’d do if I had money, but I can’t imagine hiring a decorator or even paying for cohesive, new sets of anything.

It’s so much more fun making something from nothing.

 

 

Summer book recommendations!

I’ve been reading more than usual this summer (the month off for brain surgery may have something to do with it) & wanted to recommend some of the best books I’ve stumbled across. If you need more recommendations, here’s all the books I’ve read this year; stars for the ones I’ve liked most. Just don’t make fun of my weird taste in novels & tendency to read a ton of YA.

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain // Adrianne Harun

Strange. Creepy. Atmospheric. The book is set in a nameless logging camp in British Columbia, and offers very little context, so you feel simultaneously lost in it and also drawn — pulled, really — toward the next page. This was different from anything else I’ve ever read. goodreads | amazon

Detroit: An American Autopsy // Charlie LeDuff

An appropriately angry, disarmingly personal explanation of the incredible decline of Detroit — and its implications for the rest of the country — from Charlie LeDuff, an ex-New York Times journalist who returned to his hometown to tell its story. It wasn’t what I expected, and it was excellent. goodreads | amazon

Thunderstruck & Other Stories // Elizabeth McCracken 

Stories about everything — a rebellious child with an unexpected head injury, a lost daughter and strange sons, a shabby apartment furnished with the best its landlord had, a backstabbing documentary, the murder of a library patron. All of them are sweet and sad and very, very good. goodreads | amazon

The Local News // Miriam Gershow

A story about a boy who goes missing — but the book isn’t about him. It’s about his sister, who was mistreated by her brother in relatively typical teenage ways, and her life after she, along with her mother and father, is left behind. It’s an unusual conceit executed readably, which isn’t common. goodreads | amazon

My city, the phoenix.

Atlanta has always loomed large in my family’s personal accounting of its history.

We aren’t Georgians, as far as I know, at least not on any branches of the family tree close enough to crane your neck and see. I didn’t know the word Atlanta when I was three because this green, rolling state, with its peanuts and its peaches, had anything to do with us or our shared, Carolinian past.

I knew because, a century and a half before I moved into a leafy apartment on its outskirts, General William Tecumseh Sherman was here.

I grew up in the Deep South, where Sherman’s name was not said — it was spit. The split of the country still runs deep and fever-hot in the blood of its Southern inhabitants, as does the smoldering of Atlanta. Continue reading

When it’s actually a brain tumor.

It’s never really a brain tumor.

That’s a paranoid fantasy you have when, in reality, you have chronic migraines. Or you need new glasses. Maybe you are stressed.

I thought all of those things over the last three months, as my headaches gradually ramped up in intensity. First it was this is annoying, better take a Tylenol, then hey, I’m just going to close my office door and turn the light off, okay? Then I stopped being able to get out of bed, and learned I couldn’t work from home if I couldn’t stand to look at a screen. The headaches were joined by a steadily increasing nausea — we’re talking throw-up-all-over-yourself-in-Atlanta-rush-hour nausea. When it reached the point that I couldn’t keep down a sip of water and a Zofran, I decided it was time for the ER. Continue reading

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