The Gift of Petty Grievances

The Gift of Petty Grievances

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Thursday night I was the second to last parent to pick up my daughter from the middle school football game because I went first to the wrong school and sat there in the crowded parking lot while I talked to her on her friend’s cellphone, wondering why she couldn’t see my car right in front of the main entrance where I said it was.

And Wednesday morning my mother texted me to ask if she and Dad could stay at my house another night because their brakes were suddenly shot and the mechanic told them it was unsafe to drive back to Alabama, where they live now and spend the majority of their time fixing up the house they just bought and taking care of my elderly grandmother, who needs them like I presume my daughter still needs me.

My brother has been looking after their golden retriever, who requires a thunder shirt when it rains. It rained three nights ago in Auburn, and the thunder shirt could not be located.

The day I moved into my house eight years ago, a hornet flew in and landed on a second story windowsill in a clear story unreachable by any normal sized ladder, and it died there and the crumbled remains remain.

The air conditioner stops working on the hottest day of summer. The water hose disconnects from the washing machine and floods the basement. The fruit flies return. The email piles up, then disappears (along with the IT guy) in an email vortex. You disappoint a colleague and annoy your spouse. You run out of clean pants.

God, the petty annoying stuff of life is always there, but we don’t even notice it when we’re freshly in love, beginning a new job, or packing for vacation…

And then the minute routine kicks in, so does our sensitivity to irritants, until sadly someone we know is diagnosed with something terrible or otherwise dealt a hand irrefutably uglier than a crowded inbox, kid waiting at the wrong school, or large repair bill. Suddenly, the daily bullshit things are reminders you’re still here in this game, still fighting and mostly winning.

A cat falls asleep on your feet, a teenager trusts you with a secret, your boss calls you a star. Life is good, and you can see that it is. You kiss your darlings good night, and you sleep tight without Ambian or alcohol.

Why I Write

I have a writer crush on my friend Kidd Redd (that’s a radio name; I know his real name because sometimes he writes professionally for a publication I manage, and thus I have his W9 on file. But I digress…). Anyway, Kidd roped me into writing this post for what seems to me might be the nerdiest and / or most self-indulgent digital chain letter ever. It’s called The Writing Process Blog Tour, and I have no idea who started it. I’m not sure why I’m part of it, other than Kidd asked me to participate and I have a hard time saying no to people I respect.

The Writing Process Blog Tour asks its participants to answer a handful of questions about … yes … their writing process. I’m a little bored by my own answers to these questions, so at the end of this – rather than forward this on to three other writers, which is what I guess I’m supposed to do – maybe I’ll start a whole new “blog tour” involving questions I’d REALLY like to see a few folks address.

Here goes.

Writing Process Blog Tour Question 1: What are you working on?

Writing-wise: Proposals for new products / services I think my company should offer people. (BORING.) A book about happy divorces and maintaining relationships with the people you were close to when you were still married, including your ex. (NOT AS BORING.) A journal I’ve been keeping since fifth grade, largely about all the things I dare not say or write for public consumption. (INTERESTING, though perhaps only to me.) Aside: Would anyone read the divorce book? Also, related: When I first began writing the divorce book, I interviewed some other people who claimed to have happy divorces and positive relationships with their exes. What I actually discovered about these people is suitable only for my private journal.)

Writing Process Blog Tour Question 2: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I’m not sure what my genre is. Personal narrative? Self-help? I guess I need to decide that before I can fully answer this question. I think I can say that my writing is, when it’s good, vulnerable. I try to be honest, even when I’m worried how people might respond.

Writing Process Blog Tour Question 3: Why do you write what you do?

I can answer this one. I’m a trained journalist, and when I write professionally, I do it because it’s my job. That’s not to say my professional writing isn’t fulfilling or relevant; I am not the kind of person who could do a job dispassionately. But I say that to offer a contrast to my personal writing. I have been writing here for six years because I wanted a way to talk about some things without worrying about deadlines, editor feedback or – most importantly to me – how many people would be reading. Writing for an audience of, like, six people is far more intimate and far less intimidating than writing for an audience of 100,000. Additionally, what I write about here tends to be addressed to a specific person or group of people. In this way I respond to people in a way I don’t have the finesse, nerve or opportunity to say to them in person. I often wonder if the people to whom I am writing are aware that I am writing to them.

Writing Process Blog Tour Question 4: How does your writing process work?

I tend to chew on things for quite awhile before I put them into writing. Sometimes it’s a conscious “chew”, and other times the chewing is done more from the back of my head. My best writing is a result of the latter. When I’m writing from a sub-conscience conversation with myself, it feels like magic. Many times I don’t realize what I’m trying to write until I’ve written it. I think this is fairly common among writers, and maybe the reason why so many of us are not so great speaking off the cuff. It’s also why even if we need deadlines so we can be productive, we are limited by them creatively. We need to mull.

There, chain letter questions answered.

At this point I am supposed to tag three people to answer these same questions via a blog post of their own.

I’ll do that so as not to be a snob, but I’d also like to add a fifth question: What would you write if you were not at all concerned with what your spouse, children, parents, clients, pastor, employees or employer might think? Be brave.

Tagging ML Philpot (one of the funniest writers I know), Lily Fleenor (my 13-year-old daughter and one of the most thoughtful people I know), and Jennifer Justus (a former colleague who uses food to translate life). If y’all ladies want to participate, just answer these questions with a post of your own, then spread the cheer to three more.

Happy unassigned, non-deadline writing to all.

Mother-Daughter Day of Spontaneous Fun

Things I remember doing with my mom, when I was more or less my daughter’s age:

- Browsing books and eating quiche at Davis-Kidd bookstore when it was still at Grace’s Plaza, before it moved to Green Hills mall and then closed.

- Buying gifts for her students at the Parent Teacher Store. She taught sixth grade and rewarded her kids with cool pencils, stickers and other supplies.

- Singing somewhat obscure old camp songs in the car on road trips to my grandparents’ house.

Interspersed throughout the shopping, browsing, driving, lunching and singing, there was a great deal of Mom getting to know what was happening in my life outside of hers, and of me getting to understand Mom’s values in life.

I hope that’s the sort of thing my Lily takes from today – when she and I spent a mutual day off exploring a part of town my friend Andrew calls SoBroLoCo (for South of Broadway / Lower Convention Center) – and not just “dang, so that’s what a record looks like.”

Here is what we did on our outing: Continue reading

All The Other Things I Am

I was recently divorced and figuring out how to date, and not doing either of those things well. I was no one’s wife. No one’s girlfriend. Someone’s so-so Friday evening. I made a list of all the other things I am.

I am Lily’s mom. Jim and Kathy’s daughter. Andy’s ex-wife, yes, but also his friend.

I was wrapped up in my head and had a hard time communicating anything other than “I’m sad. I’m lonely. I’m small.” After a while, writers block ruined those topics, too. I put writing aside and did all the other things I love.

I ran. I biked. I gardened. I read. I spent incredible times with wonderful friends.

With one such friend, I lost my temper and lashed out unfairly. I was defensive and reactionary.

Alas, I also was passionate. Apologetic. Forgiving and – guess what – forgiven.

A change at work left me scared and uncertain. I heard from many people who reassured me. They said:

You will rock this. You are strong. You are fabulous at whatever you do. I am your fan.

All the times I flounder at the one thing,
I try my damnedest to remember all the things.

I am optimistic. I am grateful. I am loved. I am me.

Your Tween’s Perspective: The Five Most Annoying Things Parents Do

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I have a tween. I annoy her. See this picture I’ve posted here from a building that used to be a strip club before it was a church before it was a motorcycle shop? I love it! She does not! Therefore, I feel qualified to write a blog post for other people who want to annoy their tween children.

Here are five great ways to annoy a tween girl (girl, because I am pretty sure boys don’t pay enough attention to get annoyed).

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Good Friday: An Optimist’s Approach

Easter Sunday, First Presbyterian Church in Dadeville, Ala. My notes scribbled on the back of the bulletin from my grandmother’s church:

“Good Friday wasn’t the worst of mankind. In fact, it was the best man had to offer at the time: a confluence of Jewish piety and Roman law. It wasn’t man’s worst day. It’s just that Easter was God’s best day.”

I meant to write about this before now, but a health scare got in the way. I had a doctor’s appointment scheduled the Monday after Easter to follow up on a couple of ovarian cysts I knew from a previous ultrasound were large and complex. My doctor wanted to see if they had grown or changed in makeup. They had. She scheduled surgery to remove and biopsy them. Then, that night, one ruptured and sent me into a tailspin of serious pain.

For some stupid reason I went to work, made it a few hours, then went home and passed out. I called my doctor first thing in the morning. She phoned in a painkiller and rescheduled my surgery to the next available operating time, some 36 hours later. It has now been a week, and I am exhausted but feel better than I did before the rupture of the cyst. The cyst turned out to be a symptom of endometriosis, which she was able to remove during the surgery.

I cannot believe how wonderful my family, friends and coworkers have been throughout this ordeal. They’ve kept me fed, kept me company, kept me comfortable, and kept my daughter. When I was freaking out before having a diagnosis, they offered perspective and reason. I have felt warm, loved, deeply blessed.

What does this have to do with the Easter sermon at my grandmother’s church?

Continue reading