Family Values and Principles

This is the second installment in a series regarding race. Click here to read the first installment: Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race.

The questions I’m posing come from Debby Irving’s book Waking Up White. 

Our families pass on certain values and principles. Today’s question:

What values and admonitions did you learn in your family? Think about education, work, lifestyle, money, expression of emotions, and so forth. Try making a list of ten principles, values, and unspoken beliefs. Consider what conclusions you drew about people who did not appear to follow your family’s belief system.

Oh values. The cornerstone of every American family. Values and principles shape the way you look at the world, and therefore the principles you’re taught as a child shape the way you see other races. This question is hard, because I love my parents dearly, and I’d hate for them to think I’m admonishing the way they raised me. They instilled some great values in me. They are wonderful people and yet flawed as all people are. Going by Irving’s question, I’ll make a list and then expound on the values my family instilled in me.

  1. Independence — My parents instilled in us a sense of indepence, and that we could do anything we wanted with our lives and did not need to depend on other people.
  2. Leadership — We were taught to be leaders and not followers.
  3. Work Ethic — We were taught to work hard in order to achieve.
  4. Intellectual — Being Smart — Perhaps being smart or educated was the value most instilled. My dad is so smart, and I always wanted to be like him. I strived to earn his affection, but I never did that well in school. I was creative and “had potential” but lacked motivation. Because of this, I felt like I could never measure up in Dad’s eyes. It affected my relationship with my middle sister, Ali, too because she always made good grades (which she worked hard to get), and I felt jealous of her. I saw that not being smart meant that you were less than. Going to college was not a choice—we were going to go.
  5. Open Mindedness/Understanding — perhaps one of the best values my parents past onto me. My dad refused to join the local country club because they wouldn’t allow African Americans or Jews become members. My dad taught me to question and to be openminded in regards to knowledge and to people.
  6. Frugality — My dad was frugal. My sisters and I went to an elite private school. The kids drove Lexuses, BMWs, and Mercedes. My dad did not approve of this kind of excess. He gave my oldest sister his ’83 Toyota Supra Celica (fast car, Dad), which then passed down to my middle sister, and finally to me. We looked at the kids at our school as spoiled since they’d been given new cars. We couldn’t understand why a 16 year old would get a new car which in turn they’d wreck. Conversations about the parents being irresponsible often followed. But more, I think we were jealous of their luck at having a parent who wasn’t a spend-thrift.
  7. Importance of Family — Family time was very important. We ate dinner at the table almost every night of the week. This was a time to reconnect.
  8. Positivism with a hint of realism (or catastrophe added) — We were taught to be positive, but to also look at situations realistically. There’s a lot of anxiety in my family, so I also added castatrophic-thinking to this.
  9. Honesty and Trust – honesty was cherished in my family, even if it hurt your feelings!
  10. Adventure – my parents took us SCUBA diving and to Italy. I was sent to Peru to do a Rain-forest expedition at 18. I did a summer study abroad in Salamanca, Spain at 15. My parents had the resources to give us a charmed life. We were taught to seek adventure.

I do think my parents’ values shaped who I am today. I fought against some of their notions regarding wealthy vs. poor. I had a boyfriend who came from a poorer family, and my family did not approve of him. I felt like they were being classist, and I continued to date him despite their disapproval.

Overall, I feel like the values and principles I learned taught me to be an accepting and open-minded person.

What values and principles did you learn from your parents growing up? 

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Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

I’m currently reading a book called Waking Up White: and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

Waking Up White

I have written about race a little bit on this blog, but I find I tend to skirt the tough topics. Race is an integral part of the South, and since I write Southern Literature, I thought I would do a series on race on this blog. In her book, Debby Irving poses questions at the end of each chapter. I’m going to use these questions to guide my discussion. I hope you all will leave comments and answer the questions too. I plan to do about two of these a week, but I will skip the week of December 6th-December 12th.

The first question posed in Irving’s book is “What stereotypes about people of another race do you remember hearing and believing as a child? Were you ever encouraged to question stereotypes?”

I had problems with this question. I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. I went to a public elementary school. I never thought, as a child, that black people were different from me. I knew my neighborhood was vastly white. We lived in a two story house. I walked to school. My school was diverse.

Probably the biggest stereotypes I could think of that were imparted to me, not so much by my parents as my peers, were thinking black people were great dancers and athletes. Then as I got older, I thought the majority of gang members in Montgomery were black. I attributed this to their circumstances. When I grew up in Montgomery, public schools still did well (vastly different from today). But there were a lot of private schools. My parents transferred me to one in the 5th grade. The private school I went to, The Montgomery Academy, was founded in the 1960s in part to keep the white children segregated from the black children – a clear “fuck you” to the Civil Rights Movement.

At my private school, I stereotyped the black kids, assuming they were all there on scholarships. I think this was because I’d been raised to think that African Americans had less than white people did. They lived in West Montgomery. I’d heard rumors they might move into McGehee Estates and that would lower our property value. Later on, there was white flight from West Montgomery to East Montgomery. The city kept trying to move away from “the race problem.”

I’m not sure my parents raised me to question stereotypes. My dad is intellectually minded, and both my parents certainly raised me to question the status quo, but there were certain expectations too, which kept race aligned with little mingling.

I clearly remember at age thirteen attending a Bar Mitzvah (or Bat Mitzvah—can’t remember which friend it was for), and dancing with a friend of mine who happened to be black. I thought nothing of it. He was my friend, and I liked him. When I came home that night, my mom sat me down and told me several parents had called concerned I had danced with a black boy. I was astounded by this, because I couldn’t believe these parents had the audacity to mingle in my life.

I remember saying something like, “Why does it matter?”

“Because they’re a different culture than us,” my mom said something like this.

In my childhood, it was noted that white people date and marry white people, and black people date and marry black people, and that mixing the races was frowned upon. I know this was a holdover from my mom’s childhood and the way she was raised.  My mom has changed so much since then.

And suffice it to say, it damaged my friendship with him. I pulled away, and I stayed pulled away, even after his father died. I did not know how to let myself get close to him, based on other people’s perception of our relationship/friendship. I didn’t want to be the talk of the town. But I also couldn’t understand why who I liked depended on the color of their skin. I had a questioning mind, and I questioned these types of assumptions and racial problems even back then.

What stereotypes do you have about people of another race? 

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Random Thoughts Blog

This weekend, I thought about how texting prohibits you from hearing someone’s voice. I admit, I text way more often than I talk on the phone. I’ve never been a great phone talker. There are a lot of empty spaces. I like to see people’s body language when I talk to them, and for some reason I feel self-conscious on the phone.

We were out at a birthday party, and Darling Daughter came up to me to tell me something funny. She is a happy child. Laughs and giggles and takes everything in stride. I think it’s an amazing attribute to her personality. I told her, “I kinda like you, gal.” Gipop, my grandfather, used to always say that to me. I could hear his voice echoing in my head. It made me miss him, but it also made me miss my sisters’ voices and my brother’s voice. I don’t talk to them often enough. There simply isn’t enough time. And the world nowadays is all about convenience. I fall back on texting a lot, but I need to make that change.

I like to be lazy on the weekends and play Civilization on the PC. I play an old version. It must be about 5 years old. My dad played it when I was growing up. And so maybe that’s the reason I like it. I’m a pacifist, but when it come to Civ I’m a warmonger. My favorite thing to do is to build up my military and take over other countries. I wonder what this says about me!

This year, Hubby and I are hosting Thanksgiving. My brother’s family will be there. Two of my aunts and their  families. My cousin with a baby who I’m dying to meet! I’m nervous and keep thinking I’m forgetting something. I woke up at 3 AM wondering if I needed to buy Sprite for the kids. Insomnia over Sprite, people! In the South, we make a lot of casseroles for Thanksgiving. I think ours will mostly center around dessert though. Son Number Two wants to make cherry pie, and I’m already making black bottom cupcakes. I think one of the things we’ll be missing this year is sweet potato casserole. Oh well.

This past weekend, I tried to do some intentional things with the kids so we weren’t just potatoes lying around on the couch. I went to Darling Daughter’s parent observation ballet class. She laughed the entire time. I hope she does a better job concentrating when I’m not there.

Laughing Through Ballet

Hubby and I took all the kids to the playground. Even the thirteen year old participated. Miracle of miracles.

son-number-1.jpgSon Number 2

This week, I’m going to work on writing again. I know my blog has been sparse. It’s been busy up in here!

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Seven Minutes in Heaven

So today, I decided to write something a little lighthearted. There has been a lot of bad news lately, and it takes a toll on me sometimes. I thought this morning, I’d get on here and blog about something serious. But this story of innocence came to mind, and I liked where it went. Sometimes we all need a break from the seriousness of life. Enjoy.  

The bottle spun on the wooden table. My stomach lurched as it came to a stop on Bennett. I’d never kissed a boy before, and here in this dark basement room, the other kids jeered and cheered.

“KISS HER!” they shouted.

“Holly and Bennett sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G–” Bracey Stacy said.

“Shut-up Stacy,” Bennett said.

He leaned over the table and placed his lips on mine. I hands felt sweaty and my heartbeat thundered in my ears.

“Tongue, do it,” Bracey Stacy said.

His lips felt warm, and I opened my mouth just a smidge. His tongue darted in, and it felt wet and slimy like one of those goldfish you win at the fair. I held my eyes shut as his tongue explored my mouth.  I ventured into his mouth with my tongue, feeling his molars, and tasting his breath. It felt like we kissed forever. And then I moaned, and the whole room burst out in laughter. My eyes flew open, and I could see every pore and pimple on Bennett’s face.

“Damn, get a room guys,” Mitch said as Bennett pulled away.

I blinked, and put my hands on my lap, squeezing them together until my pale skin turned bright pink as I sat back in my seat.

Bennett’s blue eyes stared at me from across the table, and he gave me a half-grin.

“Okay, next,” Bracey Stacy said.

Silence descended as the bottle spun again. Bracey Stacy looked hopeful, but the bottle never landed on her. It landed on Bennett and me three more times.

“We should do Seven Minutes in Heaven,” Bennett said after the last spin.

Ridiculously, images of angels and gospel music filled my naïve thirteen-year-old mind. I could almost see the pulpit and Father Roy up there preaching to the ladies in their Sunday best.

“Okay,” I said.

He stood up and walked over to me. I stared up at him in wild adolescent wonder. This good-looking, blonde, 5’7”, fourteen-year-old liked little old me. He placed his hand in mine. Skin-on-skin, I could feel the calluses decorating the palms of his hand. My hands felt sweaty and I worried he would pull away. But he held on tight, and he led me to the closet. I looked back at the kids gathered around the table staring at us with looks of astonishment as we headed into uncharted territory.

Mitch and the other boys stood up and set the timer on the clock radio.

“Turn on the T.V.,” Bennett said.

“Why? You don’t want us to hear you go smoochy-smoochy?”  Mitch asked with a laugh.

Five minutes ago I hadn’t even kissed a boy.

The closet smelled of mothballs and sweaty old tennis shoes. I pushed toward the back as Bennett pulled the door close. Total darkness descended upon us.

“What are we doing in here?” I whispered.

“Where are you?”

“In the coats—like Narnia.”

“We only have seven minutes.”

I felt his hand on my waist, and he pulled me close to him. I could feel his breath on my cheeks and see the white of his eyes. I wasn’t sure I’d ever been this close to anyone before. I could see the self-assured smirk on his face. And then his mouth was on mine, salty but sweet. Our tongues explored each other’s mouths. Bennett’s hand gripped my shirt, and his fingernails dug a little into my tender skin. He pulled away for a second.

“Can I touch you here?” he asked. But I couldn’t see what he referred to and his hands were on my chest before I knew it.

“Yes,” I said—an affirmation or an afterthought–I wasn’t sure which.

“Have you done this before?” I asked.

The dark seemed to be crowding in on us. Hadn’t it been seven minutes? It felt more like twenty.

“Never. I like you, Holls,” he said.

His hand felt my cheek. My heart thumped in my chest. I could push my way around him and leave the closet. But still, I liked the attention. I liked him. And I had agreed to go in there with him. I felt electricity between us and a stirring inside I’d never felt before.

“Is this what it feels like?” I asked.

“What?” His face was so close to mine, I could see his teeth and they seemed to glow white in the dark small space.

“Heaven?”

“I hope so,” Bennett said. “Now where were we?”

************


So when was your first kiss? How old were you?

I’ll share–I was thirteen and at Destin with some friends. I kissed a guy in his car, so he was much older. I don’t even remember his name. My first important kiss was with my high school boyfriend, when I was 16. And probably the most memorable one.

 

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Thoughts on Writing

It’s been two weeks since I last posted a blog post. I started and stopped a short story this week. I’ve worked on my novel a little bit. Progress is slow, but steady.

Currently, I’m trying to figure out whether to resurrect and work on Little Birdhouses. I believe the story has potential. The ending sucks. Just saying. It needs work. And I started the daunting task of editing and stopped. I think I’ve edited the thing about 17 times, and something about the structure needs to change at this point. That’s not hard to do, it just takes time. And time is in short supply since school is back in, and activities, and church, and Christmas is coming—just to name a few time-sucks. Plus, structure changes usually mean a visual layout of the work (aka printing it and moving around the chapters on the floor).

But my mind has been back on writing and that is a plus. I stepped away, and when I did I didn’t miss it. I truly believe in order to be a good writer one has to live their life. Creativity ebbs and flows. Sometimes we need to experience and sometimes we need to write. Sometimes we do both. I wish I could write every day, but when I do I start to have a sense of burnout. I also tend to push others away and live in my imaginary world. I’m pretty sure that’s not a good place to be when you have a husband and three children depending on you!

Being married to a writer must be tough. I know I’m not the easiest person to live with. I am introspective. I think a lot. But, unlike a lot of other writers, I’m outgoing. I do withdrawal into my own cave and own little world sometimes. I like to have my alone time, and I’m perfectly content being by myself in most cases. When I’m not, I want meaningful conversations not just small talk. My husband is great about letting me be creative, or letting me be by myself when I need to. In that respect, we’re a perfect match.

I have been thinking a lot about my characters in relation to myself lately. All writers put a little (or a lot) of themselves in their books. I read Full Dark No Stars by Stephen King a few years back, and one of my biggest take away from that book was that King must be scared to death of rats. Recently I watched 1922, which I’d read, and seeing the rats on screen was quite disturbing.

Writers write out their fears, their dreams, and pieces of their lives. They bleed part of their soul onto paper and hope their readers will gain some kind of meaning from it, some kind of oneness. Because, after all, the point in writing is connection. Giving a sense of part of your world to others and hoping they find meaning in it, or even just entertainment.

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On My Mind

I realize I haven’t been posting as frequently. I’ve been working on my novel. It’s slow going. I have 5,000 words, but I’m also doing in depth character sketches. I have an idea of where the book is going, but after juggling several characters I felt spending time on research and character sketches was the way to go.

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, and I guess this makes me a better writer. But a lot of what’s been on my mind can’t be shared with you all–not at this point. Most importantly, I’m trying to get myself organized in my writing and in my life. I’ve had some issues with my kids, but I try not to write about them in the public sphere unless it’s something positive. I don’t want them reading something later on and saying, “Mom, why’d you write that about me or say that about me?” I find that wholly unfair to them. Especially now that I have an almost teenager. Lord knows my very existence is embarrassing enough to him.

Most days, I still feel like I’m pretending. I feel like I’m pretending to be a writer. I feel like I’m pretending to be a good parent. I feel like I’m pretending to be a friend. I guess writers think too much, which can be debilitating. Maybe I haven’t taken enough risks in my life. I’m timid in a lot of ways (Hubby would say I’m a bulldog, but not where it matters). I always think, “I could have done this or I could have done that, but I didn’t follow through.” Follow through is important. Taking calculated risks are important. I seem to always play it safe. I’m tired of safe.

The other day, Middle Son said, “Maybe when you’re a rich and famous author we can go to London.”

And I said, “It’s hard to become a famous author.”

And he said, “But you will, Mom.” No question in his heart that his mommy would be famous one day. I wish I had the faith my child has in me. I’m endlessly hard on myself. And I fear I’m endlessly hard on my kids too. I’m hard on my friends. I hold grudges for no reason, or because someone said something to me that hurt my feelings. I probably don’t listen enough. Life, success, friendships–they’re all so hard to navigate.

Last week, I decided I would count my calories again and exercise. I ran 4 times last week. I plugged my food into MyFitnessPal–when it was convenient. Again with the half-assedness. I keep asking myself why I’m not losing weight as I stuff another chocolate bar in my mouth! Okay, not really, but at 140 calories for 1 1/4 cup, eating a whole bag of Chicago Mix surely adds up.

I’m not where I want to be with my life, writing, friendships, weight because of ME. I tell my kids that they are responsible for their grades and their schoolwork. I tell them they will do well if they try hard. I tell them the only person they have to blame if they fail is themselves. Yet I can’t seem to figure this out or apply it to my own life.

On the whole, I’m happy, but I still feel like there is something missing. My sister said the other day, “You’re like me, you get bored. You have to be driven.” And that’s true, but my drive waxes and wanes like my moods. Perhaps I have ADHD, never diagnosed. A not-so-wonderful Kindergarten teacher told my mother that I’d never go to college. Perhaps she could see my desire to give up. It seems innate in me. When the going gets tough–give up. When there’s too much work–sit and watch Netflix for an hour. When the kids are driving me batty–run away to a hot bath. But isn’t even saying it’s because this or that a form of blame–a form of not looking in the mirror and seeing my flaws and my positive character traits–seeing myself for who I am: me. I need to face things head on. I need to make the hard decisions and take the risks necessary to make my life meaningful and to feel fulfilled.

But why is that so hard for me to do?

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Me Too

Trigger Warning: This post discusses sexual harassment and sexual assault. 

So #metoo is trending on Facebook and Twitter today. The thought behind #metoo is that “if all the people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ‘Me too’ as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” I think it’s important that it says “people” and not women. I didn’t write #metoo on my Facebook page, but I’ve been sexually harassed. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a woman on this earth who hasn’t been.

I’m lucky. I’ve never been raped. I’ve never been assaulted. I put myself in some precarious situations as a teenager so I count myself lucky. I had one incident happen to me as a child. My sister’s friend, a girl, used to take me into the closet and dry hump me. She was two years older than me. And I hated her with all my might. I also felt endlessly guilty about this situation. But I never told my parents…until last year. Was that molestation? Assault? We were fully clothed, and while she was older than me she was still a child. I don’t know. I have mixed feelings about it. But I do know, whenever that particular friend would come over I’d get upset. So it affected me, and it’s something I still think about today.

I had another experience in college. My Junior Year, I took an Environmental Science class. I sat next to this guy, pretend his name was Bob, and I thought he was kinda cute. I was also pining over not-my-boyfriend at the time, but I thought Bob might be boyfriend material. Boy was I wrong. Bob became insistent that we study together. Okay, I thought. We met at Mary Graydon Center and studied for a bit. After awhile, Bob asked if we could go to my house. I said sure. I should have been weary, but I’d never really been distrustful of a guy before. I guess I surrounded myself with guys who never gave me a reason to mistrust then. Perhaps I was naive. Bob came over, and we went up to my room. And he immediately started kissing me, full on making out, and then put his hand under my shirt. He was pushy and insistent, and I said no. I pushed his hand out from under my shirt. He didn’t rape me. I told him to get out, and he said, “Oh, come on.” I told him that I didn’t just have sex with random guys that I saved that for relationships. He was pissed. Literally pissed and angry, but I eventually got him to leave. During the time he was in my room to the time he left, I was scared of him. And things could have ended differently. Bob never came back to that class. I think it was after drop too, so I’m pretty sure he failed. He was embarrassed by his behavior, as he should have been. No woman should ever have to feel that way about a guy. A lot of girls are not as lucky as I was in that situation.

Here’s the thing: we need to teach our boys to respect women. We need to tell them that a woman’s body is her own, and it’s not public property for them to touch. We need to tell them that no woman is going to respond to you in a positive way if you are catcalling her. We need to teach them that forcing a woman is wrong. We need to teach them that a relationship takes two people and that in order for women to be okay with having sex it has to be mutual. We need to teach our boys that assaulting is never okay. That if they see someone harassing our assaulting a girl they need to speak up. Don’t be complicit.

We need to empower our girls. We need to let them know that their voice matters. We need to let them know it is their right to say “no” even in a committed relationship. We need them to know that being forced is NEVER OKAY. We need to tell them that they have a voice, and they should use that voice to tell the men in their life how they feel. They need to tell men when they want to be touched and when they don’t want to be touched. They need to speak up when they’re assaulted. We need to help them not to justify a man’s behavior when he’s in the wrong. A lot of us do this. I know I am guilty of it.

I used to have a friend when I lived in Maryland. I was young…25…and had a boy baby. She got pregnant for the second time and found out it was a girl, and she was horrified. I said to her, “I’ve always wanted a girl. They’re a mom’s best friend!” And she said, “But girls get raped and assaulted.” I thought, at the time, it was the strangest thing for her to say. But you know what, it’s true. Girls get assaulted. Girls get harassed. And people sweep it under the rug. Or worse, they blame the victim. I want to scream every time I hear, “But she was wearing.” Who gives a fuck what she was wearing? No one deserves to be raped. Our girls deserve better. And it’s time to make a change for our next generation. It’s time for women to speak up and say it’s not okay for them to be treated that way. We are not second class citizens. We have rights, and Our bodies are OUR bodies not anyone else’s.

It’s time for things to change.

#metoo

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Embracing My Mess

I’m trying to get myself organized. Today’s post was brought to you by the article in the NY Times Making a Marriage Magically Tidy. I read the post, and then I posted it to my personal Facebook page.

My sister responded, and I quote, “…did you write that article under a pseudonym? That part about the panty liner was hilarious!! Well, we do the best we can, right!”

We do the best we can. That’s what I tell myself on Saturdays when I’m binge watching Netflix but should really be cleaning. Let me tell you, my floors will never be fit to eat off of. There will probably always be a layer of dust on by bookshelves. There will be crumbs on my table. My kids’ toys will be littering the floor until the sad day they ship off to college.

I read that book mentioned in the article, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I rolled up my clothes and put them in drawers. I felt whether clothes sparked joy in me or not, and the ones that didn’t were given away. I threw away A TON of stuff, donated things, and basically went on a mad-cleaning spree for about a month. In Kondo’s book, she said something like (and this is paraphrasing because I read it over a year ago) “no one who has gone through my program has ever relapsed.” Well she never met me.

Several things I learned from Kondo’s book:

  1. She probably has severe OCD
  2. Her siblings most likely hated her growing up – she organized and threw away their things
  3. I’m inherently missing something that makes me want to keep things neat and tidy
  4. When I start to clean I always end up finding a box of nostalgia and falling into a state of schaudenfreude. I find that inherently not worth it. But also could probably fix this problem but just tossing my old memorabilia yet there’s no way I can actually let go of that stuff. Catch 22.

The thing about me is I am at both extremes. When things are neat and tidy, I freak out if people so much as put one thing out of place. It’s a problem. It’s easier for me to have organized unorganized chaos than to deal with the crazy that comes out in me when things are neat. Maybe this comes from being a perfectionist. Or maybe there’s just something wrong with my brain.

Plus, I’ve read the news: kids growing up on farms with dirt have better immune systems and less allergies than other kids. I’m just giving my kids a leg up. They have zero food allergies–that’s something, right?

Seriously though, sometimes I think I need an intervention. I’ve been trying to tidy up my room for 12-18 months. Something always gets in the way. Over that period of time, we culled the toys in the kids’ rooms and helped them clean theirs. But I have a mental block for cleaning out my own shit. I’d like to talk to Helen Ellis about how she got through that mental block. Did podcasts do it? Because I get obsessed with those for like a week, and then move on. Perhaps I have adult ADHD. That would explain why I can’t freaking finish anything to save my life, including my novel, and why I jump from one thing to another. And why I’m such a major underachiever even though I have idealistic dreams of being MORE!

I guess I’ll start this weekend by going through my closet. Then again, I’ve been telling anyone and everyone that I’ve intended to do that for the last eighteen months. Some things never change…

Messy Room

What end of the spectrum do you fall on? Are you tidy or messy? Have you been both? How did you change your ways?

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The Tree

Here’s another one from Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds challenge of the week: write about a tree. I had a hard time with this, because I’m writing about a tree in my current novel. I wanted to share some of that novel, but I’m intent on having it published some day. At first, I thought I’d bypass this challenge, but this idea came to me. I hope you enjoy.

The Tree — 924 words. 

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Running. Feet pounding the ground. Ashton ended up where she always did, in front of the great big oak tree. The branches spread out like giants’ arms against the clear blue backdrop of the Southern sky. She placed her hand on the trunk and felt the warmth of the tree.

When she had been just a girl, her dad had strung a tire swing to the big horizontal branch. She had swung, laughing, and pushing her head back against the wind. She looked up at the green leaves as they danced in the sky. The tree held life. Her life, a memory of her fleeting childhood existence.

When she and Deke married, they took over the land. Then her dad got sick—lung cancer from too many cigs smoked as he herded cows into the dust. He held on for two weeks after the doctor diagnosed him. Ashton’s mom moved to the back room. She let Ashton, Deke, and their clan of little children take over the house. Ashton liked to listen to their bare feet on the wood floors. It reminded her of her childhood where there was always too much noise and clatter in the small farmhouse.

Ashton held her hands up to the tree. She rubbed the silkiness of the green leaves.


“You know, Ashton, this could all be yours one day,” her father had said, one day when he pushed her on the swing.

Ashton had laughed her high-pitched little girl laugh, tossing her blonde curls into the wind, feeling like she could fly away.

Her father stopped the swing. He kneeled down in front of her and took her small, soft hands into his rough, calloused ones. His blue eyes twinkled in the fading light of day. He smelled of Old Spice and cow manure, the smell of Ashton’s childhood.

“I mean it. You’re the one. This is the place.”

A rustle of wind blew through the tree, and it seemed to wave at Ashton. She looked up at the tree and could almost feel it wrapping its life-giving warmth around her. Her dad squeezed her hands, then hugged her. He started pushing the swing again.


“I want to put a tire swing up for the girls,” Ashton said.

“There?” Deke asked, pointing to the tree as they walked toward the wind.

The girls had stayed home with Ashton’s mom. The memorial service had been two weeks ago already. Ashton’s mom had taken to wearing only black and making pies: peach, apple, pecan. There were more pies than they could ever eat. The sting of Ashton’s father’s death still took her breath away. The tree gave her the air she needed to breathe again, to feel again.

“I was thinking about selling off this acreage to the Boyers’,” Deke said.

“Oh,” Ashton said. She looked at the tree, and it seemed to bow its head in sadness.

“We could make some money. Put it in a college fund for the girls. This farm just don’t produce as much as it used to.”

“You can’t.”

“Why can’t I?”

“Because that tree is important,” Ashton said, pointing to it. The tree seemed to stand up a little taller, the leaves danced against the bright light of the midday sun.

“Don’t be silly, Ashton.”

After dinner and the girls’ baths, Ashton sat in the living room with her mother while Deke read to the bouncing girls who had wired themselves up, slap-happy before bedtime. Ashton knitted while her mother ate a piece of peach pie a la mode. They conferred and agreed. Ashton kissed the urn on the mantle before heading off to bed.

The next morning, Ashton ran to the tree. Running made her feel so alive. She hugged it and swore it hugged her back.


“I met someone,” she said.

“Who?” her father asked.

She sat on the tire swing, holding the worn ropes, her keds firmly planted in the dip her bare childhood feet had made on the ground.

“His name is Deke Malloy.”

“Irish, is he?” her father had joked.

Ashton, in the full throes of adolescence, rolled her eyes.

“I think I’m in love, Dad.”

Her father smiled, held her hands, and gave her a kiss on the forehead.

“I think it’s about time we took down the tire swing,” he said.

“Oh Daddy, I love this old thing.”

They both looked up into the branches of the old oak tree. It had seen so much on this land for the last hundred years, so many people coming and going. Ashton could feel its spirit. The next day, Ashton’s father removed the tire swing. Five years later, Ashton and Deke married.


In the afternoon, they all dressed up. Ashton and her mother wore blue, the color of the sky, and her father’s favorite.

“I guess I didn’t realize how important the tree was to you,” Deke said.

Ashton’s mom held her hand. The little girls followed along, picking daisies they would later make daisy chains with. Ashton could almost see the outline of the tire swing. She looked at the tree, and she thought she saw her dad there waving at her. She smiled, and held up her hand. The tree waved back.

Under the tree’s shade, she and her mom struggled to open the urn.

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,” Ashton said.

She poured her father’s ashes into the dip her childhood feet had made. The leaves of the tree waved in the wind, and the ashes swirled a little then settled into dust. Ashton smiled, imagining her daddy standing there, her hand securely in his. She put her arms around her mother’s waist and around Deke’s squeezing them close to her and looking at the wonder of an old oak tree.

“Now about that tire swing…”

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Doubt and Faith

When we first moved back to Montgomery, the question we heard the most was, “What church do you go to?” My husband was taken aback by this question, because he’s from the redneck state of the North: Rhode Island. I wasn’t surprised, having grown up in the Bible Belt, I knew living in the South is synonymous with church-going. God and college football are the two things most worshiped down here. (War Eagle!)

We weren’t godly in those days. We started going to my parents’ church because they were there. Plus, we needed an answer to the question so the Southern Baptists didn’t try to convert us or the Church of Christ goers. Or the many other churches that stand on every corner in Montgomery. (Our church stands directly across the street from another church–only in the South)

I grew up Episcopalian with a good dose of skepticism. My husband grew up Catholic, went to Catholic school, and felt done with it all by the time we moved here. I went through a long period of non-belief. I questioned whether there is a God. I questioned whether Jesus was just a man. I have a questioning soul, what can I say? I’m a writer.

We moved a few years ago to a new church that we love despite a few setbacks and misunderstandings. Despite my questions, I wanted to raise my kids with the church, especially in the South where it is not only a religious experience but a social one too. I think it would be inherently easier to have faith than to question it all the time. I struggle with this part of my personality, because faith provides solace. People who have a love of God and Jesus can find solace in their faith when someone dies or something terrible happens in their life. I think that’s an amazing thing. I also think part of my reason for initially turning away from the church is because of the judgment I see in so-called Christians. I have read the Bible and studied it, in Catholic school, and on my own. I see a kind and loving God. I see a God who is accepting of all his people, not just a select holier-than-thou few. I want my children to have the power faith can bring to their life. I want them to believe more than they doubt.

I was asked this year to teach Sunday school. I’ve taught before to a handful of kids at Grace. I knew there would be more kids at the Ascension. I questioned my ability to lead children in the eyes of God when my heart and soul still question. But I thought maybe I had been led to this moment, to teach these children, and to find the love of God together.

I have not been quiet about my doubts to my children. I want them to have faith, but not blind faith.

When they were attending an Episcopal School, my middle son said, “Mom, isn’t God the best?”

And I said, “I’m not sure if I totally believe in God.”

And my son said, “Then I need a new Mommy.”

I told him, “No. You can still love me even if we have different beliefs. Not everyone believes in the same things, and that’s really okay.”

I needed to be honest to him in that moment. I like the faith he has. I love that he believes in God, but he needs to know it’s okay to love those who don’t believe in God too. He needs to know it’s okay to love those who are different from you and who have different beliefs.

I like to think about Doubting Thomas when I have my doubts about God. I think about how Jesus showed Thomas that he was alive. Aren’t there miracles in everyday life that prove the existence of something bigger than us? Is this God showing us his presence?

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Jesus made an important impact on the Israelites and continues to impact our culture and world today (obviously). His good works show us how to live as Christians. My times of doubt come more from the ability of some people to twist the Bible into some perversion to further their own agenda. Then I become angry with how organized religion can accentuate hate. It’s times like that I feel like I could turn away from the church again.

In Sunday School this past week, I helped out. We went over the Genesis 2:4-3:24 Chapter where Eve hands Adam the forbidden fruit. We talked about God’s love. We talked about how it would feel to be cast out of the Garden of Eden.

My nine year old son raised his hand and said, “Yeah, but what if God’s not real anyway?”

Maybe he is like me and has a little too much of Doubting Thomas inside of him but maybe that’s okay.

What do you think? Is doubting normal? Do you have faith? If so, how did you come to it or was it something you feel is inherent to you? Let me know in the comments below. 

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