Finding Comfort

The wedding is planned. We have a few odds and ends to put together, but the main thing we have left is just confirming the number of attendees for the chair rentals and caterer. (Have you sent in your RSVP yet? We really need those.)

Now, we’re focused on packing up my things from the house where I’ve lived for 5 years and moving them into Tyler’s apartment. We’re doing so gradually but making large strides. All my books and two bookshelves are already set up. My winter clothes, scarves, blankets, and boots have been sitting in Tyler’s guest bedroom for months.

Along the way, we’re doing our best to clean out clothes we don’t wear or that don’t fit anymore, books we aren’t enjoying, and knick-knacks that no longer spark joy. I find myself most prone to doing so when I first get up and at the end of the day, putting off going to bed in favor of closing up one more box.

My late grandmother and I are nostalgic and sentimental and have a talent for squirreling away letters, cards, bookmarks, and “dust catchers” as my dad calls them. This weekend, I rediscovered several birthday and Christmas cards from her. I found one my late aunt had also written in. And my late great-aunt. And friends I’ve long ago lost touch with. I’m getting rid of a lot, but I’m also grateful to have squirreled away so much. Like photos in frames that I can now use to reserve tables at my wedding reception. And a set of 4 hand-crank music boxes I bought in Paris, Barcelona, and Madrid almost ten years ago.

In college, I displayed them on my bookshelf and desk, ever ready for my fingers when I felt sad or lonely. I would take one—maybe the one whose box featured a detail from Klimt’s “The Kiss”—and sit on the edge of my bed, slowly winding the cool silver crank. At some point, perhaps when I moved in five years ago, I lined them up in a padded bag and tucked them behind the journals on the shelf in my bedroom to be organized later. And there they stayed. No batteries to corrode. No dust to taint. Just waiting, their location sliding out of memory.

Saturday night, I carried the bag to the sofa and drew them out, one at a time, keeping them in the order I’d originally packed them in. I turned each crank, remembering the tune as the notes sounded in the dark room. Then I played each again. The same solace soothed my heart as the first time I’d ever heard them, in noisy, echoing gift shops at the Palace of Versailles and the Prado Museum and the Gaudi Museum.

I had also listened to them the day I dropped my first college class. And the morning I started drafting my first book. And the afternoon I realized one of my best friends found me dispensable. And the night before the first day of my internship. And the evening my grandfather died. They were lost by the time my grandmother, and then my aunt, passed. So I played them again with those women in my mind.

Because today is September 11, I think it’s a fine day to take comfort as I remember.

Several years ago, I discovered “Boatlift,” a 12-minute documentary about the hundreds of ordinary people who brought their boats to evacuate lower Manhattan after the first tower fell. It was the largest maritime evacuation in human history.

The story reminds. It draws one in. And it focuses on goodness and courage and our shared humanity. If you haven’t yet seen it, today may be a good day to do so.

I also recommend the Broadway musical Come From Away, which tells the story of Gander, the small Canadian town that hosted thousands of passengers who were stranded when the US airspace was closed. I saw the musical in New York more than a year ago and have listened to the soundtrack countless times since. A performance of the first song, “Welcome to the Rock,” is here:

If you aren’t sure how deeply you want to wade into the painful waters today, I hope you find the comfort you need.

The LORD is my Shepherd…

My sleep schedule has been a little off lately. I’ve struggled to stay awake at 3pm and lain wide awake at 3am. Around midnight last night, as I waited (and waited) to fall asleep, I enjoyed a good long talk with God. Somewhere in there, I took out my phone and used voice-to-text to rewrite Psalm 23 one line at a time. In the daylight, I’ve enjoyed my midnight brain’s insights and priorities. Instead of continuing the shepherd imagery, I named simple ways that God cares for and blesses me.

It’s not my intention to belittle this gorgeous and beloved song of praise. This was simply an exercise in thinking through a familiar passage in an unfamiliar way, personalizing a Scriptural prayer while giving a formal structure to my own prayers of thanks. (Additionally, I’ve been trying to step away from using male pronouns for God in my personal prayers, as God is neither male nor female, so I avoided them here.)

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not starve for anything.
God encourages me to lie down and take a nap,
God reminds me to drink water,
God restores my soul.
God guides me toward righteousness paths
because that’s God’s character.
Yea, though I walk
through the darkest news cycles,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
rom coms and my roommate’s dog,
they comfort me.

You prepare chicken casserole for me
in the presence of the racist Twitter followers I had to block.
You bless me with cat videos;
my laughter overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will find me
all the days of my life,
and I will call the house of the LORD “home”
forever.

What would your version of Psalm 23 look like? What comforts you? What does God prepare for you? Who are your enemies and when are you most afraid? I’d love to hear your variations!

Weekend Watching and Summer Reading

Weekend Watching Recap

1. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix)
A 16 year old’s secret letters to her crushes, some years old, get mailed. Including one to her first kiss and one to her neighbor, who her older sister just broke up with. Yikes. A soon-to-be-classic teen romance starring an East Asian protagonist.

2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (Netflix)
Just after WWII, a London writer begins conversing with a member of a book club on Guernsey, an island in the English Channel which was under German occupation. The writer travels there to meet the club’s members, including her handsome pen pal, and begins uncovering the mystery of what happened to the book club’s founding member.

3. Crazy Rich Asians (theater)
An NYU economics professor is invited to join her boyfriend on a trip home to Singapore for a friend’s wedding, where she discovers he’s the “crazy rich” Prince Harry of Southeast Asia. And almost no one—from his mother to the bride’s friends to strangers on the street—are happy about him choosing a “commoner”. A modern Cinderella retelling with an all Asian cast.

All three movies are based on books! Speaking of books…

Summer Reading Recap

Furyborn by Claire Legrand
If you don’t like fantasy, this book is my best hope for changing your mind.

The Day of the Duchess by Sarah MacLean
A compelling, complex, nuanced love story that begins with a petition for divorce.

The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford
A novel about the real journey that inspired at least 3 of Agatha Christie’s novels, including her most famous.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
One of the best Agatha Christie’s I’ve read yet.

Jackaby series by William Ritter
Sherlock meets Grimm-style fairytales in an alternate 19th-century NYC.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
While filming a mockumentary in the Marianas Trench, the crew discovers real (murderous) mermaids.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
I’ve written about this book before. Basically, it’s a novel in prose and you need it in your life.

Tropic of Squalor by Mary Karr
A short but deep collection of poetry by a best-selling, hilarious memoirist.

The Martian by Andy Weir
I’ve read this 4 times in as many years.

2 Wedding To-Do Lists

Yesterday was exactly 2 months—61 days—until our wedding. Tyler and I spent this past weekend with my family, playing games and eating barbecue and addressing, stuffing, and stamping our wedding invitations. Despite the massiveness of this accomplishment, and of how excited I am to be just 2 months away from our wedding day, I’m finding myself in a constant hum of low level stress about all the details still needing to be handled.

Here is yesterday’s wedding task to-do list:
-Address, stamp, and stuff invitations for 2 remaining wedding party members
-Address 3 final invitations
-Distribute invitations to coworkers
-Mail all invitations
-Email florist
-Email coordinator
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Review photographer’s timeline
-Forward timeline to coordinator
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Email Maid of Honor re: mobility needs for hotel
-Call hotels re: mobility accessible rooms
-Visit 2 hotels to look at mobility accessible rooms
-Book hotel room
-Update “Accommodations” section of wedding website
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-Email photos to the bridesmaid who’s designing the guestbook

And on top of all those wedding items, I went to work, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner with Tyler, and read a little. Only 3 items didn’t get done. It was a productive day and I feel good about it!

Here’s today’s wedding to-do list:
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-RSVP “no” to 2 showers that conflict with wedding events
-Order gifts for 2 showers

Honestly, despite the amount I got done yesterday, it’ll probably take me a couple days to finish what’s left on this list. I’m already getting tired and my schedule today gives me less time to get wedding-related things done.

I like to try to get a lot done early in the week, when I’m energetic and am still capable of making decisions. By Thursday and Friday—sometimes even by Wednesday—I’m asking Tyler to pick what we’re having for dinner, napping after work instead of making calls or cleaning, and telling my bridesmaids that whatever they want for the shower/dinner/art project will be fine. By the end of the week, I’m less capable of handling the volume.

In addition to the big party and big trip I’m planning, I’m moving in two months. I’m trying to enjoy the time left with my roommate and her dog, stay on top of my nutrition and exercise, maintain my close relationships, prepare for married life, make sure family members and friends feel included, get ahead on my work projects, write occasionally, read, clean, check the weather, do laundry, and not bore everyone around me by talking about all these things.

One weeknight recently, Tyler asked me if anything was wrong. I had been quiet for a while, trying to think plan for all that needs to be done. I asked him to tell me that we’re going to get everything done and everything’s going to be okay.

I thought it’d be nice, though definitely not necessary, to hear. When he repeated my words, though, so sweetly, I started crying. I hadn’t let myself feel the weight of my stress until that moment. I hadn’t meant to let myself feel it at all.

Tyler asked me to pick two things I was stressed about. I picked unpacking wedding shower gifts and writing thank you notes, and for the next hour he worked on one while I worked on the other. Then we picked two things we couldn’t work on immediately—packing and moving a nightstand from my house to his apartment—and promised to make progress on them this week.

All-in-all, there really isn’t much left to do. Everything and everyone necessary for the wedding and reception are booked. My calendar knows who needs to be paid when. It’s the details that are adding up now. Still, as my aunt told me earlier today, this is normal. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.

The most important thing is that we are blessed with friends and family and family-to-be who love us and who we want to celebrate with. The lists will get done. Or they won’t. Lord willing, we’ll be married in two months. And that’s all that matters.

Taking Sick Time

I’ve noticed a weird pattern. I’m extremely hesitant every time I feel the need to take a sick day, or even sick hours.

I could have a migraine and be squinting out the light from my phone’s dimmest setting, but I’d still wonder if my boss would believe me for calling in sick. I could be throwing up as the sun rises and I’d wonder if I should try to go in that afternoon. Even if I don’t have pressing deadlines or major projects underway, I struggle to accept my need to take sick time.

I can know I’m on the precipice between feeling poorly and being actually ill, but taking a day to rest and recover feels like an indulgence. As do the monthly massages that significantly reduce the frequency of my migraines. When I’m depressed or need to leave work early for therapy or something else that helps my brain manage its chemical equilibrium, I never take sick time. Even though I know my brain needs care the way the rest of me does, I am ruled by the stigma associated with mental illness, the idea that productivity equals worth, and my own anxiety about being seen as dedicated to my job.

In “Missing Hope: A Trio of Miscarriages, and What Happened After,” Laura Turner writes, “Sick is a feeling as much as a state of being, and it makes you feel Victorian in the worst way, like a woman sent to bed for being weak, which is an especially tough blow in a culture where your value is predicated on your professional productivity.”

And there’s the idea that you must be productive—constantly productive—to be valuable in any way. Yes, we’re paid to work, and so rightly must work to be paid, but there’s also the sense that taking sick time demonstrates a lack of devotion. Or worse, indicates weakness. I’m much less likely to take a sick day on a Monday or Friday because I don’t want people to think I’m lying about being sick. And whenever I must email in sick, I over explain and over justify, trying to make sure my boss knows I’m devoted to my work and to being on a team, but also too ill to be a good employee that morning, or that day.

Last Monday was a day like that. I’d struggled with headaches all day Sunday and medicine made little to no difference. After a wonderful day Saturday with my mom and grandmother and two of my three bridesmaids, and a beautiful bridal shower thrown by Tyler’s family, I thought at first that I was just drained. I’m an introvert who’d spent a lot of time in others’ company the day before. For all the good of that day, I’d need some time to recover. And I probably didn’t drink enough water the day before, and that could account for my headache. I’d mostly muscled and drowned it into subservience by Sunday night, but when I woke around 4 Monday morning, I had a full-blown migraine.

I took medicine immediately and rubbed a special blend of peppermint and eucalyptus oils on my forehead to try to take the edge off. I curled up on my side in the dark room and waited. Nearly an hour later, the pain had lessened enough that I thought I could sleep. But I also knew I wouldn’t be recovered enough in two hours to go to work. I flinched at the light of my screen as I emailed my boss and turned off my alarms. Then I turned the screen off and finally fell back asleep.

In the morning, as expected, the remains of my migraine remained. Maybe by 9, I thought. Then, I’ll aim for 10. Probably by noon or 1. None of which came to pass. I snacked when I felt up to walking around. I wrote a few thank you notes while I sipped Gatorade.

Around noon, head still pounding, I lay down on the sofa. When I next woke, it was 2pm. I felt much better! I got up and walked upstairs, calculating how fast I could get ready and by what time I’d reach the office. The sunshine filtering through the slits in the blinds was uncomfortably bright. I took another sip of Gatorade as my forehead began to hum. I decided I’d try to read, to make sure I’d be okay doing the same activity at work. Ten minutes later, book abandoned, laying down with more peppermint oil on my temples, I finally gave up on making it to work that day.

I am so grateful that I had felt so well on Saturday for the shower and all the fun we had together. I’m grateful I have paid sick time. I’m annoyed with myself for feeling guilty for using it. I’m annoyed that I struggled to admit to myself that I just wasn’t well enough to go, even when there were only a few hours left in the day. I frustrated that the demands of productivity are so closely tied to the idea of worthiness. And I’m aware that the ones who most suffer this are disabled.

Thank you to all the disabled rights advocates, past and present, whose work betters the world for everyone, every day.

For those interested in exploring these themes in fiction, I recommend On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis.

For those interested in learning more about the social work of disabled people, try A Disability History of the United States and Enabling Acts.

Poetry is Saving My Life

Last Wednesday, I read Liz Deere’s exceptional blog post, “Life Savers.” In it, she explains the origins behind a question I’ve heard asked, and liked, for a while now: What is saving your life? I encourage you to go read the post, and the rest of Liz’s work. For Liz, meeting around the table with friends was saving her life. Poetry was saving mine.

Tyler had had a long, rough day. I lay down on the couch with him for a while, until he was soothed and asleep, then slipped away and fetched the book I’d started several days earlier: Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. I bought the book years and years ago. I’ve even given it to others, on all the highest recommendations, without having read it.

At the moment, I’m galloping through my existing library, trying books I’ve had for years, giving them just 20 minutes to capture me or they go in the “to give away” pile. Even books I finish and thoroughly enjoy, I often put into the “to give away” pile. I don’t need them taking up space on my shelves or in the future’s moving truck unless I intend to treasure them for years. And a great many books, though I enjoy them, are not that way. Many were, but I no longer need them as I once did. I want them to go to people who need their stories, who will read and love them as they were meant to be read and loved.

Several nights before as I prepared to take a long, hot bath, I picked Brown Girl Dreaming because it is a memoir in verse and I expected it wouldn’t take me long to finish. I felt almost manic that night, wanting to get things done, get things through, to add to my piles and give one pile away. But I couldn’t go to sleep that way.

One of the many wonders of poetry is that it doesn’t care about your desired pace. In poems, time and rhythm and pacing and focus exists differently, uniquely, almost-but-not-quite rigidly.

Reading a book of poetry, whether done over years or a few hours, is like slipping your head under the meniscus of the ocean. You can surface after each poem or stay under and explore the depths until your lungs burn and your legs feel leaden. But for every moment you are reading, your body moves with foreign resistance and unearned grace. The currents determine how quickly and how well and they are not yours. They don’t listen to you. Someone else has already decided how this will flow. The experience can leave one gasping and disoriented or invigorated and refreshed. I have enough experience with poetry, like swimming, that I’m usually of the latter. Even so, I can put my head up and find the landscape completely changed from what I remember.

When I finished the last poem in Woodson’s collection, I wrote “Mom” on a blue post it and stuck it to the front cover. Then I curled up next to Tyler and let my mind float again through the words and phrases, images and sounds I’d gathered while swimming. And it sustained me long past when he woke.

The following morning I encountered a photo of Mary Karr’s poem, “VI. Wisdom: The Voice of God” from her new collection, Tropic of Squalor. “Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you,” the poem begins, “could be cured with a hot bath”.

Yes, I thought. Brown Girl Dreaming.

A story also surfaced, one I heard Mary Karr tell at a lecture at Georgia Southern when I was still an undergrad there. When Karr was an alcoholic, and when she and her husband were divorcing, she would hear a voice that tried to take care of her. It said things like, “You should make a sandwich.” And when she’d keep listening, it said, “You haven’t eaten all day. You should make a sandwich.” That voice was so kind, so wise, so invested in her well-being that she appreciated it and gradually learned to listen to it. That voice, she told us, she eventually understood as the voice of God.

“VI. Wisdom: The Voice of God” she’d titled the poem. “Ninety percent of what’s wrong with you could be cured with a hot bath…”. And at the end, ”Put down that gun, you need a sandwich.”

The ocean of poetry is as much a gift from God as the air around us, the sandwich that will sustain us. And poetry is saving my life this week.

Poems:
“I Wash the Shirt” by Anna Swir
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Langston Hughes
“Bareback Pantoum” by Cecilia Woloch
“This Happened” by C. K. Williams
“Apostrophe to the Apostrophe” by Eric Nelson

Novels and Collections:
Brown Girl Dreaming Jacqueline Woodson
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
Teratology by Susannah Nevison
A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Miłosz
On Paying Attention by James A. Autry

Trousseau

Trousseau (n) — the clothes, household linen, and other belongings collected by a bride for her marriage

The first and probably last time I encountered this word, I was in elementary school and reading whichever Little House on the Prairie book that Laura gets married in. She and her sisters and mother sew curtains, embroider handkerchiefs, and finish new dresses for her trousseau. They stack finished items in her hope chest, which sounded like such an antiquated concept, I was shocked when I learned that a couple childhood friends had one. For those friends, it was just a place to store things that they wanted to keep into adulthood. Opening my friend Joni’s, peeking inside with her, felt reverent. There was her great-grandmother’s quilt. Some of her baby clothes. And not much else, honestly. We were eight. Marriage, let alone having a home of my own, felt infinitely far away. I forgot about hope chests and trousseaus.

Until Saturday morning. I woke early, played with the dog, chatted with my roommate, and went to the local mall to do a lot of shopping. I had a game plan for where to park, the order in which I visited stores, and what I was looking for in each. I had budgeted and researched for the watch I wanted, the shoes I hoped to find, a new dress for an upcoming bridal shower. All the stores were having sales and I’d downloaded a number of coupons.

After about an hour, I reached Pier 1 to look at nightstands and other furniture for the guest room we don’t yet have a bed for. While there, I examined flatware we don’t need and platters I chose not to register for. Standing in front of a bread pan that said, “Mr. and Mrs. established 2018,” I asked myself, What are you doing?

This wasn’t normal behavior for me. These weren’t my normal spending habits. Yes, I tend to buy nothing for a long time, then buy a lot of needed items all at once. Yes, I like interior design and haven’t had many opportunities to enact my visions on the space I inhabit. Yes, I’m excited for a place I can decorate and arrange to suit our purposes. But I know we don’t need a 2nd nightstand for the guest room yet. That’s one more thing we’ll have to move when we move out, which may only be a year away.

I’d never even been inside a Pier 1 before. Why did I make a point to come here and look at one? Why am I looking at all these platters I won’t need, especially as I already registered for some I like a lot more? And I’ve been on a hunt for new dresses, shoes, and other clothing necessities as if I’m about to move to the middle of 100 acres. What am I trying to accomplish?

Trousseau.

The word fairly floated into my consciousness. I grasped at it, held it in my hands, and let my mind pull forward its connected memories. I couldn’t even be sure of the definition of the word at first. I hear about nesting, the stage in which expecting parents try to make their homes suitable to their coming child or children, including decorating and other, strictly speaking, unnecessary steps. But I hadn’t heard of the trousseau stage, the urge to acquire domestic items for a new stage of domestic life.

Expectations play into this. I’m about to be married. What do married people have/need (other than a spouse) that I don’t? What am I supposed to have?

Making a wedding registry was a firm step down this path. We put everything we think we’ll need on it, and there wasn’t much. So we leaned back and dreamed, thought about what would be nice or helpful. I asked myself how others’ expectations of me will change and what we’ll need to meet those expectations. I also thought about the furniture I’ll be bringing to our new home. It’s only a few pieces, but I still find myself planning and measuring and doodling a lot, deciding where things can go, how to make the rooms look more put together, more finished, and more functional long-term.

Except, I know we could be moving out in a year. It doesn’t need to be long-term functional. Just functional for a year. After that, we’ll reevaluate.

Still, it’s tempting to go after those plans and dreams now. To look at prices and measurements for that cabinet, that nightstand, and a basket for spare toiletries in the guest bathroom. On the cusp of a big life transition, long-term hopes and dreams that feel more immediate, giving me a false sense of urgency to keep working, keep buying, keep organizing.

I know waiting leaves me more options, and that future Katie will be grateful.

And yet, I’m also bringing large tubs full of blankets and winter clothes to place in that future guest room. A couple pairs of boots and both my winter coats are there are well. I’m planning which sheets to bring with me and which to leave for my roommate. What I should do with my old, raggedy towels? What items will I be bringing with me into my marriage?

Trousseau (n) — plastic tubs full of hope and plans

The Wedding Registry

As a wedding guest, I used to only buy “sensible” things like towels and kitchen utensils. Necessities. In the past few years, though, I decided to branch out to what I considered “fun” gifts. I’ve bought newly married couples Christmas movies, nice throw blankets, expansion packs to their favorite boards games, art for their walls, and 2-person floats for the river. Now that Tyler and I are building a registry of our own, though, you better believe I’m going to be as grateful to the person who buys us plates and towels (The patterns will match! I’ve been using the same ratty set of towels since college!) as the person who’ll give us a Scrabble board and posable magnet people for the fridge.

We’re really excited about all of it. We honestly don’t need much to survive, and won’t be moving into a house in need of a lawnmower or garden hose or rolling kitchen island, so at first our registry was really small. But as we’ve grown more used to the idea of receiving so many blessings at once, we’ve thought of more and more items that would be really helpful.

For example, a couple days ago Tyler realized that he doesn’t have a suitcase more substantial than a duffle bag. And in addition to the big party we’re planning, we’re also planning a big trip. I then remembered that my beloved orange monkey luggage tags, which have visited multiple other countries multiple times, are pulling loose and have my maiden name on them.

As another example, last week I took the dog for a long walk with one of my bridesmaids while Tyler made dinner at his apartment. When I arrived, the entryway vaguely smelled like smoke and the fire alarm was chirping. Tyler, who had just finished plating our dinner and scraping the burned pan, hugged me in welcome, then moved a dining room chair to the hallway to try to reset the system. He could barely reach. I knew I’d only have more luck if I wore heels, which was an exceedingly bad idea.

A lot of the items on our registry are things we’d probably buy in one form or another as we needed and could afford them: a ladle, a spatula, a step stool, a new suitcase. But because we don’t need them all immediately, we can add them to our registry. Our wedding season is a rare and touching opportunity for people other than close family to buy us gifts, and for the people we love most to help us prepare for our life together.

It also gives us a little space to dream. What would be nice to have? There isn’t much we need to get by, but what would help? We can keep using the dining room chair to reach high places, but what if we had a step stool? What if we had a couple different sizes of suitcases? What would make the sunroom and porch more enjoyable in winter? What would we like to have on this wall? What would make the next few years a little easier or more comfortable?

We’re really excited to be getting married and to be sharing the day with so many people we love. And we don’t need gifts to enjoy the day or those that will follow. Even though we know that’s also the case with the friends whose five weddings we’ll also be attending this year, we’re excited to be able to bless our friends with board games and new towels, too!

Still, in the flurry of Save the Dates and bridal shower invites zipping through the mail these days, we want to say it one more time: no gift is necessary. For every gift we receive, “sensible” or “fun”, we’ll be thrilled and incredibly grateful. (And our thank you cards have photos from our engagement shoot on them!) But we’d much rather have the blessing of your presence than the blessing of a present.

Since posting, several people have asked us where we’re registered. We are registered here. Our wedding website is here.

List of Life-giving

So yesterday was terrible (looking at you, Justice Kennedy) and I had to take a break to color or my sudden, intense stress and anxiety would have made bees fly out of my mouth.

Earlier this week on Facebook, I promised a happier post at the end of this week and today feels like a good day for it.

Here is a short list of things giving me life lately:

-Blair Braverman: Blair and her partner Q are golden-hearted mushers with a mountain full of sled dogs and strong literary resumes. (Blair’s book is here.) She’ll be mushing in the Iditarod next year! My soulpup’s name is Boudica! And right now on Blair’s Twitter, it’s 90% puppies. Here is a recent Twitter thread documenting the afternoon when the two litters of Braverman Mountain sled dog puppies, born a week apart, met for the first time.

United Shades of America: Now in it’s third season on CNN, United Shades focuses each week on a unique community in the US, what’s important to them, and the tensions and conflicts surrounding them. W. Kamau Bell hosts, traveling and asking questions and listening to people who identify as Gullah, Sikh, KKK, indigenous, disabled, imprisoned, Hawaiian, or something else! Tyler and I watch together so we can learn together.

-Tyler’s family: I can’t share them with you, but you’d love it if I could. They’re generous and talented and funny and kind and welcoming. And I am so grateful for them.

Jackaby series: This is Sherlock meets my coworker Darrell Pursiful’s Into the Wonder series. The astute detective with an ugly hat made of yeti’s wool helps his new assist Abigail navigate a murder investigation in a fairytale (think Grimm, not Disney) fantasy version of New York. It’s fun. It’s mysterious. It’s removed from my life and US politics. Huzzah!

The Great British Baking Show: It was sprinkling in my brain the other day and I sighed with relief when I found an episode on PBS (which is such a gift). Within the first 4 minutes, I felt better than I had all day. Everything from the cinematography to the tones of voices to the music soothes and uplifts and enlivens. And it’s interesting!

-Friends: I’ve had the most interesting conversations with my friends lately. We’ve talked about annoying baby naming trends, mental health strategies, cake, arguments with partners, and kambucha. All of them have made me feel better about the world.

-Coloring: As mentioned above, sometimes I have to color to calm down the anxious buzzing in my brain. One of my favorite things to do lately is to draw on my work calendar with highlighters. I design each month with a different theme and color scheme. June was nothing but the sun and its rays until this final week, which I’ve filled with grass and flowers and weeds.

-Cake: Tyler and I went to our cake tasting/consultation this week and hot diggity dog, friends! This is gonna be delicious. Meanwhile, cake is great! If you can, I recommend getting a slice from Publix (did you know they sell cake by the slice?!) or a cupcake from your favorite local spot.

Fear and Marriage Planning: Death

A couple years ago, my friend Molly and I were headed to Nashville to see a touring Broadway show called “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Honestly, I can’t recommend the show, but I’m glad we went to see it because it gave Molly and I about six uninterrupted hours in the car to catch up. We used to meet for lunch once a week, but since she married and moved, we hadn’t been able to stay in regular contact.

After a while, Molly began to confess some honest aspects of marriage that she hadn’t anticipated. We started talking about fears, and I brought up the fear that my future partner (I wasn’t dating anyone at the time) would die. Molly immediately answered, “You can’t think about that. You can’t let yourself.”

Her conviction came from experience, but also from something her mom had once told her: “If you ever get married and something happens to them, you can’t fall apart. You have to keep it together to handle things and take care of your family.”

Although I don’t particularly feel like an adult and I’m told that I won’t ever feel that way, I am aware that part of maturity is the ability to deal with the situations, particularly the bad and sudden and complex ones, that arise. It requires adaptation and leadership. It involves eating less sugar and more greens and having less and less desire to stay up late or go out after work on Friday (even if it’s just to a restaurant). It involves facing violence and loss and disappointment without losing, or letting die, the spark of hope and kindness and joy inside you.

Another part of being an adult is being reliable. As a kid, you don’t always have a lot of food-on-the-table responsibility, but you have homework, studying, friends, sports/activities, and job responsibilities depending on age, time of year, and socio-economic status. When you get to adulthood, or independence, your responsibilities are different because your safety net and goals are different.

And when you have a spouse, perhaps also children, you are part of a team. You can’t collapse on your responsibilities or everyone in your nuclear family will suffer.

In the wake of Molly’s words, I thought of friends of friends whose spouses have committed suicide, been injured or killed, or grown very sick. I understood that being in love and having children are vastly different kinds of love and are also extremely intense. So to lose a person on your team, or for that person to be in tremendous pain, must be proportionally painful and disorienting.

Molly followed up her mother’s words by telling me that she can’t let herself think about anything happening to her husband. It upsets her to think about seriously, to imagine, and so she can’t let her mind go there. Emotion rose in her voice as she explained; even this much discussion was difficult for her.

Last year, as Tropical Storm (formerly Hurricane) Irma came through Macon, I found myself at home alone about ten miles from Tyler, who was also at home alone. He lives in a second floor apartment, and the house where I live has a basement. Thinking of tornados, I deemed my house to be the safer place to be, but I still wished I could be where he was. I had a dog to care for and it wasn’t safe to be on the roads, so I stayed put, but the ferocity of my desire to be where Tyler was surprised me.

I reached my hand out, swishing it through these waters.

For the first time I didn’t care about being in the logically safest place as much as I cared about being where he was. I would rather have been in his apartment with him, knowing he was safe or facing danger with him, than being safe at my house and not know every moment if he was okay.

I watched the radar until the power went out, then I forced myself to save my phone battery and his by not texting him constantly for updates. (I also didn’t want to be annoying.)

That week was lonely. Because of road conditions, I spent a couple days at home with only the dog, candles, and the overcast sky. I checked on and was checked on by my neighbors, but I had no other personal contact. I didn’t see Tyler for two days, and sitting across from him at the restaurant where we met up during his lunch break (my office didn’t regain power until later that day), I felt the charge of built-up stress shaking my limbs and voice. And I felt relieved. I wanted nothing more than to go to his apartment and lay down on his couch with him and sleep. To know he was safe. To feel safe wherever he was. To not be alone (and in the dark) anymore.

As I drive to work each morning, I glance at the interstate Tyler takes to work. When there are backups—and often when there aren’t—I pray for his safe passage to and from work. But even that I can’t think too much about. Last night as I waved goodbye to him from my driveway, I couldn’t let myself imagine his journey, safe or otherwise. I took an extra, long hug and smiled and did not think, did not think about his night drive or the construction zones in the morning or the lonely walk back to my own door.

I kept to Molly’s example and put my fears from my mind before they spun into a monster requiring sweat and blood and sleeplessness to slay. And then I put them from my mind again. And again. Until I finally fell asleep.