Thursday, August 30, 2012

Whims. Grace. Luck. Acceptance.

It began on a whim. August always makes me long for change. Summer isn't welcome anymore at my house. There are coughs and colds to keep us from the pool. Friends are traveling. Sister is busy with summer reading and band camp. Every morning, the boys pelt me with,

"Can we watch TV?"


"Do I get to go to school today?"


"Where is Daddy?"


"Can I have some yogurt with cereal on it?"


In writing, the words are neatly spaced and quiet. In person, all questions overlap each other in rapid fire succession. No matter how I dodge them, one always manages to graze me, causing me to lash out, growling at them to just give me a minute.

I always want something to change in August.

With the beginning of preschool (finally!) this week, I am now getting dressed everyday, which is new for 2012. It is my change in August so far. I will get up, get dressed, and leave the house everyday no matter how sad I am or how lonely I feel. There is life to be lived.

Back to my whim. My whim was school. Being one to detest school, I was delighted to finish college and never look back. Now I'm almost 40 and wondering what I want to be when I grow up. But I don't want to decide on a whim.

So much of my life has blown in and out with the changing seasons and a shrug of, "Why not? What else am I going to do?" I've fallen into opportunities by tripping over a little talent, a little more skill, and a lot of luck. Fall finds me dragging a Fender Rhodes into back alley night clubs, and by Summer, I'm arranging for the symphony and playing for a little crowd of 10,000.

There is no grace to what I accomplish. I stumble into success much like I run into walls or fall over trying to zip my boots.

This time, I want to plan. I have this desire to make goals and figure out a graceful way to reach them. Saving the whims for trips to the park or a mid morning doughnut date with my littles, I would so much like to reach 40 with a plan in place.

Or, if not a plan for graceful entry into my midlife, then I would like to reach 40 with the peace of accepting my midlife just the way it is. Maybe that is goal enough.

Monday, August 27, 2012

It won't because she was sweet

My Aunt May is dying. She is 94 years old and has been in a nursing home for a few years. She is the last of the Carter siblings for whom my oldest son is named. She is a fireball. She is strong. She is smart. And now, it is her time to go.

Over the past few years, I've experienced death in many different ways. My grandmother had Alzheimer's and experienced a very slow and difficult decline. She was the first family member or friend that I lost. I was sad but not destroyed.

My other grandmother, Honey, moved to California with my parents when she was around 90. I didn't get to see her much or talk to her in her last years. She was 97 when she died. She died in much the same way that her sister, my Aunt May, is going. She was just worn out of living. Again, I was sad - I lost a great champion in Honey. She believed that I was as close to perfect as God ever made, and I loved her dearly for her belief in me and the strength she taught me.

Next to go was my grandfather. He was one of my dearest friends. It was the first loss that sent me to the floor, knees buckled, tears streaming, and actual physical grief coming forth with no way for me to control it. He told me that he didn't want to go just days before he died. I didn't want him to go either. I was pissed off at God for a long time even though Granddaddy was 94 when he died. It wasn't exactly a surprise

Then, my daddy got sick. So very sick. Parkinson's and dementia took him slowly and cruelly. He died in February of 2011, and I felt relief. I felt relief for him and for my mother who was his primary care giver in spite of her ongoing battle with ovarian cancer. I missed my daddy for a long time before he died. I mourned his death, and I still miss him now, but again, I managed.

What came next was completely different. 364 days after my daddy died, my best friend, my soul sister, my person, she died. Gone. Left this world. Left her husband, her kids, her parents, her brother, and her friends. Some days I'm so angry. Most days I'm just sad. Often it feels like we are all just kind of standing still, holding our breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Susan is gone. What happens next?

What in the world are we all supposed to do now?

It's like that when someone young dies. You don't exactly make long term plans with your daddy who has a degenerative disease or with your 97 year old grandmother. But with your best friend of decades? You plan things. You plan trips. You plan things for your boys. You plan retirement. You dream together because you are peers. I can't imagine the plans that she had with her family.

What do you do with all of those plans?

I know I have to let it go. I have to send it down the stream.

It's just not that easy.

Kevin and I made a trip down to Georgia for him to meet my relatives there. They are awesome people, and I wanted him to spend a little time with them. His favorite story to tell from that trip is about meeting Aunt May. We got to talking about my grandmother, May's older sister, and her nickname, "Honey." Kevin asked Aunt May why we all called my grandmother "Honey," and Aunt May replied without a moment's hesitation,

"Well it won't because she was sweet."

I love that woman. Thank you, Aunt May, for all you did in helping raise my momma to be the woman she is today. I wish you peace and comfort.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The female commodity

Throughout history, a woman's body has been a commodity. Men have used women to buy, barter, and force their way into power.

It's not a new thing.

The Old Testament is full of women being traded for land or livestock. Fathers bartered with their daughters and sought out valuable deals to obtain wives for their sons.

Monarchies used marriages to create allies and gain strength in their kingdoms. Marriages needed to create sons because the son could take the throne, whereas the daughter was possession for trade. A negotiating tool.

Even in Jamestown, the first English settlement in America, a group of women from England were auctioned off as brides to the men who had settled there. For 150 pounds of tobacco, they bought themselves a new wife.

We didn't belong to ourselves for a very long time, ladies.

Now, the Republican party wants to use women's bodies to barter again. They are selling us out to try and gain votes. They are trading away ownership of something they don't own unless we give it to them.

Do you hear that part? We have to give it to them. Republican women, especially. I won't tell you how I think you should vote. That is up to you. What I will tell you is that if you are a woman, and you still want to be a Republican, then you have to start demanding more from them. You have to maintain ownership of yourself and insist that they quit using you as a commodity.

The economy is a driving force in this election. The economy should be about dollars and cents though, not about rights to the female body.

Y'all, it's not an abortion debate. It's not a contraception debate. It's about the fact that Republican men are using women's bodies to buy votes. It's insulting, it's wrong, and we have to make sure that it does not work. We cannot let them continue to pimp us out for their right wing smoke screen.

Terms like "forcible" and "legitimate" in front of the word rape have got to stop. Blaming women for being victims has got to stop. Impeding access to contraception has got to stop. And while we are at it, abstinence only sex education has got to stop. AND let's go ahead and start reforming the birth industry in this country, because I'm pretty tired of that woman as last priority business model too.

The choices a woman has to make regarding her body are so much more than abortion. We have to be free to choose what kind of birth control we will use. We have to be free to choose if, when, and how we will have children. We have to be free to choose the kind of prenatal, labor, and delivery care we will use, birthing those children. We have to be free to feed our children whenever, wherever, and however we see fit.

Perhaps above all else, we need to be free to be women. Free to be women who are not sexually abused and then attacked over and over again for it for the rest of our lives. It's time we were safe, strong, and respected in our own country.

We can do better than this, y'all. We can do much better.

Monday, August 20, 2012

In which I blog about blogging. Again. Sorry.

So. You want to start a blog. Or maybe you have already started a blog. Good for you. Everyone who wants to blog should absolutely do so.

I'm no expert. I have been blogging what is considered a "long time" now. That's funny to me, because I'm still pretty much just swimming in the same little pond with a handful of readers and no ambition to change that.


I have advice for you. You, the newbie. You, the brave soul looking to open yourself up to the internet and see what happens. I have some advice which I offer for free and which you may take or leave. It is what it is.

1. Determine why you want to blog before you start. That doesn't mean you have to have a business plan, an outline, or flow charts of all possible outcomes. It means that you should know if you want to be a storyteller, a memoirist, a reviewer, a tip giver, a fashionista, a cook, a crafter, a parent, or whatever else you might strike your fancy.

You can be more than one at a time. You can evolve from one to the other. You can add or subtract reasons as you go. But know when you start, what your heart's goal is.

Here's why. People want to know who they are investing their time and feelings with. If you are going to be a storyteller, then tell me stories. Don't tell me a tale of your life one day and then offer me a sponsored post about coupons the next day. I will feel betrayed and never come back. If you are going to be a cook, then give me wonderful recipes, and do tell me about your family and life and why you like to eat this. Then I am invested, but I knew from the start that you are going to teach me how to cook.

It's about the transparency. You will hear that a lot if you start going to conferences. Authentic voices. Honesty. No one likes to feel like they have been duped.

2. Determine who you are willing to let pay you for your work. Even the people who "just blog" and do so well deserve to be paid. We pay for television. We pay for music (or we should). We pay for the art on our walls. The stories we read also deserve to earn a living for their authors.

You can be paid a variety of ways in the blogging world. You can post ads. You can write sponsored posts. You can do giveaways. Or so I hear. Honestly, I don't really know how you get paid because it's not on my radar. I do know that you need to be careful about where you sign away your license though.

Here's why. Companies aren't paying you because you are a fabulous and creative writer. They are paying you because in doing so, they think they can sell more product. They are investing something in your blog because they believe there will be a return on their investment. There isn't anything wrong with that, but I'm not going to connect as deeply with a writer who sprinkles in links and advertisements as though they are just natural parts of the essay. In fact, I'm going to click away and not come back because I will feel used.

Freelance writing gigs exist. If you have the know how, then you can get them. If you don't, then hire an agent. But if you want for people to take you seriously as a writer, then don't let a product be the driving force behind your blog revenue (excluding sidebar ads, of course). Know your strengths. Not all writers are good business people. That's fine. If you want to have a beautifully written blog that earns a living for you, but you don't know how? Get help. Be patient, get help, and don't dilute your voice by becoming a brand ambassador. It will feel terrific at first to get attention from companies, but I guarantee you, making a connection with a real person and knowing that they care about you and love you? Feels a whole lot better than knowing that a company loves you. Because they don't. Not really.

3. Be alright with who you are online. You are okay. Maybe your blog is small. Maybe your blog is big. What matters is that you are getting the satisfaction of creativity or community or revenue that you want out of it.

You can have thousands of Twitter followers, but if you don't have ten who you could call up, on a real phone, and talk to when you needed them, then what's the point? Because even if you are blogging solely for business reasons, you have to have a network in order for your business to grow. So make friends. Make connections. But don't let the number be your driving force.

Here's why. If you focus only on the numbers and stats, then you will miss the value of the connections you have made. Be alright with your 19 blog hits. Connect with the 19 people who read your post. Be alright with someone else having 19,000 blog hits. They are obviously doing something to which people are drawn. Go there, see what it is. Enjoy it.

Give yourself the chance to enjoy the community instead of competing with it. It has been said frequently that there is room enough in the blogosphere for everyone. It's true. You just have to find a place to root. Then you can grow high enough to spread your branches.

There you have it. Stuff I think about while I'm cutting up fruit for the week. Or while I'm sewing. Or trying to sleep.

I'm okay. You're okay. We are all okay. Just be clear about who you are and what you want. Then go for it.

It's totally worth it.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Happy birthday, Daddy.

I'm sorry you weren't here to watch Colin eat almost an entire length of Dreamland sausage by himself tonight. He is so you reincarnated.

I love you, and I miss you.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Because they get it

I only met Susan one time. We were at the Type-A-Mom conference, and I had my baby with me. Susan got down on the floor with her and started to play. It was so cool.

"Ah," I say. "You must be @mamadweeb."

This is how is was this past weekend without Susan. I could not sit with her. I could not hold her hand. I could not laugh with her until we both cried.

But she was everywhere. Everywhere.

I remember walking into the Serenity Suite and finding Susan laying on the bed with her hands folded on her chest. She was sleeping, and I was thrilled that the Suite was being used so perfectly. I took out my phone to take a picture, and she opened one eye big just enough to give me the stink eye. The stink eye, and permission to go ahead and snap a picture.

"I remember this. It was right before she was to go speak on a panel. She needed to rest so badly. She laughed about that picture you took, Maggie. She told me about it."

I sat in the Serenity Suite and clutched my tissues as story after story as told from the other perspective. And I realized more and more all weekend long that she had told me every single bit of it.

It's not just that she wanted me to know because I couldn't be there with her that year. It is because every moment of her time at those conferences - no - every bit of human interaction at those conferences meant something to her. She loved people. She loving meeting you. She loved seeing your babies.

Thursday afternoon, Amy and I were in front of the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, a place where cancer patients can stay for free while receiving long term treatment. We were about to go in for a reception honoring the #morebirthdays campaign and also honoring Susan.

We stepped onto the sidewalk, and I felt the panic rise all the way from the tip of my toes. In pulses, it moved through my abdomen, calling up my recently finished lunch, made its way to my throat, closing it tightly, and finally tried to escape through the tears welling up in my eyes.

I stopped. Amy stopped. She waited on me. Calmly. Patiently. It didn't take that long. I called up the techniques I've been learning in therapy the past few months, and in few deep breaths, I could move again.

That was how it was at BlogHer without Susan. Without Susan, but with friends who understand.

Friday morning, the first panel I attended was Blogging for the Love of It. Bon was the moderator. She was one of the first bloggers I started reading in 2006 as per the advice of Susan. We love Bon, and Susan had the privilege of meeting her in D.C. one afternoon. Bon's posts were often a conversation topic for us, and Bon has been a tremendous support to me over the past year.

Walking towards the front of the room to hug Bon, I lost it.

Big, ugly, gasping, sobbing, tears. It came without warning and without being able to stop. I cried on her shoulder (great way for her to have to start her panel), and then excused myself to find some tissues.

With cocktail napkins in hand, and Sarah by my side, I began to pull it back together. Sitting in that session, I realized, this was going to be it. This weekend would be the weekend where I could cry freely because people would get it.

And so I did. I cried when I needed to or felt like it. Jean reminded me that it was okay. Kristen held my hand. Jess cried with me. Amy waited with kindness.

And they understood why I miss her like I do.

The tiles we painted in Susan's memory at the American Cancer Society.
They will be complied into a mosaic by Darryle Pollack, and hung at ACS in NYC or Atlanta.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

BlogHer really isn't that big

And so this happened at BlogHer.

I met Sarah.

Sarah has a fabulous parenting magazine. It doesn't contain one single illustrated recipe for how to make your food look like teddy bears or monsters so that your children can not only refuse to eat it, but also insult your visual artistry at the same time.

What it does contain is brilliant writing and beautiful photographs. Parent centered without being dumbed down and surrounded by ads for hair color and diapers. It's called Stealing Time, and you can subscribe for just $20. I already have.

Anyway, I met Sarah.

There were about 5000 people at BlogHer. Saturday night, nine of us went to dinner together. Sarah picked the spot, and we headed out - me, Amy, Bon, Kristen, Neil, Vicki (who I'm sorry I didn't get to meet because we were split into two tables), Jean, and another Sarah (who I might have mentioned that I met).

After dinner, most of us ended up at CheesburgHer together. Sarah and I were the only ones who had willingly donned paper bag hats. I could tell she was my kind of person. By the hat.

We had not sat at the same table at dinner, so I asked her my jumping off question for the weekend, "Where are you from?"

Sarah was from Portland.

I knew better than to follow up my jumping off question with, "Oh, do you know the one person I know in the very large city from which you come?" Because, no. They do not know that single person who does not blog, is not married, has no children, and plays guitar in a Pink Floyd cover band.

Instead, I was leading into asking her about things to do with kids in Portland because I desperately want to take my children there to see the West Coast and visit this one wonderful friend of mine. And because I'm awkward with conversation in a crowd, over loud music, and with someone I have predetermined to be far cooler than I could ever hope to be, I say,

"One of my very best friends was transferred from the Guitar Center in Raleigh to the one in Portland."

Which is essentially, what I had tried not to do in the first place. That one person I know game. I am so socially awkward. However.

Sarah has a friend in her writing group who works for the Guitar Center in Portland.

I cock my McDonald's bag hat head, raise my eyebrows, and say,

"And his name is Dave?"

Sarah lowers her eyebrows and says that it is.

We both sort of nod in some sort of acceptance that this is one of the more unlikely meetings among 5000 people in New York City for a blogging conference.

And it was.

I know about her writing group. I know there is another mama named Rebecca who also writes and is interested in natural parenting. I know about Dave's story (that one) that we both agreed was our favorite (finish that puppy, Dave).

I told her about our super fast weekend to Portland to see Dave and Crowded House (Dave was not playing with Crowded House, he just went with us). She told me that there were lots of things for kids to do in Portland.

Then, we took a picture together in our hats, and I messaged it to Dave. With no caption. Because what would you do if you got a picture on your phone featuring two of your friends who live on opposite ends of the country, and you have no idea why they would have met? Or why they are wearing McDonald's bags on their heads?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Next. Take two.

I am back.

The city did not swallow me whole. The conference did not eat my lunch. The women did not drain the life out of me.

Cliche. That was all just cliche.

I know what I need now.

I need to find the quiet space of this empty white box before I take in your Instagram pictures, before I throw in a few quips on Twitter, and before I snoop through Facebook. For this is where I find myself, and all other places are where I find you.

I need to find myself.

BlogHer was huge. I loved it that way. Sometimes, it is easier to find your space in a huge crowd than in a smaller crowd. The odds are more in your favor that you will find like minds.

The last BlogHer I attended was in San Francisco. There were about 800 people there. I had a six month old in tow. I was a mess in more ways than one. Private parties were apparently all the rage that year, and I had been so out of touch that I had been invited to almost nothing. I felt so lonely when everyone I knew got on that bus and went to a party at someone's house without me.

This year, I was also invited to almost nothing. The difference was, I didn't notice. There were so many people there and so many different things to do, I didn't notice. Either that, or I'm just older now, and I really have found my own feet, my own voice, and my own way in this community.

There is that.

In the sessions, I liked the fact that when the discussions turned to monetization, and they always did, I never heard anyone say that you shouldn't. That you were selling out. In fact, I don't know who these people are who say that. Personally, I don't think they exist.

What I did hear, mostly in my own head, was that you should do what you do in the way you like to do it. What I didn't hear and should have said more clearly when I did try to say it, was that if you want to make money at blogging, you have to work at making money. No one is going to read your blog, love it, and hand you some huge advertising deal. You have to sell yourself or find someone to sell you for you.

I'm not interested in that. I know how hard it is to get someone to pay you well for your artistic work. I have one art form for which I insist on being paid; I don't need another one.

I am interested in becoming a better writer. A writer who actually edits, takes notes daily, and crafts a post instead of pounding out some thoughts and hitting publish.

I am interested in sewing. I love it. I want to make things out of fabric. Which is a weird thing to just say, but it's true.

I am interested in music. Of course. I want to get up in that beautiful recording studio Kevin has been pouring his soul into for the past six years. I want to compose, sing, play, record, mix, and finish music.

The plan in my head was for this BlogHer to be my last hoorah. I really did think I was done with this space and needed to close up shop. It couldn't have turned out more differently.

Spending time with my tribe just reminded me that I love it here. I love this space. I love the people I have met because of this space. I love what this space provided for me and Susan. I love blogging. I blog for the love of it.

So that's what I'm doing here. I'm still just rambling on, but with more focus than I have had in awhile.

It feels alright to be back.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Chocolate and Cows

Around the corner from our house is a delicious and locally owned yogurt store. We used to frequent it at least once a week. The flavors were unique, they always had a vegan option, and we felt like we were supporting our neighborhood.

A couple of months ago, I stopped in at the local butcher to pick up dinner. The butcher is a couple of doors down from the yogurt shop. In the parking lot, in front of the yogurt shop, was a Nestle truck. It was unloading cases of yogurt mix.

I nearly cried.

The first thing I said when I walked back in the house was, "Well, we can't eat at Skinny Dip anymore."

Protests arose. The biggest was from Mallory, who raised the valid point of, "It's just yogurt. It's not like Nestle is really hurt from you not buying yogurt."

It's true. Nestle could care less if I buy their products. If they did care, they would have changed their ways decades ago since the Nestle boycott has been going on since the 70's. Nestle isn't hurting because of the boycott.

Which begs the question, why boycott then?

For me, it's simple. It's my money until I give it to someone else in exchange for goods, services, or the emotional satisfaction of charity. Once I have given someone else control of my money, I don't have any right to say what they should or should not do with it. I have chosen to let them have it, and it is theirs to use however they see fit.

That means, if I believe really strongly in something, like I do breastfeeding and the care of mothers and infants, then I won't give my money to a corporation who makes decisions that are detrimental to that cause. Actions that are repeated with the known outcome of death to babies and the cause of untold cases of failure to thrive and untold cases of undermined breastfeeding attempts - these are actions that I choose not to fund through purchasing products from Nestle.

It's true. The fact that I never buy another Nestle or Nestle family product doesn't matter to their bottom line. It will never change their actions. I know this.

It's about my conscience. It's about me making an active choice not to support such a corporation who does business around the globe without out any concern about the well being of the people. I choose not to support them, and I sleep better at night because of it.

It's also true that I have supported corporations who don't hold the same values that I do. I use UPS, and they have donated money to political candidates who make my skin crawl and my teeth itch. Their choice. I don't see that value difference as actively hurting other people.

And so we come to the chicken sandwich. The chicken sandwich my children love to eat. The chicken sandwich I love to eat. That perfect pickle and adorable cow.

There was a time that I simply disagreed with Chick-fil-a. I knew their position on marriage and their idea of a traditional family. I didn't agree, but I still purchased their tasty chicken and chugged their unlimited Diet Coke refills.

Things are different now, though. Bringing to light exactly where their money is being placed and the fact that the organizations receiving money that I willingly gave to Chick-fil-a are actively hurting people has changed my mind. It took all week, and watching streams of people thumbing their nose to the pain caused by the organizations funded by millions of Chick-fil-a dollars today, but I'm there. I'm to the point where I choose not to give them anymore of my money.

Besides, there are far better things we should be eating in the world besides chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. And when my children ask why we can't go to Chick-fil-a? It will give me the chance to actively show them how to stand up for what you believe and say it's not okay to discriminate against and hurt people.

It's not okay.