Friday, May 19, 2017

You Are Loved

I know two little girls who are burying their mother today.

Well, I don’t really know them and I didn’t really know their mother, either. She was in the same group of friends as me when we lived in the Upstate. We enjoyed one another’s company and chatted in that friendly, “how ya been?” kind of way.

She’d had cancer for some time. She’d been in and out of treatment and tests always waiting for it to reoccur. Then it did and this time there was no treatment.

Our friends have rallied around that family for a long time. They’ve cooked meals and cared for the girls and given spa days and date nights and dinner parties to show that family just how loved they are. Charlie and I have been absent for five years but I keep up with that crowd through Facebook. It’s been over a year since I last saw Joyce.

This morning I’m wondering about her girls. I know people will say, “thank God she isn’t sick anymore,” and I wonder if those girls will agree. I know people will say, “she loved you both,” and I wonder if they’ll believe it.

I wonder what I’d want people to say to Hollie at my funeral. Especially if I left her now, before she’s become a woman, before high school has tested her and some boy has broken her heart. I wonder what people should tell her when they know she won’t have her mom to help her get dressed for her wedding or get ready for a new baby.

I think I’d like for her to hear this:

I loved you before I even knew you were coming. I loved you because I loved your daddy and being his wife made me proud. Sharing you with him has been the greatest joy of my life. I loved you when you were helpless and needy and waking me up in the middle of the night. When you didn’t have the words to explain what you wanted and you tantrummed and screamed and misbehaved. There were moments when I got so angry with you that I had to walk away. It’s called justifiable rage and you’ve felt it, too. I walked away because I loved you. I loved you when you made silly jokes and when your laughter hit that spontaneous note, the one I imagined bursting into bubbles and fairies and dandelion seeds on the breeze. I loved you when you sang and danced along with whatever you were watching on TV. I loved you in costumes and pajamas and dressed up for the daddy-daughter dance. I loved you when you said you wanted to be a writer and an entrepreneur and when you asked if that would leave time for also being a rock star. I loved you playing cards and eating chicken nuggets at Beef O’Brady’s and riding in the front seat of Brandi on the way to school. For every minute of my life I’ve loved you and that love has changed me. It’s made me a better person. It’s made me want to be a better person. It’s made me want so many things. And I want to be here with you. Forever. But I can’t be. And that’s got to be okay. You’ve got to be okay. No amount of time with you would ever be enough. So the time I was granted, that has to be okay.

The most important things my Hollie needs to know I wouldn’t be around to teach her. I’d depend on the people in her life to remind her of them. Here they are so you’ll all know what I want her to hear every single day:
  1. You are loved.
  2. You are exactly who you’re supposed to be and you are wonderful.
  3. Be yourself. Always.
  4. Have ambition. Let it lead you, let it motivate you, but don’t let it consume you.
  5. Love wastefully. You’ll never run out and the hurt is always worth it.

When I think of those girls knowing these were the last few months they would have with Joyce, I imagine them snuggling with her and breathing her in. The way all of us moms hold our babies tight and breathe them in.

No amount of time is ever enough. But it’s what we get. I have resolved to be grateful for it and to make the most of it. That’s the only thing I can do for Joyce now and the lesson I’m so glad she taught me. 

Thank you, Joyce. Rest in peace, sweet lady. You will be missed.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Ambition and a visit to the South Carolina State House

Somewhere in my past, ambition became a dirty word. I kept it inside of me like a stain I tried to hide. It is the secret I pretend I do not harbor, despite its persistence and resilience within me. This week, however, I let it show.

My first trip to the South Carolina State House was on Equal Pay Day. A local advocacy group, the Women’s Resource and Empowerment Network (WREN) held their first annual summit and I attended. The conference centered around a study on women in the workforce that WREN had sponsored at the University of South Carolina’s Moore School of Business.

The three categories of findings were the gender pay gap, labor force participation, and the distribution of employment. The study found that a 22% pay gap persists in S.C. despite our women being, on average, more highly educated than our men. How can our ambition be so widely disregarded and our abilities be so undervalued?

Ambition manifests in action and my actions have been rather modest.

The snort of disapproval my doctorate has received, the dismissal of my fiction work as a hobby, the intentional misunderstanding of what it is my company does; I let these offenses slide. Then there are the specific phrases that hang on me like graffiti on a storefront. Phrases that remind me how difficult it is to be a writer, how inevitable it is that I’ll fail, how many businesses never make any money, and how na├»ve it is to still have dreams.

Phrases that are not my own insecurities, but the failures and doubts of others being projected upon me.

I stood in the State House and asked myself, “What right have I to be here? Am I doing good work? Can I do more? When will I?”

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Not Exactly Barefoot in the Park

We walked the 12 blocks to Central Park on Thursday morning. It was crazy cold.

On the list, visit 40 new places is one of the most challenging items. While it's easy enough to rack up restaurants, bars, and stores especially when traveling, I'm not really in this for the check list.

So from the NYC trip, I'm adding just Central Park as "new places." Hey, I've got a whole year to get 39 more. I also visited the Richard Rogers theatre and bought some Hamilton swag from the Hamilton store. We ate in three different restaurants and hit four bars. I even had one of those 2 a.m. skin-flap pizza wedges folded in half for eating.

I've been to NYC three times, twice in the last six months. I don't think I'll ever get enough of the city. It has its own pulse.

While I don't think I'd like to live there -- it's way crowded -- I do enjoy feeling at home there. Whether it's the East Village with my friend Carrie or Midtown with my sister, NYC and me are cool. Or I like to think we are.

On Friday, I ventured out to cold call on some potential customers. I took the wrong train from Midtown to Downtown, got turned around in Tribecca, and walked about 50 unnecessary blocks in the pouring rain. Another train, another wrong stop, another train, and walking in the wrong direction, two blocks past where I need to be, one street over. More rain.

All that misdirection and I ended up back at the hotel an hour behind schedule. I left for LaGuardia at 1:15 for a flight meant to board at 2:15. I raced through the TSA Pre-Check line and down the terminal, barely making the flight. Damp, cold, and hungry. By the time I landed in Charlotte, I felt like NYC had kicked my ass.

A good night's sleep later and I forgive the city for showing me who's boss. Respect, New York, respect. See ya again soon.

Think of me fondly

I saw Phantom of the Opera live on Broadway for the first time on my 40th birthday, March 29, 2017. This officially kicked off The 41st Year odyssey.

The show was everything I expected it to be and our seats were on the third row which was just perfectly close enough to believe they were performing just for us.

When Christine sang Think of Me, I was transported to my high school bedroom when I'd worn the CD out bellowing along with her. Masquerade was a bigger spectacle than I ever imagined when listening. And All I Ask of You decimated any wedding that ever had the audacity to use it.

Phantom is one of those New York City institutions, an iconic event that happens eight times a week. Yet every show is for an audience that has probably never seen it. So the actors have to keep it fresh every performance. And they did.

Making the experience even better was seeing it with my sister, Kristen, whom I tortured for years through the wall that separated our bedrooms. Going to the show was her idea, the whole NYC trip was her idea, and she spoiled me.

One of the list items is 40 live events. I'm down to 39 now. Thanks, Kris.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

the 40 challenge

I’m turning 40.

This is not a huge deal. GenX has been 40 for a while, I’m one of the younger of our generation. Some of us are turning 50 actually. And ouch. Just ouch.

But I mean to mark the date. To do that Over the Hill retrospect crisis thing where I take stock of where I am and demand of myself that I do better. Like now.

Except I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done so far. I met some goals, missed some others, lost some weight, gained it back, learned a lot, forgot some of it. I’ve marched and run and swam and competed and collaborated.

So I’m pretty good.

Marking 40 then has to become a year-long challenge. What will I do in the year I’m forty? And, of course, it’s got to have the number 40 in it. But when you start counting things you’d like to do, 40 turns out to be A LOT. 40 push-ups a day, run 40 miles a week, attend 40 live music events. Painful and expensive.

So 40 is going to be painful and expensive.

With some revisions forthcoming as I think up new challenges, here’s my list for the next 365 days of 40:
  • Swim 40 50s – going to do this on my actual birthday, that’s the workout. 40 X 50 meters.
  • Read 40 books – ambitious but not impossible, I read 60 last year, but I’m making this caveat: by female authors. Last year’s list was diverse, but this year I want all the wimmens.
  • Send 40 Thank You notes – not Jimmy Fallon-like to random shit, but to actual people and organizations who have helped me or are helping me to reach my goals.
  • Visit 40 new places – new restaurants, parks, and stores count.
  • Visit my Papa 40 times – I used to go see Nana weekly, it’s time to resurrect that habit.
  • Donate 40 articles of clothing – might surpass this with one closet, but purging is a good habit
  • 40 pages in Hollie’s scrapbook – we’ve fallen so far behind I think we’ve only gotten up to kindergarten, time to catch up
  • 40 live events – ball games, theatre, concerts, art shows; do something besides hold down the couch
  • 40 submissions – queries, agents, publishers, literary magazines, fiction or non-fiction
  • 40 blogs – between Life on Clemson Road, SCWA, and UnapologeticallyX, this should be a no-brainer.
  • 40 for fitness – While I want this to be a weight-loss goal, I’m going to put 40 for fitness and push through some different 40-centric programs like run 40 minutes 4 times a week. Run a 10-minute mile 4 times. Run 40 miles worth of races. Swim 40 minutes 4 times a week. Swim at least 1 meet in the 40-year age category. Take 40 runs with friends.

Going to buy a journal today to keep track of all this 40 awesomeness.
All the painful and expensive.

Happy Birthday to me. The view from the top of the hill is hellagood.



Monday, March 20, 2017

The Power of Audible Play Calling

When a quarterback changes the play at the line of scrimmage it’s called “Audibling.” Yes, that’s a legitimate verb-ing of the word “audible.”

Other ways to say it: He called an audible. He made adjustments. He changed the play.

The QB sees something he doesn’t like (or something he does like, maybe a favorable match up or a weakness in the defense) and he changes the play. The ability to adjust on the fly is one of those skills veteran quarterbacks acquire after thousands of snaps, thousands of defensive reads, thousands of hours watching tape. The best quarterbacks make the right play-changes: they recognize something, make adjustments, and turn the play into a big gain.

It’s their experience that justifies their audibling.

So how do I get away with it? I have just one child. I did not raise my little siblings, have nieces or nephews on whom to practice, nor a close friend who showed me the ropes. I’ve always been a rookie at this. What gives me the confidence to repeatedly call audibles where Hollie is concerned?

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a change junkie. I don’t want the same thing to happen every day. I don’t want the routine that is so ingrained that weeks or years pass and I don’t even notice they’ve slipped by. While Hollie has a schedule, I provide as much flexibility within that schedule as I can.

I like to call it Mickey Mouse Parenting, working off a checklist. As long as all of these things get done before we move forward, we’re okay; they don’t have to be done a specific order.

Maybe it comes from experience with software implementations which try to do as many things simultaneously as possible. Maybe it’s the milestone approach my PhD program took where things happened concurrently. I have a flexible approach because I know the best laid plans are only plans until you start to execute them. Then they’re life and life sometimes has rogue linebackers who sneak through the line and sack the quarterback. Life sometimes jumps up for the interception and turns your running backs into tacklers.

In every play, you have to be ready to shift from offense to defense. 

It helps if you call an audible. If you adjust to the defensive schema you see.

I have always called audibles in my relationship with Charlie. He’s used to it. Toward the end of the day I might call and let him know we’re doing happy hour this evening, so meet us at the bar. We used to make spontaneous road trips, extend weekends into Monday, and buy last-minute tickets for shows.

We once decided on a Friday night to go to the Daytona 500 on Sunday. We got in the car Saturday afternoon, met a buddy in Florence, drove through the night, and made it to the race three hours before green flag.

Admittedly, we’re less impulsive now. But our Friday driveway parties are part of my audible-calling nature, trivia night at the bar is an audible I keep in my back pocket, and I very rarely turn down an invitation to go anywhere unless it requires giving up my Sunday.

Where Hollie is concerned, audibles can mean instability. 

It can mean she comes home from school and I’m not here because I added an extra meeting downtown. Maybe after swim team we have to go to the grocery store or maybe we have to pick up a friend’s kid from school today. Audibles make teachers and administrators crazy because they have hundreds of children. But I have just one. And she can bend, flex, go-with-the-flow because I resisted that type-A parenting advice of scheduling your baby to keep your own sanity. A schedule for Hollie would have made me miserable.


Being able to audible means being able to adjust to current circumstances. Adjusting doesn’t mean accepting, it just means recognizing that your wide receiver is double-teamed which means your running back can get open. So change the play.