Jami did a wonderful job of tapping into what I was looking for before I even knew what that was! I highly recommend Jami for both her creative chops and for her deep knowledge of how websites work. I absolutely love my site! Thanks, Jami! [Read more…] about Jennifer Kogan
This blog post was originally written for and published on The Broad Collective, a now defunct local blog here in Athens, Georgia. I lifted it from there to republish it here because… it’s mine, all mine!
“I woke up this morning, literally at the Holiday Inn here in downtown Athens, we went out last night to Last Resort and then walked down to Go Bar and listened to music. I went back to the hotel at 1am and woke up this morning thinking, “This is the biggest mistake I’ve ever made. Why would you open up a bar?” and then as soon as I opened my computer, there’s a google alert to a Wikipedia page about Church and I thought, “Oh. Well, I should just do it!”
I first met Grant Henry in the summer of 2010 in Atlanta.
I was a struggling writer, lapping up every little bit of my unofficial mentorship with Grant’s best friend, writer Hollis Gillespie. Back when Hollis’ writing school, Shocking Real Life Writing Academy, was in Castleberry Hills, I came to
fan girl support her at an open house event she was hosting during the Castleberry Hill Art Stroll. I ended up tagging along with her after the evening was winding down to the Elliot Street Pub.
It had been raining, so the stroll was more or less a bust and about fifteen minutes after arriving, long enough for us to order drinks, Hollis pulled an old-lady and decided to call it a night. So I was left there with Grant and these two really nice gay guys that I can’t remember much about. There was a rag-tag group of circus performers that would later come to be known as The Imperial Opa Circus that was set to do a performance during the stroll, but when their show was rained out, they negotiated with the owner of the bar for some free beers in exchange for an impromptu performance in front of the bar, right there on the dead end street.
As much of a technofile as I am, I am incapable figuring out how to get the dark, shitty cell phone video off of my four-year old Facebook feed. At the beginning of the video, you can hear Grant ask me something to which I reply, “I have no idea, but he’s got a fanny pack, so I’m on board.” The performers gathered around each other and created a human pyramid. After that, there was a fire show and a guy that juggled metal buckets full of nuts and bolts. That night, Grant gave me a ride back to my car a couple of blocks away on the back of his Sister Louisa art scooter. It was . . . the best night of my twenties, easy.
That summer in Atlanta was the beginning of a lot of change for me – I had no idea at the time, but within a year, I would move to Athens and six months after that, Colin proposed to me. When I look back on it now, that summer in Atlanta was the most beautiful, poetic send-off from the city that I had loved so much for so many years. When change comes, it sneaks up on your silently and swiftly.
Shortly after we met, Grant opened his bar in the Old Fourth Ward named — deep breath — Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium, or Church, for short. It stuck out like a sore thumb on a city block that was only just beginning to breathe again after years of being forgotten. But it was popular. Celebrities stop in all the time to challenge Grant to a game of ping pong or purchase art from Church’s walls.
This man is incredibly lucky. Or smart. Or he sold his soul to the devil. Or he’s secretly the second coming of Christ. Or . . . he’s just Grant. With a deeply religious upbringing, he was the quintessential people pleaser in his youth, abiding by whatever he was told by his teachers or parents or the church. He was never raised to do anything authentic. Whatever they gave him, he played it. He lived that way for thirty years fearful that, to live authentically would mean he would have to detach himself from the love his family.
Grant ended up in seminary and when prompted to declare that only through Jesus Christ, salvation is possible, he had to leave seminary.
“I could say that salvation might be possible through Jesus Christ, but I know people from different religions . . . Pushing organized religion out of my life just really broke my heart.”
This is when Grant’s alterego, Sister Louisa, was born. A sort of art therapy for Grant’s broken heart, thrift store paint-by-numbers and velvets from decades ago were given new life sharing the testaments to Sister Louisa’s inclusive brand of faith.
Sister Louisa was a nun in a convent near Baton Rouge, Louisiana that fell in love with the convent’s janitor,“Luscious” Lamar Thibideau, and left the convent in disgrace and took to her art. Luscious digs up old paintings from the garbage and Sister Louisa transforms these castaways into art.
The manifestation the Grant went through in this period of his life was the beginning of living theFuck Fear philosophy.
“I lived it – I was in hell. I’m not going back.”
Meeting Grant in 2010, at the cusp of great change in my life, of finally declaring to my old life that I was going to Fuck Fear, I am so intensely fond of Grant. He showed up at just the right time in my life . . . I was ready to receive his gospel.
Grant had been coming to visit Athens along with his friend, Steven (of King of Pops fame), tagging along while Steven delivered those delicious pops to town. On one trek, Grant and Steven jumped into his Rolls Royce, aptly named, The Hot Buttered Rolls, and literally headed down the Atlanta highwaaaay with a cooler big enough to put a body inside in the backseat, loaded down with pops.
After dropping off the goods, Steven and Grant went to The National for lunch and were stopped by two sweet old ladies for some friendly southern pleasantries. “Who are y’all?” one of the ladies asked. Grant replied, “Oh, we don’t live here. We’re from Atlanta.” After some more prodding, and some introductions, one of the women declared, “Oh! Are you from Church in Atlanta? My daughter lives in Atlanta! Do you know her?” And that’s the story of how Grant met his friend Margaret’s mom, Mayor Nancy Denson.
The rest of that day, the locals were all prodding him asking, “Who are you?” and upon realizing just who this bespectacled, fuzzy faced, Happiest Man Alive really was, declared over and over, “We love church! Are you opening a church in Athens?” At the World Famous . . . then Manhattan . . . then Little Kings. So Grant said, “Fuck it, let’s open a church in Athens!”
He drove around Athens with Steven scouting out locations and ended up at Dynamite trying to buy a large velvet painting of a Chihuahua behind the counter for his daughter who was just moving back to the States after living in Mexico. It wasn’t for sale. “I don’t see a price, but I don’t care. I want it.” The clerk said, “Do you collect velvets?” So Grant pulls out his phone to show the clerk pictures from Atlanta’s Church, and the clerk declared, “That’s Church!” And Grant grins from ear to ear, “That’s my bar.” Turns out, a friend of the clerk’s had a vacant bar space down on Clayton Street and walking out of the store without the Chihuahua painting, Grant dialed the number of the friend who met him downtown minutes later and that same day, walked into what is now Church Athens.
If you had told Grant a year ago that he’d be days away from opening a bar in Athens, Georgia, he would have laughed his infectious laugh at you, but that’s the funny thing about change . . . swiftly and silently . . .
So what can you expect from Church Athens?
If you’re familiar with Church in Atlanta, you won’t be surprised by much, but for those of you that have never had this religious experience, you’re in for a treat. The walls are covered in art – some will make you laugh, some will make you gasp – and there’s going to be a special bit of art spinning from the ceiling, a female mannequin, dressed as a priest complete with pasties on her exposed breasts and a strap on . . . yes, like . . . a dildo. Vintage furniture and on the way to the VIP-lounge style Boom Boom Room, a coat rack full of choir robes and wigs. And the best damn sound system in Athens, including a microphone suspended from the ceiling for making announcements.
Behind the bar, a 40″ tall velvet of Adam & Eve will be flanked on either side by Jesus and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Elvis and Michael Jackson. And in the future, Grant plans to make use of that wasted space above the bar and install a roof top patio.
For sustenance, you’ll be able to nom on Hebrew National hot dogs, mac & cheese, meat-free chili and coleslaw and of course, Ruffles and onion dip. There will always be free goldfish on the bar. Expect the Spiritual Sangria and perhaps even a slushy version of the Spiritual Sangria.
The bar still retains that gritty, dive-bar feeling but Grant has really dropped serious change where it counts. He’s bringing in some of his staff from Atlanta to work behind the bar including Jon McRae, General Manager.
According to this beautiful lady, the bar will finally be opening it’s doors this Friday night at 4pm after doing a family and friends soft opening on Thursday.. Regular hours will be Monday-Saturday from 4pm-2am.
I don’t know about you, but I plan to be there on opening night to toast my friend, the Happiest Man Alive.
I didn’t always think I was such an introvert… But since working for myself, freelancing sans bra on the couch most days, I have come to CHERISH the silence of solo work. And my introverted ways have come bubbling to the surface.
One way my introversion manifests is in never answering the phone. I used to think this was solely a control thing for me — but I think it’s more than that.
I had an exchange with a potential client this weekend for a project sounded like a LOT of fun — something totally different than what I typically work on. But I had to turn the work down because he was not respecting my boundaries. After setting an appointment for Tuesday morning, he left me a voicemail and then emailed me the following day and ALL CAPS REQUESTED that I CALL HIM on a Friday afternoon without giving any sort of reason. I emailed him to tell him that I would call him on Tuesday morning at our scheduled time. Then he called again this morning at 9am to let me know that he had some things come up and wouldn’t be able to make our appointment and, could I make time for him today instead.
I… I had barely poured my first cup of coffee and he’s asking me — before we have even spoken — to rearrange my day because his schedule has changed…?
No. The answer is no.
It’s timely because I just spoke last week on Brown Bag Business Chat about boundaries — why it’s important to have them and why it’s even more important to maintain them.
Watch it here (it’s 30 minutes, seriously, you’ve got time):
And seriously, check out that still frame. Thanks YouTube.
So… Here are ten reasons why I am not answering my phone:
- I am actively working on another client’s work right meow
- I am taking some necessary downtime after having spent hours, perhaps, deep in some complicated code
- I think I probably need to poop soon
- My ringer is off
- I’m actually talking to/spending time with/engaging my child, husband, friend, client, self.
- I don’t have your number programmed into my phone, so I don’t know who you are
- I have your number programmed into my phone and, since I know who you are, I’m intentionally not answering
- I’m defining my own boundaries around our directly-connecting phone relationship
- I know you’re going to email me in a minute anyway and, when you email requests or questions, I can keep track of them better and provide you better service
- I don’t want to talk to you right now — this doesn’t mean I never want to, just not right now
It was so much easier to teach my son about gratitude when I was extremely poor. It was a hard, but teachable moment having him watch me put groceries back on the shelf or rifle through trash bags full of donated clothing from friends. Those moments of deeply rooted gratitude for the small things we did have are hard to find now that we’re no longer living in poverty.
Part of the issue with ingratitude and entitlement with my son lies squarely within the margins of his development — he’s 11 1/2… When I tell my friends that he’s being ungrateful, I get a lot of pats on the back and, “Brace yourself,” comments because we are not, in fact, having a unique experience. But I’m seeing more and more that because I am ABLE to give him more, I do. And because he gets more, he’s growing up in a world where he thinks this “more” is baseline.
I have carefully constructed a career path that not only brings me joy but also affords me the opportunity to be available to my son. I drive him to school, pick him up from school, attend most practices (his stepfather and I alternate duty there) and go to all his games… It’s important to ME to be present and available to him and to demonstrate to him that he is a priority in my life over work and friends and really, pretty much everything. And by just BEING there, he’s starting to act like I’m *supposed* to do these things for him… Like, not having to ride the bus is a right, not a privilege.
My son got a rude awakening this morning when he, in all seriousness, declared from his bathroom after several attempts to get a response from him that he was pleading the fifth.
Then, when my look of shock and disbelief surprised him, he scowled his little prepubescent brow at me and declared that it was his CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT to not answer me.
So, the morning went downhill after that (surprise) and I lectured him about how this house is not a court of law and he doesn’t get to plead the fifth.
I know I can’t get all THAT angry at his mouthy, sarcastic back talking — it’s kind of a cornerstone of who I am. But I need to figure out a way to help him read the room because that shit was NOT funny this morning. Right now, it’s a little funny, but at 7:15 this morning, I was NOT laughing.
And honestly, I’m looking around at my community and I’m like, “Fuck, man. This is kind of your fault, too!” We live in such an entitled culture — people cutting in the carpool line (oh my gahhhhhhhd I could write about this for WEEKS), people walking past garbage on the street and not picking it up, people dripping their coffee on the counter when they’re putting their cream in it and not just wiping it up themselves with a damn napkin! Yesterday, I watched an able-bodied, well-dressed woman reach for a bag of chips off the shelf at the grocery store, knock down another bag and look at it, look up at me looking at her (with, no lie, probably a stank face because resting bitch face is real life) and then spin on her high heels and walk away, leaving the stray bag of chips in the middle of the aisle like snack roadkill. I noisily picked it up for her and put it back on the shelf, but she never looked back and — I’m being real here — I don’t think she really even was AWARE that I was trying to make a big deal out of her bullshit.
On the ride home from driving him to school this morning (which may be off the table from here on out), I was riding in the left lane and the guy next to me in the right lane was in SUCH a damned hurry that he had to keep tapping on his brakes to not ram into the guy in front of him. We were all coasting at about 50mph in a 40mph zone, so it was just kind of like, “Hey guy… Chill the fuck out.”
After Atlanta Highway split, the impatient brake tapper was finally able to break free from the confines of traffic and he sped off, I’m guessing at upwards of 65mph at least. A few minutes later, as I was approaching the light where I turn to go to my neighborhood, there’s the speedster, approaching the red light and he is traveling in the right hand lane and there’s a car ahead of him, already stopped at the light. There is no car immediately to his left in the next lane, so he just sort of slides over into that lane, no blinker, cutting off the person that was approaching the light in the left hand lane… ON HIS PHONE.
And I wanted to park my car and go SCREAM at him about how fucking entitled he was driving.
I guess the hardest part about teaching entitlement and gratitude is that we have to, as parents, embody it. That’s how you teach it — you can’t just yell gratitude into a kid. (I need to hear that one again, “Jami, you can’t just yell gratitude into a kid.”) There’s no way for us to go back to being so insanely poor to teach him gratitude. It’s up to me to try to frame my position around the things we have and the places we get to go and the things we can do from a place of gratitude that actually resonates as true emotion.
I can’t fake gratitude. I know that I’m grateful for what we’ve got, but I need to work harder to show him that I’m grateful.
My son came home from church camp a few years ago, chomping at the bit to teach me how to play this AMAZING game he learned. I was all set to hear about some kind of crazy camp game where you stick playing cards to your forehead and have to carry a balloon between your legs, relay race style. I was pleasantly surprised when he told me it was chess.
Harrison has been a gifted student for as long as he’s been in school, but one area where he struggles is in focus and thinking things through. So I was very pleased to find out he had an interest in chess. Our first game, he beat me in like six moves. I guess, chess ain’t my game. He was patient as he taught me and would raise en eyebrow and, “Ah, ah, ah,” at me when I tried to move a piece incorrectly. He’s a good teacher, but I’m still a crappy chess player.
I found out about Chess + Pizza on Facebook. I don’t remember who, but someone shared a status update from Lemeul LaRoche, most people call him Life, about chess and free pizza at Little Italy. I asked Harrison if he wanted to give it a try and he was aooga-eye-balling at me as soon as I got out, “Chess and piz—.”
Sidebar: You can get a 10 year old boy to do most anything if you bribe him with candy and/or pizza.
Harrison and I arrived, both a bit nervous about what to expect, but as soon as we made our way down the dark length of Little Italy to the slightly-glowing-green back room, we were greeted by Life and encouraged to sign in and find a partner to play with. I totally chickened out and didn’t play, but Harrison sauntered up to the rows of tables and sat down after another little boy invited him with, “Would you like to play?” and extending his right hand out for a shake. My son reached up, shook his hand gingerly, and the other boy replied, “Good luck.”
He lost that game but before he could get bent out of shape and let his spirit of competition be overridden by a poor sportsman’s attitude, the other boy extended his right hand again and cooly said, “Good game.” He got up from the table, walked over to a piece of paper on the table in the corner and put a tick mark next to his name on the looseleaf scorecard.
The people at Chess + Pizza are as varied in age as they are in ethnicity. It’s not unusual to see a child in the single digits playing against someone who is old enough to be a parent. There are people from all different kinds of economic backgrounds and representatives from CCSD schools and private schools. There is a small degree of trash talking, but all in good fun. Mostly, people are either furrowed brow, hand on their chins, contemplating their next move or smiling and laughing.
And then the pizza comes, hot pans with edges overflowing with mammoth slices of pie. Within minutes, everyone has a slice and is back at their table playing chess with one hand and trying to keep grease from dripping on their boards and pieces. Parents are floating around the room, assisting with extra napkins while Broderick Flanigan, Life’s Right Hand Man, dons the plastic gloves and passes out pieces.
Think Before You Move is the motto around here and it’s a lesson that can be applied both at the board and in real life. If you want to accomplish something, most of the time, you can’t just run a straight beeline towards your goal. You have to plot and plan and make moves that affect moves that affect moves. And each time you make a decision, you’ve got the ability to completely change the trajectory of your outcome.
From the CCC website:
Our mission is to empower at-risk youth in the areas of academic achievement, community engagement, and critical thinking using chess as a learning tool.
Our motto, Think before you Move, encourages students to evaluate their circumstances and plan steps to overcome them. We use chess as a model to enhance critical thinking skills and creative expression as an instrument for empowering youth.
The point of Chess + Pizza is to enjoy some healthy competition, sure . . . To enjoy some time with people you may not have met before . . . To improve your chess game.
But it’s bigger than that.
And it’s bigger than just a once a month gathering at Little Italy. Life holds Open Chess Play on Mondays from 4:00-5:30 at the Library.
And it’s bigger than just kids getting together to play Ches . . . There’s an entire conference geared to encouraging a wider spectrum of young people to think before they move. The Chess & Community Conference was established in 2013 as a day-long event that boasts a large scale chess tournament, scholarship awards and inspiring local and regional speakers. The next Chess & Community Conference is January 10th and the keynote speaker is Fenwick Broyard, Executive Director at the Community Connection of Northeast Georgia.
I know, just in our family, Harrison’s involvement in the programs built by Life have had a direct impact on the trajectory of his life. He’s more confident, values his thinking skills, has made friends, improved his chess game and has a sense of his own community separate from school and our neighborhood. Anytime Harrison moves before he thinks, we use chess as a metaphor and he instantly makes a connection with the value of thinking before moving . . . Thinking before speaking.
I believe in what Life is doing . . . For me, it’s more than just supporting a community program. I really do believe that, if Life doesn’t succeed in changing the world, he will — he is — succeeding in changing Athens.
Photos by Mercedes Bleth
It wasn’t very long ago that I came home and the electricity in my apartment had been turned off because I was so far behind on the payments, only about six years ago. As a single mother, times were always tough, money was always tight… But I fell into a really weird pocket of poverty — at the time, I made $40 too much to qualify for any state assistance.
I fought so hard in court to get the child support that my son deserved and it came back to bite me in the butt because I was earning too much money.
And, let’s be real… My annual income that year (2008) was just over $10,000 for the year. I was in school full time, working part time and living beyond paycheck to paycheck. My best friend Nancy, one time, offered to “Dave Ramsey” my budget. She was certain she could find some wasted money in my spending. But at the end of all her calculations, I was -$12/month. Whomp whomp.
I recall this period in my life in spurts — there are large pockets of time missing. I guess it was my way of blocking out the pain and shame associated with being so very poor and that, no matter what I did, I could never get a leg up. There was always something — a doctor’s bill, a broken down car, an illness that prevented me from working which left me with a short check, an attorney’s fee for the ongoing battles in court with my exhusband, $10 for a field trip at school or a request to bring food to a party at school…
I was reminded of these hards times recently on a trip to Target with my son.
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, in therapy mostly, on my time from about 26-28 years old when I was at the lowest spot of my journey as a single mother, just before my Saturn Return.
One of the things I realized today in session is that I’m really struggling with how I identify myself now, in this current space, separate from my identity as a single mother, or really, a mother in general.
I looked at my life this week and realized that my life revolves around my son. My work day doesn’t start until after I’ve gotten him to school and it only runs until it’s time to pick him up from school. I don’t have a lot of time for self-care, something I’m becoming increasingly aware of as a need and not just a want. I found myself this week becoming resentful because my husband doesn’t have to do any of the shuttling and, after some introspection, it’s not because he’s DONE anything or that he’s shirking his duties. Quite the opposite, he’s really super dedicated to our son.
What it boils down to is that he’s not available because his schedule is work has been set a certain way. In elementary school, his schedule afforded us the opportunity to really share the duties of parent responsibility — we alternated days on who had to get the boy up and off to school. But now, in middle school, he goes to school an hour later and my husband is already at work and well into his stride by the time we’re heading out the door to get to middle school. My husband hasn’t changed — I haven’t changed — but our circumstances have changed.
Adjusting to these new circumstances has me kicking and screaming (who knew that I didn’t like change?!) because my position in this equation is changing. But it’s so unnecessary.
I’ve chosen a career path that affords me the opportunity to create my own schedule, around my life and our family’s plans. I’ve crafted a professional life that should support the flexibility that this transition is requiring.
So why am I still over here kicking and screaming?
It’s because I feel like I’m turning into a soccer mom and I do not like soccer moms.
Let me rephrase that. I don’t dislike soccer moms. I dislike that association I have with what they represent to me. For nearly ten years, as a single mother, I struggled… I didn’t have a community of peers in my real, day to day life. I didn’t have anyone I could relate to — my friends were either unmarried and childless or happily married and had children. There was no one else like me and it caused me to feel… otherly.
There was a lot of isolation in the grit and grind of single motherhood. The capacity to open up and learn about someone else and create and cultivate friendships was so hard because I was SO tired and the logistics of connecting with other single moms when neither of us had a partner to lean on — we couldn’t afford babysitters.
And there was also the judgment from the soccer mom types — whether it was implied or overt — that I was otherly. “Can you commit to volunteering?” was always met with a no because I didn’t have time, couldn’t afford to take off from work and often didn’t have money to contribute to teacher gifts, cupcakes on birthdays, etc.
And at the root of my dislike for the soccer mom types was jealously.
This is taking a lot for me to unravel because I am really not a jealous person, but I was so very jealous of the moms I knew and my perception of their lives — especially those who didn’t work outside of the home. I wanted an opportunity to volunteer, to participate in my kid’s school life, to go to all the practices and be engaged and to be able meet him off the bus after school.
I was angry that my life was hard.
I wanted to have a partner to talk to at night, share my day with, hold and be held… And instead, I was putting my kid to bed and left with the darkness and the stillness of night.
And now, I’m on the other side of this… I’m no longer the single mom. I’ve crafted a life of flexibility that gives me the freedom to drive my son to school and pick him up from school — because this is important to me. I volunteer at school, I want to go to PTA meetings, I want to be on a first name basis with all of his teachers.
With the exception of the minivan with the stick figure family stickers lined up on the rear window, I am a soccer mom. And it makes me feel so conflicted — how can I be irritated with the soccer moms when I am over here, being a fucking soccer mom?
And the crux of my issues, as of late, become clear: how to define myself and my role in this new, beautiful, positive well-supported space? I spent so long scrapping and fighting and trying so hard just to make those damn ends meet — I was so heavily armoured against the world… And now, the battle is over. I’m on a great team – my husband is my best friend. We have a great life… And I’m over here, wearing armour still… Clanking around in it and wondering where the noise is coming from…
As I peel back the unaddressed layers and layers of trauma, I’m sure I’ll rediscover lots of things like this… Old ways of thinking that I’m white-knuckle-clinging to out of habit and not out of current need… It’s tough. But, damn, I just feel really grateful to be on this side of it…
Maybe being a soccer mom isn’t all that bad after all… I certainly won’t be driving a minivan any time soon and if you ever see stick figure family stickers on my rear window, you have my permission to smash that window in, okay? That’s not me… But I’m hoping this empathy I have, from the experience on both sides, will help me be a better soccer mom than the ones I ran into when my kid was really young.
But I don’t know what to say. I keep reverting back to, “This can’t be happening… This can’t be real…” and that just makes me angrier — at my country, at myself…
Each morning, for the past week, I have sleepily rolled over upon waking and grabbed my cell phone. But instead of going to Facebook first… Instead of drowsily playing a game of Candy Crush, I have been visiting Twitter and it has rattled me every morning.
Why is this happening? What is the solution? Even if we can stop all the chaos in Ferguson, that doesn’t mean anything is resolved.
I’ve been following Wesley Lowery on Twitter, specifically.
His live-tweet style updating of his moment-to-moment in Ferguson is paralyzing. It strikes so much fear in my heart and in my gut.
Entire neighborhood encased with barriers. No way out without driving through someone’s lawn pic.twitter.com/UMU1oZbChe
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 19, 2014
What if there were armoured vehicles in my streets and concrete barricades blocking the entrance to my neighborhood?
I don’t even want to ask myself the question, “Why hasn’t this ever happened to me?” because I know the answer… And it makes me so damn angry. An old college friend, Shana Pennywell, mentioned she would be writing something about Ferguson this week. I pinged her on Facebook because I wanted to read it. Shana is also married to one of my “big brothers” from my youth… Styron, her husband, played football with my brother and as a young teenager, I felt well-protected by my brother as well as these adopted brothers that were his friends. Shana and I went to Kennesaw State University around the same time and I didn’t have a chance to get really close to her before my life took a turn and I left the church and college in the same year. But because of our connection through her husband, we have been able to maintain one of those beautiful, Facebook-only friendships where we share in each other’s joys and frustrations even though we live in different cities and haven’t physically laid eyes on each other in probably more than ten years.
I have been particular in tune to her posts in recent years because she and Styron had a daughter, Emerson, a few years back. Emerson is beautiful and, even though I have never physically set eyes upon her, reading Shana’s posts about her wild and precocious nature have made it seem like I’ve had a connection with this little girl. I’ve watched her grow up. Shana wrote on her Facebook late last night:
Honestly, it is a daily fight and decision to give grace rather than give a hard side eye to people at school, church, playground, grocery stores, banks, department stores, restaurants – wondering if my child was victimized or God forbid killed because of her blackness would the same people who to often gush over her, remarking about how sweet, smart, beautiful, kind, funny she is, would they care much less be outraged by her fate?
Sadly, Ferguson is a bleak reminder that the more likely reaction to such an event would be tacit endorsement through silence or hushed toned conversations about a picture flashed by media and a victim shaming counter narrative aimed to sully everything about my child’s right to exist – so people would not carry the sadness and shame of what happened. Moreover that my child would no longer have to be thought of as a victim. Trayvon Martin deserved to die because he was wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch hoodie. Renisha McBride deserved to die because she was drunk. Eric Garner deserved to die because he was selling loose cigarettes.
I am struggling a with the belief that those very same people will choose believe she sought her own fate. That a counterattack narrative authored by unnamed faces – who never talked to Emerson, touched her, or hugged her- will become “truth”. I wonder if those same people’s silence is an endorsement of the greater proposition that black lives hold such little value that the loss of one simply deserves an explanation rather than justice.
I have felt a sour sting in my stomach for the last week, but reading Shana’s words… relating them to Emerson directly… All I could tell her was that it rattled me.
I still don’t know what to do. I’m reading articles online and sharing them with my circles… I’m having a hard time trying to sort out how much of this I talk with my son about, so we’ve just barely skated around the topics.
Mostly, I feel powerless. And I recognize that feeling this was is ridiculous… As a white, middle class woman that has never really experienced any kind of stripping of my own personal power, it’s audacious for me to feel this way. But I can only articulate what I feel as I feel it. I cannot fathom what it feels like to be a person of color in Ferguson, MO right now. I just can’t even begin to wrap my brain around it.
What is real – This country has eroded many former gains in the civil rights movement to the point that we are the living embodiment of Mississippi Burning. Biblically, fires represents purification of the soul akin to the process of refining gold. If the soul of this country is on the precipice of utter ruin, then let it be refined.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t endorse the violence, but I empathize with the rage. It is a generational wariness of being sick and tired of being sick and tired. But the same holds true “You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.” Malcolm X
This American story is being written every second of every day. Silence is no longer an option. Silence allows someone else to write the story.
— Question Bridge (@QuestionBridge) August 12, 2014
For whatever reason, I have yet to attend a WordCamp. I’m kicking myself for taking so long — folding in on myself, indulging my introverted ways. A month ago, WordCamp Birmingham pinged on my radar and when I looked, the tickets were only $20 and included a tshirt, lunch and a snack.
Sidebar: the snack part made me giggle… I envisioned us breaking between sessions to gather together for circle time and a grown up walking around and placing five animal crackers on our napkin in front of us on the floor.
I had about a month to get my shit together and had not budgeted for the trip. So I had to figure out how to do it super cheap.
I knew exactly how far Birmingham was from home because my husband’s family is from Birmingham. In the last year and a half, we’ve travelled there as a family twice. Once you get through the mad house of Atlanta traffic, it’s such an easy drive — straight shot west on Interstate 20. It takes about one tank of gas to make the trip.
So the final cog in this machine was lodging. I looked at hotels (ranging for $85-120 on average per night) and even checked out AirBNB.com (Booking a place for just me was out of my budget and I’m just not ready to stay in a room in someone’s home while they’re there, sorry. No can do!) So I sent out a ping on Facebook to see if somehow I had missed that one of my friends was living in Birmingham and would perhaps have a couch for me to crash on (I’m so short, most couches are like twin beds)… But that was a dead end. So then I went the family route — messaging my husband’s cousin and his wife to see if I could crash on their couch. They came back to me with something even BETTER, and it’s kind of hilarious to boot.
Joey and Ashleigh (the cousins) have some neighbors that travel a lot and were going to be out of town this weekend and offered their entire house to me.
I didn’t even realize this was a thing that strangers would do, but it was a really big sign to me that I needed to go now… The beautiful thing was that these people (who I still don’t know their names, ha!) opened their home to a stranger in need.
And it was a cute little place! I had a comfortable bed and a nice, big shower and a comfortable recliner to sit in. And it was only 15 minutes from where WordCamp was going to be. The best part? Free! Well, almost. I had Ashleigh buy them a $30 gift certificate to a local mexican restaurant that she knew they frequented for dinner on me when they returned to their home.
So far, my expenses were $20 for the WordCamp ticket, $35 for a tank of gas and $30 for a gift certificate for my kind hosts.
Once I got to WordCamp, my introvert inside crept up and tried to sabotage me here and there. Sometimes she won, other times, she was squished under my thumb as I introduced myself to strangers. I plan to write about the actual sessions later this week, but the highlights, for me anyway, were the session on A/B testing with Bill Robbins and the session on Accessibility with Nancy Thanki.
We actually ended up with two “snack certificates” that we could use at the Harbert Center’s concessions and they had various breakfast pastries and sodas and chips and candy. We had all the free coffee we could consume, which was hilarious as I consider how many of my colleagues have “Powered by WordPress and Coffee” in the footer of their sites. WordCamp organizers setup deals with a handful of local restaurants to accept a $10 voucher for lunch and we ended up at a little Greek/Mediterranean place that felt like it would have been in NYC instead of Birmingham and it was BANGING. So delicious.
I skipped the after party. This introvert needed some serious recharging before I could face people again. I even asked my husband if I could wait and call him just before bed because I was just feeling so worn out mentally. I ended up picking up frozen pizza and went back to the house, crawled into bed and crashed.
Total spent for my first WordCamp: $90 (rounding up, even).
You know, everybody says, “GO TO WORDCAMP!” and you think they’re just exaggerating — like, maybe their enthusiasm is driven by a desire to support WordPress. But really, I can say this without question now, go to WordCamp. It really is awesome.
Was every session the most amazing thing that I ever could imagine? No.
Did I learn something in every single session? Yep. Every single one.
Is it worth your time and your weekend to go and give it a shot? Yep.
Big high-fives to the organizers of WordCamp Birmingham for putting on a great event. I can’t fathom how much work went into making it a smooth process for all involved.
If you want to, you can check out the dedicated hashtag #wpyall on Twitter to follow along with folks who were tweeting about their experiences.
This blog post was originally written for and published on The Broad Collective, a now defunct local blog here in Athens, Georgia. I lifted it from there to republish it here because… it’s mine, all mine!
No, I promise. We’re not swingers.
I actually said this to a couple that we had never met one night while sitting at the bar inside Big City Bread. We were just awkwardly trying to figure out how to ask another couple to hang out because we liked them.
“Do I ask them for their phone numbers? How do we tell them we like them?” I remember feeling excited and my heart was pounding and I was nervous and totally scared they’d shoot us down.
We had struck up a conversation with them while sitting on opposite ends of the l-shaped bar inside Big City Bread. My husband was finishing up a late Friday night shift and, at the time, we were a one-car family, so had driven up there to pick him up. After work, we sat to enjoy a beer together and sort of wind down when a nice couple at the other end of the bar struck up a conversation with us — or maybe we struck it up with them? I don’t remember the specifics anymore, but we exchanged a few pleasantries, probably toasted our beers to one another (that’s kind of our style, anyway) and I turned to Colin and asked him what we should do next.
He was equally excited at the idea of NEW FRIENDS! How many times do you, in your thirties, meet another married couple and think, “Wow! I like BOTH of these people equally! I hope they like us equally, too!” So, in that false-bravado, I’m-not-afraid-of-anything, true Jami style, I marched up to them as we were leaving and said, “So… We were just wondering if y’all might want to hang out some time.”
The couple exchanged glances and the guy replied warmly, “Sure!”
This is when I — for some unknown reason — felt it was important to share with them that we weren’t swingers (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and immediately regretted it.
What if they ARE swingers? What if I just made them uncomfortable? Aw, shit, Jami. Way to go.
But the guy said, “I guess, we can give you our numbers?” He was clearly equally as nervous and excited about the idea of NEW FRIENDS as we were.
So I took the little scrap of paper, torn from a corner of the Flagpole with their cell phone numbers scribbled on them and we hastily made our exit. COOL! A new set of friends! I programmed the numbers into my phone as soon as we got into the car because, “What if we lose this piece of paper? How will we find them?”
We weren’t really “in the market” for new friends — my husband has a huge circle of friends here in Athens and, after three years here, I’m developing my own little tribe as well. But we realized that we had yet to find some of “just our” friends — a couple that neither of us knew much about, but that we both liked and wanted to hang out with. And it wasn’t until this experience that I realized just how hard it is to make new friends as an adult.
We’re not really afforded many opportunities to make new friends based on our interests. Sure, we can meet other parents at the PTA meetings or in the neighborhood or at your kiddo’s practices, but the initial reason we start after those relationships is because they’re easy and you already have something in common — your kids.
But what about what we want? It’s interesting how, once we get married and have kids, we put ourselves and our wishes on the back burner. I think I suffer from an acute case of whatever-this-thing-is-called because I spent so long as a single mom, there wasn’t time for meeting new people, much less carving out time to learn about them and create great friendships.
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
― Anaïs Nin
So why is it that it feels so hard to meet friends when we’re all grown up?
We’re busy. We’re tired. We’re too comfortable. We’re shy. We’re insecure. We’re scared. We’re ________.
But the beautiful thing is that we are all, together collectively, all of these things. I tell my kid all the time when he professes about insecurities to me that the other person in every exchange has those same fears.
I get nervous when I think, “Wow, I like that person. I would like to know them better,” but the truth is, my life could be richer for knowing them — and I could play a role in enriching their life, too. If I don’t gather up my gusto and just leap, I’m cheating myself out of two opportunities — one, to maybe make a new friend and two, to push myself to not grow stagnant and too comfortable and boring.
We’ve hung out with Nick & Erin (that’s the couple’s names) a lot this spring and summer and, honestly, I feel like we’re pretty lucky to have found them. We’ve even introduced them to the rest of our friends (it’s getting serious, y’all) and, no surprise, everybody loves them, too. They’re great people and I’m so grateful that our lives have intersected.
So, a little challenge…
That Facebook friend that you’ve been following and liking all their posts and thinking to yourself, “Dang, I wish I was like, actually friends with this person,” — give it a chance. Ask them to hang out.
That friend that you adore that you never actually make the time to hang out with — make the time. Dig deeper and cultivate that friendship, man!
And if someone asks you to hang out because they want to get to know you better, unless they’re also touching your inner thigh or giving you their bedroom eyes, take it at face value: you’re cool and people want to be closer to you.