Every Day is Saturday

Finding Joy in the Here and Now

A Native Atlantan’s take on Snowpocalypse 2014 – What the Hell WAS that?

Snowpocalypse 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, I interrupt my usual week-between-the-blogs silence to bring you my thoughts about the colossal tragedy of errors that was Tuesday in Atlanta.

First let me say that I am very, very fortunate because I work from home, so I don’t have a harrowing story of survival to share. My husband was not quite as lucky, except that he was told to go home at 1:30 in the afternoon and just so happened to be able to exit the freeway at that moment.  It still took him two and a half hours to wind his way home, which I thought was bad until the stories on Facebook and on the news started flooding in, like what happened to my sister and her partner.  They were out running errands and were eating lunch when it started snowing.  They were eight miles from their house when they set off home. They arrived almost nine hours later, but at least they made it. The two strangers, friends-of-friends who they took in that night, did not. That unfortunate pair abandoned their car on a nearby freeway and hiked to my sister’s house where they got bourbon, a bed, and breakfast. Another friend wrecked his car and thought he would have to sleep on a city bus, but was driven home by a kind stranger in a heavy vehicle. Yet another friend drove hours to rescue her son who was stranded on his school bus, only to be forced to seek shelter with him at a grocery store before being taken in by a good Samaritan who lived nearby. And finally, a friend who had driven down from Canada spent seventeen hours in her car before being rescued; she was slightly more prepared than the average Atlantan, but it was a horrifying experience nonetheless. There are probably thousands of these stories, some that turned out well and others that ended in tragedy.  And here we are on Friday and there are still abandoned cars littering the roads and places where it is unsafe to drive – at least until the temperature climbs above freezing and stays there for a while.

I’ve been reading lots of articles that try to explain how all of this happened and who is to blame.  At first I was inclined to cut our government leaders some slack. This is Atlanta, after all, and if I had a nickel for the number of times we had been forecast to get snow and nothing happened, well, I’d have a few dollars. We just don’t believe it until we see it, and that goes for grandmas and governors alike. But the more I read about it, the more I thought, hey, it isn’t the government’s place to play Russian roulette with peoples’ safety – they should have closed the city schools and government offices all day Tuesday and encouraged employers and metro school districts to close as well. If they had done that I’m guessing that it still would have been bad (because most employers don’t care about their employees’ safety, not really), but we wouldn’t have had the total gridlock we saw.  But what we got from the Governor and Mayor was two days of them dancing around claiming that the response to the emergency was timely and vigorous, and that we couldn’t have predicted what was going to happen (which is a crock; all the local meteorologists including the Weather Channel had accurately predicted the storm as early as Sunday). Yes, it was clear that the Georgia Department of Transportation was trying desperately to get the icy roads treated, but by the time they were ordered out it was far too late. The damage was done because the freeways had become totally blocked within two hours of the first snowflake. The trucks couldn’t get through, and it just got worse and worse as the day and night went on. I’ve lived in this city almost my whole life, and I have never seen anything like this. The footage taken from the news helicopters made it look like CGI from an apocalypse movie.

But then we started hearing about acts of selflessness and heroism by ordinary people.  The woman who launched the Facebook page “Snowed Out Atlanta” should be given a medal – that page became a platform that put people in need together with people who could help, and I am sure it was responsible for saving lives that night. There were stories of people walking out onto the roads and freeways with food and water and hot chocolate. Men in four-wheel drive vehicles towed cars up icy hills and out of ditches. Kroger and Home Depot announced that they would keep their stores open to act as shelters for people who couldn’t get home.  I heard of many folks who found shelter and food at area Walgreens, QT and Publix stores, not to mention the gas stations. And the commitment of the school principals and teachers who stayed where they were in order to keep the children that were separated from their parents safe and calm is inspiring. It’s these stories that keep us going, the instinct we have to reach out and help each other in times of need. I was proud of my city, even as the rest of the country looked down on us for letting it happen in the first place.

Today’s headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says “Governor Apologizes”.  In the accompanying article, Governor Deal says that in the future he would “take those weather warnings more seriously”, and they would “’err on the side of caution’, even if it leads to jabs that they overreacted.”  OK, so he’s admitting that he waited until he was sure that the storm was going to be bad before closing offices and sending out the sand trucks because he was afraid that if he had done it before the storm was predicted to start and there had been no storm, some people might have been upset that he overreacted and spent unnecessary millions of the state budget. Wow. This is the leader of my state. I find his lack of courage disturbing. And the mayor of Atlanta is no better – all he has done is become defensive instead of owning up to the fact that he could have spoken out and urged people not to come into the city on Tuesday, but he didn’t.  Instead, he was busy accepting an award as “Georgian of the Year”. Ouch.

So, what have we learned from this? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Here are my takeaways:

  • Our state and local government is short-sighted, greedy and incompetent (but we knew that already, so why are we surprised?).
  • Overreacting to predictions of inclement weather is ALWAYS a good idea.
  • The government is neither the problem nor the answer, and we need to stop treating them as if they are either or both.

My fellow Atlantans, let us take this opportunity to collectively tell those in authority to stuff it, and decide to take responsibility for ourselves and our families.  Let us vow to take the time to watch the weather reports to find out what we need to know, and act accordingly, regardless of what those in authority are saying (or not saying).  Let us stand up to the schools and businesses that value their calendars and profits more than the lives of their students and employees, because if we all agreed that we would in future refuse to drive to work and send our kids to school in the face of an oncoming storm they would have to concede to us.  We’re mad as hell, and we don’t have to take it anymore!  Are you with me??!!

Well, ok, maybe that’s a little over the top, but I’m sure that none of us who lived through this experience is keen to repeat it. And I truly don’t believe that our elected officials, any of them, are capable of fixing what needs to be fixed, either the ones in office now or pretty much anyone looking to get elected. The history of the lack of cooperation between the state, the city of Atlanta, the metro area counties and all of the smaller municipalities is decades old and bone deep. All of these groups are so heavily invested in protecting their own slice of the pie that they appear to be incapable of doing anything for the greater good of the region. And voters’ attitudes seem to only reinforce the situation (take the failure of the T-SPLOST effort last year that would have addressed some of out regional transportation problems).  Our only hope is in the kindness and generosity of ordinary people, which is sad and uplifting at the same time. But that’s the way it’s always been, and probably always will be.

Might as well accept it:  we’re on our own.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: William Brawley via photopin cc

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Cousins Weekend

Cousins Ottoman

I’ve just returned from what has been named (not very poetically, I grant you) the “First Annual Cousins Weekend”.  After a more than thirty-year hiatus my sister and our cousins and I finally booked a time and place to meet and hang out for a couple of days.  It was definitely a “girl cousins only” event; we had to regretfully inform our mothers that they weren’t invited, which I suspect made them slightly nervous.  One of my cousins generously arranged to use some of her and her husband’s timeshare points to reserve a two-bedroom condo in the Tennessee mountains for the six of us.  For many years now the only time we all get together has been with the rest of the family at Thanksgiving. Last year we decided we needed to have some time for just us, and we actually made it happen.

See, “the cousins” have been spending blocks of time together since we were young kids.  Here’s how it went:   my parents would take my brother and sister and I to meet my aunt and uncle at the half-way point between our house in Atlanta and their house in Decatur, Alabama (the half-way point being a town called Centre, if you can believe it), and they would hand us over for a week-long visit.  Then the next week, all seven kids (the three of us and our four cousins, all girls) would pile in aunt and uncle’s car and meet up with my parents who would take us back to our house for another week.   When I think about it now I’m guessing the adults cooked up this scheme as a way to give themselves a break from their kids for a whole week, but I can’t believe it was worth it, given that they had to deal with the pack of us on their own for a week in their turn.  But whatever the reason for doing it, those summers (and the stories that came out of them) have become legend in our family, and because of them a bond was forged between “the cousins” that endures to this day.

I’m not sure what I expected the weekend would be like, but it was perfect.  The condo we stayed in had two “sides” connected by a small foyer.  Each side had a bedroom, kitchen, dining room table, and sitting room.  The larger sitting room had a fireplace, a sofa that sat three, one comfy chair, and a big leather ottoman; that was where we gathered.  We pulled the other comfy chair from the other side, so we had five good places to sit which we shared between the six of us in an unplanned round robin (the odd man out had to perch on the ottoman or sit in one of the hard wooden dining chairs).  We went out to dinner Friday night and out to breakfast Sunday morning, but on Saturday we stayed indoors, sheltering from the frigid cold and 30 mph wind gusts and driving snow.  Sometimes we would talk, sometimes we would just read or play games or surf the web on our tablets and phones, but we stayed in that room with our feet on the ottoman all day.  It occurred to me as we were leaving that we could have split up – some on one side, some on the other – but nobody did.

Our talk ranged all over the place; we discussed the serious topics of the day, the challenges of child rearing (by those who have children, encouraged by those who do not), our various maladies brought on by aging (including our universal need for reading glasses), our shared history, our plans and dreams for the future.  As a group we love to laugh, and we work hard at trying to crack each other up.  We played a dice game, and I pretended not to be impressed that I won (I’ve never won a game of anything in that group before, ever).  We cooked and ate and drank a variety of adult beverages.  We contemplated going out, but ultimately decided we could live without those few things we forgot at the grocery store.  It looked way too cold, not that any of us actually went outside to check.

I realize you may be wondering why this mundane-sounding weekend was such a big deal.  I won’t speak for the others, but I’ll tell you why it was so important to me.

The thing is, the group that gathered was not the original six girls who shared those summers together as children.  There are only five girl cousins now (the sixth member of the group this weekend was my sister’s partner).  We’ve lost one of my cousins.  She was taken from us in 2008, snatched away in a matter of months by an aggressive cancer that found its way into her lungs.  She was the youngest of us, and the first of her sisters to have a child.  She had strawberry blond hair and an infectious laugh.  She faced many challenges in her 36 years on this planet, but her kind heart and her ability to find the humor in just about any situation saw her through them.  We barely had time to adjust to the idea that she was sick before she was gone, and her absence has left a hole in our family.  Every time we gather, there is the place where she used to be.  Over time it has become less acutely painful, but she is always with us, and I am sure she always will be, forever young.

At one point during the weekend I wondered why it took us so long to arrange the get-together, but I realized there are probably two answers.  First, because we needed time to get to where we could feel the presence of the absent one and be comforted, not grieved, by it.

The other reason is this:  I think if she was still living we may not have seen the need to get together at all.

Lives get busy.   We all work and have families.  We see each other at the holidays for the most part.  There are a thousand reasons why it would never occur to us to take the time to get together.  But losing my cousin has given me a sense of urgency about the time we have here.  There are no guarantees that any of us will still be around tomorrow, or next week, or next year.  We must make the time to be with the ones we love while we can.  Nothing is more important than that.  Nothing.

Before we left we began to make plans for our next “Cousins Weekend”.  We’ve decided on the general location, and a range of possible dates has been circulated.  It makes me happy to know that we will come together again. With luck, it will become a new tradition; we already have stories to share.

And, for me, there is no better way to honor the one we lost than by making this time together.  I’m sure she’s loving it, too.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

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Success As We Have Defined It

Party on the Yacht

The other day I posted a quote attributed to the Dalai Lama on my Facebook page; I have since learned that it is actually from an author named David Orr, taken from his 1992 book  with the riveting title of “Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World”.  The full and correct quote is this:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

This quote knocked the breath out of me when I read it, and I know from the comments and “shares” that it resonated with a lot of my friends as well.  The fact that I identified with it so strongly is the greatest testament to how far I have come.

Most of you who read my blog know my story, but on the off chance that someone out there is just now finding this, here it is in brief:  in June of 2010 I was let go from a job I loved very much. It was a complete shock, and I was devastated for a long time. I eventually decided I would attempt self-employment. I have started two companies, one with a partner and one on my own, that have been mostly unsuccessful. I published the journal I kept of the first year after my layoff. I started this blog last year. I joined some former colleagues in another independent business venture that is off to a good start.

Doesn’t sound like much, when you put it that way; three and a half years of my life in a paragraph.  But these events are just the markers, the things I can point to and say, “That’s what I’ve been doing”. The other story, the one that is about things you can’t touch or measure, is the important one.  I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog exploring that stuff, and it’s been helpful not only to see my thoughts in word form, but to have some of you tell me that what I have written spoke to you in some way.

I, like so many people, have worked very hard at being successful as our society has defined it.  For a long time after getting kicked off the corporate ladder my lack of “success” was shameful to me. There are still people in my life that, when I speak about what I’m doing, I’m careful to use the right buzzwords so that they will perceive me as being “successful” (at least relative to my recent past). But over time, particularly the last few months, the truth in David Orr’s quote has come home to me in a big way.

I must make a confession now.  I have a number of friends who are artists of various stripes who, in spite of their obvious talent, have never “made it”. Some of them have flirted with fame but haven’t quite broken through – and I must confess that even as I admired these people for not giving up, part of me always felt sorry for them. For a long time, I took what I considered to be “success” and imposed those expectations on the people who are the peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. And for a large part of my life, I turned my back on any calling I may have felt to be one of those people, too, in no small part because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me in the same way.

Well, fuck that. I’m over it.

So to all of you out there who, in spite of the constant struggle and striving and rejection keep going, you who find joy in the act of creating and therefore create for its own sake, or to make yourself better at what you do for your own satisfaction – I envy you. I envy the fact that you have built a life that allows you to pursue your passions unhindered by restraints of your own making. You may get discouraged and depressed, but I tell you that you are living a life that others can only dream about.  There are millions of people who, having gotten caught up in the race to be a successful person, have built prisons of beautiful homes and new cars and the pursuit of style. Too late they wake up to see that none of it makes them happy, but they’re on the treadmill now and can’t get off.

I’m lucky – I’ve had three and a half years to get myself off of my own treadmill and see my life for what it is and what it can be. I’m not going to drop everything and run off into the blue – I actually enjoy the “work” I have chosen to do, and I’m doing it with people I love, so it is a gift and not a burden. The difference is that what I ultimately want has changed. I no longer want to be a “successful person”. I want to explore, and grow, and love, and LIVE.  And hopefully make the world a better place, even if it’s for only one other person.  That would be enough.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: jwilly via photopin cc

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Love Language

Book Quote

I’ve always been in love with words, with their ability to take me places in my imagination that without their guidance I would never go.  I love how I can get so deep into the world of a book that, even after I put it down, my own world seems strange to me.  I love how phrases from songs or stories or poems step off of the page and keep me company in times when I allow my mind to wander around, looking at things.  I love how stories unfold their meaning through words, both read and spoken.  There is no limit to the heights and depths that language can take us.  Words have power – they have toppled governments and separated lovers.  They give us a way to make sense of our world as it is, and to try to make it better for ourselves and for those who will follow.  It is my greatest desire to be a wordsmith, a master craftsman, a painter and sculptor of words.  I want to create beauty and meaning in words from my heart in the hope that someone, somewhere may find solace, or inspiration, or joy from what I’ve contributed to the universe of language.

I’ve always been a good communicator.  Language has been a tool for me over the years; I’ve shown that I can use it to achieve the ends desired by former employers and current partners.  There’s nothing wrong with using language in this way; it’s part of the reason we have it.  We speak and write to let others know who we are and what we need.  Until a child can tell its parents what it needs, the parents must guess at the source of a child’s cries in a process of elimination that may or may not be successful.   This is a very inefficient way of telling someone else what you want, and from the get-go people found better methods of conveying information.  The need to communicate is an imperative in the animal kingdom, but it is us humans who have taken it from the basic need to transfer information into using it to explore who we are and why we are here.

So, my desire to create beauty from language is my own personal evolution.  I’ve always appreciated the artistry of language and marveled at its flexibility and nuance, but I’ve never really tried to use it to create beauty myself until recently.  Now I stand at the threshold of a new life, a new way of thinking about who I am and what I do and why I’m here.  I feel like I did on the first day of school – excited and scared, and intimidated by everything I don’t know.  Because what I don’t know about writing and being a writer is a vast dark sea, where every drop of water has meaning.  It is exhilarating.  I am a new person, with new goals and a new way of looking at the world.  I never imagined this would happen at this stage in my life.  It is an awesome gift, and every day now I wake up and look forward to dipping my paddle in the water and seeing where it takes me.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: ZedZap via photopin cc

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Turning Point

white picket fence

As you know if you read last week’s post (or if you’ve ever asked me), I’m not one for making resolutions.  I find them, more often than not, to be a cycle of failure and recrimination.  I have enough struggles in my life without making up new ways to fail, thank you very much.

So what I did on Saturday isn’t part of some master plan I have for myself this year.  It isn’t that I decided to heroically face my fear, or anything so poetic.  I haven’t burdened it with the weight of expectation.  I just woke up that morning and decided to do it.

I went to a writing group meeting for the first time.

This is how things happen for me, I’ve noticed.  Big shifts in my life (and I don’t know yet if this qualifies, so we’ll have to wait and see) just sort of happen, without a lot of preamble or planning.  In this case, I was encouraged to find a writing group by a friend I had lunch with on Thursday, I found the group on Friday, and I went on Saturday.  I just showed up, and it turned out to be a fun, energizing, positive experience.

This reminds me of another big turning point in my life (although I didn’t think of it that way for a long time).  I had graduated from college and done a season as an apprentice stage manager at a large regional theatre, which I hadn’t particularly enjoyed if truth be told.  So when my contract was over I half-heartedly interviewed for other gigs, and, unsurprisingly, didn’t land one.   At that point I decided I’d look into grad school.  I went to visit a friend who was getting a Master’s, but her school didn’t have the program I was looking for.  Driving home, I decided to phone a friend; I was hoping he had the answer I didn’t.

I pulled off the road and found a payphone.  Not having enough money for a long-distance call, I called him collect.  I can’t imagine how much the bill was because we talked for three hours.  During that time, my friend convinced me to think about pursuing a legal career, based on my performance in the Business Law class we had taken together.  I didn’t think I wanted to be a lawyer, but ok, I told him I’d look into it.  I did enjoy the class, and I had done very well – there’s something about contracts that has always intrigued me.

Anyway, when I got home I called another friend who I knew was taking the LSAT (the law school entrance exam) at some point soon; she had told me all about how much she’d studied, and how much she wanted to go to law school.  Turns out the test was that week, on Saturday.  This was Tuesday.

Calling the number she gave me I was surprised to find that there were still places available, so I gave my information, and was given instructions on where to go and what to do.

So that Saturday (not having studied or prepared at all) I made my way downtown to the test site, found my room, got out my #2 pencil, and took the LSAT.  I wasn’t nervous because I had no expectations about how I would do on the test.  I had nothing to lose.  I just did it.

That’s how I felt this past Saturday when I woke up and decided I would go to the writing group.  I wasn’t nervous or anxious.   I had no expectations about what it would be like, or if they would accept me.  I just decided to go, and I went.  And I listened, and I spoke up a little, and I decided I’d take the next step, which is to prepare and submit something I’ve written to the group for critique.  Which I’m doing now, again without hope for any particular result.

This is how I seem to do the things that matter.  Turning points in my life are rarely Movie of the Week moments.  It seems more to me like there’s a gradual shift towards something, a culmination of incremental changes in outlook and attitude, and when some critical mass is reached, the action or behavior that follows just flows naturally.  When it finally happens there is no fear to face, no dragon to slay, no mountain to climb.  Yes, I have to take an action, like sitting for the LSAT or going to the meeting, but the action has become effortless.  At that point I have stopped worrying about what will happen as the result of that action – by the time I reach the point of “Just Do It”, I’m not afraid of any potential outcome anymore.  Maybe that’s because I’ve spent so much time preparing myself (even though I probably haven’t realized that’s what I was doing) that I know I will be successful, or that whatever it is will take me someplace I was meant to go, or that it isn’t all that important after all.

And how did I do on the LSAT?  Since you asked, I did well enough to get into a decent school – not a great school, but probably a decent school, if I had used those results.  But I didn’t.  What I did do is go to work for a lawyer, which cured me of any interest I had in being one myself.  I did eventually attend paralegal school, which put me on the path I was traveling until I was laid off in 2010.  So even though the LSAT itself wasn’t the key, the action associated with it got me moving in a certain direction that resulted in a very good life.  For a long time.

So here I am again.  I’ve spent three years searching high and low for the gate that will open on the new path I’m supposed to walk.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that, after all this work and worry, I woke up one day to see it just standing there, waiting.  And without pomp or circumstance I swung it open and walked through.

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Thanks for reading my blog!  If you want to know more about me and my journey, check out my book “Everyday is Saturday” on Kindle.  The book is part diary, part memoir, about the first year after I was laid off from my dream job.  I think it has something to say to anyone who is struggling with change.

photo credit: Richard Elzey via photopin cc

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