To My Sisters

Hi ladies, hi friends, hi loves,

This morning I heard my town in the first headlines on NPR. Five students were killed in a school bus accident yesterday afternoon in Chattanooga. While I had heard of it last night, in a text from my dad and all over the innerwebs, the sentiments didn’t hit me til this morning. Whatever senseless acts of tragedy happen, I’m reminded of those folks I love. My family, who I am fortunate to see and spend time with on a regular basis, and my dearest friends, or my other family, who are spread out, from Knoxville to Louisville and Louisiana to California.

What’s going on? How have you been? What life transitions are you juggling? What do you have to celebrate? To share? To grieve and mourn for? What are you looking forward to? Who or what do you love right now, today? What are your fears?

I crave our conversations and shared space. I yearn for and cherish those connections. The ability to share freely, without fear of criticism. A true sisterhood. You prop me up and keep me going.

I must admit I’m likely the youngest in our group, and this year marked my 30th lap around the sun. My summer birthday was celebrated quietly with boyfriend Charles. I sat at home, drank a few glasses of wine, and commiserated with Kelly on FaceTime about the inherent wisdom that comes from getting older, but also these new feelings of aloneness, calmness, intuition and peace. Looking inward. So this is my way of connecting with you, beyond text messages, beyond Likes on Facebook, and in place of a random visit.

Just after overcoming a few flares with ulcerative colitis—this shit disease that keeps on giving and is severely aggravated by stress and major life transitions that shake my stability—I finally finished a year-long(ish) round of steroids. You helped me get through that time, even if we didn’t see each other. The reminder that a normal life—free from hyper-emotionalism, rage, a ravenous appetite, paranoia and unwelcome bodily changes—was just around the corner.

Some mornings I get up and so desperately crave coffee and breakfast in a house full of women friends, filled with nothing but music and gossip and talking and maybe sitting in a pile of blankets watching old movies. I wish it was closer—I wish we all were closer—but the distance helps me cherish those times even more. And I have a happy little circuit here in Chattanooga, a health routine that involves (you guessed it!) going to bed by 9:30, eating as healthfully as possible, tea with Chattanooga friends, and quiet time at home with Charles. It keeps my guts happy and helps me show up for life on a regular basis.

I recently started working as the site coordinator for the after-school program at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy, an all-girls charter school a few miles away from our apartment in Fort Wood. It’s a part-time job that accommodates my ongoing freelance writing projects, but most importantly it satiates the overwhelming need I have to work in public service. It also was the manifestation of many intentions, many seeds planted, of needing to be of service. Of being in an all-women environment, of putting my writing and communications talents to use for others, and uncovering untapped skills along the way.

It’s not totally all-girls, as boyfriend Charles teaches high-school biology and environmental science there, also a nice convenience. But it is an incredibly challenging and rewarding environment, and I am so grateful for the shifts in perspectives, career and aspirations. So much of my own journey was fueled by your influence. Your guidance. Your listening. Your encouragement. Your persistence to take each rise and fall of this rollercoaster with loving kindness and compassion.

This election season reminded me of the power women share, even if we didn’t win. Women DO rule the world and we are strong beyond our belief. In my new position at CGLA, I feel so lucky to empower young girls to dream big, work hard, and find their own strengths and independence. I feel lucky just to listen.

I’m not certain if this is the best medium for sharing this with you, but it felt right, and it felt immediate. I am so grateful for the love and support you show me that spans great distances—physical miles, perceived distance, or space between communication, as we dig deeper into our own little lives, spread across the country like little wildflowers, growing and blooming where we are planted, at least for now. I want to stay in communication no matter what. Our connectedness, and our sisterhood is serious(ly good) stuff.

I hope sometime in the next year we can all gather, at a cabin or at the beach, to watch movies, do yoga, nap in hammocks, drink wine and talk. A lot. And someday, hopefully sooner than later, I’ll have a spare bedroom for you to crash, and we can sit around in the mornings catching up and laughing over shared times. (Though if my memory serves me, I am still that kid at a sleepover who is awake LONG BEFORE everyone else!)

Even if that doesn’t happen—that we all get to gather in one place—I want you to know I love you! I think about you as my family. You make me a stronger woman, and together, we are stronger. Keep sharing your wisdom, keep spreading your love, and keep your damn chin up. There are bright beginnings just around the corner <3.

Love and hugs to the moon, and send me your damn mailing address.

Laura Jane

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On Friends and Ferns

A sense of place and personal history defines us more than I realize sometimes.

Those silly “On This Day” Facebook pop-ups remind me of some of my greatest joys and sorrows, or at least the ones I posted on social media. I end up spending too much time reminiscing, I think, in life. But it touches on a significant point: part of realizing where we are in life comes from remembering, reconciling and celebrating where we come from. Our past.

In a few days I’ll embark on my first-ever week-long fall break. Charles and I are going to the beach with his family, and I’m looking forward to a week of relaxation, pretty sunsets and vitamin sea. I like Florida and all of its quirkiness, and not just because of my adventures in Miami and beyond. Hopefully we’ll be able to hike for a day in the swamps and forests around Apalachicola. Those areas seem so unique to Florida and are so unlike what I know in deciduous, hilly Appalachia.

In past posts I mentioned adopting some cacti and plants this year. One fern that my mom helped bring back to life this summer seems to bring back a lot of memories, cherished and special and tear-jerkers.

My thriving fern and baby spider plant.

For almost a month I’ve been working at CGLA, an all-girls charter school where Charles teaches, in various capacities. Today I’m teaching my second creative writing club. It is all at once wonderful, horrifying and overwhelming. I admit I have very limited teaching experience, and I’m finding the girls seem way more interested in sci-fi and fiction than journalism and the style of non-fiction writing that I seem pulled toward. Just being around (much) younger people is a change for me; most of my work life exists in marketing and such, putting me in an agency setting, or even more isolating, in the confines of my house, left to communicate with the outside world through email, phone calls and very rare face-to-face meetings.

So again, overwhelming is an understatement; but I’ve found joy and reassurance being among the students. They’re hilarious and ridiculous and kind, full of energy and louder than I expected. (Though really…I have long prefered quiet dark spaces where I can work alone for long stretches of time. It will take some adjusting.) In the few weeks I’ve been there I’ve been reminded of my own time in high school—working among fellow Notre Dame HS alum and former teachers has helped! Those were scary years when I felt out of control and so sensitive to what was going on in my life. I wanted people to like me. I wanted boys to like me, I think. I wanted to do things that went against what my parents, teachers, church and role models encouraged me to do.

In preparing for my creative writing club, I can’t stop asking, What the hell did I write about in high school? Most of my personal journals are painful to read. I was hurting from my family’s division and I suppose coping the only way I knew how.

But this morning, I watered that special fern that is now thriving, since I’ve learned how much water and light it needs. Not too much, not too little; just right. The Mama Bear of my house plants. New curly, fringed leaves recently budded for the first time since I’ve had it. A marked season of growth for both me and the plant—a childhood friend sent me the fern, and some others that didn’t survive the winter, when I was in the hospital a year ago. (A memory that brings up more tears and emotions than I know how to deal with, categorize or process this morning.)

My hospital adventure last year

That fern reminded me of the days that friend, Sarah, and I spent running around in the woods. She lived one neighborhood over from me. We would make the trek to meet halfway and play in streams and creeks along the way. We usually ended up at her house, I think, and if I recall her mom always had great snacks, her backyard a trampoline, and her room a fish tank. Sarah and I were inseparable for a number of years. Her Dad, our hilarious soccer coach, brought me to my first R-rated movie—Event Horizon, which I think would still horrify me to this day. I remember talking about when we would get our periods and what it would feel like, and sharing those girlhood secrets about crushes we had and such.

What stands out to me now, and what I still have buried away at my dad’s house, were the journals we wrote to each other over multiple summers. We would write a notebook to one another, talking about our day, our parents, our lives, and whatever else was going on at the time. I don’t think there was anything special about what we wrote, but just the fact that we did—that we maintained these spiral-bound notebooks for each other—reminds me how close of friends we were, and how important that relationship was to me.

Now I can see that it wasn’t just the relationship, but the influence and encouragement to express myself, reinforced by all forms of education along the way. While I remain somewhat overwhelmed by how to introduce the concept of CREATIVE WRITING to my small troupe of budding writers, who I’ll see this afternoon, I’m reassured that if I can impart at least one thing to them… it is to write a lot. To write often. To write to your loved ones. And that if writing is your thing, and you like it, don’t stop. You never know where it will lead you, or what it will remind you of, or what you’ll realize through writing.

I realized that my influences throughout childhood, into high school, were awesome. They didn’t feel like awesome years at the time, jam-packed with awkwardness, parent-defying moves and trying to figure out life lessons, some of which I still grapple with today, but now I see that they were exactly as they needed to be. Filled with friends, running around in the woods, exploring new things, sharing secrets in notebooks, and solidifying a lifelong habit of writing.

Thank you, Sarah, for being my childhood friend and correspondent, for your continued love and gifts, and especially for the thoughtful gift of ferns last year. I may have killed most of them, but the one that’s hanging on is beautiful. It reminds me daily of where I’ve come from, and that with the right attention, the new opportunities and blessings will continue to grow for me.