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.

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On Memories of Grandpop and a History of Court Reporting

I was pushing my office hours tonight. Cold beer in hand, having eaten a late dinner, I pounded out word after word, sentence after sentence, for my contract job that typically entails various blog posts, e-newsletters and the like, not too different from what I’ve pursued for work in the past.

I’d written quite a few blog posts for a court reporting client, but this post was different. I’d subconsciously saved it for last on my list, judging by the topic that it would be the quickest to write. A few google searches later, though, I realized the topic wasn’t just different but it plucked a chord that went deeper than expected.

Since moving close to the beach… memories of Grandpop Walker, my dad’s father, always come to mind. Whether we were crabbing off his pier or playing in the water around the little island he’d take us to, we spent many summer vacations as a family at his house in Maryland on the Patuxent River off the Chesapeake Bay. Much of my informal maritime education started with him and with my dad and mom, who boated throughout my youth. My grandfather, a jolly, friendly kinda guy, was always a reader, his office lined with shelves of books. He’d rise long before anyone else, likely 4 a.m., and would have finished a pot of the blackest coffee while reading the Washington Post on his porch. My brother and I joked that we could read his lists. We couldn’t, though. He wrote in shorthand.

My grandfather, George Russell Walker, was the chief reporter and editor in chief for debates for the United States Senate from 1974 to 1988, two years after I was born. My father and mother occasionally remind me of the story about visiting his office in D.C. and some tour we went on of the Capitol building, but they’re all memories lost in my very young childhood mind.

Beyond being who I see now as a rockstar political court reporter and editor in chief in his career, he was an incredible grandfather. Russ, my grandpop, was a fan of living for the moment, especially with our family, which is small. I remember one summer my brother and I were visiting for the week without the rest of the family. While I can’t recall exactly what we got at the grocery store on that storied trip, I remember sitting on his tall barstools in the cool basement eating an ice cream sundae next to my brother watching an Orioles game. On that particular visit, we blew the typical blue crab feast out of the water—Grandpop already had crabs he’d caught in pots before we got there, and I’m sure Andy and I spent hours out in the sun catching crabs with our tried and true method of chickenneckking–using chicken necks and a fell swoop with the net to catch crabs.

There are countless stories and photographs from Grandpop’s house and of his life, especially of the time we spent there with him. These stories, etched into my memories, resurface when I’m by the ocean, when I listen to my dad talk about his maritime pursuits, when I find myself in the Keys, kneeling in the water watching hermit crabs scuttle around my feet, just a bigger, grown up version of the little toe-head blonde child floating in a pink hippo tube off my grandfather’s pier, looking down at the creatures around the cattails and crab pots pulled up in the grass.

In the cool office, trying to finish my work on this Thursday night, I began to research court reporters. My search quickly evolved to the history of court reporting, and I couldn’t ignore the glimmer of an idea.

“Russell Walker senate reporter”

The first two hits were mentions of his service as a court reporter in historical books about the senate. The third was his obituary. It took reading all three of the results and seeing his title again and again for it to sink in.

Grandpop died when I was in high school, maybe a sophomore or junior, gawky, preoccupied and angsty, like most teenage girls are. He was 77. The remnants of the house he lived in that I remember are spread between my aunt and cousin’s house in Atlanta. I visited Amanda and Travis, my cousin and her husband, for the first time for Thanksgiving last year and choked up at the site of the bench that used to sit in his kitchen. My grandmom, who died years too young because of breast cancer caught too late, would tease the grandkids relentlessly when we’d fall or hurt ourselves on that bench. “Did you hurt my bench?” she’d ask. Her dry sense of humor only caught up to me after her death, hearing it in my siblings’ voices, my own voice.

I don’t know exactly what my grandfather’s job at the senate consisted of. I can only imagine it was hours upon hours of recording shorthand and doing transcription. What kinds of debates did he hear? What information did he soak up? How did it affect him, his life, his opinions, his family? Did he think in shorthand? And damnit, what did all those notes all over his house say?

Feeling regret at not knowing him better or remembering him in a professional sense isn’t worthwhile. I remember him the way I do, as a writer, a romantic, and as a passionate person with a booming voice who loved the water. He was a professional communicator, an editor in chief of proceedings at the Senate. The list of questions I want to ask my dad and his sister are growing; I only hope to transcribe and take down the notes to pass onto my own children, to share the stories of his past and the details of his life.

There is no doubt in my mind that my talent, my love of words, my wit and my passion for editing stem from my Grandpop. I can’t change the past, but I know in my heart that he’d love what I’m doing and my pursuit of communicating, no matter the form. I’m living forth my own version of an editor, a role he may have helped foster when I was still in diapers on that first trip to the Capitol.

Tonight, I let my heart do the research and stumbled upon sweet memories and the beautiful realization that I am my grandfather’s granddaughter, a writer and editor in my own sense. And I am forever grateful for that gift, Russ. Thank you.

Finalizing Revisions: On Wrapping Up One Chapter of Life

Even when you live and breathe through every nook and cranny of a big change or transition… the overwhelming beauty of the process still makes your heart swell with joy and your eyes leak a few tears.

Fruits of experience, palm of my hand

This evening’s practice with Madia helped me burn through some of the nervous energy I had been dancing around all day. Work found me catching up with other editors, and some new editors, about the details of account transitions. Those conversations, combined with giving my well wishes to team members I’ve worked with for over three years, helped me realize how far I’ve come as a professional, as a writer, as an editor and as a communicator.

The amount I’ve learned and grown can’t be quantified with numbers, letters or by years: I know my post on Facebook was a silly way to recount this experience as a young professional, but it’s true. Three and a half years, two positions, four desks, numerous officemates, probably 20 clients, 400 magazines, 800 trips to Starbucks or Chattz, about as many bike rides to and from work… the relationships I’ve built, the lessons I’ve realized, the experience I gained… all resulting in my realization to USE and APPLY my skills and knowledge to nearly anything I do?

That’s worthy of shedding a few happy tears. For my accomplishments, for my courage to move on to what’s next for me, for my ability to leave on a positive note, and for… well, whatever’s next.

Desk drawer junk

I used to sling groceries for work in high school; first as an innocent little cashier at the BiLo down the street from my house, which at the time was also where I got my FAKE NAILS done—see?! All kinds of truths come out!! It wasn’t until a manager from Greenlife, at the time located in Riverview, walked in BiLo and offered me a job that I started my process of what I’ll just call awakening, Catholic high school style. Working at Greenlife not only exposed me to health food and a different way of caring for our bodies, but I made amazing friendships. I still see and interact—and have even gone on to have relationships with—some the clientele from the cool old neighborhood store. It helped establish the North Chattanooga community for me. I’ve been living and playing in this neighborhood on and off since 2001.

After moving to Memphis and eventually Knoxville, the values that my family and little Greenlife community helped instill lived on. I had a few forgettable part-time jobs, but I’ll never forget the solid month (if that!) during college when I worked at the Fresh Market in Bearden. Having my Greenlife background, I was insulted that “gourmet” grocery stores existed. The NERVE of this corporation to call themselves special, charge ridiculous prices and still not really sell the best of the best foods? Why even bother shopping there, I thought, and why even bother standing on my feet behind a register for nine hours at a time selling Coca-Cola products and plastic-looking bakery items.

Coffee has been a mainstay at nearly every job I’ve held… mmmm…

So I walked out on my lunchbreak one day and decided not to come back. It wasn’t worth it, I had said to myself, to keep working there. Being me, though, I had taken the bus to work that day, and alas, I sat at the bus stop crying and waiting for the next arrival for nearly an hour. The on-duty manager called me twice to try to convince me to come back in and at least finish my shift, but I couldn’t go back in at that point. Hell, the bus would’ve come by then. She told me, though, that my decision to walk out would have serious implications on my future jobs down the road.

Still, to this day, I don’t regret walking out of that job. Walking out did have serious implications for me—I realized that I have been lucky enough to have some sort of choice in what I do to keep the lights on, and I also realized that I have the maturity and communication skills to head-off problems before they arise.

!!!

What I take away more from that experience, though, is my need to pursue work opportunities and a career path that I’m PASSIONATE about. I’m fortunate to say that almost every job after that ill-fated stint at Fresh Market has held great value to me, either as an opportunity to hone my skills as a writer and editor, to further my knowledge and network as someone interested in holistic health, or some combination of both of those passions. Work, and my job and past jobs, has become something that enhances, not burdens, my life.

Tomorrow, I will finalize a draft, let’s say, to one chapter of my life that saw me through a really crucial period of growth personally, professionally and in my community. I welcome with open arms the exciting new experience ahead, though I can’t be more grateful for the people who helped shape and contribute to the past three and a half years. I’m so special to receive such blessings.

From the First Pedal Stroke…

Enough gabbing—start writing!

…I knew I was going to be hooked. I didn’t know attending my first bike summit would bring nearly the same addictive highs.

Everyone likely remembers their first bike, finally riding without training wheels, their reintroduction to cycling as an adult, or something akin to their own two-wheeled awakening.

My two defining moments stand out in my memory: the first, as my dad pushed me off in the parking lot at Big Ridge Elementary, my first training-wheel-less ride. The second, my first ride on the hybrid/commuter my brother finally convinced me to buy in college, unaware of the independence these wheels would bring me.

However, I now face the tipping point of another personal bikey awakening. The boundaries between my chosen professional path—journalism, magazine production, writing and editing—and my true passion (bicycling!!!) begin to blur.

Friends and acquaintances ask why I don’t write about bikes. Hell, I’ve asked myself the same thing…over and over. I talk about cycling and its impact endlessly. Most of my Facebook presence revolves around bikes. My conversations revolve around bikes. My schedule, my friends, my life revolves around bikes.

So why stop at writing? Why keep these crazy cycling ideas in my head? The incredible presenters at the Summit reinforced the idea that I don’t have to.

There is no more hiding, keeping my voice off the innarwebs. More voices = more informed choices. I’m the only one silencing myself, and that barrier is coming down. Right now, with this first pedal key stroke, I enter the innarwebs as a bike blogger. Huzzah!

Welcome. And thank you for reading.