Dear Lucy,


Today marks one year since you came to live with us in your new home.

At this moment you are lying down behind me in our recently refreshed home office. But a year ago almost to the hour, the rescue volunteer pulled up in our driveway, got you out of the car and we opened the kitchen door. You barreled in, turning in excited circles, gangly and ribs showing, the red rescue collar around your black furry neck. Your eyes were bright and your tongue lolled with new-place-new-people excitement, your legs longer and stronger than any dog I’d ever spent regular time around.

You bounded through the kitchen, around the corner down the hall and into every single room, pinging from spot to spot as we tried to pay equal attention to you and to the volunteer, who was giving us the final paperwork to sign. And even as I put my name in ink on the page, my heart thudded with nerves, because it was clear—you were here, there was no going back, and this was going to be quite an adjustment.


We don’t have human children yet, but I think in many ways you will always be our first child. You have taught me so much about parenting, as silly as that may sound. I’ve experienced the phases of getting to know each other—the frustration, the exhaustion, the fear, the not-being-able-to-see-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel, the hope, the approaching light, the normal, the mundane, the joyful. The nerves about how you would get used to the house, the yard, staying in the living room while we go to work, the car, the neighborhood (and the neighbors’ cat), sleeping arrangements, eating habits, and countless other little pieces that make up the addition of a new being into a home.


You weren’t a puppy, but would you chew? Not shoes or furniture thankfully, but toys only last about 20 minutes or less (only a rope has survived longer than days), the end of the remote has teeth marks, the Avengers dvd case is wrinkled, and a paperback copy of A Game of Thrones met an overly-appropriate shredded demise.

Would you get used to going to the bathroom in our yard? On the first day you pooped in the house. On the third day, I tried to do yoga and you tried (too much) to do it with me, so I gated you in the living room and when I was finished I came out to a horrible stench and a present waiting for me on the hard wood floor (thanks for not using the carpet).


Would you ever sleep through the night? We put your fresh nice cushy dog bed next to our bed with blankets, but you only ever curled up on the rug beside it, getting up every couple of hours and tap tap tapping around to each side of the bed, back and forth, nuzzling your head into the crooks of our elbows until I thought maybe you had to go to the bathroom, but once we were standing in the yard in the cold at 2 a.m., you just looked up at me expectantly with playful eyes. I’d been fooled.

So many shifts, so many tweaks. Different chapters, all in a year.

The hard parts felt interminable. You came to us with heartworms, and for the first seven months we couldn’t do more than walk you down the street. But you still zoomed around the living room, kicking up the rug, cowabunga-ing off the couch to get out all the energy you were supposed to hold in for your own health’s sake (which of course, we couldn’t explain). I cringed at any cough, the main symptom, and waited for you to burst into a long spurt of hacking and wheezing that we’d been told meant we needed to get to the vet now. (What if this happened when we were at work and you were alone?) I hated that you couldn’t tell us how you were feeling. Once we did take you to the ER vet, because you’d coughed and hacked and thrown up and were restless and distressed, and we couldn’t tell if it was your stomach or the worms, so we went—and by the time we walked in, your tail was wagging, happy to see the receptionist and the tech who came out into the lobby to talk us off the cliff.


This piece is moving around more than I thought it would, kind of like you do when you ping from spot to spot, still one of your trademarks. The rescue told us that we wouldn’t really be able to get a sense of your personality until at least six weeks had passed (six weeks seemed like forever), and it probably was even longer than that. You love belly rubs, but you don’t like to snuggle—when you’re done wanting attention, you plop in your spot at the end of the sectional or curl up in Sean’s chair. (We joke that you’re an introvert like us.) You whine more than you bark, but neither very much. You love the car. You don’t love the camera (sorry about the 2,283 pictures I’ve taken of you this year, but you’re just too cute). You are happy to see any human who comes your way, and melt towards the ground almost immediately so they’ll rub your belly. You can speed like a bullet around the yard and you like chewing tennis balls more than catching them. You know “sit” and “lay” and “you hungry?” and your tail whooshes back and forth at “sweet girl,” especially when your dad says it.


It took me a long time to trust you. I think mostly what I really mean is that it took me a long time to trust myself with you, that if something went wrong or something happened on my watch, it would be my fault, and that is/was terrifying. Were you eating grass in the yard or something poisonous? Were you going to chase that squirrel right over the fence and run away, whether accidentally or on purpose? Sean would say blithely but wisely, “She’s just being a dog.” What I think he means by that is, whatever you do that might have repercussions is because you’re a dog and that’s who you are and even if we’re doing the best we can we cannot control every little thing that happens.


But we can control some things. Every other dog at the mountain house in the middle of nowhere is off leash, but you’ve happily gone on joyrides when given the chance and so I look like a no-fun parent keeping you leashed and close, even inside the house with 20 people where the doors open and shut with abandon. When is it worth taking the risk?

How many times this year have I told people laughingly (but inwardly guilty and frustrated) that you’ve shown me that I’m the helicopter parent I never wanted to be, and I’m trying to cure myself before I have human kids?

I wish it were that simple but I’m guessing it won’t be. But you’re still helping.

For the first few months I was relieved to have an excuse to keep you on the leash in the backyard so you wouldn’t over-exert yourself. Even when Sean started letting you outside without the leash my stomach would clench because man you’re fast, and you could be anywhere in our massive yard, and I won’t have control. Even when I started letting you off the leash in the yard I would try and follow you closely, leash in hand in case you showed any sign of escape. Of course you didn’t want to come when I called (from right behind you), you had no peace and quiet with me watching your every move.


Then I went out of town and Sean started letting you out by yourself in the morning, to save time while he got ready. “She just comes right back to the door when I call,” he said. I tried it myself, and was astounded when it was true. Sometimes it takes someone braver to show you that it’s going to be okay. Oftentimes you’re already waiting for me when I come to fetch you.

Of course there are exceptions. It’s the afternoon now, and I called and I called but you’d found a big hole in the middle of our patch of azaleas, and I had to wade in (in my church clothes) and drag you out, muddy nose and flecks of red clay under your eye. Maybe a better, more secure dog mom would have let you stay out there pawing to your heart’s content until you got bored. Maybe I will tomorrow. Maybe we need to figure out what made that hole and if they’re still around.

Sweet girl, you’ve taught me that lots of things about this being-in-charge-of-loving-and-keeping-someone-alive process arise organically, as we go, even when the going seems slow. Until recently, we’ve kept the gate up when we’re home, blocking you from the bathrooms and bedrooms, not sure exactly what you would get into if you were able to roam. Now we realize that you just want to be near us—and so the gate has come down, knowing that your desire to be close (just not cuddle close) outweighs any thoughts of mischief.


There are so many more things I could say about you and to you on this, your first anniversary of joining our family. But mostly I just want to thank you. Thank you for bringing an abundance of love and laughter into our house, for getting me out and walking (even jogging!), for reminding me to pay attention to you—living breathing beauty—instead of to my phone, for helping me to climb out of my comfort zone and making me uncomfortable and nervous and showing me that I and we can adjust to new routines, new patterns of life. Thank you for not knowing that you’ve done any of this, but simply existing to love and play, and lying down on the floor beside me as I write these words.

We are your forever people, and I can’t wait to see what Year Two brings.

We adopted Lucy from Atlanta Lab Rescue. If you’re in the area and looking for a pup, be sure to check them out!

Notes on retreating.

This week I've been tucked away from humanity in the mountains, on what I termed a "self-imposed writing retreat." I didn't get into the one official writing workshop that I applied for this summer, and after some discussions with friends and family, I realized that I didn't have to wait for another "official" opportunity to show up.


So I came up here and have given myself head space and time to write. No social media, no responsibilities, no one else around. A few naps, some Netflix, some walking, a little yoga, lots of cookies. A Year in Provence by Mayle and A Circle of Quiet (READ IT) by L'Engle. And writing, don't worry. With a gorgeous corner set of windows that I want to take home with me.


Let me say that I know getting away like this is a privilege, that I had some monetary assistance in doing so, that it definitely sucked away my accrued vacation at work, that my husband was a willing and phenomenal solo dog-dad, and that this probably won't be able to happen every year, or even every other. However, let me also say, whether or not you're a writer or artist, whether or not you have kids or a spouse or a day job: If you can get away by yourself (BY YOURSELF) for just a day or two, not even to work on a project, but simply to be... do it.

This week has been scary and freeing.

It has been freeing because I don't remember the last time I was by myself completely for so long, maybe ever. I've seen a few people here and there, walking around the lake, but mostly it's been just me. Up to me to keep my own schedule for sleeping, eating, walking, writing. It's been freeing to sit on the couch with my laptop and write some bad stuff that feels like it might have some good parts in it too.


I made this time because I don't think about my writing project much--or let's face it, write anything on it--in the real world these days and I want to figure out if I should still keep working on it or not. It's the same project that I've had for nearly five years. There's a version of it that I finished for my grad program, but I've always thought that there might be a fresher version, a better version (what does that even mean?) waiting to be carved out of the original. But I don't give myself time and space (even within the time and space I have in my "real life") to start carving.


Here are some of the questions I'm asking, thoughts I'm pondering (and writer--or non-writer!--friends, I would LOVE to hear from you on these. Have you felt this way too? How have you responded? Tell me!):

- Do I think there is a "better" version mainly because I want to see if I can get it published? Or because I think I truly have a "better" way to say what I already said, whether or not it makes its way out into the world?

- Time has passed since I wrote the original; maybe I feel like I have something different to say entirely? (though I'm not sure what, and that's unnerving)

- I'll only know what I want to say if I write it out to the conclusion

- But I have so many pieces of what I wrote originally that I like and want to weave in. So am I writing something new or am I really connecting pieces that I already have? (OR do I like those pieces mostly because they are "done" and it would appear to mean less work for me in the end? I feel like I'm big into shortcuts which is not great.)


- If I'm connecting old pieces more than writing new ones, am I really going to be able to write the story out to its conclusion, whatever that is?

- Soooo... should I start from scratch? (If so, good Lord, HOW? WHEN?)

- Should I go back to the original and try to publish that as is?

- Is this meant to be a book at all? I've written so much about it that I think it is, but should it be pared down into an essay or even a blog post? Sometimes I'm not sure how much I've written is just different iterations of the same thing.

- Am I too young/inexperienced/not good enough to do this at all?

- Will I be able to say the difficult stuff that needs saying? Sometimes I feel like so much of what I write is the obvious, without much layering or exploration underneath it. How can I be sure and certain that I *DIG*? Writers and memoirs I love end up with such brilliant observations, on the surface and underneath, and I just don't know... I just don't know if I have that in me.


- If I decide to abandon a project, how do I know that it's because the project is meant to be abandoned rather than I've just decided that it's too hard to finish?

Asking these questions and not really finding good solid answers is why the week has been scary. I knew, going in, that having only five days would not be nearly enough--to what? finish an actual draft?--but better than nothing.

I stand by that. I have written something new everyday, and that's an accomplishment. I've remembered that I am wordy and I often use commas, dashes, semi-colons, and every other form of punctuation to make a sentence run longer, because it just feels like each part of it is supposed to be interwoven like that. Maybe there's an agent or editor just waiting for a long-winded-on-paper soul like me (a girl can dream).

On Wednesday, I hit a high point of writing a draft of a new chapter that I thought started out shakily but spending 3-4 hours on it made it better--even though it's still most definitely a first draft. On Thursday, I backtracked a little bit by trying to start knitting old and newer pieces together with no real sense of why I was throwing them into a certain order, and not really exploring any new insights on the page to help me figure it out--I so long for structure and order before I'm finished writing, but I should know by now that for me it doesn't normally fall that way. (I'm also not good at wearing only the writer hat without the editor hat piled on top. Need to work on that.)


I told myself that no matter what came out of this week, I would consider it a success. Because no matter what, I did it. I drove some thoroughly unnerving twisty turny roads to get there and back again. I read, drank tea, walked, slept, ate, and wrote. I played my bossa nova Pandora station, a couple of West Wing eps (and the Queer Eye with Mama Tammye, I know I'm so late, but Y'ALL)--and was silent a good chunk of the time. I made more room in my brain (I think) and hopefully my heart.

Even though I hoped it might be otherwise, I knew that I would probably come away with more questions than answers, more unfinished than finished--but better than not having tackled any of it at all, which is what had been (not) happening in the throes of daily life. 

Speaking of daily life, what can I take away from this and bring back to my normal routine, which often feels too chock full for these light and airy possibilities?

- Dedicate at least two hours a week to the project

- Write new drafts instead of focusing on old stuff. See what freshness blooms.

- Sign up for a couple of workshops this fall. Talk to people about the process and share the work itself. That's one thing that this week has reminded me--though a writer ultimately writes alone, I still need help.

- Be open to the fact that this might take a really long time.


-And that (maybe) giving up on a project at one moment doesn't mean that it will be abandoned forever. I feel like there's such a fine line between what the intuition part of me believes that "it'll happen when it's meant to happen" and then the whole "dude, in order for ANYTHING to happen you have to frickin sit down and write!"

It's weird; after this week, I feel both very much a writer and very much NOT a writer. I have never been solely a writer who stays home and taps away at the laptop all day, and I was (mostly) that this week. Very writerly of me. At the same time, I felt out of my element--not sure where to start or what would make me feel accomplished besides emerging with a full-fledged awe-inspiring new draft--which, of course, I didn't.

And yet, I still come away feeling accomplished. I gave myself the time and space. Some newness showed itself. May I hold onto the refreshment and rejuvenation long enough to see what it, and I, will become.

Home field


I've been jogging with Lucy at our neighborhood middle school track, which also happens to be where I spent seventh and eighth grade gym classes and cheered on my high school classmates in cross country meets. It's quiet during these cool(ish) summer mornings, and my sneakers are soaked by the end because Lucy, a somewhat distracted jogger, always trails into the field where they filmed Remember the Titans and the grass is heavy with dew.

Past the track is a short spurt of forest with a trail that leads to my elementary school, with its new playground, old blacktop, and two fields that we aptly called "top field" and "bottom field." ("Bottom field" is now home to an actual gym. Dammit, no more Mary Lou Retton exercise videos in the classroom when it rains.)

I moved back to my hometown--not just my hometown, my home neighborhood--four years ago next month. And while something in my heart told me it was a good idea, there were a lot of other internal and external forces battling it out when I made the decision and lived with its immediate repercussions.

Why was I leaving a city I loved and had gotten to know for one that I already knew and didn't always like that much?

Why was I saying farewell to the rewarding independence of making my own way without my family nearby in order to return to our home base, where I could lean on them when I had a flat tire or yard work to do or a doctor's appointment that scared me?

When I had been moving forward, why was I suddenly turning back?

I struggled a lot with my interpretation of society's messages about what success looks like. A big part of the shiny American Dream is adventure, right? Getting out of your comfort zone and starting fresh in new places and building your own community ("friends who become family") and not relying on who or where you came from (but always thanking them in acceptance speeches). The further you go, the more you grow, right? Lingering in the back of my head was also the image of my thick white AP US History textbook, and the Manifest Destiny tradition of American white supremacy masquerading as wide open freedom. Keep pushing until there's no one left to get in your way, until you run out of gold-pan land and hit the pure Pacific.

Moving home--even with a job lined up and a fiance and family that I didn't have issues with (which made the move an option in the first place)--felt, both internally and externally, like I might be settling.

The flip side of the coin, of course, was that I knew plenty of people who had moved back to their hometown--or hadn't ever left--and I thought it was perfectly normal. I didn't judge them for it, and if they were in my vicinity, I was grateful they were there. The majority of my father's side of the family lives within half an hour of each other, has since before I was born, and I can't imagine it being any other way. A couple of years after I made the move back, I stumbled upon a 2015 New York Times article titled "The Typical American Lives Only 18 Miles From Mom" (or as the Good Housekeeping report on the trend put it, "Average Americans Live Surprisingly Close to Mom"). I also found an Atlantic piece published about a month before the 2016 election that trumpeted the non-surprise that "Many of Trump's Supporters Never Left Their Hometowns," and cringed, reminding myself that I had left, I had, it wasn't the same--and then I'd made the choice to come back.


So what does all of this have to do with my middle school track on borderline muggy summer mornings as my 30-year-old self huffs and puffs for a mile while my dog, tongue flapping, gallops easily over the concrete I walked as a barely-teenager?

That. Just that.

Walk up a tall flight of steps from the track to the school, and you'll see the door to the chorus room, the room I walked into one eighth grade morning and saw what I can't unsee, two towers burning on the television, my teacher's face snapping not with adult annoyance but childlike fear.

Stay on the track but move past the baseball field, the wet grass smells just like what the best parts of being alive should smell like, mixed with sweat where all the cross country runners would gather after they finished the weekly Tuesday race, where I got asked breathlessly on my first date and answered just as breathlessly back.

Walk through the cool forest to the elementary school and witness the ghosts of what have become my foundations, books and words and singing and stage, friends and teachers who helped my quiet self find space to bloom.

It feels somehow important to again inhabit these spaces, in a totally different phase of life, married and dog-parenting and working full-time. And by important I don't think I mean necessary or even monumental. I could be somewhere else. These jogs are rote and routine and soon the day takes over, a day so different from when the middle school bell rang.

No, by important, I mean that I feel like I'm living into myself, who I have been and who I am now. And somehow, who I will be. It's less about the ache of nostalgia--something I have almost perfected--and more about holding all the pieces of life in my hand. It just is. I can see it all laid out before me here, in a different way than if I were living away from the place of my birth.

Does this even make sense? I don't know. After all, the morning jogs are early, at this writing it's getting late, and I may feel completely different about it all tomorrow.

But I wanted to mark it, somehow. The fullness of space and memory and presence, the alive smell of grass, the happy tongue of my dog, the only sign of any kind of ache showing up in my calves about two laps into the mile.