live love breathe

the power of words

by christie shumate mcelwee

A story about a drunk and the power of words.

Since the Midwest July weather was unusually steamy and I didn’t feel like heating up the kitchen, my husband and I decided to run to the local grocery store to pick up some fried chicken and potato salad for dinner. As we entered, the first thing we noticed was a security guard standing at the door. “Well, I’ve never seen that before,” whispered my husband. I shrugged and said it’s probably because it was a Friday evening. He then went to the deli counter to order the chicken and I wandered around the bakery section, trying to decide on a dessert. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man (one of the few in the store not wearing a mask) weaving in and out of the displays purposely knocking things off tables. He stumbled out of sight, and I, of course behaving like the mom/teacher I am, picked up after him. Rock met me with the chicken, we picked out a dessert and a bottle of white wine, and then made our way to the check out line. I did spy the same man making a small scene in another aisle, so I said to myself, “Please don’t let him near us. Please don’t let him near us.” At this grocery chain, customers must line up and wait for the clerks to wave them over when they are ready. We ended up in the first line. We were just about finished when I noticed this man throwing his beer and charcoal briquets on the belt. The clerk was stunned, so I automatically said, “Sir, you need to wait your turn.” He then bellowed, “What did you say? I need to wait my turn? What?” I then responded with, “I’m just sending peace and love. We all have to take care of one another.” His retort was, “You cunt!” Rock had the grocery bag in his hands attempting to counter the guy’s hateful rhetoric, but as the clerk threw me the receipt, I gave my sweet husband a look that said,” We need to get out of here…now.” So we quickly made our way towards the door. By this time the guy was screaming repeatedly “You cunt!” across the entire store and one of the other clerks had summoned the security guard. I held my peace sign up until we got out of his sightline and then practically sprinted to our car. My hands shook and tears fell the whole way home. 

This man went into the store drunk, itching for a fight. I was just the lucky recipient of his anger. I realize now I probably shouldn’t have engaged him. We would have gone on with our evening undisturbed, but here’s the thing: this is a man who, I’m pretty sure, uses that word whether he is drunk or sober, masked or unmasked. This disgusting word that demeans women with its violent sputter. I spent most of Saturday hunkered down, feeling bruised. I thought of all the store clerks, waiters, and others who have to put up with these types of people, individuals who feel their “liberties” are begin stolen from them with mask requests, who believe they have the right to call out strangers and weaponize language. I pondered all of the women in this guy’s life who have been on the receiving end of his vitriol. I then contemplated the repugnant words that have been lobbed at people throughout the history of man. Words that make stomachs churn and hearts cringe. We humans have immense jurisdiction to strike others down with just a cruel comment. I then decided I would not give this guy permission to break me. I scattered the word’s power and turned it to dust.

The words we choose are crucial. Do we spread love or scatter hate? The names we casually throw around hold tremendous weight, so how do we counter the despicable, the vicious, the evil language that permeates our society?

There isn’t an easy answer, that I know. Repulsive language has been around since humans first grunted. We quickly learned how to force others to their knees through one degrading slur. But perhaps…we counter divisive language with statements that stitch us back together.

So, dear ones, I offer up a few suggestions:

I love you.

You are magic.

Walk in peace.

I admire your strength.

You are a warrior.

What words will you give the world today?

Words: So innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Photo by ATC Comm Photo on Pexels.com
casting off my teacher crown…finally

by christie shumate mcelwee

When I was a little girl, I loved to play school. My friends and I would assemble makeshift classrooms with leftover school supplies from the previous year, and on rainy afternoons when we couldn’t congregate outside for games of kickball or foursquare, we would reimagine the old, dank basements into glorious spaces of learning. We’d practice our handwriting, read out loud from old primers, and sing together from songbooks. I always wanted the coveted role of teacher, but often was forced to sit in the pretend desks while one of my friends wrote the daily instructions on the old chalkboard. It was more fun to be in charge than to solve multiplication tables that looked like undecipherable hieroglyphics. I loved being the boss. I wanted to guide the lessons and, yes, send misbehaving students to the corner.

When I reached middle school, my teacher dream faded. I wanted to become a nurse. I soon realized it was all about the cute white starched uniforms, because after volunteering at the local hospital during my 8th grade year, I discovered something shocking. There are sick people there! Nope, not for me.

In high school I had aspirations of a journalism career. I wanted to write for a newspaper or work at a television station. Woodward. Bernstein. Barbara Walters. After one year of majoring in mass media, though, I rediscovered teaching. I heard the call, and then spent the next 30 plus years in various schools and classrooms. I taught both high school and middle school students the majesty of Shakespeare’s language, how to develop a clear and concise spoken argument, and the virtues of using correct grammar in both writing and speaking. I loved the students, even the ornery ones. I was queen of my classroom and wore that crown with pride.

I retired five years ago, knowing it was time to leave. Yet…I still put my name on sub lists, tutored reluctant students, and even spent some time as an ESL instructor. I couldn’t seem to let go of my teacher crown. Every time I tried to take it off, the sparkling combs got tangled up in my graying hair.

Until now…

After a bungled attempt to teach beginning English learners online last spring, I knew it was finally time to cast off my crown. I was done. I no longer needed to be in front of a classroom. I didn’t crave the attention, the glory, the label of ‘teacher.’ So after I pushed ‘send’ on my resignation email, I carefully removed my glittering tiara and placed it on a back shelf, only to be occasionally admired. I will allow it to gather dust because it is time to finally move on from that teacher persona I clutched to my chest for so long.

So where here do I go from here? That’s the beauty of letting go. The path is not backwards. It’s the unknown, the mysterious, the corner not yet turned. I will attend an Anne Lamott writing webinar in August, and signed up for an online continuing education writing course through NYU in the fall. I would love to go on a writer’s retreat, perhaps in the spring. I’ll read and dive into difficult topics, hoping to unlearn years of privilege and then write about what I’ve discovered. I want to resurrect my often dormant blog and perhaps even submit my writing for publication, which is a terrifying yet exhilarating prospect. There is also my novel, this story I’ve been working on and setting aside for almost five years. Perhaps it is time to finally complete this mother/daughter tale of grief and music and forgiveness.

Now that is something worth dusting off.

The crown I imagine I wore throughout my career. Classic. Vintage. Royal. Not too ostentatious, yet beautiful. I’ll still hold my head high, but I no longer need to wear the crown. (image from
SWEETV Jeweled Baroque Queen Crown)
“that’s what the storm’s all about”

by christie shumate mcelwee

Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating. By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The world right now is exhausting. I know I am tired. Tired of cruelty and stubbornness and ignorance and injustice. I am drained. When my head hits the pillow at night and tears flow, I know I have over-consumed too much of the bad that is out there. And boy, it is out there, waiting in the darkness, ready to pounce and eat us all alive with its venom.

My heart is drained. What I am mostly tired of is the judgment and shaming, and yes, it is coming from within. I judge. I shame. And it is tearing my joy into shards. I am the Ancient Booer in The Princess Bride who shames Buttercup’s nightmares.

“Boo! Boo! Rubbish! Filth! Slime! Muck! Boo! Boo! Boo!”

The old woman was a manifestation of Buttercup’s conscience. She knew her love was out there, waiting. She was shaming herself because of the decisions she had made.

How do I move from becoming the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence? What is my conscience telling me about love? How do I maneuver this rocky and dangerous terrain and set aside my own judgment and shame? Is it even possible?

I do not have answers to these difficult questions. The sheer scope of the pandemic and the ongoing fight for social justice have presented us with many challenges. The stories in the news can be confusing. Where is the truth? How do we model honor and decency for our children and grandchildren? Whom do we look toward for guidance? Wisdom? Empathy?

Once again, I am not sure I have any answers. All I do know is that my soul needs peace. I seem to be at odds with so many, yet I do know this: I believe in the virtue of love, the dignity of grace, and the importance of our collective humanity. 

I will choose not to lose heart. I will soften my judgment. I will look and listen and try to understand. All of this may sound simple and naive, but it is all I have and I am willing to hang onto these nuggets of hope.

I will get through these confounding days. If I have moments of despair, I will sit with them. When I see magic, I will acknowledge its presence. I will embrace joyful moments. Navigating this complicated labyrinth may be a daily challenge, but I am choosing to live my remaining years with tenderness. I will strive to let go of the sharp edges and learn to forgive others and myself. I will weather this storm.

“And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is for certain, when you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what the storm’s all about.”
~Haruki Murakami

How am I weathering this storm? Through piles of books and yoga and good friends and fabulous food and music and hikes through glorious fields of wildflowers.

there’s one on the way

by christie shumate mcelwee

“And when a small southern town finds a rope in a tree

We’re all once again trapped in the past”

~ The Age of Miracles by Mary Chapin Carpenter

flag (from Merriam-Webster.com)

noun

1: a usually rectangular piece of fabric of distinctive design that is used as a symbol (as of a nation), as a signaling device, or as a decoration

symbol (from Merriam-Webster.com)

noun

  1. something that stands for or suggests something else by reason of relationship, association, convention, or accidental resemblance
  2. an act, sound, or object having cultural significance and the capacity to excite or objectify a response

The meanings of symbols are often connotative in nature. What visceral response do you have to a symbol? Does it make you proud? Does it give you goosebumps? Does it fill you with dread? fear? pain? What emotions do you feel when you see the Stars and Stripes waving over a ball field? What goes through your mind when you see a swastika spray painted on the side of a building? How about a cartoon drawing of a depiction of a smiling Native American holding a tomahawk? A cross hanging in the narthex of a church? Or a burning cross placed in a yard?

Symbols are weighty in their power. They represent human relationships to cultural ideas. We are drawn and repulsed by symbols, but symbols change as society changes. Some are cast aside. Others torn down. Yet some continue to fly in the face of such change, screeching myths about heritage and tradition.

And when a noose is placed in the garage of a Black NASCAR driver, the power of the symbolism is on display for all to see. It says “Our flag is more important than your body.”

Throughout history, we have carried symbols into battle, fighting over land and religion and ideology. Each side believed in their cause, even if it was later deemed wrong.

What is happening now is a reckoning. We are attempting to face our wrongs and respect the pain of others. Flags, statues, and monuments are coming down. Demeaning stereotypes are being removed from products.

Yet…yet there is still more to be done: the name of a NFL team, a chant emanating from the stands of a MLB team, the state flag of a southern state, and many more examples of antiquated symbolism that no longer represents the collective ideas of its people.

And for every noose there are streets filling with peaceful protesters, rainbow Pride flags waving from porches, and a nine-year old child writing Black Lives Matter in chalk on her street. We are no longer standing still. This is the miracle.

Seems we’re just standing still

One day we’ll ride up that hill

In the age of miracles

There’s one on the way

The Age of Miracles ~Mary Chapin Carpenter

A Journey Beyond What I Have Been Taught: The Uncomfortable Truth of Unlearning and Learning

by Christie Shumate McElwee

As our world marches in the streets, I am sitting with the pain. Not my pain. Another’s pain. I am reading, thinking, and crying. I have no grand plans. I don’t know the answers. But maybe that IS the plan: for those of us who have no idea of the real pain to sit with the the pain of others. 

I sit with my squirmy white cognitive dissonance and begin to unlearn the narratives that have been fed to me since my youth. Those myths of good schools (white and rich), good neighborhoods (white), bad schools (mostly black), bad neighborhoods (black and poor), and the powerful danger in words and phrases like “articulate and well-spoken” and “thugs” and “black on black crime” and “playing the race card.” 

I was raised in a white neighborhood in the sixties and seventies. When the schools were integrated, I sat next to Black boys and girls, but we rarely played together on the playground. Yes, I may have had pictures of The Jackson Five on my locker door, and the Black girls thought that was cool, yet we never really became friends. There was always an invisible yet tangible wall between our worlds.

I was in third grade in the spring of 1968. We had one Black girl, Lisa, in my class, and after Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination, she stayed home for a week. We all noticed her absence, but our teacher never talked to us about why she wasn’t there. Now, fifty-two years later, I think of that little girl and her family. I wish my nine-year old self could have at least sent her a card or held her hand or at very least sat with her pain during those terrible weeks. 

I sent my two boys to public schools in our hometown. Even though they had great teachers and had wonderful opportunities, at times, I often questioned my parenting choices. Should we have moved to a better (whiter?) district? Yet both of my boys have thanked me for sending them to these schools. They have told me they possess a wider and more expansive view of the world because of it.

I worked in predominately white upper class districts during most of my teaching career. I have no concept of the struggles that surround urban schools. In fact, I was often smugly grateful I didn’t have to deal with the unique and challenging issues those communities face. I patted myself on my privileged back for choosing a different (safer and easier) path.

I’ve always considered myself an open-minded liberal. I read BIPOC authors! I support the ACLU! I’ve voted Democrat since 1980! I taught books on the history of race in our country such as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! I’m aghast at Trump, Fox News, and what I consider narrow minded thinking. Yet…I have kept my mouth shut when someone has said a racial joke or made a racial slur or used racially charged language. I’ve played it safe with my writing, not wanting to anger or offend my conservative friends and family. I’ve remained silent when family members ranted about how those damn football players shouldn’t kneel during the national anthem, thinking I didn’t want to “rock the boat” or “I’ll never change their minds so what’s the point?”

The upheaval of the past two weeks have forced me to rethink and relearn. I’m listening. I’m reading. I’m pondering difficult questions. I’m examining the troubled and bloody history of this country: the theft of land, the bondage of others, the annihilation of cultures not like “ours,” the lynching of black bodies, the red-lining, the white flight, the “war on drugs,” the prison pipeline.

When I did an ancestry search last year, I discovered family members who owned slaves in Virginia, Kentucky, and the Caribbean. This is my history. This is my reckoning.

My oldest son is a police officer, and we have had deep, difficult conversations about how he is grappling with the role police play in our communities. He is also questioning and reading and pondering the violent, racist history of police in this country. I am proud of his journey.

My youngest son’s significant other is a BIPOC. He is planning a future with her. They’ve attended a demonstration in downtown Dallas in 100 degree heat amid throngs of masked protesters. I am proud of his journey.

Me? I’m a 61 year old privileged white woman whose journey has just begun. The path will be fraught with mistakes, that I know, but I am willing to take the risks. As a writer and former English teacher, I know the power of editing and rewriting, taking that red pen and crossing words out, rephrasing awkward sentences, and deleting entire sections. This is now my journey, looking carefully at what I’ve learned and done in the past and do the formidable work of becoming a better ally, to listen and read and understand. And often that means I will make mistakes, scribble ineligible liner notes, change the syntax, and even start over. I am willing to take this journey. 

Are you?

Here are a few books I have read and Instagram accounts I just started to follow that are shaking up my safe, white world:

Books:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Between the World and Me by Ta-Hehisi Coates

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Lies My History Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen 

Instagram Accounts:

Ibram X. Kendi @ibramxk

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle @rachel.cargle

Layla F. Saad @laylafsaad

Showing Up for Racial Justice @ showingupforracialjustice

Audre Lorde Project @audrelordeproject

Books I have ordered but are out of stock at the moment:

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad

White Fragility by Robin Diangelo

image from poets.org
bad news on the doorstep

by christie shumate mcelwee

When I woke up this morning, I was assaulted by bad news. Tragedy all around us. My heart shattered. I took my coffee to my front porch swing and sat while the late spring breeze whispered a few lines from “American Pie”: “Bad news on the doorstep/I couldn’t take one more step.” I pondered the lyrics of this iconic song, remembering how my friends and I would pour over them and attempt to find some meaning in Don McLean’s symbolism. We knew it was about the 1959 plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper, but we also loved the tune and vainly attempted to memorize this 8 minute epic. 

After I came inside, I pulled up the song and its lyrics, and listened to it again, suddenly coming to the realization that “American Pie” is a mourning hymn. It sings of grief and regret and loss and confusion. Where do we go when our heroes die? Can innocence be lost over and over again? What saves our souls? Who do we turn to when all seems unsalvageable? The song doesn’t give any pat answers. It just allows us to sit with our heartache.

This is where many of us are right now. We don’t know what to do with our feelings of despair. We see the numbers: positive cases, deaths, unemployment figures, shuttered small businesses. The news contains wrenching stories of hate and lies and gaslighting. Fear is everywhere and hope seems, well, often hopeless. How do we process all of this? We often search for silver linings and gratitude, listing our simple joys, but sometimes we just need to sit with this overwhelming sadness. Sometimes life sucks. Don McLean sang of how it appears as though the devil is “laughing with delight.” How do we go on if evil is cackling at our pain?

I am not a theologian or a great philosopher. I’m just an anxious, messy, and awkward woman who writes rambling words with questionable syntax and punctuation. I attempt to find some type of solace through song lyrics, poetry, and prose (along with coffee and wine).

Today I found it in “American Pie.” 

I met a girl who sang the blues

And I asked her for some happy news

But she just smiled and turned away

I went down to the sacred store

Where I’d heard the music years before

But the man there said the music wouldn’t play

And in the streets the children screamed

The lovers cried, and the poets dreamed

But not a word was spoken

The church bells all were broken

And the three men I admire most

The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost

They caught the last train for the coast

The day the music died

And they were singing

Bye, bye Miss American Pie

Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry

And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye

Singin’ this’ll be the day that I die

This’ll be the day that I die

music and lyrics by Don McLean

our little tree: tiny hopeful buds

by Christie Shumate McElwee

We have a two-year old tree in front of our house that isn’t doing well. While all the other trees on our block have leafed out, ours silently stands with just a few buds attempting to open. Every day I send energy to its roots, hoping it will feel the strength of my love. I acknowledge that all my tree hugging may not be able to save it, yet I pray to Mother Nature to summon her powers to revive this struggling plant.

Lately I have been pondering the difference between hope and optimism. Yes, these concepts are related, but they follow divergent paths. Both are guideposts to the future. Think in terms of their opposites. The opposite of optimism is pessimism, and the opposite of hope is despair or fear. Optimism relies on feeling good about the future, even denying that bad things can happen. Optimists expect things to turn out okay. Hope, on the other hand, relies on the effort to make life better, knowing hard times are ahead and barreling ahead in spite of them. Hopeful people continue on through the pain, fighting for justice and kindness and peace.

In Emily Dickinson’s poem “Hope is the thing with feathers”, she writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

The little bird clings to the branch while the storm swells, and continues to sing its song. Hope gives us warmth, yet doesn’t ask anything of us. We know things are rough. We see the darkness. We feel the pain…yet hope is still there, singing its tune.

Where do I see hope? It is in people trying their best to protect others. It is in our beautiful faces, even when covered by masks. Hope is in the reaching out, the praying, the grace we give one another. Hope sustains us.

And what about our little tree? Will my hope save it? I check it every day for new buds, and embrace its trunk, hoping it will feel my spirit. Will it survive? I don’t really know the answer, but I continue to hope, and that hope gives me strength to face what is ahead. I will live under hope’s roof.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.” 

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

At first glance, our little tree looks dead.
But step closer, you can see tiny, hopeful buds.
‘show me’ how to breathe: the reopening of my state and how to navigate my anxiety

by Christie Shumate McElwee

I woke up in the middle of the night with a rapid heart beat and a litany of questions. Is this really a good idea? Are our numbers flat enough to reopen? When will I feel safe again in public? How do I manage my ramped up anxiety? Is there a right way to do this thing? A wrong way? What about those who don’t adhere to the rules? What about the small business owners who need to open so they can stay afloat? Will I ever feel comfortable eating in a restaurant? Shopping in a store? Can establishments keep their workers safe while operating? What about more tests? More PPE? What if there is a surge in positive cases? What about those who won’t wear masks? Will we ever go to a concert again? A street fair? The pool? Will I ever be able to catch my breath again?

My state and county officially reopened at 12:01 am today. (A few counties with larger populations have chosen to remain closed.) The “show me strong recovery plan” has lists of rules and regulations on its website, but with the exception of a few places, the doors have been thrown wide open. The businesses I follow on social media have been posting their procedures for reopening. Some are waiting at least a week while they hammer out the logistics. Others, especially restaurants, are moving tables and chairs six feet apart, instituting hygiene rules, and begging for patience from their customers while they attempt to figure this all out.

On Saturday my husband and I went for a drive. We decided to check out a county park that had just reopened. During “normal” times we love to walk the path around the lake, but when we arrived, the place was packed. People were everywhere. Parking lots were full. Despite the signs encouraging safe social distancing, few seemed to comply. We quickly left the premises and found a small semi-deserted place to walk where I could breathe.

I am slowly realizing that in order to come to some kind of peace with all of this, I have to sit with my anxiety and then remember I can only control myself.

So, here’s my list of what I can control:

  1. We are going to maintain our own ‘shelter-in-place’ for at least another month. We will venture out for walks, trips to the grocery and hardware stores, and for my husband, an occasional game of golf, but we need to see how this all works before we tip-toe out in public. (And yes, I am getting my hair cut. You can judge me if you want, but it’s happening.)
  2. I am going to attempt to set aside my own judgment of others. I don’t like the icky feeling I get when I’m in the judgment zone. (This is difficult for me. I must be honest. If you are rude, unkind, racist, or just plain stupid, I may continue to judge you.) We humans are social animals. Staying sequestered goes against our natures. This I understand. I also know businesses cannot stay closed forever. If an establishment is going to the trouble to keep its workers and customers safe, I’m holding my judgment…for now.
  3. We will wear our masks when entering any establishment. Yes, it is a hassle. Yes, it is a pain in the butt. Yes, it is the smart thing to do in order to protect the health of others.
  4. I am cutting way back on the quarantine amount of wine I have consumed. I’m rationing myself to the weekends instead of every night. My sleep cycle and liver will thank me.
  5. I will continue to exercise almost every day. This is important for maintaining my weight and my mental health.
  6. I am also rationing my reading and viewing consumption of anything that concerns the current occupant of the White House and his hateful, small, ignorant words. A friend of mine said she won’t allow him in her house, and I’ve decided that’s brilliant! I would never invite such a person in my home, so why am I doing it now? I will permit one or two articles a day, an occasional rant, and that is it. I will vote in November and hope, hope, hope we can heal.
  7. I’ve decided to let go of my part-time teaching job. This pandemic has taught me the importance of listening to my heart, and it is telling me it is time to hang up my teaching cape. It’s been a good run, but I am done.
  8. We will continue to order from our favorite locally owned businesses. We’ve finally figured out this whole take-out routine, and we kind of like it. On nice days, we will grab a blanket and head outside for a picnic, just to mix things up a bit.
  9. Today I will start meditating. It may just be for five minutes a day, but it will help me breathe.
  10. I will attempt to live in the moment and push aside the fear. I will love with my messy heart all that is good in the world. I will breathe in hope and breathe out compassion.

“Life is beautiful in spite of everything…There are many thorns, but the roses are there too.” ~Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Crimson clover has overtaken empty lots in our neighborhood. Isn’t it gorgeous?
coming to terms with my vanity

by Christie Shumate McElwee

“We’re older but no more the wise

We’ve learned the art of compromise

Sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry

And sometimes we just break down

We’re good now ’cause we have to be

Come to terms with our vanity

Sometimes we still curse gravity

When no one is around”

“Hey Cinderella”

Songwriters: Suzy Bogguss / Matraca Berg / Gary Harrison

I have a confession to make. It has been 11 weeks since my last haircut. A couple of weeks ago I had my sweet husband take his trimmer to the back of my neck to clean up the errant hair that stubbornly grows there. No matter what I do to it, though, it is in my eyes. I am constantly playing with it, trying cute hair pins and bandanas, yet it is still a mess.

I acknowledge this is not the worst thing that is happening these days. I read the news and see the devastation this virus has wreaked across the globe. I know I shouldn’t be worrying about my vanity…

But…my hair. What about my hair? Before Zoom, I never had to look at myself as I participated in conversations. Now all I can see is my hair. I fidget with it or attempt to restyle it as the meeting is going on. Truthfully, I’m annoying myself.

We women are our own worst critics. Every supposed flaw is torn apart. Billions of dollars are spent on creams and makeup and styling products in order to look pretty, but we can’t seem to give ourselves a freaking break. I know this because these days when I look at myself in Zoom or FaceTime all I see is an aging woman desperately in need of a trim.

I gave up coloring my hair almost two years ago, and I’m pleased with the touch of gray. I don’t wear much makeup, but I do enjoy a little if I’m going out. But…my hair. What about my hair?

Soon as the shelter in place guidelines are slowly lifted, I will tentatively tiptoe back to my stylist. Safe procedures are promised and I trust her to keep everyone safe. Small businesses need their customers and we need to support them. I also realize not everyone feels safe to visit some establishments yet, and I respect that. I know my anxiety levels peak every time I even think about venturing out in public. Wearing masks, washing hands, and practicing safe habits are our new normal. 

And after that first haircut in over three months, will I look at myself differently? Perhaps, but I do know a trip to the salon is a good boost for the morale. During these difficult times, we are all doing things to help our psyches. Some are planting flowers, others are knitting. Me? I scratch a few rambling words every week, but a trim would certainly help.

We are all just stumbling through this thing.

Be safe.

Be kind.

Forgive others and yourself because even Cinderella didn’t know how the story would turn out.

“Hey hey, Cinderella, what’s the story all about

I got a funny feeling we missed a page or two somehow

Ohh-ohhhh, Cinderella, maybe you could help us out

Does the shoe fit you now?”

Jane Jetson had it figured out. Now, where do I buy these masks? Amazon, perhaps?
“shelter from the storm”

by Christie Shumate McElwee

After I graduated college, I lived in an assortment of dwellings, from my first studio apartment with a pull-out couch for a bed to a brick walk-up in Bucktown with tin ceilings and tiny bedrooms. Each place offered its own brand of comfort, despite my dismal lack of funds. I gathered books and cheap trinkets, bought dishes and rugs, and attempted to fill my little places with music and laughter. The furniture was mostly hand-me-downs or items I purchased from friends. One beige and peach sofa I bought cheaply from a friend of a friend in Dallas was awkwardly transported to five different places over the years, but, man, that was the best nap couch. When I was pregnant and couldn’t sleep, it was my sanctuary many nights, and later it became a favorite place for my ex to nap, with our oldest son comfortably asleep on his chest.

From the time I left home (not counting the few times I landed back there to heal) to now, I have lived in fourteen different apartments and houses. Each one unique. Each with its own set of memories and heartache. Apartment walls listened as I cried over breakups. My old rocking chair comforted me as I sang my babies to sleep. The small white cottage in Palatine wept when I gathered my boys up and moved us to another life downstate. I bought my first house on West Decatur and filled it with toys and books and music, and messily attempted to create a joyous childhood for my sons. Many of the small kitchens remained virtually unused until I finally learned how to cook in the house on Cresthaven Avenue. When we moved down to our cozy green gables cottage, we discovered new adventures to explore.

Now home takes on a greater significance. It is our safe place from a virus that is ravaging the globe. My husband and I are privileged to live in a house that has enough space (and internet!) to have him work in his basement office while I write upstairs in the loft. We venture out for walks, he grocery shops once a week, and we occasionally get in the car for long drives. We video chat with the grandchildren. We’ve hosted a few virtual happy hours with friends. Our lives are small now, but our house nurtures us.

Our kitchen table is set for two. A half finished puzzle sits at one end. I long for the day when we have a crowded table, filled with friends and family telling stories and eating pieces of freshly baked apple pie, but we wait patiently until it is safe to gather. 

I hope with all my heart your home is offering you shelter from the storm.

“Come in,” she said
“I’ll give you shelter from the storm”
Shelter from the Storm, music and lyrics by Bob Dylan

Watching a storm blow in from the shelter of our top porch.