A Child’s Joy for Skates, Pizza, & Cookies: Part 3 to What is Service? What is Generosity?

image“Roller skate! Wheeee!” Words I hear often. Day 6, I decided to implement an initial phase for several projects because many require planning and coordinating with other organizations and people. Zo cleaned out her clothes and toys, making donation piles. We went to the mall and picked out an angel from the tree. Zo chose a girl her age who wanted roller skates.

We began shopping for the roller skater’s clothes, and Zo needed pants since she had outgrown all of them. (Already, I noticed the timing was working out in magical ways.) In the first store, a woman asked if Zo liked a pair of pants and explained that she, too, was shopping for her angel and the girl wore the same size. Zo shriveled her nose at the pants the woman had chosen. “Good thing I asked you,” she laughed. I wasn’t satisfied with the store and suggested another to Zo. We continued to shop and bumped into the woman again along the way, and Zo helped her choose a couple of shirts for her angel. We said goodbye again, and decided to finish some Christmas shopping. After a round of receipts with survey offers, we circled back to finish at the same store and met the same woman as she tried on a jacket–“finished shopping for my angel and decided to give myself a little gift, too,” she said. We laughed. “Merry Christmas,” I told her, waving goodbye in disbelief that I had enjoyed the shopping experience (usually, one of my least favorite things, & I didn’t have anxiety, or feel like I needed to run out of there–it was a holiday miracle!). Imagining the roller skater in her new kicks was the perfect motivation.
“Let’s go already!” Day 7, Zo woke up and asked if we were still going to serve food that evening. She asked all day. She made us crazy until we threatened not to go. (Wait, we realized that punishment wouldn’t work if we wanted to encourage generosity.) On the way to serve food to the homeless at a local church, the trees were heavy with ice and sparkled in just the right light. The sky was becoming grayer and it absorbed the outline of the ice. Photos were difficult to take. Zo tried to take them in the car–blurry trees, pavement in motion, reflections of her frustrated face on the window.

I was concerned about the forecasts for an ice storm, another round, that evening and early morning. I coached myself to find joy. Find inner joy and, without being shrill, emit that with soft, helpful energy.
Making up beds at the church, Zo and I took one room of small, wooden-framed, twin beds, low to the ground. A group of teens made up beds in an adjoining room. As we spread on clean, white sheets, pillowcases, and comforters, I thought about blessing the future sleepers with good dreams, safety, and warmth. On a cold night such as that, (or, any night) I wouldn’t want to consider sleeping on the street, under a bridge, on a bench, slumped against a tree, in an abandoned home or car. Zo placed care packages of body care products on each of the beds. Though it didn’t turn out to be much of an ice storm, it was cold enough to keep the trees frozen in a slick bubble layer, & that’s too cold to lie down outside to rest.

In the kitchen, preparing meals, talking to Boy Scouts, packing lunches, frying okra, moving out of the way, saying thank you, laughing, bowing my head, eating with everyone–all of it contained a lighthearted ease. The people serving food emitted it–kindness–all of them, and that will make anyone joyful. Their bowls overflowed with homemade foods they had prepared to share.
My Dad and I stood by the ovens and heated slices of carry-out pizza. We didn’t think much about the pizza since there was so much local food prepared in family kitchens and delivered while still hot. We placed the pizza in the boxes and covered them with foil, then a woman wheeled them to the end of the line. The pizza was an afterthought, and my Dad even wondered aloud, why the pizza? The homeless men arrived from Nashville. The Boy Scouts, Zo, and other people served all the homemade foods and filled the plates, but the men saved space for or placed the pizza on top. They commented on the pizza more than anything else. Several asked if they could return for seconds. It caused me to realize the value of carry-out pizza to someone living on the street. When these men are served in shelters and church kitchens, I’m sure it’s often homestyle foods. The pizza is different– the buttery garlic bread-tomato-pepperoni-onion-sausage-oregano scent drifting along every corner, down almost every city block, and you need $5 or $10 to get one.
I love pizza–barbecue chicken is my favorite.

Days 8 & 9, when plans aren’t what you’d expect, the point is that you tried. This was the lesson Zo was getting on Sunday, when the “ice storm” changed our original plans. We decided to deliver our wrapped gifts to the mall for the roller skater angel. When the office doors were locked, Zo said, “Great,” sarcastically, “change of plans again. I guess she won’t get her presents.”
I encouraged her to visit other stores with me, and we found a security guard who let us in the office to drop off the gift.
“Kind of surprised that worked out after a day like today,” she said.
“That’s a little negative, considering…” I looked at her.
“I know, I get it. I have more than that girl,” she said.
“Wow. I was going to say, considering we got our Christmas tree today.”
“Oh yeah, that, too,” she said smiling.

Another childhood joy–cookies! Day 9, she tried. She baked chocolate chip cookies for our neighbor who is elderly and recently had surgery. Zo bundled up in her coat and ran to deliver them. I watched and shivered in the cold. When our neighbor never opened the door, Zo shouted, “Can I leave them on the porch?”
“Too cold. They’ll freeze. Maybe she’ll be there tomorrow.” I waved her back over to our house.
“At least I tried,” she declared when she came inside.

Dreams, Shame, Perseverance, & Sharing the Story

The first (and only) teaching job I took for secondary education ended abruptly for a variety of reasons, but mainly, I knew that teaching junior high and high school wasn’t for me. I knew it before I ever stepped foot in the classroom when I was discouraged from choosing female-based narratives that were in the curriculum. I was told quite bluntly by the chair of the department, “No one relates to stories told by a woman or a girl. Not even the girls relate.” She (yes, that’s right, the chair was a woman) went on to say that the students just sit there–no one talks–so I should pick from the male authors.

I now stand in the middle of this publishing endeavor I’ve begun and try to steady my feet. Most of the time, I’m literally running and setting ideas in motion, all of which relate to female-based narratives. Lately, I’ve been thinking about my orbits more than usual, watching how quickly they manifest into more orbits, and analyzing how my patterns affect the creativity of other authors and artists, editors and graphic artists… and now, a sound engineer.

On the eve of the Southern Festival of Books, I took a long look back at the women who inspired the courage and tenacity, the fighting spirit to create outside of the industry’s model. And, this work definitely requires tough skin. I don’t have it, really…I just won’t be stopped. I keep going no matter what because I believe in the mission to make the work of women authors available, to give those authors fair royalties, and to create a partnership with them that gives voice to their work in the way that they envision.

My voice was damaged during junior high by a humiliating experience of religious and social bullying that spilled into my education–completely shamed and denigrated, I promised myself that I would never do that to someone else, that I would strive to empower my friends and family members, and that I would support them in their dreams whenever possible. Of course, this promise I made wasn’t always reciprocated or even appreciated, but I wasn’t going to stop trying. I seek out opportunities that allow me to fulfill my promise to my previously wounded self.

Luckily, I found unbelievable partners and teammates in Terry Morris (my husband and now, business manager), Beverly Fisher (the first author to publish under Thorncraft’s imprint), and Kitty Madden (Thorncraft’s editor). These three people put their trust in my talents and vision, as I sought to show the world our work.

Moments of complete exasperation and desperation have plagued my emotions during the tasks that felt particularly sweaty and even bloody (metaphorical paper cuts will getcha & can turn into all-out paperwork warfare). Yet, I have persevered until we are taking new steps–recording audio books for our titles, getting Lightning Source distribution in motion, and signing another author.

All of this causes a wash of gratitude for the women in my past who read & appreciated books and shared that with me. The influences of these women motivate me even today–my Mom who tried to purchase enough books to satisfy me from the time I was a child through college; my aunt Nancy & her love of biographies; my aunt Julie and her joy for Emily Dickinson (yes, joy for Dickinson–I know, right? joy is a tough sell for Emily, but that is exactly what my aunt has always expressed); my high school friends who skipped some kind of senior class meeting with me to read “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” and talk about poetry for English class; Ms. Mallernee and her love of English literature, her contagious penmanship, and her demand for recitation; Jill Eichhorn & her knowledge of literature by and about women; Dr. Christian who became my teaching mentor & allowed me to enjoy teaching adults, & she taught me to savor the short story; Christy O’Brien and her penchant for both creepy books and self-help titles; Diane McLain & her encouragement to be a rebel all while reading science fiction; and last, but certainly not least, Rita Yerrington, who reads more library books than anyone I know, and her unwavering faith in the power of pure determination. (<–I adore that long, stringy sentence dedicated to women) These women are intelligent and unique. I'm so grateful for the inspiration they provided to me, for it continues to manifest in the lives of so many other women.

I'm eager to continue creating new work and look forward to telling you about our new author and new title in the coming days.
Don’t miss it:
We’ll be at the Southern Festival of Books this weekend, October 11-13, in Downtown Nashville at the War Memorial Plaza. Free event.
Friday: noon-6 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday: noon-5 p.m.

Visit us at the Thorncraft Publishing booth. Both Beverly and I will be signing books.