Tuesday, September 16, 2014

on life in a small town.


We are lucky. 

It's hard to remember that when the humidity is as thick as sweet tea and our breaths become deep and measured on walks around the neighborhood. We are in the last long, dwindling days of summer, and in the South, the dog days can be excruciating. You, with your west coast breezes and your falling leaves and your sweater-buying? I envy you. 

But last weekend, we walked around our quaint downtown and celebrated the arts. We explored new shops and admired larger-than-life murals. We said hello to friends and frequent customers, to acquaintances and fellow shop owners. 

It was fun, and I'm not sure it would have been possible in a bigger city. 

I tweeted last week that I didn't understand the term "love-hate relationship" until I moved to a small town. 

And I am almost terrified of blogging about these feelings, because the Internet is weird, and I don't know who reads this space anymore. I am afraid that maybe my fellow small town dwellers will read my words and misunderstand my confusion for dislike, so let me quickly clarify: We are enjoying small town living. It is fun and goofy and different and weird. Kind of like us, honestly.

The characters we meet are worthy of classic literature. Our house is within the downtown limits, and we can hear the football games and the high school marching band from our front porch. That is good, good stuff. 

We're fortunate, too, because our Southern small town is growing and thriving, not dying. That arts festival? It couldn't happen just anywhere. Next month, there will be a book festival and a film festival. The following month, a celebration of plantation wildlife. Our town is unique and gifted, and we like it here. 

But there is something about small town culture, isn't there? I'm grateful for Gilmore Girls and the Mitford books and Anne of Green Gables, because thanks to them, I knew small town life would be different. But Southern small town life is its own beast. And I told my mother the other day I was so confused. Because there are Friday Night Lights and arts festivals, and Jordan and I happen to really like both (we have always been football and museum kind of people). But we're discovering those cultures don't really cross one another's paths here. And it is so odd to straddle both -- to enjoy the high school marching band but to also relish painted murals on a wall. My mother -- because she is my mother -- insisted our tastes just mean we are well-rounded, but it doesn't really feel like that here. It feels like I have to choose, and I'd rather not. (Let's face it: I probably won't.)

Add to that dilemma the fact that I am known here now -- book lady and all that jazz -- but of course I am not really known, and it's all rather difficult.

I think this is really just what moving is like; in other words, maybe none of these scenarios is even specific to small town living. Maybe this is just what it's like to grow up and move and have to find your place in the world over and over and over again. 

We are carving out a space. We are attending high school football games (for which we had to Google what colors the teams wore) and finding local hang outs. I have discovered the city's best milkshake, which feels like a big accomplishment. We are attending local theater dinners and taking late night walks and learning to live with streets that shut down at 7:00 p.m. I am contemplating joining a gym, which we all know will end in futility, but it's fun to consider nonetheless. 

I read a lot of blogs by people who live in New York and San Francisco and Salt Lake City and Austin and Chicago, and they're lovely. I relish their words, and I don't read them because of their geography, but I wonder: Where are the small town dwellers, and what can they teach me? I am desperate to learn how I am supposed to do this, how I am supposed to find my place. I need to know what other small town dwellers know.

Jordan and I used to discuss, hypothetically, what it would be like to live in a small town. There's one conversation I remember with absolute clarity. We talked about how we would break in to people's lives, how we'd try to be approachable and kind. We talked about the fun (to Jordan) and horror (to me) of everyone knowing your name and your business.

I don't know what to think of all of this. I'm not quite sure if I'm the big city person I think I am, but there are days I wonder if a small town life is for me.

Of course, for today, it is. Because we have chosen this, and thus far, I don't think it's been a bad decision. Different from decisions our friends have made? Gosh, absolutely. Different from what we imagined? Probably, yes. But better? In many ways, you bet. 

So here we are, living in the small town South, figuring it out -- as so many of us are -- as we go. It's not so bad, really. We are trailblazers, in a way. I think one day, we will tell our children the stories of how mommy and daddy moved to a small town and bought a bookstore and tried to make things happen, and maybe they will laugh and roll their eyes, but maybe they'll be inspired to do something different, too.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 17.



On why gender issues exist
Customer 1: "Look at this animal book! It's done by the Smithsonian."
Customer 2: "Yeah. It'd be a great gift for a little boy." 

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On perspective
Me: "You have a great weekend!"
Customer (approx. 70-years-old): "I intend to. And if I don't, it's my own fault!"


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On erotica
"You might want to tell your other customers this one's about 25 shades of grey."

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On confidence
First grader at story time: "I really do think I'm the smartest girl in the world."

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On job qualifications
Phone call: "Are you hiring?"
Me: "We're not currently hiring, but I do encourage people to drop off their resumes if they're interested."
Phone call, hesitation: "Do I have to work the cash register?

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On not understanding local bookselling
Phone call: "Do you all buy books from Amazon.com?"

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On compliments
We have a wooden cat with glasses sitting by our register.
Customer to manager: "The cat looks like you."

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On treating yo' self.
"Mom! It's always about money! Sometimes you've just got to take a load off!"

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On why Google is so important
"When I send my book to a publisher, do you know what format my pictures need to be in?"

Monday, September 8, 2014

fear and trembling.


It's been a while.

The words have been percolating, and I'm still not sure they're ready to come out, but this week Shauna Niequist wrote that for her, writing equals learning, and the same, I think, is true of me. I write my way through things, and my life has been such a chaotic, beautiful mess these past several months, the words have been set on the back burner, slowly bubbling up, waiting to take on a life of their own.

Here I am, then, telling my story in bits and pieces, because the words won't wait anymore.

We are finding our home in Thomasville. I laugh at the Annie of six months ago, the Annie who gave herself a deadline to find new friends and a new church, who thought deadlines would help fix everything because normally, they do. I love deadlines and lists and the adrenaline that comes from setting a goal and meeting it.

But friends and faith are not about goals, I've discovered. You can build it, and they still might not come.

Setting my table wasn't enough. I think that's worth mentioning, because a lot of advice I received and words I read encouraged me to move forward, to put myself out there, and things would start happening.

That's not true, not always.

So instead, it is September, and we are settling into life here, but it is different, and it is hard not to pour all of that out when people unwittingly ask how we are doing. We have moved to a small town in the South where everyone knows each other and has family and community built in and at their fingertips -- how do you think we are doing?

I have taken over a bookstore -- a dream -- but change is hard in a small town, and I understand that. It's hard, but I understand it. So I am putting my head down and doing the work, which is all I really know to do. And slowly, the guards are coming down, and people are warming up to me and what I have to offer. It has been painful, but it is rewarding and good for me, and I am happy.

The store itself is doing well. We will never be millionaires, but things are growing, moving. I have staff members and co-workers who respect me and who carry burdens and who do the work right along with me. I am thrilled with them, though in the back of my mind, I wonder how long they will stay. Such is the burden of retail. So I am learning to be content and happy right now, and that is yet another hard thing -- the list of hard things grows a little longer each day, I think.

Our community is good. It doesn't look like I thought it would. (What does, I wonder?) I don't have kindred spirits or giggle-until-you-cry friends. There are no girls' nights. I am intimidated by the intimacy others have formed in decades of life here, but I am also hopeful, and I am discovering that my own time is limited and valuable, perhaps more now than ever before, and as a result, friendships and community might look different than they did a few years ago. I am entering a season in which mingling and networking and "putting myself out there" will all become impossibilities.

I have decided, then, to not try quite as hard. Instead, as with the bookstore, I am going to put my head down and do the work in the ways I know how. I am going to be friendly and kind and warm, but I may not make every event or activity because I just can't. I have tried too hard, I think, these past few months, and it has to stop. Remarkably, I am okay with this. I am trusting the friends will come, with time and effort and faith. For now, it is what it is. And I don't find that truth unpleasant; I find it hopeful.

Creating a home for ourselves in Thomasville meant finding a house and making it look like we lived and loved there. It meant building a community of people we could call ours. It meant opening our hearts and our hands and our pocketbooks to entrepreneurship and all the good and bad it brings. It meant refocusing our faith and finding a church to breathe and be life in.

Last weekend, we spent time with family from all over these Southern states, and would you know almost every person our age was struggling with the question of church and faith? My brother, I think, was disheartened by so much dissatisfaction and hurt, but I was comforted. It is always comforting to know we are not alone.

Jordan and I are trying a new thing with our faith. We are stepping out in prayer and pursuing something different, something unrecognizable to many of our family and friends. I have rarely been specific here about our faith stories, about where we were raised and how we've become who we are. I have hesitated, perhaps out of fear, but more likely out of the potential for hurt and confusion.

We love the way we were raised. We love our faith history. But it is time to focus on our faith going forward.

Yes, I've hurt and been hurt, but this isn't about that. This is about a faith that had grown stagnant and weary and dry, and a corner I turned a few weeks ago when we took a leap in a new direction, and I woke up realizing I was excited for Sunday.

I don't know how much to share yet, but I believe so actively in sharing stories, in grace and authenticity. So I'm sharing this little bit: That Bible verse, the one about working out your salvation with fear and trembling? It shouldn't scare you. It should free you. It has freed me.

The answers aren't clear. Jordan fights long and hard for black and white; I tend to dwell in grey. That's okay. Maybe answers will come; maybe they won't. What matters for us is the pursuit of a faith and belief that is active, working, breathing. I'm not sure yet where that will take us, but I am grateful we are doing it together. 

I don't want to leave the impression that life isn't good, because it is. Who I am now is not, thankfully, who I was a year ago. When I think about this time last year, I realize I was unhappy, stressed, and confused. We had just begun to take over the store, and the growing pains were immense, and we made mistakes. We hadn't moved, so our life was split between these two places. We're not there anymore, and I am glad. 

Moving takes time. In this world of instantaneous communication, of Pinterest boards and Instagram photos, it's important to remember life takes time. My friends teased me when I moved, that my house was decorated and put together in the blink of an eye. What they may not realize is I needed that, because it wasn't going to happen anywhere else. Anyone can hang a picture or put throw pillows on a couch. But building a community? Running a store? Starting a website? Creating a podcast? Forming a staff? Finding a church? None of that moves quickly. 

I'm learning to embrace the now, and I'm learning to embrace how slow it all moves. 

Our goal in all of this -- in life, in entrepreneurship, in friends and church and faith -- is to open our hands. To take each day as it comes, and to learn from it. I'm trying to let go of expectations and watch what happens when I do. 

My palms are open wide. The words are coming back. And I am fearful and trembling, but hoping too.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 16.



On inappropriate affections
"The Holocaust was my favorite."
Pretty sure she was talking about the museum, but still...

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On written sentiment
Customer: "You had the absolute perfect card for my sister."
Manager: "Oh good, I'm so glad!"
Customer: "Maybe now she'll start talking to me again."


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On toys and breakfast food
Little boy: "Y'all used to have those things that looked like pancakes. Why don't you anymore?"
Me: "Pancakes? Was it a toy?"
Little boy: "Yes. It looked like a pancake and had a white string."
Me: "Hmmm. Wait, a yo-yo?"
Little boy: "Yes, that's it! Like a pancake!"

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On becoming a one-stop shop
Customer: "Do you have any books about palm reading or fortune telling? Even dreams?"
Me, from behind the register: "I'm not sure; let me look. I sometimes carry a dream dictionary, but we may be sold out."
Customer: "I'm also in the market for one of those round, clear things. A crystal ball. Do you have one of those back there?"

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On availability
Customer: "I have a question for you."
Me: "Sure, I can help you."
Customer: "You have every book except the one I need."

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On popular film
Customer: "So you watch movies here?"
Me: "We do have a film society where we read the book first, then watch the movie. Our next one is True Grit on August 21."
Customer: "I would come except I think that's just about the silliest movie I've ever seen."

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On education in the South
Customer: "You know what I tell them? You might be precious in His sight, but you're not in mine."
Me: "What grade do you teach?"
Customer: "Kindergarten."

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On serving the hipster clientele
Me: "Can I help you find anything?"
Customer: "I really just wanted to see if you carried anything obscure."

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On the definition of an autobiography
 Customer: "Who wrote The Diary of Anne Frank?"
Bookseller: "Um, Anne Frank wrote her own diary..." 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

the courthouse project.


When I was a little girl, my family used to take the most wonderful vacations. Not expensive, not lengthy, but wonderful nonetheless, due in large part to the adventuresome (but always practical) nature of my parents. Our vacations were full of educational detours, quirky pitstops, and historical landmarks. My love of national parks? That comes from my parents. My insistence on eating at local hole-in-the-wall establishments? That's my parents. 

It's funny, then, all these years later, to see myself following in my parents' footsteps. To realize that in spite of our differences from my parents as a couple, Jordan and I are eerily similar in the way we choose and plan our vacations. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know our summer has already been filled with adventures. We've traveled up, down, and across the great state of Florida, witnessed fireworks along the Savannah riverwalk, and chased rabbit trails around south Georgia. What you may not know is just how many of our travels this summer -- and really, for the past three years -- have revolved around something I lovingly call The Courthouse Project. 

Since passing the bar exam back in 2010, Jordan has been healthily obsessed with visiting every county courthouse in Florida. It's an interest that comes, I think, partly from Jordan's career as an attorney, but also from his (and our) love of old things. Photographing each courthouse became something we did on weekends and on road trips, and soon, Jordan envisioned tackling all 67, compiling them into some sort of photo collage or another. Neither one of us is a photographer; a shame, since so many of Florida's courthouses are really, truly beautiful. But the photography, I don't think, was nearly as important as the adventure. 

The state we used to call home -- the state I have called home my whole life -- is diverse and vast; I don't know what other place in our country (perhaps other than California) can boast such a plethora of flora and fauna,  such a wide range of terrain. Because of The Courthouse Project, we've seen it all. We've driven across my beloved Panhandle, through tourist traps and into quiet, sleepy, dying towns; we've glimpsed the white sands of the Gulf and the crystal clear water of the Atlantic. We've rolled our windows down next to alligator-filled creeks and seen the shadows of orange groves at midnight. We've raised our eyebrows at the excess of Palm Beach and walked across the cobblestone streets of St. Augustine.

I doubt very many people have traveled the state -- any state! -- like we have; visiting each county seat takes a certain amount of stamina and patience. Not every city is beautiful; not every stop offers some hidden gem. We have, in so many ways, seen it all, and every time we'd arrive at some new location -- undoubtedly off the beaten path -- I'd think of my parents and the vacations I used to take with them as a child. 

Jordan and I have been married nearly six years; we've known each other for almost 10. In our time together, we've been to San Antonio and Venice, to Atlanta and San Francisco. We spent our honeymoon in Newport and our first anniversary in a windy, cold Chicago. We've hidden away in Tybee Island and taken day trips to Seaside and St. George. Our phones and our walls are full of pictures of Savannah and Florence and Boston and Nashville and New Orleans and Naples and Rome. Our trips, most often, are taken on the cheap; we are not expensive travelers; we can't afford to be. But our adventures together are incredibly special, and this weekend, as we traveled back down to Florida from a weekend with friends, we stopped for our very last courthouse. 

I can be a bit of a sentimental fool. I hide it well, I think, but there are boxes of love letters and a newspaper editorial I dedicated to Jordan's old car that all insist deep down, I am soft. I hold special places in my heart for the things and the people I love. It's bittersweet, then, to put the last courthouse pin on the map, sad to put away the coloring sheet Jordan's been keeping to highlight the counties we've been to and the ones we still need to visit. They're all filled in now, and the historic Nassau County Courthouse in downtown Fernandina Beach officially marked the end of an era for us.

We'll spend the next few weeks, maybe months, debating what to do with Jordan's courthouse pictures, how best to compile them all into albums or prints. He'll be the first to admit not all of the photographs he's taken are frame-worthy, but there's something about seeing them all together that's pretty spectacular. Sixty-seven counties, each one with a treasured history, an architecture and agriculture all its own. 

This courthouse project has been a part of our vacations and road trips for three years, guiding us, little by little, on where to go next. Now we've reached the end, and I wonder just what we'll tackle next. It's funny; this project is a little reminiscent of where we are in life right now; the end of one chapter, the beginning of another. Life can be silly and special like that, if we notice. 

Everyone's adventures are different. The routes we all take are unique and varied; no two of us really choose the same ways. But I'm glad I've found someone who will get off at the next interstate exit and explore a little bit of the unknown, someone who will travel to the places we often, as a hurried people, forget. I'm grateful my parents taught me to travel away from the usual path, and I'm happy Jordan and I know, even as one journey ends: the adventure's really just beginning. 

All 67 pictures of The Courthouse Project can be found on Facebook; Jordan would love if you took a minute to scroll through and vote for your favorite courthouse. (Mine is pictured above.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

spoken in the shop, vol. 15.



On no such thing as stupid questions
"Do you carry paperbacks?"
Said while standing in front of an entire shelf full of paperbacks

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On spell-check
Customer: "Would you be happy or distressed if I pointed out a spelling error on your sign?"
Me: "Well, since you brought it up, I guess I'd like to know."

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On no such thing as stupid questions, part ii
"Can I just walk around?"

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On achieving rock star status
Little girl, waving as she enters the store: "Miss Annie, Miss Annie!"
Me: "Hi, Lily!"
Little girl, loudly whispers to friend: "See? She knows me."

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On geography
"Do you think you could find the title of this book? It was set out West, in North Carolina."
Pause.
"Oh wait, that's not west, is it?"

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On math
Me: "Your total is $17.07."
Customer: "So if I give you $22, I can get a $10 bill back, right?"
Me, hesitating: "No, I don't think so..."
Customer: "What about $23?"
Me: "I think that would be $6."
Customer: "What about $24?"

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On finding a bargain
Customer: "All of these cards are $1?"
Me: "Yes, these are our sale cards; it's kind of a free-for-all, but they're all $1, or ten for $5."
Customer: "What about this card, with no envelope?"
Me: "I believe there should be an envelope that would work for that card, but if you can't find one to fit, I can sell it to you for $.50."
Customer, later: "I still can't find an envelope."
Me: "You can just have it."

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On honest as the best policy
Customer: "Do y'all have any slow cooker cookbooks?"
Me: "Yes, actually. We made the meatballs out of this one for a store event a couple of weeks ago. They were delicious!"
Customer, after flipping through the book: "Yeah, no, this one doesn't really look appetizing."

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On class
"Fountain pens write fancy."