12 Ways Home: Faith


It hit me as a leaf came down from the heavens. Or at least, one of the hundreds of trees that populate our street. The wind had kicked up from a recent storm, sending a green crinkled reminder of life’s fragility into the palm of my hand.

I’d caught this reminder before it hit the ground. That felt fitting. The ground is where I’d been lying prostrate — or what felt like it — for two months.

Shirt-drenching nightmares. Heart-stopping visions, voices, images. Flashbacks from Hell. These beastly symptoms and some others I’ll refrain from writing about here were the newest fixtures in my life. They’d been there since July and showed no signs of departure. It was in this context that the wind-tossed leaf landed with me. And we were both so fragile.

But then, the leaf reminded me of something else.

Years prior, before this mess unearthed itself, I’d started a blog about life with “the littles,” the smaller moments of joy that people often forget about because they aren’t broadcasted in big, shiny lights. That space, liftingthevale, had done such a good job of centering me in another time. Why had I forgotten its lessons until now? And what about this little leaf brought me back? Why in the bottom of my new struggles had I experienced the metanoia people love to read and write about?


The answer had to be faith.

It might have been as small as a mustard seed (or a wind-tossed leaf), but it was there.

It should be noted that around the same time, I’d started going to daily Mass. This was something I’d talked about for years, but for several reasons, never got around to doing. Now it was not only possible but necessary. As a result, I found myself at church every morning. And through that, I found something greater than my struggles.

My life might have been spinning out of control outside those pews, but within them, I found order, safety, peace. For an hour a day, I could sit and pray, and reflect on what it meant to be a truly pro-life Catholic — which is to say, someone who understood that there was value in lives marred by the darkest of hours, the greatest afflictions, or other less-than-favorable things. Yes, there was value even in my life.

This realization served me well.

Sure, it was with me when I caught that wind-tossed leaf, but it was also present when I needed to make hours upon hours of phone calls to mental health practitioners who never called me back. I searched endlessly for relief that neither my willpower nor my prayers could bring. For weeks I had no response from a single soul.

Who but God was listening to me in my hour of need? Besides God and my family (because at this point, the number of folks who knew the battle I fought was severely restricted), who was listening? Anyone?

Thankfully, doctors started calling me back. And yes, faith helped with the interim period. Because honestly? It would have been easy to give up during that time — on church, on medicine, on life itself. Lord knows I’ve heard stories that ended much differently in these kinds of circumstances. But, as summer turned into fall, I’d been spared that fate.

And for that, I am so grateful.

Because of that, August and September were the beginning of this space, of my healing, of this testimony.

Because of that, I found my first way home.

12 Ways Home: NXNC’s Final Project

Some time ago, I announced the end of this blog. I intend to keep that promise (mostly). There is one small problem, however; I didn’t like leaving off where we did. Work Wife, while it is a piece I continue to stand by, is too a somber note on which to end this predominantly joyful, grateful space. So, before the next project (see also: Dirty Delicious) finds surer footing, I must honor the spirit of this one. The result is this mini-series, 12 Ways Home. Over the course of a final year together, I’ll document the ways in which I’ve found wholeness after a particularly challenging season of life. Which has been most of my life, to be quite frank. Owning that is the first part of my healing. What follows is the better part. I hope you enjoy it as much as I intend to. That feels like a more fitting goodbye to this space, n’est-ce pas?

In the First Instance

In the summer of 2022 — exactly ten years after a trauma so profound that I could not allow myself to remember it until then — another person with whom I wish no further contact asked me an impertinent, life-changing question.

Had I ever hurt myself?

So confidently and with such hubris I answered him that no, I had never and would never ever engage in that kind of behavior.

That was a lie.

Truth be told, I’d been quietly hurting myself for the better part of 30 years. Just not in the ways that you’d expect someone to explain. Not with razor blades or food deprivation or other, more physically apparent manifestation of self-harm.

No, the type of hurt I’d become an expert at exacting upon myself was the sort that had no physical clues at all, at least to most individuals in my life.

And that is because I’d become so good at hiding it, that by the time I reached adulthood, I’d hidden it even from myself.

However …

There is one notable, unfortunate exception to this rule.

And that exception is the person with whom I wish no further contact.

Though I’ve never confirmed this, and never wish to, I greatly suspect that when this person asked their impertinent question, they already knew what I did not: that I’d been hurting myself, by way of not loving myself properly, for a long, long time.

Now fully in the throes of that question’s aftermath, I’m finally beginning to process my decades-long battle with trauma and its resultant self-loathing.

There is so much ahead of me, so much left to learn. So much left to learn about myself, about my situation, about the world around me.

And folks, if my love-lack is half the story, then this naïveté is the other, equally important twin. How do these things work together, you ask?

By the magic of my illness, two yucky inputs somehow become three terrifying outputs. Principally, these outputs look like a completely unholy trinity: (1) denying myself real joy, (2) refusing to forgive myself for even the smallest offenses, and (3) subconsciously insisting that somehow, I deserve what I’ve been giving myself — and what other people give me — in the process.

Which of course, I don’t.

Still, is it any wonder that despite having so many loving people in my life, that a handful of individuals have treated me the same way I’ve treated myself?

Which is to say, mistreatment.

Not at all.

I need to say right now that I’m not here to engage in victim blaming any more than I wish to engage in finger pointing outward to the laundry list of real-life boogeymen I have. And there have been several, including this summer’s.

What I am here to do, at this unique point in my life, is to rediscover and reclaim the love I’ve always needed to give myself — first, consistently, and with wild abandon.

Which means that I also need to say right now that I could not do this work without the love and support of some truly amazing people, who push me every day to recommit to it. And that’s true even and especially when it’s hard to endure for even one more second.

My husband Sean, the love of my life, the man who teaches me daily that while God saves us in the afterlife, we are responsible for saving ourselves in this one. May we have at least another 50 years to prove each other right.

My family and friends, who remind me that a good book, good food, and a good laugh are really all we need to sustain ourselves when life gets hard. May your loads in this world be as light as you make mine seem after your infusions of love and support.

Other helping people, who provide care in ways that those of us who are not qualified to administer it, do. May the world appreciate you as the superheroes you always have been — whether you’re labeled “essential” or not.

So, all that gushing aside, where does that leave us?

With a project.

This project, to be exact.

And what will it do?

It will take up the remaining work — the part where I actually get up and do the things I’ve been afraid to do for as long as I can remember: experience joy, learn to practice self-forgiveness, and show myself that the only thing I deserve — and should accept from anyone — is love.

In the end, I know that this project must be my own. I may enjoy and appreciate the support of those around me, but if the results of the project are to last beyond the gorgeous ephemera of stolen moments — those where self-love seems not only possible, but dare I say it? easy — the actual work must be mine.

I have to own it.

With that said, over the course of the next year, I’d like to spend more time finding and documenting the ways in which a return to myself, the ultimate return home, happens. Joyfully, confidently, and yes I’m sure also in ways that will be beautifully messy.

That’s just life.

But life isn’t meant to be done alone. So it is my secondary goal that, together with my husband, family, and friends, in the end I will get to celebrate living the life I’ve been fighting for, for so long, but in all the wrong ways until now.

When that happens, when I finally set down the trauma and pain I’ve endured — at the hands of others and also from the less tangible parts of myself — I will be left with the best deliverable anyone could ever ask for, the freedom to simply live.

But first, it’s time to go home. Twelve months, twelve ways, it’s time to go home. On my terms. And in my own time. I’m welcoming myself back to the good fight, y’all.

Ryan Vale McGonigle

Across the Line

We’ve moved!

Well, not exactly.

This project, as mentioned in the last post, has ended.

But with such a full heart, today I am *delighted* to announce the next iteration of my writing journey — a promo site for what *I hope* will become my first published novel (the first published essay coming last summer, thanks to the good folks at The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature // see here).

New to — or perhaps, previously removed from — my work?

Want a quick intro or update?

My manuscript, a work of upmarket commercial fiction set in the New American South, is the first of a three-part series examining the power of radical empathy.

As of Summer 2022, it has gone through “beta reads” with some truly brilliant minds. The result is that I have many, many edits ahead of me. And then I will be entering the world of publishing.

Interested in following along?

Keep up with the Dirty Delicious series online — and hopefully later in print!

Want to know how you can help?

Please send all the prayers and good vibes you’ve got.

Or if you know someone who’s willing to do some meaningful industry talk, send them this way. I’m not afraid to admit I’m new to this world … and could use some pointed guidance or direction for how to best navigate within it.

Meanwhile, thank you (!!) to every person who has genuinely seen and supported me. Many of you have done this without agenda. It’s made all the difference in my multi-year ride of a lifetime.

I can’t wait to celebrate with you when we achieve even a modicum of success in what’s next.

And because we could all use a little more cheese …. life’s too short to sit on the sidelines, folks.

Get out there and chase your dreams!



End of the Line

It’s a curious thing, the end of a line.

You’ve accomplished something. You’ve reached some destination. You’ve finished. You’ve got no further to go — at least for now, for this purpose, in this season.

Friends, it is with this context in mind that I announce the end of this line.

Don’t get me wrong. North by North Carolinian has been a blessing in so many ways. Those who know, know. But life isn’t just about seasons past. It’s also about seasons future and, quite frankly, seasons present.

In order to be my best self in those seasons, I’m called to live and write more offline than on. Truth be told, I’ve been taking steps in this direction for a few years now and — let’s face it — I’m much happier, fulfilled, and more productive for it. This affirms my decision, even though a significant part of me knows I will miss this space, this community, whatever it is we’ve created here. And so, I’d like to end this post and project with a word of thanks.

Thank you to those who’ve been here for the past few years. Thank you to those who just found this corner of the internet yesterday. Thank you to those who’ve been here for several other projects. Thank you to those who’ve been with me a lifetime. Just, thank you. For all of it. I can’t wait to see what life brings us from here.


Work-Wife: A Chance to Re-Write HERstory

This piece was originally penned in February 2021. Today, I am privileged to share it with this community. I do this as a reminder. A reminder to stop, look, and listen to what’s going on under all our bloated politics. If we did that, we’d understand what it truly means that throngs of people still experience how inequitably “essential” home-based work continues to be. We’ve ignored these individuals and their stories for far too long. It’s time we started listening.

I should start by saying that I’m one of the lucky ones. The ones whose husbands aren’t afraid of a little — okay, a lot of — work around the house. By this I mean not only fixing things that break, as is the customary reference, but also proactively taking up work that is so often, needlessly, and unceremoniously relegated to women. Or at least, relegated to the more domestically-included human in any housing-based partnership, and then mistakenly gendered along the way.


If that sounds like a lot to process, that’s because it is. It’s also why I’ve chosen to frame this essay with a deeply personal story. In my experience, personal stories give much-needed context to broad-sweeping social narratives. And historically speaking, that kind of context helps support long-lasting change.

Change is why I got into this business, so I’ll just lay it all out right here.

I am a woman, and while I enjoy some aspects of keeping a home, I also enjoy having the freedom to pursue tasks that full-time home-making simply does not allow, whether or not one ultimately couples or raises children.

Luckily, I married a man who gets that on all levels.

He understands that each person’s worth is inherent to their personhood, and that this concept is completely separate and distinct from the monetary value of their earnings or the social value of their time — whether inside or outside the home.

Like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.

Of course, there are still chores to be done and bills to be paid. There is no out-valuing that reality. But it was for precisely this reason that, early on in our marriage, we developed a clear understanding of how our house should run.

It’s this simple.

Never will he assume or suggest that I complete a task on the basis of my sex or gender, and in return, never will I assume the same of him.

Sound like a fairytale?

Let us assure you that it’s not. But it’s also a far cry from more restrictive arrangements of the past — and in some instances, also of the present. As a matter of fact, we’ve found that our marriage functions in a substantively different way than most other couples around us.

For example, the breadwinner? Could be either or both of us. Okay, maybe that part’s not so radical. But dishes-doer? Bed-maker? Laundry-folder? Ironer? Meal-planner? Grocery-shopper? Yard-maintainer? Wall-fixer? I could go further. However, my sense is that you get the point. And besides, the answer to all of these questions is the same: either or both of us.

“How very egalitarian,” some of you are thinking.

“Thanks,” we offer in reply, “but don’t you dare romanticize it.”

See, despite our best efforts, the division of labor in our home is very rarely “equal.” And yes, we knew this would be the case, because no amount of understanding could be expected to undo millennia of antiquated social rules. Especially not during a pandemic and historic social uprising.

By the way, how are we all feeling about the absolutely relentless world-pummeling we’ve survived to-date? You know, the one that began late in 2019, lasted all the way through 2020, and will likely be with us for the foreseeable future?

The disaster that we’ve come to call COVID-19 — and I suspect, many other less dignified names — has been one hell of a wake-up call for American households. I’d like to assume that the vast, ruinous landscape we’re trudging through will continue to reform and refine us, but history will be the arbiter of that decision.

Reformed and refined by what, you ask? By our response (or lack thereof) to the many injustices that ravaged American society long before the pandemic, but which are certainly brought into sharper relief by it. And my lord, do opportunities for reform and refinement abound.

In particular, the United States of America must still face and complete its reckonings with racial injustice and related points of access like a living wage, fair housing, nutritious food, quality medical care, and dignity-affirming education.

In each of these arenas, it’s critical to note that when we speak about injustices, we are actually speaking about individuals who have been wronged, communities who have been transgressed, and not just about broad academic or political buzzwords.

What this means is that when we speak about gender inequality, whether at-home or in the workplace, we are actually speaking about the ways in which women and people who don’t identify as male are denied opportunities, restricted in their movement or growth within the limited opportunities they’re given, or are made to disproportionately suffer the consequences of decisions they did not — or perhaps were not allowed to — make.

Let’s remember, none of those struggles are exactly new. The list of offending behaviors women endure daily — and have for generations — is the topic of another essay. Still, given that we have been handed the uncomfortable microscope that is COVID-19, it would be irresponsible not to evaluate long-standing social struggles in light of our more recent crisis.

Historically speaking, women’s roles in American society have actually expanded around periods of national and international strain. For example, women won the right to vote in 1920 — just two short years after the 1918 flu pandemic. And within two decades, women weren’t only allowed to work outside the home, they were explicitly asked to.

History buffs might recognize “Rosie the Riveter” as the World War II era campaign I’m referencing here — and take similar issue with its hasty copy-pasting on everything from coffee mugs to “Health Care Heroes” campaigns in this century’s pandemic. Rosie’s so ubiquitous that I’m not sure we even appreciate what she stands for anymore. How very symbolic.

Since then, women’s presence in the paid workforce has been anything but short and limited. It took only one additional generation for women in padded-shouldered pantsuits to enter corporate America in droves. And thanks to those trailblazers, women in my generation think nothing of reaching for jobs at the highest levels their education, experience, and social standing can buy.

But wait!

This doesn’t excuse America from making further efforts to achieve greater parity or justice. To be clear, for as much progress as we’ve made, many American households still assume home-based work is “women’s work.” And as long as that’s true, the most immediate threat to equality isn’t the board room — it’s the ironing board (and a bunch of other places).

I’m no social scientist, but I’d be willing to bet that many readers have said, “Yep, old news,” several times in this essay. And I’m with them — I hear them, I stand with them, I am one of them. That’s not the issue. I’d argue that, perhaps with exception to COVID-19’s forced re-domiciling, the bigger problem is America’s quiet acceptance of this reality in the first place.

What happens when we assume that the home is exclusively — or even primarily — the woman’s domain? The exact opposite of what should: women are un- or under-paid, our work is devalued, and we become invisible despite our many efforts to distinguish ourselves. Ear-bleeding double-speak about how “invaluable” we are doesn’t help, either.

So where does that leave us?

Exhausted already, women take to the streets and the polls, as we have for generations, to protest our treatment and demand better. But we have limits. And those limits get reached a lot faster when we realize that maintaining jobs outside the home will not save us; that voting for progressive, feminist candidates will not save us; and that perhaps no one really wants things to change for us at all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made this uncomfortable truth more apparent. In a time when we’re collectively called to “stay at home,” women’s lives should be central to nearly, if not all, conversations America has, bending the arc of justice towards appropriately protecting, recognizing, and compensating us for our time, effort, and energies.

That hasn’t happened — at least, not until recently.

What did we experience instead?

Even when women have managed to secure employment outside our homes, our tasks within them haven’t faded, they’ve only grown more demanding. And unlike our male counterparts, we can’t simply demand crisis pay to help us swallow these “new” responsibilities — because we’ve never been paid for work we do in our homes at all.

By now, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that women report feeling exhausted. No one asked to fragment themselves in this way could be expected to feel otherwise. But here’s the deal: for all our exhaustion, women see what’s going on, and just like the generations of women who came before us, we refuse to be held down by it.

We know better than anyone that our plight is a result of society not having a reliable system by which to understand — much less, assess — us. And so, as we’ve always been capable of doing, we wholesale reject its definitions and expectations. What serves us matters, too. So get ready for the reckoning.

But first, we have some questions:

How is it that women are so “invaluable” that our assigned work breaks us apart? How is it that our male partners — both business and domestic — see this and do nothing to change it? How is it that so many people live in peace with the knowledge that women’s “invaluable” nature renders us broken and exhausted to the point of invisibility?

The answer is that there’s gross injustice at work.

That’s right, we have some answers, too.

But if the devil’s in the details, so too does evil hide within the criminally obvious. That means we have to talk about gender inequality in great depth, starting right now. Yes, today. Not tomorrow. Not next election cycle. Right now.

And that brings us back to our current context. We’re living through a global pandemic that, at least for women, has changed very little — except to bring into even sharper relief how maddeningly the same our lives actually are, whether relative to how they were two years ago, or relative to the many “onerous” changes our male counterparts bemoan by comparison.

Don’t you dare make the mistake of believing this injustice is just a past or present concern, either. Unless we do something to change it, women will continue to feel the effects of COVID-19 faster, closer, and longer than our male or male-identifying counterparts. This means that our rapidly evolving situation might also breed an unjust future.

Neither should this be a difficult concept to grasp, though let’s not render it ineffectual. It just means that women need as many people as possible, across as many channels as possible, to make our reality plainer than plain — for as long as we possibly can.

On that note, I’d like to propose a slight “rebrand” of this conversation. The reason is two-fold: (1) we need to be on the same page before we aim to make change in our unique corners of the world, and (2) whether or not we succeed will depend in large part on how well we equip ourselves with language that the vast majority of people can understand.

So bear with me.

Rather than leaning exclusively on the language of injustice, I’m going to start calling gender inequality a problem. In my experience, that word has a higher success rate when it comes to driving action. That is probably because people are hard-wired to fix “problems” — and that is thanks to the perception that problems are quotidian in nature, and thus solvable by anyone, whereas “injustices” often seem so large that no one could possibly help. This is an important distinction.

With me so far?

Now, since we need every willing person to help us, I’m going to call gender inequality a problem — and hope it makes a difference.

Remember the beginning of this essay, where I told you that personal stories also have the capacity to make change? I’m going to attempt to weave the larger social and historical context we’ve been discussing back together with my own — and hope that makes a difference, too.

Even as a woman with a fully-committed husband, the pandemic has brought about one principal change for me — and it’s not one I’m happy about. Over the past year-and-a-half, I’ve gone from being a wife who works, to a stay-at-home “work-wife.” I’ll explain what that means in a minute, though let me assure you that it’s neither sexy nor exciting.

First, you need to understand our family’s previous home context.

Even before the virus, my husband worked in a career that barely afforded him time to eat or sleep. Back then, he labored in days-long shifts at the office, surviving on nothing but adrenaline, cheap take-out, and willpower. Maybe there’s some caffeine in there too, but that’s beside the point. What matters — as he would also tell you — is that my husband was almost never home. And as we were — and still are — two people in this marriage, of course his reality affected me.

The first major impact? A forced, false singlehood. And the second? Learning very quickly to make good use of my free time. In the beginning, this freedom encompassed only a few short hours a week. But eventually, my spirited pursuits outside of work became my work, and at that point, I furnished myself with a home-based office.

This accomplishment will always make my “top five” list of favorite moments. I’d finally liberated myself from toxic notions of success and, in their wake, started the journey I’d been called to take since I was a little girl. Even then, I knew to cherish these moments because I’d never get them back. I just had no idea how right I’d be.

Fast-forward to March 2020.

When it became clear that COVID-19 would be staying stateside, my husband joined me in working from home. And we welcomed this adjustment with open arms. First because it greatly reduced our risk of viral exposure, and second because, for the first time in our marriage, we actually got to live with each other.

This is not an exaggeration.

It’s also a fact I proudly shared with our family, our friends, the neighbors, or really anyone who would listen. I was just that excited.

Another problem, though.

Excitement can be blinding. Blinding to the point where important clues get missed. And let me tell you, from the other side of this transition, I never saw our current reality coming.

Today, instead of my once-neat work schedule:

Wake at 8

Eat breakfast by 9

Workout by 10

Work until 1

Eat lunch and relax until 2

Work until 6

Eat dinner and relax until 8

Work until 10

Go to bed by 11 … okay, maybe midnight but who’s counting?

I have another work-worn human to take care of all the time, in addition to the home-based responsibilities he no longer has time for, given that his field understands “work from home” to mean “Great! you are now working 24/7/365 — and you better be immediately reachable, too.”

Enter my new role: “work-wife,” which includes a collection of duties just numerous enough to completely decimate my pre-pandemic career. And I’m exhausted. Completely and utterly exhausted.

I say all this from a position of clear privilege. That our biggest complaint involves unequal division of labor is absolutely a first-world problem. One that is softened even further by my husband’s commitment to being an equal partner who does his level best to correct the imbalance daily.

And to be clear, I know that our struggles could be so much worse. Either or both of us could be dead, either or both of us could be sick, either or both of us could be losing our home, out of work, lacking enough nutritious food, or have want of reliable access to medical care.

Thankfully, neither of us are these things. And in that context, it’s obtuse to assume that America should care about my new home-based duties, or even how they restrict the work I need to do in support of my chosen career.

But what if this problem wasn’t just about me?

What if my privileged complaint actually underscored the story of countless other people, partners, and parents who — whether through good will, coercion, or some terrible combination of them both — necessarily sloughed off or de-prioritized their own endeavors, citing medical, economic, or other family demands they’ve been asked shoulder simply because they are women?

What if these first-world problems were actually global problems of gargantuan weight and endless, tessellated variety, morphing and evolving as quickly as the virus itself? What if we were entirely unprepared for the decades- and possibly centuries-long ramifications of these changes? And I shudder, what if we didn’t want to admit that precisely because it was happening in the home, which is also the office — instead of the office, which was never meant to be at home?

“OH, CRAP,” some of you are thinking.

“She’s right,” others of you are saying.

“Can you stay a little longer, work-wife, and let me pick your brain?”

“Can you help us connect the dots, stop this collision course, and set the world right once again?”

It pains me, but no.

Unfortunately I can’t.


Because — as should be self-evident by now — I must get back to my other, non-paid (thankfully not thankless) job: making sure my family is fed, clean, and healthy in a time when we are literally just trying to survive.

Let’s be serious: someone has to do it. And at least for now, society values my husband’s profession much more than mine. Hence, my newly assigned role as “work-wife,” the advent of many supportive conversations, and eventually, this essay.

I’m a writer, by the way. When I’m not playing the role of “work-wife” to the best damn husband in the world, I can be found putting pen to paper, fingers to keys, and voice to air.

“Wow,” some of you are saying, “What have you written?” — as if my finished manuscript should somehow lessen the blows I’ve been dealt.

And others of you are joining them, pleading with me, “Why didn’t you say so?!” — as if somehow, you knowing this information any sooner might have changed things in any material way.

I roll my eyes, because my answers to these questions feel increasingly silly.

“Still,” my husband assures me, “someone has to answer them. And if not work-wife-previously-known-as-writer, then who?”

He’s got a point.

So, where is my work? At home. Both jobs.

What have I written? I’ve got a novel and a few blogs under my belt.

And why didn’t I say so earlier? Because I work on these things in stolen moments, which means I have even less time to explain the struggle to you. Because “work-wife” duties now come first. And because I worry that unless something seriously changes, this short-term arrangement might become much, much more permanent.

But again, this isn’t only about me.

This essay and my story are a warning, a call-to-FIGURATIVE-arms, a rally cry for every soul who gives a damn about women in America. If we’re smart, we’ll start re-writing HERstory today, right now, in this critical moment in time (read: they’re all critical moments).

The alternative?

If we’re not careful, society won’t remember the work that women lost or had to give up in this challenging season of life. And I don’t just mean their job titles upon furlough, firing, or resignation. I’m also speaking about their lost forward trajectories.

Just ask any woman who’s spent time away from the paid workforce and she’ll tell you what you need to know. For everyone else, it doesn’t take much to envision how COVID-19 makes life both inside and outside the home even harder for women.

For example, who is expected to revise their work schedules when childcare centers close down? Who is expected to complete home-based tasks between Zoom calls, spreadsheets, or class periods? Who gets to use “better” workspaces to begin with? The answers to these questions tell an interesting story. And that’s assuming that women have managed to keep their outside jobs in the first place.

Of course, for many women, this has not been the case. In addition to being forced back into their homes, they’ve also lost jobs — and with them, not only their physical paychecks, but also the freedom that comes with being compensated for their work, however well or badly. Absent this escape route, their only choice is to continue working at home and for free. And where that is true, we’re not talking about a “reduction in responsibilities” — we’re talking about a railroading.

This brings us to our second, scary alternative.

If we’re not careful, an entire generation of women will also be forgotten for the work they did when they “weren’t working,” for all the essential jobs they performed without pay, without breaks, without promise of promotion or recognition or anything else of male-assessed value. (That is, unless we count seeing big names with big platforms get paid to publicly lament “how terrible it was to watch this happen” — and then do nothing to change it).

So, where is change possible in this dire set of circumstances? Everywhere. And as a matter of fact, what happens next is entirely up to us. That said, I’d like to propose an alternate ending to the HERstory of COVID-19. This story can still end the way that women and other home-based workers truly deserve.

If you’re wondering what that looks like, then for starters we could:

(1) Stop silencing women’s voices;

(2) Start respecting women for the tireless work we’ve completed since the beginning of time and;

(3) Start compensating women as the essential workers we’ve always been, AND/OR accept our delegation of the duties we no longer have time for, starting right now.

In short, I’m proposing that we choose to abate the inequitable strain placed on women at every moment of our lives — and make the world a better, stronger, more livable place for everyone as a result.


Because women hold society together. We help you process, keep you warm, keep you fed, keep you clothed, keep you schooled, keep you living and breathing and safe from harm — and when that is not possible (God help us), we keep you morally awake.

What’s more, we do this with grace and pride and minimal but thoroughly justified complaints. Because that’s just what women do: we make sure you live. No one better ask us what we do for a living ever again.

“Because that’s just what women do: we make sure you live. No one better ask us what we do for a living ever again.” — Ryan Vale McGonigle | “Work Wife” on North by North Carolinian

Instead, if you claim to value women, you can learn to actually value us. And no, despite your many protestations, you don’t. At least not yet.

How do I know that?

Because if America truly valued women — inherently and otherwise — we wouldn’t still be here.

If America truly valued women, I wouldn’t be writing this essay, we wouldn’t need to challenge gender norms on everything from the kitchen table to the White House and back, and we wouldn’t need to print Rosie the Riveter on everything imaginable, mindlessly proliferating World War II era propaganda that — remember — celebrated women for their sacrificial work in another period of national crisis.

In fact, women’s work would cease to be sacrificial at all.

We aren’t there yet. There’s still a lot of work to d–

Oh, I’m sorry, what’s that you’re saying? You know? Then good, we’re on the same page. Women won’t be working from home for free anymore. And as a matter of fact, we aren’t sure home-based work should be ours alone to begin with.

So go ahead.

Tell the others.

We’re waiting.

We Did It!

Friends of North by North Carolinian and/or me,

Guess what?

We did it!

After years of being too afraid of this dream — like, so afraid that I could not even attempt chasing it — in 2021 I finally put my work pants on. I submitted essays on a variety of topics to an assortment of publications … and at least one of them decided my work was fit to print.

If you’ve followed this journey in any serious capacity, you know how much this means. You should also know that your support along the journey played a huge role in making this possible. Please join me in celebrating. This is a moment for collective celebration!

And to the good folks at The Dead Mule, I could not be any prouder that a North Carolinian journal became my first publishing home. Near or far, you’ll always have my admiration and gratitude. Go make the rest of your 25th year the absolute best it can be!

Now, I still can’t believe I get to say this but …

I am pleased to provide the following link for all those interested in reading my first officially-published piece, “Double-Down Dutch:” https://deadmule.com/ryan-vale-mcgonigle-memoir-sept-2021/.

Someone pinch me.

Same Kind of Different: A Love No Line Could Divide

By Kindergarten, I knew I wasn’t like all the other little girls.

For starters, in preschool I’d chosen the name Joplin for my favorite stuffed animal. Yes, like Janis. Apparently because the individual who looked after me was a huge fan … and I was a fan of hers. Things only got more interesting from there. Around the same time, I also began to idolize Michael Jackson, in all his many manifestations, and Maria von Trapp, specifically as depicted by Julie Andrews in 1965’s film, The Sound of Music.

Ask my parents and they’ll tell you that I gave rousing performances as each persona, trying desperately to make sense of a world that allowed more room for one than the others along the spectrum of social acceptability.

Ask me now, as an adult, and I will tell you how much it saddens me that so much change is still needed. For too long, we’ve prioritized party politics and pop culture over actual people — their actual lives; their actual loves; their many successes, celebrations, and failures.

This is a social norm I hope we learn to explore with honest continuity — rather than, say, pretending to confront it every few years, before conveniently forgetting about it until someone else (and there will always be someone else!) demands that we don’t. How much stagnates between election cycles! How much we age! How little gets changed! This has always troubled me.

But back to the relative innocence of childhood.

As a young girl, I also loved playing with Barbies and other dolls. I imagined their date nights and home-making adventures with as much gusto as their many successful careers. This became even more fun as my sisters came along, although we often fought about who got to be which princess or occupy which room in the doll house we eventually acquired. You know, what siblings do. The difference is, we processed those behaviors beyond rules about sharing.

No eye-rolling, please. That detail is critically important.

After all, to be a child is to play, but to play is to prepare for life ahead. Most of us just aren’t trained to see it that way from the beginning. By some bizarre happenstance, we were. And in this, borrowing from the literary giant that is Flannery O’Connor, we were (and I was) “made odd” from the very beginning.


Come to think of it, playing with dolls was about the extent of my “normative” girlish childhood. Dolls weren’t really what got my heart pounding anyway. No, that took sets of other kinds — more specifically, trains and cars. Anything that evoked movement.

The idea that nothing had to stay the way it was, where its was, forever? That was what I wanted. And so my parents, to the best of their ability, learned to provide.

Thank God they did.

My parents’ decision to indulge these peculiarities probably saved my life in more ways than one. You see, whether or not they intended it, my childhood taught me a valuable lesson: not only is movement possible, but actually, with careful maneuvering, it can take place at great speed and to great effect.

As a result, any time I’ve needed to live through or make great changes, I’ve felt equipped — or more terrifyingly, destined — to handle them. Just don’t let the romance of that idea lull you into believing that my life’s been easy. Because it hasn’t, not even at the start.

You see, growing up down South, in a culture that prized stasis and tradition over almost everything else, I was made to feel like an outsider from the minute I consciously set foot in the systems that, ironically, were meant to help me grow. And that — there’s just no other way to say it — really sucked.


Let’s be clear: in any culture, one is only ever meant to take up as much space as they’ve been pre-allotted. Anything beyond that line is a threat to society — or, as some say, “the system” — and must therefore be snuffed out, hushed up, or otherwise encouraged to “fit in.”

This is not news to anyone watching the news, or who’s made even a beginner’s study of history or life in general. What might be less apparent is that these struggles are not uniquely Southern. As such, the solutions that we work towards must come from within and outside the South. Not a popular truth, but a truth nonetheless.

That said, I grew up below the Mason-Dixon Line, so that is where my story must be rooted. Mine is the story of an odd little girl who grew up in a culture that didn’t exactly welcome odd little girls.

“Ok,” you might be wondering, “then what, exactly, are odd little girls supposed to do?”

The answer is that they must grow up. And they grow up a lot faster than some of their peers. Why? Because they have no other choice. Society allows nothing else. To be quite frank, choosing to preserve their individuality comes at a steep price: “otherization,” or the process by which one is made an outsider.

That happens at such a young age?,” some of you are wondering. “How?

Simple. By bringing one’s odd brand of existence to one’s routine attention, usually in the hopes of “helping” one conform. And so it went that, sometimes by peers who didn’t know better, sometimes by peers who did, and worst of all, sometimes by adults who had absolutely no excuse for their transgressive behavior, this happened to me. Routinely.

I’m not in the business of holding grudges, so I’ve long forgiven each person. But I feel that readers should know: with each “helpful suggestion,” I was made to feel like some part of me wasn’t acceptable, couldn’t be allowed to continue, wasn’t something that anyone would want. I began to question every part of myself as I searched for a reason — any reason — to be enough, just as I was. And the longer that struggle went on, the harder those reasons became to find.

Which part of me, exactly, was unworthy? I honestly could not understand. Being a “Type A” extrovert in my natural state, not knowing quickly became more hurtful than the transgressions themselves. You can imagine the myriad ways this affected my life, but what ultimately matters is that in the end, my spirit won out over the closed-minded, elitist, suffocating culture that tried to tamp it down. And I’m proud to say that I’m largely the same person today that I was then. Just older and braver.


Thankfully, I’ve never had to do life alone. To this day I am surrounded by oddballs — some of whom I’m honored to call lifelong friends. In this way I have been profoundly blessed. But I’d be lying if I said that a pack of amazing friends was enough. It never would be. How could it? Especially because women are socialized to prepare for and pursue romantic relationships from sinfully young ages …

Now, I can already feel some folks wondering, but yes. When the appropriate age came, I went on to have crushes upon crushes upon crushes. All of them male, all of them hopelessly gorgeous, all of them absolutely not interested in me. It would be a long time before the opposite sex realized this oddball had something to offer. And so the understanding of my young girlhood proved correct.

In fairness, asking pubescent males to make a choice like me was asking a lot. Not because of me — at least not completely — but because that’s just how growing up works. I was exactly the opposite of everything they chased, for crying out loud. And you don’t even have to get to the part that includes Michael Jackson and Maria von Trapp to know that. It’s actually much, much simpler.

I had what I’d been told was a masculine name. I had a voice — and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I preferred running down garden paths and library halls to conspicuously chasing male attention. And I was definitely not interested in being owned, something I understood to be inherent in the entire business of coupling.

Exactly none of that screamed pick me. But this isn’t a sob story. It’s more of a slow-burning, coming-to-love piece. The kind where the heroine gets to save herself first. The kind where, no matter the love interest, the location, or the changes that get thrown her way, she makes herself whole. The kind where her whole humanity eventually recognizes the whole humanity of another, and together they form the most unique of couples: two wholly in love partners.

I don’t know who’s been keeping track, but those kinds of love stories rarely begin with, “Once upon a time, there was a little girl who had as many suitors as she ever wanted or needed, and probably a few more after that …”

Long story short, in the time I spent waiting for someone to love me for who I was, I learned that I could be that person for myself. And from that place, I grew into my power. I loved my non-traditional beauty. I loved my wild spirit. I loved my freedom. And eventually, whether or not others loved it, I loved myself enough for ten lifetimes’ worth of lovers. It just broke my heart to do it.


Getting to that place was really important, because it’s where my story — or at least, the part that’s worth telling — really begins. See, the interesting thing about being an outsider is that once you learn to accept yourself, all of a sudden you have this immense capacity to spot and address other forms of outsiderhood. Eventually, what bothers the hearts and minds of these souls — however different they may be — begins to really bother you. And from that place, with the right set of social supports, together you can do amazing things.

I’ve yet to do something truly noteworthy, but I also firmly believe in encouraging others to own their journeys towards whatever greatness they achieve, and that’s what this essay is about.

Have there been struggles on my journey, both independently and on the path to love? Yes. But have there also been beautiful moments of change and growth? Absolutely. These moments are just complicated by a certain push-pull towards acceptance that only outsiders fully understand.

The issue with being a recovering outsider (always oddball) is that for every inch of inclusion you earn for yourself, you are less likely to want to compromise your place. Think about it.

To this day, my deepest desire is for community, connection, and inclusion. It is my most selfish collection of wants. But balancing these out? An irrepressible, unceasing call to make the world more inclusive for others.

As both an oddball and a human, it’s my responsibility to extend my hand back out to those still struggling to reach the step I’m on, the place I’m in, so that together we might do more than climb every *BLEEPING* day of our lives.

Lofty? Yes. Necessary? You bet.

This isn’t to say I will succeed, or that my attempts have been anywhere near sufficient, but simply that I cannot survive without trying. Even though I frequently tire from my efforts to balance what can feel like two opposing identities, I know that deep down, I am here to move through this struggle, and that this struggle is my purpose.

I also can’t go any further without owning that I didn’t have the words to accurately name my calling until very recently. I had only a dreadful, increasingly generalized feeling of fear. Fear of myself. Fear of having to answer my call alone. Fear of others. Fear of the world into which we are born and by which we are handed a frightening imperative: live.

That kind of fear.

Still, in the face of that fear, I began setting the stage for what would ultimately become my raison d’être: supporting norm-shattering, movement-based progress, starting with accepting my odd little self, and hoping that someone, someday would have the strength to join me in laboring forward together.

But wait! That’s just love! And isn’t love what we all want?

You’re right. In wanting love, I was exactly like all the other little girls, and like every human who enters this mess of earthbound activity we call life. Because no matter our identities or preferences, with the critical distinction that they are non-violent, is love not what it means to live?

Little me could have told us that. I’d venture to guess that most little others could, too. The trouble is, somewhere after playing dress up, we’re taught to forget. It happens in loads of insidious ways. Noticing these ways is what’s made me odd. And while for the longest time I didn’t think my “brand of odd” had a match, as luck would have it, it did.


Rewind to childhood.

While I was busy playing my way through some of society’s harshest divisions, the man who would become my husband was roughly 600 miles away taking verbal blows in the schoolyard for being precisely the kind of person I was afraid didn’t exist.

Like me, his early childhood years were largely happy ones, though getting older taught him many hard lessons about individuality and standing up for what is right and good. Already, he was preparing himself to be set apart, to live in a future that many of our peers weren’t ready to see or accept: that only the different become truly great.

When I hear him recount stories from his youth, I am reminded how very similar we’ve been from the start. Refined by the process of refusing to unquestioningly assimilate into a culture that isn’t always accepting, we’ve been individually toughened and collectively softened to the needs of those around us. This shared set of experiences and worldview is a large part of what makes our relationship successful, more than a decade later.

Of course, we’re also very different. I am an extrovert of a native Southerner, thanks to parents who made the auspicious choice to relocate there in the years before my birth. And he, an introverted, native New Yorker, has more generational, geographic, and philosophical ties to the surrounding area than I ever thought possible.

I generally dislike reductivist takes, but suffice it to say that most people are genuinely shocked that we work. Hell, some days we’re pretty shocked, too. After all, ours is a story of making it despite the odds (and, let’s be serious, also ourselves). Curious about what that means? Keep reading.

Deep in the aughts, a college mixer brought us together. But what kept us together? Being of shared, singular mind. Which is to say, by the time we’d arrived at college, we both knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we were there for one reason and one reason only: to prepare for law school.

Everything we did was in service of that goal. The rest — including our relationship — was lovely, semi-permanent filler. Why? Because folks with ambitions like ours simply can’t afford to get distracted by anything or anyone. Not even someone with the same un-distractable plans.

And boy, did we have plans …

After graduation, he would enroll in whatever Ivy League school accepted him, before beginning his career in New York. And I would probably land somewhere like the University of Virginia before doing what all Good Southern Girls do … get married and pretend to have a career until I got pregnant (Kidding! Of course I would keep working after babies!). The world’s opportunities would only open up from there.

As far as we were concerned, that all would’ve been more than deserved.

It’s just that life had been making plans, too …

Those who know us know that our lives didn’t turn out that way. At the end of the day, it was me who gained acceptance to an Ivy League program — though it was for a degree in education rather than law, and though I ultimately chose to go elsewhere. And while my husband did eventually become a Manhattan attorney, this was only after attending law school in my hometown, discovering his passion for pursuing justice in financial markets, and becoming the quiet hero he is today.

That’s right, neither of us ended up where we thought we would — up to and including ending up together. Still, this spring — a writer and a lawyer, a New Yorker and a North Carolinian — we celebrated six blissful years of marriage. All because we met, sure … but perhaps more pointedly, because we finally realized the key to our shared happiness.

We’re the same kind of different.

And you don’t just go throwing that kind of love away.

Even if it spoils all your plans.

Even if you stop making plans at all.

That actually sounds pretty good to me.

To the next six(ty), love.

A Writer, After Many Drafts

Episode art by Hayden Barnes.

I could tell you that I write because it was the first dream I had. That even as a child, I knew what — or rather, who — I wanted to be. That I spent all my free time in the library, reading words of others aloud to myself, in case one day I might need to read my own. I could tell you that I write because I always knew I would.

Or I could tell you the truth.

While those statements are all true, passing them off as my origin story would be taking the easy way out. The truth is that I write because, after several other ill-fitting careers, I have no other choice. I write because I must. And that is the story worth telling.

Not a Teacher

You could say that I write because I don’t teach.

Sure, I received my master’s degree from a top-tier school of education. And I even taught for a short time after graduation. But in the long run, I wasn’t a teacher.


Because I had a smart mouth. Because I was more progressive than the field or my district would have liked — and neither my kids nor I had the time to wait for stragglers. Because I realized that most of the issues that drove me to teach were, in fact, best addressed outside the classroom.

And besides, the world could do without yet another token educator — a well-schooled, well-meaning white female just asking to be burned out before she ran the risk of making any real change.

Let’s be clear: it’s not like I thought I was better than the profession. Some of the best humans and effective change agents I know are teachers. The world is much stronger for their existence. But I was a bad fit among their ranks. Like, a really bad fit, and the reasons are simple and clear.

What are they?

I get too personally invested. I obsess over little details when teaching is, in many ways, about the larger picture. I am unwilling to do something just because someone in a position of power says I have to — especially if we know that it’s the wrong thing to do. And I hate, with a capital H, administrative work. So, for as much as my strengths told me I wasn’t a teacher, so too did my weaknesses. Self-awareness, dear readers, is a powerful thing.

That’s something I learned while teaching.

Not a Program Coordinator

So maybe I was a program coordinator?

Those who’ve ever done office work just started laughing because they already know the secret I’m about to share: “coordination” and “administration” are exactly the same thing. One role just gets paid a lot more to (here’s the kicker) take credit for the work of the other.

You should know that things like this never fly long in my books. And I mean business when it comes to setting the world right. But here’s the issue: for whatever limited power I had, there was simply too much corporate structure above me to change it.

I know that’s the case in many jobs. That’s why we’re talking about it.

While we’re talking, know what else is?

The unavoidable pressure to (at least once in your career) decide whether you’ll be a self-serving ladder-climber … or someone who does the right thing. The finer details of this pressure largely depend upon your chosen field, but no matter your field, it is nearly impossible to attempt both and live to tell the tale. At least not without considerable privilege.

Luckily, I had some.

Still, even working for an amazing boss, at an organization I would have died on a hill for at the time, not-for-profit America started to rub me the very-much-wrong way. Less because of the work itself — after all, I’d been working on issues that really mattered to me — and more because of how the larger system worked.

Practically speaking, you should know that non-profit culture is driven as much by self-preservation as it is by mission. And it has to be. But as we’ve just discussed, that kind of culture can also result in some less-than-just situations — starting with which organizations and programs are allowed to survive in the first place.

To make it very plain, non-profits rely on the generosity of donations — both to finance getting their work off the ground, and also to sustain it beyond a single tax or giving year. Many struggle to make it even that far, which is a shame.

Beyond the obvious, the problem then becomes that committing to any level of community engagement requires keeping financial backers — whether of the individual, institutional, or governmental varieties — happy. And that means doing your work to their liking, even if your goals are not fully aligned, or else risk not being able to do it at all.

Enter my real problems.

Without a personal background in fundraising, or a team that could help me do this well, my job very often became convincing others — including key internal stakeholders — that the program I coordinated should continue to exist at the capacity to which I’d been asked to help it grow. In case anyone is curious, that was exhausting, unsustainable work. And I was just blindly committed enough to stick it out anyway.

Not a Fundraiser

Then a series of fortuitous changes happened in my life. First, my then-fiance took a job in another state, hundreds of miles away. Second, I married that man, which made my relocation — job and otherwise — imperative. And third, when it came time to actually find a new job, I couldn’t have asked for an easier landing.

My process went something like this: I wasn’t a teacher because I needed to do community-based work. So then I was a program coordinator. But I wasn’t that either, because I became too bothered by the prevalence of good work being put at-risk by dwindling funds. So where did that leave me?

If you’ve been keeping track, you might have deciphered that the next logical step was to become a fundraiser. And not two minutes later, that’s exactly what I did.

While you’re probably not surprised to see that I’m no longer fundraising either, I’ll bet the reason why will command some attention. See, it turns out that fundraising isn’t that dissimilar to being a teacher or program coordinator. And at least for me, that was not a good thing.

Ask any honest member of this community and they’ll tell you: being a fundraiser means you wear many hats, and while that is sometimes sold in interviews as “the ability to immerse yourself in cross-functional work,” or other sexy-sounding “opportunities for growth,” most fundraisers will also tell you that this actually means you’re going to be held accountable for a lot of things you probably shouldn’t be, and appreciated for very little of what you should.

Put another way, what I expected and what I got from working in this field were two very different things. While I’d hoped to build an understanding of how programmatic sustainability gets built, what I ended up with instead was a firm grasp of the reality that, more often than not, sustainability was the furthest thing from a fundraiser’s purview.

Please hear me: this is not the result of some gross professional failing. Most fundraisers are simply too busy saving the immediate day — every day — to earn the privilege of concerning themselves with anything future-minded. Once I understood this limited framework, it was only a matter of time before I started to doubt my happiness within it. Spoiler alert: that didn’t take long.

Not Sure, No Way |or| A Woman Remembers a Conference

See, what I was starting to realize — very uncomfortably at that — was that I was meant for other things. Trying to squeeze myself into a traditional career path had not only done me no favors, it was also entirely useless. Like jamming square pegs into round holes, it would never work. I’d just exhaust myself trying.

And so it was that I became very depressed.

Thankfully, I took a cold-water slap to the face soon thereafter, in the form of a complete and total stranger.

To this day, I wish I’d gotten her name.

Dear Stranger, on the very much off-chance you’re reading this essay, then thank you for changing my life — professional and otherwise.

Now, for the rest of you, the climax of today’s story goes like this:

One weekend, less than a year into my Terrible Mistake, I managed to rouse myself enough to attend a cross-industry conference for people who communicate for a living. The hope was that I’d eventually be able to talk my way into another career. And at that point, I knew I needed one.

What I didn’t know was just how right I’d be.

As the conference came to an end, a woman approached me with a look on her face that told me — before her words ever could — that she intended to set me straight. Ordinarily, I might have stopped her. But depression is a mysterious force that causes people to do all sorts of unlikely things, and so I entertained her sermon.

“Look,” she said, “I don’t know you. But I know you’ve got a story to tell, and when you’re ready to share, the world better listen.”

I was floored. Terrified. Speechless.

Instead of anything elegant, the only response I could muster was a surface-level statement of appreciation. She’d literally scared all the other words right out of me. Without much else to say, we promptly said our goodbyes and I let her walk ahead of me towards her next destination. Then I walked as fast as I could in the direction of home — and whatever absurd future she’d been moved enough to foretell.

A Writer

Do you want to know the best part about deciding to make your own way? Once you reach that place, action becomes much, much easier. There is simply no room for complacency, fear, or defeat.

While those emotions may occasionally surface — especially if you’re working in a field that aims to support justice — what eventually drives you forward is the realization that change isn’t possible if you give up in the first place. And from that place, action tends to be what follows.

So, fear of my own voice? Gone.

Fear of speaking truth? Gone.

Fear of success? Gone.

And replacing those fears? A deep and abiding sense of peace, knowing that I’d no longer be working to support others’ missions … while doing everything possible to ignore my own.

This isn’t to say that my journey on this new path has been easy or even entirely clear. My lord! It took two more years beyond that life-changing conversation for me to save up enough funds, gain some much-needed practice, and liberate myself from the realm of the American workforce — just as a start.

But that start? That was three years, two blogs, and a manuscript ago. And just like that — damn — the library-loving little girl was right.

Mine is the story of a writer.

Entirely Too Many Children

Folks, I meant it when I said that I wouldn’t be staying away forever. So here I am, back at the art of writing on this blog.

Between a whirlwind submission season (more updates to come), the predictably unchanged post-election American landscape, and the stubbornness of some challenges in my personal life, I’ve been feeling like I needed a return to writing “just for fun.” The result of that feeling is this post. Then it’s back to temporarily orchestrated silence on this platform for me (for now).

How have you all been since we last caught up? Well enough, I hope? Which is to say: safe from harm, loved and protected, fed and housed, and adequately represented or otherwise making your voices heard to ensure that is the case?

Admittedly, I’ve been … struggling of late, despite being able to answer affirmatively to the question above.

See, springtime is usually hard for me.

For a variety of reasons.

It’s when we should have welcomed our first of now three lost babies. It’s when I’m still very much recovering from what I believe is a nasty case of Seasonal Affective Disorder (New York in February is my particular breed of Hell). It’s also when I get the familiar itch to move, which of course we never do. It’s … well, I guess for me, it’s a season of stagnation.

Ironic, because so many people associate it with rebirth and beginning anew.

Luckily, I have a husband who helps me move through this struggle each year with a well-timed refresh.

Usually this entails some project or other at our suburban home.

Last year, for instance, we repainted the dining room, installed a new walkway, and finally put in a water filtration system because water in New York is not as clean as they want you to believe. (Do your research!).

There may also have been something in there about roping Hubs into replanting our front lawn because we’d had an unfortunate infestation of an invasive grass species that kills all existing grass in favor of patchy, crunchy beige tufts interspersed throughout your lawn. This was … not great for the outdoor oasis I needed (we all needed?) in Spring 2020. Needless to say, it had to be rectified. And so it was … two sore backs, two sunburns, and a non-existent weekend later.

But guess what?

As a result, this year we’ve gotten to take on some exciting new projects, like installing a white picket fence and planting some intentionally-placed flora (as opposed to the “whatever grows here, grows here” method of our past four years at this address — and we suspect, many years before).

And guess what else?

If I am especially “well-behaved” (read: when we save additional funds, because neither of us are anywhere near perfect and let’s normalize that conversation globally, please), Hubs and I also plan to make a previously languishing part of our property an actual garden, perhaps with some raised planter beds and a small courtyard + firepit/conversation area.

If this is all sounding very 2021, then yeah … we know.

Meanwhile, can I let you in on a little secret?

The fire pit isn’t my favorite part of this plan.

It’s that we are finally getting things planted! Things that I can take care of, things that I can nurture, things that I can watch grow and hopefully flourish as spring turns to summer, summer to fall, and fall to “Dear Lord I hope they make it through our New York Winter.”

You see, living childless-not-by-choice in a home so very far from my own is really freaking hard.




Anyone else out there understand this? For now, let’s just say that I needed these new living things in the worst way. There’s something powerful and restorative about their presence. I relearn this lesson each spring, but somehow it hit closer to home at the start of this one.

For one, plants teach me patience and adaptability. The wind blows? They sway. The sun shines? They grow.

For another, they provide a very real reminder that family is what you make it.

Hubs, Dog, and me? We are a family.

Now we have more than a dozen new family members to care for. And the feeling of peace they inspire? It points to something really important: we make our lives whole by what we, the existing members of our family, do.

Sure, we’d’ve loved to have human children by now, and to have been in a different space altogether, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find happiness and wholeness right where we are. Yes, even if what we want takes a long time to materialize. And especially yes if it never does. Because it might not and we have to learn to be okay with that. That’s just life.

I forget that point too often. Much, much too often.

Which reminds me …

At some point late last year, Hubs asked me what I wanted from 2021.

In a considerably darker place then, I told him that it didn’t matter, because what we’ve wanted has never been a predictor of our success in reaching or achieving those things.

Yeah, I know. That was a big feeling. But it’s so important to talk about these things!

If you are reading this in a similar place of despair, please please please know that you are not alone. And, in case you need to hear this bit specifically, children do not make a family. Neither do spouses or partners. A family is what you make it. Sometimes that family is biologically linked and sometimes that family is chosen. Either way, that family is beautiful. You are beautiful. And however near or far, you will always have a home here.

Hubs was quick to remind me of that concept before he rejected my original answer. To this, I quipped that I wanted more peace and quiet, more justice in the world, and entirely too many children … again, not that it mattered. Which of course it did and still does. But that’s how grief is sometimes. You mourn futures as much as pasts and presents.

Now we’re 1/4 done with 2021 and somehow I still have no updates to share on those desires or goals. Yes, that sucks. A lot. But I’ve also still got Hubs. And Dog. Hubs and Dog make it all worthwhile, whether or not a better update ever merits announcement.

I came to that realization again (for the umpteen millionth time) late the other night. Standing in front of our refreshed garden, I reminded Hubs (read: me) how happy I was to be in this place, to be financially and emotionally capable of adding more soul back into our home. And these new additions, so bright and full of promise, they symbolized a kind of rebirth that I wasn’t certain I’d felt in years.

Hubs handed me the garden hose from around the corner, preparing me to water our new family members into rooted wellness. I felt my Early Springtime Grinchyness begin to fade ever so slightly. Then I softened my response from months earlier:

“Hey, you know what we have here?,” I asked.

“What’s that?,” he replied.

“We have entirely too many children!”

“Even if they’re not the ones we planned.”

“Even if they’re not the ones we planned.”

Of course, he was right. We certainly didn’t plan to be childless at this point in our lives. We also didn’t plan for our country and the world to be this violently, viciously, and vehemently divided. As a matter of fact, we didn’t plan for any of this. But we can still plan how we choose to recover, refresh, and ultimately respond to what we’ve been handed. For us, that starts with a garden east of the city where we met, that starts with taking care of the “entirely too many children” we have been blessed with.

“See, life isn’t always so bad,” he offers.

He’s right again.

In fact, I’m feeling better already. I hope you are too.

Regardless, here’s to your days ahead. May they be filled with continued healing and wellness in these challenging times. And amidst all our efforts to grow and improve, please don’t forget to look for the good things, too. We’re out here trying right alongside you. And for now, we’re looking at a dozen or so reasons to believe. Reasons to believe in all of it.

Until we meet again.

Passing the Mic: Announcing a New Quarterly Guest Creator Opportunity, VOICE IT!

(More information about how to contribute to or follow this journey can be found here: https://northxnc.com/voice-it/.)


For those of you who’ve been following along with this little venture, you’ll know that I’m juggling a few different goals for the months (years?) ahead. One is keeping this blog up-to-date, one is increasing engagement on the blog and in general, and another is creating more opportunities to highlight voices besides my own.

On the surface, these goals may seem like they are competing. But here’s the thing: they don’t have to be. What if, instead, they worked with each other rather than against each other? (And what if we did the same?).

I know a fair number of y’all don’t have major platforms through which to air your opinions and stories, to make your voices really heard, to feel that what you have to say is meaningful or “counts” — at least, not in a way that’s recognized by the major, professional outlets provided to us.

I also know a fair number of y’all do have considered stories and opinions worth hearing. And I’d love to provide one small corner of the universe where you can make your voices heard.

In a world where content drives everything, I’d love to provide one space where that content can reach at least one more set of eyes than your own.

While this humble offering is currently all I have to give — with proper bios, “at’s,” and attributions, of course — I hope for someone out there, it’s enough (at least for now). Who knows? Maybe over time, “enough” will turn into “more.” But we won’t know until we try.

With that said, I am honored to introduce “VOICE IT!”

This is an idea I’ve been dreaming about for several years (more here), and today I’m proud to say I’ve stepped forward in courage to just do it. It is my sincerest hope that this will inspire more folks to step forward, too — if not here, then certainly somewhere else. For now, please remember:

There is power in the story you have inside you.

Too many people let their stories go untold.

Don’t let your story be one of them.