The Decade That Was

It just occurred to me the other day that not only are we nearing the end of the year, we’re at the end of a decade. I know I know … I’m a little slow on the uptake. Probably because it’s hard to believe that we’re fixing to put the teens behind us and head into the twenties. Looking back, though, the last ten years have been a pretty wild ride full of change and transition, highs and lows, laughter and tears.

When this past decade began, after swearing I would never get married again to anyone who would listen, I was, in fact, newly married to my soul mate — my Tragedy, which is the nickname I call him because as much as I grin like a mule eating briars, he has a resting frowny face. We were getting used to new family dynamics and starting to build a life together. Now I can’t imagine my life without him. Never say “never”!

My precious Sonny Boy started this decade as a little boy of eleven. We’ve been through middle school and high school, and now he’s almost through with college. We’ve been to all the sports practices and games. There was the concert band, the jazz band, a couple of rock bands, and a radio show. I survived teaching him how to drive. Now he’s all grown up, and I think he’s turned out alright.

We sold a split-level ranch house in the ‘burbs and downsized to a condo in the city. Marie Kondo ain’t got nothing on me for getting rid of stuff. There are a (very) few things I regret getting rid of (actually only one thing that I can think of), but when you cast off the old things, you can free yourself of the memories that cling to them like so much gum on the sole of your shoe — gum that is stuck to you and the street and everything it touches, leaving a trail of sticky ickiness wherever you go. With this move, I packed all the dark, bad, sad memories of that house up in a box, slapped some tape on it, and put it away in favor of my sunny, happy little condo that is filled, to sound grossly sappy, with love and light.

I changed jobs. What started out as a temporary gig has become a full-time job, and eight years later, I’m still at it. I like what I do very much, it’s fairly rewarding, and it has given me a chance to grow in ways I never expected. Plus, it’s just a fun job, and fun is always better than the alternative.

But this last ten years has also taught me that no matter how hard you work, it doesn’t always pay off like you think it will. And that’s when I learned to achieve a work/life balance. There are things I missed and will never get back because I was devoted to my job and not as devoted as I should have been to what’s most important — my family. You know who’s going to be wiping the drool off my chin when I’m wasting away in a nursing home? Here’s a hint: it’s no one from my job.

We’ve definitely had our lows too. We lost my mother-in-law after a brief illness and a few short months later her sister died suddenly. A beloved aunt of mine passed away after living well into her nineties. Three college friends and one of my cousins all died way too young. And I know this isn’t the same as losing a relative or friend, but just here recently, my old cat died, which hit me a lot harder than I thought it would. We’ve shed our share of tears, that’s for sure, but we’ve also tried to keep in mind that things could always be worse and they are for many, many people.

We’ve had our ups too including new additions to our extended family that we love and cherish and absolutely delight in!

There’s been a good bit of travel in this last decade. I’ve been to Italy and France, the beach and the mountains, all over Alabama and the Southeast in general, New York, New Orleans, and Chicago (all multiple times), and Phoenix. I’ve traveled by plane, train, and automobile. Here’s my hint to you — get off the interstate and enjoy the trip as much as the destination.

And somehow during all of the things I’ve already talked about, I did something early on that’s changed the entire course of my decade. During a low point of unemployment, when I was feeling lost and confused and without direction, I felt a little story stirring around in my mind, and I thought I’d write it down. But I didn’t know what to do with it.

I’d been reading my friend Kenn McCracken’s blog, Insomniactive, and I thought he was clever and funny and that it was interesting he could put his stories out on the internet *gasp* with this thing called a “blog.” I wasn’t even 100% sure what a blog was or how to create one, but somehow I figured it out. I called it Folkways Nowadays because I wanted to write about how we hold on to our old timey Southern traditions in a modern world. And on July 22, 2011, I published my very first blog post ever “Long live the King!”, a little homage to the Brown Turkey fig.

In the eight and a half years since, I’ve published 270 essays (this one makes 271), and thousands and thousands of people have read the words of a little old country girl from Citronelle, Alabama. I’ve received comments and emails from people all over the world who tell me how much they liked my stories and how they were reminded of special times in their own lives. Because of the blog, I discovered See Jane Write (SJW), a community of women who write that was founded and is led by Javacia Harris Bowser, and gained a group of “Janes” who I am sure will be life-long friends.

And it was with the knowledge I gained from SJW workshops and with Javacia’s encouragement that on April 19, 2018, I published a book, They Call Me Orange Juice, which is a collection of many of those early essays. Y’all, I still get a quiver in my liver when I type those words — “I published a book.” I got to travel with my book to the Book Expo in New York, the biggest event in the publishing year, which was an experience. Through readings and speaking engagements, I’ve gotten to meet tons of wonderful people and hear their stories.

And because of the book and the blog, my essay “Under the Table with Brother” is now a part of The Bitter Southerner’s Folklore Project, I’m regularly published in Mobile Bay Magazine, and I got to write this, this, and this for It’s a Southern Thing, and be on one of their videos! I was also invited to teach a workshop in Creative Nonfiction at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center’s ArtPlay, that starts in February. I’ve always dreamed of teaching, and now, because of this little blog, I get to.

That’s why I’ve change the name of the blog to “Audrey Atkins, Writer” — to reflect more broadly who I am and what I’m working on and what I’m currently doing. But if you’ve got the old url bookmarked, don’t fret! Folkwaysnowadays.com will still get you there every day of the week.

I’d say that’s all pretty darn cool. And to think it all started with a story about figs.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to my dear Tragedy and Sonny Boy who have listened to my ideas, provided inspiration, proof-read, and otherwise given me loads of encouragement every step of the way. There is no greater gift to a writer (or any other artist/creator) than the support of one’s family.

And I would be doubly remiss if I didn’t send a big thank you out to YOU! Thank you for being there with me through my blog years, my real life years, and all the decades I’ve known you. I wish you a very happy, healthy, and prosperous 2020. And let’s raise a glass to all the stories yet to be told!

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Sheila Zito says:

    I always enjoy your posts, and I look forward to the next decade. Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you!! Happy new year to you!!

  2. Von Sides says:

    Audrey, Looking forward to reading all you write in the in the New Year! Happiest of Holidays to you and the family!! All the Best, Von

    1. Thank you! And to you!! Hope to see you soon!

      1. Arthur Sumerlin says:

        I have been a regular reader of your blog from the start. I think you have done remarkedly well in your life over the last decade and wish you the best in the coming decade. You have the experience and point of view that is rare for your someone your age. I suspect we can thank your grandparents for that. As you may remember I was a member of the Citronelle community for about four years and came to appreciate many of things that you have wrote about. Best of everything to you and yours.
        Sincerely, Lamar Sumerllin

      2. Thank you very much for your kind words and for being such a faithful reader! Happy New Year!!

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