layers of time

up from his morning nap one day — classic Ilan move, pointing

What a wonderful time I had in Chicago — too short, as always, but filled with all kinds of wonder and happiness. Every morning I got up with Ilan so Marnie and Tom could get a little more sleep; he usually wakes up at 5:15am and is up for two hours and then goes down for a nap, so it was my pure pleasure to take that 2-hour segment of time with him.

I went to Chicago to celebrate Marnie’s 32nd birthday (Friday, March 3) and Ilan’s first birthday (Wednesday, March 8), but I arrived mid-afternoon on March 3, and left mid-morning on March 8 so the celebrations were a bit more formless and leaked into the surrounding days. On Saturday March 4, Tom and Marnie spent the day out on a birthday ramble (their birthday specialty), so I had the whole day with Ilan, all to myself. I was playing music for us, my ‘iphone playlist’ which is just a random assortment of music I love, while Ilan ate his morning snack of goldfish crackers laid out around the perimeter of the coffee table, and this song came on. Richard Harris singing MacArthur Park, remember? From 1968?

As it does for most people, I guess, music jerks me around in time. And suddenly I just saw and felt all the layers of time going on in that moment with Ilan, generations of time, generations of moments and experience. I was simultaneously 9 years old, listening to this song and for some reason feeling how much I loved my dad, living in a terrible house of violence and the impending divorce of my parents; 19 years old, listening to Donna Summer’s great disco version of the song, living secretly in the office where I worked in Austin; in my late 20s, giving my own little kids a snack of goldfish crackers and watching them be my beamish little ones; and 58 years old, watching my littlest grandson do the same thing and being my daughter’s (and my) beamish little one. All those layers, all those moments, all those very similar experiences, all felt by me in that one light-filled moment. It made me cry, and it made me so grateful to be my very age, able to hold all that life and world together.

One of the hundreds of most-wonderful things about Ilan is how much he loves the Feist song, 1234. (I think Oliver loved it so much too — what is it about this song?)

He just couldn’t believe it.

Marnie got Ilan a small handheld bluetooth speaker of his own, and when she plays this song he just holds the speaker and stares at it with an extraordinary expression. He’ll glance up at her, and at me, and at whoever is in the room, with an expression I can’t exactly name but I know it completely.

Of course he’s one, and being one you put everything in your mouth at some point, but there were times he was holding the speaker and listening to a song, and he put it in his mouth and I thought he was really wanting the music to be inside him as much as anything else. I thought about this great story that Maurice Sendak told:

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”

I remain filled with all the wonder of my time in Chicago, the hours I got to spend with Ilan, the hours spent with Marnie, talking, and the evenings with Marnie and Tom over dinner. And I’m always grateful for those brief moments of seeing how time and life work together, and it’s all right there inside you all the time, waiting for something to break through so you can see it.

three things: 1/17/17

FEED: My Sunday was incredible — I attended the National Poets Against Trump protest and the National Writers Resist protest here in Austin, and wished with all my heart I could’ve been at the ones in New York City. The writers’ protest there was held on the steps of the New York Public Library, and how I would’ve loved to be there.

At the NYPL

I also attended a training session for nonviolent protest, organized by the women organizing the Austin Women’s March (they’re expecting more than 22,000 people!), so all that comes together to lead me to share this powerful poem.

A Woman Speaks (Audre Lorde)

Moon marked and touched by sun
my magic is unwritten
but when the sea turns back
it will leave my shape behind.
I seek no favor
untouched by blood
unrelenting as the curse of love
permanent as my errors
or my pride
I do not mix
love with pity
nor hate with scorn
and if you would know me
look into the entrails of Uranus
where the restless oceans pound.

I do not dwell
within my birth nor my divinities
who am ageless and half-grown
and still seeking
my sisters
witches in Dahomey
wear me inside their coiled cloths
as our mother did
mourning.

I have been woman
for a long time
beware my smile
I am treacherous with old magic
and the noon’s new fury
with all your wide futures
promised
I am
woman
and not white.

From The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde.

That feeds me, sisters, it does.

This is amazing, amazing Joe Brundidge.

SEED: Even though mine is such a heavily literary life, I’m not hooked into the quite large literary community here in Austin, though I want to be — especially after attending the writers protest and seeing a good portion of it. I sat there at BookPeople thinking These are my people. All of them, these are MY people. I thought it at the poets protest too; we who need words, who value words, who understand the power of words to fight, and who turn to them in times of trouble. He was at the poets protest too, but I must have been distracted because I didn’t really GET Joe until he spoke at the writers protest. He read two pieces, the first of which I remembered from the poets protest a few hours earlier. But then he read the second one, and he is such an amazing speaker it just felt like he suddenly started talking to us, and with urgency. It was about the critical importance of doing your work, of not waiting, and of how important it is, and he spoke right to the things you say that stop yourself, and he was right there ready to step into the muck and lift you out, rinse it off of you because he needs you, he needs your voice. I just sat there crying and feeling LOVED, and held. When he finished speaking, the next speaker was Sarah Bird — actually the person I was most eager to hear — but I couldn’t pay attention because I was afraid Joe would leave, so I just kept my eye on him.

As soon as Sarah quit speaking, while the next speaker was being introduced I jumped up (I was on the front row) and dashed over to Joe, who didn’t know me from Adam. I asked, “Can I hug you?” And with his giant smile, this tremendous bear of a man reached out his arms and hugged me so tight, so solid and still, and for so long. I moved slightly, to end the hug, just because I didn’t want him to feel stuck, and he didn’t let go. So I just relaxed, and I’ll bet we hugged for two solid minutes, maybe three. I thanked him and told him how much I needed to hear what he said, and my eyes filled with tears. Then I got shy and embarrassed and ducked back to my seat, but for the rest of the night I was held by him, and his words, and I felt better than I have in a very long time.

Joe is a host on Writing on the Air (here are his interviews), and he’s the director of the Austin International Poetry Festival. Here’s Joe in action, at Austin’s wonderful, wonderful independent book store Malvern Books, host of the poets protest and so many other wonderful events. He’s not as intense and passionate in this video as he was at the protest, but you get a feel for who he is.

That’s one thing I love about life. You can just be sitting there, expecting so little, and encounter someone who blows you over, envelopes you with love and acceptance and wonder, and you come away healed. I love that.

READ: I will just share some good thoughts and reading if you’re in the same general mindset I’m in this week, as we prepare for ….. ugh. Well, you know. Think about, remember, do these things:

  • “My existence requires no one’s permission.” (Joe Brundidge, beautiful Joe)
  • Someone at the poets protest said, “Aesthetically and philosophically, any poetry is against Trump.” No Republican president has ever had a poet at inauguration. Shocked? Nah.
  • “Don’t just sit there simulating a free person.” ~Austin poet Greg Liotta
  • When he takes the oath of office on Friday, January 19, you take the oath too. Take the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution (against him and his swamp monsters).
    https://www.wall-of-us.org/taketheoath/
  • Here’s a list of 27 books every woman should read if they’re going to the women’s march or NOT. I’ve only read five, how can that be…..gotta get busy.
  • A pivot: Harvard’s photography courses are online, and free. If you complete all the modules, you get a certificate. The software they use is old (~2009, I think), but the basics of photography haven’t changed.

three things: 1/3/17

1)  I started reading Underground Airlines by Ben Winters, following on the heels of The Underground Railroad, and so far it’s spectacular. Honestly, I don’t know why the black people in the United States aren’t raging and fighting white America all the time. (And we women, too.) They (we) have every right to be doing that, and every single time some white American says something about slavery being a long time ago just get over it . . . well hell, even want to punch those people in the throat. This country. We arrived and right off the bat started killing people and stealing their land, and just kept doing that (through to today). And then we stole people from another continent and brutalized them in unimaginable ways to enrich ourselves, and then enacted laws to keep them from getting anywhere (through to today). One horrible thing I learned when a friend did my ancestry is that someone in my history owned slaves in Georgia. She shrugged a little, it’s the thing you learn, and yet it’s horrifying to imagine. And so I too deserve the rage. In the second episode of The OA, a new series on Netflix, a voice-over read the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty (“The New Colossus”) and vomit came up in my throat, it’s such a lie.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The world is going mad and it’s so scary. And the United States is the engine of so much of it. How does a person work with that? (I’ll say more about Underground Airlines after I finish it….)

2) Depression status stable. Not feeling better but not feeling worse, and when you deal with depression you know that’s a good enough report. One thing I’m trying (among many things) is a daily inoculation of art, and today I’m rolling my eyeballs around in this glorious color — great thanks to my beautiful friend Anne for posting the painting on FB a couple of days ago:

Max Kurzweil (Austrian; Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession; 1867-1916): Lady in Yellow, 1899. Oil on canvas. Vienna Museum at Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria.

That color! I would really like to take my eyeballs out of my head and just roll them around in it, coat them like you do a sugar cookie, and then pop them back so that color can seep into me. It’s so glorious, especially in these very gray NYC days. Tomorrow I’m going to a special event at MoMA, 1.5 hours of silence on the 4th and 5th floor galleries, ending in a guided meditation (in front of Monet’s “Water Lilies,” I think). That ought to help too.

My dear sister-friend Peggy gave me the suggestion to make a long list (25 items on mine) of small things I could do, simple things, nourishing things, and you know, when you’re mentally flat and blank the problem is that nothing feels do-able anyway, much less thinking up a list of things. But with her help I did, and daily art is doable. If you are prone to depression, make your list when you’re not depressed, it’s much easier.

3)  Another bit of art stolen from a friend’s FB (this time from beautiful Kathy, who understands so much):

This is not an age of beauty,
I say to the Rite-Aid as I pass a knee-high plastic witch
whose speaker-box laugh is tripped by my calf
breaking the invisible line cast by her motion
sensor. My heart believes it is a muscle

of love, so how do I tell it it is a muscle of blood?

This morning, I found myself
awake before my alarm & felt I’d been betrayed

by someone. My sleep is as thin as a paper bill
backed by black bars of coal that iridesce
indigo in the federal reserve of

dreams. Look, I said to the horse’s
head I saw severed & then set on the ground, the soft
tissue of the cheek & crown cleaved with a necropsy
knife until the skull was visible. You look more
horse than the horses

with names & quilted coats in the pasture, grazing unbothered

by your body in pieces, steaming

against the drizzle. You once had a name
that filled your ears like amphitheaters,
that caused an electrical

spark to bead to your brain. My grief was born
in the wrong time, my grief an old soul, grief re-
incarnate. My grief, once a black-winged

beetle. How I find every excuse to indulge it, like a child
given quarters. In the restaurant, eating alone,

instead of interrogating my own
solitude, I’m nearly undone by the old
woman on her own. The window so filthy,

it won’t even reflect her face, which must not be the same
face she sees when she dreams

of herself in the third person.

– “Age of Beauty” by Emilia Phillips

What a wonder art is. Thank you to everyone who puts it into the world.

three things: 1/2/17

1)  I’m thinking a lot about saving vs leaving behind, and in the way things work, it’s showing up in media I’m consuming. I’m near the very end of The Underground Railroad, and Marc and I are rewatching The Wire (season 4 right now), and in both story lines is the question of how to move a people forward. Some Africans were so severely damaged by enslavement, and some corner boys were so left behind and damaged by their own type of enslavement, and what do you do for them, and for the rest? In The Wire, the corner boys were pulled out of the regular classroom so the other kids might have a chance, and an effort was made to socialize the corner boys to “regular” life — how to order at a restaurant without cursing and starting a fight, etc. I’ve got squarely liberal values, and a deeply empathetic heart, and it’s hard to think about shrugging off some people as too far gone, and yet maybe that’s not a helpful position. Maybe that dooms everyone. I know that not every single American kid needs (or wants) to go to college, but we pretend that everyone does and so we no longer have technical training tracks . . . which leaves so many kids kind of aimless.

on the park bench at the end of my block, as if it’s there for me.

And thinking at a bigger scale, I think about getting rid of Hitler vs saving whatever Jews one could save during WWII. Just because no person could get rid of Hitler on her own didn’t mean there wasn’t a world of value in saving the lives of any Jewish person she could possibly save. The Torah says, “whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

I’m obviously grappling with my place in the battle to come, and thinking about the importance of doing exactly what I can within my sphere of life. What do you think? I’m asking everyone I encounter — do we save everyone or agree to leave some behind? Obviously I’m just a tiny small person with a tiny small sphere, so the question doesn’t determine my actions but I’m struggling with my own answer to it so I’m curious about yours if you’re willing to talk about it.

January 1, 2017, in my 58 years of glory

2) Part of my mission as a 58-year-old woman in this world is to be exactly who I am. I do not color my hair because I’m 58 and 58yos have gray hair — even women. And 58yos have soft, loose skin in places it used to be taut, like along the jaw, and on the throat. I’m kind of militant about it, actually, and while I slather moisturizer on my skin and try hard to take care of myself, I plan and intend to be my age, whatever that means. That doesn’t mean it isn’t shocking to see time all over me, and it doesn’t mean I don’t resist finding a filter that might just smooth out that throat sagging a little bit, but then I remember: I spent my life as a woman talking shit about my appearance. “I’m so fat, I hate my thighs, my stomach is disgusting,” and I regret every movement of breath that was needed to put those sentences into the world, and every molecule of ATP I wasted having the thoughts. I don’t know any women my age who aren’t coloring their hair, and one of my secret missions is to be in the world so they see someone like me in case they want to stop — and if they don’t more power to them! (But if they do…..)

3) I finished The Underground Railroad last night and started reading A Man Called Ove, which is as opposite as possible from The Underground Railroad! It’s hilarious, and about a bitter curmudgeonly white dude. It caught my interest originally because of the name Ove, which of course led me back to Karl Ove Knausgaard. I can be so shallow like that — nothing more than a character’s name or a nice font on the cover will grab me. But oh it’s funny. In the opening scene, Ove is in a store for “people who drive Japanese cars and need to buy white cables.” I gather it’s not going to just be funny, but the observations that allow the reader to see Ove are certainly funny, and it’s a nice change of pace after the heaviness and shame of The Underground Railroad. I’ll let you know how it is when I finish it.

It’s January. 2017. March, march, march.

three things: 12/30/16

1)  No talking around it, or talking in the general direction, it’s time to be blunt: I am very depressed. I know from depression, as people in the northeast would say — like my taxonomy of headaches, I have one for depression and it’s enlarged by generations behind me and now beyond me. My people are the kings of depression. I have so many versions, including one version that visits me every eight years like clockwork and ends in a suicide effort/attempt (I’ve had three of those, the last pinning the cycle in 8 years for me). I have another version that makes me sick and lays me so low I struggle to breathe. I have another version that makes me so enraged I hate the fucking sun for shining. I have a version that completely blanks out my mind, bleaches away the words and thoughts. I have the light ones, the little dips and low periods that descend and then lift, like everyone else. When I am very depressed, except for the blank version I always have an ‘explanation’ for it, my list of ‘reasons.’ They are always more or less true, more or less connected to the reality of things, even if they are slanted and deepened. Except for the dips, I have to take them seriously, for my history is as serious as death. The depression I feel now feels very true and connected perfectly to the reality of things, even as I can also see that it’s not the whole reality. The incoming president and his gang of thieves, along with my contempt for all those who voted for him, have nearly paralyzed me with fear and dread. The world I want — one where we respect each other, one where we are thoughtful and value intelligence, one where we lift an umbrella over those in need, one where we engage thoughtfully with the world — has been kicked to the curb with jackboots. That’s not hyperbole, it’s not a simple “nyah nyah I wanted my girl to win,” it’s the truth of this change that’s coming and it terrifies me. All the things I value, my values, are being shit on. They’re not just being erased, or set to the side . . . they are being shit on. And I am depressed. I really am. So many of us are. Had the Republican voters elected Jeb Bush or any other “normal” Republican, I’d have dreaded the policies of hate and cronyism, the pulling-away of concern for any but the super-rich, but it wouldn’t be the same. It’s absolute dread I feel, and I am so depressed. Color seems faded. Hope seems too quiet and tiny, a mustard seed hidden in a dusty corner behind the drapes.

I see my grandchildren there. (And then I fear the world they’re getting.) I my see my beloved children (and ditto, plus my dread for them as parents). I see my friends, the overwhelming majority of whom are with me, fighting with me, we’re helping each other (and thank God for all of you, all of you). I see travel in my future, I see happy time with friends, I see babysitting of Oliver and Lucy, I see celebrating birthdays together, I see all that. And all that matters, it does. It’s not disappeared by the depression, it’s there, it just feels muted by the heaviness of the world that’s coming. And so this is another kind of depression to add to my taxonomy: the extremely realistic kind that’s due entirely to the world. I do not feel suicidal or in any kind of danger beyond the kind my government is about to cause, it’s not that kind of depression. Goddamn. Help me Jesus. Help us all.

“Gooseneck barnacles,” photograph by @fifi_dob

2) It is such a weird, weird world. You know how much I depend on every single person I know? Instagram keeps me going: I depend on seeing Fiona’s underwater photography every single day, depend on it. Mary’s shots of the beaches around Sydney. Judi’s gorgeous sunrises and sunsets when she is in Lorne, and the various amazing birds she sees. Friends who travel? I live for your pictures — Mary’s in South Africa right now, Leanne is showing her sons a glorious white Christmas in Europe, Alison is usually off to somewhere I want to see. Megan always has some kind of lush delight for the eye and spirit, whether it’s her extraordinary shots of flowers or the art she makes. Who knew how important an app could be, how invaluable to my daily life could be people I have not yet met. I depend on you, every day. You have a very real spot in the hours of my day, in my anticipation, in my making-it-through. (And it must be said that it’s not just your photos, it’s the real, and very personal kindnesses you show me regularly, the way you are so open with me, the way you share in my life, too.)

I depend on a close watch on politics by my friends Cindy, and Don Ray, and Tina, and Matt, and Margie, and Debra, and Anne, and all of you who are new militants like me. And of course I depend on your communications with me, as we share and worry over the onslaught we’re facing. You help me feel less alone, you help me remember that there are millions of us in this battle.

I depend on people in my real life that I can see in person, regularly (even if not regularly enough), I can’t even name you all because I’m afraid I’ll leave one of you off. I depend on those coffee breaks, those glasses of wine or beer, those dinners or breakfasts, those walks, those hand-clutching conversations. And I depend on the online private communications just as much, whether you are a friend I can see in person, or a friend in another country — the emails, the FB PMs, the texts, the way I can be feeling low and hear a ping and a friend’s note reminds me that I am not sitting alone in the dark. I depend on you more than you could ever imagine. Ever. You give me so much more than I ever give you. (And while I was writing this, *ping* came a note of big love from Dixie, while I was writing a response to one from Alethea. See?)

I depend on my oldest friends, my years-long friends, and friends I’ve just made (a wonder, that, making new friends at 58, especially when they are like long-lost sisters) whether I see you regularly, or not. I really depend on you, and I mean that in a blood-and-bones-and-breath way. I depend on you, I depend on knowing you’re there.

It’s too easy, I think, for us to feel some degree of isolation, and surely we all have those moments—even if they’re brief—of feeling unimportant, or unseen. Unappreciated. Undervalued. So let me tell you: if you were gone, a hole would be blown in my world. You probably wouldn’t think that, but you’d be wrong. My beautiful, beautiful friend Laura in Perth shared this image of a net with me, and let me remind us all that we are connected like a net, we’re each a knot, a nodule, a small thing with arms out to others nearby, and together we are mighty.

3) Even if it’s not your easy style, call a friend sweetheart, or darling. Anne does this and I literally explode in delight, a small fireworks of feeling loved, of feeling special every single time she says it. Give that to someone today.

three things, 12/29/16

today’s Riffle deals

1)  One more book thing before I move on from books (for the moment). Do you get daily emails from Riffle and BookBub, notifying you of very good (i.e., super cheap) daily deals on e-books? That’s really all I’m interested in because I only get to read for fun in the middle of the night, and don’t want to turn on the light and wake myself up more than I have to. The light from my Kindle Paperwhite doesn’t wake me up so it’s my favorite middle-of-the-night thing in the world. There are also book giveaways on GoodReads, based on books you’ve tagged as “want to read,” and while I haven’t yet won one, it’s nothing to enter so I continue to do that. Do you have another source? I get the Kindle Deal of the Day email from Amazon, but can’t tailor it as precisely as I can the Riffle and BookBub subscriptions, so it’s a little less useful. There are really just a few categories of books I want to read for fun: literary fiction, translation/world literature, and memoir. Occasionally non-fiction. Always good poetry, but I have to read poetry in real books, and very rarely in the middle of the night so I don’t get notifications on that genre. Let me know if you have another source for deals on e-books!

2)  It’s not quite the last day of the year yet, but I love this poem so I’ll share it today. It’s a cold, rainy, dreary winter day here in New York, and I was to meet Jim to retrieve my son’s belongings — but he has a terrible cold and is coming a long way, and the rainy dreariness was breaking my heart harder, so he and I will see each other another time, and I will pay attention to my real gratitude to him for the gift he’s giving me.

Year’s End, by Richard Wilbur

Now winter downs the dying of the year,
And night is all a settlement of snow;
From the soft street the rooms of houses show
A gathered light, a shapen atmosphere,
Like frozen-over lakes whose ice is thin
And still allows some stirring down within.

I’ve known the wind by water banks to shake
The late leaves down, which frozen where they fell
And held in ice as dancers in a spell
Fluttered all winter long into a lake;
Graved on the dark in gestures of descent,
They seemed their own most perfect monument.

There was perfection in the death of ferns
Which laid their fragile cheeks against the stone
A million years. Great mammoths overthrown
Composedly have made their long sojourns,
Like palaces of patience, in the gray
And changeless lands of ice. And at Pompeii

The little dog lay curled and did not rise
But slept the deeper as the ashes rose
And found the people incomplete, and froze
The random hands, the loose unready eyes
Of men expecting yet another sun
To do the shapely thing they had not done.

These sudden ends of time must give us pause.
We fray into the future, rarely wrought
Save in the tapestries of afterthought.
More time, more time. Barrages of applause
Come muffled from a buried radio.
The New-year bells are wrangling with the snow.

3)  Hasn’t this been a hard year? It has held its wonders in my personal life — Ilan and Lucy born, travel to southern China and the UP and Laos and Thailand and Taiwan, hours of poetry group meetings, meals and drinks with beloved friends, weeks spent with Marnie and so many days spent with Katie, the opportunity to help my daughters and their families even though I have less than no money, time spent laughing and walking with my sweet little Oliver, good movies, gorgeous food made and shared. Those are great things. And it seems like the world is about to end, too, with the horrors of Syria and South Sudan and Palestine and the true hideousness of the American election and the death and destruction that are about to follow from that. And so many people dying, largely just a generational thing that will be increasingly notable to me as my generation (and older) are nearing that point on the wheel. It’s easy to tap into this feeling of gloom since I am depressed, but that doesn’t mean the horrors in the world aren’t also true. I’d like to say something lovely like ‘It can only get better’ or ‘Maybe things won’t be as bad in the coming year’ but one word answers those thoughts with a big loud no: trump. I’m trying to find purpose in the way most of my friends and I will fight so hard, we will protest and boycott and make calls and march and show up and call out lies and gaslighting and it’s hard to feel the energy I will need for all that.

Plus my lost son.

How are you managing all this? Are you picking one hill to defend? Are you simply doing everything you possibly can, in a scattershot way? Are you pulling back and focusing on more immediate things, your own life and its joys and needs? Are you looking harder for the good? Maybe you’re doing all of these, either purposely or in a swinging back and forth way? I have no judgement on any of them; we’re all going to have to find our way to keep going, and the world needs everything — and especially everything good we can pour into it as this horror and destruction is about to come raining down. If you have any wisdom, or if you have arrived at a path or plan that makes sense for you, please share. I’m looking for help.

Another happy birthday for me

Where I started. Graham Texas, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should've put a blanket over me!
Where I started. Graham, TX, Thursday, 11/6/58. Someone really should’ve put a blanket over me!

 

This was such a spectacular year in my life, it boggles my mind. How can my life just keep getting better and better? And yet it does. These aren’t the best pictures from my year, or of each place, but they’re the ones I labeled “happy Lori” when I filed them away; this year,

 

We went back to Vietnam, and to a tiny fishing village on the coast of Thailand.

happy me, in Tam Coc
happy me, in Tam Coc Vietnam, in one of my favorite places: on a little boat in a gorgeous landscape

We went to southern China.

happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo
happy me, in the countryside around Yangshuo — I was drunk on those karst mountains, man.

We went to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

happy, flying around Manistique Lake
happy, flying around Manistique Lake, getting to be part of a place that was important in Marc’s life.

Next week we’re off to Laos again, and back to that same tiny fishing village in Thailand.….so only the happy anticipation of that trip properly belongs with this year of my life.

My family grew so much this year!

Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn't know Lucy would be coming, too.
Last Christmas, with my daughters and their families. We already knew Ilan was coming (obviously, look at Marnie!), but we didn’t know Lucy would be coming, too.

My grandson Ilan was born in March, and I got to be with Marnie and Tom in Chicago for a month, to welcome him to the world and to take care of their sweet family. Tom reached out to me this year in a way I will never, ever, ever forget (my eyes instantly fill with the hottest tears every time I think about it), and Marnie’s regular weekly phone calls to me are an ongoing treasure, more than she knows.

happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan's life
happy Pete, during a very quiet morning in the first couple of days of Ilan’s life
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.
And I got to go back and see him again when he was a few months old. ADORE.

My granddaughter Lucy was born in Austin in September, and I got to stay with sweet Oliver so Katie and Trey didn’t have to worry about any of that, and then I got to welcome Lucy home. The easy chances I have to see Katie, opportunities to spend time with her (which I love, she’s so sweet and funny and smart), opportunities to help out a little and be their regular old Pete, those moments are the real stuff of life and are a big glory in my heart.

so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl
so happy to hold my sweet little Lucy girl, applet of my eye
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together
so happy dancing with Oliver, and swimming, and walking our very slow walks together, and listening to him call me Pete.

The BEST Halloween costumes — their mamas are so creative.

I got to cast my vote for a woman, for president. Two heroes entered my psychological world this year: Hillary, for the way she just keeps moving forward, she never gives up EVER, you knock her down and she gets right back up, ready to work as she has for at least 30 years; and John Lewis for his quiet persistence for 40 years. When I feel like giving up, I always think of them both, now. This year they joined Mister Rogers in my own personal pantheon.

happy and crying, my steady companion combo
happy and crying, my steady companion combo, but especially present as I voted.

I read so many wonderful books this year; especially, I found Vivian Gornick, Lidia Yuknavitch, Irene Nemirovsky, and Lucia Berlin, new favorites; Nemirovsky died in the Holocaust and Berlin is also gone, so I can only cherish the books they left behind — but Gornick and Yuknavitch (the latter most especially) are still writing, and on my forever watch list, now. My beloved poetry group continued meeting at my place throughout the year, and they shared so much extraordinary poetry with me, and taught me so many things I can never repay them. Our monthly meetings focused simply on reading and talking about poetry, all of us hyper-thrilled about that, what a pinch-me gift, man.

I spent time with so many beautiful friends in Austin and New York — and made new friends, too, an ongoing source of joy, to make new friends at this stage of my life. I’m so lucky to have friends who take me as I am. And I’m also lucky to have friends all over the world (shouting out especially to my antipodean beloveds, whose love I feel this far away, but also to friends in England and France and Canada. I fear this makes me seem like an extremely old person going on and on about these new-fangled devices called telephones, but I was once again blown away by Laura, calling me from Perth to sing Happy Birthday to me).

I’m always shy about getting a picture of us together, and I don’t know why — I so love having your pictures.

cindy
getting mehndi with my Cindy; I thought about using the photo of us celebrating my birthday together, but I liked the rhyme of “mehndi with my Cindy.”
don
my darling, precious friend Don, who calls himself (and is, in my life) my Jewish father.
girls
A subset of the “book club” women, my dear friends. Some are missing from this picture, (Anne, Diane, Jen….) but always with me otherwise.
nancy
Nancy, my boon companion and quirt-wielder and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
sherlock
Sherlock, one of my oldest, dearest friends. I wish I had a picture with Peggy.

This year I tried oysters and now cannot get enough. If I had a million dollars I would eat a million oysters. Thanks, Sherlock, for showing me how to eat them. And thanks, Nancy, for eating them with me too.

from the first batch, eaten with Sherlock
the first dozen, eaten with Sherlock
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Also, I kept eating donuts. Because OBVIOUSLY.
Marc's surprise for my early birthday celebration. He knows me. :)
Marc’s surprise for my early birthday celebration. 🙂
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.
I got to make lots of delicious food for loved ones throughout the year, and even when the cake stuck, it was still MIGHTY GOOD.

I went back and forth to New York City, and while that’s also quite hard and wearing, I never fail to also feel so lucky, like I get the best of two very different worlds. Marc and I continue to find our way to make things work for us, and I’m so grateful for that. When I’m in Austin, his morning texts start my day off with great joy (and usually mystery), and when I’m in NYC I delight in his delight in making food for me, and in the way he always takes my hand. We both grew this year in ways that were good for us individually, and definitely that were good for us together. Would I have dreamed any of this was possible in late 2012? NO. Even though I love every gritty, urban street and curb and subway platform (well, almost), I never get tired of walking in Riverside Park, ever.

park-snow
my beautiful park during the epic snowstorm
parksummer
and on any day in the spring, summer, or fall
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once
Marc and I walk in the park every day, at least once

I survived a few very hard things — in largest part because of my own strength, forged and honed over my 58 years of sometimes-difficult life, and in critical part because I have the best friends, who check on me all the time, like Dixie inevitably does and always at the right moment; who say my name to me over and over when I’m lost, like Nancy did when I was despairing one night; who call me darling, like Anne does when I’m in deep need; who sit next to me at parties or anywhere else when I’m barely there and help me through, like Lynn did at a big happy birthday party; who reach their hands out to me in ways immediate and virtual (oh gosh, all of you), and who also laugh with me, and share themselves, which is my favorite thing. The violent reappearance of my brother, after decades, and with scary threats, was probably my worst trouble this year, in ways most people can’t understand. That one nearly done the old girl in…..but I’m still here, blowing and going. And speaking of that, a book was dedicated to me this year:

I cry no matter how many times I read it.
I cry no matter how many times I read it.

I didn’t have nearly enough work all year; another year has passed without my son, an ongoing pain I’m not always sure I can bear; I caught the flu a couple of times, the worst on our terribly long travel day from Can Tho to Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok to Trat to Mairood; the Republican candidate for president has left me feeling terrorized all year and I am praying so hard that goodness prevails; and as stressful as those things might be in moments, they pale in comparison to all the rest. Yep, being 57 was amazing. I’m the luckiest person in the whole world, with the best life, far better than I ever dreamed it could be, it would be.

Fifty-eight. Amazing.
Fifty-eight. Amazing.

Let me tell you this. It’s really a privilege getting to be 58. I’m proud of it! It’s a privilege to have lived so many years, to have seen the wonders and survived the pain; it’s a privilege to learn and grow; it’s a privilege to soften and open. My hair has more bright silver in it — so beautiful! Why would I want to pretend that isn’t true? When I smile, now, you can see the evidence of all the years I’ve smiled. My skin is changing, my memory isn’t the same, and that’s OK because it’s part of it, and I’m grateful to have the chance to have every part of it, every last bit.

Thank you for being in my life with me, in whatever form you’re here. Thank you for the words, the touches, the drinks and breakfasts and lunches and dinners, the happy hours, the notes, the calls, the many, many ways you hold our connection. Your presence, your words, your friendship, and your faithfulness mean the world to me, and I count myself so lucky to you know. Happy birthday to me, and now on to the next! oxoxoxoxox

softly, and tenderly

During the night, I had an attack of something — maybe it’s seasonal allergies (central Texas is certainly known for them) or maybe it’s a cold — but I woke up all night with my throat feeling sliced every time I swallowed, and my head ached, and my chest felt heavy. Just an ordinary bit of bad, nothing more, but kind of low-level misery, you know? My ears hurt. I sound like Edward G. Robinson after a week of heavier-than-usual cigar smoking and scotch drinking.

I’ve been taking care of other people a lot lately, and cooking for others, and my cupboard was bare. What I wanted more than anything was to be good to myself, to make some very good food for me, some food that would restore and be good for my body, and my tiny miseries. I wanted to make myself a cup of tea, tuck a little blanket around my feet, make my bedroom extra cozy and welcoming for when I’d go back to it tonight.

sea-changeThis is a sea change. I didn’t belittle myself, berate myself for “whining,” wag my inner finger at myself, call myself names. I also didn’t wish someone else were here to take care of me. This is such a wonder.

On my way to the very good market, I listened to an interview with Gloria Steinem. She said she did not know how to make a home for herself until she was 50. Without thinking too much about it, she’d kind of had a background assumption that homes are made for husbands and children, and she hadn’t seen many women (or any women, maybe) making permanent homes just for themselves. This resonated with me too.

So I bought fresh, organic vegetables of all the colors — ruby red beets, glowing yellow-orange butternut squash, deep green kale, okra, peas, rainbow colors of heirloom tomatoes, deep brown wild mushrooms. I bought whole grains, wheat berries and farro and wild rice and French lentils. I bought tea. I lingered in front of the small batches of store-made fresh soup — vegetable, lentil, tortilla, potato, split pea, so many delicious options — pondering whether to buy one or just make a batch for myself, trading off ease since I feel bad against the pleasure of making. While I shopped, my heart felt the same as if I were taking care of someone I loved.

When everything was stowed away in my refrigerator and pantry, I made my bed and folded back the sheet and comforter so it was ready for me later. I went ahead and moved an armload of candles into the bathroom, and got out the eucalyptus salts, so I could take a soaking bath later. I put on my most comfortable clothes, my softest socks. I made a big cup of tea. I brushed my hair, a comfort to my aching head, and took some medicine. I smiled at myself.

“As if I were taking care of someone I loved.”

My dearest wish is that every woman would feel this way about herself, as worthy of all these things as all the others she cares for. Even if it doesn’t start to become clear until you’re 50, even if it takes hard work, even if it feels selfish at first, no matter what or how long the path, I wish this for you, too.

abecedarian

What are the things from your childhood that brought you such great delight, and that still bring you that same kind and degree of delight? And not just in a nostalgic way, like a sweet memory—ah, I really used to love playing with Lincoln Logs and TinkerToys (I did)—but the same delight now? Mine, quite reliably, are

  • pillbugs
  • trilobytes
  • dinosaur eggs
  • the ABCs

The whole pillbug thing is obvious, given where you’re reading this. I just love them so much, and I do sincerely have this little pretending that I’m their queen, but only [still] in the most benevolent way. People always send me news stories they read about pillbugs. 🙂

trilobyteAnd trilobytes! They deserve that exclamation point! It’s not shown on the cover, but that book actually has an exclamation point after the word trilobyte in the title. (If you want to read it but don’t want to spring for the book, here’s the full text, for free.) Trilobytes are cool, man. So cool. And I don’t know why, but my copy, received as a gift the year the book published, spells the word correctly, with a y, and does have the exclamation point. Hmmm.

eggsDinosaur eggs, my dearest, fondest, most intense dream for myself when I was five was to grow up to be a paleontologist and discover dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. Oh how I longed to do that. I think a big cache had been found in those years and it just dazzled me. The idea that dinosaurs came out of eggs was just so mind-blowing, and I longed to whisper away the sand to see the long curve of one of those eggs. Also: Mongolia? I want to go there so so badly. Ugh. Still do, probably never will get to go.

And it’s not that I like to sing the ABC song, nor is it an appreciation for the alphabet because it makes words and I love words and sentences and paragraphs and books oh books(!), it’s a thrill about the letters themselves, how they evolved, how they came to be, how we use them, how we change them, the way these little squiggles get bent along the way. When I was a kid we had a set of World Book Encyclopedias at home, just like these:

wb

I read every word of every entry in every volume, beginning at A and ending in Z. Examined every chart — and they were clever, like the one that showed cotton production rates in cotton states used a little cartoon boll, one boll represented however many tons or bales or whatever the unit of measurement, so I’d count the bolls for each state and multiply and just have such fun with that. Cow heads for beef production. (Clearly the ones I remember most easily related to Texas.) I studied every picture, read every footnote, every reference citation. Beginning to end, repeat. In between I’d read the dictionary, a never-ending source of joy, a rabbit hole I’d love to get lost in.

But the reason the World Book is relevant here is that each volume opened with an entry about the letter itself. There were drawings of the various ways the letter had been written, by such mysterious people as the Phoenicians and the Sumarians and the Romans and the Greeks, the way each group changed it, how it was pronounced and from what it was derived. Although I loved almost all the entries in the whole encyclopedia (but not the one with the lamprey, I still remember hating that one), it was the ones about the letters of the alphabet that made me feel so excited I almost couldn’t hold it. Literally. I felt filled with electricity and wonder. Phoenicians! They were sea-going people, wow, Phoenicians. Their version of the letter reflected their culture, wow. All that excitement is filling my body just writing these words, it is so compressed in my chest I feel like maybe I need to get up and run in a little circle for a bit.

I follow The House that Lars Built on Instagram, always so inspirational, and it turns out that she does a book club! (Follow here, it’s amazing.) The last book they read was Drew Barrymore’s memoir, and when she announced the next one…. ALPHABETICAL! A book about the alphabet!! It’s a whole book, an expanded version exactly of those little entries in the World Book. Obviously I had to get it. It’s so rare that I buy a physical book, but come on. The alphabet.

abcHow every letter tells a story, the subtitle. I’m just in the A so far, but it’s been thrilling. I meet my old friends the Phoenicians. There is a luxury of time and space, so the information about the letters is much more involved, and he is as twitterpated by the alphabet as I am, so he writes with such wonder about this system we have created.

Want to know about A?

‘A’ starts its life in around 1800 BCE. Turn our modern ‘A’ upside down and you can see something of its original shape. Can you see an ox’s head with its horns sticking up in the air? If so, you can see the remains of that letter’s original name, ‘ox,’ or ‘aleph’ in the ancient Semitic languages. By the time the Phoenicians are using it in around 1000 BCE it is lying on its side and looks more like a ‘K’. Speed-writing seems to have taken the diagonals through the upright, making it more like a horizontal form of our modern ‘A’ with the point on the left-hand side. The ancient Greeks called it ‘alpha’ and reversed it, with the point on the right-hand side, probably because, eventually, they decided to write from left to right. Between around 750 BCE and 500 BCE the Greeks rotated it to what we would think of as its upright position. The Romans added the serifs which you can see on inscriptions like Trajan’s Column in Rome.

I wish there were more drawings, I’d like to see that A on its side, first to the left then to the right (the World Book showed all the variations), but that’s OK. His own delight in the material is happy-making.

And of course he speaks more broadly about these issues. I loved this line: “It seems odd to think that the reason why I say a ‘j’ sound and that there is a letter for that sound is because, nearly a thousand years ago, in the wars between the tribal warlords of northern Europe, a French-speaking group got the upper hand in the part of the world where I happen to live.”

I don’t know why my tiny-girl delight still lives in me so purely at the age of 57, but isn’t that a gift? You probably don’t have this thing with the alphabet, but I’m sure you have your own things like this. Of course as always I’d love to hear about them. I think these things, especially, are tremendous gifts to us, and they tell us something about each other. I can also see that my childhood delights are indicators of the grown-up I would someday become. Add in donuts and I am complete. 🙂

life

This morning I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and was stopped, as I often am, by _nitch. It was this post that caught me by the throat:

David Bowie // “Life. I love life very much indeed.”

A video posted by NITCH (@__nitch) on

“I love life very much indeed,” he says. Something about that specific articulation felt fresh to me, even though the sentiment is familiar and true for me, too. I think I usually say I love my life, or I’m grateful to be alive, truths for me no matter the weather, but to love LIFE very much seems different.

To love my life is to note the personal: my cozy little home, my people, my interests, my longings, my struggles, my thoughts and feelings, the range of my experiences. To be grateful to be alive is to recognize a greater context. There were times I might not have survived, how grateful I am that I did. It automatically places the thought in connection to not-alive.

But to love life very much is notice the miracle and wonder of existence. To love others’ lives. To love the existence of all living things, the wonder of that. To love the persistence of it all despite….despite….despite. To note and appreciate the sheer miracle of consciousness, of birth (despite… despite… despite….), of endurance. To hang on to wonder, to remember to see dandelions forcing their way through sidewalk cracks, clouds drifting in the blue, whales (blue or otherwise) singing through the oceans, friends helping each other along, people helping loved ones live and die, people rallying or disappointing, inspiring or scaring.

What a gift, right? Remember.

see! saw! see! saw!

seesawDid y’all call these see-saws or teeter-totters? I grew up hearing both about equally, but I think in North Texas, in the very small towns, we were more likely to call them teeter-totters. Anyway, I realize that the last few days I’ve been up! Down! Up! Down! I’m better, yes! I’m exhausted, no! I’m back to myself, yes! It’s too much, no!

And there may still be seeing and sawing to come for me, but my steps forward are getting me somewhere, despite the steps backwards.

Tuesday night my poetry group met in my house, and I was not feeling it, I was too lost in the pain and so tired from my extremely early flight back to Austin — but the group means so much to me, and I want to hold the space for it even on the rare nights I don’t feel good. About an hour and a half into the meeting, Rebecca read this poem by Anne Carson, from Plainwater:

Town of the Sound of a Twig Breaking

Their faces I thought were knives.
The way they pointed them at me.
And waited.
A hunter is someone who listens.
So hard to his prey it pulls the weapon.
Out of his hand and impales.
Itself.

Hunters, prey, that topic pulled at me in a specific way, of course, but as we talked about the poem, as we tugged at it and loved it and saw it this way and that, the endless loop in my mind was broken. Poetry, art, beauty stopped my obsessions and struggle and just opened up my mind, filled in the grooves, and gave me space to breathe.

After yesterday morning spent with my beloved little Oliver, who is now a complete chatterbox, last night a genius friend of mine gave me a GENIUS task. I was telling her about my rage and fury and hate toward my hateful, psychopath mother for what she did to us, and for how she destroyed my brother, and she told me to just kind of go with it. Indulge it, fantasize. Go all out! It’s just a fantasy — how would I do it? No, really, play it out! It started dawning in me, and it bloomed and blossomed.

grendel
this particular monster, my old nemesis, my imagined Inner Other

I’ve always been so afraid of my anger, afraid it was just my father lying dormant inside, me as him maybe, and that if I gave it any slack it would all be over and I would be the rampaging monster, destroying everything in my path. I’ve written about this before, this is old news. But fantasy, it’s just fantasy! I realized I could write it out, a chapter, a whole Tarantino bloody fantasy — and then I could edit it and elaborate even more. “And this one’s for my brother!” “And this is for this, and this one’s for that!” The Jews had Inglorious Basterds, the slaves had Django, and my brother and I would have my little bloody fantasy chapter. It might unnerve you to know just how much pleasure I am taking in writing this showdown.

Of course my genius friend also had a lot of other brilliant ways to help me, ways to help me think through some of the aspects of my brother’s life that were particularly tormenting, and she listened in that way she has, and held me safe, and I have to say: I feel so much better. Just so much better.

So much better. So so much better. Nancy called my name over and over and over. Cindy listened and understood and encouraged me to run with it. Friends all over the world reach out to me, extend hands, poke me, check in. I grapple and struggle, I cry and suffer and then take a step forward. I guess this is what it looks like. Teeter. Totter. Poetry. Friendship. And murder fantasies. 🙂

 

help me make it through the night

Kris Kristofferson wrote some of the best old songs — songs others made famous, but those of us who know, know. Today I’m thinking about this one, made famous (at least to me) by husky-voiced Tammy Wynette:

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I have an extremely hard time asking for help when I am at my most desperate, when I am most in need. It feels too close to making someone else responsible for saving my life, and that’s not fair to do to anyone. I’m trying to learn how to think more subtly about this, how not to cast it in black and white, how to understand that just because I am in trouble and need some help, it’s not about suicide. Because it hasn’t been about suicide, and even last night when I was in deep, deep, deep need, I was not suicidal. I just needed some help to make it through.

As I cried in despair, I thought about the long list of people I know, people who love me, and knew that there was a sublist I could call on, without fail, and they would answer. They would be there. Dear friends, some who have already helped me with this before, like Anne. Some who have offered themselves to me in such heartfelt ways, I had no worries about reaching out.

But first I tried to write, my lifelong impulse. And this is what came out:

I find myself really wishing she’d just drowned us all, like a bag of kittens, and then they’d killed each other. The whole bunch, gone before the world could be hurt any more, before the little kittens could be hurt any more. Before the little kittens could grow up and hurt each other, themselves, others.

And so, obviously, I needed help to make it through. I walked down to the Hudson, through beautiful but dark Riverside Park, and texted a very dear friend, who texted me back immediately. Lots of back and forth, lots of her writing my name over and over — Lori. Lori. Lori. Lori. — and it’s weird how that helped. In The Woman Warrior, I learned that when a Chinese person is lost inside themselves, apparently you waggle their ears repeatedly and say their name over and over, to call them back. How Nancy knew to do that, I don’t know, but something about her saying my name like that, in addition to all the rest, all the understanding and care and compassion and empathy and telling me our plans, she got me through.

I think the tide has turned. I feel so much better this morning. I feel and recognize myself again, myself right now. I even felt like reading a funny poem. I feel eager to get home to Austin, back to my cozy little home, and what happens with my brother will happen but I’m not afraid anymore.

Pete and Oliver
Pete and Oliver

I’m Lori. Grandmother to Oliver and Ilan, and a little girl to come in September. Mother to Katie and Marnie and Will. Friend of many generous and loving people. Lover of poetry and literature and beautiful words. Understander of the pain and suffering of life, and the beauty and glory of it, too.

I’m so glad to be here. Sometimes it really sucks, and sometimes it’s really glorious, and sometimes it just takes time to travel from one to the next. xoxoxoxo

no imagination

You know how sometimes you have this vague sense of something about yourself, but all the ways you find to articulate it just miss the boat? That’s often true for me. I’ll say it one way and even I can see it’s not quite right, even though there’s something underneath that’s true. So frustrating, because it makes it hard to see how you might help yourself.

And then, if you’re very lucky, someone comes along and says it for you. If you’re very very lucky, it’s someone whose thoughts and opinions you trust, and so it’s just a snap of the fingers, YES! That’s it! My friend Nancy has done this for me a few times, and she did it again a few days ago. Let me go backwards a little bit, with a quote and a couple of specific examples:

  • In a job I had a long time ago, I worked with a consultant who did really interesting work. My first and only thought, and the question I asked, was, “Can I be your assistant?” It was a couple of decades before I realized it never occurred to me to find a way to DO that kind of work, only to assist someone who did.
  • When I was finishing my PhD and looking for a job, I often thought gosh I hope somehow I end up in New York City! Never once occurred to me to look for a job in New York City.
  • “You see it is important to understand how damaged people don’t always know how to say yes, or to choose the big thing, even when it is right in front of them. It’s a shame we carry. The shame of wanting something good. The shame of not believing we deserve to stand in the same room in the same way as all those we admire. Big red As on our chests.” (Lidia Yuknavitch, The Chronology of Water)
nothing in those thought bubbles . . . but I don't think I have had thought bubbles!
empty thought bubbles . . . and I don’t think I even *had* thought bubbles!

So Nancy’s insight, her specific articulation of this, was that I do not have an imagination for myself. It’s obvious that’s what it is, when you read those examples, and you see it in the quote by Lidia Yuknavitch, but I’d wandered around in a vague morass of Maybe it’s that I don’t have ambition. Maybe it’s that I just don’t have the right set of skills. Maybe it’s that the things I like to do aren’t the kind of things that can take me somewhere.

And so with those vague ideas, I mis-thought my way around issues of ambition. No! I just don’t have any desire to climb a vicious ladder where you step on people! I mis-thought my way around “the right set of skills,” either getting new skill sets that I didn’t really care about, or dismissing what I thought were “the right set” (see: mis-thoughts around ambition). I mis-thought issues of the things I like to do — knitting, baking, handwork, no way to make money with those, no way to find security with those.

But no imagination for myself, oh that’s such a different animal. The trick with developing an imagination for myself comes back to that quote above, and while it’s not just simply solved by seeing it there, it’s a start. I deserve, as much as anyone, to have opportunities, to embrace opportunities, to find or make them. I deserve, as much as anyone, to find some security — boy do I deserve security. I have no problem saying that, believing it, feeling it. As I work to develop an imagination for myself, I’ll just have to break the kneecaps of that thought when it silently turns itself on in my gut.

One shift that has happened for me in the last couple of years is figuring out that one approach to life situations is to take a problem-solving approach instead of an emotional reaction approach. I never, ever knew that, as strange as that sounds. It’s by no means an automatic response for me, I still too often begin and end in an emotional reaction, but it’s just an issue of remembering. When I remember, I can do it. When I remember — oh yeah! How about a way to solve this, let me think — it shifts things.

And so it’s time for me to develop an imagination for myself, an imagination for my life. Do you have any advice to share? I know it’s a big, vague question — am I asking for ideas to put into my imagination? Am I asking for problem-solving tactics to implement the ideas when I have them? Yeah. No. I don’t know. I don’t know exactly what I’m asking advice for, but if something comes to you I’d sure like to hear it.

What a gift it is, clear understanding, and what a gift it is to have a friend who gives it to you. xoxox

songs and echoes

I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me
I was 21 here, and during all these years I always had my guitar with me

When I was a young mother, one of my favorite routines centered on my kids’ bedtimes. With three kids and just one of me, time alone with them individually felt so precious. We had regular dates, but I especially loved the tucking-in time — so much that I spent a long time with them, one-on-one. Most nights I took my guitar with me, and after we’d talked about their days and whatever else they wanted to talk about, after we read together, I’d play my guitar and sing to them. I loved it when they’d drift off to sleep while I sang (least often it happened to Katie, who was older and not falling for that). I’d sing softly and watch their little eyes get heavy, watch them resist but see their bodies relaxing, and I’d keep singing long after they seemed asleep. The only thing that helped me get up and leave the room was that the next child was waiting. It was every bit as important to me as I hoped it was to them. But you know, you do all these things with/for your kids and you don’t know, you’re just doing the best you can.

When they were teenagers the tucking-in routine changed, since they didn’t have a ‘bedtime’ exactly, and singing to them dropped away. You know how you wonder if they remember the things you did for them when they were little, and you see so often that they don’t? But it’s OK, because you did it for them, and the memories are in your heart anyway. Even today, when I remember all those hours singing to them, my eyes fill with tears and I get soaked with such deep happiness. Those were some of my best hours of mothering.

Marnie sings to Ilan — who is currently a huge, giggly fan of the ABC song — and said she keeps trying to sing one of the songs I always sang but she can’t do it because she cries. (“Song of Wyoming,” John Denver, which is one of my very favorites and lovely as a lullaby. I can’t play and sing it without crying now either, it’s so tinged with those sweet memories.) I get to hear Marnie’s soft, sweet voice singing to Ilan on the little videos she sends of his delight. Her voice is like mine was, with a soft, feathered edge.

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Katie sings to Oliver, I knew this and have listened to her sing from the very beginning. She has an extraordinary voice, strong but gentle at the same time, and she’s really good. Katie’s specialty is songs from the 60s, music she dearly loves. Oliver has become conditioned to falling asleep to Goodnight Sweetheart (well, it’s time to go / goodnight sweetheart, well, it’s time to go / I hate to leave you but I really must say, oh, goodnight sweetheart, goodnight). Gosh I love hearing her sing that song to him.

And then a couple of nights ago I was at her house, helping with Oliver so she could get some packing done for a week-long road trip they were taking, and I stayed through Oliver’s bedtime. They have the sweetest routine as a family. Katie sits in the chair, Trey lies on the floor, and Oliver plays and wrestles with Trey and climbs into Katie’s lap for some reading, and sometimes he runs in circles to make everyone laugh. And then Katie starts singing — and Oliver dashes over to his bed and crawls up to his pillow and lies down to listen. After the song ends, Katie and Trey kneel by his bed for goodnight kisses. It’s extraordinary.

But I lay on the floor, listening to my beautiful daughter’s exquisite voice singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” that great old Mamas and the Papas song, and just broke down crying. It’s a hard song to sing, an often complex melody line, and then a leap up to a higher range, and some soft scatting at the end, and Katie just flowed through it with all the love she felt, and I felt it too. Trey has a gorgeous voice too, deep and rich, and he joined in, threading harmonies alongside Katie’s melody. What a lucky little boy Oliver is. What lucky boys my grandsons are. Here’s Mama Cass singing — quite a gorgeous song, and she is wonderful — but Katie’s version is even better.

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I sang to my children, and now they sing to theirs. Mamas often do, that wasn’t something original to me obviously, but I’ll take this next-generation singing personally, as a gift I gave them that meant something to them, something they want to give their children, too. Good mamas, love echoes.

the bright side

Some of the recent events of my life have made me think of this specific lyric:

Life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it
Life’s a laugh and death’s a joke, it’s true

But then, since it’s such a catchy tune, the rest of the song shows up:

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I mean, the whole song is on the money. Life IS a piece of shit. Absolute shit happens to good people, to loved ones, and you can’t do a damn thing about it except show up. Unfair things happen and yet no one ever said any of this is fair. Tragedy befalls people, they lose everything, a simple step off a curb turns into the end of it all, a quick trip to the grocery store is the last trip ever made, he suddenly leaves her with no warning, or she suddenly leaves him. A little cough, or an ache in the side, turns out to be the big bad thing and you never saw it coming. A little kid is born into a family that will brutalize and then kill her. Another little kid is born in a refugee camp. Another little kid is trying to stay alive in some other dread setting . . . and the handful of people who own everything don’t give a shit — and in fact, blame those people if you can parse their bullshit language.

But the other part of the song is on the money too! There is a bright side. We show up for each other, again and again and again. We show up even though (maybe especially though) there isn’t anything we can do. There isn’t anything we can say. If you think about it, isn’t that what makes it remarkable? That despite our misery over being unable to fix things for people we love, we show up anyway. I just find that so overwhelming at times, I cry in wonder.

Something surprising and bad happens, and people call. People write and say, “I have this access, how can I help?” Or “I’ve had this experience, let me share what I learned.” Or “I know someone, let me hook you up with her.” Or a complete stranger writes, “Our mutual friend told me, let me help because the same thing happened to me.” Or “Let me have all the books on this topic shipped to you, what’s your address?” Or “I love you.”

I think THAT is the bright side. Sometimes it’s dark and sometimes it gets even darker, and then sometimes you only thought it was dark but it gets darker still. The bright side is that people are all around you, and some may have been in this dark place already, and most haven’t but they’ll go inside with you, so you don’t have to be there all by yourself.

darknessIs anything really different? Isn’t the Big Bad Thing still there? It is.

Is anything really different? YES. You aren’t there alone.

 

Thank you to everyone who reads this for keeping me company. Sometimes you stand in the light with me, and sometimes you show up when it’s dark. Even if all you do is read my words, you are showing up with me. One thing I never quite get is that people comment on my honesty, my willingness to be vulnerable — and the reason I don’t get it is that I’m not doing anything that’s at all hard, or that requires courage, or that is in any way noteworthy to me because it’s just how I am, in the same way that I’m tall and have brown hair and blue eyes and a great big smile. So take this honesty as truth . . . ok, maybe just my truth but I don’t think so: Just showing up for someone is everything. Don’t be afraid to do that because “you don’t know what to say.” Sometimes there simply isn’t anything to say, and if there were don’t you think they’d have said it already? Show up anyway. Sometimes there isn’t anything to do, and sometimes what there is to do feels so insignificant that you feel embarrassed to offer. Show up anyway. Offer the insignificant help anyway. Show up for family, for friends, for acquaintances, for strangers. Show up willing not to have answers, not to fix things, but simply to be there.

Today is my son’s 29th birthday, and another time when he won’t respond to my birthday wishes. Last Sunday was another Mother’s Day I didn’t hear from him. Today marks another year of his absence from the life of our family. I grieve without the finality of grief — grateful for the fact that nothing is final! What there is to say has already been said to me (and by me, for that matter). I’m so sad, it’s hard to bear it but I will. The troubles that are befalling my friends and my loved ones are hard to accept, and my inability to make it all OK is hard to bear but I will. It’s what there is to do.

xoxoxoxoxo

strange (for me) stability

stabilityOn June 27, 2014, I started something new. What I really mean is that once again, I decided to do something new — even though it was the same old “new” thing I’d been trying to do my whole adult life: lose weight. I always accompanied that with the little thought and keep it off, but I never even put that into my decision as a real thing because I didn’t think it was possible. Because this has been my life-long M.O.:

  • Lose 50 pounds by starving myself
  • Several weeks later, “slip” and decide what the hell I’ve ruined it now.
  • Gain 50 pounds because I don’t know how to lose 5 or 10, but I sure know how to lose 50!
  • A couple of years (or more) later, repeat.

When I took yet another stab at it in the summer of 2014, I had a different mindset. I had a longer view; I was thinking about what I wanted my life to be in this next stage, so it was a whole-cloth, decades-long (hopefully!) view. I wanted to take excellent care of myself because I do want a decades-long stage, and I’m 57. I wanted to feel differently inside, and that was the umbrella over everything else. Strangely, I didn’t decide to start “on Monday,” or “at the beginning of the month,” I decided to start right at that moment, 4pm on a Wednesday, I think. I’d already been eating mostly vegetarian, by which I mean completely vegetarian when it’s my cooking, and doing the very best I can when others cook for me.

Because of who I am, I needed to monitor my “gains” (which means my losses), so I weighed every single morning. My day drifted into a rhythm: green smoothie for breakfast, nuts and fruit mid-day, an hour of yoga at 4, a beautiful dinner made for myself, an hour-long walk after dinner, and meditation before bed (and work in all those long spaces in between). I liked it! A lot! It was easy and it fit me. And the weight fell off, which surprised me.

But really, my biggest fear and concern came then, when I lost the weight. Losing weight, know how to do that, check. Keeping it off, complete mystery. And then my friend Megan said, “Decide you can do it! You can.” As silly as it may sound, that was transformative. Something shifted.

I’ve weighed myself every morning I could ever since, and that slight monitoring feels important. The coolest thing is that there were times I gained weight! During my month in Chicago, I gained 10 pounds; no surprise, given the kind of cooking and baking I was doing, and IPAs I drank. But the big surprise is that I shrugged, meh, who cares — because I enjoyed my time eating with the kids, and it felt like comfort and care. And I knew that I’d just get it off and get back to myself. When we travel to Southeast Asia, I want to enjoy the foods we eat and not be worrying, so when we return I always have a few pounds to lose so I can get back to myself.

Get back to myself. It’s just become “myself” now. There are times I can’t do yoga for a variety of reasons and I really miss it, so when I can do it again, it’s a sigh of return. Aah, back to myself. The weight slips away and I feel myself again. It’s a version of myself that never existed, a dreamed-of, elusive version, and now it’s just ME. And the best part is that I feel present in my life in a way I didn’t before, which brings the stillness I wanted.

How? Why? Truly, I think these are elements:

  1. I started immediately instead of waiting, even for the next day. Kinda caught me off guard! Oh, I’m already in it! One thing about that, I think, is that I’d already “blown” the early part of the day, surely, eating more or differently, which helped me think about those experiences differently.
  2. My perspective — the rest of my life was the whole point, instead of right now.
  3. A whole-life approach instead of just diet and exercise. And in fact, not even approaching it as “diet and exercise” but instead mindful eating that made me happy, and moving my body in ways that feel so good. I wanted to be calmer inside. Still inside. I saw all the changes I made as contributing to that goal, because that was my real, centering goal.
  4. Daily monitoring. For me, I really believe that’s important. It doesn’t come with inner nastiness, or critique at all! And my weight fluctuates, too — not just the big fluctuation of Chicago, or the semi-big fluctuations of vacation (which are usually 5 pounds), but up 2 down 1, etc. It just gives me a general awareness. I also have a number in mind that is my outer limit of gain, and if I hit that, I am just a little more careful with my dinners until I drop below it. More vegetables.

I love the way you can keep surprising yourself, even at 57. Once in a while I realize, with deep surprise, that I’m wearing the same size I’ve been wearing for more than a year. I don’t care what that size is, although I’m happy with it, but I do like that it’s the same size. And the stillness inside me, the way I more easily address the world and myself — not always, but more often and more easily — surprises me too. I am able to be present much more often, now. All that also feels like me now.

Today I’m flying to NYC and then we’ll be off to China at the end of the week. I hope it’s a good Tuesday in your life! xoxoxoxoxoxo

No way to catch up so…..

Gosh, I don’t even quite know where I am. I slept in my own bed last night for the first time in five weeks. I made coffee in my own kitchen, with my own gear, this morning. I took a shower this morning. I had to try to remember how to do all those things here. I have only one very very busy week here that includes time babysitting my darling Oliver, helping prepare for his 2nd birthday party, and then attending the party and spending the whole day with my little Katie family . . . and then to New York for three days before we go on to China for 15 days. WHERE AM I TODAY?

I was in Chicago for four weeks, and we imagined that the bulk of that time would be helping after the baby was born but it didn’t work that way. Two weeks of waiting with Marnie and Tom, long days talking and watching old Top Chefs and Marnie and I lying in bed together to stay warm, talking and killing time and snoozing. Even though that’s not how I’d have most preferred to arrange the time, since it meant Tom and I both left the same day (he had two weeks of leave accumulated), it will always be so special that I got to spend that time with her, waiting for her son to be born. I’ll never forget it.

The easiest thing is just to do a photo post. If you’re my Facebook friend you’ve seen some of these, and you know the gist, but here goes:

ready to leave the house
just before we left for the hospital the day Ilan was born, Wed March 8
love
We knew it would give us a great story, so instead of taking a cab or Uber to the hospital, we walked to the train station and then transferred to the bus. Sweet kids.
on the way to the hospital
HILARIOUS Marnie. Tom and I and the guy standing behind Marnie are a little more circumspect. 🙂 NOT ONE person on the train offered Marnie their seat. Not one.
chicago march 8
This was the view from their hospital room — Lake Michigan, a beautiful sunny day. I posted a picture on FB and Instagram but no one knew the significance except us. 🙂
outside the hospital
I dashed out for lunch
hospital hall
and spent a whole lot of time pacing this hall outside Marnie’s room.
me during marnie's pushing SO HARD
The very long hours of her agony were hard on the mama, I’m telling you. Very hard. Harder on her of course, but mamas, you know.
Ilan birth stats
et voila! I heard his very first cries and started sobbing.

I’d spent some hours in the waiting room — a large, nice enough room filled with grandparents-to-be. The hospital was top-notch, part of the Northwestern system, and the other grandparents were professional people with lots of education (it just came up among them). I sat in a corner, writing on my laptop and listening. One set of grandparents had been waiting 25 hours by the time I arrived, so they’d heard stories through the night. Grandparents reappeared in the room to announce that they’d seen their grandchild and everyone cheered. The room was filled with quiet conversations AND THEN a woman burst into the room complaining loudly:

“Oh sure, he lives right here in town and he’s retired already but I get here first? That’s typical. That’s why I divorced him 40 years ago.”

Our eyes got wide and we were all drawn into conversation with her. How she only had to push a couple of times with all 6 of her kids, her labor took just a couple of hours each time so this grandkid would probably be born fast too, but he probably wouldn’t make it, typical him.

The conversation came around to grandparent names, and most were typical: Grandma, Nonna, Nonny, Gramma Carol, Pete (me!), and then it was her turn: Grandma The Diedelhoff. Grandma The Diedelhoff. We all burst out laughing. It fit her so much. Her ex-husband finally showed up, reeking of Old Spice to the point that I had to leave the room before it gave me a migraine. I’d have divorced him for that Old Spice alone.

ilan into the world
And there he is, my first picture of darling little Ilan. I think this is THE first picture taken of him, so he’s about an hour old. He looks FABULOUS for being an hour old, don’t you think?
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those tiny little wrinkled feet in his daddy’s hands.
my first time with Ilan
my first moments “alone” with Ilan. Everyone else was just on the other side of the room, but he and I had some eye contact time. When I walked into the room the first time, Marnie introduced us to each other by name — that was the moment I learned his name — so he already knew I was Pete, but I leaned down and told him firmly that I’m his Pete, and that I will always be on his side, and that we will have lots of adventures together. He seemed to take it seriously.

To get them home a couple of days later, I rented a car and brought the car seat to the hospital, and it was harrowing driving them home — I remember feeling that same way when I was driving my own babies home. New human being in the car! Be careful everyone, be careful! Drive safely!

The next two weeks were pretty routine. I took a couple of middle-of-the-night shifts but the kids mostly wanted to do them themselves, so for the most part I’d take Ilan at 7 and they would get 2 or 3 more hours of sleep. Those hours were extraordinary; Ilan was always in such a good mood then, quiet and watching, and for the most part I just held him. I held Ilan, tried to help the kids when I knew a helpful way to do something with a crying baby (amazing how it comes back, bodily, even if I couldn’t have said it if asked), and cooked. I cooked and cooked and cooked, and baked. We had yeasted waffles and cinnamon rolls twice and lots of big dinners (and their friend Paul fed us four times, big feasts each time). I was there for Paul’s birthday so I made him a fabulous birthday cake.

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sometimes Ilan just slept during our early morning time together
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He LOVED this spot — a changing pad on the coffee table in the living room with a view out the big windows. He would just lie there so quietly and still, staring at the sky.
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WHAT? What just happened in my diaper?!
This is my FAVORITE picture. He's in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
This is my FAVORITE picture. He’s in my arms so I had a hard time catching the shot, but that pose, that half-open eye, that little knit hat (courtesy of Becci!), so adorable.
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lots of cooking. This was a farro risotto with roasted butternut squash and kale. Yum.
kitchen
breakfast with a newborn in the house, a la Pete.
rolls
cinnamon and orange rolls ready for their final rise while the kids took Ilan to a routine pediatrician visit, after a VERY rough night.
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Paul’s birthday cake — Pecan Cream Cake, from Saveur Magazine. Google it, this is a fabulous fabulous recipe.
A slice -- it's light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we're all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I'll be bringing. Always.
A slice — it’s light and moist and filled with finely chopped pecans and unsweetened flaked coconut and it stayed moist until the last piece was shared three days later. If you and I are ever together in person and we’re all bringing something to a potluck, this is what I’ll be bringing. Always.

I hated leaving, since Marnie was still recovering and in pain (and they live in a two-story home), but my time had run out. My last night, Marnie and Ilan slept in my room with me so I could help one last time and Tom could get an uninterrupted night of sleep before his first day back at work. It was so damn sweet I can hardly write about it without crying. Marnie would nurse Ilan and then I’d take him. He and I went to the nursery and I rocked him, and for a very long time I lay in bed with him snuggled next to me, watching him sleep. My arm was wrapped around him and I could hear his little quick breathing, and smell his little head, and I could feel my daughter on the other side of the bed, hear her exhausted snoring, and it was just one more experience that I’ll never ever forget.

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This photo covers my life in such a funny way. These are keys to my homes — and they aren’t fancy vacation homes, but they are my homes. L to R: keys to my home in Austin. Keys to my home in NYC, with my metrocard. Keys to Katie’s home in Austin. Keys to Marnie’s home in Chicago, with my metrocard. I have yoga mats in Austin, New York, and Chicago.

When I got home yesterday, I got to see my dear friend Nancy for a couple of hours — lucky, since she’s gone now for a few days to see old friends in Kansas — and then I met Katie, Trey and darling Oliver for dinner at Chuy’s, a place that has a very very special place in my heart. Oliver looked huge! After holding tiny little newborn Ilan, and putting those tiny newborn diapers on him, Oliver looked like a teenager. 🙂 They got to the restaurant before me, and when I walked in and he saw me, he wiggled and grinned so big it melted my heart. I can’t believe he’s about to turn two, how fast that time has gone.

I didn’t get any reading done, to speak of, but I did finish the Ursula K. LeGuin book I was reading for my year-long project so I hope to write that post very soon. I missed the idea of writing on my blog, but it was such a blur of waiting and quiet and crying and cooking, the idea of it was about all I could muster. I gained ten pounds while I was gone and I didn’t regularly do yoga, and the only walking I did was back and forth to the grocery store, so I’m thrilled to return to my routine while I can, before we head off to China.

For now, I just have to remember which set of keys I need. xoxoxoxoxo

one mystery solved!

It’s not often you get to solve a decades-long mystery if your name isn’t Nancy Drew and there’s not an Old Clock or a Hidden Staircase nearby. The mystery related to music from my teenage years — The Eagles, Elton John, Linda Rondstadt, Chicago, various disco songs, Loggins & Messina, John Denver. When I hear any of that music my heart soars and I feel SO happy. So, big deal? Big news from the Department of DUH.

But the mystery is that my teenage years were pure hell. I didn’t have a home. Terrible things were happening to me. Truly terrible. So why would the music that is cellularly associated with that period make me feel happy? Weird, right? It’s not like the music was playing while my chums and I rode in her convertible to the Friday night football game to meet Ned and the boys. Not like that at all. This has puzzled me for decades, it really has.

There’s a good-sized box of old albums of mine, including one album I saved up to buy when I was 10. It was a collection of classical music, and it was advertised on television. So I saved and saved and saved and saved and got my dad to buy it for me. Mother ridiculed and belittled me for it and accused me of just wanting to be different, but I really did love the music. I still have that album. It’s 47 years old. When I was in high school, I remember storing the records in my locker during the school year, and in the summer I’d hide them wherever I worked, since I didn’t have a place to live. For a short period I had a car to live in, so I kept them in the floorboard, alongside a chess set my dad bought me in Mexico when I was little. Those were my worldly belongings, along with some clothes. Somewhere along the way I lost the chess set. I didn’t get to listen to my records through my teenage years, no stereo, but of course the songs were playing everywhere so I heard them.

not this bad, but not a whole lot better
not this bad, but not a whole lot better

I haven’t had a turntable in . . . no idea. No idea how long it’s been. My daughter Katie is our family’s repository of all things family, and she’s been storing the box for me for longer than I can imagine. She asked if I wanted my records, now that I have space of my own, and I said yes, and spent a lot of time looking through them, remembering. And then I bought a really cheap stereo with a turntable. Really, it’s just a step up from a Fisher Price record player. It has a built-in CASSETTE PLAYER and an AM radio. It seemed to come from somewhere in China. I don’t care; for me, it wasn’t about having a high-class listening experience — after all, the records are ancient and have been through a lot. For me it was just about listening to my records a couple more times.

just a few -- I have a LOT of Eagles
just a few — I have a LOT of Eagles

So I pulled out Hotel California, one of my very favorite old albums. We used to listen to music so differently, remember? We’d start at the beginning and listen to a whole side, and then the other. Songs in order, and in whole. We used to read the liner notes. So I set up my little stereo on a low table in my yoga room and spread out some albums all around me, and placed the needle at the beginning of Side A. Scratch scratch MUSIC! And then it hit me.

Even in those hard years, I was me. There was me in there, and somehow, I have no idea how, I felt joy. I felt my joy, the way I do. I was the person who gets really excited about things, notices things, feels happiness with small things. There was me in there, dreaming of someday. Dreaming of having a place to live, dreaming of finishing high school and making my way to Austin where I would finally begin life and get away from my family completely. I was in there, living in my head, dancing inside. The things were happening to me, and around me, and too much of my time was spent trying to get through to the next day, but *I* was not that. I was still 14, 15, 16, 17, loving those songs just like everyone else, even though my life wasn’t like everyone else’s. I’ve always been here as me.

this exactly -- except the paint on mine was faded and not shiny, and the car was in bad shape. this one is kept up.
this exactly — except the paint on mine was faded and not shiny, and the car was in bad shape. this one is kept up.

In October 1976, I’d made my escape plan (I had an old car at the time, a ’62 Nash Rambler, dusty pale green). Don’t laugh — I was going to drive from Wichita Falls to San Antonio, find a convent and bang on the door and ask them for sanctuary. That was really my plan. I didn’t have plans beyond that, and I had no idea where a convent might be, but San Antonio is full of Catholics so I figured I’d find one. For some unknown-to-me-now reason I decided to tell the guidance counselor at school that I was moving the next day and I told her what my stepfather did to me as an explanation for my move. Guidance counselors weren’t trained very well back then, so she called my mother. Later that day Mother had me picked up and placed in a mental hospital and then no one could ever believe me again. “You know, Lori is crazy, you can’t believe a word she says,” eye roll.

Back then the stay was 3 months, which I didn’t mind, frankly. A warm bed, a hot shower, three meals, pretty good. I have a lot of stories from that time. I spent my 17th birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s there. She took me out for a day on Thanksgiving and took me to see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — you can’t make this shit up! If I read that in a client’s novel I’d cross it out and say “COME ON.” But I remember what I wore, how it felt to be there. ANYWAY. So while I was in there, my stepfather took my car and sold it. On the day I was released, I remember this so so well, I walked out the front door of the hospital to nothing. I had nowhere to go. No car. Nobody. The clothes on my back, and a few in a paper sack, but no coat. (Luckily, my records were still in my locker, and thank heavens for that.) There was snow on the ground, as there is in far north Texas in January, on the plains. I was standing there trying to figure out what to do, and then a car drove past with the radio playing so loud I could hear the song: New Kid in Town. The Eagles. And I smiled. I smiled because I loved the song, I loved the Eagles, and I kind of felt like a new kid in town after three months of a bed and regular meals. I walked down the steps, down the walkway to the street, and turned right. I don’t remember where I went or where I found to sleep that night, but I remember that moment, and that song, and I remember smiling — me, it was about me, not my circumstance.

This is such an extraordinary bit of understanding for me, because it’s about so much more than the music. It’s about getting whacked in the head with the realization that I WAS THERE ALL ALONG, even then. It was always me inside, I was not my circumstance. Lori Dawn was in there, singing and dancing and dreaming. I never realized that until now, as strange as that sounds.

I always did want to be Nancy Drew, and I was always so jealous of the way mysteries always seemed to happen around her, and never around me. But I guess this one did. To me this isn’t a sad post, a sad story at all! This is a joyous one, a gift to myself. A 57 years old gift of light.

5. Make Room for “Fruitful Monotony”

russellThis is topic #5 in my year-long project, drawn from this post on Brain Pickings. Topic #1 focused on cultivating honest relationships, #2 was about experiencing what is actually happening, #3 was about being patient and loving the questions, #4 was about the moral weight of the stories we tell, and this one is about the detrimental effect of passive entertainment on happiness.

As always, I begin with the relevant excerpt from the Brain Pickings post:

“In a chapter titled ‘Boredom and Excitement,’ Russell teases apart the paradoxical question of why, given how central it is to our wholeness, we dread boredom as much as we do. Long before our present anxieties about how the age of distraction and productivity is thwarting our capacity for presence, he writes:

We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.

[…]

As we rise in the social scale the pursuit of excitement becomes more and more intense.

Many decades before our present concerns about screen time, he urges parents to allow children the freedom to experience “fruitful monotony,” which invites inventiveness and imaginative play — in other words, the great childhood joy and developmental achievement of learning to “do nothing with nobody all alone by yourself.” He writes:

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness… A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.

I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony… A generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.


The more I engage in this project, the more curious I become about Maria Popova, creator of Brain Pickings — and not just because of the 16 choices she made, but also of how she chose to summarize each one. “Make room for fruitful monotony” is taken directly from Russell’s words; the central comparison he thinks about is this:

Boredom, however, is not to be regarded as wholly evil. There are two sorts, of which one is fructifying, while the other is stultifying. The fructifying kind arises from the absence of drugs, and the stultifying kind from the absence of vital activities.

So he’s saying to make room for the kind of boredom that comes when you don’t take drugs? My understanding, after reading the whole chapter (included at the bottom of this post if you want to read it — and it’s often quite funny!), is that his real concern is the stultifying kind of boredom. In this chapter, Russell thinks through the importance of not filling every moment with passive entertainment. If you spend too much of your time in that kind of stultifying boredom, you lose something essential. He thinks it’s especially important for children, and I agree.

But no matter how old we are, don’t we all talk about wanting to put down our phones, get offline, turn off the television? I think he would be appalled by the way we’re now so completely tethered to our electronic devices, and I doubt too many of us would disagree. Setting aside the way we are left disconnected from other human beings, and setting aside the health effects of all the sitting and absorbing passive entertainment, his concern is that it leads to unhappiness. And I think it does too — he’s right, even if it’s sometimes hard to step away from the electronic world. In the chapter he says that we are so afraid of boredom that we pursue excitement relentlessly, and that “certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony.” Poetry, art, creation, insight, we distract ourselves away from the quiet monotony that gives rise to these possibilities. Russell sees this outcome:

“…a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as though they were cut flowers in a vase.”

YES. Little men. He makes a frequent connection to the earth, to nature, as a source of experiences that energize and create happiness, and again I think he’s right. It’s kind of like we’re setting ourselves up to become smaller and smaller and smaller: we stare at screens inside our homes, absorbing ‘entertainment’ created by other people, and often uncritically. We become mole people. For myself, when I’ve done that too long — easy to do, since my work is on the computer and I work most waking minutes — I end up feeling hollow and soul-empty. Time whizzes past and it’s gone and I don’t even remember how I spent it. In the very rare time I have a break from work and just have a day to spend however I wish, I get so much more bang for my buck by being in silence and away from electronics. The hours are so slow and thick, and my pleasure in spending them is palpable. I end the day with a very deep satisfaction and happiness, always.

You know how when you’re thinking about something, you start seeing it in a variety of places? I’m reading Per Petterson’s stunning Out Stealing Horses and came across this passage. His elderly protagonist, Trond, had just moved to an isolated cabin in the wilderness:

“I did not bring a television set out here with me, and I regret it sometimes when the evenings get long, but my idea was that living alone you can soon get stuck to those flickering images and to the chair you will sit on far into the night, and then time merely passes as you let others do the moving. I do not want that. I will keep myself company.”

(I’m sure I’ll write about this book, it’s so beautiful and a meditation on the past and trauma.) Anyway, I have more things I want to do than time to do them (c’mon lottery!!), but I do slip into a rut of electronic background distraction now and then. It happens much less often since I undertook my anti-flailing project 18 months ago and accidentally started doing only one thing at a time, but I can still slip into the multitasking habit if I’m not paying attention and what pulls me out of it is the awareness of feeling bad — ah! No wonder!

How often are you at home without the television going? Without music playing? With your phone and computer put away? How often are you in silence? NEVER? Is that how often? I wonder what would happen if you did that for one hour. Does the idea make you nervous? I suspect it makes many people nervous, and for a similar reason that meditation makes people nervous — having to come face to face with yourself in a sustained way, OY.

To me, this one feels like a real resolution, like a deepening understanding of something I’ve been working with already. So to date, my understanding of the five ‘resolutions’ I’ve been thinking about is:

  1. Cultivate honest relationships.
  2. Experience what is actually happening.
  3. Be patient, and live and love the questions.
  4. The stories you choose to tell have great moral weight.
  5. Be alone with yourself, without distraction.

And now I’m off to topic #6, “Refuse to play the perfection game” by the most excellent Ursula K. Le Guin, whose thoughts on this issue are not just inspirational, they’re quite moving.

OH! And by the way, I found the whole text of the Russell book online here, and in case you want to read the chapter yourself, you’ll find it below:

Continue reading “5. Make Room for “Fruitful Monotony””

just a lot of OMGs

In random order, O.M.G.:

  • How have I not read any Tom Robbins as a 57yo person?? Thank heavens Peggy posted a quote by him, which led me to comment on it and led two friends to tell me how great Jitterbug Perfume is, leading me to immediately download the book and start reading it and O.M.G. Here’s the quote that kicked off the whole thing for me (thank you Peggy and Anne!):

beets“The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.

Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets. The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip…

The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.”

I ended up highlighting the entire first few pages, including the epigraph and the introduction, and throughout the early pages my highlighting is more evident than the non-highlighted stuff. Just, wow. How did I miss him for so long? I think I got him confused with someone else, some writer who does a lot of pulp books, but I can’t quite think of who it might me. OH! Harold Robbins! Yeah, very different.

I’m also newly and re-smitten by Per Petterson — about as opposite a writer as Tom Robbins as you could ever imagine. Where Robbins is out there in plot and inventiveness of language, Petterson is quiet, interior, and dreamy. Here’s my review of I Curse the River of Time, and I can’t recommend it enough. It was my third read of that beautiful book and I know I’ll read it at least a couple more times. I’m currently reading Out Stealing Horses (the guy is great at titling his books, that’s for sure), and moving between Petterson and Robbins is a head-banging experience.

  • I am hardly going to be home in Austin for the coming weeks and months, OMG. It’s all good stuff — my grandson’s birth and the luxury of time helping my daughter and son-in-law, a trip to southern China, and NYC time on either side of those great experiences. Still, I dearly love being home in Austin, in my cozy little place, with my own way of living my life and feeding myself, with my dear friends and family and weekly time with Oliver and Katie, with book club and poetry group and happy hours and brunches and coffee breaks, with nightly walks and an easy stop at Torchy’s Tacos (click here for images, you’ll want to eat there right away). When I’m in NYC or Chicago or southern China I’ll be so happily immersed in all that’s going on, obviously, and my sweet little home will be whispering in my ear. Queenie….come home….. will be home for Oliver’s 2nd birthday, no matter what. That’ll be a big day for us all.
  • I’m so glad I was in NYC for the historic snowstorm! Just, wow. It was amazing. In less than 24 hours we got nearly 27″ of snow. It was pretty hard to take a bad picture that day, but still I think this one I took in my beloved Riverside Park is pretty fantastic:
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It's not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
I took this at the spot I always take pictures of the park, and it was about 4:30pm. It’s not a black and white picture, and I did absolutely no editing to the shot except to crop out some sidewalk foreground.
  • We have some amazing travel coming up this year. Southern China in April, so excited about that (and also a little scared), and also the UP in July — the Upper Peninsula of Michigan! We’re going to Manistique Lake, a special place in Marc’s life. His family had a cabin there; actually, his grandfather bought it before Marc was even born, and he went all the time as a kid, and then at critical times during his adult life. Both blogs are set up. We’d been planning to go to Alaska in July so I could see humpback whales, but the places were already sold out so we’re diverting to Manistique and planning for Alaska next year. It’s a gorgeous Plan B, and also without any of the anxiety we have about China.
china
click the image to head to the blog
mheader
ditto — click the image

And a final BIG picture OMG. My life is pretty amazing at the moment and so I pause to acknowledge it. My little Katie family is flourishing (and Oliver is amazing) and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my little Marnie family is flourishing and about to grow and I am so grateful for my loving daughter; my friends remain essential to my heart and well-being; I have work; the back-and-forth pleasures of Austin and NYC are mostly great, and the less-great stuff is a bearable price to pay; I’m in excellent health as far as I know and my eating and yoga and meditation makes me happy on a daily basis; I’m writing my own stuff and it’s good; I’m reading amazing books that enrich me; and my little year-long project has been surprisingly meaningful already. It’s so important to pause and look around during the peaceful happy periods, to see all there is, to sit with it and be grateful for it.

OMG. xoxoxox

showers

wisteria
wisteria blooming in Japan — imagine the shower of those purple blossoms

Y’all. You blow me away, again and again and again. This is not pretense designed to get you to say nice things about me, I MEAN THAT from the bottom of my heart. Please don’t say anything about me in a comment. This is about you. You are so extraordinarily kind and good to me, and I don’t know why.

  • You write me cards and letters and notes by hand, because you think I will like it. (I do!)
  • You have paid attention even to the smallest things and then sent (or given) me a gift based on that attention. Sometimes for no reason at all.
  • When I am in trouble of any kind – giant spuds or the smallest potatoes – you reach out to me with generous hearts and words, and you somehow remember to keep checking on me. Or maybe you get me a membership in the Cloud Appreciation Society. Things like that.
  • You send me little notes, images, stories, things you see online, or maybe in a newspaper you tuck into my door, because you saw them and thought of me.
  • Sometimes out of the blue you send me a note telling me something you appreciate or value about me. (!)
  • The moment I click ‘publish,’ I imagine I’ll think of several more things like this.

It isn’t that I think I’m a bad friend or anything like that, and it isn’t that I don’t realize the ways I can be a good friend, but seriously, I just don’t do these things, and y’all do. I wish I did these things, even when I’m not in the moment of being the recipient. It’s a thing I wish I did better. And then y’all do these things and I wish it even more.

You shower me with friendship, love, kindness, warmth, generosity, and care. And I feel it like a shower, a tremendous blessing. You make me feel better about the world, which often leaves me in such despair. But there are people like you in it, too, people of such quiet generosity, people who care for others in real ways, not just attitudes that one should care. I know you do these things in the world, not just for me, and knowing that you are there, knowing there are people like you moving through the world, I feel less despair.

Please please don’t say anything about me in the comments. If you feel like you want to comment, you might say something about kindnesses others have shown you, because I think we all need reminders that this exists in the world, too. My last words here are directed to you: thank you for the showering. xoxox

2016, whoa.

my darling family
my darling family

Well, happy new year, y’all! I used to do a year end/beginning post looking back at the year, and thinking ahead to the future. But then I started doing the looking back on my birthday (here’s that post for 2015), and the whole looking ahead thing came to make me laugh so hard because how the hell do I know what the year will bring! As soon as I make a prediction, I’m in fantasy land. That said, here are the things I think will happen this year:

  • My new grandson will be born at the tail end of February. Will he be a Leap Day baby? Will he arrive on his mama’s birthday (March 3), which I have superstitious reason to think he will? We will all be so glad to see that little face, that shayna punim.
  • Shortly after that, my darling Oliver will turn two. Two years as the apple of Pete’s eye, and as the love of his mommy and daddy’s lives.
  • In April we’re going to Southern China — the Guangxi province, and the Yunnan province, and a couple of days in Hong Kong at the end. The blog is set up but only barely. I just hope I don’t accidentally eat rat, that’s my big hope there.
  • We were going to Alaska around July 4, but all the places we can find are already booked. So maybe somewhere in Canada? Northern Michigan? No idea.
  • In late Nov/early Dec we’ll return to SEAsia, but no specific ideas just yet. Bali, maybe, which would make my heart sing.

Otherwise, I hope friends who faced difficult challenges with their health last year get clean bills this year. Friends who faced loss, I hope your hearts find ease. Friends who are dealing with fear around something, work perhaps, I hope you find resolution. Friends with money woes, cash all around! (Me too, please!)

I hope I read a lot of wonderful books. I hope I see sustaining movies and TV. I know I’ll spend as much time as possible with dear friends, either in coffee breaks or happy hours or over meals, or over poetry. I hope to see friends I didn’t get to see last year — Peggy and Tammy in CT, for sure, and anyone else I can! I know I will spend time with my family, and I know it’ll feel like not nearly enough, however much it is. I will continue my back-and-forthing between Austin and New York City. I have the same hope I’ve had the last two years: more of the same as last year, please.

One thing that has changed, the older I get, is a letting-go of making resolutions. For a couple of years I tried that deal where you adopt a word for your year, but I don’t seem to have what it takes to deal with that. I love the two resolutions my friend Kathy made (her blog is great, here’s her post from which I stole these two):

  • Less fear, more authenticity.
  • Say both Yes AND No more, but to different things than usual.

Man. Those are great, right? More authenticity, right on. I pretty consciously work at being authentic, which doesn’t mean I always succeed but it does mean that I value it, and work toward it. Less fear, boy I’d love that. For me, fear is less focused on specific things and more a general undercurrent, like anxiety. I would love to lose that too-easy fear. Swapping my overuse of yes and no seems like a brilliant idea. Otherwise, in addition to those two great ideas/formulations, I look forward to getting back to my daily yoga practice (highly irregular ever since our vacation to Vietnam and Thailand), my morning smoothies (ditto) and wonderful healthy dinners (ditto), my daily walking (ditto, though much more often while Marc has been here).

Whatever happens for me, and for you, I look forward to making my way through another year of my beautiful little life, and I am glad you come along with me. <3

that friend

Of the myriad ways I’m the luckiest person in the world, one is that my friends believe in me. They (you) encourage me. I had one who didn’t, who preferred and delighted in my troubles and failures, and she’s not my friend any more. (Was she ever? If you have one like that, let her go. Just do it. Life is too short and difficult already.)

My darling Dixie
My darling Dixie

I could name each one of you and say the specific ways I feel your belief in me, list examples of things you’ve said — either in person, or in emails, or in instant messages that come out of the blue and for no apparent reason. This would be a l-o-n-g post if I did that, and I have an idea perking in the back of my mind to acknowledge your importance to me, but it has to wait until after the holidays. Perhaps the most extreme of you is my darling Dixie, who just believes in me 1000%, thinks I hung the moon and whatever I do is nearly perfect (sometimes perfect), and I swear that if I killed someone and were caught standing over them with the bloody knife in my hand, Dixie would defend me and stay by my side to the end. So she is in her own category in the whole world, because this is how she is with everyone she loves — and she means it, very individually.

writingSo many of you have quietly and insistently encouraged my writing, and I love you for it. It’s funny; my friends are encouraging and supportive and my kids have never ever been that way with me — so I appreciate you even more! You are my team. You’ve stuck with me on the ups and downs: I’m writing! I’m giving up! No, instead I’m going to do this kind of writing! Maybe not. Maybe so. I am! I can’t. Who would care. I have one thing most writers don’t have: an understanding of the realities of the publishing world. Not having that would be helpful! My clients all finish their books in the belief that their books are going to be bestsellers. Surely that helps them keep going and get it done. My friend Traci knows very well the realities of the publishing world and writes one beautiful book after another, which she publishes through her own press and practically works a second full-time job promoting her books. (And her husband’s work. And she has a school-age daughter. And she writes book after book. She is clearly in her own category.)

But I have this one friend, Nancy, who is in a different category in terms of encouragement. I don’t have any idea, maybe this is what it’s like if you have a mother who thinks you are OK, and who encourages you and believes in you with great vigor. Nancy is my friend, not a mother figure, but there’s something about the way she believes in me and encourages me that makes me think about what it would be like to have had that from the start. Just as Dixie replaced the cruel voice in my head (my mother’s) with hers (you are so darling, you precious thing), I think Nancy has replaced the mean discouragement in my heart (my mother’s) with hers (you don’t have time for that, you need to be writing. Are you writing? I believe that it’s very possible that your writing will be of significant value. I just had an idea, have you ever read your work before an audience?). She’ll just write me out of the blue and in her direct, Kansas way say these things to me — apropos of nothing, which tells me she had been thinking about it herself. When we have our regular coffee breaks, she’s likely to bring it up. My book club friends made me a VERY special gift as I was coming out of my suicidal place, a jar filled with notes from each of them telling me what I add to their lives, how they see me, etc. Nancy’s contribution was a nametag, the kind you get at a conference, and it had my name and WRITER. See what I mean? It’s insistent and said as if it were simply the truth.

So this post is much less about writing and encouragement, and much more about what it is to receive that, on whatever topic or maybe no topic at all, maybe just about who you are. I know this is a theme of mine, but it’s because I mean it, and know it so solidly: If you live long enough, everything is possible. The thing you simply could not understand (how to spend time alone, how not to care what others think of you) becomes simple and true in your heart, and in fact an important thing! The struggle you’ve found impossible to overcome, like getting rid of the cruel voice in your head, dissolves and disappears. The fear you always had goes away. The bad thing you clutched to your heart, your ‘grim belief’ as my friend Marg calls it, falls away. It’s so good that life is long, if you’re lucky and open to it.

It would be such a different world if everyone had one person who believed in them like this. If you have a friend you believe in in some regard, express it a little more often. Encourage her in the various ways you can think of. You have NO idea how transformative it might be. And if you change one person, you might change the world.

Thank you for the ways you encourage me and support me in all the ways you do. I’m keenly aware of each instance, each moment, each effort, and it all keeps me going. I hope with all my heart that if we know each other, I do some of that for you. xo

I would be annoying you to death right now…

…because every few seconds I sigh deeply and loudly and say, “Oh my God I feel so much better,” or “Hallelujah, I feel so much better!” or other such statements. Every. Few. Seconds. For a couple of hours now.


I slept last night. I slept last night. I SLEPT LAST NIGHT. And it was a good thing, too, because I started really going downhill yesterday afternoon. I could only cry and tremble. Sitting in my chair just felt too much, like I couldn’t do it. So I’d get over to my couch and stretch out and close my eyes—surely now I can nap—but there was just no way. It’s hard to explain what it is like. But it was pretty clear that I was deteriorating. I had already planned to take a Klonopin, but the way things went yesterday there was no doubt.

I got in bed at 8:45, fully Klonopined, and don’t remember anything. I woke up at 2:45 (six straight hours) and was happy enough with that, but I was able to go back to sleep (happy enough with that!) and slept two more hours. Eight hours. Eight hours of blessed sweet sleep.

And so my gratitude is overflowing this morning. Thank you, Genentech, makers of Klonopin. I’m not sure what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t gotten some sleep. Hallucinations are common when you’ve gone as long as I went without even a minute of sleep, and that would have been very bad.

My situation is likely ongoing; the withdrawal process from the medication probably wasn’t completed by my night of sleep, but what do I know! Maybe it was. But even if I find myself entirely sleepless tonight, I’m starting from a new place, a better place.

Thanks to all of you who have been so loving and kindhearted to me during these last few days. I keep learning over and over and over how much the tiniest of connections can help. None of them can end the problem, but they sure help me keep going for a bit and that’s extraordinary. It also reinforces the thing I know: we are all connected, and collectively you are a net under me, just as I connect through others to be a net under you. We have to help each other. As Ram Dass says so gorgeously,

We’re all just walking each other home.

Happy birthday to me!

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.” ― Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies

Today I turn 57. In the last year, I had truly extraordinary times, so many joyous times, easy happiness for months on end, one deeply painful issue that still hurts and in fact hurts more than I think I can bear sometimes, and one dark period and one deep dark black period. This is long, but I have so very much to be grateful for, and you’re in here, I promise you. I learned a lot about myself this year; what a treat, that you can keep surprising yourself for so long. I kept my promise to myself this whole year in terms of eating well and mindfully, and doing near-daily yoga and meditating and walking. I celebrated our precious and happy Oliver turning 1, and the news of my darling Marnie’s pregnancy with a boy, arriving at the end of February. Two grandsons, what gifts, as I watch my family, the little family I tried so hard to make, grow into the future.

Since my last birthday I traveled a lot. I went to NYC every month, except the two months Marc came here. I went to Chicago on Mother’s Day to see Marnie and loved sitting in her booth at Zine Fest and seeing people respond to her beautiful work. Right after my birthday last year we went to Laos and Cambodia; in March I went to Colombia; in July I went to Norway and saw the midnight sun; in 13 days I return to Vietnam for the fifth time. Seeing the world, a treasure I never thought would happen to me, but it has for the last 10 years.

This year I celebrated the birthdays of my dearest daughters Katie and Marnie, and their families, and my friends. With my book club boon companions, we read books, we ate good food, we laughed so much, we went to happy hours together, we saved each other in one way or another, and our friendships deepened even more. With friends near and far, I enjoyed love and friendship and laughs and commiseration. With Traci I had two lunches each month in NYC and hours of sharing ourselves with each other, such a treasure. Dinners with Craig in New York, though not nearly enough of those, always rich in laughter and feeling seen and known. I even got to see Sherlock this year, but not my darling Peggy. Dear friends in Austin, in other states, in Europe and Canada, and even on the other side of the world, down under — all very real to me, very important, dear friends. Although I already knew this, I learned even more about how critical friends are to a full and happy life, and sometimes to life itself. My friends saved me last month in a very real way. So many walked right into that deep, dark hole and held my hands gently and brought me back into the light, friends in Austin and New York and Connecticut and Pennsylvania and France and Australia, just staggering. Friends, riches beyond compare. Daughters, wealth beyond compare.

a friend interlude -- my book club women, so much love
a friend interlude — book club women, so much love. missing Dee.

kandoI have a chosen family that carries me gently and with so much love, and I feel the same. Sherlock and Craig, my brothers. Peggy and Dixie, my sisters. Don, my Jewish father. Nancy, my….no idea, just my dearly loved family. I feel like there is so much more to say there, but I don’t know the words. I’ve done without a mother for 57 years, so I guess it’ll go that way, but I have a big enough family to hold and enfold me. And then of course my birthed family, Katie and Marnie, who I simply could not do without. Their husbands, always so good to me and to my daughters. I’m so grateful for my sweet family.

Since my last birthday I read so many books, mostly for work, but some for pleasure: Did You Ever Have a Family; A Little Life; Do No Harm; four of the Karl Ove Knausgaard volumes titled  My Struggle; On the Move, Oliver Sacks’ memoir; A House in the Sky; The End of Your Life Book Club; The Empathy Exams; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; The Unspeakable; Kafka on the Shore; She Weeps Each Time You’re Born; Norwegian Wood; Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage; Station Eleven; Dept. of Speculation; The Laughing Monsters; West of Sunset; The Children Act; The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing; Loitering; The Bone Clocks; Everything I Never Told Youand Cutting for Stone. Of these, my very favorites were the four giant Knausgaards, A Little Life, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born, Station Eleven, Loiteringand Dept. of Speculation. And then there were so many I reread for the remembered pleasure, including the one I’m rereading for the 5th(?) time, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. That always feels like an autumn book to me for some strange reason. So many I reread, I can’t even remember. The gift of literature, my oldest and most consistent love, I guess.

Every month but one, I think, poetry group met in my house and we shared truly wonderful evenings together, nearly all of the poetry beautiful and expansive and moving. Those friends taught me so much about poetry, and I’m so grateful for their generosity. I learned some new poets to follow, like Frank Bidart, and two of my friendships in that group deepened a lot. I found new music thanks to my very dear friend Val, who sent me an album of Imagine Dragons because she thought I would enjoy it, and at just the perfect time, and added a lot of Iris Dement to my library, thanks to my beautiful Traci. Around Austin and New York, and around the world, I ate a lot of fabulous food and will be drinking a whole lot of amazing tea (thank you Sherlock and Peggy). And I cooked a lot of fabulous food too, including this buttermilk biscuit jag I’ve been on and can’t seem to stop—especially since I discovered Tasmanian Leatherwood honey, and received some of Karyn’s delicious honey from her bees. Books, poetry, music, food, so many riches.

And the ordinaries, the moments throughout the days and weeks that give me peace and ease, or simple happiness, or even joy and bliss, which I am grateful to experience on a regular basis. My morning coffee routine, a deep pleasure never taken for granted. Weekly coffee breaks with Nancy, communion in the deepest, real meaning of that word. The real pleasure of my sweet little home, and the way I get to welcome people into it. Drawing, which I learned how to do this year, a regular joy and wonder. Nightly walks and stories in my ear, meditative pleasures. Sitting on my patio in the cool moments of a day, feeling the soft air on my face and the quiet joy of having my own space. My so-cozy bed, my refuge at the end of each day, crisp white sheets and a soft comforter.

Of course Facebook makes it easy for people — far-flung people — to wish you a happy birthday, but it’s always so surprising to get the emails, cards, gifts, and notes from people who remember. Like Kty in Paris, who remembered — how? how did she remember this? — that I love yellow flowers. People who remind me about Big Daddy or Mister Rogers just when I need to remember them — how do you do that? Little interpersonal touches that show me that somehow I live in the hearts of people in so many places. It doesn’t feel like there is a big enough gratitude for touches like these.

OandP090215No one ever knows what the coming year will bring, me least of all. I’ve noticed that the things I worry about most tend not to happen, and I never once imagined the dreadfulest things that happened. I guess, if it’s not too greedy, I’d like another year like this past year: daughters and their sons and husbands, friends far and wide, books, art, poetry, good food, travel, continued good health for me and Marc and everyone I know please. Gee, that looks like a whole lot to ask for. I expect and hope to travel to Chicago in February for the birth of Marnie’s and Tom’s son, and I expect I won’t get nearly my fill of my kids and grandsons, even little Oliver who lives up the road a ways.

I’m damn glad to be here and I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you for being here with me, and for celebrating my birthday with me if you do. Thank you for living this life with me, for the ways you keep me going, the ways you share yourself with me, and the ways you encourage me with so much love. Thank you for the times you let me love you. I’m so grateful for this past year, which was an absolutely wonderful year in almost every way. Even the dark times mattered, even though I did not like the suffering. So happy birthday to me, and many more! On to 58!

p.s. I’ll bet you knew that I cried while writing every single word. xoxoxox

a post, in two parts

PART I

The tide has turned. The worm has turned. It’s a beautiful morning. The world has turned. Morning has broken. And many other sayings like that.

Light is coming back. Light and air are coming back to me. Yesterday I actually laughed spontaneously, and I haven’t had “those” thoughts for three straight days, now. If bad language offends you, turn away (but then you probably aren’t one who reads my damn blog 🙂 ) — I think it’s fucking ending. Halle-fuckin-lujah. And thus ends the F word, in this post, anyway.

For you professional depression-havers out there, you know how it sidles up alongside you, a dark day turns into a week but you know, people have down weeks. A week slips into two, then three, and then you’re in it and don’t even remember that it ever was anything but this. I wish it announced itself in some way, that would make it all so much easier.

I told people slowly, very slowly, too slowly. One here, another there. This one. A hint of it to that one so as not to freak out that person. A secret group, and then another secret group, and then the last one, and then that last blog post and a public-ish post on open Facebook. Damn depression, the way it makes you unable to think and see! There was pretty much a linear correlation (thus ends the statistical stuff) between help I got and people I told. And a big duh right there. If I weren’t depressed I’d have caught it on the second person. So the next time this comes around, as I sadly imagine it will even as I hope it doesn’t, I hope I can remember this, and simply tell all my support people, my friends, those who love me, those I love, and accept the help they so generously give. Just do that. Tell, and as soon as you can. And as many people who love you as you can. You’ll know the ones who’ll get cold, or freak out, so don’t tell them but tell all the others, the ones who will rush toward you in even the slightest of ways.

This morning I was telling a group of friends about what this giant all-out launching of love has done for me, and a sweet little bit of writing slipped out of my fingertips so I’ll plagiarize myself: “this kind of love bombing I’ve been receiving ever since I went ‘public’ with it has been like a booster rocket, sending me above the ocean’s surface where I can take deep gulps of good air. And even if I go down again, I don’t go nearly as far.”  [pretty good imagery if I do say so myself. thank you, subconscious.]

Of course every time is different, and it’s different for every person (different each person x different each time = I can’t do the math but that’s a lot of instances), but I learned something this time that I want to try for others, and I hope to ask for, for myself. When you are way down in the hole, people who love you remind you how much they love you, and of course they do, and you know it even if you can’t feel it while you’re down there. But the nasty little sentences I was resisting were these: No one would miss you. It wouldn’t matter if you just died.

People not only showed up, they gently took me out for a drink, for dinner, they held my hand and looked into my eyes and told me what I meant to them, they told me they understood because they suffer depression, they sent me little notes, or they bought me music, or they wrote me letters, or they sent me gifts. They listened to me with great heart and compassion, and I could see it in their glowing eyes. They pinged me every single morning asking how I was, darling, and sometimes again at night. If I said it was really really bad, I got good practical advice — go outside and take a very fast walk, go do it now. And text me when you’re back.

And sometimes they wrote out what it would mean to them if I weren’t here. And there it was, the very real argument against those miserable thoughts. Liar! She would be devastated, and in these particular ways! Liar! Her world would change in these particular ways! Liar! Liar! Liar! Not only were those like silver bullets against the thoughts, they were also overwhelmingly wonderful to read — not that people would suffer, but that my presence in their life means all those things.

And so I will carry this with me out of the darkness, and not just wait until someone is depressed to tell them what they mean in my life, how important they are in the very fiber of my life, but tell them all. (I mean, not all the time, for heaven’s sake. 🙂 )  You might file this away for the next time someone you love is severely depressed. It may or may not help them, but there is no way it can hurt. And maybe it will just make them feel too guilty to leave. Whatever works, man. Whatever works.

Part II

Just the right person came into my life at just the right time. I didn’t recognize it at the beginning, because I was too far gone in grief and loss, and she went out of the country for six months. I kind of feel like I’ve been waiting all my life for her, but don’t tell her that, she’ll get embarrassed.

I’ll only be able to explain her importance when I write the dedication and acknowledgements for my memoir, but thanks to her, it’s an entirely different book now, and it’s amazing and flowing. Yesterday I wrote for five hours straight, non-stop, two chapters, 7326 words. I could have written chapter 3 and chapter 4, probably, if I didn’t have to stop and clean the kitchen and brush my teeth and go to bed. (And take my mighty-strong extra antidepressant, which is also part of the equation in addition to all that love bombing.)

And so my silence here is probably going to be prolonged, but for a very different reason. I actually have two books to finish, one the publisher is waiting for, and I’m ~75% through, and the one I’m writing now, like a river flowing out of me, and I want to spend all my non-working time on these two writing projects. My friend turned the dial so it’s oriented at a different angle, said a magic sentence, and flipped the switch. How can I ever thank her enough.

So many people have helped me, I’d need an index-length acknowledgement to include them all, and I hope you know who you are if you read this. For everyone who said a little something, sent a little smile, told me to write, gave me your attention, your love, allowed me to give those to you, I am forever in your debt.

a quiet little voice from a deep, dark hole

Depression is so awful, as you know if you have experienced it in its bad form. I mean, not the kind where you’re so depressed because you couldn’t find any fresh strawberries and you really wanted some. I mean the kind where your eyelids are heavy and your arms and legs are heavy and breathing feels heavy and the air feels heavy and the light looks dim and your brain whispers horrible little slugs of poison to you all day and night long:

No one would care if you weren’t here. It wouldn’t matter one bit.

That’s such a lie, and even I know it in the midst of this darkness. People from all over the world are doing their best to hold me up and keep me going, and they tell me the lie of it straight out. And I believe them.

I lie in bed and know all the blessings I have. My daughters. Their sons. Their husbands. My dear, dear friends, from right next door to throughout Austin and Texas and the United States and around the world, with a beautiful antipodean contingent. I know that I am healthy, and I know that makes me lucky. A friend has been fighting for her very life, and how obscene it is that I am wishing not to be alive, with all I have, all the riches, excellent health, beautiful people who love me dearly. Who would be devastated if I left. And I know that very devastation.

And it’s so funny how I can know the truth of all that in the deepest dark. It isn’t that I don’t know it, and it isn’t that I don’t care about all that, it’s just that depression is another world, a different landscape, an outside mind. A tomb. In fact, knowing all that makes it worse in some ways, because I have no reason to be depressed. None whatsoever. Sure, I have heartaches and worries and sorrows like anyone in the world, but all my blessings and riches outweigh those by far — and my heartaches and worries and sorrows are ordinary.

netI’m SO touched by the ways my loves are helping me, so touched I can’t even describe it. There are so many ways I can’t even list them all, even though this is my blog and there are no word count limitations. But there are so many, big and small, tangible and intangible, expressed and given with love and concern and big care. I was telling a friend how aware I  am of the net beneath me, the thousand tiny little knots strung together, each so small, really, but they’re everything. I started thinking about this after Gracie died, and wrote about it here. The image has stayed with me, and I feel it now. My friend told me about this, so perfect:

The metaphor of Indra’s Jeweled Net is attributed to an ancient Buddhist named Tu-Shun (557-640 B.C.E.) who asks us to envision a vast net that:

at each juncture there lies a jewel;
each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix.
Every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness.
Each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;
thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.
This last aspect of the jeweled net is explored in a question/answer dialog of teacher and student in the Avatamsaka Sutra. In answer to the question: “how can all these jewels be considered one jewel?” it is replied: “If you don’t believe that one jewel…is all the jewels…just put a dot on the jewel [in question]. When one jewel is dotted, there are dots on all the jewels…Since there are dots on all the jewels…We know that all the jewels are one jewel”

The moral of Indra’s net is that the compassionate and the constructive interventions a person makes or does can produce a ripple effect of beneficial action that will reverberate throughout the universe or until it plays out. By the same token you cannot damage one strand of the web without damaging the others or setting off a cascade effect of destruction.

Isn’t that beautiful? And so, even as I deeply understand and believe all this, even as I recognize all the extraordinary love around me, even as I know everything I have, even as I have beautiful good health, even as I have everything, the poison of depression whispers to me all day and night. It’s so terrible, and if you know and understand that I’m so sorry that you do.

Thank you for all you do for me. I know you are there and I love and appreciate you, and this is what it’s like to be me right now, and for the last several weeks.

smarty-pants Voltaire

my copy is so old, it has this cover
my copy is so old, it has this cover

Did you ever read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? If you haven’t, it’s about a deaf man named Singer, whose sole companion in the world dies (another deaf man) and Singer moves into a boarding house where he encounters Mick, the young daughter of the home owner, and various people in town. The funny thing is that everyone feels that Singer is the one who really gets them. They all come to Singer and tell him their troubles, their dreams, their thoughts, their urgencies. Singer can’t hear or understand, and I guess they take his silence to mean that they have been heard. (Which is a kind of touching thing, that people just long to be heard . . . even though in this case they actually weren’t.) But Singer has no one to share himself with, no one to listen to him, no one to tell his own troubles and dreams and thoughts and urgencies, and at the end of the book he kills himself, to the absolute surprise of everyone. They all thought it was great, everyone loved Singer, and they’d been his friend after all! It’s a moving and often wrenching book, and the young girl Mick is an extraordinary character. She is bigger than her circumstances, and longs for more than seems possible. In one scene, she crouches underneath the open window of a home on her street to listen to the classical music coming out of the radio (she didn’t have a radio in her home) and she gets so filled with emotion and bigness and something she can’t understand or express and she just wants to claw out her thigh muscles, it’s so big and beyond her. I have known that feeling.

Over the long course of my life, this has been one of most common things I have heard from people: “I just wanted to tell you because I knew that you would understand more than anyone.” Whatever it was they had to tell — horrors, pain, suffering, loss, destruction, devastation — and from whatever corner, in whatever form, they knew that would understand, because most of it had happened to me. For such a long time this made me feel absolutely terrible. I felt like everyone saw me as The Person Everything Bad Happened To.TM

Of course I was glad to be the listener, and the truth was that I always understood. (No cruel people, no rapists, none of those people ever approached me, no sadists, because those I would not have been able to understand, even though I have known those people too well.) I did always understand. I felt ashamed about it, as if there must be something about me that I was able to understand all these terrible things, and I was embarrassed that everyone knew it.

Voltaire said, “Nothing human is foreign to me.” (He stole it from Terence, who originally said, “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.” Voltaire just made it pithier.) As I’ve gotten older (and smarter!), I’ve come to think about my experience in those terms, that the things of being human are not foreign to me. For almost all the things of being human are understandable to me, including the joys, the sorrows, the moments of bliss, the fears, the uncertainties, the grief, the gratitude, the boredom (well, kinda, I’m never bored and don’t really get that one), the urgencies, the feelings of impotence in the face of it sometimes, the loneliness, the connection, all of it.

And even further than that, I am now grateful that I’ve had the whole range of experiences I have had for the very reason that it means I understand so much. No one’s experiences of things will be like mine, even if the same thing happened to us both, but nothing surprises me, nothing feels too far away from my experience of being human, of being a human in this world trying to make sense, trying to be good, trying to love and be loved.

So I am glad to be Singer, but without his ending. I can talk and share myself too, and you can listen to me and understand and give me the gift of understanding, of listening. I always thought it was poignant that McCullers named that character Singer, since he was mute — but his muteness was by choice, unlike his deafness, so I guess the point is that if we do not speak, sing, share, we cannot survive.

Thank you for singing to me, and listening to my song. I feel tremendously privileged in both directions. xoxo

everything matters

A few years ago I read a book called Everything Matters!, partly because of the title and partly because of reviews. I can’t even remember what it was about now; I mainly just remember that I liked it well enough, I didn’t feel like my time had been wasted, but it wasn’t as great as I’d hoped. I was just going through the kindle app on my phone and saw that book and it just punched me — the title, that is.

clockBecause it all matters. The boredom, the small joys and miseries, the big joys and miseries, the people — every single one — the errands and bullshit, the uncertainties and plans, the tedium. It all matters. Every single bit of it. Every stitch made, every cucumber sliced. Every subway ride. Every walk through the parking lot, every bit of insomnia and sleep. Recently on the subway, some college kid was telling his friend about “a theory [his] dad just made up, but said it changed the way he looked at his life,” which was apparently that 95% of our lives are spent on bullshit, trivial stuff, sleep, but that 5%, you have to recognize it when it comes because it matters. Who knows what the kid’s dad really said; college kids don’t typically listen closely enough to their parents to be reliable re-tellers, but I have to disagree. And even taking this at face value, if your position is that 95% of your life doesn’t matter at all, you’re cheating yourself.

This reminds me of the old thing parents used to say, back when I knew the things parents always said, which was “it’s about quality time, not quantity time.” I always thought they said that to justify their own absences. In fact, amazing things happen when you’re just there, showing up. When my kids were little, the times I tried to set up a specific thing, thinking it was going to be the special thing, the time that mattered, it rarely worked that way. Instead it was just putting in time with them, just sitting around, just playing cards, just talking while we made cookies, that were the ground for the important moments. The times they relaxed and felt comfortable enough to reveal themselves, because it wasn’t imperative that we be having Quality! Time!

It’s easy to know when the good stuff happens that it matters. Time with Oliver and Katie, like I’m going to have later this morning, that MATTERS. My weekly conversation with Marnie, that MATTERS. Time spent with others I love, Marc and my family of dear, dear friends, all that matters. Seeing the world, spending my time that way? Matters. All that’s pretty obvious.

Less obvious is the tedium — all of which matters! Cleaning the house, working (if you don’t love your work, if it isn’t your passion), standing in line, sitting in traffic, buying groceries — all that matters. Cleaning the house, tedious; or, cleaning the house, tending to your home to make it comfortable, and welcoming to yourself and others. Working? Well, my work is sometimes reading crap manuscripts that make me want to poke my eyes out. OR it’s that someone has trusted me with their dream, the dream they’ve spent months or years on, and they took a deep breath and trusted me to read it for them and try to help them make it better. Standing in line, sitting in traffic, gifts of time off the clock for me! I get to read, guilt-free, when I’m standing in line. I get to listen to podcasts, something I never get to do, when I’m sitting in traffic. Buying groceries, a sensory, luxurious GIFT. All you have to do to transform that moment is see what is available to you, really see it. How many people would be dazzled out of their minds by all that beautiful, fresh food displayed in front of them? How many would give anything to have access to the kind of food you take for granted. Since I love all the fruits and vegetables, it’s easy enough to transform a tedious trip by just stopping my hurry and looking. Look around at the whole department, all that color, the beautiful large piles of each kind of food. And all there for me. And then I get to turn it into something luscious to eat, and maybe to share with friends.

And less obvious still, the heartbreaking or terrifying trouble matters. It’s easy to say funny things like, “Plot twist!” when they aren’t actually happening. When they are actually happening, it can be really hard to see them as anything but what they are presenting. Death, loss, tragedy. Fear. Anxiety and uncertainty. World-changing [your world] and sometimes world-changing [the whole world]. Oh how these matter! You’re not going to be the same afterwards, and it’s up to you how that goes. Are you going to use that to deepen yourself in some way? Or are you going to be crumbled by it? Either way, it sure matters.

People in your life, every single one matters. The ones you love, that’s pretty obvious. The ones that annoy you, the ones that you just don’t like, the ones you’re forced to be with whether you like it or not (toxic co-workers come to mind, my agony at OUP in NYC), they sure matter. Each one of the less-ideal people teaches you something, even if the lesson is how to manage yourself so you don’t have a stroke. One of the toxic women I worked with had a lot of lessons to teach me, if only I’d been ready to learn. By treating me with such cruelty and contempt, and by seeing me as an idiot because I was happy and smiling, she gave me daily chances to learn how to hold my own (I didn’t take those chances, I crumbled). She gave me a chance to look at myself: I’m being seen as an idiot because I am happy and smiling, perhaps this is a NY thing (it kind of is), so should I modulate myself in some way to succeed here, or is it a chance to deepen my understanding of myself in some way? And then when that hideous monster of a woman was suing me, I tried so hard every day to practice the lovingkindness meditation on her. I really did. Some days I tried for my sake, believing that if she just weren’t such a miserable monster she might not be that way in the world; and some days I tried to do it for her sake, because she is such a miserable monster and that’s awful. I was never able to do it very well. My best efforts came when I was holding a selfish perspective, but the moment I’d stop the meditation I went right back to freaking out about her, and hating her with a burning passion. That sure didn’t help me.

This day of your life — absolutely whatever you are doing today — matters. It’s YOUR WHOLE LIFE today. It’s the life you get to spend today. You don’t get to spend yesterday, you already did that. You don’t get to spend tomorrow, not yet and maybe not ever. Whatever you are doing today, IT MATTERS. Every single bit of it. Walking to your car, driving. Eating junk. Doing boring work. Doing good work! Whatever. It can be clear that it matters if you bring your attention to it, recognize it for what it is. In fact, once in a while when I do that my breath is taken away. It matters so, so much. This minute matters so, so much. My fingers on the keyboard in this minute, my cup of hot coffee nearby, music in the background. This minute of my life, it is so precious I can hardly bear it.

And then I’ll drive north to see Oliver and Katie, to spend some time at a splash pad with them in the late summer sun. I have work I need to do, but Oliver won’t be this little boy forever, and sunny summer days won’t always be here, and this precious opportunity presents itself and I want to say yes.

Yes. Say yes today. xoxoxoxo

I don’t care much

Before I get to the point of the post, the title reminds me so much of one of my favorite songs from Cabaret (maybe because it’s titled “I Don’t Care Much.”) This video shows Alan Cumming singing it from the pre-revival show — and I got to see him back then! The performance I saw had Natasha Richardson as Sally Bowles. He was so amazing. Here’s the beautiful, sad, wistful song.

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Sigh. I loved him in that show. I love him in anything. But back to my real point in this post, which is that I don’t care too much any more. WHAT A RELIEF! Of course I do care too much about so very many things, and in fact my caring-too-much (though I would argue with ‘too’) is one of my central tendencies. But mercifully there are things I just don’t give two anythings about anymore, and this is such a relief — such as:

  • Whether my house is perfect when friends come over. Floors? Stuff? Nah, I don’t care. I have beautiful dark espresso tile floors, and this means that dust is quite visible. When I come home from my 12-day NYC trip each month, the layer of dust everywhere is noticeable, and the cobwebs in the corners are noticeable too, and often dotted with dead pillbugs (I’m sorry, little pillbug subjects, your queen mourns you). Usually I dust and de-cobweb right away, but this time I didn’t. And a couple of days after my return I had some book club friends over for dinner. Dust and cobwebs and all. Didn’t care. Assumed they didn’t care either. Having a friend over for dinner tonight and guess what: still haven’t dusted, still don’t care. Assume she won’t care, either. And if she does (she won’t), I don’t even care about that. (But she won’t.)
  • Whether my appearance is as perfect as I can make it. You might not think it, since I usually wear jeans and Converse, but I used to do whatever it took to be as ‘perfect’ as I personally could be. Even if I’d only gotten an hour of sleep, for instance, I’d set the alarm early enough to wash my hair and blow dry it before going out, even though it would be absolutely fine as it was. So I’d be exhausted and internally cranky, but my hair would be right. And no one cared! Because of course I’m not talking about having greasy, nasty hair, or anything like that. No one noticed, or cared. Since I’m growing my hair out it’s frequently kind of awkward right now, and I have a couple of gigantic waves in spots that make for a goofy growing-out. Meh, who cares. I sure don’t. Now I brush my hair, brush my teeth, put on some moisturizer, and head out if it’s an ordinary day. I’m meeting a friend for lunch today and had I gotten up early enough to wash and dry my hair, I could’ve forced that giant wave on the left into submission, but whatever. Good enough. I really don’t care at all what anyone thinks about my appearance. Why should I?
  • Doing things alone that everyone else is doing with someone else. Actually, I had to reach for this one, because this has never bothered me. I may be the only person at the movies, or at a restaurant, who is there alone while everyone else is with someone else, or a group. I don’t care! Why should I! It isn’t that I don’t enjoy doing those things with someone else, I do, but it is that I don’t care what people think about me being there alone. It doesn’t even occur to me to wonder if anyone notices me.
straight out of the camera, because I don't care. :)
straight out of the camera, because I don’t care. 🙂

Just as broadly as possible, I don’t care what people think about me any more. I used to, for sure. I used to assume I was being very harshly judged all the time — thanks, Mother, for setting that baseline by very harshly judging me and everyone else all the time — and it was horrible. It’s actually narcissistic, if you think about it, to assume that other people are focused on you. People are actually focused on themselves. 🙂  I mean, I don’t want to overstate this. It isn’t that I really don’t care, I care enough to do what I can, but if I miss some potentially-judging-me point I don’t care about that. I tend to my appearance. I clean my house. I don’t violate basic social norms. I just don’t care what others think about imperfections any more. Because actually, it’s almost all imperfection! And also, if you allow people to see yours, they are freer to show you theirs, too. See my cobwebs? Maybe you won’t stress out if your place isn’t perfectly perfect, and we’ll see each other more easily.

Maybe, too, it’s that I’ve let go of people who are cruel judges. And if anyone has come to my house and noticed the dusty floors and cobwebbed corners, they haven’t mentioned it to me. This is a fantastic, fantastic stage of life, and if you have a judgey little voice driving you to make everything perfect all the time, no matter what the expense, you might want to work on a little less caring, too. xoxoxo