the goodness

diamondsIn Sierra Leone, when the British first came in and started the diamond mines, the people in the area didn’t know much about diamonds, and they certainly didn’t yet know their worth. After a rainfall, the ground would glitter as small diamonds were brought to the surface; the people thought it was bits of stars fallen to the ground. But the NDMC quickly instructed people to draw circles around those sparkles on the ground and not to touch them, and then they would retrieve them. Rob them. Soon the people were punished if they took one….off their own ground.

But that’s a powerful image, the ground glittering with small diamonds. I edited a memoir of a man who grew up in a tiny impoverished village in Sierra Leone, and he described that with such beauty and pathos, the image stays with me and likely will for a long time.

It came to mind earlier this year when from all over the world, people who know me reached out to help me when I was in the midst of an intense and prolonged period of insomnia — I didn’t sleep at all for four days, remember? No one could do anything about it, including me, but people sent small bits of help, glittering bits of help, light-catching bits of help.

  • Since I’d recently written about needing my spirits lifted because of the political discourse, a beautiful friend in Connecticut (who has been really quite generous and amazing and caring as long as I’ve known her) started love bombing me on Facebook, with one funny thing after another, chosen because she knows me and what I like, and sent one after another beautiful thing, another and another good thing in the world, spirit-restoring in so many ways. Love bombing is incredible.
  • I received middle of the night texts from a couple of friends, so caring and personal. It surprised me that people would reach out to me like that. Surprising that he would be so gentle and caring. Surprising that she would tell me just the right thing. Not surprising about them, but surprising to me that I was valuable enough to them to reach out in those ways.
  • In the midst of that period of terrible insomnia it was free donut day at Krispy Kreme. I mentioned it on Facebook and said if anyone’s going out, and would be in my neighborhood… It was a joke, just funny I thought, since I have a reputation around donuts. And then a friend texted me — hey, we’re bringing you some really good coffee cake. I know it’s not donuts, but it’s good, you’ll enjoy it. Seriously? I couldn’t believe it, and felt so cared for.

Diamonds all around me. And some of the things shared by the first friend I mentioned also restored me from my political despair; yes, people are still good, people still care about others including those who can’t do anything for them.

this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain -- easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!
this was Marnie, when we lived in New Britain — easy to understand why Marjorie fell for her!

But I’ve always found this to be true, haven’t you? Goodness all around, people willing to reach their hands out when you reach out yours. People ready to help you however they can. I remember when we moved to New Britain, CT, when Will was 3 months old, Marnie was 2, and Katie was 5, and we had nothing. And less than no money, it was a terrible time. My kids didn’t have winter clothes, and we couldn’t afford to buy them. But I met one woman, Marjorie, who was the crossing guard at Katie’s elementary school. She fell hard in love with little Marnie, and she became a friend. As the weather started to get colder, Marjorie started bringing clothes. Her friends, her church, she’d mentioned us and people gave. My kids had all the winter clothes they needed, and we felt surrounded by care — and not just that, care from people we never met, people who’d never met US.

Little diamonds glittering all around, as far as the eye can see. And you people never let me forget it, you diamonds, you, with your texts and messages and notes and little touches and constant care.

xoxoxox

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

1: Cultivate Honorable Relationships

This is topic #1 in my year-long project, drawn from this post on Brain Pickings. The 16 items on that list are described as ‘resolutions,’ but I’m not taking them in that way. I mean, I kind of am incidentally, in that these are all concepts that I believe are worth reaching for, and as a result of reading and thinking for this project, my efforts will be clearer. Maybe not much closer to an ideal, maybe a little closer, but never perfect, seeing as how I’m fully human.

rich_liesThe funny thing (to me) about this topic is that Maria Popova, the woman behind the site, focused her attention exclusively on a single essay by Adrienne Rich, published in a collection called On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. This is a collection of prose, not poetry, and it’s almost entirely addressing issues of feminism, the place of lesbians in that concern and in the larger world, political aspects of the feminist movement. The Brain Pickings page presented this quote by Rich, which is easily found everywhere:

An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

The post didn’t indicate which specific essay contained these words, so I started off trying to guess by reading chapter titles, and finally found the right one after reading ~70% of the book. To save you the time, in case you also want to read the essay, it’s titled “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (1975) [apparently available here in pdf!]. As the title suggests, the entire essay centers around lying, and Rich is harsh, as far as I’m concerned, beginning so many sentences with “The liar …” does this, feels that, does the other. Her definition of liar is stark — the moment you say anything that isn’t the bald truth, and no matter the reason, you are a liar. She means to be addressing the ways women have developed slippery ways, often passive ways, to explain things out of fear of partners, institutions, culture, but it’s hard to hold that in mind when you are yourself apparently a liar. Because who isn’t, by her definition? Even if you are lying to literally save your life, she says you are a liar. It’s a very good essay; I argued with it in places and then she’d win me over, and then she’d say something provocative and I’d bristle and then I’d see she was right.

She ends on a much softer note about lying and the honorable relationship, and I can totally get behind this:

It means that most of the time I am eager, longing for the possibility of telling you. That these possibilities may seem frightening, but not destructive, to me. That I feel strong enough to hear your tentative and groping words. That we both know we are trying, all the time, to extend the possibilities of truth between us. The possibility of life between us.

I began to feel confused about the very concept of an “honorable” relationship, even as I generally think yeah, that’s a good thing. But it’s surely more than speaking only the bald truth — or at least most of the time wanting to do that, apparently. I understand her need, in 1975, to be speaking in such hard terms, and she wasn’t actually addressing all human close relationships. She was focused entirely and exclusively on relationships between women; but why doesn’t that apply to all relationships? An honorable relationship is an honorable relationship. There is surely a hierarchy (coming back to what I even mean by honorable in a minute); we just can’t have the same goals for our monthly relationship with the barista at Starbucks as we have with our partner, children, parents.

And so I return to my curiosity about the sole focus on this one 40-year-old essay that was written to be presented at a writer’s workshop in Oneonta, New York (and was later published in a pamphlet). It isn’t the responsibility of Maria Popova/Brain Pickings to present exhaustive thoughts on topics like this, of course, but it does make me curious. So I started thinking: more broadly, what is an honorable relationship? What does it mean to be honorable? Before I turned to dictionaries and other books, I just thought. Honorable means you keep your word. You don’t betray people, and you don’t tell others the things they have told you in confidence. You are honest, yes, but maybe it’s the search for honesty together, and support for each person individually, that makes one honorable. Whatever your relationship is with a person, you are reliable in that way. But how is this different from just being a good person? Is honorable synonymous with good?

The definitions were of no help: “bringing or worthy of honor,” more or less, but the synonyms were helpful: honest, moral, ethical, principled, righteous, right-minded; decent, respectable, estimable, virtuous, good, upstanding, upright, worthy, noble, fair, just, truthful, trustworthy, law-abiding, reliable, reputable, creditable, dependable. And what do you know, the first listed synonym is honest. Maybe this ‘resolution’ should instead be “Cultivate honest relationships.”

Maybe Rich was right and my own definition reveals my difficulty with being fully honest. I found very little that talks about honorable relationships; I found a couple of websites that dealt with being an honorable person, and one focused immediately and heavily on honesty. Everything else I found was pointedly Christian, and I don’t have anything against it but I’m curious about this idea outside of dogma.

I can believe that an honorable relationship is one in which both people are honest with each other, but that is a difficult topic, “honest,” and not just because it’s hard for me. What does it mean to be honest? Bald unvarnished truth 24/7? Essentially, what I found focuses on being honest about who you are, about not pretending to be one thing while being another, about trying your best (and the relationship being strong enough to facilitate) to tell your own truth and not fear the outcome beyond experiencing a difficult interaction (-ish). I mean, you ought to be able to say how it is for you without fear of being physically or emotionally hurt, without being attacked for it or mocked or betrayed, and without being punished. How it is for you might be pretty awful for the other person, so there may be hard times afterwards, hard conversations, maybe even hard consequences, but they occur within a safe space. But is that an honorable relationship? That feels like such a narrow definition.

To cultivate an honorable relationship with very close friends, I expect these things of myself (red star indicates a place I have a lot of work to do):

  • doing what I say I’ll do
  • not betraying the person in any way, large or small
  • apologizing (meaningfully) when I am wrong or have made a mistake
  • not deceiving the other person (except maybe about a surprise party for them?), but especially about who I am and how I am feeling where they and important people and issues are concerned.*

That red asterisk, my hardest thing. Isn’t that funny? Because I seem to be extremely honest, willing to share things about myself that others keep hidden. But that’s not the source of my dishonesty. I find it very easy to be who I really am, usually. And yet there are exceptions, and they’re not good.

  • When I am afraid. Well, that doesn’t seem so bad, right? People are not honest if they’re afraid, it might be a bad idea! One big problem for me is that I am overly vigilant about fear. And once I feel afraid, I can’t be honest any more. Since I too-easily feel afraid, there you go. Problem.
  • This is a close corollary but has its own orbit: When I feel that a person isn’t trustworthy. I over-trust, and too quickly, and then when something happens it’s all over, that’s it. So if a person uses something I’ve said against me, well, no more trust! If someone is passive-aggressive toward me consistently, no more trust. And so I won’t reveal important things any more. If you really hurt me and fail to take responsibility — and especially if you then gaslight me about it? That’s it. Not only will be trust be gone, but our relationship will diminish pretty substantially.

Even though my darling friends don’t do those things, or do them so rarely that it’s incidental and immediately overlookable (because we are all real people), I know two people (probably three) with whom I believe I can be completely honest. Say whatever is true, reveal anything about myself, have conflict with them, and it’s always going to be OK. It’s that honorable relationship described by Rich, although I would never have characterized that as an “honorable” relationship. I might call it a true relationship, a fully honest relationship, a home, a safe space, and those relationships are more precious to me than I can say, especially since (aside from my kids) I’ve never had them until I moved here to Austin. [Coincidentally, these few relationships are with people I don’t have to wear my bra with. 😉 ] [Also coincidentally (not), this possibility really comes from the other people rather than from me, so I am grateful to them.]

Rich was right about this: we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us. And that’s not a slam against anyone at all! Our connections with each other live within and between the two of us in relationship, and that space can’t exist with others because it is of us. So the connection I feel with a person can’t be the same connection you feel, even though the person is the same to us both.

I don’t think I’m any nearer to understanding how to define or explain an “honorable relationship,” although replacing honorable with honest clarifies it. Maybe we all have to define this ourselves, and decide whether this specific construction is central to us. To me, the word honorable still focuses most heavily on keeping my word, holding secrets, and not betraying in any way, but after studying this, and thinking hard about Rich’s definition, I’ll loop honesty into the concept a little more pointedly. I want to be more readily honest with people in my close circle, I do, it isn’t that I want to be deceptive. My big challenge with this part of the equation is speaking up when something is wrong for me and it involves you in some way, or I fear you may have an aggressive reaction. YIKES. Not good not good danger Will Robinson. But the point of the topic, the ‘resolution’ is to CULTIVATE honorable relationships, and however I define that term, cultivating it is a process. I can undertake that process, try as hard as I can to be honestly and more fully myself with people I consider friends, feed relationships that have this potential and release my clasp on those that don’t. If I engage this process for a year, I will learn — to some degree — how to be more honest with people I love.

[that is so scary]

And now, off to #2: Resist absentminded busyness which centers on Kierkegaardian philosophies but does seem extraordinarily relevant to today’s non-stop FOMO online world.

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

zero sum games

I’ve always said that all the wrong people have all the money. I do not want all the money; once I tried to figure out what I’d do with some extravagant sum of money and I couldn’t really get that far. If I had lots of money (figure unspecified), I would pay off my debt, which consists of my student loan debt, and I would pay off all my kids’ debts. I would get them each a new car. I would put money away for their children’s college funds so that was covered. I would see that they had what they needed to direct their lives the way they want them to go. Friends who needed help would get what they needed, immediately.

a bit fancier than this, less primitive, but like this! I saw a place in Woodstock once that fit my dream perfectly...
a bit fancier than this, less primitive, but like this! I saw a place in Woodstock once that fit my dream perfectly…

I would not buy a gigantic mansion . . . what would I do with that? I’d just have to clean it. (See how fundamentally I misunderstand big wealth? People in mansions pay others to clean them.) I would like to have a small house of my own somewhere, my very own, a kind of cottage but big enough to have a library in it and a room for guests. And then I’d put away enough to be sure I could afford to be cared for the rest of my life if something happened to me, so I wouldn’t be a burden on my kids, and with the rest I would travel. I wouldn’t buy stuff, I’d just travel. And I wouldn’t travel differently than we do now — I wouldn’t travel first class, what a silly waste of money; I wouldn’t go to different places; I wouldn’t stay in bigger fancier hotels; I wouldn’t eat more extravagant meals. I would be so very darling at having money, I just know it.

So I feel jealousy of the people with all the money, I do feel that. I know how that feels, that kind of jealousy. Resource allocation. It isn’t that I think money buys happiness, but it does relieve you of some of the things that eat away at you. Having to worry each and every month about having enough money to get to the end of the month, having to figure out what you won’t pay so you can meet an unexpected need, not being able to afford the outrageous expense of health insurance so always living in fear that someone will get sick or hurt — those things make it awfully difficult to have a happy life. You can be happy, of course, but it’s grinding and hard. I have been so very poor throughout my life I know what that’s like. Stole food in high school. When my kids were little, my food budget was so tight I put the monthly allotment in four envelopes and took one with me to the market each week, and if I got to the register and had spent more than my limit, I had to choose what to put back. That was humiliating. I tried to spend less each week so that in the last week of the month, the extra had accumulated and we might have enough money for a tiny treat. (Of course this is first world trouble and I realize that.)

What I don’t understand, no matter how hard I try — and I have tried — is being jealous of my friends. For some reason it makes no sense to me. An ex-friend recently accused me of being jealous of her (after listing a whole bunch of things she was jealous of me about) and it shocked me. She had a bunch of strengths that I didn’t have (like, at ALL) and that always made me feel so lucky. Hallelujah, I’m so bad at X but she’s good at it so we have that covered! When a friend succeeds at something, accomplishes something, why wouldn’t I be happy for her? I don’t get that. I love her, I want good things to happen for her. In the course of my life I have ended two friendships and jealousy was a factor in both. The other friendship I ended was with a woman in New York whose jealousy was so destructive I had to end it for my own health. When my life fell completely apart in November 2012 and I moved to Austin, after a few months of hiding and sobbing I started rebuilding, and I found friends and did what you do. She wrote me that I was a bad influence on her because I was able to do that but that she decided to let it go. I still have a hard time understanding that. A bad influence? Really?

Occasionally I’ll see things about Facebook, articles that talk about how people feel so bad by their friends’ Facebook streams. And apparently they’re not referring to 13-year-old people, that fragile age. This bewilders the hell out of me on so many levels:

  • Seriously? People can be that tissue-thin and fragile and uncertain about themselves? Well, I know they can be, having been tissue-thin myself at times, so at least that one I can begin to grasp.
  • Do people think a public presentation represents the whole story? Every single good thing shared has a corresponding difficult thing, and the balance tips and sways, it’s not a one-to-one correspondence, but photographs of that beautiful trip you see? There are difficulties going on too, surely you know that. This success, that one? How many rejections and losses happened too? Everyone curates what gets shared and does anyone really believe what they see is the whole story? I don’t understand this one at all. There’s that great AA saying, “Never compare your insides to other people’s outsides” which sums it up so beautifully. I know what a tangled-up mess I can be on the inside, and I assume it’s the same for everyone, varying only in frequency and degree.
  • ZeroSumDoes anyone think this is a zero sum game? That there is a finite amount of good stuff and if someone else has some there is that much less for them? If you have a wonderful success and I have a wonderful success, mine diminishes yours? On some wholly made-up scale for this point, if your success is a 9 and mine is a 9.25, yours doesn’t matter?

I am so happy about your successes, about the good things that happen for you, I really am. Even when you have success in a domain I am also striving within! When you travel somewhere I want to go, I feel like you are scouting for me, and I’ll get to see it vicariously and then hear your stories. If the time comes when I get to go too, I’ll be so glad you went so you can give me advice. If I never get to go there, how lucky I am that you did so I got to see it through your eyes. I love Greece with all my heart and will probably never get to go back, but a friend goes to a very small island on occasion and she’s a wonderful photographer, so on her next trip I’ll get to ‘visit’ Greece again, and what a pleasure that will be.

If we have a success in the same arena and yours surpasses mine in some way, how does that diminish my success? For I know exactly what it takes to run that gauntlet, I know how hard, I know the accomplishment in a way others might not. And assuming I know I did the best I could, how can I be anything but proud, however you may have done? Because hotdamn, it was HARD and I succeeded.

Yeah, that's me and Peggy in Austin last summer. She's my bosom sister. I'd do anything in the world for her.
Yeah, that’s me and Peggy in Austin last summer. She’s my bosom sister. I’d do anything in the world for her.

My friend Peggy and I applied to the Yale Writer’s Conference and decided that if one of us were picked and the other wasn’t, we would just feel so happy for the other. We didn’t get tested — we both were accepted — but I believe with all my heart that we’d have been happy for each other even if we hadn’t been picked ourselves. Now maybe if it were someone other than Peggy I might struggle, but when I think through my friends I think it would be true of all of them. BECAUSE WE ARE FRIENDS.

That situation is a zero-sum game, an exact and finite number of slots and she gets one might mean I don’t. But beyond situations like that, life is not a zero-sum game. Why do people act as if someone else’s success diminishes them? I don’t understand it now and I guess I never will.

I share the good things that happen for me as easily as I share the terrible things, because I am keenly aware that life gives both and to pretend only one exists is a lie. But I do wish those people with all the money would share a little bit.

 

talents I do not have

Despite this lack of skill, talent, whatever, I am SO lucky in terms of love, and friends. I know there are people who have a whole lot more friends than I do, but I seriously doubt there is anyone who has as many amazing friends as I do. I’m not minimizing whatever strengths I do have as a friend, but people love me despite these failings:

noHate the phone. Hate it. I will never ever call you. Ever. Ask my oldest friends, it’s a life-long failing of mine. (But I am a gold medalist at email!) Of course emergencies don’t apply here, if you need me it doesn’t apply. Please call me day or night in that case. Unless I am in the air on a plane, I will take the call and do whatever you need, anything at all. But I am just not a phone-chatter. I always tell new friends this and they nod, and then eventually at some point there is a sad, “You never call me, I always have to call you.” I know. I feel really bad about that, and I hope it helps to know that it’s not just you.

Initiating events. It isn’t that I don’t want to do this, it’s that it just doesn’t occur to me! I’m always in the midst of doing something (I know, isn’t everyone?) and I always have a list of too many things to do/get done next, when I finish this, and it just never jumps through the noise: “I know! I’ll see if friend wants to go do thing with me!” I’m so sorry. My friends are so amazing about doing this with me and I’m always so surprised, grateful and delighted by the invitations, so very happy that they thought of me. I have no doubt they would feel the same way, and I feel so crappy that this isn’t something I’m good at. I’m so sorry, again it isn’t just you. And thank you for inviting me anyway, thank you for your generosity to me.

you give yourself to me in so many ways
you give yourself to me in so many ways

The impromptu ‘just because.’ This one also kills me, because again my friends are so amazing at doing this. My friend in Connecticut, Tammy, does this so often I can’t quite believe my fortune in having her friendship. Impromptu ‘just becauses’ from her: She  sent me a project bag she made since I knit and they’re so helpful; she sent me two books when I first moved to Austin — a local wildlife book and a day trip book; she sent me a skein of yarn I’d mentioned coveting (just once I mentioned it!) and a tiny little “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book that sits proudly on my shelf still. And then yesterday I opened my mailbox to see a big puffy envelope, and it’s from Tammy. A hand crocheted hat for Oliver, a grandmother book for me, a beautiful and heartfelt card, and the envelope addressed to Lori “Pete” H… We met as knitters through an online social network for knitters, she came to the city once and we hit the local yarn stores and had lunch, and that was our only time together in person. She is a genius at this one, in direct opposition to my failings! Other friends show up with boxes of Peeps for me, just because, or eggs from their chickens and fresh vegetables from their gardens, or little things they saw that made them think of me. Just because! I open my mailbox in NYC and there’s another puffy envelope with a book of Mister Rogers’ wisdom, because she knew how I feel about him. My sweet friend Nancy (who is also my neighbor, lucky me) hangs little things on my doorknob — once a bag of M&Ms because the day before I’d said I wish there was an M&M delivery service. A newspaper article she knew I’d like, these thoughtful little touches. And PEEPS! The impromptu boxes of Peeps just fill me with delight. You were at the store, buying your stuff, and thought of me in one way or another — because you saw the Peeps maybe, or maybe you sought them out for me — and then gave it to me. Dixie and Karl bring me things a grandmother needs because they have them and their grandkids have outgrown them — going to considerable hassle to do it, too.

I am always so blown away by this. Always. Obviously it’s the evidence of having thought about me and then going out of your way that means so very much. It isn’t that I don’t think of my friends throughout the day; it isn’t that I don’t see things that remind me of them here and there; it isn’t that I think about picking up this little thing or that and decide not to. No, it’s just that the next step doesn’t occur to me. I think about you and smile and nestle into thinking about you. I see something that reminds me of you and smile and feel so lucky to know you. I wish the next step crossed my mind, even with a whisper. Even if it were the teeniest tiniest whisper, only moving a few little stereocilia in one ear, I would jump in happiness and do it!

I also don’t have that wonderful talent that some people have of picking just the right thing. My gifts are always clunky, they miss the boat though they are well-intentioned. My friends pay attention, remember, think deeply. Yvonne once gave me a beautiful necklace that had so many levels of metaphorical meaning I still cry, remembering her extraordinary thoughtfulness. Even if I’d thought to get her a necklace, my choice wouldn’t have been so perfect. It’s just not a talent I have, as you know if you’ve ever gotten a gift from me. If you have, it’s probably tucked away in a drawer, or in the back of your closet, because you know I meant well but…..

And as I was writing this yesterday afternoon I got a text from Marc, with a photo. He does this a lot, he shows me where he is, shows me places and says he wishes I were there with him. The image yesterday was from Chinatown, a place we went to so often. He wished I were with him (me too!). He’ll take a picture of the daffodils when they start coming up in Riverside Park, “Lori’s daffies.” He’ll send me a picture of a corner and say it’s “Lori’s corner.” I walk around and think of my loved ones all the time and my wee brain just doesn’t go to the next step.

As I’ve been writing this it’s like a box opened up and I remember this, and that, and the time she did this, and the one who thought of that, and it’s such a long list I start to cry.

We all have different gifts that bond us with others, and I am not saying that I’m totally a loser as a friend, a complete failure. That’s not my point at all. I have some strengths, I just don’t have these. And just as we might be gorgeous but all we can see when we look in the mirror is our lumpy thighs, the main things I see in myself as a friend are these failings, especially in the face of your kindnesses and generosity to me. THANK YOU for the many many ways you give yourself to me — these and so many others. The letters in the mail, the beautiful emails out of the blue, the quick notes, the big smiles when we see each other, the embracing of my children (and now grandbaby!), all the listening, all the sharing yourself with me. Friends from near and far sent Oliver gifts, and cheered and celebrated and I know those came from the bottoms of their hearts.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend ahead of you, you deserve every good thing. xo

blissless

this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much!
this picture has nothing to do with anything, but I love it so much! Bliss on a boat off Bali.

It’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darlin. But you know, it has.  I’ve had stress and anxiety weighing on my heart. The skies were often gray. I dutifully take my little Wellbutrin every single morning. I haven’t exactly felt depressed, but I haven’t felt a whole lot of big joy.

One of my favorite things about being me is my easy experience of joy. It’s not at all uncommon for me to feel bliss — in fact, I can get knocked back by bliss at least once a week, most of the time. For me, that means a heart SO full of joy that I almost cannot hold it, or hold myself; a heart SO full of joy that the edges of everything become indistinct, and I see how it’s all one thing; a heart SO full of joy that I kind of lose words, and am prone to cry at the tiniest little thing — a green leaf, a dead leaf, a breeze, a weed. That’s just a common thing for me, and I am enormously grateful that my software carries that programming. It’s such a gift.

But it’s been such a long time since I felt that. Actually, the last time I felt it was when I was in the river in Sri Lanka bathing that mama elephant. That was such an experience of bliss I completely forgot myself. But since then, I’ve made it through my days, I have been happy, wonderful things have happened, I’ve relished moments with my children, with dear friends. I’ve felt my community all around me, and me a part. I’ve loved my little home. I’ve shared good things and fearful things with all the people who love me, and been so grateful that I have them all.

But I haven’t felt joy, and I definitely haven’t felt bliss. Every morning when I take my antidepressant I think about that. I think that at least I am feeling other good things, at least the black hole is nowhere near me. At least it isn’t dark, even if the skies are dull and gray. But I miss my joy, I miss my bliss.

I’m sure this was a piece of it, but yesterday was a gorgeous and sunny day. Beautiful blue skies, 82 degrees, a little breeze, LOADS of sun. It felt so good on my skin, on my face. The heat soaked into my arms and shoulders and face. And while I was driving down to my friend Karyn’s house, I felt something starting to pulse inside me. I was anxious about whether I’d be able to do the quilting on Oliver’s quilt very well, since it’s free-form and I’m pretty rigid and uptight, and I was afraid I’d ruin the work I’d done. But still, it was sunny and I was happy and something was pulsing inside.

At Karyn’s, she set me up with her great sewing machine and wandered off to do her own thing, and I put a sample piece into the sewing machine — batting and fabric on either side, exactly as the quilt would be — and started sewing. AND IT WAS FUN. And I was doing it, free-form rambling, meandering stitches, loose and wonderful. And the pulsing started pulsing harder inside me. I picked up the quilt, 54″ square, and put it into the machine and took a big breath. As I pressed the pedal, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell started playing from the other room and I was quilting my darling grandson’s quilt and it was sunny and beautiful and Karyn’s home is so lovely and welcoming, and she was in the kitchen hand grinding spices for the wonderful lunch she was making me and the air smelled like spring and not at all like a city and I bounced all the way into bliss. My bliss, my old friend, so long gone.

It’s been a long time since I just had fun like I had doing that quilting. Rigid old me, not-at-all loose me, meandering and not planning anything and having a blast. Listening to banjo music and Karyn puttering around. It was a whole beautiful day, and when I left around 3:30 with my finished quilt and a full tummy and a bag full of vegetables from her garden and eggs from her chickens and her kiss on my cheek, I was so happy I almost couldn’t hold it all.

If you’re in a place where spring hasn’t really arrived yet, where the days are still gray and there’s a chill in the air, boy I feel you. (Well, a Texas version of it.) I hope the blue skies come for you very soon, and the hot sun touches your cheek and the air is sweet and your version of happy and bliss, whatever it is, wells up inside you.

mirror mirror

come on, you think of this any time someone says mirror mirror, don't you!
come on, you think of this any time someone says mirror mirror, don’t you!

Since the big thing in the social sciences these days is neuroscience, though I can talk a blue streak about how ridiculous it can be I’ll go ahead and bring up mirror neurons in this post. (Here’s a description in Scientific American, another from NOVA, and a counterview from Psychology Today — I like that one the most.) Basically, the idea is that we are neurologically hardwired by “mirror neurons” to feel and experience the things we see enacted by others. They are hypothesized to underlie empathy. They are hypothesized to explain our enormous physical response to watching sports. They are hypothesized to be the causal neuronal connection that makes us human. (I say harrumph, come on…..and it’s actually enormously controversial.)

But let’s just go with it. Mirror mirror, I see you doing something and I know how it feels, I respond in kind, perhaps. I see you crying and in pain and those same feelings are aroused in me, my mirror neurons are activated and my own eyes fill with tears.

I actually think there’s something to this, though of course it’s outrageously reductive to point to a damn cluster of neurons and claim they explain something so complex. Come on, seriously. Especially if you want to make a causal argument. Harrumph. But I was thinking about this because I was thinking about some people I know. We all know each other, and they are among my very best friends and I love them, and they do not click with each other. It happens, right? Just because you like Susie, and you like Jane, there’s no guarantee that Susie likes Jane. We think it’ll work, because since they both like me they must also like each other, but it’s just not the case. Sometimes it’s just a meh, and sometimes it’s much worse, almost an intense dislike. I’m sure you’ve had this experience too.

What made me start thinking about this is that Susie is just luscious, one of the most generous-hearted people I’ve ever known, deeply loving and caring, and so open. Jane doesn’t see Susie like this, and perhaps that’s because Susie isn’t like this with Jane! And with me, Jane is warm and embracing and generous and loving and insightful and so many of the same things as Susie. They’re actually quite similar to  each other, although their presentations differ in some slight ways. But Susie doesn’t see Jane this way, perhaps because Jane is different with Susie than she is with me!

So I started wondering: not that Jane and Susie are just acting a particular way around me, or around each other (at all!), but I wonder if something in me pulls out a particular response in them. If we are mirroring each other in a deep way. So I started thinking about myself around other people, and I think it’s possible. When I’m with lighthearted friends who just have fun, that gets pulled out of me too — because it’s in me! In those settings, I don’t even want to talk about Moby Dick. (Well, I do, but it doesn’t kill me to keep quiet about it.) When I’m with a friend who dives deep, I dive deep because it’s in me! When I’m with knitting friends I just chatter away about projects and the making side of me is activated because it’s in me! When I’m with wisecracking friends OH do I crack wise. And in none of those instances am I just putting something on, never am I just performing. It’s that something about her pulls this out of me, while something about the other her pulls something else out of me. Because, like Walt Whitman, I contain multitudes. (But not in a creepy way. Well, not any more. 🙂 )

And so I think that Jane will never know the Susie I know, and vice versa. Because Jane with me is my Jane, and ditto Susie. But that’s the wonder of life and friendship, isn’t it! One other consequence of this system is that my deep-diving friends may not ever know that I can be silly and that I am hilarious, because when we are together we’re leaning in and talking about the sounds and the seas. What’re you gonna do. Maybe with the luxury of enough time each friend will eventually see the wholeness.

So happy Sunday, everyone. My day will probably be starting with a kayak ride on a river (I’m writing this ahead of time and scheduling it to post) and a luscious breakfast and some excellent conversation, and then I’ll head back to my cozy little home to write. I’ll write, and write, and write, and write, and then maybe I’ll stop and work on little Oliver’s quilt. And maybe I’ll read some poetry or Moby Dick, and hopefully I’ll talk with Marnie and maybe I’ll cry and maybe I’ll crack wise, because all of that lives in me. I love having the chance to see what lives in you, too.

bug in the tum tum

yuck.
yuck.

Well, it has NOT been much fun to be me the last few days. I’ve had some kind of bad stomach mojo and haven’t felt like eating much of anything except some rice. Yesterday I ate a bit of salad, but whatever I eat ends up making my stomach hurt so badly. I suspect it is a virus of some kind because I ache all over and my head hurts in that particular way. Yuck. I find myself longing for one of my amazing creamy green smoothies. I long to be able to get up at 6 and take my neighborhood walk. Instead, I’ve been mostly lying in bed with my laptop, working and doing some various moaning and complaining.

Feeling sick when you live alone isn’t that great, if you ask me. It gets so easy to start feeling so boo-hoo sorry for myself, oh poor me. And yet……

I’ve been everything but alone in so many ways! One wonderful Austin friend texts me throughout the day, offers to bring me soup or pick up something for me while she’s out, do I need anything at all? Am I up to getting out, or having some quiet time together? One beautiful New York City friend called me yesterday just to say hi, just to hear my voice. And about an hour later, another amazing love called just to hear my voice, she didn’t even have much to talk about. These three friends, my deep boon loves, make it impossible for me to get lost feeling sorry for myself (and also to get lost, because they’re watching out for me!). Another Austin friend, my health coach actually, volunteers to bring me food if I’m running out of anything.

This is such a surprise in my life. I’ve always had friends, it’s not that, but I’ve never had friends in the way I do now. It may have something to do with ways I’ve relaxed and changed and opened, ways I am more easily real and vulnerable(lite) with people now. And it is probably also true that I know how to understand what I have now, in a way I haven’t in the past. I remember when we were moving away from CT after living there for 8 months, I was saying goodbye to Marjorie, a truly wonderful woman who had been so good to us. She was the crossing guard at the elementary school so my daughters knew and loved her, but she also organized her friends when she first met us and brought us enough warm clothes — CT warm — to keep my little kids warm through the winter. We were extraordinarily poor and I don’t know what I would’ve done without that help. I loved Marjorie and enjoyed her very sweet company, but it was time to move and so my eyes were on the highway, already packing the U-Haul. Marjorie was breaking down, crying pretty heavily, and (hanging my head here) I remember thinking hmmm, she doesn’t know how to do this. I remember that now with such shame, and with such regret — look at the opportunity I missed with this wonderful human being! She was grieving, we’d meant something important to her, and I missed it because I was just temporary, just passing through, on my way to the next town.

It took me several years to realize what happened with Marjorie and I will never miss those opportunities again. I know extremely well what you mean to me, my friends, but I also know that I mean something to you, and that’s so precious to me. When I fail to recognize that, I not only dismiss your gift to me, your gift of your love and care, but I also treat you badly . . . and yet you are faithful in continuing to care about me anyway. It’s always been hard for me to let myself mean something to people — I talk trash, belittle myself, dismiss myself — and that’s finally shifted over the last several years, as I have aged. I’m so grateful for that, and for you.

much love, and appreciation for the way you hold me in your heart.  lucky, lucky me. xo

that’s what life is

Things like this are always showing up in my facebook feed:

life

That’s a particularly unattractive one (to me), but it’s the one that just flew through — the first of the day — so I grabbed it. In an hour or so, there’ll be another like it. The concluding sentiment, that we be there for ourselves, is just fine, of course. But it’s the path there that always kind of rubs me wrong.

Isn’t that what life is? Isn’t life characterized by disappointment by other humans, to varying degrees? When it’s a deep betrayal by someone you’d placed a lot of trust and time in, then that’s horrifying and can really throw you back, leaving you unsure of who you can trust. But as often as these things fly through my feed (and yours too, I assume), I don’t think that’s what prompts people to do this. I think instead it’s an over-response to slights. To feeling ignored, to feeling less important to someone than they are to you maybe, to all sorts of disappointment. Because people will disappoint you, at some point along the way. They just will.

There’s a kind of self-focus behind this, a lack of awareness that others are embedded in their own messy lives, too. Of course people are sometimes pointedly mean, have an intention to do harm, but more often (I’d wager!) they’re just responding to all the balls they have in the air. They’re being pressed by sick parents or kids, by trouble at work, by being distracted by their secrets and worries, by trouble you are unaware of. I’m always reading that someone has “learned who my friends are!!!!!” (usually with a lot of exclamation points like that) and people of all ages say things like that. I am thinking of a man in his late 40s, a woman in her late 30s, and a girl in her late 20s. It always strikes me as a 14-year-old-girl thing to say, that melodramatic hormone-crazy year.

It’s a little unsettling to realize that you are not the center of everyone’s life. If you’re lucky, you are important in someone’s life, you may even be overlapped with them in a big way:

I do love a good Venn diagram.
I do love a good Venn diagram.

But you (and I) are not all that to very many people. We’re lucky if we have a relationship partner who places us so centrally, but that’s about it. We have friends — good, beautiful, important friends — but we are not the center of their lives. I am the center of my life, important to my kids (but probably not overlapped all that much, though they are to me … and that’s as it should be), important to one person, and then orbiting around friends, in varying spots in their orbit. I know I am important to them, and they care about me, and would help me if I needed help of any kind, but I am not the center of their life and they have a whole world of concerns that I am unaware of. So if I feel slighted (which I don’t, not saying that), it isn’t personal.

I always want to say something on those posts, to remind the person that perhaps they didn’t just “learn who their friends are” but instead perhaps their friend needs them, but I never do. So I’ll say it here, instead. 🙂

Happy Saturday, y’all. I’ll be spending the entire day working, I hope you are having more fun!

busy!

busyA short while ago, I wrote about surplus, how I suddenly have one too many things and have no place for my bedroom chair, how I have such wealth and splendor in my new life, lucky me.

My social life is in a state of surplus too, a fact that leaves me maybe even a little more gobsmacked. Having no space for the chair just means I bought one too many things, which is surprising since I started with nothing, but it’s also just about having enough money (and yay for that!). Having the wealth and splendor of love and gratitude is the best thing ever, because as much as anything it’s a state, an internal state that can exist at any time. Even in the very worst of times, like my 17 days last fall—losing precious Gracie, watching my beloved daughter suffer the worst thing anyone can suffer, my marriage breaking, leaving NYC which I love, starting over from absolute scratch—there was love in there, and so much to be grateful for. In a way, the very worst of times gives you the biggest things to be grateful for, even though the feelings are pain and misery.

I have so many friends all over the place, many of whom make my life entirely worth living, and yet I obviously had to meet people here too. Since I was so utterly broken when I arrived back in Austin, and just before Thanksgiving and all the holidays to boot, it was impossible to be the kind of self you need to be to make new friends. Lively [enough], interesting, oh I don’t know, not crying all the time. It’s difficult to meet people, to make new friends as an adult anyway, but the workplace at least exposes you to a lot of possibilities . . . unless you work at home, for yourself, as I do. I threw myself into Meetups in an effort to get to know a bunch of people, and it was extremely hard, not just because I’m a shy introvert but also because I cried easily, and it was hard to find people who are like me in ways that matter for long friendship. I really just like to read, I’m politically quite liberal, I love to travel to the other side of the world, and like everyone else, there are ways I have quite an ordinary mind and other ways my mind is unusual. Connecting enough of the dots to make a fit seemed very hard, given everything.

And yet here I am, with a social surplus and so grateful for it. I am now booking time with friends a few weeks in advance because I’m getting backed up, and I keep looking at my calendar in confusion. Wait, what? I’m busy until 3 weeks from now, that can’t be right. But it is. Actually, I don’t have any time until after the Memorial Day weekend, now. And somehow the friendships are so deeply gratifying. Wayne, from my poetry group, has become such an important friend it’s weird to go very many days without seeing him, and we email every day. Except for the travel bit, all the other dots connect. My nightly email from him guarantees that I end my day with a hysterical laugh usually, and always with deep gratitude. Drinks tonight with Margie will be such fun, and she’s bringing her friend Paula — and I’ll sit in surprise and gratitude that beautiful Margie and I found each other. Lynn, my other-side-of-the-world travel friend, is going to be in Thailand and Singapore while I’m in Indonesia, and the mere idea that we might arrange things to see each other during that time (we won’t, for a zillion reasons, but we could!) startles me and makes me wonder at the universe. Cyndi brings me Peeps when she sees me and is immediate and honest and warm and generous, and I can’t think of her without smiling. Janet makes my deepest bass strings rumble in resonance. So often my conversation with her starts, “I can’t tell anyone else this but I know you’ll understand . . .”  And she does. And so many other people I really want to get together with, Kelly and Stephanie and Kathy and Anna and Liz and Art, and I look at my calendar and wonder, when?

But aside from the brilliance of these beautiful people in my life, there is now a surplus of dates and fun and scheduling opportunities, and I just shake my head and wonder how I got here.

friendship

First, a Broadway interlude:

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If you ever need a pal, I’m your gal
If you ever feel so happy you land in jail, I’m your bail.

See, that’s it right there: Friends during trouble, and friends during happy. (OK, I see that it’s “so happy you land in jail” but still….) There’s a word for friends who are just there for the happy stuff — fair weather friends — but is there a word for friends who don’t like it when you’re happy? I guess a fair argument could be made that they’re not friends. Duh.

envyI no longer have one of these friends. After the last five months of hell I have lived through, she told me last week that she decided I am a bad influence on her because . . . well, as best I can tell because I have made friends, and because I am happy. I am a bad influence for her, but she said she decided to let it go. (But not until she told me all about it, I guess.) A year ago, more or less, she told me that she and a mutual friend deal with my happiness by reminding themselves of the times I’ve been miserable. I didn’t get that one, either, but somehow this most recent one was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I never knew anyone who had such trouble with someone else being happy, it’s the most mysterious thing to me.

And what the hell, yo? It’s not like my life is just a never-ending bliss fest and that happiness and joy rain down on me unfairly. It’s not like I win the lottery over and over and give someone else a chance, jeez. It’s not like I only go on and on about good things and keep the trouble secret, to give the illusion that my life is a dream. It’s not like any of those things. It’s more like I talk about the trouble when I’m having trouble, and try hard to find space for the happiness. It’s more like I talk about the happiness when I have it, and keep in mind the preciousness of it because it’s not permanent. It’s more like I want to share your happiness no matter what; when my life is down in the dark hole, it keeps me going knowing that good things are happening to people I care about. Because one of these days they’ll happen for me again, too. There is still good out there. And I love you and am glad when good things happen to you, I am so glad when you are happy and doing well. Because I love you.

I’m so far from being a perfect friend it isn’t even funny. I will not be calling you on the phone, period. I’m sorry, it’s just the way it is. I don’t like the phone, it makes me anxious and queasy, and it’s not just you but I will not be calling. I’m increasingly OK with talking on the phone, I’m pressing myself on that front, but I’m still impossibly bad about picking up the phone to call you. I just assume you’re busy. Also, I’m skittish and have a too-quick tendency to run (while simultaneously having a ridiculous tendency to endure crap long after I should leave, how does that work together). At irregular intervals, I’ll start to get really down in the dumps and I’ll go dark, I’ll pull back and kind of disappear into myself. I’ll be back, I definitely will, but that happens. See, such an imperfect friend I am.

I take no credit for it at all, it’s just part of the software that I came with, but I am not envious of my friends. I don’t feel jealous of them. I feel those things regularly, just not about my friends. I honestly don’t understand jealousy and envy of friends, though I understand it very well otherwise. But these are my people! I love them! I want good things for them, so when good things happen, doesn’t that make me glad? Shouldn’t it? It’s just kind of mysterious to me, I don’t get it. But this former friend is very very different from me in this regard, so while I shouldn’t continue to be surprised by it, somehow it still knocked me off my feet for a second. Really? Seriously? I’m a bad influence because I am happy? How does that work, yo?

One of my ongoing things to learn is how to say this, and no more. There’s the line right there, and it has been crossed. Instead, I just keep moving the line, ok then here. OK, here. All right, once more. Rats, OK, the line is here now. It’s always dangerous to say “but I finally got it” because all you need is to fail another trial, but I think this time, with this former friend at least, I got it. Finally, I got it.

For today, go be a really good friend to someone. Just because, tell a friend what she means to you. For no reason, check in and tell her she’s pretty damn great. If she’s struggling, surprise her in some way, even a tiny little touch. If she’s happy, tell her how glad you are that she’s happy. Be a good friend. I’m going to do that today, and just keep looking forward instead of back. Much better, yeah. And if you know anyone who resents your happiness, let them go. Life is too short and you should cling to and cherish every little bit of happiness you can find, and allow people into your life who want that for you too.

And here, courtesy of Marnie, is a little bit of fierce:

surplus

I am happy. I am happy for myself, because I am happy, despite all the pain and loss I and my family have recently suffered. Which, to be honest, is only the latest pain and loss. Because life is going to give you pain and loss. Living is painful, among all the rest, and from the moment of birth things are being lost. The countdown starts at birth, life is passing, it’s going past, it’s going to be stopping. And along the way, you are going to lose people, there’s just no way around it. It’s in the weave of the fabric.

loveNo matter how bad things have been — and they have been bad — I’ve always had what I needed, and even more than that. Since 1982, I have had my children and that means I’ve been so saturated in love for the last 31 years it has been unimaginable. I’ve had these beautiful people to love, and I’ve had their love. Always, never questioned, never lost. We fought, we struggled with each other, but never once did we wonder if we loved each other. Now that is really something, not to be taken for granted or forgotten. When I found out I was pregnant with Marnie, I didn’t know how it was going to work, because I loved Katie so much it made me feel like my seams were splitting. How in the world could I also love another child? How could I ever love another child half as much as I loved Katie? But as you know if you have more than one child, what happens is that your own heart doubles, somehow. No love is taken away from the first child, you just double in size. But it’s exponential, somehow, not multiplicative.

There is still work to be done, healing to happen, but when I think of where I stood on November 7 and where I sit now, the difference is shocking. I had nothing but myself, my clothes in suitcases, my books, and my five children. (And of course that’s not nothing, at all.) In a couple of weeks, it’ll be five months since I lost so much and found myself at scratch, with no home, no bed, no chair, no nothing. I had a home in my kids, and Katie and Trey welcomed me into their home with open arms, but I was a wandering guest with pajamas and a toothbrush. Now, I sit in my beautiful living room surrounded by a full home, a comfortable home, a lived-in home, MY home. I have too much stuff now, which absolutely cracks me UP. I bought an elliptical machine and am now struggling to figure out where to put the chair that’s displaced by the machine. I have too much stuff. No place for the chair. And four months ago I had nothing but clothes.

That bit of material surplus is the visible evidence of the deeper surplus I have now. I’ve always been extraordinarily lucky and rich, since July 23, 1982 when Katie came into my life, and I always always know that. And now I have a place of my own I can’t be asked to leave; things of my own; hours of my own; dear wonderful old friends and new friends — I have a growing set of new friends, people I really like so much and look forward to developing a history with; new and familiar routines; plenty of work; and some very exciting possibilities for new endeavors with my daughters and with another woman. I am only 54, there’s so much still to come, so many years to create, so much happiness to experience, more unimaginable loss in my future without a doubt, more hardship, big and small, and plenty of the unknown. Probably there will be times to come when I wonder what it’s all for, why does it matter, why persist, because life is shocking sometimes.

It’s a beautiful Sunday. The woodpecker is squawking at me. Finches are divebombing past my window and warbling their beautiful, sweet songs. I’m going to brunch with friends shortly. The sun is shining, the desert beckons, my heart is happy and light, and I have more than I need, and all that I want. I feel so incredibly lucky to be me. I found this Jack Gilbert poem this morning and want to share it with you:

FAILING AND FLYING

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

BOYS.

NOLately, I’ve asked every decent man I know, “What is it with boys??!” I’ll come back to an answer one gave me in a minute, after I explain my question.

So I am thoroughly heartbroken by the end of my marriage. I love my husband, still. I have less than no interest in men; as I’ve said elsewhere, I have so little interest in dating I somehow owe something to the “interest in dating” pot just to bring me up to neutral. No. Interest. Period. Not now, and not ever. (People always smile a little and shake their heads and say, you will, just give it time. Nope. I know things about myself that no one else does, obviously, and I know how much and why I mean this. You’ll just have to take my word for it.) But aside from my true lack of interest [period], I’m also still married, and will be until sometime early next year. The state of NY requires a formal separation period of one year before divorce can be initiated. So I am married, and it’s just shy of 4 months from that cataclysm. The cataclysm that still shakes my heart and can lay me low at times.

Because I’m new to town, and because I work alone, I joined some meetup groups to get myself out of my house, and to try to find a couple of female friends. Once I find a couple of friends, I will be entirely resigning from all the groups, because my goal wasn’t to become a professional meet-upper but just to find a couple of women friends. I belong to a bunch of women-only groups, primarily because I’m looking for female friends, but I also belong to a bunch of interest groups that are open to men and women. Because there are women there, that’s why I joined. I am explicit and clear with all men who talk to me: I am not here for dating. I am not interested in dating. I do not want to date. I am seeking friends only. I am not now and will not be looking for someone to date. I’ve even put that in my profile for the various groups. I just don’t know how to be more clear about this, except to perhaps wear a sandwich board sign. Maybe I’ll have to do that. When I first started going to the events I didn’t think I needed to say that until and unless it became an issue. I have learned it has to be the very first thing I say to them.

Despite being so clear — and despite the fact that one man in particular even repeated it back to me, oh, you’re really not wanting to date, I really understand and I’m not looking for that either, you just want to find friends, I get that — they push themselves on me in overtly sexual ways. One tried to kiss me (the one who repeated it back to me). One tried to hold my hand. And don’t get me started on their 13-year-old conversation; I don’t think there is anything you could say that they couldn’t and wouldn’t turn around into a sexual innuendo accompanied by a leer. The kitchen sink, they’d find a way. Fire ants, somehow they’d twist it around. And these are men in their 60s! Educated men, master’s at least. Men from all parts of the country, some from other countries, Europe mostly. It is appalling. I do not want to hate men, I do not want to have to walk away from all of them, I do not want to have to sequester myself in female-only communities, but they are making me seriously consider it.

So this morning I asked a very dear friend, a man in his 80s who considers himself my good Jewish father, what is it with boys. I told him about the man who tried to kiss me. He is very happily married, his grandchildren are young adults, he has a PhD, he’s a very serious person, and his answer to my question was, “well, you are so kissable.”

I’ve quit smiling at them. I’ve become cold and hard when they speak to me. I keep my arms crossed. I tend to every single bit of body language possible, in addition to saying so clearly that I am not interested. I know it’s possible to be friends with men; one of my dearest friends in New York was Craig, and we were close and the line was never even approached, much less crossed. And one of my oldest friends is Sherlock; I love him dearly and would do anything for him, and I know he’d do the same for me (hell, he already showed that). And we are friends, no line approaching worries — not least because I love his wife every bit as much — and it was true even before he married her. He is my friend. Craig is my friend. We are just friends. It is possible to be friends with a man, I know that. Maybe the issue here and now is that people are in meetups for a reason; most are single (though there are plenty of married couples). There are “looking for dating” meetups, but these are not that kind, I do not join those. Still, they’re mostly single people, probably 80%.

The thing that makes me so incredibly angry is their utter disrespect of me as a person. If I gave mixed signals, if I were flirtatious, if I simply didn’t state my intentions, OK, ok. I just don’t know what’s in their heads. I wonder if it’s, “oh, she doesn’t mean that, she just doesn’t know me.” It’s the same attitude that goes a little further to date rape. I am saying no. I am saying NO. NO. NO. I even made a scene once. I’m trying to be able to slap the next man who treats me like that, I just have to remember in time, react in time. They are helping me by making it predictable and common, so I’ll surely get experience preparing myself.

And thus endeth my vent, made partly in preparation for going to a St Pat’s party where I imagine this will come up at least once.

little remedies

Yesterday after a couple of work Skype sessions, I decided to take the afternoon off and take a drive. Mid-morning, the skies were as blue as a robin’s egg, and it was going to be 74 degrees . . . perfect for a day hiking around Bull Creek. By the time I got off the second call, though, the skies turned into a puffy gray blanket—but not the pretty kind. The kind that looks like it got dragged through dirty dust bunnies. The warmer temperature remained, but it had more of an oppressive feeling, even though the winds had also kicked up. I went out anyway, drove Loop 360, stopped on South Congress and poked around in the cool shops, and went to the flagship Whole Foods to buy the makings for a good dinner. (Did you know Whole Foods started here in Austin? You should see the main store, it has several floors, a chocolate fountain, several places to eat, underground parking of at least a couple of levels, it’s amazing. You could spend a day there.) I bought a beautiful piece of salmon, some fresh spinach, and a basketful of good food to take care of myself.

And I realized that I am now in Depressed Land. It’s a familiar place, I’ve lived there several times over my long life. The inability to go 5 minutes without crying, the wish to just stay in bed and never get out, the thoughts. Yep, I’m back. So this morning I’m back on my antidepressants, no second thought about that. Because what matters is that I live, and that I live to find my new life, my new self, to enjoy the next part of my life, to see my children, to find my way, to rediscover joy and brilliance and the ebullience I so easily feel. Does it pain me to acknowledge I’m back? Does it pain me to know I have to take this medication? Not in the slightest. Not in the slightest.

I’m getting dressed to go out to a meet-and-greet brunch, and then to a knitting group. Tonight I’m hoping to have the energy to go to Sherlock’s for a bit of disco dancing. Those are big tasks for a depressed person, and I’m going to be kind to myself so if it’s too hard, I’ll just leave. While I’m getting ready, here are today’s little remedies for getting through:

  • a lovely talk with my beautiful daughter Marnie
  • bluegrass music! I made a playlist, because who can be too sad when there’s banjo in the background, I ask you.
  • putting on a pretty face, a bit of makeup (mascara and lipstick, a big deal for me these days), trying to dress well just for today
  • a glass of orange juice, honestly like drinking the sun
  • turning on all the lights in the house, not just the lamps
  • singing along

Those things are helping me get ready to get out the door, and that’s a big deal some days, you know?

And just so I give you something, here are some links I can’t seem to close, in case you like them too! 

Happy Saturday, y’all. Better days ahead.

good thing of the day:  antidepressants. Seriously, man. I thank the makers of Wellbutrin from the bottom of my aching heart.

cycles

Maybe I should more properly add this to the previous post, my how-to-help guide, but it kind of goes along with what I was thinking all night long as I lay awake, so I’ll let it reside here in its own post.

This morning a friend wrote me the kindest note, saying that she knows I understand the cycle of pain and pleasure so she doesn’t need to remind me — which was actually a kind of genius note. Because it’s true, I do know that, but it’s also true that sometimes I forget the various things I know, as we all do. Sometimes, especially when it’s really dark, or it’s been dark for a while, I forget some of the things I knew in the light. State-dependent knowing, maybe. So her phrasing not only reminded me of the cycle of things, but also reminded me that it’s something I know already. I want to write that down so I can give it to other people who need it in the dark. It started today off as well as yesterday started badly (and plummeted downhill).

Last night I didn’t sleep, all night, but I felt too something to read (even though I have two books on my nightstand, a kindle full of books, and my phone to access them too). But I just couldn’t read, I haven’t really been able to read. I didn’t want to look at the computer, or watch tv, although I didn’t want to just lie there awake either, even though that’s what I did. One good thing that came of it, though, was the shock of realizing that I’m really worn down, but it’s more than just the last 2.5 months! The first 6 months of last year were spent helping Marc through his horrible, horrible treatment, and battling the insurance company every day. It isn’t that I’d forgotten that, but in the flood of monumentally bad things that happened from October 19 on, I kind of had.

So no wonder I’m wrung dry! In all of 2012, I had 3 decent months. I did have a week in Oaxaca that was magical and then two weeks in Myanmar that were utterly magical (though marred by worry over Katie’s pregnancy, near the end). Three decent months, and three great weeks. But otherwise, Biblical-level trials and tribulations, 9 months of them non-stop. No wonder I’m so tired! No wonder I’m flattened! No wonder I’m flat out of resources! Sheesh! What is a wonder is how I’m doing as well as I’m doing, now that I think about it. And in the midst of having no resources, I had to summon something and hit the ground running here in Austin, buy a house full of furniture and stuff, get a life going from scratch.

I think I’m going to cut myself a little slack. I think I’m going to hang out (even electronically) with people who also cut me slack, and who make me feel better. I’m going to try to let go of some of the worrying I’ve been doing about my future, and money, and just indulge myself in some small luxuries — going out for a drive in the sunny afternoon (I love to go out for a drive!), sitting in a sunny cafe and having a cup of coffee (I love that!), seeing a movie without spending that time fretting over the future. I have a very busy day tomorrow, starting with brunch then going to a knitting group and ending going out dancing, and I think I’m going to try hard just to relax and soak up those little pleasures without putting pressure on me to “make a social world, now!“.

Thanks so much, KV, for the note. It was brief, and as I said yesterday, brief can really rock! Happy Friday, everyone. Why don’t we all cut ourselves some slack today.

good thing of the day: the magic of just the right words at just the right time, and blue blue skies, and self-compassion.

a how-to guide

I am a strong person, I believe that. I’ve been trying to be honest here (and in the rest of my life) about what it’s like to be going through the devastation of the past two and a half months. I think a few people mistake that honesty, misinterpret it, to mean something else—weakness, even—but that’s their deal, not mine. To me, a big part of being strong is being able and willing to feel whatever there is to feel, not to pretend it’s not there, not to hide from it, not to ignore it, but instead to stand there, with as much strength as possible, and face it.  When I was in college, and had three young kids at home and no help, I had to get it while I was sitting in class; I didn’t have the luxury of time to let my mind wander during lecture and then get it later. I had to get it right then, be present, pay attention. And I think of this period of difficulty in a similar way; whatever is happening to me now, I want to go ahead and experience it and face it and deal with it while it’s happening so I don’t have to handle it showing up later, or over the next however long it might reappear.

So it’s terrifying at times, and I feel terrified. It’s so sad sometimes that I have to lie down and clutch the furniture to bear the sorrow, but I do that, and then it eases. It’s lonely, so I sit with the loneliness and try to understand it. It’s empty, and so I absorb the emptiness and try to feel that, and think carefully about how to fill it in the most meaningful way. The losses feel like a tsunami, and so I try to anchor my feet and absorb the wave and still be standing when it washes away. When happiness, or even joy, appears, I try to open my hands and arms and soak it up and get as much restoration from it as I can. When I feel the truth of there being no one here to take care of me, no one to pet me or give me a hug when I’m having a hard time, no one to rub my back, I try to face that feeling and then take good care of myself. It’s hard. It’s exhausting, on top of the exhaustion from grief.

Some people have been very good to/for/with me, good at helping, being there, doing what they can. And other people have pointedly not. I haven’t been surprised by who falls into which group, especially the not-helpful group, though some of the helpers have been a little surprising — not that they helped, but that they were particularly thoughtful in a specific way, usually born of having experienced hard times themselves.

I don’t know how useful this how-to guide will be, because it may be so idiosyncratic to me that it won’t apply to others. That’s probably true of a couple of items, but I’ll bet it’s generally good. If you have a friend or acquaintance who gets blasted by life, here is my advice:

What to do or say:

  • Just say you’re thinking about her! That’s helpful. If it occurs to you to drop a little note of some kind, even a text or an email, you might be surprised just how much it can help. You might send it at just the right time without knowing it (because for someone facing a lot of stuff, it’s actually always just the right time).
  • Listen. That’s always good.
  • Real mail! Man alive, I can’t tell you what that did for me, the several times someone went out of their way and sent me something in the mail. I got the boost when they asked for my address (a real boost that day), and then a surprise second boost the day the mail arrived. It can just be a small thing — you know how great it is to get real mail.
  • If you’re nearby, propose meeting for a drink, or coffee, or a walk, or a movie. Be specific! She’s probably glad to do something you suggest, and unable to suggest something herself. People in sorrow and trouble welcome distraction, even when they are trying so hard to be strong. You can let your friend set the pace of whether to talk about the trouble or not, and just follow her lead.
  • Periodic short encouraging notes. And really, brief is just fine, it does the trick.
  • Be patient.

What NOT to do or say:

  • Just for a while, handle your own little problems, or turn to other friends. Just for a while, don’t make demands on your overburdened friend. If you hear her say that she’s feeling fragile and her resources are low, take that information as a cue not to ask her to handle your life too.  (And p.s., it doesn’t count if you make a demand but say, “I probably shouldn’t be asking you.”) And then, especially, do not be critical of her for not helping you. Of course, if something big happens to you, good or bad, share it with your friend anyway.
  • Don’t comment on the “drama.” No one but an actress likes to be told that, in the first place, but in the second place who would ask to have a string of terrible things happen, who wouldn’t be so overwhelmed by it without it being labeled “drama!” There’s something kind of blaming in that, or at least it’s so often used that way that it carries the connotation, whether you mean it or not.
  • Even if you think her grief is dragging on too long, keep that thought to yourself. If you just have to talk about that, talk to other people, though who likes to be gossiped about behind their backs. (But if it’s really getting worrisome and you are scared for your friend and her well-being, you might eventually ask, in a loving way, how she feels she’s getting through the grief, to open a conversation.) If you’re feeling this way, instead take the opportunity to quit thinking about your own irritation or annoyance and think about helping her.
  • Don’t simply say, “If you need anything — anything at all — just call! I’m serious!” Or if you do, don’t sit by the phone waiting, because that call isn’t going to come. Really, you’re just saying that to make yourself feel better so you can believe you helped (and we all know that, because we’ve all said it, and we’ve all heard it). So don’t do that — there are very very easy things to do that really will help, and won’t demand too much of you. Like a quick email or a note.
  • Do not be impatient. If that’s too hard for you, then do what you have to do for yourself, of course, but don’t take it out on her. She’s got all she can do trying to be patient with herself, I’m pretty sure.

And one between here and there: If you are the primary support to someone who is in need, be sure to rely on your own support network! As my friend reminded me (and I know very well from the first 6 months of last year), it’s draining and exhausting being the primary support to a suffering person, and if you get plenty of your own support, it’ll help keep you from doing things on the “don’t do that” list. But more importantly, it’ll help you keep going, too. We’re all so connected to each other.

So that’s today’s how-to guide, born of a particularly hard day.

good thing of the day: thoughtful friends and family, blue skies, and inner strength.

the net

This idea has been percolating in my mind for the last two months, but using myself as a test subject for thought experiments is dicey, because in many ways I’m weird. I’m really really shy. I hate the phone. I hate parties. I’m not too fond of people, unless they’re mine and I love them. I don’t understand people very well — and I have a PhD in psychology. And I love humanity, and people as ideas, and sometimes people in specific (even if they’re not mine). And I’m a hermit, and will get too far down in my hermiting if I don’t watch myself. I enthusiastically sign up for things, but then as the time approaches I start hoping and praying that I get food poisoning and don’t have to go. Every. Single. Time. And then, since I don’t really get food poisoning very often, I go — all sweaty and terrified — and then have a wonderful time, loving the people I’ve spent time with. I’m a mess.

When Grace died, a world came to an end and we were utterly and entirely devastated. I was not as numb as poor Katie and Trey, of course, partly because I was there to help and they were there on thin air, because the ground had fallen out. I was in so much pain, such deep despair, but I wasn’t numb — I was able to see and know what was going on. I was trying desperately to help in any way I could, and I needed help too. And here’s the thing: HELP CAME.

Help came in so many forms, and from so very many people. Some help came from the usual suspects, from dear friends and family members who we always count on. That help was just so good — food, flowers, letters, food (worth saying twice, I had no idea how wonderful it would be to get food). But the funny thing was how much help I got in the tiniest, tiniest of ways. I can only speak for myself, but the smallest little touches were so much help. A little one-line email, a facebook message, a text message, tiny tiny little touches that asked nothing of me, that just reminded me that I was still connected to so many people, that so many people were thinking of me and us and our grief, that so many people — busy living their own lives, with their own troubles — remembered what was happening. That we mattered. I’m not saying they were grand dramatic gestures, but in a way that’s the point, the small ordinariness of them. I can’t even recall how many people sent me these tiny notes a few times a week, and some people still do!

What I’ve been thinking about is these tiny little things as a net; look at that image, see all the blank spaces? The net is mostly open air, mostly empty space. What holds it together, what holds you up and catches you when you fall, are the tiny, tiny, tiny little knobs, the tiniest little things, but there are lots of them and they connect. A net, a network, enough to save you if necessary. I think people often feel they should do the grand gestures, the big acts, and dang it they’re busy and need to go pick up the kids and stop at the store, and they’re worried about their jobs or their mom or the state of the world, and maybe later they can get to the grand gesture. Maybe they worry that the tiny little touches will be so insignificant; maybe they even worry that the smallness of it will feel bad, that the hurting person will feel slighted. Make the tiny gesture. Be a little knot in the net, it’s all you need to do.

I couldn’t have made it through the last couple of months without the big help of my dear friends and family. Honestly, I don’t know if I could’ve made it. My children, my friends, big helps and strong shoulders and the unquestioned knowledge that they were there for me. I never even had to wonder for a second, and that’s quite a lucky thing. But you know, I don’t know how I would’ve made it without the rest, either. The big helps are needed when you need them, but most of the time you’re just with yourself. When you’re in trouble, most of the time you’re alone, or alone with it, and getting all the little pings — “thinking about you today,” “hope you got some sleep,” “just letting you know you’re on my mind,” “how are things today, Lorraine?” — the reliable persistence of them, they saved me too.  And then there were other surprises, grin-inducing surprises, like a luscious gift from my friend Pamela in the UK, and a beautiful handknit cowl from my friend Kty in Paris (who then also sent a little housewarming gift, ooh la la), holy cow those gave me smiles and lifts and somehow right on the days I needed them. I don’t know how they pulled that off, but they did. Small, very personal gifts, given out of love and care for me, and knowing me.

At the end of my two bleak and dark months, I emerge knowing that you all helped me keep going in the dark. Your constant little touches, the net you strung underneath me, it held. I can’t wait to hold the net for you too.

getting somewhere, the mix tape

1)  Yesterday morning was rough, man. Rough rough rough, rougher than anyone expected (and we were all expecting rough). When Katie and Trey came home from the crematorium, we sat in shared stunned silence for a bit, each lost in our own deep and awful suffering. Then, because you can only do that a little bit at a time, we watched Arachnophobia. It was stupid, and just what we needed. Katie’s aunts and uncles gave her and Trey the gift of a new tree, in Grace’s honor, for their front yard, so we’d tentatively planned to go select one if they felt like it.  Thankfully, they had a sense that it would be helpful so we gathered ourselves together and headed out. Lunch at Shady Grove, one of my favorite weird Austin joints (I had Frito pie! Frito pie! Frito pie!), then down Bee Caves Road to the nursery and they found a tree, a Texas red oak. The aunts and uncles will have it planted for them, as soon as they’re ready. It was just the right thing to do, after the dreadful morning — a reminder of beautiful blue-skied days that also exist, a daily and seasonal reminder out their front window of their dear Grace, to accompany the constant reminder in their hearts, and a connection to the living that’s going on all around. It probably seems much more of this to me than them, because they’re still numb and in different grief, but I know it’ll come to them in this way, when they’re ready. 

I’ll be heading home tomorrow, on Friday. My time here is winding down. It’s time for them to grab their life by themselves and reconfigure it together. It’d be too early (to me, the mama!) no matter when I went, and this is best for them — and that’s what matters more than anything else.

2)  On facebook and here on my blog I requested book recommendations and got a whole bunch of good ideas. I’d requested books that grapple with big life things and that aren’t silly. Here’s what I got, in case you’re ever looking for something like that: (edit — aaargh! None of the links work! I’ll have to figure that out later, sorry…..)

  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green — reading this one first and it’s amazing so far. Seriously. Original and big and smart.
  • Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking 
  • Didion Blue Nights 
  • Pomegranate Season by Carolyn Polizotto 
  • Resilience by Anne Deveson 
  • Baby Catcher by Peggy Vincent. 
  • Stones from the River – Ursula Hegi 
  • History of Love – Nicole Krauss  
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer 
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie  
  • A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry  
  • The Cunning Man – Robertson Davies  
  • Broken for You – Stephanie Kallos  
  • The Dressmaker of Khair Khana by Gayle Lemmon  
  • poetry of Louis Macneice  
  • Robin Romm’s memoir The Mercy Papers
  • Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger  (memoir)  
  • The Dovekeepers  
  • A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle   
  • The Gate to Women’s Country    
  • Mating, Norman Rush    (an anthropology grad student crosses the Sahara for love to get to an experiment in screwing up the natives)   
  • Cement Garden, Ian McEwan (three kids left unsupervised after their mother dies descend into uncivilization)   
  • The Innocent, Ian McEwan (1950s Berlin) 
  • What Maisie Knew, Henry James (James from a child’s point of view, Maisie knows everything!)  
  • Civil Wars, Rosellen Brown (civil rights activists in the South get custody of racist children, a marriage falls apart)  
  • Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey  
  • Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus  
  • The Great Fire, Shirley Hazzard 
  • The Mitford Girls by Mary Lovell 
  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog
  • When You’re Falling, Dive

3) One thing that has been so great through this tragedy is the way in which big help comes from surprising quarters (in addition to the unsurprising quarters….we’re very lucky in our misfortune). I have friends all over the country and world, from (a) being 53 and (b) moving around a whole lot, and they’ve come through in ways I wouldn’t have expected, given the fact that we don’t see each other. One of my friends from graduate school, a guy I liked a lot but never got to know in depth (a real loss for me!) sent me this wonderful note: “I read an essay by a Christian monk once who talked about the difference between “suffering against the grain” and “suffering with the grain.” He argued that sometimes, life is painful, and if you try to run away from that fact, distract yourself, or fight that feeling, then the long-run impact is that you exhaust yourself and feel worse than you have to. I’ve always liked that idea, and it feels honest. Sometimes life is awful, and trying to change that artificially causes bigger problems than just accepting that life is going to be sad for a time.”  Isn’t that such a great distinction? And such help it gave me when he sent it.

4)  This is an oldie but a goodie, and the fact that I wanted to track it down tells me that light is returning to my spirit, and that there’s room for more than just grief inside me now. My dear friend Dixie (more like a sister, she is my former husband’s cousin) has a little granddaughter nicknamed Peanut. WELL. Peanut is hysterical; as her father says of her, she can go from 0 to Joan Crawford in 4 milliseconds. Peanut is 4, I think, and one of the most original and funny people I’ve ever heard of. Peanut’s mother posted this on facebook several months ago, and it makes all of us laugh hysterically:

Peanut is composing a little ditty at the piano. She’s got some pretty fitting minimalist music going and the following lyrics:

All my days. All my life.

It was terrible. Terrible.

Running. Running. Running out of candy.

Missing my friend’s party.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

She threw oranges at me.

I called the police.

I couldn’t take it anymore. 

This may be the most awesome thing Peanut has ever done.

I think so too. A couple of days ago, Katie mentioned it out of the blue, with a big smile on her face — medicine for us all. Thank you, Peanut and Heather and Dixie.

5) And so to life. I know there will be sorrow and waves of grief to come, too-quick reminders of the Grace I’d dreamed, concerns for my daughter and her husband, and anniversaries that creep up. There will be difficulty in NYC as it recovers from the big storm, problems I don’t even know about yet. There will be muted joy for my birthday, but there will be joy because I love celebrating my birthday. It won’t be the birthday I thought it’d be, but it is my birthday and I’m damn glad to be here. And there will be everything else too — little happinesses, big ones, dull times, big joys, strife, irritations, surprises, the whole big buffet. And I cannot wait for it all.

being heard / being seen + links

​Today I had the deep experience of feeling heard — twice. Two big, deep experiences of it, and it made me feel amazing. It’s funny how being heard is so much like being seen, I’d never thought of it before. It also left me feeling alive in a way I haven’t been feeling lately, which is just so great. It wasn’t even that the two people who did this for me today said anything particularly special, it’s that they were present with me, and looking at me in a very deep way. And then I had two other experiences after that of feeling understood, so it’s been a wonderful, wonderful day on that front. And boy oh boy did I need it. It’s one of the finest things you can do for a friend, be present with them and try hard to see them. Highly recommended.

Somehow I’ve got all these tabs open again, so I thought I’d ​put them here for safekeeping. And who knows, maybe you’ll like them too:

WHEW! Got them all saved here, hallelujah.​