one mystery solved!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

who are you?

So many things become clear and obvious the older you get. The problem is that it would be much better if they were clear when you’re younger. Stupid time.

I wish we all understood from the time we’re tiny that all we can be is who we are. That that’s who we’re here to be, what we’re here to do. That trying to be like others is a waste of time — but more, a loss. I wish I had understood that, but that’s OK. I think I understand it now.

Before I Leave the Stage, Alice Walker

Before I leave the stage
I will sing the only song
I was meant truly to sing.

It is the song
of I AM.
Yes: I am Me
&
You.
WE ARE.

I love Us with every drop
of our blood
every atom of our cells
our waving particles
—undaunted flags of our Being—
neither here nor there.

Last month at book club I was telling the story of my great-aunt Bea. Her father sold her, when she was 14, to an older, horrible man for the price of a horse.  A few years later, Bea shot her husband when he was crawling through the kitchen window threatening—once again—to kill her. She told him that if he came in through the window she’d shoot him. He came in through the window. She shot him, on March 5, 1946. Bea was tried and found not guilty; in the small north Texas town where they lived, everyone knew her husband and knew Bea’s story. She certainly was not guilty.

bea story

Bea was an original, in every way. She was a barrel rider in the rodeo (not so unusual in North Texas). She dressed and walked like a man (extremely unusual in North Texas in the 1950s and 60s). She said exactly what she thought and didn’t care what you thought about it (for a woman in the south/Texas, very usual). She raised her son alone, then lived with her sister for a few decades before getting married again . . . her choice, this time.  Who is it we remember when we think of that family? The quiet, meek women who did exactly and only what was expected of them? Who shaped themselves to the roles they were assigned by family, by their time, by their culture? Nah. In my family we remember Bea. We talk about Bea. And it’s not about committing murder — it’s not about being a “bad girl.” It’s just about being very true to who you are inside, and just being that, as Bea did.

actingWhen I was a girl, I was very inward and quiet. Very serious. I learned to talk very fast and smile smile smile and accommodate myself to stay safe, and that became a habit. But it always felt like acting (acting!). It served me well in so many ways, but it did not feel like me. Now I find myself returned back to myself, and coming back inward. Coming back to quiet, and serious. The thing is, if you’ve been untrue to yourself and then find your way back to being who you truly are, some people might not like it. And maybe it’s just because it’s different, you’re not who they knew you to be. That doesn’t mean you’re wrong.

Be who you are. Be who you are. Know who that is, and be it. The world needs you to be that, it’s really what you came here to do, to be. If you just live long enough, you might figure out that you already knew the important things.

WIPs

wipLike any hobby, knitting has its own jargon and acronyms. Knitters talk about their FOs (finished objects) and WIPs (works in progress). When I was trying to figure out what tattoo to put at the very bottom of my spine in the empty space I’d left, I was mulling it over with my son Will one day and he suggested that I find the characters for “work in progress,” and just get the outlines of the characters. I loved that so much I nearly did it, and the idea still tickles me.

I’ve mentioned her before — I have an old friend with a very traumatic childhood, and now she has this laugh that stops people with its beauty. It somehow comes from way down inside her and there’s a feeling of it bubbling up from a deep well. Once someone told her they wished they had her laugh and she stopped cold and said, “I earned this laugh, you can’t just have it.”

Yesterday I was thinking about her, and about works-in-progress, and me and everyone I know. But I can’t talk about others so I’ll do all I can, which is to think about my experience in a broad enough way that it applies to you, too. So I’m halfway through my life and I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. I’ve done a lot of work on who I am, I’ve tried to change things that hurt me or others, I’ve tried to build up parts I found helpful, I’ve spent a lot of time and money figuring out roots and wounds so I could understand and patch.

And here I am, 55 years old, and I am who I am. I know who I am and who I am not, and that’s not to say that I like every part of who I am — it’s just that I know. Like my friend with the beautiful laugh, I have worked hard and earned whatever there is good or helpful about me, and as CEO (and CFO and CTO and CIO and every other C-) of the Overthinkers Society, who I am now is largely the result of thinking hard about stuff. Maybe your work didn’t have to be so effortful and maybe you are naturally easier going than me with my overthinking ways, but it’s true for you too. At this stage in life, you are responsible for who you are. I am wholly responsible for who I am, good and bad and in progress.

There is still SO much work to be done, I’ll probably be working until the day I die. I still keep a metaphorical foot out the door ready to run. I still assume too easily that I will be abandoned, despite all evidence to the contrary. I still get too scared and freaked out in the face of others’ anger, especially when it comes out of the blue. I still struggle to say what I think if it is unpleasant. I still struggle to see how I really look. I still struggle with some of the old wounds and they still hurt. I struggle to hold my own self in the scene and will give myself away until I feel too depleted to keep going — do that to myself. I still get swamped sometimes with sorrow and while I’ve learned ways to manage it better than I used to, I’m not there yet.

But it’s OK, it’s the deal. It’s all the process, it’s all the path, and there is real pleasure in getting down the path because you get so much as you go. You learn what to hang onto and what to let go, who to keep around you and who to let go, what to strive for and what to let go (hmm…..lots of letting go). I guess that’s a point: you learn to let go, which is a major relief.

I love all of you beautiful works-in-progress. xo

 

blessed or lucky, take your pick.

Honestly, I wouldn’t even know where to begin counting the ways I am blessed, or lucky, or however you might wish to organize it. I wouldn’t know where to start, but without a doubt I’d have to start with people. In absolutely NO particular order:

kkHow lucky am I to be near Katie while she is pregnant with Oliver?! After having lived far away from my daughters for so many years, I never take for granted the riches of being so close to Katie that we can suddenly decide to spend a day together. Go shopping together. Eat with each other. Katie and I can spend a day making things for Oliver — another blessing in my life, little Oliver. And Trey, goodhearted, caring Trey, Katie’s husband. Whenever I go to their cozy home, Trey hugs me, a long, real hug, and he looks me in the eye and we are truly glad to see each other. LUCKY me.

mgHow lucky am I that Marnie reaches out to me and shares her life with me! When things go wrong, she writes me immediately. When things go well, she writes me immediately. She calls me every Saturday for a long catch-up, and if for some reason either of us can’t talk on Saturday, we reschedule. How lucky am I that her sweet husband Tom is as much my son (like Trey) as if he were my own? How lucky am I?

And how lucky am I in the friends department? HOW LUCKY?! Karyn invites me to her house by a river, in the hill country, for the weekend. Karyn and her husband take me into their lives, and with such deep love and affection. When she writes me I feel honey in my heart. Dee sends me my whole family tree, just because she is kindhearted, and pays attention: I’ve been blue, and she wrote me to be sure I realized it was a gorgeous day yesterday. Cyndi texts me and invites me to everything she does, and opens her heart to me and introduces me to all her friends, with a generous and laughing heart. Lynn calls me after hearing of a really crappy day, just to say What the hell! and commiserate with me. Debbie comes to my house for dinner and we talk for a few hours, comparing life stories and understanding each other in a very specific way. Sherlock and Peggy share their happiness and troubles with me, and it’s the trouble-sharing that makes me feel most part of the family. And I share mine with them. Faith sends me emails that make me smile, and I cannot wait to get to know her better. Lorrie writes me with an invitation for a fun and easy evening out, to distract me, and even offers to treat me. Paying attention, being generous and open-hearted. Traci is always in my heart and life, and responds to my trouble with an immediate warrior stance, and I know without a second’s question that if something happened to me, she would have my back. And she would avenge me too, and our eyes fill with tears. Jeff was my health coach but is my friend, and we share a giddy love of Shakespeare and Moby Dick and how many people in your daily life can you geek out over that stuff with, I ask you?! And Nancy, my darling and brilliant neighbor, always looking out for me and helping me, and always with a dry dry sense of humor that makes me chuckle down to my toes. And then Dixie, my sweet and darling loved one, and her husband Karl — family with the biggest and deepest meaning of that word. I am loved unconditionally, and Dixie always assumes the very best of me, and gives me the benefit of every single doubt. We should all have someone like that in our lives. For a lot of us it’s our mother, and I never got that but instead I got Dixie and that’s a more than fair trade-off.

And my online friends, Kristie and Laura and Linda and Mary and Megan and Pamela and another Laura and Anna and Josh and Paula and Becci and knitting friends and book friends and people who comment on occasion and lurkers. How lucky am I!

The world is full of beautiful and generous people, just longing to find other people. It really is. Obviously it isn’t only full of those kinds of people, but you are sadly missing the boat if you don’t realize how many people there are around you who are huge on the inside, and longing to find other people. Longing for you, perhaps. It often feels to me like I can’t turn any corner without running into yet another person of depth and splendor. Lucky all of us.

And people come to my house each month to read poetry to me! Seriously! Another friend has a spare ticket to Billy Collins at the Paramount next week and invited me. Poetry! And I met Nick Flynn, let’s not forget, my most cherished writer.

HOW LUCKY AM I.

And through my work I meet people who care so much about words, which is my favorite thing in the world after my people. Traci brings me a new writer, Amy, and Amy and I click, and Amy is a wonderful storyteller and now she is my person too. And Ron, a brilliant storyteller, and Mia and all the rest. Not all the rest, a great many are just people who want to write their stories and that’s good, but in the mix are these brilliant storytellers, and they are in my daily life. Daily! I get to read all day long and make a little money from the reading. And then I read at night. When I was a girl I used to wish I’d get paid to read. I GET PAID TO READ.

lori mama elephant2And I see the world — I see the world! — and I ride in a boat down the Mekong River, and in a small boat on a nameless river in the mountains of Laos, and to an island off of Borneo, and I bathe an elephant in Sri Lanka and chase a sperm whale in the Indian Ocean, and I sit in a tiny boat in the middle of the Ganges for the morning puja and later watch the ceremony where the Brahmin put the Ganges to sleep at night. I hold the hand of a tiny Hmong woman in the mountains of far north Vietnam — her as small as a child, leading me over rocks and streams. And I grin while panting for breath on Macchu Picchu and Lake Titicaca, and I cycle through Amsterdam and Enkhuisen, and I cry in front of Notre Dame in Paris and imagine Quasimodo, my old friend, and I drink a beer in Glasgow, and Katie and I eat in pubs in Ireland, and gape at the Giant’s Causeway in Belfast, and I watch the crimson-robed monks in Yangon, and I run from monkeys in the Sacred Monkey Forest in Ubud. I cry at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul because I never dreamed I’d see it in real life. I eat figs off of trees on the coast of Croatia, I snorkel in Honduras, I eat very well in Oaxaca. I make my way through the crowds in Phom Penh during the Water Festival a couple of days before the terrible tragedy that kills more than 300 people. I feed monks in Luang Prabang, and wave at them in Cambodia. I eat amazing food all over the world.

I AM SO LUCKY.

And I’ve come to accept and like myself, after all these years, and to appreciate the parts of myself that are most central. OK, I’m a smart girl, I’m fine with that finally. OK, I am open and I cry easily, I am OK with that. And guess what: my friends are smart girls! I LOVE THAT! And my friends are openhearted, and I love that!

I am so very lucky.

at Nobu after our wedding.
at Nobu after our wedding.

And I get to keep finding my way with Marc, who I love more than I’ve ever loved anyone else, and he challenges me and we challenge each other and we have both grown so much. I get to be in two places I love, and it adds stress and hardship but it also gives me so very, very much. I am so lucky.

I am so lucky.

And so I don’t have much work right now, and friends and loved ones are having difficult times, and children starve and women suffer and men go to war and life is hard. And in the middle of all this, I am so lucky. I have a beautiful little home to live in, so comfortable and mine, and another home to visit on the Upper West Side (upper upper, as my friend Craig says with a snooty accent) in New York. I have not one home, but two!

I am so lucky.

exposure

a basic "dream" image because WOW the images that came up with other keyword possibilities!
a basic “dream” image because WOW the images that came up with other keyword possibilities!

Someone I know once told me that our dreams are showing us how we are thinking about something. That’s a very interesting idea, and when I think about my dreams like that, I frequently realize something that helps. The last two nights, I have had enough deep sleep to have a dream each night. It’s so strange, I must dip immediately into that stage because last night I saw the time twice in every single hour. But whatever — dreams! I love my dreams, and have had some amazing ones in my life. The dream I had last night was disturbing but interesting, too.

I dreamed I was in a conference room where I worked, and in my hand I was holding my sweater. I was so confused, couldn’t realize or figure out what it was, and slowly I realized it was my sweater and I was standing there in front of everyone in my skirt and bra. I rushed to try to get the sweater on as quickly as I could, but it was very hard and took me a long time. I was so disturbed because I couldn’t remember taking it off, I couldn’t remember anything at all. Later in the day I was called back into the conference room where all my colleagues were waiting around the table. They told me all kinds of other things I’d been doing — equally bizarre — and I had no knowledge or memory of them, at all.  Of course they immediately believed that I was an alcoholic and having blackouts, but I told them I do not drink, an occasional glass of wine nothing more. They wanted to hospitalize me, for whatever reason — alcoholic or crazy — and I was just in terrible anxiety because I had no recollection at all of having done these things.

When I woke up I was really upset because it had been so real, I woke up believing I’d been doing crazy things I couldn’t remember doing. I grabbed my phone, looking for email evidence, IM evidence, anything, people telling me things I’d been doing. Finally I settled down, realized it was a dream, and tried to relax. I’ve never had those “surprise I’m naked in public” dreams, and that wasn’t the important piece of this dream at all.

There’s a stream of thought about schizophrenia that believes the specific hallucinations and psychotic frameworks of each individual are important to that person in some way — they are not random. I doubt it’s as simple as a child with very religious parents becomes a schizophrenic who thinks he is Jesus; the terrible illness is much more complex than that. But still, the specifics are personal in some way. I think dreams are the same — they show you how you are thinking about something, but in your own unique vocabulary.

So what I think about this dream, here in the electric light of pre-dawn, is that it reflects the fact that I am opening myself up to friends here, ‘exposing’ myself, and it’s scary! At lunch with a friend earlier this week, I confided something about myself that was really scary to reveal, because people often think it equals crazy in some way. It has a very specific relationship to the vocabulary of that dream, so for me it all comes together and it’s about the anxiety of exposing my real self to friends, and waiting to see how they respond.

The funniest thing is that my girlfriends here — my four most important girlfriends — are people I feel thoroughly at ease with, as if I’ve known them for so so long. I’m not self-conscious when I’m with them. I kind of feel like I could just burp if I needed to and none of us would blink. It’s really funny. Two are Texans and two are transplants, so it’s not just a dirt-and-bones similarity. I can’t figure it out, but I do feel that way with them. They’re the ones I’ll reveal some of those things to, but that doesn’t mean it’s not scary to do that. We all have things we think may be beyond the pale, and some of mine are quite extreme. But so far so good. 🙂

LOTS of rain here today, y’all. Yay for the aquifer, one of my constant worries. I love our sweet aquifer, the Edwards aquifer. But really, flooding rains here today, so if you’re in Austin or surrounds, please be careful! Love all a y’all. xo

 

peace and harmony

religionWhen I was in college, my major was psychology and my minor was philosophy. One of my favorite courses was the philosophy of eastern and western religions. It was a senior-level course and I was a freshman, but I guess since I was nearly twice as old as all the other students an exception was made. 🙂 At the end of the semester we all had to present papers to the class, and the department chair sat in. I was so totally freaked out and intimidated, sure that I was the big dumb idiot of the class (although afterwards the department chair pleaded with me to change my major to philosophy, hmph). But standing there in front of the class, the only woman and only slightly younger than the professor and the chair, I was so overwhelmed I kind of dissociated. I started hearing a buzzing in my ears, and then the light all around me turned kind of soft and pink, and then the next thing I knew I’d finished my presentation to applause.

All I remember about it now is that I was interested in the fact that for Christians, we were created and then thrown out, and our task is to find our way back and maybe we’ll be good enough, maybe not. But for Buddhists, the task is just to grasp that you are already there, and that the idea you aren’t is an illusion. I thought that idea was so powerful, and everything that follows from it fascinates me. And aren’t those the most blissful moments, when something shifts and the edges and boundaries disappear, time goes away, you just ARE, it just IS, it’s all right there and it’s just kind of one thing? Shoot, even typing that sentence makes me cry. Athletes seek that kind of space — the “zone” — and artists and writers find it on occasion. Not to sound too philosophy/Buddhist-ish, but those are the moments when the self disappears.

In my life right now, I am trying to uncategorize things, to let my life have a kind of wholeness in all the ways I can. I’ve been meditating every day, and then later doing a second loving-kindness or self-compassion guided meditation as I get ready to sleep. I’m trying to integrate movement into my life throughout the day, rather than shoehorning it into periods of “work”out. Which I’ve always hated. (Because it’s work!) I pause from my work and pick up the weighted hula hoop for 10 minutes of crazy happy dance/hooping, then go back to my work. I park at the farthest end of the parking lot and look at the sky and clouds as I walk into the grocery store. Walking every morning in the dark opens my mind and I connect to the soft air, float into it.

My easier approach to food has been a real relief and pleasure — I can luxuriate in delicious fresh food, knowing it’s all so good for my body, and I don’t have to think or stress out about it. Silky creamy green smoothies welcome me into the day. Strangely, my food cravings have disappeared. I’m not sure I’d even eat a Peep if you put it in my hand. (I know!!!)

And as always, music ushers me most often into that self-disappeared space. Thank god for music, and for people who write and perform music. For people like Neko Case, who wrote this song after seeing a little kid suffer at the mouth of his mother. When I heard it yesterday, I was in the kitchen making hummus and I literally did collapse onto the kitchen floor, dropping to my knees, and sobbing.

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It cracked my heart open, cracked everything wide open, and made me so grateful for her, and made me feel so connected to all the suffering people, especially all the suffering kids. Then an old Nilsson song, “Everybody’s Talking At Me” played and I felt a very particular kind of loose and rambling joy, connecting me to the happy world. Then “South American Getaway” from Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, making me laugh so hard thinking of my kids when they were little. My son Will used to say he wanted someday to have a house and a piece of that song would be the doorbell ring. And so that connected me to the life I’ve been living all these years, the thread of me back through time, and then forward through time through my kids.

connectionAnd my people, all my people. My beautiful, beautiful children, who I love more than anything on this earth. My beautiful sisters and brothers, adopted as my own, who hold me up and let me into their hearts. My most wonderful friends in Austin, in New York City, and around the country and world. Bits of me are in all of you, so the net is flung wide — I’m not just a brain in a body sitting alone in my living room behind a locked door, I am spread around, through you.

I don’t always experience my life like this — of course — but when I do, as I am now, I try so hard to pause and let it soak into me. I feel all the gratitude I have for it all, I breathe and put my arms out, I cry when “Closing Time” comes on, Lyle Lovett, and then I throw my head back and laugh when K. C. sings “Boogie Shoes.”

And you take a piece of me into you, you read my words and like mist I’m part of you too, at least for a bit. We connect in the space that these little black characters create. I think about you while I’m writing, I imagine you reading, and I smile. Some of you I know about, some I’m aware of but don’t know who you are, and some appear once and flit away.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever is happening in your life right now, I’m grateful you participate in mine. Thanks, and much love. xoxo

advice to my younger self

One of my favorite books of poetry I bought last year was Brenda Shaughnessy’s new collection Our Andromeda (here’s a review at The Rumpus). There were so many poems I loved in the collection, but the ones I loved most were a series of four poems written to her younger selves (at ages 23, 24, 25, and 38).  Here’s the poem “To My Twenty-Three-Year-Old Self”:

The woman you think
Is the love of your life

Is only a way to get
To New York City.

I probably shouldn’t
Say that until she leaves

You. Because you will
Hate me if I say it now.

You “love” “her” so
Much. You are lavishing

A lifetime of unexpressed love
On this poor expressionless

Child. She can barely feel.
And you, you narcissist,

You can only feel yourself.
If you really loved her,

You would try to help her.
But in the end, I’m glad

You spent your energies
Writing love poems and

Trying to transform your love
Into art. It worked out

For you. FSG will buy it
Even though it’s juvenile.

You’d believe that before
You’d believe she’ll leave you.

In six weeks. Without a trace.
Saying: You don’t know who

You are. And besides you’re not
Butch enough for me.

As if you wouldn’t make yourself
Into anything for her.

Had she only said she wanted it.
Luckily for you, she didn’t.

That’s not my most favorite — the 24-year-old poem is more poignant, to my mind — but there’s something so moving about any kind of advice we give to our younger selves because it’s soaked in pain and compassion, and knowing how things turn out. I thought of this poem on Friday, after I posted this on facebook:

“A holy trinity of advice? Let me see. Very well. 1. Give everything. 2. Expect nothing. 3. Move on.” –Harold Pinter/Interview with James Grissom/1998/

A friend of mine commented by saying, “Actually my advice to my younger self would be try twice as hard and move on twice as fast if it doesn’t work.” And so I started thinking about what advice I would give to my younger self, and immediately started crying.

adviceBecause my younger self was in such intense pain and I was so so hard on myself. I was trying to stop generations of terribleness and I did it by clenching my fists, tightening my shoulders, and just grunting my way through it. I was so scared, so lost, so desperate, and I made my life so much harder than it needed to be — but then again, I guess that’s how it needed to be, for all the reasons.

Nevertheless, here’s the advice I would give my 24-year-old self, a very young, ill-prepared mother grappling with the suicide of my father and a disintegrated and fractured sense of the world, and myself:

  • You are just fine, you really really are, no matter what you think. You are wonderful and trying so hard, and that matters so much. Pay closer attention to what’s in your heart and maybe you’ll see that.
  • It’s OK if the baby cries. You will learn this lesson with Marnie — when she cries, she learns how to comfort herself very quickly and it is so much smoother, and chill, and good for her, too. It’s OK if the baby cries. And if it’s too hard, please get some help. That is good.
  • You do not have to be perfect. You aren’t, anyway, and no matter how hard you try you can’t be, anyway.
  • Also: you’re beautiful, even though you’ve got a bloopy tummy and some chunky thighs. You are beautiful, with deep eyes and a generous smile. Lift your eyes away from the bits that you don’t like and look for the bits that are beautiful — and believe people when they tell you this.
  • Don’t give yourself away so fast and so completely. Others are as lucky to have you as you are to have them.
  • When you’re tired, it’s OK — stop and rest. (See the one above about being perfect.) When you’re blue, be kind to yourself, and let others be kind too. You don’t have to be so tough every moment of your life. (You’re not, anyway, and that’s a good thing.)
  • Do not dismiss every good thing about yourself. Do not dismiss the various things you are good at — not everyone else is good at them, these are your things! Be glad for them, and embrace them, even if they’re not (or especially if they’re not) the things most other people want to do.
  • Speak up. Be brave in your words. And write. Write a lot. You have something to say.
  • No matter what he said (seriously: no matter what he said) it is not your fault that he killed himself. You really do know this, so keep remembering all those things you really do know and do not take that terrible thing on your shoulders. It’s unfair, and it always was. You didn’t do that, and in fact you have a right to be furious that he did that to you.
  • Being furious will not destroy you, or anyone else, or the world. Be furious. Figure out how to do that.

I’d have some more specific things to say to that girl that relate to specific people in her life back then, but they’re too specific and personal for this post. It hurts me a little that so many of these are things I still need to say to myself — I wonder if I knew them then, and embraced them then, if I’d be 55 and still needing to say them to myself?

If I think about myself at various ages — 25, 26, 38, 40, 45, 50 — the advice would be the same, generally speaking, with a couple of idiosyncratic things thrown in that related to that specific year. Like you can’t stand him, break up with him immediately even though he says he’ll kill himself. Yeah, I’d say that to myself that one year. But otherwise it’s the same old stuff: be gentler, you’re beautiful (even though your tummy is still bloopy and your thighs are still kind of chunky!), learn how to be mad, speak up, don’t dismiss yourself.

Maybe this is the most common kind of advice women give themselves. Yeah?

Happy Sunday, everyone. So much love to you all. xo

containing multitudes

The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.

Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.

Who has done his day’s work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?

Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

You undoubtedly recognized enough of the words in that quote to know that’s Walt Whitman, Song of Myself (Part 51, to be precise).  I love this section of that enormous floppy poem most of all, and turn to it several times a year for one reason or another.

multitudesThe famous line from this section relates to containing multitudes. I love that line. And maybe it’s just me, but boy do I tend toward little boxes. I hate that! I don’t actually see things that way, the world, others, myself, but it requires a constant effort on my part to stop doing that. We are infinitely complex, we all contain multitudes (I think my multitudes each contain a multitude or two), the world is unknowably complex, our relationships, our causes, their effects, it’s boggling if you pause and think about it. I know this, and love it. My favorite people are those who also know it. People who see the world in compartments — “men don’t do that,” “women aren’t like this,” “you are X,” “that happened because of this only” — well, we aren’t going to get along for very long. I mean, it’s not like I sit around musing on the complexity of the world, sometimes I just eat a hamburger, but you know. I default toward multitude as a way of understanding the world.

And there, I contradict myself. I tend toward little boxes. I default toward multitude. Crap.

Yesterday I saw this little thing come flying through my facebook feed that had a picture of an elegant woman with the caption “Refined woman.” And I thought I want to be that! Yes! That’s who I’ll be, that’s how I’ll be in the world.  (hanging my head, palming my forehead) I do this. I go through these phases. I know! I’ll be X! And so I am X for a while and then I think No! I know! I’ll be Y!

Well, the thing is that I am refined. And clumsy and overly enthusiastic. I am elegant. And inelegant. I am quiet and thoughtful. And loud and overly enthusiastic. I am in love with great and sophisticated food. And I just want to eat clean. And I am X and then shortly I am not-X. Multitudes. You too? Yeah, I know. The problem, the thing that makes it so easy to do this, is that each version is true, each reflects an essential piece of me. So for a bit, it feels like I am being myself, but then the contradictory parts get noisy and it all falls apart.

When this happens, when I see something and think I’ll be that! I try to smile at myself. “Oh you, there you go again you sweet little thing. It’s OK.” No one else is trying to force me into a consistent unified thing (or if others are puzzled by my inconsistencies, they don’t mention them to me), it’s just me. Queen of the Pillbugs. An elegant inelegant sophisticated unrefined eater who doesn’t eat sailor-shirt wearing reader and writer crying laugher who’s getting through the day. You too.

 

ferocity and gaze

Right now I seem to be on a path of realizing I don’t know very much about myself at all. Holy cow is that shocking. Seriously, seriously shocking. The whole idea of who I am has always been confusing to me (maybe people in my life know me much better than I know myself, another idea that is pretty damn shocking). When I came out of my childhood, it felt like every single thing was thrown up in the air, because everything I was needed to be scrapped. I was doing a cold boot, and when everything is up for grabs like that, it’s weird. I didn’t know what I liked. I didn’t know what I thought. I didn’t know what was true about me. I’d been told a lot of things were true of me, but I knew most of them were wrong. It was not fun. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of like when I had to start my new home from scratch last November. Doing a remodel can be fun, but working from the ground up isn’t as much fun as you’d think it is. There’s a kind of urgency, a need to get the bones up, and fast. Then, all the years I lived in New York I did a lot of therapy and got a lot of stuff figured out, and felt like I had a better-than-average grasp of who I am. HA!

Yesterday Marnie and I were talking about . . . well, a lot of things, as we always do, but we started talking about Bjork. Marnie saw Bjork at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago and she was so deeply moved by every bit of it, but the point that led our conversation off in another direction was about the extraordinary self-possession of Bjork and the apparent disregard of her back-up singers for the male gaze. Well! I’ve been thinking about the male gaze since November, because I want to get outside it. I want to not give one shit about it. I want to just not think about it, not care about it. I don’t need to flaunt it or defy it (because that’s still engaging it), I just want not to care about it. But it’s so deeply embedded inside me, even when I’m just home alone, or driving in my car, I can become aware of it. Last January when I was going to that dance party, on the way I was thinking I’d just dance HOWEVER because I didn’t give two shits about attracting anyone. In fact, the idea of attracting someone was upsetting, and I wanted to not get into that swamp. But I couldn’t get outside it, even though I wanted to.

Of course it’s built into our evolutionary-shaped DNA, the dance between men and women (or whatever partner configuration you seek, I suppose) just is. I guess you can only get so far outside it. I wonder if I lived in a commune of women on an island somewhere if I’d finally feel outside it. Probably.

So putting it all together, as I’ve been doing since my conversation with Marnie: apparently I don’t really know myself that well and I want to get farther away from awareness of the male gaze. One word that came up when I was talking with Marnie about Bjork was that she’s fierce, and I love fierce. I think I can be fierce. Am I fierce? I don’t know. I’m so damn worried all the time about being nice (I think? You tell me….). What would it mean to just be who and how I am without worrying about the external eye, the external watcher? Who would I be? I mean, of course I live in society and there are bounds, but they’re not quite as close to me as I feel them to be. One thing I know and believe is that when one of us finds a way to be as fully ourself as possible, it liberates others of us. When we watch Bjork’s dancers just fuckin dance, we think maybe we’ll dance like that too, but in our own way. When I say no — even such a small thing as that — others feel free to say no too, in their own time.

A lot of times I think we start from the outside and work our way in. I’ve been wanting a large tattoo but was inhibited because Marc didn’t want me to have a large tattoo. Well, I cared about that so I didn’t get one . . . but I never quit wanting it. So now I have it, and perhaps I’ll get more, I don’t know. It feels true to me, in some way. All my life, before I grew my hair out like it is now, I had very short hair and I played with the color, constantly. Constantly. That was such fun, and it felt true to me too. Marc likes long hair so I grew it out, and it’s much harder to play with color when your hair is so long. The stakes are higher. If it’s an inch long, you get bad color and it’s all gone in a haircut or two. I do like my hair long, I do; I think it’s pretty hair, and I like being able to do a lot with it. But I’m starting to think about chopping it and playing with color again. When I realize I’m scared to color my hair, my first thought was Prufrock: Do I dare to eat a peach?  REALLY, ME??? Seriously? IT IS HAIR. It grows back.

I'm thinking of this style, and not hot fuschia, but some kind of great color.
I’m thinking of this style for starters, and not hot fuschia, but some kind of great color.

I don’t want to be an old woman chasing youth and looking ridiculous with crazy colored hair and too-young clothes. It is not about that, at all. It’s not about chasing youth. I wouldn’t want to be younger (except for maybe a whole lot of money, that would give me a kind of security, but it’d have to be a whole lot of money!). I love being 54, it is awesome. And I think 54-year-old me needs to do some thinking, and some outside-in work in the meantime.

Whatever else is true, I am an odd combo. I’m thrilled with my new zebrawood ukulele and learned a little French tune yesterday. I love my banjo, and my guitar. I’m tattooed. I read big and good literature and excellent poetry. I’m shy and awkward and a have a huge bunch of friends and a busy social life. I’m fierce in some ways and way too worried about being nice. Am I still a scared person? I’d live in Hanoi in a heartbeat, but I want to be available for my kids since they are soon having their own children. I’m kind of sensitive and delicate but loud and tough, too, and if you hurt someone I love I will never, ever, ever forgive you. Ever. I believe I could physically and literally kill anyone who really hurt my children. I want to automatically just dance like no one is watching, and not because of that corny old saying. I just want to be that woman who lives herself. Am I that woman, deep inside? I think so. I want to find out.

the tiniest bit

When I was a kid, I was that smart girl on the front row. I didn’t want to be that smart girl on the front row, I wanted to be the popular girl. But I was the girl who always won the prize for reading the most books; I was teacher’s pet; I was the girl with crooked glasses from falling asleep reading every night; I was the girl who always had her homework and always aced every test. It was terrible. It would’ve helped if I’d had some encouragement at home, I suppose, a cheering squad that helped me understand that it’s awesome to be that smart girl, but actually it was bad that I wanted to read so I had to do that in secret. But OH how I wanted to be the popular girl. Once I got it in my head that I’d fail and then maybe the other kids would like me, but I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that I couldn’t make myself try — oh, I tried — but I couldn’t figure out how to fail.

So instead, I became dismissive and contemptuous of being a smart girl and dissed myself, learned how to “act dumb,” especially around boys who really did not like the smart girls. It became an ingrained habit to act dumb so I wasn’t threatening. I’d know something, but act like I didn’t know it and then allow people to tell me about it, and I’d choke on not adding to what they were saying, or correcting them if they were getting it wrong. And when I really wouldn’t know something, even though I’d catch on very quickly, I’d hide that fact.

I love to read, and I mostly read really good stuff. I love poetry, and I tend to prefer thinking about ideas that pop up, like the one that recently obsessed me: What is it like to be you? And then I wonder how is that a different question from Who are you? And then I start wanting to ask people to write answers to the question, and analyze the responses, and then I wonder about doing a factor analysis, and imagine I have an idea of how the responses would clump up, and then wonder what would go with the different clumps…..  yeah. That’s the kind of thing I prefer to think about. That’s just what it is like to be me, actually — to be easily moved by the world, to think about things like this all the time, and to want to eat it all up. That’s what it’s like to be me.

Over the last I-don’t-know-how-long, I’ve come to greater ease with confessing myself, by which I mean just being who I am. OK, I’m a big reader of good stuff. No, I haven’t read Dan Brown and don’t want to so I can’t talk about that with you. Yes, I adore poetry and have a handful of recent favorite poems I’d love to talk about if you’re interested. Yes, I’d love to talk about what’s really going on in your life, or in mine — as much of the true story as you want, not the glib superficial stuff. Yeah, I get really excited about stuff and since I’m not making fun of myself for that these days, that’s who you get, in a much more straightforward way. So that’s who I am, and I’ve been being that a lot more easily. There are all kinds of ways that’s better for me, but there is an extremely cool side-effect I didn’t anticipate.

courageWhen I am just being myself, it somehow seems to encourage other people to do the same. I never thought about that (but someone else did, because they created that image I’ve added to the post!). In the last few weeks, several people have said that to me very directly, and it kind of shocked me, that I’ve inspired them to do this or that thing they’d let go, or that they’ve realized they are X too and want to let other silliness go. But then I remembered other people I’ve known, people who flowered with just the tiniest bit of encouragement. Really, just a tiny bit. And I think that’s the thing, we all need just a little encouragement now and then. Because it’s hard to be in the world, to be odd in our own ways — as we all are — and to think we need to fit in (because we do) but not too much at the expense of what matters, but it isn’t as if that’s always so very clear.

When I get to hang out with extremely smart people, I always feel SO much better, because I get to step up to that plate and see if I can hit the ball too — and maybe I can’t, but it’s such a pleasure to try. When I get to hang out with people who just go ahead and talk about ‘serious’ things I feel such joy because I don’t have to struggle to talk about stuff I really don’t care about. This is yet another way my friend Janet has been such a good influence on me; she doesn’t really have time for B.S., or much tolerance for B.S.ers, either. She doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and our styles are very very different but I’ve gotten some encouragement and permission from her to stand by my preference to talk about things that matter to me, instead of things I really couldn’t care less about. Why is that so hard?? I care about the things I care about and so why don’t I get to mostly stick with that (and then of course tend to the social niceties)? You care about the things you care about, and you get to mostly stick with that! Maybe we end up caring about the same things and then WATCH OUT because I’m probably going to wiggle my hands around and tell you that I’m having goose bumps and I’m going to be very very happy while we talk.

Just the tiniest bit of encouragement, that’s really all it takes. So you go be who you really are, and the bonus is it’s so encouraging to others. And I’ll do the same. And it’s so great.

you as art

handsThis is going to be ironic, since what I do for a living is to read people’s novels and provide critique. While I always try to highlight what they do well, they’re also paying me to tell them where things go wrong, what they can improve. So there’s the ironic background, and I am aware of it.

But art just IS. You can like it or dislike it, but it can’t be “wrong.” Paintings, sculpture, music, theater, writing, any kind of thing someone creates cannot be wrong. Not wrong. You the consumer of it may not like it, you may even hate it, but it IS. It is as it was created, and it’s right and good. You don’t have to like it, someone else might, maybe no one else likes it. But that’s a different question, a separate issue. I’ve thought about this for so long, decades. Some person faced a blank page, a piano, a block of wood or marble, a canvas, a wheel, themselves, and brought something into being, out of nothing but their own mind or wherever creation comes from. And it is. I gather the creators are rarely perfectly satisfied by the creation as it compares to their imagining of it, but they are the ones who get to talk about that, not the viewers, listeners, consumers. Georgia O’Keeffe said, “Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing.”

And ditto you. And me. We are. am. You may not like me, you may disagree with aspects of who I am, you might do it differently — it, everything — but I am, and to the degree that there’s a gap between who I am and who I want or need to be, I am the one who thinks about and addresses that.  I am making my unknown know. If you know me very well, as someone in my family or as an old friend, you may have something to say that perhaps I’m unaware of (such as the fact that apparently I like to dress like a sailor, something I didn’t really realize until my precious daughter Katie pointed it out as we laughed), and you may have something to say to me about a way I hurt or disappoint you. And in that case, I want to listen to you. But otherwise, who are you to tell me anything about who I am? And who would I be if I felt obligated to change in response?

Lately I’ve been thinking so much about why we don’t let each other be. I’ve thought about it on the personal level and on the larger social level. My husband and I had an increasingly hard time letting each other be, although we started off being able to do that. But our clutches got tighter and tighter on each other, and we strangled each other. Our society here in the US is increasingly polarized so it’s largely an us vs them mentality, and whatever side you’re on, “them” are just idiots. Why don’t we let gay people marry each other? Why do we care what our neighbor does in her own house and yard? Why? I’m not being naive, and I understand that there are (and there needs to be) social rules and mores, and laws arise that allegedly reflect the wish of the most of us (ha, that’s rich). So it’s a complex issue, figuring out the sweet spot between living together in society while leaving each other alone.

When you’re thinking about something, you see it everywhere, and I’ve seen examples of this over and over again. Three beautiful examples came through my facebook feed this week so you may have already seen them, but if you haven’t, here’s a chance to be deeply moved.

The New Zealand parliament just voted to legalize gay marriage, and when the vote was announced, someone in the audience started singing an aboriginal love song, and everyone joined in. It made me cry.

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So beautiful. Why can’t we do this? Why can’t we just let people marry the person they love? Why can’t we say that marriage is between people who love each other?

If you haven’t watched this one, please please do. A forensic artist and a number of women engage in an experiment. With their backs to each other, the women describe their appearance and he sketches them. Then a stranger describes the same women’s appearance and he sketches that too. The contrasting images are placed side by side and the women look at both. All I could think about was how I would describe myself, and how even I am [finally] aware that he’d draw a face that bears little resemblance to my actual face. Watch, it’s astonishing and you’ll have to start thinking about this for yourself.

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And finally, this one is 22 minutes long but I promise you it’s worth the time you’ll spend watching it. (It’s subtitled in a different language, but it’s all in English.) It’s ostensibly about gardening but it’s really not, it’s really about being who you are, being allowed to be who you are, while at the same time questioning the “allowed” part. Why should you have to be allowed to be who you are?! And the last little story in the video is worth the price of 22 minutes all on its own. Thanks, Michele, for sharing this one. I watched it on my phone before I got out of  bed, utterly mesmerized.

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You are just wonderful, and so am I. And we don’t have to be perfect to be wonderful, and wonderful doesn’t mean there aren’t ways we want to grow. We just have to see ourselves, and be willing to be who we are.

wig in a box

I love the way we can continue to surprise ourselves. That’s one of the best parts of life, that even after we know ourselves and have found the corners, the tucked-away niches, even when we’re in our 50s, something can happen that makes you say oh! Wow, where did this come from?
hedwigWhen she was in high school, Marnie loved the movie Hedwig and the Angry Inch. It meant a lot to her in deep ways. I loved it too; the story is great, the music is fantastic, there are places it’s very funny, and places it will break your heart. I love that in a movie. I haven’t seen it in a long time, maybe it’s time to watch it again.

The reason I’m thinking about Hedwig—and especially the fantastic song from the soundtrack, “Wig in a Box”—is because it has this line in it: “I look at the woman I’ve become / and the strangest things seem / suddenly routine.” What prompted my thought was what happened when I heard that the temperatures were going to be down near freezing last night. Despite there being something seriously wrong with my back and right leg, I put down a blanket in my living room and ferried all my plants from my patio into my living room. Heavy heavy pots, carried in to be cared for and protected during the cold. I double-checked that the birdfeeder had plenty of food. And when I walked into my house after doing that, I thought “who is this woman I’ve become?”

It isn’t that I’ve never liked birds or plants, though it is true that I barely thought about them. Birds, yeah. Mmmm hmm. Plants, well, I have a black thumb and once “killed” a plastic plant. Its branches fell out of the trunk, seriously. I just never remember to take care of them, and either overwater in a fit of attention or underwater in a long period of neglect. Because of that, I’ve never had houseplants, and in the long distant past when I had a front and back yard, all it needed was a weekly mowing. No flowers, nada. And my kids will vouch for me here: I never even got on a little fantasy jag, yeah, maybe this time it’ll be different and I’ll buy some plants! Nope. Not me.

Now, though, I get such an enormous amount of delight every single day from the little purple finches and the waxwings and the tufted titmice and the chickadees outside my window, and they have trained me well. (And I am happy to be their servant.) I’m going on a birdwatching hike mid-April at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge during the songbird festival. I bought a pair of binoculars and can’t wait. (!) I drive to the other side of Austin to get the seed for my feeder so they can have good food, my little birds. I fuss over my houseplants, hover over and tend to my outdoor plants (and schlep them in so they don’t have to get cold). WHO IS THIS PERSON?! The strange thing is that it isn’t something I’m “doing,” as in “I know, I’ll try to get interested in plants/birds as part of the new me.” Really really strange, finding this new spring of something bubbling up from me, mysterious-like. That’s one of the best things about life, the way you can surprise yourself no matter how old you are.

And just in case you’re interested, here’s the fantastic, wonderful, exuberant Wig in a Box (it gets really great about 1:40 and jumps off the screen around 3:35). It was originally a play on (or just off) Broadway, so it has a kind of theatrical feel:

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Happy Wednesday! I hope you surprise yourself today (in a good way of course).

good thing of the day: variety. it is the spice, after all.

love

OH I had such a moment yesterday via facebook, and I want to put it here so I’ll have it for safekeeping, and say more about it. Marnie’s husband Tom has a sister named Andi (what does that make her, to me? If he is a son and she is his sister, then she’s my daughter[-in-law] and I am confused.). Anyway. Andi gave me a tremendous gift yesterday, and it came at such a tender, cracked-open time. Quite literally, I was sitting in my chair feeling sad and missing my husband and thinking about all of that, and here it came. It’s one of my favorite Derek Walcott poems:

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

But before I go on, that poem. Of course it’s absolutely perfect for me, at this moment in my life, and Andi knew that. She said it reminded her of something I’d write, and I take that to mean the spirit of it, not the beautiful poetic words. And it is something I’d have fumbled to say, at some point. It describes a moment I’m walking toward. I keep turning around to look backwards at what I left, grateful not to turn into Lot’s wife, but filled with yearning. And then I face forward again and keep walking toward this moment where I will do just what Walcott said.

I keep wanting to comment on the poem, but when I look at the lines I start crying and my words disappear. I have at least figured out it’s the line, “You will love again the stranger who was your self” that breaks me down. I feel this spasm in my heart.

In a perfect coincidence of music in the background, when I was first reading it, my favorite old hymn was playing at the same time, Softly and Tenderly, and right after that came the gorgeous song from the Spring Awakening soundtrack, Whispering. (Links take you to a video of each song, which I recommend with all my heart. And not for nothing, Softly and Tenderly is about home, come home.)

Here’s where I wish I was a poet, I really do. Because I can’t possibly tell you the feelings I experienced in a way that will make sense. I felt washed in brilliant emotion, untangleable. Grief and sorrow and happiness and hope and love for and connection and love from. It’s almost mystical, how it’s possible to feel all those things at the very same moment. This is why it’s essentially a wordless experience, because I need all the words at once.

I do want to be home. I have longed my whole long life for a home of my own. I want to welcome myself home. My whole life, I’ve felt that yearning, which is why I love that hymn so much. It says, “ye who are weary, come home.” Every time I’d sing it at church as a child, I’d think oh yes, I am so so weary. The trite, cliched thing to say here would be “I was home all along” or “I had a home in myself all along,” but even aside from my abhorrence for cliche, it’s also just not true. As I said in my post about beauty, it took me an extraordinarily long time to grow into myself, to even know my own skin, and I’m only just learning how to be comfortable in it.

Happy Sunday, y’all.

The good thing of the day today is poetry. And someone to send you just the right one.

we’re like slinkies

When I was in graduate school, a friend who was in the clinical program once described therapy as being like a slinky on its side: we go around and even though we end up where we were, we’re a little farther along. Oops, here I am at the bottom again, but at least I’ve advanced a little bit. I thought that was better than the other metaphor I’ve heard for therapy, which is that it’s like an onion, you just keep peeling and peeling away the layers. As a metaphor, it does get points for referencing tears as part of the process, at least.

Last night when I was having dinner and listening to the band, I had a sudden insight that I suspect I’ve had before. As before, it was brand new! A brand new insight! The second time! But — here comes the slinky — I’m a little farther along, so even if it’s not all that new, I am newer. So here goes, maybe this will mean something to you too.

I sat there in the enclosed patio, surrounded by a big happy crowd. I didn’t see anyone else who was there alone, but to be honest, I wasn’t looking, either. I was watching the people all around me — a large group to my right, shouting things at each other in order to be heard; a slightly older couple, sitting across from me; a family with three bored teenagers to my left; a young mother dancing her toddler while her mother watched with a big smile; various couples. I noticed them, but they were definitely not noticing me……although I WAS noticing me. And here comes the insight:

My thoughts and worries about going alone, and sitting there alone, had absolutely nothing to do with other people looking at me and thinking something about me; I knew that already. But it was entirely about ME observing myself and thinking things about me!  And they weren’t sweet thoughts, either, more like, “oh, look at me sitting here all alone, at this age.” “Here I sit without someone to share this with, again.”  “ What’s wrong with me?” That insight hit me like a lightning bolt. And isn’t that a funny way not to be present? When it hit me, I laughed so hard, and then just settled into myself and watched outwards. I watched the band, I watched the other people. I listened to the music, I felt it, I danced in my seat, I was present.

And then I had a second insight, which was that I was in that space with a bunch of individuals. Each one was there, bringing whatever it was he or she brought — worries, fears, happiness, anxiety, a fight that was still brewing or hurting, a bit of joy, some hope, all kinds of things. It was a space filled with individuals, and we were all there together, listening to music and watching each other. It wasn’t me, alone, and a bunch of couples and families. I mean, it was, but it also wasn’t.

I could actually talk about a social psych idea here — self-monitoring, and boy am I a high self-monitor — but that’s just the cerebral stuff. The experience of it, the recognition of what I was doing, that was potent. This relates to my desire to occupy my life, which pretty squarely involves sitting still on the inside and looking out my own eyes. 

Listening to that music was so much fun, while I ate a big steaming bowl of Asian vegetables and stir-fried tofu over jasmine rice. I’m so glad I went. This morning I’m off to a small writing group at a nearby coffeeshop, pushing myself out the door once again. Happy Sunday, y’all. Occupy your own selves!

what is it like to be you?

​At the beginning of our trip — that seems so very long ago, now — we flew from JFK to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. My husband is Jewish, with Russian and eastern European roots, and he told me that he kept hearing the flight attendants saying blitzkrieg; after the first flight attendant served us, with her brilliant blond hair and bright blue eyes, her shiny healthy face and large white teeth, the song Tomorrow Belongs To Me popped into my head (from Cabaret) and I sang it in my head the whole trip.​

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Poor Germany, poor Germans, bearing the burden of that horrifying history.  I had two friends in graduate school who were from Germany; one came directly into our program, from Bavaria, and the other had moved to El Paso, Texas, when she was in junior high and she was treated very badly because she was German. Both my friends talked about how difficult it is to be German, the assumptions people hold about them, the history they’re held accountable for, even though they were both born in the early 1970s, I think. Both are kind and warm and gentle, and very loving people.

So I was thinking about what it’s like to be German, and I simultaneously thought it was a dumb, unanswerable question, and a very good question. I timidly floated the idea past my husband, leaning against the “dumb question” side of the fence and Buddhist that he is, he gave some kind of answer about the failure of categories. I kept thinking about it, though, and asked a friend of mine the question — what’s it like to be you? She said, “sad and empty.” OH….that punched me. It’s sad and empty to be her; even though I’d heard her say those kinds of things before, I guess I took them as feelings in passing. It asks a very different question than “who are you,” doesn’t it. I started thinking about different groups of people — disabled, Texans, southerners, statisticians, sanitation workers — and posed it to myself to see how one would answer it: “Lorraine, what’s it like being a Texan?” “Well,” I’d quickly say, “sometimes it’s mighty embarrassing if politics come up, but generally it’s like having a big secret you can’t wait to tell, it’s like having a whole huge story in your back pocket.” ​ The “what’s it like” question asks for feelings, while the “who are you” question asks for roles and nouns.

And then, social psychologist that I am, I started thinking about analytic strategies for understanding the responses, and how the responses to this question would hang together with other things. I have a friend who had a heart transplant as a young man after a virus attacked his heart, and in graduate school he wanted to understand how transplant recipients think about who they are — would those who answer the “what’s it like to be you” question by focusing on the bad stuff have different post-transplant responses than those who focus on the possibilities for restored life? ​

So here’s the answer for me, what it’s like to be me, if you were to ask me right now at this stage of my life (which brings up another issue, more in a sec): It’s amazing. It’s big, it’s rich, it’s deep, it’s vast, it’s wonderful, it’s complex being me. It just is, above and beyond the daily specifics. The bad stuff that inevitably happens doesn’t really change that, because it’s also about having perspective [most of the time]. It’s pretty great to be me. I wish I’d asked myself that question once a decade, or so​, because I’d like to see how — or if — it changed. I could ask myself now, “what was it like being me in my 20s, my 30s, my 40s” and I can easily cast back and think about my life then, but I wonder what I’d have said then. When I was in graduate school, I’d just told my advisor that I felt like I was better than I’d ever been, and he laughed (kindly, I hope) and said that he figured that was a constant for me, that I always felt like I was better than I’d been before. That’s probably true.

You know where this is going. What’s it like to be you? I really want to know.