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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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