Some Notes on Letting Go

{a rerun}

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When I was 8, I saw a pair of white gloves in a toy store that sang to my soul. They were long and satin and gorgeous, and I knew immediately that my life would never be complete without them. So when my mother wouldn’t buy them for me, my mission was clear: make her life a living hell. I begged and I whined and I sulked, and it soon became clear to my mom that she could either buy me the damn gloves or live the rest of her life being tortured by a freckled pain in her ass. She chose wisely.

Every night I’d put the gloves on very carefully—pulling them slowly up past my elbows—and I’d slip into my black mary janes that made the most satisfying clicking sound on the tiles of my bathroom floor. I’d spend long swaths of time click-clacking around that bathroom with those beautiful satin gloves on, and I felt positively regal. The fact that the bathroom was so small that I could only take a step or two in any direction, and that I was in my pajamas so I looked like I’d just fled the “special” ward of a hospital, stepping back and forth in place and gesturing wildly with my gloved hands—well that never occurred to me. It all just felt so right.

That memory has been hovering over me lately, and it’s made me realize 2 things: 1) My inclination towards madness is nothing new. And 2) What if I was willing to be a bit more like that little idiot, tapping back and forth in front of a bathroom mirror for no other reason than the fact that it made me happy? Ok the second one isn’t so much a realization as a question, but whatever. Continue reading

Can You Ever Really Tell a True Story?

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Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.

-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

“I think you really really need to surrender to the fact that an essay requires a conclusion that is neat in a way that life is not,” my writing teacher said to me last year. I’ve been working with her for a while and she knows—I really really hate neat conclusions. To me, they seem like copouts. It’s taken me a long time to accept the true complexity of life and I desperately want my writing to reflect that. And when it doesn’t, I feel like I’ve failed as a writer.

A few months ago I submitted a piece about an old friendship of mine that seemed to have run its course. The editor accepted my first draft but wanted me to tighten up the ending. It was too vague, she said—which made perfect sense considering the fact that I was still ambivalent about the friendship and unsure of where we stood. I knew the general story arc: that we were best friends when we were young, that we had drifted as we grew up, and that time and thousands of miles between us had shifted things for us in a way that might not be reconcilable. I ended the rough draft on a vague note about how sometimes being an adult means not taking action, but rather letting relationships turn into whatever they’re supposed to be, and then bearing the uncertainty that comes with that. I believe that with all my heart.

Except that uncertainty is not usually what people want from their reading. Admittedly some people (and publications) are more comfortable than others with ambiguity, but generally speaking, readers (and thus editors) want some degree of resolution at the end of a piece of writing. If they wanted haziness they could just return to their own lives.

The fact is, storytelling is about making choices—it’s about choosing what to include and what to leave out. It’s about arranging the included events and facts in a particular sequence so that their meaning is accessible to the reader. Which means sometimes, telling a story is about providing a conclusion that might over-simplify a complicated issue fraught with doubt and confusion and conflict. Continue reading

10 Things to Know About Dating a Divorced Dad

A photo by Danielle MacInnes. unsplash.com/photos/1DkWWN1dr-s

*This was originally published on Scary Mommy.

My relationship with a divorced father of three has been one of the most grueling, maddening, fulfilling, self-revealing things I’ve ever done, and it has taken me a ton of wrong moves and bad fights to find my way. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  • It’s not personal. Despite wanting to smack someone whenever this is said to me, the fact is that it’s true. His kids dislike you only as a concept, not as a person — they’re just looking for that same safety and stability we all are, and you just happen to be the embodiment of all that threatens that.
  • It’s not personal except when it is. While it’s true that his kids wouldn’t like anyone with their father, it isn’t anyone — it’s you. You’re the one who’s there, feeling resented, in the way, and often pushed to the margins of his life. You’re entitled to your feelings about that, and you get some space to make it about you too. Because some of it is.

Continue reading

If I Knew Then.

{A rerun:}

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God, let me think clearly and brightly; let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.  -Sylvia Plath

I’ve recently found myself pining for my misspent youth—dreaming about those carefree days that were wide open, when everything was still possible. When my skin was smooth and not puckered. When i was just an innocent little flower about to bloom.

And then I remembered what a total moron I was, and it made me feel a lot better about being old. It also made me think of all the things I wish I’d known back then, the things that can really only be learned the hard way.

So here are the things I’d say to all of my younger selves—the things that I will probably be learning and re-learning for the rest of my life:

  • There is very little that can’t be made better by a freshly made bed with sheets just out of the dryer.
  • You have so much time. Don’t rush to choose a job or a man or any final destination. You don’t have to have it all figured out yet.
  • There’s so little time. Stop wasting it trying to be perfect and just try to be better. Perfectionism is just a search for reasons to hate yourself. Being better is so much more possible—and interesting.

Continue reading

Jump In, The Water’s Warm: My Relationship with Social Media

photo-1425116100155-1ac0797442e1When social media first came around, I did not jump to join the masses. I preferred to be invisible. My life, as the cliche goes, had taken some bad turns and there was nothing about it that I wanted memorialized in photographs, much less posted for the world to see. I didn’t believe I had anything worth showing and so, I stayed as far off the grid as I possibly could.

When I was 23 I left my hometown, and in 12 years went back once, for half a day. I kept in touch with one person, who would occasionally tell me that someone had messaged her on Facebook to find me. Another friend reached out to my sister to ask her where I was. I would get the messages and let them go unanswered.

Truman Capote wrote of grief in In Cold Blood—he said that it draws a circle around you which separates you from anything outside of it. That’s what fear did to me in my 20s, and I disappeared into that circle. I didn’t want to be seen and so, I made sure I wasn’t. Continue reading

Can We Please Stop Pretending Kim Kardashian is a Feminist?

*I’m doing exactly what they tell bloggers not to do—changing the schedule. I’ll be posting Monday nights now. For the most part. Unless I can’t.*6307608171_832605f0f2On August 5, Kim Kardashian is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at BlogHer‘s annual conference in L.A—one of the biggest conferences for women bloggers in the country. In explaining this decision, Elisa Camahort Page, a co-founder of BlogHer, told ABC news, “She has parlayed her influence into a huge media, commerce and mobile app empire, including making tens of millions on her app alone. And it’s an empire with women in the driver’s seat.” Apparently financial success alone merits this prominent space on a platform supposedly intended to promote female empowerment.

I suppose, given how so many people have already deified her, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. And yet it does.

It seems to me outrageous, and incredibly sad, that BlogHer would hire Kardashian to be the voice of their conference. Maybe I’m crazy, but I could have sworn that blogging had something to do with actual writing, even if in the most tangential of ways. That ideally, being a presence on social media might be about more than just the numbers–that as feminists we could strive to make it also about contributing something of substance to the world around us. (Hold the laughs until the end please.) Continue reading

Babies, Birthdays, & Bravery

*Ray Carver once said that a big part of being a writer is just “being at your station,” regardless of whether or not the muse is upon you. He’s right. And since I have not been at my station lately, I’ve refurbished and updated an old post of mine. Happens to be one of my favorites. Please to enjoy. 24204550771_7c213183b4

The true mystery of life was not that we are all going to die, but that we were all born, that we were all once little babies like this, unknowing and slowly reeling in the world, gathering it loop by loop like a ball of string. The true terror was that we once didn’t exist, and then, through no fault of our own, we had to.

-Dan Chaon, You Remind Me of Me

A few things have recently conspired to get me thinking about beginnings:

  1. Yesterday marked 35 years on the planet for me. Happy birthday me.
  2. Two people who are very special to me had a baby a few months ago, and the new little nugget has been melting my badass right off me. That newborn-head smell. Those tiny frogger legs. Eyes that speak of equal parts confusion, intrigue, and suspicion. meandlily
  3. I’ve also been struggling with a piece I’m writing about my relationship with my mother, specifically how decisions that were made long before I was born came to shape the person I became. How my parents’ expectations about who I’d be—about what they needed me to be—affected the person I actually became.

At a certain point we all try to re-write our past by re-writing our future. We change jobs, we move, we end relationships—and sometimes the new narrative comes in the form of a baby. I was not able to do X, parents sometimes say, so I want my child to. My parents didn’t do Y for me, so I will do Y in outrageous measures for my child. If only they’d done it the way I will do it, things would have been better for me. 

I will watch my child be what I might have been. 
Continue reading

Never Enough

berryman2Need need need: it’s a siren that directs my movement, pushing me this way and that, sending me running after horizons and mirages. But it sends me after real things too.

My needs map out my days: I need the fulfillment I get from writing, and so I take workshops and read books about craft and make time to write. I need love and intimacy and longing, so I work (hard) on my relationships. I need a place to live, so I have a job and pay my bills. Need need need. 

The problem isn’t about my needs, and it isn’t even always about the places and lengths I’ll go to in order to fill them. Sometimes the problem is just about my expectations of what their fulfillment will mean for me. Continue reading

#BodyGoggles

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Things — identifiable objects, products, goals with clear labels and price tags, men you’ve known for five minutes — make such a handy repository for hungers, such an easy mask for other desires, and such a ready cure for the feelings of edgy discontent that emerge when other desires are either thwarted or unnamed.

-Caroline Knapp, Appetites: Why Women Want

We’ve all been there. Too much to drink, late-night out–you end up going home with someone who is so hot you can’t believe your own luck. Only to turn over the next morning and find that, in fact, you can completely believe your luck: once again, screwed by the beer goggles.

I have a pair of goggles that are similar to those–well not so much “similar to” as much as “the opposite of.” Mine are  what I call “body goggles” (#bodygoggles), and apparently I wear them all the time. I’m not proud of owning said goggles, but there it is anyway. Objects may appear larger than they actually are. Continue reading

Marking Time With Mumford

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“And indeed there would be time.” -Mumford & Sons

Monday was the summer solstice—the longest day of the year. When all of summer is right there opening up in front of you.

Time has been on my mind.

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My boyfriend and I went to a Mumford & Sons concert last week and it was a great night. I took the day off from work, we went out to Queens early and had dinner at Shake Shack (my world will never again be the same).

Actually, when I think about it, the night was kind of perfect.

Critics have been pretty brutal to Mumford, claiming that their music is filled with too much earnestness, too much yearning. And I can appreciate that point. But even still, I say screw the critics—I love them, yearning and all–and I love their collaboration with Senegalese star Baaba Maal “There Will Be Time.” I heard it for the first time at the concert, and I’ve played it over and over again since then (an unfortunate habit that I have).

But I started noticing something–a sadness I felt every time I heard the song, which was understandably confusing given what a great night it was. (The question of why I’d continue to play a song that was making me sad is for another day. More issues than Newsweek—that’s me.) It took me all weekend and through Monday to figure it out. I was driving home from work listening to the song and as I approached my street, I found myself not yet ready to make the turn home, so I just kept driving.

Longest day of the year. Soft yellow light and warm air. An early summer evening that might have felt vast and limitless years ago, but didn’t on Monday. It felt small and already gone.

And then I remembered this feeling from the night of the concert—this almost not-even-there feeling, like water splashed on my face: I could feel it all slipping away even as it was happening. I was aware of how long I’d been looking forward to the concert and how short each song was and how soon the night would be over, and I wanted to be there—really be there and nowhere else. I wanted to crawl inside the music and never come out.

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Or maybe this. Maybe it wasn’t an attempt at being present but a wish that it would last forever. Maybe I was just getting greedy. Maybe it all felt like it was slipping away because I was trying to hold onto something in flight, because I wanted more than my fair share of pleasure. Maybe I was just so scared of the night ending that that’s all it did from the start.

Or maybe the concert served as a marker for me–a measurement of time. It was at a Mumford concert in Coney Island almost exactly a year ago that I realized that for the first time in my life, I’d actually fallen for someone. He was meeting us there, and I kept turning back to look for him, and when I finally saw him pushing his way through the crowd to get to me–as soon as I saw him, I knew: I was totally screwed. “Oh for god’s sake,” I thought to myself. I’d worked so hard for so long not to let anyone in. “Well, I guess I’m in it now.” At the end of the night we immediately started talking about going to see them again when they came back to town.

And then, between the two concerts, we struggled.  We have just been through a really rough time, and it nearly broke us, and the concert last weekend was one of the first fun things we’ve done since coming out of it. So I guess it makes sense that there’d be a residual sadness, even from a really great night. It was hard not to think about everything that had happened in the past year–everything we didn’t yet know as we made those plans–about the things that would happen that would mark us as different people. About the narrow margin by which we actually made it to the concert together. We made plans as if they were guarantees. 

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About halfway through the concert, Marcus Mumford jumped off the stage and started making his way through the fans (obviously looking for me). He walked through the crowd on the floor and went so far back into the stands that for a time he disappeared from view. And before we actually saw him again, a cloud of particularly fervent screams began approaching–he was coming back toward the stage. I still couldn’t see him so my boyfriend picked me up to get a better look–and, of course to get a picture. And I did. I got my picture.mumford2Oh I couldn’t actually see him–it was all a dark blur through the screen of my phone, so I just kept taking pictures in the general direction of the moving mass of particularly loud noise. I examined the pictures later and realized that in fact, there he’d been. But I was so busy trying to secure proof of the moment, that I had missed it. I didn’t want the experience as much as the memory of the thing–a copy of a copy rather than the original. And I felt that right away. It was a sadness that took 3 days for me to understand.

I’m not worried too much though–I’ve already decided to see them again next year. And what could possibly get in the way of those plans?

photo credit: Highlands’ Evenings via photopin (license)