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

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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

A Few of My Favorite Things

25618679925_818626d5aeAs you may or, more likely, may not have noticed, I’ve stepped away from my blog for the last few weeks. Life can just be so damn time-consuming sometimes. And the more wrapped up in my life I get, the less I seem to be able to appreciate what’s good about it–even if I’m busy with great big wonderful things (which is not always the case), I don’t leave myself time to enjoy it.

Generally speaking I’m not one for gratitude lists. I find them hokey and a little self-deceptive–in my mind, gratitude is like modesty or being cool: once you’re talking about it, you probably ain’t got it. Having said that, for someone like me who tends to fall on the darker side of things, a gratitude list every now and then is not a bad thing. As writer I needed a blog post and as a human I needed to shift my focus. Two birds and all that. I’ve tried to keep the hokeyness to a minimum. Please to enjoy my gratitude list:

  • Grandma pizza from Coppola’s in New Providence, N.J. (Truly one of the joys in my life.)
  • The Mr. Miyagi-like calm that I feel while painting the walls in my apartment.
  • My little watercolor painting that I bought for $5 in Vietnam, for which I chose the perfect frame.
  • My 2 nieces and nephew who took me to school for “Special Person’s Day.”
  • The timing of that day: when I was beside myself with fear and sadness, and absolutely needed an auditorium full of grade-schoolers who were given access to microphones and instruments, to drown out the noise in my head.
  • A meeting with a journalist last week that gave new direction to my writing.
  • Soft serve vanilla ice cream with rainbow sprinkles. (Some say boring, I say classic.)
  • The knowledge that there’s a difference between being needy and letting yourself need someone.
  • That I don’t try to write poetry anymore.
  • A best friend who makes me laugh until I literally can’t breathe, while creating the perfect collage of all my artwork over the couch in my living room.
  • My new perfect pixie cut.
  • Walking into my quiet apartment after a long, loud day of life, knowing that everything is just as I left it.
  • That Jon Snow rises from the dead naked.
  • The fact that as of right now, I am not permanently responsible for any children.
  • My Sally.
  • That sometimes I do know when to walk away.
  • The faith that surrendering to that which is stronger than me is not the same thing as being defeated.
  • That I got to swim in the Gulf of Thailand and see this:

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    Sunset as seen from Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam.
  • The editor at The Classical who helped shape the essay about my father and the Knicks that I had wanted to write for 20 years.
  • That there was no social media when I was in high school.
  • 2nd chances.
  • 3rd chances.
  • Bob Odenkirk
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  • The pain it takes to grow.
  • Don’t be ridiculous–that last one was just to see if you were paying attention.
  • White lilies.
  • That in between all the regret and grief, I can come back to the truth: that I’m better and more and further because of all the things that have broken me.
  • That moment just before you drift off into a late afternoon nap after a draining holiday dinner, and you see the cold fall sun through sheer white drapes, and everything is dim and blurry and quiet, and you catch yourself thinking, “maybe everything’s gonna be ok.”
  • Changes that I never could have seen coming.
  • Sarcasm.
  • Eye rolling.
  • Pop Tarts.
  • My great thaw: the process by which I am becoming willing to be vulnerable and bear discomfort and accept my own humanity.
  • My freckles.
  • Costco frozen yogurt.
  • A day a few years ago: walking to my sister’s house from the train station just after it had rained, and noticing how beautiful it was–the metallic trees, the smell of fresh earth and mint and change. It was a time when I was desperately trying to change, but it was hard and grueling and I wasn’t sure if I could, and I certainly wasn’t in the habit of noticing beauty around me. But that day I did. I noticed it and then it occurred to me later that night that the noticing meant that I was, in fact, changing.

 

photo credit: Claudia via photopin (license)

photo credit: Bob Odenkirk via photopin (license)

What Happens When a Friendship Fades Away?

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It’s not uncommon for a fight between 5 year-olds to end with someone shouting: “You’re not my friend anymore!” There’s an honesty there that I can respect, a directness that’s refreshing: Let there be no confusion — this is where we stand.

Adulthood, however, is something a lot less clear.

I have a friend who I’ve known for almost 20 years. We’ve seen each other through a lot: cheating boyfriends, health problems, depression, divorce. We once went five years without contact because I was lost and selfish and couldn’t bear to have anyone in my life who believed in me. In that time she got married and I wasn’t there, and for that she has forgiven me. Which is all to say, our friendship is the durable kind.

But over the past few years, there’s been a subtle shift that’s been hard for me to admit, still harder to explain. We still love each other. We still want only good things for each other. But separated by thousands of miles and very different lifestyles, there’s a distance between us that is beginning to feel insurmountable. And I’m left wondering: What do you do when you can feel a friendship fading?

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*To read my brilliant answer to that question, head over to The Washington Post.

Bombs Away: The Anatomy of a Text-Grenade

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They say that the first step is admitting you have a problem. So, I have a problem. I’ve tried to stop on my own but this thing is bigger than I am—I can stop, I just can’t stay stopped. Every time I do it, I wake up the next morning remorseful and I swear that I’ll never do it again. But then I do.

My name is Dani and I launch text-grenades. I want to stop—I really do—I just don’t know how. Continue reading