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 →
It happens after every major tragedy. An outpouring of love and grief and support on all platforms of social media: inspirational memes, profile-picture overlays, petitions, indignant status updates, political hashtags. It’s all just so very…right there. Our collective rage. Our sadness and terror and wishes for things to be different. On our screens and in our feeds: over and over and over again. And each time it happens, I have to admit, it bothers me. I really struggle with it. Each time social media goes wild–about a mass shooting, a gorilla, a parent who needs eviscerating–I take a step back from all of it and try to understand what’s happening.
We are all so used to instant gratification now. Click a button and there it is: proof that you’ve said something–done something. And not only do you have the proof but all of your friends, followers, and stalkers have it as well. There, I stand with Orlando. Or Paris. Or rape victims. I wrote a meme about how I will raise my boys to respect women. I have done something helpful.
I’m not sure that I’ve been doing this long enough to start repeating posts, but an old piece of mine is up on The Huffington Post right now, and people seemed to dig it the first time. I’m trying to be more consistent about my posting schedule (because I know everyone is waited with baited breath), so Wednesday nights people. Wednesday nights.
Until a few years ago, I never let anyone get close enough to hurt me. Vulnerability was not a color I was willing to wear, and for years I thought that that made me pretty badass. I didn’t need a man to take care of me — I could do it just fine by myself, thank you very much.
Turns out, what’s actually badass is having the guts to be in a relationship — to show up on a daily basis for someone else and allow them to show up for you. There’s nothing harder or more revealing of self. My friend rightly calls being in a relationship the final frontier: raw and primal and often desolate. So, based on my extensive experience, I figured I’d compile a list of things that I’ve learned since moving to the final frontier:
Love is a choice you have to make over and over again. There will be times when you’ll want to punch this person that you love in the face — hard — and then leave. Times when the only thing you’ll be able to see is all the work that lies ahead, unfurling in front of you like a roll of garbage bags, and you just won’t be sure that you’re up for it. Intimacy is hard and it’s sloppy, and inevitably it will make you decide whether or not you’re up for the job of earning it.
Humility: Part 1 — The wood never fits. Admitting I’m wrong doesn’t come very naturally to me — especially, ironically, once I realize that I’m wrong. That’s when I decide that if I just whack this huge rectangular piece of plywood enough, I’ll get it to fit in a teapot. Spoiler alert: the wood never fits. That’s what she said. (Oh c’mon, you were thinking it too.)
This past fall had its way with me. I struggled with a lot of questions on a very primal level about who I am. How do I adjust to the unexpected? Where do I turn when my legs are taken out from under me? Am I really capable of taking care of myself? In the face of profound hurt, do I harden and close off or do I find the courage to remain vulnerable? What does it take to change? When it comes down to it, how do I define my sense of self?
I sought answers to those questions by writing this, and I could not be happier to have made my Huffington Post debut with it.
Here’s how change typically works in my life: It’s like I’m standing at the top of a mountain and I begin to realize that it’s time to climb down. Maybe the weather’s turning or I see a lion charging up. Maybe it’s just the vaguest of realizations that fear has accumulated all around me, and it’s making me uncomfortable. So I get out my telescope and my tape measure, and I try to calculate whatever I can: the angle of the slopes, the height of the mountain, the rate at which I think I can climb down. I think about the imminent trek downward constantly, and I massage those thoughts obsessively like silly putty—molding and re-molding—sculpting my thoughts into all kinds of scary shapes. I peer down and contemplate all the work I’ll have to do and how much it might hurt and how scared I am—and I wait. I want to get down but I’m too afraid of the trip.
So the Universe kicks me in the ass and sends me tumbling down the mountain, head over heels, ready or not. And when I finally reach the bottom I’ve got a mouthful of dirt, I’m bruised and bloodied and dehydrated, and I’m not sure where I am.
I am now in enough pain to make my way to the nearest triage.
A few months ago my boyfriend of two years came back from a weekend away with his kids, walked into our apartment, and told me that I distracted him from his responsibilities and that he was worried he was failing his kids by being with me. He was re-considering everything that had happened since his divorce (especially me) and was thinking about trying to put his family back together. He just wanted to go home, he said, but didn’t know where that was or if there was room for me there. And he couldn’t figure any of it out with me around.
And there was my kick down the mountain.
To find out how that trip went for me, click here.
I’ve been doing more thinking about what I’d tell my younger, dumber selves, I suppose because my present self needs the help too. It’s funny how I can learn something–sometimes over and over again–and still need reminding about it. I guess knowledge and acceptance often run on very different tracks. (See Part I of my sage wisdom here.)
David Bowie’s death a few weeks ago unsettled me—not the death itself, but the phenomenon that followed it. Initially, as my social media feeds filled with pictures and quotes and song links, I was uncomfortable and annoyed. Then I started to feel like a sociopath—the world was letting out this great, collective gasp in mournful unison.
Why wasn’t I?
It’s not like I didn’t try. I put up a few different elegiac Bowie pictures, but took them down soon after. It just felt icky. The fact was, I wasn’t grieving. Sad? Sure. But not grieving. And so it felt like I was trying to co-opt his death and make it mine in a way that it wasn’t. I was using this awful thing (though there are things way more tragic than the death of a 69 year-old man who lived an incredibly full and exciting life) to get…well what was I trying to get? Attention, I guess. Isn’t that always the point of a social media post? Whether it’s for personal or professional reasons, posting something on social media is us waving our arms back and forth, trying to signal to people that we need some attention. Look over here. This is where I am. This is what I’m doing. This is how I’m grieving.Continue reading →
***I’ve been thinking back to where it all started for me and this little blog. Y’know, all the way back to October (when I was still doing the e.e. cummings thing). Thanks to everyone who has read and supported me, especially those who’ve reached out to tell me when something resonated with them. For a writer just starting out, you can’t know how much it helps to know that my words are landing somewhere. Happy New Year everyone.***
the other day, my blonde-haired blue-eyed 7 year-old charge looked at me and said, “what do you wanna be when you…” and there he stopped, an impish grin forming across his sun-splashed summer face. he knew i was already a grown-up, but he also understood that being a nanny isn’t a response to the question of what you want to be when you grow up. babysitting is something you do, not something you are. and though he didn’t want to offend me, he did want an answer to his question. he thought about it for a moment and then said, “well, besides this, what do you want to be when you grow up? i wanna be an engineer—so i can make roller coasters.”
Last weekend my boyfriend came down with a wicked case of Ebola.
Wait, that doesn’t seem right—I feel like I would’ve heard about a Jersey outbreak or I’d remember being forced into quarantine. But if it wasn’t Ebola, then what was it that made him too weak to move as he neared his end and repeatedly reminded me how very gravely ill he was?
Oh that’s right—I remember now. A cold. That’s what my boyfriend had. Case of the sniffles.
And it got me thinking, mainly about how men are usually such babies when they’re sick, while women seem to able to power through. Maybe it’s because women spend almost a quarter of their adult lives in a crampy, hormonal hell in which our bodies are hijacked (yeah, I’m playing the period card), or maybe evolutionarily women have had to be the stronger sex in order to give birth. Maybe it’s because throughout the centuries of male privilege, women have had no choice but to suck it up and make him his turkey pot-pie anyway. Continue reading →
i’ll be honest–my creative juices weren’t really flowing this week. i started and abandoned several pieces that i thought might make good blog posts. as the week wore on and i was becoming more and more frustrated, i was also being inundated with more and more displays of gratitude on social media. it’s that time of year.
it’s not that i don’t think gratitude is important or that i’m not grateful for a lot of things. i do and i am. i suppose ultimately i think of gratitude the same way i think of humility and coolness—if you’re talking about it, you ain’t got it. look’it me, look’it me! look at how grateful i am? aren’t you grateful you know such a grateful person??Continue reading →
sometimes touching another person is more than I can bear. -walt whitman, “song of myself”
i’ll admit it: i’m 34 and in the first real, all-growed-up relationship of my life. until a few years ago, i never let anyone get close enough to hurt me. vulnerability was not a color i was willing to wear and for years i thought that that made me pretty bad-ass. i didn’t need a man to take care of me—i could do it just fine by myself, thank you very much.
turns out, what’s actually bad-ass is having the guts to be in a relationship—to show up on a daily basis for someone else and allow them to show up for you. there’s nothing harder or more revealing of self. my friend rightly calls being in a relationship the final frontier: raw and primal and often desolate. so based on my extensive experience, i figured i’d compile a list of things that i’ve learned since moving to the final frontier:
love is a motherfucking choice. there will be times when you’ll want to punch this person that you love in the face–hard–and then leave. times when the only thing you’ll be able to see is all the work that lies ahead, unfurling in front of you like a roll of garbage bags, and you just won’t be sure that you’re up for it. intimacy is hard and it’s sloppy, and that’s when it’s time to choose: fight or flight.
humility: part 1—the wood never fits. admitting i’m wrong doesn’t come very naturally to me—especially once i’ve realized that i’m wrong, ironically enough. then i become certain that if i just whack this huge rectangular piece of plywood enough, i’ll get it to fit in a teapot. spoiler alert: the wood never fits. (that’s what she said. oh c’mon you were thinking it too.)