Picture this: a sprawling college campus with big, brick Gothic buildings. An ornate bell tower that sits atop the library, a kind of academic church. A small lake glistening underneath the April sun and a pedestrian bridge crossing over it. Seventy degrees, a cloudless sky. Fraternity row overflows with young, enthusiastic college students—all taut skin and big plans—gathered at the school’s annual pig roast, laughter and loud music and the smell of booze wafting through the air.
That was the scene that greeted me and my boyfriend a few weeks ago, when we went down to visit his son at the University of Richmond. And it made me want to be young again. To go back to a time when everything seemed to be ahead of me–to the night of my 18th birthday party, as I drove down a windy country road in a tight, hot-pink, spaghetti-strapped dress: a best friend driving, a Big Gulp full of Diet Coke and rum, and all that freedom rushing through the car with the warm July air.
As my boyfriend and I walked down Richmond’s fraternity row, all kinds of memories moved through me and made me long to go back.
***Check me out over at The Washington Post. I wrote an essay about a day when I was a super grown-up.***
I was once told that I was the reason that stepmothers get such a bad rap in Disney movies. My crime? I’d written an essay about my complicated relationship with a divorced father of three, and in it I’d admitted to the occasional bout of jealousy in the beginning of our relationship. I wrote that sometimes, I couldn’t help but feel a little left out of the things I wasn’t allowed to participate in yet: vacations, the kids’ sports games, birthday dinners.
In the comments section, one reader said that if jealousy was a problem for me, then I was responsible for all the bad PR stepmothers get. Then she used some very colorful language to tell me to grow up.
I was just trying to be honest: As someone in her mid-30s who never planned on having kids, being the girlfriend of an older man with three teenagers is a challenging place to be. And in the beginning, it could be a lonely place.
Then last month — three years into our relationship — my boyfriend Kevin received a text from his ex-wife: I’d like to have coffee with Dani.
Oh what I wouldn’t give for the days when I felt left out.
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 →
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.
When 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 →
Need 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 →
Here’s an old post for my new friends. I wrote this in December, when I had only been on social media for a few months. I was overwhelmed and confused and scared for humanity. I’m still all those things, but not quite as much. Progress, right?
So here it is–the list of wisdoms I’ve gleaned from social media:
1. I had no idea how much I missed a couple of people from my past until I re-connected with them.
2. The most delicious of all the features across all platforms: you can be friends with someone without following them. Just because you’re my friend doesn’t mean I want to see or hear a single thing you do or say. Which, let’s face it, would be a pretty cool feature in real life too.
3. Social media messes with the natural evolution that’s supposed to happen in your life. Sometimes people are taken out of your life for a reason–it can be a beautiful gift, but it’s very hard to receive it now. No more survival of the fittest. Now every last slobbering, sweaty, unfit remnant of your entire life survives—and posts pictures of its survival for you to enjoy. Continue reading →
As 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.
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:
That there was no social media when I was in high school.
The pain it takes to grow.
Don’t be ridiculous–that last one was just to see if you were paying attention.
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.
My great thaw: the process by which I am becoming willing to be vulnerable and bear discomfort and accept my own humanity.
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.
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.
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 →