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

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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

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

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?

***

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

Guys Like Us

I’ve been working on this one for 25 years, and finally I was able to find the words for it. Here’s the first part of it, make sure to click the link at the bottom to read the whole thing. photo-1437943085269-6da5dd4295bf

My father has never made it easy to love him, mostly because it was never easy for him to love the life he fell into. Marriage, children, a medical career—all things he was told to want, and so he tried to believe that he did. And you could almost see the weight of all that responsibility bearing down on him, pressing him into shapes that were so unnatural to him that even when he wasn’t fighting against them, you could see how much effort it took for him to stay in them.

Whether the soft spot that he had for me was a cause or an effect of the love we shared for the New York Knicks, I can’t really say. What I can say is that my relationship with my Dad was never more right than when we were watching or discussing Pat Riley’s rugged Knicks of the mid-90s. Those were the teams I grew up on. Ewing, Starks, Oakley, Mason—those were my heroes, the first great sports loves of mine. And those assholes were constantly toying with me.

They were always dangling a championship in front of my face like meat in front of a cub, dragging it closer and closer until it was inches from my face and I was in a trance, watching its juices drip to the ground, absolutely certain that the next drop was mine. And then Reggie Miller would happen, or John Starks, or a missed finger roll, or a playoff brawl, or a head-butt, or Michael Jordan or any of the thousand other things that snatched that meat right back. I grew accustomed to starving.

This, some people say, was deserved. The wider world saw those Knicks as a pack of thugs muddying up a beautiful sport, either of their own volition or Riley’s. Maybe they were.     Truth is, my father and I wouldn’t have loved them as much as we did if everyone else hadn’t hated them so much–how else would they have shown us what not giving a shit looked like? He rooted for them because they did what he never could; they became something other than what they were told to be. Rooting for Starks and Oakley and Mason was, for my father, a chance to fight back against the inevitability of the life he was living. It was a strange search for redemption by proxy, but because it was also his way of reaching for me, it brought him even closer to the life he was trying to escape.

Sometimes, the only way out is back in.

****

To read the rest and find out how the Knicks taught me to love my father, check out the full piece at The Classical.

New Parenthood: Where Baby Meets Badass

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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. Two people who are very special to me had a baby last week, and while they did not deliver on my request for a dramatic, blog-worthy water-break when we went out to dinner a few weeks ago, it hasn’t been a complete waste. I’ve been hanging with the new little nugget quite a bit and she’s melting my badass right off me. I’m smitten. That newborn-head smell. Those tiny frogger legs. Her wobbly little head, and eyes that speak of equal parts confusion, intrigue, and suspicion. So this is all pretty interesting, but please tell me that soon I’m headed back to that dark, warm place I used to live in—hey c’mon!—put that blanket back on me!…wait, where are you going with that boob?…oh you’re not really about to dunk me in any water, are you? That’s the vibe I get from her.
  2. 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

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad For Ditching Your New Year’s Resolutions

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“It is not all bad, but it is not all good, it is not all ugly, but it is not all beautiful, it is life, life, life—the only thing that matters. It is savage, cruel, kind, noble, passionate, selfish, generous, stupid, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyous—it is all these, and more, and it’s all these I want to know and, by God, I shall, though they crucify me for it.”

-Thomas Wolfe’s Letters To His Mother 

February 17, 2016

I’ve been recovering from some pretty invasive oral surgery this week, so I’m re-publishing an old post that I think is particularly relevant this time of year, when many of us fall off our resolution-wagons. ‘Forget it,’ we say when the results aren’t what we thought they’d be. ‘I don’t know why I ever thought I could change in the first place.’  We set unreasonable goals, beat ourselves up when we fall short of them, and then use those shortcomings as proof that real change simply isn’t possible. And by believing that, we make it so.

So I’d like to reiterate my objection to the whole idea of new year’s resolutions.

Change is slow and subtle. It isn’t about grand gestures or sweeping declarations. It’s about the small decisions you get to make on a daily basis that eventually add up to something bigger. And the beautiful thing about “a daily basis” is that a new one starts every day–you get to decide to start the process of change right now, even if the scale is smaller than what you had in mind. Smaller scales are better anyway; sudden, sweeping change never ends up being real. It’s the painstaking, repetitive, meandering change–the kind that takes place in the grit and muscle of life’s grind–that’s what ends up sticking.

So here again are my thoughts about new year’s resolutions.  Continue reading

If I Knew Then, Part II

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Look’it this idiot. Clearly, she needs some help.

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.)

Here’s what I came up with. Continue reading

Some Notes on Letting Go

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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 said no and dragged me from the store, 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 fucking 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, as I’ve been going through one of those cliched “hard times” over the past few months. It’s made me realize 2 things: 1) My inclination towards madness once I decide I want something 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.

I didn’t want those gloves to impress anyone—shit, I didn’t even care if anyone ever saw me in them. I wanted them because for whatever childish reason, they tapped into some part of me that felt true. I wasn’t looking to post them or like them, I didn’t want to pin or poke or tweet or twat them, nor was I trying to further a career or fill some gaping emotional void. I just wanted them for the sake of having them—to feel the satin over my forearms and touch the sink through the fabric and complement all those fancy sounds that my shoes were making. Whatever that experience amounted to—feeling like a princess, feeling important and sophisticated and charming—it was both a means and an end.

And it makes me sad that I don’t think that way anymore.

As an adult, things are different. I’m tethered to responsibilities that I didn’t have as a kid.  Not just physical and financial demands (though those are certainly substantial), but ones of personhood and meaning-making—the questions that no one can answer but me. Am i living the life I want to live? What does that even look like?  Am i running out of time?  Could I be doing more?  What terrifies me and excites me and holds me back and lets me go?  Which things do I find beautiful?  Terrible?  Necessary?  Irrelevant?

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me, trying to be an adult.

If youth is about having the space for those questions to marinate unarticulated, growing up is something a lot less passive. It’s an active pursuit, and it takes muscle and persistence and the willingness to reach for answers despite knowing that even if you find them, they’ll only lead to more questions.

The problem is that when I stop reaching for answers—when I become complacent or lazy or paralyzed by fear—that’s when I am the furthest away from that little girl in the bathroom. Because then instead of questions, all I can hear is one resounding, demented answer: RESULTS!  Results are what will make meaning for me, and the pursuit of those results will take the place of seeking answers to those important questions.

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Inside my head.

If I get published, I will feel worthy.  If this post reaches X amount of people, then what I’ve written matters. If I have a man who loves me then I’m ok. If I make X amount of money, then I have X amount of value. If I achieve X, then the fear that I am not enough will go away.  If I can fix that relationship, then I am lovable. If this person likes me, then I’m obviously the shit. 

It’s not always as conscious and idiotic as some of those, but you get the point.

And the point is basically this: once I’ve decided what the results of something should look like before that something has even started, I’m screwed. Because what inevitably happens is that I start clinging to that pre-ordained image of what it will all look like—and I grip that motherfucker until my knuckles are white and my palms ache and I can barely breathe. And then I’ve placed myself in a world consumed with fear and guaranteed to disappoint. Because here’s the truth of it: clinging will always fail me in the end. The tighter I clutch something, the less hold I have on it. That’s the great paradox, right? It’s only when you stop caring about what comes next does what comes next end up being so beautiful.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to try to be more like that little insane-asylum escapee—the girl marching in place to the beat of her own clicking heels as she adjusts the satin gloves that she’s pulled up over her Scooby Doo pajamas.

photo credit: Joyful via photopin (license)
photo credit: Inner fears via photopin (license)

if i knew then.

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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 flesh 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–everything that i know in my bones is true, even if i can’t always remember it all when it matters.

  • there is very little that can’t be made better by a freshly made bed with sheets just out of the dryer.
  • strive to be better, not perfect.  perfectionism is a search for reasons to hate yourself.  being better is so much more possible—and interesting.

Continue reading