two.sides.

“I’m not a failure, I swear. I wish you could see me from over there.”

-Rilo Kiley-

It’s very easy to judge a picture when you only have one angle. In this picture (above) it looks very much like I am terrible at parking. It looks like my car is ripe to be keyed or dented by the car next to me, angrily shoving its door into mine in a show of protest for my poor parking skills. If I saw someone parked like this, I would most certainly have a few choice words to say. I would make fun of them. I would shake my head and bemoan the state of the world. I would be up on my high horse about this idiot’s parking job.

But, sometimes there is more to the story. Maybe before you pulled up next to this idiot, parked so cavalierly crooked, there had been another car parked in a way that made this park job the only possible choice. And then that car left before you arrived.

Maybe a gang of kids had been playing in the next parking spot over and this driver was trying not to murder any of them but still needed to park and get wine for a party tomorrow and she was going to be back out in 3 minutes before she inconvenienced anyone else.

Maybe whomever painted the freaking lines on this particular parking lot did so in such a way that made it absolutely impossible for the person who ended up parking in this spot to look good from all angles if they parked there. That driver would have to just settle for looking good to only 50% of the people driving by. She had to take her chances, and hope that the right people saw she really tried to park correctly. She really did try to line everything up, be out of everyone else’s way, and park as accurately as she could.

But it didn’t matter. Because of how the lines were already drawn, long before she got there, she was always going to look like a selfish, bad-parking, idiot to a lot of people.

Luckily, there would still be some other drivers, other people, who only saw her from the better angle, and thought she was okay. She was always going to be okay in their eyes, despite what was going on with the lines drawn from the other side.

Still, others would see the entire picture and shrug. Say she did the best she could between the lines she was given. Give her the benefit of the doubt despite seeing her failures and successes all at once.

the.audience.

“And if I had an audience
I’d ask them to leave.
How can I give them what I can’t receive?
How can I pray, when I just don’t believe?”
~Slow by The Fratellis

The audience is probably the main character of your story and you don’t even know it. They are the catalyst to every action, the skewed mirror reflecting every move you make. They create the continuous feedback loop informing your every move or stall.

Maybe your audience is your family. Maybe your friends and co-workers. Maybe you have an actual audience, sitting in seats or dancing in aisles while they listen to you sing, read, speak, preach, or pray. Maybe your audience consists of the people who parade through your home judging your photo galleries on the all, or your reading collection on the book shelves.

Maybe you aren’t even sure who your audience consists of, maybe it has taken on a mind of its own–become an anonymous blob of judgment and fear rendering you paralyzed because you can’t tell who is there for support and who is there to spy on, exploit, or enrage you.

I think I wrote more authentically when I knew only three or four people were actually reading what I wrote. I think I sang more earnestly when I was only singing in church. For some of us, the audience we attract by being “ourselves” turns us against “ourselves.” We don’t know what to do with it. Even on a small scale.

I mean, look. I am not famous, by any means. I only have 1400+ followers and for the last year and a half, I didn’t know what to do with that. It’s easy to write for an audience when they’re anonymous. It’s a lot harder to write honestly when you know you may run into Suzie Q. (your mom’s former best friend’s niece’s, dog-walker’s Godmother) at the grocery store and now she knows things about you that you absolutely NEVER would have told her in passing or even over a bottle of wine. Because you falsely believed there was a wall between Writers and Audience that would keep you safe from in-person confrontation or judgment. Or, because you believed you weren’t on anyone’s radar to begin with, and that your Main Character (The Audience) would never actually appear for a table read.

Then, they do.

And the anonymous readers, when you look into it, are really fine. Because they probably aren’t even really reading your writing, and even if they are, they are doing it for reasons that have absolutely fuck-all to do with you as a writer or a person. So you can let those go, you can move on without worrying about the anonymous followers/readers.

BUT. But… the thing “they” don’t tell you, is that… the bigger number of anonymous followers you have, the bigger number of NON-anonymous followers as well.

It’s easy to write for an audience when your life is going well, or hilariously wrong.

It’s a lot harder to write freely when your life isn’t funny. When your life is full of doubts and karmic retribution and chaos. When you know your aunt who doesn’t believe in divorce might be reading your blog entry about how amazing it is to be single after 20 years of marriage. Or when you know that people who were rooting for you to be the beacon of truth and grace and perfection, find out you are really just human after all.

It’s hard to get to know your audience and then, subsequently, write what they want to read. But you have to do it.

The audience is the main character, after all.

least.favorite.

least.favorite.

One of my least favorite memories of my mom is when she’d get angry and say, “Life sucks and then you die.”

We weren’t even allowed to say the word suck as children growing up, so when she said it, you knew she meant it. I think, even as a child, it made me sad on some deep level to know my mom broke her own language rule to describe LIFE.

I know most people only write pleasant memories about those who have passed on and I understand why. I applaud that why. I do not disparage that why at all and, if you have read any of my previous writing, you know I have done a fair amount of that as well in the past.

But, you will also know by now that I do not do what most other people do.

I loved my mother. I can still feel her absence when I descend the basement stairs into the choir loft at the church where I grew up, to this day. I can hear her laugh in a large auditorium before seeing her; I can admire the way she took control of any group that needed controlling: Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Youth Group, PTA, Choir, the local school board… you get the picture.

But my mom (same as any other human being living in the real world) had another side. She lost her shit every once in a while. She rung her hands and cussed and clenched her fists at the heavens. She got frustrated and angry and sad. She said things she didn’t mean. She fought and scolded and cried when things didn’t go her way.

It isn’t a mark against her character. It’s just human.

We’re all human.

I regret that I couldn’t recognize the humanness in her when she was still alive, but I was still too young. Life hadn’t kicked my ass hard enough, yet. I couldn’t relate.

When she died, I hadn’t yet realized that parents are just normal people still trying to figure out their own shit while raising little tiny people who didn’t even know they had shit to figure out, yet.

Looking back, I can see the signs. I can see the moments where, if I were her close friend instead of her adolescent daughter, I would have made her take a pause, made her step back and calm down. I can see where my fury and anger and irrational outbursts sometimes mirror hers. I can see how infuriating life can be. I can relate to this feeling that life doesn’t do anything but suck, and then as soon as it doesn’t suck, you die.

I am terrified that you can manifest it – your own death. You can say it so much that you form your own tumors and malignancies and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of life sucking then you immediately dying. It’s inadvertent, unintended. But the universe doesn’t realize you don’t actually mean the words coming out of your mouth. They think that is what you want: for life to suck and then for you to die.

My mom was only 46-years old when she died. I have friends older than that, now. When she died that seemed an unfathomable milestone: to have close friends as old as she was when she died.

And the closer I get to her, the age she was when she died, the more certain I am that I do not want to feel like all life has to offer is to suck and then kill you.

I want to feel like life is wondrous. I want to feel like life is a miracle. Like it’s giving me all it has, and has left no room for negativity. And that any negativity handed over to me was an accident, a by-product of some other fantastic miracle yet seen. The ugly but necessary waste after refining more pleasant end results.

I don’t want to stop and think that all there is, is sucking and dying. I want to run outside with the giddiness of a child and wonder at the sunset. I want to say whatever insane, goofy, backwards thought comes into my head and not feel judged. I want my kids to know what it means to be human but also know it doesn’t have to be negative; to know that, sometimes, yes, life does suck, but that’s not all.

Life can also be happy and chaotic and wondrous and free. It can be confusing and heartbreaking and sullen and empty. It can be exciting and shocking. Unfair and hard. Perfect and puzzling.

It can be all these things before you die. The important part is to pay attention to all of it, call each stage out, give them all their due.

Don’t wait until life sucks the absolute most, to remember all the parts about life you love. Don’t wait til life is running out to get really honest about how much life has actually given you. Don’t wait until you’re about to die, to realize how much life doesn’t really suck at all.

In.The.Eye.

My son was six years old when this song by Brandi Carlile came out. I am a huge Carlile fan, and was singing it at home one day, to my little adorable audience of one. I got to the lyric, “You can dance in a hurricane, but only if you’re standing in the eye.” My son looked at me, very seriously (as he usually is) and said, “Mommy. That would still be really dangerous.”

He wasn’t wrong. I mean, sure. If you have to be in close proximity to a hurricane, the eye is the safest place to be (though I doubt you’d feel like dancing). But if you had a choice, you’re probably going to choose a location as far away from the eye of a hurricane as you possibly can.

So, I looked at him and said, “You’re right. It still would be dangerous. It’s just a song, though.”

It isn’t just a song, though. It’s truth that a six-year old can’t grasp. The truth that sometimes you can’t even fathom the destruction around you because you are in the most optimal position to be aware but not affected by it. Because some destruction can spare you while you look on, and you are able to deny its power until the storm passes and you no longer have a boundary. There’s no more eye–just destruction around the little tiny island of safety where you once stood. And now you can see it. You can see all of it. And you wonder how you could have been so blind to it.

If he had been older, I would have explained it to my six-year old. But he wasn’t. He wouldn’t understand the end of the song, the last lyrics:

I am a sturdy soul
And there ain’t no shame
In lying down in the bed you made
Can you fight the urge to run for another day?

You might make it further if you learn to stay

Life is hard. There are storms everywhere, eyes in which to stand, and winds in which to lose yourself. There are momentary respites from the storms and plenty of opportunities for relief and rebuilding. But sometimes, in that eye, before the coming sorrow, it’s okay to dance. Just for a few seconds, before you assess the damage.

some.days.

Some days I find twenty dollar bills in the laundry.

Some days, I find plastic tubes relieved of their chapstick.

Some days, I find lint and dog hair and besogged receipts left over from lunches long forgotten.

Some days I find love letters and shiny change and missing guitar picks.

Some days, I’m the hero. Some days I’m the villain. Some days, I’m grateful for the treasures hidden in the laundry. Some days I curse the inside-out-socks, the forgotten pocket mementos, the unending cycle of dirty/clean, dirty/clean, dirty/clean.

Some days I find humor in the trap. Some days I find pity.

Some days there’s poetry in the detritus.

Some days, there’s just debris.

Some day I’ll miss all this.

Some day, I’ll wish.

I’ll wish for lint and change; dirty socks and broken toys; receipts and notes; ruined lip gloss and rogue guitar picks.

Some day.

safe.harbor.

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.”

–John A. Shedd, 1928

Ships in harbor aren’t necessarily safe. I know, I know. It’s a metaphor. ANd it’s just a saying. And it makes a really good point. Despite my disagreement with it’s main premise, it’s one of my favorite quotes. In fact, it’s because it’s not completely and unequivocally true that I like it.

The first thought brought to mind when hearing or reading Shedd’s poignant words, is a cozy port wherein a sturdy ship is snuggled close to shore away from the elements, away from war or saboteurs. Rocking gently in lazy waves and bumping melodically against a dock. Its passengers carefree, its cargo safely stowed away.

It’s a nice image even if you know that’s not what ships are built for. After all, ships can’t be out all the time. There is a time and place to moore oneself to a stationary spot. But, as with all things in life, nothing is guaranteed. Which brings me back to my original point: ships aren’t necessarily safe just because they’re harbored.

In 1915 a passenger ship rolled over and sunk while tied to the dock on the Chicago River, killing 844 people. Just this past week, a ship in port was damaged by Hurricane Sally. And, lest we never forget, the ships damaged or destroyed while moored at Pearl Harbor. There are dangers great and small, man-made and of natural origin, that can bring a boat down no matter where it is. There is a weird, morbid brand of comfort from this information. Knowing that there are no guarantees. That you have no control and things might just happen whenever they’re supposed to happen no matter what you do or where you go. Whether you take to the seas or stay in one place.

Still, I understand the appeal of staying in one place. Not risking anything. It’s nice, the feeling of being tethered to a dock. It gives you a sense of security, a sense of grounding that makes you feel like, “Ah okay. We made it.” It can also be fun and anticipatory to be there, waiting to head out into a new adventure. That prelude to excitement you can only get right before you embark on your journey that is, sometimes, more adrenaline-inducing than the journey itself. You are still safe and free to wonder at what could be. You could still decide to stay put. You have options before you set off.

To stay or go.

But staying doesn’t mean you’re going to be safe, so if you’re already aboard the ship, you might as well go. After all, that’s what ships are built for.

so.good.

so.good.

It’s not a particularly happy song, but it has one of my favorite lyrics hidden towards the end of it. You get through the angst and sorrow of Flyleaf’s song I’m Sorry and there is the line, “This story ends so good.”

It’s not a clever lyric. It isn’t deep or existential. It isn’t even grammatically correct. But fifteen years after the first time hearing it, it sticks out in my mind.

This. Story. Ends. So. Good.

It’s important to understand, if you aren’t familiar with the song I’m talking about, that no other parts of this song lead the listener to believe that anything about this story could be good, let alone the ending. And aren’t we programmed to believe that bad and broken things will always be that way these days? Aren’t we prepared to hear that a story which starts out with lines like, “I’m not ashamed, Of that long December, Your hands coming down again, I close my eyes and brace myself…” ends tragically?

Have we forgotten that stories can end so good?

Or do we just write the end and forget it before we get to the good part? Maybe we’re too impatient. Maybe we stop the tape before we let it play all the way through.

My daughter will be fifteen tomorrow. I remember her birth as if it were yesterday, I remember not being able to see her because she wouldn’t cry, I remember her cord being in a knot, I remember a crash cart and yelling nurses and frantic people everywhere. I remember me asking everyone to stop stop stop, for someone to let me see my baby. I remember finally seeing her and feeling nothing but exhaustion and shame and pain. No euphoria, none of that New Mom Glow.

Just, nothing.

I remember people telling me how lucky I was. I remember people being more excited about my new baby than I was. I remember not sleeping. The crying. The colick that only Daddy could quell. Thoughts of throwing her off the roof. Thoughts of, “There is no way I can freaking do this, no wonder single moms or poor moms or moms with no support system drive their vans into rivers. I can’t even do this with a husband and other family members nearby. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH ME?!?”

I remember when she was a toddler, screaming for no reason I could discern, while I sat on the front porch and cried. I remember hearing about all these other new moms feeling so fulfilled and light and wonderful after giving birth. I remember thinking they must be lying. I remember hating myself for thinking that. I remember wondering what was wrong with me, if I was missing some integral part of my brain and I should be studied for science.

But, this story ends so good.

And I know it’s not really the end of this story, but it IS the end of the torment and the shame and the worrying about if I should have ever become a mother in the first place. Because my daughter will be fifteen tomorrow. And she is the coolest person I know. She speaks up even when her voice shakes. She likes Rage Against the Machine and Taylor Swift. She crawls into bed with me when she’s had a bad day, and she tells me all about her hopes and dreams for the future. Every day she is finding herself, and every day she lets me watch. She challenges me at every turn and still makes me cry sometimes, but I no longer wonder if I should have been a mother. I never wonder if I was wrong. I don’t worry about those first few minutes together and how they didn’t go the way we wanted them to, the way we expected them to. I try to tell other mothers who feel like they’re broken those first few days or weeks or even months and years… Just wait. This story ends so good.

no.reason.

About once a month, I eat my lunch in the cemetery.

It’s not planned. I don’t have it written on a planner (okay yeah, I don’t even have a planner…): “Lunch at Cemetery, August 24th @ 11.45am.”

But there are days when I can’t think of what to eat. Days I can’t fill an hour. And I find myself driving through some fast-food abomination of a restaurant, and my car, as if on auto-pilot, ends up in front of my mother’s tombstone.

I don’t get out of the car. I just sit there, parked next to the little, rolling, shadowy hill, looking up at the tombstone, the little crooked angel statue leaning, almost sympathetically, against it. I sit there and eat and think and cry and wonder when it will stop hurting and simultaneously hope the answer is never.

 

dark.light.

dark.light.

The fireflies used to lead us down, single-file, through the woods. Onto the bridge. Over the lake where Kelly tried to save the fish she couldn’t bear to see die after one of the campers took to long on the release part of the catch & release policy. Past the amphitheater lit up paranormally, as if the light was coming straight out of the core of the wooden slab benches and the cross itself. Past the empty cabins that would soon be filled with campers who had found their way back by the light of the fireflies.

The sound of a firefly darkness is a thing I can’t describe with words. Maybe not with paint, either. Nor song. Maybe it takes all these things. The sound of the silence that isn’t really silence–if you listen closely, you hear the bullfrogs down by the lake and the buzz of insects you don’t want to know the names of and the shuffling of shoes through the dirt and the sniffling of someone trying to stop crying after leaving the tabernacle and the rustle of campers reaching for their new friends’ hands. But for some reason, your brain still lets the silence claim these sounds. They belong to it, they are right at home with the silence and the dark.

The dark that isn’t really dark. There are stars in the sky and that ephemeral glow of the cross that seems to come from nowhere and the reflections of it all in the lake and, of course, the fireflies. The fireflies that belong to the dark. The fireflies so small and dainty that you can only notice them when it is this dark. So dark that you swipe three or four times before you make contact with your best friend’s hand. So dark that the lake seems magical in the way it can grab onto the smallest of light and propel it back out into the world to be seen. So dark that the light is almost an offense.

Only in a dark, silent night like this, do you even notice the fireflies. Only here, as you make your way back to your empty cabin from the joyous tabernacle, do you realize how amazing the smallest contrast to your surroundings can seem. How little you actually need, to find your way back to where you’re supposed to be. How big the light can seem, once you quit being afraid of the dark.

lost.letters.

lost.letters.

Remember when people sent actual letters? On paper? They had to know how to craft sentences and piece them together in aesthetically pleasing ways. They spent all day–hell, maybe all week–stitching together their thoughts because they had to make them good. Whatever they were going to say was going to take days or even weeks to arrive at its intended target’s doorstop, and the reader would’ve been looking forward to these thoughts for a long time, and you did not want to disappoint.

And besides that, after everyone died, the letters would remain unless they were lost to fire or flood or ritual sacrifice of some kind. Even the literature of dead writers who have their works published into the annals of our history end up with said works (on which they toiled away for years and years) still end up in anthologies next to letters they wrote during their lives. They were that important, that sacred.

Letters allowed a writer to say things without interruption. The writer could craft an entire story of thoughts and feelings and summary without someone interjecting or questioning, without expecting an immediate response at all. The writer could purge her soul, thoughts, stream of consciousness onto the blessed purity of the page, knowing there would be a reprieve, a delay in response resolution. Sometimes that is all we crave, that space between the purge and the resolution.

And maybe that’s the real problem these days. When things can be sent so quickly and responses demanded just as immediately, the messages somewhat lose their meaning. Easy come, easy go. Because let’s face it, these days, no one takes the time to write letters. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone can have a thought and send it near-simultaneously to whomever they please. Just stepped in dogshit? You can tell the world about it via text or Tweet or Instagram or Facebook or Whatthefuckever. And it can all be deleted and lost in an instant. Denied. Delayed. Validated. Shunned. The options are endlessly maddening.

But, I have this friend. He has always known how much I like old things. He knew maybe I’d been born in the wrong decade, or maybe that I’d lived too many decades already. We used to go antiquing together, and talk about different time periods. Sometimes we’d go to museums and we’d just wander and stare, wander and stare, without really having to talk too much. It was like that. That kind of friendship.

And he’d bought a box of old things someone had no use for anymore. Then one day, he had no use for them, either. So he gave them to me. And in this box, were letters and letters and letters. All from the era of World War II.

“Maybe you could read them and write a story. I bet they’re really interesting,” he said.

“Did you know any of these people?”

“No. But look, don’t they just look like they’d be interesting?”

They do look interesting. But I haven’t opened any of them yet. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll be too envious of the simplicity of life before the internet. Maybe I’m afraid of the drop in my gut when I compare those letters to my own terse, unthought-out texts. Maybe I’ll be ashamed of the sloth Convenience has hammered me into. I used to have actual thoughts. I used to be able to write letters. I used to be able to sit, patiently, waiting for the thoughts and feelings to come. The ingredients for a good letter.

I used to write letters.