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.

 

 

scary. things (part.two.)

scary. things (part.two.)

“Let’s go around and everyone say their name, where they’re from, why they’re here.”

“I’m Becca, I’m here by accident, I thought I was taking a writing class and I’m absolutely terrified to be here.” 

“Great!” 

 

It’s astonishing how quickly you get comfortable with a group of strangers when you’re all thrust into the same uncomfortable situation. The writing class I’d signed up for a month ago was cancelled due to low enrollment, and the center had called me a week prior, asking if I’d like to take another class that was at the same time on the same days, but would be improv in the morning, and writing in the afternoon. I said No the first three times the admission’s person asked. But at the last minute, right before hanging up, I’d blurted, “Wait! Okay I’ll do that one. The improv/writing one!” I figured 1.5 days of writing instruction was better than none at all. And hey, maybe I could just be late to the improv mornings, or make up some excuse to only come in the afternoon. After all, I’d already booked and paid for the hotel and train ride. I’d been looking forward to this. But there was no way in hell I was interested in doing improv.

By the time I realized, on the first day of class, that I’d been accidentally put into a third class option–the all day improv class–I’d already emotionally bonded with my five fellow hostages and couldn’t imagine starting over the next day with brand new people who hadn’t traversed my awkward dance activity with me. Hadn’t encouraged me through a round of gibberish. I’d already learned important aspects of my fellow weirdos and I didn’t feel right saying, “Um, excuse me Second City people… I think there’s been a mistake. Please put me in the other class where I’m going to have to bond with new people who already bonded with their own people.”

There was some legitimate panic. I’m not an actress. I can’t even lie very well. I was making the decision to stay in this class so far out of any comfortable activity I’d ever decided to take up, but I was terrified to do it.

One of the first things our improv teacher for the weekend told us was, “You are all going to be okay.” I’d be lying if I said I believed him when he said this. I was pretty sure that if there was such a thing as dying of embarrassment or discomfort, even if no one had died of that yet, I would be the first person in history it would happen to. Medical people for years to come would study it, the Becca Syndrome. Poor lady died in the middle of a black and green film room that was inexplicably air-conditioned in the middle of fucking winter in Chicago while trying to come up with a new, funny way to portray the sad side of a fish market. The textbooks would offer a little picture of me in the corner in black and white, looking, myself, like a dead fish too petrified to move. Medical students reading about my tragic demise would laugh to cover up their own insecurities, the worries they had about their own mortality when facing uncomfortable situations in their sought-after profession. What if an elderly person or a baby pooped on them? What if a really ill person pre-quarantine spewed blood all over their face? What if they were asked a hard question during medical rounds that they couldn’t answer or were asked to perform a procedure that, done wrong, would surely kill the patient? Would they die of Becca Syndrome?!?

Luckily, Sean, our instructor, was right and everything was okay. We all made it through the three days without any of us dying. There were two or three times I thought, this would be a good time to burst into tears, but luckily, I was able to refrain from doing that as well.

So, in the absence of a desire to move classes, and with a newfound sense of camaraderie with my classmates, I stayed. I decided to see how this all works, this improv bit. How do people get onstage and somehow, coherently create one scene together on the fly. How is this sausage link made. How do people become so comfortable with themselves onstage. Maybe you had to be born with certain criteria that I lacked and always would… but maybe there were tricks you could learn. Maybe by being here, I would learn how to let go a little. It was worth a shot, anyway.

 

 

scary.things. (part.one.)

scary.things. (part.one.)

There’s an old saying about how no one wants to see how the sausage is actually made. To be honest, it sounds pretty wise to me, to keep your nose out of such things. I’ve heard rumors about what goes into sausage, and the very idea of tubular meat kind of makes me wretch to begin with. So on first consideration, I am inclined to agree: don’t get too nosy about the creation of things you love.

On second consideration, I am reminded that not everything is as disgusting as sausage. I am reminded of watching my cousin’s dance recitals as a kid, and watching my daughter’s dance rehearsals when she was little. When you sit and watch an advanced dancer doing a move that looks effortless to you, listen. Stop every single thing you are doing and just listen.

Listen very carefully.

As she is spinning in a way that seems to defy everything you know about physics, and looks as if she were just born to be able to do it… listen.

What you will likely hear–and I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am–is a smattering of polite clapping from most of the people in the audience. Some oooohs and aaaaaaahs about how pretty the graceful execution of this move is. Some sighing, whispering about how beautiful that looks and how lucky this beautiful person is to have been born a certain way to be able to do such a thing.

And then.

AND THEN.

On top of that, you will hear every single dancer who is watching, either from the seats, or from backstage, old and young, current or has-been, going out of their freaking minds with cheers and applause for their fellow dancer. Because they know–they know–in a way no one else watching can really know, how hard it is to pull off this flawless-looking spin or jump. They saw all the times the dancer doubted herself, or fell. They know what it feels like, themselves, to fall or doubt or be helplessly sloppy. They know that dancer likely has cracked, bleeding toes hidden by their dainty ballet flats. They watched as each week, each day, the move improved. They cheered and supported and know every single ingredient that went into this move that maybe only takes a few seconds to perform, that most of the audience will likely forget about a day from now.

That loud cheering is love for the process. That loud cheering is pure, unadulterated knowledge of how this particular move was created and worked into reality. It’s recognition: I See You. Not just this beautiful end result, but every sacrifice you made up to this point. Every hard and scary thought or feeling you fought with trying to get here.

Obviously not all of us are going to be dancers. We’ve all wrestled with our own creative endeavors, though. We’ve all decided to try our hand at something hard and/or scary. We’ve all had our own sausage situations where we wondered, “Why in the hell did I want to see how to do that?!?” Sometimes these situations happen by accident.

It may come as no surprise to you by now, if you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, that I am drawn to comical writing. Unexpected laughter is by far the best, when you don’t see the punchline coming. When you didn’t realize you were in the middle of a joke at all. When one minute you’re so upset you’re crying and then you get hit with something so unexpectedly twisted and humorous you can’t help but laugh. Because of this, I made the impulsive decision about a month ago, to sign myself up for a writing course at The Second City. That’s where all the greats go. I wanted to see how they did it. I wanted to hear, if only for a few days, what went into the sausage that was sketch comedy.

And, because my own life is a sitcom in and of itself, and because the universe heard me about this whole “you love the unexpected” plot twist idea… I wound up in a 3-Day intensive improv class. At The Second City.

Scared shitless.

(…to be continued…)

 

 

be.still.

be.still.

Since the beginning of our learning about personal motivations and behaviors, we’re taught about the fight or flight response to threats, fear, trauma. We’ve all heard it. Some of us are fighters, some of us are flight-risks. Some of us swing back and forth between the two like it’s our own personal extreme sport, always experimenting with new ways to untangle ourselves from things that are uncomfortable at best, threatening at worst.

There are obviously times when fleeing is the best option. House on fire? That extra adrenaline pump into your veins might help you get your ass out of harm’s way. Giant grizzly bear tearing down the trail you’re jogging? Might want to learn, quickly, how to scale any nearby tree.

On the other hand, sometimes fighting your way out of a situation–or confronting the source of stress or conflict–is the best way forward. Fleeing is going to make it worse, or make your blood pressure explode your eyeball. Fight, fight, fight until you get closure.

And that’s it. Those are the two choices we’re given to deal with those moments that seem inescapable, unbearably imminent. The moments that make your pulse pound and your gut clench.

But sometimes you can’t outrun a thing. Sometimes you can’t fight it or wish it away or ignore it. When I was in the throes of grief, mourning the loss of my mother, and trying to fight my way around it, and failing, over and over again, thinking if I just cried hard enough or went to sleep long enough or got drunk enough, I could get away from this terrible feeling. I could make it go away. Then one day I remember hearing–well, maybe not hearing, more like feeling–the words: Be Still.

That was it.

Be Still.

Just Stop.

Sometimes the flailing is what makes it hurt worse, makes you sink faster, makes you unable to see the footholds around you, makes the water too choppy to navigate.

When you’re little, your parents tell you while you’re out in a crowded shopping mall, or Disney World, or Wal-Mart on a Sunday night: “If you get lost and can’t find us, stay in one spot.” If you keep moving, you’re too hard to find. If you keep moving, searching for the relief of being found again, you’re actually being counter-productive.

Sometimes the best thing–the only thing–you can do, is to be still and let the hurt come. Sit there and feel it, get to know it, figure out how to carry it around with you until it’s not as noticeable anymore. Befriend the pain.

Stop your flailing and fighting and running.

Be still.

 

 

stop.touching.

A writer friend and I have a joke (that maybe isn’t really a joke) about how, when we’re too happy, we can’t write anything worth reading. For us, there seems to be some kind of lock in our brains that is only wrenched free by pain or complicated emotions. And it’s not like we’re unique in this regard. Think of all of your favorite songs and books and stories. Sure, maybe some of them are happy. But I’d wager a guess that most of what we think of as the best in literature and music has at least a hint of sadness, loss, grief, pain.

Why does our brain hold onto pain so readily? Even in memories? My earliest memory is of baking cookies with my mother in our tiny kitchen in the first house I ever lived in. I remember her scraping the cookies off the cookie tray and setting them on the cooling rack. As she placed the last one on the rack she said, “Don’t touch that tray, it’s very hot.” I don’t remember not believing her. I don’t remember being angry at her, or wanting to prove something to her. I don’t know what the thought process in my noodle-brain was, all I know is that I reached out immediately and slapped my hand, palm-flat, right on the tray and then proceeded to scream my freaking head off.

It was a perfectly good day. I was baking cookies (I loved cookies!) with my mom, and then I went and ruined it by purposely burning the shit out of my hand after being told not to do that very thing. Just to see what it felt like, maybe. Just to see if what my mom thought of as hot would be the same thing I thought of as hot. Maybe I was unsure if we all perceived reality the same way, maybe I wanted to have a frame of reference for when my mom said something in that stern voice again in the future.

Maybe I was just an asshole kid trying to make her mom mad.

I told this story to my writer friend one day, after he explained that, sometimes the trouble I find myself in is a result of me saying things in real life that would make great lines of dialogue in stories, but probably shouldn’t be said to real people in certain situations. I try it out to see the reaction. The “writer in me” can’t help herself, God love her. She just keeps saying and doing things to see what it feels like, to evoke some sort of emotion, to be able to write again. Maybe I’ll never get over this whole, touch it just to see if it’s as hot as everyone says bit. Maybe I’ll never tire of trying on personalities and borrowing others’ emotions so that I can spin them all into sad stories.  Maybe I’m still an asshole.