Desvanecerse

More fiction. Written in 2011.

I want to share this piece because I am fascinated by the dynamic between Rena and Elliott. They are characters that have been with me for five, almost six years now. They don’t represent anybody I know and yet they represent us all- they are fully their own messed up, broken people who still try in every way they can to love one another as authentically as possible without disrespecting themselves or each other in the process. Oftentimes that is excruciating and awkward. But it’s also real.

Rena

I lay in bed, immersed in foolish thoughts, letting my heart beat to a Mazzy Star song. Elliott climbs up next to me and places one of the earbuds in his ear, humoring me as he rests his head in the crook of my elbow. We lie there like that for several minutes, silently breathing the same air; listening to the same soft acoustic tune. No worries. No expectations. Only the moment.

He shifts his body closer to mine (I am not even tempted to flinch) and casually plays with the tips of my fingers, letting his own dance lightly along them with the eloquence of a concert pianist. His eyes will not meet mine but he is smiling and for a moment I am convinced he enjoys the music as much as I do. But I know better.

Then the song changes, a quicker pace now. And the moment is lost, evaporated almost as suddenly as it came. Smoky vapors linger but that is the only proof it even existed. He rolls toward me in a light hearted attempt to reach me on a level I cannot be easily found. Our fingers brush as he stretches closer but there is always that centimeter of space between us. We revolve around the same sun but we do not collide.

Desperation hugs onto the air molecules so tightly they begin to suffocate. Part of me knows if I pushed just a little harder I could ease the room of all its suffering, but I lose my grip too soon. His strong arm is a faint silhouette in the distance, reaching as far as it can go. I consider holding out my hand once more but the fall feels too much like flying. I simply close my eyes instead.

Elliott

Rena sleeps with her back to me, so close I can taste the clean musk of her skin and yet too far away to touch. My love is always most pure in these starlit moments. It is not busy and affectionate as it often is in our waking hours; not frothy with passion as we fumble over buttons and door handles, trying to reach some kind of understanding. The night brings forth a simple, unavoidable humming; a kind of reckless admiration that holds no secrets…no lies and no truths.

I listen to her breathing and watch the way her shoulders rise and fall with every breath. The undulation is graceful and I realize with regret that it is the only action she doesn’t over think. Suddenly I am reminded of June Miller. How Anaїs and Henry both agonized over the possibility that June was merely a projection of their desires, a storyteller not with her pen like them, but with her body.

Without thinking I begin to trace the curve of her spine. She shifts her weight and I retreat. To awaken her would snuff out the magic. Asleep, she is not tense; prepared to brush away my advances and scoff at my desire. She does not rage and cry and tell me to go away, her black eyes shining with a sincere hatred that makes me question everything I’ve ever believed about love. No, in her fluid dream state she retracts those sharp defenses… She melts into my embrace and smiles when I kiss her cheek. In those short evening hours the moon illuminates the earth and I am enough to keep her.

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And I Ain’t Even Sorry

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I have this mojo jar on my dresser filled with folded white slips of paper.

Mostly they have Danielle Laporte truthbombs written on them. Because she’s fabulous. And she doesn’t waste time with sentimental nonsense.

She says things like, “But do you feel free?”

“Self care is a divine responsibility.”

And my personal fave, “Sometimes the most enlightened response is ‘fuck off’.”

So whenever I’m feeling like I need a quick hit of real, no bs inspiration, I’ll grab one of my slips of paper out of the jar and figure out how it might fit into my mood.

Today I woke up in a funk. I just didn’t want to do adult stuff. Or people stuff, for that matter.

But I got out of bed anyway and put on a bra and fed my kids and pushed through the funk and took care of business, because that’s the thing grown-ups do.

Later on when my day slowed down a little, I glanced over at the jar on my dresser and grabbed one of those slips of paper:

Surprise your doubts with action.

(also a Danielle Laporte truthbomb I’m pretty sure)

Now, I’m someone who believes in what they call synchronicities. I maintain faith that whenever I feel compelled to dip into that jar it’s because whatever I pull out is something that I should pay attention to.

Still, that one did not feel super relevant to me when I read it.

Surprise my doubts with action? Yeah, okay. More action is the last thing I need. I’m exhausted. I need sleep and better health insurance and for every single member of my household to learn how to do his or her own laundry without messing up the washer’s balance. Doubt is so not my problem. My problem is that my responsibilities far exceed my energy…

Ah, but there it was.

Doubt may have not been an obvious elephant in my room (what with the pile of laundry to see beyond and all) but it was definitely the font my thoughts were written in.

Because what I was really saying to myself was this: I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.

Negative self-talk creeps up in interesting ways. Sometimes you think you’re showing yourself some compassion by pointing out where you feel depleted but sometimes underneath that is a confirmation to your fears that yes, I am inadequate and no, I don’t believe I can find the strength.

As soon as I recognized that I was basically using my own vulnerability to make myself feel small, I was able to take action. And because I’m rebellious and gentle all at the same time I didn’t say “Oh watch me!” and clean out all my junk drawers.

Nope, my action was this: I grabbed the pile of laundry, put it back in the dryer for another tumble cycle, told my negative mood to kindly fuck off (it really can be the most enlightened response you guys), and took a short but much needed nap next to my curly headed kid, who-by the way- still had jelly on her face from breakfast.

Now ask me if I’m sorry.

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What Joan Didion Helped Me Understand About Gratitude

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Blue Nights

Joan Didion

Page 46.

“In theory these momentos serve to bring back the moment.

In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.

How inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here is something else I could never afford to see.”

Joan Didion wrote this memoir after her daughter’s death.

Her words are searing; hard to swallow all in one bite; rich with the dark wisdom of a grieving mother.

Which I am not. But could be. We all could.

Now, it’s no secret that my husband and I were teen parents, but it’s also something I don’t normally like to say out loud. There is a certain degree of shame attached to that label. And despite the ancient knowledge deep in our bones that tells us we really don’t have to, there comes with that role a constant urge to validate two imperative points:

*I love my child more than the life I might have had.

*I know what you’re thinking and I’m here to prove you wrong.

We started off hopeful, he and I, but also irresponsible and selfish. In fact, we probably have a few friends who are reading this right now and can attest to that. But please don’t. No, really. Don’t.

Once we picked up momentum, though, we didn’t stop. We were keenly aware of the many lessons only time and experience could teach us, and in order to be ready to prepare our child for the world, we believed we had to throw ourselves into the deep end of it. And that’s all fine and good until you forget to come up for air.

I realize now that I don’t want to be the woman who can hold her breath underwater for long stretches of time.

In theory these momentos serve to bring back the moment.

I realize now that I don’t want to be the woman who did everything she was supposed to do, but nothing that mattered.

In fact they only serve to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment…

That wasn’t a testament of my strength. That was evidence of my mistrust and lack of faith.

…something else I could never afford to see.

I thought I knew what gratitude was.
But now I think I’m finally beginning to understand.

This post was originally titled “On My Nightstand…” and written in April of 2013.

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PERMISSION

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To love myself because of the scars,

The imprecise language,

The uncomfortable memories,

To love the way God made me

And also the ways I have destroyed that

All those things that say

I went in with a whole heart

Or maybe it was half a heart

But I threw myself in there

And I didn’t look back.

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Jelly Legs: On Perfection and Learning the Painful Way

“I heap my watery coffee with powdered cream and stop thinking about myself long enough to come alive a little.” –Mary Karr, Lit.

This is probably my favorite quote ever.

I read Lit right after my second child was born and it was the perfect book for that time in my life. Addiction was not my struggle but the way Mary Karr writes about hers feels universal to me and somehow also undeniably her own unique experience, which helped me forget about my issues for a little while and feel empathy for someone else’s.

My postpartum experience deeply disturbed me in a way that still wakes me up some nights, even now- three years later, and Lit was the kind of book that made me feel like maybe someone mostly got it. As much as someone else can, anyway.

sink

Mental illness has been my family’s brand of shame and the punchline of our jokes for generations.

And until I was dry-heaving and hallucinating in my bathroom at three o’clock in the morning, I honestly believed I was exempt from this curse somehow some way.

But I’m not here to talk about mental illness or postpartum depression/panic/psychosis. All I know to do is get help and be gentle with yourself as you process that kind of trauma. And let’s be clear, that’s exactly what it is: trauma. Particularly for a mother who only wants to smile at her new baby for hours and post a thousand pictures to Facebook. Who is already under enough pressure to be absolutely perfect.

I thought I did literally everything right with my second pregnancy. I prayed. I ate well. I exercised. I took organic vitamins. I freakin meditated! I made dates with my husband. I went out with friends. I left the dishes in the sink and gave myself time to rest when I needed it. I got out of the house and did special things with my toddler before her baby sister arrived. I gave birth naturally. I attachment parented like nobody’s business.

And still, I panicked. I completely collapsed under my desire to be an extraordinary mom.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about: pressure. Particularly the pressure my generation puts on itself. Specifically the pressure internalized by women in my generation. Although, please know I recognize that men too have valid struggles and I respect that they are under just as much pressure to perform, only in a different way from women.

But it seems that while my friends with kids are figuring out how to be natural birthing, extended breastfeeding, nonstop baby wearing, placenta capsuling, husband nurturing, Montessori teaching, Earth Mama Extraordinaire, sometimes also while working long hours, always always feeling inferior if they do not meet even one of these expectations… my friends without kids are eating Lean Cuisines in tiny city apartments they can barely afford and suffering in their careers because they just want to do all the right things in the exact right order and even though they’re only like 25, they’re freaking out because they haven’t gotten married and had four kids and saved the entire world yet.

And half of us haven’t decided whether we believe in a god or not yet…so there’s the matter of salvation to wrestle with on top of everything else. And I didn’t even touch on all the crap single moms go through.

Ahem.

Of course these are only generalizations and definitely not true for all the women of my generation but I have a feeling this will resonate with many.

So yeah, we can joke about these things. Because I mean they are kinda funny.

We can blame whatever political party or privileged/oppressed group we want. Because it’s what everybody else is doing. (yawn).

We can keep living this way. Because as crazy as it sounds, it’s a little easier than trying to resist it.

OR we can start valuing our own beliefs, validating our own feelings. Now. Not after we’ve silenced our souls and burned ourselves out so thoroughly that it takes an actual real life panic disorder to wake us up from our apathetic slumbers.

We can start treating motherhood like a sisterhood instead of a rat race.

And we can give ourselves a break. Because we need it. Because we are hardcore. And we will sprint until our legs are jelly and our hearts are weak if we don’t give ourselves permission to stop.

I don’t always know why I insist on learning things the painful way. But the point is I’m learning. And if I’m learning, I’m sharing.

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Self Care for the Selfish

Look, I’m not big on martyrdom.

Mostly because I’m selfish and I’m not really sorry about it.

It’s not that I don’t stand for something. It’s just that I’ve never felt compelled to cause myself suffering in order to carry out someone else’s agenda.
This got me in a little bit of trouble at my last job. I probably shouldn’t elaborate on that, so I won’t.

What I will say though is that even before I had the language for it, self care has always come naturally for me.

And it never felt like something I had to earn.

I don’t self care because I put in a hard day’s work. It does not require a sense of accomplishment before it can be carried out.

I don’t wait until I’m empty to fill up.

And I don’t ask permission from anybody before I take care of myself.

I simply do it because I must.

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You know when you’re going through a rough patch, your friends and family are concerned and they do all the right things by asking if you’re okay and pointing out that you seem sad and trying to cheer you up with wine and good movies? And it’s sweet and wonderful but it’s a little overwhelming at the same time?

Well I think we tend to do the same thing to ourselves.

We know we’re hurting. We sense that something is missing. So we try to fill that up with love and joy and pedicures and nights out with friends. Then we go into sensory overload. And the perfectionists among us start wondering what we’re not doing right. Why we can’t self care like everybody else and just be friggin happy geez.

The reason we can’t always pamper ourselves into friggin happiness is probably because we aren’t paying attention to what we really need.

Self care is about more than bubble baths and spa candles. And actually, all that can feel like way too much work if it’s not what we crave. .

Sometimes a spa day is the last thing I need. Sometimes what I need is to put on my oldest pair of tennis shoes and do yard work until I feel like a person again.

Sometimes I just need to eat potato chips and watch Ghost Whisperer while the sun goes down.

Sometimes I need good conversation.

Sometimes I need to clean up my eating habits.

Sometimes I need to mess up my hair.

And every now and then, all I really need is my darkest eyeliner and to tell toxic people in my life to go hug themselves and leave me alone.

Self care really can be about doing nice things for ourselves.

But I think it’s more about listening to our bodies and minds, respecting our own boundaries, asking what we need

and having grace with ourselves when we don’t know the answer.

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Things I Do, Things I Don’t Do

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A few years ago, when I was working in a library in small town Louisiana, I came across a really neat book with a bright blue cover and a chocolate something or other on it.

Bittersweet, by Shauna Niequist.

I almost didn’t see it. And now it’s one of my favorite books.

She writes with this cool earthy kind of eloquence that sets your mind free. I love that in a book. I need that in a book. And that’s what I hope my work feels like for the people who read it.

One of her pieces is titled “Things I Don’t Do” in which she shares what she’s decided not to make room for in her life, like gardening and homemade baby food, despite external pressures.

She doesn’t waste time with excuses or apologize for not taking on these extra burdens because they’re not her values and she recognizes that. Out of respect for herself and her family, she intentionally does not include these expectations in her life in order to leave room for what she does want in her life.

Here is the conversation that inspired her to write “Things I Don’t Do”. An excerpt from Bittersweet:

Out to lunch one day with my friend Denise, I asked her about it. Denise is a mother of four, and a grandmother, and she works and writes and travels and cooks, and — most imporant to me at that time — she seems settled in some fundamental way. There’s something she knows about herself that I didn’t yet know about myself, certainly.

We were at the Blue Water Grill, on a beautiful lake, unless you’re from Grand Rapids, apparently, because then you know that it used to be a quarry, and to them it’s sort of like having lunch crater-side. But it’s beautiful to me, having only known it as a lake. We ate pesto pizza and spinach salad with red onion slivers and poppyseed dressing, and long after the food was cleared, we drank iced tea and watched the water.

And this is what Denise told me: she said it’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about. Her words from that day have been rattling around inside me for years now, twisting around, whispering, taking shape. Since that time we’ve worked together, traveled together, cried together, but when I think of her, I will always think of that day, and the wind on the fake lake, and the clarity and weight of those words.

My list of things I do and don’t do would look exceptionally different from Shauna Niequist’s list (perhaps one day I’ll write one and share it with you). To me, that’s what is so cool about it. My list is not supposed to look like hers. And your list is not supposed to look like mine.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I really dig that sort of thing.

So I’ll leave you with one question. And I don’t need an answer from you. Only you need an answer from you.

What are you willing to give up in order to start living the life you want? Today.

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