My Mom and My Son, the Style Icons

me without you

When the much beloved and mourned magazine Domino folded, its publisher tried to make up for my unfulfilled subscription by sending me Lucky magazine. I hate this magazine. Besides being a poor Domino replacement, it's basically a SkyMall for beauty products masquerading as a fashion glossy. Of course, there are pretty people in it and products! clothes! and stickers! But beyond its unmitigated advertising blitz, there wasn’t much for me to latch onto, except for one feature: the last page of the magazine was dedicated to the column "My Mom, the Style Icon" (based on a blog, which became a book for Chronicle). The one-page feature included an old photograph of a mom, dressed fabulously ahead of or very much of her time, plus a brief write-up from her admiring daughter.

I also grew up admiring my mom’s sense of style. Whether rock-show casual, girls’-night glitzed, or gussied up in her Sunday best, Mom could put an outfit together with flair. When it came to clothes, Mom operated with an instinct that I did not inherit. I loved clothes as much as she did, but my fashion sensibility was (is) more sweaterista than fashionista. Mom loved big costume jewelry, brooches, even (gasp) shoulder pads, but managed to craft those otherwise gaudy elements into something sophisticated and luxe.

Mom tried to impart her style on me to disastrous effect. I recall the epic fights we would have getting me dressed before school. She always wanted me in skirts and shirts with ruffles or — horror of horrors — to pop my collar. (Clearly, she always envisioned me this way.) I wanted to blend into the scenery, and she wanted me to burst out of it like the Kool-Aid Man. This struggle continued throughout my adolescence. In high school, after lamenting that none of the boys noticed me, she declared, “Sweetie, we just need to sex you up a bit, is all.”

She was basically the fabulous queer eye to my conformist straight guy.

While I never had the gumption to wear my fashion fantasies on my sleeve, it appears Mom’s sense of style has skipped a generation. My four-year-old Henry loves dressing himself. He regularly incorporates pieces of flair and elements of drama into his preschool outfits. Sometimes it’s a turban; often it’s a cape. He tucks muscle shirts into pink and purple tights, requests pigtails (like the girls at school) and buns (like Mulan) atop his head, and morphs his sleeveless shirts into tube tops. At the heart of this sartorial inventiveness is a pair of Hello Kitty rain boots worn so thin that they may disintegrate off his feet before he grows out of them. And lest you pigeonhole him as a rigid aesthete who is all form and no function, these outfits always leave room for a weapon. The tube top doubles as a holster for a foam sword, and the elastic waistband of his hot pink tights provides a secure spot for a plush baseball bat, should a villain present him/herself.

My son: the fashion warrior.

And the best part? The kid pops his own collar. I never taught him this or did it for him. Though he won’t know the stylish and fabulous woman she once was, Henry is definitely taking after his grandmother. (Though Mom always said she would never be called “Grandma”; it made her feel too old, and she was too vain. “What are you going to have my kids call you, then?” I asked long ago. “Can't they just call me Lee?”)

Whether this love of dress up is a phase or some strain of inherited fabulousness, Henry and my mom would have had a blast together. I imagine Henry picking through Lee's stash of costume jewelry and her dutifully rummaging through old clothes and fabrics to help him realize his Little Edie-cum-superhero visions. They'd have made a great (and well-dressed) team.

Cherish is the Word I Use to Describe

Asking For It with Sibyl

Sybil,

You've actually answered a question for me before. I'm back again because your advice was excellent. I feel guilty coming back for round two; I want to give someone else a shot. But here I am because I need ya.

I am in love. Absolutely, without bounds, in a way I didn't know I could be. I know because I am full of goodness and forgiveness and understanding (I guess you'll have to take my word for it). But the man I love? He doesn't cherish me. He doesn't treasure me. He says he loves me. He doesn't act like it. I've carefully and calmly and sweetly explained what I need, what I want. I'm not a princess. I'm not a nag. I'm demanding the kind of treatment I deserve.

My question is, Sybil, does someone cherish you? If they do, how'd you get them to do that? Did you have to ask? Did they just do it naturally? What do I have to do to be cherished? I love myself; I know that comes first. I am loving, and I'm pretty sure that comes second. What am I missing? What am I doing wrong?

Sincerely,

Not a Princess

 

Dear Not a Princess,

Your question has been this little voice in the back of my head, the past week.  As I'm doing the dishes, crossing the street, lighting candles or checking the mail, I hear, "Sibyl, does someone cherish you?"  And then, when I answer internally, "I believe so," a further question arises, "How do you know?"

What satisfies the human heart?

I am beginning to believe that only gratitude does.  And that gratitude is not some little addendum to one’s spirituality, something you make lists about at Thanksgiving or consider when prompted in a yoga class, but the secret to living a sustainable life of joy.

So, am I cherished?  Well, my spouse loves me, in the cracked-yet-beautiful way that humans love one another.  I do not always feel the fierceness of his love in a way that I connect with, no.  Sometimes it is too tentative, and I lose myself in the complicated folds of where desire turns in on itself and into contempt.

I want it to burn.

But some years, it just smolders.  I know it is there, right under the surface, keeping me vaguely warm by its glow.  It doesn’t feel like enough and I am cold.  I shimmy under a blanket of self-love, treating myself like the most precious, fragile object I can find, trying not to starve out my desire until it can come in the form of the perfectly balanced fire I so crave.

Here’s what keeps me going on those nights when my toes feel like they are going to fall off: I do believe my beloved is capable of loving me how I need and want to be loved.  And he is trying, as I am trying, as we are all really fucking trying.

It does not always come natural.  Love, like gratitude, is a life-changing practice that starts within but emanates out into action.  And I am so, so grateful to have someone who is trying, with his whole heart, to love me as I am asking to be loved.  When he falls short, there is grace for that, just as when I do I meet his grace.  We share the values of committing to one another while also letting each other change, and sticking with it even when it isn’t perfect.  And trying.  Sometimes I think it’s all in the trying, in the arching, and that the satisfaction of the actual connection is just a fleeting by-product.

So the main question for you and your partner is, is he built to love you how you need to be loved?  For instance, are you asking for monogamy and commitment from someone who is not oriented towards that kind of relationship?  Are you asking for a quiet, steady kind of love with someone who loves in these huge bursts?  Are you simply asking for kindness, which everyone can learn how to do? Can you be grateful for his form of love, or does it really not even register as love to you?

If what he can offer is not what you need, and if you do not share the same values around love, then you’ve got to let him go and find another heart to attach to.  But if you see a glimmer in there of the love you want, and he has the willingness, then keep trying.  Keep arching.  Keep coming back to love.  Even if it all ends, you won’t regret the striving towards love.  You may even find you are grateful for it.

Love,

Sibyl

My James Dean

calendar1-7

  By Kimberly LaCroix

A year ago I took a graduate class about Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” technique. One evening we began with a simple acting exercise. We all walked about the classroom, filling the space, listening for further instructions from our professor. After a few in-between steps, she asked us to think of an ancestor and to picture them as clearly as we could. Then, we began moving as that person. Dropping our hips or lifting our heads as they would have, even saying ‘hello’ to those we passed. When it was all over, we circled up for a debrief.

The reflections were warm, and sad: disappointment at incomplete memories; aching for reconnection with family members past; joy at an opportunity for recollection. My reaction was joy. Enjoyment, truly, because when asked to picture an ancestor, I immediately thought of my grandfather. Well, I first thought of Meema, my maternal grandmother, but was overwhelmed by the task of stepping into her shoes. They're too iconic for me to inhabit, her spirit too dear and immense. But Grandpa? I have such memories of Grandpa! His characteristic irreverence makes him somehow more accessible than his wife.

Grandpa was my James Dean. I remember him short, strong and handsome, with a picturesque swoop of white hair. He was perpetually quotable, perpetually moving, and perpetually gruff. He carried a white, canvas sack that always contained Juicy Fruit gum, several decks of cards, York Peppermint Paddies, and, until his final years, cigarettes and matches. [Juicy Fruit Gum and Yorks will forever be my nostalgic treats.] He bragged about his family to anyone who would listen---we were his greatest accomplishments. He loved his wife more dearly than I think he ever knew how to communicate, even to her.

What joy to have an excuse to reflect on an ancestor. A family member who I see in my mom's energy and enthusiasm, in her pride for her family and her kids. I see Grandpa in his youngest son, when he uses his hands to build and create, and who can do a mean impression of the man himself. I see him in my brother's determination and stubbornness and in my own value of hard work and good humor.

The people who go before us shape us. They shape our time and our perspectives, who we are.

This piece was republished with permission from Kimberly's personal blog Just Enough Foolishness.

D is for Drums

lifetime

By Maria Mora My home office is supposed to be a master bedroom, so it has the best closet in the house. When [we] were moving in, I threw all the miscellaneous stuff in there. When he moved out, it ended up mostly empty. A printer. Some boxes. My scarves. The filing cabinet.

Moving him out was---

I filled boxes and put them in the garage, working like an automaton, doing surgery on my life but I had to do it, had to use my own hands and sore, skinny arms and bruised heart and gasping lungs. I had to do that myself, I had to---

I have so much space now. Space to breathe, unfettered, and plant rainbows in my front yard.

Every so often I need something in the office closet, so I poke around, sifting through photos or thumbing through the files I cleaned out last summer, in a fit of trying to make something right when so much was wrong. They’re organized now, no longer brimming with the clutter of two lives braided together. [A lover’s knot that became a frayed friendship bracelet and then a bow for remembrance and then nothing at all.] When I’m looking for a photo or a birth certificate or some insurance paperwork, my fingers stumble onto old Polaroids.

The one he took in his top bunk the day I lost my virginity. The one on the corner in the floor in his dorm room. I’m laughing, a blush hidden behind my hair. I know I’m supposed to feel something, that I do feel something, but it’s a nameless feeling, hollow and numb and sharp and tired.

I can’t bring myself to part with the box full of wedding favors and photos and my veil, so it gathers dust on the top shelf in the walk-in closet.

Looking for something, an activity I find myself doing often, I began cleaning, an activity I also find myself doing often. I found the workbooks from the Catholic pre-marriage retreat the church required for a big wedding on a big altar. I opened them, read a few lines, and decided to indulge in some old-fashioned, vindictive, jilted-lady behavior.

[I’ve been so good, you see.]

I burned the notebooks on my barbecue in the back yard, proud of my ability to light a small fire, and a little annoyed that the barbecue hasn’t been used in [six months, measured first in days I survived and then days when I could eat and then days I made it through without crying and then, little by little, just days, normal and beautiful and stressful and happy and mine, tears and all].

The edges of the paper curled inward, became a flower, glowed. It was lovely. Then I coughed and watched the embers swirl and thought oh my fuck, I’m going to burn the neighbor’s house down in the process of pettily setting fire to the earnest vows two 24-year-olds made eight years ago, and I got a pitcher of water and poured it over the remains.

The novelty had worn off.

The next day, I took some pictures of the mess, and tossed the rest of the papers in the trash. Sentimentality is overrated. It drags me down like mud around my ankles and if I’m not careful, I’ll trip, and it’ll grab me by the wrists and smother me. And the thing is, I don’t have time for that. Not when I’m alive.

This piece was republished with permission from Maria's personal blog Maria Melee.

How It Will Come Back to the Beginning

postcards from france

More than seven years after I first meet her, Madeleine has a baby girl named Cléa. On Facebook she looks like any other baby, small and pink and bundled in blankets, but I can tell that she’s different. And I get to meet her in less than a week.

I’ve been working on the lavender harvest outside of Aix for two weeks, followed by a week at Juliette’s house helping her to make cheesecakes and scones to sell at the market. I’m making my way up north, stopping to visit Alice in Paris, where she is living my adolescent dream with her small apartment, her French boyfriend, and her studies at the Sorbonne. Now I’m catching the train from Paris to Caen, where Clémence, Roger, Pauline, Fréd, and Madeleine are waiting. And now Cléa.

I imagine her seventeen years old and coming to stay with me in San Francisco late one summer. She’ll speak classroom English and will be surprised that the bathroom and les toilettes are the same room in the United States and she’ll discover a newfound love for bagels, like Clémence did. She can stay for as long she wants, I’ve decided. It’ll be the least I can do.

[you can read all of Liv's postcards here]

A Little Walk

process_header

Flowers by Plenty of Posies. Photo by Wonderbliss Wedding Photography.

On the night before our wedding, I woke up when Brian came to bed and thought, “I can’t believe we got married and didn’t go to bed at the same time!” Then I walked to the hotel bathroom with its mysteriously and perpetually wet floor, flipped on the light and realized, no. It didn’t happen yet. That was just the rehearsal dinner.

When I woke up again, in the morning, it was grey and raining a little. “It’s supposed to be good luck if it rains on your wedding day,” I thought, and got dressed for coffee with the wedding team. Some logistics, vegan waffles, gossip in bed and a hot shower later and it was time to get ready.

A lot of the time, I try to want the minimum, take care of my own needs, be the helper. But on your wedding day, people don’t really let you do that. If you say, “Oh do her makeup first,” when it’s 3:00 PM and becoming clear that either you or your sister-in-law, but not both, will be getting her makeup done, nobody’s having it. So you sit down in the chair and someone brings you a bottle of water. Being able to feel fine about that feels freaking awesome.

While we were getting ready, my sister-in-law Wendy, a practical, hilarious class act, as both my sister-in-laws are, called down to order champagne. She possesses that innate understanding that some practical people have of how to celebrate—what to splurge on, where to pin a corsage, when to have another drink and when to call it a night. It’s a skillset that my parents and I lack, but that somehow my brother ended up with. All my in-laws have it, and I find it absolutely thrilling.

The guy on the other end of the phone told her, “I’m sorry, we only have sparkling wine.” (Who knew the Holiday Inn were such sticklers about authentic, Champagne-region Champagne, what with the baby poop in the lobby and all.)

“That’s fine,” Wendy said, in her quick, deadpan voice.

“Well, I don’t have a price list here. My manager will be here in an hour, so I can call you back then.”

“Well, why don’t you just figure out a price, and if it’s not reasonable, just . . . make it reasonable,” she said, before hanging up the phone.

My sister-in-law Karen looked at her approvingly, “That’s my kinda girl.”

My friend Allison’s wide-set baby mammal eyes trained on my face as she applied foundation and blush with little white sponges. I drank bottled water with my mouth in an O shape to try to avoid rubbing off my lipstick.

Around 5 PM, the photographer told us that she’d been down to the wedding site and the clouds had broken and the sun was out.

I hadn’t allowed enough time for getting ready and we had to start over on the hair a few times, so we ended up arriving at the ceremony about 15 minutes late. We pulled into the farmer’s market parking lot just as my cousin Ricky and his girlfriend Amanda arrived with their dog Buddy, a giant “man in a dog suit” kind of dog.

“Is it ok if we bring Buddy?” Amanda called out.

“I think I saw a sign saying no dogs in the pavillion?” I replied.

“Oh we asked someone, she said it’s really up to you.”

“Then sure!”

Who doesn’t want a man in a dog suit at their wedding?

The chaos, cheer, and rule-breaking of my family already in full effect, I felt heartened. We may not know how to class things up, but we know how to make things irreverent, which I think is equally important.

We walked through the gravel towards the market. Wendy and I held hands. When they dropped me off at my waiting area, Karen looked over her shoulder and said, in her 80’s movie star voice, “Don’t worry. You’re just takin’ a little walk.”

I watched them find their respective husbands and start down the aisle to the Peanuts song. The flower girl walked to her “mark” (the day before, at my panicked request, my friend Ted, a film director, had graciously taken over directing the rehearsal) and took the ring bearer’s hand. I started to walk out behind them and Ted stopped me, whispering, “Wait a second, we’re building a dramatic pause for you.”

The music changed to the traditional Here Comes The Bride. It was funny the things I ended up feeling traditional about. We didn’t have a cake or toss flowers or do the garter, but I wanted that song, and I made sure to have something old (my necklace), something new (my dress), something borrowed (thread and time from my friend Kara, who helped me hem my dress by hand, watching Pretty Little Liars on the internet, just like they did in the olden days), and something blue (my eyes.)

I went to my mark, and though my instinct is always to rush, I thought, “Molly, this is the one time it’s ok to make people wait.” Which is probably really for the best, given I rarely wear heels and my dress was nearly floor length.

I walked past the decorations, which I’d helped to coordinate but which were made into reality by friends. These friends who amaze me all the time with their creativity and art had made the space so beautiful, so much better than I’d envisioned it, and I’m pretty sure I started crying right then.

I made it (slowly) down the few steps to the area where everyone was sitting, and the first things I saw were a little kid and Buddy the dog sticking their heads into the aisle and I thought, “Yup. This is my wedding.”

Brian was standing all the way at the end of the dock, so he walked up as I walked down, and we met where the water meets the land. My friend Andrea was our officiant, and looked so beautiful that I got choked up like it was her wedding day.

I had to laugh at myself a little as she read the ceremony, which I had written, clearly in a time of great trepidation, for the whole thing is kind of a pep talk saying, “don’t be scared! You can do this!” But it turned out that once it was happening I wasn’t scared.

My friend Kallista read a poem about an old man saving toads in the road, because “they have places to go, too,” which Brian referenced a few days later as he carefully saved a large slug from getting stepped on. My friend Q read a passage by Pema Chodron and Brian’s brother Mike finished it up.

I’d partly picked that Pema Chodron piece because it talks about a pilot saving his passengers, and Brian’s father, who worked for a manufacturer that made airplane engine parts, starting in the foundry and ending up head of sales, loves pilots. But when I looked to see if he was enjoying it, I saw his eyes were closed and his mouth drawn in a frown, holding back tears, a pose he maintained the whole ceremony. I recognize that sensitivity because he passed it on to Brian, and it regularly breaks and melts my heart during funerals, weddings, and tv commercials alike.

I cried all during my vows, which I hadn’t thought I would. But with all those people there, showing up and making this day, how could I not be cracked open?

By midway through the reception, I became the “I love you, man!” guy from Wayne’s World.

I told family members I’ve never said it to before that I love them. My mom’s cousin Tamison, whose house we’ve stayed at about half the Thanksgivings of my life, whose house we’d stayed at, in fact, two nights before and who, incidentally, gave my friends and I her bed to sleep in, who spent the following day making 30 pies with us and then took us swimming, replied, with her signature wild grin and Mary Louise Parker-esque lack of jaw movement, “WHY?”

And I said easily, because for that one night everything felt easy, “I can’t help it, I just do.”

She seemed satisfied with that and replied, “Well, I happen to be very fond of all my family members, even the ones no one else likes!”

Which satisfied me.

When the reception was starting to wind down, a group of us went swimming, stripped down to underwear or nothing. The moon was almost full. I went in first (unlike me, but this night I was brave) and looked back at the glowing bodies wading through the water, like bathers in an old painting, or people performing a baptism ritual, or sirens.

When I was still in the midst of wedding planning minutia, my sister-in-law referred to the impending wedding as “the happiest day of Molly’s life.” I thought that was a ridiculously romantic thing to say. Why would a day that’s just about me and Brian be the happiest of my life? I love lots of people in lots of ways, not just him. But that, it turns out, is the point.

On Gardens

Screen-shot-2013-06-27-at-8.57.22-PM

By Allison Valiquette Today the air is of the perfect quality; it’s cool with a hint of summer behind it, showing potential for warmth once the sun settles in the sky. I always think of my grandma on days like today. When her neighbors across the street left for vacation, they invited us to come by their garden to pick all of the green beans we wanted. Not wanting them to go to waste during their long trips, and knowing my grandma would put them to good use in a summer stew, they sought it fit for us to be invited in. Those summer days were always just like today. There was a sweetness in the air that I could swear was just a natural side effect of a perfect day, but was probably just my head spinning with a belly full of too many eaten beans.

With our gloves in pocket and wicker baskets in hand, we made our way to the neighbor’s backyard, and it always felt like we were breaking in. We both delighted in thinking that this was the case, and we giggled as we entered through the wooden gate. We piled our baskets high with beans and marched home, proud of our collection. I would always ask if we could stay in the garden forever, instead of going back home. She would laugh and tell me no, that our time in the garden was over, and that’s just how it goes.

And when the wind is blowing in nice and steady and the grass smells in that perfectly dewy way that summer grass smells, I miss her. When I try to cook and fail miserably, I miss her. When I find a random piece of jewelry in my vanity that was hers, or a photo of her holding me close to our perfectly matched faces, I miss her.

I would never again watch her curl her hair, or cook in that big yellow kitchen. When missing her becomes unbearable, I want to run to that green bean garden and live amongst the tall plants forever, where no one would find me. And if Grandma needed me, she would know that’s where she could go to see me again. But in my dreams of escaping to that garden, she never came looking for me.

But since she died, life has moved on, too quickly, as it seems. I lived to be sixteen to my grandma. She left this world with that as her memory of me forever. But I’ve lived a whole other life since then. I graduated high school, went to college, got a job, and became an adult. I’ve had boyfriends, travelled across the country, wrote stories, and lived as a whole other, grown-up self, one that she will never get to meet. I regret not soaking up every possible moment that I could with a woman who taught me that life is beautiful. That everything has a beginning and everything an end, and that is just how it goes.

I’ve been back to her old neighborhood just once since she died. The neighbors across the street put up a large fence and I couldn’t tell if the garden was still there. I like to think that it is, growing tall and feeding someone else’s family. It will continue to grow, and die when the ground gets cold, and grow again when the soil is ready. My grandma never saw me grow up all the way, and I will never see her through any more of her years. But there is still growth here, and there always will be. We all see pieces of the growth that we each have to give. Some see all of it, others a little less. But Grandma taught me to love and enjoy things while we have them, just as I loved and lived happily to have her while she was with us. And even if that green bean plant we loved so much is long dead and gone, at least I was there to see a part of its very special life.

Glass Pebbles and Life Changes

word traveler

I am greedy. Not greedy for money or clothes or pasta or jewelry. I am greedy for an exciting life. I expect it to be exciting all the time, yet I find excitement in the small things, too. When I was a kid, I remember I used to go to the beach with my dad to look for glass pebbles from long ago discarded bottles, and I literally was the happiest kid when I found a smooth and well-worn piece of glass. It was the size and the color of an apricot, light orange. Where did that come from? From a faraway shore? It was so big compared to the others. Was it the remaining of a bottle or some other object? Whatever its story was, I kept it to this day on the bookshelf of my old bedroom, to remind myself how little things can make you happy for a long time. But in time I have grown, and my needs and wishes have obviously grown with me. The dictionary states that excitement is a state of exhilaration, enthusiasm, stimulation or emotional arousal. Life doesn’t always gift us with strong emotions, there are days when happiness consists of the simplest things–a cappuccino on a Sunday morning, a good book in your hands, a walk in your neighborhood to try out the new ice cream parlor’s flavors, the cake that you always fail but that finally comes out of the oven with the perfect shape and taste. Or a simple photograph shot in a moment that doesn’t look so special, but that will be your only handhold on an instant that will never come back. Life isn’t always an exciting ride on a roller coaster, or something that leaves you breathless. This is why, at this point of my life, I feel guilty. Because months of roller coasters are ahead of me, and I’m not sure I will match up with the challenge of such a wild ride, or if I’ll need an oxygen mask to breathe.

I am about to leave with my better half for the most undreamed-of destinations, a one-month trip that will take us along paths we never walked, in Asia. We’ll meet the snow monkeys in Japan, see the Mount Fuji I remember from some cartoon I used to watch in my childhood, we’ll be in Hiroshima on August 6th, cross the Sea of Japan on a boat to reach Seoul, and then fly to Vietnam for an on the road journey all the way to Thailand. Feeling lucky. This is the best way I can describe myself at the moment.

But this isn’t it. The real life twist happens in September, when my family of two will move to Washington, D.C., a place that was home and shelter to us for two years in the past. So this is not a new feeling, or a new place to visit that carries secrets and unexpected discoveries. It’s a deepest perception, a sense, somehow, of going back home, and starting a new life in a place that we have always found welcoming and warm. Why do I feel guilty, then? And worried? Why do I spend some nights staring at the ceiling and wondering hey, what’s wrong with me?? Partially because I know I’m lucky, too lucky—we will have a second chance to live in a city we loved back in time, but with new prospective and hopes. And second chances are made of gold! But part of me feels bad, because this time I see the down side of a dream that is coming true. My parents and grandparents lives in Italy, and damn I will miss the daily life with them. I feel like I’m robbing them of the time we have left together, of Sunday meals to be shared, of coffees with grandma and shopping sessions with mom. A tennis match has been playing in my head for a few months now. The ball that is being batted to and fro has “Is this the right thing to do?” written all over it. It falls in the yes court, and then bounces in the no court. Back and forth, giving me headaches. And then I think I’m not the type who wastes second chances. I feel guilty, and greedy for wanting more every day, yes, but I also want to play my opportunity as good as I can, making sure that my beloved ones see the positive side of my life choices as well.

At the moment, I am suspended above the unknown and the many issues that present themselves as we are making this important decision, but after all this is who I am and I can’t deny it. I love feeling that I’m walking along an invisible thread staggering over a canyon---I want to see what’s below, and get goose bumps, and fear, and enjoy, and scream from happiness when I get to the other side! Me and my glass pebble, all safe in my hands.

Wish me luck :-)

 

I sat down and tried to rest. I could not; though I had been on foot all day, I could not now repose an instant; I was too much excited. A phase of my life was closing tonight, a new one opening tomorrow: impossible to slumber in the interval; I must watch feverishly while the change was being accomplished.” --- Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

 

 

The State of Inaction

Landscape

By Allison Valiquette  The heat wave has passed; on Friday it was climbing up well past ninety-eight, today it’s a subdued eighty-something. Even that slight drop felt more refreshing than a cold shower ever could. There was something about the wind that felt chilly like a fall morning, a welcome relief in the middle of a sweltering July.

On the back porch my family sat smoking cigarettes and passing around the Sunday paper. Doughnuts bought that morning littered the table, some half eaten, and others about to become a fine feast. Inside in the living room our family dog knocked into the end table next to the couch and a large glass of milk came crashing down, just as he did. His legs buckled beneath him and he found himself sprawled out, looking around confused about how he had got there. We all ran over to help him, and my brother collected some paper towels for the cleanup.

Scenes like this were becoming more frequent. Sam was thirteen, and even though he still looked like a puppy to me, my mother reminded us that thirteen was almost over a hundred in dog years. He was an old man now, and I don’t remember how that even happened.

The first scare came about a year ago, when the vet told us Sam had arthritis and that’s why his legs were suddenly giving way as he walked. Medicine helped, but I for one prepared myself for this dip in the pool to be his last. I found myself wishing that he could have one more winter to be able to jump into piles of snow, his favorite pastime.

And we got that wish. Sam lived a full year after that. He swam in the pool, jumped in piles of leaves, and buried his head in mounds of snow, albeit much more slowly than in previous years, but he did it. And during that time he was my energetic, full of life puppy again. I didn’t see his knees shake as he tried to stand up. I didn’t see the white hair begin to creep around more than just his eyes. My brother didn’t see that he was having trouble walking on his left leg because his leg “must have been asleep.” It wasn’t. It was his age and arthritis starting to show again. This time, I wasn’t sure if he would get another winter.

We tried to discuss our options that night after dinner. We would take Sam to the vet tomorrow, and figure out what to do depending on what she said. Somehow cremation was brought up during the discussion and my brother stormed off. We decided to just take him to the vet and we would see what she said, and make no decisions until that point.

So life returned to normal for the rest of the evening. My mother watched a movie on her laptop, my dad mowed the lawn, and my brother escaped the house to meet up with friends. I sat myself on the back deck after petting a sleeping Sam for a few minutes. The house was still; the world was in its usual place.

But we all knew that this was just the quiet before the storm. This was the peace before the trauma. Tomorrow we might be returning home without our beloved Sam, whom we have had for over half of my life. My Dad had suggested that if the vet thought we should put Sam down that we would take him home that night instead and wait for the morning. He wanted to give Sam one last night in his home, on his puppy bed. I couldn’t bear the thought of living through the night knowing the next day would be the day we had to say goodbye. I didn’t want to plan it that way.

So for now we wait in peace. We wait in the quiet, unsure of what will happen tomorrow. We pet Sam and hold him and kiss him and silently are saying goodbye in our minds with every stroke of the hand to his almost all-white fur. We don’t know if this is goodbye, but it feels like it. Sometimes inaction doesn’t bring the comfort of a happy ending. Sometimes it’s just the in-between before the great unrest. Sometimes it’s what we need to give ourselves to not think about all of the pain.

[image]

Better Half

A week ago, we said goodbye at the bus stop, and he made his way—by bus and train and plane—to Scotland for a week. The days that followed were a string of flashbacks to the year, not so long ago, when we were long distance. He was here in Atlanta then, I was in Boston, and our lives intersected each evening around nine by way of our glowing screens. I always found it so funny that we could be together, in a way, while living separate lives, each built for one. He rose early and biked to the library; I slept in late and let the morning slap me in the face on my walk (read: run) to class. We ate our meals at different times, and we ate different things. In some ways, it seems easier to coordinate basic aspects of life when you’ve only got one body to consider. But I longed so much to build and be a part of a life shaped for two.

The end of each visit was the beginning of a countdown toward the next. In between, my physical space would gradually descend into utter disarray. I wanted things to be better, but since my space and the life I was living in it felt temporary, I didn’t put much effort toward change. When we were together, though, for those brief whirlwinds, I caught glimpses of my best self. She was someone who strode toward life on purpose, rather than bracing herself as if life were coming at her like a train.

After my return from the bus stop last week, I couldn’t stop noticing the shape of our life. Two sets of keys in a cup. A rack with space for his shoes and mine. Two placemats on the table. A note on the coffee pot in handwriting other than my own. I rolled around in our cozy apartment like a lost marble. I couldn’t quite get comfortable because all the best spots fit two.

I also slid easily into my old habits, staying up late and eating toast for two out of three meals a day. By Thursday, I was tired and more than ready for my better half to return.

When they say “better half,” they usually mean the other person, and I mean that too. I mean the partner I love and admire, who surprises and delights me every day. I also mean my own better half, who lives life on purpose in the context of a life lived together.

A Love Story

When your best friend is falling in love, you want to hear every sweet, sappy thing. You want to know that the object of her affection values her as much as you do and understands how lucky he is to be dating such a girl. Every little gesture, told through email, text or phone, about how he sent her flowers, or paid for her drink, about how she cooked for him, or they spent a quiet evening on the couch watching a movie, each little story begins to illustrate the relationship. I’m not sure I remember the exact email when she said she had met someone new, but I remember the anticipation of their first official date.  I remember talking on the phone as she described him.  I remember how her eyes had a twinkle by New Years and how the corners of her lips turned up ever so slightly every time she said his name when we skyped. I remember hearing about how they texted each other every night when they were separated during the holidays, visiting friends.

I remember remembering the start of my own love affair ten years ago.  The late night phone calls, the silly New Year’s jokes as we talked when the clock struck midnight on the east coast, and again in central time. I remember the lightness inside me that I didn’t know if anyone else could see.

My friend and object of her affection didn’t jump right to boyfriend and girlfriend.  They waited awhile, preferring to stretch out that early period of bliss.  They didn’t throw around L words before they wanted to, preferring to use cutesy terms like ‘puppy luv’ and the incredibly accurate ‘smitten’.   My friend was the first to say "I love you." As her friends squealed like school girls she shrugged and in her perfect way explained her decision to use the three biggest words in the English Language:  “It’s true.”

By the time I visited in March and we met the man who swept our friend off her feet, it was clear that this was something special.  We were seeing something beautiful and important unfold in front of our eyes.

Not everyone falls in Love.  Not everyone is smitten with their partner. In the world at large, I believe these things to be a rarity.  More precious than gold or oil and more rare than the gemstones buried beneath our feet. I believe love is a gift to be treasured.  To see such a gift, to watch my friend falling in love, to be a witness to the wonder, reminded me to treasure the special guy in my own life.

When I fell in Love, I fell fast, it was puzzle pieces clicking together, and we’ve been together ever since.  After ten years, it’s easy to feel the routine.  I still dwell in bliss, and I’m still grateful every day for my husband, but I forgot the miracle.  I forgot how incredible it is that we found each other.  I forgot the wonder.  Luckily, my friend was there to remind me.

In June my best friends and I sat at a small town bar, raising our voices over the jukebox as we sipped from our bottles of beer and talked about relationships. We talked about how quickly things sometimes move, and how they don’t seem quick at all.  We talked about steps and future conversations.  We talked about all the things you talk to your girlfriends about.  And my friend sat there and told us how happy she was, how in love she was, and then she turned to me and said “Are you really going to cry right now?” But when your best friend is in love, when you’re reminded of all the wonder and beauty in the world, when the joy rises in your chest, really, what else can you do but shed a tear in joy and thankfulness.

 

 

Why We Need Feminism, Reason #3849

Asking For It with Sibyl

Hi Sibyl,

I feel very lost.  Within the past 4 years, I've moved to another state, lost my job, gotten married, cheated on my domineering husband, gotten immediately divorced due to the shame of my actions, started my own business, moved 4 times within this city, and had the misfortune to fall in love with a wonderful man who turned out to be an alcoholic.

First and foremost, I struggle with the cheating and divorce.

My husband was a great guy, but treated me very much like a mother, being bratty until I fed him and coddled him, and took care of him -- and at other times, he treated me like I was a child.  After moving to his hometown, I made friends very slowly, but when I did, it upset him and he became jealous and would scorn me..  I felt trapped.  I lost my job as an architect, and went to work as a hostess at two restaurants, at my husband's immediate urging.  I also began working at starting my own business.  I had no access to our checking account or shared car, and he was grumpy whenever I needed rides.

I just snapped at some point, and began drinking, partying and had decided it was worth it to let a predatory co-worker have his way and we began a sexual relationship.  I've always been a good-hearted person, slightly bookish and nerdy, so when this co-worker cornered me at a work function and told me that I was beautiful, and sexy and basically proceeded to force himself on me, something in me felt amazing and energized, for once.

But it only made me ashamed of myself and unable to face my husband.  I pulled away, sure that our marriage had crumbled because of me.

That became a turning point in my life.  I ended the affair, moved out, got a new job, and ended up falling in love with a man that I felt immediately kindred to.  During my marriage, I had this feeling that things were happening TO ME, rather than me being in control of my life.  As soon as I made the decision to finally face what I had done, and began rebuilding my life, I felt for the first time in my life that I could see clearly what was important to me and how I had failed to have agency in my own life with my husband.

I remembered all the times when his dominant personality had prevailed, turning me into a submissive and scared person, at his mercy.  I have never been a fighter, always sensitive to the needs and wants of others, and can easily see their perspective.  However, this type of personality, without a sense of grounding in what I wanted, turned quickly into people pleasing, rather than being understanding.  I was an easy victim who fed right into the types of emotional manipulation that people like this rely upon to keep others under their control.  Being isolated from friends and family meant that I had fallen into the perfect situation for an emotionally abusive person to take hold of me.  It's taken me a few years of therapy and personal growth to understand this, and my role in the situation.  I vowed never to get into such a bad situation again.

Very shortly after leaving my husband, I met S, a very charming, handsome and successful entrepreneur.  He was everything my ex-husband wasn't: fun, super sexy and totally energetic.  Whereas my ex-husband never had many friends, S had a million.  He was adventurous, loved my cooking, and we'd talk for hours about life, design, and literature.  He felt like the adult I had been looking for.

We quickly moved in together, and began building a life of trust, health, adventure, and business-building. I had even quit my boring marketing job to begin my business full time, with S's new company as my largest client.  Things felt like they were falling into place.

After two years of our life together, I found out that he had been cheating on me with roughly 5 other women.   Of course I was devastated, but because I had committed similar acts of deception, and had known the healing effect forgiveness could provide, I decided to listen to him and give us a chance to reconcile.

That's when everything began to unravel.

It was right around this time I became aware of S's upbringing.  He was one of 7 children in a fundamentalist Christian household, and was celibate until age 23.  He had carried a Bible around with him every day, and was very fanatical about his religion.  Until he decided that he didn't want that life anymore, choosing the opposite.  He left the church, began drinking heavily, opened up a bar with his brother-in-law, and began sleeping with as many women as possible.  He would start fights about anything that resembled family values, like having children, getting married, being faithful, creating a home, etc.  Though, he also became extremely hard on women who might be like him, dating multiple guys, being expressive of their sexuality.  On one hand, he wanted to be near these "slants" as he termed them, yet also hated them.  I believe he also has a similar feeling about himself, which leads me to the drinking.  I believe he has such internal conflict about how he lives his life, that drinking and girls ease that pain for him.  From my experience as a cheater, the worst part is facing the other person that you hurt.  There are a few ways to get around that.  You find someone new, who has a good opinion of you, surround yourself with others who have low morals and wouldn't judge you anyway, and numb yourself with booze or drugs.  I fell into the "new people" and "drinking" categories.

I've never written this story, and I apologize that it's so long.  Basically, I learned from my own experience that people fall, they fail and deserve a chance to be forgiven.  So I honored this decision and began to work with S to understand him and be there to help him get past this.  I knew that forgiveness would have gone a long way for me.

Another reason that I'm attracted to S is that he is a creative, very successful entrepreneur.  That's something about him that I wish for myself, to be as successful and well-respected.  Being accepted by him somehow makes me feel less insecure about my own shortcomings, which stem from financial instability, building a small business, and taking responsibility for my life.  I also love him, and we truly have a wonderful connection---or so I thought.

As soon as I discovered exactly what S had been hiding from me-- the girls, the drinking, the deception-- he was never the same.  He turned from a loving and supportive partner into a combative, irrational, mean-spirited person.  He began to blame me for "finding out" and for expecting too much from him.  He cared less and less about falling short and hurting my feelings.  I found out that he had been in an on-again off-again relationship for 8 years (which went on during an engagement to another woman, and during my relationship).  I know all this yet, my main problem is giving up and moving on.

Our city is small enough that getting away from someone like this business-wise is extremely hard to do.  My clients are linked to him and his to me.  He constantly makes it seem, to these people, that we are a couple, or at the very least that we are on good terms.  This is what I've termed "emotional-business abuse".  He's mostly concerned with how the public sees him, because he runs 6 restaurants/bars and wants to be seen as a leader.  He threatens that if I tell someone who he really is, that he'll destroy my business.  He constantly tells me that he created my current success.  He represents us as a couple to whoever it seems like it might be fitting to do so (without my consent and without me being there).  Everyone loves him and is fooled by him.  It's kind of a mess.  And I end up feeling so overwhelmed and (again) not in control of my life.  I didn't want this to happen, I wanted to build a life with S, and focus on doing good work and building a great business.  It just seems that because he can't come to terms with who he is, and forgive himself, that he needs everyone to like him to combat the truth of his life.

I feel courageous for having gone through what I did, and to have emerged with a greater sense of who I am, but now I'm just baffled at how to create a life that I am happy with, because so much has been destroyed in the last few years.

The whole situation leaves me with these feelings:

1.  Did I make a mistake leaving my husband?  When it comes down to it, I would love a partner and a family and a home.

2.  Why does someone like S have this power over me and why is it so hard to not equate my self worth with what he thinks of me?

3.  How can I begin to feel happy again, to plan my life with excitement?  Right now, I tend to feel like a failure.

4. How can I let this go and pursue a life that I love?

Thank you so much for reading all of this.  Just writing it makes me seem like I'm spending too much of my time thinking about this.  Please help me gain a new perspective on this situation.

Thank you,

Baffled

 

Dear Baffled,

You are in what I like to call a Patriarchal Shit Spiral. What I would really like to do is plunk you down in a feminist re-training program, where you are not allowed to date a man for at least a year, but I am not sure that exists.

The current man in your life is really no different from the last, he's just a bit more interesting. Both of them see women as objects to get what they want, rather than whole people.

I'm going to directly address your questions rather than speak overarchingly, since there is a lot here.

1. You did not make a mistake leaving your husband. Divorce is a two person endeavour, and there are very real reasons that you cheated on him and left him. You felt it was your only recourse to get out of a marriage in which you were completely stifled as a person. Could you have done it more gracefully? Perhaps. But you needed to get out of there, and sometimes the only way out is to implode it all from the inside.

2. S has power over you because of what you find attractive. In order to stop dating men like S, the co-worker, and your ex-husband, you are going to have to radically change your idea of what is "hot". You'll have to take back a lot of the power you've been giving to men to run your life, and make choices for yourself. It is extremely scary to do this at first, but in the end you'll find yourself wondering what you ever saw in those kinds of overpowering male personalities. I really want you to ask yourself some deep questions, about why you are attracted to these kinds of men, which I think would be best done with your therapist. Have you ever been into a person who wasn’t a domineering personality? How did that relationship go?

3. In order to feel happy again, you need to be free. You are completely bound up in the expectations other people have of you, particularly what the men in your life think of you. You need to get in touch with who you really are internally, rather than whether or not you are a success in your relationships, career, and life trajectory.  I know you are reluctant to let go of S, because all you see down that path is loneliness and ruin, but believe me, this man is not as universally liked as he appears to be. You will have allies if you leave him, and you will rebuild both your business and your self-worth, on your own foundation, not someone else’s.

4. Self-forgiveness is tantamount to your ability to let go and build the life you want. In order to fully embrace that, you need to understand that your choices, and your subsequent shame about them, were a part of the patriarchal system designed to uphold the image of men as powerful beings that get to call the shots, and women as mercurial sprites who exist to support and serve them. It is a system that is hurting men as well as women, and you are seriously caught in its web right now. You’ve got to cut your way free, which will be painful, but incredibly worth it.

In closing, you are definitely not thinking about this too much. It is all you should be thinking about.

In Solidarity,

Sibyl

The Volume of Silence

In 2010 Marina Ambrovonic had a retrospective show at MoMa, as part of the retrospective she performed a new piece: The Artist is Present.  I don’t know why I was unaware of this show while it was occurring, but I only recently heard about it.  The Artist is Present invited attendees to sit across from Marina in the gallery and share a moment of silence.  Just sitting in silence.  The piece spawned facebook groups and blogs devoted to photos of the participants.  People smiled, people cried, people looked confused.  Marina was serene.  She was present.  It’s amazing and beautiful even to read about.

I wrote my final paper in my Modern Art class on one of Marina’s performance pieces.  I can’t honestly remember which one anymore, it was second semester of my senior year and I was more focused on my thesis than any other papers. But I remember parts of the research; I remember reading about her previous pieces, notably walking across the Great Wall of China to break up with her longtime boyfriend.  Marina and Ulay were/are both artists, they performed and worked together during the 70s and by all accounts were a passionate pair. When the relationship was no longer working, they decided to set off on a journey: they each started at a different end of The Great Wall and started walking.  In the middle the met, hugged, and said goodbye. The second half of the walk was the start of the next Journey.  After that moment in the middle of China, the said goodbye and didn’t make contact with the other again.  Until Marina’s retrospective, when Ulay came to participate in The Artist is Present.

This is one of the most beautiful, most touching things I have seen. It brings tears to my eyes every time I watch.  I’ve changed my desktop background to a still shot, to remind me.  Remind me of the beauty of passion and the importance of the journey.  Remind me to look into someone’s eye, to try to truly see. Remind me of the volume and multitude of things that can be expressed without speaking a word. It touches my heart.

 

Zelda Fitzgerald: Flapper. Artist. Author's Wife.

historical woman

In our ruggedly individualistic culture, I often wonder: what is it like to be famous because of the person you’re married to? To appear in the press, go down in history books, as “so-and-so’s wife”—to never, ever be mentioned without your spouse as starting point or explanation? In some ways, I think it must be harder even than being a nobody, like the rest of us. At least we can pretend at the idea of absolute autonomy, that we achieved what we have on our own. Even if you’re nobody, you are your own nobody. You’re second to nobody.

Zelda Fitzgerald, whose life reads like an exciting tabloid drama (and who, clearly, would make the best E! True Hollywood Story), is one of those, a Somebody’s Wife. Her Somebody is renowned Jazz Age novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. You know, The Great Gatsby guy. That book you had to read in high school that you still kind of remember and is now a Baz Luhrmann movie. Their life together was glamorous, whirlwind, tumultuous, and ultimately short-lived. It reads like an American Greek tragedy. And while F. Scott had some tough breaks, I have to say, I really feel like Zelda had it even tougher.

Zelda Fitzgerald, born Zelda Sayres, came from a prominent family in Alabama. There were senators, judges, etc. amongst the men in her family, so she was definitely your classic, privileged Southern Belle. However, it seems Zelda was a little, I don’t know, spunkier than her fellow SBs: drinking, smoking, seeing boys. That might have been why F. Scott was so taken with her upon their first meeting—he probably recognized a kindred spirit.

As soon as F. Scott’s first novel, Tender Is the Night, was published, he and Zelda were married. In no time, they were the It Couple of the 1920s New York (and later Paris) party scene. They drank. They cavorted. They spent money. They fought. It was all very Great Gatsby. Also, as you probably saw in Midnight in Paris, they were friends with many other American artistic luminaries: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas.

As her husband’s star was on the rise, Zelda threw herself into her childhood passion, ballet. It was a little late in life to start a career as a dancer, but for a while she devoted herself wholly to the art. It didn’t come to anything. Later, she would also take her shots at both painting and writing. The gist is, she seems to have been pretty good at all three. But what kind of career could the hard-partying wife of a super-famous hard-partying author really expect to have?

And eventually, even her role as Famous Wife wasn’t going too well. The drinking and fighting started to dominate a little too much of the couple's time. They both had drinking problems; they both had affairs. Zelda’s emotional health declined. She did one stint in a sanatorium (old-timey rehab) before checking into a psychiatric facility, which she was in and out of for the remainder of her life. She died in 1948, in a North Carolina hospital, trapped in the building when a fire burned it down. Terrible way to go, and first on my list of two tragic famous people psychiatric ward deaths (the other is composer Robert Schumann).

Only more recently has interest in Zelda’s artistic output been renewed, both her paintings and her 1932 semi-autobiographical novel Save Me the Waltz.

Zelda’s story, for me, brings to mind Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s amazing, amazingly creepy short story “The Yellow Wallpaper,” in which a confined housewife slowly goes mad in the room where she spends most of her time, and which was based on Gilman’s own experiences with mental illness and marriage. Zelda and Gilman’s heroine are different, sure—one was stuck indoors in the 1890s, the other was liberated and living it up in the 1920s literary party scene—but that stifling quality of being forever in the shadow of your male partner, constantly searching for that space that through your accomplishments you can call your own, seems in line on an emotional level with that more, perhaps, timeless female struggle. Maybe that’s why Zelda’s story still resonates today.

Even Vera Wang Can't Save Me Now

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm going wedding dress shopping with my mother tomorrow. I didn't really want to go and still feel ambivalent about it. My mother can be a loving, generous, supportive person.  However, her insecurities can easily and unexpectedly be triggered, turning her into the Witch of the West. She can be mean and offensive in the most passive of ways, making it difficult to call her out on it. I fear she'll hurt my feelings at some point and take the joy out of the moment.

I also realized recently that she's not a selfish woman but definitely self-centered: everything is about her. I’m uncomfortable with a lot of attention, and I don't ask for much from others, but I do feel the moment I try on wedding dresses for the first time should be about me.

This all makes me sad because I want a relationship with my mother and I want to share these special moments with her, but I've learned that she's so limited and I don't want to be too disappointed in the end.

I decided to bring a friend along for protection, (so sad that I need this) but I'm not sure it will be enough. And with 13 months left until my wedding, how do I continue to protect myself and set appropriate boundaries, while trying to connect with her through this experience?

Thanks,

The Naked Bride

 

Dear Naked Bride,

This is your homework, for the rest of your engagement: practice saying no.

Start small, with someone who wants you to give them money for some charity you’ve never heard of (“Not today, thanks”), or the person who asks, “can you watch my dog while I go in this store really quick?” (“No, I cannot, sorry”), or your co-worker who wants you to finish their work for them (“I can’t get to it, unfortunately”).  No, no, no, and, guess what?  No.

Then when you need to put up boundaries with people you really do care about, like your mom, you’ll be able to do it with a little more grace, because you have practiced.  It won’t come out in an adolescent rage fit in which you bring up every little way she’s hurt your self esteem since you were six.  You’ll just say, “No, I’m not wearing that hideous doily of a veil that’s been in your family for 6 generations.  I totally get it if that is disappointing to you.  But it’s not going to happen, so let’s talk about something fun we can do together.  What song do you want to dance to with me at the reception?”

It’s really sad, but true, that we have to manage our expectations quite a bit with our parents, once we are adults.  We get to this point where we can see them for who they really are, how far they’ve come, but also what their limitations are.  We want our parents to be superheroes, but they aren’t.  They’re just people.  Who had children.

Weddings are ritual events, and all good ritual is acts as a cauldron that brings out everything in people---all the ways we are transcendent beings striving to love one another in the face of impossible struggles, and all of the little wounds that are still festering, and cause us to react in unflattering ways.  They show us who we can be and also where we still need to work.  Rather than seeing this wedding as one day in which you pledge your love to your partner in front of your loved ones, start seeing it as a whole process of creation---you are actually going to become a different person through bonding yourself to another.

So yes, your mom is probably going to hurt your feelings in this transformation process.  But the ways in which she does will give you so many clues to where you are still growing, what sensitivities your partner can help you with.  The best thing to do, rather than protect yourself from all those barbs she’ll throw at you, is to catch them mid-stream, as they are flying at your face, and inspect them.  Ask yourself, “can I use this?  Can I bring this to my partner and let it draw us closer as we go through this together?  Or do I really just not need this shit right now, and need to say a hearty NO?”  Then decide whether you can take that on right then, and use it in your becoming, or not.  As the time draws nearer to the celebration, you’ll be saying “no” all over the place, as you’ll really have to focus all your energy on fighting your way out of the cocoon.

Weddings and marriage are not the smiling photo shoots we see.  They are deep transformative acts, and they unsit all of the important relationships in our lives, especially the ones with our parents.  In the end, however, hopefully it all helps us fly.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

Lessons from Philadelphia...

lessons for clara

Dearest Clara,

I don’t know Philadelphia well, but your father does.  He studied for his Master’s degree there. Yet when we visit, we always seem to discover together something that’s still new to him, and this time with you with us, it was an entirely different perspective. I’m so happy that we were able to spend the day there together as a family, and as we took in the sights of the city, I hope you remember the following:

  • Principles and ideas are important: Philadelphia was home to our Declaration of Independence, and to the Constitution, and physically home to many of the men that made those two historic documents possible.  The ideas that they stand for, and the words chosen to represent those ideas were carefully chosen.  In fact, so carefully, the documents still stand today as meaningful, governing foundations.  Every generation has the opportunity to make that kind of lasting, revolutionary impact if they choose their principles, ideas, actions and words carefully.
  • Remember brotherly love: Philadelphia is known as the city of brotherly love because the greek roots of the city’s name mean just that.  But the idea that the name stands for should be part of any city.  A city is always home to many, and in that sense, we’re always a sort of family for each other.  And we need to look out for our fellow residents in the same way that we would for a younger brother or sister, an aging parent, or any family member.  Similarly, we need to look out for and celebrate the success of others in the city as well---like a cousin that wins a race or an uncle who's finally built his house.  A city can never work well if it only feels like home for a few.  It has to feel like home for everyone.
  • Bringing your own is usually better: We love to eat in restaurants in Philadelphia because of the many places that allow you to bring your own wine.  For many places, it has to do with the way the licensing for alcohol is structured, but it’s become part of the cultural experience of eating out in the city.  We go out for the experience of going out, but some experiences just turn out better if we’re able to bring part of our own choosing into it with us.
  • Be prepared to always be an outsider: In a famous stand in Philadelphia, known for some of the best cheesesteaks in town, there is a sign that displays---“You’re in America, Please order in English”.  No surprise, it caused controversy and still does.  People either strongly support it, or they are vehemently against it.  Where you stand is for you to decide---but given how much our iterant lifestyle has us move, the sign was a bi tof a reminder that you will constantly know what is like to be an outsider.  Even though we speak the language here, eventually we will go places where we don't.  So those signs will also be for us.  Because we don’t speak the language . . . because we don’ t know the options . . . because we get the process wrong.  It will happen, and you’ll feel left out.  Some things will always be easier, and frankly, more appropriate, if you do things “their way”.  Some things, if we stick to our core, will be more important to do “our way”.  You’ll have to figure out where the balance is for yourself, but the balance is easier if you are prepared for that feeling.  And when you’re visiting somewhere new, at least make an effort to meet people as close to their way as possible.  Hopefully, as good hosts, they are trying to do the same for you---but remember, the only that's in your control is your own.
  • Not everyone is lucky enough to be grateful for their freedom: Here in the US, we take our freedom, and the liberties and responsibilities that come with it for granted.  For many people, they haven’t known another way.  But visits to the many historic places around Philadelphia will remind you that those liberties are in fact very special, and continually come at a cost.  Not everyone has the luxury of such sound governing principles---be grateful for them, and improve upon them.  No one said that the work of implementing freedoms, rights and liberties is ever done, or that the work belongs to just a few.  It belongs to everyone.

All my love,

Mom

The Baby of the Family

the baby

By Maggie May Ethridge The baby of the family. To this reader, such a romantic phrase, born of the hustle and bustle, tears and drama, warmth and love, laughter and insanity of book families: Amy from Little Women, Rilla from the Anne of Green Gables series, Ginny from the Weasley family in Harry Potter, Deborah Mitford from the fascinating Mitford Sisters (a real family, but stuffed into many books, just take a google).

In our family there is my husband Mr. Curry, myself, and our four children: Dakota, Ian, Lola, and the baby of the family- Ever Elizabeth. The last child with the most daring name, the only of our children whose middle name is a family name ( my beloved Grandmother Elizabeth, who passed away years ago ) the only of our children we had to fight to bring into this world. After years of secondary infertility and then a late miscarriage, we had our Ever. Dakota was 16 when she was born, old enough to have been her father himself, though thank god he was not. Thank god because he was—is, really—just a kid himself, and more so, more so, because Ever is the last turn of the machine over the diamond, giving it a radiance and depth otherwise left behind. And so it would be for whoever was the baby.

The baby of the family brings youth to wisdom, glee to happiness, ridiculousness to fun, an immediacy to a long tale. When we are weighted with our mechanisms and warbled complaints, she is the slap dash giggle, the hysterical fit of babyhood, the one who we all must take care of. While their Dad and I take care of all of them, the children all watch over her, so she becomes the one thing we can all agree on. When we are content, she is the gossamer of sunlight over the landscape---another layer of beautiful.

We waited so many years for her, and once she arrived, all her siblings moved in to cradle and coddle her, to tell Dad 'the baby is crying, pick her up!' to tell me 'the baby is too close to the stove.' A unified purpose: protect the baby from the inadequacies of our parents.

As the baby of the family, she drags with her blanket so many things into our home: cartoons long abandoned by the older kids are rediscovered, stuffed animals under the bed are yanked out and dusted off to be shared, hobbies shed are made new: remember when we used to love to sit on the skateboard?! The baby brings an instant nostalgia for children not yet grown up but not quite children anymore; they see their childhood in a new light, and faced with a complex and confusing world,  are suddenly made more deeply aware of the value of family. No longer simply there, our family is now creating the environment for The Baby—and although we are of course still doing this for them, they can now feel it, its worth, its beauty. In watching her grow up, they see how they themselves grew, and were valued, cherished, loved. A new pride begins to form.

As for the baby, she will watch as all the children grow up, she will be the one and only of the bunch to watch from a child's perspective as each sibling argues with us, the parents, as each sibling stakes claims of independence, burrows closer for reassurance, flies, fails, meets the world from the root of this family. When they are all grown and adult, she will be the keeper of all the secrets, the one who heard from the other room the sobs, the confessions, who saw the picked noses, the awkward attacks, the endless coming together, the  procession of bathroom and kitchen scenes, bedtime snuggles, smells and sounds of children and parents moving forward. Her presence, so unobtrusive and benign, will be taking in, and ultimately, she will shock us all as she recounts the stories and reveals her opinion, possibly scathing: Mom begged for X's respect instead of assuming it, Dad moved too quickly to shutting the talk down, Brother 1 was always complaining, Brother 2 was never paying attention . . . the rest of us will shuffle and raise our shoulders, looking at this girl child we see still illuminated in the late afternoon light of a child's day. Maybe one will say 'But you're just the baby of the family. You don't understand.' And surely like a million other babies of the family, she will resent the title, at the same time she secretly cherishes it, knowing that the 'just' in front of The Baby is not diminishing, but instead a title of great importance and power, like a tiny Queen.

All Grown Up, Still Splitting Custody

Asking For It with Sibyl

Dear Sibyl,

I'm in my late thirties and my parents have been divorced since I was 5 years old. Growing up I never wanted my parents to get back together because I knew they didn't get along well. They did a great job of never trash talking each other to us kids, but the awkwardness and unlove was palpable between them.

My problem is, the older I've gotten, the more I wish we were one, maybe crazy, but unified family.  I split the holidays, getting some time with each parent, but if I want to have a spontaneous BBQ, I have to choose between my parents because its just too uncomfortable for everyone to be together. Then, I feel guilt on top of this because I prefer my father's company over my mom's. We just relate better to each other.

I guess my question is, are there other grown ups yearning for an un-divorced family, and what is your advice on handling choosing sides?

Help!

Torn In Two

Dear Torn In Two,

We're all grieving the family we don't have.

I have a picture of my parents in my living room, which was taken before I was born, in which they look so happy that I've considered they might be high.  Their faces squished together, both grinning, beautiful, and shining with love.  The pictures I have of them in later years are stilted, posed, in which they look like strangers to one another.

Growing up, I always wished my parents would get a divorce, because their unhappiness together fell over our house like a pallor, making everything muted, even celebratory times.  But they stuck it out, for one reason or another, and as an adult I realized that you never really know what happens between two people, even if you are living in the same house with them.

My father died when I was in college, so I never got to see what it would be like to get together with them as adults.  I find myself jealous of the parents who have grandparents around all the time, and seeing the way that my child responds to older adults, I wish I could give that to her.

But there are trade-offs to everything.  I hear from my friends who have active grandparents that they are often quite stressful to have around.  Also, I think everyone has to navigate their parents' relationship, whether they stayed together, or not.

So, Torn In Two, I don't think you are alone on this.  I think we could all use some time to grieve the happy families we wish we could have, and find acceptance for the one we’ve got.

What I suggest for your dilemma of choosing which parent to spend time with is this: make a monthly date with your mom, and stick to it, no matter what, on your end.  If she's the one to drop the ball, just wait until the following month to see her.  Then, you can let your get-togethers with your dad be more spontaneous, and you won't feel bad, because you have your standing date with your mom.

As for the guilt you feel for preferring his company, you need to let that go, as I'm sure you can find real reasons your dad and you are closer.  Guilt is spiritual cancer.  Radiate that shit with love.

Love,

Sibyl

Submit your own quandary to Sibyl here.

Everything is Beautiful

I suppose I should start at the beginning. You want to hear the birth story, right? Whether I used drugs or did it au naturale? Was there water involved? A midwife or doctor? (Birth has become so politicized). Well, I’m not going to do that. You can imagine the details and I’ll just skip to the ending---I brought home a healthy baby boy on March 5th, one week before my toddler turned three. We named him Dash Oliver. No, we didn’t have any underlying reason. I gave my husband the parameters: one syllable, kind of vaguely preppy sounding? And he came up with Dash all on his own.

I should tell you that everything is so, so very different with this one. Everything I thought I knew before doesn’t matter. I should tell you that for the first time, it is easy. Perhaps even enjoyable? I wake up and his rounded baby cheeks greet me. He is a sweet bedfellow, all smiles and coos. I want to dress him in only white, pure and clean. I am reminded that you don’t need all the accouterments that are marketed to new moms. Just some diapers and a boob. Did I mention that I am breastfeeding this time around? Don’t worry, I won’t judge you if you didn’t, or can’t, or even don’t want to. I’ve been there. But this time, with this baby, I am breastfeeding, and co-sleeping too. It has been going well, mostly enjoyable, but mostly it just . . . is. People ask how the nursing is going, and I squint my eyes and tilt my head, “Well, I guess?” He’s eating and gaining weight and I am only slightly less exhausted than I was with bottles. I am reminded how children choose their own parenting philosophies. At the hospital, while I was trying to decide whether to breastfeed this time, the nurses kept mentioning how “he just loves the boob” and “this little guy decided he wanted to be breastfed!” I liked that. I liked that for once they didn’t make it about me, the mom. My first rarely snuggled and had a terrible latch from the beginning, and this one? Completely different in every way. Will it be like this the rest of their lives? This marveling at how genes could combine in such different varieties?

I want to grasp these early days and hold them tight. Every day he grows bigger and smiles more. My heart bursts. I tell my husband, “Did Charley smile this much? I don’t think he did.” He says he did. But I think perhaps it was the postpartum depression fogging my brain. I can’t remember any smiles because I wasn’t smiling. But this time, this time I have that new mother glow of happiness. I overflow with joy. There is none of that angry, resentful feeling I carried for so long with Charley and I am glad. Is this what those mothers at the library were feeling when I used to bring Charley after crying all morning? Those moms with the sappy grins on their faces that I just couldn’t understand. It’s as if the depression left a scar on my soul, deep and jagged, and Dash allows it to heal. Every day is better than the last. I’m not sure I will be able to say that forever. But every day is bittersweet as well since I know this will be my last. Who knows, I might just be the next controversial extended breastfeeding mom! Life is beautiful and so unexpected.

I am thrilled and honored to be writing in this space again all about motherhood and identity. Two kids is an adventure and the journey is life-altering.

xxxvi. normandie

postcards from france

I used to have these fantasies of Fréd and I falling in love and living in Paris in a tiny apartment in the quartier latin. We would survive off of cigarettes and coffee and sex. I would take classes at the Sorbonne, and he would write stories and novels. We would walk along the Seine and frequent dark, smoky bars at night. It was the kind of romantic ideal that I spent the first 20 years or so of my life carefully cultivating, a fantasy that I’d pieced together from reading too many books and watching too many movies set in Paris. For years, though, I thought that maybe, maybe there was a chance that it could come true.

Fréd is still one of my best French friends. He is one of those people I can go years without seeing in person and, when we do meet again, pick right back up with where we left off. I’m fairly certain now that he is gay, but the fantasy was still nice while it lasted.

___

[You can read all of the Postcards from France here.]