I’m surprised now and again by young authors (Jonathan Safran Foer) or playwrights (Annie Baker) who seem to be wise beyond their years. I wrote about this when I wrote about Safran Foer’s story “Here We Aren’t, So Quickly.”
Today, I read an article in the February 25 issue of the New Yorker about Ms. Baker. (And just now noticed, as I was pasting in the link, that the article is titled “Just Saying.” Weird.)
She is talking about a dramatic transformation from her sternly moralistic self at the age of 23, when she realized “. . .that she, too, would make mistakes and hurt people,” and this “annihilated her.” The article continues: “It’s this crisis in her understanding the helped impel her to make the emotional teachers in her play–the beacons of moral honor–people who are themselves failing in full-fledged adulthood. ‘The story of their lives might not immediately appear to be exemplary or what the younger character would want,’ she explains. ‘But there’s a kind of transcendence and nobility they embody through having not lived the lives they wanted to.’”
I am, and have always been, someone who strives to find/feel “happiness” every day. To live in the moment — to the point where I, a 48-year old woman, (with a nose piercing, but only 2 sets of holes in her ears), have seriously contemplated getting this tattoo’d on my inner forearm to remind me to live in the moment:
(This does, actually mean “live in the moment,” not “one order of Peking duck, hot and sour soup on the side.” I know this because I’ve checked.) (Still trying to get up my nerve. Any suggestions? warnings? Anybody out there want to drive me to the tattoo parlor and hold my hand and hang around for the next 30 years and remind me of what a good idea it was when my skin gets all dry and wrinkly like paper and the tattoo ends up looking exactly like it it is actually an order for Peking duck, hot and sour soup on the side? I didn’t think so.)
Anyway. . .
As you all know, I am also dealing with the death of both of my parents, my father a few weeks ago, and my mom last August. As you might imagine, my relationship with them was probably much like yours is with your parents — I didn’t talk to them often enough, my mom was often “disappointed” in me being, well, too much like me, (I’m not making this up), etc., etc., but I loved them and they loved me and they were my parents, and now they’re gone. Despite knowing that my dad died exactly how he would have wanted to — peacefully, apparently in his sleep, perfectly healthy as-far-as-he-knew one moment, and gone the next — I am still so incredibly sad to have lost him. (And it doesn’t do much to reassure me that the same won’t happen to me? Husband? Heaven help us whoever next.)
I’ve also struggled with having to let go of some of my professional dreams, and am still struggling with trying to find time to do the work I need to do to pay my bills, be there for Only Daughter when she needs me to be, and pursue the other things in life that have always tempted or interested me — namely, I want to read more, knit more, would love to take a painting class, and a photography class, would like to try to write an actual book someday, etc. etc.
Yesterday in my yoga class, a class with one of my favorite yoga teachers, and one which offered exactly what I needed (hip openers!) after having missed yoga for two weeks, the teacher did the opening meditation on happiness. She started with the American Indian/Cherokee story a chief tells his granddaughters, about the two wolves which live and battle each other inside each of us. One of the wolves is anger, fear, resentment, frustration, disappointment; the other joy, happiness, contentment. One of the granddaughters asks which wolf wins the battle, and the answer is “The wolf you feed.”
I started thinking about how much of my energy is spent feeding my resentment towards the people who have wronged me, how I should stop feeding that wolf, but how their petty insecurities have interfered with my ability to really live up to my personal or professional potential, and how letting that anger go is like letting them get away with it, and how unfair that is, and how much energy do they ever spend thinking about me and so on, and so on, and so on.
By the time I left, I was all nicely warmed up and limbered up and felt like I had really had a good yoga practice, physically, and was an absolute mess emotionally; nearly in tears before Savasana, barely able to roll up my matt and depart at the end.
I came home, and Only Daughter was here, as it was still her schools’ mid-winter break. I decided that, rather than do our usual, which is her at the computer watching ridiculous ridiculousness on youtube (Dance Moms! Ugh!) and reading her books and me practicing and at my computer answering emails, etc., we would go see a special exhibit at the local museum. So I shower, and we grab a quick lunch, and off we go.
First I park near what used to be one of our area museums, but it’s now part of a local arts college. Of course, I don’t discover this until I’ve fed every single piece of loose change I own into the meter, trying to eke out 90 minutes. We then drive to the correct museum (which has the name of it clearly above the door, a name which does not resemble in any way the name of the museum on all of the billboards touting the new exhibit), and can’t find a parking space. After driving around the block twice we find that someone has departed, so I do an illegal U-turn, grab the spot, manage to find two more nickels in the bottom of my purse, (I’ll get change when we get the tickets), and in we go. . .but the line is 150 people long, and I have piano students in two hours.
The rest of the day is much like this. I won’t bore you with the details, but it did include driving a long way out of the way to go to an arts supply store, doing extensive research in books introducing painting with watercolors, selecting paints, and brushes, and paper, and getting overwhelmed and intimidated and putting it all back.
After a kind of restless but adequate night’s sleep I wake up with the decision (!) that this will be a better day; I will make it so if it’s the last thing I do, gol’darn’it. I will start this day by writing the name of every person who has “wronged” me on a piece of paper and burning it in a foil tray, and that will release me from their hold on me. I do this. And there aren’t really that many people. And I laugh and think, “that’s it? It seemed like so many.” I start to wrack my brain to see if I can think of anyone else, decide I’m utterly ridiculous, and that’s that.
Of course, it’s not really that simple.
I picture this ideal, where there is this part way down deep in the center of me that is strong and confident and good, like a little tiny diamond carat from which the rest of me radiates; and some days I know it’s there and some days I think it’s there and some days I hope it’s there and some days I just can’t seem to find it, or believe that it ever existed.
But I have everything I need, and my husband and children are healthy and smart and strong, and my problems, in comparison to the problems of the world, are pretty small. I know all of these things. So I make these vows to myself, to be more present, to be more joyful, to be more that tiny little diamond carat and less the dark swirling shadows that engulf it. . .and then my students come and they don’t have their assignment book, or their Etudes book, or they were skiing for the whole weekend and didn’t practice until yesterday; or I will be a better and more patient mom and then I catch Only Daughter eating her fourth snack since school, at the computer, and three of her Tuesday chores not done; or. . .
But today, I wrote an eleven-page paper about a Bach piece that I love and that I will submit for publication. And I got a last-minute gig playing for two gala occasions in area cities this weekend. And I bought myself these boots:
How fun/happy is that?
(Alas, I have to wait 30-60 days for them. Not sure why, but I think it’s important not to ask too many questions in cases like this. Of course, my credit card has already been charged.)
(And yes, I know retail therapy isn’t the answer to everything, and that it is not possible to actually buy happiness. But I’m thinking that it might sometimes help. I mean, did you see the boots? They’re red. And embroidered. And the toes curl up in that insouciant manner, almost like a smile. Did I mention they’re red?)
Trying to decide the best way to spend my energy; whether I should: continue in the work I’m in, try to write a story or a novel or put together a book of poetry or take a painting class, yoga more often or train for 5K or both, keep blogging or stop blogging, etc. etc.
But here are a few funny moments/discoveries to share.
Little boxed rose plant sits on Husband’s placemat with a little hand-torn heart and a lovey-note written in pink pen. He is bustling around the kitchen making coffee and pouring cereal and chattering away about what a lame holiday Valentine’s Day is, how pathetic those people are who think they can make up for a year of benign neglect and/or indifference, how cynical the Hallmark company is for creating such a holiday to play on people’s guilt, etc. etc. I sit at my place, eating my eggs, watching him, smiling.
He comes over to the table with his breakfast, and says, “Oh! What’s this, then? How sweet.”
We were discussing the ridiculousness of how we can’t seem to agree in this country that nobody actually needs to be able to go and buy an assault rifle. Husband remembers this little gem from Eddie Izzard. (Don’t ask me about the clothes and the makeup while he makes no attempt to change the clearly-I’m-actually-a-man timbre of his voice. I have no idea.)
And I don’t really make it a habit to include advertisements for pickup trucks in my blog, but this was played during the Superbowl, as my family was sitting around writing the eulogy for my Dad. And it sums up my dad, and what kind of a man he was, quite nicely. I can’t watch it without crying.
A little story first, which basically sums up his, and my, parenting style.
I was probably 10 or 11 years old, and went out with some siblings to hoe one of the potato fields. I, in my infinite wisdom, (and given my propensity not to wear shoes unless I absolutely had to, which persists to this day), went out to hoe barefoot. Of course, I hoed my big toe pretty badly, and limped back with the toe all bloody and crusted with dirt, blubbering and looking for sympathy. Dad takes a look at me, looks down at my bleeding foot and says, “Hoeing barefoot, huh? That’s not very smart.”
Nope. Not very. And you were exactly right, and exactly right to say so. Miss you.
Me: I’m cold. It’s got to be in the single digits. It feels like my head’s going to explode.
Husband: What are you talking about? It’s 14˚ at the coldest; a nice, balmy, Canadian winter day
Me: Yeah, all true, except for that it’s definitely colder than 14˚, it’s anything but balmy, and we’re not in Canada.
Husband: We’ll see what the car shows for the temperature.
Me: Yeah, except it’s in a heated garage, so no pointing at it in the first 5 seconds and gloating.
[Arrive at car. Get into car. Start car. Handy little temperature indicator says it's 43˚ out. Husband points and gloats. I ignore him.]
[Drive a few miles. Temperature drops. 38˚ 32˚ 27˚ 18˚ 14˚. Husband points. I give him the universal sign for "Just wait a minute."
Not this one.
Temperature stops at 10˚. I point. Husband mutters: Your car’s wrong.]
Me: Okay, maybe not 8˚, but I was still closer than you were.
Husband: Yeah, one degree closer.
Me: I said it was 8˚, you said it was 14˚, how is 10 one degree closer? Is this how you do math in Canadia? (He loves it when I call it Canadia.)
Husband: It’s about how you figure out, not whether the answer is right or not.
Only Daughter [in back seat][did I mention Only Daughter was with us?] It’s dropped to 9!
Husband: Okay, now you’re one and a half degrees closer.
[Temperature drops to 7˚]
Me: Okay, NOW who’s closer?
Husband: I’m on a horse.
(It seems weird that we were at a hockey game last night, but Only Daughter’s youth choir was singing the national anthem, and we were still in town until this morning, and I think Dad would want us to keep on living, and laughing. Not sure how he would have felt about the gaps in Husband’s logic — even Only Daughter wanted to know what Husband being on a horse had to do with anything, especially since, clearly, he was not.)