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Yesterday marked two years since my sister-in-law's untimely death from early onset dementia. I won’t sugar-coat it: her decline and death was grueling and awful.
As I was praying for her and her family yesterday, I was reflecting on a conversation she and I had over 20 years ago (!!). We were both in our late twenties. I shared this quote from Hugh Prather with her. She really liked it. It goes:
"We are walking in a ticker-tape parade. That’s all that’s going on. Some pieces of confetti read 'great calves,' some 'chronic sinus,' some 'no noticeable hair loss,' some 'multiple sclerosis,' and some 'third-finger amputation.' Don’t judge your neighbor by what pieces of paper fall on his or her shoulders. Don’t think you are cursed or blessed by what pieces fall on yours." (Hugh Prather, "Practicing Love." The Sun Magazine, March 2000.)
It’s hard though --it’s damn tough-- to grasp how much of our lives are out of our control. Like who might get early-onset dementia. It’s frighteningly random. (I wrote a whole book about it, trying to figure it out.) We like to fool ourselves, create distance from disaster. Find someone or something to hang blame on or a way to take credit for how lucky we are.
And yes I deeply, I deeply believe in prayer and God. I have a deep faith that just happens to jibe with Christ. But --
I don’t think Jesus is Santa Claus. I don’t think Jesus keeps a list of naughty or nice, in or out, who deserves good toys or who gets coal in their stockings.
And in spiritual-but-not-religious lingo, I don’t think chronic or terminal illness is due to a lack of positive thinking, or improper “wellness” routines, or bad karma from this life or a past one.
Sure, we can make supplications to God. I ask for help all the time. But I surely don’t think God is sitting up there like a divine DJ, just hankering to play our specific requests.
What I think, what I’ve come to believe, is that the best that faith can bring us is company on our journey. And hopeful resilience to try again, and try again, even when our hearts are broken.
In my early twenties, I was lonely and struggling and scraping by all alone in a new city when I came upon a notion that changed my life.
Paraphrasing from a book, it was:
"The only way to guarantee your life is filled with love is to be the most loving person you can be."
Holy smokes! I'd been going about it all wrong. I'd been looking for love from the outside: trying to make friends, choose the right career, find a partner, maybe get a dog. And all those things are fine, and worthwhile. But *even if* you make friends, find a partner, do good work, adopt a dog -- they come with no guarantee of love. (Well, except maybe the dog.)
The only way you can guarantee your life is filled with love - is to be the most loving person you can be.
Anyway. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all.
May your lives be filled with love in all its forms.
As I blink in twinkling holiday lights,
Have I made friends with Guilt?
Have I welcomed her as the old friend she is?
Have I invited her to make herself cozy, have I poured her a cup of tea while she and I together notice how disappointing I am to others? Have we observed, with stark clarity, that I have not been, will never be, doing enough for my children, my parents, my in-laws, my spouse, my job, my friends, my self?
Have I thanked Guilt for her near-constant companionship?
As I stand in the kitchen, cookies in the oven, pots on the stove,
Have I been crying enough?
Have I let my tears salt the gingerbread? Spill into the pasta water until it’s as bracing and biting as the ocean, like my friend Maddy says pasta water should always be?
As I sip a drink here at a friend’s party,
Have I embraced my loneliness with the same gusto as I hug my friends?
Or is my loneliness lonely, another victim of unearned neglect? How can I make my loneliness feel loved?
As I wrap these presents, have I enfolded into the packages the sorrows of the year? The souls I miss so dearly? The disappointments I’ve caused, or been steamrolled under? The injustices I’ve borne witness to? The keenings of my heart?
As I tear sticky-tape off the roll, am I noticing all the ways my intentions are stuck on my fingers — entangled, gluey, as dangerous as the web of the garden spider outside my window — do I feel the viscosity of all my intentions stuck to my fingers, building up, obscuring fingerprints and whorls, never manifested on the page, or in the world?
As I set the table for fewer people than I’d hoped, or more than I can bear,
Am I asking myself if I’m getting enough rest? If I’ve seen the moon recently? If I’ve left space for joy?
As I turn off the lights, the only soul awake in the house, possibly the world,
will I remember
that I am a Child of the Universe,
“This means anyone’s son could be accused of rape at any time!” or “How would you feel if you were judged by what you did at 17?”
I’m a sexual-assault survivor and the mother of a teenaged son. My heart hurts every time I see these posts (in reference to Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation) going around Facebook and Twitter.
Whether these are posted by well-meaning mothers or by Russian bots, I’m not sure. What I do know is that such posts are posted from a place of fear. And they attempt to spread more fear.
Let’s clear out the fear.
Let’s live in a world of enjoyable sex between enthusiastic, consenting partners.
What does that look like? Does it mean we need to teach our kids to be completely abstinent, or constantly interrupt their “sexy times” to ask consent?
FWIW, here’s what I tell my teenaged son:
1. BE INTERESTED IN THE OTHER PERSON’S RESPONSE TO WHAT YOU WANT TO DO / ARE DOING.
Did y’all see that Will Smith movie, “Hitch”? It’s not a perfect movie, but it has some of the best dating advice I’ve ever heard: “Go in for a kiss 90% of the way ... and hold.”
Why is this great advice? Because it signals where you’re at —“I’d like to kiss you on the lips”— and waits for a response. That response could be a lipper (kiss on the lips). It could be a cheeker. It could be a heart-wrenching handshake. But whatever the response, you are signaling your intention and leaving room for the other person to make their decision.
Later on, when things may be getting hot and heavy, stay interested in your partner’s response. Make eye contact. Do they like what you’re doing? Ask them if something feels good. Incidentally, this will only make sex better and more fun.
Tl;dr: Be interested in the person’s response.
2. THERE’S A LOT MORE TO SEX THAN PENETRATION.
Movies seem to show couples going straight from a kiss to intercourse. There’s a lot more fun that can be had. Explore, together. You don’t have to go in a straight line from lips to vaj, you don’t have to progress around certain bases, you don’t have to penetrate something with your penis to have fun. See what makes you feel good. Ask what makes them feel good. Figure it out together.
3. IF YOU CAN’T TALK ABOUT SEX WITH THE OTHER PERSON, YOU SURELY AREN’T READY TO HAVE SEX WITH THEM.
In heterosexual relationships, this includes the basics of birth control. In all relationships, this includes the basics of STD protection. You know what’s more awkward than needing a couple of tries to put on a condom? Herpes. Herpes is more awkward.
There's more after the break. Click to read the rest:
Potty Training vs. Consumerism, or: How I Learned to Stop Buying Crap While Teaching My Child to Crap in a Potty
Potty training can be tricky. As a parent and a preschool teacher, I know this. God, do I know this. Throw in even a modicum of thought about consumerism and capitalism, and what do you get? A total mindf*ck, that’s what.
Go to almost any child development expert for potty-training advice and they inevitably say something like: When your child shows signs of ‘readiness’, take her to the store and let her pick out her own big-girl underpants and her own potty. This will give her a sense of ownership, pride, and control over the process.
I get why the experts say this, but then again, WHY DO THEY SAY THIS?
You’re a good parent and you want to do right by your child. Empowerment, guided choices, all that. And you can’t wait for your child to get out of diapers.
So you follow the advice. You find yourself standing in the (gender-segregated) kids’ underwear section of Target. Your child is illicitly standing, not sitting, in the red cart because you’re smart enough to choose your battles.
There's more after the break. Click to read the rest:
"I don't know any family that doesn't struggle over screen time."
Tell me if this sounds familiar:
Me: We are visiting your grandparents, for crap's sake. Get off the screen.
Son: NO WAY!!! Nooooo!
Me: YES way. Yeeeesssss.
Son: (gripping the iPad like Gollum holding the One Ring) THE iPAD IS LIFE! (direct quote, guys.)
Me: (Panicked. Embarrassed. Don't want to get into a full-blown power struggle at my in-laws. Whisper-hissing--) When we get home, we are doing full-on enforcement of some new Screen Time Rules.*
Son: (rolls eyes, already tapping the screen) Sure sure yeah now leave me alone.
Great googly wooglies. How did we get to this?
I'll tell you how we got to this.
And then I'll tell you what we did about it.
And I'm here to tell you: IT WORKED.
Here's what I'ma share with you:
- A Brief History of Our Family's Screen-Time Rules (Or: How We Got to This)
- Back to the in-laws' house, and The Three Things that Happened.
- Things that I, You, We All Need to Know about Screen Time.
- The Hard Reset of Screen-Time Rules -- The Rules, enumerated.
May your locker open every time.
May your teachers laugh with you often, love you much, and teach you well.
May your crushes respond with a kindness that will keep your heart tender.
May your first kisses be mutually magical.
May you be good to others and disarm meanness with your kind heart and sharp wit.
May you keep knowing your true self and trusting your intuition.
May any pimples or inadvertent erections cause a bare minimum of embarrassment.
May you be mindful that, as overwhelming as your own changing body may be, the girls around you are dealing with periods and tampons, cramps and Advil, and breasts and bras. Be respectful and keep your eyes UP HERE.
May you recognize your friends--be they kid, animal, or adult--and know you are cherished for who you are now, and supported in who you want to become.
May you take care when you take risks.
May you continue to work hard, kindle your sparks, and remain open to mystery and not-knowing.
May you hold onto imagination and play, and hold off on screens and Snapchat.
May you return to The Source for quietude, peace, and inspiration.
May you know deep in your heart how ridiculously much we love you.
And as you walk your path, may you always, always bear in mind that-- every living thing in this extraordinary world: We Are All Connected And We Are All In This Together.
(reposted from a Facebook post Aug 22, 8:59am, because I always forget to post on my blog and then share on FB instead of the other way around.)
Full disclosure: I pray every night. On my knees, eyes closed, hands folded, the whole shebang. (I pray to the Great Spirit, or the Loving Spirit of the Universe, because that is God, but I have some issues with the word and concept of "God" as an old man in the sky, and as defined by-- and fought for by --many religions. I'm happy to talk more my beliefs, but later, okay).
For now, what I want to share is this, with full credit due to Annie Lamott:
HELP PLEASE, THANKS A TON, and: JUST -- WOW.
Backing up. For decades, I would only pray "THANKS" prayers. Prayers of gratitude, because I thought really, that's all that was necessary for my spiritual life. Focus on the gratitude.
Then came "HELP," about seven years ago. Not direct help for myself; but mainly because I wanted to be true to my word when I said I'd hold someone in the light. So I added "HELP" prayers. These are generally for others who I've seen or know about. I send love and visualize them surrounded by golden light. And what do you know? Later, I learned that the incomparable writer Annie Lamott talked about those kinds of prayers as the two main kinds. And I was like, "Yes, sister! 'Thanks' and 'help'! AMEN!"
Then I caught a whiff of her new title: Help, Thanks, Wow. And I was like, "Hmm." (Things that make you go, "hmm...")
So last month, I added "WOW" to my prayers. This means something that gave me a sense of awe or wonder that day. Nine times out of 10 (actually, more like 99 out of 100), my "Wow" is something from the natural world. The color of autumn leaves. The spots on a frog's back. The cotton-candy-colored sunset. The discovery of a new aspect of quantum mechanics.
Friends, "Wow" has been a transformative addition to my prayers. Because (1) it reminds me to get my ass outside, in (or adjacent to) nature, on the daily. (2) It blends the mystical and the scientific in a way that tingles all my bells, and (3) it puts all my human-level issues in immediate perspective.
So, thanks, Annie, and thanks, Great Spirit/LSotU.
And just... WOW.
There is nothing to writing.
Papa Hemingway and I don't have a lot in common, but if you asked me to describe the process of creating Believarexic, his words are most apt.
Writing Believarexic was an intensely personal and challenging experience. Some days it truly felt like I was opening a vein onto its pages.
But the response from readers has been humbling and deeply gratifying. Like, personal dance party gratifying (see below).
And so, I'm thrilled and grateful --and perhaps slightly terrified-- to announce the release of Believarexic into the wild.
It is available in hardcover (October 1) and e-book editions (October 6) wherever books are sold.
I hope you'll buy a copy today, and spread the word to your friends, students, and family.
Thanks for traveling this journey and dancing these dance parties with me.
May the force be with you, friends.
If you're local, please join me:
6 pm Friday, October 2 at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest for a reading & signing
7 pm Saturday, October 3 at The Regulator Bookshop for the Believarexic launch party!
★"Compelling and authentic,
this story is impossible to put down."
— Booklist starred review
"...a powerful story of healing and self-acceptance."
- Kirkus Reviews
So glamorous, an author's life, that on your big book release day,
you get your own 80s dance party celebration
...while putting away the dishes.
When you *thought* you were alone