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put a pin in it

I used to be friends with a girl who was way more into music than I was. I think most people are like that; my tastes are pedestrian mostly and I can go weeks without listening to a song that isn't played on some store system. But she and I were friends and we were the enmeshed sort of friends, and it was exhilarating and troubling and it was the frame of my life at the time. I could not conceive of living otherwise. If you are a woman, you have probably had a friendship like this at one point or another. When someone meets a certain tipping-point level of friend criteria, it's so irresistible to sail in and get all Anne-and-Diana, isn't it? 

The friendship and the enmeshment aren't the point of all this, but the music is. We were friends when David Bowie toured with Nine Inch Nails and she loved David Bowie; he was her forever man and let's be real, this is as much a sign of her good taste as her love for me, right? There was no way she would not go, and I liked Bowie well enough, liked Nine Inch Nails, and yes, I would go with her. I don't remember precisely when or how, but it was in the context of this event that she said something like It's always good to have a thing like this to look forward to, you know? Like "I have to live until the Bowie show, I can't let anything get in my way until that." Then you just find something else a few months away that you have to live for.

This was not a girl given to suicidal thoughts. Of the two of us I was the more dour and cynical. I don't remember how I reacted at the time, but it stayed with me, decades now. (Auld, auld, to be thinking of things on a timeline of "decades" and yet have them feel so close and large and warm.) The girl didn't--didn't stay with me, I mean. I broke our enmeshment myself for a dumb reason. Aren't they all dumb reasons? I was overflowing what I thought was the shape of my life, which no longer had space for the shape hers had become. So ridiculous, so short-sighted, so mean of me. Given the chance now I would break any shape and make room for her, I would be as generous as she always was for me. I remember us driving away from the amphitheater after that show into the dark, wondering what was coming next that would be good enough to live for.

This is a long way of saying that I bought concert tickets today. There are lots of reasons for me to keep going every day besides the obvious stubborn insistence of my body continuing all of its biochemical processes and reactions. I have not taught my mother-in-law the carrot soup recipe! I have book club meetings! I have that stack of paper I have to shred! But when I'm running for a bus and my boots skid on ice and I (hopefully) catch myself before I fall, I'll swear in my head and remember that I have a place to be in a few months. Maybe I'll be more careful. Maybe just better.

a scrap of gold

He doesn't know what makes him say what he does next: Is it empathy, as he hopes, or is it a boast, an alluding aloud to the improbable and wondrous turns his life has taken over the past month? "You know, Felix," he begins, "I never had friends either, not for a very long time, not until I was much older than you." He can sense, rather than see, Felix become alert, can feel him listening. "I wanted them, too," he continues, going slowly now, because he wants to make sure his words come out right. "And I always wondered if I would ever find any, and how, and when." He traces his index finger across the dark walnut tabletop, up the spine of Felix's math textbook, down his cold glass of water. "And then I went to college, and I met people who, for whatever reason, decided to be my friends, and they taught me--everything, really. They made me, and make me, into someone better than I really am.
"You won't understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are--not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving--and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad--or good--it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well."
They're both quiet for a long time, listening to the click of the metronome, which is faulty and sometimes starts ticking spontaneously, even after he's stopped it. "You're going to make friends, Felix," he says finally. "You will. You won't have to work as hard at finding them as you will at keeping them, but I promise, it'll be work worth doing."
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life
a book which, it turns out, I'm not all that fond of, but which has some truth in it

I never was smart with love.

We are another year married. There are long times when the work of marriage is exhilarating, rewarding, we-are-so-damn-good-at-this work and you remember why you said you wanted to do it every day until you died. And then there are times when your marriage will sit there and drone like a Coke machine and every once in a while you’ll give it some money and it will give you cavities and caffeine one mouthful at a time. Because it is not going away; no distributor is coming by in a fixed number of years giving you the new model Coke machine with the dollar acceptor that never spits back your wrinkly-ass dollar. Marriage is maintenance and archeology and psychology and industrial arts and home ec. It is that kind of math that Good Will Hunting did. It is all the work, and it is work on yourself and I both love and loathe work on myself. You can’t work on the other person, though. That’s their project, the same way you don’t want them messing around in your project even when they’re looking askance at you like are you going to get that done anytime this year or what? It is hard to do your project, let alone the other stuff that goes with being married, when you are broken down into your component parts and cannot reassemble yourself because there is no allen wrench for this.

It took more than I can tell you to get me to this point, right here, today, with the wherewithal to write a post that was more than a dive into my past for safe stories. It took brutal sickness, complete mental check-out, anger and more anger and so many I-give-up shrugs that I don’t even have shoulder ligaments anymore. It took every single sunny Winnipeg winter day and then it took the snow melting and purple puffball alliums coming up from the earth. It took a lot of bacon. It took me wondering what I could abandon, and who. My mind did a fucking Ironman this spring, and then it did a victory tour to Ottawa where I once again attended the inspiring Social Capital Conference (and even hosted my own roundtable discussion about group web projects) and had meals and drinks and gelatos and good talk with some  of  my  favorite  people in this entire country. It really is something to give your sanity an IV bag full of validation and camaraderie, and I don’t take it for granted.

I’m home again now, writing again at last and making small progress on the house. The bedrooms and all of the hallways in this house are a bizarre flashback to the you-wish-it-was-caramel-but-really-it’s-Cover-Girl-foundation brown walls I had in the master bedroom in my old house. To make it worse, the bedrooms here are small—1910s small—so those dingy brown walls made the rooms look even smaller. I painted the open closet of the master bedroom last month in a soft blue, but it took until now to get the bedroom walls started themselves. When I painted those words on my walls last time, tiny traces of them still showed up on the surface after multiple coats of primer and paint. I liked knowing they were there. This time I wondered what kind of love I wanted to seal into the bedroom, secret except for you, me, and the rest of the internet. 

indestructible201312jun.jpg

And here’s where I get back into the beloved and beloathed work on myself. People who have been privy to the deeper hell of the past year heard me say more than once that I’ve been an open wound for almost all of it, and I’m just sick of living that way. I’m not saying I’ll never fall apart again, but I can try harder instead of being seduced by how deliciously easy it is. There is only one thing that’s going to kill me, whether it’s a tumor or a truck. Whatever it is, it’s not here today. What is the worst a person could do? Die on me? I’ve survived that. Shut me out? I’ve survived that too. Break my heart? Been there, baby. Tell my secrets? It’s been done. None of it killed me, no matter how I thought it would; I am still here, rode hard though my psyche might be. The people I love deserve all of me. They earned it for loving what was indestructible beneath that open wound. 

well, well, well, my Michelle

This woman knows me better than just about anyone except Myron.

sorry about the picture-of-the-picture—scanning isn’t working today. I think this was 1992.She lives too far away from me, in the house where her grandparents lived when we were kids. I do not see her nearly enough, but the minute we are in touch with each other, miles and time melt away. She knows what I am made of, and when you are with someone who knows your building blocks, you breathe in a deep, effortless way that you cannot at any other time. I have never had to say to her Please be happy for me. It’s her default. Even when I dated someone she still calls Sonic the Hedgehog, she was happy for me.

She has often apologized to others for what I’m made of; she knows it isn’t actually as nice as it should be. “You don’t have to apologize for me,” I would say. She did it just the same. It’s because of the way she loves, which is one of those all-or-nothing loves. I never seem to issue those of my own volition; people have to drag them out of me with heavy machinery. Michelle did it with the phone.

In my childhood bedroom (another Scintilla post I have not written; blame a migraine and everyone else’s great posts which I can’t stop reading), my mother installed a powder-blue slimline phone. She mounted it on the wall and it had a shortish cord, so I had to stand up near my bedroom door to talk. This is not an ideal situation for a thirteen-year-old girl. But my mother did not think like a thirteen-year-old girl, and I was expected to be grateful for any bit of telephone I had. 

Michelle called. Did I have the homework? Did I see what X was wearing? Did I have a crush on anyone? What was I going to wear tomorrow? Did I like Bon Jovi?

Girl loved her Bon Jovi. 

I answered her questions, said Igottagobyeseeyoutomorrow, and hung up.

Years later, she laughed. “I tried! I couldn’t keep you on the phone!” I didn’t know how to have a conversation. But I put in the time in person. We did things with Girl Scouts, with choir, on our own. We laughed once for two class periods straight, uncontrollably, in tears and gasping for breath. Somehow none of our teachers sent us out of their classrooms. We double-dated; I’m still not sure which one of us was actually stuck with the guy who looked like Cousin Itt. We grieved and got drunk and stayed up too late bothering her Nana until three in the morning, sometimes all at the same time. We watched Dirty Dancing (a hundred times) and The First Nudie Musical (once was enough). We made peanut-butter rice krispie treats and pastitsio and we wore matching French maid costumes, and fought with each other while wearing them. We used our criminal minds to get away with murder all through school. We walked around the high-school track late at night singing The Mamas and the Papas and watched meteor showers from her front yard. We edited a yearbook that brought tears of pride to our adviser’s eyes.

Fourth grade, with much smaller hair. Evidently it was a Blouse Year.She shared her family with utter selflessness. During the summers I spent weeks at a time at her house, coming home for clean clothes and to prove to my mother that I was still alive. I did chores and ate meals at her table and babysat with her. We played B94 and sprayed Sun-In in our hair and sprawled on beach blankets in the sun. I basked in the love of her parents and the energy of her siblings. But it was always Michelle who gave the most, who loved hardest, who side-eyed me when I handed out bullshit, who made me feel like I was just fine as myself (even if she had to apologize to others in the process). When my brother died, it was Michelle who picked me up at the airport when I flew home, who held me and demanded nothing. When my mother was dying, she did the same. And when I got married, she drove all day to come here and stand at my side, bearing my mom’s charm bracelet. She’s family, in a way that no one else I’m actually related to can be.

At the end of Stand by Me, the adult Gordie writes: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” And no, I never did. I have had fun with other people, and shared secrets, and loved with what my heart had to give, but the love you give when you’re a child is different than any other love, wider and stronger and less judgmental. It depends on nothing and generates its own power like a star. You can apologize for it and let it collect dust and even put it away, but its power can do anything. Thirty years is nothing to a star.

(And she will know why I chose Guns & Roses for this video.)


 

The Scintilla Project, Day 8: Who was your childhood best friend? Describe them—what brought you together, what made you love them. Are you still friends today?

paper hugs

I sent a lot of mail during February! Here’s most of it:

Some of the cards I forgot to photograph before I sent them out, and so I’m hoping I can get images from the recipients. In the meantime, well—this is enough! Only one duplicate—the paper I used for Mary Robinette’s letter is the same paper I used to send one to Jennifer of Little Yawps.  Aside from that, the slideshow is a whirl of color, black-and-white photography, and lots of love to strangers and friends alike. And I feel like I made a huge dent in my stationery stash. (PS—I’m still sending a few letters a week, and if you’d like one, just send your address using this form. No worries: It doesn’t obligate you to send one back.)