Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just Be

In middle school, you wanted to be the girl with blond curls and slender hips. You wanted to be the girl to whom Ross Liberty wrote notes, who had a doctor father and lived in the cool subdivision.

Instead, you became the girl who learned empathy by way of being teased for something you couldn't control, you learned to be thoughtful by way of tripping over words you already said, and you earned "class gossip" with not your first and not your last male best friend. You paved your own trail, and you were better for it, brunette locks and all.

In high school, you wanted to be the girl who already knew everything, who couldn't possibly mess up, who was in control of her life.

Instead, you became the girl who learned about friendship by making monumental mistakes and being forgiven. You learned how to fail and how to gift yourself grace. You learned that the trick was not in the not fucking up, it was in the damage control, the crow eating, the picking up the phone. That the flare was not in the wobble but in the dismount.

By college, you had wisened up a bit. You wanted to be the girl who said hi first, the girl who rose her hand in class, and you became her. You wanted to be a writer, and you wanted to be respected for your point of view, and you found the right people, and you did and you were.

In New York, you wanted to be the girl who looked fear in the face, who didn't take no for an answer, who discovered every possible thing that was out there. And you did. You stared it down and you found your 'yes'.

When you left your hometown, you wanted to be the girl with a firm handshake, who showed up on first dates with the perfect balance of humility and optimism. You wanted to be the girl who listened more than she talked, who learned from whoever would teach her, and you did.

You perfected the first date tightrope. You mastered the dismount and you sold your house. You were thoughtful and you found friends who made you a better writer, a better thinker, with a more evolved point of view. You sought out more yesses, and you learned the lessons waiting for you, however ugly, however hard.

Now you want to be the girl who doesn't stop even when she feels like she's asked for and received too many blessings. Who leans in, so to speak. You want to be the girl who gives and gives but doesn't take any "guff", as your dad would say. You want to be the girl who keeps not settling. You want to be the girl who knows a secret: that life is at once really, really beautiful and really, really painful, and it doesn't take the perfect job or the perfect husband or the perfect ________ to enjoy and survive it; it just takes an open heart.

You want to be the girl who does not curate her life, but lives it.

But you'll soon wisen up. You'll realize you already are her.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Brain Crush: Dear Sugar

When I read Wild, I was annoyed. I now know this says more about me than it does about Cheryl Strayed, but I was mad at her for being so...lost. I wanted her to get her act together, to know things that would prevent her from making so many damn mistakes.

I came across a quote on Facebook this morning that perfectly summarizes why I was so wrong, care of another teller-of-lost-and-found-stories, Elizabeth Gilbert:

I wanted Cheryl to know things before she learned them. Does that sound familiar at all? If not, please pause and take a gander to your right at the "themes" section of this blog. Do you see the biggest word there? Lessons. More lessons than not. That's my life.

But I learned from Wild something I should have already known (#irony): It's your life, too.

It's my boss's life, and my boss's boss's life, and Barack Obama's life. It's Cheryl's life, and Elizabeth's life, and thank god that they are writers who can and are willing to share their story. Who put themselves out there and make us feel not so alone, not so damaged.

Something in me wanted to give Cheryl another try, even before I realized this. Or, maybe, more likely, I was drawn to the title of another book of hers that I found on Amazon: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar. That sounded like what I needed in my life, yep. Add to cart.

And, you guys, it was so, so good. Like, read-it-in-one-afternoon, didn't-look-at-my-phone, devoured-it good.

Some samples:
"There are so many things to be tortured about, sweet pea. So many torturous things in this life. Don't let the man who doesn't love you be one of them."
“Don't surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn't true anymore.”    
“I'll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don't choose. We'll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn't carry us. There's nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”    
“So release yourself from that. Don't be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word 'love' to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.”    
“You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.”    
“It’s hard to go. It’s scary and lonely…and half the time you’ll be wondering why the hell you’re in Cincinnati or Austin or North Dakota or Mongolia or wherever your melodious little finger-plucking heinie takes you. There will be boondoggles and discombobulated days, freaked-out nights and metaphorical flat tires.
But it will be soul-smashingly beautiful… It will open up your life.”  
Guys, I could copy and paste for days. I want to drink up all the wisdom, the things she learned when it was the right time for her to learn them. She makes me want to learn all my things at the right time, too.

I admit that part of my interest in the book was of the 9th-grade-snark variety: How did she go from drugs and dysfunction to writing an advice column? The answer was clear by the time I read her first answer: She did that by making all the mistakes and learning all the lessons. She did that by being imperfect and then forgiving herself, and then she went a step further and she bared her story to whoever needed a little bit of love. She did that by telling the truth.

What I love about the columns is that Cheryl doesn't just nurture. She doesn't say, "There, there, darling, all will be right with the world." No. She says, "The world is terrifying and hurtful, people are flawed and selfish, you're imperfect and you always will be. But. Tomorrow is another day, and life can be more beautiful than you can ever imagine. But. You'll need to pick yourself up, you'll need to dust yourself off, and you'll need to do the hard work. But. It will be worth it."

So the really wonderful news that I bring you is that Cheryl is partnering up with another former Dear Sugar columnist, Steve Almond, to create a podcast called... Dear Sugar. The first episode is up, and it is so, so good. Cheryl says the show is about "what's really on the inside." Um, subscribe.

"We could boil down all the questions I received as Sugar down to one: Is it okay for me to be me? And I think people are shocked to find out that other people feel that way."

Hearing her on the podcast made me realize that the real reason I was mad at Cheryl while reading Wild is that I saw myself in her. And the real lesson I learned from her is that by forgiving others, it's a lot easier to forgive myself, and vice versa. She just says it a lot more eloquently than I ever will:
"Forgiveness is not one act at one time. It's not one decision. It's not one day where you have an epiphany... It's years. It's decades. Of saying, "Here I am, and you might have been a dark teacher, but you were a teacher. And thank you."

P.S. My second favorite advice columnist received a letter that reference Cheryl and I love the sentiments behind her answer. She's a future brain crush, to be sure.