Archive | April, 2016

Jeanette Winterson

13 Apr




Jeanette Winterson is…

Poetic.  Thoughtful.  Sly.

I’ve been trying to come up with words for her, this author so unlike any other I’ve read.  She’s brutally honest.  That’s one thing.  She says without hesitation, “There are people who could never commit a murder.  I am not one of those people.  It is better to know it.  Better to know who you are and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.”

Just says it.  In nonfiction.

Most of us cover up our ugly parts with the slightest gauze of fiction.  We tiptoe around ourselves and our realities.  Not Jeanette.

She also doesn’t follow any form.  She talks about how she doesn’t outline or try for conventional structures in her writing.  That doesn’t work for her.  She just writes as she writes, whatever that may be.  Sometimes that leads to long stretches where I can’t remember who she’s talking about and if it’s worth reading, and then sometimes BOOM.  10 pages of poetry all at once.  I’m struggling to take it all in, write it all down, wondering what just happened.

Jeanette is unpredictable.  Striving.  Yearning? Are those the same?  She had such a twisted childhood that she’s spent the majority of her life trying to untangle it all.  Trying to figure out what happiness might mean in general, what happiness might mean to her.

I suppose therein lies her relatability.  Most of us didn’t grow up with the mother from Carrie, but all of us have scars and triumphs and hopes and dreams and good and bad from our childhoods.  All of us continue to be affected by our pasts, shaped and molded and stronger.

Jeanette had THE past.  She grew up with an unstable, cruel, fanatical mother.  She writes about it with honesty and clarity and a lot of hurt, still.  A lot of wondering.

Jeanette couldn’t help the cards she was dealt.  She couldn’t help the mother who adopted her or the circumstances of her childhood.  She could help her future.  She could help what she did with it.

And what she did with it was write.

I’ve now read several things but Jeanette, but Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal is her best.  It’s not hiding behind that gauze, it’s simply telling the truth.


Some quotes for you.

A whole honey bunches of oats quotes for you:


On Love  

Love. The difficult word. Where everything starts, where we always return. Love. Love’s lack. The possibility of love.

Listen, we are human beings.  Listen, we are inclined to love.  Love is there, but we need to be taught how.  We want to stand upright, we want to walk, but someone needs to hold our hand and balance us a bit and guide us a bit, and scoop us up when we fall.Listen, we fall.  Love is there but we have to learn it–and its shapes and its possibilities.  I taught myself to stand on my own two feet, but I could not teach myself how to love.We have a capacity for language.  We have a capacity for love.  We need other people to release those capacities.

It is never too late to learn to love. But it is frightening.

Why is the measure for love loss?

On life and living

Living with life is very hard.  Mostly we do our best to stifle life–to be tame or to be wanton.  To be tranquilized or raging.  Extremes have the same effect; they insulate us from the intensity of life. And extremes–whether of dullness or fury–successfully prevent feeling. It takes courage to feel the feeling–and not trade it on the feelings-exchange, or even transfer it altogether to another person. I understood that feelings were difficult for me although I was overwhelmed by them.


On doing/not doing the sensible thing

I have noticed that doing the sensible thing is only a good idea when the decision is quite small.  For the life-changing things, you must risk it. And here is the shock–when you risk it, when you do the right thing, when you arrive at the borders of common sense and cross into unknown territory, leaving behind you all the familiar smells and lights, then you do not experience great joy and huge energy. You are unhappy. Things get worse. It is a time of mourning. Loss. Fear. We bullet ourselves through with questions.  And then we feel shot and wounded. And then all the cowards come out and say, “See, I told you so.” In fact, they told you nothing.

 On poetry

Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines.  What they heal is the rupture reality makes on imagination.  I had been damaged and a very important part of me had been destroyed–that was my reality, the facts of my life; but on the other side of the facts was who I could be, how I could feel, and as long as I had words for that, images for that, stories for that, then I wasn’t lost.

When people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that if shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange and stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy.  A tough life needs a tough language–and that is what poetry is.  That is what literature offers–a language powerful enough to say how it is.  It isn’t a hiding place.  It is a finding place.

 On second, and third, and fourth chances

I know now, after fifty years, that the finding/losing, forgetting/remembering, leaving/returning, never stops.  The whole of life is about another chance, and while we are alive, till the very end, there is always another chance.

On happiness

I am short, so I like the little guy/underdog stories, but they are not straightforwardly about one size versus another.  Think about, say, Jack and the Beanstalk, which is basically a big ugly stupid giant and a smart little Jack who is fast on his feet.  OK, but the unstable element is the beanstalk, which starts as a bean and grows into a huge tree-like thing that Jack climbs to reach the castle.  This bridge between two worlds is unpredictable and very surprising.  And later, when the giant tries to climb after Jack, the beanstalk has to be chopped down pronto.  This suggests to me that the pursuit of happiness, which we may as well call life, is full of surprising temporary elements–we get somewhere we couldn’t go otherwise and we profit from the trip, but we can’t stay there, it isn’t our world, and we shouldn’t let that world come crashing down into the one we can inhabit.  The beanstalk has to be chopped down.  But the large-scale riches from the ‘other world’ can be brought into ours, just as Jack makes off with the singing harp and the golden hen. Whatever we ‘win’ will accommodate itself to our size and form–just as the miniature princesses and the frog princes all assume the true form necessary for their coming life, and ours. Size does matter.

As I try and understand how life works–and why some people cope better than others with adversity– I come back to something to do with saying yes to life, which is love of life, however inadequate and love for the self, however found.  Not in the me-first way that is the opposite of life and love, but with a salmon-like determination to swim upstream, however choppy upstream is, because this is your stream…Which brings me back to happiness, and a quick look at the word. Our primary meaning now is the feeling of pleasure and contentment; a buzz, a destinies, the tummy upwards feel of good and right and relaxed and alive…you know…But earlier meanings build in the hap–in Middle English, that is ‘happy’, in Old English, ‘gehapp’–the chance or fortune, good or bad, that falls to you.  Hap is your lot in life, the hand you are given to play. How you meet your ‘hap’ will determine whether or not you can be ‘happy.’ What the Americans, in their constitution, call ‘the right to the pursuit of happiness’ (please note, not ‘the right to happiness’), is the right to swim upstream, salmon-wise.

Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not at all the same as being happy–which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine.

If the sun is shining, stand in it– yes, yes, yes.  Happy times are great, but happy times pass–they have to–because time passes.

What you are pursuing is meaning–a meaningful life.  There’s the hap–the fate, the draw that is yours, and it isn’t fixed, but changing the course of the stream, or dealing new cards, whatever metaphor you want to use–that’s going to take a lot of energy.  There are times when it will go so wrong that you will barely be alive, and times when you realize being barely alive, on your own terms, is better than living a bloated half-life on someone else’s terms.

The pursuit isn’t all or nothing –it’s all AND nothing.  Like all Quest Stories.


As Good As It Gets

7 Apr


This week I went to my first yoga class in nearly a month.  I breathed and moved and failed to balance.  Shavasana was a chore, one of racing thoughts and a million to-dos.

Later Hilary and I got nachos. We decided to try the mole enchiladas.  Our waiter knew our order.

I commented to Hil that this is about as good as life gets.  Not in a depressing, Jack Nicholson way, but in a happy, yoga class on a cold afternoon and nachos with your best friend–that’s the stuff life is made of way.

Those are the things I need to hold on to.

I think I used to believe there was more.  That was good, yes, but obviously there was something better.  Something involving Europe and Prince Harry, probably.  A fabulous career and spiked stilettos. Something like that.

Birkenstocks and nachos and laughter were good and all, but I wanted great.

Later that day, I spent several hours pouring over every Zillow listing in a 50 mile radius of where I might want to live one day.  At first it started in good fun, as all Zillow dates start.  But then eventually came this desperate crushing feeling.  Soon I was researching elementary schools and grocery stores.  Googling churches and beaches and how much it costs to replace a roof.

I decided I was a do-it-yourself sort of gal and I could buy a home in ruins and transform it–no problem!

So long as there was a home!

Tell me there’s a home!

Somewhere in the third hour I realized that this fun Zillow date had taken a Stephen King-esque turn.  Zillow was my Christine and the car had gone of the rails.  It was trying to kill me and I was letting it.

This wasn’t about fun houses in a reasonable distance from the beach.  This was about my insatiable worry for my future.  My inability to just let it go and say, “It will all work out,” but to instead try to grab my future tightly and scream, “This is how it will happen, OK?”

I know.

I know that researching homes 50 miles from where I’d like to live, several years before I can even think of owning a home is not doing anything to help my life. It’s the basic prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

Wisdom tells me that this Zillow “research” isn’t helpful.  That the only thing I can really do about my fear of the future wae the things I already do.  I’m working towards my goals.  I have a plan.

But it’s too far away!

And there are no spiked stilettos!

Recently a friend and I were talking about our futures. She and I have extremely different lives at the moment, about as opposite as they can get.  Our goals are very different as well.  But we share one thing–we’ve never seen someone with the future we want.

We are afraid we can’t have the lives we so desperately desire and work for because we’ve never seen them.

Several days after this conversation I thought,

Of course no one else has the life I want!

No one else is me!

It seems so simple when I put it like that.

It doesn’t feel so simple, though.  It feels wrapped in our gender and our culture and the way that we never ask men if they can have it all.

It feels very complicated.

I’m worried about my future.

Hil reframed my Zillow date to a positive, saying that this is actually a strength of mine gone a little off course.  I care a lot.  I research and pay attention to eery detail.

And I do.

Gosh I do.  I care so much.  Sometimes (often) (always) it’s exhausting caring this much about every single thing.

But this wasn’t a positive.

This was Stephen King.

Tomorrow I’ll go to yoga again. My mind will be more on track, hopefully, or maybe it won’t.  And I will give myself grace and I will sit through the shavasana and I will count myself lucky that I can go at all.  That my body moves and that I have midday off and that my best friend currently lives 10 minutes from me and can get nachos with me whenever she wants.

I will do this and I will not check Zillow.

I will do this and laugh and laugh and smile and breathe remember

This is as good as it gets.


This moment

is great


Friendship, Utah, And Doris

4 Apr


I’ve been in Utah for the past few days, eating fry sauce and grasshopper shakes, seeing friends and family.  Utah, Utah, Utah.

I have such a complicated relationship with this state.  I wonder if everyone does with their home?  Is Utah especially fraught?

It seems all of Utah is a small town.  I know this can’t be true, and yet, while in line at Cafe Rio today, there were four separate conversations with four separate groups of people who knew someone I was with.  We are all interconnected.  Probably related, too.

It was such a needed day.  I MISS THIS.  I miss my friends who are really my sisters at this point.  How we can sit down and cheer on the big meal.  How we can share our deepest fears and hopes and ugliness, how we can support each other anyway.

There’s a thing with old friends that can’t be replicated elsewhere and every day I wonder if California is worth that.  How can I replace Amy, the girl who reads my mind, the girl whose twisted heart turns in the same way as mine?  My sister, after 16 years.

How can I replace Breanne? My friend whose knowledge on every subject baffles me, whose opinion I want on everything?  How can I replace her humor, her resourcefulness, her absolute Bre-ness?

Or what about Mandee?  The most gentle, kind, graceful soul in every room.  The girl who tries so hard, who never gives up, who loves our friendship like I’ve always wanted a friendship to be loved.

And then there’s Caitlan.  With her way of bringing spirituality into all conversations.  With her intense passion for EVERYTHING, with her concern for random celebrities, and her pet causes and her desire to save the world.

These girls are part of my soul, the people I choose to surround myself with because they understand me and accept me in ways I can’t find anywhere else.

I miss them every day.  In an ideal world we all live next door, watching TV together, playing Rock Band through the night, living and laughing and just being with each other.

I recently saw the movie Hello My Name is Doris which is wonderful and you should see it right away.  It’s a character study executed flawlessly by Sally Field, not Sally Fields as I always have to look up.

It’s the story of a woman with my perfect fashion, a woman who wonders what she’s done with her life.  Who daydreams and hoards and falls in love with a coworker.

My favorite scene in the movie, though, doesn’t have to do with any of those things.

It takes place after Thanksgiving when Sally (Doris) is quite upset.  Her best friend Roz hurries over with a bag full of Thanksgiving leftovers.  Sally sobs into her arms and says she’s a joke to everyone and she has nothing to look forward to.  Roz simply says, “You have two kinds of stuffing.”

There’s no judgement in this scene, though there could have been.  Roz shows up.  She doesn’t berate Doris for any of her actions.  She just gives her two kinds of stuffing and tells her it’s all right.

There’s another scene, later, where it’s Sally and Roz and some other girlfriends helping Sally address a lifelong problem she’s never tackled.  Sally surrounded by those who love her.

I’ve been thinking about female friendships lately and always.

The advice they give you when you’re young, how boys come and go but friendship is forever, that advice is solid.  That advice, I’m learning applies even to adulthood when we think we know the boys we will always have.  When even long-term commitments and we-think-forevers are called into question, it’s Roz at the door with two kinds of stuffing and no judgement.

It’s your girlfriends who come help you with your big, lifelong struggles.

Or least it’s mine.

The worst part of adulthood is being away from those you love every day.  Childhood with your family all around and your friends for 8 hours a day, no one tells you this is it.  It only happens once.

Because I know, even if I lived in Utah, I couldn’t see my girlfriends every day.  They have jobs and children and husbands and mortgages.  They have families of their own, obligations and real life.  I would see them, more, sure, but not enough.  Never enough.

And so I press on.  I don’t know the answers to all of this, nor do I think I’ll ever have them.



I do know, however, that I have two kinds of stuffing.