Tag: Insecurity

15Jan

Book Stories: The Original

On the recommendation of about half my social media feed, I finally checked out the novel Lila a few weeks ago. (A digital library account is an expat girl’s best friend.) In case you haven’t heard of it, the book centers on a woman who grew up as a family-less migrant worker during the Dust Bowl years, and at first, I was sure the story was going to end as gritty and bleak as its historical setting. In fact, I put it down about a third of the way through and had to talk myself into picking it back up a week later. I was so wary of letting myself be dragged into a fictional despair.

By the end of the book though, I understood how Marilynne Robinson had won a Pulitzer for Lila’s prequel. Her writing transported me simultaneously out of my life and into a deeper plane of it. The final chapters were so stunning, so honest and tender and hope-spun, that I just sat with the finished book for a while keeping company with my own experience of it.

And these were my first two thoughts, in order of appearance:

  1. That book was so inspiring. I can’t wait to crack open my laptop tomorrow morning and work on fleshing out some storylines of my own.
  2. That book was so intimidating. How can I possibly write another word of my own knowing that artists like Marilynne Robinson exist?

This is the black hole into which creative types have been tripping since that first cave man thought to contrast his stick-mastodon with that of his neighbor. Comparison is a void from which not even light can escape. I know that. We all know that. And yet…

It’s so easy to let someone else’s work mean something about my own, especially when that work induces some kind of emotional reaction in me. “I love that book” turns almost automatically into “I could never hope to write something like that;” “I hate that book” blurs immediately into “I could do so much better.” And all the while, my creative, original soul shrinks further into the background, forgotten. You know exactly what I’m talking about, yes? If it’s not about art, it’s about fashion sense or professional accomplishment or interior design choices or parenting styles. We compare as if those artificial pedestals were the ground holding us up.

I’ve been in the process of figuring out where to allot my time and energy this year, and there’s a phrase I keep returning to. It’s from the Bible, actually, though you wouldn’t think it. (That’s why I love the Message version; it always surprises me.) At some point, I’m going to frame these six words in some clever Pinteresty way and paste them above my desk so that I can’t help seeing them each time I glance up:

“Each of us is an original.”

This is the bedrock under the pedestals, the antidote to the endless game of measurements. And it’s what I’ve been returning to each time I’ve lingered on the genius of Lila. It allows the book to be beautiful without it reflecting a single blessed thing on me. The relief of that cannot be overstated. It’s like unstrapping a pair of ten-pound ankle weights, or like plucking a capacity for inspiration out of thin air. The freedom to be original is Lila’s gift to me at the outset of this year. Or more accurately, it’s the gift I’m giving myself through her.

Book Stories - Lila

In this series, I’m foregoing traditional book reviews and instead sharing Book Stories—why certain books have impacted me, how they’ve entwined themselves through my life, and what the long-term effects are. After all, what better way to talk about stories than through the medium of story?

(If you have your own close encounter of the literary kind you’d like to share here, just send it on over to hello{at}bethanybassett{dot}com.) 

18Apr

Welcome to the Future of 2009!

I have a confession to make that will no doubt secure my spot in history as the coolest and most technologically savvy blogger of all time: I’m scared of site makeovers. Other people’s, that is. I first discovered this attractive characteristic in 2002 when a member of my small blogging community (hi, Eliot!) updated to a minimalist theme. His site suddenly looked so polished, almost corporate to my eyes. He even had his own domain, which was a great mystery of the universe to me at the time. (My tech-savvy status is increasing by leaps and bounds right now, I know.) I was mega-impressed but just as intimidated too. Why couldn’t we all just post away cheerfully on our colorful Blogspot and Xanga journals for the rest of eternity?

For the record, I’m glad that progress didn’t stop to consult me on its way out the door. I even joined the ranks of domain-owners in 2009, learning enough PHP to build my very own minimalist website. (Okay, the minimalist part is a lie, but I did have a white background.) Still though, trends continued to shift, and I felt lost every time another blogger friend modernized their online presence. Actually, online presence is what it all boiled down to for me. Writers who had formerly struck me as down-to-earth now seemed inaccessible, their beautiful new sites every bit as formidable to me as power suits and Botox. Why couldn’t we all just keep our quippy titles and cluttered sidebars and webcam profile pictures for the rest of eternity?

Once again, I am glad that the forward trajectory of the world does not depend on me. You may have noticed that I’m posting this from a shiny new website of my own, and that is because the online presence reflected in my dear old hand-coded site no longer resembles me. I see the world differently than I did five years ago. I blog differently and interact with readers differently and think about the future of my writing differently, and it’s [past] time that I welcome you into an online home that has room for it all.

On the slight chance that one of you experiences the same site-makeover anxiety that I do when a friend upgrades his or her space, let me assure you that you’ll find no power suits or Botox here. I’m writing this in my around-the-house jeans, which are ripped beyond even Abercrombie’s sense of propriety, and yesterday’s crumbling mascara. I’m still me. And now my website is too.

So, welcome! Take a look around, and if you haven’t yet, would you mind heading over to “like” my Facebook page? I’ve been letting it languish for a while, unsure whether it was worth putting energy into or not. This seems like the perfect opportunity to resurrect it though, and I’d love to have you along while I figure out how Facebook works in 2014. (Why couldn’t we all just keep writing “is” statuses and super-poking each other for the rest of eternity?)

Love,
The coolest and most technologically savvy blogger of all time

10Feb

Off-The-Shirt Parenting

…And so it starts.

One of the girls began crying out of the blue yesterday about a word a playmate had used to describe her months earlier (unbeknownst to us). It was an F-word. THE F-word, the one I had been dreading having to redefine for my innocent children’s ears:

“Fat.”

Instinct rocketed an immediate protest to my lips—“You’re not fat!”—but I blocked it at the last minute. I’ve read so many wonderful articles and stories over the years about how to discuss body image with our daughters that I know better than to pick my fight with the word itself. “Fat” and “thin” can be such arbitrary descriptors, especially in a girl’s own mind. What’s more, they don’t even come close to covering the nuances of appearance, of stature, shape, skin, smile. They speak nothing of beauty, though of course we tend to associate one with beauty and one with its opposite. They’re subjective and emotionally loaded, and the last thing I want to teach my wounded little girl is to go through life relying on others to affirm her skinniness.

So I wracked my brain for tips on how to proceed in this conversation without crushing any eggshells underfoot, and I prayed a quick “Help!” and I started into every right thing I knew how to say. I told her that health matters far more than size. I talked about how each girl is born with a unique shape. I showed her this stunning photo of diverse Olympic athletes. I listed amazing things that her body is able to do. I read her passages from The Care And Keeping Of You. I assured her that she was utterly beautiful. And after a solid hour of this, we had gotten exactly… nowhere.

Someone had told her she was fat, and that one word had more weight than all of my words put together.

Finally, in desperation, I lifted my shirt to show her my stomach. This was not easy for me to do. My girls have seen my stomach plenty of times before, and we have been getting the European locker room experience for six and a half years now, but none of those times was I putting my deliciously squishable middle on display for someone to scrutinize. Besides, I haven’t worked out consistently since the marathon in October. AND CHRISTMAS HAPPENED. I was absolutely not ready for my midriff close-up.

I also had no idea what to say once I had my shirt raised. What was I even trying to convey with this? That my daughter should feel better because her stomach isn’t as big as mine? Or that the way to deal with insecurity is to become an exhibitionist? Gah, and again I say gah. I felt like an idiot and quickly put my shirt down… only to see that my girl had lifted hers and was examining her own lovely tummy with delight. When she went to bed a few minutes later, her feelings were still hurt, but she no longer seemed to be taking the F-word to heart.

Once again, I’m amazed by the power of vulnerability to heal. The stories and songs and works of art that have touched my life the most over the years have always been the ones that cost their creators dearly—the tender, raw, unpolished truth of themselves that they were brave enough to share. I’m forever grateful to authors like Maya Angelou (the first memoirist I ever read) and Glennon Melton (the most recent) for daring to hold their experiences up to the light, inviting us to look and touch and brim over with Me too!s. Artists like Frida Kahlo, songwriters like Fiona Apple, friends who whisper their hearts out over kitchen tables or email servers… their bravery makes me brave. It never fails.

In light of that, I can understand why a minute of pretending I was Gwen Stefani worked when an hour of impersonal truth-reciting didn’t. My girl needed to see a little of my skin to help her look kindly at hers, not in comparison but in recognition. I’m not sure exactly what she saw in my cookie-sculpted abs (do I want to know??), but helping her make peace with herself was well worth my momentary discomfort.

(Annnnnd as of today, I’m back to working out! You never know when the F-word will rear its fire-breathing head again, and a mama wants to be prepared.)

13Nov

Where My House Elves At

(Prints available on Etsy*)

Dear Internet,
You’ve got some ‘splainin to do.

I know that sounds sitcom-silly at best and beat-cop-antagonistic at worst, but I mean it sincerely. We’ve been together a long time, you and I, from that first GeoCities homepage in ’99 (those synthesized MIDI versions of Third Eye Blind songs I had running in the background really classed up the joint!) to this morning’s reflexive Facebook scroll-through. I understand that change is inevitable over the years; neither of us is as earnest or as driven to gimmicks as we were in the early days of online socialization, and you never promised to conform to my expectations of you. Still, there is a certain version of reality that you’ve been projecting as something obvious and ordinary which continues to baffle me. And no, I’m not referring to the whole leggings-as-pants thing (though you’re welcome to explain that one too while you’re at it).

What I need you to help me understand is how the average Internet citizen of today seems to be able to juggle three or four full-time jobs at once. Let’s create a composite character for the sake of example: Harlingen Housewife is a totally average mother of four with her own Etsy shop and personal website. She gets up at 5 every morning so she’ll have adequate time to write a viral blog entry and run a few miles before making her family organic omelets for breakfast. While the kids are at school, she works on her third memoir, clears out her email inbox, and dusts the attic, keeping up a steady stream of Twitter banter all the while. After lunch, she focuses on her children, chauffeuring the older ones to extracurricular activities and facilitating art projects with the younger ones using a homemade watercolor recipe that she created on commission for Pinterest. Supper is quinoa-based. After reading the kids to sleep and treating her husband to a few rounds of lovemaking, she gets to work knitting custom convertible car tops for her Etsy shop. Only one or two tonight. After all, she needs plenty of sleep before her keynote speech at the next day’s Billionaire Bloggers Conference.

This is just a flat stereotype, of course. There are women who also manage to homeschool or run farms or travel the world or conduct publicity tours while doing all of the above. Some even hold down glamorous day jobs without missing a beat in their online success parade. Or at least that’s the picture you’re painting, dear Internet.

Here’s where my confusion comes in. I opened Twitter the other morning and immediately closed it again because—let’s be honest—99.7% of all Tweets nowadays are links to other pages, and I didn’t have time to read and compose retweetable comments on the thirty showing up on my screen, much less the thirty thousand queued up from the previous day. I didn’t have time because I was hoping to fit in a run before lunch, and adding two new pages to a writing project had already taken the lion’s share of the morning. The girls had an event scheduled for the afternoon, which meant that I would only have two hours after lunch in which to fit (or rather, fail to fit) errands, housecleaning, bookkeeping, emails, homework help, ironing, and a short lapse in judgment involving cookies… and there was the day, stretched out before me like a threadbare map, every inch of it already accounted for and found lacking.

You see, Internet, the contrast is just too great between what I’m able to do with my day (maintain a happy and occasionally hygienic home + write a little) and what you imply other moms are accomplishing with theirs (All The Things). Either I’m spectacularly incapable, or you’re skewing the truth. Or perhaps I’m just latching onto a skewed perspective of the truth that you never intended me to have. It’s hard to figure out sometimes what is real out here in the no-holds-barred glitter of your ether.

I realize that just because I can’t juggle multiple full-time gigs at once (and we DO agree that stay-at-home parenting is a legitimate occupation, right? good.) doesn’t mean that other people can’t. I also realize that the enviable personas attracting your spotlight are most likely supported by teams of babysitters and house elves and graphic designers and pizza delivery guys backstage. That’s just a hopeful guess though. For all I know, you could be the ultimate landing place for multitasking superheroes.

So please, dear Internet, in light of all the years we’ve spent together and my enduring love for the avenues of self-expression you’ve opened to the world, do me the courtesy of explaining:

  1. Whether or not task forces of mythical creatures are running the lives of successful bloggers for them
  2. What the primary difference is between my workday and theirs (if you say it’s a 5 a.m. wakeup time, I reserve the right to punch you in the throat even though I’ll know you’re right)
  3. What others are sacrificing for the appearance of having it all
  4. If those sacrifices have been worth the resulting success
    —and lastly—
  5. How anyone can keep up with Twitter and do anything else ever

Sincerely,
Puzzled in Perugia

 

~~~
*No

18Sep

The New Here

Next to my desk, a window opens onto the landscape of community. Puppies take on sidewalks with the zeal of cartographers while their owners shuffle behind in contrails of cigarette smoke. Utility trucks linger in the road to socialize with light posts and the odd pothole. A street sweeper dodges double-parked cars, painting cleanliness in drunken zigzags down the pavement. Women in house dresses putter on their balconies, shake tablecloths into the wind, rest their elbows on the ledge and survey the neighborhood with unabashed attentiveness. I wonder if they notice the masking tape still labeling our windows. On second thought, of course they do. They’re not afflicted with polite indifference like we the Americans.

We’ve been in this house less than two months, and I’m still walking through it with the curiosity and hesitancy of new acquaintanceship. I’m not used to its voice as it settles in for the night or the design of morning sunlight on its floors. I still drive toward our old house on automatic pilot, forgetting every. single. time. that we live on the other side of the neighborhood now. It’s only half a mile, but my perspective is still struggling to make the jump, to detach itself from one sense of home and apply itself to another. It’s okay. I’ll get there. And sitting at my desk pretending not to watch our new neighbors from behind a not-yet-cleaned window is as much a part of the process as unpacking has been.

~~~

I’ve been gone for a few months, not just from my blog but from myself as well. I don’t know how to put it any more truthfully than that.

Here in the spaciousness of retrospect, it’s not difficult to see how it happened, how life started amping up at a time when my heart was already dangerously threadbare, how I chose what looked the most likely path to surviving this summer. I shut down my inner life. We were scheduled to start moving the day after returning from a long and draining business trip, and the rest of the summer was already strung up in deadlines and impossible hopes like prayer flags on a spider web. There was simply no time to feel anything. No space for rumination, no margins in which to transcribe my heartbeat. The jaws of busyness were digging into me as effectively as a bear trap, and I had no energy for MacGyvering my way out. The next best option was to stop caring and, via that clumsy mental trickery, to stop feeling trapped.

I don’t recommend it, for the record. Self-smothering works to an extent, but at some point, your oxygen-deprived muscles will lose their grip on the pillow and air will rush into your lungs, driving like a spearhead against their atrophy. It usually happened in the wee hours of the night for me—the slipping resolve, the rush of thoughtsfeelingsdesireshurts, and the gasping pain of trying to breathe and trying not to all at the same time.

It was a hard summer, but one stippled throughout with moments of sheer beauty: toasting under the Barcelona stars to a full and hard-won decade of marriage with my Dan… standing awed and brimful next to my little sister and brother-in-law as they pledged their own marriage into being… sifting an inaugural rain of flour and cocoa over my new kitchen… reading adventure stories with the girls nestled like puppies beside me… dancing… kissing… tasting…

…until my need to engage in this messy, gorgeous, multifaceted human experience outweighed my urge to retreat from it.

It has been is a hard road back to life. The night still tugs at the sleeves of my mind instigating restlessness. I have to ration my energy, which only refills these days at the drip-slow pace of a morning in bed or an afternoon without responsibility. Joy and motivation and clearheadedness have been slow to return, and words slower still, but this return to blogging—a prospect that tinged my summertime periphery with anxiety—is proof of the more comprehensive return to myself.

~~~

Sunlight traces my desk with long September arms. The air outside rustles like notebook paper, and the compulsive energy rifling through it brightens my mind as effectively as caffeine.

This isn’t going to be the same kind of autumn as the last few have been for me. Rather than the usual heel-clacking charge into work and projects and PTA mode, I’m approaching the next month or so as a recovery period. The biggest change is that I’m no longer teaching. I stumble over my own tongue when trying to explain this to the kindly curious in my life. My reasons for stopping are valid, necessary even, but balancing my sanity on them for all to see makes me feel like nothing so much as an unsuspecting audience member called into the ring to perform a tightrope act.

There is such expectation hidden in the fine print of adulthood, especially here in Italy where nineteen mothers out of twenty work outside the home. Granted, most of them have nonne to cook their dinners and watch their littles, but it would be unfair of me to pin my career on the availability of relatives. For one thing, teaching has never felt like a career to me but rather an interim activity, a source of revenue and C.V. references during years when more authentic professional paths seem closed to me. Throughout this last decade of marriage and new motherhood, I’ve chosen jobs based solely on my ability to do them, and while I will always be grateful for each opportunity and experience, I can’t continue in this temporary holding pattern. It’s time to slip out of the parade of exhausting and unfulfilling jobs and directed my one wild and precious life’s energies toward finding My Work.

And then there are my girls, something like three feet taller and twenty years older here on the other side of summer. They’re loping ahead of me, more independent and articulate every time we sit down for bedtime stories (“You look tired, Mom; would you like me to read tonight?”), and I’m suddenly, fiercely, desperate to harness this fleet-footed stage of childhood, to slow time down with the full force of my attentiveness and appreciation. Time. Time off, time out, down time. Time to notice. Time to be with.

I don’t know how I can explain this urgency without jabbing barbs of discontent or regret into my fellow mammas. Neither do I feel capable of telling them that the trajectory of my career and the trajectory of my soul-identity have never matched and that I need this time, as fundamentally as I need oxygen, to find the right track. I’m plagued by the suspicion that I’m asking more than my share out of life. I worry that my explanations will either imply judgment or invite it, and the last thing I want my personal soul choices to do is to propagate unhappiness. Second-guessing is my first nature, here as in every growing process.

One surprising benefit of this summer’s withdrawal from life, however, is that I’ve returned without my former addiction to respectability. I still prefer others’ approval, of course, and I can’t entirely stop wondering how I line up in the estimations of the other parents at school, the customer service agent, the dressing room attendant, the gray-haired woman whose balcony perch allows her a perfect view of our bedroom. I don’t want to be viewed as flighty or incapable any more than I want to show up to a social event wearing the wrong clothes, but if I am to be the subject of others’ whispered conversations (which is already assuming myself far more important than I probably am to my acquaintances’ thought lives), so be it. The desire to fit in no longer holds the reins of my mind.

The view from here is welcome but unfamiliar, ever so slightly off-kilter with newness. This neighborhood and this season, both experienced before through younger versions of myself, tug equally at my imagination and insecurities. There is so much potential here for life to slump back into its old ruts, for me to grow disillusioned with forging a new path and return to the parade. I’m ever aware of the delicate effort it takes to remain present and accounted for. There is also potential for change, though—the new house a tangible excuse for cultivating new habits and the September wind as worthy a conduit as any for fresh starts. And delicate effort or not, I am here.

17Apr

On Mothering Grown Women Before They’re Grown

My girls have a good dad, no doubt about it. He teaches them how to throw the Aerobie and ask good questions. He sits cross-legged on the rug to build LEGO police-station-chemistry-lab-recording-studio-princess-schools according to request. He turns up the Dropkick Murphys loud when Sophie’s in the car and gives Natalie special computer programming assignments (pretty much everything about our girls’ personalities can be summed up in this sentence). He knows what makes them tick, and he encourages streaks of independence that I’d never even noticed. He fosters their creativity, respects their privacy, and displays their construction pencil holders in his office. All girls should be so lucky.

My girls have a good mom too. The Law of Self-Deprecation says I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it’s the truth, and I know it. I tie three sets of aprons and show the girls how to measure and whisk and roll cookie dough in cinnamon sugar. I instigate Jamiroquai dance parties in the living room, tickle-chase escaping fugitives, and read Roald Dahl aloud before bed. I teach Natalie about story arcs and Sophie about “c-a-t,” and I tell them they’re beautiful every single day. Dan and I aren’t perfect parents by any stretch of the imagination, but our girls know we love them and like them and want them around. We’re doing a few somethings right.

But there is one aspect of parenting girls in particular that moves me to contemplate tequila as a valid breakfast option. For all the positive things Dan and I are teaching our girls about themselves through our attention and encouragement, I am also teaching the girls about themselves by how I treat myself, and I can tell you, the message coming across from me to me is rarely of the positive variety.

While it’s easy for me to focus on the features that make my girls inside-and-out beautiful—Natalie’s midnight blue eyes, Sophie’s whole-body smile, the glimmers of kindness and joy that light each of their demeanors like a personal aurora borealis—my filters tune to the negative when I look at myself. I only notice the stray eyebrow hairs, the unflattering curves, the tired slump of my shoulders, the frustration that flares up like lava bursts. I don’t see anything worth celebrating or encouraging in myself, and this would feel pious and admirably ascetic if not for the fact that my girls are absorbing my brand of womanhood like sponges.

Their eyes go round as they watch me sweep on my mascara, and I remember that same combination of curiosity and awe from my own girlhood while I watched my mother dab on moisturizer and replace it in the mystical realm of grown-up toiletries under the sink. The secrets to my future self lived under that sink. Tucked among the perfume bottles and tampons, womanhood whispered to me about beauty and strength and sensuality and fragility, and it had my mother’s voice.

Now it has mine.

In the contours of my figure, my daughters glimpse the trajectory of their own bodies. In my speech, they catch inflections and sayings that will one day trip off their own mama-tongues. Each of my habits is a clue to their own approaching adulthood, each of my mannerisms a point on the map, and like it or not, I’m their first lesson about how to be a woman. Good God in heaven.

I never anticipated mothering grown women before my oldest finished second grade, but here we are on this express route to the future, and when I seethe with impatience over my own limitations, I’m teaching my adult daughters that they don’t deserve grace, and when I mutter into the mirror about my physical imperfections, I’m telling these one-day women that they are not beautiful just as they are, and when I ignore my own needs to the point of burnout, I’m showing them that self-care is not a priority. My soliloquies are their screenplays, and the implications knock the breath right out of me.

I feel like this shouldn’t be such a big deal. The solution is as simple as treating myself the way I want my girls to be treated—with gentleness, compassion, joy, and the occasional spoonful of Nutella. Everybody wins, right? Except that I’m me, so nothing is ever that simple, and the reality is that I’m far more comfortable with self-deprecation than I am with self-care. I’m good at listing my faults, grimacing at my reflection, and jabbing unkind sentiments into the soft belly of my mind. They produce a kind of half-vindictive, half-vanquished satisfaction. Tenderness though… it has always felt like a guilty pleasure, emphasis on the guilt.

Somewhere along the years, I picked up the notion that any scrap of kindness—even within the privacy of my own thoughts—must be earned through perfection. Patience and rest must each be purchased with intense stretches of achievement, and if I want that spoonful of Nutella, I’d better be sporting rock-hard abs. It’s my own personal works-based religion. I follow it like a spiritual devotee too. I’m so familiar with the liturgy of criticism that its sting almost feels like comfort by now, and the idea of psychological freedom is not enough of a motivator for me to revamp my self-image.

However, the idea of my daughters’ psychological freedom is. I’m almost angry that this is the answer, that I have to be comfortable in my own skin in order to raise daughters comfortable in theirs. I’d much rather refer them to a stack of self-help books or start a therapy fund, anything other than having to lead by example. I don’t want to have to spelunk the messy dark of my own emotional history to find the reasons why I can’t smile when I look in the mirror. I don’t want to march into shame’s territory and fight to win myself back.

And it’s not like my girls will be doomed to a future of bitterness and self-loathing if I don’t figure this out. They’re already thoughtful and resilient individuals, and part of their growing up experience was always going to be figuring out who they are apart from their parents. I would be either very arrogant or very naïve to assume that they are my carbon copies, destined to play out my own life choices.

Using their individuality as an excuse to avoid doing the hard work on myself is a cop-out though. Even the most curmudgeonly gatekeepers in my mind know deep down that learning to love myself is worth the struggle. It’s worth working through profound discomfort in order to make my daughters’ first perspective on womanhood one of kindness and joy and wholeheartedness. It’s worth charging back into that formidable battle against shame in order to give them the gift of a mom who’s happy to exist as herself.

(Yes? Yes.)

I’m writing this from the entrance of the emotional messy cave—no answers at all, just a few half-baked ideas and a significant amount of trepidation. I’m perplexed as to why it should be this hard to start seeing myself a little more as a unique and valuable human worthy of love and a little less as Jabba the Hutt, but the Real Beauty Sketches video going around (have you seen it yet?) proves that I am not alone in holding a distorted and negative view of myself. We women are masterful at finding fault in ourselves. Glossy cover models and online mommy wars prey on our insecurities while religious pundits promote our inferiority. We react by judging each other in a misguided attempt to boost our own statuses, and it’s no wonder that so few of us can fathom the idea that we might be worthy of celebration or admiration or love.

What I can fathom, however, is that my precious little girls are worthy. They don’t have to do a single blessed thing to earn their lovability; they are themselves, and that’s enough. I cherish the ways their minds work, their bodies are taking shape, and their hearts expanding, and I dearly hope that they can grow up seeing themselves through the same lens of happy awe that I do. It bears repeating that they are themselves, and that’s enough—enough to warrant compassion and respect and appreciation and understanding and spoonfuls of Nutella and a personal cheerleading squad and full-out, unconditional, never-changing, no-holds-barred love—

and if my girls are worthy just because they are who they are, then it’s time I accept as truth that I am too.

19Dec

Above the Cloud-Line

The sun rose this morning. It rose, and I blinked and then ran for the camera because I hadn’t seen that kind of light in days. Certainly not since Friday.

After the initial gut-pounding shock and the waves of salty-wet grief and the anger carved onto journal pages and the carefully chosen conversations, I find myself in the next stage of my own post-Newtown journey: the doldrums. My soul wants nothing so much as a long nap, an utterly unconscious respite from the knowledge of evil, and my heart is trying to offset this weariness by emotionally disconnecting from it all.

I’ve stayed away from the news and social media these last two days out of fierce necessity, and now the facts of the shooting keep melting down the sides of my mind like timepieces in a Dalí painting. I can’t grasp anything. I can no longer feel the twenty-seven concurrent stabs of horror, the chest-wracking sadness, or the wild urge to do something, anything to change the way our world works. Feeling has been replaced with fog.

I know that the internal process of grief is not a matter of right way versus wrong way, yet I’m convinced I’m making a mess of it. I’m sure either that I feel too intensely, presuming a deeper connection to the victims than I have a right to, or that I feel too little, dishonoring the tragedy through numbness. I’m afraid that my timetable won’t fit into appropriate standards, that I’ll start forgetting about Sandy Hook before a mere slip of a week has passed or that I’ll be hanging onto it long after the rest of the world has laid it to rest. I don’t know when it will be okay to write about other things again, to absorb myself in this life that’s moving onward even as the lives of twenty-seven Connecticut families have shattered to a stop. At the same time, I don’t know if I should already have left them in peace.

In this swirl of unknowing, with sorrow simultaneously fresh and faraway and time playing tricks on my eyes, the sunrise is pure gift. It’s the most visual display of hope I could imagine—a light bigger than this world and beyond our ability to destroy, its effects constant even below the cloud-line, its rise after days of gray a reminder that darkness doesn’t have the final say. Ever.

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