Bottoming out


Him: Are you really going to quit?
Me: It’s just that in the face of this pain, the only thing that makes me keep going right now is ego.
Him: Isn’t that true of everything?
Me: No, when I do what needs to be done, that’s not ego. I would run 16 miles to go get help if the house was on fire. But when what keeps me going is pride, or shame, or obligation, or obstinance, or the idea that I’m accomplishing something or overcoming something or the fear of letting someone down, that’s ego.
Him: (dejected) I just thought it was a pretty neat thing for you to do.
Me: Like that.

Unlaced and ready for takeoff

Mommy, if running gives you so much pain, why don’t you not do the marathon?

After clocking 14 miles last Sunday morning, I went to sit a meditation retreat for five days. I can testify that running is liberating, up to a point, but freedom from pain is, well, freedom.

Just sayin.

Love of our lives

This is a snapshot of Georgia, at two, dressed up in what had been my honeymoon nightgown. She claimed it from my closet, where I had let it become dusty and discolored from disuse.

That just about sums it up.

But not really the whole of it, not the best and most of it. Look at her coy and come-hither loveliness. She’s a decoy, my daughter, a decoy luring my husband and me to a place far gone from the honeymoon, a place of love and respect that is no romance, to be sure. But honest, and difficult, and workable. Serviceable, handy, constant, everyday.

That reminds of this post, which I present as a tribute to the man I love.

(I wonder what kind of hopeful, insistent, half-obsessed mother put the potty chair right there.)

Postcards from the ledge

I know I said I was going to be posting old stuff while I was away at retreat this week, and I suppose I yet will. But here I am on the cusp, the razor’s edge, of another year passing. When I come back next Saturday we will be days away from celebrating my daughter’s 9th birthday. It is a miracle, but no greater miracle than any other day. Once you get in the miracle business, you see, they just keep coming. Since I am spending a good part of my time missing my family this week, you can join me as I post pictures of what you’ve missed so far.


Here is Georgia Grace as she appeared at her premature birth in August 1999 at 34 weeks of gestation. We would soon pity the parents with those behemoth, 6-pound babies in what appeared to us to be the nursery for run-of-the-mill king-sized kids. They seemed so – how can I say this – big. But she was fine; she was ready for this. As many of you have witnessed since, I certainly wasn’t.

The thought of this day, and every day since, makes me tear up in amazement. There are many parents who know more keenly than I do the cruel afflictions of early-term birth. I weep for the inconsolable impossibilities. And in our case, I weep for the possibilities. I weep for the whole unknowable universe of it. The waiting and yearning, the coming and going, the missing, yes the missing, reminds me of this post, one of my first, which remains forever true. I’ve never lived any day or place that I wasn’t waiting for her all night. Missing is what it means to love.

Wish you were here

This weekend I’ll be reading here, then packing up for a weeklong retreat here, and after I get back, speaking to a group of parents here.

You’re welcome to join me wherever I go. Do give serious thought to coming here this Saturday for an intimate gathering as I read and sign Momma Zen. Every guest is guaranteed a triple shot of bliss!

Vroman’s Hastings Ranch Bookstore
Pasadena, Calif.
Saturday, July 26, 2 p.m.

In case you ever give serious thought to going on retreat like me, you should know that a meditation retreat is not really the kind of retreat we wish for, but a startling immersion in full-contact living. You probably have no idea what you’ve been missing, and you will never be the same. You can read about why I do it here, what it’s like here, and what I find when I come back right here.

Since I’ll be gone for so long, I’ll be re-posting personal favorites like the ones here, here, and here. Be sure to check back here for the announcement of this week’s giveaway winner after this Friday.

And anytime you’re here, come into my backyard for a one-on-one. I’m always here and wishing you were too!

Daily reflection on SPF 50


Me: You got a little red yesterday, honey, so let’s put more sunscreen on your face. The sun causes cancer and we don’t want you to get cancer.
Her: If I ever get cancer, I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: No?
Her: No, because I read in a magazine about a girl who had cancer and when she brushed her hair it came out, so if I have cancer I’m not going to brush my hair.
Me: Okay.
Her: Does that sound like a good idea?
Me: It sure does.

Reflecting on my family history of cancer and hair loss and good ideas.

The winner: Show me where it hurts


Announcing the winner of this book giveaway: Megan from Exile in Kidville.

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned here that the author Darin Strauss was doing a bit of high-profile book touring. You have to love this next part. He noticed what I said and he sent me his book, More Than It Hurts You. I’m offering it as a giveaway this week, as I like to do, and here’s why you should ask for it.

I thought it was just a few years ago, but turns out it was more like six (!), that I read something that left me weak and weepy to the point of exhaustion. It wasn’t as though I loved the book, or even liked it. Some of my very smart and well-read friends disagreed, but I thought the author Jonathan Franzen, in The Corrections, had nailed the whole of our unsayable lives. The ignorance and cynicism, the glib cleverness, the buried sorrow and habitual self-deception, and at the barren bottom of all our failings, the love. Still, the love.

More Than It Hurts You is that kind of ride. An ambitious and frantic story about how none of us – not one of us – is honest or fair or true or what we appear, even to ourselves, to be. It’s a story about the strivings of love, marriage and motherhood, but I don’t read stories for the stories. I read to be awed and lost and left to fend for myself on a far shore. I only have so much time, you see, and I don’t want to finish a book in the same place I started.

I’ve heard it called “a beach read.” This is no beach read. Oh sure you could read it on the beach, and when you finished, you would sit and stare a long time at the convulsing waves, at the mysteries that combine and divide us. It is a difficult book, an uncomfortable reveal. It cuts close, and it hurts. In a very safe way.

I recommend it. Because good work, and the writers who enslave themselves to it, are so blasted hard to find. When they find you, it makes things better.

***
Leave a comment anytime before next Friday, July 25 to enter.

Under the sun


Have you ever noticed, I mean really noticed, that it’s all the bright side?

What page are you on?


It’s my daughter asking.

Page 3, I say.
Page 5, she snorts.

We’re sitting in a booth at Whole Foods. She’s dabbling in her deli peas and corn; I’m hunched over eight ounces of criminally expensive Greek salad. We’ve just cracked the spine on some new paperbacks. The bag of store-bought books; the $13 lunch; I’ve blown the top off an ordinary Tuesday, and all because I have work to do.

I have an inconceivable bit of writing ahead of me; an iron bull that baits my measly mosquito, an abandoned well with no way in, up or around; so naturally I want to eat. And read. And it’s a safe bet that something will come out of all this ingestion, eventually.

What page now?
Page 8.

Page 11,
she snarfs.

I had thought to just look into the window at the bookstore next door, the bookstore where I read on the 26th, to see if they’d set up a display like they said they would. But my daughter cannot merely peer through the plate glass of a place like this. She shoots inside. And me? I’m in a following mind. I pick up three books within three minutes, suddenly starving for someone else’s cooking. Guiltily, I tell her to find one, then two, then three books for herself.

My own book
is there like they said it would be. Stacks displayed bravely at the entrance, stacks undisturbed on the shelf, snow white and untouched, where they will remain, unless you and all your best friends and in-laws, even the ones you don’t like, come and save me next Saturday.

I have an idea! Let’s have a reading competition, she cheers.
Okay.
The first one who reaches page 22 wins!

I’m delighted now, by her invention and enthusiasm, saved by the starting bell of the only test at hand. It’s a test that reminds me once again that I only win by losing. So I give up, and she wins! We pack up our pages and walk over to Rite Aid where I buy her some press-on nails.

It’s hard to complain about a day like this, but I’ve got so much practice.

A skort of insight


I’m clipping a girl’s size 8 hot pink skort still warm from the dryer onto a plastic hanger in the cool quiet of a lonely house near sundown and I wonder:

How did I get here?
And oh, yeah
remembering just then (and again) to feed the fish, the turtle, the dog, the people, these people, an all-day dine,
from a fridge of their favorites, that brand, that bottle, those berries for breakfast, this yogurt not that, certainly none of it mine
Sorting the mail that’s not mine
the socks, the shoes, the glass I didn’t leave behind.
Noticing the brown tinged pine
the toppling trash, the heavy air, the weeds that taunt me everywhere.
Not mine, not mine.
The dusty car, the load of kids
we’re late, they whine
All but one, (thank god) not mine.
The days, the weeks, the calendars kept,
the dwindling time
not mine, no
none of it mine.

How did I get here?
Just lucky I guess.

It’s a sign


The random answer is in hand. The winner of last week’s giveaway of the autographed copy of The Maternal is Political is Jen Lee. Thanks to everyone for your eagerness to witness, chronicle and make a change. Keep at it. And here on the Cheerio, I never seem to run out of things to share, so enter again when the next chance appears.

Summer shoes for well under $100

I just came back from the health club where I was running on the treadmill (it’s a sickness) and watching “The View” (it’s another kind of sickness). They had this perky spokesmodel with a $500 haircut in an $800 dress hawking SUMMER SHOES FOR UNDER $100!

Really. Not even considering the fact that the best summer footwear is, well, your feet, I’m horrified, and then I wonder, Am I the only spoilsport who thinks this segment is unbelievably inane and insenstive in this day and age? SHOES FOR UNDER $100 is a newsmaker? In the SUMMER, no less?

And I immediately inventoried my own summer footwear finds, which were not only acquired for well under $100 but remain in every way utterly worthless, which for me evokes the true essence of summer.

Take these, for instance, which I picked up for $3 four years ago. I wear them every morning when I make the rounds in the yard to pick up dog poop:

Which always reminds me not to wear these while picking up dog poop.

Or these pink poolside classics, $5 at Wal-Mart three years ago:

Did you notice they are pink? They’re bloody screaming pink! Maybe that’s why even Wal-Mart had them on sale, you silly!

And these are my good running shoes. They aren’t my really good running shoes because those boats cost over $100, good grief, and I pound through them like putty:

No, these running shoes are old, worn out, dirty and so heavy that when you step on that unreliable bathroom scale you can automatically take, oh, 29 pounds off your weight.

In my view, that’s a steal.

A gift, a charm, a fortune


It was supposed to be about 115 degrees today but it wasn’t. I’d heard a rumble about it for days. But this morning I shivered under the covers. Outside, a morning breeze danced on my bare arms. I figured it would all ignite at mid-day, but by evening we had a cloak of clouds and a tease of sprinkles. This is the kind of thing I take as a gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

A little respite, you see, an oasis in the crossing. I just finished a tough writing gig that had me on my knees for weeks, inching forward through the drifts, making up words about a topic so suffocatingly arid, so dense and intense, that it could only be called “work.” I burrowed into the clattering bones of it this afternoon, wrote a little bit more and shocked myself by being done. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

We knew it was dying, one of those troublesome turtles that required so much coddling care that I couldn’t help but come to love it. It had stopped growing, stopped eating, stopped moving and then tonight Daddy pronounced it dead. “Mommy,” my daughter called, “Can you light some incense?” She adorned the burial box. My husband turned the earth. She placed a stone and I said the chant. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, it will do.

For Jupiter, my good turtle

***
Please remember to leave a comment to enter my giveaway of The Maternal is Political. A gift, a charm, a fortune. Lacking any other kind, won’t it do?

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