Dear Lily June,
The world has become a pretty overwhelming place for your mother lately. My medical journey stalled out last with tests that my doctor never even sent to the lab and, due to my extreme anxiety issues, I’ve had trouble calling in some three months later to find out why they were never run. (There’s nothing heavier, to the severe anxiety sufferer, than the weight of a phone receiver when there’s a call that needs be made.)
Our house hunt fizzled with a counteroffer higher than the home could possibly be appraised at (meaning, ultimately, that our lender would have backed out anyway). Because we refuse to cut into our mattress for the millions hidden inside, we’ll just have to wait until something both habitable and affordable appears on the Muncie radar screen. I think we’ll have about as much luck at spotting one as we would spotting a Leprechaun making out with a Sasquatch while both ride on the back of a unicorn over a rainbow pouring out from under a blue moon, but with a T-minus two month countdown until either homelessness or a renewal of our apartment lease, we’ve got to do something.
And it’s never been more abundantly clear why three people living in a small, one-bedroom apartment is such a bad idea. I’ve gone into another serious pain flare, and that means I’m getting up to pee at night more often than some people blink during the day. With your crib no more than a foot from my side of the bed, the pitter patter of my fat feet keeps waking you, which causes you to, at best, stir, and, at worst, spin your head around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist. I can’t blame you for inheriting my light sleeping (the Princess with the pea ain’t got nothin’ on us, kid), but now it feels like my pain is keeping the whole family awake, which is more excruciating than the pain itself.
It’s times like these I tend to withdrawal into Eeyorishness at best and silence at worst, but then I lift my selfish head up and look around at the state of things outside my own surroundings. A child was beaten almost to death by a caged gorilla, who was then shot to death for harming the child. An Olympic hopeful and Stanford scholar raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster while his parents made excuses for why he shouldn’t go to jail. A mentally-ill, sexually-conflicted man murdered forty-nine members of an LGBTQ community in Florida.
My problems–with pain, poverty, and the intersection between the two–are pittance, so it’s time to hum a sad little ditty like Elliott Smith’s cover of Cat Stevens’ “Trouble” and move right along with my life. Because I get to live, unscathed, unscarred, unslaughtered in the name of sex, love, or self-acceptance.
Lily June, your deepest despairs and most superficial sadnesses are sometimes a problem of perspective, of focusing too hard on the close-up of your immediate pain, and not pulling the camera back a bit to see a human panorama of suffering all around you. Darling, in moments like this, it helps not to stare into your own mirror until the pieces of your face break up into meaningless bits that float away from your consciousness. It helps not to let yourself slink under the rock of yourself.
I wish I could say I had the key to avoiding that, to not letting the tempting finger of Depression lure me back into its lair like pie steam lures back a cartoon pig. One thing that helps, I know, is sharing your sorrows, exorcising them from your psyche by spewing them (pea-soup style) onto a page, venting so that you can clear the air (and some mental space) to let the larger world back in. And if it’s your own mirror giving you the troubles, why not reflect in someone else’s?
I’m honored to say that, some nine months ago, the incredibly sensitive, wise, and witty blogger WhiskeyCat nominated me for a Liebster award that I didn’t, at the time, have time to respond to. WhiskeyCat, I owe you now for giving me something else to focus on, some excuse to write when I’d rather curl up into a mental fetal position and wail.
The rules of accepting said award, as I understand them, are as follows, which I will, in my own way, break willingly.
To accept a Liebster, you should…
- Write a post thanking and linking the person who nominated you and include the Liebster Award sticker in the post. [Check! See above!]
- Nominate 5-10 other bloggers and notify them of this in one of their posts. [See below!]
- All nominated bloggers are to have less than 200 followers. [This is the rule I break willingly. I’m all for supporting up-and-coming blogstars, but I’m a different kind of cat, the one who likes to poke around in the posts from YEARS ago of those veterans who’ve been around the blogging block. Considering that less than 200 people actually ever read or comment on my blog, and the other 10,000 (give or take a few) are corporate shells meant to prey on my very meager traffic, I’m not going to penalize a blogger for existing longer than the Liebster is meant to honor.]
- Answer the 11 questions posed by your nominator, and create 11 different questions for your nominees to answer. Or, you can repeat the same questions. [I’ve got my own, thanks.]
- Copy these rules into your post. [Done and done.]
Here are Whiskey’s Damn-girl-you-ask-thought-provoking questions, and my Less-than-worthy-Please-forgive-me answers:
1. What do you know about despair?
There are times I have caught her reflection in my mirror, in the pounds of flesh I cannot wish away, in the ways I have lost sight of hope for a future, blinded by the hooks in my present, and how those hooks have pulled into me painfully. And I, too, have sat looking into the squalor of my life and thinking it was all that reflected on me. But as comic writer Neil Gaiman writes,
“Take away the despair and there is nothing left. Nothing but an empty room, and a hook of the perfect shape and size for snagging your [own] heart.”
Where there is despair, grief, pain, frustration, angst, worry, there can be hope again. Where there is nothingness is where we truly experience loss. I have known times I would not have wanted to live through–times where I felt not despair, but that crippling nothing. And having lived through them, I am glad there are so many somethings–good and bad, hopeful and despairing–on the other side.
2. Between solitude and community how do you remain true to yourself without drowning in loneliness or conformity? (Do we need other people?)
I am an introvert, and I tend to live my (very small) life in a way shut off from most others. But I do believe we need other people, if for no other reason than to define ourselves by those others who we are not. I suppose I think about solitude like this Mark Strand poem, “Keeping Things Whole”:
In a field
I am the absence
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.
When I walk
I part the air
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.
We all have reasons
to keep things whole.
Substitute the word “party” for “field” or the word “people” for “air” and that’s how I feel about social gatherings. And yet, I am not lonely in choosing, willingly, to be alone. I move (out of the way) to let others talk. And I do listen. And I do learn.
3. How do you make the world a better place?
Too many people, myself included, are quick, during dark times, to voice our opinions without listening to the voices of others. We become experts on zoology, rape culture, misogyny, terrorism, immigration, gun control, racism, and discrimination. We cannot hear the hearts of those we claim represent hate.
I am trying, in my old age, to listen longer, learn more, from those I would be predisposed, initially, to disagree with. I used to teach Rogerian argumentation, a style of debate constructed not towards winning, but towards compromising. I’m trying harder now to find where the middle ground might be, and step towards that center, even if only in my own mind.
4. What is the kindest thing you have ever done?
That isn’t for me to decide. Your dad and I, Lily, have been working harder to make kindness an action, not a quality. Since we started the Bucket List in a Jar project, we’ve had a random act of kindness day, and we’ve given food to a food bank and clothes and books to Goodwill. What little we have to spare, we’ve been sparing lately, but I don’t think I could look at any of those actions and award myself some -est crown for any of them.
Kindness is in the eye, not of the giver, but of the receiver. I hope, someday, to hear about how some action I took changed the life of someone else, but I haven’t heard that yet. I could die happy if I someday hear it from you, Lily.
5. If hostile aliens took over the planet and you had to choose the people, things, mechanisms you would take on your spaceship, what/who would they be?
Like I said, my life is small. I would take you and your father, Lily. And books. And pizza (assuming I’m not in the midst of a flare, like I am now.) And the bloggers who’ve opened my world. And their blogs. And pizza. And a foreign planets diplomat. And a scholar/specialist/translator in the native language of the aliens. And an (honest) spaceship mechanic. And movies and music and the players for both/either. And pizza.
6. In what ways have you resisted your upbringing in order to become who you are?
I have never raised a hand in anger towards any I love, and I never will. I have never touched a body in lust I didn’t love, and I never will.
7. What must you do before you die?
I must have the courage to send my unpublished manuscript of poetry out into the world. It can be rejected (and most likely will be). I just have to try.
8. List one work of art (book, movie, painting, comic, whatever) that has lifted you into transcendence…
I unapologetically, unabashedly, can’t narrow it down to one book. So here are my top five: Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet; Antoine de St. Exupery’s The Little Prince; J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey; John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces; and Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker.
9. The best revenge is…
10. What must a person do in order to self-forgive?
Self-forget. Focus on others that need what you haven’t been able to provide for yourself, and provide it for them instead.
11. Why were your parents assholes?
Because, like Philip Larkin advised against, they had kids themselves.
And My Nominees Are…
- Little Bits of Heaven–More than any other blogger, “Bits” makes me want to live up to my answer in #3 and would be one of the first invited onto my spaceship in #5.
- pennyforyourthotsblog–This blogger knows all too well the struggles with chronic illness and is brave and beautiful in the face of these struggles. Bloggers like this probably have #4 nailed.
- The Devorian–Given this blogger’s penchant for “horror,” I would personally love to see their answer to #9 above.
- El Tries New Stuff–El might be the only blogger I know who actually will accomplish her #7’s (above) before she dies.
- A Stitch to Scratch–Hayley writes excellent book reviews (amongst her many, many crafty talents) and thus probably has excellent picks for #8 above.
- You, Lily. I know you don’t have a blog, and thus nominating you for a blogging award seems futile. And yet, someday you might. And even if you don’t, I’d still love to know your answers to my questions below.
Oh, the Irony! (And My Questions)
Despite choosing the nominees for their ability to answer WhiskeyCat’s awesome questions (so hard, they took me almost nine months to answer), I am not going to pose those to these folks. Instead, I’m going to craft my own new 11 questions to fling at them. They can, of course, meet my queries with silence, but I might remind them, Lily, that I’m having kind of a bummer life lately (lots of pain, little sleep, no house whatsoever) and (guilt, guilt), it might lift my spirits to read their answers.
Anyway, here are my 11 questions to you, dear blogoverse at large and nominees above:
- What are your feelings about mirrors? Do you obsess over them? avoid them? cover them when someone dies?
- What mirror most haunts you, be it literal (the fun house mirror of swimsuit shopping) or figurative (the way your child reflects x in you)?
- What do you know about hope?
- What’s something you always seem to do wrong or backwards? (A word you always misspell, for instance)?
- What’s something you can always seem to get right on the first try?
- How does reflecting on yourself change who you are? (Does answering these questions make a liar out of you?)
- If you were the last person left on earth, would you be lonely, or just alone?
- In what ways are you just like your parents? (How do you mirror them)?
- If you haven’t […fill in the blank…], you haven’t lived.
- If there were one thing/topic/idea/concept/behavior you wish people reflected on more before they spoke, what would it be?
- How do you keep from falling into the well of yourself? (That could mean how do you avoid depression, or self-centeredness, or selfishness or some combination)?
The playwright Eugene O’Neill once wrote,
“Life is for each man a solitary cell whose walls are mirrors.”
So what might it mean, Lily, if my questions about self-reflection are posed to others, posed to you who is, by genes, some portion of a mirror of myself?
Do we ever escape ourselves, and if you find out how, will you teach me, my daughter?