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Death

Most of it is Junk (it’s not just you!)

(I most often write for and work with kids. This post is not limited to Kid-Appropriate Language.)

“I like to try to apply [the] spirit of crate-digging to everyday life. The only way to find the good stuff, the special stuff, the genuine moments and the true inspiration, is to first engage with the everyday, the mundane, the seemingly useless, the things nobody else seems to care about. [To dig through the junk].”

Robert Walker, talking about DJs digging through crates and crates of shitty records

I really like the context of MOST THINGS ARE JUNK– it’s very Ecclesiastes: we’re all gonna die and life is hard, so drink and be merry with your friends once in a while and don’t worry about it so much (you can’t do anything about it anyway).

Isn’t it interesting and strange that I feel so much better when the context is IT’S ALL A MESS? Because I no longer have to worry about fucking it all up– it is crap. Nothing I do can make it more crap.

And if I only have to do better than Total Shit… Well, I can do that (at least some of the time)! That’s doable, bite-sized. I mean, I won’t always achieve that, but failing won’t actually make anything worse than it already is. I CAN’T MAKE IT WORSER, AND I CAN’T MAKE IT “GOOD” aka PERFECT. I can only maybe make a moment more bearable.

But if the Law says I Must Not Mess Shit Up because otherwise society will fall to chaos because of my dumbass– there’s no room to even begin, to even answer an email– if I answer it promptly today, I know it’s only a matter of time before I fuck up, because failure is inevitable. As with that time Jay gave me lessons in snowboarding, each success only only moves me higher up the hill and lends me more momentum when I inevitably come crashing down (thus, all successes are really evidence that it’s gonna hurt even more when I fail). (But it’s possible Jay was right in telling me to move up the Bunny Hill: that more momentum makes it easier to succeed, to get the hang of it. Maybe we should be learning how to fall better).

If EVERYONE is shit at email, at dishes, at folding their laundry, at going to bed at a reasonable time and eating enough leafy greens, if EVERYONE is wiping out all the time… then… maybe I’m not so terrible?

This is such a backwards-sounding wish, but I want to see how everyone is fucking everything up and actually no one (well, not including Michelle Obama) no one is actually better at adulting than I am… because then I could actually HELP people. I could DO stuff. Perform a little triage, staunch the bleeding, sit in hospice with someone. (And not delude myself with hopes of defeating the inevitable death that comes for them and for me).

EVERYONE IS AFRAID OF FUCKING UP ALL THE TIME. EVERYONE IS AFRAID THEY ALREADY MADE THE WRONG CHOICES.

I’m not “qualified to help them” because I’m Amazing and Advanced– I’m qualified because I care. Because I want to try. Because I’m Here. Because I’m a mirror for Beauty. And even in a junk pile, people are beautiful– IT’S LIKE A HOMEMADE PIE: NO MATTER HOW MUCH OF AN OOZING MESS IT IS, IT IS BEAUTIFUL– truly beautiful, because it is alive, it has soul, it has ATTENTION, and

“attention is love.”

Karen Maezen Miller

Wow. Living well is the same as making a pie from scratch. No matter how it turns out it’s beautiful. Something magical happens when you make a crust and fill it with fruit and bake it for an hour– things merge and it’s they transform. (I hadn’t fully articulated before how making pie is a spiritual act– it’s so redemptive BECAUSE YOU CAN’T FUCK IT UP. IT’S LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO FAIL. A bad pie has to be really, really, really impossibly bad to be Bad– I don’t think it’s even a pie anymore at that state– and even then you can still eat the filling).

So, it’s extremely important for my freedom and full expression and health and creativity to really know I am not actually able to fuck things up any worse than they are: The house is burning/falling down– why worry the paint you chose might be too “loud?”

YOUR BODY IS FALLING DOWN. IT IS MAKING ITS WAY BACK INTO THE EARTH. AS LONG AS YOU ARE NOT TRULY CRUEL TO ANYONE, YOU CANNOT FAIL MORE THAN DEATH*. You can only die once (and it’s not a punishment).

So, write a shitty book. Draw lazy illustrations. Don’t bother with an ISBN. It doesn’t matter! Doing it right isnt a real thing! Sing the wrong note– sing almost all the right notes but sing sharp. It doesn’t matter! The world is a mess. Everyone is a mess. Everyone will die. There’s no redemption because there’s no sin. There’s no fault for the chaos of being a person– this “oh, shit” feeling is not a punishment– it’s just the weird truth, like gravity.

IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU FUCK UP. EVERYTHING IS “FUCKED UP.”

Congratulations: if you’re fucking things up left and right you are 1000% normal, you’re right on track.

See lots of JUNK everywhere? Congratulations again. Nothing is wrong with you— you’re just paying attention. (And attention is love: keep looking– it’s the only way to find something wonderful).

We are all 8th graders / 3rd graders / overly-tires toddlers who happen to be allowed to drive cars and use the stove and there’s no one to tell us when not to spend money or when to go to bed.

I think we’re doing pretty well. We could certainly do much worse.


*(I do believe there are some “cardinal sins,” like not recycling– that hurts my heart! This rant is about how it’s not my fault life is so fucking uncomfortable– there’s no linear correlation– so I can stop being afraid of someone blaming me for everything and kicking me out of the treehouse.)

Read It: A Mango-Shaped Space

mango
Even though I saw the set-up for the sad part waaaay off, I still cried my eyes out! It worked (I think) because the main character didn’t see it until she was in the moment, and I experienced it along with her.

I’ve always been drawn to books about people who don’t fit in– and this was a great one for that. Even though our heroine is the official “weird” one, the author does a nice job of highlighting everyone’s weirdness without being heavy-handed.

 

 

 

I recommend it for:

  • Artists
  • Kids in small towns
  • Cat lovers
  • Anyone who feels both ashamed and proud of being weird (see #4 on the Enneagram)

Enjoy!

Inheritance

Let me tell you about my granny.

Granny_leopard print shirt

Meeting Ennis, 2010

   She was born in 1923 in Belgium, which made her 92 ½ when she died this morning. She met my grandad at a dance hall during World War II; he was from England. They sent letters back and forth, though he spoke no French and she virtually no English. She didn’t see him again until he arrived in Belgium for their wedding. (So many war brides showed up in England and then never found their promised husbands that she couldn’t enter the country before marrying him. Her friends said, “He’s not going to come, he’s not going to come,” and she kept saying, “He’s coming.”) All Grandad knew was when to say oui during the ceremony. Then they went home to England.

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Snooker watching in action, 2012

My mom (their former daughter-in-law) says that Grandad had no idea how much she talked, but once her English picked up he discovered just how opinionated she was. My visits to her home are always in the context of a heated monologue-debate about food. Last time it was about mustard: Sainsbury’s, an English grocery store, was having French mustard made in France– but was it really French mustard? This was discussed with Uncle Phil while the week-long snooker tournament played on the television in the background.

When my sister and I traveled solo in Europe in 2002, the discussion (held at length at a very nice Italian restaurant, then at a coffee shop, and back at the house) centered on coffee: countries of origin, how it should be roasted, the right way to brew it, and when to drink it. Back then Uncle Pat was still alive, and, as my mom said, “Pat would argue that the moon was made of cheese just to get an argument going,” and was known to switch sides seamlessly halfway through to keep up momentum; he and Granny and Uncle Phil vocalized about coffee for six hours.

My cousin, Ben, lives over there and had weekly dinners at Granny’s house. He sent me a message once: Phil had made apple crumble, and he and Granny were now assessing its merits and whether or not it lived up to Plato’s Form of Apple Crumble (though I don’t believe they would have called it that). The debate culminated with Granny throwing up her hands in the penultimate French way and saying with heavy accent, “To me, it’s nothing.”

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Kathryn, the Smooshy Grandma on left; Paulette on right, 2010

I always knew she was the Scary Grandmother. I think everyone has one Smooshy Grandma and one Scary one. Granny was the one with strict rules and high expectations of manners (hinted at in the moments when rules were being bent and exceptions were being made– a tendency I notice in myself).

But she was also the grandparent who gave permission to be assertive, bold, rather fabulous. She was a young woman during a time of war rations, but her family always had butter (this still means a lot to me, having grown up surrounded by my stoic Scandinavian Depression-era people who waste nothing and try not to inconvenience anyone or ask for too much).

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post-India: a huge spread of Indian food with Uncle Phil, 2012

She’d been widowed for twenty years, and though it must have been devastating, she held her own in the world. I love that she got her hair done weekly. That she wore nice clothes and jewelry (how many grandmothers can wear a leopard print top and look classy?). That when Jay and I visited she served us three kinds of cheeses and a choice of aperitifs; though she could no longer cook like she used to (homemade sorbets with waffle cookies overshadow the multiple dish meals from childhood memory) she still heated the plates in the oven before serving us a top quality frozen dinner. I had tiramisu for the first time at her house. I brought in the milk bottles (so European! So thrilling to peel back the foil tops!). I smelled her particular hair spray (in the gold bottle) and perfume (with the red and black top).

My grandad was the letter writer, and I was devastated when he died of a brain tumor. He’d send letters to me and my sister (individually– a man who understood the dreams of children! It was wonderful to get a blue airmail letter addressed just to me); at the bottom, in her curlicued French cursive, Granny would always write some version of, “Well, as usual, Grandad has given you all the news,” then sign it with an inverted pyramid of Xs.

I wonder what it would have been like to grow up down the road from her. To take the city bus to her house the way Ben did. Maybe more of our family’s hypercriticism and perfectionism would have rubbed off on me. Surely I would have been an even better cook. I expect I would have kept my French brushed up. Would have sneaked back into her bedroom and found the letters from Grandad she wouldn’t show me (“Not for young eyes,” she said, wagging her finger at me and looking very pleased with herself).

I’m sorry I didn’t know her better, but some grandparents you know well and intimately as a child, and some you don’t. But she formed me anyway. I can see her face in the shape of my own. Give me an hour around a French speaker and I’ll start puffing out my cheeks and shrugging my shoulders in her exact manner. And as my husband can attest, I’m nearly unbearable in my evaluation of my own cooking– Midwestern as I am, I completely understand the Belgian sentiment that food is divine and our mortal efforts will always, always fall short.

Every sprinkle of nutmeg on simple, buttered pasta is a nod to her.

Every nicely laid table, every snifter of smokey Laphraoig, every slice of Nutella toast.

I think this is the legacy, the inheritance I’m choosing to take from her: that there is no reason for life not to be beautiful in the details. There is no reason for food not to be delicious. That chocolates and cheese and butter and bread are the standards of true richness.

Oh, and the flair for the dramatic is mine, whether I want it or not. Because I, too, fully believe that a dish of apple crumble holds such magnificent possibilities that I am justified in throwing up my hands, pursing my lips and giving it up.

“To me, it’s nothing.”

To me, it’s everything.

family with Granny

The fam. (Check out the telltale jawlines on some of us…) 2010