I woke up relatively early — 6:30am — in time for a run this morning, but when I came back, I went back to nap for another hour in my sweaty tee and my Nike leggings. I napped with a nervous energy; I woke up with my heart beating faster than usual and the fear that my life was going flash before my eyes and that I was never going to find any more meaning than I did this morning, chasing butterflies and bunnies on Port Meadow (it is exactly what it sounds like) and feeling the pain in my left ankle — an aching pain that hasn’t left my ankle since my sophomore year of college, a literal Achilles tendon pain that reminds me of my own fatal weaknesses as a mortal every morning when I slip on my running shoes and every evening when I slip on my stilettos. “Beware of getting hurt even further,” my heel reminds me.
It has been many months since I’ve written, personally or for an audience, and the same justification I’ve always used still applies: words feel permanent, and I don’t feel comfortable writing my own thoughts when I am in a transitory state. I am still in a so-called transitory state as I write this — I just graduated (in absentia — which means I couldn’t be bothered to participate in a ceremony and I’m just planning to pick up my diploma) on Monday with my master’s degree in women’s studies from Oxford, and I just booked my one-way plane ticket back to New York on August 30th. I am homeless and jobless and definitely not the idealistic 18-year-old who moved into her Columbia dorm in a pair of high heels and curled hair. I’ve saved up some money to support myself frugally (thank goodness I voluntarily enjoyed eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches even when I was an intern at Vogue) while I look for a full-time stable job in New York, and I intend to make one of my dreams come true, at least, even if it’s just making enough income to finally have a dog (and okay, a diamond, too) as my best friend.
Oh, digression — back to my old habit of not writing while in transition — I’ve come to realize that we will always be in transitory states, and if I wait until I feel “settled” to jot down my personal thoughts, I will pick up my pen one day and regret all the days I was too scared to write. Fear is a terrible excuse for not writing, especially when you already lie awake in bed wondering if you could turn your thumping heartbeats into turns of phrase that make sense to someone else.
I visited my friend in Cambridge, England this past weekend and I remember lying awake in the middle of the night, unable to fall asleep because he kept snoring really loudly. When he woke up, I teased him about it, not realizing that he didn’t know that he snored at all. He even wore earplugs to anticipate the possibility that I snored. (I do not snore. Yet.)
There are a lot of obvious things we do not know about ourselves.
I just came back from a lecture by Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher at the University of Chicago who was once bold enough to criticize Judith Butler. She spoke on “anger in the personal realm” today, and while I cannot give justice to her hour-long talk, the general (and simplified) gist is that instead of communicating and trying to find common ground, we get angry because it seems easier in the short run. So we fight and we forgive, and we fight and we forgive, and the loop never breaks. (This is in regards to intimate relationships, like family or lovers or friends.) And while anger is not necessarily a bad thing and it is a very natural thing, it rarely does good for an intimate relationship in the long run. She gives the example of the young adult who gets angry with his or her parent (and vice versa) because they have conflicting views of what the future (i.e., which college to go to, etc.) should be, but anger obstructs further attempts at talking out the future together.
And while I know this seems like common sense, it was mind bending for me to understand forgiveness itself as part of the ongoing loop of anger, instead of as a mark of progress in a relationship. Sorry is not progress. And so, this week has been a fairly “angry” week for me (and my life in feminism/women’s studies), but I am doing my best to relinquish all anger and desire for forgiveness in favor of acts of generosity and open communication. It may be a placebo effect, but I think it’s working.
If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s gonna call me “Point B,” because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint solar systems on the backs of her hands so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.” And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you hard in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air. There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. So the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal.
Believe me, I’ve tried. "And, baby," I’ll tell her, don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick; I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.” But I know she will anyway, so instead I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rain boots nearby, because there is no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix.
Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rain boots are for, because rain will wash away everything, if you let it. I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass-bottom boat, to look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind, because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this. ♫ There’ll be days like this, my momma said. ♫ When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises; when you step out of the phone booth and try to fly and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape; when your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment. And those are the very days you have all the more reason to say thank you.
Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away. You will put the wind in winsome, lose some. You will put the star in starting over, and over. And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.
And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it. "Baby," I’ll tell her, "remember, your momma is a worrier, and your poppa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more.” Remember that good things come in threes and so do bad things. And always apologize when you’ve done something wrong, but don’t you ever apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining. Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing.
And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street-corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.