“Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?”
“Can being happy be this easy? Must I live outside of the life I’ve chosen in order to find myself again?”
Sylvia and Erma are spending the day with their respective families – giving thanks for the meal they’ll share, the orderly chaos of the kitchen, and their children who wish to forego the turkey for the pies that have been freshly extracted from the oven. And without a doubt, as these women sit down with their broods, however big or small, they take at least a second if not a hundred to give thanks for each other and their bond of friendship. And as I prepare the Thanksgiving feast, I’m thinking about how we all count our blessings on this day- love, health, family, friendship, peace, freedom, etc. but too often forget the little things, all of the tidbits that create the essence of our daily lives.
For dinner even when it’s out of a box or take-out. For the compliment whether it is “I like your shoes” or “You’re gorgeous inside and out.” For holding open the door even if it’s only because you are waiting for the person who is walking behind me to come through it. For the flowers picked from the garden even if they are losing their petals. For the birthday gift even if it’s the wrong size. For letting me know you left on time. For letting me know you arrived safely. For kissing me for no reason or any reason. For holding my hand. For the out-of-the blue phone call just to check in. For the good morning text. For morning coffee. For evening wine. And of course, for pulling that pesky little thread on occasion, the one that I knew was there but was too afraid to pull on my own.
Gratitude or semblances of it come easily when the offering is tangible, tactile, and visible. However, think about how much of life is intangible, untouchable, and invisible. A staggering amount of life- most of it in fact! Life depends on what is felt and shared. Yet for some reason and I tend to think it is due to self-absorption and our overwhelming inattention to the present (unless it impacts us greatly and immediately), gratitude is something we save for special occasions. We save gratitude- true, heart-filling, and profound thanks- for those times when we are reflecting on special days. So, here’s an idea: Practice gratitude. Don’t save it! It does not need to be coveted and handed out stingily. Opportunities for giving thanks, showing thanks, and feeling blessed are around us each day throughout the day.
For chipped teeth and the dentist. Pimples and ProActiv. Minor cuts and Bandaids. Perspiration and deodorant. Crying babies and pacifiers. Missed appointments and calendars. Painful labor and a baby’s first breath.
Small dilemmas and colossal joys and sorrows often find simple answers and deliver lovely outcomes. For each and every, give thanks. They are all individually and collectively reasons to be grateful. They are everywhere. They are bountiful!
Whether short and sweet or long and laborious, days replete with moments that become memories to mark time.
For my days, I give thanks.
Whether quick-footed and charted or leisurely and meandering, walks made up of deliberate steps filled with hope.
For walks, alone or with company, I give thanks.
Whether fictitious and colorful or authentic and serious, words that arouse the spirit and nourish the mind that comprise the tales of a life well-lived.
For words written and spoken, and above all else the feelings that the words evoke, I give thanks.
Whether new and blossoming or matured and steadfast, friends who fill the days; create the memories; walk the path together; and write and share their words and stories.
For you and for us, I give thanks.
None of it is certain. And still I give thanks.
Sylvia, Erma, and I extend to you our gratitude and wishes for joyful abundance of all kinds. Happy Thanksgiving!
Anyone who has ever snagged a favorite sweater knows the literal and figurative unraveling that occurs if the displaced thread or piece of yarn is pulled and not cut. Sylvia pulled the thread though, and the unraveling began. And guess what? As she pulled, she felt amazingly relieved and almost giddy with excitement. She never once had the desire to reach for scissors and stop the energetic dismantling of what she had long known as comfort.
Sylvia pulls the thread and feels free. On those rare occasions when I pull the thread, it feels like I’m losing control and shedding pieces of myself, the self that I’ve grown accustomed to that is. So too often now, I get the urge to pull the thread, and then a wave of fear sets in. It’s the fear that I’ll completely unravel and be unable to put myself back together or make a new and better version of myself- one who doesn’t require validation, one who doesn’t fear she’ll become unlovable as the unraveling occurs.
Hell, the reality is that I should be yanking every thread in sight. After all, like Sylvia, I’m bright and beautiful, and unlike Sylvia, I have Erma – actually, Ermas everywhere- who will kick my ass and help keep the pieces in one place until I decide what to do with them. And then, foolishly or out of fear, I pull out the sweater again; and like the good girl I’ve become, I follow all the written and unwritten rules and endure the looks, judgmental stares, reactions of disbelief and shame. And when I stop to see to whom those critical eyes belong, who owns those tsk-tsks, the shame-on-you looks, and the stern you’re-better-than-this gazes, I see clearly. Aha, there. Right there. She’s looking back at me in the mirror every morning and night and in every window I pass throughout the day.
It’s painfully exhausting to be the keeper and mender of the sweater while wearing it! The girl who has always done the sensible thing, the right thing. However, there’s an obvious and growing problem now: the sweater is torn, tattered, and wearing thin in places. I can’t get rid of it; after all, who just throws things away, especially things which have been comfort, protection, and safe haven when needed? I’m not a girl without heart. One might say and many have, I have too much heart. I’m attached. I love weaving and connecting – memories to people and places, places to people and events, and memorabilia to just about everything. In the midst of that everything though, I also can’t bear to watch someone else’s sweater fall apart- anyone’s I love and care about. So, I tend to others in various ways. Erma in her infinite wisdom would say, “Dear, you concentrate on others because it’s easier than having to face and clean up your own shit.” (Sylvia and I can always count on Erma for a dose of no-nonsense when it’s needed most. Thank God.) And Erma is right, damn it.
I do so many things- the creating, the assembling, the mending, the darning-all of those things for everyone else. I do all of those things because if I pull the string, I’m risking a mess – one I’ve created no less-and I just don’t need one more mess. Mess is,well, just so unattractive! So, to my chagrin and Erma’s dismay on many occasions, I reach for scissors to cut the thread or pull it back through the other side so no one can see the imperfection. You see, I’ve got myself trained to hide the flaws- don’t show fear. Swallow what anyone dishes out. You’ll be happy if others are happy. But guess what? That’s not the case. I still know that the “sweater” has flaws, many of them now in fact. It’s still sufficient in that it covers me and keeps me somewhat protected, but admittedly, I do feel, see, and know exactly where it’s wearing. The pulls and imperfections – the worry, the fear, and the sadness- perhaps are even becoming too great to hide.
The voice in my head, the women and people in my life, the Ermas (and by the way, a few of the most important Ermas in my life are great men) – they all seem so much more put together than I am- they all know I’m unraveling. They say pull the string fully. They assure me that they won’t leave me in a heap on the floor. They’ll get down on the floor with me until I can figure out what to do, what to make, and who I want to be!
Here’s what Sylvia has taught me about pulling the thread though. Her lesson is rich, spontaneous, and unedited. Sometimes, you’ve just got to yank the l’il fucker. If it leaves a hole, there remain several options: live with it; patch it; get rid of it. Those that love you, those who truly care and want you to be happy will live with your remnants and your tangled threads while you figure it out.
Oh, how I want to be Sylvia on some days, and I assure myself I can be. I’ll pull the thread, Erma, don’t worry. Honestly, don’t worry. I’ll unravel… it may be quick, it may be slow. One things for certain though-and despite my fears I know this to be true-it’s going to be damn colorful!
Oh my! Sweaters, yarn, thread, unraveling…but first, please just indulge me and allow me to enjoy another steaming cup of coffee.
Photo credits: (above) wildharedaily.wordpress.com(bottom) kayymorgan
Keep me safe. Lovers. Friends. Spouses. Playmates. Parents and children. Anyone and everyone. Anywhere and everywhere.
Sylvia loved the simplicity and easiness of holding Cam’s hand. More telling for her though than the actual act of holding his hand was the idea that he wanted her. Her hand in his. He desired her touch and invited her into the moment and into a new chapter in her own life.
Like Sylvia, I love holding hands. I giggle at the thought of it. There’s a playful energy and a sense of youthfulness about holding hands. Hold my hand when we cross the street. I’ll hold yours during the scary parts. Take my hand in yours, and let’s make a run for it! Keep me safe. Lovers. Friends. Spouses. Playmates. Parents and children. Anyone and everyone. Anywhere and everywhere.
If I had to choose a universal way of communicating care, empathy, love, friendship, and all that makes my soul burgeon with emotion, it would be by holding hands. Whether lightly grasped or firmly gripped, the hands touched by another at any given moment in time speak volumes about the nature of a relationship. And when my hand is held, I’m content. I’m excited. I’m lifted up. I’m alive. I’m unbelievably and almost insanely calmed even in the most dismal, complicated, and trying situations. I’m a veritable smorgasbord of human emotion; and above all, I’m comforted to the extent that I know I’m living deeply in that moment in time with another who feels for me the way I feel for him or her.
I’m a hugger, a kisser, a crier, and overall pretty demonstrative when it comes to displaying emotions– of all kinds; but for me, if you want to know me and see how intensely I care, let me hold your hand. In an instant, you’ll know my strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll also know that the two are undeniably linked.
Strong or weak, it truly does not make a difference. Hand holding represents the best type of paradox- simultaneous vulnerability and security. Sylvia cannot help but reach for Cam’s hand when they walk down the street or sit across from one another at a café. It’s natural and impulsive. The act of holding onto him and onto each other- his fingers wrapped around hers and hers melded so seamlessly with his- is both liberating and covetous. Whether what ensues after their hands meet, serious or carefree, is of little importance because it will be conquered, endured, enjoyed, and even memorialized together. Holding hands screams, “I’ve got you, and we’re in this together.”
Sylvia’s life changes when she holds Cam’s hand. Sylvia’s undergoes an empowering transformation also when Erma, her older, wiser friend and confidante, holds her hand and advises her at the kitchen table. And Sylvia never fully understands the heaviness and importance of holding hands until she gently holds the little hand of her newborn. No matter who, when, or where, Sylvia –and I-know one thing for sure: holding hands with someone you love never ever gets old.
Hold on tight, friends. It’s about to get better. Life, that is.
* Photo credits: (top) K.Peretz, (bottom) The Journals of Sylvia Plath
Sylvia, Sylvia, for Christ’s sake, pick up the phone. Did you make it to your final destination? How was the layover in Charlotte?
So, what do you think? Did she make it to her final destination? Well, here’s the thing about going places. Each step that one takes, each stop along the way- no matter how big or small-each wrong turn or unexpected detour is by itself a destination. Part of one’s journey and perhaps even in the bigger picture part of one’s fate or destiny. So, yes, Sylvia made it. In fact, she made it to several destinations, o-ver and o-ver and o-ver again.
Sylvia and Cam sat quietly at the bar, and as all of the extraneous noise dissipated around them and all of the onlookers, patrons, and passersby faded into the background, they remained there next to each other, fingertips now gently touching, gazing intensely and wantingly into one another’s eyes, and smiling so big that all that existed between them was warmth and desire. Heat. Pure heat. Palpable sexual tension. Tension if left leashed would surely suffocate them.
Sylvia never realized that her fingertips were so sensitive, but with each gentle brushing of his against hers, a shiver traveled; her heart raced, and butterflies began to flutter. And just when the fingertip dance seemed as if it was waning, Cam laid his hand on the bar next to hers, palm up, all the while inviting her with his eyes to put her hand in his. In the very instant she obliged, their eyes met and then their lips.
Her lips had not been kissed so fully, gently, and yearningly in forever. And although they had just met, their connection flowed naturally. No awkwardness. No apprehension. For the first time in a very long time, Sylvia thought of no one but herself. Perhaps even thoughts of herself escaped her when Cam invited her into that instant. She wasn’t obsessing about anything or anyone. Her world, the one that Erma had encouraged her to take a break from, ceased to exist. The only vision that Sylvia had was of that “steamy, hot cup of coffee” and at the moment, it was real. He was real. With the meeting of lips and seamless intertwining of tongues, Sylvia’s body and soul awakened. She and Cam were no longer sitting side by side, although exactly when their bodies had changed position she was not aware. They faced each other, and taking a momentary reprieve from the deliciousness of their soft, gentle kisses, they looked at one another and knew that something special-something so simply sensual and new yet inexplicably pleasing and familiar – was happening.
Just as they stood hand in hand ready to set off and explore one another, the loud speaker beckoned, “American Airlines flight 136 to Chicago is now scheduled for departure. Anyone holding a boarding pass should proceed to Gate C15.” Sylvia,however, wasn’t hurrying for the flight. Intrigued by and eager to continue this adventure rather than what awaited her in Chicago, she made a bold move, one that was spontaneous and unlike her (or maybe this was the real Sylvia-champing at the bit to explore uncharted territory). As they held hands tightly and their energies fueled one another, she asked, “So, what’s your schedule?” His reply came quickly and unrehearsed, “I’m planning on taking a day or two to become well-acquainted with a new friend if she has the time.” Unable to resist the twinkle in his eye and the sincerity in his voice, Sylvia commented, “Perfect. Just perfect.”
Flight 136 departed without Sylvia. And in what seemed to be an instant, the layover in Charlotte became her destination. Their destination.
“And if I didn’t think, I’d be much happier,” said Sylvia.* And lo and behold she was; and it was only the beginning.
*The final quote in the above blog post is taken from
Apologies. Sylvia and I left you hanging for a bit. She’s on her layover in Charlotte, (a silly pun perhaps, or foreshadowing-either way, worth the wait, and I promise it won’t be long). Here’s what has me pausing at a time when Sylvia should just raise her glass, gulp it down bubbles and all, and let loose with wild abandon. I’m thinking, likely even over thinking (and those who know me well are saying, “Oh shit, not again”) because that’s one of my most prominent attributes or character flaws depending on whether you are female or male, an empathetic girlfriend, a commiserator, a partner-in-crime, or a guy who just wants to get on with “it” already. Sylvia has just rubbed arms with the delicious man from her daydream, and what’s on her mind? What would Erma advise? This is what I am thinking. I am thinking, especially since I’m a slightly worn-in model of a woman who at nearly fifty-three still struggles with body image issues: “Spanx. Should I or shouldn’t I have worn mine today?”
If you’ve been living on this planet and are at all in tune with the fashion trends of the millennium, then you are aware of and fairly well acquainted with this body-shaping, mind-blowing, literal and figurative take-your-breath-away invention created by a woman for women. It’s an undergarment and a magic trick rolled into one. It gives women self- confidence and severe stomach pain simultaneously. It allows you to wear the tightest, most form-fitting of garments without the worry of panty lines, bulges, or overhang. In other words, it creates an optical illusion and gives one the conflicting spandex-induced feeling of being both bridled and free. But hey, you’ll look good. And as every woman of post childbearing years knows, whether or not she’s used her parts to bring others into the world, that little pouch in front, though it’s been earned by mere virtue of being female, often keeps those of us who are vain and consumed with looking our best from wearing what we want. Spanx. It’s to the female body what wine and Prozac are to the menopausal mind.
So, would Sylvia and Erma have considered Spanx? Well, in Sylvia’s case, late 20s early 30s, she probably wouldn’t have needed them. Plus, she was going away for “me” time, remember; she just wanted to get the hell out of the house as quickly as possible. Any woman who has ever tried on a pair of Spanx knows firsthand that you don’t seamlessly step into them. It takes planning and time. You need to prepare yourself emotionally and physically for the event. You can’t just step into Spanx, pull them up to your bra line if you are wearing SuperPower, and head out the door. You will need to cajole your body parts that move, get them to stay in place, wriggle and work them up onto your body one leg at a time, all the while holding your breath to keep your inners in place during the process. Once they are in place, you are golden! Sylvia never would have gone through such torture. She was tortured enough from within. She didn’t need any extra help from Spanx. Sylvia’s angst of that moment, the second she looked into Cam’s eyes and realized what might happen next, would have been about ensuing conversation. Was she interesting enough to make postcoital chitchat?
Erma, on the other hand, would have seriously considered Spanx, if not for the fact that at her age she would have never knowingly risked having her circulation cut off on a flight of that length. Erma loves the look and idea of Spanx, but she is at that stage in life where she just doesn’t give a fuck. She’s been married forever. Her husband knows better than to say one word about any little bit of extra anything that might be appended to her body at this point. An unwanted mole in the wrong place or a hemorrhoid can throw off her mood let alone the seamless look. Erma doesn’t care about panty lines because Erma wants everyone to know that she wears panties and not Depends. Erma’s survived. She’s weathered so many storms that she’s become a beacon – she guides herself into port.
So, hold it in or roll with it? To Spanx or not to Spanx? It depends. Many days at this point in my life, when I’m walking the fine line between being me and becoming me, vacillating between sticking it out and running for the hills, I opt for the Spanx. It holds me in and makes me feel put together. I feel like I have the best body and the best kept secret. (Well, not now, y’all know now why I look so damn good most of the time!) Other days, and I’m gratefully finding them to be more frequently occurring, I say “no” to Spanx. On those days, I pleasantly surprise myself and look at ME- the face and eyes in the mirror- not the body, not the shell. I’m beginning to like what I see. And here’s what I’m learning: if I accept myself for who I am- a little bit Sylvia, a little bit Erma, but 100% me, others will too. And if they don’t, it’ll be their loss because I’m pretty damn fabulous most of time.
So, on special occasions, I’ll wear the Spanx, but no matter what, I’m going to try and roll with it.
Sylvia: What the hell, Erma? Really? I’ve got a mountain of laundry, a sea of bills, a couple of screaming kids and a whining husband/partner. (Actually, just a husband since partner suggests some sort of sharing of responsibility, and well, not to complain, but well, yes, let me complain.) Anyway, understand that there is no time to try it on. I’m wearing it whether it’s clean or dirty at this point. Live it? Do I have a choice? I have too many people depending on me to choose otherwise. Exhaust it? Exhaust what? It’s almost all gone- my energy, my concern, my motivation, desire of any kind, money– even me. Yes, I’m exhausted but not in an “I’m tired so I’ll take a nap and feel rejuvenated” kind of way. I’m exhausted as in spent, depleted, nearly vacant, used up, and nothing left to give.
Erma: Have you been heeding my earlier suggestion and pouring yourself that deliciously steamy and virile cup of coffee every now and again, dear girl?
Sylvia: Really, Erma, I don’t have time for such nonsense. It’s not like a daydream will solve my problems or change my life.
Erma: That’s crap. Complete and utter bullshit. It’s time for coffee. It’s time for you. In fact, fuck it. Let’s forget coffee and go for something stronger.
And with that, Erma proceeded to tell Sylvia exactly what was required to get her through.
All women need time to themselves. All human beings do I would suspect, but for the purposes of helping to maintain the sanity of every Sylvia who reads this, Erma’s only talking about women here. Now, time to oneself may be alone time or it may be time with a dear friend or even a crazy and wildly raucous group of your most trusted allies. It may be time doing nothing special- reading a torrid novel or emptying your email trash and spam folders. Let’s just imagine that in this instance though, time to oneself means time doing whatever the hell strikes your fancy at any given point in time. It means taking whatever time is needed to turn a dream into a plan. It’s the point in time when your real or imaginary Erma convinces you to throw caution to the wind and just do whatever you want. (Some may call it wildly irresponsible and demonstrating flagrant disregard. Those are the individuals who should kindly exit stage left or any other way you must rid yourself of them from your theater. You don’t need fun-bashers, naysayers, or any of that ilk.) Erma’s appellation, however, for this much-needed “me” time is far more fitting: survival. Ah, yes, that’s it. “Try it on…live it…exhaust it.” Survive IT!
Erma: Sylvia, here’s my advice, and yes, you will take it. After all, we cannot have you at your wit’s end sticking your head into an oven or doing something equally horrific and final. First, forget the coffee. It’s five o’clock somewhere, and while coffee will help on a daily basis and even in a pinch of soul-sucking desperation, there’s nothing that creates possibility as fast and fervently as an Old-fashioned. We’re past daydreaming, Sylvia. You need time for you. You need a plan–a survival plan.
With pen in one hand and an Old-fashioned in the other, and with her older and wiser girlfriend by her side, Sylvia thought – out loud this time- about what she wanted to do for herself. As she jotted down possibilities that included everything from the mundane albeit therapeutic dinner-and-a-movie to the unimaginably dreamy vacation in Bali (yes,contemplate Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love), she devised a very doable, planned yet seemingly spontaneous getaway to the Windy City. And in an instant or however long it took for Erma and Sylvia to indulge in two cocktails and create an itinerary, Sylvia had set her plan for “me time” in motion.
Sylvia: Okay, Erma, there, are you happy? It’s done. I’m going to try it.
Erma: Sylvia, it’s so far from done. It’s just beginning in fact. The living part. The living-for-you part, that is.
Sylvia awoke that morning with a knot in her stomach but a spring in her step. The living part, whatever Erma meant by that, was about to begin. She managed to get everyone out of the house on time- in other words as quickly as possible-and have a minute to pour one last cup of coffee before heading out the door to the airport. As she raised the pot to serve herself what remained of the morning’s sustenance, she saw a bit of steam rise. Sylvia, anxious for her adventure, set the pot back on its burner and muttered quietly, “What are you thinking? You don’t have time for a daydream right now, foolish woman.”
Announcement: American Flight 136 to Chicago has been delayed. The scheduled departure is now 2:30 pm.
At that moment, Sylvia’s plan didn’t look so good. She had booked a cheap flight to Chicago from Boston with a stop in Charlotte. What was the big deal? Charlotte sounded quaint and manageable and completely unimposing. She had convinced herself that she could only afford “me-time” if she found ways to economize and be free from any more guilt than she was already feeling. Now, she was stuck in Charlotte for three hours with nothing to do but ruminate about her selfishness and play the mental ping-pong game that most mothers play when they leave their families behind to take care of themselves. Serve: Do I really need time to myself? What have I done to deserve it? Return: Yes, you deserve it. You do everything. And with a couple of rounds over and the score tied, Sylvia decided to move forward to step two…live it.
There’s a cute little wine bar tucked away in between the gates of the American Airlines terminal in Charlotte. For once, Sylvia didn’t overthink her next move and headed in its direction. It wasn’t quite noon, but in Erma-fashion of it being five o’clock somewhere, she decided that a glass of something, perhaps a bit of bubbly, was definitely called for on this occasion. With her overnight bag on her shoulder and attempting not to wipe out any tables that she passed by, Sylvia made her way to the Mediterranean-inspired bar and tried to fit in, all the while noticing that only she and one other woman were either brave enough or naive enough to belly-up to the bar alongside stool after stool of men.
Sylvia managed to find a spot at the end of the bar closest to the exit and within earshot of any announcements from the loud speaker. She kept reminding herself that she was worldly, cosmopolitan even. She had traveled extensively in her youth and up until marriage and children, so sitting at a predominately male-occupied bar was no big deal. Her twenties were filled with such happenings- in Florence, Paris, London, DC, and LA. What the hell, this might just be as memorable and at least as enjoyable. She sat down, quietly and confidently, and politely ordered, “A glass of Moët, please.”
Within seconds, the flute of what Sylvia likes to call one of her most delicious tastes of survival arrived. As she reached for its stem, her hand happened to graze the hand of the man next to her and a bit of his draft spilled on the bar. “Oops, so sorry,” she apologized without lifting her head. In that instant, Sylvia was overcome by a strangely familiar scent that was both inexplicable and unexpected. The intensely bold aroma of freshly brewed coffee was enveloping her. She was drinking champagne. How could that be? She felt a rush. She was oddly clammy and flush, as she once again reached for her glass remarking that the arm she had brushed seconds ago was tastefully tattooed and muscular. Surely, she was daydreaming. Could this be real? She lifted her head with every intention of making an apologetic comment, but she could not. As her eyes met his, she blurted, “Oh my, it really is you.” The attractively rugged man, he with the piercing, soulful, walnut-colored eyes from her very first coffee-inspired daydream, was looking back at her with a twinkle in his eye.
“Hello there. I’m Cam, uh, Cameron. Do we know each other?” And without hesitation, Sylvia replied, “No, no, not yet, Cam, but I do owe you another beer- or at the very least a nice, hot cup of coffee.”
Erma: Try it…live it…exhaust it…
Sylvia: Oh, that’s the plan, Erma. That’s the plan.
photo credit: Kobi Yamada