Sylvia: There’s nothing that a good fuck can’t cure. Seriously. It’s one of the most honest, if not the most liberating, pathways to freedom.
Erma: Well, I’ll take your word for it, Sylvia. I might be a bit too old to go that route.
Sylvia: Well, first of all, you’re never too old! But for God’s sake, Erma, I’m not talking about the act, although admittedly that can be therapeutic and invigorating, not to mention fun. I’m talking about the word. F-U-C-K. Yep, fuck. Best word ever.
Well, well, well. There’s food for thought most certainly. All of her life Erma has searched for the right word. A word that is so empowering that it possesses the unparalleled ability to convey deep dark angst, utter disgust, and unbridled joy and passion, not concurrently mind you, but at just the right times when all other vocabulary escapes you. And in one fell swoop and three old-fashioneds later, Sylvia, more frequently the student, becomes the teacher and Erma’s purveyor of the nuances and more deeply seated meanings of what Erma and her generation used to call the golden word. FUCK. Gilded by virtue of its forbidden nature– something you can do or think but never say.
Taking long, generous sips of their afternoon cocktails, Erma and Sylvia engage in what might just be the most meaningful, candid, and unexpectedly humorous conversation of their friendship.
“Here’s the thing, Erma. Fuck holds so much power because it’s multi-purpose. It’s universal. Fuck fits everywhere. In every exchange fathomable between two people, you can imagine, feel, and use fuck. It’s a noun, a verb, an adjective. It’s a word, an action, and an emotion.”
“It’s also quite funny, Sylvia. I have to admit that just hearing you say the word over and over is titillating. It makes me feel like a school girl. Almost a bit giddy and undoubtedly a bit naughty. Tell me more, my friend. I have a feeling that I’m in for a real life lesson– one that may be immediately applied.”
“Erma, all I can share with you is what I know first hand. I never heard my mother utter the word. Goddammit. Son-of-a-bitch. Shit. Jesus Christ. Yes, all of those would come burgeoning out at full force, especially when she was agitated duly or unduly by one of her children, her husband, work, or the dog. It wasn’t until Mom’s early 50s that fuck came into play, that it became a part of her lexicon. I remember it vividly. She was making the bed, of course in a bit of a rush as she always was in her valiant and ritualistic attempts to get organized and out the door before 7am. As clear as Sunday church bells in a small hamlet, I heard it. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck’r. Fucking fuck. Fuck. Little mother fucker.” And there it was in all its glory. Unbridled. Free-flowing. She had stubbed her toe- the bad one, the big one with the corn and the ingrown toenail- on the over-sized, maple-footed ball of the bed. And needless to say, it hurt so much that FUCK was the only word, the sole expletive that fit. At that moment though, as Mom grabbed her toe with tears in her eyes groaning out fuck after fuck, I had an epiphany. My mother was human. Fuck rendered her mortal. The power of fuck had been unleashed.”
“Well Sylvia, that was nothing more than a gut reaction, don’t you think?” Erma suggested, almost apologizing for Mom’s foul language. “A spontaneous response to an annoyingly unfortunate event,” she added.
“Perhaps, Erma, but I think it revealed so much more. I think it was a release for her. No other word in the world could have expressed her anger while providing her with such liberation and cleansing. With each fuck, each hard and exasperated fuck, came freedom. And in all its power and glory, fuck gained instant standing and acceptance in my book because Mom had used it fiercely, passionately, and unapologetically.”
“I get it, Sylvia, but tell me, you can’t actually believe that one single word accommodates other life situations as well? How can one word be so multi-faceted? Give me examples–minus the obvious, of course.
“Fuck in a nutshell is what you are looking for, Erma. Here goes. Disgust: When your significant other feigns concern about your well-being and then proceeds to ask if his whites are done and what’s for dinner. Are you fucking kidding me? Joy: When your grown kid texts you before his bedtime (not yours) to share a pic of his favorite diva whom he happened to sight on his way to the subway. That’s fucking awesome! Incredulity: When the person next to you on the plane puts a used tissue in the seat-back pocket. What the fuck? Anger: When you finally find the perfect parking spot at the mall, have your blinker on to properly claim it, and then an oncoming car goes around several waiting vehicles to steal the spot. Fuck you. (That one must be accompanied with a look of disdain and the appropriately inappropriate finger.) Fatigue: You come home very late, depleted of every ounce of physical and mental energy after an excruciating day, only to find that a raccoon has rummaged through your garbage barrel leaving trash everywhere including your neighbor’s driveway. I don’t have one more fuck to give today. Indifference: When there’s just no pleasing anyone. I don’t give a fuck. Fuck it! And even though you don’t want to hear about the obvious, Erma, it really has to be said. Consider it a reminder to all women that you only get what you ask for. Desire: When you are with your lover and he’s willing to do anything to see you fulfilled time and again. Fuck me. Please. So, see Erma, the word is pure gold. It can be melted down and morphed into so many emotions. But of all the feelings, thoughts, and deeds that it encompasses, none is greater than the other “f” word that all fucks lead to–the mother of all “f” words–freedom. Don’t you agree, Erma?”
As Erma sat swirling the remaining ice cube in her tumbler, she thought to herself, “Fuck? Fuck, yes. Absolutely, Sylvia, freedom indeed.”
This mid-May, Mother’s Day nor’easter on the Cape awakened me on multiple levels today (and too frequently last night if truth be told). However, in Sylvia-and-Erma fashion, I’ve tried to make sense of the morning chaos that Mother Nature has seen fit to bestow upon us, although admittedly my success may be lacking.
I’ve often felt that on days like today the gods are weeping- well, more like sobbing it appears as I look out my bedroom slider on the cove. Yep, definitely sobbing. Bawling, in fact. You see, at the risk of sounding soft, gooey, and maybe even a wee bit emotional, my take on today is that the heavens have opened, and mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters, and all the little girls who were never given the chance to become any, all, or none of the aforementioned, are worried to the point of tears-for those of us who are here and remembering them oh-so-fondly at this moment and every single day we must live without them. What are their worries you ask? After all, how lovely it must be to have eternal peace! No homework to do for the little girl? No fear of not being invited by the cool girls to the slumber party? No worries there. For the nieces and aunts, no fear of the secrets they shared and kept just among themselves – without fear of ever being revealed to their sisters or their mothers. For the sisters, no worries about who is the oldest, middle, or youngest; who will take over the position of matriarch in the family when Mom and Grandma have passed; who will be the glue? All of those worries, their worries, have hopefully been replaced by infinite bliss and the newly generated wisdom of what they have discovered as the meaning of life: live each day as if it is your last. Love passionately- whether it be for another person, humankind, or a slice of this earth. Care deeply. Laugh hard. Practice self-care. Dream of who you may become. Leave behind the parts of you that are draining. Love yourself as you are at this moment. Their worry, the worry of those women and girls, young and old, who weep for us this Mother’s Day is that we fail to appreciate the present.
They weep because they know that missing them does not change the outcome. They shed tears for us with the hope that we learn from their successes, their failures, the dreams that either reached fruition or never came to be. But above all, their tears fall upon us to wake us up to the fact that we have what they don’t: life. Live it with purpose. With wild abandon. With determination. With fear. Yes, with a bit of fear. Be afraid that if tomorrow never comes, you won’t have experienced the one thing that only you can possess. Love of self.
Mom, don’t cry. I’m learning.
“All that I am, I owe to my mother.”
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: 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