Sylvia Sums Up Life in a Word…or Two

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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.”

 

 

 

 

 

 



  

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No Substitutions

Sylvia: Erma, it’s been awhile.  Come on over. I’m in the mood to whip something up in the kitchen and could use some company. 

Erma: Do you need me to pick up any ingredients on my way over? Cake mix? Slice’n Bake cookie dough? Take-Out?  

Sylvia:  Oh no, none of that, Erma.  It’s all about starting from scratch this time…and no substitutions.

Erma: Good girl, now you’re catching on.

Sylvia hung up the phone and hurriedly moved across the kitchen to get the coffee going. After all, that was the beverage of choice for these two ladies when they were about to engage in deep conversation to offset otherwise mundane midday activities.  As Sylvia reached into the cupboard to grab the canister of French roast, she hesitated. Without over thinking, she closed the cupboard door and instead picked up her pace ever so slightly as she ventured to the wine rack in the corner of the dining room and selected a red blend, one befitting their friendship, their past conversations, and the time of day: Dreaming Tree Crush. Yes, by all means, yes.  This is exactly what Sylvia and Erma would need to analyze life’s recent events and to contemplate the future with just the right amount of wisdom and whimsy.  They could only benefit by a a bit of the grape to get them through the cooking portion of the afternoon, lest they forget the actual motivation for their impromptu get-together.

Sylvia, bottle and corkscrew in hand, returned to the kitchen to retrieve the stemless wine glasses she had yet to use, and this occasion seemed more than perfect for them if she and Erma were going to be multi-tasking.  Rustling around counter-tops covered with everything from flour to eggs to spices, and an opened bottle of red of course, called for stemless, much like coffee with her friend necessitated the over-sized, earthenware mugs. Clad in her black yoga pants and a vintage college sweatshirt, Sylvia threw on an apron and used the wine key to uncork the bottle and pour herself a couple of sips (a taste-test, let’s say).  At the very instant the crimson potion touched her lips, Sylvia realized something that for some reason had never occurred to her until that moment- when you want something, you want it. And no matter what anyone tells you, including all of the well-intentioned admonitions you are offered, there is never an adequate substitute for something your palate wants, your stomach craves, or your heart desires. No substitutions. Your decisions, big and small, much like a choice between coffee and wine, are made either painstakingly or swiftly, for better or worse.  In either case, once a commitment has been made, anything and everything else just won’t do. It’s not simply coffee or wine, ice cream or chocolate.  It’s more, much more.   It’s the difference between surviving and living. It’s the difference between living life and loving the life you live.

Sylvia poured herself a few more swallows (yes, sticking with the red) and sat down with the recipe box her mother had passed down to her.  Yep. Going to definitely make something from scratch. “I’ve got all of the ingredients right here in front of me.”

As Sylvia waited for Erma and thumbed through recipes, she kept revisiting the revelation that those first tastes of Dreaming Tree brought to light.  She herself had long been trying to satisfy her cravings with everything except that which appealed to her most. And the exchanges were indeed ridiculous!  In fact, in retrospect, the substitutions she had made to appease herself were neither sufficient nor satisfying in the least. For a few minutes, she thought about what she had done especially in recent months and even about life choices she had made as recently as yesterday.  Sylvia, taking another sip and this time letting it rest on her tongue, came to an unsettling realization: the things, the experiences, and the people that she sought to replace, whether for a brief moment in time or for the rest of eternity, could not be switched out. And as many times as she had tried to rebuild herself, strengthen her resolve to live a happier life, and to allow herself to love, she concluded that somehow her dreams had been crushed.  Her hopes and desires weren’t extinguished by anything or anyone; they hadn’t even become a blend of her wants and the desires and needs of the important others who comprised her tribe. Looking into the bottom of the stemless wine tumbler, she finally comprehended the main source of her discontent. She had settled. She was still settling. Sylvia’s dreams, hopes, desires, cravings, and wants had always been substituted for something other than that which she truly yearned for. She never wanted to be the peacemaker. She never wanted to be the people-pleaser.  She never wanted to be an angst-ridden fifty-something who looked lovely on the outside but who was dying on the inside.  Sylvia realized that she had replaced all that she wanted with everything to make those around her like her, admire her, love her, and respect her.  And while her soul was being whittled away each time she conceded or retreated, she met disappointment head-on because there was no replacement for what she wanted. Sylvia. Sylvia wanted to love and be loved on her terms.  So, while her tribe had been content with her fulfilling their needs and helping them realize their dreams, she had failed to demand or ask of them the one thing that she had wanted from them. She yearned for them to know her and treat her with the respect that she had shown them. She had accepted less, much less. But no more. No substitutions.

The door bell rang, and as she opened the door widely to welcome her trusted friend and confidante, Sylvia smiled and declared, “I’m ready to start from scratch.  Come on in.”

From Sylvia & Erma on Mother’s Day

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.”

Sylvia Knows Heaven on Earth

I don’t believe in heaven. Not as a destination anyway. Well, let me further amend that to say that I don’t believe that “good” people -those who lived life both honestly and vulnerably, with purpose and love in their hearts for themselves and the world around them, those who atoned for their “sins” (you know, those so-called egregious lapses in judgment for which we seek forgiveness and absolution throughout life, not hurriedly as we stand at death’s door)- I don’t believe that they simply, miraculously, and invisibly rise to the sky, “up to heaven” upon death, and gain actual wings. I’m not deluded or crazy after all, though I’m certain there are many who would say differently.

When I look to the sky, whether it is just to the level of the horizon as I watch the fiery orange sun come up to touch the still-sleepy blue sky or straight up into the depths of the black night canvas that on some nights appears riddled with stardust and on others is so dark and vacant that no strangers have even dared to stop at the countless, lightless inns above, I picture heaven. It’s not a place at all. It’s a feeling. For me.  It’s the promise, the hope,  and the possibility that a new day brings. It’s the unconditional love between a mother and a child, between a daughter and a father. The seamless and steadfast love between friends who are also soulmates.

I’ll find heaven today. It’ll be in my child’s laugh whether I hear it over the phone or recall its hearty playfulness when I read a text from him. And most assuredly, I’ll see heaven in my father’s smiling eyes today. I’ll find her right here in all that I do today and in everything and in everyone who loved her and who loves and supports me. Seven years without her – some might say “hell on earth” and oh, I’ve said that quite often!   Today, I’m going to tell myself that I’ve been blessed to know, feel, and experience heaven on earth.  I had a mother who shared and who continues to share life’s bounty and beauty with me. Now and evermore. 

“A mother’s love is a slice of heaven.” (~k. morgan)

(Photo credit: Florence McGinn)

Be Careful When You Pull the Thread

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

It Never Gets Old

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