Category Archives: transitions

The Clean Slate Club

AM’s post about moving to a new city and having to make a new social life really resonated with me, but not because I’m moving or looking for new friends. It’s because I’m envious.

I’m not a very social person, so it’s not the “building a social life” or the “putting myself out there” that got me feeling a little jealous. It was the part about “from scratch” and “new me, new city, new things, new people.”

I love my city with a completely unobjective partisan love, and I am thrilled to know and hang out with fantastic people I hope to keeping hanging with for a long time. It’s just, well, I miss “new.” It’s like this:

Remember leaving high school? (At least vaguely?) If you’re lucky you go off to college somewhere new, somewhere that you aren’t “Bob and Sue’s daughter” or “the girl from debate class” or “the one who threw that huge party junior year and the cops came and half the school got busted on the new alcohol policy and never really forgave you despite all the money you spent on liquor.”

Maybe you gain the Freshman 10, but I felt like I dropped the Freshman 50, walking around free on my college campus. I can still see myself standing in front of the theatre building on the bucolic Smith College campus when I had the sudden realization: “None of these people know who I am. Good lord, I could be anybody!”

Then you leave college for work, or grad school. Probably you have a series of jobs before you find one that you stick with for a while, or before the babies turn up at your door and tell you you’re not leaving for a couple of years. Each time it’s a chance to be brand new.

I managed to squeeze in quite a few fresh starts in my young life, transferring schools, skipping town, going online, leaving academia. Often these were hard goodbyes. Plus moving sucks. I hope to stay in this house forever, or at least until someone buries my ashes in the backyard. (Note to family: I’m hoping that won’t be for a while, so put away the shovels.)

Still, there’s a part of me that is always looking down the road for the next corner to turn. When I stay in one place too long I get Itchy. And Scratchy. (But not Poochie.) Living online seems to exacerbate this feeling: every word goes on your permanent record, every person you’ve ever known comes back to find you again. Except they know you as You 2.0 and you’re now at least OS X Snow Leopard and looking at upgrading to Lion.

So many sticky little threads holding you in place, fixing your identity: no wonder they call it the World Wide Web.

Much as the idea of a dramatic breakout appeals, however, it’s not in the cards. I’ve got the Real golden handcuffs: great kids, dreamy husband, a little slice of the Midwest that I’ve grown to love. How I’m going to achieve that great “Clean Slate” feeling I love is still a little bit beyond me: divorce, the Witness Protection Program, and high colonics are out, as are drug-induced amnesia and the convent.

Still, every great journey begins with a single step, and I’ve started this one like so many others before me: with an inspirational refrigerator magnet. Check it out, it might inspire you too:

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. – Ralph Waldo Emerson


Never forget

In response to Mina’s post.

I cry every 9/11. I remember clearly waking up in Los Angeles that morning. We had just moved there the day before, taking the morning flight from Dulles to LAX on September the 10th. Family, that knew we were moving but not the exact date, called us to make sure we were okay. We were alive, but we were not okay. Nobody was that day, and for months afterwards. We were all anticipating another attack and attempting to find our balance in a world still shaking with shock, sadness, and fear.

Every year, on the anniversary, I seek out radio or television programs to relive the event and I am right back there, trembling, tears running down my cheeks, reaching out for my husband’s hand, squeezing my daughter close. I am not sure why I need to feel that fear and heartbreak every year. But, from the amount of news coverage on this 10th anniversary, I suspect I am not alone.

We have a lot of ways to remember and respect the lives of those who have passed before us: funerals, wakes, memorial services, statues, plaques, lighting candles, visiting graves, and holidays. Those of us who experience tragedies don’t need to be told not to forget, we just need to be given time and a safe place to remember.



childhood fancies

We were driving to Lowes, for the second time today, and I was just exhausted. I started to fall asleep in the passenger seat when suddenly I smelled something, and you know how strong smell memory can be. It brought me back to my childhood and I experienced that safe, comfortable feeling of freedom that was once common place in childhood but rare as a white unicorn in adulthood.

I need a vacation from being an adult. I know I supposedly just got back from a vacation, fifteen days in the Mediterranean, but that trip was ridiculously busy. We had to get up early, catch buses, stand in lines and in crowds in 95+ degrees, and walk, walk, walk. Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing trip, but I would never describe it as relaxing and I certainly didn’t have freedom to follow my own star, in my own time, along my own path.

I also recognize that I am unusually busy these days. The moving vans will arrive and start packing us up in T-minus eleven days. And for every chore I mark off our list two more that I hadn’t thought of get added. Not only are we moving to a new state, but we are trying to sell our house and our truck. And dealing with property and finances in the aftermath of my father-in-laws death. I feel like I have a hundred and one things to think about. There is just so much that needs to get done, and I have to organize it all. My brain is like an overstuffed filing cabinet, and the drawers won’t shut.

I just want to breathe deeply of that childhood memory of freedom, where there was nothing to think about other than what was right in front of me. To tell the truth I lived in my head a lot as a child, in my head or in a book. But I also spent a lot of time outside, wandering in woods, through the neighborhood, into empty houses or construction sites. I climbed trees and lay in the grass. The hours after school and before dinner were mine. I had no responsibility, except to my own whims. There was no credit card debt, no car to fix, no home to sell. Just my hands getting dirty and my shoes getting worn.

I still love to walk outside. Nature renews me. It is the most likely place I could catch a glimpse of that white unicorn. But for now, all I can do is hope that there is still freedom to be had, that life does slow down sometimes, and that even grown-ups, mothers and wives can catch the elusive magic of freedom.

Twenty Years Ago: Lollapalooza, Pre-Geek Chic, and Love

Do you remember August 1991?

Twenty years ago I was going to the very first Lollapalooza concert in Chicago. I was working at the Minnesota Daily, and the two other night editors and I decided to go together.

Vocabulary digression: the night editors were the last of the editorial team to see the paper before one of us drove it—drove it!—over to the printer in the middle of the night. A large part of our job was to maintain the integrity of the actual text of the paper once it had gone “Prod Side” (out of the editorial office and into the production office, housed in a completely separate building) and was in the hands of the art directors, advertising people, and other folks who were more concerned with visual appeal than the accuracy of the 4th largest newspaper in Minnesota.

Everyone working on the paper was probably 25 or younger, which explains why it didn’t occur to anyone that if all the night editors left town for the weekend (when the paper didn’t run) and for some reason couldn’t come back by Sunday night, the paper would be in a bit of a pickle.

Luckily, although all of us were brilliant editors and students, none of us were especially wise, and off we three drove in my tiny bright blue Honda Civic hatchback, which had been dubbed The Indigo Chariot by my roommate.

My memories of the trip are hazy, but I have to laugh at the things I remember:

—Chicago Pizza

—Ice-T as a young rapper instead of old actor

—Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction: For most of their set there were 2 girls with no pants dancing lethargically next to Mr. Farrell, as if grinding with a rock star would be the most boring thing they would do all day. I think they did some things that were supposed to suggest they were Maybe Bisexual (ooooh! Edgy!). I remember looking at Perry Farrell and thinking that he looked just like a super-nerdy former high school loser (trust me, I know) who now had the fame and fortune to force models to gyrate next to him in public. It was kind of sad. I’m curious whether they’ve maintained that part of their act 20 years later.

—Living Colour, which I was really into at the time for some reason

—The cute nerdy editor who drove my car a lot of the way. He was a little younger than me, highly geeky, and scrawny in that way that made me feel—at 5’9”, with the hottest, perkiest body I would ever have—more like an older sister than a potential love interest. Still, had I not moved away, who knows? “Geek Chic” was not yet something any sane marketer had considered, but I was totally charmed by this pale, glasses-wearing boy who confessed at the age of 20 that he still liked dinosaurs. (Bitchy young me: “Really? I liked dinosaurs too. When I was FIVE.”) Last I saw he was a city editor for the Onion, so you can see my instincts on the whole “So Nerdy He’s Hot” thing were right on.

—Henry Rollins scolding the crowd for not clapping enough for the Butthole Surfers, who totally sucked.

—The repeated failure of my car to start.

See, you knew where this was headed. In the morning, as we left our hotel bright and early so we responsible young editors could be back in Minneapolis with hours to spare, my car would not start. My beautiful First Car Ever, for many years the only car used among my groups of friends, was dying.

We got it to a service station, and their brilliant advice was to drive drive drive drive without stopping, because once I stopped it would not start again without a jump from a kind stranger. So we did just that. We headed out of Chicago and into the prairie until it seemed we would absolutely have to stop for gas. We stopped for gas, made panicked calls to whatever Daily staffers we could find (cell phones? this was 1991, people, there were no cell phones for college students), got a jump, and rolled into Minneapolis just in time for the three of us to do our jobs for the Monday morning paper.

Because we were the very last editorial staff to see the paper, that issue has more than a few inside jokes tucked away referring to our predicament, including a little line art representing my poor hatchback, which needed a fair amount of work before I could drive it off to graduate school a couple weeks later.

Somewhere after midnight we all walked to one of the editor’s apartments and tried to crash there, but we were so wired we stayed up talking all night. I think the other female editor and I flirted aimlessly with Cute Editor Boy, all of us knowing full well that we were the kind of people who went to alt rock concerts and danced like fools, then went home alone to read classic novels and recover from too much smoke and crowd noise and write about it all later.

Sometime before sunrise we walked Editor Boy to his apartment, then went for pancakes. I probably only saw the two of them a handful of times before leaving Minneapolis; there was no point in further developing relationships that were about to end.

The Indigo Chariot was fixed and I drove it, along with my mother, and my step-father and grandfather following in a station wagon, to Ann Arbor. I cried as we drove away: I loved the city of Minneapolis, I loved the music and the theater and the lakes, and I was just starting to figure out, at the age of 21, that there were boys there who actually kind of liked tall nerd girls. On the way to Michigan, I stopped at the last exit of the Upper Peninsula to call my housemates in my new digs. I lay on my back on the floor of my hotel room and laughed with surprise when a boy answered the phone and identified himself as Eggmaster.

I hadn’t told anyone when I would arrive, so I told Eggmaster that getting him on the phone was the biggest relief of my life, still laughing from exhaustion and now from nerves. “I’m so glad I could be part of the biggest release of your life,” he said, and I don’t know whether he misheard me or decided to mess with me.

I met him a the next day: horn-rimmed glasses, a thin white t-shirt, black motorcycle jacket, black combat boots, long and heavy black bangs covering one of his eyes. I soon saw that his bookcase was full of Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald; I learned that he was a drummer and he loved Rush. Geek Chic indeed, except he was in no way scrawny, and he was —hurray!—a full four inches taller than me. I did not learn his position on dinosaurs. Despite our breathless, giggly phone conversation, we hardly spoke to each other for three weeks, so intense was our shyness and introversion.

Nevertheless, Reader, I married him.

When I read online that today Lollapalooza was marking its 20th anniversary, the incredible sweetness of August 1991, which seems so long ago, came rushing back. Though I am right now listening to my twelve-year-old daughter practice her Bach inventions, I remember another bright young woman who was just waking up to the surprising possibilities life has to offer, amazed that she, too, might have a chance at love, joy, and just a little reckless abandon.

Moving on up!

We have been living in a small town in northern Indiana for the last four years. This might be the longest I have lived anywhere.

No wait, from birth to age five I lived in the same house, by the bay,  in  southern Texas. Then we moved to Florida and we kept moving, every couple years, to a bigger house or smaller one, depending on my mother’s financial situation. If I am counting correcting I lived in 9 houses (and went to 13 schools) from age 5 – 18.

Then, once I was out on my own, I moved year or so, living in 10 place, in 12 years.

The 11 years my husband and I have been together and have had our daughter we’ve lived in Virginia, 4 different places in Southern California, and then Indiana. I’ve worried about moving around so much with my daughter and if I was doing her any damage. I guess time will tell.

But right now we are all just really excited to be moving again. This time we are heading to Philadelphia. We will be working and living in the city, with all that has to offer (museums, restaurants, cool shops, public transportation, etc.) And Philly is real close to New York and not much farther from D.C..

We are renting a house this first year, which means we will be moving AGAIN next year when the lease is up, and moving into the house that we buy. Fun! Not really, moving sucks. That is all I am doing these days, getting ready to move. I am almost too busy to excited about my awesome new future. Almost.

So, how often have you moved?


I’ve been thinking a lot about intimacy this week. No, not just *that* kind.

What is true emotional intimacy? How do we establish it? How do we nurture it? How much of it do we need in our daily lives in order to feel connected to other people and not just like an island adrift? How do we decide who our intimates should be? How does intimacy change naturally over the lifetime of a relationship (whether it’s with a friend, family member or romantic partner)? And how do we know what needs to be done in order to reestablish it if it fades or whether we even should? And if it dies in an important relationship…how should we grieve and then move on?

Bright Girls Grown Up

Most of my female friends are pretty smart women. And most of them don’t give themselves enough credit. At worst, sometimes friends seem to engage in a race for the bottom: “I’m the dumbest!” “I’m the least successful!” “No me!” Humility is a good quality, abject self-abasement less so.

A lot of women I know could identify with these questions:

How often have you found yourself avoiding challenges and playing it safe, sticking to goals you knew would be easy for you to reach? Are there things you decided long ago that you could never be good at? Skills you believed you would never possess? If the list is a long one, you were probably one of the Bright Girls — and your belief that you are “stuck” being exactly as you are has done more to determine the course of your life than you probably ever imagined.

I’ve entertained a variety of theories about these issues: maybe women are discouraged from succeeding, maybe women are acculturated to believe they should not be ambitious or put themselves forwards, maybe women are multi-tasking and set lower goals accordingly. And I think, yeah, maybe, but as a daughter of 1970s feminism I feel like those factors are not as powerful as they once were.

Another possible factor comes from the “Mindset” school of development:

What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty — what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.

While I have been, at times, ambitious, hard-working, and willing to keep chipping away at a challenge, I have also let a setback lead me to question myself: “I’m not as smart as people say, and now they’ll know it.” “I guess I wasn’t meant to reach this level of accomplishment.”

Those “greatest hits” of the tween and teen years play in our heads as adults too, and sometimes when we’re feeling uncertain it’s easy to forget that we control the volume and the power switch. That’s one reason I love reading stories about people who make dramatic midlife changes, people who live for years as one type of person who do something dramatically different: NFL cheerleader to anthropologist, screenwriter to Senator, oil company executive to noir fiction master.

Changes like those can’t happen for people stuck with a particular idea of who they are.

How many different ways have you filled in this blank: I’m not a ( ) person. Which one would you like to let go of?

Full article, “The Trouble with Bright Girls,” here.

(Still) Living with Loss

I didn’t want to go here in our first few months of blogging, but to some extent the universe has forced my hand.

I confess: the transitions I’ve been trying to think through have long been colored, sometimes saturated, by persistent thoughts about death. At the same time, the drumbeat of sickness and loss that has thumped steadily for the last year or more has accelerated. I haven’t gone 48 hours in the last two weeks without hearing about another death: the death of a good friend’s parent, or child, or a suicide. For the last two weeks in many of my circles the refrain has been, “I’m so sorry” and especially, “It’s just too much.” A Terry Pratchett fan, I picture Death with his hood and scythe saying Welcome to Midlife, without cruelty or sarcasm. Just an almost sympathetic acknowledgment of the truth.

None of these losses are about me. It seems childishly selfish to see other people’s tragedies as life lessons for me. At the same time, it seems willfully obtuse not to try to learn from them. I feel strongly that the universe is not trying to send me a message about anything. But here I am, wanting to write about and through this phase of life, and the sadness of loss runs through this phase of life like an electrical current: you don’t want to grasp it directly, but try to turn away from it and you are pretty much powerless in the dark.

I really have no intention for this to be the Death and Dying Blog. Still, I wanted to write about buying eyeshadow for the first time in years, and then someone called me about a car accident. I wanted to write about energy, but someone e-mailed me an obituary. I wanted to fix the damn Facebook page for this blog, but my kids and I were making dozens of cupcakes for a funeral. So I’m writing this instead.

I assume this is not unusual. Loss and serious illness are not unique to me and my social circle. How do other people do it? How you do you dance over the top of that steady drumbeat instead of cowering behind the battlements?

My baby’s all grown up…

I entered parenting in a somewhat non-traditional way. I became a new (step)mom at 25, to an adorable 7-year-old girl. And my life was forever changed.

That adorable 7-year-old is now an equally adorable, 22-year-old, newly minted college graduate. Her graduation ceremony (at the same university where I attended graduate school for a short time) was last week and I can’t put into words the joy I felt sharing that day with her. Her path has not been an easy one. She has dealt with family crises and significant health issues, as well as the more typical drama that young adults face, and she has persevered. She has her degree, she has her health, and she’s happy in her relationships. I now sigh, with relief and pride and joy.

It’s exciting to be 20-something and to be on the cusp of “what’s next.” It’s a little scary too. She’s saying goodbye to friends and trying to find her first job (she’s working now but not in a Job with a capital J) in the middle of a recession.

How is it that nearly 20 years have passed since I was in this same situation and yet it seems like just a couple of years ago?

As exciting as it is to be at the beginning of it all (and to have a 20-year-old’s metabolism), I wouldn’t trade with her for a minute. I’m not one of those people who ever says, “Oh, if I only could go back to x year or experience, knowing what I know now.” Nope. I am very satisfied to be where I am right now, with the perspective I have gained through slogging through all the life stages that have come my way since then.

In some ways, I’m in a very similar boat to hers. During her last year of college, I’ve moved, I’ve divorced, I’ve started over. I’m trying to figure out what might be next for me creatively or professionally, and how to balance all that with the responsibilities that already exist within my life (especially single parenting two highly spirited young boys). But at 40, I recognize that what’s meant to be, will be, and that there really are no “wrong” paths, per se. I worry less about what’s next, because I recognize that what’s meant to unfold, will, as long as I remain open to the possibilities…