Monthly Archives: April 2016

The Means and Manner of Obtaining Virtue

This week, for the first time in two months, I realized it was almost Thursday and I had yet to start a book for today’s blog post.  Not wanting to fall behind, I picked up something small: The Means and Manner of Obtaining Virtue by Benjamin Franklin.  It’s only 56 pages long and it’s divided into three personal essays, making it even easier to digest.

“Steady Industry and a Prudent Parsimony” may have been the most interesting, though it doesn’t sound so from its title.  Though it can still be said to have a moral, it is far more subtle than the other two and is more a personal history than a lecture.  As Franklin details his beginnings in journalism, he emphasizes how his persistence  gained him opportunities and how his availability to those opportunities – even when they were not exactly ideal – gave him momentum.  It ends when he is still young (less than 21) and one door has closed to him, but it promises that he will still succeed thanks to “steady industry and a prudent parsimony.”

It has been a while since I read colonial-era literature, but even in comparison to the book’s other parts, the language in “The Art of Virtue” sounded pretentious rather than arcane.  You would have to be a little pretentious to tell people how you contrived to rid yourself of every vice and suggest they follow your example.

In case you’re curious: Franklin focused not on the vice itself but on the virtue he wanted to replace it with.  He practiced one at a time, marking each time he made a mistake.  He hoped there would come a day when he made no marks in his record.  To his credit, he confesses he was “much fuller of faults than [he] had imagined” and he “never arrived at the Perfection.”  Though not perfect, he did find he was better for having done so, and he finally decided “a speckled ax was best.”  With the language, it sounds like bragging: “look how much I bettered myself,” he seems to say.  But by interjecting some of the ways he failed and appealing to his descendents, he shows he is also trying to teach by example.

I say also because even he says his pride was the one vice he managed to hide but never expel.  I have no doubt he would take the opportunity to boast if he thought he could write it off as something else.

He further extols his own wisdom in “The Way of Wealth.”  He frames it as a true story, where “Father Abraham” lectures a crowd by quoting (repeatedly) Poor Richard’s Almanack.  My guess is that it’s entirely fictional and mainly an excuse to present his favorite adages in one place.  Despite the hokeyness of it, this one fascinated me most because parts of it are still relevant.  He warns against a good “pennyworth,” saying that even something cheap is a bad deal if you don’t need it, and that you shouldn’t borrow money to buy nice clothes because the appearance of wealth is pointless if you have to owe someone for it.

It was also funny to see that he’s the one who said “God helps them who help themselves” and would agree with  my “I can sleep when I’m dead” philosophy, though he might disagree with what I do instead.  (His exact words were “there will be sleeping enough in the Grave,” though he thought people should use this time to be industrious.)

Some of it is actually good advice, but throughout he makes it sound as though the only way to succeed is to do nothing but work and failing in these will ruin you.  It isn’t until the end that he acknowledges you can follow all this advice and still fail.

The Means and Manner of Obtaining Virtue should probably be considered a classic.  Right or wrong, Franklin’s message has a timelessness to it, even if his language doesn’t.  He does admire where he’s failed, but history has shown his success.  As one of the most prominent of our country’s forefathers, he has some authority when it comes to getting things done.  If in reading these essays, one can separate the good from the bad, they may glean something they can use to better their own life.

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Another Piece of the Puzzle

Let’s talk about me.

(But Kari, I don’t want to talk about you.)

Then you shouldn’t have clicked on the link.  It’s my blog and I want to talk about me.

(Fine.  What about you now?)

You ever have days when you look in the mirror and you aren’t sure what, exactly, you’re looking at?

(…I thought we were talking about you.)

I have days when I look in the mirror and I’m not sure what I’m looking at.  The good news is that they’ve been coming less frequently because I finally figured it out.

I am a puzzle.

I don’t mean that I am a problem you have to tilt your head at and consider before coming up with a solution.  I mean a puzzle made up of many pieces, and only in putting them together you can see a complete picture.

I’ve spoken of other pieces of my identity before, pieces I have struggled and searched to discover, but this one’s easy.

I’m an introvert.

(You?  Really?  I had no idea!)

Okay, if you’re being sarcastic…rude.

Some people, on finding this out, are genuinely surprised because I “like people.”  And I do…you know, usually.

But god, are they exhausting.

I know some people who seem more energized the longer they spend time with people.  It doesn’t work that way for me.  I start an event with a certain amount of fuel, and people slowly drain it out of me.  It’s why I was always more tired working four hours at the library than I ever am spending all day in my little cubicle.

The hard part is that it’s impossible to tell where my energy levels will land.  I last longer with a few close friends than in crowds of strangers, but if I start tired or anxious anyway, I require more energy to be social.  When I’m having a “bad week,” I can barely find any at all.  Alcohol can boost it some, but when I get to the point where I’m too tired to even drink, there’s no coming back from that.

(All right, I get it.  So why are you telling me this now?)

Because, for better or worse, it’s part of me and it affects how I interact with the world.  It kept me from doing something this weekend that would have been fun if I weren’t so worn out to begin with.  And that particular occasion reiterated something I’ve been learning as I try to take better care of myself: you have to listen to your body.  Even as I am trying to say yes more, “I can’t right now” can still be the right answer.  Even the people who mean to be looking out for you are not inside your head.  They may not see every puzzle piece.  Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how each one is going to fit together.

It may not always look the way you want, but it’s going to feel a whole lot better.

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The Jungle Book(s)

I have a rule: never see a movie “based on the book” until you have first read the book.

There have been some exceptions: Holes was the first exception that proved the rule.  It was after watching Holes that I became convinced this was how I should do things, because reading the book was such a different experience afterwards.  The movies “based on a true story!” that also happen to be in book form are other exceptions.  And of course, if I saw it before I was old enough to read, I’d have to excuse myself.

Such is my experience with Disney’s The Jungle Book (the cartoon), but since the live-action movie is coming out, I thought I’d give the book a chance first.

First of all: it’s actually called The Jungle Books, because it was published in two separate volumes.  Second, it isn’t a novel but a collection of short stories originally published in magazines.  Finally, the Disney cartoon I grew up with is vastly different from the source material.

For one thing, not every story is about Mowgli, though I can understand why Disney latched on to him.  When I began reading a story and realized it had no Mowgli, I became disinterested.  The other stories weren’t bad.  Several of them were genuinely enjoyable.  But after the first couple stories with Mowgli, any story without him had to work twice as hard to capture my attention.

Also, the cartoon is only about his childhood, where as the stories jump around in his timeline.  The first tells of him joining the wolfpack, while a later one tells of his attempts to belong in a Man’s village.  Even after that, it jumps backwards in time to tell of one particularly difficult drought in the jungle.

Each story features powerful animals, but they also seem to hold a message: there are far scarier things than wild animals.  Things like greed and fear.

Also, some of his lines are astonishingly poetic.  “I am two Mowglis, but the hide of Shere Khan is under my feet,” he says in “Mowgli’s Song.”  This is one of the verses that follows each story, giving it depth and detail by relating back to the characters’ experiences and emotions.  But even his prose has the same melodic tone: “he had eaten sour fruit, and he knew the tree it hung from,” he says.  “That day saw the end of Purun Bhagat’s wanderings.  He had come to the place appointed for him–the silence and the space,” he says.  There’s a wildness to his diction that perfectly matches his settings and his characters, though there is a gravitas that binds them all together.

I see why Disney has attached to Mowgli.  I’m rather attached myself.  But every story in this collection is worth reading, for the language and for the ideas that it brings to the world, a type of jungle in its own right.

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Interview with a Quidditch Player

The most magical part of the Harry Potter books is what happened after “All was well.”  The seven books and eight movies that told Harry’s story became the foundation of a global community that wasn’t content with simply consuming this media.  These people brought the story to life in the real world.

These people brought us the Harry Potter Alliance and Transfiguring Adoption, two non-profit organization dedicated to helping people through the power of words.  They brought us Wizard Rock, a Harry Potter musical, and even a puppet show.  In 2005, a group of them brought us a real-world adaptation of the books’ game, Quidditch.  Now over 4000 athletes are registered with US Quidditch and one of them, Courtney Reynolds from the UNC team, told me about her experience with the game.

(Disclaimer: This transcript was edited for length and clarity.)

K: How did you get started with Quidditch?

C: I went to UNC and my freshman year I was like, “Quidditch seems kinda cool, like it’s an athletic sport, but also silly, and I was just like mildly interested in it.  UNC has no online presence whatsoever, so I couldn’t play because I couldn’t find them. And then one day I was just walking through campus and was like, “Hey look, there they are.”  I just hopped in with them and they had a private page.  I went to one tournament the very next day. I had no idea what I was doing. And yeah, I just kept playing from there.

K: I actually went to UNC too, so where on campus?

C: Do you know where Mangum the dorm is?

K: Yes.

C: They were literally playing, ok so there’s grass in front of them with sidewalks crisscrossing through it: yeah, right there.

K: That sounds safe.

C: Yeah, it was questionable. But back in the day there was no tackling, so it was a little less bad, but…

K: How long have you been doing it?

C: Umm…So from like the last week of my freshman year, and I graduated a year ago, like tomorrow, basically. So…four years, I guess.

K: Is it hard to keep involved if you’re not going to school anymore?

C: Well now I live in Charlotte…so I don’t really go to practice unless I visit – I have a boyfriend that goes there, so I visit him and we sometimes practice on Sundays, sometimes…so like, I never practice. And I’m way more out of shape this year.  I’m running and I’m just like [gasping noises].  It’s not good. What keeps you involved I feel like is that they’re very social. They’re like, “Hey, we’re going to the mall to eat burgers: everybody get in the car.” Or like, “Come over and drink.” The first time I ever drank in college was like, “Hey, Quidditch! Have a drink.” And the parties…we play King’s Cup and Never Have I Ever and stuff, so it makes you get to know people faster, which is nice.

K: What’s been your favorite or most memorable match or World Cup?

C: I think I liked the first World Cup I went to the best, which was in Myrtle Beach, because the venue was phenomenal, the team village was awesome, they were giving out free Powerade all day. The weather was perfect like today, and it was my first one, and we did really well. It was just like, “Wait…is my team actually good?”  I never think about my team being good, it’s just the team that I play on: it is what is.  We win some and we lose some. We got to World Cup and I was like, “Huh…we’re actually kinda good.” And so from there it got a lot more intense. Because we realized: it was our first World Cup and we actually killed some of these teams. We have a chance. So definitely that one.

We were playing Florida’s Finest, which used to be the best team in Florida, and they didn’t even make it this year. I think they went in too confident to Regionals, personally. But we were playing them and we were tied on and on and on and on, and they finally caught the Snitch and beat us. But that game, we were like, “We did not expect to be in range,” and it was so good.

K: What keeps you playing?  You’re probably paying for a lot of this travel and you’re not at the school practicing, so what keeps you coming back?

C: Definitely the people.  I am lucky that my parents want me to be active.  Even though I’ve graduated, they’re like, “We’ll pay your $50 membership fee.”  So I might as well play.  And my boyfriend’s the captain, so he’s all about it.  I try not to be lazy but at home, I just don’t work out.  I have to be in somewhat shape to run around for four games, so it keeps me motivated to work out.  So I play for that too, but mostly the people.  I’ve known all of them so long.  Now I’m the oldest one, and it’s kind of weird.  And I just love the physicality.  I can go out and tackle somebody if I want.  I love being able to do that.  That should be a thing more often that I get to do.  But I haven’t tackled anyone today which is a bit sad, but it’s fine.  Tomorrow.

K: You said tackling wasn’t a thing before, right?

C: It wasn’t.

K: So when did that change? How did that happen?

C: When the USQ got real official. The one at Myrtle Beach, I think, they started making every player pay $50. Before that you didn’t. Your team paid $200 and that was it. And then one year they were like, “every player has to pay us $50,” and I’m like, “That’s a shit ton of money.” And then it just got more intense, as a whole sport. Also because we play other teams. When we played the other Carolina teams, like App and Greensboro, we were probably the most physical and they hated us. No one wanted to talk to us. In every single championship game we were in, which was every single championship game that existed in North Carolina, everyone would cheer against us and chant against us, every game, because they hated how physical we were. Because no one else tackled! And then we came to other teams, in other regions, and they’re like, “Yeah, that’s how you play Quidditch, you tackle.” So no one hates us nearly as much now because they do it too. But we were like, “Why not do it?” So I guess we kind of started it in North Carolina. They hated us. It was a good time. And we’re still the best in North Carolina, so it’s all good.

K: What other changes have you seen over the last four years?

C: Everything just got more official.  There’s more parents supporting our team now, which is kind of nice.  All the freshman parents are just like, “Fuck yeah, you play Quidditch!”  And they’ll bring us food: bagels and muffins, and a whole cooler of Gatorade.

Also, I’ll just mention to people that I play Quidditch.  Like, I dyed my hair this weekend because I have World Cup, and people are like, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.  That’s a real sport.  You get to tackle people.”  My mom said she told three people at work and no one asked what it was because they all knew.  They’re figuring it out.

K: So did you dye your hair for Quidditch?

C: Yeah.

K: Why?

C: I was at my boyfriend’s house, and his roommate bleached his hair and then he dyed it purple.  He was like, “We’re bleaching hair, you should do it too.”  And I was like, thirty seconds of thought, “Okay.”

K: I like that mentality, I really do.  Now we have to do the Hogwarts questions: what Hogwarts house are you in?

C: Slytherin.  All the way.

K: You know what?  Talking to you for like ten minutes…

C: Not surprised?

K: Not surprised.

C: Win at any cost.  As long as you don’t kill people, it’s all good.

K: And what would you say is your first—or your best—Harry Potter memory?

C: Does going to Harry Potter World count?  Because I feel like that’s obvious, but…

K: It counts.

C: It’s amazing, and I’m going there again in two weeks and I’m really excited.  I haven’t been in so long and I’m so excited!  But as a kid, when every book was released, we’d buy three of them, because there are three kids in my family.  All three of us would get a book…every single time.  It was amazing.

K: If there are three kids in your family, that might’ve been the quietest it ever was in your house.

C: That’s probably true.  Me and my twin sister, just bouncing off the walls together.  I’m sure my parents were happy.  Like, “Thank God, a day of silence.”  Or that my brother would actually read a book.

K: Has anything funny or inspiring ever happened on the pitch, that comes to mind as your “go-to Quidditch story,” so to speak?

C: I feel like Kyle, with the purple beard and the really fierce…  A lot of people hate him, right?  Because he’s really physical and will like, just kill someone, but it inspires me so much, because I love it…he’s so enthusiastic, and he loves doing it so much.  That excitement for anything is just amazing and I love it so much.  Just watching other people get super hyped, I guess.

K: You guys had a kind of scary moment this morning…

C: We lost!  Ugh!  That made me so upset.  I was not a happy camper, let’s put it that way.  Shouldn’t have lost.  I can’t believe we lost.  We were better than them.  Our first game of the day is always the worst, every single time.  Now it’s probably just a mental thing: getting your head in the game and getting tense.  We see other teams warm up together and count in a circle, stretching, and ours is just like, “La-di-da-di-da.  I guess I’ll throw the ball at you.”  We’ve been really good this weekend about actually warming up, but normally we just take a bit to get mad.  Mostly I think our team thrives on getting mad, and then we’re like, “I’m gonna ram this ball through the fucking hoop as hard as I can.”  And then we play really well.  We’re a very anger-fueled team, so we have to get angry first before we play well.  And losing will do that to you.  Losing to a team you know you’re better than…  But it doesn’t matter, because we’re number 1 in our pool now officially, so.  It just depends where we fall tomorrow and who we play.  No stress about that at all!  I was stressing out this morning.

K: What were you stressing about this morning?  Just the game?

C: Yeah, just being at the World Cup.  Everyone else on my team was like fucking fine, and I was just like, AHHHHHHH!  WORLD CUP!  I think a large part of it was, like, last year, I practiced three times a week every week, and I practice once a month.  My biggest practices are going to other tournaments, and I’ll be sore after, so I was super nervous for myself.  And there were only two times today I felt like, “I do not have enough stamina for this,” but it worked out well.

K: So you’re a beater, right?

C: I am a beater.

K: And you’re number 16.

C: Yep.

K: Is there anything else you want people to know about Quidditch?

C: What annoys me is some of the UNC people who think “people should get equal playing time” and “everyone have fun,” and it’s not that level any more.  Like I am going to kill someone if I don’t win.  I need you to not play.  I don’t really care about it, you’re going to sit the bench, because you’re not good.  And some people don’t get that.  I know it’s Quidditch, I get it, that it’s called Quidditch, but that’s not what it is. It’s a real sport.  That’s my rant I guess.

K: And you said your boyfriend, he’s the Captain?

C: Yeah, Lee.

K: Is he the one who makes that kind of decision?

C: Like who plays? Yeah, he made it four days ago because he’s super responsible like that.  Yeah, he’s the one who makes the decision.  And thank goodness: UNC is one of…not every team, if you graduate they’ll let you play, because we’re an official UNC sports club, so only students can play, even if you’re an alumni.  But UNC doesn’t care.  Some kids don’t even go there.  One kid went to UNCG, one kid goes to community college.  They’re just like…whatever.  UNC’s all about using the community, and I love that.

The UNC team was just one example of community over the weekend.  Texas showed up with several teams, and they each supported the others.  When Q.C. Boston won, the crowd, made up of eliminated teams and spectators from all over the country, formed a tunnel for them and Rochester, the runner-ups, to run through.  There was even an after-party and everyone was invited.

That’s what the World Cup is truly about.  Yes, this is a sport.  Yes, it is about skill and athleticism coming together to showcase what these people can do.  It’s even about the story of Harry Potter, about growing up and the struggle between good and evil, which is why it makes sense for those non-profit organizations to set up booths in Vendor Village.  But overall, it’s about the people these various tenants bring together, people of different backgrounds who unite over their love of a story and their love of the game.  People like Courtney Reynolds, whose love for her team drives her to keep playing and traveling despite the distance.  In this, the sport’s tenth year, we celebrate those people who made the sport what is today, and the people who will fall in love with it in future and continue to make it great.

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An Open Letter to Malala Yousafzai

Dear Malala:

First, I want to apologize.  Before I read your book, I only knew you by what happened to you.  You should never be reduced to the violence perpetrated against you, so I’m sorry.  Most of your books is from before, and those parts moved and inspired me at least as much as the climax.

Your descriptions of Swat and your day-to-day life there are reminiscent of a love letter to your homeland.  You described the scenery in such beautiful detail that I was instantly drawn in.  When you explained certain aspects of your culture, including its atmosphere of community, I felt your comfort and was at peace.  You more than explained it: you showed it through every interaction you described, with your fellow students, who came across more as sisters than friends, and the inclusion of your extended family, who were so prevalent that the “extended” seemed superfluous.  You did not hide the violence that infiltrated your home, but you managed to shine a light into those dark spots until we could see the beauty all around them.  Every time you mentioned that you still haven’t been able to return, I felt your heartbreak.  Your simple and pure language let the beauty of Swat shine through.

But what really shined through all of it was your heart, Malala.

I was under the misconception that you were attacked simply for trying to go to school and you became an activist in response.  That would have been extraordinary enough, but that was not the case.  When you were shot at 15, you had already been advocating for education for years.  Your passion for it colored your life: you spoke of it to every politician you encountered, risked heavily to use your voice in an anonymous blog, and worked hard in your personal studies to learn as much as you could.  You went to school even when you feared for your life.  Your passion and dedication are admirable.

Those traits impressed me, but I was equally inspired by your compassion and your faith.

When you saw children sifting through rubbish, your heart bled and you compelled your father to take them into his school.  You refused to fight only for yourself and instead fought for girls everywhere.  You never responded with cruelty or vengeance, despite what people have said and done to you.  Even the dedication speaks to your heart for your fellow women.

Equally amazingly, you kept your faith throughout and took control of it.  When you were told girls should not get an education because it went against Islam, you said, “No.  That is not what the Quran says.”  Instead of blaming Allah for the acts of men, you chose to thank Him for what happened next.

You, Malala Yousafzai, are an incredible young woman, and I am grateful I had the opportunity to read your story.

Respectfully yours,
Kari M. Johnson

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Gryffindor

For the last month, I’ve written and rewritten “Gryffindor” on my wrist with a Sharpie, testing it out before I get it in permanent ink.  When someone asks, the easiest way to explain it is “It’s a Harry Potter thing.”  Truth is: if I were going to get a tattoo because of what a book did to me, there are other stories that have affected me more.  This is different.  It isn’t something the Harry Potter books made me into, just something they gave me a name for.  The tattoo is meant to remind me to act like one.

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When I first read the books, picking your Hogwarts house was another way of defining yourself, and I spent a lot of time debating which I would have belonged to.  Slytherin was the only one I didn’t consider, because I am not cunning by any stretch of the imagination, and my greatest ambition right now is to never have to drive down Billy Graham Parkway again.

Ravenclaw seemed like a possibility.  I like to consider myself curious and creative, and I did enjoy school, but I wasn’t one for “knowledge for its own sake.”  Then there was Hufflepuff.  Loyalty and fairness sounded good to me, but I’m not all that hard-working.  (I’m actually not always that fair either, but I didn’t work that out until later.)

Looking back, it’s one of those things in my life where I can’t believe I ever thought there was another way.  If you haven’t read the books, this is something you might not know: you aren’t sorted solely on the traits you possess, but also on the traits you value.  And the majority of the fictional characters I loved growing up were Gryffindors through and through: people who chose to seek adventure or defend the weak.  The two ideals I value above all else are courage and kindness.

In my life, it comes through in my wanderlust and the way I face my anxieties.  I see it when I stand up for others.  (I’m not so good at standing up for myself, but hey: I’m getting better about that one too.)  It’s in my idealism and indignation in the face of injustice.  My best writing comes when I do it the Gryffindor way: openly and freely.

It’s also where I get my stubbornness and my inability to quit, even when I ought to for my own or someone else’s good.  It’s part of my hot-head and how I’m getting worse (or better, depending on how you view it) at keeping my mouth shut about it.  It’s the rash decisions and going with my gut instead of planning ahead.  If I had a dollar for half the things I’ve done or said without thinking them all the way through, I could afford the other half.  It’s the part of me that likes my high heels and short skirts, not to mention the hard-drinking, fast-driving, fun-loving side.

I’m not saying they’re all good things, but if you ask me if there’s anything I love about myself, those are the ones that would come first.

And there’s something inherently courageous about calling yourself brave because it means you no longer have an excuse not to be.  If you openly admit to being a coward, there’s no shame in taking the coward’s way out.  The moment you call yourself brave, you are forced to hold yourself to a higher standard: to stick it out when you’re not sure you can, to make the hard choice when someone has to, to stand up and puff out your chest no matter what you’re staring down.  It’s a matter of honor.

(Honor’s a big thing for Gryffindors too.)

That’s why I’m getting it tattooed to my wrist.  It’s a promise to myself to do the brave thing.  It’s a justification for my impetuous behavior.  And it’s a sign that, good or bad, I am who I am and I get to own it.

I’m not saying I won’t change and I’m not saying that I shouldn’t aspire to grow, but if I’m going to fuck up, I’d rather err on the side of courage and daring and chivalry.

Basically: life’s short.  Lion up.

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Everything I’ve Learned About Healing I Learned from Sarah Dessen

On Tuesday I wrote about grief: what I felt, what I’m still feeling, and what I’m learning in the meantime.  One of the things I’ve learned is that grief is a process.  It’s not an easy one, but it goes hand-in-hand with healing.

I was still drowning in my grief when I first heard about The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen.  When I heard the synopsis, I went hunting for it, like searching for a lighthouse to lead me back to shore.  And it worked.  In Macy, I found my own fear and sadness reflect to me.  And in following her through it, I found my own way out.  When she mentions what it takes to mention someone, I think about our old kitchen, my dad clutching me to his side and singing his own version of “Let it Snow.”  When she talks about the packages that keep arriving from Maine, I think about the box of my dad’s things and how, for a while, I thought I’d find my own message within it.

Over time, the book became a “comfort food” to my soul.  Like I tweeted the other day, I feel a weight fall away from my shoulders when I read the words “Jason was going to Brain Camp.”

This time, when I recognized where I was headed, I went back to this book.  During this reading, I paid a lot of attention to Macy’s relationship.  Obviously, her one and a half-year relationship with a guy who wouldn’t even say “I love you” was different from my eight year relationship with the man who asked me to move in with him, but I completely understood the feeling of losing the one thing in life that makes any damn sense.  It also felt good to hear Kristy tell her she was a prize and that she deserved better than a guy who was going to pull away the moment she got too close.

Still, it was the overall message about grief that got to me (again): how everyone deals with things differently and it’s okay to fall apart, how the people who love you can handle more than you expect.  How things are always harder at first but they get better over time.

Mostly, Macy learns not to be afraid.  She learns being open is not a weakness and getting hurt is not the end of the world.  And even if she can’t talk to the most important person in her life and her boyfriend left, she isn’t alone.

My first copy of this book has more underlined than not.  This time, I started in a new edition.  Among the first things I underlined this go around where the sentences “Like so much else, I could not control that.” and “Shoulda, coulda, woulda.  It’s so easy in the past tense.”

The idea that I am entirely help in this situation, that I couldn’t have fixed things, is hard.  The idea that I could have is harder.

With my dad’s death, it took a long time to recognize that my actions wouldn’t have changed the outcome, but it didn’t affect my grieving as much (besides the added guilt) because, well…the outcome had happened and I could redo it now.  But with this break-up, the hardest part is to think I could have done better, because I am always looking to try again.  And thinking that way is so detrimental to my grieving and moving on.

But Macy teaches me that things aren’t as bad as they look.  She teaches me that who I am is enough, even if it falls short in some people’s minds.  And, more than anything, she teaches me that things do get better, so long as we open ourselves up to the possibilities.

So here’s to grieving.  And once that’s done, here’s to the healing.  Here’s to the entire world we’ve forgotten.  Here’s to the first steps being the hardest, but everything being easier now, after time, after letting yourself hurt and learning that it might be okay not to.

Categories: Book Club Thursday | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Everything I’ve Learned About Grief I Learned On My Own

Here’s what the movies tell you: grief comes in stages.  It may take weeks or months or years, but you work through them one by one until finally you come out on the other side. You recognize them as they hit you, but they don’t come in a line like ducks in a row.  It’s more like herding cats.

Denial

You’re thirteen and you’re in your sister’s room, sitting on the day bed that used to be yours. You’re both waiting for someone else to break the silence until your mom enters.  You convince yourself she’s worried, not heartbroken, and when she says the paramedics are downstairs, you convince yourself they’re still working and things are going to be fine.

Then she says four more words and you know it’s over.  He didn’t make it.  The end.

You’re 23 and it’s Day 0.  The last two weeks have been hard but you know you can fix the relationship.  You just need a little time, a little more work, maybe a little patience and understanding.

Then he tells you what he did.  It feels like a piece of shrapnel hit you in the chest, sharp and fast, knocking the wind out of you, but it’s okay.  The two of you have gotten through worse, you think.  You can still salvage this, you think.  But the more you talk, the more you realize that what you’re really doing is buying more time, waiting for him to fix it.

Then the other shoe drops and you think maybe he doesn’t want to.  The end.

Except it isn’t, because on Day 1, you ask him what he’s telling people.  On Day 2 you tell your mom it’s a break, it’s temporary, you’re going to be fine.

On Day 7, you admit it’s an actual, honest-to-God, break-up.  You still don’t tell your mom the whole story.  When he comes back and fixes it, you’ll forgive him and she won’t, and who wants that hanging over their heads for the rest of their lives?

It’s probably Day 12 when you say that you can’t talk to him…now.  That you won’t get back together…yet.  That there is nothing left to save…but maybe, in a few years, you can start again.

It’s Day 28 when you read that things do work out how they’re meant to occasionally and you take it as a sign.

Anger

The anger doesn’t come for years.  For years it’s “God’s plan” and “The grave holds no power.”  And then one day, someone asks you how it happened and you finally say the words that have been tickling your throat over the last few months.  “It’s like God just decided ‘You’re done’ and flipped the switch.”

That’s when you stop talking to God, because how can you keep saying He brings good through pain when he’s the only explanation for the pain this time?

The anger is immediate.  The moment you realize that, after everything, he still lied and he doesn’t want to fix his mistake, it hits you.  You’re shaking, you’re taking turns too sharply and coming to intersections too fast.  You jerk the wheel left because, after all this, you need a goddamn beer.  You’re shaking as you pace the bar’s back porch and shaking as you wrap your hands around the glass, letting it cool your sweating palms, and you don’t stop shaking until it’s gone, leaving nothing but the foam head in the bottom of the glass.

The anger comes back on Day 3, when he sits across from you like nothing happened.  It’s like a wave, hitting you in the chest and knocking you backwards, as you watch him check his phone over and over.  You’re drowning in the silence so you start talking, reaching for something to hold onto, finding it’s all just current rushing away from you.

He walks away like nothing has changed, like he isn’t leaving anything behind.

It comes again on Day 5, but this time in a rush like placing a Christmas tree in a fire pit, when you read her message.  You don’t know what to be angrier about: that he asked her, which doesn’t sound much like the accidental, “I wasn’t thinking” story he started with, or that he’s still moving in with them, when not two months that was you he was going to live with.

You wonder when was the last time he told you the truth, or if he ever has.

The anger comes on Day 27, when you get drunk and text him and demand to know why you are so easily replaceable.  When he accuses you of picking a fight every time you talk now, you agree.  Because now your anger is something you hold, something you’ve whittled into a sharp point to lash out with, hoping to strike something, hoping to make someone bleed the way you are.

You’re even angrier when you look up and realize you’ve been yelling at air.

Bargaining

Bargaining isn’t conscious because, no matter how many fantasy books you read, you know dead is dead.  It’s praying for one more dream so you’ve got something else to hold onto, poring over his old things to find one more message.  It’s standing at a graveside, completely still, hoping you’ll hear someone speak.

The bargaining comes on Day 2, with the denial, thinking of all the things you’ll do better if you get one more shot.

It comes on Day 5 when you ask if he’d want to try again and you start thinking of ways he could prove he can keep his promises this time.

It comes on Day 15 when your therapist asks what will be different years from now that would mean you could be together again.  You list them: you’ll both have gone through therapy, you’ll both get better control of your moods, you’ll get better, and if he could choose you, make you Priority 1, you’ll do a better job showing him he’s already yours.

Even to you it sounds like grasping, like holding on to a rope that’s been rubbed down with oil.  It slides out of your hand and leaves nothing but the red imprints from where you held on too tight.

Depression

The depression hits at once, but you won’t remember it later.  You’ll remember sobbing, thinking of all the things you’re going to miss out on.  You remember being awake at three a.m., most of your friends asleep on the bedroom floor, while you sob into one’s arms and the phone about how scared you are to face the morning.

Depression comes like a rainstorm.  Sometimes you see the clouds on the horizon, but mostly, you feel the sun on your arms and the downpour starts from nothing.  It’s Day 1 when you barely leave the couch, and Day 4 when you text your best friend, “Why doesn’t he love me?” and cry yourself to sleep clutching her reply to your chest.  It’s day 26 when you see him with another girl and Day 29 when you hear a Demi song and can’t stop thinking of him.  It’s Day 8 and 12 and 30 and the moments between, when you lock yourself in the bathroom to cry or stop for a Guinness on your lunch break or check your phone and roll back over in the morning, because without that good morning text, what’s the point?  It’s when you drive nowhere for hours on Day 17 or spend Day 11 hating yourself because, if you’d been better, he wouldn’t have left.  It’s the ache in your stomach, the weight on your chest that forces you over, the blow to the knees that knocks you down.  It’s that quiet half-hour when you force yourself to leave the phone on the counter so you can’t see him not text, to look anywhere but the clock so you can’t see how slowly time is passing.

Acceptance

Acceptance comes sooner than you expect, because there’s nothing anyone can do for death.  It comes in the form of a novel you read over and over, the way the memories come easier and you feel only a pang of regret about the wedding father-daughter dance you won’t have and the children who won’t know their grandfather.  The anger quiets as you become able to list all of the things that are good and pure that have happened since, things you wouldn’t give up for anything, even if you could have him back.  When the missing him hits you, you take a deep breath and let it go.

Acceptance comes on Day 4, but only long enough for you to take the money you were saving for your first big trip together and mix it with that for the last trip you thought you’d take without him.  You regret it the next moment but you don’t undo it.

It comes on Day 7, when you take his shirt out of your drawer, and Day 10 when you hear someone you admire tell you the story of her “him.”  You recognize that light at the end of her heartbreak is probably waiting at the end of yours.  This one sticks for a whole hour.

On Day 18, it’s you crying into your couch, repeating over and over that it’s not fair but it will be okay, and it holds long enough for you to fall asleep.

It’s on Day 26, passing him in the hall and feeling okay.  Not all right, but like you will be eventually.  That lasts until you see him with the girl a few hours later.

And, you’re finding, it’s on Day 30.  It’s when you want to text him so badly you’re afraid you’ll burst.  You promise yourself that you can, if you still want to in 10 minutes.  You wait another ten after that and one last round after that, when it finally passes and you feel like you can get on with your day.

You recognize that tomorrow is another day.  It could be worse, but it will be there.  And you never know: maybe that’s when it will all get better, one way or the other.

(You wonder if that’s more denial or if it counts as bargaining.  If it keeps you moving, you’ll take it either way.)

Categories: Tuesday Update | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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