Make It Easy on Yourself

My husband: “Seriously, Jen. This Facebook post about your thesis defense must be your most popular post ever. People keep liking it.”

Me: “It makes up for the nine birthday wishes I got this year.”

My husband: “No, really. I think it’s because of what you wrote about me.”

Me: “What? Because I was publicly nice to you? That thing about love and support?”

My husband: “Yes. That. Exactly.”

Me: “I don’t think so. People just like milestones. And baby pictures. And cats.”

*   *   *

I love Facebook birthdays. Seriously, the last eight birthdays since I joined Facebook have made up for the 30+ birthdays prior.

My birthday is in August. Worse: the end of August. No one remembers your birthday when they are boogey boarding and eating funnel cake by the Jersey shore.

This year, as most years, I pretended to not be excited about my upcoming Facebook birthday. I also pretended to not be upset at 12 noon on August 19 when I had only received birthday greetings on my wall from my mother and my old friend, Sondra, with whom I share a private birthday challenge. (For decades now, we’ve competed to be the first to wish each other a happy birthday.)

Checking my watch as we set out for our family vacation to the Israeli desert, I silently pacified my ego by blaming the time difference between Israel and the U.S. However, later that evening, only a handful of greetings on “the wall,” I realized the annual sea of flattery and acknowledgment was not coming.

I would, I guess, need to feel satisfied by the real-time, in-person love of the people in my company: my husband, my three kids, and friends we were travelling with. That was new.

susan d note fb

*   *   *

When I turned 18, the week before we all left for college, my girlfriends bought me a book about sex and a package of Today sponges as a birthday present. A how-to guide with illustrated positions, that book might have been the most thoughtful birthday present I ever got from friends. I saved it for many years. It was lost somewhere between Elizabeth, NJ and the port of Haifa.

I wonder if writing today about this memory of the birthday sex book  is why I dreamed last night about a college boyfriend I haven’t seen in decades, and why I remembered this morning he said to me once, “Enough with the hand job. I can do that myself.”

*   *   *

The good thing about your Facebook friends forgetting your birthday is the idea that once something is on the internet, it might have a chance at one day being forgotten. That we don’t have to worry so much about naked photos of our children on instagram or that time we wrote a blog post about the color and consistency of our poop.

*   *   *

There’s a line in my thesis I love. In fact, it might be one of the most important statements in my entire thesis (a lyric essay memoir).

Despite my fears of saying what I really think, I am almost certain the people who have loved me over the years of my life love me because of the words I’ve spoken out loud, not because of the words I’ve kept to myself. 

This almost-belief is what allows me to sleep the nights I’m worried about the words I’ve written: on the blog, in old letters on frayed pages of spiral-bound notebook paper, or in emails during the late nineties. It makes me think I will one day be forgiven by anyone I’ve ever hurt. It gives me the confidence to continue sharing my internal truths, even when I’m so frightened by the consequences of admitting to them.

*   *   *

Truth: I suffered the absence of my Facebook birthday this year. I really did. And I will likely suffer next year, so DON’T FORGET!

I don’t like that about myself. I don’t like how much I want your attention, how much I want you to remember me…and fondly. I don’t like that I still struggle with loving myself enough so that I don’t need to be loved by you.

But I’m getting there.

Maybe this is why so many people liked my “thesis defense post.” They subconsciously know I’m getting there.

 I’m getting there.

From the eyes of Mrs. Murry

Meg’s mother picked up the pair of brown tortoise shell reading glasses from the top of the bedroom dresser. She gently put them on and leaned in to study her face in the reflection. Cocking her head to the right, she removed the pair, placed the chewed earpiece in her mouth, and sucked the grooves in between the teeth marks. Only then did she notice the smudge on the lens. Instinctively, she reached for a tissue to wipe it away, but a second later reconsidered. It might be — most likely would be — the closest she’d ever come again to holding her husband’s hand.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons

= = =

This was the result of an exercise I took part in yesterday at The International Creative Writing Conference at Bar Ilan University, sponsored by the Shaindy Rudoff Creative Writing Program. Part of a hybrid literature workshop with Marcela Sulak and Xu Xi, participants were invited to be inspired by the technique used in Jenny Boully’s Not Merely Because of the Unknown that was Stalking Towards Them. Consider the perspective of a secondary character in a book you love. Write a scene from that perspective. This was spontaneous and fun for me — considering A Wrinkle in Time from Mrs. Murry’s point of view.

If it sounds fun to you, too; try it! And post a linkback in the comments below.

Blogger challenge: My ideal hours would be …

Sitting on the carpet combing tracks down your long brown hair with a blue-handled brush —

Sitting on the carpet across from your wrinkled hands shuffling cards for a game of Gin —

Sitting on the carpet with my knees tucked inside my nightgown, mouth cartoon-like forming the words,

“Tell ’em Large Marge sent ya.”

Little you giggling —

Sitting on the carpet by the sliding glass door where the morning sun warms me like a cat napping.

You there, reading the Wednesday paper on Sunday, butt up in the air. You there, coming in from the market with bunches of brown paper bags, no handles, filled with Pepsi Free and Herr’s potato chips.

You. You. You.

*

Lying in bed on the top bunk in a wood cabin in Maine, you pushing my mattress up with your feet.

Lying in bed in the dark before midnight, phone between my pillow and my ear, you strumming the opening chords to “I Will.”

Lying in bed next to you watching Clueless, high on the Percoset you crushed into my black tea with honey —

Lying in bed just after the kids fall asleep, but just before I’m too tired to talk about my day … and yours.

You there, looking over at me, wondering what to do next. You there, proposing a back rub.

You. You. You.

*

You, your back to me, dancing drunk to Blues Traveler.

You, your back to me, roller blading down F Street.

You, your back to me, stir frying chicken strips in Teriyaki sauce, Billie Holiday singing “What A Little Moonlight Can Do.”

You, your back to me, on the beach behind Dolphinarium, music too fast for slow dancing.

You there.

*

You on your belly, too old anymore for Playmobil, for running over Roman soldiers with a Greek chariot —

You in the winter sun, face painted like an 18th century whore, dancing with ten other five year olds to “Gangnam Style.”

You leaning down, button nose towards the purple poppy, sniffing it the same way your father did when I fell in love with him.

You, head of curls on my lap, breathing with ease once again. You there, scent like shampoo.

You there. You. You. You.

= = = =

This post is in response to a Blogger Challenge proposed by friend Kronfusion. For more posts on #idealhours, check out the hashtag on Twitter.

Tell me a secret I don’t already know

Almost as much as I am fascinated by memory and by man’s search for meaning, I am insanely curious about secrets. I’m fascinated by why we keep secrets, and what happens when they’re exposed.

But I am also very, very afraid of them.

Not just mine. And what may happen if and when they are revealed.

But yours.

Your secrets scare me, too.

I’m deathly afraid of the unknown.

Of the uncertainty of what you might someday show or tell me.

Will it hurt me? Change my beliefs about you? About people? Will your secrets make me sick to my stomach?

Knowing how scared I am of your secrets makes me desperately want to keep mine safe from view.

* * *

What I mean by secrets:

The things we think at 3 am

The feelings we feel, but hardly ever show or share

The desires we have that we’re certain we’d be tarred and feathered for if we were found out.

All the thoughts we’re certain will cause people to stop loving us (or never love us at all). Never hire us. Immediately fire us. Look down upon us with condemnation, ridicule. Worse, stop looking at us at all.

This is what I think will happen when I think about sharing my own secrets. And maybe I’m right. Certainly some of them, if shared, would bring about moderate to severe consequences.

But not all of them. Some would liberate me. I just know it.

And yet, I keep silent.

* * *

I’ve had conversations with friends, acquaintances who insist they have no secrets. As if the keeping of secrets is scandalous in and of itself.

They insist even harder when I push them that their boyfriend/spouse/partner certainly keeps secrets. No way, many of my friends have said to me.

“He’s a regular guy. What secrets could he possibly have?”

I try not to smile an arrogant smile. Though sometimes, depending on my mood, I’ll argue the point.

We all have secrets. 

Especially the regular guys.

Not all our secrets are Melrose Place-worthy; not all of them would necessarily damage our reputation; or disrupt our lives if revealed. But they are secrets nonetheless, and they weigh on us.

Some are low-spoken whispers in the inner ear:

“You’re stupid.”

“This will never work.”

“You’re doomed.”

“He doesn’t really love you. He never did.”

“If she really knew, she’d never speak to me again.”

Some secrets are roadblocks. Others are dams holding back figurative flood waters.

Some secrets are background noise. Garbled truths we never quite admit to, but haunt us.

Some are stories we’ve told ourselves so long we no longer recognize them as secrets. We believe they are real.

Everyone knows already, we think to ourselves. Why bother sharing them?

But they don’t know.

Or they do, but they need you to say it out loud.

“Nothing,” writes Paul Tournier, “makes us so lonely as our secrets.”

* * *

The best of what’s been written on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death by drug overdose was Tom Junod’s op-ed in Esquire magazine. In trying to capture what drew us all into Hoffman’s character roles, Junod writes:

He held up a mirror to those who could barely stand to look at themselves and invited us not only to take a peek but to see someone we recognized.

When Hoffman died of a drug overdose, I was sick to my stomach. His secret made me sick. I won’t deny it.

The thought of him there in the bathroom. The thought of his wife; his children left behind. The shame. All the shame.

But within hours, my sick turned to compassion. To understanding. To love for someone I never knew.

Secrets are funny creatures. They soften and sweeten us in a way.

Not all of them, but maybe most of them.

Allowed into the light, liberated secrets prove not to be little monsters. But offspring of the human condition.

More commonplace than we realize.

In fact, there is a gift in the reveal of secrets. For sharing them shows others they’re not alone in their suffering.

* * *

This is what I do here, with you.

I liberate my secrets … a little.

I do it under my own name — on purpose.

I dare myself.

I work my “brave muscle.”

And most days, you are kind in return.

Proving my hypothesis. Allowing me to creep closer to freedom.

I hope I offer you some relief in return.

I hope you feel a little less alone.