Wednesday, May 22, 2013

being 14

On my birthday, a few friends asked what my favorite birthday memory was. I've had some good ones, like when my sisters flew out to surprise me on my 25th, my first one celebrated in California. And on my 30th I celebrated at the awesome house I live in right now, with all of my favorite people making personal pizzas and spilling out through the french doors that open from our dining room to our front yard. And when I turned 21, on Easter, my sister and then boyfriend (now husband) stayed up with me the night before and took to me to some bars at midnight. 

But the memory I kept sharing was from when I turned 14. I don't have a great story, or any super specific details. It was more the feeling of being seen and accepted. Growing up, I was a wallflower, or as much of one as I could be when I was taller than everyone else. That spring, during my 8th grade year, I played lacrosse, a game I loved. The popular athletic girls all played, too, and though we were friendly with each other, we were hardly friends. But that day, when I turned 14, during practice the team all made a big deal about my birthday. That's all I remember, really. Did they sing or do a team cheer or ask me about my celebration plans? I have no idea. But there was that feeling. I belonged.

It's possible this memory was so accessible because I'd just finished reading two books about 14 year old girls. And by happy coincidence, I just finished another. I love reading about girls at this age because so much happened for me during that year. Again, I don't actually remember specifics, but I do remember being able to make decisions for myself for the first time. I remember understanding relationships and consequences and desire in a completely new way. I remember deciding I would spend my life following Jesus and realizing that my childhood best friend was not just a convenience or coincidence but a friend who would stick closer than a sister.

I've been meaning to write about these books. They were all terrific, especially the second two. If you have an appetite for coming of age stories, these will satisfy you.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore - Not as good as her short stories, in my opinion. The story is a little loose. But some really sharp writing, as always.

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard - Someone in a writing class recommended this to me, and they were spot on (thank you!). I loved it completely, maybe in part because I could devour it on the plane rides during a trip east, where I was visiting my best friend, which relationship reminded me so much of the one in the story.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides - part family epic, part coming of age story, it's told from the point of view of the narrator at age 41, but the second half is set at age 14. This one is so so good - the Pulitzer committee and Oprah both thought so, too!

Friday, May 10, 2013

poetry heals

Every once in a while I suffer from bouts of anxiety. To look at me you might not notice when I'm in one of these funks. I still go to work, do my hair and eat mostly the same. But say I could draw some expression of what I feel and think inside - I'd show you something with dark colors, confused, messy strokes, and trust me, it would not be pretty. Actually - and I'm sorry to be graphic - it might actually look a little like puke, because that's what I often feel like doing, physically and verbally. That's what anxiety feels like.

But let's pull back for a moment, because I'm certainly not trying to share any kind of dark demons with anyone here. I'm just acknowledging - hey, they're there (and we all have some of some kind, right?). What is hopeful is that the simplest, unsuspecting experiences can punch holes in our darkness and allow some light to shine in.

That's what happened this morning. My particular current stream of anxiety has something to do with getting it right and carrying a certain fear that I'm messing up my life. Heavy, right?! No one should carry that, because messing up a life is a pretty hard thing to do, especially when you believe in the reality of a forgiving, redeeming, all-powerful God (which I do). But then I sat down at my computer and read a poem that came to my inbox today. It started with these lines:

I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.*

So that's what this is, I thought, a shabby old coat. One that I can take off and leave and never put on again. And just like that, the tight feeling eased a bit. I forget that poetry - and writing in general - can do that. The personal becomes universal and helps us to feel not so alone. It's still pretty mysterious to me, but somehow the written word is so healing.

Are there any poems, verses or words that have brought you relief or healing?

*From "The Land of Beginning Again" by Louisa Fletcher