New York is an ugly city, a dirty city. Its climate is a scandal, its politics are used to frighten children, its traffic is madness, its competition is murderous. But there is one thing about it - once you have lived in New York and it has become your home, no place else is good enough.
The darkest lie we tell ourselves: that we and our writing are not worth a bag of microwaved diapers. Listen, I don’t know how talented or skilled or capable you are. Hell, maybe you’re not that great. But nobody got better by feeling bad about it. You have one of two choices: you can be destructive to yourself or constructive. You can tear yourself down or find a way to build yourself up — and I don’t mean build yourself up with compliments but build yourself up with skills and abilities and the practice that gets you there. You suck? That thought sucks. Get better. Improve. Aim big. Give yourself the chance to fail — and then give yourself a chance to build steps from the corpses of your failure so you may climb higher every time. You don’t become a writer by feeling sad about your self-worth. The only sucking you need to do is to suck it up and do the work. Everything else is a consumptive distraction.
"I was grieving a certain fact: the fact that I would never be sufficient to fill me up. Nothing I did, nothing I was, nothing I had to offer could plug that hole. And this, for some reason, was sad.
"But once that point had passed, once I began actively to ponder life with a child, it was amazing how sufficient — how important — those same things came to be. All I could dwell on was the certainty of losing them. Work and travel and culture and dinner parties and movie nights and all-day bike rides and the unapologetic consumption that goes along with being a free adult in a capitalist society… it was all slipping away.
"And books! Books would slip away, too, wouldn’t they? Because once you were a father, you could never again read a grown-up book — not really — not in the way a grown-up was supposed to read a book….
"I was remembering, you see, what my friend Peg (a woman after my own heart) had told me. ‘You just have to kill off your old life,’ she’d said. ‘And once you do, it’s fine.’
"So be it. So fucking be it…. I could let that life go. I could let me go, with barely a qualm."
— Louis Bayard, “A Dad’s Affadavit,” Maybe Baby. Reading this made me cry, and not just because a huge lightning flash and thunderclap made me jump at the line about killing off your old life, although thanks for that, universe, it was excellent timing. Unlike Bayard, I cannot let myself go without a qualm. He assigns himself a reading project to mark the end of his old life and the beginning of the new; I can’t think of anything I could do that’s remotely equivalent. Me, I feel like there’s not much me left, like depression and whatever else have eaten away at my very self, so the thought of losing any more of myself is terrifying. And while I know becoming a parent would grow new parts of me, sort of by definition and necessity, I’m just paralyzed with fear at the thought of what I might lose. So now I’m playing David Bowie’s “Hang On to Yourself,” because right?
Nobody ever figures out what life is all about, and it doesn’t matter. Explore the world. Nearly everything is really interesting if you go into it deeply enough.
— So this was the Goodreads ”Quote of the Day” on Saturday, May 11, and I’m adding it to the queue to remind myself to geek out more, just let myself get interested in things. Which is a hard thing to do with a broken dopamine system, but it nonetheless seems very much like something I should get back into practice.
I am not a religious person. I don’t meditate, chant, or pray. But lines from poems I love run through my head and they feel holy to me in a way. There’s a poem by Adrienne Rich I first read twenty years ago called “Splittings” that I thought of when I read your letter. The last two lines of the poem are: “I choose to love this time for once / with all my intelligence.” It seemed such a radical thought when I first read those lines when I was twenty-two — that love could rise from our deepest, most reasoned intentions rather than our strongest shadowy doubts. The number of times I choose to love this time with all my intelligence has run through my head in the past twenty years cannot be counted.There hasn’t been a day when those lines weren’t present for me in ways both conscious and unconscious. You could say I’m devoted to them…
—Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar
So here’s a thing I just realized upon rereading “They Will Find You,” Rebecca Traister’s contribution to Maybe Baby, the collection of essays about parenthood (or not) by Salon.com contributors. The thing is that Traister’s essay is what I’d call a “Maybe Not” essay — she seems to be operating on the fundamental assumption that she will marry and have kids, even though she has medical reason to believe this may not be possible in the long-term future, so… maybe not? This is almost the opposite of what “Maybe” means to me in the Maybe Baby-type thinkfest that occasionally drives me nutsy. My “maybe” is “Maybe I’ll have kids, if a long list of things goes right, I haven’t ruled it out yet.” Traister’s is “Maybe I won’t have kids if everything doesn’t work out right.” There feels like a world of difference there even though we’re both “maybe” at heart. I don’t know what to do with this thought, but I wanted to get it down. I have a few more ideas, but they’re going in my paper journal for processing into maybe fiction ideas.