Comments Off on What I Learned Before, During, and After Hurricane Irma
My stuff that matters a lot to me fits in a small carry-on.
My stuff that matters a little less to me fits in a small car.
Electricity and air conditioning are luxurious necessities.
Order is calming.
Waiting is hard.
My sister is brave.
Afternoon bourbon is helpful.
Ribs can be cooked on Sterno.
No one wants to leave home, even when a Category 5 storm is coming, even when there is no electricity.
Little kindnesses like cleaning-out-my-freezer casserole shared with a neighbor are appreciated more than usual.
Imminently restored electricity makes a woman want to hug a lineman from Indiana.
Adrenaline crash will kick your ass.
From Mary Oliver’s Upstream: “All things are meltable, and replaceable. Not at this moment, but soon enough, we are lambs and we are leaves, and we are stars, and the shining, mysterious pond water itself.”
Life is easier, in some ways, when things are neatly divided into them/us, bad/good, never/always boxes.
When those boxes crumble, when the lines between certainties blur, our assumptions and givens shake. Things get trickier and more interesting.
A few box-crumbling events have happened in my world over the past few years:
a friend’s husband was accused of molesting their granddaughter. I believe that he did not do it.
another friend was attacked in her home and brutally beaten. She found her way to deep forgiveness.
a trusted employee was arrested for domestic violence. I decided to pay for his bail.
In an either/or world, I believe in accusers/victims no matter what; I want my friend’s attacker to go to prison for as long as the law allows; I draw a hard line and fire the batterer.
In the grey zone, I can be open to the possibilities of believing in the accused, marveling at forgiveness, and hoping for the batterer’s change.
My bias remains toward accusers and victims. I believe there is no justification, ever, for emotional or physical violence and also that it is very, very difficult to stop learned behaviors like battering.
Living a little bit more in the grey helps me better understand my own story. Living in the grey is expansive. Challenging my assumptions makes my ultimate conclusions–or what will be my interim conclusions–more nuanced, more complex, more allowing of further refined understanding.
Living in the grey allows the possibility of telling and hearing all the stories.
When I read Dylan Farrow’s letter, I was sure that she was telling the truth. I’ve heard enough victims of child sexual abuse write about the pain of their experience and the aftermath on IRL that I am familiar with survivors’ shame, reticence, and knowledge that a shitstorm of judgment is likely coming their way from both people in their inner circles and people they’ve never met.
I am strongly biased in favor of anyone brave enough to come forward with her or his story.
And then a friend told me that her husband has been accused of abuse by a young child. I know enough about the logistics of their situation (who is alone with the child and when, how visits are conducted, that sort of thing), that I don’t believe that he could have abused the child.
Maybe someone actually abused her; maybe someone abused her by coaching her into a story that’s not true. I don’t know. I know that she was never alone with him, especially in the ways that she suggests in her story.
In this situation, I am not relying on what I believe about the man’s character or the child’s likely truthtelling. I know that people are not always what they seem.
Now the investigation continues, and I hope that the truth will come out and the child will move on in safety.
But my automatic bias in favor of the accuser is shaken. I can see at least the possibility of another side. That’s probably a good thing.
I repeat the mantra “lifeisshort lifeisshort lifeisshort.” Sometimes I add “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.” I check an online calculator again—254 days until my 50th birthday.
Lifeisshort, I chant as I rush from my office to the Women of Tomorrow event before heading back to the office again. I talk with a group of high school girls about dating violence. I want to make a difference in their lives. Lifeisshort lifeisshort.
I tell my story of being in an abusive relationship, and the girls share theirs. One girl feels pressure to continue her relationship with her controlling boyfriend, and one of the other women in the room says, “Girls, you can take your time to find the right relationship, the right career, the right life. It may not seem like it now, but life is long.”
“Life is long”? Hmmm. Maybe for 16-year-olds. I am nearly 50.
Two days later, I sit at my dining room table, coffee within easy reach, Sunday’s New York Times spread out in front of me. Frank Bruni’s op-ed about maturity and Peyton Manning, the Denver Broncos’ 37-year-old quarterback, is a celebration of experience: “With a bit of age has come a better grip on the fact that a game, like a life, is long. Stay calm. Hang in. Wait for the inevitable break. Trust your training.”
Now we know that the inevitable break never came for Manning on Sunday night, but I remember Bruni’s column. “A game, like a life, is long.”
I google “Frank Bruni age” and smile. Of course. He’s 49 and he’ll turn 50 fourteen days after I do. 268 to go, Frank. Do you really think lifeislong?
The next day I read, as I do most days, Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog, which linked to a story about Janet Yellen, who, at 67, has just become the Chairwoman? Chairman? Chair? of the Federal Reserve. “Life is long,” says the article, which continues, “It’s a liberating notion, really, to think that you don’t have to accomplish everything in your life – or ‘have it all’ – simultaneously; that leaning back during one life stage doesn’t preclude leaning in later.”
I haven’t had it all, at least not in any conventional sense or in any conventional order, but I notice that phrase again. Lifeislong. And Janet Yellen, at the top of her game, the beginning of the peak of her professional life, at 67, inspires.
Okay, if Anyone is coordinating this onslaught of “lifeislong,” I’m listening. I’m thinking.
But maybe this is mere coincidence; maybe everyone is saying “lifeislong” now and I’m just noticing. Is this the new YouOnlyLiveOnce?
I google again. The search leads me not to urbandictionary.com but to this quote from a Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife: “You know, some people say life is short and that you could get hit by a bus at any moment and that you have to live each day like it’s your last. Bullshit. Life is long. You’re probably not gonna get hit by a bus. And you’re gonna have to live with the choices you make for the next fifty years.”
And then I click on stanza V of T. S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men”:
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
So. A woman advises girls. A man praises Manning’s long game. Janet Yellen has it all, in her own time. Chris Rock calls “bullshit.” I shake my head at the beauty of Eliot’s words. I pay attention.
Lifeislong invites exploration, slowing down, mixing in at least a little rest and reflection with the urgent drumbeat of “getbusy hurryup domore lifeisshort ticktock.”
Over the next 254 days, I’ll write a series of 50 posts. 50 posts before 50. They’ll be less “lifeisshort” bucket list and more “lifeislong” what’s next?
I hope to have some guest posts, too, maybe even 50 of them, from women who have already looked 50 in the eye, as well as women who still look forward to it 500, 1000, 2000 or more days from now.
Is life short or long? I don’t know yet. I hope to have a better idea by my birthday.
This morning when I heard the news of the Aurora shooting. I immediately thought of Jeanne, whose son lives in Denver, and who wrote a beautiful post today that weaves a whirlwind of reactions into a reminder to love each other.
I keep thinking about the story of one of the people who was killed. Jessica Ghawi was in Toronto just last month at the Eaton Center, where another shooting took place. She blogged about her experience here.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.
I hope she lived the past 45 days with those words in mind. I hope all of us can live with those words in mind.
In Walden, Thoreau wrote, “All poets and heroes, like Memnon, are the children of Aurora, and emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
Seth Godin brought my lizard brain to my attention, but awareness hasn’t been enough to help me ignore the fears and rages and drives of my amygdala.
Last fall when I read that Jonathan Fields had a new book coming out called Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt into Fuel for Brilliance, my lizard brain impulsively pre-ordered it. When it arrived, I read the first twenty pages, and put it down–not because of any failure of the book but because I was distracted (probably by some fear or doubt).
Yesterday, knowing that I would blog about uncertainty today, I started reading again. As is often the case, the book is tailor-made for me this weekend; I wouldn’t have responded to it the same way four or five months ago. And so today I am marking up every page. Tonight I will finish it and order copies for friends.
Fields writes, “The ability not only to endure but to invite, amplify, and exalt uncertainty, then reframe it as fuel is paramount to your ability to succeed as a creator.”
The lizard brain advised reconsideration of this post. Couldn’t I just write about this once I was finished with his process? After I had mastered invitation, amplification, and exaltation of uncertainty?
I preach and preach again, to my workshop and to myself, that writing doesn’t flow fully formed from my hand in the first draft. Why should I expect my life to flow fully formed without any process? Okay, my lizard brain said, But do you really have to let anyone see it? This Shitty First Draft of a part of your life?
Fields anticipates this amygdala question and shrugs: “The more you lean into uncertainty and the greater the risks you take to create something that didn’t exist before, the greater will be the potential for you to be judged and criticized.”
Okay. Creation, here come my lizard brain and I. And we’re going to learn to turn uncertainty into fuel.
A long time ago, I used to go to a bagel place in Gainesville for lunch or coffee or to write. One day, in the final stages of writing my dissertation, I felt that I could see the core of that book, the truth, the purpose, like never before, but it was still just out of my reach. I thought that if I just had a little more time it could be the book I wanted it to be. I finished it, and the degree, and it was good enough, but the truth I was trying to write never made it fully onto the page.
Today, in the final stages of NaNoWriMo 2011, working on what may be one of the final drafts of my memoir, I remember that feeling, and I have it again–almost there, what I want still just out of reach. But I can see it, and I’m getting closer.