On Isolation, Identity and Alice Miller

“When do you feel most like yourself?”

My new, dear writer friend S was sitting opposite me on the brown futon in my office/living room.

(Sidenote: I’ve moved! From one South Minneapolis house with a couple who are old friends, to another South Minneapolis house with a different couple, also friends. This time I’ve got two rooms-with the help of pals, I’ve painted my south-facing, corner-room office a gray blue, trekked to Home Depot for a batch of hanging plants, and managed to russle up enough shelves to display almost all my books. It’s, in a word, divine.)

S had just returned from a trip abroad, and we were catching one another up: her telling me about the stark, stunning beauty of Iceland, me telling her about the space I’ve lately needed to take from some family.

Related to that is a recent (therapy-driven) recognition with which S can relate: lifelong shape-shifters, we’ve been conditioned since childhood (like a lot of women, like a lot of artists) to attend to other people’s emotional needs–allowing us, too frequently, to lose sight of our own. And when your interactions with others are governed by a, to use S’s term, vigilant attention to the energies around you (sometimes, as we noted, anticipating others’ emotions before they’ve even surfaced) it can be difficult to grasp not just what you need, but who the hell you are.

So, I’ve been trying to figure that out. You know, resolving your identity at age 32–no big deal! Easy, right?

Well, no–but I don’t think I’m alone.

There’s the friend who I recently took an impulse-trip to visit in Portland, whose eyes began to bulge as I talked–”I’m glad you’re saying this,” she said. “I thought I was the only one working out my mother issues in my 30s!”

And the acquaintance who I recently bumped into at a coffee shop; she and I had only met once, but nevertheless wound up in conversation about our personal lives–specifically, how much work we’re both doing, in therapy, to sort out the childhood issues we know we’ve come up against in dating. “Gosh,” she exclaimed, caving her chest backward as she clutched a latte and looked out at Lyndale. “I swear to God, I keep having this same conversation–therapists’ offices must be flooded with women in their 30s!” (At which point, of course, we bemoaned that they are not more flooded by men…)

Also, the writer friend who I’ve been meeting for group meditation on Sunday mornings. After last Sunday’s session,  I asked her how she thinks one goes about truly, finally, seeing ourselves.

“When you find out,” she muttered as we slipped into a cafe for brunch. “Let me know.”

But back to S’s question. Because, while  I’ve considered self-discovery from different angles over the last few months (the mindfulness practice, the whole dating break thing, etc.) I hadn’t posed that simple, seemingly obvious question. And when I took a moment to consider it, what surfaced surprised me:

“When I’m writing, I guess…” I said, a little reluctantly. And then, “and when I’m in my body…really, when I’m alone.”

*

The day before, I’d caught up briefly, over the phone, with another friend who’s been out of town–my friend R, who I met in Brooklyn but reconnected with here. I shared with her what I’d shared with S.

“I want you to know that I’m here for you,” she said. “I don’t want you to feel isolated.”

A couple hours later, following a yoga class and en route to go thrifting with my friend K, I’d experience one of those rare moments of pure contentment and calm that feel, these days, like existential gold. The prior afternoon, I’d had to pull over my minivan in a north Minneapolis suburb to let out a sequence of three howls–the urgent expression of a fierce sadness and rage.

And in that moment, hearing R use the word isolated, I started to cry. In part I was touched by her caring. But I was also struck by how much that word, isolated, hit home.

I think of myself, as others probably do too, as highly social. Connected. Surrounded by many networks of peers and friends.

But there’s a difference between having friends, and having one person for whom who are top priority, a person you consistently check in with, whose job it is to know where you are–when your flight’s landed or if your doctor’s visit went okay.

And for all the vast gratitude I have for the friends who support me with generosity and tenderness, for all the ways in which I do feel good, and genuinely myself, when I’m alone, it’s true–though I hadn’t quite let myself admit it–that (choosing, for now) to be without that person, and (choosing, for now) to loosen those family ties, can feel not just sad and hard, but deeply lonely–yes, isolating

There’s no great fix for this, except to move through the moments as they come. I think there is comfort, though, in the hopeful promise that the work of discovery and healing will lead, long-term, to more moments of calm, and fewer of desperate dark.

*

Last week, in what couldn’t help but feel like glaring metaphor, three large boxes arrived on the porch of my new house–the last of my belongings from the childhood home that my parents recently sold.

As I steadied myself to open them (having zero clue what they might contain), the first thing I saw was a book–one that’s come up in conversation lately. It was first recommended to me by a beloved professor in graduate school, and recently suggested again by the writing/meditatation buddy I mentioned above.

The book is Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child, and it’s one of those that should probably be required reading for most humans. I’m tempted to quote the entire first page, but I’ll restrain myself to this, which says, pretty much, everything:

“In order to become whole we must try, in a long process, to discover our own personal truth, a truth that may cause pain before giving us a new sphere of freedom.”

Cheers, friends, to that.

 

 

On What Our 30s Do and Don’t Bring, and a Birthday Message to My Dearest R

On Tuesday morning, word leaked around the gym that my friend R was about to turn 30.

The surrounding women struck up a familiar chorus, one that echoed all the reasons why this is such a great thing:  Your thirties are so much better! You’re so much more confident. More together! More yourself. You know who you are. I was so glad to be finished with my twenties.

A barbell awkwardly draped across my back, I took a moment to reflect on how the (small!) fraction of my adult life that I’ve spent in the 30-something section compares with the rest. It was very humid in the gym and I was anticipating that the clip on the right end of my barbell would fall off, again, so the moment was brief: reflexively, internally, I concurred with the crowd. Yeah, sure, I thought, in these last twenty-two months I have felt stronger and more self-aware, happier and more confident than I did before.

And then, later, post-shower and teaching and less encumbered by iron, I remembered Friday.

The thing about Friday was that, in the end, it wound up being a good day. A great day! A great night, even. But in the morning, I came close to losing my mind.

For reasons that I am currently seeking a therapist to explore, the mere prospect of having to make photocopies and a (three column!) spreadsheet, paired with some vague (and, ultimately, irrational) anxiety relating to communication with the man I have been (sort of suddenly, somewhat seriously) dating, compounded by (not unrelated) extreme exhaustion, combined to set me on edge of what I was sure resembled a panic attack.

Oh, I thought. Maybe my thirties are not so together after all…

And then I reflected on what I did next:

I went to FedEx and made the aforementioned copies.

Intermittently, remembered to take deep breaths.

Resolved, that evening, to go to yoga.

Called a dear friend: one who, I was sure, would understand.

She understood. Talked me down. (On love: “I know, you think you’re cursed. I think that sometimes, too. You just need to let go a little bit and give it time.” More importantly, on spreadsheets: “We’re creative people. Microsoft Excel makes me want to throw up, too.”)

Taught my class, which, reliably, vanishes other problems.

Afterwards, visited with a St. Paul friend who toured me around her community garden and plied me with pineapple rings and white wine before dispatching me, purse full of tomatoes, to yoga and later drinks with aforementioned fellow.

By Saturday morning I felt, if a tad sleepy, like a normal, happy human being. I issued a missive to the small cohort of women with whom I’d been in touch during Friday’s meltdown: Thanks for listening, I wrote. Feeling much better and more secure.

To one of them, I added: …at least for today.

In fact, my run of strength lasted a solid few days. But by Thursday, I had resumed life resembling a certain, red-haired character from that infamous children’s book: leaving a bottle of almond oil unsealed in a gym bag next to clean clothes and my computer, such that said bottle exploded all over the surrounding items, causing me to ruin some shorts, be late to teach, and (indirectly, sure) trip going upstairs at The Loft, stub my big toe, and spill a not super small amount of coffee.

After, miraculously, making it through my class without incident, rather than attempting a productive afternoon, I rode my bike to the movie theatre across the river: I saw Trainwreck, spent eight dollars on soda and popcorn without a blink, and felt only a flicker of shame when I cried at the movie’s absurd climax, in which two low grade guilty pleasures (the Knicks City Dancers and certain Billy Joel songs) happily, ridiculously, collide.

Thanks for listening.

I hope you’re feeling better about your Thursday morning, and perhaps your organizational skill set.

But, too, I hope you appreciate the thing at which I am, rather slowly and perhaps vaguely, trying to get: that, even in one’s thirties, and likely forever, we fuck up. We freak out for ridiculous reasons. We spill expensive organic products that we have just bought. We stub our fucking toes.

But, hopefully, as the years accrue, we get a little bit better at how we respond: we collect wise women friends to remind us of important truths. We indulge in cheesy movies and overpriced snacks when the afternoon calls. We remember that exercise always, always helps.

We get, in short, a bit better at being compassionate with ourselves.

So today, on the day after one of my dearest friends officially crossed the thirty-mark, I want to tell her that not terribly much is going to change. She will continue to sometimes suffer anxiety and sadness and difficult mornings and frustrating weekends. But she will also become more and more able to make those things mean less. And, for whatever it’s worth, I’m happy to hang around, and maybe even be of some small help, whilst she does.

Happy thirty, R: let’s fuck up, freak out (slightly less), and fill ourselves with all varieties of pizza and love, this decade and beyond.

 

On Panic vs. Control, Minivans, Wise Women and REM

One thing that’s problematic about being a woman who wants children and is thirty and single is that (it can sometimes seem as though) the most vivid thing on the horizon is being a woman who wants children and is thirty-one and single.

My birthday, as many of you know, isn’t until September. But I did have a moment. One of those early-waking, half-conscious moments, a few weeks ago, when it randomly, jarringly occurred to me that I will turn thirty-one, and that I will turn thirty-one in less than half of a year, and that I am now, pretty much irreversibly, in my thirties.

It is impossible to write (or, I presume, read) this without a fistful of tired cultural references springing to mind. For me (in addition to every Sex and the City episode ever) it’s that scene from When Harry Met Sally: the one when Meg Ryan’s Sally finds out her ex is getting married and calls up Billy Crystal’s Harry in a hysterical, breathless panic over the fact that she will, someday, turn forty.

In other words, I feel, culturally, as though I should be panicked about this. Or at least, preparing to panic, thinking about panicking, somehow, loosely or narrowly contemplating the idea of panic.

I’m not.

I would tell you that I’m not trying to gloat about this, but it wouldn’t, completely, be true. When you manage, even for a few moments, to avoid a trap that seems set by an entire hemisphere of culture, I think you’re entitled to a little boasting. So there.

I could also offer you a varied list of reasons, some more sincere than others, to explain why I am not panicking. But they are irrelevant.

Except for one: it isn’t useful.

“There are a lot of things that people want in life.”

I was having lunch with my friend K, one of the beloved Wise Older Women I have been feeling, lately, so thankful to know, at a new cafe by the Macalester campus. Between bites of couscous and chicken salad I tossed out fond, nostalgic glances toward the flannels-and-glasses-wearing-boys and girls in cardigans and layered bangs. (I know you!)

K went on: “But not all of them are things we can control.”

(You see why I am so thankful for women like her.)

I began, immediately to make lists. Mostly, because they are less bewildering and anxiety-inducing, of the things that are within my power. A sampling:

The length of my hair (At this time: long!).
My commitment to writing. (Present.)
The ferocity with which I cling to the Beautiful Wise Women in my life. (Extreme.)
Where I want to live. (Freedom is daunting!)
How often I do yoga. (As much as possible.)

You get the idea.

These aims, K reminded me, these are the ones that I, that all of us, need to cling to.

It’s hard, of course, not to let the other kind of goals fill up a lot of mental and emotional space: achieving a certain level of recognition, for example, or finding a particular version of family. Desires that are valid, desires that run deep. But not desires that we can reasonably expect to fulfill.

“You have to think of those things as gifts,” K said. “That may or may not come.”

Driving home (in, ps, the minivan I am buying from her — because, why yes, at a moment in which I could not be less close to the suburban ideal of motherhood and children, I am buying the ultimate symbol of such things: a minivan. discuss.), I turned on the radio just as REM’s cover of I Am Superman came on; and, as traffic began to slow by that wretched 11th Street/Lyndale exit into uptown. I began to feel that tide of anxiety that surges every time I wind up in highway traffic. And I thought of K’s advice: to focus on the things I can control.

And I thought of the fact that rush hour traffic is distinctly not among those things, while listening to loud music in a minivan, now, is.

And instead of anxious, or panicked, I felt, suddenly, flush with gratitude: for the oversized (perfect for moving!) vehicle soon to be mine, for K and the other smart and generous women I am making it my life’s work to collect, for the handful of goals (hair! books!) I felt newly motivated to pursue.

And, as always, most importantly, for Michael Stipe.

Middle School (Ish), Then and Now

Recently, I hung out with a sixteen year old girl.

Beforehand, I felt flummoxed. I even texted a mutual male friend for advice. (“Shopping?” he wrote. Done.)

This, even though I’ve known this particular sixteen year old long enough to know that she isn’t like most girls her age; that she’s particularly poised and self-reflective and smart. Still, I feared the typical set of Adolescent Female Issues: body, boys, sex.

I shouldn’t have. As we tried on clothes together in a cramped midtown dressing room, I was the only one who flinched. Sitting down at a coffee shop for warm drinks, it was me (ever calorie conscious!) who opted for tea while she drank hot chocolate. As I frantically checked my phone for incoming boy-texts, she breezily shrugged off the foolishness of her peers when it comes to worrying about guys.

Triumphantly–if a bit clunkily–I managed to impart some love-related Womanly Wisdom. But when she replied with a cheerful, “Good advice!”, I couldn’t help thinking it was more for my benefit than hers.

Her poise thrilled me, but it chilled me a bit, too: by the time we parted that evening, I walked through a windy West Village wondering whether her healthy attitude and striking self-possession might surpass that of many a thirty-something friend.

The thought returned a few days later as I sat with two early teen girls I’ve spent the past few Saturdays tutoring. Neither of them, particularly, need it. Which–along with my nonexistent aptitude for numbers–means that our efforts at social studies worksheets and algebra problem sets often devolve into what can only be described as girl talk. Google-image searches of Bow Wow and a certain set of basketball-playing twins (just because I’m a Knicks fan doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate that the Nets have some hunks, with even hunkier twins) may or may not occur.

Anyway. No thanks to me, these girls are also astonishingly mature. They complain about girls they know who go on liquid diets and use terms like “thigh gap” between classes at school, but seem immune to such silliness.

“I really like being friends with boys better,” one of them announced. “But I know how to act girly when I need to.”

“Huh,” the other replied. “I think I’m pretty girly. I mean, I do love to get my nails done.”

That kind of self-awareness really floored me. (In addition to making me pose the question internally: wait, am I girly?)

So, at the gym a couple of hours later, unenthused by the jumbo TVs of Real Housewives and college football, I turned to my perennial fallback–the trusty This American Life iPhone app–and began playing an episode that a friend recently flagged: the one about middle school.

Sure enough, there it was: the talking head (voice, whatever) explaining that we actually do have the most brain cells when we go through puberty. The rest start to fall away soon after, and it’s only those we use that stick around.

In other words, middle school girls are smarter than we are.

The recognition reminded me of a recent, more (nominally) adult interaction. One that rmade me question how little our dating lives have actually changed since those first years.

To illustrate, let’s review a couple of things that I, and likely you, experienced as a young teenager:

  • A boy telling me he wanted to marry me before running down the block. Never to call again.
  • Breaking up with a guy via his best friend’s pager.

And, a couple incidents more recent (technically speaking, within the last week):

  • A guy saying he’d like to marry me before vanishing into the night, never to call again.
  • Cornering a guy into asking me out only after serruptitious emailing with a mutual friend.

Oy.

In the midst of that last incident, the catalyst/friend sent me an email and apologized for his meddling.

“Sorry, I’ll stop,” he wrote.

“Nope,” I replied. “It’s necessary. I think the lack-of-rules in our present dating world makes us revert to middle school. Right?”

“No question about it,” he wrote back right away.

The implication, at first, was negative.

But a few days later, enlightened to the evident superiority of our sooner selves, I take it all back. As traumatic as middle school was, maybe we know less now than we did then.

On ‘Girls’, Boys and Bodies

“I mean, you are beautiful.”

My friend N lay her hand on my shoulder as we leaned against the kitchen counter, having just talked one another into opening a fourth bottle of beer.

As I looked back at her earnestly, our friend B–also the small, MFA party’s host–hustled in looking for wine, prompting all three of us to keel over in booze-addled giggles.

“I didn’t hear what you said,” B assured, laughing as she waved her hands and backed out of the room. “But I could tell you were having a moment. It’s cool!”

“No, stay!” I said. “We were just affirming each other! And talking about how we need to spend less time worrying about our bodies, and boys!”

“Oh,” B said, shaking her head as she leaned against the doorway and turned her face serious. “That’s really hard.”

Specifically, N and I had been trying to remind one another of our worth in tipsy effort to diminish our pesky preoccupations with being thin and finding someone to sleep with. And, more than that, to stop letting those preoccupations take up our time.

The paradox has always bewildered me: the persistent capacity of smart, capable, otherwise well-adjusted women to become uncertain, irrational crumples of insecurity when it comes to matters of their bodies and their relationships.

The body stuff is what angers me most. Lately, I’ve been struck by recent interviews with Lena Dunham in which she describes not being concerned about her shape.

“Hating my body has not been my cross to bear in this life,” she told New York Magazine. “And I feel very lucky about that.”

Lucky indeed. I admire, I envy her that freedom so much–but I don’t understand it. I grew up in the same city as Lena Dunham, around (ahem) the same time, and with parents who–like hers, I imagine–encouraged me to eat what I wanted and not worry about weight. I don’t know how or when it happened, but somewhere along the line societal influences penetrated: gripping me with a suffocating pressure I still feel to be thin. How could anyone have avoided that?

I’ve thought and talked and written about this subject a lot. But I hadn’t thought about it before in terms of how wasteful it is, in terms of how much time so many of us spend worrying about the way we look and whether we are loved, and how much of that time we could be dedicating, instead, to ourselves.

In other words, how much more productive we might be if we were all more like Lena Dunham: I doubt it’s a coincidence that Dunham’s been so successful at such a young age, and that she doesn’t waste energy worrying about her body.

Not that she’s any more immune than the rest of us when it comes to anxiety about men. If not for that, after all, she’d be a lot less long on material. (As B, a poet, put it last night: “If I didn’t think about guys, what would I write about?” “Look who you’re talking to,” I replied.)

We’ll never not worry about guys–or girls, or whoever. It isn’t avoidable, or even desirable. But just imagine what a relief it would be if we thought about them less.

The other night I spent time with a friend who is ten years older than me, and who I tend to think of–in part for that reason, but for others, too–as substantially wiser and more secure. In most ways, she is.

But when it comes to relationships, her struggle is similar. She recently got burned by a guy who, despite his advanced age, wound up pulling the same predictable pathologies I associate with men in their twenties: jumping in too fast and then freaking out; wanting an unstable woman he can “fix” to avoid intimacy. (Seriously: can someone find me a dude with some fresh set of issues? I’m not even thirty and I’m already bored.)

My friend knew this guy wasn’t her equal. And even so, she let herself spend an entire month feeling crushed by him.

“I hardly got any writing done that whole time,” she told me over wine and lemonade. “I was too busy trying to figure him out.”

Her words resonated powerfully: there is something singularly sharp in the recognition that all the energy I expend agonizing about flaky dudes could be used writing essays.

“We’re artists!” I exclaimed to B and N, standing between them in the kitchen, placing my hands on their shoulders. “We can’t be spending our time thinking about stupid boys, and whether or not we’re thin! We have to focus on ourselves! We have to do our art!” I was trying to convince myself as much as them.

“I think it’s biological,” B said, laughing. “At least, it makes me feel better to think about it that way!”

N and I nodded. “It’s just so frustrating,” N said, tossing her thick mane of hair behind her head. “Cause the boys we date who are artists don’t think about us, ever.”

“Nope,” B concurred. “Never. If they’re doing their thing, that’s what they’re thinking about. If you’re there, great.”

To illustrate I made a show of glancing at my phone: the screen of which, I informed them, still didn’t feature a text response from a certain artist I’m seeing.

“He’s in the studio,” I explained, bitterly. They shook their heads in sympathy.

“I’m just trying to catch myself,” I announced, relaying the advice my older friend had offered. “You know, when I like, pass a woman on campus and start to compare myself, or get too hung up waiting for a text, I’m just gonna try to catch it“–I snapped my fingers–”and make myself think about something else.”

“That’s good!” they agreed, as we began to talk about how much distance there is between recognizing a pattern and being able to break it.

Eventually, our banter leavened: we started to debate about a guy in our program and whether he would be a better kisser (N) or a better fuck (B).

“But don’t you think he’d be so tender?” B pleaded sweetly.

“Ugh,” I replied. “Can’t imagine either one. I’m sure he jackrabbits like a teenager.”

At that moment a different guy walked past, innocently seeking beer, and all of us looked at him and buckled over laughing, again.

Because among all the things that make us expend energy on our bodies and our boys, one is certainly each other. And certainly, sometimes, thank god for that.

 

Some Notes on (Alleged) Neediness

“I have a feeling I’m going to read that online in the near future,” my mother said, giggling and smugly sipping her espresso at the Scandinavian-styled Park Slope coffee shop where we were taking a pause from our holiday mother-daughter shopping spree.

It’s not often that my mother offers sincere romantic advice–as I’ve written, between the two of us, I tend to be far more comfortable in that territory. (To her credit, not exactly a fair contest.)

But when she does, it’s reliably valuable. And, usually, pretty even: Take things slowly. Men freak out when you get emotional. Did she mention, I should slow down a little bit?

This time, though, her counsel was markedly flip: “He hasn’t texted back in two days!” I moaned to her, my lower lip in full pout.

Her reply: “Oh, come on. Don’t be so needy.”

“Who, me?” I scoffed. “Needy?” Okay I didn’t say that. But I wanted to. Instead, I raised my eyebrows and said, “It’s not that I’m needy. It’s just that I’m neurotic and anxious and paranoid. There’s a difference.” (Proof: “I haven’t texted again.”)

My mother shrugged. “Okay,” she said, and off we went: dodging strollers down 5th Avenue to the overpriced shoe store half a block away.

I had a similar exchange back in Albuquerque a few days later, as I vented to my friend A about the same thing. “Well have you been texting a lot?” she asked, turning her head and narrowing her eyes across the table. “I feel like you do that.”

“Why does everyone think I’m so needy?” I shot back. “I don’t text that much! I only talk about it!”

(A conversation reminiscent of another I had with my sister-in-law over break. Her: “Well, aren’t you obsessed with finding a boyfriend?” Me: “No! I just write about it!” My “persona” spiel, it would seem, only goes so far. But, I digress.)

Let’s set aside, for a moment, the question of how “needy” I actually am. On second thought, let’s not. Because yeah, I guess I do have some needs, and ya know what: I don’t think they’re unreasonable. (Particularly when I’m not, ahem, demanding they be met.)

Here’s what I need: I need to know what to expect from someone. That’s all. Should I expect that we’re going to be in close contact? Should I expect that we’re going to have dinner on Thursday night? Should I expect that we’re going to fall madly in love and buy a house in brownstone Brooklyn and stroll our child around on Sunday mornings, browsing expensive clogs?

I mean: is that so much to ask?

Well, according to every woman in my life–from my mother, on: yes. Apparently you can’t actually know what to expect from someone right away. Apparently you can’t even assume they know what to expect of themselves. Apparently, expecting to know expectations makes one needy.

And, heavens: we don’t want that.

So here’s the thing. I know I have to go with the flow–whatever the hell that means. I know that I should demonstrate faith in widespread wisdom about the male gender, such widespread wisdom indicating that men do not like being confronted with women’s needs, men finding it more attractive when women are independent and carefree and apparently unaffected by their behavior, however peculiar or confusing. I know that’s what I’m supposed to do. And, I am here to tell you, I’m pretty good at just doing it.

But good lord: sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes, I don’t want to have to pretend that I’m indifferent, or not thinking about someone, or not wondering whether they’re thinking about me. Sometimes, it even feels dishonest: what’s the point in pursuing emotional intimacy with a person if you can’t even be open with them about how you feel?

Did I mention that I’m not very patient?

Unfortunately, I get that from my dad.

 

 

Those Elusive Life Skills…and My Always Omniscient Mother

A few days before leaving for my recent trip home–this one for the primary purpose of spending time with my father, sister-in-law and niece, at the beach–I talked to my mother on the phone.

I ambled around my dirt-topped backyard as we spent twenty minutes or so catching up, and then told her I needed to go get dinner.

“Okay,” she said. “What time is your flight on Sunday?” And then: “Don’t forget to pack your bathing suit!”

I’m certain she could hear the sound of my eyes rolling through the phone.

“What?” I retorted. “Do you really think I’m twelve years old? Jesus, mother. How do you think I survive in the world?”

Let’s just hold onto that question for a moment as I ask you to imagine the way I felt when, sitting at my gate in the Albuquerque Sunport that Sunday morning, I ticked through the contents of my suitcase and realized that I had, indeed, forgotten to pack my swimsuit.

I’d like to think it a testament to the strength of our present relationship that my first thought (after: “Wow. Really???” and “Good lord, Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me!?”) was to tell my mother: I was eager to share with her the laugh.

(And it is perhaps testament to the frequency of this sort of exchange between us that when I did get ahold of her and asked “Guess what I forgot?!” she laughed and said “It’s okay, we have plenty of cell phone chargers!”)

Why do I tell you this? A few reasons. One, it is my mother’s birthday today and I suspect that she’ll appreciate the nod to her all-knowing-ness–as she usually, quietly, does. Two, it’s mildly amusing, and when things happen to me that are mildly amusing I sometimes (you know, about weekly) like to share them. Three, to ask this question: how in god’s name do I survive in the world?

It’s been ten years, now, since I moved out of my parents house and went to college in a state few people I knew had been to. (Or, could remember: “Where are you again?” they’d ask. “Missouri?”) Since then–save a perfectly lovely three weeks at my parents house between stints in DC and New Mexico when I worked on grad school applications and took off my pajamas, maybe, twice–I’ve been living on my own.

I’ve lived alone. I’ve lived with roommates. I am the primary (though, thankfully, not the sole) caretaker to an energetic pitbull mix. In a year, hopefully, I will have a graduate degree.

But still: I struggle with the basics of life. (Seriously: it’s possible that I haven’t been to the dentist since the Clinton administration.)

Last week in New York I had coffee with a friend and former roommate from college: she recently finished her grad program and has spent a few months unemployed. Those months have been filled with the kind of life stuff–bills, IRS issues, doctors appointments–that are a constant challenge to balance with work.

“I don’t understand how anyone who has a job gets this stuff done!” she sighed to me over iced teas at a Park Slope coffee shop.

It reminded me of a conversation I once had with my brother R.

“What have you been up to?” I asked him.

“You know, the usual, life things,” he replied. There was a pause. “All that stuff that you put off and don’t deal with, that you do everything else but? Like bills and appointments? That’s the stuff I do every day.”

“Oh,” I said. “Right.”

Which is all to say that there are people, my brother apparently among them, for whom basic responsibilities are a manageable burden. And then there are people, people like me and A, for whom they are a persistent struggle.

But, baby steps: in NY, I borrowed bathing suits from my best friend and sister-in-law. Yesterday, I made an appointment to have my teeth cleaned in September. The pit mix is sometimes crabby and not the most reliably obedient, but she’s got a pretty good life.

I’m not always sure how I survive in the world, but–with the help of good friends, occasional handy dudes, and an always all-knowing mother–I do. And, I suppose, I will.

Happy birthday Mom.

On How Women are Like Wine, And My Urgent Greed for Female Wisdom

If, three and a half weeks after getting unexpectedly dumped, you have to go somewhere–let me suggest that a weeklong writers’ conference is not the worst place to wind up.

Not because you will likely feel inspired and write your heart out, though, probably, you will–and that matters.

And not because it will probably take you out of town, to someplace remote and green-ish and, most importantly, out of the element-in-which-your-heart-was-broken–though that, too, matters quite a bit.

More important than all these things is this: that, in all likelihood, you will find yourself surrounded by a large number of middle-aged women.

I’m aware, this demographic is not without its’ accompanying pitfalls.

Probably, you will encounter numerous questions in regard to decaffeinated beverages and the persistently problematic temperature of this or that room. You will hear a lot about lost husbands and multiple cancer struggles and feel as though you have experienced exactly nothing. You will see multiple pairs of unfortunately bejeweled flip-flops.

But you are about to turn twenty-eight: a birthday that feels much more significant (read: traumatic) than the last, and contemplating not whether but when you are supposed to start panicking because you would like to have children not long after thirty and have absolutely no idea where you will be raising them or with whom, to say nothing of what they will be called.

And it is important for you to stop considering panic and to remember that women–all of us–improve with age.

(Note: This may be true of men too, but let’s face it: they’re starting with less.)

On multiple occasions over the past few days, I have turned to the (older) woman next to me and felt the strong urge to ask her to adopt me as her daughter.

This is not at all to suggest any inadequacy on my the part of my mother: whose beauty and brilliance I appreciate now more than ever.

But in those moments when the opening of your hips (yoga) collides with the breaking of your heart (D), making you question the significance of just about everything–including manhood, literature and sex–you need all the wisdom you can get.

I feel greedy in my pursuit of elder female knowledge, like an aggressive shopper at the Union Square DSW during clearance: I want all the product I can cram  in the little time I’ve got. I want it in abundance. I want it immediately. And I want it in bright colors and interesting fabrics. (Just go with it.)

It’s not that the advice they’ve given me has been extraordinarily insightful. It’s that their delivery is so assured. As women get older, we grow into ourselves: we grow more and more comfortable with who we are and how we look, the things we can and cannot do.

And I kept hearing the same version of a story: single for twenty or thirty years. Four marriages. Heartbreak and loss. And then: happiness. It was only when they had truly grown into themselves, achieved their ultimate in confidence and strength, they said, that they were able to find an equal.

And so I stare at these women, awed by their poise and elegance, their agility with liquid eyeliner and strength in downward dog, and I try to tell myself that it wouldn’t be so bad: that if I wound up having to wait until I match their confidence and grace before I find a partner who is truly worthy, it wouldn’t be so terrible.

It’s hard to accept that you might not find the fantasy: that you might not follow the path you (and everyone else) always imagined. But you simply can’t predict how your life will play out.

And, sadly (for me), for all the generous wisdom and insight these older women provide, neither can they.

On A New Yogic Obsession, and Trying to Accept

Today, for the tenth day in a row, I went to a bikram yoga class: you know, the 90-minute, 26-posture routine that you do in a room heated to 105 degrees. A room that the practice’s founder (Mr. Bikram himself) refers to as his “torture chamber” and that my father refers to as the thing he would rather hang by his toes than enter into voluntarily.

(Me: “I just feel so euphoric afterwards!” My father: “The word, I believe, is delirious.”)

I have hesitated to write about this because, well, normally–stray mention of an O Magazine article I read while pounding on the stairmaster aside–I don’t write about my exercise habits. But also, normally, I hate yoga. And, by extension, the people who preach its’ benefits.

Don’t get me wrong: some of my best friends are dedicated yogis. But, in my (limited) experience, the practice requires twin virtues that I gravely lack: patience and flexibility. (When I tell you that I was afraid to do a summersault as a child, it is not only neuroses of which I speak.)

And yet here I am, smiling all the way down Central Avenue on my way to yoga morning after grueling morning, wondering: if I can do this for my body, why wouldn’t I?

Well, I can think of a couple of reasons. Namely, time and money and the need to prioritize other things like work, writing, and having a dog. You know, life.

But it’s summer, and I’m therefore giving myself permission to temporarily suspend concern for such petty things while I focus on the supremely significant task of bending my spine more backwards.

(You see? I don’t even try to mock and it happens. Years of cynicism do not so easily diminish.)

Really, though, I have to tell you that I feel amazing. And, if you’ll indulge a small amount of benefit-preaching for a moment, I’ll share (part of) why.

You see, besides the perpetual battle against impatience and hamstrings, another thing that has repelled me from yoga is judgment. I’m sorry, but no matter what those hard-bodied blondes in capri leggings recite about Buddha and breathing, usually, I feel very judged. I stare at my soft, straining body in the mirror, and I see those hard, bending bodies that surround me, and I feel the opposite of relaxed.

In Bikram classes, the temptation exists. After all, clothing is minimal. Those fierce yogi forms are there, and they’re even barer than usual.

But for whatever reason–perhaps because beginners practice alongside instructors, and everyone, everyone sometimes gets dizzy and needs to sit down–that judgment seems to go away.

Also, there’s that elderly man who’s in class every morning at 9 am and who all the instructors know by name and who is just standing there, breathing, and then laying there, breathing. Attempting a posture every now and then when the urge or comfort strikes.  And that helps. I won’t lie: that helps.

Most importantly, doing the practice daily has taught me to accept: to accept how far my back will bend or my balance will hold. To accept that, today my knees won’t let me keep this posture, but yesterday they did and probably tomorrow they will again. To accept that, despite over a week of daily practice, I still fall out in the first set of standing bow and, still, my belly is not as flat as that hot girl’s in the back left corner.

It isn’t easy to extend this acceptance outside the yoga room. But one can’t help but try: to accept that, even though it’s no longer cute or novel that my boyfriend lives sixty-three miles away, he still does. And that’s okay. To accept that I’m not getting as much writing or reading done as I imagined, because I never do. And that’s okay, too. To accept that not everyone will ever respond to my work, and that some of those who don’t might leave exceedingly nasty comments on silly, light-hearted blogs of mine on the Huffington Post. And that, also, will have to be okay.

(For the record, I scanned them–these aforementioned nasty comments–and immediately decided not to read any closer. I may need to accept that these people hate me, but I don’t think I need to pay them much mind.)

Are you feeling nauseous yet? I’m starting to, so let’s stop. But thanks for indulging me. You may, or may not, accept my recommendations.

On The Mythical Boyfriend, and the “Best Part” of Having One

The other day, I had a long overdue Skype date with my good friend A—the one who I was close with in DC and who, after quitting her job over a year ago, has been hopping all over the US, Southeast Asia, and now Europe.

(Sidenote: I “hear”—both literally and philosophically—those complaints about the “alphabet soup” in my last post. Forgive me for now: the initial system isn’t ideal, but I haven’t got anything better. Open to suggestions!)

A few short emails aside, it’d been a long time since we’d really caught up: I’d missed her call when she’d tried to reach me, about five months ago, before leaving her for her latest jaunt—I was on my first date with D.

“So,” she said. “What’s your favorite part about having a boyfriend?”

This caught me off guard: pretty sure no one, as yet, has asked me this particular question.

But if anyone were to ask it, it would certainly be A. This is how we talk. Like me, she’s spent most of her life without a boyfriend, save one epic live-in relationship whose rise and fall I intimately witnessed.

Several months into the “rise” of that situation, A would frequently turn to me, interrupting herself from work or exercise or unrelated topic of conversation, flare her big green eyes wide and say, voice completely flat, “I cannot believe I have a boyfriend.”

“I know,” I’d say. “It’s amazing!”

“It is amazing,” she’d reply. “It is just so strange to use that word!”

In other words, we use the word “boyfriend” as though referring to some sort of mythic or exotic species– because to us, they have been. Like Gila Monsters or wild parrots: oft talked about, occasionally spotted, rarely materializing for long.

When she asked the question—what my “favorite part” is—I stumbled through a scattered list of seemingly reasonable replies.

“It’s nice to have an intimate confidant,” I said. “And someone to cuddle with. And someone to just chill and watch movies with.” I paused. “And he cooks!”

All of which is true. But in our post-Skype email exchange, A answered the question herself: “You seem so happy and relaxed,” she wrote. “I think boyfriends are amazing for us as women. They calm us down so much!”

How’s that for anti-feminist? But bear with me. And A.

Certainly, relationships bring their share of anxiety and stress. My stubborn sleeping problems haven’t disappeared, for example. And as I’ve written, things, generally, are as they were before.

But it’s true: there is a way in which I am more relaxed then I was when I was single.

When you aren’t with someone and you’d like to be, there’s a sort of weight that bears down on you. A sense of obligation, a pressure, a sense that you always ought to be making an effort to meet someone.

At times, I found online dating a good solution for that: I could tell myself that I was “making an effort” while still staying home with popcorn and Tina Fey most Saturday nights.

But even then, I felt it. And don’t get me wrong, I am a social person. I like being around people, I like to go out—sometimes, not too often, and rarely past midnight (sorry, I’m over twenty-five and an insomniac). But I don’t like to feel like I have to. And when I was single, I often felt like I had to.

I don’t mean to imply this is true for everyone, because I know it’s not. But I always remember the Friday afternoon a few years back when, post-show, I wandered around my workplace surveying colleagues about whether I should bus it from DC to New York for the weekend just to attend a friend’s birthday party.

“Go!” One of them demanded. “You should always go to parties! You might meet your husband!”

(For the record, I did go, and—so far as I know—did not meet my husband. Or anyone else, so far as I can remember, particularly interesting. But at least I won’t have to wonder…or something.)

You see what I mean. There’s a persistent stress: a feeling that you should always be trying, that you should always be looking.

Obviously, being in a relationship doesn’t mean I’ve stopped looking forever—D and I are far from that level of certainty or commitment.

But it does mean I’ve stopped looking for now. And that, it turns out, is a very relaxing thing.