Whatever Makes You Different Makes You Pretty

I’ve been going through my drafts folder and inadvertently publishing ten-year-old posts about caulk and LeBron James, which is kind of a funny glimpse back into the mind of the person I still, basically, am. I saved the title of this post on September 19, 2007, and “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” was probably a notion that struck me while I was doing the dishes or photographing action figures pretending to talk about Downton Abbey. (I only have the dialog from that particular post I was paid to write for, and sadly they’ve taken it down. I wish I had backed up the photos I took of the entire cast of Twilight action figures I once purchased so I could pose them talking, in character, with Hulk and Iron Man about the new maid who was lying about her past to Lord Grantham.)

My mom having a good time by a lake in Minnesota in the early 1950s.

As far as brain secretions* go, however, “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” has some merit. It might have come out of remembering the time when I broke my nose, and after it healed it had a bump in it. My mom wanted to pay to have the bump removed. I declined her offer, because I sort of liked the change, to be honest. I liked feeling that my face had been roughed up a bit, that pretty wasn’t as important as the lesson I learned about my own ego after being a showoff on a bike and having my face ground into a stucco wall. My mother’s own nose was scarred after a childhood run-in with a door frame, and she never seemed to mind the way it looked. She had a tiny bit of a pug nose. Maybe she owned that nose of hers, maybe she realized that was part of her work, not to be bothered by the scar from a split nostril. She also had one eye that was half blue and half brown.

If we listen to the Taoists, we’ll see that when some things become pretty, then others become ugly. If you start dividing things up into good/bad categories, all you’re doing is creating a lot of suffering.

* Uchiyama Roshi said,

“Thoughts are the secretions of our brains, the same way as stomach acid is the secretion of our stomachs.” The brain is a bodily organ with a job to do. It digests the impressions it receives the same way the stomach digests the food it receives. We don’t pay close attention to every little thing the stomach does to get on with its work, and we don’t need to pay close attention to what the brain does either.

But we’ve all developed the habit of being obsessed with the content of our thoughts. It’s not easy to break that habit. People often want to learn some special technique that will change that habit.

This is part of a larger discussion on meditation technique that I found really useful. It’s also useful if you’re working on impulse control, or just being a more peaceful person.

Anyway, I finished reading True Grit yesterday, and every time I think about the end I start to choke up. It’s so good, honestly. I might read it again as soon as Jack finishes it, because I pressed the book into his hands with the kind of silent gravity that made him look taken aback and assure me that he’d start reading it right away. Because he’s probably going to spend the day on the couch taking his antibiotics and watching football anyway, so he might as well turn off the sound and read a novel instead, right? Ha ha, yes, that’s the way husbands work. I just rolled my eyes so loudly I could hear cartilage crunch.

Mother's Day Is Nearly Upon Us

I like nothing more than a good holiday where I feel completely justified in buying myself a bunch of stuff that celebrates just how awesome I am. Also, if it's a national holiday that excludes people who identify primarily as male, and divides women into uneasy procreational factions? EVEN BETTER. I've been unloading a lot of stuff on eBay and Craigslist, so I felt like as long as I'm stimulating the local economy and a certain day is just around the corner, I could go ahead and buy myself a little treat.

It's a used Raleigh three-speed with bad brakes and it suits me to a tee. I'm not one to anthropomorphize but I may have to give her a name.

Something that says Sherwood Forest with a hint of World War II, perhaps.

Some of you may be wondering how Let's Panic is doing, sales-wise, and the answer is that it's chugging along nicely and if all goes well we'll get a little bump from Mother's Day. Luckily, St. Martin's still has a couple of gift bags left over from when the book first came out, so I'm giving one away! It's a tote bag that contains a copy of the book, as well as:

- an electric "back" massager - a stress ball thing for squeezing in your sweaty fist - an anti-stress bath soak - a meditation CD - Anne Taintor shot glasses - an exclusive Let's Panic Subversive Cross Stitch set

I have personally bought two of those cross-stitch sets. I haven't started stitching them yet because Osama bin Laden is dead under the cold, dark sea and I've been far too busy hugging my son and remembering 9/11 to look for my embroidery needle.

If you want to win the gift bag, leave a comment telling us something you learned from your mom, good or bad, I don't care. One thing my mom taught me was always to plant lily of the valley in the shade. Another thing she taught me was not to buy more yarn than you can hope to knit in your lifetime unless you want your estate sale to be set upon by frizzy-haired women in comfortable shoes.

I'll choose a random commenter and announce the winner on Thursday Wednesday afternoon! You may not get your bag in time for Mother's Day (because I should have done this last week) but we'll try!

I give up

Last weekend I was doing some fairly intensive yoga down in Ojai with some lovely people who don't scare me at all anymore. About a dozen of us did our yoga practice in a canvas-walled yurt where the morning temperature hovered in the high 80s. We hiked to a swimming hole in 100-degree heat. I think every drop of water I drank over the weekend came straight out my pores. (I may have peed once over the course of three days, but no one can prove my kidneys had anything to do with it.) I ate kale and beets and chocolate mousse, and even though I'd been saving for months to be there with interesting people and do one of the things I love most, come Sunday morning all I wanted to do was lie on my mat and give up. Give up what? Who knows. Health? Making any effort at all to care about my aging body? I just wanted to stop fighting and let life take over and carry me through whatever came next. Stiffness, decay, total inertia, death. Whatever. Who was I kidding? How was wedging my foot behind my neck going to help?

(You can see where my mind has been lately.)

Here are some more incontestable reasons I thought of, while lying on the floor of that yurt, for giving up ashtanga yoga.

  • I'm old and stiff and it hurts
  • I'm old and I'm goddamned tired
  • Laziness and quitting run in my family
  • Who am I to argue with tradition?
  • What's yoga ever done for me?
  • These stupid stretch pants cost sixty dollars
  • Sixty dollars!
  • Why didn't I start doing this when I was 20?
  • Of course I got my period this weekend
  • And I forgot my vitamins
  • I wonder if they still make Geritol?
  • What the hell was that sound?
  • How many times can a car backfire?
  • Wait -- is there a firing range nearby?
  • It's either someone's doing target practice or a whole lot of people are getting murdered out there
  • Stray bullet, stray bullet, stray bullet, stray bullet
  • Please, God, make it quick and painless
  • zzzzzzzzz

When I got back to the real world, of course, I became completely depressed. I had post-retreat letdown, I think -- the way coming back from even a short vacation can throw the hollowness of daily life into sharp relief. I had dreaded going on retreat, my life and routines having such a firm hold on me, but now there was so much more to dread coming back from it!

This is why people drink. I understand that now.

I thought of my mom, the way her hamstrings atrophied, lying there in bed after she broke her ankle and became afraid to walk. My mom gave up. Her heart was so tired and she spent the last years of her life lying in bed, waiting to check out. Is this how she felt? Jesus, why didn't we get her some Prozac?

The thing was, even though my heart was heavy, after all that yoga my body felt remarkably not-painful and un-stiff. So I had a glimmer of a thought that maybe, despite the utter futility of existence, it wouldn't be such a bad idea to unabandon a regular yoga practice. So I got up and went to practice Tuesday morning and I got up again today, and when that feeling washed over me, that feeling that I wanted just to fucking GIVE UP, I gave in to it. I gave up! It was the easiest thing in the world to do. What a relief! I give up! Here, take it! Take this shitty feeling, universe, I don't want it anymore.

Oh, I kept practicing. I kept bending and stretching and breathing into my injured right hip and sweating through my $60 yoga pants, but I kept going and I gave up at the same time. I took a deep breath and I gave up feeling oppressed. I exhaled and gave up hating hard work. I became a fucking Nike ad and I Just Did It. I stood on my head and stopped worrying about being tired the rest of the day, or thinking about anything other than staying upright and counting my breaths. Death can come this afternoon or it can come when I'm 100 years old (or maybe I'll get cryogenically preserved and wake up in the year 2410 to find my thawed-out head sewn onto the body of a chihuahua -- but even that chihuahua body's going to wear out, and let's face it, my head is going to look like hell). And, yes, that's a drag. But what am I going to do, bitch about it for the next fifty-four years? Or am I going to live my life?

Mid-life crises are a tawdry cliche, and being in your forties means different things to different people. But it seems like a common thread that pierces everyone's heart eventually is when you finally start to grasp the inevitability of your own demise. I'm coming at it a little sideways, frankly; I'm not prepared to face it head on, and maybe no one with a young child at home is. Writing a will that sends your possibly-orphaned child to go live with relatives is one of the more devastating acts of parenthood. It feels absolutely crucial to stick around for the sake of this small, somewhat-helpless, desperately-loved person. (What was it Roseanne Barr said when she had her last child? "Oh, great, another reason to live.")

I'm just trying to do my best.



Last night I was so hungry in my sleep that I dreamt I was on my way to have lunch at a taco stand with Julia Child.

My mother once came home from work and told me a story. She was working in downtown Denver at the time, for the phone company, and she went outside at lunch to get some fresh air and eat a sandwich that she'd brought from home. (She's thrifty that way—she would never do what I do now, go spend $6 on Thai food or at a salad bar—she had gone back to work to pay my tuition for private school, because I was a brat and refused to spend another stultifying year at Columbine High School—but I'll post more about that later.)

Anyway, she was walking along and a homeless woman came up to her and asked her for money. My mother refused her request and kept walking, but the woman followed her and said, "I'm hungry!" And my mother said, "I'm hungry, too!" and went off to eat her sandwich.

I don't think my mother really got the difference between the homeless woman's hunger—which my have been humiliating and a constant source of worry—and her own temporary, easily satisfied need to eat.

My mother's funny that way.