July 14, 2014
Breakfast at Tiffany's
By Truman Capote
"That Monday in October, 1943. A beautiful day with the buoyancy of a bird."
"Unless it was Thursday, her Sing Sing day, or unless she'd gone horseback riding in the park, as she did occasionally, Holly was hardly up when I came home. Sometimes, stopping there, I shared her wake-up coffee while she dressed for the evening. She was forever on her way out, not always with Rusty Trawler, but usually, and usually, too, they were joined by Mag Wildwood and the handsome Brazilian, who's name was José Ybarra-Jaegar: his mother was German. As a quartet, they struck an unmusical note, primarily the fault of Ybarra-Jaegar, who seemed as out of place in their company as a violin in a jazz band. He was intelligent, he was presentable, he appeared to have a serious link with his work, which was obscurely governmental, vaguely important, and took him to Washington several days a week. How, then, could he survive night after night in La Rue, El Morocco, listening to the Wildwood ch-ch-chatter and staring into Rusty's raw baby-buttocks face? Perhaps, like most of us in a foreign country, he was incapable of placing people, selecting a frame for their picture, as he would at home; therefore all Americans had to be judged in a pretty equal light, and on this basis his companions appeared to be tolerable examples of local color and national character. That would explain much; Holly's determination explains the rest."
"I let curiosity guide me between the lions, debating on the way whether I should admit following her or pretend coincidence. In the end I did neither, but concealed myself some tables away from her in the general reading room, where she sat behind her dark glasses and a fortress of literature she'd gathered at the desk. She sped from one book to the next, intermittently lingering on a page, always with a frown, as if it were printed upside down. She had a pencil poised above paper -- nothing seemed to catch her fancy, still now and then, as though for the hell of it, she made laborious scribblings."
"Never love a wild thing, Mr. Bell," Holly advised him. "That was Doc's mistake. He was always lugging home wild things. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was a full-grown bobcat with a broken leg. But you can't give your heart to a wild ting: the more you do, the stronger they get. Until they're strong enough to run into the woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That's how you'll end up Mr. Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You'll end up looking at the sky."
June 26, 2014
By Cheryl Strayed
Letter of advice to twenty somethings:
"Stop worrying about whether you're fat. You're not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.
In the middle of the night in the middle of your twenties when your best woman friend crawls naked into your bed, straddles you, and says, You should run away from me before I devour you, believe her. You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.
When that really sweet but fucked up gay couple invites you over to their cool apartment to do ecstasy with them, say no. There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.
One evening you will be rolling around on the wooden floor of your apartment with a man who will tell you he doesn’t have a condom. You will smile in this spunky way that you think is hot and tell him to fuck you anyway. This will be a mistake for which you alone will pay.
Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.
You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else. Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.
One hot afternoon during the era in which you’ve gotten yourself ridiculously tangled up with heroin you will be riding the bus and thinking what a worthless piece of crap you are when a little girl will get on the bus holding the strings of two purple balloons. She’ll offer you one of the balloons, but you won’t take it because you believe you no longer have a right to such tiny beautiful things. You’re wrong. You do.
Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.
When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.
The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.
One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life. Say thank you."
June 24, 2014
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
By Cheryl Strayed
"I suggest you take that approach. It's not about becoming a movie star. It's about the down-in-the-dirt art of inhabiting the person you aspire to be while carrying on your shoulders the uncertain and hungry man you know you are. Your longing for love is only one part of you. I know that it feels gigantic when you're all alone writing to me, or when you imagine going out on a first date with a woman you desire. But don't let your need be the only thing you show. It will scare people off. It will misrepresent how much you have to offer. We have to be whole people to find whole love, even if we have to make it up for a while."
June 23, 2014
By Cheryl Strayed
"You don't have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don't have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don't have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don't have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts.
You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth. But that's all."
"The most terrible and beautiful and interesting things happen in a life. For some of you, those things have already happened. Whatever happens to you belongs to you. Make it yours. Feed it to yourself even if it feels impossible to swallow. Let it nurture you, because it will."
June 22, 2014
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
By Cheryl Strayed
"Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here."
"She cast him as human: complicated, flawed, and capable of redemption. Which means, in spite of everything, she made it possible for me to love my father, this absent man who was half of me. When I was a child and asked her what made her fall in love with my dad, she thought of things to tell me, even if she couldn't rightly remember them anymore. When I was a teenager and we argued about her refusal to condemn my father, she told me that she was grateful for him because without him she wouldn't have had my siblings and me. When I was just barely becoming a woman and my mother knew she was going to die, she stroked my hair and told me it was okay if I wanted to reach out to my father again, that I should always be open to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation and change, and that doing so was not a betrayal of her, but rather evidence of the woman she'd raised me to be."
"I've tried to write about this experience several times over the years. It was an odd thing that happened to me during a sad and uncertain era of my life that I hoped would tell readers something deep about my ex-husband and me. About how in love we were and also how lost. About how we were like those kittens who'd been trapped and starving for weeks. Or maybe not about the kittens at all. Maybe the meaning was in how we heard the sound, but did nothing about it until it was so loud we had no choice.
I never found a way to write about it until I wrote this letter to you, Ruler, when I realized it was a story you needed to hear. Not how the kittens suffered during those weeks they were wandering inside the dark building with no way out -- though surely there's something there too -- but how they saved themselves. How frightened those kittens were, and yet how they persisted. How when two strangers offered up their palms, they stepped in."
"The bird's suffering would've been unbearable for me to witness at any time, but it was particularly unbearable at that moment in my life because my mother had just died. And because she was dead I was pretty much dead too. I was dead but alive. And I had a baby bird in my palms that was dead but alive as well. I knew there was only one humane thing to do, though it took me the better part of an hour to work up the courage to do it: I put the baby bird in a paper bag and smothered it with my hands.
Nothing that has died in my life has ever died easily, and this bird was no exception. This bird did not go down without a fight. I could feel it through the paper bag, pulsing against my hand and rearing up, simultaneously flaccid and ferocious beneath its translucent sheen of skin, precisely as my grandfather's cock had been.
There it was! There it was again. Right there in the paper bag. The ghost of that old man's cock would always be in my hands. But I understood what I was doing this time. I understood that I had to press against it harder than I could bear. It had to die. Pressing harder was murder. It was mercy.
That's what the fuck it was. The fuck was mine.
And the fuck is yours too, WTF. That question does not apply to "everything every day." If it does, you're wasting your life. If it does, you're a lazy coward, and you are not a lazy coward.
Ask better questions, sweet pea. The fuck is your life. Answer it."
May 29, 2014
I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
By Neil Gaiman
“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences. I was a child, which meant that I knew a dozen different ways of getting out of our property and into the lane, ways that would not involve walking down our drive.”
“Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but they aren't.”
"I saw the world I had walked since my birth and I understood how fragile it was, that the reality I knew was a thin layer of icing on a great dark birthday cake writhing with grubs and nightmares and hunger. I saw the world from above and below. I saw that there were patterns and gates and paths beyond the real. I saw all these things and understood them and they filled me, just as the waters of the ocean filled me." (p. 143)
"I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as greater things crumbled. I could not control the world I was in, could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy. The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock." (p. 149)
"Old Mrs. Hempstock shrugged. "What you remembered? Probably. More or less. Different people remember things differently, and you'll not get any two people to remember anything the same, whether they were there or not. You stand two of you lot next to each other, and you could be continents away for all it means anything."" (p. 171)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is magic. Rich in remembering. And what is memory? It seems like my life recently -- its events, the books I've read -- have unintentionally forced me to evaluate what memory means to me.
As I've transitioned into a new part of my life (to quote Kerouac, it does feel like I'm at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.) I've, in a way, had to evaluate what is worth remembering in very physical and non-physical ways. What I realized with having to move is that I really do have so much stuff. So many things I've insisted on holding onto. So I started there, with throwing things away. The act of looking through the hundreds of photographs we had, and choosing which of them to keep and which were unnecessary--which memories I should keep and which were unnecessary--was very therapeutic. Each photograph tossed to the garbage was like a piece of my past lifted off my shoulders and it felt good. I am hugely sentimental but there was empowerment in realizing that I didn't need to keep everything. The same goes with hundreds of letters I've saved over the years from friends who are no longer in my life now. Did I need to keep them all? No. (I kept a few, some were quite charming.) But I had one whole envelope filled with letters from a former best friend who is now just an acquaintance, if that. And there was no reason to hold on to them, I don't necessarily miss her. And old school assignments and projects -- I let some of those go too. So with photos, letters, projects: I just kept the ones that represented my best self and the parts of me I liked and released everything else.
So that's the great, funny thing about memory too. Over time, it changes -- often by our own doing. We humans have the ability to make our memories these mammoth monsters that weigh us down and maybe, in time, our memories resemble something much different than what they were in real time. My first memory and my saddest memory is one I'm ready to forget and that is something I really thought I'd never be able to do. But I think now, given all of the circumstances, it's OK to let it go. And it's OK to let a lot of other things go, too.
May 21, 2014
Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President
By Eli Saslow
Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President is an important, thorough, & honorable work, and I enjoyed it very much. Of the thousands he receives, President Obama reads ten letters each day, handpicked by his staff. If he decides to send a response, he always handwrites it. Eli Saslow ('Cuse alum!) follows up with ten Americans who wrote to President Obama and received a response. Each of the ten letters Saslow features is written by an "average" American expressing concerns about any of the biggest issues of our time: health care, war, unemployment, the economy, debt, education, immigration, [gay] marriage equality. The letter-writers range in gender, age, race and their stories are impactful. Though I've lived during this presidency & have been aware of the issues, this book still enlightened me to so much of what has happened. And while reading, I could see myself, my family, and people I know in these stories. If I couldn't, it greatly increased my empathy of them. The past three years were hard. My mom was laid off a few months after I graduated, and for a time it was a blessing -- she had deserved better for a long time, she sought something new, and losing a job could force you to pursue something better. (Until it forces you to pursue anything.) But after months of applying, taking a new class, and losing her unemployment benefits and food stamps, she still had no prospects --- and it got really scary. I was still unemployed, only having worked internships and freelance gigs. Then, slowly things started to turn. She found two part-time jobs, and I accepted my first full-time position, but still, it was hard for her to make ends meet. And my mom is a warrior, because I don't think, even to this day, I completely understand just how close we were to going under. And it's always been that way, because we've always struggled financially. But she made sure we still lived well. (Father too.) Anyway, she missed the deadline to apply for medical benefits under the Affordable Care Act, & a few days later she was offered a job (finally!) that offered her full benefits, full salary, and a move to Houston -- a completely new life. No one deserves it more than her. And not everyone is so lucky, I know, though it feels like it took an eternity & tons of hard work to get here. Still with hard work, not everyone is so lucky.
I know the life I am creating for myself is one of success and...security? Is that the appropriate word? "American dream," right? To echo the theme of one of the chapters: it gets better. My parents created opportunities for me to have a much better life than they've had, and in many ways I will. This may sound dramatic, but right now really feels like one of the great turning points of my life. Everything is changing for myself and for my family so, so quickly. My mom moved away. My brother went to live with my dad. I moved out to my first apartment, etc. But I never want to forget what it was like for us to get to this point.