Last night I dreamt that I attended—maybe even hosted, it’s a bit fuzzy—a girl’s retreat with Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach. Strangely enough, the venue was the dilapidated white farmhouse of my dear childhood friend—a thick redheaded twin who I used to run with in 7th grade who was kind and sweet and who I loved to make laugh.
In this dream, we inhabited her home with love and laughter and all of the female strength that a Trump presidency, a #MeToo movement, and a Kavanagh hearing could deliver on. There were power poses and poetic prayers, declarations of a war for peace. It was a dream come true.
I found out a few years ago that this childhood friend died of an opioid overdose with three young children who I think now live with her twin. I think of her—both twins, really—with some sorrow, but great tenderness.
Tenderness abounds this week.
Maybe it’s because I got news Wednesday that my beloved writing teacher—my muse—is moving to New Mexico. She felt pulled there, specifically to a town called Truth or Consequences, with two coffee houses full of characters and lattes that pass muster.
I will ache for her. Her presence, her permissions, her poems, and a personal style as unique as her combination of cinnamon curls, library of teas, and ready tears. Oh to have met someone who cries as much as I do, but unabashedly.
“This is where I leave you,” her departure says.
“Just try to get rid of me,” she says.
Spoken like a true muse.
I want to be transparent about the process of writing.
There are evenings when—not unlike a racehorse at the gate—I paw the keyboard while my ancient Dell boots up. And then the empty white page and its blinking cursor appear like a starter pistol and the race begins. Some days I get a good start and run for my life and wear the roses until they wilt. And some days I choke—falling back early, maybe even injuring my ego and begging to be shut down.
Inspiration is a college suitor who courts you inconsistently. He hooks you with a smile and blows your mind one evening in the dark before engaging awkwardly with your parents, embarrassing you in front of your friends at a mixer, and ultimately downgrading to sloppy kisses and floating in-and-out of your day on the breeze. I’ve tried to show that guy the door with his particular kryptonite: commitment, practice, radical self-love, and a whole lot of tiring late evening and early morning effort.
This is a result of those efforts. Some of it works; there may even be a Splenda packet worth of genius in here somewhere. Some of it works, and some of it, less so. And that’s ok. At least, I am OK with that.
I got turned down recently for my first real submission because there is no justice. Kidding. It’s OK. I don’t really write for them; I write for me—for the restless colt in my head that simply must hit that dirt again, despite the outcome.
After all, what is life, really, but a series of efforts? One decent decision after another, one day at a time, and all that jazz.
But maybe, sweet friends, a very small part of me does it for you, who sees me and shows up for me each time I put ME out THERE, which is pretty effing scary.
My gratitude for you is beyond words. I hope there’s a kernel of truth today.
Pancake 1: Not a Sailor
I remember when I was maybe 22 years old and feeling alone and out of sorts on the busy streets of Back Bay in the heart of Boston. I had no real business being there—the rent was too high and I was often too high.
I had ordered a thin-crust pizza with mushrooms from an overpriced parlor near the fancy kitchen wares store where I bought my first hand-held citrus juicer, gateway to an adulthood of finely tuned vodka gimlets.
The pizza shop was a subterranean piece of real estate, wedged between some version of a fabric or yarn shop, and a dark tattoo parlor with a gentle anarchist vibe.
From my vantage point at that time in my life, I was an overly sensitive dingy set out on the story sea, cast about by unease, over-indulgence, and groundswells of capsizing uncertainty.
I needed an anchor. I need to make a definitive choice. I felt pulled to mark this fragility and moor myself in this moment, having survived my own voyage into the great unknown.
Bounding down the stairs with ill-fitting bravado, I turned right into the ink shop when all of my plans were in place to steer my left.
“You always were left of center,” my father always said.
I emerged like a butterfly a half-hour later with a stinging just above my spine and very little appetite for pizza.
Almost twenty years later, our children love to pull the spiral ‘string’ at my tailbone.
I don’t hate it. Maybe I should, but I don’t. My husband says he likes it, that it reminds him of my irreverence—something that has always intrigued him.
My Grandpa Bob saw it one summer saw it and said, “You know, Bethy, tattoos are for sailors and whores.”
“Well…I’m not a sailor,” I replied.
Pancake 2: Bad News
What bravery it takes to accept that we can neither go on nor turn back.
“We have bad news,” she said. “Awful news, really. It’s so much worse than we thought.”
The timbre of my mother’s voice, usually so buoyant, was heavy with burden.
It was her unenviable task to deliver the harsh truth of impending death on a cloudless November afternoon.
My father, our surly Michelin Man, so puffed with pride and booze and the hubris of well-earned fortune, had been stuck down with decisive force—like a splintered sapling in an early spring snow storm.
The image of him, readers on, foregoing for once the two fingers of Belvedere someone had poured, holding court in that ancient grey and navy terry cloth robe. Seated by the window, manila folder spread on his lap, holding contracts and financials now urgently requiring his attention.
Finally, after mid-December, there were no more legal hurdles or distractions. He had run out of tasks and out of time.
His eyes became permanently glassy, as if an ocean of regret had filled the holes where the cancer had eaten through his bones before it washed him away.
He died at 71, only 39 days from that sad call, 27 years younger than the old age achieved by his mother, who’d seen the Depression, and World War II, and who lived a life of calloused palms and no fluoride in the water.
Pancake 3: Gramps
Joe Mitchell at 75 looks a lot like a heavy-set version of Robert DeNiro in that movie where he travels around in Dockers and a CostCo windbreaker to visit his children by car, road tripping through his grief.
He is the most joyful broken heart I know. Two-and-a-half failed marriages bookending a life that started generally without affection in Irish Catholic neighborhood of Marine Park, Brooklyn, where he and his 10-year-old compatriots sold feral kittens out of cantaloupe crates down by the docks.
A softie if ever there was one, who often mists and sometimes cries, like when he heard that his 23andme revealed no increased risk for Parkinson’s Disease, which took his father in his early fifties.
Syrup: The Beth List
A Selection of Gramps’ Greatest Hits
1. There is life after childbirth. It just takes a really long time.
2. You get here when you get here and I’ll see ya when I see ya.
3. They’re your kids and they’ll always be your kids and you’ll always do anything for them.
4. Everything is good. What have I got to complain about?
5. Come sit down and relax—I just want to be with you.