Picking right up. . . on grace

I’m imagining, little blog o’ mine, that at some point, I’ll feel the need to address what kept me away for nearly two years to the day, but that is not this post. . .


This one is all about grace–a word that’s on my mind a lot these days.  I think about it.  I invoke it.  I try to embody and enact it.  And yes, I’m talking grace of the divine variety.  Don’t worry:  I haven’t come back with a new soapbox.  I prefer to live my faith a la Mr. Rogers (of the ‘hood)–being it and not so much yammerin’ on about it.  In fact, this divine grace thing has something to do with that.

This grace is a conscientious, deliberate kindness, offered even especially to asshats and their like, in the spirit of shared human imperfection in all its glory.

There are two women I know who have this down:  my friends Heather and Lee.  They had it down before Glennon Doyle Melton started writing about it.  They were doing it before I read Brene Brown and Anne Lamott.  Some fourteen years ago, they were the women I most admired.  I didn’t know why at the time.  They were both gorgeous, glowing really–the disgusting kind of beautiful people who could seriously rock a potato sack.  They were warm.  And they were both loved and beloved by friends, family, colleagues, and students. They were good at everything, and it all looked so damn effortless.  I just wanted to be them. . . right down to the purses and hair product (It’s true.  They’re that fantastic.  Even root-lifter and Coach seem doable.)

But it wasn’t effortless.  I know that now.  It was grace.  It was thoughtful and deliberate, and it meant near-constant mindfulness and attention.  And this–THIS–is why grace is such a gift and why I’m trying to add it to my repertoire (where, frankly, it is having a bit of a time squeezing in to the little vacancy between my tendency to call it like I see it and its sibling tendency to want to kick insensitive people in the head).  Grace means not only forgiving someone for having a case of the bad-hangover, post-breakup, at-least-I-wish-that-was-my-excuse Mondays.  It means holding space for them.  It means trying to understand them.  It means giving them the extra special bit of whatever they need in that moment because you’ve been grumpy, too, and because we’re not all always at our best and because isn’t it nice when someone gives you some leeway and an understanding pat on the fanny (or back or wherever you happen to prefer your physical reassurance)?  It means constantly remembering that this person in this moment is not his words or her attitude or that terrible grimace but is, first and foremost, a person.

Because I’m clumsy and awkward and fantastically flawed–and yes, even an asshat–so many times in any one day, I love having gracious people around.  I’ve sought them out.  I’ve populated my facebook friends list with them.  Grace is where it’s at.  But here’s the brutal little nugget of truth about grace:  it is a lovely thing to receive, but HolychubbylittlenakedbabyJesus is it hard to give.  Especially on days when I’m having my own bout of sourface.

And so, two months early (because this is definitely going to take more than a year), I’m declaring grace to be my word of (late 2013 and) 2014.

And with that, the misadventures are back in action.


If I evaluate 2010 based on how well I met my list of objectives, then the year was one big flop.  I may have done a little bit of one or two of those items, but for the most part, I’m in very much the same rut now as I was then.  That is, of course, if I want to consider it a rut and if I want to evaluate my year based on a rattled-off list of activities that I one day decided would make my life perfectly balanced and enviable–activities which, by the way, probably reflect more of other people’s priorities and happy-makers than they should.*

Blegh.  No.  Let’s not.

When I remember 2010, I definitely won’t be remembering that I didn’t cook a new dish every month or that I didn’t read enough books, nor will I congratulate myself on figuring out how to keep this giant house clean most of the time and learning how to better manage my workload.  I won’t think about any of the garbage that caused major changes in how I felt about where and with whom I work.  Those aren’t the things going into the 2010 files in permanent storage in my brain.  Nope.  Not even a little.  And that’s probably another compelling reason that choosing a word for the year, instead of a list of resolutions, works better for me.  For 2011, I’m going with

Sometimes mine gets lost. . . and those are the less attractive moments of life.  Sometimes I need a new one.  Often, if I think about someone else’s, I’m more kind and patient.  And seeking out and experiencing alternative ones always makes me a better person–sometimes more informed, sometimes more conscientious, but always somehow better.

So this year will be dedicated to perspective:  to seeing things from multiple angles and distances, to maintaining an authentic one, and to remembering that they’re all relative.


*Note to self:  Look, kid, you’re 33.  And you’re not a silly little inexperienced, immature 33 either.  You have your shit together. . . at least a good part of it.  That doesn’t mean it’s too late to branch out into new things.  Of course it doesn’t.  Don’t be ridiculous.  It does, though, mean that you should be beyond trying on other people’s priorities and lives.  This isn’t a costume party.  And you’ve never liked the available slutty girl costumes anyway.

Taking My Own Advice

To open my memoir assignment, I quote John Barth:  “The story of your life is not your life.  It is your story.”

When I found this quote in one of Nancie Atwell’s fantastic books, it resonated way down deep in my belly.  I have repeatedly found power and agency in my rewriting of the events I’ve experienced.  Some shitty, maybe even tragic day?  That is the day that I became a survivor.  Someone handing down a life-sucks-style lesson in human screw-overs?  That is the day that I learn that my moods and outlook do not depend on others and do not require external affirmation.  Some everyday amazon.com box waiting on my door step?  That is the day I arrive home to a very exciting present (even if I bought it myself.  even if it’s nothing more than a replacement ink cartridge.)!

I talk to my students a lot about how in writing–especially in memoir–you have the ability to take control of an event, to write something as you choose to remember it, with your very own personal slant.  We also have a lot of fun conversations about how there are fantastic stories to tell in everyday events.

Somehow, in the first two weeks of a semester that has already proven to be one of the most hectic and headachy (because of a whole lot of nonsense but also because of my perspective, of course), I forgot all that.

Well, no more, Eeyore.

This is, after all, my story.

Letter to Me

I learned from Tiffany about this sweet project and had to participate.

Dear 22-year-old Bee,

I am proud of you.  I am proud of you for walking away from a 9-month marriage.  I’m always proud of you for getting over your worries of what others are going to think and doing what you, in your gut, know is right.  (Some of the most incredible things you do are things like this.)  I know it’s still hard to figure out what’s really your gut and what’s other voices sitting on your shoulders, but when it’s your gut, you feel it.  Pay attention to that.  Learn that feeling.  When it’s your gut, you can proudly fight for it, defend it, and pronounce it loudly and publicly.  You’ve worked hard.  You’ve worked very hard.  And realizing that you didn’t respect yourself anymore, and then realizing that was the sign that it was over—well, those are smart, commendable, brave things.  This is going to be one of the most valuable things about you—your ability to accept responsibility for mistakes and to make things right.

I want you to remember that just because you can’t explain your choices doesn’t mean they’re bad choices.  First off, people who are interrogating you regarding your choices are out of line.  It’s your life, chickpea.  You are the person you have to live with.  Do you get that?  No one else’s opinions matter because those aren’t the people whose consciences you lie with on your pillow at night.  It’s really no one’s business why you want to do anything, and truly good people—the only people worth your time—will support your decisions simply because you’re doing what feels right for you.  You don’t really know right now why you want a Ph.D.  You just do.  That’s fine.  Go for it.  Oh, and that gut feeling you have about teaching developmental writers at a community college?  Hold on to that one, too.  Yeah – it doesn’t seem to make sense with the Ph.D. business, but just go with it.  You have found your joy.  Don’t let it go.

Now, let’s talk about boys.  I know that inside, you’re still an awkward, gawky, socially inept little Urkel of a girl.  And now, with the divorce, you somehow feel like damaged goods—like some poor sap would be doing you a favor if he graced you with this company, even just physical company, for a bit.  That, sweet cheeks, is complete BULLSHIT.  I don’t want to ruin the adventure or all the learning experiences for you.  Those make you who I end up being, which is a pretty kick-ass woman.  So instead, I will say this:  You deserve to be adored.  This isn’t Oprah speaking.  It’s me. . . you. . . in the future. . . the you who eventually is adored as she should be.  So act on this differently than any self-help reading material. 

You deserve to be adored.

I respect your right to choose sometimes to just hang out with a guy or even sleep with him just because you don’t particularly feel like being alone.  But when it comes time for the big commitments—anything over even just a couple months—you shouldn’t have to work at making things better, and you damn sure shouldn’t have to convince anyone that you’re worthy of love.  If the assclown (One of your favorite people on the planet is going to teach you that word.  Listen for it.) doesn’t adore you, he doesn’t deserve you.  I don’t mean that he tells you you’re pretty either.  I mean that he knows your heart—knows how loving and generous you are, knows how good you believe people are and how much that impacts the way you move through the world, knows how driven you are to help, knows that little things make you blissfully happy—and cherishes all of that as a beautiful gift.  Until you find that guy, keep looking. 

Don’t stop giving of yourself whole-heartedly, though.  That’s also one of your charms.  And yes – you’re going to have your heart broken more than once, and it’s going to hurt bad, bad, bad.  But the same thing in you that feels hurt so intensely is what feels joy more intensely than most, too.  Embrace it all.

Embrace whatever makes other people tick, too.  You’re going to figure out soon that not everyone can find and appreciate the jewels in others, especially when those jewels are hiding.  This is something you’re good at.  You’re good at making people feel valued, just like Mr. Coccari did.  You’re good at showing people the good in themselves.  Don’t lose that.

And don’t lose your effervescent joy.  Yeah – you stay blonde, and yeah, the joy in combination with blonde will often lead people to question and maybe even challenge your intellect.  You will soon find, though, that another source of joy is watching people’s expressions when they realize how wrong their first impressions of you were.  There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be happy.  It doesn’t make you shallow or stupid.  In fact, the really happy people in the world are the ones like you who choose it. 

Besides, it’s never about proving anything to anyone.  Nothing good ever comes from trying to prove something to someone.  Do your thing.  Own it.  Let the naysayers go home and whine about how their tails keep falling off.

Sweet girl — you’re about to become who you’re going to be.  A little while after that, you find so much happiness that you wake up and go to bed waiting for the sky to fall and screw it all up.  But it doesn’t. . . because the kind of happiness you find is the happiness that comes from following your gut and doing what brings you joy.  It really is as simple as that.

I adore you.



Sorry, Sister (or the one in which I disagree[-ish] with a Saint)

*Background Information:  When I was a sophomore in high school, I wanted to be a nun.  We weren’t Catholic.  This didn’t matter.  I saw a group of nuns at an amusement park and immediately became fascinated with them–especially the young one wearing grey.  My mom was dismayed at the news but having survived my fascination with death the year before, I think she counted on this being another phase.  And while I may have decided the clothes and abstinence weren’t for me, and though my dissertation research along with this film left me with a nasty taste in my mouth where nuns and developmental disabilities are concerned, I still really like the idea of nuns, and I admire and respect women who choose that path.  So that I’m openly disagreeing (even disagreeing-ish) with a nun who was later deemed a saint is a pretty big frickin’ deal.

Saint Teresa de Avila said “Be gentle to all and stern with yourself.”  I know this because I’ve been doing some light research lately, looking for affirmation from people much wiser, older, and more published than I.  I want someone whom I respect (or could learn to) to express in an articulate, fancy way an idea that I’ve been rolling around in my head like a rough boulder in one of those manual rock tumblers:  that while discipline, hard work, perfectionism, and the like may lead young people to become conscientious, contributing citizens, once they become adults, what people really need is to be gentle with themselves.

Sorry, Sister.  Ya got it wrong. . . at least a bit.

I hold myself to much higher standards than I hold others.  I don’t necessarily believe that’s a problem.  In fact, that’s probably as it should be.  But the microscopic critical lens with which I evaluate every single moment of my life is turned up to much too high a magnification and consulted far too often.  Existential insomnia is an almost nightly ritual around here. . . which makes no sense considering I’m not a middle-aged balding male who’s never owned a cherry-red convertible.   And I know I’m not alone in this.  There is a type of person (I happen to love many of these types) who will lie awake at night for hours reflecting on something stupid he/she said. . . and it’s not so much productive reflection as it is just plain battery.  People beat themselves up, worrying about things that are completely inconsequential to everyone else in the world (which is the real problem, this inability to find anything close to a reasonable perspective). 

On some level, this penchant for self-analysis and the corresponding desire to be excellent at pretty much everything has its benefits.  (Duh.  We don’t pick up bad habits that are all bad.  We started them because they did something for us at some point.)  And I could go all economics analogy here and draw out a lengthy explanation of the law of diminishing returns, but that’s no fun, so instead, I’ll just say this:  at some point, Saint Teresa, we all need to be gentle with ourselves as well.

On the phone with my mom last night, I reported, “I got the cabinetry and the walls painted in the bathroom.  I still have to do the trim.  And after I finished with the cabinets last night, I got another flower bed cleaned and Preened.  I’m doing my last load of laundry right now, and then I’m going to start planning classes.”  This was not listing of accomplishments in search of praise.  I know it looks like it.  But it wasn’t followed up with an, “Isn’t that great?!” or “Can you believe it?!”  Nope.  This was my bemoaning the end of my little break between semesters because I hadn’t gotten nearly enough done.  It was followed up by a long list of things I wanted to get done over break that just weren’t going to happen.

Seriously, Bee?  Sounds like someone needs to put on the head removal boots and apply them to her own arse.

I know a lot of moms do this, but I’m not even a mom yet and already my self-flagellation is way out of control.  It’s not just a woman thing either.  I can think of three males without even trying who do the same sort of thing.  And I want to grab them all (myself included) by the shoulders, shake them severely, and yell, “Snap out of it, you assclown**, and give yourself a break!” 

Look — being stern with yourself works when you have a major deadline.  It might get you out of bed an hour early to get that morning jog in.  It might keep you up an hour later at night to get the laundry folded and the kitchen sink shiny.  But stern is not a way of life.  Correction.  Stern is not the way to live.

I think we’d all be a lot happier if we were gentle with ourselves the way Saint Teresa wants us to be gentle with others.  What if we accepted our own flaws, shortcomings, insert-Chucks-in-mouth moments as graciously as we did others’?  Well, most of those things would probably stop being categorized as flaws.  And then we’d probably like ourselves a little more.  Oh, and sleeping. . . there would be more sleeping.  Or, at the very least, we could spend those insomniac hours doing something more productive with all that brain power.  Like planning the week’s menu, dreaming up ways to stop a really big oil leak, or just reading really good books.

I know the first rule to learn is to treat others as you would like to be treated.  It is important vital that we see everyone around us as humans, more like us than not, deserving of humane treatment.  I think at some point, though, we may need to be reminded how to treat ourselves as we treat others.

Then again, I’m no Saint.

**Assclown is my favorite word that Stef uses.  It comes to mind often when I’m thinking about giving someone I love a “snap out of it” talk.