Last night, I was cleaning off my bookshelf. It had, as most things do, become a small disaster. That’s the problem when you have what some might call too many books – and only a small space in which to display them. The others, which are vast and varied, live tucked away in various places of indignity. Some are trundled under the bed. Others are in the closet. There are even an abhorrent number of them boxed in the *gasp* attic. Book Siberia. The Isle of Misfit Pages.
Each book on that book shelf is there for a reason. Some are favorites. Some remind me of other things. Some are rare books. There are a few first editions. I realized, though, that while books tell stories, bookshelves do, as well. I came across my copy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I’d lent it to my mom last summer, and it was her first Gaiman novel. Her bookmark was still stuck between the pages. Somehow, I’d forgotten that she’d read it. Somehow, I’d forgotten about the small, butterfly bookmark. But there it was, a familiar bit of story.
There’s one of Anaïs Nin’s diaries and a copy of Catcher in the Rye that belonged to an old professor of mine. The Nin book bears an inscription about two people who must part, and while neither of us wrote that, the words became remarkably true. The Salinger book wasn’t one I enjoyed at all. It was that professor’s favorite. It was his from when he was a child. It is, quite literally, a piece of his past – from the childishly scrawled block letters to the full name proudly written out and display. Funny, how even our names change as time passes. Even mine. Depending on if you call me Ali or Alison, I can tell exactly when we first met. But back to the two books: they don’t mean what they used to mean to me at all. I thought about giving them away. I thought about giving them back. Ultimately, they’re still there – next to my mother’s tattered copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. They are a reminder that we are all flawed, although not in the way we often expect.
There are also at least four books full of literary criticism. These aren’t things I use every day, but it’s nice to know that Foucault is just an arm’s length from my desk. And Jean François Lyotard’s le différend somehow became my favorite theory, thanks to a professor who encouraged me to think outside the box, then pretend there was no box, and then remember the idea of the mirror box. (That sentence makes sense if you’re a lit major.)
Stacked on one side, there are photo albums from trips I’ve taken, parties I’ve been to, and holidays. There are, undoubtedly, pictures of people I no longer see or speak to, friends who have moved or changed beyond recognition, and several of those who are not living. There are three sketch pads, an old diary, a book about reading runes, and a stack of old letters. A pewter key, with a claddagh handle, sits on display – given to me by my best friend. There’s a tiny measuring tape/level from my old boss. There are, of course, a pile of Neil Gaiman novels, Deanna Raybourn’s, and an entire shelf devoted to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Each idea on that shelf is not just a thing. It’s a piece of who I am. It’s a story of its own. It’s every place I’ve ever been – and a few I intend to go.
If you want to know somebody, look at their bookshelf. Look at what they keep closest on hand. Look past the possibly haphazard arrangement of titles stuffed together too closely. Realize that it isn’t always about looking pretty or perfect. It’s about holding things close and keeping the memories right there. Every bookshelf tells a story. What does yours tell?
This morning, I found myself searching for a word I couldn’t find, the ghost of yesterday’s mascara underneath my eyes. It is strange how some moments seem to count more than others, how a single feeling can stretch out for an eternity, encompassing everything that it touches. In that instance, all the words stop struggling; sentences are entirely rearranged, until idea of language becomes something else. Something tactile, something sacred. A science of atoms, splitting. The way the wind blows through a chime, music lingering the distance. The warm quiet of blankets first thing in the morning. A Sunday spent without obligation.
For this, there are no adjectives, only shadows of them. For this, there are no explanations, only the pale distance between breathes. All definitions have been rendered useless. All equations found perfectly solved. The key is a single word, polished like a diamond. It turns a lock. It slips a chain. It opens a door and shatters a window.
Sometimes, the things we let ourselves believe are the most dangerous. We place our faith in our hearts, not because it is easy or simple. It is because we realize the power in a single ripple, a star found in the sky, when everything has else has faded into the night. Ultimately, what we believe in is what we hold highest. And where there’s truth and trust, there is strength. There’s making the impossible, possible.
What is more miraculous than that?
Neil Gaiman just posed this question on , and the answers are fascinating. But what is more fascinating is the idea that January is a revelation. It is a beginning, a clean slate, a new year. And yet, if I were to think about it seriously, I would say that January reveals us to ourselves. It shows us who we are, what we want, and the things we love – but only if we really pay attention. Only if we are invested.
It is a box made of mirrors, reflecting and refracting the truth of our hearts. Sometimes, we surprise ourselves, finding that we love or want something or someone. That perhaps the plans for the future must change, or are changing. Perhaps we realize that we are so dangerously close to getting all the things we’ve ever wanted – and yet, we are afraid of just that. Because getting what you want/need can be scary. Sometimes, we think we don’t deserve it. Sometimes, we feel like the monster in the middle of a maze: horrid and undeserving. After all, if we weren’t – if we are worthy – then we wouldn’t be where we are, right?
You learn things in January. Unexpected things. And all at once, everything is different. It can be daunting, but there is no turning back. Not really. There’s only the truth of what you discovery and the bravery inherent in it. January is the foundation for the new year, a starting place – not a stopping place, like December. The things that gather aren’t dead, frozen, or ended. They are almost spring, they are just beginning. They are potential, wrapped in possibility. There is always a danger in it. Roads are slick with ice. The wind is a chilling creature. And yet, in the middle of the snow, you’ll find a Bluejay pecking at the ground. A pop of color against the absence of it.
That is January. All the beauty and all the danger of it. If it wasn’t dangerous in some way, it would also not be quite as true. All great things – inventions, hearts, loves, and art – have an element of peril. Everything created is a risk. A strength born of the most fragile of things. It is a vulnerability you dangle out into the world, expecting nothing while opening a door. The door has no lock. If there was lock, it is now broken. You cannot shut it out, again, whatever you have released. Whatever words you’ve said, you’ve said. Whatever words you’ve swallowed, they rise and churn. All things will out.
This is the promise made, when you realize exactly what you want. This is why January is so dangerous.
Sometimes, all you need to say is I’m here. I love you. Even if you can’ t actually do anything. Even if all you can do is listen. Or hug. Or just be there – in whatever way possible. Letting someone know they are not alone? It matters.
I happen to be a fixer. I love the hell out of words, but I’m a doer. If someone has treated you horribly, hold my earrings. You tell me a problem, and I want to solve it. If you have a bad day, I want to help. Yet, there are times where this is not possible.
I’m here. I love you.
That’s it. That’s all. That’s two sentences. But it’s everything, really. It’s everything that matters. When your back is against the wall, when the walls are falling down, when the day is really shitty – and you just want to punch something? I’m here. I love you.
It seems like such a small thing, but it’s what gets us through the difficult times.
I’m here. I love you.
Today, I am an unexpected swirl of emotions I wasn’t prepared for. As if one can prepare for emotions. But I am thinking about this year, specifically how it started. There’s a symmetry in that, I suppose, as it comes to an end. There have been a lot of ups and downs. There has been a lot of change, some expected, some always probable, and some impossible to brace against.
This has been a year of getting closer to things, even as they feel far away. This has been a year of loss, of reaching out, of feelings, of love, of heartbreak, and moments. Some I wish I could erase. Some I wish I could capture in a bottle.
Looking back on everything I did and I said, I would not change a thing. I would live or love any differently. Knowing what I know, I would not walk away. I would not back away. I would not choose to run, if going back in time was an option. As tangled as they are, my choices are a knot I would not undo.
This year has taught me that I am strong. That it’s okay to lean on people. And that I can be braver than I thought possible. Hands shaking. Pulse racing. Words fumbling – sometimes, blurting out haha at the strangest moment possible. Because, hey, nerves make a person do odd things. I said I was brave, not perfectly articulate.
Right now, my head is spinning, because 2013 is just a breath away, and with it comes all the expectations and hopes that a new, clean slate can offer. Perhaps it’s silly, but 13 has always been a lucky number for me. Taylor Swift came late to that party.
I do not know what 2013 will bring. I have wishes, like anyone else. I could tick them off on one hand, with fingers to spare. I’m not greedy. I’m not uncertain. I am oddly, impossibly hopeful. That is my default. That is my starting place, my foundation – even in the face of total calamity. I may be an idiot, but we are nothing with hopes or heart. Nothing.
2012 brought out the worst and best of me, sometimes at the same time. I wrote more short stories than ever. I sent my novel out on submission. (I am currently tearing it apart for what feels like the 900th time. Once more into the breach, dear friends!) I watched life ebb. I watched a last breath. I took chances. And I put myself out there. I realize that not everyone can do that, and by hurling myself into the fray, I did the right thing. Not the easy thing. The right one. That’s all anyone can hope for, because some truths do not come with expectation or ulterior motives. They are simply truth. They are simply real. And that is what matters most – saying things that need to be said, even when it’s fucking hard. Especially then. It’s not about what happens. It’s not about what doesn’t happen.
It’s about how you feel. Sometimes, that is really all we have.
You cannot teach a heart to love. You cannot tell it who to love. You cannot control your heart at all. Your heart controls you. And if you keep that locked up, silent, you are also locked up and silent. There are a lot of things that a person can fix. You can be kinder, more understanding etc. You can fake a smile, wanting it to be real. But cannot command your heart to love or not love, not for all the right reasons in all the world.
At this moment, things are a mess. Life is messy. Life is rarely neat and clear cut. If it isn’t messy, it isn’t real. There’s probably something you’re ignoring. There’s probably something, or someone, you are avoiding. Maybe you’re settling. Maybe you’re gritting your teeth. Maybe you’re lying back and thinking of England. But when we are trapped, it is often by our own hand. It is most often a choice we make, because it’s the easier one. It’s familiar. It’s safer. Maybe, on paper, it’s the right thing. And yet, if this year has taught me ONE thing it’s that life is short. Too short. It is too short to spend time on something or someone that doesn’t thrill you down to your marrow. Consider the options, all of them. Things are rarely as clear cut as we want them to be. I tend to believe that there’s always a way if you want something badly enough. If you care enough. If you love enough.
And the end of the day, we all want two things: happiness and love. It’s that complicated and that simple. And for 2013, what I wish for you is both those things in excess. Wherever you find them, however they arrive. Be braver than you think you are. Be vulnerable. Give in, even just a little, to some kind of madness. Kiss someone you love beyond words. Also: love beyond words. Say the one thing you’ve been holding back, even if it means you’re crossing a line. Say it, because it’s true. Make a wish. Make a promise. Remember that things worth having are not easily obtained. Trust your feelings. Write your own story. Do not stay inside the lines. Do not think of how things are supposed to be. Instead, see them as they are. Be honest with yourself. Lying to yourself, even for the best reasons, is a disservice graver than any lie said by anyone else.
You deserve to be happy. You deserve more than just getting by. You deserve good things. You deserve to be loved for exactly who you are. Sometimes, we forget that.
And if you find someone who loves you for you? Hold on to that. Because that, my dears and darlings, is everything.
I think it’s finally happened. I think I’ve FINALLY become a grownup. Or, at the very least, a rough approximation of one, decently presentable to those who do not know me too well. Tonight, I finished decking the halls, because there weren’t enough hours in my Sunday. Holidays, I believe, should SPARKLE. And sparkle they do. Oh, yes…
Between putting the lights on the stairs and arranging the Christmas bears so that didn’t look drunk (I failed. They’ve surely hit the ‘nog, without me), I came across my mother’s Christmas stocking. I don’t know why I didn’t expect to see it. It wasn’t as if it’d been stolen in the night by the Grinch or a wayward, non-Buddy elf. Still, I found myself unprepared for its reality – for the oddly sort of jolt that reminded me that it won’t be used this year. What does one do with such a thing? It seems cruel to toss it out with the trash. Disrespectful in an odd way. So, unsure of what its fate should be, I stared at it, dumbly, before moving. I needed to search the (horribly marked box – for which I only have myself to blame) for other things.
But then I found another stocking of hers. And another. And yet still another. It all felt very Lucille Ball meets Groundhog’s Day. Except instead of pulling an insanely large loaf of bread from the oven, I got stockings. If she were here, the Lucille Ball part would fit my mother to the ends of it. She was always falling into things like a walking pratfall. I’m not kidding. She would, inexplicably, end up stuck in a trashcan, Rubbermaid container, a box, or even flat in a hole – despite having SEEN the hole and despite having been warned about said hole. She never hurt herself, and she always laughed harder than anyone else. Often, until tears were running down her face. No one could laugh like my mother.
Of course, my mom wasn’t one to have an excess of things, unless she was giving those things to other people. (She liked to give.) However, she liked to be prepared, and she liked tradition – which brings us to the Mysterious Case of the Four Christmas Stockings (Nancy Drew’s lesser known caper). When my siblings and I were small, the whole family had this enormous stockings with our names emblazoned on them with glitter. There is a picture of me in mine as a baby, next to a stuffed monkey. Of course, nothing lasts forever. A few years ago, one of them tore, and my mom (in an effort to keep all things the same and equal) bought us all new stockings. My dad wrote all our names on them, again in glitter. (I should point out my father loathes glitter, so my mother probably forced him to do this.) We all now had backup stockings!
However, the following year, all of the stockings inexplicably vanished. No one could find them anywhere, especially not in the handy box labeled ‘Christmas Stockings.’ Which is not to be confused with the box I labeled ‘Christmas Shit.’ I am classy like that. And, apparently, I like to GUESS what’s in the box. Anyway, the stocking were gone, presumably off somewhere with Carmen Sandiego, assuring that we were stocking-less. My mother, of course, would have none of that. Again, she went out and bought brand new stockings. These were less fancy and labeled with a Sharpie. They were still quite awesome.
The year after THAT, only my mother’s stocking was missing, including the newest addition. So, she acquired a fourth stocking, which accounts the entire pile I unearthed this evening. Each stocking has a story, albeit a slightly silly one. Our traditions and our habits are all stuffed with memories. There isn’t a decoration that doesn’t remind me of my mother. And as I was decking the halls, I couldn’t help but here her voice say, “Are you SURE you want to put that THERE?” Because decorating was always something we did together. (Mostly, I think, because she didn’t trust me to get tangled in the lights. Or put things in silly, ill-advised places. Like that time I…*cough* NEVER MIND.) Even the wreath hanging on the door is something my mother made, something she loved. And yet, through all the things, it was the stocking that caught me off guard, that startled me the most. I think it’s because they don’t have a purpose anymore. They won’t be put out. They won’t be filled. It occurs to me, as I write this, that they need a new purpose. That they can, and should, be turned into something else. Something to be put out every Christmas, to retain the bit of magic that my mother always found in usefulness.
A person may be gone, and a stocking may be empty, but love never goes away – and emptiness is not the ending word. I just hope that I don’t hot glue my fingers together, when attempting to be crafty. Goodness knows, it was never a holiday in my house, unless someone got burnt. Or was nearly lit on fire. But that, darlings, is another tale.
Sometimes, I forget myself.
I will be watching a tv show, or talking on the phone, and then out of nowhere – a scene guts me without mercy. A remark catches me perfectly off-guard. And I either crumble to pieces or fail to find actual words in any language. The other day, I was on the phone, and someone told me that somebody else (who I don’t know personally) has cancer – in a manner very sensitive to what I’ve been through, mind you. And I fumbled for any kind of sentence that sounded right, failed miserably, and just said, “Shit, I think I am actually speechless.”
And it caught me unaware, because I DO talk about my mom’s illness. I’ve talked to friends whose other friends have cancer. I’ve given advice. I’ve offered a shoulder. So, I don’t exactly know why that particular instance knocked my verbal knees out from under me, but it did. It rendered me inarticulate and momentarily useless.
I don’t like that. I don’t like one of my favorite shows (PARENTHOOD) is like an emotional minefield, because one of the characters has cancer. And she’s getting chemo. And she wears button down clothing to chemo, for medically practical reasons. I find myself explaining how to true to life that is, and how my mother used to wear layers and button down clothing, fuzzy, soft sweaters especially. Because that’s what happens when you are pumping poison into your body. A means to an end, a hope that leaves you hurting. The truest kind of bravery I’ve ever seen. But I digress….
The most recent episode of that show totally gutted me. I realize that the smart, sane thing might be to NOT watch. In fact, after each new episode, I vow that I won’t watch anymore. Turn away from the wreck. Read a book. Put music on. And yet, that is ignoring what cannot be ignored. That is running away. That is not the brave or the strong thing. Because all demons get stronger in the dark, when you turn your back. The monster always slinks closer when you blink. Our struggles, our hardships are weeping angels: when you blink, they make their move.
I think part of the problem is that I still want to be me. I still want to be the person people come to with their problems, even if the problem hits to close to home. I still want to watch the same shows I’ve always loved and do the same things. Yes, there’s a gaping hole in my life. And no, there’s no Time Lord with a TARDIS to fix it. But that’s okay. That means there’s no Band-Aid covering a bullet hole. For a physical wound to heal properly, it heals from the outside in. For an emotional one, it’s the opposite. It’s easy to fool with a smile or a joke. You have to heal the other way, from the inside out.
Sometimes, I am softer than I expect myself to be. Sometimes, I don’t want to admit that. I don’t think they’ll ever be a time where I’m unaffected by things. But I know that I’m still me. I’m still the person who wants to lend an ear. I don’t turn away from the things that hurt, because that doesn’t make the feeling go away. It just means I’m too scared to face reality.
And that isn’t who I am.