Monthly Archives: July 2014

on letting go

I do a lot of long, epic car rides across several states, alone, a few times a year. It used to be the case that I would listen to books on tape. Those were good times. In recent years, I’ve moved to podcasts out of necessity. In the past I’ve written about this one podcast I love called “A Way to Garden.” It’s mostly people talking in really soothing voices about gardening, so yeah, sign me up.

I’ve also been a longtime listener of NPR, and This American Life is a favorite that I frequently miss. So, I always listen to those when I travel. During one of my recent trips, I listened to a show called “Show Me the Way,” which had a story about a boy who ran away from home and attempted to seek refuge with his favorite author, Piers Anthony.

A quote from Anthony toward the end struck me so much that I had to write it down, think more about it, and even share it with you. It was this:

One thing you who had secure or happy childhoods should understand about those of us who did not, we who control our feelings, who avoid conflicts at all cost, or seem to seek them, who are hypersensitive, self-critical, compulsive, workaholic, and above all survivors, we’re not that way from perversity, and we cannot just relax and let it go. We’ve learned to cope in ways you never had to.

Recently, a friend told Z that he wished Z could just learn to “let go.” Z liked the idea and tends to think of himself as too up tight. Though, I think it’s actually hard to know what’s normal stress, awkwardness, anxiety and what’s too much and needs to be “let go.” I’ve been both taken and troubled by the concept.

I’m sensitive to the idea because I tend to think Z might let go too much. I’m biased though because I’m one of the things he’s let go. But I’m not ready. But also I kind of am. And so I can’t help but think, what’s so great about letting go? Maybe holding on could be right sometimes too.

I’m familiar with holding on, following through. Probably too familiar. This is a fault when it comes to things like cleaning out closets or recycling moving boxes, but it is also a strength when it comes to things like finishing a college degree.

But, I’m also taken with the concept because I like the sort of hippy idea of being completely free of constraints–free for adventure, free of stress, obligation, just me and a fast car on a desert highway to Somewhere Else. However, if you’re me, you also quickly learn about balance. For example, I like having time to myself (everyone knows this), but I also like having familial and rewarding work obligations. For example, I might be caught up in a task and maybe I don’t necessarily feel like taking my nephew to the pool one day, but the connection I get from being close to him and going to the pool anyway is always rewarding. I don’t want to let go of those obligations that bring a lot of meaning and satisfaction to my life just because sometimes it is also an obligation.

The Piers Anthony quote shed new light on the idea entirely. Because, you know, I think we do hold on to certain things. Some of it might be inevitable or unavoidable and that’s probably okay and beautiful too. It might help those of us who are uptight in some way, or our friends who are not uptight, understand that it might not always be a choice, and even if it is, it might be a completely reasonable and effective coping mechanism.

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Tenth of December by George Saunders

I recently finished a collection of short stories by George Saunders called Tenth of December. I’ve never read Saunders before and didn’t intend to, but I saw the title in a favorite new and used bookstore and had to pick it up. I’ve always loved the bookstore. It used to be called Earth ‘N Book in La Grande, Oregon. Years ago, it changed hands, and I felt that it wasn’t quite what it used to be. However, I popped my head in on a recent visit to Oregon, and it drew me in—just like a good new and used bookstore (is there any other kind?) always does.

image from usatoday.com

image from usatoday.com

I scanned the new releases, and that’s when the title caught my attention: Tenth of December. You see, that’s a significant date for me. That’s the date that My Love was born. (Though for years I had it in my head that his birthday was on the seventh.) I picked it up and read some praise on the back cover. There was a conversation at the end with David Sedaris—a favorite! I decided to get it as a gift for Z, who would be visiting me in Oregon on his way through. (He is currently on a bike trek from Utah through the Northwest.) So, I bought the book, along with another great book called This is Not My Hat for my nephew. (That book encouraged a good four-year old-appropriate conversation on the ethics of stealing. Z pointed out that it also taught dramatic irony.)

Tenth of December starts with a short story called “Victory Lap,” which is absolutely stunning. It is hilarious and traumatic—something Saunders does very well. He also has a distinct and innovative voice, but doesn’t seem like he’s trying too hard—which means he was probably trying very, very hard. I know that seems so very nonspecific, so I’ll try to elaborate. Saunders does this thing where he integrates these informal aspects of text-speak and typing. So, for example, the “ha ha has” we get when we’re chatting or texting are integrated into his work in a profound and poetic, but (of course) understated way. There are a few good authors who are absolutely genius with their ability to make the colloquial profound (Raymond Carver is among them), and Saunders does that too. But, what’s most interesting, I think, is the way he integrates a really modern colloquial that is clearly influenced by the way changing and omnipresent technology evolves our language.

“Victory Lap” was probably my favorite piece. I also really appreciated “Puppy.” In my opinion, a few pieces were too dark and/or difficult for their payoff, but I am particularly sensitive to such things. As you, dear readers, may recall, I am making an effort to read mostly female authors for the time being. It’s difficult to describe why exactly, but suffice it to say that for my current creative endeavors, I want to have the voices of women in my head.

Despite that current constraint, I picked up and read Tenth of December as quickly as I could. When Z arrived in Oregon, I kept reading it for several days, trying to finish in case he wanted to take it with him on his bike trek. Though it was an emotional rollercoaster, I’m glad I read it. I’m also glad I’ve given it as a gift. I won’t mind that it is in someone else’s care for awhile.

on being replenished

I have a strong sense of home, which, I think, helps me face the world, move to new cities alone, earn degrees, travel, take (measured) risks, etc. The last few months have been emotionally grueling for me, but I am home now and finally feel like I can really take a deep breath. Suddenly, my priorities come into focus.

Photo: vetch

vetch growing wild in the hay fields

Here there is gathering eggs, checking the under ripe fruit, sitting in the yard under a shade tree reading a Laura Ingalls Wilder book I found, Ginger, Jackson, and the cat, the mock orange, wild roses and yellow and joseph’s coat homestead roses in bloom, the new kind of yellow bird that’s made a nest in the front yard, pelicans, baby cones at Little Bear (C-zers soon to follow), the Subaru loaded down with bailing twine, everyone going 5 miles per hour under the speed limit, long walks down gravel roads, long conversations that last all morning and then go late into the night, fresh lettuce out of the garden, eating raspberries off the bush, running to Food Town for junk food I wouldn’t normally eat, having real dirt come off my hands when I wash them, kiddie pools, popsicles, sheep grazing in pastures, one late calf bawling for its mother, gardens growing so fast you can almost see it, knitting up skeins and skeins of yarn, planning the next batch of soap with Mom, making raspberry jam, knowing everyone I see, trading stories of new babies, divorces, car wrecks, illness, and wedding engagements, people dusting off their saddles for rodeo, the linear pattern of cut hay, geometric bales, the breeze, the sun, the temperature—everything I know so well.