White Line–Musing on Love’s Education

Driving at night on a dark country road, I always think of someone I once loved who taught me to navigate by the white right hand line. It’s a handy bit of information. I never think of it though, without remembering the relationship, which came to a sad end.
When I bang a jar bottom to open it, when I put raisins or olives in a cooked dish, when I use the expression “God willing and the creek don’t rise,” I think of those who introduced me to these small yet pungent things.

Letter To My Younger Self by Claudia Hagadus Long

Dear Younger Claudia,
You’re sixteen and I’m sixty-one, so obviously I don’t know anything at all about anything, but let me borrow your attention for a minute. Stop reading and look at me.
The world is going to change in ways you can’t yet fathom.
There will be portable phones that you can take anywhere, send messages all over the world, and do any kind of research you want with them, and you can take photos with them. You know how we always said your sister was born with a phone growing out of her ear? Well, almost everyone will walk around with phones growing out of their ears one day!
There won’t be flying air belts, at least none we can use, but you will, eventually, pass your road test and get a driver’s license. You’ll always be a lousy driver.
New York City will become safe and airports will become dangerous. Lyndon Johnson will seem like a liberal. We’ll have a black president and we’ll have women on the Supreme Court. And yet birth control will still be an issue. All that marching around you do will actually have an impact on the world, so keep marching around.
You know how you became sexy last year, after four years of ugly-duckling-hood? Well, you’ll be sexy for the rest of your life, at least through sixty-one. No, that’s not gross, even if you think it is now. And no, you won’t ever see your natural hair color again.
What can I tell you to do differently from what you’ll actually do? I know you’re enjoying the moebius-strip nature of that question. We both know that you won’t take my advice, because, well, you didn’t. You love twisted stuff like that now and you still will when you’re sixty-one.
First: Love your mother. She won’t be with you forever, and there are things she’s dying to tell you. Listen to her stories. Be very kind and don’t judge. One day her stories will be your inspiration and you’ll realize that she never had the chance to tell you everything she wanted to because you were too judgmental. Give her that chance.
Second: Love your brother. You’ll lose him before he’s 29. His spirit will inhabit your son, but it won’t be the same. So love him while you’ve got him.
Third: You’ll marry for love, so don’t settle for anything else. There’s no hurry.  Be as confident inside as you act on the outside.
Fourth: Go far away. Take more time off. Go to Switzerland when you get that offer.  You’ll always regret it if you don’t.
And fifth: When you’re walking to work next week and you’re late…Don’t take a ride from anyone. Please. This one time, please rewind the future and don’t take that ride.
But you will, I know, so let me tell you now, it will be okay in the end.
You will live to at least sixty-one. I promise!
Older Claudia

Criminal Minds

I’ve been stressed out about a practical matter in my life. This isn’t the time or place for details, but let’s just say that although the end is clearly in sight I’m feeling a bit like Hamlet in his soliloquy where he says that things like legal delays and irritating people have put him over the edge. (OK—I’m wildly paraphrasing, but you know what I mean).
So I’m watching trash. My old friend Miriam Bobkoff, a librarian, and sadly now deceased, always quarreled with my use of the word “trash” to describe what she considered “genre” in film and books. To take her point, I’ve always consumed a fairly steady diet of “genre”—preferences running more to spy and suspense plots than straight up murder mysteries.
However, right now, I crave the narrative flavor of wrongs that are righted—preferably within the hour. For over a year, my low rent television consumption was the entire series “House.” It wasn’t even really trash, and it hit many of my sweet spots—crippled protagonist on pain meds (yes!), rare diseases which are catnip to my inner hypochondriac, and longer lines of story/character development which I love.
Then I finished, life got more complicated, and I stumbled upon “Criminal Minds” which is basically composed of things I hate—violence, sex crimes, serial killers, menaced women and children, stock characters, no basic conflict other than generic good vs. generic evil…And I’m watching it. Quite a lot.
I feel better when those psycho killers are profiled as…psycho killers. And caught and locked up. I wish my own problems—both internal and external—were as tidy.

Letter To My Younger Self by Cheryl Marita


I have come back for you.  I know you.  I am you. I love you.
You don’t know, at ten, what you will know at seventy, that you are lovable,  capable of loving others.  At ten you only know rejection by your birth parents, by your adopted  alcoholic father and your angry mother, by kids who ridiculed you as they called you Cheryl the Barrel, by nuns who stole money from you and lied to your family.   
You don’t know at ten that the rejection, with all of its limitations,  will be the building blocks for you to stand on as you grow into a woman with resilience.  The limits that were set pushed you farther into books, into the library, into a fantasy land where you were safe.  You didn’t know, on your sixteenth birthday, the day you got your first job, that you would learn how to navigate a world you would live in for 50 years, years to develop wisdom and gratitude. 
The building blocks that you toiled under at ten taught you to be a lifelong learner, to push past the restrictive beliefs of adults in your neighborhood.  You stood on those blocks  to raise yourself up out of a life of fear.  Those blocks became the foundation of a life of success, caring, and ultimately, a pursuit of what you wanted a ten, to be a writer. 
The books,  the bravery you want at ten are what you will enjoy at seventy.
You will be loved, by family, friends, animals. You will love.   You will develop strength and  stamina.

You will be Cherished Cheryl

Letter To My Younger Self by Heidi Vanderbilt

Kid, some advice.
Don’t pretend things are okay when they’re not. Watch your temper. You look sweet, ringlets, ankle socks, but you can hang on in a fight until the other guy chews his leg off. That makes you think you can stand anything, but you can’t. You won’t forget your parents slamming doors. He slams. She slams. The full length mirror shatters to the floor. You cut your foot. Your bi-polar mother throws her best friend out of the car to walk home. Your mother throws you out of the car to walk home. Her lovers. His lovers.
Don’t find the worst thing ever and invite it in, marry it. Ditch the guy with fists. Lose the stoner, singing’s not enough. Wait. 
Don’t believe you’ve got life licked, got it worked out, that you’ve arrived. You will never arrive, trust me. You’ll never feel comfortable for long, no matter how much you want it. You’ll never feel safe. You’re someone who waits at stations, misses planes, sleeps rough in stables. You smile at the hobos that live beside the tracks at the foot of the hill. Through campfire smoke, they smile back.
At twelve you run away, take a bus to to Penn Station, sit on a bench all night then walk home in time for breakfast, broke. At thirteen you’re auditioning for shows. At fourteen you‘re on tour, playing the younger sister in a loving family. The cast, drinks between shows, runs wild through a cemetery, vomits on gravestones, sleeps with each other in twin beds, four to a room, on the couch, the floor. All night, the Kingston Trio repeats itself: Lemon Tree; Five Hundred Miles. You can hear the whistle blow. You steal his undershirt to keep his smell close to you. Back home when the tour’s over, you kick your way through Central Park barefoot. Strangers yell at you. “You’ll cut you feet  without shoes! Stupid girl! Where do you live? Where are your parents?” By sixteen you live alone in lower Manhattan,a special kind of lonely. Deadbolts, incinerators, switchblades. At night you climb to the building’s roof, bend back over the parapet, turn the sky upside down. 
Don’t fall. 
I wish I could help you, tell you that the feel of the park path on your soles, rough, hard, dry, or wet with sooty rain and dog piss, will carry you through the rest of your life. I wish I could tell you while you’re still a kid that when you’re old—and you will live to be older than I am now—it won’t be the sulfurous urban night sky you’ll recall as you drift off, nor your view dangling from rooftops, aimed at the street. Instead, you’ll draw stars up through gnarled feet, through the misstep into dog shit, skidding off rocks in the Rambles between mating men, horse drawn carriages, and cops. 
Wade into the boat pond, Heidi. One day you and your husband will teach your son to sail.

What Does It Mean To Do The Easy Thing First?

Fatema Mernissi, the Moroccan feminist and author of the memoir Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood says that her grandmother once told her: A woman’s life is hard. Do the easy thing first.
I’ve often thought about this, without the sense that I fully understand it. Certainly, women’s lives are difficult in specific ways. For many of us of us, our grandmothers’ lives were harder. I assume Mernissi’s grandmother was talking about not just disempowerment and patriarchy, but also obligation and character. And perhaps also desire, and hope.
So, what does it mean to do the easy thing first? I’ve tried to practice this when I’m frazzled and overwhelmed. Water the garden. Grade papers. Tidy up. Grounding things that I know how to do, that need to be done. It works.
But what about doing difficult things—long put off projects, delayed honest conversation, harsh fiscal realities? It seems like here I have to struggle against procrastination.
On the other hand, the older I get, the more I respect easy. The marriage that seems meant to be. The grant project that appears to write itself. The obvious next step in taking care of something. Should I post my grandiose solution to the world’s ills on Facebook or should I volunteer or get to know my neighbors? Small is “easy.” I’ll do it first.

Meow Wolf Image (where whatever you do is easy!)

Letter To My Younger Self by Devon Miller-Duggan

Letter to My Younger Self,

You are, in fact, almost as smart as everyone keeps telling you. But it means a lot less than they tell you it does. And your teachers and parents talking about it constantly is as invasive as you feel it to be, especially when they turn it into a weapon with which they expect you to beat yourself into conforming to some idea they have of what you should be doing with your “smart.” And it will turn out that you had trouble reading and trouble dealing with both too much and too little stimulation and with memorizing things because that’s how your brain is wired, not because you are lazy or defiant or defective.

You are not responsible for your parents’ happiness. You cannot fix their marriage, and you did not break it in the first place. Furthermore, your mother is not the “Good Guy” and your father is not the “Bad Guy.” His bad behavior is just a lot more obvious. It’s okay to love them both anyway, and you will get to a point where doing that doesn’t hurt. It’s also okay if they have to die before you get there; it won’t mean you’ve failed.

You were not fat at 14, and even when you become the size you were told you were, you will have a life full of love and adventure and wealths you can’t even begin to define now.

You are not going to win the Nobel Prize for literature. Stop caring about being “Norton Anthology Great.” It’s the wrong standard. You will keep writing. That is much more important than some definition of greatness you’re holding on to. Being a working artist is going to turn out to be enough. Well, not really enough, but close enough for gratitude.

Let that nice young man teach you Tai Chi. He likes your body and wishes it well.

You’re going to regret not letting those two boys you didn’t know teach you to surf, but it was probably a good call anyway.

Just because you’re “spoiled” doesn’t mean you have to have a sense of being “special.” “Special” turns out to be pretty meaningless. See paragraph #1.

Take the anti-depressants the first time they’re offered to you, not the 12th. It will save a lot of anguish for everyone. They don’t mean you’re weak. You don’t deserve and didn’t earn the pain. Your genetics suck and your environment was infelicitous—which is to say, you were screwed from the get-go. Get over it. Your pain does not make you special, either, though your ability to keep moving against it is pretty spiffy and it’s okay to be a little self-congratulatory about it; gratitude will still do you more good.

Thanks for sticking around.