Posts Tagged #self-love
someday I’ll love Elaine Olund
(after Ocean Vuong/after Frank O’Hara/after Roger Reeves)
Someday I’ll smile every time
I bump into myself.
Even when that self is a mess,
an ooze, tears and unwashed hair
and regrets that smell like
Marlboro Lights and malt liquor
And I’ll smile even when that self has
a pulsing nose zit and writes terrible poems
— I mean, why not? —
might as well plan for the worst-case.
That someday is
seemingly so near and
sometimes so far
like a wet glimmer always ahead on the highway
an illusion of cool
place I can dive into
dripping wet and laughing
it’s like that
I find myself and lose myself and find myself
again and again
in the stomach-churn backseat of the hot station wagon
sweaty and skinned-knees
appear and disappear as Pennsylvania miles
turn to New York miles
turn to Massachusetts miles
hot sun turns to clouds and clouds
turn to rain
And someday, Elaine, I’ll love the sound of your name
the way I love the sound of the rain
Someday I’ll love even your inconvenient needs
the ones that turn green and churn when interstate
turns to twisty backroads, dark night
you have to pee
not yet Mama says
in a little while
Someday I’ll love you — you used to be called something else,
remember? Lainey the baby who couldn’t wait
Lainey peeing on the side of the road,
hot urine a glowing stream
the one who can’t wait
the one needing
Someday Lainey will reappear
dressed for Halloween in the body of a middle-aged woman
(someday she’ll have to grow up, won’t she?)
— even though oh, she needs
still, even now, she needs and needs — damn it
at the very next exit or 268 miles ahead —
some sweet day that will maybe smell just like the bread my mother
took to baking when she was widowed, just for herself,
just because she wanted to
I will rise up, a miracle, like the punched-down dough
swelling up in a bowl in an avocado-green long-lost kitchen
I will be full, I will be home
I will look at myself and melt
melt like butter on
chewy warm grainy bread, fresh from the oven
I will love every last crumb of myself.
Notes: I’ve been thinking about self-love a lot, how hard it is. How essential and impossible in moments (which is why we need our friends).
I really am drawn to Ocean Vuong’s amazing work.
My piece (not really a poem yet, maybe someday?) is from a fast-write from a prompt based on Ocean Vuong’s “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong” — a poem he notes is “after Frank O’Hara and after Roger Reeves”… which made me curious and google revealed Roger Reeves’ intro to his poem:
We can’t stay in poetry world forever. It’s a poem that I kind of wrote to myself. It’s a love poem, again. I read this poem for my MFA compatriots struggling in the muck of all types of criticism and self-doubt. It doesn’t stop. It will keep going. No, actually I was struggling in my MFA a lot. I don’t know if you guys are the type of poets that are trying to write poems that last beyond your life, which is what I’m always trying to do. I’m always trying to make something that can outlast me, because why else would we make something? Frank O’Hara is a guy I always turn to. He had this one line in his poem — I can’t find the poem again because you know Frank O’Hara has a lot of poems — and it’s a poem where he says “someday I’ll love Frank O’Hara.” I thought, that is the best thing to say in the middle of a poem — someday you’ll love yourself. So I said, I’m going to title a poem “Someday I’ll love Roger Reeves.”
Try it yourself — read Vuong’s poem and then take a deep slow breath and write for 10 minutes beginning with “Someday I’ll love (your name here)” …see what happens.
It’s high time. I have to have a talk with my Self.
I jump right in. It’s going to be awkward, what I have to say. And Self can be very—fragile and defensive. No sense in beating around the bush.
“Self,” I begin (because it’s always good to call people by name, to personalize it, right?) “You are so not perfect. Face it: you’re just human. You make lots of mistakes. You can’t do it all. You will never be perfect,” I repeat the not-perfect part for emphasis, to be sure she’s getting it. “Just relax, Self. Good enough is good enough.”
Self answers, in her most icy annoyed tone: “I never SAID I was trying to be perfect!”
“Then why,” I ask. “Why are you so impossibly hard on yourself when you fall short? When you say the wrong thing, for instance. When you can’t get it all done. Or when your writing isn’t quite—on the mark?”
Self thinks hard.
Self remembers something a friend showed her the other day.
Underlined in a book she doesn’t even know the title of (can you believe she can’t remember?) she read the words of some learned wise person who said that perfectionism is a form of egoism. That it springs from thinking you’re so good you have to do better, be better, be—perfect. And that it’s actually quite generous and healthy and more productive in the end to allow yourself to be imperfect. To treat yourself kindly, to encourage your Self.
Self thinks of the last few days, where she felt so inadequate in her Self and also so damn worried about the state of the world. As if she were falling short by not fixing the world. As if she could somehow do more than her best and miraculously end hate and prejudice and also finish her novel, and meet some deadlines all in one week. She has a choice here: get mad at her Self —or relax.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Self suggests. And as usually happens when my Self and I relax into what is, instead of what we fear, we find joy again and the world suddenly reveals its lopsided and absolutely imperfectly perfect beauty. Everything glows brighter.
Good enough is good enough.
And the sunsets in June are the best.
wild and green
On my wedding day, I was filled with anxiety, mine and my mother’s.
I was wild and green in the ways of the world, though I thought a ceremony in Butler’s green garden would transform me into a more peaceful creature. I stood with my mother, waiting for my intended to arrive. I was there and not there: I firmly remember the carillons that sang and the placid old canal that drifted by, the buzzing droopy-headed zinnias and black-eyed Susans, the old-world rose bushes—all beautiful, contained, tranquil.
Carefree, not wild.
That day I’d turn into a wife, half of a unit, domestic, safe and saved.
On the outside I was transformed already, placid as the canal, sure of myself as the bees were sure of their buzzing industry. Yet I was wild inside, standing there next to my mama, a roiling mass of ancient fears.
Wild like a frightened doe, tired from running, running. Heart beating hard, danger clanging so constantly that mostly I was not even aware of it. Danger simply ran in my veins, and had for as long as I could remember.
Danger was wild in the rivers of my blood. Danger splashed in the waterfall of my heart.
I had no business getting married, but to be wild is, after all, dangerous. Plus, I was tired of being hunted. Somewhere inside I thought being caught would save me.
– – –
Deer were always an obsession for me. As a very small child, I drew deer after deer. I painted pictures of deer, read books about deer. I loved deer and wanted to be a ballerina so I could gracefully move like a deer. And disappear, like a deer.
But deer are wild things. Peaceful, except when under attack. Always wary, though. If a deer is cornered, and cannot run away, if a deer is outmatched and at the mercy of a terrible predator, she cannot hope to win by fighting. In cases like that, she will freeze.
I froze once, like a deer
I froze, like a river
I thawed and ran fast again,
like a deer
Like a rushing stream, like snowmelt
down a mountain
even when perhaps I should have paused to think
I was wild and green all my young self seemed to know
was freezing and rushing.
– – –
On my wedding day, I was young.
Younger even than my 23 years. Being frozen keeps you from growing up. So does running.
I was green. The lushness of the garden, the safe feeling I had next to my intended—gave me a sense that I was on a path. A path that might lead me out of my wildness. My scary, uncontainable wildness.
The path would rescue me from myself.
This was a sweet green notion, a kiwi of a belief, juicy and promising and bursting with seeds of hope.
What I did not know, in my greenness, was that you cannot shed your wildness like a snake sheds her skin. The wildness is inside, part of you.
I was right about the path, though.
It did lead me out, and then, decades later, landed me back in the thicket of myself, heart beating wildly, learning at last to savor the moments of life that stretch across the bones of time like supple muscles. Stretching, tightening, strengthening, and finally, letting go.
I’m still wild and green.
Older now, I have learned to listen to the wind, smell danger, believe the things my own heart tells me, and to love the wild frozen little girl-deer I carry inside. I learned that love does not rescue. Love merely holds your hand, then pushes you to grow. Self-love and every other kind of deep love pushes you to the edges of your self.
And when you grow, you risk.
One person’s sunshine is another person’s scorch.
One person’s neat-cornered bed is another person’s prison.
Sometimes you have to grow alone, in the wildness, where the deer appear and disappear to keep you company, silently.
(I wrote this from a prompt by Natalie Goldberg, “Write about when you were wild and green.”)
I met her in the showers, at the University Recreation Center on the Friday night of welcome week. She was me. But at first, I thought she was someone else, just a random stranger.
Soaking wet, she popped out from one of the two dozen curtained shower stalls. Her skin was pale, her cheeks pink, blooming with life. Wrapped up in a crimson towel, long dark hair dripping, she looked as if I’d startled her, rather than the other way around.
“Excuse me,” she said, over-loud, nearly a shout. I stopped. A flicker of embarrassment crossed her face. She went on, more quietly, “Um, do you know what kind of soap is in those dispensers?” She waved a hand back toward the shower she’d just exited. She was trying to sound nonchalant, but she looked lost.
“Crappy hand soap,” I said. “Need to borrow some shampoo?” I held out my shampoo, and my conditioner for good measure, and she took me up on it.
The locker room at the Rec center is huge, built to accommodate seventy-five women. It was just her—and me. After showering, it turned out we’d chosen lockers in the same row.
Silence hung between us as we clicked open our combination locks.
“You’re a freshman?” I asked.
She didn’t seem to hear. But of course she was a freshman. Alone on the first Friday night on a big campus, anxious—maybe her roommates ditched her? Maybe it was too lonely to sit in the dorm, maybe a swim would help? I felt sure she had only asked me about the soap to ground herself, to feel a little less weird, less alone.
I toweled dry, hooked my bra, slipped on underwear. Her back to me, she squirmed into a pair of compression shorts, the sort runners wear.
“So—what’s your major?”
She looked around, as if to be sure I was talking to her. She pulled her t-shirt on and turned. “It’s called Graphic Communication Design,” she answered, saying the words very carefully, as if they were foreign and she wasn’t quite sure of her pronunciation. “It’s like, you know, advertising, and book design, and stuff.”
I laughed out loud. Her dark brows knotted. I felt her anxiety rise, palpable.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I know exactly what that is, I majored in the same thing here, a thousand years ago.”
She relaxed and met my gaze straight on. “You know,” she said, “I really wanted to study fine arts.” She said it as if confiding a terrible secret, as if it were a little shameful. For a split second, I saw her longing, her passion, for something she didn’t think she deserved.
And that’s when it hit me.
She was me. The me of thirty-some years ago.
I think it’s called projection. Of course, she wasn’t me. But I was reeling back in time, just the same.
She was there to show me how tender and unsure I’d been at her age. How full of promise, buried under suffocating layers of self-doubt.
I recognized her, because I’d seen her expression in my own mirror. And I remembered how cruel I’d been to that girl in the mirror—meaner than I’d ever be to any other human—and the impossible standards I held her to.
Fully dressed, the girl next to me combed her wet hair into a sleek knot.
Just the way I’d combed my hair, at sixteen, the day I’d gone out with a much-older man, feeling cool and empowered behind my own thin mask. How he didn’t take me to a restaurant, as promised, but instead took me to his home. How I didn’t fight him, and how I’d never forgiven myself for my submission, even though his icy eyes had promised worse things if I didn’t pretend to want what he was going to take from me, one way or another.
“There’s nobody home next door,” he’d said with a dead-eyed smile.
The girl slammed her locker shut, bringing me back to the present.
“Goodbye,” she said, picking up her backpack.
I wanted suddenly to run after her, to tell her everything she needed to know about the coming years, how there would be so much joy and so much pain and how nothing, absolutely nothing, would really quite work inside her soul until she could look back and see just how young she was in this moment, and how whatever she would mess up—or think she messed up—she was doing a good job, considering. She needed to know that.
But I didn’t run after her. That would be crazy. Some things you have to figure out for yourself, even if it takes thirty-odd years to do it.
i am running into a new year
i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me
“Yes, Lucille! Yes!” I found myself talking aloud to the book. (Okay, I know, I am crazy.) But she struck a nerve. It is so hard to let go of what I said to myself when I was thirty-six, (and forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight…) It is hard, sometimes, to love yourself enough to forgive yourself for not being who you once thought you might be.
It’s hard to accept your weaknesses as being part of who you are. But sometimes, your weaknesses contain important messages. Running from what I rejected in myself led me into deep confusion. And yes, I’m still confused, maybe I always will be. I’m accepting that as a weakness that helps me question the status quo.
I’m running into the new year, and it feels good. I’m focused on forgiveness and healing, within myself and in the wider world, too.
Wishing you peace and joy in 2015.