Laptop computer with long powercord stretched taut. Child moving at high speed. Flying computer. Little bits of data scrambled on the screen.
Back up your data. (Thank god this wasn’t my computer … but I’m sorry for my husband …)
My soulful, piercing, disconsolate, smirking boy, Hans.
Having just witnessed the ball of fury that is this performance from Katie Makkai (yes, please click this link and watch the video first), I find myself wanting to give her a giant hug. And not for the reason you might think.
Katie gets words like I get words. She can, of course, also memorize a whole hell of a lot of them in a row, and deliver those words with such bravery and sincerity and force (and levity) that I can only sit here and wonder.
But her performance, combined with the mosh pit sample sale I visited this morning in the lobby of a business here in Mill Valley, has compelled me to write today about the word “cute”.
What a horribly overused little word.
Women shopping, no matter if they are responding to shoes or baby clothes or dishes, will nine times out of 10, utter the word when describing what they see. Today I experienced a public bathroom that was being used as a dressing room for athletic wear, and right on cue, when a woman pulled on a top and turned to ask for feedback, the chorus would warble: “Oh, that’s so cute.”
You can hear it, can’t you?
I’d like to emphatically state that perhaps, just perhaps, a white cotton yoga top is not cute. In fact, to my mind, precious few things are cute. Baby animals might be the only true cute things in this world. The yoga top in question was well-fitting. I thought the design was unique, although it had a strange way of framing the woman’s boobs. Her girlfriend did mention that, but still deemed it “cute.”
“Really?” said the wearer, doubtful.
How can a sex-kitten high-heel shoe be cute at the same time an Ugg boot is? It can’t. A sexy shoe is hot, or makes a woman look like a vixen. It is fetching. Or bad, said in a way that takes three seconds for that word to leave your mouth. “Oh, girrl, that shoe is baaaad.” Which means, of course, that the shoe is very good.
What I’m getting at is sometimes one word just won’t do it. You need a good slew of them, to round out exactly how you feel. As Hans is struggling to use interesting verbs to describe his writing, I am cheering for unique adjectives to seep into his storytelling.
I am in a very interesting bitter/sweet position right now. My work, this book that I’ve written, is, like a trickle of a river just being born, seeping away from Mill Valley. There are some parched people out there. People who wished they had it when. People who know someone who needs it now. People who are about to lose it all, and can’t imagine life on the other side. They tell me their stories. My very wise girlfriend tells me, “You’re allowing them to birth their grief.”
Yes. Airing out our grief is part of what we need to do. It’s as normal and healthy as filling our lungs with air to breathe. But oh, why is it so hard sometimes?
I am struck by how I am at the nexus of all this emotion, and yet I am a person who doesn’t exactly emote. And by that I don’t mean that I don’t feel, it’s just that I have a tight seal on that bubbling pot. Before I went into therapy after I was diagnosed, the volcano would erupt every so often, and I’d be shocked at what came out. Like who knew your throat could hurt so much with such a short yet vicious spitting of words? Or how your whole body gets involved when anger comes out. Sometimes, not every often at all, it was sadness and the relief from just letting it all go, and sobbing because that is exactly what every pore of your body longs to do. To expel. To empty. To let it all down.
I’ve written, because I’ve been asked, of what piece of advice I’d give friends of someone who is diagnosed. And I’ve cleverly said that even more than my book, the gift that every cancer patient (and in fact any human being in any situation good or bad) wants is for you to listen. Just listen.
People, it is hard to listen sometimes. It takes a certain amount of self control. You have to not interject what you want to say, and instead just receive what that person has to give. Sometimes it’s over in a minute. Other times, it will take half the night. Or 3 weeks. Or a year.
I’ve had a number of pretty heavy conversations as of late, spanning topics and situations. Because, that is life. It’s sticky and messy and oh, oh, oh so confusing sometimes. We all just want to live in peace, and that is true whether there is some foreign thing attacking us from the inside out, or a relationship that is just not firing on all cylinders like we wish it should, or a job that no matter how hard we try to make it work, it’s just not behaving. Children. Husbands. Health. Stuff.
I’d be lying if I said I am a good listener. I am a doer. I want to fix. And although I just spent all those words saying that one really must just listen, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sometimes I have this need to wade into the deep end with people.
Because if all you’re doing is being a sounding board, and you maybe have something to say that might change things (even the tinest bit), maybe that interaction or interjection could be the tipping point for change. Because, you know, things do tip. It may be something you read that offers a different perspective. Or a comment from a friend that makes you ponder for a moment your position. Or a stranger. Maybe you’ve been teetering on a decision, and all you need is that featherlight tap to hurl you into an action that will change your life.
I just recently learned that the act of speaking raises our blood pressure from 10 to 50%. The act of listening? Lowers it. So with our overall health in mind, both physical and mental, here’s to listening to each other. What we fear. What we hope for. What we wish our life could be like.
Let’s listen anew.
This is my scooter, Buddy. Really. Of all the names, the manufacturer who was clearly gunning for the Vespa crowd, picked the name Buddy. So friendly. And cuddly.
It is rather a contradiction that I own a scooter. I think that motorcycles are really dangerous, and I would never allow my son to ride one.
However, I know that there is nothing finer than riding on a scooter when the weather is hot. And I am very happy to throw Hans on the back of mine and trot him off to soccer practice or school.
At Stanford, I drove a scooter around, and actually got my ONLY moving violation to date, because I didn’t turn off the ignition when I passed the concrete bollards that marked the area where motor vehicles could not go past. When I coasted up to the music building, one of the campus cops on a motorcross bike was there to hand me a ticket. I mean, I was coasting. It was ridiculous. The scooter was lent to me by my boyfriend at the time, a big old football player that didn’t relish the idea of peddling around campus. I loved to put on headphones, listen to “She Sells Sanctuary” by The Cult at full blast, and drive around the campus at night.
I think this is part of my “have fun with life” mantra, tempered by driving slow and always having my left thumb squarely on the horn button. When I drove up to soccer practice the other day to pick up Hans, one of the kids looked at the scoot, then at his dad, and said, “Awww Dad, why did you get rid of your motorcycle?”
“Because I wanted to watch you grow up,” the dad replied.
Funny, I had the same feeling when I was diagnosed. That I desperately wanted to watch Hans grow up. But somehow I don’t equate riding this souped up 10-speed with putting my life on the line.
Maybe it’s a male thing.
Or maybe I already understand that my life is always on the line, even when I’m being careful.