Deal with it

My daughter idolizes you, Donald Trump. You’re the star of her comics, and she does a killer impression of you. You’ve infiltrated her ten-year-old psyche. You’re rich, and she has a thing for money. You’re powerful, and she craves power. Plus, you’re funny, and she has a great sense of humor.

Not to disappoint you, Mr. Trump, but Hillary has my vote. Still, I pay attention to my kids, so my daughter’s infatuation with you has given me pause. I’ll admit it, I’ve given your candidacy some consideration.

Every time my daughter tells her brothers to DEAL with it, I think of you.

You’re scrappy, Mr. Trump. You started out small, with only a $1M investment from your father. Everyone deserves an investment, if not in money then in time and attention. I hope my kids make the most of my investment in them, same as you. You’ve worked your way up, worked tirelessly to put your mark on the world.

My daughter knows exactly where to find your tower on the Chicago skyline.

I hear you’ve got a concealed carry permit, Mr. Trump, and I like knowing that you want to defend yourself. Like I teach my kids, you’ve got all the tools you need within yourself.

Good, honest people should feel safe inside and out.

I like how much you want to protect us Americans, Mr. Trump. When you say you want to build a great wall on the Mexican border, I know how much you want to keep us safe. Trust me, I wish I could put a layer of cement between my kids and the rest of the world. Sometimes I even want to protect them from one another.

But one thing I’ve learned is that once you start putting up walls, parts of you die.

I know you care about the world, Mr. Trump. I’ve been to Vegas, I’ve seen what wonders you’re capable of producing with a bit of money and raw materials. And I know you’ve got to tear down the old before you can build the new. So when you suggest bombing the hell out of ISIS, part of me gets where you’re coming from, Mr. Trump.

Like I tell my kids, when you’re mad it feels really good to punch someone, anyone. But it’s funny, when you hurt someone else, you’re always hurting yourself, too.

When you suggest deporting Muslims from the U.S., Mr. Trump, I think you’re just scared. Everyone has their fears, but be careful, Mr. Trump. Fear can make you reductive, and even worse, reactive. I’m not proud to admit the relief I felt when a bully was removed from my daughter’s class a few years ago, never mind that the bully was just one child in a class of twenty, acting out, making a desperate plea for help. Never mind that all children act out at some time or another.

It’s simpler to shut down in the face of adversity than to face our fears head-on.

I like how you want to invest in mental healthcare for veterans, to treat the invisible wounds of war. It’s introspective of you, Mr. Trump. Everyone has those subconscious wounds, you know. I know I do. I often wonder what scars my kids will bear by the time they escape their childhoods, what damage I’m inflicting on them, or they are, to each other.

Mr. Trump, I see how you want to send all kinds of trouble packing, to lock it up somewhere so we Americans can find the solitude to consider the best course of action to ensure a safe future for ourselves. Trouble is, Mr. Trump, solitude is a luxury that even most Americans can’t afford, and silence is virtually unattainable these days. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about with three kids at home.

If you can manage to calm your thoughts though, you’ll find the quietest place on Earth right inside your own head. It doesn’t matter what’s raging outside.

I believe you really want to be a nice guy, Mr. Trump, and I have an idea for you, a gentle suggestion. Take your own advice: Deal with it. In fact, let’s all try it, regardless of race, orientation, or belief. Deal, as in cope, rather than confront or bargain. Be still. Look inward, be honest. Acknowledge your emotions. It’s difficult to weather the storm, I know.

You’ll probably find that you remember things that you haven’t thought of in years. You’ll recall what your life was like before you became a success. You’ll remember hurts, fears, and doubts that you’ll probably wish had remained buried. But it’s never all bad: You’ll also recall loves, and joys, all the small things that have lit you up inside over the years. And that’s when you’ll know what you’re made of.

It’s hard to admit that we really are all made of the same stuff.

Like I tell my kids, eventually the storm will pass. Your emotions will settle down, and you’ll be able to build something new from all the rubble.

Photo via
Photo via

I’ll never be a poet


I didn’t always know how to use a dictionary.

You’d think I’d have learned earlier than I did. I always liked dictionaries. My mom’s tattered old American Heritage dictionary led me to a long flirtation with the brilliantly displayed Oxford American at the library. I can still picture that Oxford glowing under a spotlight on a wood pedestal almost too perfect to touch.

I had a few amazing English teachers in high school – one who loosed Randall Jarrell, Oddyseus, and Shakespeare on me in the same year; another who taught me how to frame an argument; and my favorite, who insisted on last names and demanded nothing less than my best work – but none of them made much of a deal about the dictionary. I left high school wanting to know more about words as much as I needed to.

At college, I studied English with a minor in writing. I felt passionate about words but I still didn’t own a dictionary. This was in the mid-90’s, before the Internet was a big thing and when books still came on paper. Like any 20-year old, I thought I knew myself.

Junior year I took a poetry-writing class that changed everything. My very favorite professor taught the class. She was older, maybe pushing 70 at the time, and a nun – if you recall, this was a Catholic women’s college. But my favorite professor was snappier than the usual nun, and she was smart, in the cool sense. For many years she taught English at a prison. She was bold yet down to earth.

When I began the poetry class, in late August, I was an expert on me. I had breezed through three years of college with almost straight A’s. Grades still mattered, a lot. The week before Thanksgiving, I missed a syllable in a metered piece that I read aloud in class. It was a careless mistake and a peek in my nonexistent dictionary would have prevented it. After class, my favorite professor told me I’d never be a poet. By the time I finished the class in mid-December, my voice abandoned me and I began to hate myself.

That mistake wreaked so much havoc on my life that I just have to laugh. I whole-heartedly blame the missing syllable for my first round of grad school rejections, since I foolishly asked my favorite professor to write a letter of recommendation. I sometimes hold onto relationships until long after they are dead. I hold the missing syllable accountable for my selective mutism when I finally did eke my way into a graduate program.

Still, it took another five years for me to land a job as an editor. It took five years of feeling like a fuck up until I stumbled into my new boss’s office and saw the dictionary sitting on her desk like the Bible. My boss led by example and was never the type to hold my hand. Instead she handed me a shiny new copy of Webster’s 11th and told me to go find myself in it. It wasn’t easy but I wanted to impress her, so I did it.

I’m still not a poet. But I am an editor.

My algebra teacher was a prophet

A long time ago, when I was a kid, I used like being sick. I got sick a lot. I caught colds all the time, I had at least a sinus infection a month. My mom drove herself crazy dragging me to the doctor; I even had sinus surgery.

Only I was faking. For several years while I was in my early teens, it felt safer somehow to hide out at home, so I exaggerated my pain. I liked being sick, and I didn’t mind that I wreaked havoc on my life. I flunked math, and to this day I can’t do much beyond addition and subtraction. Complex equations elude me.

Around the time that I had that surgery, I had a really cool algebra teacher. I remember him with crystal clarity despite missing most of my time in his class. Mr. Cross was older, cute, male, and funny, and he liked me; in other words, he was perfect. He showed concern about my lack of mathematical ability, but much more compellingly, he showed an interest in me. Nothing out of place, just genuine concern for a girl who he could tell was stumbling.

He wrote me a message in my yearbook, and I’m telling you, I still think about it on a regular basis. He wrote, “Good luck, Christi. You’ll do great if you just stop being sick.” I liked Mr. Cross. I admired him, and I wanted his approval. So I did it. I stopped being sick.

You know, I still caught the occasional cold. I had not seen my last sinus infection. I just stopped using my colds as excuses to hide out at home. It wasn’t easy.

Years passed, and all the typical things happened: college, marriage, more college, work. And a few years into adulthood, I found myself in the gastroenterologist’s office with a bout of acid reflux. I followed the doctor’s instructions and traded spaghetti, wine, and chocolate for a daily pill that took the pain away. Just because I didn’t call myself sick doesn’t mean that I wasn’t.

At 28, I hesitated before I got pregnant with Anna. My medicine was off-limits for pregnancy. In blind faith I went cold-turkey, and I thought of Mr. Cross. I’d like to say that I willed his yearbook message to be a prophecy, but it was more like desperate hope than anything.

Blind faith paid off and I’m not sick anymore. But Mr. Cross was no prophet, only an algebra teacher smart enough to know that when you find the flow in life, things work themselves out. Thanks for the equation, Mr. Cross.

Come on, edit me

Edit me.

I can’t exactly explain how this concept came to me. You’ll have to content yourself with the knowledge that it arose from deep within my subconscious.

I will admit that I’m drawn to the way “edit me” sounds vaguely dirty, sexual. It’s true, right?

Why the mixture of languages? Why edit moi? It opens the toolbox of language(s). It complicates, it captures a certain sense of everythingness. It includes. Mixing fights the limits of language.

Last week, a friend shared a post from this blog, coincidentally on the same subject. The blogger is quite religious, and on those grounds he rejects the necessity of editing himself. I’d describe him as radically self-acceptant and I’d lie if I told you that I wasn’t envious. But I just don’t have that much certainty in any single religion.

For me, editing is a process. For those of you who don’t know me or have never read my resume, I worked as an editor for a number of years. The company I worked for is old and venerated. I learned from the best. I know what I’m talking about when it comes to editing.

The editor takes the raw material and corrects it of course, but she does more than that. She shapes the narrative, ensuring that each concept flows logically to the next. She knows roughly what she wants to produce, and she teases the writing to create that reality. She is a gatekeeper to understanding, pushing the limits of language to guide the reader on the path that she has chosen for him.

So what do I mean by “edit me,” and how can a blog accomplish this? A few months ago, I confided in some friends about my recent inner turmoil. One commented, startlingly, “You always seem so perfect.”

I’m not perfect. But I’ve so carefully created a singular version of myself — in opposition to my father, my sister, my aunt, my grandmother (people I’ve written about and will write of). This version is incomplete. Yet if you glance at the facts of my life as I usually present them, that glimmer of perfection shows.

This presents me with many difficulties. It’s hard to hide so much about myself. It goes against my open nature. To preserve the singular version of perfection, I’ve denied myself a lot of fun. I’ve never allowed myself to mess up, to break the rules. And what of those hidden truths? I’ve realized that hiding parts of myself, or locking out people I love, only redoubles their power over me.

Everyone needs an editor. It’s a job that you cannot accomplish on your own, even on paper. An editor must bring an objective eye to the writing, to the material, and no one has that much self-awareness.

So, edit me. I’ve gotten it right, but believe me, I’ve also gotten it wrong. I want to put some of the parts back in. I want to mix up my narrative and see what that creates. I want to reconnect with what I’ve denied about myself and my history.

I need help. If you’re reading this, maybe you know a thing or two about what I’m saying. Maybe you see things differently. I’d like to hear your thoughts. Don’t worry that you’ll hurt me. This is a collaboration. I’ll fill you in on the cast of characters, the settings, the plot twists and turns. Then I hope that you’ll chime in. I’d like to hear similar stories and opposite stories. I want to find the cracks in my narrative and tear them open to see what’s inside. It will be productive for me.

So, come on, edit me.

Let’s go to the donut shop

“Mom, I’m sweating,” my 5-year old whines. We’re walking through the neighborhood on our weekly trip to the donut shop. It’s about 75 degrees outside.

“It’s hot out,” I tell him, “but there are plenty of shady spots.”

“Noooo!” He screams,”I’m burning! It’s too hot out here. It needs to be air-conditioned!” he demands.

“What, outside?” I laugh.

“Yes!” he screams, puts his hands over his ears, and shrieks at the top of his lungs.

“Listen. If you want to walk all the way to the donut shop, you need to cheer up,” I tell him. “Go ahead, smile.”

He does, grudgingly.

We continue walking in silence for a few minutes. I’m struck by the thought that in a few weeks he will be at school all day, and I won’t have these chances to help him cheer up, to spend time with him, and to teach him how to handle life in the moment. In these last few weeks I want to help him learn to cope with discomfort. It’s super challenging for a five-year old. I mean, it’s hard for me. But this will be an exercise for both of us.

Back before I had kids, when I was pregnant with my daughter, Geoff and I took Bradley method birthing classes. They were a little crunchy granola, but I’m telling you, this works. The Bradley method teaches you how to cope with pain. It teaches you relaxation. It shows you how to stop fighting against the pain and instead let the pain come and go. You learn to focus your attention elsewhere – on a photograph, or a part of your body that is not in pain.

It takes practice. You build up your tolerance to pain months ahead of time, training your mind by squeezing your partner’s hand, then by holding an ice cube, then finally by focusing through your early contractions. Then when you must, you lie down. You relax. You breathe. You feel the pain come and go. You think of your photograph, or of your feet, or whatever you choose, and you remind yourself that you will soon be free of the pain. The discomfort never becomes part of you, it is always separate.

And fighting it? Does that work? No more than my son’s shrieking made him feel better. Relaxing and succumbing to the pain was the only way that I found to get through it. Pain has its own rhythm and pain has its own language. Coping with it demands all of your attention and all of your submission. It doesn’t appreciate snark. It wants to own you; it demands your compliance.

And if you comply? If you ride out the pain? I found that after giving birth, after the pain had passed, I experienced the most profound feeling of happiness that I’ve ever experienced. It is truly spiritual. It’s a time not only for being with your new baby, but for experiencing your body, and the world, anew.

My son and I made it to the donut shop. Along the way we discussed Iron Man and Scooby Doo. We bought donuts and sat outside in the sun to eat them. He took a long time eating his, finally oblivious to the heat and just happy.

I think that we will keep up this weekly trip, even in July and August.