Stone-faced

I don’t know how they managed to keep such straight faces.

They were really back there saying “cheese!”

My dad made these low-relief carvings of all three kids. He started with Grant, then Henry, then Eleanor. They’re all wonderful pieces that I’ll cherish, but I can’t get over the depth that he achieved around Ele’s neck.

Tactile

Yesterday I unexpectedly smelled a book. I was holding up a book for Eleanor to take a photo of (for school), and to be a little silly I held it right under my nose so my nose might be in the picture, too. It wasn’t in the picture. But I smelled cheap paperback for the first time in a very, very long time. It smelled divine. It instantly took me a million places: elementary school; the Scholastic book fair; days spent loitering on a couch reading dusty, worn out paperbacks from the library; packing and unpacking boxes of books for various moves; dropping books into the bath; dropping books onto my face when I fall asleep reading. I have so many memories of books, because I always like a book close by. It’s comforting to have a book available, and the unspoiled potential of a new book is right up there with life’s top pleasures. I haven’t been able to read as much as I’d like during the last year or so; deep dread and anxiety have wrecked my focus and made it really hard to read in a sustained manner. But I’ve always kept books at hand, just in case.

Current nightstand collection

It hit me hard yesterday how much I actually do miss holding a book and touching it (two different things). Who among us hasn’t gently trailed a few fingers across the page to feel the tooth of the paper? To see if the ink feels raised or not? How exciting to feel those little tactile clues! Who here hasn’t stroked a cover to feel the matte of the paper, or the tug of a sueded cover against your fingertips? I, for one, am happily guilty. The fact that a book can also delight, confuzzle, excite, enlight, enrage, and lead us on adventures is an additional gift. How many non-harmful things can we experience on an emotional, mental, and tactile level, like we can a book?

This post isn’t just about books, though. It’s about all the things in our (specifically my) life that are better for being fully experienced. Art ranks highly here for me. Food as well. I know you’re not supposed to touch art in museums and such (most of the time), but being able to touch impasto paint or the brittle of a varnished oil painting is beautiful and rare each time. Taking a bite of flaky pastry or seeing the sagging ephemeral dome of a perfectly poached egg the moment before devouring is single moment of luxury.

I don’t know about you, but I ruin nearly every manicure I get, because I cannot resist touching the varnish before it’s dry. It looks so tempting. And once it’s fully dry it’s so delightfully slick, like polished glass. If you have never painted your nails and engaged in the secret joy of sliding your fingers over your nails, you are missing out on tiny, achievable euphoria.

I have flowers on my desk that are well and truly dead, but I can’t bring myself to throw them away because even in decay they still smell like roses and catching that scent at random is a balm. We have a tomato plant on our back deck, and I love moving it to water it each day. The sharp, aggressive scent of the plant takes no prisoners and slays me anew each time. I love it.

Have you ever felt the soft teaspoons of air that a small animal puffs out with each breath? Or, for that matter, a small child? Especially while asleep? A very dainty magic.

Being aimlessly adrift for the last year while also highly frantic has had a lot of profound effects on all our lives, some absolutely devastating. A micro loss that I didn’t notice I had lost until I had it again were these near-nugatory tactile sensations. They were so close to unimportant as to be vital, as it turns out. How do you rate a trifling touch, especially if you don’t even notice when it vanishes? I suppose one measure is by the volume of delight when you notice it anew. Go out and feel something and remember.

May

I took the kids to see our friends a few towns away today, and it was balm for my soul. My friend Brittany said that she would like to read my parenting book with chapters such as “I don’t accept the premise,” “benevolent neglect,” and “the apocalypse, but happy.” The kids played beautifully together, and getting time with friends was so much needed.

I like to tell Britt that when I visit her, it’s like tuning into my favorite series, with well established characters and there’s always something new happening that I hadn’t seen on any previous episode. The new old tradition this time was Opening Day, apparently it’s a huge tradition for their family and I’ve known Britt and Jay for like 17 or 18 years and this is the first it’s come up. I love it.

Grant with his “very best friend” Killian.
Eleanor and Willow decorated the entrance to Fairy Land.
Grant gave Kills a flower.
It’s important to me that everyone sees this photo of Brittany. It tells you everything.
They have 19 chickens and this is the one I had to shoo out of my car.

40 by 40

Here are 40 things that have helped me be who I happen to be today, on the 40th anniversary of my glorious entrance to the world! They may have limited efficacy for you, but you are most welcome to try to absorb some of this hard-won wisdom! We’ll start with the absolutely most important stuff.

Fashion

  1. Have at least two types of outfits you can rely on. For me, outfit 1 is leggings and a shirt, and outfit 2 is a dress. I can figure these out reliably, and put them onto me with a high degree of success every single time.
  2. Statement pieces are great. You should have some. At least one should be despised by your partner, for fun.
  3. Shoes, man. You know? Good shoes, preferably.
  4. All underpants are period underpants if you don’t track. Who cares.
  5. Dry clean only? I don’t think so.

Hair

  1. It’ll grow back!
  2. Make the time to have two regrettable haircuts. One will happen without your realization, but the second one… you’ll know. And you’ll do it anyway! It’s called being brave. It’s empowering to take risks, and not all of them will pay off. Luxuriate in the low stakes wrong steps. Learn from it.
  3. The way you washed your hair as a child doesn’t necessarily translate into how you’re supposed to wash your hair as an adult. Figure it out, you absolute grownup.
  4. You don’t have to remove any hair you don’t want to.
  5. You don’t have to keep any hair you don’t want to. Choose for yourself.

Womanly Wiles

  1. You don’t have to be ashamed of having a period. If you don’t have periods, you don’t have to try to make people who do have them ashamed. You can hate it, love it, feel indifferent, or anything in between, but shame ain’t on the list.
  2. You don’t have to smile at people to be a good person.
  3. Intersectional feminism is powerful, and be wary of people who refuse to understand this. Human rights matter to every person. I think I came to this later than I should have, so also help people who seem open to it to understand. Let others explain when you’re too tired, but keep coming back.
  4. It’s normal to consider building a house of candy in the woods in order to “get away from it all” (but beware, it might attract unwanted children).
  5. Nevertheless, keep talking because you’ll get interrupted a lot. A lot a lot.

Kids and Pets

  1. Definitely have some, or don’t. Up to you!
  2. See also: Plants.
  3. See also: Pants.
  4. You have an infinite amount of affection and love to give out; you can’t use it up. You can decide where to invest it.
  5. We have 3 cats and 2 guinea pigs (furry potatoes, as the kids call them), and I recommend both animal types very highly. (And 3 kids. I don’t recommend them, have them if you want. I love ours without reservation and consider myself the luckiest, but if you don’t already want them, do NOT have them.)

Social Time

  1. Happiness looks so, so good on you. I hope you get an immoderate amount of happiness in your life.
  2. “The way we’ve always done it” is actually pretty terrible. Question tradition.
  3. Change is uncomfortable and hard, and we need to do it anyway.
  4. Social debt is akin to technical debt. The decisions we make today socially (as a society) will be the thorn in the side of us and our babies in one month, 3 years, 100 years.
  5. You don’t get to the end of improving society. It takes practice, and figuring out pretty fast when you get it wrong.

Marriage

  1. It’s hard and easy. It’s fun and frustrating. See the kids and pets section.
  2. Marriage should be available to any people who want to shack up, as long as they all can genuinely consent. It’s tax breaks and reputation, and that’s it; let’s not put it on some pedestal. (…)
  3. But let’s respect the people who want it, whatever their reasons.
  4. Long-term partnership is as much about you as it is about them. And it means you both change and grow, and you ideally do it together. Make sure you’re not the only one changing, make sure they’re not the only one growing.
  5. Having a legally-recognized partner is the tits, and I really didn’t recognize the privilege of it for a long time! I’m sorry friends!

Career

  1. You start it when you start it. You’re not a bad person if you change your mind.
  2. You can be strategic and genuine.
  3. Hold those strong opinions but accept that you’re going to be wrong, and revisit as needed. Be right and wrong with generosity.
  4. Get comfortable with change and discomfort and you’ll weather a lot.
  5. If people say they want feedback, believe them. Give it even if it’s scary, and especially if it’s critical. They might not hear it otherwise (and even if you’re sure they will, reach out).

Around 25 on this list I really realized how many 40 individual items is. It’s… too many. But it also doesn’t scratch the surface. There’s too much to be boiled down, and most of it is worthless. But only because individual experience is exactly that: individual. We can’t carbon copy experience and make it meaningful without reducing it to platitudes that are so general as to be meaningless. My life is really meaningful to me, and to maybe 4 other people, and then just a little tiny bit less meaningful to an additional 20 (but still, really impactful), and then a little bit less meaningful to a further 150, etc etc etc ad infinitum. And that’s totally fine. I’m not one of the ones who will change the world in a way with incessant reverberation, but I will matter because I’m a human, and I’m lucky to have a strong social structure that protects and elevates me. It’s a massive privilege, and entering my fifth decade (as people at work were so cheerful to tell me) I am in a position to elevate others as well. My resolutions for my fifth decade are that I will do more that’s actionable for the people who need it. I want to mentor women at work more actively (I mean, if they want it); I want to speak more around career advice and my non-conventional path; I want to help people in my ittybitty community and show my kids what that looks like. I want to give more than I take. I want to stop apologizing for the space I take up. I’m absolutely thrilled to be where I am today; I can’t believe how lucky I am. I want more people to have what I have in the way that matters for them.