“I don’t think man was meant to attain happiness so easily. Happiness is like those palaces in fairy tales whose gates are guarded by dragons: we must fight in order to conquer it.”—Edmond Dantes, The Count of Monte Cristo (via velascojelly)
The very first night I moved into an apartment of my own, I went into labor. I was young, single and almost completely on my own, and hadn’t even decided completely whether or not I was going to be able to keep my baby. It was rather terrifying.
I was awake at about 1 AM and, since my mother had to come get me from another town, I didn’t get to the hospital until about 3 AM. I hadn’t gained much weight, so the nurse was shocked when I told her I was over eight and a half months pregnant. I had had a confused and difficult pregnancy. At that point, not only was I having contractions, I was spotting blood.
Another nurse, quiet and kind, sat with me while they prepared a room for me. He told me that he and his wife had just adopted a child and it was the best thing they had ever done.
I was in labor for sixteen hours. Mid-way through it a social worker visited me at my bedside and asked if I were sure I was going to keep my baby. I wasn’t. I said yes. She told me to call her later if I needed to.
My fractured family was mostly all there, angry at each other for letting me get into this situation and afraid for what was going to happen to me. No one was sure how healthy either I or the baby really was. I was too overwhelmed to be much of anything. I was just waiting for something to happen, one way or the other.
See, I hadn’t made the decision yet, and the decision to make wasn’t just whether to raise a child or not. It was to finally face my life. It was to stop the years of running away from reality and to begin to change reality, from the inside out. And the one fundamental thing that I didn’t understand about that decision was that making it is just the beginning of the work it takes.
The actual birth started around 6 PM. In case you haven’t gone through that before, it pretty much sucks. It hurts more and unlike anything else you’ve gone through in your entire life. At some point, however, I remember I wanted it over with not to be over with, but because I wanted to meet my baby. I wanted to know who that person was.
That’s when I made the decision. My daughter Elizabeth Anne was born almost exactly at 7 PM on August 5, 2005.
That evening, I was predictably exhausted. I was in a hospital room with my baby in her hospital crib next to me, and I remember a little confusion when the nurse explained to me how often I needed to feed the baby during the night. Couldn’t they take her to the nursery for the first night? Didn’t they know I was completely, physically and mentally worn out and I needed sleep?
That’s when I realized the work that comes after the decision is what the decision is really about. You can’t separate them. I think there’s an idea that pervades our optimistic culture that you can come to a revelation and the clouds part and the sun streams down, and there’s the path, straight and clear in front of you, and all you have to do is walk forward. It doesn’t work like that. It shouldn’t work like that. If you try to make the decision to meet life without being willing to face the work life requires, other people will suffer for it. But not nearly as much as you will, in the end.
Of course I had moments in the five years following when I wondered if I had made a mistake. There were many times when I was out of money, when I didn’t have a job, when everything seemed like it was far too much for me to handle. I wondered if my daughter would have been better off without me.
Last night, I was out at a class, a class I helped to create to tell women and other people who believed they couldn’t do something that they in fact could, and when I got home, the sitter had already put Elizabeth to bed. I laid down for a moment with her and watched her sleep. The two of us have been through a lot. But she is healthy and happy and truly one of the most interesting and joyful people I’ve ever met in my life. I haven’t done everything perfectly, but I’ve still done a good job. I made the right decision. Even though I had to do years of work after making that decision to get us where we are. Because that was the point.
I hope it’s not as difficult for her to learn that as it was for me.
“Until I was about seven, I thought books were just there, like trees. When I learned that people actually wrote them, I wanted to, too, because all children aspire to inhuman feats like flying. Most people grow up to realize they can’t fly. Writers are people who don’t grow up to realize they can’t be God.”—Fran Lewbowitz
“In our time, many of us have been taught to strive for an insane perfection that means nothing. To get wholeness, you must try instead to strive for [the kind of perfection] where things that don’t matter are left rough and unimportant, and the things that really matter are given deep attention. This is a perfection that seems imperfect. But it is a far deeper thing.”—Christopher Alexander, “The Perfection of Imperfection” (via austinkleon) (via libraryland)
“The reality of being alive and the dream of keeping cinema alive motivated us to go through the existing limitations in Iranian cinema…. Our problems are also all of our assets. Understanding this promising paradox helped us not to lose hope, and to be able to go on since we believe wherever in the world that we live, we are going to face problems, big or small. But it is our duty not to be defeated and to find solutions.”—Throughout the recent persecution of brilliant filmmaker Jafar Panahi by the Iranian government, I’ve been highlighting why the rest of the world needs to pay attention to him. There is no clearer example now in the world of a principled artist standing strong against a repressive regime. And he’s still fighting.
I had always thought if I had a daughter, she would be right in all the ways I was wrong. She would be strong without ever having been weak, she would be bright without ever having been overshadowed and she would be proud of who she was without having ever been ashamed of it. She’d know just how smart she was and exactly what she was capable of doing. She would be Wonder Woman with her power and purpose handed down from on high by divine right and she would be beautiful in it.
Because I’m no Wonder Woman. I read Batman instead, with the darkness and hurt that stretched back throughout life and desperate drive to make right what was wrong. No super powers. Just learning, strengthening and grim determination, and all the prices you pay for that.
I learned that even if you don’t agree to pay those prices, life will take it out of you anyway, and that no matter how strong you make yourself, the darkness will be there no matter what. My own mother reacted to the hardships of her life–which were not small, nor entirely not her fault–with anger and bitterness and defeat. I learned to fight alone, no sidekick to back me up. It’s hard. I still fall victim to anger and bitterness and defeat.
But I don’t want my daughter to. I did have a daughter and she’s strong and smart and she doesn’t yet think there’s anything that’s impossible for her to do. But I can’t keep the bad of the world away from her. How do you raise a superhero when you know there is no magic weapon and you know how harsh the world she wants to save will treat her?
I don’t know how. I don’t know how to protect or prepare her. I don’t even know how to explain it to her in a way her perfect strength can understand. I can’t explain to her not everyone is good. She’s going to find it out herself. And not only is there nothing I can do about that, there’s nothing I should do about that. The world is full of villains and damage and injustice and some of it has reasons and some of it doesn’t. None of it is drawn in solid black lines. It will hit those who don’t deserve it just as it hits those who do and there is just nothing to do about any of it.
Except – there is good, too. It exists. And not all who get hit by the world fall down for good. My job isn’t to keep her from being hurt. It’s to keep myself from reacting with anger and bitterness rather than learning and strengthening. I’ll hurt, too. Because saying no to pain is saying no to life, and no one knows that better than a superhero.
And, eventually, when the world is too much, and the pain it’s brought to her knocks her down and I’m not there to pick her back up, when the kind of betrayal and heartache and evil of indifference that I still haven’t completely defeated hits her, I’ll be damned if I don’t make sure she’ll be able to tell herself: my mother succeeded despite this. I can too.
So the most popular thing, by far, I ever wrote on my website is "Mythbusting Princess Leia’s Hair." Which is a little odd to me still, because I’ve thought those things ever since I was a teenage geek trying to actually braid my hair that way, but never said them to anyone because, um, no one cared.
Anyway, of course I want to include that piece in the upcoming print version of my favorite work from my website. But the visual examples of screenshots and official stills, while fine for web use, won’t really fly in a little DIY print book.
So! I’d really like to find an illustrator that could do some quick black-and-white sketches of the various Leia hairstyles to include in my book. Please spread the word and let me know if you’re interested! There are about a million ways to reach me on the internet, but the contact page on my website is a good call.
“People who’ve never read fairy tales, the professor said, have a harder time coping in life than the people who have. They don’t have access to all the lessons that can be learned from the journeys through the dark woods and the kindness of strangers treated decently, the knowledge that can be gained from the company and example of Donkeyskins and cats wearing boots and steadfast tin soldiers. I’m not talking about in-your-face lessons, but more subtle ones. The kind that seep up from your subconscious and give you moral and humane structures for your life. That teach you how to prevail, and trust. And maybe even love.”—Charles de Lint, The Onion Girl.
“He saw that all the struggles of life were incessant, laborious, painful, that nothing was done quickly, without labor, that it had to undergo a thousand fondlings, revisings, moldings, addings, removings, graftings, tearings, correctings, smoothings, rebuildings, reconsiderings, nailings, tackings, chippings, hammerings, hoistings, connectings—all the poor fumbling uncertain incompletions of human endeavor. They went on forever and were forever incomplete, far from perfect, refined, or smooth, full of terrible memories of failure and fears of failure, yet, in the way of things, something noble, complete, and shining in the end.”—Jack Kerouac, The Town and the City (via liquidnight)