A million ways to be

You know that there are

I’m taking a page from Cat Stevens’ book today, remembering that if I want to sing out, I can sing out, and if I want to be free, I need only choose to be free.

The problem lies in understanding how that is done. How can we free ourselves from our inner voices? Or in some cases, from voices that aren’t ours at all. Voices we’ve internalized from people who were supposed to love us, but who were broken and unable to communicate, or perhaps even feel, that love.

I used to lose my coats all the time when I was a kid.

It drove my mother crazy.

Of course it did. I’d be irritated too if my child lost several coats a season.

My mother told me I was irresponsible. Precipitous. Clueless. Unaware. I’m sure all of that was true.

In the evenings, she went further, however.

She seemed to delight in notifying the four of us that we were a considerable disappointment. We couldn’t hold a candle to her brilliance. In fact, she “rued the day we were born” (her words, as was “precipitous”).

Then, she’d launch into a recitation of her spangled career: the Stanford scholarship, the trophies, the awards, the listing in Who’s Who in America, the captain of the Stanford girls’ basketball team, the meeting with Bing Crosby, the Queen of England, etc. Yada yada yada.

All of this was alcohol-fueled, mind you.

We weren’t allowed to leave, and our father wasn’t there to rescue us. We were very young. Awfully young. Far too young to understand it was the drink.

By the end of the dinner, when we were finally allowed to slip away, she’d be maudlin and weepy, crying into her booze.

She was terrifying.

When I was a little girl, I had a pair of white vinyl boots that I loved. I also had a leather poncho with long tassels that smelled amazing. I’d bury my nose it its cinnamon-colored folds and breathe in earth and sea and sky, nature, horse shit, something organic, something wild.

When I was a little girl, I made it a habit to rescue snails when it rained. I was late to school every rainy morning because I stopped and moved every snail I encountered. I knew some kids liked to step on them.

I spent every lunch hour in the library, sprawled on the floor on my stomach, reading Dr. Doolittle, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, James Herriot. I read Watership Down, Death Be Not Proud. A lot of Agatha Christie.

I hid from classmates who scared me. Girls who jeered me for the giraffe-print skirt, knee-highs, and Mary Janes my mother made me wear to school. The other girls got to wear jeans. I was not allowed to wear jeans and didn’t own a single pair.

That made me weird.

Having an out of control parent who risked the lives of your friends by driving them around while completely wasted during birthday parties also didn’t help. I can’t imagine the whispers that must have transpired among the mothers. I was astounded when parents willingly dropped their precious charges at our house, my mother swaying and trying to focus. I knew it was bad. Very bad. I’d eye them from the white-painted banister, wondering what they were thinking.

A million ways to be, indeed.

This morning in my writing class we read The Glass Essay by the incredible Anne Carson. The poem covers a hell of a lot of ground, like life itself. It is ambrosiac and mundane, elevated and paltry. The writer is not afraid to serve up whatever it is she finds in her life. Everything is worthy of consideration, attention, description. From the florescent light in the refrigerator to her father’s black teeth… in fact, there’s not a lot that’s beautiful there. And that’s what makes it beautiful. It’s real. It’s the pith of our lives, not the juice, that matters. It’s also what binds us to one another.

That’s how it is, isn’t it. A million ways to go, a million things to do, to be. To say. To see. So just pick it up, wherever you are, whatever it is. A stone, a leaf, a tear, a beer. You can do what you want. The opportunity’s there.