It’s Labor Day weekend, and I haven’t been to the beach all summer.
This is very sad, because I love the beach. The hypnotic music of waves rolling in, tang of salty spray on my face, warm sand caressing my feet – the sights, sounds and smells are like a healing balm. I live near the Georgia coast, about 30 miles from the beach at Tybee Island. My husband Ret and I were married on North Beach seven years ago, beneath the historic lighthouse that witnessed our first date. And yet we haven’t visited Tybee at all this year.
Beach wedding 2011
Site of our first date
If the suit fits
Honestly, we’ve had a busy summer. Ret’s started a new job with his company and we have a never-ending home renovation underway. We rarely have the same day off. And…I’m not sure I can fit into last year’s swimsuit.
Okay, I’m pretty sure it won’t fit.
But still, is that a good excuse? Because seriously, the only person who will be worried about what I look like in my black and purple tankini is me. And that’s just one giant waste of my mental energy.
How many times have I squandered a beautiful day mired in unimportant concerns over what others think of me?
In my youth, I was painfully insecure. I was shy and awkward around just about everyone. My curly hair frizzed wildly out of control in the New Orleans humidity, while all the girls I admired were blessed with long, sleek, flowing tresses. I wasn’t interested in fashion, but I was keenly aware that my clothes were all wrong, wrong, wrong. Hopelessly klutzy, with zero athletic ability, the thought of going to a dance left me terror-stricken.
Somehow I managed to overcome this gnawing fear and make peace with myself, but it took eons. Discovering yoga helped immensely with my coordination and body confidence, even though I can’t do a handstand and probably never will. I’m still a work in progress, but I knew I was on the right track when, at age 49, I threw away my flatiron!
30 minutes with a flatiron
Much better, don’t you think?
Every so often, I’ll come across a little reminder to enjoy today: to go forth boldly wearing my nice clothes and using the fine china instead of saving these things for some elusive future date when everything is perfect. Well, I don’t have fine china, but that’s not what’s important. What matters most is that life won’t wait for me. And the ocean thinks I look great just the way I am.
This wild, wonderful world is meant to be experienced, and there are no rules that determine who’s eligible to partake of its majesty. You don’t have to wear a certain size or have a PhD to hike a mountain, picnic in the park or gaze in awe at the watercolor sky. And no matter who you are, if you visit the ocean, it will rush right up to the shore to meet you there.
“If I’d known then what I know now…” Almost everyone
The month of January was named for the ancient Roman god, Janus. Depicted with two faces – one looking forward and one looking behind – Janus is the god of beginnings and transitions. Perfect choice.
During this month, we all become a little like Janus as we review the year that’s passed and plan the one ahead of us. Maybe because my birthday is in January, it’s a double reminder of how quickly life moves.
Depending on my mood, looking at the past can be sweetly nostalgic or remorseful, filled with the what ifs that hindsight brings. Looking to the future, I foresee either exciting opportunities or dreaded obstacles. Perspective is everything, isn’t it?
If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, would I change anything? In spite of the heartbreak of a failed marriage, I’d never alter the course that gave me my sons. And though I regret living so far away from my parents, and will probably miss my beloved New Orleans for the rest of my days, I wouldn’t have met my husband Ret or have the good life I’ve made in Georgia if I hadn’t moved away. Maybe that’s why we don’t get a crystal ball. We wouldn’t always choose what’s best for us.
But if I could go back and counsel my younger self, these are some of the things I’d say to me:
Those mean girls in school are going to vanish from your life forever.
Don’t listen to hateful people who make fun of you. Chin up! (And don’t slouch.) Stick with the friends who are kind to you and forget about everyone else. People who bully or ridicule others do so to inflate their own meager sense of self-worth. It sucks to be them! Graduation day will come, and you’ll never have to see these people again. They’re irrelevant.
Ditch the pointy-toed stilettos. They are going to destroy your feet.
Believe me, one day you’re going to wish you’d spent the 80s in more comfortable shoes. You might cringe over that big hair in old photos, too, but at least it won’t inflict permanent damage.
Be nicer to your mother.
She’s not going to be with you for long, and you are going to miss her for the rest of your life. Hold on to the memory of the sound of her voice, and the tender way she kissed your eyelids. Remember her playful silliness, and how she loved Coke floats with chocolate ice cream, and that she couldn’t ride a bicycle, and how she snorted when she laughed. And learn to let go of the sad memories. Mama loved you, and she would have wanted you to be happy.
Your dad’s new wife is going to become your best friend.
Sometimes life is tragic. Even now, it doesn’t make much sense to me. But God knew that you would still need a mother, so He made a way for that. And this new mom really loves you. In fact, she’s going to become the person you call first when you need advice, or have good news, or just want to talk. So be nice to her, too.
When the baby sleeps, you sleep.
This piece of advice will come from Ricia, and she was right. Steal a nap whenever you can while Kevin and Jared are infants. No one is going to judge a new mother by her unfolded laundry. (And shame on them if they do!) This time with your newborns is precious and fleeting. Take good care of yourself, and snuggle up on your babies every possible minute. The postpartum hormones, sore breasts and sleepless nights only seem like forever while you’re in the foggy midst of them. It’s over in a blink. One minute you’re pacing the floor at 2 a.m. with a colicky baby and spit-up caked in your hair, and then a few weeks later, that baby has a fuzzy little mustache and wants to borrow your car. Cherish this sweetness while it lasts.
Stop straightening your hair!
Women pay obscene amounts of money to have curls like the ones you inherited for free from your Sicilian grandmother. Save the 5,382 hours you will spend over the next 20 years trying to make yourself something you’re not, and embrace who you are – in every way. (It’s futile anyway; you live in the humidity capital of the US.)
And another thing: in your 40th summer, you’re going to be tempted to highlight your hair. Resist! Otherwise, what will start out as a summer fling is going to turn into an annoying, expensive, long-term commitment, complete with more bad hair drama than any one person needs in her life. Be a happy brunette. Trust me on this.
Use that 5,382 hours you’ve saved and write that book.
Enjoy your artsy side. Write. Draw. Play your guitar, for heaven’s sake, instead of letting it gather dust in the corner, vowing you’ll get to it one day when you have time. Yes, you have a duty to take care of your family and earn a living, but don’t let months or years go by without indulging your creative soul. It’s what makes you, you.
Oh, and don’t listen to anyone who says you aren’t talented enough, especially yourself. That’s not the point. It’s the process that matters, not the end result.
Find out about this weird thing called yoga.
No, not yogurt! Yoga is going to change your life, giving you grace and strength you can’t imagine. If only we’d discovered it back in the 70s, when regular folks thought it was bohemian and outlandish, it might have dramatically altered the way we navigated our teenaged years, pregnancy and new motherhood. Maybe we could have even avoided some of these nagging health issues I’m dealing with now. And we would have learned to relax a long time ago.
Save, save, save money!
Seriously. Having to work for 40-plus years is just as excruciating as it sounds. And credit cards are evil. They suck you in with false promises of the good life until you wind up in bondage. Don’t fall for it.
And finally, this too shall pass.
Whatever you’re struggling with now, I promise it will come to an end. You will survive high school chemistry, fickle friends, getting fired and immense, consuming grief. You’re going to earn a bachelor’s degree at age 40 while working full-time and wonder how on earth you did it. Facing the shattering end of a long marriage will temporarily tear your heart to bits – but it will also forge your unbreakable spirit. Your cranky, never-let-you-sleep babies will become adorable little boys. Then those adorable little boys will transform into exasperating, petulant teenagers whose behavior keeps you up at night all over again. And then one day, they’ll hug you, say, “Thanks for everything, Mom,” and move away to build their own lives.
Nothing lasts forever.
So, the best you can do is take it one day at a time. The only thing you can control is yourself; give the rest to God and let Him be responsible for running the universe. Trust that whatever unfolds in life will ultimately be for good, and your responsibility is to do your part, the best way you know how. Have faith. Love people. Give yourself a break.
The sole purpose of this sentence is to transform this blank page into one with words on it.
Whew! Now the page is not blank and I can move forward. Because, you see, I am alone at the keyboard today. My muse is missing.
At first I didn’t realize she was gone. My corporate day job involves lots of writing and somehow I’ve managed to keep producing it. But when I get home and open my laptop – nothing. Possibly my work writing has overtaxed my muse. Maybe she got bored by the content. All I know is that fun little essays that used to write themselves have been eluding me.
As I struggle through these paragraphs, my husband Ret is softly playing guitar, spontaneous notes he’s never played before, weaving themselves into a beautiful song. He calls upon his muse anywhere, anytime, and she delivers. His talent is as enormous as his spirit, and his music perfumes the background of our life together.
Confession: The guitar he is playing is mine. Good thing, too, because my guitar would die of loneliness without his touch.
Another confession: Sometimes I am jealous.
When I was 12, someone gave me my first guitar, a beat-up acoustic with a bolted-on headstock and the name Pete! proudly painted across the body. I loved that instrument and diligently learned to play chords. I was never very good, but I enjoyed making music – until my parents bought new guitars for Christmas: one for me, and one for my younger sister Lori.
Lori is actually pretty naturally talented. We had great times playing together until her abilities began to surpass mine. Suddenly it wasn’t as much fun. As I entered my teenaged years and the agonies of high school, I wasn’t secure enough as a person to be less than great at something, especially when my kid sister was better. My guitar playing languished and I turned to other creative pursuits.
I’ve always had a modest ability to draw. In high school, a whimsical art muse swept into my life. I sketched faces to my heart’s content and dreamed of becoming an artist. That hope lasted until I took a commercial art class in college. Surrounded by people with stunning talent, reality dawned: If I expected to make a living as an artist, I’d be a starving one. And I like to eat.
Just like that, my sweet little art muse flapped her gossamer wings and disappeared. Every so often, she flits back into my awareness, and at those times, my charcoal pencils come out again. But it never lasts. I think I must be this muse’s moonlighting job.
Or maybe my muse doesn’t like to be compared unfavorably to other people’s muses. Who could blame her? Muses are delightful, happy creatures, playfully bestowing their gifts on grateful recipients. Insecurity, fear and perfectionism probably scare them away.
There’s a passage in the Bhagavad Gita that exhorts the purity of performing an action for its own sake, and not getting attached to the outcome. Lord Shiva says to Arjuna,
“Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure… This equanimity is yoga.”
In the case at hand, I think this means the joy should come from the writing, drawing and playing itself, not whether it’s good enough, whatever that is.
Thank you, muse
Many years ago, my mother taught me to be gracious and say thank you when someone gave me a gift. Once again, Mom’s right. Gratitude is always the right response.
Because the truth is, my muse is wonderful. She gives me inspiration at work every day. When I’m teaching yoga, she grants me the intuition to somehow know just what my students need. She whispers her approval when I get fun ideas with my home decor, like putting the leopard footstool in front of the little red floral chair, and she gives me great, off-the-wall cooking ideas. And when I am relaxed, receptive and not taking myself so darned seriously, words fly from my fingertips over the keyboard, sketches appear on my tablet and my clunky musical efforts don’t sound half bad.
Ret, honey, I think I need my guitar now. I want to play.