What we need instead of advice (warning: mushy post ahead)

This Father’s Day weekend, I’ve noticed my husband with our kids—reading books to our grade-school child, rocking our baby to soothe little tears. He is a gift of a human and I’m frequently reminded how great it is to build a life with him.

Because we’re almost ten years into this marriage thing, I can easily think of this arrangement as inevitable. But it wasn’t.

In the years before I met this man who would become my husband, I talked regularly with my dad about the guys I met and dated. If I temporarily landed back at my parents’ house between apartments, these conversations would sometimes go late into the night. I agonized over decisions and relationships and future plans, oblivious to how tired my father must have been, or how early he had to get up for work the next morning. He gave me his advice, but mostly, he listened and asked me questions that helped me point myself in the direction of my own conclusions.

This kind of listening saved me from some life-altering errors.

Without this kind of listening, I could have arrived at the end of a different string of decisions, which makes me shiver a little bit.

Today, on Father’s Day, I’m grateful for the father who didn’t tell me what to do during those years of uncertainty, but listened long and encouraged me to trust myself. And I’m grateful for what that encouragement eventually led me to—a seemingly inevitable marriage to the best father I could imagine for my kids.

3 things I’m telling myself while angry

I’ve run into a rash of angry moments.

It’s surprised me, honestly, and turned me around—especially since my reactions have felt disproportionate. This weekend, I became suddenly infuriated about a small change of plans. I argued loudly with my husband on a public sidewalk, which is something I never do. What on earth.

Each time I’ve dug around in my grumpy irritation and sharp words, I’ve found a moment when I dismissed myself:

I needed something, but didn’t speak up. I had the urge to do or say something that I left undone, unsaid. I behaved as if other people’s needs or time or preferences mattered infinitely more than mine—and then I raged inside, because that idea wasn’t true.

This post may be premature, because I’m exploring what’s still under the surface for me. But here are things I’m telling myself in the process:

  • Stop worrying that anger is messy and listen for the message it’s bringing you.
  • Disproportionate emotion is always proportionate to something.
  • What you want is valid, for no other reason than that you want it.

Be tender and laugh

A writer whose work I love died yesterday.

Brian Doyle. Brain tumor. Sixty years old.

Seven years ago, I went to the Orem Public Library to hear him speak and read his work. My daughter was six months old and I brought her along.

Picture a shortish, skinny-ish guy with round glasses and a beard. Picture a writer who doesn’t just read his essay, but seems to go up on his toes when the lines feel urgent, and makes his voice reach the ceiling in a sort of beautiful insistence that stories, stories, stories can make us better people. Picture someone who is not physically imposing but clearly has the biggest heart in the room.

After the reading, he inscribed my book with my daughter’s name and signed it, “With my prayers on your roads.”

I’ve been thinking since yesterday about how to talk about a person whose words have made such a difference to me, whose essays have made me laugh and then cry when I reach the very last line. But maybe I don’t have to say much. He left so many of his own good words behind him:

Last Prayer
by Brian Doyle

Dear Coherent Mercy: thanks. Best life ever.

Personally I never thought a cool woman would come close to understanding me, let along understanding me but liking me anyway, but that happened!

And You and I both remember that doctor in Boston saying polite but businesslike that we would not have children but then came three children fast and furious!

And no man ever had better friends, and no man ever had a happier childhood and wilder brothers and a sweeter sister, and I was that rare guy who not only loved but liked his parents and loved sitting and drinking tea and listening to them!

And You let me write some books that weren’t half bad, and I got to have a career that actually no kidding helped some kids wake up to their best selves, and no one ever laughed more at the ocean of hilarious things in this world, or gaped more in astonishment at the wealth of miracles everywhere every moment.

I could complain a little right here about the long years of back pain and the occasional awful heartbreak, but Lord, those things were infinitesimal against the slather of gifts You gave mere me, a muddle of a man, so often selfish and small. But no man was ever more grateful for Your profligate generosity, and here at the very end, here in my last lines, I close my eyes and weep with joy that I was alive, and blessed beyond measure, and might well be headed back home to the incomprehensible Love from which I came, mewling, many years ago.

But hey, listen, can I ask one last favor? If I am sent back for another life, can I meet my lovely bride again? In whatever form? Could we be hawks, or otters maybe? And can we have the same kids again if possible? And if I get one friend again, can I have my buddy Pete? He was a huge guy in this life–make him the biggest otter ever and I’ll know him right away, okay? Thanks, Boss. Thanks from the bottom of my heart. See You soon.

Remember–otters. Otters rule. And so: amen.

70 summer days

At the end of this summer, I want to look back and see that I’ve created and not just consumed.

My husband and daughter finished their school year on Friday and now we have basically 10 weeks of summer before us. I love that these 70 summer days will fill with sunshine, vacationing, lazy time in front of the tv, games to play and pools to swim in and food to eat. I also know that my most memorable summers have included making things, actively learning, or exercising creative muscles. I want these 70 days to include generative experiences alongside the relaxation.

We have a loose plan: my daughter is learning to play the ukulele, my husband is studying calculus, and I aim to finish writing a book.

Beyond that, on each of these 70 days, I hope to stay open to creative opportunities I haven’t anticipated yet, to wake up asking:

What will we create?
How will we build our brains or our family or our community?
What will we add to the world today?

You’re making a beautiful failure

I’m chewing on this idea from a conversation over the weekend:

Art reaches for the transcendent; it attempts to convey or enact something important that’s beyond the page or canvas or stage. The best art moves us, challenges us, evokes feelings or creates experiences that take us beyond just the medium of representation. But even the best art never fully closes the gap between what’s created and what that creation reaches for. In other words, embedded inside the most compelling, beautiful art is imperfection, tiny failure.

If this idea is true, then everything you make is—in some way—a beautiful failure.

If this idea is true, it removes the pressure of perfection. Go fail as beautifully as you can.

Be late: a counterintuitive approach to being on time (sometimes)

I value being on time. I also tend to overcommit. When I’m caught between the possibility of being late or the possibility of leaving things undone, I rush (in an attempt to avoid both).

My husband does the opposite.

If I’m rushing to get us out the door, he stands completely still, refusing to move until I stop hurrying him.

It’s infuriating.

It’s also wise in a way. I have rushed so fast that I lost my keys and left important items behind and then took a wrong turn and made us later than we would have been if I’d just taken my deliberate time. Rushing makes you stressed, but it rarely makes you faster.

So this: sometimes coming to a dead stop, embracing the option of being late, actually gets me there on time.

Other times, I’m still just late (like this blog post, going up 3 days after I’d intended). Stopping the rush is still useful, still gives perspective and calms nerves and offers the reminder that even if you’re late, you’ll get there eventually.

What do you hear?

Today, let the sounds of the world spill in. Really listen.

A carrot’s crunch.
A spoon’s clink.
A yawn’s rustle in and out of lungs.

Sneakers crunching tiny rocks on the sidewalk.
A baby cooing at the sky.
Tiny birds calling for food from the home their mother made them.

The murmurs and thrums of useful machines: dishwasher, fan, computer, car.
The reassuring burble of water draining from a bathtub.
The persistent beat of your own heart.

Let every right-now, real-life thing drown out any voice that whispers you’re not good enough. Listen to the miracle of the world.