A Letter to my Daughter on Life, Love and Growing Pains



To My Beautiful Daughter,

You will be the hero of your own story. ..

Your best friend will be the hero of her story. Your teachers, coaches, boyfriends and rivals will all play the lead role in their own adventures too.  We are heroes among heroes, all of us living out our call to adventure. That is the most brilliant and the most confusing part of life. Our villains aren’t always villainous, and while we might accept that there are dragons to slay, it’s harder to admit that once in a while we become someone else’s dragon (which doesn’t feel very heroic). At some point, wonderful as you are, you will love a worthy person or two who will not find it in their heart to love you back. How can the hero not be loved by all? If you are anything like your mother, you will occasionally rage at heaven for such injustices. Isn’t the journey hard enough?

The truth is that your heart will be broken. It will hurt like hell, you will swear never to do it again, but I hope you will. I am 41 years old, and I’m still capable of a broken heart. I wouldn’t have it any other way. My heart breakers have been some of my best teachers. That doesn’t mean they were all at their best. Some were wonderful but just not right, others were real shits. I’ve been lied to, fooled, had a man claim he was my friend only to leave right when I needed a friend the most. I spent a long time trying to discover why, until I realized that what matters is the lessons in myself they gave to me. I have been a fool for love. Astoundingly foolish. Silly. Obsessed. Shy. Frightened. Blind…but if I’d never been any of the above, I wouldn’t have discovered that I am also sexy, smart, funny…and abundantly willing to take a risk. I love a great adventure, and I will dust myself off (eventually) when I fall. Remember when you lose someone who was special to you that their leaving doesn’t mean they weren’t a gift. Remember that no quality can be special in someone else unless it was special to you first and foremost. Let them go and pray they find everything they are looking for.

You will break hearts too. You will be someone else’s lesson.  There are times in my life when I have not been at my best. I’ve been wonderful but just not right, and I’ve been a real shit. At some point in your life, you have to take a look at that part of the journey as well. I have lied, and I have fooled, and I have left a man right when he needed a friend the most. Those were also lessons in myself.

All it takes is one look at you to realize how short I’ve fallen in my definition of love. It isn’t simply that I would give up my own life for you. At the end of the day, that’s as biological as it is spiritual in nature. The amazing and incomprehensible part is the unconditional gift you have given me. Yes, I know we fight, but I know I can be unreasonable, nutty, tired, a failure or a success, and you will still love me and count on me. Of all my gifts, that is the most rare and precious.

I won’t lie to you. This life, this growing up can be painful. Do you know what else hurt like hell? The day you were born. Opening a body up, stretching it to its extreme in order to birth a brand new person is unavoidably painful. I can’t think of anything more symbolic of every new stage in life. Our hardest and most painful days are the days we stretch and open. The natural process of a new creation. There is a moment in childbirth when a woman doubts her ability to make it to the end. That moment is called transition, and it is an age old sign that the last phase has come. A baby is about to be born. Those moments in life when you are sure you can’t do it anymore…wait, and remember that it is a sure sign that the miracle is about to happen. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Be the midwife to your own life. See your pain as your ability to create something beautiful and new and never seen before. Remember that love is as much about letting go as it is about holding dear. Life is a great adventure. Sometimes you have to fall in order to discover the path to the top. In love and life, take the risk and say what you mean. You don’t have to live with anyone else’s regrets but your own.

And always, above all else, always remember that this strange and wayward soul you picked as your mother loves you with all her heart.



Finding Home

Edmund_Blair_Leighton_-_The_Hostage (1)

Two weeks ago, I sat down to write about taking a trip to my hometown. That post on the ups and downs of going home would not come. Maybe it wasn’t fully grown in my imagination yet. I ended up with a poem about secret gardens instead. When I lamented that the words had taken me so far from where I started, friend and fellow blogger Rob Taylor pointed out that there are many ways of defining home.

Home. The place where I was born. Bakersfield, California is still full of stucco and Spanish arches and oilfields and orange groves. The ghost of my girlhood self runs wild-haired and barefoot over the manicured lawns. She steals cherries from a tree that overhangs an alley so she won’t have to take the time to go home for lunch. She climbs fences and dreams of princes. She looks west and plans to run away to the ocean so she can swim across the horizon to the world on the other side. She believes that when she grows big enough she’ll be able to reach up and touch the stars. No matter what anyone tells her, she could spend every night sprawled on the grass watching those stars head in her direction.

I tried to touch her transparent edges, but she’s an elusive little gypsy girl. I sat on the porch of my grandmother’s house and watched her dance in the front yard. She asked me if I still want to know what is over the next horizon, and if I still believe someday I will touch the stars.

I opened my mouth to tell her no, but out fell a poem about secret gardens.

Home. My safe return. While on my trip, I had the chance to go snorkeling in the ocean. At first, I watched the sandy bottom undulate beneath me as we swam. Out beyond the waves, the bottom dropped, and the ocean grew wide and deep. There was too much of the water and too little of me. My head popped up. I tread water and gasped for breath. I lost my nerve.  I couldn’t take care of myself out there. I couldn’t control the world around me. The current would sweep me away…

Home. My first story. Seven summers ago, I started writing. My daughter was still an infant then, and I was in bed nursing her. Somewhere between asleep and awake, an image popped into my mind of a girl and her father standing alone on a beach. I had the sense that the girl was waiting for love to come, and the father was waiting for love to return. They seemed so real and as barely out of reach as the stars I’d watched as a kid. What brought them to that lonely beach? How were they so close and so distant at the same time? I couldn’t stop wondering about them, and that day when my kids took a nap I sat down at the computer and started writing their story. My first novel, The Keeper’s House, was born.

In chapter one, sixteen year old Nula stands alone on a beach in the middle of the night. She fears sleep and the dreams that send her spiraling through the lonely, dark water. Nula watches the waves and listens to them whisper as the moon glows over the distant horizon. She feels the pull of the ocean, a tug on her heart. Maybe it will take her away…and maybe she wants it to.

Home. Friendship and romance. I have a friend who is currently entangled in a casual, long distance relationship. They go days without speaking to one another. Sometimes she fears that she has had her last time with him, that he will disappear from her life, but unless she makes dramatic changes to her own life, she isn’t in a position to ask for more. Why not just end it? She told me she has thought of that many times, but then she realized she likes him as much for his mystery as for his warmth. She likes him just as he is. Sometimes she misses the first days when they discovered each other from a distance and she left her lonely beach. Now here she is halfway to the horizon with no real way of knowing if she is going to get hurt. She keeps diving in because she has to know what is on the other side. She dives because she believes he is worth the discovery. One way or another, this relationship could pull her away from everything she knows…and maybe she wants it to.

Back to my day of snorkeling on the open ocean, terrified of this mysterious world that neither welcomed nor rejected me. I could return to the safety of the beach, or I could dive in and discover what was on the other side of my girlhood horizon. Ahead of me was the chance of danger, of being unprotected in a world I had no control over. I answered the ghost of my girlhood, and I dove.

Two hundred yards later, I was swimming with majestic sea turtles. One the size of my seven year old daughter swam right next to me, so full of simple beauty and grace. Those turtles and the chance to discover their world were worth the dive. The current didn’t take me or at least not the way I expected.

Maybe our real fear isn’t that what is hidden over the horizon will take us forever. Maybe our fear is that it will send us back changed in a way that redefines what it means to find home.

That got me thinking again about those stars I loved so much as a kid. Open just about any newspaper and you are bound to find a horoscope section. Who among us has not looked under our sign at least once for some guarantee of our future?

If the stars can tell our fortunes, I really don’t know. There is one way that human beings from all over the world have used the night sky for as far back as we can measure. The stars have always been a map to guide us home.

Dive in and discover what is on the other side. Swim the ocean or open your heart. There is no guarantee that you won’t get hurt, but the simple beauty and grace on the other side are worth the risk. Even when you have to go home again, the horizon will never leave you, but you have to let yourself be taken in order to find it. You can’t stay lonely on the beach and make a story worth the telling.

Read more here! Chapter 1: The Keeper’s House

The Higg’s Boson, Cosmic Fire and Friendship

Fates Gathering the Stars by Elihu Vedder, 1887

World War II on the Eastern Front. Ice storms rage around Nazi troops as they press through a forest outside Leningrad. Nestled within this scene of bitter cold and the mounting tension of combat, Lake Ladoga waits still, pure and remarkably unfrozen in spite of temperatures that dip below freezing. Battle erupts, soldiers clash, and the forest bursts into a wildfire. Soviet horses escape their stable, leap through the flames and dive into Lake Ladoga.

The next day, Italian war correspondent Curzio Malaparte walks out onto Lake Ladoga and finds himself surrounded by macabre ice sculptures of dead horses in their final gesture as the lake instantly froze around them. Finnish soldiers play on the horses like toys until the ice cracks in April, and the final moments of the horses of Lake Ladoga disappear below the surface.

Curzio Malaparte wrote about the horses of Lake Ladoga in his autobiographical novel Kaputt. Decades later, Malaparte’s story was taken up by astrophysicist Hubert Reeves as an example of a “phase shift” in physics. Normally when water reaches the point of freezing, the molecules turn in on themselves and crystalize. Sometimes when water is very still and pure there is nothing for the crystal to attach to, and the water remains liquid. There is tension in this state though, because the cold is pressing all around, and any disturbance will create an instant shift from liquid to ice. In the case of Lake Ladoga, it was the horses that allowed this shift to happen. Hubert Reeves used the horses of Lake Ladoga as a cosmic analogy of the early state of the Universe when pure energy shifted to matter. In the case of the Universe, it was the Higg’s Boson that allowed this shift to happen.

Click here to watch an example of super cool water.

American filmmaker Walter Murch spends his spare time consuming science books but while on location in France, he found himself out of reading material. He wandered down to the local bookshop where he picked up the French book on cosmology by Hubert Reeves with the Lake Ladoga anecdote by Curzio Malaparte. Murch became so fascinated by Malaparte’s story that he translated his work into English. Murch published The Bird That Swallowed its Cage: The Selected Writings of Curzio Malaparte. Murch also went on to make a documentary on the search for the Higg’s Boson where Malaparte’s horses of Lake Ladoga was used again to illustrate the phase shift from pure energy to matter.

Click here for more on Murch, Malaparte and the documentary Particle Fever

It seems to me that the story of Malaparte and Murch is its own little universal shift. An Italian anecdote on the ravages of war waits to be used in a French book on cosmology. A French book on cosmology waits to be read by an American filmmaker. Walter Murch is inspired to translate the nonscientific work of an Italian writer by a French work of science. Walter Murch goes on to make a documentary on the search for the Higg’s Boson, one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 21st Century.  There is the universe of the Universe, and then there is the universe of Nature, and then there are the universes of our own little, individual lives.

And like Lake Lagoda I have waited pure and still and tense with the potential for change.

What becomes of you when someone else happens along and dips their finger in your lake? A sudden shift from energy to matter…an idea turned to a story or a song or a work of art or a class you always wanted to take but never had the guts….

Ekpyrosis, a word of ancient Greek origin. Defined as “conversion into fire.” The destruction that will convert the cosmos to re-creation. And from this ancient Greek word was named the ecpyrotic model of the Universe, the theory that the Universe did not start out as a singularity, but as a collision of two three dimensional worlds.

And here is where my musings will completely destroy the hard work of physics.

In my imagination, we are all our own little worlds. Connected by a string, we are spread like a necklace through the darkness. Every now and then “someone” or “something” shakes the string. We collide unexpectedly (though perhaps fatefully) with another world, another person. A whole new universe is created from the collision of two bodies. We could call it ekpyrotic friendship, this shift that allows it to happen.

My physics may be faulty, but my intentions are true. The best things in life are born from the fire of ekpyrotic friendship. Thank the Universe for them.

…or I would be a lake pure and still but without a story to tell.

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