When I turned 34, I wrote that “In my 20s, I didn’t quite know who I was, but I believed I could do or be anything; I was amorphous, evolving — but the world around me felt crisp, knowable, navigable. In my 30s, I know who I am with a kind of true blue certainty, but feel less convinced of my agency, less confident in my grasp on the world. It’s as if I went from being far-sighted to near-sighted; I didn’t know what I didn’t know in my 20s, and now I know what I don’t know — and so my conviction in the shape of things has shifted, shrunk, concentrated in on only the small world around me, the narrow sphere in which I know that 1+1=2. The mathematics beyond skew.”
I am now 38, and the lens is only a little clearer. I think that anyone who has lived through the last decade of politics, war, pandemic, and social unrest has felt this way at one time or another — perhaps for the duration. I am reminded of Corinthians: man only “sees through a glass, darkly.” And so I have set my shoulder against the wheel these past many years, seeking if not the improbable panorama of enlightenment, then at least the rays by which I may draw joy and insight and small pools of meaning in my days.
Not to hitch myself to his wagon too many times (as I already referenced his work last weekend), writer Jedediah Jenkins wrote recently about the concept of “an ethical will.” He notes: “For most people, the last statement you will ever really make is your will. You write out what material thing goes to what heir…as if life comes down to what we collected. The ethical will brings soul into the equation. Brings you. The idea is that you write your values, your beliefs, what you know to be true, to be passed on to your loved ones when you’re gone.”
This is a ponderous task. Even as a conditioned writer, I am not prepared for the strenuousness required of fitting it in the space of this one blog post. But I sit here knowing in a nearly physical way that I am capable of this, and this certainty makes me realize perhaps I have collected more truths than I think.
So, perhaps, a humble five-point start:
Five Things I Know for Certain.
There is a God.*
True love bears all things. This blog is many things but one of its principal shapes is a very long love letter to my husband, who has taught me at every turn that there is nothing stronger, flintier, more unflagging than love. Charles Bukowski, whose poetics are close to anathema to me (but still I love this line, so forgive the piracy) wrote: “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” I think of that phrase on occasion and always startle to realize that I am never imagining myself alone on that fire trail, but there, even in the direst of circumstances, stands my husband alongside me, helping me shoulder the way through. His companionship, his love — the man he is — have not only supported but defined my life. Reflecting on my various closest relationships, I have also learned that true love lets things go. True love forgives. True love accommodates the movement of others and does not qualify. I write this both as a tool for assessing the nature of a relationship (e.g., what is love vs affection? love vs friendship? love vs companionship?) and as a reminder to let the people you love breathe. Let them grow, let them be.
La famiglia e tutto. An inheritance from my Italian grandmother: family is everything. My Dad says “a la famiglia” before we clink glasses, and it is always a chiming reminder of what is core (family) and what is periphery (all else).
There is no substitute for hard work. Inspiration, fortuitous timing, good connections come and go, so you must learn to be disciplined. My career has been one long lesson in self-reliance. I do not believe that people are intrinsically malicious, but I do believe most of us are doing what is best for ourselves. You are your best (and only) advocate, and the surest way to get what you want is to do it yourself. The only consistently trustworthy tack has been keeping my nose to the grindstone.
Discomfort is where growth happens. Life is about taking measured risk. It is good, especially when you are young, to try a lot of different things. You have less responsibility and a long tether. It is OK — normal, expected! — that you don’t have it all figured out. Let things be awkward, bunched up, uncomfortable. There should be periods of your life during which you wake up in a panicked twist of sheets. Which would you rather: the pain of being stuck or the pain of growth? Most of the best things in my life started in discomfort: pursuing an advanced degree, becoming a parent, starting a business, writing publicly, not getting into my first choice college, forging meaningful relationships.
*I wrote a very long sub-essay for this first bullet point, and then realized I needed a lot more time and space to do justice — and that keeping it short and sweet says it all anyway.
There is so much more to say that I haven’t yet touched upon — the importance of reading, the intrinsic creativity of every human being, the power of remaining open-minded — but I will stop there, at the first five things that sprang to mind as truths in my lifetime.
Your turn. What comes to mind first when contemplating what you believe to be true?
+Molton Brown is my favorite brand for hand soap and body wash (elegant, unisex-friendly scents!) and they are currently running a great sale — managed to snag this body wash and this hand wash for $20/pop! These make great hostess gifts.
+The Nordstrom Sale opens up to us plebeians (ha) today! All my picks here. These white jeans aren’t part of the sale but are discounted owing to their price matching quality — I’ve heard such good things about them!
+This blockprint sundress is $120 and adorable.
+This $6 coin purse is an Internet sensation. People love it for travel/just carrying around spare cash and a few cards.
+Could not live without these during sundress season.
+These outdoor hanging lamps are fab.
+Just ordered a few Colorforms sets for the car!
+This chic mini!!!
+Can’t stop thinking about this adorable Gucci beauty case.
+Barbour for a little girl 50% off!