My daughter is 22 months old and changing everyday. Everybody says that the time moves so quickly, blink and she’ll be eighteen and out. My husband even said that just last night, something along the lines of, “We have 16 years with her and then she’s just, poof, gone,” and I reminded him that 16 years is actually a very long time. And when I’m mindful, time stretches. It’s easy to be happy. I’m catching everything, and when I am present, my daughter shines with the attention. Until yesterday, I would beat myself up for all those times I miss, when I am in my own head and far away, when I am inattentive.
Tan changed that for me. Mindfulness is like a muscle, he says, and the more you flex it, the stronger it gets. Each time you recognize you have drifted into daydreams, ruminations, or worries and have left your body behind on autopilot, you can just come back and start over, no big deal. In fact, good job for noticing. It will only get easier from here.
So far, Tan has used this compassionate approach in his description of awareness in meditation, but I’m extrapolating from the tone of the book and what I’ve seen from the table of contents, and slapping on my own ideas of radical-self-forgiveness. I’m only on page 65. But I think that’s the point: I am only on page 65 and I can already tell my worldview has shifted for the better. I have read a third of the book and I am changed.
The book I’m referring to is Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan. Here’s a sample, and I will leave you with the same disclaimer I made in the original post:
I’m not getting paid to endorse it, or to provide opinions, or profit in any way. It’s simply that good so far. But fair warning: don’t let all humble-bragging get in the way of its message.
I wrote a blog post for DateNight.ly, a website dedicated to helping married couples find the inspiration to take time for themselves. I wrote about attending a charity event:
(I have to say, in advance, though no one else in the world cares but me: The ellipses aren’t mine. They were added by the editors. To each, their own.)
Date Night for A Cause
A typical date night doesn’t have to contain food, drinks, and stilted dialogue as you two try to remember how to be romantic and connected.
Imagine, instead, that you’re holding a specialty cocktail, something containing Elderflower liqueur or jalapeno-infused tequila… Your partner holds a frothing ice cold craft beer… The two of you chat with fascinating people who care about the issues that you do.
You’re relaxed, shining. You’re bantering, flirting with your partner. You catch each other’s eyes in silent communion, reconnecting effortlessly. Surrounded by your people, yet it’s still the two of you.
You are the team you’ve always wanted to be.
For a date night like this, you’re looking for a charity night to support a good cause.
I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, which I can’t recommend enough, and I vaguely remembered she had written whatever source Coyote Ugly was based upon. I probably had something else important to do, so seeking it out became First Priority. I found it easily, and as I read, the silver screen and written word jumbled around in my head. I realized: Violet Sanford is Elizabeth Gilbert.
I knew Eat, Pray, Love had been followed by a second memoir, Committed. Turns out both books are technically sequels to Gilbert’s 1997 article for GQ, “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.” Nobody seems to mention this. I did a quick web search, polled friends, heard only crickets. I carried the knowledge inexplicably; I have no idea how I knew. Maybe it’s because I tend to read the trivia of movies I like on IMDB.com? It’s mentioned there briefly, but Gilbert gets no writing credit. When I started looking for it, I thought I was searching for a short story. It’s not.
If you’ve seen the movie Coyote Ugly, “The Muse” will feel awfully familiar. Imagine Violet without all the catchy-song writing stuff or the endearing family in Jersey, but keep all the singing and dancing on the bar. Remove the romantic subplot, almost entirely; manage to keep most of your favorite lines of dialogue. And then realize everything that remains actually happened. The same woman who spent months in an ashram in India scrubbing floors and failing to meditate poured tequila from the bottle straight into the throats of her acolytes. I love it.
By the end of “The Muse” she’s met and married her first husband. Fast forward in time a bit. Cue Eat, Pray, Love, which starts with a painful, difficult divorce. Her happy ending in one medium became the devastating catalyst of another.
You can follow the breadcrumbs further if you want. Committed picks up where Eat, Pray, Love leaves off, at least in terms of the characters and gorgeous descriptions of travel. Committed is a thorough meditation on marriage, a union she is hesitant to enter again. I don’t blame her; in 2015, she wrote an article for the New York Times called “Confessions of a Seduction Addict.” In it she writes:
“You might have called me a serial monogamist, except that I was never exactly monogamous. Relationships overlapped, and those overlaps were always marked by exhausting theatricality: sobbing arguments, shaming confrontations, broken hearts. Still, I kept doing it. I couldn’t not do it.”
In 2016, she announced on Facebook her marriage had ended.
Don’t feel bad for connecting all the dots, finding the overarching narrative, noticing discrepancies, for deliberating which source is more likely to be the most true, the articles or the memoir (I say articles)– she’s putting all this out there for a reason. Writers like her, like me actually, put slices of our lives out there for the world to read, not even veiled as fiction. It’s an invitation. Permission. You’re allowed to try and get to know her by paying attention to what she tells you and to what she doesn’t. Somewhere in there is the real woman, and you can get as close as she’ll let you. Honestly, she wouldn’t have published it if she didn’t want you to read it.
Once, I envied her. Now I simply admire her. I admire the messages she seems to be peddling, like the one that insists we all have something creative to give and that it’s worth it to try. I find it comforting when she assures me that the Universe loves me as I am. To me, she’s a reminder that nobody is the sum total of a first impression, that it’s okay to be liked and disliked, and that a human being is a beautiful-if-flawed conglomeration of experiences.
I don’t have a job right now. I’m occasionally terrified by this. But then I find Big Magic, and it says I’ve fucking got this. Eat, Pray, Love tells me something literally awesome wants me to be who I am, and “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon” proves that we all start somewhere. These are solid forms of inspiration, scattered throughout her portfolio. Leading me somewhere I’m following.
I still have a tough time talking about my dad. The fourth anniversary of his death was last week and I let it pass, unacknowledged. I don’t like to remember that day, and I do my best every year to fog over the knowledge of the actual date. I prefer to remember Veteran’s Day, four days earlier, when I called him to tell him how much I loved him, and unwittingly said our final goodbye.
Brad and I believe that my father met Kenzie before we did, that he has loved her all along, the proof of which materializes suddenly and often, and always seems to be reflected in her eyes. My father called me Blue Eyes, my whole life. A trait we shared, the light-eyed Mackenzies among the dark-eyed Parkers. Kenzie’s eyes are the bluest I have seen, she has sky eyes. Mine are more like the sea, greener, grayer, and I’ve passed the name down to her.
Kenzie recognizes my father in every picture we show her. The close up of he and I dancing on our wedding day, his face and my hair. “Papa,” she says, every time. She named him herself, pure coincidence that it is the name I called the only grandfather I knew. She sees his picture on the mantle, he looks 20 and proud in his military uniform, and again, “Papa.” None of us taught her that. Sometimes she gestures to the air and says “Hi Papa.” This briefly chills me. I usually pause and say, “Hi Daddy. I love you.”
Brad unearthed this picture tonight. We asked, “Kenzie, who is this?” The picture has been in a box for over a year, she has never seen it.
I first felt her spirit’s breeze shortly after the honeymoon, a whiff of brine and caress of ice. We’d returned to the kingdom and castle in that glorious parade, the one with the rose petals like confetti, with music and laughter in every direction. The air was scented with sizzling meat, strong and welcoming, rather than the stench of emptied chamber pots and poverty that had pervaded my home. This was a prosperous, happy village, ruled by my new husband’s father. I remember the heat of the sun- it was high summer, glorious– and in truth, I was beginning to wilt a bit under its heavy attentions. I had been standing for a long time, and my legs were tired, and my face ached from smiling for the last several hours.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I was deliriously happy. This marriage was going to benefit my grandfather’s kingdom, which had suffered during his tumultuous reign. The man had no spine. He lived, but he was weak, bedridden and as incontinent as he was incompetent. My mother had stepped in as acting sovereign. This marriage to my handsome prince was one of her first attempts at restoring something close to dignity. I was radiant.
I was also terribly hot and perhaps teetering toward irritability. That first touch of breeze was a welcome relief, a gift from the gods. The chill that ran along my skin may have caused actual faint steam to rise from the sheen of sweat I’d been trying to ignore and I felt like I could breathe. Honestly, I would have followed that breeze anywhere, but it trailed away like a sigh, or maybe that was my sigh, because I missed it instantly.
I had no idea it was trying to kill me, even then.
When the Sea Witch heard that the “little silent trollop” ended up as sea foam, she laughed for days. Not constantly- she’s surprisingly sane—but whenever there was a silent moment, it would burble out of her like smoke from her cauldron, light bursts of swirling mirth followed by heavy, spilling plumes of malicious glee. She now had a mermaid voice shining from its golden, stoppered bottle and a chest spilling over with the shorn, shining hair of her idiot sisters. They were vain, silly girls who suddenly grew a single heart between them and sacrificed their precious locks for a deadly knife, a dagger that would restore their wayward sister to them. The Sea Witch has gained everything, and it cost her so little.
I was the only person in the world who knew how pathetically little it cost her.
I was an “acquisition” from some previous bargain that I don’t even know anything about. I don’t care what my parents wanted. Apparently, it wasn’t me. Whatever. All I know is that maybe once I wasn’t completely human (it’s rare that humans make it here, but it’s not unheard of) but I certainly am now, and I have been raised in this cavern beneath the sea since infancy. My first memories are human. A little girl who had only heard of sunlight when another supplicant came begging for a chance to have legs and lungs. I’ve been the Sea Witch’s servant and student my whole life, keeping this dark cave clean and gleaming in its fire light, the flames of the sconces shining over the dark surfaces of the water that meets our floor and keeps me trapped.
Really, everything I really knew about the World Out There was because of a gift from that “little silent trollop.” I actually really liked her. I thought she was kind. I cried myself to sleep after she sang her final song and I had to watch as that sweet, haunting voice drifted away from her into the Sea Witch’s greedy possession. She had found a human book of stories, miraculously preserved by some transparent bag that had kept the ocean from destroying the delicate pages. The cover is leather. Soft. The book is illustrated, and the stories filled with magic and heroes and wonder. I don’t know if the stories are true. I do know magic is real.
When the girl sang, the Sea Witch thought it would be amusing to make me watch. “Humans can’t resist the song of a mermaid voice,” she taunted me. “Not even little magical humans like you.” She’d bound me to a chair, so securely I could barely twitch, and yet with the strange consideration she sometimes paid me—I could breathe easily and I was comfortable. I’m going to tell you something strange but true: sometimes I could almost love her. When I didn’t hate her.
The mermaid’s voice was the most beautiful and horrible sound I have ever experienced. She watched me as she sang, a hint of sadness in her beautiful eyes as she regarded me, the way I strained uselessly to go to her, and when the song was over, she winked as though I would understand something wonderful. She was so happy. She was in love and her dreams were coming true and at this moment, this sacrifice of hers meant absolutely nothing to her. She had no idea at the time the ultimate sacrifice would be her life. To this day, I desperately hope she had been happy, at least for a little while.
The night after her bargain, I lay in my bed and I listened to her song in my heart. The more it replayed, the more I started to understand that wink.
I’m going to be free, her song told me. Someday, sweet girl, you’ll find your way to the sky.
From then, I paid close attention to my lessons. I watched the Sea Witch carefully, and she taught me some of her magic. Her true trick—transporting her new little human-fae into the World Out There—she wouldn’t teach me. She was no fool. But neither am I.
It turns out, there’s a hidden door. Of course there is. She would slip me a potion that would knock me out for days and she would perform a ritual and the door opens and she’d accompany her newest Best Friend through the dark and winding tunnels that opened, finally, into the sun. I know this, because I made myself an antidote to her potion. The potion she had no idea I was aware of. I fell asleep like always, but I woke up a few hours later. The door to the tunnels was still open. I had been so close to freedom so many times before, dreaming instead.
I gathered up a few things extremely quickly—I couldn’t have risked packing ahead of time. I gave myself bread and water and cheese and the least worn of my clothing. I grabbed supplies and herbs that I thought might be useful Out There. I unearthed my precious book, and right before I left, I snatched the stoppered bottle with Her voice, and I cautiously fled.
I don’t know if the Sea Witch is looking for me. Maybe. Probably. After all, she really doesn’t like to lose.
At first, all I can see is her. She appears so much larger than any woman I’ve seen before, and if I were corporeal beside her, she’d dwarf me, or maybe I’m wrong because she is so beautiful and the world seems so new and she is very, very alone. She’s naked, her breasts heavy and full and her stomach rounded and maybe she’s pregnant, but if so, it’s early. Her eyes are dark and wild and her hair the same, black and red, hanging in snarls and curls down her back. There is a large wolf by her side, protective, and an owl flitting ahead, like a lookout, pausing in branches until she draws near and then bursting into flight again. She seems sad, determined, lost. Her body is strong, she can walk for miles, maybe days. She is not hungry, not tired. She is humming, a light tune, I catch it like a whisper of a lullaby and I realize it is to comfort herself, perhaps her baby, perhaps her babies.
I begin to decipher thoughts, a language I don’t know but the ideas that I understand, a voice that sounds like the silent voice in my own mind but it’s not mine. She has left something behind, maybe someone, maybe everything, but she sees clearly and her connection to the Source is far more powerful than mine will ever be. She is following her purpose, its path invisible to me but not to her, it seems as she knows exactly where to go. With a sense of great loss, she knows she must leave the safety of everything she has known. She is of the First, but not the only, none of them are, most still having no idea that the rest of the world stretched before them in its beauty and terror, and she must leave him behind, she must go forth and find others, she must protect the life- lives?- growing inside her, and she is instinctively protective, a she-wolf, a tigress. There is no going back, the loss is grief, it is pain, it is consuming, and she puts one foot in front of the other. She will be walking a long time. There is nothing but time.
She wonders if he will miss her. The taste of fruit is still on her lips, she ate her fill, she may never be hungry again, she certainly has had no need for sustenance since she walked away. She is full. The air around her feels like a thunderstorm, and she knows somehow she passed a test, she was bold, she was willing, and she didn’t even tell him about it. It was not for him. She remembers how she felt, as though her face was caressed, as if she could hear “my daughter” and the voice was fond, but the cost was everything she knew, in return for knowing so much more.
Her lupine companion peered into the shadows of the trees and she realized she has been followed, that he is still coming after her, perhaps still entranced by the enchantment that seems to follow her, a song of energy, a promise of potential. But he was not right for her, she felt it in her core, she was second to none and equal to all and nothing else would please her. Anything else would be a prison and so she walked, hurried away, with a pet on her wolf’s head. With his eyes full of understanding, her beast would not kill him, but keep him at bay and she hoped this was not goodbye, not to her wolf, anyway. She was done with any other goodbyes. She had already heard, carried on an errant breeze, the laughter of another woman, its sound beauty in itself and delight, and it reinforced her knowing– this is not my home. This is not where I belong. I must wander. I must keep wandering. I may never stop.
I feel connected to her, I can taste the sweetness on her tongue, it is tart, her chin had been covered in juices and she had felt wild, like lifeblood itself had dripped from her mouth. She smiles like she knows I am here, she feels at peace, she feels, suddenly, less alone. She meets my gaze squarely and as she smiles, my breath is taken away, and then I feel, physically, a snapping and I am alone again, the world a haze of color and time, and then I am awake, in my room, in the dark, but the not so dark, as there is still light from my clock and the hallway light outside my door, still on, so it is gray and tinged blue and thousands of years have passed in an instant.
My heart is confused, it is sobbing; it feels like my mother has left me again. My heart is racing as if I had a nightmare, as if I were in danger, but I’m not, not now, not here in my bed with the blankets heavy across my body and my front door locked to the night. For a moment, I catch a sense of the Other, its frustration, its need to recapture something it believes it has lost. It has a different sense of balance. I think its balance is skewed. Perception. I will fight. I will win. I have a warrior spirit in my blood, and I know this in my core, but the dream is fading until all I remember are flashes- her eyes, her wolf, her determination, her sacrifice.
In the morning, I try to tell Granna of my dream, but my memory is hazy and my description lacking even to my own ears. It doesn’t matter. Granna nods, gratified, as if she has been waiting, as if this was something she had anticipated for some time.
“So you have seen her, too,” Granna says.
“Who is she?” I ask the question but I think I am anticipating the answer myself. This conversation is fated. I already know.
“Lillith,” she says. “As far as I can guess, you have seen Lilith. We all see her eventually.”