Later that same life

This caught my attention and imagination today*: In 1977, Stoney Emshwiller recorded an interview with his future self.  His filmmaker father ran the camera and Stoney "sat in a well-lit chair in a completely black studio and, like some teenaged Johnny Carson, chatted with an invisible older me. During this one-way conversation, I asked my older self tons of questions...then I recorded many different reactions to each possible answer, ranging from polite nods, to joy, sadness, annoyance, surprise, and outright horror."

The result is a poignant, quite wonderful interview between earlier expectations and later experience (and he's crowdfunding to digitally restore the original footage and improve/lengthen the film here if you're interested).

This has me wondering what my 18-year-old self would have wanted to know and what my older self would want to advise if they could actually converse. Here are a few things that might make the clip for me:

18-year-old self to the future me:

  • Are you happy? cute? impressive? 
  • Do you live in a big city with a career? is your life romantic?
  • Did you end up with ________? __________? _________? (I was a fickle 18-year-old)
  • Did you see some of the world? Other countries?
  • How many kids do you have? is it hard, childbirth and parenting?
  • Do you have any regrets?

Older self to young Annie:

  • Go spend more time with your grandparents and parents.
  • Be a better friend to your siblings.
  • Get out in nature more. Look out your window at those mountains and go! You're taking them for granted. You live in a beautiful place. 
  • You LUCK OUT in the husband department. Trust (and choose) the good, kind one who makes you happy. 
  • You'll be surprised how much you love being a mother. Maybe think about having more kids than your original plan. You won't understand this now but you even kind of love childbirth.
  • Aim high in the academic/career aspirations department. Go for it. You want to write? Write. Worry/weight/ponder less, do more. Things have a way of working out. 
  •  Don't try to be impressive, think more about being loving and connecting with people and ideas that you care about
  • Always choose the kind, loving way (and choose those kinds of people as friends, too)
  • Pssst. You know those square little apple computers that your friends have? You should invest in that company. And in like 2005 when you think they couldn't possibly think of another new invention, invest again.
  • Take a stats class. Take 5 of them.  And econ and computer programming and design. You'll be glad. Don't let unfamiliar subjects or intimidating professor scare you off--you'll regret that big time.
  • Don't worry about blending in so much. You're a pretty good chameleon but you'll find your truest friends and feel the best when you show how you really think and feel.

What about you?
(And what would you ask your future self now? what things that I think are important will I scoff at decades later?)

*found via A Cup of Jo and Kottke

A few good gems

Hello, friends. Happy end of August and gateway to the weekend. Let the wild rumpus start! 

Speaking of wild rumpus, can you imagine receiving one of these Maurice Sendak letters?!

Speaking of wild rumpus, can you imagine receiving one of these Maurice Sendak letters?!

I returned back home to Australia from the States last Saturday and it's taken until today not to feel completely jetlagged by 8 p.m. every day, nodding and drowsy through dinner and everything afterwards. I've been exactly like a two-year-old who's just given up her afternoon naps--not to be trusted to sit still and not fall asleep at random places and moments. But, in honor of Friday night, I think I'm going to live dangerously and stay up until 10 tonight to catch up on some shows with G. Have you seen the new (to me) BBC series Broadchurch? Or PBS's Silk? (I'm always sucker for a good British detective/legal series.) What's brewing for your weekend?

 . . .

A few links and good reads I hope you'll enjoy:

- I love this innovative alarm clock from Yanko Design for couples who wake up at different times. Or if you really hate that loud alarm blare. Brilliant! Count me in.

- A terrific longread about a family secret uncovered

Very good advice from Bill Watterson's 1990 commencement speech at Kenyon, recently illustrated in the comic book style of Calvin and Hobbes in a Watterson tribute by Gavin Aung Than. 

- A stunning description of how poverty taxes the brain

- Remembering summer twilights with cousins on the farm--a lyrical tribute to the quality of summers past and the dwindling open spaces of childhood.

- Finally, please enjoy this delightful clip (part of the Atlantic's Creative Breakthroughs series) from Annie Lennox, featuring her take on creativity, finding your own path, locking out your inner critic, and being many things all at once.

See you back here on Monday! In September, no less! 

The scales of our belonging

Last week after I wrote about my Erikson epiphany, Kristine left a fantastic quote in the comments that has been on my mind ever since. It addresses that same idea that Erikson captured: that parenting is a transformative experience and, as our kids start growing up and we have time and space to look around a bit more, we're increasingly primed for generativity, creativity, and giving back to the world more widely.

Since you might have missed the quote, imbedded as it is in the comments, I wanted to pass it along (edited a bit for brevity; see the whole quote here in the comments):

A Mother and Child with its Head in her Lap, Pieter de Hooch

A Mother and Child with its Head in her Lap, Pieter de Hooch

"As mothers, as fathers, we have at our disposal a wonderful time of rehearsal. We may set aside our interests time and again; we may practice watching the interests of others. But if that sacrificial love starts with our children, and stops there, we will have lost our opportunity to fulfill Christ's commandment, and so have everything that He has promised. Christ's commandment is that we love, not just our children, but one another!

"...This is the best news of all, because, mothers and fathers, when our time has come, when, having fulfilled the duties of our state of life we are free to address ourselves to the needs of the world, when it comes time to love one another as Jesus loved us, we already know how! We have already learned! How to teach, how to feed, how to tend, how to heal, how to care, how to love. But it is different with us this time, because we act not out of duty. This time, in addition to knowing how to love, we also know why.

"...Having practiced our scales, played the daily exercises of love for our children, the scales of our belonging, now we come to the concerto. Now the music begins. Having loved our own, we now can love the world. Now we rise to the task for which parenting prepared us...because although we lost ourselves in our mothering, God remembered us, and brought us forward, and made us new."

- Reverend Canon Susan Harriss, Mother's Day sermon

It's a reminder I needed--that, in all the mundane and profound daily sacrifices that parenthood requires, we also launch ourselves.

Leaving notes

Every once in a while, I come across an idea that makes me wish I could go back and start parenting all over again. (Like those wonderful yearly photos of your children in the same spot? Or monthly in the same shirt? I missed the boat on that 19 years ago. Sigh.) An archived article in Esopus Magazine had me wishing for a parenting time machine. According to the website, "exhibition designer Robert Guest has been getting up at dawn every school day for the past 15 years to write a note to each of his two children, Joanna and Theo. Included in Esopus 10 is a sampling of the thousands of letters written by Guest and collected by his wife, Gloria, from lunchboxes and laundry piles." Here's the text from one of them (above left):

"The world Joanna--you can't imagine how beautiful it really is. Think of the different places--tropical islands, snow-capped mountains, deserts of sand, miles and miles of green fields. It's awesome! Think of the kinds of weather--bitter cold - blinding sun - stormy wind and rain - cool breezes - warm winds. It's awesome! Think of the people in the world --black & brown, yellow and red, and white - old, young and babies of each. It's awesome! And just think. You get to be here in the middle of it all. So what do you do? You smile, you say "thanks" and you live! Love, Dad"

What I love about these is that they aren't just about his love for the children (which of course is important) but it's also about sharing his thoughts and perspectives about the world and life. (In a similar vein, this week Maria Popova shared poignant notes of motherly wisdom from notable mothers on her site Brain Pickings.)

Luckily, it's not too late for us to write something, even if it's not the fantastic, letter-a-day idea. Maybe a yearly birthday letter for starters. Or a well-placed post-it every Monday morning. Or a weekly letter mailed to your college student (or grandkids!). Or a running journal, just for that child, to be given at some future date. Just start where you are and go from there. Still, there's something magnificent to admire in the consistency and longevity of 15 years of daily letters.

In an age of wireless, intangible, in-the-cloud technology, I think writing it down--on paper, in handwriting--has power and longevity, more than the earnest lectures on responsibility (or does that just seem to be my go-to lecture?) or any shiny new gadget. Those tucked messages to our kids eventually nestle in pockets and fists and musty shoeboxes carried from home to apartment and home again to be pulled out, uncreased, and remembered, long outlasting their author. I know because I have a box of them myself. Treasures (or tray-sures, as they say in my hometown).

Launching notes

Or: Liner notes to growing up

Or: Nest & Launch Finishing School?

Lauren, 2011

Lauren, 2011

One day two years ago, I suddenly realized that Lauren (who's our oldest) would really, truly be leaving home for university at the end of the summer. What had been purely hypothetical for so long was quickly shifting into the actual. Do you know what you do when you think you have just three months left to impart what little wisdom about the world you’ve acquired? You panic a little. You wonder if you’ve done/said/explained enough. And then you realize: no. No, I haven't told her everything yet. 

I should add that now I know that there’s not just one launch day, one departure. Leaving for college is a huge milestone moment for everyone involved but there are still many more moments to teach and debrief and parent, especially during all the comings and goings of the revolving door of the college and young adult years. Now that we've been through that cycle several times with Lauren, my proverbial apron strings are getting all stretched out and frayed from all the tying and retying and adjusting. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Lauren, HS graduation, 2011

Lauren, HS graduation, 2011

Anyway, back on that day in 2011 I started writing down some of my observations about being a grown-up that I wanted my kids to know. I called it my liner notes because waaaay back in the day I pored over the liner notes of my cds, curious to find the story behind the music. What I hoped to do with my liner notes (and still do) was to set down the story behind the music of growing up and setting off on your own, to school my kids in the lyrics of life. (I also interchangeably called them launching notes.)

For starters, here are the first few I came up with:

  1. Thank you notes really are essential. Don’t cash the check, use the gift, or read the book until you’ve written a note, preferably a real envelope-and-paper, stamped, delivered note. It doesn’t have to be long. It can just say “thank you so much.” But thank you notes are non-negotiable: it lets the giver know you got it that you appreciate it, and it increases the chances that you’ll be invited back or given something again. Trust me on this one.
  2. Never get your hair cut in the midst of an emotional crisis or the day of a big event. Haircuts, like new hiking boots, need a significant waiting/breaking-in period. ‘Nuf said. 
  3. Don’t expect mind reading. As much as it would be lovely for boyfriends/girlfriends, spouses (though I predict you’ll each have just one), friends, roommates, and work colleagues to have the capacity to read your mind, life is happier when you express your expectations and air your thoughts.  Be clear, seek clarity.
  4. Always go to the funeral. Here’s why.

Now for a bit of audience participation:  What should a launched young adult know? What bits of knowledge do you want to make sure your growing kids know as they launch into their late teens, 20s, and beyond? 

I'd love to hear what's on your list. Email me your launching notes--they can be significant, everydayish, or just trivial bits of knowledge--and I’ll include them in future posts (with credit and links to you, of course). You can reach me at or by clicking the envelope icon under my name over there on the sidebar. >>>

Mobile therapy

Sometimes to distract myself from the fact that I'm exercising, I listen to a podcast. (My thighs are so gullible! They fall for it every time.) A month or two ago, I listened to an On Being episode with the always fabulous host, Krista Tippett, interviewing Dr. Sylvia Boorstein (who is part wise Jewish grandmother, part therapist, part Buddhist teacher). She had some insightful comments that really resonated with me about reacting and responding as parents on those tough days and moments. 

photo: Massimo Dutti

photo: Massimo Dutti

On always being a mother, even when your kids have grown:
Dr. Boorstein:
I tell people — I tell people that I could have the most profound equanimity and I am two words away from losing it completely. Then they say, "What are those two words?" I'd say, "Well, you have to understand that first the phone has to ring. Ring, ring and you pick up the phone and a voice says, "Hello, Ma?" and [if] it doesn't sound right.

. . .

Wise effort and the difference between "Can I care?" vs. "Am I pleased?" (though she talks about younger children in the example below, I think it applies well to older kids, too)
Ms. Tippett:
 Let's talk about this core insight that suffering — and, again, we're acknowledging that parenting is the greatest loss of control we ever suffer — that suffering results from struggling with what is beyond my control, that idea that our minds get in conflict with our experience and that's where suffering comes from, not so much from the realities themselves, but how we struggle with them. How do you think that applies to this?

Dr. Boorstein: Well, I just remembered actually just before we came out here this evening. I was sitting backstage and I remembered I was on a flight last Friday, and there was a family of five traveling with me. And everything is progressing well; it wasn't a terribly long flight. Near the end of the flight, the two- or three-year-old, she just fell asleep and now she's awakened and it's late in the afternoon. Probably her naptime is way off. She not only woke up, but she woke up and she's beside herself and crying and flailing in the way of three-year-olds. I watched these two parents and they were fabulous. Her mother was completely just consoling, quietly talking to her, not losing her equanimity at all. I was marveling at it. I thought it was wonderful.

You know, sometimes you see much more upset parents. This parent was not upset. Then by and by after a little while, the dad over here said, "Pass her to me." So they changed children. She passed this one back to him. And then he — behind me — spoke to her in such a kindly way, and slowly, slowly she pulled herself together. I just so admired their parenting skills. I admired it because, first of all, the child calmed herself down. They didn't whiz themselves up and create more suffering for themselves. They also didn't create more suffering for the whole plane because, you know, sometimes when a child is getting upset and the parent becomes all upset, then you feel pulled into it.

Ms. Tippett: Right.

Dr. Boorstein: But somehow these parents' equanimity was like a calming effect around the whole plane. And I thought well they were really — at the time, I thought they were really good parents. But I thought the element of their goodness was that they're acting very wise, and that the wisdom involved is this child is two and a half and that's what two-and-a-half-year-olds do [ed: or, in our cases, 12- or 16-year-olds] when they're awakened from a nap in the middle of a loud and rumbling landing.

Ms. Tippett: You know, that's also an illustration of a distinction you made when you talk about wise effort. I found this really helpful. I feel like that's a story about it. You said in terms of our reactions, that there's a big difference in any moment between asking, "Am I pleased?" Which of course, on an airplane and you have a screaming child, you're not pleased. You're embarrassed. You think you will be less disruptive if you can make them quiet. But the difference is between asking, "Am I pleased?" or in this moment, "Am I able to care?"--

Dr. Boorstein: Yeah. For the child and for myself in a kindly way.

. . .

On being kind to ourselves
Dr. Boorstein: 
I was thinking about the GPS in my car. It never gets annoyed at me. If I make a mistake, it says, "Recalculating." And then it tells me to make the soonest left turn and go back. I thought to myself, you know, I should write a book and call it "Recalculating" because I think that that's what we're doing all the time.

That something happens, it challenges us and the challenge is, OK, so do you want to get mad now? You could get mad...Indignation is tremendously seductive...So to not do it and to say, wait a minute, apropos of you said before, wise effort to say to yourself, wait a minute, this is not the right road. Literally, this is not the right road. There's a fork in the road here. I could become indignant, I could flame up this flame of negativity or I could say, "Recalculating." I'll just go back here.

. . .

Maybe it was just the timing in my life but this was like a bolt-of-lightning, lightbulb moment pep talk for me!  What do you think of her words of advice? 
p.s. Any other podcasts recommendations to distract my gullible muscles?

If you're interested in hearing more, listening to the edited or full interview is well worth the time. Or you can watch it here