Saturday, January 5, 2019

not OLW but ODT

not my actual dishes, but close
I just went back to see what my One Little Word for 2018 was and found that I didn't choose one.  I think I passed, knowing that I have had a hard time keeping my eye on it for a whole year and feeling slightly fraudulent and failed for taking the trouble to choose a OLW and then losing track of it almost immediately.  It's like embarking on a diet on January 2 and finding on January 3 that you have already blown it.  I have given up that kind of diet, that kind of New Year's resolution, because "resolve" and "will-power" are demons that distract me from One Difficult Truth.

It is this One Difficult Truth that, thanks to time, hurt, reality and Anne Lamott I will have no option but to attend to every single day forever, since it is the essence of every single day.  This is the paradox that you, Dear PF Friend, may have understood since your childhood spent in a bakery instead of a hardware store (you'll have to read Almost Everything: Notes on Hope to get that, although it's such a brilliant metaphor that you might grasp the meaning immediately).

This is the paradox of two truths about life that are bruisingly, simultaneously true at every moment of every day:  life is excruciating AND beautiful.  In each moment, at the same time as I am despairing deeply about the number of children separated and detained in cold metal "facilities," I may also be stirred by a freshet of joy, what Anne calls a "giddy appreciation" for a small, lovely satisfaction, such as how this year the number of holiday cookies was just right for the length of the holiday-cookie-eating season.

I know--duh.  But as Anne says, that all truth is paradox is "distressing for those of us who would prefer a more orderly and predictable system," a more black-and-white reality in which we could know we were Right, in which it's possible to Fix It.  I spent a lot of time and effort in my days as a young parent trying to solve the Dishwasher Problem, which was that no matter what system we devised for processing dirty dishes into clean ones neatly stacked in cupboards, THE KITCHEN WAS ALWAYS STREWN WITH DIRTY DISHES.  Really, I thought that there was some clever, simple way to fix this, if only I could discover or devise it, and it has taken me literally 20 years to understand that the only way to avoid dirty dishes is to stop eating.

And of course, to stop eating, to stop gathering for a hilarious, fraught family dinner as often as is practical, is a recipe for the end of humanity.

All this must be why I keep posting and reposting this old-fashioned poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox.  She understood the paradox of the Dishwasher Problem even before dishwashers were invented, and she didn't even need a fancy metaphor to say it--only a few not especially clever rhymed lines.

I'm sure I still have loads of raging to do against the bitter and gorgeous paradox that is every moment of every day for those who have the wisdom and fortitude to see it.  It's making me exhausted and even depressed to be so wise.  But---

My injured foot healed in time for me to dance on New Year's Eve to "What I Like About You," and as we went around the circle after recess to practice naming our emotions, two 2nd graders said "Today I'm feeling happy because we are back at school," and my spouse took the trouble to find MacIntosh apples at the grocery store, and although these freshets of joy dry up fast when I listen to the news or notice the way my eyelids have drooped so that my boring blue-grey eyes barely sparkle anymore, at least I know this is normal.

I'm late to the roundup today, hosted by Sylvia at Poetry for Children, but I know I'll always feel a giddy appreciation by being a part of it.  Happy excruciating and exquisite 2019 to all.


  1. Happy excruciating and exquisite 2019 to you, too. Right there with you in the paradox.

  2. Love this post!
    (Also like that you danced to "What I Like About You" on New Years Eve. It's one of my favorite 80s songs.)

  3. I love that you keep coming back again and again to this poem! I'm thinking I need to move Anne Lamott up in my TBL (listen, not read...or maybe I should read it so I can linger over lines...)

    Life is a glorious paradox, and we might as well lean into it, right?

    Here's to everything 2019 will throw at us!

  4. I love that Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem, and I'm glad you took OLW and changed it up to make it work for you. Might as well dance...

  5. I have had the same aversion to choosing an OLW for the past few years, and have been struggling with the fact that "at every moment of every day: life is excruciating AND beautiful." The brilliant Maira Kalman shared this with Krista Tippett this morning:
    "I think that in the end we’re left with this sense of not knowing and striving to find the most-true place that you have in this lifetime, with people and with work. I don’t know what else there is."
    I'm not sure it relates exactly to your paradox, but it made me feel better. I hope it does the same for you. (The whole interview is really wonderful:

  6. Yes, Yes, yes...It is a difficult but important truth that despair and joy are all mixed up in this life.

  7. Paradox-truth-enigma-this was a post that I read twice. Paradox is so beautifully defined in Wheeler's poem. I am glad that I am not the only late one to the table, Heidi. Happy New Year!

  8. Ah, now I see. Yes....there is no good without the bad, right? Grief is the price of loving....all kinds of grief and pain. I will look for poems with the dichotomy of this truth. Now to read the Anne Lamott work you cited. Without being able to see happy in the small moments, well, life and life writ large can be too overwhelming. Thanks for sharing in your honest way, as always.
    Very late to the PF party these days. Nanny duty calls with trips away every other week and little time to even breathe. But I love it.


Thanks for joining in the wild rumpus!