Dear Poopinella, Help.

I do not know what is wrong with me. I do not know why I never want to be where I am. I do not know why the urge to escape is so great, all I know is that it is great. Great grand giddy oh. I want to go. I want to drink a bottle of wine, eat a case of brownies, smoke six cigarettes, then lace the last one with weed. (I hate weed). I want to float someplace else, someplace better where mountains are paper scraps and coffee doesn’t do bad things to my heart and there is milk, so much milk, for the lactose intolerant. I want this and a thousand other things in sad November when even the trees are taking Prozac and even the wings have lost their lift. Where can I go? What can I be? Will I always want to escape in this way? Do I need to change my life or just get a little fucked up sometimes?


Go Go Girl

{I started the response below five minutes after writing the above. nineteen hours later + sleep + italian food, this is what I came up with}

Dear Go Go Girl,

I do not know why it is so hard to be a person in the world but certainly it is because there are at least two books on my shelf that have something like “how to be a person” in their titles. Life is hard because of the biggies like racism and sexism and wonky old capitalism and life is hard because life is boring. There are traffic lights and depression and weak lattes. There are stretches of hours and even days that are just so devoid of sparkle you wonder why you can’t kill yourself and be reincarnated as a Harry Potter character. When you are deep in the throws of tedium, I invite you (like the self-righteous ass hole that I am) to breathe in your suffering. Breathe in your suffering then breathe in the suffering of others like you who are a little bored and a little antsy and a little tired of their usual reality. (This practice of Tonglen can be Googled extensively, but eventually you have to get off Google and actually goddamn breathe).

Once you’ve inhaled, exhaled, etc., remind yourself that life is not always this monotone of blah, tempting though that is to believe. You do experience thrilling storms, you do dance in their lovely precipitation. You know the joy of a sentence, a rich line of poetry, how the birds fly together above you in the cold light of an early November morning. You know when the dog runs in the woods and you walk behind her mostly oblivious to her sensual experience but occupying a tiny corner of it, that there is beauty, there is light. You know the stretchy open peaceful bliss of a yoga class, the rare but mighty occasion when you wake up late and awareness washes over you like a beautiful disease. You are susceptible to joy like water is to ice—you eventually recognize it as yourself, just in a cooler form. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, Go Go Girl, soon.

Sometimes life is tedious, just really plucking-the-hairs-from-your-knees tedious. I don’t know if there is merit in the tedium or if there even has to be merit in everything we do (we are so steeped in the language of capitalism it is a wonder poetry exists at all). I’m not saying it isn’t hard, I’m saying it’s so goddamn freaky-it’ll-send-your-wig-to-Jupiter hard. Can you embrace that? What about just for the next thirty seconds?

Maybe getting fucked up is a worthwhile experience. Maybe you should try it. The only problem is that you kind of know that getting fucked up doesn’t work. You could drink a lot and eat a lot and throw up and take some medication to make you sleep and wake up ready to hit the reset button all while full of anxiety and self-loathing. You could do that. It’s just much less appealing doing that knowing what you know now: that this is a bad bandaid, a delightful distraction that does nothing more than distress the damsel further. (The beauty of being twenty-four and not, say, twenty-two or even twenty-three is you’re sort of onto yourself by now). So maybe instead of finding a “solution” you could watch and be aware and keep a log of all your thoughts and wants and experiences, how it feels to be you. If I were to guess, I would say that getting fucked up isn’t going to help as much as observing the inclination is. What is it like to want to leave? What is the color, the texture, the stink of that wanting? Can you stay anyway?

Maybe you say, “But that’s so hard!!!” and I agree, but you already know how to do hard things: the hangovers you’ve suffered, the comebacks you’ve made from stewy darkness. You know how to navigate the Terrible when it comes to the day after drinking. Now apply that skill to sobriety. Flex your muscle that does hard things and do the damn thing, the hardened-honey-that’s-still-sticky-business of staying.

It might also help to remind yourself that what you really want is not a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, but for life to be easy, for feeling good to be as simple and accessible as a glass poured in front of you. Oh honey, don’t we all. The truth is that life isn’t exactly what we want when we want it. Life is a checkerboard of dark and light, “good” and “bad”, agreeable and disagreeable situations. Right now you are in the disagreeable. Eventually you will be in the agreeable, but getting fucked up has never brought you there because life is not a game of checkers, as misleading as my previous metaphor may have been. You can’t jump over the obstacles. You have to get to know your square.

In case you want me to go fuck myself, here are other things you want: to swim naked in the ocean at sunrise, fall in love with someone on the radio like you did this morning with Ta-Nehisi, write an amazing second book, see the red woods and the northern lights. You want to become good friends with your suffering so you can write about it and maybe – this is a big maybe – connect better with your fellow fart breathers (i.e, humans). You want to laugh until you pee a little with your best friend who’s also been known to laugh until she pees a little. You want all of these things much more than you want to get a little fucked up, even if it doesn’t feel that way right now.

As someone wiser than I once said, “Why would you give up everything for one thing, when you could give up one thing for everything?” Don’t give up Go Go girl. Everything depends on it.




Dear Poopinella,

My dad is dying and I don’t know what to do about it. His parkinsons has progressed about ten fold this week (he’s 87) and he just got back from five days in the hospital. I thought hospitals fixed people and maybe they do but I think he lost his mind in there. He came down with some sort of dementia and thought he was in prison and that the nurses were trying to kill him. He blames my mom and I for having him “locked up” and everything he says to us is sarcastic and cutting. He won’t eat or take his usual medication because he thinks everything is “spiked.” And his body is failing him. He’s in a lot of pain and he can’t walk or move much due to the rigidity from the parkinsons. It is the most difficult thing I’ve seen: his mental, emotional, and physical deterioration. Up until last week my dad was the most gentle, sweet and caring father to me. I called him the marshmallow growing up because he could never stay angry long. This new man looks me in the eye and tells me he’s so disappointed in me, swears, tells me I want the worst for him. I know it’s the disease talking, or the disorientation from the hospital stay, but it knocks the wind out of my heart. Not to mention that caring for him is a full time job and it’s that much more difficult when he’s making verbal attacks. I’m afraid I’m going to lose my temper. I’m afraid of how much harder it will get. I’m afraid of the pain and how numb I’ve felt otherwise. How do I be a good daughter without losing my mind in this house where we all share a bathroom?


Bad Daughter On Her Period


Dear Bad Daughter,

It is excruciating isn’t it, seeing the people we love in pain, and how they inflict that pain on us. Your father has been through hell and back, or perhaps he has not come back yet. If he is still burning and it sounds like he is, then keep offering him orange juice. Keep making him milkshakes that you end up dumping down the drain. Offer him a warm face cloth and a funny story from your childhood and a compassionate ear for his “prison stories.” When he says, “How could you do this to me,” say, “I’m sorry. I love you.” When you want to slap him, kiss him. When that doesn’t work, bite your tongue until it bleeds and quickly leave the room. Come back when you can look at him without being secretly glad that he is in pain (which does not make you the devil, only another person sustaining burns in a neighboring furnace).

At dinner your boyfriend will ask you if you think it’s possible to live too long. You will tell him yes, you have living proof seated in a wheel chair in your living room. But that answer will haunt you because you will know, even after one of the longest weeks of your life, that it isn’t true. There is a godliness in all of us that has nothing to do with the functionality of our bodies. It is not contingent upon what we say or what we do or what we think. When a person is, like your father is, knotted up with pain, no longer able to pee by himself, inevitably a voice asks What’s the point anymore? The voice is asking rhetorically but your challenge, Bad Daughter, is to respond somehow. You’ve already started to respond by asking what you can do to help— but when a disease is degenerative and hospice is coming on Monday and you can’t cure him with the tears of the unicorn you hunted for most of your childhood—listen to his snores. Hear how rhythmic and loud his breathing is when he finally receives the gift of sleep. Ask your mom if she needs anything, tell her you’re amazed at her grace then scurry from the room so she doesn’t have to deal with you crying “at the power of love,” on top of everything else. Get out of the house. Smell the lilacs and see the blue gradient of the ocean and pray for the ticks that they find a good dog and pray for the dogs that they survive their ticks—remember that life is a bigger puzzle than our judgments about good and bad, right and wrong, what should and should not be. My hunch is that most truths of living are too obscure for language, and so truth flits past us, glimpsed but not fully understood, and maybe you feel that when you touch your dad’s soft hands as they tremble in yours. Don’t get romantic about it, how’s that? Keep showing up. Say fuck you when you absolutely have to and thank you when you absolutely don’t.