Pandemonium #5: Golden Girl

One of Lucy’s digital character illustrations

Today is my daughter Lucy’s “golden” birthday.  She explained at dinner the other night that this is the once-in-a-lifetime occasion when the date of your birthday and your age coincide; she turns 26 on the twenty-sixth.  I’ve had in mind to write something to honor her for a few weeks now, but I haven’t found the chutzpah to face the keyboard.  I am feeling boggy and flaccid in lockdown.  But since it’s a golden birthday, I’m digging deep. I’m going to attempt to write something true.

 “True” in my book is rarely about “facts,” and certainly never about politics. What it always concerns itself with is: love, vulnerability, connection, Nature, service, humility.  “True” wants our own particular oddity to sing out over the hiss of purse-lipped norms and deep-pocketed narratives telling us we should shut up and conform. I believe young people like Lucy in this moment are aghast:  they look out at a world of “adults” steeped in falsehood, wondering WTF is wrong here and why no one seems to name the insanity.  Like Jo-jo in “Horton Hears a Who,” we each have our own insistent, potentially world-changing ‘Yopp!’  But can we hope to be heard?

My answer is emphatically: yes. 

So here’s a post in honor of my gorgeous, amazing, funny, talented, fierce and bewitchingly unconventional daughter on her golden birthday. I intend a celebration of dignity, vulnerability, intelligence, humor, perseverance and LOVE,  panning for gold in these corrosive times. I may not get the words exactly right, and Lucy may be less than appreciative at being singled out for a birthday post. But this act of trying, this attempt at creation, not its product, is my present.  “Yopp!”

Here are some snapshots of Lucy over the past 26 years.  As a baby, we nicknamed her “the barnacle.”  Girl wanted to be held.  She’d come to us for an “uppy”, and when we went to put her down because it was time to cook dinner or mow the lawn or do something that required free hands, we had to pry her little fingers off our arms, while she cinched her legs ever more tightly around our waists. She was like one of those clamp-on koala toys you used to see hugging schoolchildren’s pencils–adorable and ferociously attached. When she was about three years old, we decided we should take away her pacifier because it interfered with her speech, the family dentist muttering ominously about the cost of future orthodontia and speech therapy.  I will never forget the dark look Lucy gave us as we packed away the “boppies,” telling her some bullshit we’d read in a parenting book about how they were just “going away on a little boppy trip,” and she was brave and strong and didn’t need them anymore, so didn’t she want them to go off and have fun? She regarded us furiously, her bittersweet-chocolate eyes seeing right through us to the quivering, insecure core of our parent-selves.  We were doing this to her because we could, because we believed some book we’d read, or pediatric waiting room nurse, more than we could acknowledge the extraordinary depth of her attachment. We had the power, and we were exercising it.  Her look said:  “Make no mistake. You will pay for this.”  I was 37 and she was just three, but I knew I had come up against a force. This regal presence of the pure self in a child is precious.  I believe Lucy might say she has lost touch with that presence, its essence siphoned off by the effort of growing up female in a profoundly sexist culture, the trauma of incarnation in your own unique body, or maybe by being so damned imaginative and intelligent that you anticipate disaster at every turn.  Perhaps, it’s just simple forgetting.  But I saw it in her.  I know who she really is:  A goddess, filled with love and power and righteous wrath.

When she was a little girl, Lucy had this great gravelly voice, throaty and deep.  I could listen to it all day, and often did, the little crumbles tumbling forth unexpectedly, her hoots of enthusiasm crackling into sudden silence, as if the thing, whatever it was, joy or outrage, just couldn’t be communicated. It wasn’t only her speaking voice:  She sang and sang and SANG, raspy, but unerringly on-pitch.  Songs bubbled out of her like a natural spring, songs she knew, ones she made up, sometimes just tones erupting into the air for the sheer, physical delight of making sound.  So much of her core self has to do with expression.

She was also fearful, her brow knitting anxiously at the sound of a mourning dove, or the tall, “scary trees” on the trails we walked daily.  As a new reader, she read the warning on the toothpaste tube about potentially toxic ingestion, and thereafter had to be coaxed nightly to brush her teeth. Lucy clung to me anxiously at first grade pickup, tearfully complaining that it scared her when I was late.  By late, she meant, “not first.”  I’m neurotically reliable, so I always arrived ahead of time. But other parents were earlier than me. I explained to her the difference between “late” and “not first.”  She thought about it, then said emphatically, “so be first.”  I loved that directness in speaking her needs. I’m sorry if life, and social mores for women, plus probably a few choice parenting deficits, has occasionally tempered that candor in her.  But make no mistake, she has a voice, a fierce one.  I don’t simply mean the one in her larynx, although nothing caused her to rear up in defiance like the surgical specialist who told her in high school that nerve damage had caused a node on her vocal cords which might prevent from her ever singing again.  In fact, he said, she should probably rule out a career that required a lot of speaking, specifically performing and teaching. This was like suggesting a dolphin avoid any bodies of water that entail swimming.  She took a year off between high school and college for the express purpose of healing her vocal injury.  Although the specialist recommended surgery, she worked instead with a voice coach to intensively retrain her speaking voice and singing technique, and at her one year checkup, the node was history. I was wowed. She earned that recovery, and she deserved every lead role and new note in her vocal range that came to her throughout college, which was a lot, because she sang her face off from freshman week straight through commencement.  She is currently in graduate school getting her teaching degree in theater education.  Take that, world-renowned Dr. Know-it-all at Mass Eye & Ear.  You don’t tell Lucy what she can or cannot do. 

She is both the most competent and the most creative person imaginable. I can relate. I don’t want to speak for her experience, but I have found it tricky, navigating the dialogue between loose-limbed, starry-eyed Creativity and her bow-tied, box-checking cousin, Effectiveness. That bitch Perfectionism tends to step in, undermining, nitpicking. But Lucy has always painted in the most intense colors, the boldest strokes, and this is her strength. It usually makes a glorious mess, and because society prizes accomplishment over expression, she second-guesses her instincts. Why roar, when you can so easily rack up another achievement?  Such self-editing happens to artists all the time.  And women.  And yet: We know what is true for us.  If we hesitate to speak, well, that’s because it’s hard. Words are imprecise and we have been taught to express ourselves tidily, politely, taking care of your feelings lest our ferocity rip your head off with grizzly-bear viciousness.  Because she is an artist, I hope my girl will shout, scream, BELLOW her truth.  Lucy, I hope you will dare to take up space with your wildest imaginings, to be damned odd, or adversarial, or (god forbid, in a world where female beauty is everything and the President refers to women as “dogs”) unkempt, unfeminine, unreasonable, if it serves your purpose.  Go ahead, get a few more tattoos.  Really, I’m over it.  Don’t compare yourself to others, and certainly not to me.  You are the artist of you.  No one else can dictate your story, so don’t even let them try.

Although it was Memorial Day yesterday, I taught my usual Monday morning Nia class.  Teaching on Zoom, like everything on Zoom, is a mixed bag, but the challenges are different:  getting the music and instructor’s mic at the right levels, making sure students are muted, dealing with inevitable chat messages:  “Why are you so small?,” “My screen is freezing,” “What is that beeping in the background?”  It’s draining, running my own technical production while also trying to craft a meaningful body-mind-spirit fitness experience for students whose undulating thumbnails on my desktop look like ultrasound embryos.  The usual rewards of teaching a live class—connection, shared energy, eye contact, sounding—these are at best, muted, at worst, absent.  The fact that I teach from our family room carries additional obstacles:  dogs bark, the phone rings, one time I kicked over a coffee cup on the rug that someone left there the day before.  With no commute, I don’t have the same transitional time between “life” and “teaching,” which at times makes me feel unprepared and disoriented. 

But yesterday morning was golden.  Our Memorial Day focus was “honor,” whether ourselves, someone we loved and lost, someone we admire, or those whose service we appreciate: military and veterans, doctors and nurses, prophets and truth-tellers and daughters.  Just fifteen minutes before teaching, I impulsively added two songs to the playlist, one which I have never taught before (Sara Bareilles’ “Satellite Call”); the other a Memorial Day staple (Bliss’ “A Hundred Thousand Angels”—it’s haunting, check it out).  I can’t tell you what the students experienced, but here’s how I felt:  hopeful, heartbroken, bursting with gratitude and grief and joy. I can’t believe this is a thing I do: teach movement classes. I don’t know that at 26 I had enough imagination or respect for my inner wildness to believe such evolutions were possible in a life. I missed my brother, who died in December, sick, suffering, broken. I missed the America I thought I grew up in, where we valued honor, decency and service, where Martin Luther King could bring a dream into reality.  My heart cracked for the 100,000 new angels, souls passed away to COVID-19 in the last two months in our country, for the family and friends who mourn them. No matter what their political beliefs are or who they voted for, I grieve for their losses.  And I seethe that while so many suffer, economically, spiritually, physically, the President plays golf and tweets mean-spirited drivel that demeans human dignity.

As the song “Satellite Call” played, the students and I spread our fingers wide and sent our signals out into the universe. This is so you know the sound/Of someone who loves you from the ground/Tonight you’re not alone at all/This is me sending out my satellite call. I felt overwhelming appreciation for that image, for Sara Bareilles’ lyrical musicality. She will forever be the voice of Lucy’s youth, the artist who defines my daughter’s coming of age. Her cheerfully defiant, artist’s declaration of independence “Not Gonna Write You a Love Song” was Lucy’s middle school ringtone; the bluesy “Many the Miles” opened Lucy’s senior speech in high school. Lucy performed Bareilles’ yearning ballad “Bluebird” at her high school baccalaureate, when she was still rehabilitating her vocal injury, and five years later belted out the power anthem “She Used to be Mine” at her senior voice recital at Tufts.  In her memoir, “Sounds Like Me,” Bareilles wrote about the insistent, gnawing anxiety that accompanies creativity; dancing to her music, I remembered this, and gratitude cut me with the gentle sweetness of a knife through softened butter.  How exquisitely generous and loving the Goddess is to cradle us through our doubts and allow her titanic beauty to be born through us. 

Happy birthday, all you golden girls, but especially to Lucy, whose very name is light.  Shine on.

by Bliss

Do you
Hear me calling you
The voice of a mother, a father and a child
Would you recognize the truth
Do you feel a love that’s falling from my eyes
Take just a minute
Come and rest you by my side
Let me tell you your own story
Let me walk you through your lives
Only a second
That’s all it takes to realize
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side.

Do you
Hear me talk to you
I whisper through the doorways
And pathways of your mind
Clear like the morning dew
And fresh from my journey
Cross an ocean of blue
Take just a minute
Come and rest you by my side
Let me tell you your own story
Let me walk you through your lives
Only a second
That’s all it takes to realize
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side
There’s a hundred thousand angels by your side

One thought on “Pandemonium #5: Golden Girl

  1. Bewitchingly weird. So Be first. Lovely portrait of two powerful women who know how to move through the world with grace and confidence. Happy golden birthday, Lucy and thank you Holly, as always, for your beautiful way with words. Stunning!


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