Dear Gloria circa August 2000,

I am writing from the future. Ten years ahead in fact.

I’ve seen all the movies and read all the cautionary tales that warn about the negative effects altering the past could and most likely would have on the future, so I want to be really careful here. It’s important that I impart a few words of advice, but, though there are aspects of my life today that I would love to undo, there are many aspects that I wouldn’t change for the world. I have no desire to try to alter your path. I wouldn’t wish any of your choices be different. My goal here isn’t to warn you against doing what I’ve already done, but to arm you with tools that I’ve only just begun to collect and use.

At this point in your life, you are 24 years old. You’re living with your seven year old daughter and a roommate in a house you really love. You’ve just accepted your boyfriend’s marriage proposal. Good for you! Your whole entire life is about to change.

May I suggest that the most important thing you could possibly do to prepare yourself for your life ahead is to learn how to argue? I don’t mean how to be the loudest or the most aggressive, but to really truly engage in intelligent debate that is based in critical thinking. In 2000, the internet is not quite what it will be ten years later (I don’t think I’m ruining anything there), but you could try to look up “Logical Fallacies” in a search engine. The public library would also be rife with useful information. Pay close attention to “Ad hominem,” specifically “Ad hominem tu quoque.” These types of arguments will be a regular occurrence in your life. This is no surprise; they already are.

Please note: it does not magically go away. You cannot try harder. You can only try smarter.

Go to the mirror, young Gloria circa August 2000. Look in it. Say to yourself out loud, “I cannot try harder.” Now say, “I am alright the way I am. I am doing my best.”  Repeat.

We all have stories we tell ourselves. You can only ever control your own story. So let it tell you that you’re okay.

Believe your own thoughts more. You think you know what you’re talking about a lot and you allow people to convince you otherwise. I can tell you – there are many, many times you do know what you’re talking about. But be careful! Watch for the times when you don’t.

Specifically, learn to double check emails and verify facts. Even if you’re sure you remember something accurately, learn to double check calendars and re-read emails and other correspondences – especially when you’re feeling reactionary to how you remember this information. You’ll be less likely to go off half cocked, to shoot off at the mouth, or to shoot yourself in the foot. Any time you feel reactionary, see a gun in your head. Think of it as a trigger. Then, take a deep breath, remove yourself from the situation, verify your information, and proceed accordingly. I can’t impress upon you enough how much grief this will save you.

Learn to double check.

Your gut will tell you when you’re talking about something you know about and when you’re treading dangerous ground . Learn to listen to your gut. It knows.

The second most important thing I want you to know is that you’re a good mom. You are making so many mistakes right now. This will not change. What will change is your attitude toward your mistakes, so if you could just learn to be patient with yourself now – or, at the very least, start working toward that goal – you’ll be ahead of the game when you get where I am.

Don’t give up.

You need mommy friends; try to find some.

Don’t alienate yourself so much.

Nobody cares as much as you about how you’re doing with raising your daughter or how old you were when you had her. And that’s okay. When in doubt, please repeat the mirror exercise described above.

Stop worrying about getting in trouble. You are always going to piss somebody off somewhere. Maybe it’s because you weren’t tactful enough or because you spoke out of turn. Maybe it has nothing to do with you. The point is: no matter what you do, there’s always going to be somebody who doesn’t like it. Learn to stop suffering about that now. Suffering is a choice.

While you’re at the library researching arguing, check out some books on The Human Condition. Nobody is better than you and you are more okay than you think you are. One day, you’re going to find a copy of The Desiderata at a garage sale. You’re going to buy it. When you do, pay special attention to the part that says, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Read this every day if need be.

Truly, Gloria circa 2000, you are a fine mom. You’re doing the best you can and it’s enough. And even though you feel frustrated, please remember: it never helps anything to punch holes in the wall. It hurts. You look like an idiot. You’ll see what I mean. Also, screaming and yelling will just make people quit listening to you. Learning to argue is the way to go.

Some day you’re going to learn that when you make a parenting mistake, you should apologize immediately. Know that this applies to your marriage, too. All relationships, actually. You don’t have to feel bad every time you make a mistake. You’re human, just like everyone else. Also remember that Thank you and I’m sorry are more effective when said only once. Be on guard to never sound like you’re groveling.

Third, while you’re at the library or on the internet researching, go ahead and get some books on debt. Learn the definition of capitalized interest. Really wrap your mind around the term working poor. Research the shit out of student loans and higher education funds. While you’re at it, grab a book on scholarships and grants and see if you can learn something.

Never sign anything without getting the advice of someone you’re not related to first. Never. Never, never. Add this to your mirror mantra. Say it once a day.

Fourth – and this is so very important – you never, ever, ever have to have sex when you’re not interested. Marriage does not make this fact less true. Choose not to feel too badly about this. When you’re standing in front of the mirror doing the exercise described above, go ahead and add this mantra to it.

Say: I cannot try harder. I am alright the way I am. I am doing my best. I never, ever, ever have to have sex when I’m not interested and there is no reason to feel bad about this.”

Repeat.

Well, that’s the most important stuff I need to tell you. But, since I have your attention and I’ve gone through the trouble of hiring that cyborg and renting out the time machine, I might as well add in a few other bits of advice. Consider it gravy.

Do Kegels. Every day. First the mirror mantra, then Kegels. You’ll thank yourself later.

Listen to more They Might Be Giants. Don’t wait until you’re nearing thirty to rediscover them.

You’re never going to like The Grateful Dead. You’re never going to be able to explain why. You will, however, stop feeling violent when you hear them. Eventually.

Stop smoking. Do I really need to tell you this?

Start working on your triceps now.

Floss more.

To date, I’ve spent $177 on lottery tickets and have never won more than a few dollars. Instead of ever playing the lottery, take this amount of money (now, before you’re married), invest it in Apple Corporation, and never tell anyone. You’ll thank me.

Quit putting so much basil in your pasta sauce. Less is more. As a matter of fact, start trying to think in those terms about all things – less is more. Except Kegels. You can’t do those enough.

Finally, I love you. I love you then and I love you now. Which means that yes, someday you will learn to make this happen. You’re on the right path, Gloria circa 2000. Suffering is a choice. You can suffer and get to a place where you can love yourself in ten years or you can choose not to suffer and still get to a place where you love yourself in ten years. The choice is yours.

Be well.

Breathe.

Love,
Me
You

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GLORIA HARRISON is a writer whose work has been featured on The Nervous Breakdown, Fictionaut, and This American Life. Gloria was the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, which was published through Ooligan Press in 2007. She was also a contributing editor to Pete Anthony's book, Immaculate, for which she received a high five and a ten dollar gift card to Stumptown Coffee. Gloria graduated from Portland State University with her B.A. in English in 2006 and now focuses on her own writing. She had a work of flash fiction published in The Bear Deluxe Magazine (No. 26). You can follow her on Twitter here.

Gloria lives in Portland, Oregon with her school-age twin boys. She is currently working on both a memoir and her first novel. You can contact Gloria via her Facebook page.

173 responses to “No One in the World Ever Gets What They Want, and That Is Beautiful”

  1. Carol Hiller says:

    Oh, my, had I but known…

    But you’re right about the kegels. And the love.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    Nice piece, Gloria! If only we could go back in time, huh? (If only just to invest in Apple!)
    This got me thinking about what I would say to my younger self:

    Always go for quality over quantity. This applies to clothing, friends and especially men. The cost is higher but it’s worth it. Quality lasts, the rest is disposable. Treasure the quality. Don’t bother with the shit. It’s cheap for a reason.

    Sometimes a great kiss is just a great kiss. It doesn’t have to mean forever. It doesn’t always mean true love.

    Fairytales only exist between the pages of books. There’s nothing written that says you are owed a happy ending. The handsome prince sometimes really is a frog. No one is writing your story but you. Sometimes you will be the Sleeping Beauty, but you will also be the Evil Stepmother. Beware the glass slipper because when it breaks your feet will be torn to shreds.

    There are no mistakes, only lessons. When you fuck it up, admit it, accept it and don’t do it again. It is carelessness that will trip you up. Take care of the people you have made love you. Take care of the ones who have learned to rely on you. Be honest. Be truthful. Don’t keep fucking it up.

    Take notice of the people who don’t call you when you have suffered a fall. Take note of the people who ONLY call when you suffer a fall. Avoid both of these groups.

    Love is everything. Even when it turns bad, it is worth it. Heartbreak and betrayal will sometimes be the price you pay, but it won’t kill you. It may crush you, but you will rise again, with the same amount of love in your heart. Love is everything.

    Yes. Love is everything.

    • Gloria says:

      Ah, Zara. The advice you’d give yourself is great. It’s a perfect mini essay in and of itself.

      Quality lasts, the rest is disposable.

      Sometimes you will be the Sleeping Beauty, but you will also be the Evil Stepmother. (*deep, heavy sigh*)

      Take notice of the people who don’t call you when you have suffered a fall. Take note of the people who ONLY call when you suffer a fall. Avoid both of these groups. (<—- this one is just about perfect)

      And a great kiss is just a great kiss. Yes, the hardest truth I’ve recently had to face and move on from.

      You’re a wise woman, Z. And yes, love. Love, love, love.

      • David says:

        Take notice of the people who don’t call you when you have suffered a fall. Take note of the people who ONLY call when you suffer a fall. Avoid both of these groups. (<—- this one is just about perfect)

        That one struck me too. Particularly the second part.

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    It’s nice to finally read a letter at TNB that isn’t all silly jokes about song lyrics or porn films…

    Seriously though, a lovely piece. Nay, brilliant. Or both, I suppose it can be both.

    And I think everyone can learn a little something.

    Glad you posted before I go offline whilst moving house.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Silly jokes, porn lyrics, and imaginary letters to past selves always have their place, Irwin. 🙂

      Good luck with your move, love.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        clearly they’re very popular!

        thanks for the wishes. did I tell you about the onion truck?

        my parents have gone to the house already, and tractors go buy spilling onions over the road. it’s proper countryside!

        • Laura says:

          Irwin, I’ve been watching a documentary on British history; every night I watch 2-3 hours of it until I fall asleep. I can’t help but think of you, and wonder if your ancestors were a part of all these events. Now I can add the image of onions on the road, on the way to your country house. Feels so quaint in my imagination.

          Have fun moving, can’t wait to hear about all your adventures.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I love a good historical documentary. I also discovered I love museums even more than I used to. Love a good museum.

          I think about my ancestors quite a bit. Especially as I have Irish and German ancestry. In fact it really depends on which period of British history it is and the side of the family. Until the mid Victorian period the Irwin’s were in County Mayo, Ireland. Living in the countryside. There was a James Irwin who worked cutting down trees.

          Which events have you been watching? I’m actually annoyed I can’t an answer right away. I wish I was as interested in history at school as I am now.

          I’ll probably take some pictures of my new home when I get there. Apparently Ely cathedral is visible from the village, and Ely cathedral is one of the Medieval wonders of the world. It really is incredibly beautiful in the pictures I’ve seen already.

          I’m looking forward to the move. I also find it quite funny, because I didn’t think I could any more stereotypically English…

        • Gloria says:

          Irish, huh? Don’t the English hate the Irish on principal? Or some such nonsense…” I’m a really bad anglophile.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          They do.

          1/8th of my genetic make up hates the rest of me, and I hate it back. The German 1/8th of me and the other 7/8ths used to hate each other, but we’ve decided to just forgive and forget.

          My war torn liver however stands as a timely reminder of histories past mistakes.

        • Laura says:

          Basically, all of Europe spread their seed in England, according to this documentary (which is called Monarchy by David Starky).

          You had the Romans first, then the French, there were Dutch and Spanish, later came the Germans, and you always had the Scots and Irish just next door. Apparently, my family had a unicorn on the family crest which means we are related to Mary Queen of Scots, which means we were related Elizabeth I, James I, etc etc. But really, by the time you get to the US…we’re all so mixed up, you can’t claim to be anything, or you can claim to be everything!

          Can’t wait for photos, Irwin! I’m gonna hold you to it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Oh! David Starky! I’ve had to watch so many of his documentaries at school!

          Apparently ‘Irwin’ is actually a Welsh name, so there’s a chance my family was Welsh before it was Irish. History is brilliant. I usually prefer 20th century history, but going way, way back is fun.

          I’m looking forward to taking some photos. I got a camera for Christmas and I haven’t used it as much as I was intending to.

  4. Mindy Macready says:

    You heard the tired term “If I had to do it all over again , I would not change a thing” That is bullshit of course I would change some things. I would go back and change a lot of things. I cringe at my past and try to forget the explosions.

    This piece is excellent I need to print out and read everyday it is really is therapy for you but I need it too.

    Hit-Girl

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      That is bullshit! You know what else I hate? “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” OH YEAH?? I’d be willing to give it a fucking shot!

      As for changing things, though, I really do worry about The Butterfly Effect. You know? If I was able to be born with better boobs, would I have to give up my great teeth? If I didn’t marry someone who was ultimately a bad fit, would I instead have been hit by a bus? Yet, there are all of these hard life lessons we learn and I know that if I’d been better equipped… But then what? At any rate, it’s a moot point because it can’t happen, but it’s great fun to imagine.

      Thanks for reading, Mindy.

      • David says:

        I would change many things, BUT, I don’t regret or begrudge myself the choices I made, mistakes and all. After all, we are the sum of our experience and I kind of like me and the place I have arrived at.

        When thinking about this, it is important to remember that if we could go back and change things, the only reason we would be able to make better choices the second time around is what we learned from making the wrong ones in the first place.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          I like me and the place I’ve arrived at to. Most days anyway. I’m not exceptionally pleased with the path I took to get here, though. But I see that it’s best not to focus on that.

        • David says:

          I agree. What if is a largely unproductive game. Those that have had easy lives are generally not the deepest or most interesting people. Would we be the same people if the path had been straighter? Who knows, and as long as you like where you are, what does it really matter.

      • Tawni says:

        “Money doesn’t buy happiness.”

        I hate that one too, Gloria. I am pretty sure that having money would effectively erase all of the things that are presently making me unhappy because I don’t have enough money for them. Using the dictionary definition of happiness (1. the quality or state of being happy, and 2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy), ask a very poor person what would make them really happy. They probably aren’t going to give you an answer involving inner peace, spirituality, or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

        • David says:

          Totally true. The bottom two layers of Maslow’s pyramid is satisfied with what?… Yes, MONEY.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          I’d never even heard of Maslow’s pyramid. Or maybe I had. But I’d forgotten. At any rate, it doesn’t sound like there’s a real need in my life to study it.

          I read an article on Yahoo! news yesterday that talked about a woman who charged 214K on Liv Tyler’s credit card last year. And I thought: 1) who has that high of a credit limit? and 2) it must be nice to have so much money that you don’t instantly notice an extra 214 thousand dollars charged to your account. I notice when there’s an extra $2.14 charged to my account. And I call to right the wrong. You know? Insanity.

        • Sarah says:

          I believe it’s true that money doesn’t buy happiness but I believe it buys the peace of mind to not have to stress about the bullshit, thus allowing people the time and energy and resources to pursue happiness.

        • David says:

          I did a lot of flight instructing way back when. Maslow little pyramid is really quite useful in that environment.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Or as my dad always says:

        “Money don’t buy happiness, but it sure makes being miserable a hell of a lot more tolerable.”

  5. Simon Smithson says:

    I’m so about getting what I want.

    I think it has to be possible, at least some of the time.

    But then, growth comes so often from the things we don’t want – or at least, the things we don’t expect.

    As Reno Romero said to me, ‘It’s called AFGO. Another Fucking Growth Opportunity.’

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      AFGO. Love it.

      I tell my friend Tree that my life has been a series of character building experiences. Which is why I have such an OUTSTANDING character. 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      I’d also like to point out that my title is from They Might Be Giant Lyrics.

      No one in the world ever gets what they want and that is beautiful. Everybody dies frustrated and sad and that is beautiful.

      The song is about arguing.

      I almost named this piece “The Words I’m Saying Now Mean Nothing More Than Meow To an Animal.”

    • Zara Potts says:

      Reno is full of wisdom.
      I like his “I’m fucking outta here.”
      *punch the air with fist*

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Or his classic: ‘Hey, I know what’s going on. That’s all that fucking matters.’

        Huh.

        Now I think about it, all our Renoisms are curses.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Although, speaking of meowing: according to folklore, cats can speak back if spoken to in rhyme on Christmas Eve.

        • Gloria says:

          We need a 365 day tear off calendar of Reno-isms. That could go in the TNB virtual store, along with the swimsuit calendar.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          If there’s going to be a swimsuit calendar, I demand a good airbrusher.

          My feminist principles have a limit.

        • dwoz says:

          Becky, I am a photoshop guru, and I am ALSO an airbrush artist. You will not suffer plebian scrutiny.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well, I’m being a little presumptuous assuming I’d be in it.

          There was talk of an all-male one, which I, of course, would much prefer.

        • Gloria says:

          Wasn’t there a thing where all the guys dressed up in drag at one point? Am I making that up?

  6. Don Mitchell says:

    Learning how to argue is excellent advice. I’d couple if with something like this: if you’re interested in, or even attracted to someone who cannot or will not argue in good faith, run away. Immediately. It’s the best sign that the relationship cannot possibly work.

  7. Becky says:

    I really cannot agree more about learning to argue.

    Life gets easier when certain portions of arguments become non-factors because you realize they’re not part of the argument and true or not, false or not, insulting or not, they’re intended to draw you away from the real content of the argument for the other person’s convenience. That these things can be justifiably disregarded–in practice, ignored completely–in the interest of an algebraic form of assertion and contention that is thousands of years old.

    When you can make math of a dispute, it makes it so much easier not to get mad. Usually. Or a lot of the time, anyway.

    If the person with whom you’re arguing is used to relying on being able to make you mad, Vulcan Gloria will be a weird and terrifying force.

    Go Sparta! 😉

    (But with less of that losing stuff at the end. Go Sparta in an alternate universe where they win.)

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      When you can make math of a dispute, it makes it so much easier not to get mad. Usually. Or a lot of the time, anyway. Greater advice was never given, Becky.

      Thank you for all of your arguing wisdom.

      Are Vulcans terrifying? I thought they were just relentlessly, patiently steadfast.

      Go Sparta!

      • Becky Palapala says:

        Well, yeah.

        But that can be pretty terrifying to a person whose main strategy relies on being able to manipulate other people’s emotions.

        • David says:

          This is very true. I think a distinction needs to be drawn between being adept at arguing, and being skilled at debate (I know I am making assignments here and descending into dangerous semantical waters). The former might imply listening considering and presenting arguments in order to find common ground, or arrive at the best decision. The latter might imply using verbal and logic tools to win. The former is absolutely necessary for a healthy relationship, the latter should be left to politics (or even better, banished all together).

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Wait.

          Why are we banishing logic, again?

          And what are the implications if the relationship is already over?

        • David says:

          Who is banishing logic. It is the misuse of logic (or any other tool for that matter) that I would like to see go.

          Any good argument should be rooted firmly in SOUND logic, which will, by nature, change as more information is received.

        • David says:

          Oh, and concerning the relationship, if you are arguing, the relationship is not over.

        • Gloria says:

          @David – I took your original point to mean that you’re not advocating against logic, but against the idea that there has to be a “winner.” I agree, actually. I mean, in the context of interpersonal relationships. I think it’s important to win in political or some other non-human type of debate.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          If you say so.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          That was @David’s “relationship not over” thing.

        • David says:

          @Gloria. Exactly. Even if there is a winner, if the goal is to win, rather then to arrive at the truth or best decision, it is a debate, not an argument (as I draw the distinction) and cannot be productive. Even if you are right and you “win” you will just foster resentment.

          @Becky. The romantic part may be over, but it is a relationship just the same.

        • Gloria says:

          I agree that an argument here or there doesn’t end a relationship. But in most wedding vows there is the line, “For better or for worse.” And, you know, one day I woke up and said: isn’t the word better in there, too?

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Well that’s very nice, but if the relationship is with someone that you’re no longer married to but with whom you still have some scores to settle, I say, by all means, go for the win.

        • Gloria says:

          Yes, well, I think that remembering that you don’t have to win while in a relationship is super important. And even though when you divorce a person you still parent with you’re relationship doesn’t end, that doesn’t mean that the relationship doesn’t change, either. I mean, the gloves can’t come off, but certain rules change. You know?

        • David says:

          The rules change, the relationship changes, but it is still a relationship and interactions can be constructive or destructive, and regardless of who deserves what, the former will be better for all.

          In the words of Clint Eastwood, “It ain’t got nothin’ to do with deserve.”

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          Honestly? I think all advice should start out with “In the words of Clint Eastwood…”

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I do know, Gloria.

          My point is that the civilized, mutually caring and respectful types of discussions David–and probably most people–would prefer are, then again, only possible if both people are willing to proceed that way.

          Playing to win, in that context, has nothing to do with stooping to the other person’s level or playing unfairly. It has to do with a game initiated by someone else and maneuvering within those constraints to get what you need and, in some cases, what is rightfully yours.

          There are people on planet earth who do not know how, nor are they moved by, nor can they be taught to settle problems in a cooperative way. They do not want to cooperate.

          If those kinds of people want to make a game, sometimes you’ve got no choice but to play. And if there’s a game, there’s going to be a winner.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          I guess the real struggle then, Becky, at least for me, is figuring out how to maintain my integrity while playing within the confines of rules that apply to a game I seriously don’t want to be playing. I mean, I get that I have to put on my big girl panties and barrel forward. But there’s doing this gracefully and doing this poorly and ending up with egg on your face and your big girl panties showing because you’ve fallen flat on your ass, legs sprawled. There are a whole lot of metaphors there. 😉

        • David says:

          @ Gloria. Yes, Clint Eastwood, and for further irony, he (his character) was engaged in revenge-murder at the time he said it, but I can look past such tiny details for a good quote. : )

          @ Becky. Point taken, it does take two to tango, but that goes for the game playing too. If you have to continue to work with this person, it is better to disengage from such games then it is to win. Spite breeds spite. You can, in fact, refuse to play.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I don’t think you get what I’m saying, but whatever you say.

        • Matt says:

          David, you mangled the quote. It’s, “Deserve ain’t got nothin’ to do with it.”

          Can’t trust a man what don’t get his Unforgiven right.

        • David says:

          Believe me, I understand and concede that there is a place for politics. I have been through a custody battle, and in a entirely separate event, a common law divorce (where someone tries to take half your stuff even though you were never married). I understand these games are sometimes necessary, and if you are going to engage, you best be in it to win. I just think these are more often applied out of misplaced pride or insecurity then they are necessity. Politics are better left to the court room (or to keep you out of the court room).

        • David says:

          Thank you for the correction, Matt. It was off the cuff. I will now pray to the cinema gods and ask forgiveness.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          Either way, the quote means the same thing and I love it. And I still think all advice should be preceeded with “in the words of Clint Eastwood…”

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Necessity is subjective and defending one’s pride and self-respect is not a shameful thing to do, in my opinion.

          There’s a place for diplomacy and a place for a solid ass kicking.

          I am absolutely 100% sure that Clint Eastwood would agree with me.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          Roundhouse Clint FTW! *roaring crowd*

          *dance dance dance*

          I win! I win!

          What?

        • David says:

          I can’t argue with that. I am a big fan of defending one’s pride, so long as that pride is not misplaced. After all, when we are wrong, admitting such should not wound your pride. Even if you are right, and a withdrawal or concession is the best move given the circumstance, then pride can be taken in the discipline and wisdom that takes.

          Having said all that, Becky, I do understand your point. I would not like the world of pure, civilized Vulcan logic I am trying to invoke, I would, however, like things to hedge more in that direction.

        • David says:

          Glad to see your sense of humor and irony is as developed as your formidable debate skill.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I’m sure the Buddhists, martial artists, and self-help books of the world would agree with you, and I might, even, depending on the day, but I took the Clint Eastwood points, am no longer being serious, and I have already done my victory dance.

        • Amanda says:

          i kept reading this portion of the thread, looking for the “Reply here” point, and wanting to interject all along the way. You all make excellent points. What i have learned in the whole debate v. argument realm is that it doesn’t matter if you are the clearly better opponent at both, or at either, if the Other just wants to hurt you. Manipulations and underhanded deceits creep in, and before you know it, even though you are meant to be the obvious winner, you have said “big girl panties” down around your ankles and a trickle of blood down your inner thigh (metaphorically speaking, of course. or not.). And then you carry the resentment of that unfair loss into the next round, and your clearly superior skills suffer for it. Step off the mat. If that opponent wants to feel “the win” then so be it. Walk away. Nurse wounds. Heal. Really, that opponent had no business in your ring in the first place, and while you’re a better person from having those interactions in the end, you are an even better person for having the humility to not “be right” and save yourself and ultimately find greater bliss elsewhere.

        • Gloria says:

          Yes, Amanda, I agree. The desire to be right can lead to a whole bunch of avoidable suffering (which we’ve established is a choice.) Good stuff.

  8. Gregory Messina says:

    An excellent idea for an essay and very nicely done. I particularly related to learning how to double check and be less reactionary.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Thanks, Gregory. I’m actually going to print that part out and hang it on my wall. That one still trips me up.

  9. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    This is all sage advice, much of which I could learn from myself, now or ten years ago. I especially rang in on the part about being a parent. I once heard someone say that if they gave out grades for parenting, we’d all get a C+. Still we spend so much time beating ourselves up thinking we should be getting straight A’s.

    Thanks for this wonderful, open-hearted piece.

    • Gloria says:

      That’s a great point, Nathaniel. There are days when I have A- or even A days, but you know, it all depends on what mood my children wake up in, how rested we all are, what the weather is doing, how hydrated we are, where Saturn is in the sky, etc. Which is to say, it’s a craps shoot and it only has so much to do with my own personal effort. And yeah, we’re all pretty hard on ourselves. And we’re supposed to be, really. This is a hard damn job!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Nathaniel.

      • dwoz says:

        I disagree.

        If you get to the end of the day and the both of you are STILL converting oxygen into carbon dioxide, it’s a good day.

        I had a little epiphany about the subject this morning. I was sitting in the periodontist chair, novocained to the max, feeling none of the hard-core activity that would result in the intense pain I am in just this minute, 4 hours later.

        So, while the guy is doing his stomping around on my teeth, he and the assistant, a very sweet young lady who is in a relationship with a single dad with severe ex baggage, is talking about the ordeals of dealing with step-children and exes. The child from that previous relationship is of course acting out, playing both sides against the middle, like you’d absolutely expect from ANY child in that situation. She’s running down all the therapies and accommodations and special needs and behavioral weirdness and all that happy bullshit that kids of divorced parents do…

        …When the guy finally pulled all the drills and blasting equipment and excavators and other evil tools out of my mouth, I blurted out…”you want my opinion? Yes you do, you asked for it while my mouth was full of gear. You meant it as a rhetorical question, but now, listen, you’re turning every single little whimper of this kid into a pathological treatable disorder. The kid is going to have trouble adjusting, every kid does, every kid ever has, every kid will in the future…it’s just part of your goddamn day. Blow it off, and just focus on hanging out with the little bugger and enjoying each other’s company.”

        Yes, I really said that to my dental assistant.

        It wasn’t totally out of the blue, we have a bit of a casual acquaintance friendship, so it wasn’t weird that I would say that to her.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          dwoz – As a mom of two boys with IEPs, I’m a little unsettled by your assumption that you can predict the needs of a child you’ve never met and have only heard about for the length of time it took your dentist to tinker with your teeth. I had to take all of the “you’re projecting onto your children” people and put them all in the same room together to talk amongst themselves. Metaphorically. At the end of the day, I knew that I needed help and that my boys needed help and that we were all suffering and I didn’t care why. Make no mistake – I couldn’t hug my boys more. We couldn’t play more board games or take more bike rides. I decided to be proactive and get them evaluated – with zero support of any kind from my coparent. And, ultimately, the solutions that have arisen out of that have been tremendously beneficial to everyone involved – especially the boys, who are no longer being suspended from school on a weekly basis, which is not only harmful to them, but an extreme burden for my family. I get so god damned tired of people shoulding on me that I just quit listening. As I told myself 10 years ago in the letter above, my gut is smart. It is wise. And I’m stoked that I’ve finally started listening to it and quit listening to the people who try to convince me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

        • dwoz says:

          Gloria, it’s an Occam’s razor type of thing. I abbreviated the description of the conversation…there were glaring, picture-textbook-perfect signs in their discussion that the analysis I offered was at least valid enough to consider. You’re right, I have no direct experience with the kid. And the kind of behaviors I was noticing can certainly BECOME pathological and require significant intervention, perhaps professional intervention. PARTICULARLY when one or the other parent is non-supportive, enabling, or even encouraging the behaviors.

          I don’t think the people involved are projecting onto their kids, I think the kid is working the situation brilliantly, the kid’s goal being to try to retrieve a shred of control over his, in his likely view, torn-up-life.

          He probably doesn’t think in those kind of terms at all…he just uses behaviors that have worked to get him attention. Once that takes deep hold, you have another job on top of the already-hard job. One of my nephews (step) did this…developed an eating disorder as a way to control his parental interactions. It turned into a clinical disorder…he couldn’t eat a piece of pizza without jamming it into his mouth all at once and choking himself, literally invoking heimlich-events regularly. Parents had to cut his food into small bites and give it to him one bite at a time…i.e. controlling his parents. But he went WAY past it being a conniving behavior and into it being a full-blown disorder. Because his mother actively enabled it. And it required some pretty significant professional help to finally break it.

          I know all I want to know about IEPs. I have a son with one in effect right now. They are a double-edged sword…getting needed help and resources, vs. coding that will constrain him for the rest of his academic career.

          But anyway, my point was that this crap all happens whether you are perfect or not. So like you say, you can let it be your suffering or just let it be.

        • dwoz says:

          hey…

          I’m a “perfect” parent…

          and yet I have a kid with lead poisoning and an IEP.

          When you were out partying like it’s 1999, my kid was in Children’s hospital, getting chelation therapy. I slept that millennium night in a chair in the triplet’s nursery, while my baby boy was getting treated for something I SHOULD HAVE PREVENTED.

          So yea, I know about “perfect”.

        • Gloria says:

          Having a kid with an IEP is no reflection on your status as perfect or imperfect – and, P.S., those are worthless categorizations, so just put that crap aside. We’re all doing our best. I fuck up all the time and yet I can insist to you that I am doing my best. There is this bullshit theory that is force fed to you when you’re a kid – along with the knight in shining armor and all men are created equally tripe – and it says that if you just “do you’re best” that will be good enough. But you know what? That’s false. That’s 100% inaccurate. That presupposes that there is a thing that exists in the universe called Your Best and that if you can access it, your path will be smooth and even. And that. Is. FALSE. Nonetheless, we still have to do our best because what’s the flippin’ alternative?

          I have TWO kids with an IEP and if I knew then what I know now, I guarantee you that I would have a record of three for three, because my daughter would have benefitted from one for sure. And I actually find it more egregious that I didn’t know what I didn’t know then than I do that I’ve put in a whole shitload of hard work to get my children the supports they need to be successful in school. The conversation about institutionalization and labeling and individuation? That’s secondary. This is the paradigm they exist in and I am helping them be successful in it. And so are you.

          I was definitely not partying like it was 1999 in 1999. I had my daughter when I was sixteen, which means that when it was 1999, I was dealing with a seven year old and all that that entails. As a matter of fact, I believe that was the year that she and I both got the chicken pox.

          I am really, truly very sorry to hear about your son, dwoz. That must have been harrowing and heartbreaking. I can’t imagine the stress and grief you must have been experiencing. I hope everything is better now.

          This gig is not easy. For any of us. We all make mistakes. We all have successes. Somehow, our children live through it.

          Best,
          Gloria

        • dwoz says:

          He’s a joy, and is going to be fine. It will take him a few years extra compared to his peers to come up and about.

          So I/we dodged a bullet on that score. I will not be spoon-feeding a 35 year old baby boy. Like some.

        • dwoz says:

          by the way, I’m out of my mind on pain meds right now, so forgive me.

  10. David says:

    Congratulations on one year. I hope all the introspection that event is bound to bring is as positive and constructive as this!

    If not, please take your excellent advice above (no need to wait ten years).

    • Gloria says:

      Thanks, David. I think the introspection took the last 13 years. No need to spend another second navel gazing. I feel pretty great!

  11. Jen Violi says:

    Oh Gloria, how I needed this this morning–thank you!

    To my own letter I would add, start the day by reading something beautiful, which could be an essay or a poem, the face of the sky, or my own palm. Too often I start the day with worrying, cursing the dishes that didn’t do themselves overnight, or deleting all of those LOL cats and political emails you send out all the time :). And all of that can wait.

    Start with beauty and beauty will follow. Is that true? Let’s say so, since we’re in the business of making up stories. All of which is to say, I’m grateful to have started with your beauty today.

    Also, and most important, I am now imagining that Sunscreen song with you speaking your letter and closing it out: “But trust me on the Kegels.”

    • Gloria says:

      Re: the Wear Sunscreen song – I TOTALLY had that playing in my head when I wrote that line. I mean sunscreen is important and whatnot. But we each have our own priorities. 🙂

      To beautiful stories, my sweet friend!

    • Gloria says:

      Also, MY dishes don’t do themselves either. (see also: my toilet doesn’t clean itself and my bills don’t pay themselves and…) What is it with that?

  12. Tawni says:

    I love this.

    My favorite part: “…be gentle with yourself.”

    My raging inner perfectionist can be such a bitch to me sometimes. So mean. I’ll never be good enough for her. I’m trying to get her to knock it off, and to realize that making a mistake isn’t the end of the world, it’s just human.

    Also: “You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

    I don’t know why this is such a difficult realization, because it logically makes sense, but emotionally I understand what you mean. It’s the insecurity monster lurking inside that makes me say “I’m sorry” rather than a polite “Excuse me” as I edge past someone in a crowd. As if I’m not allowed to also be made of solid matter. It makes me feel like I don’t belong in social settings. It makes me feel not good enough. Stupid insecurity monster.

    Learning how to argue would be especially handy for interpersonal relationships, and probably work out better for me than the “avoid all conflict and take shit for years until you finally explode inappropriately and end the relationship” approach I’ve been perfecting most of my life. (:

    And “Suffering is a choice.” Wow. That’s powerful.

    I can use all of the advice contained within this piece. I see more notes to myself taped up around the house in my future. Nicely done, G-Lovely. xoxo.

    • Gloria says:

      @Tawni – have you never read The Desiderata? It’s so great. 🙂

      Stupid Insecurity Monster! And, you know, I’ve been plotting the times she rears her ugly head and it’s cyclical. I keyed into that and a bell went off – *ding, ding,ding, ding, ding, ding* It’s pretty empowering, actually, to realize that those thoughts are largely the result of hormonal fluctuations. 1) because I know that they’ll go away and they won’t be here forever and 2) because I know that they’re not real. They’re not a real thing. They’re not actually a monster. They’re the result of a chemical reaction in my brain. Smoke and mirrors. They don’t exist. I love that!

      …avoid all conflict and take shit for years until you finally explode inappropriately and end the relationship… ha ha ha ha ha ha **sob**

      Thanks for reading, lady.

  13. Richard Cox says:

    You know, people hate it when you use Vulcan logic. All the more reason to do it, right? 😉

    It’s a good idea to learn to argue, and to do it well. Blind arguing is fairly pointless, but as Don pointed out, not arguing at all might even be worse. Took me a while to figure out this one, but he’s right. And you are.

    Apple released the first iPod in 2001, so your timing with the $177 would be excellent!

    I like the sense of calm that emerged from this letter. I guess that’s something that comes with age, but it never hurts to remind our younger selves of this. They probably won’t listen. But they might.

    They might.

    • Gloria says:

      Yeah, I almost wrote this letter to my 15 year old self. But then I was like “she won’t fucking listen.” Heh.

      • Richard Cox says:

        I seem to have done everything backwards. I was so busy listening to my elders and character building back then that by now I’ve had my fill of it. I’m ready to give it away. Irresponsibility is the new black.

  14. Matt says:

    Nice one.

    I agree with Don & Becky – learning to argue wisely is a very, very important thing to do.

    Now, what I would I tell myself ten years ago? Let’s see…

    *It is not your responsibility or obligation to carry the burden of other people’s baggage, especially when they will not carry yours. It will not make them love you more, and your suffering does not make you noble.

    *Understand that every relationship, romantic or otherwise, has an ending point, and accept it. We are all taking different paths through life. For a while they may intersect, providing us with companions. It may last for eight days, or it may last for eighty years, but eventually these paths diverge. There’s nothing you can do to prolong this, and attempting to do so will only cause pain for all involved.

    *Learn to argue wisely. This includes knowing when it is strategically better to lose the argument, even though you’re demonstrably right.

    *The people who cry “don’t judge me!” the loudest are usually the one’s who’ve already failed to live up to their own standards–and are also often the quickest to rush to judgement of others.

    *Beware any woman you get involved with who’s hesitant to publicly in a relationship with you. Keeping it “our little secret” isn’t something flattering or special, it’s humiliating, and the person willing to do that to you isn’t worth being in a relationship with in the first place. If you don’t start off as equals in the relationship, you’re never going to be.

    *Pay attention to the news and politics, even though you hate it. This country grants you an inordinate amount of rights and priveledges just by having been born here, but it’s not a free ride. It’s your responsiblity as a citizen to participate in keeping your country a functional place, even if that just means casting an informed vote.

    *You don’t believe in a god. You never have. It’s all right to be open about this.

    *Being a “good” person and being a “nice” person are often not the same thing.

    *You must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. You will face your fear. You will permit it to pass over you and through you. And when it has gone past you will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only you will remain.

    *Nine times out of ten what you write will be crap, regardless of the time/blood/sweat/tears that go into it, including the novel you’ll spend three years writing. But that one time when it works makes it all worth it. Oh, and that first novel? Just because it doesn’t work doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. You can often learn a lot more from failure than you can from success.

    And lastly,

    *The universe doesn’t owe you or anyone else a damn thing. “Fair” and “unfair” are ultimately just arbitrary abstractions. You alone are responsible for your own success and failures, and for making the most of the opportunities presented to you, and for the way you impact the lives of those around you. Think first, then act accordingly.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Matt, this is a superlative list. I’m thoroughly impressed. I’m especially fond of “*Being a “good” person and being a “nice” person are often not the same thing.” And the stuff about politics? Yep.

      I’m kinda jealous that I didn’t think to tell my circa 2000 self some of this stuff.

      • Matt says:

        Thanks.

        Though it’s tough not too look over some of these things and think, “Wow. I really was a melodramatic twat when I was 21.”

        But then, who wasn’t?

  15. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    Problem is, if you go back and convince yourself to avoid these snags you can’t become the person you are now and therefore wouldn’t be able to go back and tell yourself to make these alterations because you wouldn’t know and, ow, my head hurts …

    I love this Gloria. More proof that you are awesome!

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      With all of your talk about Inception, you should be totally positioned to think this type of mobius loop through. 🙂

      You are awesome, too, Ms. Movie Guru. Hey, did you hear that “At the Movies” aired its last episode. No more thumbs up and thumbs down. I heard that and felt a little more emotional about it than is rational.

  16. Dana says:

    Great stuff Gloria!

    So many nuggets throughout. I have to concur with everyone else who mentioned learning how to argue. So simple, positive and useful. I used to prefer the Tawni Method ™, but have lately found a short disagreement much more satisfying.

    Also, YES – work on your triceps young dummy! Much like money being wasted on the rich, youth is wasted on the young. 😉

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Youth is totally wasted on the young. If I really could go back and tell me all of this would the me then listen? Would she? Maybe not. Silly, silly young people.

  17. dwoz says:

    The Lord Giveth, but by all evidence, The Lord prefers to taketh away. To some extent, you get to choose or influence what gets taken away. If that choice exists for you, choose to keep something important instead of something meaningless.

    Stuff is usually not meaningful, most of the time.

  18. Ronlyn Domingue says:

    I enjoyed this, Gloria.

    Years ago, in an attempt to figure out whether I should write again, I did THE ARTIST’S WAY 12-week program by myself. One of the assignments was to write a letter to a former self. I don’t know if I kept it. I wonder what I said. And did I believe it? (I did write again. Published a novel. Working on the second.)

    I would really, really appreciate a letter from my 50-year-old self right now. Good news would be welcomed.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      You know I actually got the idea for this post because of something that happened recently. In the spring, I took a stress management class through work. On the last day of the class, the instructor told all of us to write a letter to ourselves three months in the future. She told us to include in the letter words of encouragement about where we wanted to see ourselves then. (If that makes sense.)

      So, mid July, I was having a particularly hard day with my 8 1/2 year old twin boys. It was rough. I was not being a model parent. There was much gnashing of teeth. If I remember correctly, there were tears. I locked myself in my bedroom and emailed off a cry for help to a handful of my closest and most supportive friends. I talked about how I didn’t think I could do it anymore. How stressful it was. How bad at the whole thing I felt. It was really long. Then, I went out to check the mail – literally about 30 seconds after I hit send. And there, in the mailbox, was the letter I’d written to myself.

      This is what my letter to me said (please note, this is in my handwriting. Also, note, this was before Logan, my grandson, was born. I’d COMPLETELY forgotten I’d written this.):

      March 30, 2010

      Dear Gloria,

      It is almost July. Your grandbaby is almost three months old; you’ve worked out summer daycare by now; and you and [your ex have worked out a settlement].

      Did you remember to breathe? Do you remind yourself that you’re okay and doing the best you can? Are you still smoking? If yes, please continue quitting. You are okay. You’ll get this. Keep trudging forward. Keep going. You can do it.

      Love,
      Me
      You

      I highly recommend you trying this. It’s really great. I know you can’t write yourself a letter from the future, but you can write yourself a letter to the future, which is equally as cool.

      🙂

      Thanks for reading.

      • Ronlyn Domingue says:

        Letter in the mailbox right then, eh? That’s cosmic timing if I ever heard of it. I assume the course instructor mailed those letters for everyone. Clever.

        Perhaps I’ll try the future-me letter. It couldn’t hurt. It would be interesting to see where I actually am in three to six months.

        Congratulations on your grandson! Lots of good thoughts for you and yours.

        • Gloria says:

          I swear it happened right then!

          LOL (<—- is that still a thing? Do people still LOL? I could write *nervous titter* in stead. 🙂 )

          I know what a coincidence it is, so I ran back to the computer, totally blown away, and replied all to the email I’d just sent, telling everyone about the letter. I love it when stuff like that happens.

          And, yeah, the course instructor mailed them out. The truly ironic part is that she was supposed to have mailed them out two weeks earlier. I’d completely forgotten about it, of course, but I realized later that the mailing had been delayed. It was a pretty amazing confluence of coincidences.

          Thanks for the congrats, Ronlyn. I appreciate it.

  19. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    I’m going to have these two made into neon signs:

    “The second most important thing I want you to know is that you’re a good mom. You are making so many mistakes right now. This will not change.”

    “Also remember that Thank you and I’m sorry are more effective when said only once.”

    I’m going to say this for a second time in 2 days, though: You’re awesome.

  20. Art Edwards says:

    Everybody dies frustrated and sad, and that is beautiful.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      They want what they’re not and I wish they would stop saying, “Deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa; Deputy dog dog a ding dang depadepa.”

      (Seriously, it irks me when people say that.)

      (Also, you win the bonus prize for getting the reference. I knew it would be you, Joe, or Sean.)

  21. Art Edwards says:

    It’s such a wonderful line. I’ve quoted it many times.

    It would confuse the hell out of Axl, which is reason in itself to like it.

    • Gloria Harrison says:

      Are you kidding? I’d almost be willing to pay to see the two Johns go toe to toe with Axl in a debate. God, that would be awesome…

  22. Judy Prince says:

    “One day, you’re going to find a copy of The Desiderata at a garage sale. You’re going to buy it. When you do, pay special attention to the part that says, ‘Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.’ Read this every day if need be.

    Thanks for recalling those words, Gloria. I did indeed discover The Desiderata when in my twenties, and it gave me much peace through times of great turmoil. Most of us wear a second skin that’s more a hair shirt than a loving envelope. We get it simply by breathing in our cultures and our particular family/friends/teachers’ habits and expectations. We have to “get it” or we’d be largely shunned by those whom we respect and love and, often, fear.

    It’s not such an easy thing to treat oneself as kindly as we treat others. It’s not even easy to accept ourselves kindly, lovingly, generously. But we can do it if we practice saying some helpful things to ourselves each day, taking just a bit of time to slow down, breathe a couple times and repeat the helpful things. Each day. We can create our own brief “mantra” of what we desire to feel about ourselves and about others. Positive desires for ourselves and for others.

    And, as you so aptly expressed, we can learn how to argue without grinding ourselves and others down. In the classical sense, “argue” is simply a reasoned debate. Of course there’re lots of time-trod “tricks” that make emotional appeals as substitutes for the reasoned bits. But, fundamentally, if we want to usefully debate an issue, we can. Usually, there’s truth in each side of an issue, and it’s stunningly useful to acknowledge, honestly, the germ of truth you see in others’ examples or reasonings. It disposes them well to our words, and it moves us closer to incisive analyses and insights.

    As you say, too, we could do with acknowledging our often excellent thinking. When you consider how seldom folks compliment someone on their thinking or their actions, you realise how often you might have done so well, but don’t credit yourself because you were not credited by others.

    It, reasonably, may lead us to give more credit, give it away as freely as popcorn, smiles, jokes, kisses—-to anyone we like, at any time.

    Here’s my kiss of gratitude, then, Gloria! Wear it well, feel comfortable with it, and know that it’s natural for you to feel good about yourself. As good as you feel when looking at the trees and stars.

    • Gloria says:

      Oh Judy – the hair sweater. So uncomfortable! 🙂 But you’re right, of course.

      I love this: When you consider how seldom folks compliment someone on their thinking or their actions, you realize how often you might have done so well, but don’t credit yourself because you were not credited by others. Yes! That’s exactly right. I would also say that the best way to make this happen is to start recognizing when the people around you have thought a brilliant thought or done a brilliant thing – and then tell them! Acknowledge them! At some point, I realized I never did this, but I was always upset when people didn’t acknowledge me. And this goes back to the whole “I only have control over me” thing. You acknowledge this beautifully in the next sentence: It, reasonably, may lead us to give more credit, give it away as freely as popcorn, smiles, jokes, kisses—-to anyone we like, at any time. Such a great attitude.

      Thanks for reading, Judy.

  23. Irene Zion says:

    Gloria,

    I am too tired to read the other comments right now, so I’m probably repeating someone else’s.
    You can’t ever know what you will know in ten years.
    It sucks, but it’s true.
    And you can say these words to your daughters
    and they will not listen to you,
    because they can’t.
    It’s not their time to know these things.
    It doesn’t make any sense,
    but this is just how it is.

    • Gloria says:

      Irene, every time I post – no matter what it’s about – I wait for your response because I know it will be wise and grounding and slap-in-the-face honest, even though it will feel nothing like a slap in the face.

      No. Our daughter’s don’t flippin’ listen to us. I like to make up this story that I would have listened to my mom if she’d just tried harder and not been an alcoholic and drug addict, but that’s probably not true. *sigh*

      No one has said what you just said either. The closest anyone has gotten is when I said to Richard that I thought about writing this letter to my 15 year old self, but she for sure would not have listened. I’m probably delusional to think that my 24 year old self might have.

      You’re wise and lovely. Thank you. 🙂

      • Irene Zion says:

        Thank you, Sweetie.
        And by the way,
        those wise things you intend to tell your sons?
        Tell them.
        Write your wise things down
        in calligraphy
        and give it to them.
        Dance around them
        to convey what you mean.
        Sing to them about it
        while playing the accordion.
        They won’t hear a word,
        but
        one day
        they will remember
        your dance,
        your letter,
        your words,
        your song,
        and they will say
        I wish
        I wish
        I really wish
        I had listened to you then,
        Mom.

        • Gloria Harrison says:

          ha ha ha ha

          That’s beautiful and it made me cry. So funny. And it’s true! And sometimes it does feel JUST LIKE THAT!

          I promised the boys a special picnic at the railyards by our house – they love going there. But yesterday when I got home, the babysitter said that it had been a very, very rough day. So no picnic. I told them when they woke up this morning: if you want a picnic tonight, I need a good report. No hitting each other. No being rude. Then, on both of them, I wrote “Good report = picnic” on one wrist and “Bad report = no picnic” on the other wrist. I’ve never taken this tack before. This is a new thing. An experiment. And it does feel so much like your accordion comment above. Great reminder. Thank you.

        • Gloria says:

          For the record, the day was 90% good. There was one not so minor infraction when the babysitter took the boys to the pool and Tolkien was slamming a door on Indigo and the babysitter had to send a stranger into the locker room to retrieve the boys for her. But the rest of the day was outstanding, apparently. But this created a conflict for me. Tolkien was way out of line at the pool, but had they lost the whole picnic? So I decided we’d still have the picnic, but that Tolkien would lose all of his electronics for the night. I had to think of this on the fly.Sometimes this parenting thing requires the wisdom of Salomon. And the patience of Jesus.

          I just really appreciate your wisdom. And that you’ve come out on the other side of it relatively unscathed. (Or so it seems. 😉 )

  24. Sarah says:

    I’ve thought and Dave and I have talked a lot about this lately. My previous wish was that at the age of 20 I could have hit the pause button. I would have finished college, built my friendships stronger and more lasting, established a career, and become stable financially. THEN I would have met Dave and gone from there. Of course fearing the butterfly effect I would have insisted it be in the fine print that the same two sperm would have had to connect with the same two eggs to guarantee us the same two amazing children.

    But, that’s bullshit, impossible, and wishing it so isn’t going to help me one damn bit moving forward in my life.

    So, instead I have something greater. I actually get that second chance. I am experiencing the, “If I could go back and do things different,” and the, “If I knew then what I know now.” Dave and I are at the exact point we were in August 2000 – moving in together and starting a life together – except we have ten years of experiencing, learning, succeeding, failing, loving, yelling, shutting down, all the ups and downs. Plus, BONUS, we still get our two kick-ass kids!

    I’m so happy for you that you’ve learned all you have and that you’re still learning. Most importantly, I’m so happy that you love yourself. I’m getting there, better every day.

    I love every piece of advice you gave yourself. Many I’ve given myself before – some of them I’m still working to implement.

    As the Grateful Dead would tell you, just keep truckin’ on. 😉

    • Gloria says:

      Aaaaggghhhhhhhhhh! Aaagghhhhhh!! You’re quoted The Grateful Dead! Aaaaaaagggghhhhhhh!!

      Okay, I’m better now.

      You know, I’ve been wondering about you. And you and Dave. And about how reconnecting with your ex-husband is going. And I have to say I’m relieved to hear you speak the way you do about it. Sarah, I’m so glad it’s working out. What a strange subversion of the dominant paradigm, but, you know, sometimes that’s a really great thing. A second chance. A chance to literally start over. All great stuff.

      Thank you so much for the update.

    • dwoz says:

      I’m convinced that they find YOU. If you push them off this year, they’ll come around next, to see if you’re ready.

      I know that seems to suggest I believe in a God, but no, not like that.

  25. JoAnn says:

    This is all really amazing, useful stuff, from Gloria’s original letter to herself through all of the comments. Thank you all so much. My divorce became final a year ago and less than 3 weeks later, my father died. My mother has dementia and probably an undiagnosed psychiatric condition the dementia has unmasked, and it’s been a pitched battle to get her into care, and decide how to structure my own life to meet my needs and make sure hers are met. I’ve had a lot on my plate, even as I’m looking back on my life and thinking about the choices I’ve made or not made, why I made them, what difference it makes to know that my mother’s version of everything was often unreliable.

    I have a friend whose constant refrain about anything that goes wrong, from a clogged drain to a chronic sleep disorder to cancer, has been, “It’s NOT because I’m not TRYING hard enough!” When she says it, I can see how unconstructive it is. When I do it to myself, it’s not so obvious.

    I want to take this, print it out, use highlighter, and go back through my journals. “Oh, yeah, the guy who used debate to try to force me out of a group. Bingo! Oh, and the times *I* used debate to try to manipulate something. How many times has THAT happened? And, uh, eeh, the email thing. Ugh! So, so right!” I cried, I laughed, I nodded my head, I winced.

    Good stuff. Thanks everyone for sharing. This was like a little nest of emotional honesty and thoughtfulness.

    • dwoz says:

      JoAnne;

      I have to say, that I’d have abandoned this site a while ago, if it hadn’t been for the commenting community. There’s some insightful, if young, people here, who have great perspective.

      I agree.

      “Trying hard” is worse than useless, if it isn’t successful. Although George Lucas is a twit, the line “there is no try…only do” that he gave to yoda is prescient.

      A lot of our “failures” amount to trying to unbreak a bottle that has already hit the concrete. It is then apropos to simply move on. Nothing to see here.

      The simple fact is that life is better today than it was last week. If not, then toss it over the scuppers and start anew.

      • Gloria says:

        That’s true, dwoz. A tough lesson, for sure. That’s why I’d really like young me to know that trying harder is ineffective. Trying smarter on the other hand…

        • dwoz says:

          I’m in that pain every single day. A work client that is relentless in their demands. Try harder, work harder. Do more.

          That only works for a short while.

          After a while, you are at the end, and there’s no personal answer but to disengage. Bail.

          This shit is broken, and I don’t have the tools to fix it.

          And to realize that what I do is NOT art, it’s washing dishes. Dishes are always dirty. They always need washing. There is no “complete.”

          So then, the “answer” is just to eke out whatever is meaningful to ME. And try not to crash and burn.

    • Gloria says:

      Joann,

      I am so happy you found The Nervous Breakdown (a fitting title for this website, no? 🙂 ) and my piece specifically.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your last year. Jeez… That’s a tough storm to weather. I hope things plateau really soon.

      Old journals. *groan* I hate looking in old journals. But I have and one thing I try to do is read them with love, rather than shame, for my younger self. I was raised by fairly useless, and sometimes downright malevolent parents and I’ve realized that a lot of my struggle in life has been my inability to parent myself. So if I can read words written by young me through the lens of a loving mother, it really, really helps stomach the silliness. You know?

      You should check in with TNB more often. We’re a fairly emotionally raw lot. Welcome!

      • JoAnn says:

        Thanks, Gloria. One of my cheerful mottoes this past year has been, “well, things could always get worse!” 🙂

        I went to my high school reunion this summer and decided that, in comparison, my life is pretty good, really. I just have to learn to play with the cards I’ve been dealt. And now I know a lot more about those cards.

        I like your thought about learning to parent yourself. One woman I know has just come through a similar ordeal to mine, and she said for her, it’s been liberating to find out that there really WAS something wrong all along. So now I can go back and retell my story to myself. It makes more sense now.

        I will definitely be paying attention to TNB from now on!

  26. Laura says:

    “The Human Condition. Nobody is better than you and you are more okay than you think you are.”
    “You don’t have to feel bad every time you make a mistake. You’re human.”

    You’re speaking right to me, Mama G.

    Love this letter. Don’t think I could ever be so articulate and spot-on, even if I wrote and rewrote it a hundred times. But, you have inspired me to try my own letter, maybe not to past Laura but to future Laura.

    Thanks for giving my mind some food today! xo

    • Gloria says:

      Ah, Laura. I was hoping you’d show up, love. You know you’re one of my favorite people – pretty much ever. You know that I could have never composed such a well-thought out letter to Gloria circa 2000 if I’d never met you, right? I mean, I might as well have named this post “Things I Would Tell Myself Then Based on the Experience of Knowing Laura.” You’re top shelf lady. 🙂

      • Laura says:

        I know I saw myself in alot of that letter.
        You’re one of my favorite people ever too!
        I need to write you an email…<3

  27. Cheryl Newcomb says:

    beautiful, insightful and more than the sum of the meaning of the words, if you know what I mean. I thought of the Sunscreen song too Especially when you got to the Kegels part. (Psst… past-Cheryl… get on that Kegel thing stat! And the triceps too.)

    Oh man, learning to argue and argue well. I am still not good at it but I have more sense of when to keep my mouth shut now than I used to; and better discernment about what’s really important in an argument (hint: it’s not winning, or being right). I get emotional when I am arguing, and that clouds my reason, my judgment. I’m working on that, keeping the presence of mind to not take everything personally, and to really listen to what the the other person is saying. I ascribed to the Tawni Method for some time, especially in romantic relationships, but also a few friendships.

    Also, I really really like to be right. Like, really. That’s been the hardest thing to get over, and I work on it every day. But I do really like to be right 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      Hi Cheryl!

      I was away from TNB most of the weekend, so I didn’t have a chance to reply.

      I like to be right, too. I do. But – and this is super important – I also like to be sane. And sometimes you can’t have both. Or, more to the point, if you’re going to fight for one or the other, I advise going for sanity. 🙂

      • Cheryl says:

        Letting go of the need to be right has saved my marriage (well, this one anyway), my relationships with my family (whose opinions on just about everything are the polar opposite of mine), made parenting more joyful, opened me to great friendships, and allowed me to be more comfortable with myself. In short, yes, it has saved my sanity. What I have left of it anyway. It’s not much, but it’s enough to stay functioning and not so much as to make me boring. It’s a fine line, this sanity thing.

        • Cheryl says:

          By the way, G, I think you balance the sanity very well yourself. Crazy in a good way, that’s the goal. And you do it so well!

  28. Ashley Menchaca (NOLAdy) says:

    I’m going to tell you now that I’m pissed that I missed out on all the comment board fun so my comment will more or less…..suck. (It’s hard to comment when you’re pouting.)

    I wish I could I write my past self a letter but, like you, I can’t say I would change anything. I think the APPLE tip would be the best advice and leave everything else alone. I wonder how money would change the outcome of decisions. So much of what I do or don’t do involves money. Sucks.

    *more pouting*

    Anyway, great post. It really makes you stop and think. Love that.

    <3

    • Gloria says:

      The Apple Tip – that was totally Richard’s idea. I wish I was clever enough to think of that on my own. Well, to be honest, I thought about adding something like that but got all worried that I would upset the natural order of the universe by providing younger me with money – because that would change everything and because younger me never would have kept it a secret and it would have been cashed out and spent a dozen times over. But then Richard pointed out to me that it’s not real and it’s funny, so I can include anything I want. 🙂

      If time travel were possible, I would have younger me send me now money.

      Thanks for reading Nolala.

  29. I am so glad I waited to read this until a rainy Saturday afternoon. This:

    … pay special attention to the part that says, “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Read this every day if need be.

    was exactly what I needed to hear at this very moment.

    I’m putting it on my mirror right now.

    I love you.
    Me.

  30. Elaine Cramer says:

    Love the The Desiderata quote “Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe – no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” Thanks for that.
    XOXOXO
    EC

    • Gloria says:

      Holy crap! It’s Elaine!

      Elaine, I’m so stoked you stopped in to say hi. The boys were just asking me about you the other day. “When are we going to go down and see Elaine?” I should call you. I would love, love, love to catch up.

      XO back to you, my sweet friend.

  31. Greg Olear says:

    Making mistakes, or otherwise acting imprudently, is the essence of our humanity. Without our flaws, we’d all be game show hosts.

    Also: Year 2000 Gloria would be damned proud of the 2010 model, if the letter went the other way.

    PS: the Dead are a sloppy jam band that are about on par musically with acts you see in college bars. But the songs are happy. That’s why people like them. It took me years to come around to the Dead, but I get it now.

    • Gloria says:

      If I could be a gameshow host, I’d totally pick Hollywood Squares.

      RE: The Dead. You know, I’ve made my peace with them. I almost wrote a whole post about them – and my feelings toward them – a while back, but scrapped it because it was such a simple premise (not nearly as clever or universal as I thought it might be.) Basically, it came down to my ex-husband loved them, complete with doing an extended road trip to catch some of their shows for a while (though he’d never admit to “following them” per se.) And it was just one more thing that made me feel like I was excluded from some secret society that I clearly wasn’t cool enough to be a part of. And I couldn’t get why all of these peace loving hippies were so god damned exclusionary. The general air of, “Yeah, you just don’t get it,” while they give one another knowing looks and sort of shrug and make the psshh noise. I thought there was some secret – and these people knew it and they were keeping it from me. That’s pretty young thinking, isn’t it? Once I really got over the need to be accepted (as in the desperate adolescent need), my hatred subsided. I can even hear “Truckin'” now and think – Hey! that’s a good song!

  32. Amanda says:

    My sweet friend… once again, an excellent post. The nice thing is, the G of 2000 is still alive and well and she got your letter and the place she now lives (inside you) has gotten a little bit more comfortable for her and everyone she knows (that is, every other G at every other age).
    And may i say, in the vein of only taking the pats on the back from someone else… it made me feel really warm and happy that some of the words you’ve told that Self are words you and i have shared together. The fact that sometime i said something to you that mattered so much that you remembered it and even wanted to know it younger, well, makes me feel really good–um, really worthwhile. i s’pose the next step for me would be to acknowledge that i know some stuff, and be nicer to me. but, dear sister, that i have impacted you in a positive way brings me joy. Not in a vanity way or in a told-ya-so way, but in a “the-universe-spoke-through-me-in-a-way-that-someone-else-got” sorta way.
    By no means am i “taking credit”…you get ALL that; i just, you know, am glad for us. For the Us that is everyone on this comment board, in fact. It takes a Village.
    Let’s keep being gentle and keep excluding suffering and keep doing kegels and keep trying to quit smoking, ok? Love being on this ride with you, Friend.
    <3

  33. Slade Ham says:

    I’m really glad you threw in the Apple advice. I would have found it difficult not to myself. That, and a few sports scores for good measure. You never know when young you is going to blow the Apple money and need a quick bit of income 🙂

    • Gloria says:

      That was all Coxy, man. He came up with that one. Pretty genius. I agree.

    • Gloria says:

      Which games in particular would you tell young you about?

      • Slade Ham says:

        Super Bowl XXXIV specifically. I was a twenty-something year old kid working at a restaurant and bet waaaay more than I actually had on a parlay. Lost my ass.

        It wouldn’t have made me rich, but it would have made my February a lot easier that year.

        Fucking Rams.

  34. Megan says:

    Gloria, this style of letter is so overdone & I do not know how you made it new here but you did.

    I think it was the gentle, practical you suggestions given with a cool head.

    Standouts: “Learn to double check…Learn the definition of capitalized interest”. Armed with just those two things anyone can seriously lead a better life.

    • Gloria says:

      Wow, thanks, Megan. I thought you were going somewhere else in the second half of that first sentence, but I’m delighted it ended up where it did.

      I know it might sound corny, but I really feel like if I can approach younger me gently and practically, then I’ll have an easier time approaching me now that way (’cause me now is just going to be younger me later.) Also, I don’t care about corny. 😉

      The capitalized interest thing? I wish that Practical Economics for the Everyman was a required class in high school. (Of course, I wish that schools still offered music and art and reasonable classroom sizes, so I admit I’m a bit of a dreamer.) These are not lessons we’re supposed to learn in our thirties when we’re running interference on decisions our younger selves made when we were way too young and way under educated to be making them! But, alas…

  35. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    More than sage advice to your younger self, Gloria. Kudos. My letter would be a bit shorter. Something along the lines of, “You’re a bigger asshole than you realize but predisposition is not the same as predestination. Ask around and really listen to the answers this time without getting defensive. Oh, and don’t let Mom mention the wall safe to the cops when they remove your cousin’s body. They’ll empty it out and say they found it that way. Thieving fuckers.”

    I’m also going to apologize in advance for resurrecting old pieces. I still don’t have a lot of time these days but want to catch up and you are *so* on the list. I may be unable to keep myself from commenting.

    Have you checked to see if your future self has sent you anything? Might be worth looking for, given the value that this could have provided a decade ago….

    • Gloria says:

      “…predisposition is not the same as predestination.” Brilliant, Anon. That’s a great thing to tell young you. Or young me. Please tell young me that, too.

      The cop thing? Did you just make that up out of nowhere? Intriguing.

      You come resurrect any old piece any old time you please. It’s nice to see you around these parts again.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        I wish I had made up that random comment. My cousin (the only offspring of my much-beloved Uncle Tony) was, in the parlance of her time, “a spinster”. Never dated, much less had any children of her own, lived with her parents until they both died (and she went mad – literally), made a good living but ended up living like a bag lady. It was really very sad.

        Before she sat down to drink herself to death, she laid out her bank registers on her dining room table. All of her bank registers. She had almost a cool mil in cash in various accounts and easily half as much again in jewelry. Being “old school”, she hid most of the jewels in the linings and pockets of dozens of old coats and nightgown in the closets. My mother was the first person the cops called when they found the body and she “warned” them about it, thinking they’d secure the apartment. By the time she made it up from Florida the next day, the coats were still there – with all of their pockets turned out, some linings neatly cut and no glimmer of gold nor jewels to be seen.

        The place was cordoned off with police tape and my mom was only allowed a few hours – supervised (ironically) – to look around for a will. They found several – all different, all written at different times, some signed, some not, none witnessed or notarized. The apartment also had a wall safe behind an insanely heavy wall-length mirror – everyone had forgotten about it but me. I foolishly mentioned it to my mother and recommended she break in (the super was a friend and would be able to get her in – I was still out of state) and check in there. Instead, she again told the cops. They reported to her – much later the next day – that it was completely empty. And I’m sure it was, by then >:/. I suppose I’m just bitter because one of those unofficial documents left it all to me, dammit.

        In any case, I predictably ran out of TNB time but still plan on catching up on reading this week. It’s even nicer to be around these parts again.

        • dwoz says:

          damn. A treasure trove, and no extant inventory to check against. I guess the cops decided they were doing y’all a favor by saving the trouble of having a probate magistrate divvy up the loot.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Yeah, damned decent of them, wasn’t it? Once New York State probate got their hands on it, that was the end of that. There’s much to the story but the bottom line is that they frittered away all but about $130K, paying themselves to “investigate leads” on other relatives who might be entitled to a share. One of their investigators managed to score trips to Argentina and Italy while “on the trail”.

          Sigh. You can’t fight city hall but you can burn it to the ground, if you’re pissed enough. Luckily, I’m getting better at that whole “letting go of the past” thing.

  36. Gloria, this is a real treasure. I once wrote a letter to my 21 year old self, when I was turning 30, and it was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life. It’s amazing to realize the tenderness (and humor) the Older Us can feel towards our Younger Us, and is a huge reminder of the fact that all the things we hate about ourselves or beat ourselves up about or worry about are almost always transient issues that time takes care of on its own. Well, divorce not so much falling into that category. But hell yeah, you are great as you are, you sure don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to, and I bet you’re a damn fine Mommy. The future 44 year old you would no doubt be proud of this 34 year old you who wrote this letter.

    • Gloria says:

      “…all the things we hate about ourselves or beat ourselves up about or worry about are almost always transient issues that time takes care of on its own.” Truth. So true. Remembering this helps me remain patient with myself. Well, and with my children and other loved ones.

      Thanks for reading, Gina.

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