Monday, October 3, 2022

A Bipartite Magnum Opus. (A Guest Post from Sara Richmond.)

Sara Richmond and I became internet friends a couple of months ago. I enjoy her writing and our once-a-month zooms. She has that weird thing about her: a soul.

I asked Sara if she'd like to write a guest post. Thankfully, she said yes, and here it is. Sara has soul:


A Bipartite Magnum Opus

If I could write only two more things for the rest of my life, they would be:

1.   A summary of the best things I’ve learned through decades of heartbreak and plodding. Like an emotional evisceration, an offering to a heathen god. But all for you.

2.   The funniest goddamn thing you’ve ever read.

Don’t tell me that magnum opus, by definition, is a superlative. A thing. A one.

I can’t choose. Can you blame me?

The first is the very best thing I’ve ever owned. I paid for it with my life.

And humor has kept me laughing through despondency and willing to see the next day 5,000 times over. A sense of humor is as good or better than a lifelong, omnipresent best friend. An ever-ready cat jump fail for you to pull out of your back pocket.

#1 and #2 would both be too long. Because there is so much to say, and I only have two chances.

If you were me, you’d read them. Bookmark them. Then wrestle your printer out of the closet, jam your thumb as you set it up while fussing “Wobbly butt nuggets.” You’d forget to pull the tray thingy out and the papers would swish onto the floor before you slapped them on the wall with some tape.

On the days when you think, “Earth is a stupid crapfest. I am a stinky dump truck who can’t get my shizz together. My family is a bunch of morons intent upon making me miserable. Is there any goodness at all? Only death and Prozac and the occasional taco?” you’ll notice the two things taped in the corner. You’ll roll your chair over for a better look. Except you forgot that you didn’t get a roll-y chair. You sit on a green wooden chair with a hard seat that flaps like a tongue if you wobble it and makes your butt bone ache.

“Sonofabitch!” you’ll yell, then scootch over to the wall anyway, scrunching up the rug. Knowing how stupid you look humping the air to move the chair is the final 2x4 on the camel’s back. You’ll be so mad about the chair, how slowly you run, your vegetable-averse children, the stock market, and the dingdongs in politics, you’ll think “What’s the point in reading?”

But you do. Because otherwise it’s back to working—or worse—fantasizing about burning your messy house down and running to the Canadian woods to live off-grid and crap in holes you dug with a janky stick.

You choose the serious one first. Because you are a cynical, bitter old hag in this moment, and you want the language to match. Laughter makes anger silly and small, and you’d like to wallow in your pissed-off-ness for now.

I’ll tell you how one time I peed my pants when my dad was beating me. And wondered over and over as a kid, “Why is he so mean? If I could just understand him, things would be better.”

I do understand him now. So much so that I am tender with my children. They do not fear me.

I’ll tell you how I didn’t want to be a writer until eleventh grade. My home was a cage, and writing was an endless, unshackled horizon.

Now I know that the real cage is in my mind. And the most important work I can ever do is to keep opening that door.

I’ll tell you how I married at nineteen. The nightmares started on our honeymoon, reflecting the events of each day. A wasteland of cruelty and pain. For 13 years, the words “Marriage is for life” haunted me.

Now I know that any ideology that sacrifices people to stay intact is worth losing, even if the collateral damage is everything you hold dear.

I’ll tell you how stupid I was, for years. I gave out love and second, third, five-hundredth chances like Costco samples.

Now I know that sometimes the best, most precious things about us are liabilities we must learn to guard.

You’ll read. It’s me talking, but really, it’s just you and the paper. Words that blister the most delicate parts of you. The stuff you don’t admit to anybody.

And you’ll be struck with longing for a story that matters. A purpose that endures. A love that encompasses. A vulnerability that’s braver than the small child inside you who is crouched in a corner, terrified.

You’ll come face to face with your most prevailing loneliness and doubt. And my words will hold you with more tenderness than you’ve ever known, and somehow, by telling my own story, I will tell your own.

But it’s not the one you see in dim light when your weariness whispers defeat. It’s a story lit up by excitement. The culmination of your ability to overcome. One marked by love.

Maybe for the sixth time or the eighty-fifth time, you’ll be reminded of exactly what you most need to know, but it hits you with a greater, reverberating depth.

Right after you’ve sighed and bent your head like you’re praying, and your breath is deep and slow—right when your guard is down and your capacity for believing good things is up… you’ll remember the second thing I wrote.

You’ll pull it off the wall, and the tape will mess up the paint, but you won’t care.

I tell you about the time I thought it was a fart but so much more came out. At work. I wrapped my underwear in an entire roll of industrial toilet paper and called out sick as I was leaving the building, mostly just to deposit my poop football in a dumpster and wallow in disgust.

Or about my uninvited Zoom roach mascot and his cousin, Gerald, who’s been sleeping in my garage near the freezer for two months. Cause I’m a high-class gal.

Or maybe my childhood nickname “Turn the Page,” which is what my family would yell when I stayed in the bathroom too long, reading. All I wanted was peace, regularity, and a Laura Ingalls Wilder book.

Or about the time three weeks ago at the beach when a wave carried me between two ladies on the shore and I kept choking on water, apologizing, laughing, and getting rolled over by every new wave, all while trying to keep my bits from flopping out.

When I finally started dating again and called a guy to apologize for being awkward. Butt-dialed him ten minutes later. Butt-dialed him again three minutes later. Cursed loudly and hung up. Accidentally sent him a video chat I’d recorded for my sister in which I squealed about going on a date with him. Spilled fried egg yolk all over my pants when we had breakfast together. There’s too many.

Maybe you’ll chuckle. Or better, hold one arm around your middle as you giggle.

Then you’ll read a few more lines and burst out laughing. Just when you think you can’t laugh anymore, I’ll throw out another punch line.

And when you’ve finished, you’ll hold the paper weakly in your hand, exhausted by joy.

“Never gets old,” you’ll say. Because that was the thirty-eighth time you’ve read it.

I’m breaking all the rules. Telling, not showing. But can you blame me? I have only two chances.

And do you know why I’ve written these two things—one funny, one sometimes heartbreaking but full of earnest camaraderie?

Because many of us were prepared for life by having our hearts broken. And most of us forget that the point of life is to enjoy it.

Also, to make you piss your pants laughing and to push you a little closer toward falling in love with hope.

These are the best things I can offer from the full reservoir of myself.

Isn’t that what being a writer is about?

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