Checky Listy - Transcript
This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “Checky Listy.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.
Listen to the episode here.
Maggie: Be brave enough to ask for help when you need it. There is no merit badge for doing all the hard things alone. Reach out, keep moving. I think sometimes we think that there's a merit badge for doing the stuff by ourselves—
Nora: Best at Suffering!
I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking,” a podcast where everyone gets a merit badge! Because we’re ALL the best at suffering!
In today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about life after love. Life after divorce. Because of all the kinds of loss that we make cards for or prioritize comforting people for… divorce isn’t one of them! And yet… it’s so common. Marriages end, many of them, even if that’s not what you intended or imagined.
It’s not what Maggie imagined for her life, either.
Like all of us, or most of us, many of us? Maggie spent a lot of her life avoiding suffering. She liked control. Knowing what would happen next.
Maggie: So little kid Maggie was a list maker, and my nickname was Checky Listy, which was also my maternal grandmother's nickname, as it turns out, because she was a list maker also. And I was the kind of kid who liked knowing what was going to happen next. And I think all kids like knowing what's going to happen next. It's why people say love and consistency with kids, right? Like, we like to know what's going to happen next, it makes us feel safe. But I really liked knowing what was going to happen next. And in fact, I liked planning what was going to happen next. And so every year in like July, Nora, I would start making these elaborate lists focused on what my holiday plans would be. And I'm talking like... when I was like 8 years old, and it would be like “Christmas Eve,” like a heading at the top with like green and red crayon. One, you know, like, get up in the morning, have cereal. Two... I mean, like everything I was going to do that day, going to my grandmother's house, opening presents. Saying thank you would have been a line item. Going to the back bedroom of my grandmother's apartment to play with our toys. Make sure to take a plastic bag to bring home all your presents in. It's so obsessive. Thinking about it now, I'm like, wow, I don't know how my parents dealt with that. But I mean, I had a line item that was “play.” And I think about that sometimes. And I think, what kind of child needs to make a list that has “play” on it, as if you might forget to do that if it weren't on the list?
And so, yeah, I was a real... someone who didn't like surprises. My mom said that when I was a little kid, even when we lived in our first house… so I was in preschool, and I was the oldest of three. So my sisters were toddlers. I wouldn't get in the car and go anywhere unless she told us where we were going. And so any time she'd say, “Let's go, it's going to be a surprise!” And maybe it was going to Dairy Queen or to the swimming pool or whatever, I would just refuse to get in the car. And she would have to whisper it to me. And I couldn't ruin it, but I just couldn't handle not knowing what was going to happen. And I hadn't—
Maggie: I know. I mean, it's so sad, because then I think about that little girl's head would have exploded if she had seen what was coming at me, you know, in my early 40s.
Nora: Oh god, I know. She'd be like, “But how about no.” Also, it's like so your.... your... your... history with your mother had taught you that here are the options for a surprise, the pool or Dairy Queen. But your brain was like, “But honestly, what if it's right off a cliff? OK? I want to know.”
Maggie: Yeah. Like I need to know. And I don't know if it was because I was scared of what was going to happen or because I derived so much pleasure from planning and thinking about the thing before it happened that it was like you are taking some pleasure from me by not letting me sort of ruminate on the thing. Like, part of why I like planning road trips now is because I like to think about what's going to happen on the road trip. I like to buy the snacks. I like to plan the playlists. I like to choose podcasts. I really like planning. And it's a way of like, enjoying the thing before the thing ever happens. And then I get nostalgic after, and I relive the memories in my mind, and then I get to like... linger in that space after it's happened. And none of this is really designed… none of this is really about living in the present moment.
Nora: When you said, “What kind of a kid needs to, like, put play on a checklist,” answer that question. Like, what kind of a kid was that?
Maggie: It's sometimes hard for me to square the person I was when I was younger with the person I am now. And I think that's definitely true for people in my family who knew me as someone who was anxious, didn't like change, was also kind of an Eeyore, you know? Like, oh, it's not going to turn out well. It's not going to be OK. Like, I was definitely the sort of melancholy member of my immediate family. And so now it's kind of hard to square that with the person who has to travel a lot, or at one time did for work, and who was sort of vulnerable in public, and who wrote a book about finding optimism. And I mean, it seems like I've come a long way, and I think about that kid and even me in my 20s, and I sort of want to go back and just, like, shake her shoulders a little and just be like, “Snap out of it. You're going to be fine. This white-knuckled grip you are trying to have on everything to keep it perfect, to keep it intact, is not working.” I mean, it kind of reminds me and maybe is related that my mom had to have a meeting with my preschool teacher, because I was telling the kids that their drawings weren't going to make their parents happy because they weren't good enough. I was like, “No, no, no, no, no, that's not going to work. Here's what your mother wants. [Nora and Maggie laugh] Let me fix that for you. That's not going to do. Oh, that won't do. Bless your heart.” At like 4. So I definitely am a first-born. I've got big first-born energy. [Nora continues to laugh] And it's so funny. It's miserable, though. Like, I can't imagine parenting that child. Like, just let it go.
I can imagine parenting that child, because I was a child like that and I have a child like that. Possibly two. Kids who like things to be a certain way, who like as much control over their environment as possible. It’s intense. Maggie as a kid? Intense.
Maggie: This was at a home preschool, and a woman — I don't even know her first name. She was Mrs. Lee. This was like a home preschool in Mrs. Lee's basement that my mother would walk me to like two days a week. It was the most low-stakes preschool experience. And yet Mrs. Lee had to be like, “Listen, Nita, Maggie's sweet, but she's a little intense, and she's scaring the other kids.” I had a lot of years of perfectionism, which makes you miserable. I think we know that now. Maybe we didn't know that in the ‘80s. But I think we've come around to the wisdom that if you try to be perfect, you will be miserable. It's better not to try that at all. That should not be the goal.
But Maggie does want perfection. And little Checky Listy has a plan for her life. A plan that looks like this: Get good grades and be very smart. Go to college. Get married! In that order, and as soon as possible. Because… what’s the alternative? What would the surprise destination be if not marriage?
Maggie: The worst thing that can happen to you is you're alone if you're a woman. I don't know what the worst thing is if you're a man. But if you're a woman in your 20s, there is a clock that is on, and everyone knows it's on. And if you're dating someone or not dating someone or living with someone but not engaged or engaged but don't have a date or whatever, the thing is. I grew up in the Midwest, too. There is a grandmother who will put her hand on your shoulder every time you see her and ask why it hasn't happened yet. There are aunts who want to know. There are cousins who are getting married who are younger than you. And you don't know why that is. Checky Listy in her 20s, I was still… I was writing. I started graduate school. I had no idea what that would mean. I had no idea what a life as a writer would look like, or how I would pay bills or what I would actually do for a living. But I knew I wanted to write poems because it was the only thing I was actually any good at. And so I gave myself basically a three-year incubation period in the form of an MFA to just live and write for three years. And then I'd see afterwards what would happen.
So I was starting to let go a little then, because I didn't really have a plan. But then I poured all of the planning impulse and the... sort of what should my life look like, impulse, I think, into my relationship. And so if I didn't know what was going to happen professionally, I couldn't also bear to be living with uncertainty in my personal life. And so I dated someone for six months who had been a friend of mine, and we moved in together after six months. And then, well, the next thing you do, especially if you're a woman in your 20s and you're living in the Midwest, is you get engaged. And so we did that. And then, of course, we got married because that's that's just the next step. I mean, it's all written out. It's on the list. And then you have to have kids, because that's on the list. And to be fair, I always knew I wanted to do that. So that was always going to be on the list. And then we did that. And then I realized after the two kids there weren't any more things on the list. So then what? I'd done all the stuff. Play, I guess, wasn't on that list, but yeah. And so by the time I'd gotten through that list, I was 35, and I had been married for several years to someone I'd been with since I was 22, 23. And I had two kids. A newborn and a 3-year-old.
The checklists we make — as kids, as younger versions of ourselves, even now — what we imagine as the recipes for a happy life, a good life, they’re never fully complete and the lists often end at the beginning of a phase, not the more challenging middle or end parts. Getting married? Check! Ya know? Done. Did it. But what’s never on the list is successfully navigating the 14th minor argument about whose turn it is to register the kids for soccer, or who’s replacing the toilet paper roll, and why are you doing it where it rolls under. It obviously rolls over. I don’t know how to... ugh. Or finally coming to a conclusion on whose parents you spend Christmas with, or, when you’re opening presents, when do you start opening those presents?
You get the point. When we’re driven by a checklist, by what’s next, what happens when all the biggest milestones are met? What happens once we’ve gotten the degree? Or gotten married? Or had kids? When we’ve settled into the rhythm of life, and the uphill scramble towards a specific destination is over, THEN WHAT? In between this and dying, what do we do?
And when we get there, and it’s not what we expected, when checking off the boxes no longer brings that feeling of satisfaction or drive that we expected… then what?
We’ll be right back
We’re back. Maggie did all of the things on her checklist: She got married, built a writing career, had kids. And now, just two of those things are still a part of her life — her writing and her kids. Divorce certainly wasn’t on her list, and now she is the single woman her 22-year-old self would have seen as the worst case scenario… and guess what? Her 22-year-old self was wrong. (They often are, no offense to our young listeners). There are many things worse than being alone.
Maggie: Being with someone who doesn't want the best for you is worse than being alone. there are lots of worse things than being alone. I actually really relish my time alone, now. I like living alone. I like having the days when my kids are with their dad or at school. If I get a few hours to myself. I like getting to put on perfume I like, and I actually don't have to care if anyone else likes it. I like that I wore overalls yesterday even though my ex-husband kind of rolled his eyes whenever I would wear overalls. You don't get a vote. [laughs] I get to wear what I want. If I want to eat a cinnamon roll out of the microwave, standing up at the kitchen counter, like with my hands like a raccoon at 11:30 at night and I can call that dinner. I can do that with no judgment because there's no one here to see that. I actually really, really like being alone. And it's not at all what I imagined. It's not at all what I imagined when I was in my 20s and people around me were getting engaged. And I thought, what about me? But what about me?
What about me? Or you? What about what we want and need outside of a relationship? Where is the celebration of getting to know ourselves, of falling in love with our own lives, our own selves? Where are the registries for single people who just got their own place or who are starting over? Where are the big communal celebrations outside of having kids or being partnered?
Maggie: I had dinner... really when things were still very bad in the middle of me writing the book, I had dinner with a friend of mine whose wife had died a year prior. And we were talking, and he said, “I think in some ways what you're going through is harder.” And I remember just looking at him and thinking, what are you talking about? I mean, she was the love of your life. You were together all these years. You have an adult child. You had to watch this happen and feel helpless. I mean, I actually felt the exact opposite, which was interesting. And he said, “It's a cleaner break. It's one that I understand. I know how to process it.” And it made sense to me in a way, because what he was saying was also like, “My wife didn't choose to leave me.” So you have the grief of not having the person in your life anymore. I think this is maybe what makes divorce like a complicated kind of grief is you have the grief, however it ends, of not having the person in your life anymore. But then there's also the circumstances. And often there is a kind of betrayal that happens. Often there is dishonesty that plays a role in why these things don't work out, or it makes you wonder… not just like who am I now, but what was the last 20 years? Like, what was that? And people will always ask, “When did it start to go bad?” Or people would say things like, “Well, was he this person then, or is that just now? Like, is it like dealing with a different person now or was it that person before?” And it's really hard to know. That's the trick, is it makes you second guess everything that came before it and that, I think, is what is particularly painful about divorce, is it doesn't just blow up your life — and if you have kids, the lives of your children — and it isn't just financially devastating, and it isn't just terrifying because you have to reinvent yourself, but it really can erode your sense of self and your sense of even understanding what your life has been to that point, because you can start second guessing yourself a lot.
Nora: And I think if you're a person who has planned out what she thinks a successful life looks like, which is you have work that is meaningful and, you know, you have a person to share your life with, and then you have children, you own this house and you have two cars and maybe a dog and... then one of those foundational pieces goes missing. Then the checklist does not work anymore.
Maggie: No, it really doesn't. And one of the things that I realized that I found strangely comforting was that even though I thought I knew what my life was going to be in the future when I was married, I never really knew. The future was just as empty when I was married as it feels now. And I don't mean empty like there's nothing out there and nothing's going to happen. I just mean unwritten. It was just as unwritten when I was married as it is now. It's just that I had projected my current situation into the future. It's almost like we take our lives as they are and sort of copy paste, copy paste, copy paste.
Nora: But you are projecting into it.
Maggie: Yep. You're just projecting into the future. And I remember thinking, “Will we stay in this house so that the kids have a place to stay when they come back and visit us after they move away to college, or will we retire to some other city? Because we can. We can do whatever.” But the constant in whatever that thinking was, was that the two of us would be doing it together. And when my marriage ended, I realized none of that was ever guaranteed. You know? I had just been, like, projecting some sort of hologram of the two of us into the future. And that's comforting. I get it. Like, we make plans, and we make lists, because it makes us feel in control, as if if we have a plan or we have a list, we can somehow control the situation or control the outcome. But we can't. If this year has proven anything, it's that we don't always get to decide what our lives look like or what will happen next. And it was actually really freeing for me to realize that my lists and plans were just that. And I couldn't really fix it. But on the bright side, it's open ahead. Like, it's a lot of blank pages, it's a little daunting, but also I can write whatever I want. I can make it whatever I want. It's no longer a group project. It's an independent study.
Nora: I was about to say, the one thing, the constant that you were projecting was the two of you. But the constant in reality is you.
Maggie: That's right. Yeah, that's right. The constant is me, and I think about that, too, even with the kids, they're not always going to live here. Because they're so sweet, and they're still young, and they say, “Mommy, we're going to live with you forever. We're going to go to college here in town, so we can live with you forever, and we can still have dinner together.” And, you know, frankly, if they want to do that, that's fine. I will definitely put up with them freeloading through college and maybe for a gap year after. But I don't think that will happen, because I think they'll realize that they don't have to live by my rules if they live on their own. And so I can't even pour 100 percent of myself into being their mother and lose myself in the process, because I need to have a reserve of me left over for when they're not here. And frankly, I have joint custody. So there are days like today where they're not in my house. I need to be able to be myself alone and be OK with that. And that is maybe the greatest lesson that I've come through the last couple of years with. You know, I was never single. I got divorced, my ex-husband moved out, I think I was 41, and I realized the last time I had been single, I was 15 years old. I had a boyfriend from 15 to 17. I had a boyfriend from 17 to 22. I rebounded off of that five-year relationship with my ex-husband. We moved in together after six months and were together for, you know, almost 19 years. So I had not really ever been on a date, because what kind of date can you go on when you're 15 and can't even drive a car? Like, it's like my mom will drop off if your dad will pick up.
Nora: “Is there a payphone at that mall? OK.”
Maggie: There better be, because I didn't have a cell phone until graduate school.
Nora: Or you'd estimate when a movie would end and you'd be like, “OK. So then yeah. And let's hope my mom remembers that she said you'd pick us up, and also which corner? Did we agree on that beforehand? I guess we just stand outside and hope for the best.”
Maggie: And we'll go to the arcade or like the hurricane shirts shop where they make those spinning paint-splattered shirts, or we'll go hang out at the record store maybe to try on some Wet & Wild lipsticks in the gold circle. I don't know, whatever, but yeah, I mean, really, I came out of this thinking, “Oh my gosh, I've never been alone. I haven't been alone since I was 15.” And that was really why I didn't date for a year and a half, because I realized that I had a serial monogamy problem. And there are two stories you can tell yourself if you've always been in a relationship. One of those stories is really flattering, which is that like, “Oh, my gosh, I must be so fun to be around and so special that someone always finds me!” Sorry I'm so cute. I'm just never available. The other probably more true story is that you don't want to be by yourself. And like, I knew that about myself, and so I said out loud to my parents, to my friends, to my sisters, as soon as I got divorced, “Do not let me date. I do not need to partner up right now. As tempting as that would be, because I'm terrified of what my life will be, don't let me do it.” Because I was so scared of sort of falling into that pattern of trying to also just like stuff it. And so I didn't. I was by myself for a year and a half before I accidentally started dating.
Nora: That's... my husband did the same thing. And then he dated me accidentally. But he just was like, no, I can't do it. Like, I have to know, do I even like myself? Like, who am I even?
Maggie: Who am I alone?
Nora: Right. Who am I alone? If nobody else is telling me what the plan is for the weekend, or what movie we're going to watch, or things like that, like even little things, like you don't even know anymore what was me and what was a relationship.
We’re going to take a quick break.
We’re back. Maggie is trying to figure out who she is on her own, without the convenient four-sided boundaries of those little empty boxes she loves to check — and without the defining boundaries of a relationship, either.
Maggie: What else is there? I mean, mid-life crisis makes perfect sense to me. It makes perfect sense to me that many people have a big crisis when their kids move out and start their own lives, because we've invested so much of our time and energy in our kids. And so yeah, so what next? And I find that really interesting now. And interesting might be a euphemistic word for what I mean, but I've been thinking about that so much now, because what a lot of people are asking me is like, “So what's new with you? What's next for you?”
Nora: What next? I hate that question.
Maggie: What's next? I mean, you know, 4- or 8-year-old me would have been able to tell you… 43-year-old me is like, “I've got soup I accidentally microwaved and then forgot about on the counter in my kitchen that I think will not go bad within the next two hours. So probably I'm going to reheat that again and eat it. And that will get me to like 6 p.m. And then after that, I don't know what's going to happen. I have no idea.” And part of it is that there is no cultural or societal trajectory for what your life is supposed to look like, particularly if you're single or post-divorce or widowed, the sort of middle of your life, because I've already done all the stuff. I did the thing. I got engaged, I got married. I did what I was quote unquote supposed to do. I had the kids. I found what I like to do professionally, and I'm doing it. So there aren't really big life milestones that I need to have or feel compelled to have and, you know, it sort of also begs the question like, getting into a different relationship, like what if those milestones aren't on the table? What does progress look like when progress doesn't look like it did in your 20s, where you mark your relationship progressing by things like moving in and getting engaged and things like that? Well, what if you don't really want to do those things? Or what if those things aren't on the table because there are kids involved and different places involved and work involved and it's just… you have full lives. Then what does that look like? And how do we find our way forward? I'm really interested in what happens next. I can't tell you what it is, but I'm curious.
Not certain, but curious. I mentioned that Maggie is a poet. She’s a poet whose work you have likely heard, because she wrote the poem “Good Bones” — a poem that is everywhere on the internet and beyond and that ends like this:
Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
But how do you make it beautiful?
Painstakingly slowly. Patiently and without the constant reaching for the pen to check that next empty box.
Maggie: I remember it was a few years ago, it was after “Good Bones” went viral, and I had to suddenly travel more than I had in the past to give readings and talks. And I was driving myself to a reading in Virginia, and I decided to rent a cabin for a couple of days out in the middle of nowhere and just write. And I remember talking to my mom in the car, winding my way back through the forest, trying to find these people's remote cabin that I found on Airbnb. And my mom saying, “I have to say, Maggie, of all three of my girls, I kind of can't believe that you're the one finding your way through the woods to a cabin where you're going to have to talk to people you don't know, and you're having to find your way through these places where you don't know people, and you're going to have to go give a reading in front of strangers, and you're probably going to have to do a dinner with people you don't know.” And I used to be so nervous about talking to strangers, it was hard for me to order a pizza. I've come a long way, and a lot of that change was painful and not easy. But honestly, I'm really grateful for it. And it came mostly from practice. Like, the more you have to get on an airplane and go someplace, the easier it gets. And the more you have to talk to people that you don't know well, it gets easier, because I think every time you do something that you think will be hard, and you survive it, you're like, “Oh! I did that. And it wasn't the like experience of doom that I had been building it up to be in my mind.” And then the next time it gets a little easier, and the next time, it gets a little easier. You know, even if it sounds a little masochistic, I think forcing ourselves into situations where we feel like a tug or a muscle being stretched internally that we don't use very often because it makes us feel nervous… that's really good practice, and it does get easier.
It gets easier, if not easy. Because when Maggie and I speak, and when this episode is released, things are not good in the world at large. There’s COVID and a vaccine, and also a million terrible things to contend with during this new reality.
Maggie: Oh, things are terrible. And that's I think one of the biggest traps of this year is like this myth that we have all this time and should be making things or bettering ourselves, which um no, I don't think we should. I actually think if you did happen to pick up distance running in the last 10 months, good for you. I would never talk down to someone for using this time to pick up a habit that's helpful. Or if you managed to write your memoir in the last several months because suddenly you had all this time, wonderful. I mean, that is a perk. I think for most of us, that's not what this year has been like. You know, maybe our kids are at home and learning and we're just trying to balance, you know, how many laptops can we have going at the same time using the same wi-fi and all get our shit done? Really I just want to come out of this year healthy — and I mean physically and mentally. And I want to get my kids through this year healthy, physically and mentally. And I really don't care much about anything else. Like everything else is a bonus. So the idea that we might be beating ourselves up for not quote unquote using this time to its greatest advantage, that makes me really sad that there might be people who think back on this year as “I should have accomplished more” when we're in the middle of a pandemic. And really what we are accomplishing is like, keeping ourselves and one another safe by doing, frankly, very little.
Nora: I mean, I think about like our grandmothers, you know, raising children during World War II and rationing and growing their own food. And I don't think they were like, “Now how can I get through this second world war with abs, and maybe I'll even learn, like, some new bragable skill. No, they were trying to survive, and there is great honor in survival too. Like, great meaning in survival. And I think one of the things about your work that I really admire is that it does not veer into that very, very, very, you know, capitalistic, very highly sellable brand of positivity — toxic positivity — that is so harmful to people, that's like, “Oh, your life fell apart. Well, girl, get back up.”
Maggie: You know what it is? It's like the good vibes only thing makes me crazy. I can't. Oh, I mean, I'm here for all the vibes.
Nora: Healthy mix of vibes, bad vibes.
Maggie: Healthy mix of vibes.
Nora: Okay vibes.
Maggie: Okay vibes, mad vibes… want to want to buy a bunch of plates from Goodwill and throw them into a dumpster vibes...
Nora: Satisfying, yes.
Maggie: Yeah I think in some ways I am the least likely person to write a book about optimism or a book categorized as self-help, because I am, I think, a pretty realistic person. I'm not necessarily, or haven't been my whole life, a very cheerful individual, but I'm trying. And so really, keep moving for me is a record of me trying to do things differently, because I needed to survive that hard time. And I knew that I frankly wouldn't if I continued the headspace that I was in, wasn't a headspace that was going to allow me to live. So I needed to find a sort of new bag of tricks for myself, and for me that was looking at... really turning to metaphor, which... that's what poets do, and looking at metaphor and trying to find different stories to tell myself about my life and have a different kind of conversation with myself about my life and what was possible still… even though it had sort of burnt down around me and I felt like I was standing in like a charred, once forest and trying to figure out what I could build there. And I wasn't going to be able to build anything if I was despondent. And so optimism was something I turned to out of a need for it, more than out of a belief in it in the beginning.
Those little bits of optimism — clinging to the small shards of light in the darkness — are about reminding us that things are hard, yes… AND the bones might still be good.
Maggie: It’s funny, I was talking to someone yesterday, and we were talking about how whenever something goes wrong, we say, like, “There's always something!” You know? Because there always is. I can't remember the last day that was just good. And I realize that probably sounds dark, but there's just a lot going on, and really I haven't had a day in a really, really long time that was just good start to finish, without a snarky text or an alarming email or bad news showing up on TV or on my phone. There aren't very many sort of pure days. There's always something. And I was thinking, why don't we say that with a different tone of voice when something good happens during the day, even a small thing. Like, “There's always something!” You know? And it might just be a friend, you know, popping over and dropping off some like over something that they made, but they thought you would really like it, so they brought over a piece of Tupperware that maybe was yours, so they're returning it, but they're returning it with something inside of it for you. Or your mom calls, and you didn't expect to hear from her. Or, you know, there are kids jumping in a leaf pile outside your house and you're actually not trying to record a podcast at that moment, so their shrieking is really welcome and sweet and nice. You know, I do think there are good things that happen even on really terrible days. And too often we are so dialed in to the hard parts of the day that we miss all the good stuff kind of streaming by quickly, and part of what I've been trying to do in holding myself in a moment, sort of like a snow globe of a moment, is, you know... we were saying feeling all the vibes, feeling all the feeling, seeing all the stuff, holding, holding the hard stuff and the good stuff simultaneously and not turning away from the hard stuff because we just want to see the good. Because that is toxic and it's not useful. But also not ignoring the good stuff because we are so fixated on what's going wrong. And for me, staying present means like... you know, when you put your antenna up to receive whatever you're going to receive, you don't get to choose what comes in. That's vulnerability to me. Sometimes it hurts, because it feels like you're walking around in the world without skin, and it stings a little to be in the air feeling that raw. But if you shut yourself down to not feel the hard stuff, you're also building a callus that will make it hard for you to feel anything — the good stuff, too. And so it's like... take it or leave it, and I mean all of it, you know? And I don't want to give up feeling the big feelings. That's part of what I do. It's part of who I am. That's part of what makes me a poet, is being able to put my antenna up and tap into all of that stuff. And sometimes it hurts like hell, because I can't modulate what I'm getting. I can't turn the joy setting up and the grief setting down. I wish I could. I have not figured that out. If there is an app or meditation for that sort of dial, I would pay a lot of money for it.
Nora: I'd buy a device.
Maggie: A hundred percent. Like, I would retrofit myself in a heartbeat if that were possible. But as far as I can tell, I'm either feeling, or I'm not. And there's a part in “Keep Moving” where I talk about, like, your heart's not broken. If your heart is feeling, if you're feeling things, whatever the feeling is, that means your heart is working. And that means that if you're grieving and you feel acute pain, and it's both mental and physical anguish, the good news is your heart is working, and it's still able to feel all the good stuff, too. And it's not always going to hurt this bad. Yeah, I mean, if I could go back and tell myself two years ago something reassuring, I think I would just tell her, “Don't be afraid. You can do this and it gets better. Doesn't necessarily go away. You might not ever be healed.” That word makes me really uncomfortable. [Nora: Same.] Yeah. I mean, I just it makes me really uncomfortable. And my friend Dana Levin, the poet Dana Levin, said something recently about endurance, not healing. And I thought that was so smart and felt so right to me because to me, healing sort of suggests getting over something. And I know how you feel about that. You know, the idea that you could set something down like, “I don't really want to carry this anymore. I'm going to be healed or cured of that. I'm going to set it down.” And to me, endurance and resilience sort of speaks differently to the fact that you will have to continue to carry that thing, but you can hopefully learn to carry it better and differently and more efficiently and in a way that hurts you less and feels less uncomfortable every second of every day. And that, to me, feels like a more realistic version of, quote unquote, healing.
A more realistic version of healing that isn’t a box to be checked or a final destination called “HEALED.” It’s a version of healing that allows for Maggie to be changed by all the things that were never on the list in the first place, that existed beyond what she had imagined for herself… outside of any box, outside of any list.
Nora: My last thing for you is that I just keep thinking about little Maggie, you know, and your mom being like, “We're going to go somewhere and it's a surprise.” And you being, like, “False. We will go somewhere. But I will know in advance. Thank you.” Like, now, if I'm like, “Maggie, get in the car. We're going somewhere…”
Maggie: I'm in. I am so in!
This is “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.”
Our production team is me, Nora McInenry; Marcel Malekebu; Phyllis Fletcher; Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Jordan Turgeon; and Hannah Meacock Ross.
We are a production of American Public Media, and I have to let you know that Maggie has a new book called Keep Moving. It’s essays, little snippets of poetry-like things. It’s beautiful. And actually, she has a new book of poetry that’s going to come out next year called Goldenrod that I think you can preorder, and you’re going to want to. She is... we just need more poetry. Okay? We need more poetry! We fricken demand it! Check those things out.
We are American Public Media. What does that stand for? You. You’re the public. And I just want to thank people who’ve supported this show. You’re supporting it by listening to it, BTWs. The more people listen to it, then we can tell advertisers, “Look at all these people who listen to our show. That’s why you should support us.” That’s how we get to make a show: advertisers and also donors. So, thank you to our advertisers and thank you to donors like: Melissa Brady, Kristyna Hosakova, Cory Lettier, Lynn Tran, and Abi Karner.