Posted in Nonfiction

Happiness Happens. 


“People who like sweet things are people who want to be happy.” — Kim Mi Young, Fated to Love You, Ep. 2


I like extravagant gifts: costly travel, pricey meals, good wine, undivided attention, genuine laughter at a joke I’ve made, forgiveness. I don’t often get those things and when I do, typically, I give them to myself. This is, in part, because grown-ups told me, when I was small, that it’s impolite to ask for gifts, immodest to carry myself as though I expect or deserve them, imprudent to confess aloud that I desire them.

I come from a line of women unaccustomed to getting what we want, unaccustomed to granting ourselves permission to voice our desires. We have never known what could be asked for without the answer of a scold or denial, without the answer of silence or a promise unfulfilled. My grandmother, a middle child among ten siblings; my mother, the only child of a single teenage mother; me, born to my single mom when she was 19: We weren’t offered much in the way of lavishness.

That history matters.



Some families are run spare and hectic, in households where extravagance, if it ever stopped by, would have nowhere to sit, no uncluttered surface on which to settle.

By the time I was seven, my grandmother was doing fairly well, working as a court stenographer, a career from which she would retire after nearly 30 years of service. I grew up watching her take cruises to Caribbean and South American isles. She came back with textiles and key chains and magnets for me, t-shirts I never wore painted with the colors of toucan plumes.

She went to jazz concerts and stretched out on lawns to hear woodwind trios manically convey whatever they could without words. Sometimes she took me with her.

And other times, she took me to plays and performances. We saw Jelly’s Last Jam with Savion Glover and Maurice Hines. We saw Spunk, a play that adapted three of Zora Neale Hurston’s best short stories. Twice, we saw the Boys Choir of Harlem.

In those halls where choral sound rose to the rafters, where the patter of a dancing legend’s tap shoes echoed offstage during a scene that portrayed his death, where a south Floridian negro dialect was performed just as Hurston wrote it, I came to understand what money could buy– not just a night at the theatre but exposure, not just access to a performance, but the sense that you are sharing emotion and wonder in tandem with whoever sits beside you. Only you, in that great hall on that one night, will ever have seen the show precisely as it was performed in those hours. Tomorrow, someone will recite the line with another inflection or remember, that time, to say a word they often forgot, or, someone with a certain rogue sparkle in eye, will improvise. But tonight, you all bore witness to this incarnation. It will not come again.

Nana, in her extravagance, taught me that happiness does not reside in the moment for me, but in the recollection of it. In the process of recalling what marvels I’ve had, those marvels magnify.

For holidays, she bought me gifts I never requested. I didn’t ask for many things by name, so she had to guess. She bought me a Sega Genesis Game Gear one year, a toy I did not realize she knew existed. I politely played, watching the blue, spiky-haired hedgehog move through a gauntlet of chores toward some goal I was meant to help him reach. When the batteries ran out, I never requested new ones. I did not ask for any other game cartridges.

I was often mistaken for ungrateful or stoic or sullen over those kinds of gifts, played through once and set aside. But I remember receiving them. I remember wanting to share them. I remember that they were given to me because someone wanted to see my eyes widen with surprise and with glee.

In the end, all true gifts are experiences, the material encasing them meant to harbor something far more meaningful. Whether or toy or a theatre ticket, the happiness is in whatever action follows your grateful receipt of it.



How painful it becomes to live lowlier than you ought, to cloak yourself in denial of need or of pleasure, to constantly settle for less than you’d like. Over time, it means forgetting what you like. It results in an uncertainty of what would truly make you happy and, for a time, it seems it seems that you are in a state of perpetual discontent. Nothing is ever quite as pleasant as you’d want it to be.

There are ways to end this. Each one begins with opening your mouth, with saying: I want. and allowing it to be both public and true. Let it breathe I want. and animate I want. and demand undivided attention.

Photo credit: my five-year-old daughter
Photo credit: my five-year-old daughter


When I got the email, I was afraid to say yes. I waited nearly two weeks to respond. What if there were strings attached to the offer? What if I said yes, admitting just how much I wanted the gift, and it never came? The email, as soon as I acknowledged it, could become a broken promise, a wish unfulfilled. It was possible.

But what if there were no strings and the gift did come on the promised day? What if, like the heroines of myth and of fable I’d long been admonished not to emulate, my wish — once confessed — came true?

In all confession, there resides an element of risk. Courting rejection in exchange for a chance at delight: this is the writer’s only real ambition. This risk is nearly a friend, a long-familiar.

So I said an eventual yes, and the company let me choose any gift it offered. I said yes, though I apologized for what may be viewed as greed: I wanted both the strawberries and the cheesecake trio. I said yes, with a slight blush and a bitten lip, as I always associate gifts like these with the lovers I wish I had asked for them.

In turn, the company waved its magic wand. Three days later, the package arrived: one dozen chocolate covered strawberries and a lovely assortment of miniature cheesecakes. They sent the gift, with simple hope that it would make me happy. I shared it with my daughter and my grandmother, splitting the cheesecakes between us and offering up all the white-chocolate-coated fruit to Story. They were her favorite. I’m smiling even now, remembering how delighted she was biting into them.


Happiness happens at the intersection of courage and confession, risk and recollection. I am never prouder of myself than when I choose to stand at those crossroads.

Posted in Nonfiction

Mother as Mountain, as Sky.

When he surfaces, so long after you’ve abandoned imagining that men like him exist, you are flummoxed, but only fleetingly. You do not realize at first how ready you’ve been.

You thought you would be more hesitant, that your years since becoming a mother had morphed you into martyrdom, a voluntary consignment: its length the duration of your daughter’s childhood, its berth too wide to breach.

He enters into view and as you regard his easy grin, it occurs to you how long you’ve been blocking your natural flow of endorphins, denying estrogen surges, enabling a kind of psychic sterilization.

You believed you would spend a full 18 years depriving yourself of new love.

But in that flash between flummoxing and pardon, an iron gate has unlatched. You, remembering suddenly that you are all woman, as well as all mother, hear an echo, a flutter: I am no martyr.

If you were, you wouldn’t be hastening toward him. You wouldn’t be brushing your cheek against the course range of hair on his face and purring like a cat who’s found a home. You wouldn’t entrust him with your hands, wouldn’t gaze down at the half-moons scalloped under his fingernails and wish on them.

Your gait is neither measured nor wary; you rushed to him. It has been too long since your heart hoped for more than the half-love that co-parents can sometimes rekindle, for more than the comforts of a companionship not unlike broken in boots or limb-stretched sweaters. You’d nearly forgotten how it felt to steal away when all was quiet and whisper feverish nothings to someone who does not yet know you well enough to discard or destroy you.

It is new, the nerve endings snapping to attention again, the trail of thoughts that lead far away from nursery rhymes and apple juice boxes, and even the guilt you feel at leaving behind the illusions you’d held so long of one partner, one family, some structure you’d hoped could be retroactively whole, the guilt at shattering what’s left of the glass.

It is all so new.

When you tell your ex, he is stunned; he could no more foresee it than you could. You realize you were grasping at the selfsame straws. You realize how empty of half-moons your hands have been.

There are fears you are holding at bay, but rather than repressed, they must be purged. You will not enter this new house haunted. For your daughter must understand her mother as a woman who can handle complexities, who can cast an alchemy of friendship and motherhood and romance that sates us all. She must understand that we do not only receive one chance, one love, one faltering per lifetime. We are a species that thrives amid opportunities; it is only when we bar ourselves from seizing them that we truly fail. She must know that love can be the most nourishing opportunity of all; the more you let in, the larger you loom–and right now, her mother is a mountain, is a sky.