The Opposite of You

I have always loved definition, the hard lines you can draw around an exact meaning.  I was the little girl in Language Arts class who raised her hand all the time and never had to be told to look up words.  I can’t solve the simplest mathematical equation, but the act of defining is practically holy.

There are problems, of course, with definition.  We say things like:  I’m a writer, I’m happy/sad/busy, I’m a runner, I’m a mom/grandmother/committee chair, I’m a (fill in the blank).  And then, if you’re like me, the fact you haven’t published your book yet or run a marathon while denying yourself bacon sends you into a mad panic.

Last night I read this essay by my good friend Suzy Vitello and I couldn’t shake the end: all who wander are not lost.  Suzy, smart like she is, left it more open-ended than that, but the idea stuck with me throughout he night.  Who decided wanderers were lost?  WHO?!?!  Even Suzy’s title, “Inventing the Truth,” stuck to my skin.  What compels us to take a snapshot and give ourselves over to a single image, to say, Yes, okay, that must be who I am.

I’ve spent much of the last week pinning on definitions.  I was an insolent daughter; my mother and my stepmother suffered at many men’s hands; my grandmother was a victim of domestic violence, as were all of her 9 children.  But even as I write that bulky sentence I balk against letting those few words define who we are, who we were.  My mother and I loved the top 40 and knew every word to popular songs, which often made us seem so dorky.  My Aunt Mary had the best laugh on planet.  And even though I most-often write dark, I am a joyful person living in the light.

(238) Teri(TO)_2I remember the first writing workshop I took where everyone seemed to dress in military boots and slink under their desks.  How I felt I didn’t belong.  I didn’t belong because I just wasn’t dark enough.  My grown daughter has said, “I’m waiting for you to write a happy story!” and, when borrowing a book from me, “Please, don’t give me anything on the Holocaust or Slavery!”  The irony being, I’m not that person.  I’m the woman who runs up and hugs you when you least expect it and laughs way too loud and calls old friends, “When are we getting together?!”  Maybe it’s like the comedian who suffers severe depression:  only because I feel joyful can I write what hurts most?

One of my favorite memories of my grandmother — the woman I told my dying mother I hated — is her love of music.  Of dancing.  We used to dance, hand in hand, on the slick linoleum in her kitchen, to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

In summer.  

That may not be how the neighbors saw her, or how her husband saw her, or how my own mother even saw her.  But it’s my best memory because it’s so very clear: there she is, cooking and fun and lively and loving this song and her Winston Salems and her LifeSaver’s Butter Rums.

It’s only now, so many decades later, that I get the LifeSaver’s irony.

All who wander are truly not lost.  Never lost.  Right Suzy?  We are so often the opposite of who we seem to be.  We are depressed and spin our comedy.  We are joyful and write the darkness.  We are mostly not, ever, who we’ve defined ourselves to be.  And for that, I’m thankful.

Here’s Brenda Lee for proof.


16 thoughts on “The Opposite of You

  1. Suzy Vitello

    First of all, I love that grinning picture of you. I remember the first time you posted it, and it’s that impression that stays with me when I think of you. Not just because it’s joyful-seeming, but it’s the energy behind it.

    Today I walked my Ruby up, up, up a trail in Forest Park, and, of course, I thought of the Jojo walk we did near your house. I thought, I wish Teri and Jojo were here with us. I’ll bet that’s what people think about when they think about you. Your energy and companionship – it’s infectious.

    But, I know too, that you have a very deep well in there. Full of wonder. And wander. And you, my dear, are never lost.


    1. Teri Post author

      Suzy, I woke up at 1:30 am thinking of that last sentence in your essay. “Not all who wander … well, you know.”

      We are so (I’m going to say “addicted”) attached to our definitions of ourselves. What a peaceful pleasure it would be to walk Ruby and JoJo up and giant hill and take a deep breath, right?

  2. rebecca

    Disclaimer! I am not a writer and have felt a bit intimidated to..well write anything in response but here goes: Teri: I love reading your thoughts and ponderings!! These past few weeks have been extremely thought provoking and considered, for me. Thank you.

    So today: I believe we are all wandering–some with a purpose, others with a nose in the flowers, and still others, oblivious to any pattern. Nothing is simply one way of being or the “other”, is it? There is the ‘inbetween’. We are amazingly complex, even with simple things like Butter Rums–My mom loved those too and that licorice gum, Beechams! …She was amazingly proud of her “three girls” and so angry inside about being hemmed in by us at the same time. Conflicted and complex.

    Most of us all, I believe, show one persona, while often, feeling, or living another. Unmasking, the act of simply showing up and being–that, to me, is the real journey…wandering or not. I do love wandering a bit tho.
    Miss seeing you and your infectious, smiling being!

    1. Teri Post author

      You may not call yourself a writer, Rebecca, but you wrote this beautifully. All so very true. Can you even imagine your mother doing what you do now, including traveling all over the place?

      By the way, one of the first times I commented on someone’s blog, I was so totally freaked out by what I wrote *in public* that I sent her an email and asked that she delete it. Which she did, thank goodness!!! And she also has a blog you’d enjoy following: the incredible writer AVERIL DEAN

  3. amyg

    in the spirit of all who wander

    tonight’s gian gomeshi (sp?) adam cohen, leonard’s son was talking about going to a house in greece to write songs. he said it was a place his dad had bought back in ’61 that was on a greek island where there were no cars – to get anywhere either happened on foot or donkey.

    when i was listening to the broadcast, i kept thinking how perfect a place it would be to wander, without fear of getting so lost you couldn’t find your way back to the other side of the island. it seemed perfect.

    my grandmother used to sing to me one song, “babyface, you got the cutest little babyface, and no one else can take your place, babyface…” even as an adult sometimes, if i called her and she saw my number on her caller ID, she would answer the phone singing that song.

    1. Teri Post author

      I felt some of that island vibe in Venice last May. Having never been there, I had no idea what to expect, so I was totally surprised by the feel of a place with no cars, no bicycles, not even a skateboard — it was so quiet!! If you wanted to go somewhere, you walked or too a boat. The day Cat came in to spend the day with me, she was running late for the train and had to RUN, in her high heels, to get to the station because there was no other good option.

      Your cutest little baby face — love that!

    1. Teri Post author

      Lisa, you’ve got plenty of fire too. While I’m so glad you’re working, I remember reading your old blog, back in the day, when you were reporting from the front lines of the recession — and nobody wrote about that like you.

  4. Teresa

    Love the stories from a joyful person living in the light…. Could this be the name of your book of short stories? Id buy it!

    1. Teri Post author

      Yay T !! You found your way into the comments section. 🙂 It’s not the name of my book, but the sentiment sure is helpful for writing. For me, anyway.

  5. donnaeve

    I bought my husband one of those “Life Is Good” t-shirts b/c it had a pair of hiking boots on the front – which looked a LOT like his own boots, and it said at the bottom…, “All Who Wander Are Not Lost.” He loved it.

    What’s fascinating about this past week and what happened here at Carter Library is almost like a secret message. Something else, (think of it how you want) took the reins as if to say, “Uh uh. Nope. You need to keep on. You have stories to share – important stories.” And you came back with a really good reason, shared some very profound thoughts and personal experiences. And here we are, enjoying all you have to say and share b/c of that.

    But anyway, on that whole defining who we are thing…it’s difficult via outlets like blogs, or comments sections, or FB or even Pinterest, for God’s sake. In these places, we consider the words and try to make them represent our real selves. It’s sort of the proof at how hard any sort of writing is, in general. Even in my own situations, I feel I’ve made many mistakes in various attempts to establish my “voice,” to reveal who I am and who I am not. But these instances are really like staring at a photograph, like having a one dimensional perspective.

    1. Teri Post author

      It is truly hard to find something that represents us. Which I suppose just proves that we’re all just complex human beings trying to figure it all out. As I get deeper into the memoir, I notice one thing in particular —- the writing is not at all therapeutic; however, having to dig through documents and photos and ask my relatives questions about what happened, or what they experienced, and making the effort to see every person as complex, has been life changing.

      1. donnaeve

        Wow. I can’t even begin to open up some of the doors I slammed shut years ago with certain family members.

        “Oh, btw Uncle Bob, and Uncle Al, did you really mean to…”

        “Aunt Isabel – did you also really mean to say…”

        And on and on.

        Oh, the horror. 🙂

        You are a brave soul.

      2. Teri Post author

        Not brave at all. Totally terrified!! I sent my stepmother an email question and immediately panicked. Bit it was too late. I lost sleep. I was shocked the next day that she responded so well

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