Spiral Staircase & Puppies

When I was in my twenties, someone said to me that I would never truly be done examining any issue in my life, that it may lie dormant for a part of my journey but that it would reappear in other guises at different times, and take me off guard. The metaphor at hand was that I was climbing a spiral staircase. One simple way to picture this is to think of myself ascending the staircase very slowly, and as I turn and rise, I am next to a different part of the staircase wall at each step, on the north side of the staircase might be my family experiences, on the south side, my romantic relationships, on the east side my career, and on the west side my evolving attitudes towards and beliefs about the world. The point was that I would keep encountering the same themes and issues at different points in my journey. I might think that I have put away my resentment towards my parents forever, but no, it’s just a step away, as I climb my life’s staircase.

I try to be honest with myself about my shortcomings and character flaws–though my various weaknesses make me feel badly about myself. So today I went on a self-empathy project and dug around for a while for the right metaphor to put my weaknesses in perspective and be more patient with my own slow evolution as a sentient being of conscience. I’m visiting my grandparents in Florida and I am spending time with my mother who is here also. It’s actually a good time for me to be reminded of my family context, and how much what I am evolved against the pressures these related creatures placed on me. I am thinking about my personality and I am thinking about the people in my family and their personalities. Honestly, we’re a very peculiar bunch: maddening, impatient, enthusiastic, funny, intelligent, curious, particular, changeable, demanding, stubborn and desiring of recognition and affection. I understand this largely puts us in the human category. At any rate, it’s good to see my anxious energy manifest in my oddly angled forefathers and mothers. It’s a straight line from them to me. If I can find the goodwill to extend compassion to them, I can extend some compassion toward myself.

For example. My grandpa. He is punctilious to a fault. I wish he had never gone into the navy (or worked in a hospital) because he’s been annoyingly tedious and persistent with his love for being on time all my life. This exactitude about clocks extends to anyone who is standing within a mile of him–we must all be on time. Not on our time, but on his time. My boyfriend and I are battling colds, so we’re even slower to wake and move than usual. My grandfather called me four times over an hour to ask when we would be ready to be picked up. A classic bit of dialogue goes like this:

The phone rings (again).
Me: Hello.
Grandpa: Are your clothes on?
Me: Yes, but boyfriend is still in the shower.
Grandpa: I don’t understand. It’s been twenty minutes. When will you be ready?
Me: Yes it has. We’re moving slowly. We have colds.
Grandpa: I’m getting in the car in five minutes.
Me: I’m going to need you to calm down.
Grandpa: Can you please call when your clothes are on?
Me: Yes. Thank you.
Grandpa: Goodbye.

10 minutes later: The phone rings again.

I started laughing after my grandfather’s third phone call. He’s just impossible. I’ll skip the incident where he got furious with me for asking him if he has regular coffee.

By then I had come up with my grand metaphor. My family is like a bunch of unruly St. Bernard puppies. I am one too. I like us all a lot more now that I know what we are.


This weekend I went to a friend’s baby shower in NYC. As friends and parents dispensed advice on the parents to be, my favorite analogy was how traveling and parenting resemble each other: How you have to adventurous, brave and flexible and face sudden setbacks while you travel and after you procreate. (This is true of writing as well.)

Several of my friends are in the process of embarking on the parenting journey, and it’s incredibly moving to witness their transformation. They are courageous and they are vulnerable. I love these parents and children to be, they are part of my growing family. I look forward to meeting each and every one of this new cohort.
I bask in the maturity and thoughtfulness of these near parents. We’re all in the process of stretching into the new obligations and joys these children will bring.
For my part, I’m enjoying being forced to grow up, or accepting being a grown up — becoming a point of reference about how to live life for each of these children.

I’m also thinking about story telling. How raising children and telling stories are related. Because my story telling is (in part) a reflection of me, how the language and images I use reflect my knowledge about the fabric of the world, my values, my dreams, my hopes, and my sense of the possibilities and my feelings about the life experience.

There’s a reason so many stories and fairy tales are journey stories. Family relationships, new friendships, dating adventures, trips, commuting, making a home, creating a family–the journey metaphor, sometime the literal journey, are essential to the human experience.
Writing, traveling and family building–all tied together. Neat.