You shall begin it serenely

On March 23, 2010 by Eden M. Kennedy

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks feeling like a total dick, if you must know, and guilt does not at all inspire me to leap into your lap with a bouquet of wistful observations.

One effect of this pixular silence, however, is that I’ve taken the chance to spend several hours plodding through my archives fixing links that were broken during the move and skimming through the last nine years of my online life. I used to write a pretty good post once in awhile, so the journey was both heartening and discouraging, in the sense that I haven’t really delivered too much lately. (Well, yeah, except for my portion of a 250+ page manuscript, okay, I guess that might take some of the oomph out of a gal.) Does anyone remember the original tagline for this site? “A place to think about your sins.” I am nothing if not susceptible to overthinking. I used to blame it on my Catholic upbringing, but now I think I’m just blessed with a certain type of human nature that swings toward guilt.

My husband Jack, on the other hand, is an entirely different animal. Somewhere I have an old Polaroid of him in that I took in my kitchen when we were first dating, and when it dried I took a Sharpie and in the white space below the photo I wrote what he would go on to repeat to me many times over the years: “Guilt is for suckers.” It was kind of a shocking philosophy for me at the time, but believe me, you can learn a lot a guy who knows how to let go of his mistakes and move on.

Last week my brother Tim and his family came out to visit, and I let Jackson have a couple of days off of school, so (one) we could all fit ourselves into my brother’s rental car and drive down through L.A. morning traffic to Knott’s Berry Farm in a surprisingly nimble fashion, and (two) so we could recover from (one).

I had a bad feeling about the trip, so I don’t know if it was a case of self-fulfilling prophecy or uncanny intuition, but just thinking about it now, eight days later, makes me want to put my head on my desk, or any cool, forgiving surface that would melt away the nausea and fatigue from a day spent tromping around a hot amusement* park. I was feeling a little hormonal and carsick to begin with, and within the first hour of our drive I learned an important lesson: the first step to beating carsickness is acceptance. Just roll down the window, hang your head out like a dog, and believe with all your heart that if you just went ahead and barfed up your banana, everyone would understand.

* If ever a word needed scare quotes.

The second thing I learned is that it’s okay not to complain. It’s okay to suck it up and let everybody else have a wonderful time. Eventually you may find a shady piece of cement to sit down on where you can meditate on all the people in the world who feel ill and overheated and who won’t receive any breaks at all today. You can remind yourself that you’ve slept sitting bolt upright many times before and in worse situations**, and forty-five minutes later, when your child and his teenage cousins emerge from the Perilous Plunge you will emerge from the cool shade feeling almost somewhat refreshed.

** Did I tell you about the time I slept in my car because of bears?

And when everyone’s feeling particularly wrung out and jolly, you may also get to ride shotgun on the drive home.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson (a member of Jack’s tribe, no doubt)

(If you watch that video to the end, you’ll see my son float by. He’ll be in the next-to-last row, screaming processing the experience.)



48 Responses to “You shall begin it serenely”

  • Yeah, theme parks. I found out my father died, right before I had to chaperone my kid’s high school marching band at Universal Studios. This was after a day in Disneyhell. I know all about sucking it up. At least at Universal Studios, you can get a half-way decent margarita. Your writing kicks ass, and yes, I am subscribing to your rss feed. Thanks.

  • This is my favorite post of yours I’ve read. That may not be saying much because I’m a recent visitor. But I do like it much more than the cereal post from last month.

    My favorite line of this favorite post? “Guilt is for suckers”. That may become my new mantra.

  • Disney World, early morning, big breakfast with characters and Space Mountain. My niece is still traumatized. Thanks for the memories.


  • It’s bad enough being Catholic [the guilt] but if you are Irish as well you are doubly “blessed!”

  • Aha! I am riddled with constant guilt. Today, I was trying to reconcile myself to it by telling myself the guilt is just because I am fucking up and don’t want to. And I am! So the guilty is helpful in some way.

    But no, I think it isn’t. I probably screw up in some perverse reaction to the guilt.

    Too much guilt. It’s twisting me all into knots.

    I love that Emerson quote. I read something bad about Emerson the other day but I won’t get into it. Still, it’s a great quote.

  • I think that guilt serves a purpose, and that is to remind us not to fuck up, at least not in whatever specific way, again. I think guilt gets us stuck where we can’t move on (and maybe fuck up again), because we are busy feeling guilty. It’s one way to prevent repeating a mistake. But… if you fucked up, and you know you fucked up, then I think a lot of people let guilt get in the way of deciding to do better and then go about the day.

    Which I guess is basically the same thing Emerson said, except much less elegant.

    You know, in a way, this was a bouquet of wistful observations about guilt. Which is a testament once again to your ability to articulate your serene high spirit.

  • Who told you you had to be perfect all the time? And why in the world would you believe them?
    I say this with great fondness, because I do the same thing. Still. You don’t have to live up to anything. Do you?

  • Sorry. You don’t need any advice. I am just outraged on your behalf. Guilt is such a motherfucker.

  • Lovely Emerson quote. You reminded me that I highlighted it in my Norton Anthology Of American Literature during my last year of college. God, seven years later and it still rings just as true.

  • It seems like everybody thinks the religion that screwed them up as a kid has a monopoly on guilt; e.g., “That’s my Catholic [Protestant, Jewish, etc.] guilt talking.” I was forced to convert to Catholicism as an adult, but I think mine is more garden variety bourgeois liberal guilt. I prefer shame.

  • This post is why I follow you. You are an amazing writer; thank you.

  • For me, it’s more remorse than guilt.
    Wish I could Jack it. So to speak. How do you learn how to do that thing of starting fresh?

  • I used to write a pretty good post once in awhile, so the journey was both heartening and discouraging, in the sense that I haven’t really delivered too much lately.

    I don’t think you realize how much every post you write is a subtle thing of greatness. I’m really not just saying that. You have a sneaky way of making tiny things (and big things) hit where they count. I’ve always envied that.

  • That, obviously, was intended to have quotation marks around the bit that you wrote. I would never try to claim your words as my own… as much as I’m tempted to.

  • I love that Emerson quote. I have it written on a post-it note stuck to my work computer because well, you know, work sucks.

  • I have well over a hundred RSS feeds in my Google Reader.
    When I see you have written something, I dive on it.
    Your writing is so fantastic, you could take every post you’ve ever written, stuff it in your mouth, chew it up, barf it out on the freeway in a fit of carsick despondency, gather it all back up and post it again and it would still be the best stuff out there. What is more….I will happily, happily, wait for it.

  • Zan and A Davis captured exactly what I was thinking. I too love your writing. You take your time to think about things before you share them. That’s what makes you so wise and thought-provoking.

  • Ugh. I needed that quote yesterday.

    I love your writing. I don’t come here for the free cookies you know. Actually, I was reading your Pismo Beach entry to my husband and before I could tell him you’d linked to the cartoon, he said “Pismo Beach reminds me of Bugs Bunny”.

  • Also, I really want to hear the bear story.

  • i totally slept in my car because of bears once too.

    well, it was because of claustrophobia first because the tent was small and my (then boyfriend) husband was squishing me to DEATH so i went outside where there was SPACE.

    and bears. which is why i ended up sleeping in the car. only i forgot to take a blanket or pillow or sweater or anything and froze more than slept while desperately praying for daylight so that i could go to the bathroom without fear of being mauled.

    it was, needless to say, awesome.

  • Isn’t it nice when we find and marry someone who can teach us so well.

  • Thank you from a fellow championship guilt sufferer.

    I grew up very, very guilty. There were Catholic, Jewish, Only Child, Frustrated Housewife Mother, Stage Mother, Lady Macbeth and Class Inadequacy things all going on there all at once and DAMN did that do a number on me.

    There was a period of about, oh, 5 years or so in which I apologized at least once every day. “I’m sorry. Do you still love me ? PLEEEEZE? Are you sure you love me?”

    Boy – if there is no other sign that the household is NOT right and the kid need therapy, it’s a 10 year old asking “are you SURE you love me?” three times a day.

    But I digress.

    Guilt sucks sweaty goat nads and we should all rein it in. It’s OK when it keeps you from robbing a bank (again) but not so much when it hangs over your entire life like an emotional miasma fart of inadequacy.

  • I am not much of a “quote” person, but I may have that Emerson quote tattooed on my forehead. I love Jack’s quote as well. That would make a more succinct tattoo, I’m thinking. Thanks for sharing.

  • When Bob’s mom passed away one thing he wanted from her house was a quote she had hanging by her bed. And it’s Emerson quote you have at the end of this post. I look at it every day now, hanging in our bedroom.

    It is something I am still working on too.

  • it’s THE Emerson quote, I should have said. It’s good he could write well since i apparently can not.

  • At least you WENT to the theme park. I wouldn’t have even gone…

  • I have a theory that men, by and large, do not feel guilt. Some corner of unattended filth will haunt me, but my husband will never notice it.

    Same goes for friendships that have fallen into neglect, Things I Shouldn’t Have Said, et al.

  • I’ve loved that Emerson quote and carried it around with me for years because I, like you and many others here, succumb to that torturous mental loop of worry, anxiety, guilt that once stuck in, is so incredibly difficult to break out of.

    It always frosts me that (rationally) it ought to be so easy to recognize it for what it is and simply bid it all good-bye. And yet… oh, the hormones and the irrationalness. The hormones and their inexorable hold on the worry. And the guilt and the anxiety. Feeling bad, not sleeping, fantasizing the outer limit of every worst case scenario I can dream up, and fighting tooth and nail NOT to indulge in self-pity.

    There is also a song by Fischerspooner I like called “Just Let Go” that is basically three or four minutes of a man musically repeating the title phrase along with interesting music… it strikes me as a kind of mantra that helps me visualize myself standing outside on a clear, fresh day and letting go of all my worries that are represented by a fluffy white cloud that blows away on the breeze after I finally just. let. go. And then it’s always amazing to me how much easier it is to breathe.

  • Woulda, coulda, shoulda. I’ve learned to let a day be done and, if I’ve erred, apologize and try to do better in the future. I’m human as are you.

  • Well, that was an excellent post… and nothing to feel guilty about when you go back to read it later. :)

  • Thank you for this. It found me during a week of intense emotional experiences, where every day was crammed with joyous highs and guilt-ridden lows. I’m grateful for the reminder to practice absorbing the joy and abandoning the guilt.
    My phone has been my computer this week, and I’ve kept this up on one of mylimited number of tabs so I could read it again, and remember to breathe. Thanks.

  • Gotta love Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman and the whole Transcendentalist movement. It helps to put things into perspective & makes a lot of sense in today’s crazy world. (Mental yoga!)

  • It’s true. People are very sympathetic about barfing out of car windows on amusement park trips. Not so sympathetic that they won’t make you clean the offending smoked turkey leg remnants off their car the next day, however.

  • Oh relax, i’m sure that it was all MY fault.

  • I must thank you for your post. Like others who’ve posted, I can be paralyzed by guilt and regret. Not a particularly enjoyable way to go through life. I’ve always loved this quote from Emerson and I’m glad you reminded me of it. Thank you!

  • What is it about time that makes us think today’s posts aren’t nearly as good as the older ones? I think all your posts are well written, Eden.

    And if you figure out how to extract your husband’s attitude about guilt, let me know. I have Catholic, Indian and dutiful-daughter guilt in spades.

  • Oh, crap. YOU wrote the post *I* was going to write today. For the love of Pete, what is it with us Catholics and the guilt? I used to think I was one of those Catholics who didn’t get the guilt message growing up. But then I started blogging, and it came back to me in spades. Guilt over not posting. Guilt over mediocre posting. Geezus. Some days I feel like I can’t get a break.

    The Emerson quote is fantastic. I’m going to print that out right now and have it tattooed on my belly upside down (’cause that’s where my mopey gaze lands when I’m feeling particularly guilty over my less-than-stellar days. )

    Thanks for this and all your writing. I feel like your writing is like some sort of delicacy. It’s so rich and satisfying, you totally forget that it’s been a while since you had it last.

  • I read this, then I let out a big sigh and cried a little.

  • A freaking men.

  • I just got back from Yosemite, so naturally I want to hear all about the bears. :D

  • Thank you for reminding me about the Emerson quote…which has now been copied, pasted, formatted, printed, and taped to places where I need to see it. These days, I struggle more with blunders and absurdities than guilt–I don’t feel guilty when I think of them, but dwelling on them makes me cringe REALLY HARD. Which is a bad look for me.

  • I used to feel guilt over just about everything, like when I stepped on this HUGE cockroach in a hotel in Texas. Until the next morning when I opened the toilet lid and 788767 of his flying brethren avenged him by assaulting my ass as I attempted to pee.

    Ever since then I have been squarely in the “fuck guilt” camp.

  • Oh, Eden, you would feel guiltier had you dragged your mom to the Santa Cruz boardwalk last summer, insisting she sit in the baking sun with your hysterical daughter while you and your spouse stood in line for the roller-coaster for a half hour so you could finally have some fun, then been cranky with her on the way home for saying she was exhausted, and two months later sat with her while she received a diagnosis of advanced leukemia, which explained why she was so fucking tired. While she dies bit by bit every day these days and I take care of her, I find myself unable to forgive myself for that one, stupid, selfish day. So you let go, you hear? Because you could have done a lot worse with the amusement park thing.

  • the first step to beating carsickness is acceptance, i like this words

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