Gray

I’m never gonna bite my nails again, Bee says to me over pistachios.

I want to channel my mother, to say Never say never!, to offer a teachable lesson, but I choose to crack another shell instead.

Yeah? I say.

Yeah, she says.

I’ve been thinking about it, I guess. I’ve been thinking about the Nevers we place on ourselves, the people we think we should be, the people we think we are, the people we actually are.

The Nevers and the Always – the great, rigid ultimates – we use to fence ourselves in.
To fence others out.

“We used to laugh at our small selves, saying that I was a bad girl trying to be good and that he was a good boy trying to be bad. Through the years these roles would reverse, then reverse again, until we came to accept our dual natures. We contained opposing principles, light and dark.”

Patti Smith wrote this.

Dual natures. Opposing principles. Light and dark.

Never and always.

A few nights ago, I slept fitfully. The bed had been full with Bee, with the dogs, empty in the space Ken usually kept. We’ve both been coming and going, separate but together, in and out.

Opposing but principled.

And I just kept waking up, my shoulders damp, my mind playing this weird little film reel of my past roles. Working a slew of despised jobs in sunny Los Angeles, learning to indigo dye in college, a random memory of me as a child, crouching under a pine tree during a thunder storm.

Light and dark.

I’m never going to miss this, I remember saying to Ken a lifetime ago, loading boxes of cleaning supplies, artwork, sheets. We should leave it here.

I was talking of a chair I’d found on the side of the road, upholstered in a sorry fabric, the tapestry unwoven at the seams. It sat in our garage awaiting a more productive girl to come along and transform it, to make it worthy of a dining room table position, perhaps even the head.

We’ve got room, Ken had said. We should keep it.

We did keep it.

I did miss it.

You’re always right, I’d said with a laugh.

Never say always, he’d said.

Bee and I have been watching Mary Poppins. When Chim Chim Cher-ee comes on, when the sweepers start dancing, Bee’s eyes dart back and forth between the sooty men with brushes and caps, all limbs and motion.

I can’t find Bert! I can’t find Bert! she says.

He’s usually in the front, I say.

But not always, she says. Not every time.

I hear often that consistency is the key to parenting. Let your Yes be Yes, let your No be No. Don’t make empty promises. And always remain consistent!

Always.

I used to strive for consistency. I used to think this was a worthy goal (perhaps it is). To be solid enough to stand rigid, firm, motionless in any circumstance.

A rock.

One who says “Never.”

A short list of past Nevers:

I’ll never eat another chicken nugget.
I’m never buying toxic hair products again.
I’d never shame my child.
I’ll never wear a crop top.

I could never do that.

But lately, I don’t know, I’ve been noticing the Nevers. And I’ve been noticing that they’re lies, empty promises, vacant goals. They’re not always true anymore, perhaps never were, perhaps only existing in an imagination of extremes, of perfect case scenarios.

Black and white.

And it’s just that I’m getting used to the contradiction.

I’m getting used to mixing the light with the dark and gazing upon the wide margin, the vast expanse, and I’m learning to see it all as one giant area of depth, something that is both black and white but that resembles neither black nor white.

Light and dark.

Mostly gray.

I mostly don’t eat chicken nuggets. (But there was that time I had a craving…)
I mostly don’t use toxic hair products. (But there was that time last month, at the salon, when she said I might need to try that volumizer spray after all…)
I mostly don’t shame my child. (But there was that time she had behaved poorly and I had behaved poorly and really, we couldn’t have weathered that storm worse…)
I mostly don’t wear crop tops. (But yesterday.)

Never, except for this time.

Light, except for dark.

Mostly gray.

This morning, Bee and I are listening to the Mary Poppins soundtrack, and when Chim Chim Cher-ee begins, she hops off her chair and floats through the kitchen, imaginary broomstick in hand.

This is the song where I can never, ever find Bert! she says. Except sometimes I can! Isn’t that funny?

It is funny, I say.

It is.

  • I really do feel like life is just a whole bunch of gray. Seriously though…I CANNOT wait fro your book. xo

  • I really REALLY can’t wait to get your book! I probably comment too much, but I just love your writing. I still find myself trying to live up to some set of rules in my head and this post just reminded me that there isn’t always a clear answer, sometimes it’s in the in-between that we find the most solace. Thanks as usual!

    • Jana, you could never comment too much! Love your thoughts. And yes to that set of rules in your head – they speak so so loud at times!!!!! At least that’s the case over here. ;)

  • Your blog is like my church (and I don’t attend church, nor am I religious). However, whenever I visit this beautiful space, your writings speak so intimately to me. I happen to be a big believer (oh the irony) in GRAY. Beautifully written, as always Erin.

    • Oh Susan, you’re so kind — thank you for sharing such encouragement. I’ve always felt that church was more people than place, so I’d say you’re welcome in my version of it any time! :)

  • Doing my best to comment when things move me (which on your blog is fairly consistently :)) and just wanted to say how much I appreciate your honesty and insightfulness… I know I’m so blessed in my life and friends and family, but I really do spend entirely too much time and mental energy stressed out about a million little and big things not being “always” or “never”… Such a good, well needed reminder to embrace the gray (which, given my wardrobe of seemingly endless gray shirts, should be easier ;))

  • As ALWAYS :-) so beautifully written and so true.
    I work at an architecture office and my boss actually works with these opposites: bright/dark, warm/cold, complex/simple,… He made an art figure, which we use in our architecture, that pictures our duality, like the quote form patti smith: a figure looking one way and inside another figure looking/going the other way…(https://www.facebook.com/Eureka-architectuur-762760280438939/photos/?tab=album&album_id=905765516138414).

    I do find it funny that children start using that kind of sentences. It was just this week, our son was mad, and for the first time he said something like that: I’ll never do that again!” I was very surpirsed: where did that came from all of the sudden? We NEVER say things like that :-) I think :-)

  • Stumbled on your blog through your Artifact Uprising piece. Truly refreshing perspective on life. Especially for a mom of three! It’s so easy to be rigid, yet there are gray areas to lean into instead. Thank you for your honesty in your most recent article as well! Loved how you wrote about the freedom found when you let life be a little messy.

    • It’s great to meet you, Emily – thanks for reading, and thank you SO much for your kind words!!!

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