Last night, I had the privilege of hosting friend and author Tré Miller Rodríguez for a Happier Hour salon here at my home. As has become a monthly tradition, we stuffed into my highlighter yellow living room to hear Tré read from her beautiful memoir Splitting the Difference and then we indulged in conversation about modern life, modern love and modern loss.
Tré's story is indeed about all of these things - becoming a widow at age 34, reuniting with the daughter whom she put up for adoption at age 18, and life in the aftermath of all of this.
I began the evening as I do all of these evenings, by talking a bit about what Happier Hours are and what they've come to mean to me. And then I introduced Tré and explained that we met about one year ago, when I hosted a salon for Claire Bidwell Smith. Claire, author of The Rules of Inheritance which is now being made into a movie starring Jennifer Lawrence, has become a dear friend and that night last March, she invited some of her own friends and colleagues. Tré was one of them. I remember meeting Tré that night, learning that she was an author with a new book and thinking she was pretty and smart. I didn't know her story, how much she had been through.
Last night, Claire (pictured above with Tré and myself) told the story about how the two of them first met. Claire mentioned that a friend of hers, in the throes of new motherhood, was feeling anxiety about mortality and found herself reading grief blogs. This friend fell in love with Tré's blog and told Claire about it. Claire read it and within paragraphs, she said she was taken. She emailed Tré and they struck up a back-and-forth about loss and writing and publishing and to make a long story short, Tré ended up signing with Claire's agent (the wonderful Wendy Sherman) and thereafter publishing her memoir.
What a fabulously modern story, right? Two writers who have gone through very hard things, who've lost those dear to them, meet in the ether, trade wisdom, become friends, and publish books that touch so many. Personally, I found the story to be tremendously uplifting because it reminded me of the immense good technology can have. It's so easy to focus on the perils of the digital age, but let's not forget that true connections can be forged, genuine friendships too, connections and friendships that transcend age and situation and geography.
And last night was the perfect example of all of this. Many of the people in the yellow room were people I've met in my real life - friends from the city, fellow moms, etc - but many of them were friends I've made in the virtual, virtureal world (including Claire). As we stood around chatting at the end, we remarked upon this, how amazing it can be to encounter someone through words and images and then to meet them and see their eyes and smiles and shake their hands and hear their stories.
Oh, I could go on and on, but I will try to be somewhat focused and concise. It should be noted that an important part of me is reluctant to even try to reduce these ineffable, magical nights to words, but it has occurred to me that for everyone who is able to attend these salons there are several out there who would be interested in glimpsing what goes on during these events, in witnessing the rich discussions that invariably transpire. And so, here I am stealing a bit of time on this epic snow day to share with you this list of ten things I learned last night:
1. Stories of Struggle Are universal
While Tré's particular story is quite unique, it is also universal. During the Q & A, a friend who has gone through something very difficult in her own life thanked Tré for writing so openly, for going there so to speak. This woman was effusive about the level to which Tré's story moved her and helped her. In life, we do not all face the same struggles, but we do all face struggles or will at some point.
2. There is great power in telling the (whole) truth
I asked Tré if it was difficult to put herself out there, to be so honest about what had happened to her and how she'd handled it. Tré was thoughtful and articulate in her reply and emphasized that she had no interest in candy-coating her experience and that it continues to motivate her that she has been able to help people with their own losses and struggles by writing her story.
3. The first year after loss can become a lost year
I found this very interesting. Tré, who lost her brother at age 18 or 19, mentioned that the year after this loss was incredibly blurry and that it has been hard for her to access memories of that year of her life. When her husband Alberto died, Tré, already a professional writer, began to write almost immediately about what had happened and what she was feeling. She talked about this writing as "grief-vomiting" but explained how important it was for her and also how it helped her remember that year. All of this is interesting to me because when I lost Dad in 2008, I did write here and there about my loss. It now makes sense that the things that I remember from that year are those I committed to writing.
4. True connections can be made in the online world
Mentioned this above, but last night offered true evidence of this.
5. Loss can be an opportunity for evolution
Tré mentioned that the loss of her husband and subsequent reunion with her daughter offered her a chance to "better" herself. I think that it is often the hardest things in life that cause us to reflect on ourselves the most and often this self-reflection prompts existential and personal change.
6. Writing about loss can help us process & cope
Tré emphasized again and again how important writing (and music, too) were in the early stages of her grief. She said that she often encourages people to write (or dive into other creative pursuits) as a way of coping with loss.
7. Humor can be medicinal
What amazes me and delights me about Tré is that she is so funny. Her book certainly has its heartbreaking parts, but there is a steady sense of humor throughout to temper the sadness. Last night, though the conversation was appropriately serious at times, Tré was full of enviable witticisms. I'm recalling mention of "the lucky stick," "lady balls," and her vow to herself "to keep it in her pants." It occurred to me that laughter is such medicine in life.
8. We can indeed grieve gracefully
Again and again last night, I looked over at Tré and was blown away by her composure. This is someone who has been through a tremendous amount and continues to grieve of course, but she's the portrait of humility and grace.
9. It is important for us to bring grief out of the shadows
Tré said something that has stuck with me. She said that she felt it was important to share her story because she thinks it is vital that we bring grief out of the shadows. Oh how I agree with this. In life, we all suffer losses (of people, of relationships, etc) and we all grieve and wouldn't it be so much better if we felt free to feel what we feel and talk about it?
10. Connection (& sitting on the floor) can really make us happier
Perhaps cliched, but last night reminded me of something, namely of how important it is in life to take time to really talk to people about things that matter. We all have busy lives and are stretched so thin, but it is imperative that we make efforts to meet new people and ask them questions and listen to their stories. Connection and conversation and camaraderie are vital, I think, for happiness. So, yes, these nights, these nights in the yellow room where we all squeeze in, where so many of us are huddled on the carpet, where so many of us find our minds awakened and buzzing, are not just fun but good for us. I think I can speak for all of us that they indeed make us happier.
Okay, back to my snow day. Claire is here with her two little girls and so there are five ladies under 7 here and they are having oodles of fun. The fabulous Kelly Bergin, whom I've grown to love via Instagram and heard so many good things about, is here too, hanging with us. There have been plays and fashion shows and frolics in the snow. These are the days where the Universe insists that we slow down and look around and stay in our pajamas and just soak it all up, right?