Vulnerability and Writing the Dead

In his wonderful book “Nothing to Be Frightened Of”, Julian Barnes says that we must write as if everyone we know, everyone we love and who loves us, is dead.  What he means, of course, is that writers can’t get hung up on what people might think of us according to what we write.  We can’t worry about hurting people, or saying things that people will disagree with.

But this is hard.

Of course I care what people think.  Of course I don’t want to hurt anyone (and know that I have).  I think about these things a lot.

Writers are just as vulnerable as the people they write about.  This is true in fiction, too, because where do we get our inspiration if not from life itself?

The world does not like to be vulnerable, but it is equally true that the world doesn’t like to witness other people’s vulnerability.  It makes us squirm in discomfort.  Perhaps other people’s vulnerability is a window into our own selves, a window we would rather not look through.  Sometimes, and this is the worst of it, it makes people vicious – using someone’s vulnerability to hurt someone even more than they are already hurting.

A friend pointed out to me that when a woman writes about being vulnerable, she ends up regretting it because the world makes her feel overexposed.  When a woman is vulnerable, she is at best confessional and at worst hysterical.

I want to be clear about something in this blog.  When I’ve written about myself, it’s been for a larger purpose.  I want people to know that they are not alone – not because they suffer in the exact same way that I have suffered, but because they have suffered period.  I want people to live carefully.  Our words and actions matter – always.  I use examples from my own life because they illustrate a broader point – not because I’m interested in pity.  Ultimately, this blog is not about me.  It’s about everyone, everywhere.

Originally, I wanted this blog post to be about racism.  That’s what I was going to write about.  I wanted to say even when we think we’re not being racist, we’re being racist.  I had examples – examples that would hurt people.  Examples that would hurt me.  As the song from the musical Avenue Q says, “Everyone’s a little bit racist.”  But that feeling of vulnerability stopped me.  Writing the dead stopped me.

Maybe that’s too bad.  Maybe strength is the ability to be vulnerable.  Sometimes.

I’m writing fiction now.  I feel like I can tackle societal shit in a form that distances me and people I know from it.  I can safely say that my characters are NEVER myself, NEVER an exact replica of anyone I know.  It’s fiction.

Writing is risky.  I hope you believe it’s worth the risk.  I do.


The “I’m-never-doing-enough” Syndrome

“We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom.  We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement.” – Bertrand Russell

betrand russell

My childhood consisted of large swathes of time listening to music, lying on the couch in the living room with a record playing, or upstairs in my bedroom next to a cheap little radio.  I suppose I would daydream.  Think about impossible things.  Conjure up ridiculous scenarios of love and adventure in my head.  It’s not as if I was completely inactive – I played games of tag with my siblings and neighbor children, badminton, even hours of tossing up a ball or orange into the air and catching it. With my best friends, I played lots of imaginary games that always involved boats or forts or mansions. But I did have lots of down time.  And I think that down time shaped a lot of who I am today.  Mostly a good thing, I think.

record player

Not only are people not getting enough down time in America today, they feel incredibly guilty about what they are not able to accomplish.  At least that’s true for me.  I always think I should be doing something more with my life, and this line of thought haunts many people.  I read an opinion piece by Tim Kreider in the New York Times entitled “The Summer that Never Was”, who was ultimately lamenting about all the things he didn’t get to in the last three or four months.  He didn’t get to Iceland, even though he has a standing invitation, and airfares were cheap.  He didn’t see as much of his old friends as he had planned to, or have guests at his cabin, or go into the city enough.  And now the summer was over, and he was consumed by a “toxic” level of regret.  “The whole world of work and productivity still seems to me like an unconscionable waste of time; the only parts of life that really matter are the summers, the in-between times. . .”  Kreider writes.  I’m sure a lot of people would agree with this, although plenty others aren’t on an academic schedule and don’t have summers off in the first place.

Kreider, as much as I find his lament sad and pathetic, rings true when he says that reaching middle age changes you and makes you “. . .consider the possibility that the life you have right now might pretty much be it.”  So true.  Reaching 40 gave me as much an “oh-shit-I’m-running-out-of-time” feeling as the next person.  There are plenty of people running around trying to fill up their lives with as much stuff/experiences/fame/or what have you, as possible.

I noticed right next to this on-line article an advertisement for another article, “Women Making an Impact”.  So really, there’s no end to things that will make you feel like shit about your life.  All those “shoulds” come crashing down on your head every night when you’re trying to get to sleep.  It’s hard to shut them off.  It’s hard not to believe that we must always be doing something to justify our existence.  To fill up our life so that we’re not empty at the end of it.

So I look for wisdom on this from other sources.  My uncle sends me bits from a blog called Brain Pickings (argh!  all the blogs I should be reading!), and in it recently there has been an emphasis on the importance of leisure in our life.  In fact, there is a book I very much want to find by German philosopher Josef Pieper called “Leisure, the Basis of Culture.”  In it, he writes, “Leisure is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go, who lets himself go, and “go under”, almost as someone who falls asleep must let himself go. . .”

leisure basis of culture

Likewise, Bertrand Russell, with his treatise on the importance of boredom, wrote, “I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony. . .a generation that cannot endure boredom will be a generation of little men, of men unduly divorced from the slow processes of nature, of men in whom every vital impulse slowly withers, as thought they were cut flowers in a vase.”

I think both of these men must have been very much against the 40 hour work week.  How can we create great art or science, or anything else, if we’re too busy filling up our lives with what we think is life?  We need down time to create.

I can’t remember any exact moments when I’ve thought of a story.  Usually I think it spans several days or weeks to think of one.  But in order to do so, I know I can’t be stressed out about work or anything else.  I know I can’t be “busy”.

It is a mistake to think that leisure time is self-indulgent, or only for a certain class of people, as Brain Pickings points out.  We all need it.  We all need “an inner absence of preoccupation, a calm, an ability to let things go, to be quiet.”

And that, according to Bertrand Russell, leads to happiness.  “A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy can live.”

I know this isn’t always possible for people.  There are lots of things at work that prevent people from living stress-free and with enough quiet to create.  We need more support in our lives.  We need a lot of things.  I’m hoping that something will give with the punishing work week so many people have now.

I know a lot of parents now would not understand a kid who just loafed around listening to music all the time.  I know a lot of kids wouldn’t understand it.  Things have changed.  I guess I’m just lucky to have had those moments.

Cuba and Romancing a Place

Americans can be so charming.  I mean that.  I think a lot of the world would agree.  Without a great burden of history (relatively speaking), we are mostly a hopeful people.  That “can – do” attitude extends to a lot of things, but what I want to write about is how it pertains to travel.  I have written about this a little bit before, but I decided I haven’t exhausted the topic yet, and so I hope you’ll have patience with me.  What prompted this post was a photography blog in the New York Times, “Lens: Photography in Cuba: It’s not easy”.   As the article explains, the phrase “It’s not easy” is used ubiquitously in Cuba, and then also as a title for this photography exhibit.


Considering that diplomatic relations are being restored between Cuba and the U.S., it’s a timely exhibit at the International Center of Photography in Long Island, New York.

One of the curators, Iliana Cepero, a Cuban-born art historian, said rather aptly, “Cuba is perceived as a place of nostalgia in the American imagination, It’s the place where their grandparents honeymooned, this incredible site of longing and joy, music and leisure time. We do not want that image anymore. What this show is trying to do is to make clear for the American audience that Cuba is much more complex. Life is messy. Life is complicated. Behind those beautiful scenes everyone is attracted to there is a complex canvas waiting for them.”

Yes, I love that she said this.  Even in America, perhaps especially in America, people love nostalgia.  Nostalgia at any price.  Sometimes that price is forgetting all the muck that lies beneath.  And we musn’t forget the muck underneath. If we do, we are forgetting about, or even whitewashing,, a culture, a people, a place.  We are simplifying part of humanity.  Making it cute and digestible, when maybe it shouldn’t be.


Cepero goes on to say in the article that she finds Americans’ desire to go to Cuba now, “before Cuba changes”, or is “ruined” is particularly odious.  “Our cities may be picturesque, but our lives are not,” she said. She added that many people in Cuba would be happy to see a McDonald’s in their midst.

Many Americans want this “picturesque” aspect in their travel.  The old cars, the paint peeling on buildings.  But what is that really?  Poverty.  And yes, it is wrong to romanticize poverty.  I was reminded myself of a Turkish movie I saw in the last year called “Bliss” (on Netflix).  It’s about a young girl who is raped in a very small, conservative village, and how her male cousin is commissioned with the job of taking her away and killing her.  A brutal way of life, to be sure, but then I thought, what if I had just visited the village without knowing this story?  Wouldn’t I have thought, “how beautiful, how charming this place”?  Without thinking about the muck underneath?  Yes, I probably would have.  It’s so easy to romanticize a place.


I’m not saying it’s wrong to see beauty, to look for beauty.  I’m not saying it’s wrong to travel.  Yet I think it should be done carefully.  Dare I say it?  With mindfulness.  Too often travel is all about me me me.  That “nostalgia”, that “romantic poverty” we might see in Cuba is not for us.  It’s not about us.  That goes for anywhere you might travel.  We are guests only.  We don’t have a right to say how things “should” be.  That McDonald’s we might see someday in Havana might be a symbol of progress to people there.  Will the grasping consumerist capitalism of the West make things bad in Cuba?  Possibly.  Still, I don’t think it’s for outsiders to say what Cubans should want, what Cubans should keep.  It’s really up to them.

The Kids are All Right: Respect for Children

I don’t have children.  I never will.  In spite of that, I feel incredibly invested in the education and the bringing up of children.  If it was done “right” – whatever that may mean- I think the world would be a better place.  It is this notion of “right” that is so troubling, especially in our individualistic culture, where in many quarters  it is deemed “right” in thinking that to “spare the rod is to spoil the child.”  So I read AlterNet’s article by Paul L. Thomas “Why are Americans So Inclined to Disrespect Children?” with great interest (thanks for posting this, Marah!).

children running

Think about being on a plane with a crying baby.  What are people’s reactions?  In my experience, they act badly.  They are impatient, bothered, and rude.  Now, it may be a good evolutionary response to be troubled by a baby crying, but these days people are not gracious about it.

I remember being on an airplane with a mother and her two young children.  She took out a story book and began reading to them.  Then I heard a businessman in front of her turn to his businessman neighbor and say snidely, “I guess it’s story time now.”

For the most part, we don’t react to children in this culture favorably, and that is part of Thomas’ argument:  “A child is not a small adult, not a blank slate to be filled with our ‘adult weariness’ or a broken human being that must be repaired.  It is also true that children are not angels; they are not pure creatures suited to be set free to find the world on their own.  Seeing children through deficit or ideal lenses does not serve them – or anyone – well.”

baby crying

Too often we think of children as “spoiled brats”.  Even if parents are too lenient with their children, that, too, is a way of disrespecting them.  Our culture is “schizophrenic” about children, Thomas writes.  We worship young adulthood, but hate children.  He says this is compounded by racism and classism that is rife in our culture.  He points to study, where participants were asked to identify the age of a young boy who committed a felony.  Participants “routinely overestimated the age of black children far more than they did white kids” and so did police.  Thomas writes, “The correlation between dehumanization and use of force becomes more significant when you consider that black boys are routinely estimated to be older than they are.”  The “innocence of children” then is never applied to these black kids – the worst is immediately assumed.

Thomas quotes the writer Barbara Kingsolver and a trip she took with her daughter to Spain.  She says, astonished, “People here like kids.”  She says that everyone on the street stops to talk to her young daughter.  When her daughter has a melt down in a restaurant, the waiters bring her little treats and presents, and nearby diners “look on with that sweet, wistful gleam of eye that before now I have only seen aimed at the dessert tray.  Children are the meringues and eclairs of this culture.”

Why are children here viewed as a problem to be solved?  Why don’t we have more patience?  More love?

I’m going to tell you two stories from my own childhood.  They are meant to be funny, in a kind of horrific way, and to be examples of what I mean when I say children are not respected.

When I was in middle school, home economics was still a requirement.  My peers and I suffered through “Mrs. Jones” class.  Mrs. Jones was a heavy, decorated woman who wore sweeping skirts, lots of bangles, and stiletto heels.  She was also obsessed with tapeworms.  We had a whole unit on them, when she would gleefully tell us how tapeworms would climb out of a baby’s mouth while it slept, roam around, and then climb back in.  She said you could lure tapeworms out by tying a piece of meat to a string, and then dangle the string over someone’s mouth.  Or, you could make a little cut in your wrist, and a tapeworm would make its way through your body and out the slit you created.  Needless to say, Mrs. Jones was crazy.

Mrs. Jones would give you extra credit if you did her laundry, cleaned her house and pool.  I recently learned that when she switched schools, she would tape herself on a VCR for the first period, and then play back the tape for the remainder of the day while she did things like paint her toenails.

But perhaps the most egregious thing about Mrs. Jones was her obvious spite.  Like I said, she was a heavy woman, and yet she made me, a fat kid, go up to the board during our “health” unit, and do a calculation on how much I weighed now, and how much I weight I should lose.  Much to my embarrassment, I did it.  I have often wondered why I didn’t tell her to go fuck herself, but I was a timid child and not one to defend myself.

crazy teacher

This is something you don’t do to kids.  You don’t shame them in front of the whole class, or make them do very personal things for all to see.

Another example:  I was twelve or thirteen when a family friend told me my head was too big for my body.  What kind of adult tells a teenager that their head is too big for their body, I ask you?  When I was remembering this out load recently, and joking that this woman would be pleased that I’ve kind of grown into my head, my brother merely said, “Oh Molly, you’re too hard on yourself.”  He missed the point completely.  Why didn’t he exclaim in horror that this woman said that to me?  Perhaps it’s because it is easy to be horrible to children.  Perhaps because we expect our childhoods to be full of awfulness.

I don’t believe this is the way it should be.  We can change.  We can be more careful.  Because children are so young, their memories are long.  Not only that, we remember things from our childhood probably more vividly than we do things from yesterday.  We need to be careful in how we treat people, but most especially children.  There’s a meme going around on Facebook from Maya Angelou that I quite like:  “People won’t remember what you said or what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel.”  Truth.

The Cat’s Just Fine: Creativity and Curiosity


When I lived overseas, I had two cats – Genghis and Bisa.  Bisa was the naughty one – the one who would get into everything, knock things down, jump on me just to get my attention, and so forth.  I loved her dearly.  I have to say, the age-old adage “Curiosity killed the cat” is just not true in my experience.  To this day, she is doing just fine, following her new owner to the market and wreaking havoc in her house just as she did in mine.  I’m glad.  Curiosity has served her well, as I believe it does for most people.  And naturally, there is no doubt that creativity is directly correlated to curiosity.  Perhaps they are two things that have benefitted humanity most.

I think there may be a belief out in the ether that only certain jobs or hobbies require creativity.  I think all jobs and other activities in life require creativity.  Humans are problem-solvers, and to solve problems we need to be creative.  I wish I were more creative more often.  For people on medication, like myself, there is often a fear of losing creativity.  In Diana Spechler’s article, “Reducing my Dose, Unblocking my Muse” in the New York Times, she writes that her writing was hampered by all the drugs she took for anxiety and depression.  “From the time I started taking medication, until recently, the words were stuck inside me.  I had to force them out,” she writes.  “On meds, I’m sealed off:  nothing can come out of me – graceful sentences, anger, tears – and not much can enter, either; nothing can hurt too badly.  I don’t want to live like that.”

pill holder

I’m guessing she’s on the wrong drugs or the wrong doses, as some suggested in the comments section.  Instead of taking all the drugs she was supposed to, she decided to go to a medicine man in Mexico where she spent a lot of time in sweat lodges.  She admits it’s not a permanent fix for depression, but for a time it works.  She says she can’t rely on one remedy.  And, after the sweat lodges, she says she can write again.   I can understand her quest, especially since she hasn’t found a cocktail that works for her – one that allows her to be sane and to write.

Sometimes I worry that I’m too doped up to write anything good.  I am loathe, however, to mess with my medications knowing how long it took to find the right doses for my level of insanity.  Some people think being manic must be great – all that unbridled energy.  It’s true I was energetic, but it was unproductive.  The more manic I was, the less I would write.

If you’re struggling with medicine and creativity, I recommend Ellen Fornay’s book Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me.  Terri Cheney’s book Manic: A Memoir about what it’s like to be bipolar and not being able to find the right meds is also good.

I was at a writing conference a few weeks ago, and during a panel I overcame my shyness and asked of the authors – Did they write every day?  Should a writer write every day?  Their answer:  Yes and yes.  I confess I don’t write every day, and I feel shitty about it, but I don’t function that way.  It’s true that I’m always thinking about how I could phrase a moment, or trying out story ideas in my mind.  Sometimes, though, I feel like my creativity is at low tide.  I don’t think I can blame my medication.  I think creativity just ebbs and flows, and it’s hard to control – at least for me.


On the bright side, I think I remain curious.  Since fiction is made from life, it’s good to stay curious about the world around us, the people we know and meet.  “People live so differently,” a character from an Anthony Trollope novel says.  This should be a source of inspiration.  Even though lettuce and humans share the same DNA molecules, the sequencing makes all the difference.  Vast differences in just a little bit of code.  It’s fascinating.

I was struck by a toast my father made at my younger sister’s wedding.  He wished them to “always be curious”.  That is a happy blessing for anyone.  Be curious.  I don’t mean be curious in a petty, mean way – I’m not talking about gossip and judgment.  Curiosity means being interested in someone’s life, their mind, how they tick – because knowing someone more fully can help you know yourself, help you know something about humanity.

Some people are not very curious, and this is sad.  An example:  I was talking with someone about online classes, and he was saying that the biggest problem was Chinese students cheating.  I said I could understand that since that was what I had experienced in five years living in China.  He kind of talked over me, even though I was sure he heard me, and didn’t stop with what he was saying.  In fact, he just kept repeating what he had already said.  I admit, I was a little surprised that he wasn’t even a little curious when I said I had lived in China.  Now let me be clear – I didn’t need to talk about my experiences in China or anywhere else.  I have enough conflicted feelings about living overseas that I don’t like to talk about it very much.  It just seemed strange that he glossed over something interesting and was more concerned with what he had to say.

dalai lama

Needless to say, there are a lot of self-absorbed people in the world.  I realize that’s a little hypocritical of me to say, since I have a blog.  But I am curious about people, and I do care about what they have to say.  Not everyone is like that.  Is it because they’re just not interested in others?  Or are they threatened by other people?  Worried that other people have a better life than they do?  I don’t know.  It’s just too bad, because I think they’re missing out on a lot.

Maybe my cats have the best life – ever-curious, ever-creative in how they approach things.  I would wish that for everyone.

Clothes, Beauty, Trauma

I like clothes.  I like make-up.  But I have to say, I dress for myself, and no one else.  Of course I care what people think of me (far and away too much), but when I get up and get ready for the day, I don’t think about “the male gaze” (or a woman’s gaze for that matter).  I think about what will make me feel good, what looks good on me.  It must be a small curse to feel pressure to dress for someone else.  Or maybe not.  I can imagine some women enjoy dressing “for men”.  I just don’t.

Sorry for my long hiatus.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt strongly enough about something I’ve read to write about it.  Three articles caught my eye in the last two days:  “The Dowdy Patient” by David J. Hellerstein in the NY Times, “How Backpacking Changed the Way I Looked” by Laura Yan in Jezebel (thanks Wendy!), and “Women Who Cover Up (Even as the Temperatures Climb)” by Amy Sohn again in the NY Times.  Obviously, they all deal with body image, beauty, and societal pressures.  I’m also going to write about trauma because unfortunately it often coincides with some of these things.

In Hellerstein’s article, he talks about his “dowdy” patient (he’s a psychiatrist) and how in all the time he worked with her, she wouldn’t change her look.  He says, “Which was a shame, not because I cared how she looked, but because Greta herself so deeply yearned for a romantic relationship.”  Needless to say, Hellerstein was eviscerated in the comments section, and rightly so.  Why didn’t he work with her on possible intimacy issues instead of concentrating on her style of dress? some commenters wrote.  Why did he have in mind some sort of adherence to gender roles and “what men like”? wrote others.  These are good questions.

So it was refreshing to read the other two articles, where Laura Yan describes letting go of some of her clothes fetishes and dressing comfortably when she started to backpack in South America and Asia, and where Sohn interviews women in New York who dress for themselves.  One woman interviewed said “If someone really likes you, they’re going to see how you are anyway.”  Another woman said, “If the goal of dressing is to be accepted by boys and society, that’s kind of ridiculous.”  Sohn’s article, which is mostly an ode to hipsters and fashion, is kind of ridiculous, too, but at least it showed women who weren’t tarting up “for men”, if that’s the goal of tarting up.  However, it did mention the brand American Apparel, so out of curiosity I went to that website.  Indeed, it showed beautiful women with the top half mostly covered, but with short shorts.  I mean REALLY short shorts.  American fashion can’t seem to get enough of some (large) amount of skin.

In Laura Yan’s article, she says that in order to travel the world, “I’d decided to leave behind the New York fantasy I had built for myself, a fantasy built in no small part on clothes.”  Still, she couldn’t bring herself to buy “clumsy, heavy, ugly” hiking shoes until she was truly miserable, and she did bring along her Ferragamo flats.  Yan admitted to loving the “transformative power of clothes”, but cut her hair short, went without make-up, and dressed in tattered clothing even when she got back to New York.  “The only thing I’ve left behind for good is the performance of beauty. . .I don’t spend too much time before the mirror.”

Beauty, and the clothes that help make us beautiful, are such conundrums, such the double-edged sword.  I remember a beautiful woman I knew in college complaining of a local man following her into a computer lab.  Exasperated, she said, “I get that all the time.”  She wasn’t trying to give herself a backhanded compliment.  She was in genuine anguish.  I have often been glad that I’m not considered beautiful, because I couldn’t handle that kind of attention.

I suppose I’m a bit dowdy myself.  I wear clothes, like I said, that I think look good on me.  That flatter (or I think they do).  That suit my age and station in life.  But it could very well be that I’m considered unfashionable and frumpy.  That’s ok.

It could be that Hellerstein’s “dowdy” patient feels the same way.  She might not like the attention that beauty and “looking good” would get her.  In fact, one of the commenters suggested that possibly, since the patient’s mother died when she was young and she was left with a domineering father and three brothers, she might have suffered from some kind of abuse – either physical, emotional, or even sexual.  And this abuse might very well have made her want to be invisible to men.  I related to this suggestion acutely, having been molested by a stranger when I was 10.  I have also been touched inappropriately by a man in a crowded Green Line train in Boston and by a doctor in a hospital, both when I was in my 20s.  It makes sense to me now that I don’t ever “tart up”.  It makes sense to me now that I still don’t know how not to be threatened by men. It makes sense to me now that I suffer from social anxiety.

While not beautiful, I still get a lot of attention.  Mostly it’s from people thinking that I’m gay (in fact I would usually identify as bisexual).  I’m glad that attitudes about same-sex marriage have changed, but that doesn’t mean people are any less homophobic, I’m sorry to say.  Ridiculously, my clothes often come under scrutiny, both from gay and straight people.  A lesbian in my church (she is open about this) said good morning to me and then went up to a man she knew and said, “She’s really a lesbian.  She just doesn’t think she is.”  What else could it be, besides how I dress, how I wear my hair?  Straight people do this a lot, too.  After talking to some people in line behind me in an airport, I turned around and then the man said to the woman, “I hate the ones where you can’t tell if they’re gay or not.”

The way I dress doesn’t make me less or more of anything; it’s just what I like and believe suits me.  I’m not trying to make a statement.  I’m not trying to “convince” anyone of anything, or to “trick” men or women by what I wear.

I suppose I’m a little betwixt and between.  I’m sure there’s a little ambiguity about me, and God knows people HATE ambiguity.  I suppose I straddle different worlds.  I’m almost pretty, but not really pretty.  I’m almost sane (with meds), but not quite sane.  I’m a little gay, but not quite gay.  I was almost raped, but I wasn’t raped.  I straddle things that would make defining me easier, and yet are not definitive in any way.

You’ll notice I didn’t put any pictures in this post.  What would I put?  Models from magazines?  Or pictures of myself, so you, too, can judge me?  Fuck that bullshit.



Life after Life: Returning to the Nest


I consider myself in my nascent middle age (I’m 44), and yet – I live with my parents.  I haven’t always lived with them.  It’s only the last three years that I have, after I returned from nearly seven years overseas.  Before that, I mostly lived by myself or, in my twenties, with housemates.  I’ve spent a lot of time on my own, living by myself, earning my own way in the world.  It wasn’t easy – anyone will tell you that.  So, after all that independence, why have I decided to return to my parents?  In strict economic terms, I don’t earn enough money to live by myself.  I work part time, and maybe I always will.  My excuse is that I’m bipolar, and lucky to be able to work at all.  I could have applied for Disability, and eked out a living that way.  But I chose my parents instead.  I could lie and say my parents are living with ME – I’m taking care of THEM – but that is not true.  They are mostly taking care of me.  That may change in the future, and I know they hope I will be there for them, and I will.  Families run in circles, and maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be.


According to the U.S. Census, 15% of adults ages 25-34 live with their parents.  There are similar numbers in the UK.  A New York Times article yesterday, “Empty Nest? In Slovakia, It May Begin When the Child Is 35”, it reported that in Slovakia, 74% of adults ages 18 to 34 live with their parents.  The problem in Slovaka, and neighboring countries, is that there are very few rentals available.  Typically, people buy apartments, once they’ve saved up for them.  And that takes a long time, especially with unemployment being rife in many of these places.  So young people, even married couples, live with parents.

All these statistics are causing some consternation.  The article doesn’t address what kind of consternation, but mostly I think it’s a typically Western view of how families should work – children should leave and build their own lives.  People should be independent.  Only the weak depend on their parents.  I can well understand the concern that this is an indicator of the demise of the middle class – my generation (X) and younger (Y and Z) are not able to buy houses of their own.  This is bad for the economy.  It’s bad for neighborhoods.  It’s bad for all kinds of reasons.  But it’s a reality.

Also a reality is that many people depend on their extended families – for time, for money.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  The U.S. doesn’t have much in the way of a safety net (and that so-called safety net is getting smaller all the time), so it’s totally reasonable that people turn to their families.  In other cultures, it’s perfectly normal to live with your parents, even if you’re married.  Even if you have children of you own.  It’s not shameful in other places, but unfortunately it still is here.

Maybe that will change over time, as more and more people are forced to move back in with their parents.  Maybe that stigma will disappear.


As for me, I like living with my parents.  We don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but we get along quite well.  Honestly, I think they like my company.  And I like theirs.  I’ve discovered, as I get older, that I need people around me.  Part of my problem living overseas was that I was often alone too much.  It can make you crazy, and I was crazy to begin with.  Lots of studies show the dangers of isolation.  We’re not meant to live in isolation – we’re social creatures.

I consider myself lucky to live with my parents.  They are my rock.  I thank God everyday for them, and yes, I do worry about when they are no longer here.  In the meantime, I will enjoy their company as long as time allows.