It is this that, finally, I will try to teach my sons about sex, after I've explained fertile periods and birth control and all the other mechanics that are important to understand but never really go to the heart of the matter: I believe I will say that when you sleep with someone you take off a lot more than your clothes.
I'm not making light of prayers here, but of so-called school prayer, which bears as much resemblance to real spiritual experienceas that freeze-dried astronaut food bears to a nice standing rib roast. From what I remember of praying in school, it was almost an insult to God, a rote exercise in moving your mouth while daydreaming or checking out the cutest boy in the seventh grade that was a far, far cry from soul-searching.
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I haven't seen so much tippy-toeing around since the last time I went to the ballet. When members of the arts community were askedthis week about one of their biggest benefactors, Philip Morris, and its requests that they lobby the New York City Council on the company's behalf, the pas de deux of self- justification was so painstakingly choreographed that it constituted a performance all by itself.
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An election marks the end of the affair; it puts paid to the seduction of the many by the few. Pretty words, fulsome promises. We wind up married, but to whom, to what? We cannot always predict with certainty the future leader from the winning candidate. Some men grow in the job; others are diminished by its demands and its grandeur.
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Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement. It would be wonderful if they came to us unsummoned, but particularly in lives as busy as the ones most of us lead now, that won't happen. We have to teach ourselves how to make room for them, to love them, and to live, really live.
And yet we constantly reclaim some part of that primal spontaneity through the youngest among us, not only through their sorrow and anger but simply through everyday discoveries, life unwrapped. To see a child touch the piano keys for the first time, to watch a small body slice through the surface of the water in a clean dive, is to experience the shock, not of the new, but of the familiar revisited as though it were strange and wonderful.
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Writing for UrbanMoms has awarded me a multitude of amazing opportunities. I have traveled to new places; alone and with my family. I have discovered new products, new books, new trends and new restaurants, and been able to share them with my readers. I've met other wonderful writers and many incredible celebrities.
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Jail sentences have many functions, but one is surely to send a message about what our society abhors and what it values. This week, the equation was twofold: female infidelity twice as bad as male abuse, the life of a woman half as valuable as that of a man. The killing of the woman taken in adultery has a long history and survives today in many cultures. One of those is our own.
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The beginning and the end are never really the journey of discovery for me. It is the middle that remains a puzzle until well into the writing. That's how life is most of the time, isn't it? You know where you are and where you hope to wind up. It's the getting there that's challenging.
While we pay lip service to the virtues of reading, the truth is that there is still in our culture something that suspects those who read too much, whatever reading too much means, of being lazy, aimless dreamers, people who need to grow up and come outside to where real life is, who think themselves superior in their separateness.
Acts of bravery don't always take place on battlefields. They can take place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations, and yes, your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world.
[After my mother died, I had a feeling that was] not unlike the homesickness that always filled me for the first few days when I went to stay at my grandparents'' house, and even, I was stunned to discover, during the first few months of my freshman year at college. It was not really the home my mother had made that I yearned for. But I was sick in my soul for that greater meaning of home that we understand most purely when we are children, when it is a metaphor for all possible feelings of security, of safety, of what is predictable, gentle, and good in life.
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It's important to remember that feminism is no longer a group of organizations or leaders. It's the expectations that parents have for their daughters, and their sons, too. It's the way we talk about and treat one another. It's who makes the money and who makes the compromises and who makes dinner. It's a state of mind. It's the way we live now.
In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own. I learned who I was and who I wanted to be, what I might aspire to, and what I might dare to dream about my world and myself. More powerfully and persuasively than from the "shalt nots" of the Ten Commandments, I learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. A Wrinkle in Time described that evil, that wrong, existing in a different dimension from our own. But I felt that I, too, existed much of the time in a different dimension from everyone else I knew. There was waking, and there was sleeping. And then there were books, a kind of parallel universe in which anything might happen and frequently did, a universe in which I might be a newcomer but was never really a stranger. My real, true world. My perfect island.
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I mark my years or parenting by the people who stepped in and forced me to abandon my inclination to meddle, micromanage, and coddle, beginning with my children's father, who sat me down and told me in year two that I was going to create a little monster if I continuted to act as though "no" and "I don't love you" were synonomous.
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Perhaps it is true that at base we readers are dissatisfied people, yearning to be elsewhere, to live vicariously through words in a way we cannot live directly through life. Perhaps we are the world's great nomads, if only in our minds... I am the sort of person who prefers to stay at home, surrounded by family, friends, familiarity, books... It turns out that when my younger self thought of taking wing, she wanted only to let her spirit soar. Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.
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The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year's Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don't really think you look older because they've grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they're used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you've lost a chunk of yourself. The stories of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the tsunami, the Japanese earthquake always used numbers, the deaths of thousands a measure of how great the disaster. Catastrophe is numerical. Loss is singular, one beloved at a time.
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I want to be able to remember it all, not just the books but the newsrooms and the playgroups and the bad jokes and the holiday traditions. In my mind I can walk through the house where I grew up even though I have not been inside it for decades... I want to be able to walk through the house of my own life until my life is done. I want to hold on to who and what I have been even as both become somehow inevitably less.
I read and reread and recommended and rarely rejected, became one of those readers who will read trashy stories as long as they're not too terrible-well, even perhaps the truly terrible ones-and will reread something she's already read, even if it's something like a detective novel, when you'd suspect that knowing who had really killed the countess would materially detract from the experience. (It doesn't, and besides, I often can't remember who the murderer was in the first place.)
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Like so many of the other books I read, it never seemed to me like a book, but like a place I had lived in, had visited and would visit again, just as all the people in them, every blessed one - Anne of Green Gables, Heidi, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlet O'Hara, Dill and Scout, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot - were more real than the real people I knew.
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Yet there was always in me, even when I was very small, the sense that I ought to be somewhere else. And wander I did, although, in my everyday life, I had nowhere to go and no imaginable reason on earth why I should want to leave. The buses took to the interstate without me, the trains sped by. So I wandered the world through books. I went to Victorian England in the pages of 'Middlemarch' and 'A little Princess', and to Saint Petersburg before the fall of the tsar with 'Anna Karenina'. I went to Tara, and Manderley, and Thornfield Hall, all those great houses, with their high ceilings and high drama, as I read 'Gone with the Wind', 'Rebecca' and 'Jane Eyre'.
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Perhaps it was that I wanted to see what I had learned, what I had read, what I had imagined, that I would never be able to see the city of London without seeing it through the overarching scrim of every description of it I had read before. When I turn the corner into a small, quiet, leafy square, am I really seeing it fresh, or am I both looking and remembering? [... ] This is both the beauty and excitement of London, and its cross to bear, too. There is a tendency for visitors to turn the place into a theme park, the Disney World of social class, innate dignity, crooked streets, and grand houses, with a cavalcade of monarchs as varied and cartoony as Mickey Mouse, Snow White, and, at least in the opinion of various Briths broadhseets, Goofy. They come, not to see what London is, or even what it was, but to confirm a kind of picture-postcard view of both, all red telephone kiosks and fog-wreathed alleyways.
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In the woods it was not so much that it was quiet as that the few sounds were loud and distinct, not the orchestra tuning-up of the city but individual grace notes. Birdcalls broken into pieces like a piano exercise, a tree branch snapping sharp and then swishing down and thump on the ground, the hiss of water coming off the mountain.
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H.L. Mencken once said that Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be having a good time. As she looked down at her dead child, Mary Beth realized that the unbearable sense of loss she felt was tempered by gratitude and a kind of relief. There would be no more boyfriends now, no more weekend parties. Ruby would remain pure forever, and for that her mother was deeply grateful. Catholicism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be having a good time... with your daughter.
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there is still a kind of unique loneliness to child rearing for women. We so often do it in isolation. Add to the fact that in our competitive, perfectionist culture, in which the price woman are required to pay for freedom still seems to be martyrdom, almost everyone lies about motherhood. Part of that lying is loyalty - I can't let on that my kid is the only one on the playground who can't read or play the piano - and part of it is self-protection, since we've made hyper-motherhood a measure of female success. The preferred answer to the question "How are you?" is always "Fine, " and the answer to the question "How are the kids?" is supposed to be "Great!" That's true even if the accurate answers would be "terrible" and "a mess." I think it produces its own kind of desperation, especially for women, who yearn to be emotionally open.
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The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three on them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in a hurry to get on to the next things: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.
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London has the trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present. And for that reason it will always have meaning for the future, because of all it can teach about disaster, survival, and redemption. It is all there in the streets. It is all there in the books.
Every story has already been told. Once you've read Anna Karenina, Bleak House, The Sound and the Fury, To Kill a Mockingbird and A Wrinkle in Time, you understand that there is really no reason to ever write another novel. Except that each writer brings to the table, if she will let herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had." [Commencement Speech; Mount Holyoke College, May 23, 1999]
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How is it that, a full two centuries after Jane Austen finished her manuscript, we come to the world of Pride and Prejudice and find ourselves transcending customs, strictures, time, mores, to arrive at a place that educates, amuses, and enthralls us? It is a miracle. We read in bed because reading is halfway between life and dreaming, our own consciousness in someone else's mind.
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One day she had been out walking and she had wondered whether she had become a different person in the last year, ... Then when she really thought about is she realized she'd been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she'd thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. Now she wasn't sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she'd been.
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The ultimate act of bravery does not take place on a battlefield. It takes place in your heart, when you have the courage to honor your character, your intellect, your inclinations and yes, your soul by listening to its clean, clear voice of direction instead of following the muddied messages of a timid world.
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I had that feeling you have when you're watching a sad movie, sobbing at the heartbreak you are feeling at the same time that you know the heartbreak isn't exactly real, that it will be gone by the time you get home and make a cup of tea. I found a lot of life like that when I was younger, as though I was practicing for what came later.
What I expect from my male friends is that they are polite and clean. What I expect from my female friends is unconditional love, the ability to finish my sentences for me when I am sobbing, a complete and total willingness to pour their hearts out to me, and the ability to tell me why the meat thermometer isn't supposed to touch the bone.
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The 1992 US Olympic basketball team is the best sports team ever, the equivalent of rounding up the greatest American writers of the last century or so and watching them collaborate: 'OK, Twain, you do the dialogue and hand off to Faulkner. He'll do the interior monologue. Hemingway will edit - no, don't make that face, you know you overwrite. And be nice to Cheever. He's young, but he's got a good ear. Wharton and Cather can't play - they're girls.'
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It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the pale new growth on an evergreen, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the colour of our kids' eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. Unless you know there is a clock ticking.
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There are obvious places in which government can narrow the chasm between haves and have-nots. One is the public schools, which have been seen as the great leveler, the authentic melting pot. That, today, is nonsense. In his scathing study of the nation's public school system entitled "Savage Inequalities," Jonathan Kozol made manifest the truth: that we have a system that discriminates against the poor in everything from class size to curriculum.
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