14 July 2009


Dear Nancy,

Thank you for writing, for slogging along, for saying out what's within. Thank you for choosing life, time and again. Thank you for modeling so strong a response to what it is to be seen as different/outcast/less-than. Thank you for writing about loss, its lessons, contours and ordinariness, Thank you for your candor and courage in evaluating yourself and your motives. That’s worth saying again: thank you for modeling honesty and bravery; thank you for your candor and courage.

Thank you for questioning, for not pretending to have the answers. Thank you for lifting the lens of feminism, for allowing me to look through it with you at the world, our society, my motives. Thank you for thoughtful reflections, wry humor, truth-telling.

Thank you for offering hope.

I have read all your books save the most recent one, and that one I ordered today. Finding “On Being a Cripple” in an anthology of essays led me to ferret out your books at our local university library. I read Plaintext, Ordinary Time, In All the Rooms of the Yellow House, then before I finished Remembering the Bone House, I had to return the lot. I was hooked. I ordered a copy of each, paycheck by paycheck. By now I’ve also read and wept and laughed and cheered and underlined my way through Voice Lessons and Carnal Acts and A Troubled Guest and Waist-High in the World.

You show me myself. This dumfounds me. I am not a woman, a wife, a mother. I am not a cripple. I am no Catholic. Yet you lead me into the plain, ordinary, bone yellow house of myself. It stinks. It smells beautiful. It leaves a metallic tang on my tongue. You open one chamber after another, invite me to peer inside. This room reeks of growing up, that one of being different, discounted, discarded. This one smells of sex, cum and desire; that one carries a whiff of wholeness, of bodymindspirit. And here—oh compelling fragrance!—indignation, independence, inseeing.

Am I looking at you? At me? At me through you? You lead me to realize—no, to real-ize, to real eyes. You help me see what’s around and inside me. What you write, what I read rings true. You do not candy coat your experiences, opinions, evaluations. You look long and hard at life, at self, at society. You are candid about the pain involved in all of these endeavors. Yet you come down on the side of hope, of life, of joy. When my journey lands me in similar places I find you already there, already exploring the territory, explaining what you’ve heard, seen, smelled, tasted, touched.

Your writing inspires, instructs, encourages, equips. Your writing resonates, reverberates, reassures. In reading you I better know myself; I lean more deeply into my own losses and my responses to them. I am reaffirmed in my daily decisions to choose life.

Thank you for your acts of creation and co-creation. I remain

Gratefully yours,

Bryn Marlow

Nancy Mairs:

In All the Rooms of the Yellow House (1984)
Plaintext (1986)
Remembering the Bonehouse (1989)
Carnal Acts (1990)
Ordinary Time (1993)
Voice Lessons (1994)
Waist-High in the World: A Life Among the Nondisabled (1996)
A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories (2001)
Essays Out Loud: On Having Adventures & A Necessary End (CD) (2004)
A Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith (2007)

01 July 2009


If I had to guess, I'd say your bladder is two or three times the size of mine. Seems I have a teeny one. Probably I have a small large intestine, too. At home, I make tracks to the toilet far more often than does my husband; at work, my colleagues sometimes rap on the restroom door, tell me to get a move on. Whatever the reason, I am a peeing and pooping marvel.

It has occurred to me that I might be full of sh*t.

Indeed, this may come close to the truth. Although I grew up during the societal upheaval of the 1960s and 70s, my conservative mother and father, fundamentalist church members and rural neighbors did their best to keep the 1950s in full swing.
Children obeyed their parents. The spared rod spoiled the child. A woman's place was in the home, or in the hospital, delivering the latest baby. The Bible, especially as interpreted by our denomination, was the final authority on all matters of life and living.
These and other similarly self-evident truths I swallowed whole.
Only as my palette developed did I begin to sort out what is healthful and wholesome from what tastes likes crap. Looking back I feel abashed at some of the beliefs I held. No, I feel sorry for the youngster who ingested whoppers such as these:
I am a good boy. My sole chance at happiness in this life and the next rests upon my being good.

A good boy always makes God and his mother happy, not necessarily in that order.

As a good boy my self-worth depends on how well I please my mother.

A good boy follows the rules and does as he is told.

A good boy does not get angry.

A good boy has neither sexual thoughts nor sexual desires. And never, never sexual experiences.


Every good boy marries a good girl when he grows up.

These principles and their ilk hung in the air I breathed. They were stirred into my morning oatmeal. They were repeated by school teachers and radio preachers. We prayed them aloud at bedtime. Some I didn’t seriously examine until I came out as a gay man.

I started doing many things differently then. One, I pay attention to my nighttime dreams, peer into an interior world I long ignored. Recently I attended a weekend dream retreat led by a Jungian analyst who is also a Catholic nun. As I told her, a consistent dream theme for me is the elimination of bodily wastes.

“That’s usually a very positive dream symbol,” she said. “It may mean you are getting rid of a lot of shit.” (The Catholic clerics I know seem quite willing to use words good boys avoid.)
She set me thinking. In both my waking and sleeping hours I spend much time on the toilet. What lessons this humble instrument offers!
Oh porcelain fount that every day—several times a day—washes away and makes clean.

I marvel at your ability to accept that which good boys don’t want to touch, smell, admit, own.

You have learned the secret of letting go. You swallow a lot of shit; people dump loads onto, into you, but you allow it to flow through and away.

You model non-attachment. Grasp nothing. Material things are not worth holding onto. There is wisdom and utility and joy in release.

You understand with deep knowing, “This, too, shall pass.”

You do your work without complaint, without ado, no need for accolades.
I am flush with gratitude.

This essay appeared in the July 2009 issue of The Letter