Originally published October 2016
If there was ever a book to read after my last post, this was it.
In my response to Glennon Doyle Melton’s “Love Warrior,” I said, “Honest to goodness, I wake up every morning putting faith in the fact I want to be the very best version of myself. But then my feet hit the floor.”
Maria Semple’s latest, “Today Will Be Different” starts on pretty much the exact same note. Eleanor Flood opens her eyes and begins a new day with this self-motivating mantra:
“Today will be different. Today I will be present. Today, anyone I speak to, I will look them in the eye and listen deeply. Today I’ll play a board game with Timby. I’ll initiate sex with Joe. Today I will take pride in my appearance. I’ll shower, get dressed in proper clothes, and change into yoga clothes only for yoga, which today I will actually attend. Today I won’t swear. I won’t talk about money. Today there will be an ease about me. My face will be relaxed, its resting place a smile. Today I will radiate calm. Kindness and self-control will abound. Today I will buy local. Today I will be my best self, the person I’m capable of being. Today will be different.”
If you’ve read Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” then you already the know the flavor of the pen with which she writes—modern, ironic, accessible and with an undercurrent of sadness and longing to fill a hole in the heart of the narrator, in this case, Eleanor Flood.
Bonus? It’s also damn funny.
A successful animator/artist married to the hand surgeon to the stars, Eleanor is living, from the outside, what appears to be the fantasy life. She’s taking poetry lessons, trying to raise a maybe-gender-confused young son, dutifully making rounds on the social scene and working on a memoir that’s been eight years in the making. And on this day, in this book, everything falls apart.
Eleanor’s life, as we discover, is anything but neatly tied in a bow. She has a past, as we all do, that she struggles with acknowledging or shoving as far back into the closet as she can. And in the end, she needs to make the decision to stay stuck or move forward. As the book begins, the book ends. Only this time, I can’t help but shed a few tears, because as you read from start to finish, you grow to love Eleanor. And for so many, I’m sure they’ll recognize their reflection in her. Much like “Bernadette” there’s one particularly heart-wrenching scene, for which any of us that’s suffered a cruel heartbreak, will render you a useless lump of flesh on the couch, writhing in sadness. Don’t worry. Eleanor is OK, and you will be too.
You’ll be OK because as there is a tomorrow for Eleanor, there’s one for you too. And you can start each day with that mantra that today will be different. Make it your best attempt yet.