Drawing Class & Slinky Jumpsuits

Last night I watched a video of Conan O’Brien delivering the commencement address to Dartmouth’s graduating class of 2011. First of all, I highly recommend watching it. My boyfriend came out of his office to tell me that he hadn’t heard me laugh like that since I accidentally slipped while brushing my teeth, falling into the bathtub.

Anyway, you may wonder why Conan is germane to my parentless subject matter. Well, unfortunately, Conan is not my Number Three. In fact, he hails from the Brady Bunch of Irish Catholic families, the third of six children born to Thomas and Ruth O’Brien.

What makes dear Coco relevant to my parentless existence is the second half of his speech. He said two things that so dramatically resonated, I still feel the reverberation of the chord he so perfectly struck in me.

The first: “Adult acne lasts longer than you think.”

The second: “There are few things more liberating in this life than having your worst fear realized.”

He was talking about his dismissal from The Tonight Show a little over a year ago, and he referred to it as “a profound and very public disappointment.” But the moving part of this admission was what came next. After he left the network, unsure of what to do and where to go, “something spectacular happened.”

He said that he started experimenting. After my mom died, I did too. Conan started playing guitar and dove into the world of social media. I started playing tennis, and I signed up for drawing classes. He made a documentary and wore a skin-tight blue leather suit. I built a personal website and purchased an overpriced, unflattering, slinky jumpsuit. He recorded an album. I applied to get my MFA. He started tweeting his comedy. I started writing about my world.

He said that during this particular year of nontraditional, impulsive decisions and re-creations, he “never had more fun, been more challenged—and this is important—had more conviction”.

Now I’m sure the $45 million he received upon exiting The Tonight Show offered a nice safety net while he explored new ways to recreate himself, but the sentiment is analogous to personal hardship. Trauma can be liberating too – not always, but it can be.

After my mom died, I had my life back. I didn’t have to miss business school costume parties for nights in the emergency room. I could spontaneously go on a trip. Or plan a trip for the future. Or make a dinner reservation for the following weekend. My mom’s disease no longer managed my schedule. And I was immediately aware of this type of liberation: A week after she died, I decided to hop up to NYC to celebrate a special someone’s birthday.

The type of liberation I wasn’t prepared for was the type that Conan described.  Now, reflecting upon my year of reinventions – taking up new hobbies, considering other advanced degrees, and making poor fashion choices – I feel happy. I loved trying new things, and I think Conan is right: The conviction that drove these decisions felt great. If true conviction can be an outcome of disappointment and hardship, then I am grateful for being able to identify with more than just stubborn adult acne.

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6 responses to “Drawing Class & Slinky Jumpsuits

  1. Maxine Andewelt

    Hi Lauren,

    Both Alexa and Ian shared your blog with me. I’ve been very touched by it. Your mother was a very special person who I liked and admired very much. Your blog is so articulate showing you to be a thoughtful and wise young woman who is also to be greatly admired. I wish you the wonderful life that you deserve.

    best,
    Maxine Andewelt

  2. Barbara Bloch

    Well said. Interestingly my childhood friend was at the commencement at Dartmouth and she and I discussed how failure turned into successes that we might never have had the chance to experience.

  3. I just discovered your blog and read everything. You are a wonderful writer… I lost my mother at 29 but unlike you I had siblings…but now i am a mother with an only child. My daughter who is 19 frets about the fact that she has no siblings and wonders how she will make it through the rough patches of life without a close sister. We are very close. Funny coincidence, three nights ago I read Conan’s speech to Dartmouth and sent the link to my daughter who is away for the summer. Your eulogy was wonderful, especialy the last paragraph. I will keep reading.

  4. This is what I meant when I said, in another comment, that losing my parents made me feel unmoored. I have had such a hard time articulating it. Mom passed when I was in college but dad just passed last summer and his passing has been a double-mourning. Grieving Mom: The Sequel. And it’s this thing you have explained so well that has fascinated me most about the process. I feel free to really blow it – though that’s a simplification. I have never before felt such a strong urge to live – an urgency even. I suppose part of it is that I am obviously the next person in my family to die. But it’s definitely more about living than dying.

    Oh, I am sooooo happy to have found this blog. These are things I haven’t felt comfortable sharing with friends who just wouldn’t get it.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing, and I’m so glad this stuff resonates with you. “Unmoored” — what a poignant way to put it. I really like that. Hope to hear from you again!

    Lauren
    @laurenthaler
    The Infinity Game

  6. I just found this video via Facebook at the end of last week and watched it. It was an awesome speech, and almost made up for the terrible commencement speech at my own graduation last year! The second quote totally captured how I often feel, and (along with his follow up where “something spectacular happened”) is similar to another quote I love which says that grief “is at once intolerable and a great opportunity”.

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