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Susan Davis ’88

Dear Susie,

Your husband once told me that he doesn’t believe in lying to children. But I do. How else do you keep alive their belief in the tooth fairy (and fairies of all kinds)? When the Nazis first appear in The Sound of Music and your daughter asks, “who are those guys in the uniforms?” you must be able to say with authority, “the bad guys,” and then say no more. And when your son wants to know if “God has to wear his bike helmet?” you must ignore your impulse to question the use of the word his and say instead, “absolutely.” So take note: be prepared to lie, especially to children, especially to your children. (And, as it might be clear, be prepared to disagree with your husband about it.)

I know now that you are just a child, and what I want most is to lie to you because why should a girl so earnestly defined by her ambitions and intentions, a girl so stunningly clueless in her shrill, forward march of arrogance and sympathy and good will; a girl so sure of what’s right, wrong and possible, what should and can be changed, not just in her life but in the WHOLE WORLD; a girl with clear skin, D-cups, shiny hair, and a powerful attractiveness, why should she know the truth?

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Susan Davis ’88 is the author of a collection of poetry, Gathering Sound, and is co-editor, with Gina Hyams, of the anthology Searching For Mary Poppins: Women Write about the Intense Relationship Between Mothers and Nannies. She is senior producer of The State of Things on WUNC-FM radio in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

This is the biggest of the big lies: you will enter a world where the best idea always wins.

And the hardest of the hard truths? Right now, as you graduate from college you believe that you are inheriting a changed world from the one your mother worked and mothered in. And you are right but the change isn’t necessarily good. And the good part is only 1/2 the needed change. You will have a larger choice of jobs and more opportunity to lead and even to earn but the cultural infrastructure that makes working possible and enjoyable when you have children never happens. Betty Friedan will live and die and feminism will still be “up for debate” and working motherhood will still suck.

Thus the desire to lie to you. Why tell you now that the next 20 years will be a reckoning, a realization of how much of life is about ambivalence and compromise? You will doubt your choices. And I mean seriously doubt your choices. After you wait until your late 30s to have your children, you will then, in your early 40s wonder if you should have had your children. Right now you righteously defend your choices, but in 20 years you will struggle to understand your choices.

And the babe thing . . . that goes. A good Reedie, you think now that this does not matter to you. But beauty moves you and your beauty is one of the things that you will trade on, successfully. But the day will come when you’re busy running a first-rate news, culture, and arts program on the respected local public radio station and some young man, still in college, but the kind of young man who would have wanted you, say, 15 years before, he’ll call you “m’am” and he’ll mean it, and not the way the college boys who tried to address you with respect when you taught freshman comp while you were attending graduate school in the South meant it. You’ll stop getting the pretty girl discount. And it will take you an embarrassingly long time to get over that. So, enjoy being a babe. Wear and eat what you want and touch the people you want to touch because that body that you silently, wrongly worry about being too big and too soft, that body is perfect.

But, wait, there’s this—the best part—you will be an artist. And your art will matter to your work, and they will both be about your craft (and that’s a rare and beautiful thing). By craft I mean how you make your living. Here’s what you can do now: LISTEN. No, literally, listen and pay attention. Your life will be in sound, in breath and cadence and silence. Consider your radio, and how being close to it with your eyes closed and your ears open is all you need to experience every possible person, place, taste, touch, sound, and smell in the whole half-changed world. Think of the music of the human voice and the human voice in context and put that music to paper. Then, you’ll be a poet.