Edward Munch, DespairWriting, like everything else, is a habit. It’s very easy for me to drift away from it, rationalizing that I’m "thinking" or "taking a break". Sometimes that’s even the truth. A lot of little things have pulled me away from the computer these days--Madam is teething, TEG is on a business trip. But those aren’t the reasons I’ve stayed away. The truth is...I didn't want to read about everyone working, dreaming, crafting art and a life, when I just felt like there were no solutions for me.
It comes on my slowly, my depressions, creeping in like a slow fog--the atmosphere around me fades, clouding me until all I can see are my own thoughts. The circle of my life tightens and tightens as I try to keep up, until I am just spinning until everything blurs, but I’m not progressing anywhere. I try to keep up a cheerful front, for TEG’s sake, for Madam’s sake, but it becomes harder and harder to drag my slumping form into anything approaching joy.
First it was the disappearance of my Big Thoughts--the ones I like to think about, chew on, heft back and forth in my mind even as I change yet another diaper, or take another endless midnight stroll to nowhere. The thoughts that keep me excited about facing a new day. "Well, no one can stay on a creative high all the time. Maybe this is all about settling down and getting down to the work." But I couldn’t see the work. I couldn’t see anything but this blackness spreading like a stain.
Then, the walls of my routine started to feel barbed and close. What is there to look forward to, after all, but more of the same? I imagine every mother out there with a young baby can relate--it’s wonderful, beautiful, to be so entwined with another human life. But, Lord, it can also be BORING.
Meanwhile, the loneliness just sits on my chest, heavy, wet. TEG has always been my best friend as well as my husband, but he’s short tempered too, busy, always busy. Our conversations are curt laundry lists, or tip sheets about the Madam. We pass each other in the hallway, work in shifts. I feel like we’re comrades in our parenthood mission, but little else. And I’m so very guilty about that, guilty about thinking it. You all seem to have such wonderful relationships--I used to be like you, too. I don’t understand--we both love the Madam, so why does that love feel like it’s separating us?
I know these are all serious problems, but somehow they felt like symptoms of something more fundamental. I still needed to face Medusa, and cut her off head.
After TEG left for his business trip, I took Madam out for one of our walks, to try and keep her entertained while I cleared my muddy head. I’m far from the world’s best problem solver (that cosmic snort you just heard was from TEG at my delicious understatement), but I’m usually very self-aware. I might not know how to solve the problem, but at least I have a passing acquaintance with it.
And then I remembered something TEG said, something about how it "was a given" that I wouldn’t do something or the other.
Why was it a given? What else was a given in my life--something I just took as a truth and never questioned, never really even looked at? Maybe these things made sense when I was eight, or eighteen, but maybe some of them were outdated,a groove worn into my brain from a dance long ago?
When I came home, I made a quick list of the givens in my life--and it came to over seven pages. I’m being governed by so many rules and regulations--all unexamined, all looming powerfully in my mind. It is a given that I should be able to handle Madam all alone most of the day. It is a given that my writing shouldn’t matter because it doesn’t make us any money. It is a given that I can’t drive on the highway with Madam, because she’ll cry. It’s a given that I should protect people from Madam’s precarious moods; I should be prepared to stay at home a lot, in case she cries. It is a given that I shouldn’t spend money on "frivolous" things, because I don’t earn anything. It is a given that someone who doesn’t earn any money matters less than someone who does.
My givens keep me from having any fun (because it’s a given that parents should stop needing fun), from really enjoying motherhood (because it’s a given that all mothers do is sacrifice themselves), and from taking the time to take care of myself (because it’s a given that I shouldn’t need to do it…other mothers manage without bothering anybody, I should just suck it up). They rule me. It’s a given that all of my writing won’t change anything, after all, because I don’t know HOW to change. I don’t know how to act in the face of this judge and jury inside of me.
Do you all have your own list of "givens"? How do you live with them, or get rid of them? How do you keep feeling BIG when everything in your mind tells you to stay small?
I’ve read so many of your upbeat optimistic posts today, and they helped, but it’s that old feeling--of living behind a thick plane of glass, mouth pressed greedily against it, trying to really taste and understand and BELIEVE what you are saying.
But I can’t, not yet. The walls are still too high.