Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The givens

Edward Munch, Despair
Writing, 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.

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Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

i just want to wrap you up in a big hug, sit on a couch with you and listen, listen, listen over tea.

i need to say that your writing is so beautiful and eloquent and really brings the reader into your world.

i hear all that you said. i relate so well to some of how you described your depression.

i have my own list of givens that you have inspired me to really look at and try to work through. thank you for that gift.

your presence has been missed. it has been missed because you bring a lot of joy and comfort and bravery to so many of us. YOU are a gift.

i am not going to give you advice because i am not sure if that is what you need. but i will say that you are not alone and you are understood, validated and respected.

and if you need a good laugh...listen to my Business Time song again. *wink*

12:38 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

I ache for you, reading this. I have no wisdom to offer, only hope that you will find your way through this, the three of you, and that you will use your writing as a tool in the process. I can only imagine what it must be like, being home alone with a baby. I'm really afraid of confronting all the feelings you've expressed -- I know how resentful I'll be at times, wanting my full creative space, and I just don't know. I also know I really want a family, so I think I'll plunge ahead and confront these same issues when I get to them. Now, knowing full well that I know NOTHING about anything, really, one thing I wanted to cry out was, who cares if your baby's moods disrupt people?! Get out of the house, be where you want to be, let the world deal with the sounds of a baby. You can't coop yourself up. Go out with your baby and write in a cafe like J K Rowling did! Madam will get used to it, right? I don't know -- babies aren't my expertise, but I'm sending many good wishes to you, and also the reminder that some of us sound up-beat, but we might just be afraid of being as honest as you are here.

1:54 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger Cate said...

I am going to come back later and reread this--probably several times--because it is one of the most honest, meaningful, raw (yet excellently written :D) posts I have EVER read. You describe something that I have felt many, many times over, but never dared try to put into words. YET, every single word, every single sentence encompasses all of my emotions about these subjects. You have inspired me to explore my list of "givens" in my morning pages today--thank you for that gift!

Re: Madam and TEG. I know she is still quite young, but do you have any options for a babysitter, at least once a month? Maybe family nearby or a college with young people pursuing education degrees looking for extra work? My husband and I struggled with the same issues the first year after our first son was born and when we finally found a babysitter and started having dates once a month, it slowly balanced our relationship again. Also, once Madam is on a schedule (and I'm talking going to bed at 7:30 in the evening consistently, which she may or may not be already doing? and even if you are not a fan of schedules, please, please consider this because having an evening to yourself is the BEST thing ever), try to plan date nights at home a couple of times a week. We "escape" with the reality TV shows most evenings and actually "get ready" (i.e. I put on makeup-HAHA) for these "indoor outings."). These home-based dates have been THE most important thing in our relationship since kids--we laugh, pause, talk, cry, etc. On the evenings that we don't "date," we pursue our own interests--me: reading and writing; him: drawing, home stereo stuff.

P.S. As for writing, little bursts, at least once a day, can be good enough; YOU HAVE A LOT ON YOUR PLATE THESE DAYS! Do you "do" Julia Cameron at all? She was my savior after kids were born--inspired me to go easier on myself, write regularly, be pleased with the output no matter what it looked like, and DEMANDED that I take time for myself.

P.P.S. XO's to you! You are a gifted writer and a generous, sensitive soul and we can all relate!

P.P.P.S. Don't think that you are alone. I just reread your post and I remember the "strangers in the night" lifestyle of having a baby in the house. THIS TOO WILL PASS. Not that that makes it any easier while you're living it, but I promise you--it gets better!

7:08 AM, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous beth said...

Never let anyone - including yourself - tell you that your writing doesn't matter. That's a way of saying "you" don't matter, or that you ought to be silent. Your best ally in these very difficult months is going to be your writing voice. This is the best description of a particular condition of women's lives I've ever read: raw but measured, emotional but clear. I really hope you'll keep on, with determination. Use the blog or a journal, and find and use the times for writing that you DO have. Believe me, I know it isn't easy, but you can do it and the writing will preserve your sense of self when that is being assaulted. But you have a a real voice and a lot of ability, so what you produce will also amount to more than that. Don't worry about the end product right now - just do the writing and keep talking to us here.

7:33 AM, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

I wish there were some way to reach out to you and give you a break, or just a little space to be simply and beautifully you. I hear you so clearly - the givens of motherhood,and everything else for that matter - that we do in our various roles. What a great idea to ask us to think about our own givens.

After a day of planning and teaching and doing little else, I sat on bench yesterday, looked up at the sky, and recognized the way I allow myself to be driven by rules within our society - rules about what success looks like, what I must do to be a good mother, student, teacher, etc. I resist and cave, resist and cave. I feel trapped and I feel free - radical for simply wanting to live my life in a way that honors what really matters to me. And that isn't teaching, or being a part of university for that matter. But here I am.

Two nights ago I had a conversation with my parnter about making space just for us. Space where we don't feel pressure to get a babysitter and go on an "official" date (which never goes as well as I hope) - just talking space. We are great parents together, and great students, but we are not great as A & J. So we had a couch date last night and just talked while our son slept. And it felt good. But it will take a lot of that and more to make me trust in this thing we're doing and to decrease the lonliness. And in all of this there are more givens, of course. It doesn't really have to be this way, does it?

As a mama and a woman who cycles in her creativity and mood, I can offer you this:

an ear (or two :-)
loving vibes from Michigan
thankfulness (for your words and honesty)

I have no advice. But I would like to say that I have always admired nonfiction and memoiresque writing for its ability to touch me and help me understand myself better. It's a gift when somebody is willing to share. This goes both ways for me, as a writer and a reader. What you do here is no little thing. It's a very big deal.

11:10 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger M said...

Sending you big hugs and just want to let you know you are not alone (as you can see from the other comments!). I'd come babysit if I was closer! Trust that the darkness won't be forever, it only helps us to recognize the light. This too shall pass....Thank you for being so honest and open with us. Your writing is a gift.

11:10 AM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger pinkcoyote said...

oh my dear cyber sister. this is rich rich earthy territory. what a gift that you are bringing to the tea table for us...
miles is an active baby too, so i hear your grief. i had to really GET OVER my fear of what will happen when he cries. in the car it makes me, well it used to make me, pretty dang uncomfortable. but i will wilt without my outings. we have a couple of familiar songs we sing, and i don't go too far, but i stretch it when i can so he can build up his independence back there. this was a really big deal for me. i really don't give a *&^% about how others feel if he cries. babies cry. we needn't protect anyone from our babies. madam will appreciate it if you let her just be her screamin self when she needs to let it out. is it your reaction you fear most? this speaks of others' expectations of you. which brings me to your face against the glass.
could this be an illusion? you are in the room with us, dear. your old story of being on the outside can't be true anymore-only if you allow it.
i, like, boho, want to wrap you up in a ball and give you a huge squeeze! please email me at campbellhq@earthlink.com - you needn't feel like you are alone. trust me, you are NOT. love love love, pixie

12:27 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger pinkcoyote said...

oops, that's campbellhq@earthlink.net !

12:30 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger andrea said...

Such a beautiful post, I am deeply moved by the words you wrote. I can't offer any advice or help other than to let you know, you are not alone. We all feel or have felt what you describe.

I liken my life to a wave. Sometimes it is high, sometimes curling, sometimes draggin me under and sometimes happily splashing over. And then it all starts over again and again.


1:08 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

oh honey! do i ever have "givens" and yes they do rule me and i hope that my blog shows my struggle and that i don't give the impression of having a candy coated life because i don't. just this weekend i blogged about he distance i felt between trey and i. so i hear ya!!! i most definitely hear ya! and your writing is important and needs to be a priority in your life because your voice matters!!! maybe it won't make any money (who knows) but the fact that you are putting your heart and soul and experience out there is priceless. keep writing. keep telling your truth. and keep doing battle with your "givens!"

1:41 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger Yummyteece said...

I'm not a mom, or currently in a relationship, but OH YES, I have givens... Givens so powerful and large that lately they have threatened to consume me. So in this way, I empathize.

Since coming across your writing just a few short months (or is it only weeks) ago, I have found myself repeatedly moved and inspired by you. Your words are powerful and your writing is so honest. Don't ever ever belive that it doesn't matter.

Sending you hugs and strength and anything else you need to battle those givens.

5:38 PM, March 29, 2006  
Blogger Letha Sandison said...

Oh boy can I relate to your feelings here!!! First I just need to say what a beautiful writer you are. You really draw us in with the expressive and emotive quality of you writing! Beautiful and not to be brushed aside! You are an artist and that is not something that can be belittled or ignored. In order to feel fulfilled as a person there needs to be space for you in your life.

I really understand how hard it can be with a new little one, nothing is how it was or ever will be again. It is a major adjustment. The first few years it seems the baby’s needs and new responsibilities usurp your life. IT GETS BETER!!! Hang in there!

When my son was 10 months old we moved away from family and friends for my husband to start his medical residency in another state. I felt like I had been picked up and dropped off in another state as a single parent. My husband was gone ALL the time. When he was home he had nothing left for us, it all went to the hospital. I felt like we were becoming strangers. I felt my like my needs didn't matter; my art was viewed as a frivolous hobby not a profession.

It took time and a lot of communicating but it got better. We are closer now than we have ever been but there were times that first year where I was afraid we wouldn't make it.

A quick comment on other people being disturbed my Madame’s moods...SO WHAT! Babies are people too and they and their mommies have a right to be out and about. It is good for kids to be out, seeing the world! Whenever I am in South America I am always in love with their approach to children. They accept and honor them as a part of society. It is like that old saying, "it takes a village to raise a child". Everyone sort of watches out for them, expects that they will make noise and be kids. People need to get over it and treat mothers and babies with more compassion.

Hang in there and take care of you!!! I hope your depression lifts soon and that you won't feel so pulled by your "givens".

10:10 PM, March 29, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

This is an extraordinarily honest and deep post...and I'm going to say more than that, but I'll do it in an email...

7:16 AM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger tara dawn said...

I love your courage in writing this, your honesty, your strength...and so much of it shines through in this post. So many of us have walked similar roads, have become clouded in the blackness (what I personally refer to as my "black hole"), and have gotten sucked into blindly leading a life full of "givens". You are not alone, and your courage in speaking of this is bringing courage to others, inspiration to others, hope for others. I really cannot put into words how deeply touched I am by this post. Thank you for sharing this, for sharing yourself. And even though you don't really know me, you have another friend here...sending lots of warm, comforting thoughts and love.
-Tara Dawn

4:41 PM, March 30, 2006  
Blogger snowsparkle said...

how to feel big when everything in me tells me to stay small? my remedy.... loud music, i mean really loud music (listened to through headphones or earbuds to protect Madame's delicate eardrums) and dancing like a maniac. i feel like physical movement unleashes the endorphins that make me feel soooooo much better. your writing is worth so much more of a response because it is sublime, but this is the best i can do for now. cheers! snowsparkle

11:19 AM, March 31, 2006  

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