Pity, party of one
I wish I could say that I spent the last weekend in a welter of creative activity or a dreamy musing lull, or basking in the fine glow of epiphany.
I do wish I could say that, but I can’t.
Because, actually, I spent the last weekend taking a hit of the self-pity pipe, and I’m still feeling the hangover.
Like many (most?) people, I have a secret vice, one that poisons my days and clouds over the moon of my nights. I am addicted to comparing myself to other people, and then berating myself when, inevitability, I don’t measure up.
I suppose if I dig deeply enough, I could find the roots of this behavior in (where else?) childhood. Emigrating to another country shifts the sands of who you thought you were, what you thought you wanted, so my parents compensated by wholeheartedly embracing the mores of their new country. And that meant constantly monitoring the behavior and gains of the neighbors in order to orient ourselves, figure out where we stand (but only in relationship to them), figure out what we lack (but only compared to what others have and value). Contentment meant that you weren’t trying hard enough…surely, if you looked with a critical enough eye, you could find something that was not right, something that needed fixing, or effort, or an apology. That was American ambition, in my mami’s eyes. Making sure you were never satisfied, never stagnant, never done yearning and reaching. Satisfaction was the refuge of the lazy.
For years I took this as unexamined gospel about how to live. Every party could have been good, had it not been for the underspiced food, or lack of dance music. Every holiday could have been celebrated, if only Tio Pedro hadn’t been late with the whisky, and the sun would have come out, and we’d had a bigger crowd and…
I’m sure you get the idea.
As a child, this never affected me all that much, to be honest. Perhaps I was protected by a child’s incurable optimism and sense of wonder, perhaps I assumed that dealing with the unfortunate downside of every desire was an adult’s job. I noticed the fleeting sourness beneath their smiles, but I didn’t really compare them to anything or anyone back then. I just luxuriated in my enjoyment.
I do remember feeling a certain dread about becoming an adult, however. Adults never seemed to be wholeheartedly glad about ANYTHING.
Of course, we model what we see, and before long, I was a master of this insidious little habit. As Shakespeare said, “desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope.” Nothing was ever quite good enough…someone’s work was always better, cleaner, more inspired, more imaginative, and that instantly detracted from my own. I learned to view my own life, my own thoughts, as a narrow festering swamp of mediocrity, while everyone else was reflected in glistening healing waters. It didn’t matter how happy I had been with my efforts initially. Once I saw the work of others, I knew that mine was all utter, unrelenting, useless crap and idiocy. Forget learning from others. Forget allowing the creativity of others inspire my own dreams. Clink, clink—the chains of failure and feeling like a fraud are on my wrists again. My inner judge leads me away again.
This is not at all conducive to living a creative life, or to the person I long to become. When I compare myself to others, the multiplicity and playfulness of life becomes grimly focused on one thing, What the Other Person Did. There are to be no other possibilities, no variations on that theme. Any chance of play, of imagination, gets goosestepped into that tiny prison cell. So now I have the opportunity, nay, the DUTY, to berate myself for being the smallest, most mundane person who ever walked the earth. Oh, how I wish I were exaggerating. But I can go from cheerful striding to the fetal position of self-pity in the time it takes to, well, see and absorb anything I wish I had done myself—a beautiful poem, a fluid bit of brilliant wordplay, a breathlessly exciting film or piece of music, a graceful work of art. No appreciation, no love for the form, just the doomed dullness of knowing (in that thudding way we acknowledge all of our most loathed traits) that I could NEVER do anything like that. So what’s the point of me, anyway?
I’m so tired of this cycle, unrelenting pity parties of one, of the ceaseless drone of my faults, like the whine of a fly in my ear. I want to throw back my head in gratitude to the sun, throw open in my arms in love with the productions of time, bow my head grateful that I have a body that can revel, a mind that can think, and a soul that can be excited by beauty and art and dreams. But instead, I compare and contrast, judge myself mercilessly, and fall listlessly into the arms of helplessness. I’ll never be any good, why bother being ANYTHING?
So I pouted my way through the weekend—tumbling into an icy Snowball that froze through all that I ever was, am, and will be.
As usual, Madam wouldn’t let me live that way for long. She demanded my immediate attention to the serious matters of play, of singing, of laughter. I defy anyone to remain depressed after 500 renditions of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." And walking with her in the dark reminded me of a half-forgotten quote; It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. All weekend, I’ve been cursing the darkness—the lack—of celebration, of friendship, of joy, of writing. I’ve been parched, sawdust stinging my tongue. Pressing my nose to the overflowing glass of everyone else’s warm glowing abundance. Feeling frozen and helpless.
Maybe it doesn’t have to be that way. I can continue to light my tiny candles—on my blog, creating small celebrations to mark the importance of everyday, learning from those further along on the Art Path, taking responsibility for filling my empty well. I can be a small church (not a great cathedral) and really pay attention to the great ebb and flow and throb of humanity’s heart, and my own.
Fine words (I think, I haven’t compared them to anyone else’s yet.) But I’m still not sure how to avoid the trap of self pity and envy in the future? How does everyone else deal with this?
Time to stop wallowing. Now I need a shower.