Monday, June 19, 2006

Litany

I am wound tightly these days, I admit it. I feel as though gravity is exerting an extra pull on me. I walk, shoulders slumped, through a good portion of my day.

It’s not Minneapolis, which has unfolded itself to me in a sea of treetops from my picture windows, a lake that sparkles with mischief and flicks golden sparks with every breeze, a city full of charmingly unexpected side streets canopied by old, gracious trees.

No, it’s me.

I don’t think of myself as a control freak, no, not exactly. I am something far more unpleasant. I am a nudger, as in, if only I could nudge the Universe into going in my general direction, everything would be so much better. Pixie posted something about Bryon Katie the other day--about the unhappiness that can come from arguing with reality.

This is a lesson I need to learn again and again, and inevitably, it washes away like a sandcastle after the tide rolls in.

You see, in spite of my best efforts, I am someone who cocks her head and squints at the reality of whatever is in front of her, convinced that if I pulled an errant thread, it would finally fall into place beautifully. Perfectly. There is a perfect litany of "it only needs this..." or "if only this could occur..." that keeps me firmly focused on the lack amidst the abundance. On the negative space.

Immigrants are past masters of this relentless focus on the future, usually because the present, whatever the present is, is so unpleasant. So I grew up waiting and wishing for whatever was NEXT, whatever would happen "if only" something else fell into place.

I suppose my parents found it motivating. Optimistic, even. They never allowed themselves to be swayed by whatever unhappy circumstance was oppressing them at any given moment. My mami, especially, is a firm believer that ANYTHING can be improved, and to relax your constant vigilance is to invite the Universe to leave you by the side of the road, stuck in the mud. The sheer force of your will and hard work would twist your future into submission, and lead you into the life you've earned and thus, deserve. And best of all, this process never ends. You can continue to push and push...forever!

To be contented was to settle, and in her eyes, NOTHING was worse than settling. There was always something better, just down the road. Nothing was perfect.

My parents look at me and shake their heads, saddened by what they believe I have become. Someone who allowed herself to become sidetracked from their inexorable march towards progress. Someone who had endless opportunities, nay, a responsibility to blaze my family’s name in lights.

Since I was the only one who was born here, after all.

So I breathe. I try to stay in the moment. Try to focus, loosely, on the way the world is, rather than how I think it should be.

Lately, I am failing miserably.

I wonder whether my parents are right, after all. Certainly, no one could argue that I have been blessed with opportunities, and few could argue that I haven't squandered them. Not that I regret going to a Name School and majoring in English. Not that I regret following my passion for literature.

But I do regret the fearful little person I became there, wilted by the heated blast of so many big, confident personalities. People who had money, family prestige, knowledge of a world I barely saw even on television. People who were entitled, and knew it.

I am not entitled, and know it. So I spent four years expecting to be passed over, and for the most part, I was.

Sadly, this pattern has continued since then. I still meet people I admire, and expect to be ignored by then. And of course, I shrink myself to the most innocuous little ball...to the point where even I am bored by me.

And the prophecy is fulfilled. They DON’T remember me. One could argue they never really met ME after all.

I fell into an abyss of depression at college.

Bewildered, my parents waited for me to "snap out of it." I had finally made it. I was finally leading them into the very echelon of the mainstream of genuine American life. We had almost done it!

Problem was, no one showed me how to do it. I felt inadequate, gauche, forever policing my tongue in case I mispronounced a word I had only seen on the page and revealed my "true" self. I needed to follow the rules, make sure to carefully imitate my "betters" so as to avoid embarassing myself.

So I wait for the world to tell me if what I am doing is worthy. I wait for your comments on my writing, for TEG’s occasional compliments, for Madam to get an "all-clear" from the doctor. The glow of excitement when I think something works fades away when the world seems to disagree. And then I feel foolish, again, for relaxing into contentment. My mami's words come back to haunt me.

All I want to do is to hide, to rest. But I resist that, ashamed, and resolve to be ever more vigilant with my list of "should bes" and "if onlys..."

Because I can’t shake the feeling that I am letting everyone down. My parents. TEG. Madam. I look in the mirror and am startled by the reflection. Who is this person who drags herself around town in an ever-present t-shirt and yoga pants? Who slouches about unkempt? Who can’t seem to ever see the other side of her to-do list? I have a JOB, damn it. I need to prove to the world that my family did the right thing by coming here. That we’re just as good as people who are descended from those who came over on the Mayflower. I need to prove that my expensive education was not a waste. I need to prove that I am not just settling.

The problem is, I don’t think I believe any of that.

My head feels heavy from this endless resistance. I wish I could trust that if I just release this tension, this need to prove that I deserve to be here, that I wouldn’t fall even further into confusion.

That I wouldn’t be left, mired in mud, by the side of the road.

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9 Comments:

Blogger deirdre said...

Oh honey, I wish I could reach out of my abyss and into yours so we could have tea and great heaping servings of "deservedness". We seem to have shared a hard day.

12:22 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

Oh man, that's a lot of pressure. I wish I had some great suggestion of how to just shirk all that pressure and find the joys in your life and work and let that be enough.

I can really relate to that idea of life being in the future, the present always being "prep." How do you get out of that cycle and just live and enjoy and be content? Also, your college experience sounds somewhat similar to mine. I went to a Name School, but not in the East Coast snooty money & entitlement sense, at least. I went to Berkeley, and it just was too big for me. I did well academically but I kind of faded into the sea of overachievers, never raised my hand or went to office hours, wouldn't be remembered by many. Wish I'd gone to a smaller school, but oh well.

And if blog comments do uplift your spirits momentarily, know that you are one of the writers I most look forward to reading; I'm always in awe of your way with words, and your feelings, and the way the two things twine together in your writing.

12:56 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger M said...

I too had the same experience at university- feeling like I had walked into the wrong life or something. I couldn't wait to get away from there. Just get the degree and go. Everyone else always seemed to fit in so much more easily than I did. I still feel that way sometimes.
I can relate to the struggle to stay in the present as well- it scares me sometimes how your words feel like they came straight out of my own head! How come life right now is never good enough? I asked myself that daily. If you can find any ways to be more in the moment, more accepting, let me know!!

11:42 AM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

oh girl i would need to rest too. dragging around all these shoulds and ifs is tiring, tiring work. carrying this heaviness requires a lot of energy.

and maybe being left, mired in the mud, isn't the worse thing that could happen...

immigrants must have a similiar belief system as southern baptists because a lot of your words have echoed in my ears all my life too.

2:02 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

What a big, big blog. Not long - but huge in fatigue, responsibility, hope, repression, longing - Sweet Girl, that is enough to capsize the strongest among us. What a weight to carry - the identity and worth of the whole family in what is still a foreign land. Compared to ANYONE, you are great, but a little incognito walking around, not attracting attention - that can be a great hideaway, a respite for a while.

In the short time I have had the pleasure to read your words, I have found you to abound in intelligence, humor, kindness... a whole package of things that should make your family burst with pride. Please hold in your heart the fact that you are incredible - in all your splendid uniqueness.

Rebekah

5:07 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

I am imagining long, long walks around lakes, down unexpected paths, and unknown streets with you. And I'm imaging many interesting conversations that try to unravel the mysteries of who each of us are.

But just know: You have a much bigger effect on people than you realize. Beneath your t-shirt and yoga pants is someone that sparkles. Your words are so often like diamonds. You don't have to prove yourself...it's all right here!!!

11:55 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

Try to focus, loosely, on the way the world is, rather than how I think it should be.

I relate to all that you're saying. I went to a fancy university that was filled with the rich entitlement kids. My parents were always looking for ways to make things better. I got caught up in the shoulds.

But then slowly, consciously, I changed directions and am more of a person who can "relax into contentment." I've come to realize that I am me, and that's perfect just the way it is.

Hang in there. You'll do fine and find your true self.

8:01 AM, June 21, 2006  
Blogger liz elayne said...

oh i wish you could take a breath and let some of this fall off of your shoulders like droplets of water. yes, this is my wish for you today.
the fact that you are searching in your soul like this shows so much about the deep, richness of who you are. this is so important. you are willing to do the work. and willing to share this process with others. i mean really, this is huge. so. very. huge.
thank you for sharing all that you experience - all aspects of it. and for shining as you do through this experience.

10:57 AM, June 23, 2006  
Anonymous Fern said...

Oh babe,
That sounds EXHAUSTING. You need to take a step back from your situation and realize that the only person you can validate, the only life you can save is your own.
Eventually, everyone, even the entitled ones, get exactly what they deserve. As will you. I really do believe that.
For now, just try to keep your head up and find some joy in each day the best you can. Relax into your life, enjoy your intelligence, your humor and your family. Enjoy the woman that those experiences have made you, because we sure do.
The entry was so profound, thank you for continuing to share your life with us.

5:42 PM, June 23, 2006  

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