Thursday, October 12, 2006

Don't trust yourself over thirty (three)

I realized something today, as I sat slumped on the carpet, Madam walking all around me, both of us still in our pajamas. I started to hear that incredulous voice again, the one that says “I cannot believe this is your life!” and I started to feel that sense of separateness, as though something essential inside of me needed to divorce itself from the realities of my life. But then something shifted, and I saw that it’s all just a role I can put on or take off. I realized that nothing essential changes just because I am rolling around on the floor, or working in an office, or writing in a café. These are just clothes I can wear, personas, and I can put them on lightly, with a sense of humor, or I can clutch them with nails digging into my palms, convinced that when I change from one outfit to the other, I am losing something immensely valuable that I might not be able to get back.

I’m someone who puts great stock in labels, who believes that the only way to justify calling yourself something, like “writer” or “mother” or “student”, is to embody every aspect of the role, from your appearance to your activities to your every thought. Any deviation from the role and you lose your right to the name—then you are just an imposter.

But this experience of becoming a mother is beginning to crumble those rigid boundaries. I make mistake after mistake after mistake…but I am still a mother. I go days without writing, but then once I start typing I am, once again, a writer (not a very fluid one, but still able to put one word after another). I am not a student at the moment (not in school, anyway), but if I apply and get into a program, then that is what I’ll be. From moment to moment, the roles we step into change. The only common thread is…ourselves. I’ve heard it a million times, “we are so much more than our status or our jobs” but I don’t think I really understood that or believed it until now. Because there are times when I don’t recognize myself anymore if I try and use any of my old markers—I can’t do so many of the things I used to do—activities that I thought defined me. I’ve gained weight. I don’t wear the kinds of clothes that I like. I don’t sit in cafes talking about books and writing for hours. And yet…I am still me. I can miss those things (and believe me, I do) without the sense that I have to say goodbye to my longest life companion, myself. And I can return to them, when I am able, and enjoy them once again.

After writing my last post, I sat down and tried hard to just BE with the feelings of desperation and futility that prompted them—with the FEELINGS, not the storylines of “I am a bad mother; if only I hadn’t wasted all of the free time I had once; I should be able to make it all work…” etc. And what came up for me was a driving fear of growing older without having met some self-created benchmarks. Like writing a book by the time I turned forty, or having an advanced degree by thirty-five. Why is it so important to get it done by a certain age? I am not sure. Perhaps I am afraid that as I grow older, I’ll become less interested in the things that I love so much now. I don’t trust myself to remain ME. It looks foolish outside of my brain, in black and white, but there it is. What if I hit forty and I don’t love books anymore, or don’t dream of writing one?

It’s all about wanting things to stay the same, even our dreams—because (again) I’m so identified with my dream-personas that I don’t see that I am me even if I don’t want to ever write another word.

I want to learn to like myself even if I never truly get a chance to call myself “writer” again. I want to be someone who writes without being all caught up in the label of “writer.”

Why am I so afraid that if I relax for one moment, I’ll lose all of the desires that give my life shape and meaning?



Blogger sophie said...

you are desire!

and a writer:)

you are you with all the
reverbations of energy that
make up your beautiful mind.

remember - art is in the mind:)

7:11 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Jessie said...

oh my god. can i just sit with this for awhile? i love it. don't make me tell you why just yet. just know that i love it.

7:56 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger melba said...

I can relate to so much of what you said in this post. When I was single and living in Atlanta with not a very respectable social life I had SO MUCH TIME. I wish I could capture back thos moment sand apply it to my life today.
I wish I didn't have to spend time now doing the "homamaker chores" I just want to create and write and connect and laugh on the floor with my children.

9:10 PM, October 12, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

Wonderful post. I think we all put so much crazy pressure on ourselves to be something else as if who we are as is is never good enough. As for the degree, I think actually the older one is, the more they often have to offer themselves and the program they are in. I use to say this til I was blue in the face when I was a Peace Corps recruiter because so many felt like they were too old when really they had even more to offer than those of us in our 20s with so little life experience and so much arrogance. Same goes for my experience getting my masters in psychology. We had a few people in the group in their 60s and one even in their 70s and they are the ones I'd be leaning towards going to when I need a therapist. My own therapist went back to school in his 30s and now is in his 50s. Remember George Eliot? "It is never too late to be what you might have been." long as you know there is nothing wrong either with being exactly who and what you are now.

10:16 AM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous fern said...

wow. I guess I never really considered just how restrictive labels can be. Like you, I always assumed there was certain criteria to certain roles in life...and if we did stray out of those rules set for us, we were somehow LESS.

Hmm..what an idea! That we can just BE without being restricted by the rules that define the labels we like to wear so much.

I'll definitely think some more about this entry..thanks for this!

11:03 AM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

I don't think that it matters how others define you, I think that it matters how you define yourself. So, if you write, then you are a writer. If you keep a house, you are a manager. If you landscape your yard, you are a gardener.

As a wise older woman once told me when I was at a cross roads in my life: don't let the world should on you. That advice has stayed with me and been influential in helping me define myself.

12:17 PM, October 13, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said...

i love this post...i love it because, god i needed to hear it today...and how right you are...and i need to remember it...

4:35 PM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Great post. It reminded me of a funeral I once attended. I was shocked by all the labels attached to the flowers (loving mother, dear wife, sister. etc.) Throughout I kept thinking, "But, she is so much more than that." I was disturbed and disappointed to that a remarkable woman had been reduced to mere labels.

5:50 PM, October 13, 2006  
Anonymous Jennifer (she said) said...

When I got to the very last lines I was surprised to remember this feeling. It was a feeling I have had for so long - and now I don't. I don't know when it stopped. Maybe just within this last year.

Maybe it was in the first and second year, and probably even the third and part of the fourth, that I felt overwhelmed by my life, my roles. Like you I had to remember I was always something steady, something I coulc count on - the core of me I guess.

I was desperate for a long time not to lose my "self", to figure out what I was really about, to not lose my dreams in the role of motherhood or even partnerhood.

Finally I can say that I've gotten there - but I don't know how. I only know that it must be a recent thing and that I didn't even notice until I read your words.

8:39 AM, October 30, 2006  

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