Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sunday Scribblings: Regret

(Image from here.)

A word like regret should have sparked about a million story ideas for me...or OK, at least ten. After all, I think most of my writing is about regret in some way—missed opportunities, words that stick in the throat that perhaps could have changed everything. A decision never made that perhaps would have been the right decision.

But nothing really came. See, regret is a really loaded word for me, so much so that I can't seem to fictionalize it (not this week, anyway). Regret is something that was constantly on my mind, for a really long time. There are whole pathways in my brain seemingly dedicated to traveling down the same painful ruts again and again.

I grew up believing in the myth of unlimited potential. That's what people always told me. “You have so much potential.” Potential sounded like the sound of my parents' voice when they had some money in the bank. Their voices grew fat with safety. What mattered, of course, was not spending the money. Not squandering the potential.

But, of course, potential doesn't sit in some cosmic bank account. It certainly doesn't accrue interest, especially if you don't apply it to your interests. And I didn't, not really. I was terrified of making the wrong choices, of wasting this potential—of facing my life with the same blank, pinched expression my parents had when the bank account grew lean again, but the bills kept arriving.

So many great opportunities floated close to me, bobbed within my grasp, then drifted away. So many times that I didn't reach out, didn't risk, didn't turn my potential into something more.

By the time Madam was born, I spent much of my day tuned into my mental radio station, K-RGRT.

Has anyone ever mentioned that babies are awesome listeners? Because they so are. I would strap baby Madam into her stroller and take her up and down the hill where we lived. The sun would stream through her shade, drenching my little Freudian with a luminescent glow. And I would confess...If only I had gone to graduate school immediately after college! If only I had worked harder in publishing, made more contacts, been less afraid! If only I had finished a novel and gotten it published already! If only I had moved to California before I got pregnant, then maybe I could have become a big wig in television before having a baby!

At this point, Madam would be asleep, no doubt thinking my words were some sort of whining prose poem for her benefit, instead of my own. Certainly, the content of my regrets rarely varied...only the intensity of the pain expressed by my words as I worked myself up to a crescendo of Lost Opportunity and Wasted Life Forever.

The Saturday when all that changed wasn't noticably different from all of the other days. Madam still in her stroller, sleeping in the pink glow of her partially shaded seat. The sky was blue as it almost always is in California. Cars rushed past us as I pushed her on the uneven pavement, up the hill.

I started my litany again, I got myself worked up again, maybe a tear or two escaped while I walked, faster and faster.

Then a new thought entered my mind. Why do I need to tell this story over and over again? Did I think I would ever forget my regrets? Did I think that I might happy for a moment with my current circumstance if I could just...let it go? And...would I want Madam to grow up and feel this way? Feel like she was doomed because she'd made some less-than-brilliant choices in her past? I thought about my regrets. Some were things that I had wanted passionately, and had not worked hard enough to achieve. Some were things I had given up on too soon. But some were things I didn't really want, but felt like I should. And some were things I could see I was better off without anyway.

And the most important dream was not at all timebound. Was I attempting to join some Olympic Team of Novelists? No? So then why did it matter so much whether I wrote my novel at 25 or 35 or 50? Maybe no one would ever call me a wunderkind or an overnight sensation, but maybe I'd be a better writer for all that. Potential should be squandered, because potential means about as much as those numbers on our bank statements. It stands for something else--something that must be realized, even if it's as far from pristine "potential" as I am from my twenty-something self.  If I manage to teach Madam anything, I hope it's that—to burn through all of her potential fearlessly, to hold on to none of it. To trust that she'll be able to make more deposits to her bank account.

That day changed my relationship to my regrets. Yes, there are long, dark times where I can see every bad choice my younger self made—as though I am watching her through two sided glass, screaming, “No, do the OTHER THING. THE OTHER THING!” But usually I can dig up a little perspective from somewhere (I find chocolate and a nap are spectacular for this purpose) and remind myself that all of these plodding steps are going somewhere. They are going back to the page, again and again, until I spend whatever potential still lies curled within me.

You won't regret checking out Sunday Scribblings.

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Anonymous Marianne said...

Yay! Nothing like loosening the grip on "potential" for actually allowing ourselves to get on with what is right in front of us, huh? Right there with you.

9:28 PM, January 31, 2009  
Blogger floreta said...

There are whole pathways in my brain seemingly dedicated to traveling down the same painful ruts again and again.
very true and well written. the whole post, really.

i hate hearing "you've got so much potential." to me it seems like almost a bad thing, not a compliment.

9:40 PM, January 31, 2009  
Blogger Tumblewords: said...

Wonderful post - wonderful!

12:04 AM, February 01, 2009  
Blogger DJPare said...

I am always happy to read anything that you write! I want to read that novel, whether you write it at 35 or 50.

And I think my potential in that bank actually lost money this year!

10:43 AM, February 01, 2009  
Blogger Afton said...

Mmmmm... I loved this.

10:59 PM, February 02, 2009  
Blogger bella rum said...

Loved this post.

It's different than saying that you've reached a point where you have no regrets. I was never one who bought into that whole I-have-no-regrets-because-I-wouldn't-be-who-I-am-today-without-my-mistakes philosophy.

If we're human, we've made mistakes, and if we're not brain dead, we have regrets. It's part of the human experience, but I like how you write, "That day changed my relationship to my regrets." Not that you no longer have regrets, but that you've gained perspective which puts them in their proper place.

Thoughtful post.

11:55 AM, February 03, 2009  
Blogger Amber said...

What an effin' AWESOME post!! I read this again, and I will do it again...You are so right. I feel so much like this so often! But I have also gotten a hold of this (silly) fear, and been more happy for it. But I have to remind myself sometimes, and so thanks.

"Their voices grew fat with safety"-- LOVE this line.


11:58 AM, February 05, 2009  
Blogger Heath said...

Regressive feelings come if we think we have done wrong, and the realization of one's mistake is a big step in itself to improve the self.So, regressive feeling is good :)

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2:09 PM, February 05, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That image of looking at yourself through the glass and wanting to scream to do the other thing is something I have so much struggled with. That image just so spoke to me and that reminds me how much I have missed your writings Monica! I just wanted to say hello and let you know I was thinking of you and sending a hug and enjoying your always, always beautiful writing. (Alexandra in Portland)

12:47 PM, February 06, 2009  
Blogger Jerri said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:11 PM, February 12, 2009  
Anonymous fern said...

I wandered over to your blog because I've been feeling like the world is sabotaging my efforts lately. Your writing has made me feel inspired, melancholy, sentimental...but it has always, always made me think.

I was so happy to find this post today, I didn't even know you'd written it. I read it once, then read it aloud. It was just such a relief to recognize myself in your words. I've been constantly fighting to *DO* something before it's too late. But what's too late?

I loved this part: "Certainly, the content of my regrets rarely varied...only the intensity of the pain expressed by my words as I worked myself up to a crescendo of Lost Opportunity and Wasted Life Forever." Because I *get* that. It's like a song on a loop, it's the same regrets over and over, and I can't seem to change the track.

And this: "If I manage to teach Madam anything, I hope it's that—to burn through all of her potential fearlessly, to hold on to none of it." She is such a lucky kid to have someone like you for her mom. And thank you for the inspiration and words of comfort, I really needed this today.


P.S- please write soon!

5:21 PM, March 14, 2009  
Blogger Lubna said...

It is a beautiful post. I just blogged about how it is easier to forgive others and more difficult to forgive ourself. Sad, but true. Am glad you moved on from what you perceived to be your mistakes. Will visit your blog again.

9:11 AM, April 02, 2009  
Blogger rdl said...

Great post, glad I happened upon it today.

12:26 PM, April 10, 2009  
Blogger TheGirlWithTheNotepad said...

Great post! I love reading your writing. I have recently started a blog ( I hope one day to be as good a writer as you!

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