Upon becoming an adult
And I consider carefully the concept that what brings me joy must also always cause me some pain, because without the pain, how can I recognize the pleasure? And yet...It seems to me that this thinking is flawed, that somewhere along the line we collectively fell for a ponzi scheme in which only the people at the very top of the heap are allowed to reap happiness, we're always scaling, reaching, pushing for that coveted spot on top, and somehow we forget to rejoice in the companionship, the compassion, of those that are all around us, bearing the burden of a towering pyre that burns uncontrollably above, shoulder to shoulder. There is safety in solidarity, there is strength. And even that being in ourselves, even that pushing back against tremendous pressure, can be more pleasure than pain, if we refocus our attention. And in the refocusing, we are not pulling towards the unattainable tower that crushes us all under its weight... we are linking arms, walking across forbidden bridges, we are not alone.
So, I ponder such things as I find myself alone. Or almost alone--for the first time in 6 months, and I take stock of the silence. My darling child, to whom I shall return below, is away from me, brief respite, and my house is still. She is silently stewing in anger, I am silently giving her space to be with her anger, and let me be with my loss. There are no urgencies, though the pressing deadlines of my profession rarely cease to nag. And I realize just how much of a cog in this neoliberal wheel I have become... despite my recognition of its existence, despite my critical stance against the commodification and filtered (re)distribution of everything under the sun, despite my repudiation of abusive power structures and the collusion of politicians and educators, military and industry, police and the media, despite, despite, to spite... I release myself and imagine an existence in not-so-much free-fall, but the eternal agitation of a laundry tumbler, with no real sense of top or bottom, but with clearly and painfully palpable limits, against which I am periodically jolted. I let my mind wander, and I listen to the pain.
I try to step off the gerbil wheel, pull myself back out of the tumbling, eternal cycle of dirty-clean-dirty-clean-dirty, breathe into the immense pain that I am carrying, have been, dragging it along like an anchor, my bruised and battered shell of an ego. The same sense of ego that drives my fervent behavior for "fear of missing out" or fear of disappointing others, that propels me forward in my career and profession towards the easily quantifiable goals of both economy and prestige, that prohibits me (through internalized self-censure) from speaking too loudly in protestation, lest I be ungrateful for the things "handed down" from above... that ego also sends me underground, away from my own words and thoughts, into an absence of writing when the things that I need to be writing about will neither flatter me nor find me favor. I don't write them because they are the ugly things, the ones we don't dare speak, because to express deep dissatisfaction with our own belief motor would be high treason to our sense of self.
Dirty little secret: I rarely read any writer or canon or periodical systematically. Or perhaps my system is just apparent chaos? I let words find me, I follow the paths of connections less traveled, and I don't know if it has made all the difference, but I do know that it leaves room for some out-there ideas, woven together by a sharp, but perhaps unrigorous mind. So, to say that the other day, I followed a cybertrail into a world of mommy-blogs that left me both nauseous and bereft, should come to no one as a surprise. What did, perhaps, surprise was the overwhelming acid reflux that was caused by the sycophantically sweet, cloying cooing over one's offspring, one's choices (always the best! or the worst! never just... default.. not in the mommyblogosphere--that I know only tangentially, and therefore my sweeping judgment should mean nothing to anyone, but myself, and this lucid, if at times lurid mind in which I reside). But, I digress... I do firmly believe that everyone has a right to write/ express themselves in any way they see fit, and if some profit as false prophets, I shouldn't care (at least not according to my obedient, rule-following, card-carrying (neo) liberal ego)... and yet...
I remember for years, when paper diaries were still in vogue, and I wrote, truly, for no one but myself, I silenced my words. I didn't want to have to look back in the future and read my words, read the anger and pain and humiliation to which I was subjected daily, through harsh words and unkind gestures. I was hopeful still... then... that my marriage would "get better" and it wouldn't "fail," that my future self (or perhaps my child's future self) shouldn't be subject to the harsh reality that was a "tiny little portion" of the (imagined future) whole narrative... But, see, the story isn't just in the telling, it is also in the framing... and that hurting, small, injured and bewildered self, damaged but still optimistic, wanted to give that other person, the relationship, the family, its *best possible chance*. What's wrong with that?, you might wonder, or I might, at the very least... What's wrong with that is that the erasures that we impose on ourselves fundamentally skew the story, they leave holes in the foundation of the house, they allow us to fill in the holes with lies or assumptions, and to smoothe it all over with a veneer of success. So the stories that I did tell, they were never the most painful, most shameful, most full of failure ones. The words describing sheer and utter exhaustion, exasperation, terror... those words got lost in the shuffle. They got set aside to further the bigger story, the one to feed the ego, the success.
I had my daughter at age 21... I got married, because it made the most sense... and because of asinine and unjust geo-political borders that circumscribe human existence. I wanted to show her, I wanted to show everyone that I could do it. DO it. That all the clucking about how I would ruin my life was wrong. I wanted to prove something to myself, I guess, but then, also, I wanted to believe that through sheer force of will, and let's not forget raw love, I could win. We could win. I didn't realize then that we can't win, that there is no such thing as "winning," no end point at which we get to stop to bask in our glory. I know now that those were thoughts and feelings that while I wouldn't have articulated them as such, are an accurate representation of my motivations at the time. I don't want to pass judgment on my past self, but I see now that some of these beliefs set me up to perpetuate perennially painful decisions, and to lose sight of the forest for the trees. I am not remotely unique in all this, nor does that cause me grief, but maybe in my singularity, we can extrapolate community. I stopped writing when she was a year and a half, and I didn't begin again until I opened this very (public) writing space in 2004. When I started writing again, it was like opening the floodgates, it was like coming home, back into myself after an extended exile.
However, I find again that my absences outnumber my presences. These days, I write for no one, not even myself, (except as a trained monkey in the circus to which we affectionately refer as work/ life.) Why? Have I not achieved my goals? Have I not attained a certain level of professional success? Have I not progressed financially? Materially? Even emotionally? What could I possibly be hiding from myself? What deep truth am I trying to suppress for the sake of the ideal narrative, rather than embracing the full spectrum of the kaleidoscopic reality in which we exist? And I realize that while the circumstances are different, the feelings of unending crisis, of desperation, of hopeless hopefulness that I embodied all those years ago have taken over, once again. And my response has been to retreat into myself, pulling in my tender limbs to shelter under my turtle shell. But, with no limbs expose, I will also be paralyzed.
When my daughter was a delightfully precocious, adaptable child: "look, isn't she great? She'll take a nap anywhere without a fuss, even if the band is plugged in as long as she is nursing...she'll sit quietly while an ex-presidential candidate from her other country speaks, at length, in a room of uncomfortably contoured wooden chairs, and draw pictures... she'll carry on a marvelous conversation about the particulars of a Heineke film, and weep disconsolately for the loss experienced by others... she's so sensitive, so perceptive, so charming, so brave..." it was easier to write about our interactions. Back then my mama-heart would swell with pride and I would want to share or record the triumphs and tribulations, always overcome, by my strong girlchild--before she began her process of individuation. Now, my heart still swells with pride, but the roller coaster of rage seems to be moving too fast to take stock. I recall one friend, in particular, childless by choice, would then smugly admonish me to not enjoy myself too much because "any day now" I would have hell to pay. In her teenage years, all this attachment would come back to haunt me. He was right, but he was also wrong. I should have enjoyed every one of those moments more, lived inside of them, really let the full weight of their ease and joy settle in on me, so that I could draw on those reserves in the case of need. I should do that now, if I can.
The problem with raising a smart, sensitive, clear-thinking, free-willed, razor-tongued child with opinions of her own, is that one day, that same child will come to the distinct conclusion that not only do you not know the answer to everything, you are also to blame for most failings, because you are simultaneously the de facto enforcer of a system that pummels the creativity out of us, and then feeds it back to us in bite-sized pieces, that ravages wonder, and replaces it with neatly packaged culture, in synthesized sound bites, and electronically-altered images. She will, eventually, call you out on your hypocrisies... and they are legion, because you aspire not to perfection but rather to impossibility, you juggle more than you can handle, bite off more than you can chew, and wear yourselves threadbare, flapping in the wind, like abandoned flags in your sovereign nations of one. And then, in your radical solitude, you hear words coming out of your mouth that you don't even believe, or you think you don't believe, but then, you must, in some place hold onto those horrible credences if they are to come out of your mouth like they just did, marching down your tongue, and prying open your teeth, pinching the tender inner cheek, just to make you sting a little, while parroting: "people will think you're a--(fill-in-the-undesirable-blank)--if you go out of the house looking like that." WHO is this?!!! You want to scream at yourself, WHO have I become? Because these borrowed words, the ones that you release into the atmosphere while hiding behind the shield of "others'" opinion, are a direct result of painful years of punishment that were doled out onto you, and you want to give your child "every chance in life to succeed." So you feel, at some level, that giving her a heads up about the way others will police her, tell her who she is, cordon her off behind ugly epithets, and corral her in dark corners, real and perceived, is in your unofficial job-description. But the problem is that somewhere in the well-meaning, somewhere in the protective mechanism, something went wrong... and you fear that you have become the very thing you wanted to protect her from. You are the monster, and there is nothing you can do but embrace the horror of the death-grip, ax-wielding battle of the wills that leaves you feeling pummeled, spiritually destitute and morally bankrupt. If you embrace it, maybe you can move through it, maybe you can hold her slight body against yours until the electric tension relaxes out of her body and into your arms, if you could just. absorb. her. pain...maybe you could release some of your own, too.
I guess my point is simply this: some days are bad. And, at a personal level for me, lately many days feel bad. Nevertheless, in certain arenas, the bad has brought more solidarity, more intimate safety than I had ever imagined existed, much less that it was something that I deserved. There is no shame, I insist now, in lifting up our voices, my voice, albeit tiny, a pitiful wail against a darkening sky, to snap ourselves out of our very own hypnosis, out stasis, our treadmill of tragic obedience, whatever it may be. We can refuse to be enslaved by an ambition to achieve perfection, and we can do it, or I shall attempt to do it, at minimum, by acknowledging the imperfect, one day at a time.