It has been many months since I last posted anything on this blog and as always, the more time goes by without writing, the harder it is to actually get going again.So I used one of WordPress’s daily nudges to get myself started (the first time I’ve used them, but hey. Desperate times call for desperate measures.) The prompt was Stump.
Since I last wrote, I have discarded most of my belongings, packed up the rest, rented my apartment in Montreal, took a leave of absence from my job, seen my oldest graduate, got a fabulous new tattoo, then left my wonderful Montreal community and moved my daughters and myself to Victoria.
Why, you might ask?
Because my road map was torn up. Because who I thought I was turned out to be only who I was in the context of my marriage and my role as caregiver. Because I thought that being a better person meant squelching any of my own needs and desires and always putting those of my family first.
Because not only was my envisioned future ripped away from me, my past and present were also violently re-written. Behind me is a broken path littered with distorted, tainted memories. There is no path in front of me, only darkness. (In the Virginia Woolf sense, not in the Star Wars sense…)
Because I don’t know who I am anymore. The feeling is akin to looking into a cheap old mirror; I have a hazy idea the outline of a person is me, but I can’t make out any details. I have no features anymore.
So I made the hardest decision of my life: to move back home. To let my family take care of me while I work on getting a clearer picture of myself. To take some time off and reflect on what I want and to get a sense (as much as anyone can) on what a well-lived life means to me and make steps towards that life.
This, as you can imagine, is not only a herculean task, one that I’m sure will take me ore than a year, but also, well, a tad disorienting. And as always, I am getting in my own way.
Stump #1: The resident family failure
It is very hard to let other people take care of me. Once again, the incomparable Rebecca Solnit, who I am in real danger of over-quoting, has some words of wisdom on this topic:
“…But asking is difficult for a lot of people. It’s partly because we imagine that gifts put us in the giver’s debt, and debt is supposed to be a bad thing. You see it in the way people sometimes try to reciprocate immediately out of a sense that indebtedness is burden. But there are gifts people year to give and debts that tie us together.” p.121 Faraway nearby
And then Brené Brown on the subject:
“Until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help.”p. 20 The Gifts of Imperfection
This last quote physically hurt when I read it. It begged the question: If I feel so bad being indebted to other people, do I unconsciously feel that the people I help are indebted to me?
Ugh. I hope this is not the case. As an aside, it also makes me wary of how much economic terminology have infiltrated the way we speak about our relationships. Give and take. Investing time in someone. I am indebted to you. Like human relationships can be boiled down to simple transactions and that everything and everyone has a price. That we always get back what we put in plus profit. Thinking like this is its own kind of harm and sets us up for always being disappointed and hurt. It is also an ugly way of looking at love and connection. Whereas these are beautiful, organic evolutions, the metaphors we use to describe them are ugly, fabricated and finite. And because we use them to explain these processes, these process inevitably become diseased with all the ugliness of expectations and notion of scarcity inherent in any economic metaphor.
But I digress.
Still. I can’t get over the stigma of it: from being employed full-time, paying my own bills, financially supporting my family to living in the garden shed in my mother’s backyard. (I like to say that I am now pursuing a career as a garden gnome.)
I feel like the family failure, the loser whose life is a complete shambles (actually, I am the loser whose life is a complete shambles. Let’s not mince our words here, Lina). This means that I distract myself from the difficult quest for clarity with feelings of shame and unimportant tasks. Instead of taking the time for myself, I find every opportunity to keep busy. I clean my mother’s cupboards. I take on menial, under-paying jobs that are not serving me and which take time from what I really want to do but for some reason won’t let myself.
Stump #2: Time
Time feels like a vast desert that I have to cross everyday, instead of the insane 150 km/hour hurdling down the autobahn my life has been for the last 17 years.
The kids started school last Tuesday. On the same day my mother left for two months to walk the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. ( I know, right? How awesome is she?) I found myself for the first time in twelve years with hours ahead of me without having to factor in other people, where I have not been gone before the kids and where I am home when they get home.
Whereas time was my largest scarcity, I am now simultaneously drowning in it and also wondering how it goes so fast. I can’t concentrate. I feel like I have so many little things to do I forget to do the one thing that I am here to do which is to take that time and make it into space where I can think and feel and discover what I want.
Stump #3: Just say it already. God.
Except I do know what I want. It has been what I always secretly wanted and have never let myself say out loud. And yet it is so impractical, unfeasible, so…hubristic to think that I could spend my days doing this thing that doesn’t have any discernible benefit for those around me. It won’t save the whales or end poverty or fix climate change. It won’t make me any money or feed my family. It is outrageous and selfish and wholly out of the realm of possibility…
And there it is: the large stump of fear and excuses in my way. I have tried going around it, but it’s diameter spans all of my horizon. It is a wall that I keep banging my head against and I’m starting to feel concussed. It is the one thing I want to do and also the one thing I am terrified of admitting that I want to do.
I want to write. (Ugh. Did anyone else feel that large jolt, like the world just ground to halt? No? Huh. I guess it’s just me…) At least, I want to give writing more space than the dusty, neglected corners of time where I used to write.
Admitting this is very very scary. I’ve said it before, but I have always said it when I have had full-time employment and a roster of excuses not to do it. But since I (so foolishly) stripped those excuses away, I can no longer avoid this last gargantuan stump: Myself.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t want gainful, meaningful employment; I do. (Anybody looking for a writer/librarian perchance? I can write! I can organize! I can write in an organized manner!) I like working with people and getting out of myself. I also like being able to feed my children and have money for boots and wine (or, ok, fine, the phone bill).
But I think I know in part what the answer to what a life well-lived life means to me: putting words on paper, fashioning this chaos of thoughts and emotions jungling in my brain into some sort of coherence and meaning.
I am most myself when I am writing, when I allow myself with all my flaws and imperfections and bad grammatical habits to dribble on the page (sometimes the dribble is as innocuous as drool, but lately it’s been pretty bloody, I won’t lie).
So why do I deny myself this?
I honestly don’t know. But this blog post is the first stick of dynamite I am placing at the base of the stump. Soon I hope to have enough words and practice to blow it up for good.
Wish me luck.
5 thoughts on “A Day in the Life: Stumps”
Making yourself this vulnerable, Lina, is unfathomably brave. I read your words and I know that you are making the right decision (or should I say the ‘write’ decision?).
Yes Lina – go for it!
Maybe some writers have been gifted with a deep-down conviction that this is how they should be spending their hours and days. I don’t know where they get that sense of entitlement.
Me, I had to fight hard to convince myself that I was allowed to be so self-indulgent as to doodle with words and stories. I still believe writing fiction is a self-indulgent act — the license to tell intricate lies — but I may finally have let go of the guilt. It takes a while for some of us. And even self-indulgence of this variety requires a lot of work and commitment.
Go for it, Lina!
Thanks Alice. I think of you and your writing journey often these days and it gives me courage.