“I wanted only to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?”
It has taken me two hours, 4 months, and about 10 years to write this. Even as I begin to type, I can feel the surge of expression clinching in my throat and sifting back down into dislocation— or perhaps fading, not unlike the lucid nightmare that we forget shortly after waking. A stillborn dream, sucking the calcium from my teeth and then expiring. Back to dust and mixed metaphors.
But it’s worth trying. That’s what I’ve been telling myself in the decade that I have tried to leave the paper trail of my soul- not to anyone precious enough to wade through it or traverse down it, but rather, to something more ethereal that might alter my karmic nature. This sounds, of course, pretentious and grandiose, and that is why I have not articulated it before. And I am starting to think that the silence is more to my detriment than the impending criticism from my real and imaginary naysayers.
I have not written for fear of failing to perfectly articulate myself. The breadcrumbs of my lifelong polemic lead from misanthropic discomfort to foolish anger to inescapable codependence. I have spoken out, to be sure. I have updated my “status” (what is my status?) almost compulsively since a platform for it existed for it. I have complained, shown righteous indignation, and all the while searched in vain for some practical, lucrative, and “secure” way of channeling my otherwise seething outlook on the world. I have mustered my inner megalomaniac and determined I have no choice—no choice!— but to defend my personal and improvable perception of what’s worthy and deserving in the world. Hence the venture into public service. But I have not written for fear of being wrong, for fear of regretting the permanence (are words permanent anymore?) of my thoughts, for fear. I have found every way possible to live a life that resembles what I want, but in so doing actively avoids what it is I want. For fear, and that is cowardice. That is, if my perception of the world and desire to alleviate suffering has any relative merit whatsoever, I am a coward for hiding behind the institutions that, in complicit fashion, position me as an advocate for any cause. Yes, it’s true. I have not written for fear, and this is the greatest offense not only against myself, but against the very karmic nature I am speaking of— my choices themselves spring from complete self-absorption and end with them.
Which is another problem. Aside from the fear, I like to think of myself as this tool through which good might be wielded. The problem there, of course, is that I think of myself first, and the Good second. I want to do it all perfectly: find the ideal role through which I might help people, fill it in the right capacity, fit the proper gaps in the universe in manner of some martyr so that I might be absolved of my (let’s face it) yuppie angst and liberal guilt— and all with great benefits and job security.
That’s not to say I don’t genuinely care about people. I do. Except for the general manager of the MBTA. He can take a long walk off a short pier.
But all this is to say that one thing has become glaringly obvious to me this year. And that’s that I’m not happy. I appear to have too many windows in my mind open at once, and the cross breezes of my consciousness relentlessly cast the unfortunate circumstances happening around me, my participation in them all (great and small), and my obsession with averting regret (and thereby risk) makes for a very unfortunate future in my mind (and present, for that matter). I am debilitated by fear and indecision and all in the fragile guise of a “go-getter” dedicated to the public interest. I volunteer! I started grad school! I make shit money in a neat nonprofit! I’m good, right?
Maybe what I’m really going for, since I can’t clearly see what it is I want without flinging myself around like a pinball at the prospect of standardized testing, exhausting hours, and low wages, is to just have someone tell me that my interest in the public interest is satisfactory enough. Perhaps my real dream is to be eulogized in some awesome tragedy in manner of Marlowe, the Greeks, or Michael Bay. Now that would make an impact.
So why is it, with all of these opinions, substantial grammar skills, and the faculties to at least detect wit and humor, that I can no longer write? Why is it that, despite being housed for most of my waking life in an office that spouts the feminism I live and breathe, I cannot sit and tell you about it? Why is it that, despite living my dream of a paid teaching position, I cannot stand and deliver? Why is it that, despite two years of vetting the “next step” in my education, I’m desperately unchallenged, unsatisfied? Is it me? And worst of all, if my priority truly is the interest of the public, why have I already referred to myself in the first person in this piece more than a dozen times?
It could be circumstantial. Sure. For days, I could cite circumstantial reasons for my dissatisfaction and recite a yarn of convincing and acceptable excuses- for my fears, my pitfalls, my ultimate failure to discover and truly be what I want (what is that, again?). I could say that 2011 has been tainted by my beloved Nonna’s unexpected death, an emergency surgery, the unforgiving cancellation of my already floundering graduate program, my family’s brave but failed attempts at “recovery,” and my year-long displacement from a real home, to say the least, is disheartening. But it always has been. I could list all of these things, and do, here, as I have been reminded to by countless loved ones. (I should take a moment to pause and appreciate that my recent and crippling fear of failure in my vocation has helped to alleviate my fear of being abandoned and alone. Score one for the codependents.)
But to list these excuses is deeply unsatisfying, and only magnifies the menacing cloud ahead of me: if I am unable to withstand the challenges of independence, which come with the pursuit of doing good- real good- in the world (what’s real good again?) then I might as well give up now.
(To clarify, the sorts of things I consider “giving up on” include, but are not limited to: my dream of changing the cultural perception of sexual violence against women; my goal of doing so through the written word and oration; my hopes of pursuing an academic track in law, public policy, global health, or some other related field; ever taking the GRE because I am terrified of math; ever being able to spend more than two hours alone without calling someone; ever being able to afford to grow old; and relationships in general.)
Remember that show “Eek! The Cat”? Wasn’t he afraid of ham sandwiches? Well let me you, I was petrified of that show. What’s that say about me? Enough about me- what do you think about me?
Back on topic. I’m yellow in that I answered the phone between this sentence and the last one because I can’t say “no” to the prospect of being sought after by someone who shows interest in me. Mostly because I am afraid of the consequences of not clutching to another concrete thing outside of myself when it reaches for me, and of painful consequences in general. Such things lead to involuntary solitude. Abandonment, as I said. I previously tolerated negativity and misuse from others because I feared the alternative, and now surround myself with good folks who might not know that I chew my fingers wondering what I’d do without them.
Why am I afraid of rejecting attention, even if it’s poorly timed or placed? And does it really matter? I used to think so, but the more I’ve “dealt” with it—the “my parents are to blame” model of self-actualization—the more I’ve questioned what other areas of my life besides residual adolescence are at the detriment of such a pervasive fear, and where it manifests in my self-perception and interpersonal dynamics—you know, outside of the “I hate my mom and dad” one.
Turns out, everywhere. Or maybe that’s part of the obsessive compulsion to self-analyze. Either way, it’s become a full-time job alongside my full-time job, part-time education, and feeble attempts at building a successful present and future. It is ironic and counterproductive in that it is equally exhausting to recognize a pattern of behavior and all but completely fail to break out of it. I expend most of my energy each day acknowledging that I say “sorry” too much, that I feel subverted by working and writing on behalf of other professionals without ever increasing my own skills, that I lack complete confidence in ways I never have, and yet, I do not have the energy or resources or wherewithal to combat (or perhaps accept) my current self. I thought that three years of immersing myself in the culture of “what I want to do” would make me more confident. But the truth is, I resorted to writing this in order to avoid preparing for my lecture tomorrow. Maybe I’m just not mean to teach. But more likely, I simply have lost my voice to a strangler in the work-a-day world.