It is nine o’clock on the morning of the seventh snow day of the school year. I have long ago finished my toasted everything bagel with butter, and my third cup of coffee is cold (even after being reheated three times); the second load of laundry (the delicate cycle for my sweaters) is about to go into the dryer. It is Friday, and I still have two more days of barely any interactions until I go back to work. I can imagine that if there was a man here, I might be getting annoyed at how he chews his bagel and how his stubble looks grungier than sexy. I can also imagine that if my younger daughter were here she would be closed off in her room, so the knowledge that there is someone close by to talk to, but who doesn’t want to talk to me, would have made these days feel more oppressive than just the aloneness of me. As it is, I am learning that being content is a gentle place to be, but it allows in the ever so constant emotional tug-of-war between satisfaction and disappointment, purpose and failure.
The more I am home alone, the more I see that I am not fulfilling my time with the production of writings—reading, yes, but, alas, that is not how I assess myself. So much could be done to prove that I am who I want to be, but instead I sink down into who I am, ever so endlessly, tearing apart my midlife illusion that there is anything that sets me apart from every other person.
Perhaps the hardest thing about being alone is that I only have myself to blame for my inactions. There are no interruptions, except self-made. There are no diversions, except those that I enable. Surely, this is someone’s idea of heaven; even in earlier versions of myself it had been. I should be content, but I cannot erase from myself the understanding that my mind cranks for and against me in this cycle of self-castigation and performance. At a certain point I need to push myself to acknowledge that this duality is the best of me: I am action and inaction, one would not exist without the other. At times I am so close to acceptance, but then I turn against myself, absorbed in envy and a mind that only knows its contours, only knows the words that tunnel around and around the quietness, but that still leave me feeling inept. It is sad to continually realize that the things I want to accomplish are things that I am unable to accomplish because I am me. This endless cycle has never spurred me to change what I am unable to change. Surely, this should be my sign to let up and accept without resignation, but with respect.
I need to acknowledge that my strength is this disillusioned clarity, and not to continually pit myself against everyone else’s strength. I cannot be the novelist whose every work brings to life characters with a fullness that escapes most mortals; nor can I be the diplomat who gently transforms distrust to workable respect; nor can I be the entrepreneur whose ideas have solid dimensions. I have fought so long not wanting to be me, but that has only brought me discomfort. I am tired of wanting to be everyone but me, of wishing my skills were other.
Perhaps if we lived in a world where formulating little insights into the cracks of life were valued, and where educating and caring for the young was seen as aspirational rather than drudgery, I wouldn’t feel so unattained. And perhaps, too, if every attempt I have made to “put myself out there” was not meet with a rejection, I might have learned to love the reality earlier and easier. It is hard to continually put who I am, and what I am, against the onslaught of naysayers who don’t think that that is enough—or as good as everyone else who has tried. It is not easy to stand back up when no one cares if you do. But, you know, I’m awfully tired of comparing myself to everyone but me. What if I were to compare myself to who I was five, ten, fifteen, twenty years ago? Would I still be ashamed or would I find what to admire? I need to put up blinders, where the only person I can compare myself to is myself.
My New Year’s Resolution this year (my only one since I can remember living through a New Year’ Eve) was that I would not send out any submissions this year, that I would not let myself be brought down by other people’s assessments of me. I need to back that up with forcing myself to focus only on what I can do, even if that includes nothing but napping, because this hold of what I perceive to be an accomplishment that I have placed on myself is painful in the way of a never-ending ache. I am tired of aching because I am me, unadorned.
It is almost twelve hours since I began writing. In that time I have woven this writing with cooking, and shoveling snow, and reading, and eating. But I am full now. Full with feeling that this I can accomplish: I can accept being me, even if that sentences me to a life of full and empty moments because, ultimately, those are the true moments of my life.