I’m just going to start at the beginning. Not at the beginning of my life. Or my story. Just this moment. Right now. Just in front of me linger the many minutes I should be considering and worrying over, and nipping at my heels those things in the past I should have done, but anyway, I need to practice this singular focus.
It’s good to write words on a page without imposing too many expectations on them. Maybe just the mindless babblings of a middle aged mommy, like my daughters, toddlers not so long ago themselves, making funny noises simply to feel the sounds emanate from their bodies.
What does my voice sound like?
I’ve been so busy filling my life with noise and stuff and activity and obligation that I have not taken a simple moment to listen for myself. Just be. Hear. Feel.
So I say to you: good morning. Good night. Good afternoon. May good be wherever you find yourself.
Eight years have gone by and I’m still dogged by the same feelings of failure every day. Now, I don’t see myself as a victim. Life hasn’t dealt me a bad hand, done me wrong, or anything like that. I constantly sabotage myself. Every day I wake up and tell myself that it will be different, and that today will be the start of a different way of thinking, doing, being in the world. I promise myself each day that I’m going to be focused, productive, organized, fit, and happy. Instead, I find that I have a difficult time concentrating on much of anything, I waste time doing mindless tasks, I’m buried in piles of papers and things I’m desperate to either sort or just plain throw out. Oh, and I’ve gained 30 pounds, making me the heaviest weight I’ve been at any point in my life aside from my pregnancy.
Even now, I have so many feelings and thoughts coursing through my head that I find it truly challenging to separate them out. Where do I start? I’ve tried making lists. I pray. I exercise (OK, sometimes). I can’t seem to get myself grounded or organized. I feel…untethered, adrift. It feels as if my greatest fear is coming to fruition, that when I left acting full time, I would lose my sense of who I was, of who I am. I have this desperate sense that I need to do something, but I just don’t know what it is. Of course, part of that is being the best mommy I can be to my girls, but I do feel that a large part of that role includes modeling a happy, productive, purposeful life. And part of it, quite honestly, is that I’m not solely a mother. I am me, without the roles, without the labels. How am I just me in my own skin? How do I teach two little girls how to be secure in their own emerging hearts, minds, and bodies, when I can’t seem to get a handle on my own?
So getting back to my original question about the self-sabotage- in my search for the key to success, I layer new and interesting things to do onto my daily/ weekly/ short-term/ long-term plan. I feel like I’m chasing some moving target without having a real handle on what that particular target exactly is. Instead of defining the goal then actuating a plan to achieve it, I reverse the whole set up. I just keep adding “interesting” things, blindly trusting that it all will lead me, eventually, where I need to go. Like right now, I’m working part-time, I’m doing a show, I am leading a Girl Scout troop, I am the primary caretaker of the house and the kids, I volunteered to teach religious ed, and just because I have nothing else to do, clearly, I’m the chair of a committee at my kiddos’ elementary school. Because, why the hell not? Now, I expect to be the best at all of this, but in weighing myself down with so many things, I know that I set myself up to fail and to disappoint myself. I go around believing that my talents will show themselves if I do enough stuff; throw enough crap at the wall and something is bound to stick.
This strategy isn’t working. I’ve known it has not been working for 8 years. I know something is inside me; I’ve lost sight of what that might be. I’m terrified I might never discover the essence of who I am.
This is something I wrote from a while back, but apparently got stuck in the “drafts” pile.
Sometime in 2013…
I’ve been stuck because I don’t know where to begin. So I thought I might try approaching things one at a time. (Good luck, she says to herself.)
It was late afternoon a couple of days ago- the worst time of day for me- because I just want to crawl in some cave and sleep until dinner is ready, which is a problem as I’m the one that does dinner, so cave slumber= mass starvation. Anyway, I try to do some sort of physical activity with my little ones (two four year olds) so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes and I don’t have to start an IV caffeine drip. This particular day I thought, “Let’s try the Just Dance 2 Playstation game,” otherwise known as “The Dancing Game.” For those of you not familiar with this rockin’ timeless, Billboard-chart shattering music collection brought to life with equally mind-numbing blowing choreography, here’s an earworm that will devour your soul:
So, we begin. Now I’ve taken a LOT of dance; I had some sort of dance instruction for close to 10 years, and that’s not including all of the miscellaneous theatre movement training. For some reason, this choreography seems just “off” like a quarter of a beat or something. I can’t place it. It’s just so damn awkward and I find myself not as graceful as I imagine myself to be, although it could also have something to do with the fact that I’m 25 years older than when I first started dancing; however, that latter explanation is clearly the inferior one, I’m positive.
My girls are doing an OK job with The Dancing Game. They love it. It doesn’t matter how good they are, although it’s clear that one of them is more coordinated than the other. It could also have to do with the fact that Slightly More Coordinated Twin is serious as a heart attack about her choreography. Slightly Less Coordinated Twin gets caught up in watching the video and doing some half- hearted attempt at what seems to be a possible voluntary physical movement—or maybe it’s just a twitch. Sometimes I can’t tell.
Still, an awareness rears its ugly and awkwardly-timed head. And the self-comparisons—which have already begun in other areas—emerge, paralyzing and self-depreciating:
“Momma, I can’t do this. She does it better than me.”
Ohhhhh crap. So I go into problem solving mode.
“You’ve got to make your moves bigger,” I tell her, in an effort to cajole her into making some more definitive, more distinguishable moves.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.”
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.”
“Did you have fun dancing? Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better. You can’t just stand there. You have to move!”
And then it happened. I heard what I was saying for the first time, as if Morpheus for a moment stepped out of “the desert of the real” reached into my world, stopped time, and shoved my face up against a mirror.
I’ve been feeling stuck, you see.
“Momma, I can’t do this. EVERYONE does it better than me.” As an actor, I’ve been trained to put my focus on the “other”- the other actors onstage with me, the “other” that I allow myself to inhabit. Somewhere along the way, I forgot myself a bit, and was so focused on everyone else, that I just got lost. Particularly of late, I am seeing so many of my friends and colleagues garner well-deserved accolades and success, both professionally and personally. And I am genuinely happy for them- seriously. But then I look at myself and can’t help but think how everyone I know is a better mother/ wife/ teacher/ scholar/actor/homemaker than I am.
“Mommy, I lost. She got more stars than me.” I’m still a big believer in winning and losing. I don’t think everyone should be a winner all the time. But I have been feeling lost- and like I’ve lost a lot. I feel so behind and am a little perplexed as to how this “behind” situation happened. I feel tired, like I’ve done a lot, but I just haven’t seen any payoff, and that is frustrating. I see other people getting some acknowledgement, but I don’t see it happening over on my end. There’s no anger toward other people, only anger toward myself for not being better, although I’m unsure as to what “better” actually means.
“No, honey, you didn’t get as many stars but you have to keep trying. Don’t worry so much about the stars your sister has. You have one. Keep trying.” Of course I will keep trying. I’m like a damn terrier. Ask my husband. I relentlessly pursued him (minus the Lifetime Network dose of psychosis). But for a start, I think perhaps I need to put some of the focus on myself for once. On my work. On figuring out what it is I really want to achieve. Setting goals. Ugh, that one’s a tough one, and I realize that I have not been good at defining what I would like my future to look like. I always believed that if I just worked hard enough, “good things” would come to me. What these “good things” were- exactly- I couldn’t specifically say, only that they were really good. Seriously. I mean like, totally. I’m totally serious.
“Did you have fun dancing?” Yes, nothing I’ve done I regret. Very few things in my life do I wish I had done differently because I never would have met my husband and had these daughters and that hypothetical prospect looms most regrettable of all.
“Then you just have to keep dancing and you’re going to get better.” Fine. Fine. FINE.
But really what it comes down to:
“You can’t just stand there. You have to move!” I tell my students this all the time, but it actually sounds more like this: “Be strong and wrong!” The sentiment remains the same: do something, even if you don’t know what to do, because in all likelihood, a definitive, strong choice reveals the path to follow (or at the very least will slam a door in your face and you probably needed that). I can’t just stand around and watch other choreography. It’s off because it’s not mine; I’m trying to ape someone else’s trajectory and that simply won’t fly. Doing this only sets me up for failure and defines me as a victim, someone things happen to, not someone who can impact the world around me. Deep down, I have faith I can make this change.
So for me, the first move I make requires setting my fingers to the keyboard and writing, writing, writing. And yeah, I probably should get off my butt and workout. That too.
Then you’d never know you had one.”—The Baker’s Wife, Into the Woods
Walking with the girls tonight, I had one of those lightening moments, suspending me in its hyper reality for the briefest time. The girls rode their scooters up ahead of me, lit horizontally by the sun setting behind us. Between myself and the girls, a newly paved path rolled, comfortable and certain in its relative newness. On either side, green grass- so vibrant, especially in contrast to the blackness of the asphalt path-already thick and lush from the dutiful and probably bloodied, calloused hands of some landscaper, seems to insist on spring’s arrival-which, for the record, is fine by me. Adolescent trees mark the age of the immaculately coiffed subdivision, thankfully old enough for leaves to endow the wind with a fair bit of rustling voice. But on this evening, the wind is not in a hurry. It lacks the urgency of a storm front; now that we’re on the western end of the suburbs, this weird transition zone where sprawl meets small town, the weather changes show their faces pretty clearly. Together, everything moves and suspends, simultaneously, at this singular point in time.
I have the urge- or rather, the conditioned response- to quickly scroll through my phone to take a picture, worried that I wouldn’t remember this exact moment, that I need to preserve and share it or it never happened (i.e., if a tree falls and it doesn’t get put on Vine/FB/ Instagram, did it even happen?). I don’t know if it is laziness, anxiety about missing the moment altogether or what, but my hand never makes it to my pocket. My phone remains undisturbed. I lift my eyes. I walk forward.
I breathe it in and realize I am happy.
For just a breath.
Then wafting, ever so quietly, the doubts weave themselves back in through my consciousness: “Are you sure you’re happy? What is a city girl like you doing being happy here?” Then, more insistent and cruel: “This will never last, you know. It never does. Something awful will happen, it’s inevitable.” In an instant, all of the specific worries of my life- kids, my husband, employment, health, career, finances, and oh my lord, will I ever get this house unpacked or will we just live out of bins and chaos indefinitely- come tumbling with reckless abandon, washing over this lovely, peaceful moment.
Good Lord, those voices are LOUD. At this point, the cerebral chatter devolves into a cacophony of bickering. I ignore it as best I can; it’s background noise. So the moment’s gone, and I didn’t record it- not for posterity, for me. I’m at a place right now where I don’t trust I can remember anything without recording it, particularly these small, deep moments of joy. I manage to remember the difficult/ painful/ angsty ones, and I never have any trouble feeling at times like those times dominate my timeline.
Maybe, in actuality, it’s less about remembering these moments of joy and more about sustaining them. After all, as I just said, I don’t have trouble recalling the string of painful times littering the chronology of my life. I’m certainly not holding my phone up to them, recording them to play them back in some weird, masochistic ritual. In my awkward, human animal way, I’m trying to materialize my experiences to touch them, smell them, see them, feel them just a little bit longer. But in order to make them tangible in the form of video and picture means that I miss the actual experience altogether; the camera casts me as an outside observer trying to capture a fleeting moment, and shoves me out of participating in my own life, even those moments of happiness. The camera displaces me; it experiences the event, while I remember recording the event. For me, the memory becomes about recording something, and no longer about the actual something.
But aside from this complex and complicated 21st century relationship between me and technology, I also realize that moments of joy, of clarity, of happiness are so characteristic because of what they are not, which are the very places they originate: pain, struggle, confusion, sadness. No, I won’t always feel elation, nor will I be stuck in the abyss of despair. Mostly, I will reside in the middle somewhere, working to make things better, hoping to avoid the worst. But there are no guarantees, and sometimes I think that’s simply an uncomfortable place to be.
“I’m, like, the WORST friend EVER! I hope you can forgive me. It’s great to see you!”
“I just need a minute to veg and then I’ll zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.”
“OK, I really can’t let her stupidity soil the virgin-white purity and truth that is Facebook, so I’ll just reply to this one comment on the thread and be done.”
“Shit, that was a 2-hour Facebook post. How does this HAPPEN?!?”
And now it’s July. Much has “happened” as it were.
Oh, wait, see there it is. Right there. No, RIGHT THERE!
Yes, over here. Well, actually, right next to the word “were.” It’s that point- right there that is the problem. There was a pause. A momentary lapse, or rather, RE-lapse into my habitual rabbit hole vortex waste of time. It goes something like this:
Aaaaand I’m coming to the end of this sentence, this idea…and I’m done. Huh. My fingers aren’t moving on the keyboard. The tapping sound really is quite relaxing and comforting, reassuring me that there are thoughts (even interesting ones) bouncing around my skull. So it’s a little unnerving that they’re not mooooving. What next? Oh no. It’s quiet. Too quiet. Like the radio: dead air. Someone SAY SOMETHING!
MAYBE I SHOULD CHECK FACEBOOK!!! Yes, absolutely. Visiting The Book of Face will creatively inspire me in the same way that oh, say, the sun breaking over the eastern horizon, spills light and life over the sleeping landscape. Something like THAT, oh Facebook you creative font! I know there exists a growing, but not a consensus, body of scholarly work that debates (here, here, and here, for example) what many already know in our collective guts, at our most basic level about Facebook— that it is, as Homer Simpson might say, “the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.” Without all of the extra baggage that the “solution” part might afford, at least in my own personal experience which is, admittedly, a focus group of 1.
But this is not a post about the scourge and evil that is Facebook. No! That’s low hanging fruit in the quest to answer the eternal question: “What is the cause of my particular and peculiar brand of bullshit emotional baggage?” Tonight, I don’t have a whole lot to say on the subject, to be honest. In fact, I should check my EMAIL!!
Yes, email. I should do this. Checking the email….surely, there’s something brewing in one of my FIVE email addresses comprised of two work addresses, my Professional/ Personal account, my Personal/ Personal account by which my friends and colleagues from a certain era in my life know me, and my Personal/ Coupon/ Address I Give to Nigerian Royalty email. I’m headed for a world of hurt here. I’m seeking out more stressors, and this behavior must have a clinical name that I do not yet know (but since I am a bit of a hypochondriac I will probably Google that shortly- BTW, what IS Kate Middleton doing nowadays?), and OH MY LORD WHERE IS MY BED BATH AND BEYOND 20% EMAIL COUPON!?! Can I at least depend on its mundane regularity in my….oh look! Another installment of the Slow Cooker Chronicle. Yes, I would like 10 “Summertime and the Slow Cookin’ is Easy” 5- ingredient recipes with BACON, you say? Damn, that looks good, and I’m all hungry now, but this is not very productive, so I’m going to go over to check my work email.
Yes, it might be 11:00 (oh shit- already?) at night, but I really can’t think of a better time to open my email and find some festering, overdue, rotting turd of a request for me to wax myself into an anxious lather over. In all honesty, it’s not the nature of the request itself (all the time) that feels fecal. Rather, it’s the length of time I’ve allowed it to stay on my to-do list.
A LIST! That’s what I should do! This will be the first step on my path leading me clearly and steadfastly in the opposite direction of those poor poor people who end up on Hoarders. Because you know, all they need to bring them into a more balanced state of mental health is a lined pad of paper, a good solid #2 pencil (sharp for decisiveness and with an eraser- because we all make mistakes!), and some plastic bins (clear and snapping handles preferable). I will make this list and then place it atop my mounting oeuvre of lists I have created and nursed into a hearty stack. And my list will start with all of the, as Rick Grimes would say, “stuff and things” I will harvest first from these emails, then merge alongside the Greatest Hits from the other languishing lists. But unlike me, Rick’s “stuff and things” are zombies and sulky dead wives. He has earned the right to wander around the post-apocalyptic woods all sweaty and confused, which is very different from my real world situation, in which I am similarly sweaty and confused, but where I am faced with “stuff and things” I have been too busy/ disorganized/ scared to do for fear of failure.
Well, then. There it is. The fear of failure. Or the fear. And the failure.
My unfinished masters degree (I really would like to finish this, but I never seem to “make time.”)
My changing, aging body and the fact that I can’t work out right now (More on this later and also- hey, I’m thankful I’ve made it this far, but I’d like to keep my physical and strength with me.)
Our house search (Is this the right house for us? What disaster are we stepping foot into?)
Laundry. (Because it never ends.)
Potentially new job (WTF am I getting myself into?)
Do I really only think about myself? Am I really self-centered? (My parents would tell you I am.)
The garage is full of photo and “crafty” projects I want to organize. I want to do this before the chronologies slip from my mind.
How badly am I damaging my kids? I try every day to be a good mom, a fun mom, a consistent mom, a teaching mom. But by the end of the day, I’m not always my best.
My writing: Will I ever have a chance to write consistently, and not in my car, my right hand fumbling around for a pencil to write an idea on a sticky, crumbled McDonald’s coffee receipt?
My husband and kids- Am I making enough time for them? For us? To make those “core memories” (Yes, I saw Inside Out, what of it?)
Am I living my life to the fullest? Am I enjoying it? Am I spending time with people in my life? Because the fact that I have had a number of people get critically ill with cancer and have lost two of them in the span of six months has made me a little introspective.
I just made another list. And it’s 11 PM. Oh shit. Already.
This may come as a shock to you, fair reader, but I am a mother. Most days, I’m shocked. My shock is quite boundless, but its real estate includes my incredulousness about:
2. Food consumption
(I could go on with this list, but then I just might curl into a ball and rock, overwhelmed with what seems like another “to do” list.)
I’ve been meaning to cobble together a blog since my twin girls were born. That was 5 years ago. I had fantasies that I would bring forth poetic, tear-inducing prose unveiling all the deepest, most profound wisdom and truth only found in the day-to-day, moment-to-moment, instant-to-instant bliss of perfect motherhood.
It sort of didn’t quite go this way.
There have been tears, some theirs and some mine.
I should back up a bit. Understand that when I was trying to get pregnant and then, when I was finally pregnant, I entertained this fanciful idea that I could just strap my children on and go- ANYWHERE! Somehow, the image in my head really didn’t match how reality would play out. My imagination omitted truly crucial details, like the fact there would not be just one, but two. It’s different on a variety of levels, but the most immediate of which is the practical/ logistical.
Ultimately, I underestimated the extent to which these “practical/ logistical” details would reshape my life. The moms I saw on the street seemed to fit their kids into their busy lives: strollers parked casually alongside a chatty woman and her companion(s) enjoying a casual cup of coffee, a mom out jogging with her sleeping, compliant baby, moms and kids at the playground, etc.
Coffee. I have that in common with these women.
But for me, I had a somewhat difficult pregnancy (although there are certainly worse), followed by an awful post-natal period, during which I was readmitted to the hospital for a raging systemic infection. During that time, my family formed the most amazing support system, as did my friends. I don’t know where I would be (or who I would be) without my best friend, my husband. I mention the difficulty posed only to highlight how the stage was set for my life- our lives- to take the path it did.
After I had the girls, it changed the way both I and my husband interacted with the world. At that time, we worked in theatre. In fact, we met late last century as actors (that’s another story for another time). As the primary caretaker of two infants, I did not find theatre to be a professional environment flexible enough to include the needs of my family. I have never been a “the show must go on” kind of girl- when it comes to the health and well-being of people. If my kids are in the hospital or one of my parents are on their deathbed, I will be out of there before anyone can think about muttering, “The show must go on.” So, not willing to compromise my professionalism by dragging along two unwitting, unpredictable infants (now small children) to events and auditions nor wanting to be absent for the upbringing of my daughters, especially when they needed me at the last minute- with fevers, with vomiting, with unforeseen emergencies- I decided to take a break from acting.
The treading of water, the circling of the wagons- however one might want to describe what happened incrementally- characterized the day-to-day demands of new parenthood. So busy with bottles, feedings, laundry, doctor visits, nap times, I no longer had hours in the day to take care of the friendships that sustained us. They didn’t have kids; we didn’t have many peers who had kids.
Did I mention we moved to the suburbs, too? Oh yeah, that too.
So, to review:
Children who have kid needs + geography issues + career changes (more on that later)= sort of lonely
Now, this is not a “woe is me” type of post, although on the surface and even a little underneath, it may seem so. But NOT so! I took actions (or inaction) that led me down a path. Yeah, it was the inaction. I started to feel as if I didn’t belong- anywhere.
But I can change this.
And when I pick up my daughters after school and they run into my arms, I know at least one place I belong.
I can’t stop thinking about the alter egos of Butters and his little friend- the characters from South Park. Hell, I can’t even think of Butters’ alter ego, I can only think of his friend’s: General Disarray. Appropriate somehow that I can’t think of this wee little minor character’s ACTUAL name, only the pretend name of a pretend person.
Which leads me to how I’ve been feeling over the past couple of years. Or maybe longer. General Disarray. I can’t tell. But right now, I’m sitting at my makeshift desk in our disaster of a makeshift office, with piles of paper and stuff that I try try TRY to keep organized, and I just can’t seem to organize it faster than it comes in and demands a fucking space in my life. I’m in a funk (ha- almost typed “fuck”) because I just got a “Dear John” letter from a theatre company with which I am/ was/ will have been affiliated. Deep down, I don’t feel that it’s unjustified, but it feels like a break up nonetheless. It is a place where I generally feel wanted and appreciated, but I haven’t had the opportunity to frequent of late because I have two small children. Still, I can’t help but feel that maybe- maybe– my talent wandered off somewhere, lost, looking for a more worthy vessel. Or, maybe I’m just not talented enough; surely someone who was talented enough could FIGURE OUT HOW TO JUGGLE IT ALL. At least that’s the perception, although I can’t tell whose- mine or everyone else’s. At any rate, I’m sure you know that old saying, “Perception is reality.” So someone around here is perceiving that I’m disposable.
I’ve been trying to start this blog for what seems like forever. I was in a graduate English class studying Shakespeare trying oh so desperately to figure out some pattern or similarity between The Merchant of Venice and Othello – and what the HELL was I going to write about – blah, blah, blah, “Othello is the ‘other’” blah, blah, blah “Shylock is the ‘other’” blah, blah, blah – and then I realized something: there are no mothers in these plays. Alive ones, that is. It’s as if in Shakespeare’s world, these women squeezed out their offspring and dropped dead. Admittedly, that was a very likely scenario at that time, so maybe.
But that’s how I’ve been feeling lately. As if the Mommy Track runs right off a cliff into some God-forsaken clusterfuck no-man’s-land called Youdontbelongmuchofanywhereland.
So you’re dead. Or at least perceived to be.
And it came to me, courtesy of the Moor and the Jew: Motherhood is simply another “otherhood.”