Monday, July 18, 2016

On second thought...

My blog post of the other day was, essentially, an attempt to be positive. Stretchy, shiny, cheap plastic thoughts with no air filling them; not even as lively as balloons. Limp assertions.
The truth is, I am bitter about my life, a lot of the time. At least work distracted me from this bitterness and threatening depression. Now, having retired, I have to distract myself, and I’m not up for it. Nor am I up for all the “creative projects” I thought I’d be rarin’ to be doing.
This morning I was pondering what it “means” to be an older person who doesn’t have children. Since my husband is spending a lot of time dealing with his elderly father who is in “rehab” after a stroke, I can be glad that at least I won’t be inflicting that kind of obligation on a son or daughter (only on said husband or a couple of caring friends, or more likely, strangers).
It also means that my family’s genes won’t have as much of a chance, or at least my particular combination won’t. A total of five male offspring have been produced by two of my five siblings, but no female offspring. It would have been nice to provide my family with one female descendant. I had the opportunity, back in 1979, but I wasn’t brave enough or stupidly optimistic enough. And I didn’t think about my family’s “legacy” at the time. I was selfish, scared, and heartbroken because my boyfriend didn’t want to proceed with the project and had moved to another state. He was going through a divorce, and I had just been through one. Sometimes life is not a fairytale.
My overall estimation of myself has improved somewhat since then, because I have made better choices. But still, what have I really done? Nothing very brave or unusual at all! As a white woman from the suburbs of Massachusetts, I was, yes, privileged, and even though I felt the effects of the “second-class citizenship” that feminism fought against, I still got away with a lot. I worked hard, but only when I felt like it. I took responsibility, but only for things that seemed interesting to me. I looked on “love” as something I could “get” when I needed it, with very little effort, simply because I was female and attractive. It took me YEARS to learn that sex and love were not the same thing. I was a naive idiot with intellectual and artistic pretensions. I didn’t know how to really LOVE anyone. I knew who pleased me and gave me attention, and I experienced what I thought was “suffering” when those people left. And of course I tried to make everyone “like” me, if not “admire” me. I fooled a lot of people into thinking I was a “good” person. I really wasn’t even a person. I still don’t know if I am.
I’ve been re-reading some letters from the 1960s, sent to me by friends. All of us were doing a lot of soul-searching in those days, yet it was so solipsistic. We were exploring our own moods, our own feelings. We were constantly disappointed in other people because they didn’t share our values, opinions, or energy level. We were prematurely disillusioned without even experiencing much of the world outside ourselves or our “crowd.” Sure, some of us traveled, but the efforts were superficial, considering all the drug-assisted writing and poetry-making and music-listening that seemed to fill each day. We were having an effect only on ourselves as individuals. We often thought the world owed us a living for being sensitive and creative and easily wounded. I admit it!
I could have read more books. I could have NOT dropped out of history class in high school and somehow gotten away with it. After my year of being away from high school, I returned to a groovy, “special” school that overlooked the gaps in my previous curriculum and eased me on to graduation with courses like “Journal Writing,” and “Photography.” I deserve to be the subject of a parody, only it’s a bit late. Maybe I can do it myself, if I can sum up the motivation (which I probably can’t).
Yes, I indulge in a vicious assessment of myself sometimes, having practiced attitudes taught me by my mother, the stern Catholic authority figure of my childhood. But since I “lost” my religion when I was 15, I can’t seek help from the saints. Often, I don’t even recognize that I’m down, or might need some fun, or might need to talk to a friend. I just stay at home. I make clever remarks on Facebook. I try to remain kind, or at least civil, toward my husband. He’s very important to me. I would say that I love him as much as I can love anyone, and also that I need him. I have needed him ever since we met and I saw what a genuinely kind person he is. I benefit from that kindness. I have survived because of it, I suppose. We have been together more than 30 years. My own father used to claim that marriage was simply an economic arrangement; I don’t know what philosopher he’d been reading at the time. But it’s more like a psychological arrangement for me!
So, in these days of racist violence and religious wars and poisoned politics, I am trying to become more aware, and to see if there is anything I can do to “help.” But usually, on any given day, I have only enough psychological energy to do something like give a ride to a friend whose car is in the shop. I’ve become more introverted; I’m not into neighborhood watches or peace rallies. I suppose I should be—I keep beating myself over the head for not doing things like that, because I no longer have the excuse of having to go to work. I exercise, but only because I don’t want to die before my time. I have always treasured “the life of the mind,” but I am distracted by the constant guilt of not doing enough for others. It is hard to find peace. So there, previous blog post!
Photo credit: Edith and Little Bear play with a toy camera and their teddy bears. Photo by Dare Wright: Photo from "The Secret Life of The Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright" by Jean Nathan.


joystjohn said...

I appreciate that you came to my letter-writer group, for sure.

Nomi said...

I am grateful for your friendship and your writing. Would you mind if I shared this blog via twitter? I think there are many people who will identify with your ambivalences and sadness, and might be comforted...