this too
Friday, May 05, 2006

It’s been hard to write anything recently. Well, you can figure that out from the little written here. Too much going on, both at work, which doesn’t get any less busy and stressful, and in life, with major changes hovering about but not yet materialising. Perhaps the particular recent possibilities for moving home will not materialise. I don’t know yet and the uncertainty is pretty draining. But thinking them through has certainly brought the reality of coming change much closer. What’s more, these challenges of stress and change have brought me up hard and shockingly against my own primal and inexorable blocks and limitations. This is a snapshot of facing those blocks. It isn't how I feel all the time.

When I was a child, I felt completely safe and secure. My parents were deeply motivated by a Protestant ethic of duty to work, family and ‘decent’ standards of behaviour. Both of them clever, but ill-educated, they worked in entry-level clerical jobs which no doubt bored and humiliated them. They were never out of work for more than a few weeks, never late, almost never off sick, and I’m sure they were hugely conscientious. Although there was barely enough money, it was budgeted carefully: food on the table, on the dot, three times a day. If bills could not be paid, I never heard about it. I think they were paid, thanks to rigorous scrimping and saving, few clothes, no treats, no hobbies. In the eighteen years we lived together, I remember my parents going out in the evening perhaps twice. They didn’t get along and clearly didn’t make each other happy, but decent people, decent parents, didn’t separate.

What a huge sacrifice they made! I wish I was more grateful. It’s hard to be grateful because decency doesn’t include kindness, and it doesn’t include fun. The security I felt as a child was security under a cloud of unhappiness, a cloud whose darkness I only fully realised when I stepped out from under it.

If the total security of childhood home and family is also really miserable, if you escape from it eventually, when you can’t stand it any longer, it can mean you’ve internalised unbearable contradictions. To know again the security of home and kin and being in your place is both what you most want and what you most dread. This is, dispiritingly, my case. I’m wary, fickle, indecisive and elusive, both emotionally and materially. I touch, withdraw and always in the end remain alone. This is the pattern, over and over, only clearer as the years advance. Self-awareness is worth little unless it changes behaviour.

Change behaviour? Look at everybody else, how entwined, how anchored you are in family, lovers, home and obligations. The gulf between us is just too great now. Loner is a man: knight, cowboy, tramp. Woman as loner is nothing. Yes, how can this belief coexist with an adult lifetime of ardent feminism? But it does. I feel wispy, barely here, after so many years of drifting. Moving to the country, home, community, spiritual community, words, writing, communication: sometimes, often, these seem no more than a dream.

Looking back, seeing where this comes from, I am sorry, sorry to be bitter. Fucking up my life is my responsibility. Of course it is. Not my parents’. I wish I could pluck out the past, be someone else. Except that, in the end, like most of us, I think, I’ve never really wanted to be someone else, just a happier version of myself.

Breathe deeply, then, and take a firm grip on the handle of the door to change. My hand passes straight through it. Trying so hard not to be here, I have turned myself into a ghost.
Hello Jean,

I share most of the same personality traits you describe. It's pretty uncanny, your description; I thought I was reading about myself.
I wouldn't say you have fucked up your life. Anyone who expresses herself the way you do and is as introspective as you are hasn't fucked up her life, in my opinion. I think you're being hard on yourself, another tendency I know all too well.
And if you desire a change, I don't think it's ever too late. The process may take longer as we get older, but it's never too late.
The gulf between you and those others out there, single or coupled with families, is not as wide as you imagine. I have never once thought of you as bitter. Self-reflecting, searching, compassionate, accepting - definitely. I resonate with so many of the feelings you describe here. The fears, self-hatred, feeling invisible. I believe the more you share these introspections the more you are making those changes within you.

Ridding ourselves of the toxicities in the brain is a forever process with regressions and frustrations. Nevertheless, change comes ... it does ... in different forms, unexpected and surprising.

I am sorry you feel as a ghost. You are so clearly and wonderfully present for and to me always.
hi Jean,
i have had so many feelings similar to yours. you are so much better at putting them into words than i ever could be. i have had that feeling of being invalid, and invisible, and ashamed, as a woman in her fifties who is alone.
these feelings, i believe, are a great arena in which to practice Dharma.
the fact is, many really brilliant women lived and worked alone.
also, absolutely everyone is, in fact, alone, and at the same time, absolutely everyone is, in fact always connected to everyone and everything that IS.
i have discovered as time has gone on, that i love being alone, that i love being with me...that i *have* myself in a way that is new. i am learning, slowly, how to just be with whatever is, rather than yearning for what isn't, just a bit more, moment by moment.
don't get me wrong, i am no expert at living, in any way... i'm just another traveler. i love your blog, and i see that you are a wonderful writer and observer. thanks so much for always saying things in such an honest way.
Count your blessings. Knight, cowboy, and tramp are hideous traps. A lot of men fall into them and never get out. There are worse things than invisibility!

I'm with Tamar, you are so wondefully vivid to me that I'm shocked to hear you describe yourself this way (vividly, I might add :->) But also it resonates with me very deeply.

I'm not sure how much of this really has to do with external connections and commitments -- I have gone ghostlike at times even within a very dense web of those. But it's an obvious place to start.

"Self-awareness is worth little unless it changes behaviour." And self-awareness without compassion for yourself is also worth little.

I was searching for something a woman on one of my listservs wrote. Just found it: "The trick, to me, is to be aware of stuff without labeling it and turning it into a self-aggressive, self-fulfilling prophecy." I.e., I will always be like this, relationships will always be this way... "In Buddhist practice, they say that cultivating awareness without compassion is like DOUBLING your suffering: when you notice your patterns, notice your defenses, whatever it is that comes forth with enough space's PAINFUL. They have a purpose, or they did at one time: to protect you. When that is no longer serving, the process of breaking out of them can be very very difficult, and the best salve is COMPASSION. Kindness to yourself. How you would treat another who was suffering./ Also, if we stereotype (ourselves and others), if we over-pathologize, we create the energy of repeating the same mistakes."

I don't know if you'll find this helpful, but I personally always need to be reminded to be kind to myself when I get in these places of feeling stuck and angry with myself at how my life has turned out. I have also been single all my life, for different reasons perhaps than you but I recognize that feeling of being invisible. I have been fortunate to find ways more recently to connect with friends a lot more and that has made a big difference. But I think it was something I was ready for at this particular time. We sometimes move forward in fits and starts.
Jean, You sounded less depressed when you were following your walking routine. Have you given that up?

No two parents are blissfully wedding-night happy for the rest of their lives. You are not alone. Single, stong independent women are accepted as being normal in my town. Keep blogging - it is a form of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy - talk therapy.

There seems to be a couple of allusion in your post and you haven't expanded on them.

Is there a Mr Loner?

How is the move to the country working out?

Not all of us in your blogpod are fixed, comfortable and know the map of our future.

Talking helps.

I guess I'm lucky, Marg comes home most nights when she isn't looking after her parents or taking care of someone who is in need of palliative care.

Your writing is wonderful. But it concentrates on the downside. Why don't you have a go at writing comedy. Imitate the Irish - have a go at 'The Crack'.

I hope you will accept this in the manner in which it was intended to be written - gentility.

"...To know again the security of home and kin and being in your place is both what you most want and what you most dread..."

Jean, while my experience of home and childhood are very different from yours, that sentence (as well as all the rest that you wrote in this post) resonates deeply with me. But on the "aloneness" issue, I have accepted this state after realising that it's what I was always demanding. It can be a blessing, if its opposite (togetherness) is not viewed as the sine qua non of happiness. Martin Buber's "I and Thou" really sums it up beautifully. I agree with Greg about walking (or juggling?) being an excellent alternative, or a balance, to overdosing on introspection. I hope the move works out, if that's what will bring you fun, freedom as well as stability. XXXXXXXXXX
{{{ jean }}}
Jean, what a moving post. You expose such sad truths here. I've heard that even if certain relationships can never be repaired, you always have the chance to create new, better ones. And from there, a stronger life can be nurtured in yourself.
Another brilliant post, Jean.
I can identify with some of what you’ve experienced … my parents were unhappy during my childhood, though I did receive some love/kindness from them (from my mum mainly).
Your childhood home sounds like a prison, from which you escaped, and it may be that you are feeling imprisoned in your present life and are keen to escape. However “prison” life can feel fairly safe, and this deters people from making any drastic changes.
This is way off topic; but once I had to deal with a "lifer". Both of his hands were handcuffed to the Emergency Room trolley. He would not talk to me until the Prison Guards were outside the curtains.

The Guards stepped outside.

The "lifer" looked me squarely in the eye and said

I've killed people before, and I'll kill you too if you make a mistake.

That man was a prisoner of himself.

At the time I thought I should let him know that I too had killed people ( but only when they had requested it) but that didn't seem an appropriate thing to say, given his personality!
oh Jean, I relate so much to what you say here; and, like Michael, share some of the same personality traits

Alan Watts wrote a small book many years ago The Wisdome of Insecurity. I re-read it often to remind myself

much love to you
I share your distress at such physically adequate parenting. And equating stability and commitment with emotional starvation, one negating the other.

But it was a lie. That safety was enough, that food enough was in direct opposition to fun. That you can't skip a meal for music, occasionally. That sacrifice is demanded for decency. It is a false dichotomy. But so is neglecting food and security completely. You have to chose very consciously, without reacting to their choices, neither for nor against. Shuffle the deck, and decide for yourself what will fit you and what will not.
Wow, incredible post. I related to it more than I'd like to admit.
The depth of feeling in this post is huge. I skirt it, looking, knowing that this, too, is how I feel, that you are brave to speak of this place in mid-life when all the choices that led to here might have been the wrong ones, who knows, and ahead there is only uncertainty, changes needed, yes, but how will they happen if they do at all. Did Feminism do any of us any good? It never dealt adequately with the issue of maternity. For those who did have children or for those who didn't. We are all trapped; we are all free. How can we reconcile these impossibilities?

Jean, you're a beautiful, brilliant, talented woman. The choice can only be between honouring your vision and your talent or not.

Editing other people's manuscripts, or editing your own. Staying in London to continue working; moving to the country to discover your own work.

I feel that the call to move "away" is your creativity.

Marguerite Duras wrote, Hiroshima, Mon Amour at 70! I was astounded, and given hope. Seventy years old! Such a brilliant book! Her masterpiece in many ways.

We're young enough. Jean, can I say that it is your writing that's guiding you, and if you put your writing at the centre of your life, see where that takes you...

Thank you for your kind and generous comments. I appreciate you all so much. I have not stepped through a wall and disappeared, and will be back to respond at greater length.
Oh Jean. So sorry to be late coming here - but it is easy to say what I want to, that first of all a woman alone is a Heroine, and never forget it, and second, that you are already changing, changing yourself and us through your honesty. Maybe you feel like a ghost sometimes - I think that is natural - I do too. But you are a ghost who is very present to me, so something about that image of yourself is incomplete - as I think you know. I think you have the courage to change, and if you can turn some of the great compassion i have felt coming form you toward yourself, maybe that will make a difference between something that feels hard and wrenching, and something that feels gentle and right and timely. Know that in any case, you will always have a friend here.
Lovely, thought-provoking words (and the comments too).

So much of later life seems to be wondering about "where we've ended up," "the road not taken," and such.

I'm not where I thought I'd be. Though I was always a bit fuzzy about where that was...

I'm sorry to have just discovered you as you have decided to step away. Good luck.
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