Originally written and published 10/04/2014
When I was 10 or 11, my mom told me to do my chores before she left for work in the morning. It was summer so we were out of school. I had this habit of watching TV all-day and waiting until the last possible moment to get my chores done. I knew the sound of my mom’s Pinto and would spring into action as soon as I heard the putter of that pathetic motor coming down the road before it turned into the cul de sac where we lived. Over the years I had figured out how to get most of the dishes done or most of the family room picked up from the time I heard that car until she walked through the front door. If she came home and I was doing my chores, I'd get away with it.
On this particular summer’s day, she came home around lunchtime, which was unheard of even though she worked less than 10 minutes down the road from where we lived. I had sprung into action as usual and was in the middle of vacuuming when she came in, but most of my chores weren’t done. For whatever reason, she didn’t tell me that morning that she was coming home early to take my younger brother and me to Fairyland at Lake Merritt. Since I didn’t have my chores done, I was left behind to finish them as punishment.
Even thinking about this now, over 35 years later, my body shivers with remnants of rage and abandonment, with a healthy amount of betrayal thrown in. I don’t actually feel these emotions now, I have let them go, but my body remembers the experience and the fragment of an image of the sunlight on the huge weeds in the backyard and the sound of the door slamming behind my mom still pierces my mind.
I spent the rest of that afternoon giving back everything my mother had ever given me by taking everything out of my bedroom and stacking it in her room. It took me hours. I have a vague memory of my older brother coming home, seeing what I had done, and telling me to put everything back, but I’m not sure if that’s what really happened. The point is that I spent a hell of a lot effort and sweat trying to get back at her and expelling my anger, which turned out to be absolutely futile and made a huge mess of my room.
What stays with me or what I’m trying to explore is the overwhelming sense I get that I’m always being tested and that I’m always getting caught before I can finish vacuuming the family room floor. If I had just known today was Fairyland day, if I just had more time to finish, if I just had more money, more resources, more….
I know enough rationally to understand that there are events and circumstances in my life well beyond my control, but the Fairyland memory has found deep roots in my emotional psyche – and it is a very muddy tangle:
- Most of the time I feel like the world is going to pull the rug out from under me any way, so why put in any effort in the first place
- On the flip side, I have huge amounts of guilt for my procrastination and laziness
- When I do apply myself, especially with great rigor, I get unbelievably anxious
- And with the rationale of an 11-year-old, I wonder where and to whom do I return my life when the rewards of good work never materialize?
I can’t be bitter or ungrateful. I just refuse those options. I’ve been around people who are bitter and ungrateful about everything and I can’t go down that road. It’s the one shred of light in my life. I honestly see the world as being good. It’s me who isn’t worthy of it, not the other way around.
Letting go of anger isn’t easy, but letting go of the helplessness that spurs the anger is a very welcome change and one I’m trying to employ. My mother never had any clue what that day did to me. I don’t think she even knows that I stacked every outfit, every book, every shoe, every everything that I had at the ripe old age of 11 in her room and then moved it all back while she and my little brother were gone. Over time, I've come to wonder if she had the intention of causing the tidal wave of rage and powerlessness that still makes me shake. I have blamed her for that quaking ever since it started. And I have felt helpless to change it for just as long.
So today I’m left wondering – what if I had just done the work? What if I had just turned off the TV? I don’t agree with my mom’s parenting style – and a little follow through back then would have been invaluable - but I can either blame the world for my missing out because I don’t know what’s at stake or I can just choose to do the work.
I find it interesting how much my psyche resists this train of thought. I find it amusing how my ego throws up snippets of memories of people who tell me how productive and what a hard worker I am. They see the marvel of someone who can do last night’s dishes in the 4 and 1/2 minutes it took my mom to drive down the block, into our court, up the drive way and walk through the door. They don’t see the 3 hours of TV I watched before she came home. I find it a little bewildering how much of me wants to be lazy so I’m at liberty to blame rather than taking the risk of applying myself (and still possibly getting nowhere).
I read a blog on Tuesday about becoming a writer. It said if you want to become a writer, read every day. Write, every day. 1,000 words a day. I have had an idea for a novel in my head for 7 months and most of the free time I’ve had since then, I’ve spent scrambling to get work and on Netflix. Yesterday, I woke up and read and wrote. By 2pm, I had written 1203 words (100 of those words are the beginning of the novel and the novel drew up the memory that started this post).
Today I woke up with a headache, scared and depressed. It’s just part of the cycle I’m in. I hadn’t published this yet so I thought, fuck it, I can just give in to this feeling of despair. But I really can’t let this swallow me whole. If I want this cycle to change, I have to change it. It doesn’t matter, I wrote. I changed today when it wasn’t easy, when I didn’t want to, when my heart wasn’t in it. It makes me realize the luxury of motivation.
I don’t know if I’ll get to go to Fairyland if I get anything done – I may not even like Fairyland (I’ve never been) – but I at least want to be the master of the effort. I don't want to be at the mercy of not knowing if I could have done better because I didn't bother to try.
I also know that starting is easier than persevering, which is part of the reason I’m saying this out loud. If I announce my intentions, then giving up isn’t just lack of commitment in my head, it’s real.
10/11/2018: In August of 2014, I went into therapy. I had been diagnosed with a variant of bi-polar in 2002, by 2014, I was seriously ready to end my life and that insidious cycle. When I started therapy, I began talking about my deep depressions. The psychologist told me she wanted to deal with my anxiety instead of the depression (documented here). I hadn't realised how debilitating my anxiety was until I dealt with it. Reading this now, I can see how bad it was. I am thankful that this part of me has lifted or cleared for the most part. It comes back every so often, but I also recognise it and can deal with it in much healthier ways.