I know I have said this before (about once a week for the last twelve weeks at least), but some days life is hard. And sometimes, particularly as I learn to be a successfully working mom, these hard days will bleed into hard weeks, will bleed into hard months.
I am veering now into the months category. I can’t remember now for how many weeks I have been asking myself, When is this going to stop being so hard? And with the blog, the first regular writing I have done in years, I am that much more aware of this question, because it is the first thought in my head each week as I sit down to reflect, as I try to put something interesting and optimistic onto the page. And each week I find that my rose colored glasses are buried a little deeper back in the drawers of my mind.
I am struggling against so many potentially derailing forces at any given time – that week that the baby kept me up all night every night, that awful meeting I went to, that fight with my boss – if I have even just an afternoon at less than my best, everything starts to tip.
And then once a week I sit down at my computer, in my den of photos of places that I no longer visit and shelves full of books that I no longer read, and I try to pull something solid from this swamp of a week I have had. And somehow this act of writing it all down, of turning this life of mine into something other than just my life, somehow this gives it new meaning, and gives me renewed strength to keep trodding along through it.
After spending all of grad school (and then some) hammering out experimental (and generally unpublishable) memoir, I swore off the genre and started plugging away at my novel, just like all respectable writers were supposed to do. Memoir was nothing more than the ditzy cousin in MFA programs and the self-involved interloper in literary magazines, and I wanted instead to do something that I could be proud of. I boxed up my old journals that were the primary source for so much of my memoir work and I started the outline of my epic novel (because respectable writers always start by writing outlines, of course). I wrote a hundred pages of character sketches and background stories, wrote fifty pages into the first act, but no matter how much I put into it, all of my fiction just sounded fictional. How on earth could I expect to write fiction that represents the world in a truthful way if I didn’t first understand my own experience of the world?
As my life has gone settling into marriage, career, and parenthood, I have been more and more drawn to this former self, this former life. I want to know how it relates to who I am now, because some nights I sit in my den, the configuration of which has remained virtually unchanged through our last three houses, and I feel like I’m sitting in a stranger’s study, like I’m in the den/guest bedroom of some Airbnb apartment.
I used to be young. Carefree. Free. I used to believe that life had so much to offer, that life was an endless path of possibilities and things always seemed to work out.
I used to travel. In the twelve months before I got pregnant I was in Greece, China, Amsterdam, San Francisco. In my twenties I lived in three countries and traveled to a handful or two more. MoonBear traveled constantly during the first years of our marriage – to Hawaii and Saint Maarten and film festivals all over the country. We even took a honeymoon road trip with our crazy dog from Los Angeles to the San Juan Islands and back.
I look at all of these photos from all of these other times and I wonder, How did I get here, to this place?
I used to be completely untamed, maybe a little reckless at times. I used to make bosom buddies from complete strangers in two drinks flat, used to make a party out of even the most mundane moments. A quick scroll through my iPhoto files draws a picture of unapologetic debauchery and endless adventure, but if I look at the photos a little more closely, if I remember each moment and each trip for what it really was, I was not always as happy as I appeared.
I think about what my life would look like now had I stayed in Spain – would I have cleaned myself up like I did here, or would I have lived out my years in a bohemian techno haze? Or what would have happened had I stayed in Greece, only to have later fled economic disaster like so many people I know have done? Even here in Los Angeles I still wonder whether I wouldn’t have been happier sticking to the artist’s path, but then I think about what it would have felt like to be bumping up against thirty-five and still struggling like I did in my twenties.
Life is hard, but if I remember correctly, life has always been hard. Life was hard when I lived alone in Los Angeles in a perfect apartment and just enough money. Life was hard even in the midsummer month I spent alone in a house on Sifnos, with all the theatre and drama I created for myself with the folks who worked the bars there.
My life now is a slow trod toward moderation and has been for some time, but I think this would have been true in any of the lives I had chosen. I think it’s simply a case of getting older. And it’s not that there are fewer possibilities, they are just different possibilities from what they used to be.
As I wrote about in last week’s post, there is always something wrong, or something about to go wrong; happiness is nothing more than the collection of happy moments. Which is why the pictures always paint such a beautiful, perfect story, and also why they can be so terribly misleading. A picture may tell a thousand words, but it will never tell the whole story. That whole story is what I need so I can make sense of my world. It’s why I write and it’s the reason for this blog – blogging is memoir with a deadline, and that deadline forces me back into this space of reflection even twelve weeks in when I really feel like my head needs a good seventh inning stretch. But I know I will find myself here again next week, trying to make a little more sense of it all.