It’s been a long time, but the kitchen is clean and dim. Beyond the screen, a chorus of tree frogs begins uncertainly in the late May humidity, and here we are. Tonight, I made Tot Surprise, which is my humorous moniker for what is apparently far more common a dish than I knew–tater tots, peppers, onions, and smoked sausage in a casserole dish covered with cheese and baked. It’s not nutritious; I get around that by steaming a bunch of broccoli to eat with it. However, it is satisfying. And now–as I stand in front of the open fridge door, looking at what remains of my casserole, and needing to feed complex emotions–I find that I am still full. I cannot bury my awkward realizations in a tidal wave of dopamine.
Self Avoidance Is An Art
I haven’t written consistently in my journal for years. However, recently, I took to avoiding those pages. I would sidle uneasily around the area where my current journal lay, gathering dust, shooting accusatory and completely imagined looks in my direction. But what do you write about when you’re busy pulling the wool over your own eyes? Tonight, I intentionally opened my journal with the goal of doing a bit of free writing. I felt I needed to prime the pump, to push myself back into the habit of writing after so long away from it. Writing pay copy, or soul-sucking drivel as I like to call it, does not count as writing.
What I expected to do was pick up where I’d left off in my head earlier today, putting a bit of framework on my thoughts about baking bread. My brain had other, more painful ideas about what I was going to write. What follows is an excerpt, and while I might largely consider my journal a private space, there’s value in violating that barrier from time to time. It forces me to own and follow up on thoughts I might otherwise sweep back under the carpet of consciousness.
There’s something else I want to talk about for a moment. It’s something I need to think clearly about, but whether that’s possible or not, I don’t know. Where did I learn to throw myself away on people who don’t value me? Who taught me to crave the validation of affection and attention from people to whom I don’t matter, and from whom I will never receive what I am seeking? My brain shies away from these questions. It makes me uncomfortable to look so closely at a pattern of my own behavior. But I think I must.
There is some part of me that would rather live within that fantasy of ultimately unrealized approbation, almost to the exclusion of what is real. Is this sickness? Laziness or weakness? Some combination of the three? I don’t want to look at it, perhaps because to look will break the illusion. To probe feelings that have only the slightest connection to willful thought processes will drag them into the light. It will expose them for the shadowlife that they are–without substance or nourishment.
Then, I will have no choice but to abandon them. Because I have work I should be doing. Ultimately, the suffering and disappointment of unsated longing becomes easier than facing the fact that I have avoided living a full and honest life. So I complete one cycle of fascination, abortive pursuit, and dashed hopes, which is also a perverse goal in and of itself. Feel pain, withdraw–lather, rinse, repeat.
That’s more self-honesty than I’ve exhibited in quite some time. And it does have the effect of prying up rocks that haven’t moved from their footing in too long. I’ll spare you any more direct transcriptions from my journal.
They’re less important than the fact that my self-love guru is apparently Dirty Harry. What does result from this bout of sick-making examination of my soul is the fact that I also like to use the usual excuses of “I don’t know where to start.” and “I’m not good at anything.” I am forced to admit that I’m actually good at many things and devaluing my skills, myself, and my ability to be alive is a great way to get out of ever having to prove that I’m good at those things. Cheap shot, Harry. Cheap shot.
And What Have We Learned, Class?
So, here I am, standing barefoot in my darkened kitchen and wishing I could drown my self awareness in the fatty depths of Tot Surprise. But I cannot. I already ate too much at dinner. I am reduced to standing in front of the fridge, casting longing glances at the Tupperware container that houses the putative leftovers. But I also feel I made some sort of progress that I wasn’t expecting. Here I was, all set to pine over someone who very obviously couldn’t care less about me, and now–I don’t know. The sham of all that has been made plain to me. I can’t go on with it, and I know it.
Why? Because I realize that I actually have more important things to do. That vessel is empty and there will be no more to be got from it. It doesn’t matter whether I like it or not, because now I can’t pretend that I don’t know–to do so would defy even my considerable talents of self-deception.
There’s a lady of the pen I admire. She was known for her sharp tongue and her scathing wit, but I think what saves her for me is that she never stinted to turn it on herself when she knew she’d earned it. I’ve been avoiding a lot of understandings about what I do and why I do these things. It was simply easier not to think about it, to go on as I’d done before. But my awareness makes a farce of that, so obvious even I cannot ignore it. I have a book to write. I have classes to plan and teach. I have people to meet and places that I have not yet seen.
When I think of all that I have put off doing because I was afraid to be found wanting, to fail, to fall down and realize that there was no one there to help me up again–it makes me mad at myself. But mad in a way that spurs me to write public entries and show my shortcomings so that I can never hide behind them again. Angry in the way that I am now determined to hold myself responsible for daily writing on my book project and to begin pursuing bigger goals. I would thank the person I’ve written about, but I doubt they’d care, so I’ll just thank Dirty Harry and Dorothy Parker instead.