I wake with a Laurie Colwin quote flashing in my mind’s eye.
I’m always smartest when I first wake up. My ego’s still out of the picture and I’m open to the divine intelligence that supports us even when we don’t support ourselves.
So the Laurie Colwin quote: “There’s a difference between privacy and dignity but they look the same.” I don’t even have to think about why that quote is showing up now. I’ve been totally sequestered, and that line explains why. In short, I’m ashamed, and it’s easier to stay out of everyone’s eye while I feel this way.
In general, I’ve never given a huge shit what people think of me. I wasn’t out of grade school before I realized everyone’s too busy worrying about how they are being judged to judge anyone else. By my 30s I stopped taking self-esteem cues from other’s interest if I didn’t reciprocate it; the futility of all that hope and will just made me sad.
But I don’t like people feeling sorry for me.
Sympathy to my mind is inherently distancing. Empathy I can bear; empathy is what I bear. But I don’t offer sympathy, ever, and I don’t appreciate being on the receiving end of it. Sympathy is just so condescending. It says: I see you in that hole and god knows I wouldn’t want to be in it so I feel bad that you are. Empathy says: I’m in that hole until you climb out, and I’ll love you no matter where you are.
But being a ghost is worst than sympathy, and lately, no matter where I go, I feel like one– a tall, bright-lipped ghost floating through crowds, tossing off one-liners, giving lectures and moderating panels without really being seen. Observing the kindness and unkindness around me without being subject to either.
Partly it’s a result of turning 47, which I’ve handled poorly for all my grown-girl bravado. There’s something so incontrovertible about this age. No one is saying, “Oh, but you can still have kids.” This bothers me though I’ve known for years I didn’t want them. People have stopped setting me up with their friends and dentists, and this bothers me too though those fixups went legendarily badly; I relished torturing all the male complacency sent my way. Fewer people are looking at me twice, and being bugged by that bugs me more than the fact itself. All logic to the contrary, being desired made me feel safe.
Which reminds me that #metoo is mostly a young woman’s movement. The real issue with which women (trans and cis, yep) are grappling–the real axis around which this gender inequity rotates–is that the male gaze and male desire is still too privileged. This means that not being desired by men is at least as harmful for a woman’s livelihood as being desired is. Truthfully, women over 45 are rarely registered at all by men in power, and this locks many, many doors I assumed would stay open forever. Chalk that up to the hubris which carried me safely over so many other minefields.
Man, is that hubris rising up to bite me in the ass.
Oh, I know the responses. That I’m buying into patriarchy. That I’m buying into a limited definition of desire and worth. That I’m buying into constructs of linear time and either-or thinking. I will concede to this, will even concede that “buy” is very much the operative term. But like everyone reading this, I dwell in the embers of end-stage, binary capitalism and it’s hard not to get singed no matter how my consciousness has been raised.
I also know that if one part of my life were going well–my love life, my friendship family, my career, my country, my relationship with the universe or whatever you feel comfortable calling God; fuck, if even the weather were better–I might not be in such a cosmic snit.
But everything is going badly, and I don’t feel like talking about it because I subscribe to the school of “if you don’t have a happy ending to report, don’t report on anything.” Also I hate revealing my underbelly since nothing good has ever come of it. But I’m going on two months of near silence in my personal and public life, so, well, there has to be another way.
The other day, the man I’ve been sweet on for, like, forever walked by me on the street with his new lady, a dead-ringer for the Lisa of 20 years ago. It’s not just that he didn’t say hi. It’s that he squeezed my arm condescendingly as they passed–and made sure she didn’t see the gesture. Then I heard that my first sweetheart–a tough kid from a tough family down the block–died of cancer last month. I hadn’t seen him in decades but had remained grateful for how he’d saved me back in the day. “Leese, you ahn’t like other kids in the Lake. You gotta stop pretending you ah.” I loved him so much I didn’t protest when he’d use the dreaded nickname. That he no longer walks this Earth hits me hard.
Goodbye, men of my youth.
When it comes to work, I’ve become intimately acquainted with the rock and the hard place. I’ve let some gigs lapse solely because I could not bring myself to sing for my supper anymore. And without getting into details, other recent disasters have suggested I’m too radical–too loud, too big, too witchy– for traditional media platforms (especially broadcast), and too nuanced–too grammatical, too un-emoji, too earnest–for new media platforms. Definitely too old for both.
Really, I can’t blame these recent failures–not even my expanded waistline, my faded light–on anything or anyone else. I can’t even blame them on raising kids. I only can blame myself, my loss of faith or, maybe, my loss of self-delusions. So yes: For the first time, I feel really, truly ashamed.
It’s gotten so bad that, for the first time in a decade, I’ve had a hard time writing. And the worst part is I’m not sure if this matters. If it did, I’d be writing something other than this. I’d be working on my book or pitching pithy essays or the show that’s been lurking in my brain for more than a year. But write this I am because I know the writing muscle must be used lest it atrophy further. There are still things I want, and I’m not ready to be haunted by the nightmares of dashed dreams.
So I’m here, and I’m typing, and probably even posting. I am saying that I see you even if you don’t see me. More than that, I’m sending you love. Because while it is true that you can’t love others if you don’t love yourself, it is also true that you can’t love yourself if you don’t love others. We are all one before we’re born, and we’ll be one after this thing called life. In the meantime, buying into constructs like “you’re over the hill when you’re a woman over 45” is the first way to cut yourself off from divine and earthly love. The second is to pretend you’re somewhere or someone that you’re not.
So I need to reveal my underbelly even if it robs me of my dignity. There’s a point when being private becomes being avoidant, and I’ve 100 percent reached that point.