I hadn’t planned to write a multi-part post on my January blues, but once I got started, there was just too much to cram into one day. So, apologetic but hoping this might help someone else, I commence my three-part blues.
I enjoyed my week of vacation, but I woke on New Year’s Day feeling discouraged. I would guess plenty of people look back on their year with dissatisfaction, but I don’t recall ever having experienced the sensation in past Januaries. It’s nonsense to say I’ve wasted 2010 — and this blog makes it clear I didn’t — but when I woke up that morning, I felt like I had. I’m overweight*, I haven’t made much headway on the family history since September, the shop is nowhere, I’m only a novice painter, our house is a mess and nearly two years after moving in, I still haven’t hung up our pictures (they’re stacked along the baseboards). None of these things is so much by itself, but put all together, I’m afraid I’m drifting. Instead of a clear sparkling entity I feel like a watered-down puddle spreading thinner and thinner all the time. I know there’s no need for me to be great at everything right this second, but it’s just so hard not to feel incapable. I’ve been “full-time art-making” for two years now. At the end of this year I’ll turn 30. Shouldn’t I be some kind of expert at something by now? How long can one go on promise and potential, without having something to show for it?
The last quarter of 2010 was emotionally difficult, with Tisha’s death, several friends going through crises, and relatives having fights or getting into car accidents. There’s been a lot of misery and fear going around. It’s been a little like the time my sister’s friend Elena died: life as usual suddenly seems so much scarier and less safe. In the last couple of months there has been some new craziness every week, and then it gets hard to breathe easy because I keep waiting for another shoe to drop. It’s not like I go around in constant terror, but every now and then the knowledge just keeps breaking through: this could all end any second, who will be next?
I don’t know that these two states of mind — the feeling of inadequacy and the feeling of vital uncertainty — are feeding on each other directly, but they do wear me down. I get tired of being in my head. I thought the other night that maybe I’m bored of keeping company with myself, the way one gets tired of a friend with whom one spends too much time in too short a span. In my experience, the cure for this is empathy and compassion, but as everyone knows, when one has spent too much time with a friend, it becomes near-impossible to generate sympathetic feelings. Subtle tics become nearly unbearable aggravation, normal opinions and statements sound like the greatest inanity. You just want the other person to go away and leave you alone! You want to shout, “Get over it already! Pull yourself together!”
When I need to find kindness toward a friend, it often helps to do something generous for her. I should take my own advice and do something equally generous for myself. What would I do if I were my own best friend (which I guess I am)? If I were to look over my life and struggle through the eyes of a loving friend, where would I identify the greatest need? Where would I see a lack of care, or an obstacle that can be removed? My usual eyes see too much clutter and too many distractions; my friend’s eyes see a hunger to work and a thirst for gentle nurturing. As my own worst taskmaster, I say: you need to fix this and fix that! Get with it! But seeing myself through the eyes of friendship, I say: write and paint and take care of yourself, and let the rest go. It will come out all right.
*As to being overweight: Shortly after Christmas, I paid a visit to the new Whole Foods near my parents’ house. They had a blood pressure test machine that could also check a bunch of other health measurements. From it I learned that I have 36% body fat, which I believe means more than one-third of me is fat. I don’t know what the normal range is because I didn’t even look at that part of the chart; 32% is considered obese. Bad news, no? I wrote last week that I complicated my exercise by trying to do too much, and would have been better off by just walking every day. Since the 31st, I have been doing just that, and I’m paying more attention to my food, too.