This morning’s prompt, borrowed from Oprah, was “one thing I know for sure.”
Soundtrack to this post: Music to paint to (an hourlong playlist I made for you!)
One thing I know for sure is I’m never going to be the kind of person I wanted to be in high school. What kind of person is that? I’ll make you a list:
- always confident, outgoing, and with it
- always put-together, well-dressed, fit, well-groomed, and stylish
- always elegant and courteous and classy
- attractive to everyone
- articulate and intelligent and original and interesting to everyone
What I’m finally understanding is it’s not the list of attributes that’s the problem, but the qualifiers: always, everyone. I could be a lot of these things — confident, outgoing, well-groomed — and in fact I often am; but the key thing is, not all the time. My confidence falters humiliatingly in the company of new people. Many days, my work is more important to me than taking a shower. I am rarely articulate after a session of painting. But even if I changed all this, even if I did manage to meet my own standards in all these qualities all the time, I would still not come across perfect to every single person I might meet. It’s just not possible. And it’s not my fault. What’s elegant and classy to a stylist in LA is not going to seem that way to a religious conservative. Some people don’t want articulate and intelligent in their party conversation, and some people are afraid of outgoing and original in their friends. I need to recognize this and I think I’m finally starting to. I cannot please all people all the time. As the rest of that saying goes: I might as well just please myself.
But I don’t actually know what pleases me. It changes from day to day, and when I’m going through major life changes, or major emotional/mental shifts, it changes even more dramatically. At the moment I am going through some growing pains related to IWL. My thoughts have moved into new orbits, my outlook is drastically expanded. I feel awesome. But I don’t think I project awesome, or even live it on a daily basis. The physical trappings, the active routines, of my life remain the same. It’s like losing thirty pounds but wearing the same old clothes. The sameness helps me feel stable and secure, but it also makes me feel trapped, like a teenager in her parents’ house or a fiftysomething suddenly realizing the life he’s built is not his. There’s a cognitive disconnect between external life and internal experience that is intensely frustrating.
We all know there are downsides to teenage rebellion and midlife crises. There is self-loathing, risky behavior, cutting; there are families left and savings frittered away. But I know what my trapped-ness means. It’s not about becoming a different person, but letting more of my real self come out. I feel like I dress too drably for my energy. I’m too shy and self-conscious to fully express the love and interest I feel for people I don’t know well. And I’m too cautious and careful to give way to my exuberant curiosity and interest in experimentation. I’ve felt the urge to cut my hair super-short and dye it pink, wear different clothes, go to parties, flirt with random guys. It’s true, this is the kind of frustration that drives people into moving to new countries or starting flings. To be honest, lately both those choices (and others less momentous) have sounded thrilling — as well as disastrous. I’m still me; dyeing my hair still seems unhealthy, parties still make me feel awkward, and flirting scares me. I love Erik and I love my life; I don’t want to replace it. I’m just tired of feeling itchy and constricted in my own skin. If I could expand into a fuller expression of myself, what would that look like?
One thing I’ve decided is I can try on new selves in small, controlled doses, in safe spaces with people I trust. My figure studio actually helps a lot with this; I can try on the life of a very focused artist, in a cool studio with cool music, with professional artists around me. I’ve been thinking I should look for some other classes too, maybe improv acting or belly dancing. I can exercise more. Writing gives me a outlet for fantasies. And I can spend more time on my own, just digesting life, figuring out what the full me looks like and sounds like and feels like. I sat in my happy chair yesterday afternoon and did just that, my legs bare and soaking in the sun. Just looked out the sliding glass doors up into the sky and the gently waving branches of the plum tree, heard the birds singing and the occasional siren wailing, and thought about what it is to be me.
And this afternoon I got a haircut.