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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Circle Game

Soo, turning 31 tomorrow. 

The other night, Matt asked me, "Did you think you'd have kids by now?"

I did.

If you'd asked me in 2013 if I thought I'd be done with reconstruction by now, I would have said yes. Last April I made a plan to devote the month to feeling better about my body, with the idea that at the end of 30 days I'd have some magical perspective shift.

Truthfully, I love a deadline. It lights the fire to accomplish things. Toward the end of grad school, I figured out how to exploit this tendency of mine -- a simple, reward based system for meeting short deadlines. Write ten pages by six pm? Get a massage. Hand in a paper a week early? Buy full priced thing from Anthropologie.

But deadlines only work when you're in control of what's happening. And, shocker, once you're out of school that's basically never.

I think I've been fooled or unknowingly influenced by the spate of stunt memoirs that were popular a few years ago. The writer puts him or herself in a situation ranging from the absurd (like The Year of Living Biblically) to the disciplined (Julie & Julia) to the hedonistic (Eat, Pray, Love). I've read and enjoyed many books like this. But they create a false timeline.

A life doesn't happen in a neat story's arc. It's something I've written about before. If you are masterful, you can chip a perfect and heartbreaking story out of many years (my number one example right now is Dog Years but there any many more). But setting out to do something for one year and have enough events for a plot and enough emotional growth for a story is probably actually impossible, and I wonder how many authors wind up fudging on the hugging and the learning. (Unlike Seinfeld, I am pro embrace, pro epiphany.) It may seem harmless, but it sets up some messed up expectations for life.

Setting emotional deadlines for yourself or other people is...not a good idea. Because emotional time is not linear. Getting farther in months or years from an inciting incident does not result in a neat diminishment of influence. The worst moments in my life are either so long ago I can barely feel them, or so present that their proximity drenches me in sweat. And back and forth, around and around.

And acceptance isn't stationary. And love isn't an ever fix'd mark. And moving on means more movement than most people know. Back and forth like waves, round and round like the Earth, in and out like breath. Parts of us are always moving.

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