If I Had My Choice …

“If I had my choice …” or “If I could choose any one thing, I would …”

How many times have I heard these phrases? Or read them? It’s likely that we hear them so many times a day we begin to overlook them or ignore them. They become so much white noise added to the background of our lives. I find myself thinking these phrases often. Just this morning, I was thinking about how certain things in my life are not the way I would prefer them to be. And I thought about how it didn’t feel as if I had come to this place in my life, physically or emotionally, by choice. To a large extent, I feel like most of my life has been a case of making the best of whatever was handed to me, whether by the people around me or by the universe at large or whatever. And I found myself thinking it …

If I had my choice, I would …

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Presumably, the end to that sentence is that I would choose a different path. Or I would pick something better for myself. Or more fun. Or more … whatever. The ending to the sentence isn’t what really matters. What really matters is the thought that immediately popped into my head, which was this: “But would I? Would I really?”

I do believe Life has, more or less, happened to me. To a large extent, I did not participate in the choices I made that led me to where I am. I followed along with the plans others had for me. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents or, later, my husband. And so, I went with the flow, more or less. I never thought about what I wanted. I never thought about what my own dreams were. I never thought about … well, anything. I never planned anything. Or, if I did have the shadow of a plan in my mind, I let it go all too readily and easily in the face of what others wanted.

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In some ways, it’s liberating, isn’t it? I mean, to feel like you can look back at your life … or that you can look at the unhappy/unpleasant/untenable situation you are in … and realize you are there because you simply flowed along in the river of life, absolves you of all responsibility. Right? It’s not like you are unhappy because of choices you made. Or that you feel stuck and ineffective because of things you actively did. Someone else put you in that spot. And, if you had had your own choices or your own way, things would have been better.

But, seriously. This isn’t true at all, is it? Because I did choose. I chose every single thing that got me to where I am today. I chose those things by NOT choosing anything. I chose those things by following along with what others wanted and by making the best of whatever was tossed my way. I chose through inaction.

It kind of hurts, when I think about it this way. When I sit and think about it and am honest with myself, it hurts a lot. It makes me a little sick to my stomach. And that’s how I know it is at least partially the truth. That sick-to-my-stomach feeling almost never leads me astray. It is almost always right. Maybe not totally right, but for the most part.

So that brings me back to my original thought today: If I had my choice … Would I be capable of choosing? I honestly don’t know the answer to this question.

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The truth is that I never had choices growing up. In my formative childhood and young adult years, I didn’t have the freedom to make my own choices or to dream my crazy dreams. I didn’t have the freedom to dream any dreams. My parents, and, in particular, my mother, had very specific plans and expectations for me and for my future. I was supposed to be a certain kind of person. I was supposed to approach the world in a certain kind of way. I was supposed to do certain things with my life.

I wrote. And my writing, in a way, was my dream and my escape. I used it to let myself wander free from the expectations and the plans that were laid before me. But the truth is that I was never strong enough to break away from those expectations. I kept my writing secret, because it was a source of mockery and ridicule in my family. My brother’s creative talent for drawing was celebrated. My talent for writing was not. My parents were not interested in it in the least. It was never taken seriously. Not even by me, even though I kept on doing it in secret, hiding my scribbles here and there in my room.

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When I went to college, I continued to toe the line with regard to my parents’ expectations. I was supposed to get good grades. I did that. I was supposed to major in a certain thing. I did that. I was supposed to go to law school. I did that, too. At one point, right before I moved for law school, I realized I did not want to do this. I wanted to take a step back and think about what I wanted for my own future. But my parents were adamant that I not delay. “If you don’t go now, you will never do it,” they said. And I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice the logical reply that rang through my mind: “And so what if I don’t?” I didn’t believe in myself enough. I wasn’t strong enough. And so, I went. I moved to a town I hated. I suffered through 3 years of school that I hated. I worked in a profession I hated.

And so, here I am. I am almost 50 years old. And I still have no idea who I am. I still have no idea what I want. I don’t know what my dreams are. Or if I even still have dreams. I mean … is it too late for that? I’m a mom. Does that mean my time is over? Does that mean my daughter is the one to have dreams now, and I am only here to make her dreams a reality? Do I only exist to make others happy?

But this can’t be right, either. Can it? Because thinking about this … thinking about how I have never been a “real” person to anyone around me … It feels wrong. Like, maybe it’s the truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth. It’s not MY truth. I want to have dreams. I want to figure out who I am and what I want. I want to work at making my own dreams come true.

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But, if I have never let myself dream or plan or hope or want, do you think it has now become impossible for me to do so? If I have been trained, from the earliest age, to be a person who wants nothing and only makes the best of whatever is handed to her, do you think it is possible to change this? If I make a conscious, concerted effort to sit down and think about what I want from my own life, do you think it is possible to undo a whole lifetime of “this is how you are”?

I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I feel that part of being kind to myself in 2019 has to be sitting down to think through all of these things. I have to start taking a step back from what others want. I have to start actively thinking to myself, “Self, what do YOU want? Is it the same as what others want from you? Or is it different?” I have to start thinking about the person I am and the person I want to be. I have to start figuring out how to believe in myself. Even a little bit.

Will I be any good at this? Honestly, I don’t think I will — at first. But I think, with practice, maybe I can get better at it. Maybe I will always stumble and get tangled up in the expectations of others. But, if I realize I am doing this, that is an improvement. And learning how to untangle myself will be like taking giant leaps and bounds forward, instead of the marching in place I have been doing for most of my life.

So, let’s do this, 2019. Let’s figure out how to dream our big dreams — at last.

Is That Me?

I think being self aware is a good thing. Well, mostly. It’s good to be aware of our own thoughts and actions and how those affect the people around us. It’s good to be aware enough that we try to step out of ourselves or our own little worlds in order to be someone better or stronger or just … “more”. I think it’s good to push boundaries, even though it’s also really hard.

But, sometimes, being self-aware is just so freaking painful. There are moments when the most biting, purest form of self-awareness sneaks up on you and just bites you in the ass. You know, like when you happen to catch sight of yourself in a mirror, unexpectedly, and you feel startled — as if you’re staring at a stranger. And then, you think, “My gosh. Is that me? Is that what I really look like? Is that really the person I am?”

Because, in our minds, we picture ourselves a certain way. We don’t necessarily think of ourselves as the sum of our outward appearance. We picture all the parts of ourselves that make us unique — the important, inside parts, like creativity and kindness and compassion and love and fear and dreams and secret thoughts. All of the beautiful and scary and fun and crummy things that make us … well, “us”. And so, it’s easy to forget that, maybe we have lots of gray hair. Or, perhaps, we are a carrying around a bit more chub than we would like. Or, whatever. The point is that the outside reality doesn’t always match up with the inside reality. At least, that’s the way it is for me. Maybe I’m just weird or something.

Last week, I had a sudden and unexpected moment of self-awareness. It was a startlingly painful moment of clarity. I went out to meet a friend at a local place for lunch. It’s one of those places with limited seating and a long line, and I ended up getting there a bit after her and standing in line for a bit while she grabbed a table. I was in line behind a group of four people: two men and two women. They were all obviously on their lunch breaks. They were dressed for work and all on their phones the whole time. The women were so elegant and perfect. Their hair was perfectly done and all sleek and shiny. They were thin, and their shoes coordinated with their outfits. They had on beautiful makeup, and their outfits were stylish and flattering.

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And I stood there in line behind them and thought about how so many women are a complete mystery to me. It’s like I’m a different species from them. I don’t understand the hair thing or the make-up thing. I don’t know what stuff like foundation primer is or what you do with it. I don’t know how to go through a whole day without getting my clothes all wrinkled. I always wear comfortable shoes. I’m usually covered in dog hair. I suddenly pictured myself standing next to these gorgeous, elegant, perfect women, and I had to struggle to keep from laughing. Me, in my old t-shirt and frumpy sweatpants and running shoes. Me, doing my best “sweaty beast” impersonation because I just finished working out. Me, with my hair all up in a messy pony tail, with bits and pieces flapping all around my face and standing out straight from my head. Me, with my gray roots showing and my smile lines and no make-up at all. Me, a frumpy-dumpy, overweight, frazzled, middle aged woman who, let’s face it, basically never managed to reach “elegant” in her whole life. Suddenly, I felt ridiculous, but also as if I had been completely laid bare for all the world to see. It was a humbling experience. It shook me. My first reaction was to laugh out loud at how silly I was. After that, it was all I could do to keep myself in that line. I had the almost overwhelming urge to push my way back through the crowd, out onto the sidewalk, and just keep on running until I found a dark corner in which to hide my less-than-perfect self.

It wasn’t easy. But I made myself stay there. I made myself wait in that line, a stark contrast to the feminine perfection just in front of me. So, I’m not a perfectly elegant woman. So, I never will be. My nails always look nice, though. I do have that going for me. It’s a small thing, but perhaps it’s a start. And, of course, I was on my phone the whole time, too. But I was playing Pokemon Go.

Riding Drag

That’s how I feel today: like I’m the lone cowpoke tasked with riding drag on the cattle drive, which means I’m choking on the world’s dust. Or maybe I just watched too many Rawhide episodes as a kid.

Today hasn’t been a particularly long day. But it’s one of those days that FEELS like a long day. I find myself now, at the end of everything, with the child unit tucked into bed and the washer and dryer humming their music in the background, sitting here in front of my computer and feeling exhausted. Is it this winter that just can’t seem to figure out when it’s time to pack up its toys and go home? Is it the one-two-punch of kidney infection and sinus infection I’ve had over the past three weeks or so? Is it the thought that my husband will be away from home for several days, starting tomorrow, which means all adult responsibility falls onto my shoulders? Is it the realization that my mother arrives in less than a week and I still have a lot to do to get the house ready for her extended visit?

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Maybe it’s a combination of all these things. Or maybe I’m just lazy and whiny. Or maybe it’s a combination of these things AND I’m lazy and whiny. I honestly don’t know. But I do know I wish I could check out of life for a bit — just hunker down in bed with the covers pulled up over my head and let the world slide by for a day or two. Or, perhaps, three.

But, there are meetings to attend and lunches to make and laundry to do and dogs to bathe and errands to run and appointments to make and calendars to schedule and dinners to cook and groceries to buy and on and on and on. A never-ending litany of adult life. When I was a kid, I thought it would be so grand to be an adult. I used to daydream about how I would be able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and how there would be no one to hold me back or remind me of life’s rules. Now, I know better. No one tells you, when you’re a kid, that being an adult often sucks. Or that there are more rules than ever. Or that you will spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning up dog barf. (Well, I guess this wouldn’t apply if you don’t have a dog. But I have two, and I end up cleaning up a LOT of barf. Why don’t dogs figure out that whole “don’t put things in your mouth” thing? But that’s a post for another time, I suppose.)

I guess it’s a good thing no one tells kids what adult life is really like. If they did, no one would ever want to grow up. I know I wouldn’t have.

A New Adventure

Nothing strikes fear into the depths of my heart quite as much as the words: “a new adventure”. Seriously, how did this happen? I always thought I would never stop learning. I thought getting older wouldn’t matter, because I would still be interested in new adventures. I would want to try new things or experience new things and, in that way, I would continue to drink up all the life and energy in the world around me.

And then … I dunno. It sounds like a complete cop-out, but middle age happened. It kind of snuck up on me when I had my back turned. Before I knew it, I had come skidding (completely against my will, mind you) out of my 20s and into my 30s. And then, even worse, life dragged me, kicking and screaming, from my 30s into my 40s. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t realize that at the time, and, honestly, I’m not sure it matters all that much, anyhow. I mean — you turn 40 when you turn 40, you know? But, whether it matters or not, I wasn’t ready. For any of it.

Life got away from me. Depression got ahold of me. I got bagged down in emotional problems and baggage I never even noticed in my younger years. Mostly, I didn’t notice it back then because I was pretty darn good at pretending none of it existed, but that’s a story for another post. Along with depression, my health deteriorated and so did my self-esteem. It had been valiantly struggling along, doing its best to remind me that I was a worthy person. But, somewhere around age 40 or so, it kind of gave up the ghost.

my friend's pianoSomewhere along the way, I became afraid. Afraid to try new things. Afraid to fail. Afraid to step out of my comfort zone. Afraid to look like a fool. Just … afraid. It happens. I think, at one point or another, we all have to face up to our own fears and private demons. I think we all also have to face up to the person that lives inside us — that little part of us that can make us either better or worse. Getting to know that person and, even more than that, getting to a point where we can love him or her is no small or easy task. It’s a bit terrifying. The thing is … I had become so afraid that I had stopped living. I didn’t want to learn or change or experience new things. I didn’t care about any of it. I didn’t love my life. Heck, most of the time, I didn’t even want my life. And so, I began to stagnate. I began to feel so much older than I am, and, overall, I felt disappointed in myself.

I have wanted to learn how to play the piano since I was a little kid, but my family couldn’t afford lessons. Also, I didn’t have any way to practice, as there was no way we could ever afford to buy a piano. For years, I longed to take the plunge and invest in lessons. I listened longingly to people who could play and felt twinges of bitter jealousy toward them. But, instead of moving forward, I told myself to forget about this. It was a silly dream from my childhood that wasn’t meant to be because I’m “too old” now for learning something new. And because it’s “too late” to start from scratch. Each time I would think about lessons for myself, that little voice inside would speak up to remind me there was no way I could get the hang of it because I’ve been away from music for too long. Or, it would whisper about how silly I would look struggling to learn a new instrument at my age. And on and on and on — a million times a million doubts and reasons why it was a bad idea for me to learn how to play the piano.

But no more. I’ve decided things must change, and, today, I took a little step toward telling my inner voice to shut the heck up. We bought a piano! And, within the next month, I will be signing up for piano lessons. I’m shocked and feeling giddy and excited just typing about it. I can’t wait to get started on what I hope will be a new adventure.

I’m no fool. I know buying a piano and taking lessons won’t cure all my woes. But, perhaps, it’ll teach my little inner voice she doesn’t have to whisper negative things at me all the time. She can learn how to sing, instead.