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the dangers of holding on

June 27, 2012

Right now I’m sitting on our balcony, enjoying the flowers and greenery of my potager (French for ‘kitchen garden’). It’s a windy day, so the upper arms of the towering maples on the hill below me dance with abandon. And occasionally, our wind chimes join them.

The wind chimes make pretty sounds; their shapes are pleasing. Both Spouse and I enjoy hearing them.

The wind chimes were a gift to me from a member of my family of origin. And although I don’t think I am a hoarder (as I periodically purge my belongings), I think being raised by a hoarder, who was herself the child of a hoarder, affected the way I think about things I receive from others.

Hoarders don’t purge, but more than that, they don’t edit. The people described in the book, Stuff, could explain to the researchers detailed narratives about how and why and when and from whom they received … everything. Every single item represented a connection to someone. And somehow, discarding an item seemed to the hoarder to be severing their connection to the giver. So they couldn’t let go of anything. Because if that connection had ever existed then it must always exist.

Real life isn’t like that. Relationships end, sometimes even amicably. People change.

Something doesn’t have to exist for all eternity to be valuable, or appreciated.

I’m a Myers-Briggs Perceiver, so unlike many Judgers, I enjoy the ephemeral nature of many experiences. Often things of short duration can be much more intense and more complex than things that have to last.

But when it comes to connections to members of my family of origin, all of that goes out the window. I persist in feeling that those relationships need to continue, forever. Even though, strictly speaking, I don’t think I actually have relationships with most of these people.

Actually, part of the problem is semantics. There are what Spouse considers ‘normal’ relationships, which roughly equate to Martin Buber’s I-It. And there are the kinds of connections I’m seeking, which are more like I-Thou. Realistically, the connections I had with (almost everyone in) my family of origin were always I-It. But I thought there was some way to get from here to there. I thought I could make it happen, unilaterally if necessary. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way: both people involved have to be interested in any deeper, more emotionally intimate connection.

On melancholy days, I look at the wind chimes, and I regret that my historical relationship with their giver ended a long time ago; we’ve just been (infrequently) going through the motions ever since.

Today I suddenly wondered, can I edit out all of that sort of ancillary information? Can I change my mindset so that I can just enjoy the wind chimes as wind chimes?

If I can do that, can I also change how I think of that box that I dread opening?

There was never any chance of me developing a I-Thou relationship with most of the people I know. That’s not a rejection of me, so much as it is differing interests and comfort levels. Which I understood in a new way recently because I realized someone I know is trying to change the character of our relationship from fairly distant to a lot closer. And I don’t want to do that. I could have answered their proximate questions directly, and I did consider doing so, but decided that was a minefield better avoided.

Now I’m wondering if I’m metaphorically hoarding connections to people, no matter how tenuous, as yet another way of ‘proving’ I exist. I must be alive if someone else can see me! Surely that’s a logical fallacy. I have dead plants in my potager, which I keep around because I can’t bear to discard them. Which is actually interesting because, when inside houseplants have died (which doesn’t happen often), I have figured out things to do that approximated aboveground ‘burial’. In other words, I had a funeral of sorts; I didn’t just throw them in the garbage. Why would the balcony be different? I had a similar issue with what I called my ‘compost box’, even though nothing composted, because there weren’t any soil organisms. That experiment failed almost immediately, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw the materials out. In fact, I kept adding to them. Eventually they attracted ants, which then moved into our apartment. It was only at that point that I was able to throw everything out.

I think this must be somehow connected to shadow issues, where I’m trying to deny what I actually am, in favor of things I am not. I keep chasing after someone else’s idea of what’s cool, or even what’s just acceptable.

I’ve been compiling a list of my own positive traits that I’ve been denying, contrasted with negative or toxic situations that I have chased after. Looking at these things as opposites has been quite illuminating. And I also realized that I am actually aware of all of the positive traits. But I don’t experience them all at the same time. Sometimes one or two are ascendant, but then all the rest are hiding.

Sometimes I pay lipservice to one, but I actually act as if the opposite were true of me. Years ago a friend told me her spouse was an introvert who wanted to be an extrovert, like the rest of their family. At the time, I scoffed at the absurdity of not appreciating one’s own introversion. But now I think I’ve been doing the same thing all along, just calling it something else. I actually prefer solitude to most other configurations. I do enjoy spending quality time with one or two close friends, occasionally. When I evaluate my favorite activities, they are all solitary.  And yet somehow I’ve gotten an idea into my head that I am ‘highly social’, and frustrated at the lack of companionship in my daily life. That looks like an extrovert’s idea of the hell that an introvert’s life would be for them. But I’m not an extrovert. So why am I trying to be?

I’m also wondering if it’s possible that my base level of energy is just naturally low. That expecting myself to be a whirlwind of activity is just setting myself up for a big crash down the road. Especially if I’m trying to do that every single day. Left to my own devices, I have bursts of activity, but they are surrounded on all sides by a lot of quieter and more contemplative moments. I read a lot. I think a lot. I write a lot. I make art a lot. None of those things are highly energetic. (They’re not very social either.) Is this another way I’ve been trying to be an extrovert?

I’ve known for at least half my life that I would be happiest working for myself, not as someone else’s employee. But I’ve never pursued that. I’ve considered it, but always got cold feet and backed down. Then I’ve tried to ‘make do’ with jobs that were usually highly unsatisfactory. And guess what? They sucked. “But maybe the right opportunity is out there and I just haven’t found it yet, so I should definitely keep looking!” Um, maybe not.

Sorta related, I often sign up for things without having a clear idea of what I might get out of the experience. For instance, the instructor of my voice class had everyone go around the room and explain what they wanted to get out of the class. As usual, I was surprised by this exercise, so I hadn’t mentally prepared any remarks. I said something inane like, “I just want to learn more about how voices work together. Anything I learn will be more than I know now!” The instructor commented, “well, that’s easy!” The thing is, if I’d spent more time figuring out what I actually wanted to get out of the class, I would have quickly realized that that wasn’t the right class for me. I got caught up in my memories of singing in the school revue all those years ago, and jumped from there to thinking I wanted to sing in public again. What I really want is to learn what my voice’s range is, and then to sing properly within it, for my own enjoyment. If I’m still an alto, I want to enjoy being an alto (instead of masquerading as a second soprano). I don’t care what anyone else thinks of my singing voice. No one but Spouse is likely to hear it. So why on earth did I sign up for a class where I would have to sing in front of a lot of people I don’t know? Because I was trying to be an extrovert?

Is acting the same thing? Now, I did enjoy acting. And I think I have the right kind of personality to be good at it. But something that most singing and most acting has in common (assuming you’re not also a writer) is that you, the performer, are expressing someone else’s ideas, vision, worldview. You’re bringing your own interpretation to the roles, but the roles themselves do not originate with you. My 6.15.12 post on the three themes I will now be concentrating on included Expressiveness — of my own stuff. Isn’t expressing someone else’s stuff the inverse of expressing my own? In which case it’s another shadow thing.

Even though I haven’t talked to my mother in seven years, when I do take action it’s often (unconsciously) to pursue things she would think were suitable. But she wouldn’t think they were suitable for me because she disapproves of almost everything about me. I have slowly and painfully gotten rid of almost every single tangible thing she ever gave me, but I’ve retained her toxic view of me. And then because I am somewhat of an emotional hoarder, I’ve been unable to sever those last ties.

I think it’s time for a forest fire.

As I walked through the woods yesterday, I realized that periodic catastrophic purges (like forest fires) can be a good thing. I know I have healthy tissue, deep down underneath everything else. But I haven’t seen any of it in a really long time. The tissues closest to the surface are metaphorically green from poison, and metaphorically grey or black from death and decay. And yet I’ve mistaken them for the pink of health. I’ve been jury rigging ever more elaborate workarounds to keep the whole system going. Which started to fall apart three years ago. When things are that far gone, even a little fire isn’t going to remove enough. Sure, it’ll get rid of the outermost layer of dead wood. But it won’t get hot enough nor last long enough to utterly incinerate everything that needs to go.

No one volunteers to undergo a catastrophic fire, or a hurricane, or tsunami, or an avalanche. But sometimes you really do need to start over. Otherwise you won’t be able to bring yourself to let go of everything that needs to go. You’ll cling, you’ll make excuses, you will hold yourself back. It’s all fear. And the fear doesn’t go away. You have to make the leap blindly.

Since this is a metaphor, I can’t just walk into a commercial oven, or jump off a bridge. I’m not quite sure how to go about obliterating my old life. But it is clearly time. I’ve tried everything else, none of which has worked well.

Time to let go.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Charcoal Feathers permalink
    July 9, 2012 13:02

    Thank you for these words. They are amazing, and echo something I’ve been dealing with myself a lot, lately. (Sadly what I wrote isn’t publicly available because of some of these exact things — previous expectations, built up previous life. It’s something I’m pondering changing. If I do, I’ll comment again.)

    • July 9, 2012 16:39

      Even writing things out that I never show to anyone else has been beneficial for me — helps clarify my thinking, helps me find patterns of behavior, helps me figure out what to do next.

      I would be interested in reading further comments by you. Stop back any time!

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