My backup therapist is impressed by the amount of trauma I’ve experienced, this year alone, and when I start talking about my past she practically has to use her hand to keep her jaw from dropping. That’s not the half of it, I say, and she tries to get me to acknowledge how much I’ve accomplished in spite of it, with a new baby, and I say “yeah but,” and she says I did it again, and when she keeps pushing me I just cannot compliment my perseverance without a caveat about all the things I didn’t manage, all the things I let slide, all the things other people have managed under more difficult circumstances. I can’t even do it just to humor her. She is my backup therapist because my usual therapist is out having another baby. Then she tries to get me to talk about all the things on my CV, and I say yeah but, the last thing was so long ago, and my CV isn’t who I really am, but it’s who I think other people expect me to be, and the pressure to keep it up is, at times, unbearable. I am very stubborn. I can say all the things she wants me to say if I pretend I am talking to a friend, if I am actually talking to a friend, but the fact that I am supposedly so compassionate toward friends, that I have all this hard-won empathy, just makes it worse that, when she tells me to take an online quiz measuring self-compassion I fail miserably. (Can you believe real-life psychologists prescribe online quizzes ever?) What makes me so special that I am the only person in the world who is supposed to live up to my standards? I tell her about the enneagram 4, the fatal flaw that stings so much because we secretly, despite our self-deprecation, think we’re destined for particular greatness, if only. I am one of many with this delusion; I am not so special at all. I am failing therapy, despite my A+ in trauma, despite my lyrical explanations of why all my thoughts are incorrect, my past is not my past. The ‘traumatic’ version is just one version. The one you tell in therapy, because there’s no one else to listen to it anymore. A dangerous version, even. Because you’re a grown-up now, a parent, a person who has decided, once and for all, that stability is more important than suffering, more important than mysticism, more important than the continuation of a literary narrative. Which is why you’re in therapy in the first place. Backup therapy.
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Underlined in the one book I’ve finished this year:
‘But why bother with a diagnosis at all, if a diagnosis is but a restatement of the problem.’
‘In which seeking itself is a spiritual error.’
‘I will admit … that writing does do something to one’s memory– that at times it can have the effect of an album of childhood photographs, in which each image replaces the memory it aimed to preserve.’
And I wrote in the margin next to that one: but perhaps an image is better than forgetting altogether.
The reading of books, of contemporary books and classics, serves as a reminder that these questions we spend all our time pondering are not our own questions at all, that they are pondered by many, in plural times.
I have wanted to research that question of how journal writing affects autobiographical memory. Maybe I still will. When I get over the audacity of studying the enveloping question, how language shapes the concept of time itself.
The book is Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I keep wanting to call her Maggie Smith. I think there is a Maggie Smith I knew sometime – an illustrator.
_ _ _
In these early days of my thirties I spend time at night thinking about my 20s in New York, wishing I had written more of it down, the life that I’ll never go back to. My part-time career as a dog-walker for cheap rent in the attic of the victorian house in Brooklyn, coming home bleary-eyed on the subway in near-dawn, the Dunkin Donuts open all night, those parties I had in Mitsu’s art gallery, for my 25th and 26th birthdays, where people wrote on the walls and I thought I was cooler than I was, the front-row seats my boss got me at the Met opera, and $2.00 falafels from Mamoun’s. Friendships that faded and those that kept on through months of silence, drinking wine on the roof in Brooklyn, all the boys, that ones that never called, the ones that called too much, the philosophers and med students and artists, the married ones, the one that would come sneaking into my room in the Village past midnight to calm me down from sobbing, and sneak out again before morning, the one that took me to Burning Man, where I broke my toe, the one that took me to Reno, all those weekends meeting up with the girls to write in coffee shops (how idyllic!), the late nights in the lab panicking to finish the poster before my 7am flight to the vision conference, endless working lunches at The Corner Cafe, the season of Latin and daily Mass and Merton, going to every service of the Triduum, offering the gifts, Christmas shopping in the snow in a mad rush after finals before flying home, suffering through so many fillings at the dental school (a particular self-flaggelation, or did I really not know any better?), with the students who didn’t know how to numb me, jazz and flamenco and Mark Morris and MoMA and the ticket stubs to so many shows I didn’t keep any of them because I didn’t think I’d ever run out. Wandering around Washington Square because I was too far behind to show my face in the lab, the meditation retreats upstate and cross-country, the yoga classes at Jiva and Om and Laughing Lotus and the Shala and wherever Carrie was teaching and could get me in free, the writing workshops, the painting, the urban photography, and the nude self-portraits in my crappy apartments I didn’t mind posting on the Internet. It’s all jumbled, with only remnants of a timeline, leaving and coming back and moving from borough to borough. The utter, bleak, sobbing misery of winters, and my final escape to a place that doesn’t have them.
Or are these the few things I actually did write down already, and that is why they’re the first to come to mind?
_ _ _
I named my daughter after a favorite author and nicknamed her after a favorite literary character, then I gave up books and writing almost entirely this first year, in favor of reading her. She contains multitudes. When she’s sleeping, and on those rare occasions when we go out without her, we mimic her, we do impressions, conjure her up again.
She said, it’s time to stop thinking of yourself as your mother’s daughter, and I finished, and start thinking of myself as my daughter’s mother. Motherhood as a state one can disappear into. And wasn’t that part of the appeal?
Now, a year later, the re-emergence of vanity, wanting-to-be-seen: the first manicure, the first blog post.
Cycles: daughter/mother, deleting/posting, hiding behind/reaching out, profane/sacred.