Discover more from People + Bodies
Hi, loves. 🌿
On being our various selves
A list of foods I packed for my solo weekend writing retreat: cracked pepper salami, fig crackers, tzatziki, rice crackers, spindrift, coffee and filters and milk, some sort of red pepper/eggplant tapenade, dried mangos, apples (uneaten), granola, popcorn, cheese, a handful of clementines, one avocado. Foods, mostly, that I rarely eat; foods that can be consumed standing up, over a sink, without any preparation or much thought.
I went away: a day and a half to write and read and think in silence. The silence part didn’t pan out super well—the house next door was having one of those afternoon-into-evening backyard birthday parties—but I did get some good solid hours in on Saturday morning and then again on Sunday morning, and a few on Saturday afternoon, with the door closed and earplugs in. We do what we can and need to do.
The food: I share this list because it seems important—obvious, really—to note that working well, or working fully, leaving the mind enough space to spread out in, means not worrying about anything else the way I do during the rest of the week. What’s for dinner and at what time and how much time will this take and who will actually eat it, etc. etc. etc.? The endless work of motherhood, of caring for a family. I wanted a day or two to just be a writer, a thinker, a dreamer, and somehow that meant also eating with my hands, over a sink. It was alarming to realize how much of my time is devoted to meal-planning, cutting, sautéing, measuring, boiling, stirring, serving. (I do not clean up.) I mostly do not mind it—I love cooking, I do really enjoy feeding my family, I am glad it is a pleasure—but I started to wonder if I could maybe, at least once in a while, open jars and boxes of crackers or slice a loaf of bread for my family and call it dinner; still yelling, like my father always does, À table, les enfants!
But the deeper thing: I am so unaccustomed to being alone these days. Yes, I get a few hours each day, but I’m talking about being alone alone, for days, away from it all, all the grounding things—home, husband, daughter, job, students, clothing, kitchen, flour, eggs, milk—with only my mind in tow for company. I drove off on Friday night and almost immediately felt untethered from reality, all the little anxious voices in my head that lived with me when I lived alone for a decade rose up to meet me, questioning my every life choice, my every move, my every thought and feeling. I’d forgotten they lived with me all those years, hello, old friends! I’d forgotten about the way I was both living my life in a perfectly normal and coherent and stable way and also sort of not living it, living so deeply inside the spiral of my own mind—thoughts swirling around like a hurricane—I don’t know how I made sense of my life half the time. (Friends, that’s how, and my mother.)
This happens now when I am away from my family: I feel...floaty. This is very different from being left alone in my own home, which is heaven: the silence and the space and the room to spread out. But going away? I do not know why it is still so challenging for me, almost a decade into motherhood. Is this embarrassing to admit? It seems odd, given how not co-dependent my husband and I are as a couple, how independently we function. I had the sense, when I was off this weekend, sleeping in a friend of a friend’s back house, writing in her Pasadena yard, trying to remember the Just Me part of me, that I was a balloon and that my husband and daughter act as weights on the end of its string, tethering me to the ground.
Sometimes I feel smothered by it all, Family Life. Who wants to be a wife? Who wants all that’s associated with that word, the obligations and domestic duties and endless responsibilities, the she-fault, the martyrdom, the emotional labor, the keeping tabs on laundry food deadlines photo day pickups babysitters? But when I am off on my own for more than a few hours, I can better understand the family structure as one that is perhaps containing in a good way, one that gives us a place to land in a world—and sometimes, a mind—that feels wildly out of control.
The night I got home, we all returned to the couch, to watch our millionth episode of Modern Family. We have our special spots, always the same. “You can come closer to me,” my daughter said. Something funny happened on the show—something that went way over the kid’s head—and my husband and I laughed and laughed, and I thought to myself, this is good. This is very good, and then tried to not hold onto that feeling for dear life.
One of our rabbis spoke on Kol Nidre about the power and beauty of oscillation, about how sometimes we can’t integrate all the various parts of ourselves or our beliefs, that instead we need to go back and forth. I feel that acutely when I escape to another part of the city to find the world of this book I’m trying to write and am faced with some old version of myself. And I feel it when I return to my people and the world of the book is tucked away and some of those voices are quieted down, at least for now.
Perhaps integration—what I’ve always longed for, for every part of myself and my life to make perfect sense, to fit holistically, to be absolutely crystal clear and honest—is impossible. Perhaps, in a long and complicated life, it’s not even the thing we should most desire. Perhaps we can have these different aspects of our lives: the artist, the mother, the wife, the friend, the dreamer, the neurotic, the skeptic, the believer. We can let them come and go as they may, and allow for their odd co-existence.
This has never been something I’m good at, allowing dissonance within myself or with others, but perhaps that is just a more realistic picture of what it means to live a life into adulthood. Pieces that fit, pieces that don’t. Moments of connection and bliss followed by moments of confusion and misalignment. And the belief that no state is forever.
This email is free! If you’d like to support this work, please consider becoming a paying reader below.
People + Bodies is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.