It was nice to end the week with a party. Though there were enough people in the house that my disposition quickly exceeded its comfort levels. One of the guests, Sarah, said to me, as we both took a step backward against the pantry cabinet to let more people into the kitchen, “You must be like me–as soon as there’s an influx of people I back up against a wall and just stand there.” I laughed, “Yes, I’m a textbook introvert.” Sarah works with my cousin, Emily, who was hosting the party for a co-worker, Alexa. Alexa is getting married this weekend.
My wallflower tendencies actually go against my belief system. As a writer I find it important to be silent enough to observe but engaging enough to participate. The source of my anxiety during social events is due to acute self-awareness, which easily translates into self-absorption, which more or less means I care too much about myself to be curious about other people. Also, I don’t have confidence in my approach. Usually, instead of doing a thing I want to do I just don’t do it. Or I find some completely chicken-shit way of doing it and then later hate myself for copping out. Regardless, I conclude to give myself a hard time for finding a way to do something or for ignoring it until it goes away. But something I’m learning is that if it’s truly important to you it doesn’t go away. It sits with you at work and stands with you in the shower and hovers over you at dinner parties. And that wedge creating this darkening distance between yourself and everyone else…that’s insecurity, which is the highest form of conceit.
There was a little boy at the party, the son of a friend of Alexa’s. His name was Lucas but his mother called him Luke, except for when he was outside running through our backyard and she was asking him to come in, they were about to leave. She addressed him fully, then, but with patience. He’d been cooped up and nervous inside the house. I was sitting in one of the Adirondack chairs on our back porch watching him run around the yard. He’d reminded me of another blond-haired boy I’d seen playing outside at a vineyard once in North Carolina. There was something about watching children play outdoors that mesmerized me. The earth gave them freedom to unleash their energies and they didn’t much care what they looked like doing it. What I appreciated about his mother was her awareness of this. As she called for him to come inside she did so with a tone of amusement in her voice. After he’d calmed down and was exhaling thick puffs of gray breath into the air, she said, “Did you get it all out?” “Yeah,” he sighed and trudged up the steps toward her.
I don’t know if I’ve ever been sure of wanting children before that night, but witnessing the respect buoying between this mother and her son subjected me to an intense longing. And though I don’t have children, nor am I even remotely close to bearing any in the near future, Lucas made me realize that I didn’t need to have a child right now in order to do well by one who might come to me later. That feeling isn’t so much about wanting to be a mother–though that too plays a part–as much as it is feeling a certain amount of responsibility for the world’s youth. The issue with a good many people in this country, and maybe any country, is that we tend to want to extend our accountability only as far as our own families. But when the definition of what it means to be a good parent or child ends there we are actually stunting our perception of what it means to be a good human being. One of my bigger conflicts as a child was observing this disconnect within my own family. And, if I’m to be completely honest, that disconnect can break over time until it’s you falling between the cracks as well. I realized Friday night, the day before I was to meet Lucas and his mother, that the people who believe themselves to be closest to you are not always the ones who respect you best. Sometimes the people who raised you will issue such atrocities from their mouths that you will hang up the phone with them and cry and realize exactly what kind of reality you’re really living in. You are no longer safe either, you’ll think–but then maybe it’s best to feel that way, maybe it’s best to be cast out with the people they disregarded all your life. Rather to be out there with humanity than shut inside with hatred.
I reference an unsettling phone call I had with my mother over the weekend. While part of me feels obligated to detail the conversation for various reasons as they relate to social issues, I also feel the need to protect her privacy. I am still treading that ground of uncertainty when it comes to writing memoir. And though I’ve been having trouble processing something that she said to me, she is my mother and I love her and that’s not a boundary I’m ready to cross. But all of these little incidents pointed me in the direction of the future–having to ask myself the hard question of, What exactly am I doing with my life that isn’t merely benefitting myself? Maybe it is one of the more specific concerns of the creative person that they feel “called” to contribute something useful to humanity. It has taken a lot of time and work and mental rearranging for me to get over the ego that often straddles creativity. In my early 20s I was concerned with my contribution out of self-importance, but now, in the wake of this horrid election, it’s not that I feel I should contribute something because I’m creative but that I must because I’m human, and because there is now this desperate, frantic desire rustling in my chest that wants to help people and give them hope.
I lied when I said I wanted to write a collection of short stories earlier this month. Well, it wasn’t so much a lie, I guess, as it was an episode of wishful thinking. Even after learning this lesson years ago, I still get caught up in the idea of things rather than the reality of them sometimes. I said I wanted to write a collection of short stories more so because I feel it is what I ought to do in order to be taken seriously as a writer rather than it being something I actually want to do as a writer. The truth is that my heart is not in the short story right now but in the essay. My heart is also in opening a bookstore. These two things don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. As far as personal writing goes, Ashley left a comment on my essay about my cousin, Abbey, that’s been sitting with me now for weeks. The one thing I liked about my old blog, which I’d named The Coffee Journals, was that it strengthened my frame of mind as a writer. I felt a little more justified in calling myself one than I did before and maybe even than I do now. But that was also the time when I was at my most mentally harried and insecure, which interfered with my original intentions. After a while, I could sense that I was writing mostly for my own gain rather than to communicate something genuine to readers. I wanted to justify my emotions rather than use them as a tool. But the initial idea had been important to me and something I think worth revisiting.
Opening a bookstore is something I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve gone through several names, but recently landed on one with an idea that I think may stick. My trouble with this project is that I feel completely clueless about business. I’ve done some reading on small business ownership, recently bought Entrepreneur’s guide to starting a business, and have begun working on a business plan for the bookstore, but I am still incredibly out of my depth. I’ve started this before only to cease all progress because I would stress myself into paralysis. Then opening a bookstore was something I would regard as a goal for the future, maybe in retirement, but probably wasn’t meant to happen now. Except, then the election happened and my mother said what she said and I met Lucas, and it suddenly became very important that I do this thing now rather than later. During my research, I read an article that stated the most common source of failure when starting a business is procrastination. I also realized I was making completely idiotic excuses for myself, like I’m too young, which is especially idiotic because I hate when people cast me off because of my youth. I’m 26, for God’s sake. That’s younger than many, but it’s not infantile. In the words of Emily’s mother, I’m a grown-ass woman. Despite what Hillary Clinton’s loss may suggest to some, with education and resolve I am perfectly capable of doing this. I don’t have to wait on age to get started. I can make preparations now and then it will happen when it’s meant to happen. Women are especially worried these days, and with good reason, that their dreams aren’t as realistic as they once thought, but that is all the more reason to strive for their accomplishment. If we don’t continue to beat at this barrier then it never will fall, and future generations of women will continue to be stalled.
I say this as though my cup runneth over with conviction. It doesn’t. But I want it to. I want to be the kind of woman who can step away from the pantry cabinet and into the throng and not question herself so much.