Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task. ~William James

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Did I Come in Here For?

I have been struck over the last week by the number of references I have made to "my work"--as if I knew what that was.  In reality, I am in the process of trying to remember what it was I wanted to do before life intervened and presented me with so many reasons, legitimate and otherwise, not to do it.  Whatever it was.  And beyond remembering is the task of winnowing and recommitment, rather like going through favorite clothes not worn in a while, testing fit and affinity against my current shape and taste.

What used to be "my work?"  Looking back over decades, I am confronted with the archeology of my personal history.  There have always been, I see, competing notions of what I wanted to be, and do, when and if I grew up.  I was going to be a pianist, a social worker, a political advisor, a therapist, a famous author, Albert Schweitzer.  In my less lofty real world, I have worked for pay as a community organizer, a college instructor, a researcher, a waitress, a special education paraprofessional, an administrative assistant, a telephone directory deliverer, a child minder, and a website manager.  I have a half-started jewelry-making business occupying a portion of my studio in the basement.  I have spent a great deal of time and energy, and even some money, in volunteer efforts to lead my congregation's social justice team, to achieve the passage of legislation that would save my children's school, and to steer an interfaith organization working for social and economic justice in my urban community.  I have lobbied and demonstrated for jobs, with some success, and against wars, with little.

Long ago, I "wanted to write," or thought I did.  This idea was fostered in me by my physician father, who also "wanted to write."  Over the years, both of us engaged in lots of writing, but not much was really written by either of us.  I did complete some academic writing, some of which was published.  I wrote several drafts of part of a doctoral dissertation.  Like my father, I wrote poetry, some published, some performed in slams and other public settings.  And I have filled drawers and shelves with journals I kept sporadically.  I have a partially written novel, several songs, and two children's books "in the works."

In the course of raising two families, I have spent the last thirty-two years as the mother of minor children.  My youngest is sixteen, so I still have a ways to go.  My particular style of mothering--intense, attachment-based, and, I am finally ready to admit, a bit too anxiously perfectionistic--has combined with the characteristics of my youngest two--in combination, dyslexic, ADD (whatever that means), depression-prone, highly intelligent, school-hating, risk-taking, multi-talented, and immensely lovable--and my current family structure--one long-distance commuting, work-obsessed husband, three angry step-children, two exes between us, and a partridge in a...--to regularly derail my intermittent efforts to resume "my work."  I have instead tried to mold my talents and passions and energies into work activities that fit the cramped interstitial spaces left to me in this environment.

The death of my father two-and-a-half years ago, and three life-threatening crises affecting intimate family members close on its heels, has provided, at this point, the impetus to get on with it, to ask more for and of myself than the leftover time and space and attention I have been surviving on.  As the smoke clears from these two years of conflagrations, I am driven to find a less compromised meaning for what remains of my life.  And central to that, for me, is to make the contribution that only I can make.

So what do I mean by "my work?"  The first response that leaps to mind is along the lines of "I'll know it when I see it."  I do have a sense, since beginning this blog, that these posts are part of what I mean to be doing, at least for now.   For small amounts of pay, I will continue to babysit my grandson part-time so my daughter can teach,  to manage the website of an organization I care about, and to work on the issue of joblessness in my community.  My two teenagers continue to require support and encouragement, and nurturance of independent-living skills beyond the level of pizza-warming and ATM use.  But I intend to fulfill these commitments around the obligation to attend to writing, and to find/steal/create and use as much time and energy as I can to write.  I am ready to be done "wanting to write," and to begin writing.

I think that's what I came in here for.

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