Sunday, March 27, 2011

Contentment

How is it possible to never have a moment and still feel (on occasion) as if I haven’t got a life? Am I the only one that feels this way? What to do, what to do?

When I was a little kid I had the standard dreams… I wanted to be a teacher, a business woman, a mother, a writer, an actress, a singer, a chef. Little did I know that I would have all of these careers, many simultaneously, and none of them would be what I imagined. I had no way of knowing that they would all be fulfilling yet all leave me wanting… something more, something better, something else, something different than what I have. What is contentment? If I had it would I want it after five minutes, a week, a month, a year, a lifetime? How do I know this ISN’T it? Why do I feel like both Helen Hunt AND Jack Nicholson in ‘As Good As It Gets’? Should I be taking prescription (may cause stomach ache, headache, diarrhea, heart palpitations, coma, ennui or death) drugs for this or just getting a bit tipsy (may cause stomach ache, headache, diarrhea, heart palpitations, coma, ennui or death) once a month? So many questions and not one satisfactory answer…..

I loved to carry around important (in my mind) papers when I was a kid. I would whip them out with a broken crayon or stubby pencil in hand and either act like I was teaching my bears and dolls math and science or that the papers were essential documents for some vague sort of enterprise where I was a very important person, vice president in charge of something. My parent’s gave me junk mail or old papers from my dads brief case to use in these fantasies, fully encouraging me to be a professional person. Even though they were old school they never said nice girls do not order their dollies to fetch them coffee or smack them with the ruler when they do not learn their ABCs fast enough. I was given old handbags to use as brief cases and tromped around in my mom’s pumps and some wooden beads, wrapping a towel shawl-like over my shoulders,  heaving great sighs and yelling ‘You’re fired!’ at hapless naked baby dolls with ink scars on their faces. In hindsight they were probably just so happy that I was playing a recognizable game with dolls instead of talking to my dear imaginary friends (Jan and Trilly Trolly, they weren’t from around here, obviously) all day that I could have been pretending to be an over-adrenalized despot and they would have found a way to applaud it. They did seem to get a little concerned when my teacher game morphed into Jean Joins The Convent (Hey, I was attending Catholic School!) and the shawl turned into a habit but that was short lived because, in my mind, nuns lived too predictable an existence and even at six I wasn’t comfortable with the status quo. From the Virgin Jean to bride was the next logical step. Nun’s habit to wedding dress and veil was just a tiny hop for my imagination. My rosary went from being tucked into my sister’s belt to hanging around my neck, I wore my mom’s white sandals instead of her black pumps and voila, I was adorable! I promptly pulled a baby doll out from under my dress… I was number six after all. I didn’t know the details but wasn’t totally naïve either…. and settled in to life in my third of the room as a married woman.

As with most girls house was a game that lasted for years. I started with the obligatory tea parties, swerved to the outer limits and pretended to be a wife both welcoming her husband home from the wars and one getting news of his death in battle. I tried out different excited and happy waves and Yoo-hoos. Kissing the back of my hand with loud smacks and chattering about the dance at the officer’s club. I pretended to drink (Rob Roys. I don’t even know what they are but it was my imaginary poison), smoke and eat caviar on crackers. I practiced batting my eyes. I would usher the invisible swashbuckler out the door, crying, wailing about how I would miss him and be strong… ten minutes later I would get the imaginary knock, the telegram (More of those important papers from my dad’s case. Oh happy day when he gave me carbon paper too) and fall, swooning, to the floor with my baby and a wad of toilet paper substituting for a hankie clutched to my chest.

These weird games came to an end when I was nine and moved to a regular suburb and became part of a new group of people. Where I had been one of hundreds of kids with their father’s either gone to war or gone to prison I now was one of hundreds of kids whose father’s wore suits and ties and went to work in the city every day. Where I had attended a Catholic school and a smallish church I now went to a regular elementary school and a huge church too far away to walk to. I had lived in a small, regimented community and suddenly I felt like I had been thrust into the big bad world. Where I had always played alone or with imaginary or inanimate friends I had a real live girl who came to my house and hung out with me and me to hers after school. Suddenly, where I had easily imagined myself in the starring roles of my fantasies I found myself at odds. I was way behind…. I started baton twirling, desperately trying to make my fat fingers spin the stupid shiny stick but succeeding in only breaking things and hitting myself in the nose. I tried to learn how to do cartwheels and back bends, to jump and clap like a cheerleader with the result being heavy bottomed tumbles in the back yard adorning my backside with eggplant colored bruises and twisting my ankles. I wanted to be blasé about riding my bike with no sibling or parent watching over my every move with an eagle’s sharp eye and instead got shaky and queasy when I got more than two blocks away from home. In short I was not cut out to be a regular kid. A VP, a teacher, a mother or a nun, sure, but not a normal 9 year old in suburban Virginia.

The good thing about all of the hours, days, weeks, months and years of playing by my self was that I had learned how to act. I could hang with the kids at the playground and fool them most of the time. I learned how to cartwheel, once, perfectly. They never knew twice would make me dizzy and I would fall over on my face, eating dirt. I had one baton trick which I could smile through and appear nonchalant about, bored with. I was too cool for cheerleading (You like those girls? Are you kidding me?) turning to music and books instead. I would call my friend before leaving home so that 90 percent of the time, she could meet me half way to the drugstore where we hung out, alleviating the need to pedal several miles by myself. I was an Oscar caliber performer and a constant work in progress...

This sounds sad, in fact down right pitiful, but it had some great upsides to it. For one, I can still do the one baton trick because I practiced it for a million hours. For another, in finding ways to avoid all of the things I couldn’t do and to not embarrass myself in front of all of the people I wanted to be like I became a person who is not afraid to not be like everyone (hell, for that matter, anyone) else.  Music and books have served me well and provided such great heights of joy in my life it is hard to not see them as living, breathing things. I can’t do a cartwheel anymore but I can, and do, dance. Not a ballerina, not a Rockette, but I can shake my soul with the best of them. When you can’t talk teen idol because you just don’t care that much, but you can make the best damn fudge from scratch in Annandale you still fit with the giggling gaggle you want to be friends with.

To this day I enjoy being alone-- reading, listening to music, cooking, and dancing-- at the same time I want to have a wide and loving circle of friends made up of people who share my interest and my passions and are willing to let me try out theirs without abandoning me if I fail. I am a business woman with an important enough job, though I do have to fetch my own coffee and have never been in a position to axe anyone (though I could give you a list…). I have been a wife who lost a husband (NOTHING like I imagined at play) and a mother, a writer, a dancer a chef…. I have it all, but I want something, something different, something better, just more.