how do you know the truth

Not to fall back into my melancholic meanderings but something has been poking at me lately. Namely, even accepting that truth is a malleable concept, how do you know the truth about yourself?

I’ve had three serious relationships in my life (sort of four, since I dated the same guy twice, with a big break in between).  Obviously, I can’t help but look back at the others as I grapple with SG’s exit from my life.  While I may fault the gentlemen for saying the words that ended our relationships, I’ve always been willing to accept my culpability in the dissolution, given some time and distance to mull over the big picture.

I do wonder if there is something broken in me.  It’s easy, with some perspective, to see how I failed miserably in every relationship but the first one.  It turns out, while the guys have the same script, I have the same modus operandi.  I’m good for roughly the first two years; then I seem to fall into a slow and steady spiral downward.  I begin to pull inward, I lose interest in the physical side of things, my enjoyment of life flattens out.  I’m conscious of it all but in a distanced way, if that makes sense; doing anything about it is beyond me so I just keep pushing forward.  Then, right when I’m starting to get my equilibrium back, the guy ends the relationship.

It’s hard for me to parse my first serious relationship, in part because I ended up with him again years later.  My second span of years with him has influenced my understanding of the first span, so I’m not as clear about how that ended – or, I should say, how I was functioning when it ended.  All I remember is the pure misery when he broke it off, feeling like my world had literally crumbled around me.  I cried for days, constantly, incessantly.  I would talk to people without realizing that tears were running down my face – imagine that scenario while I was counselor at a summer camp (good times…).  I was out of state when this all happened and he was supposed to take me home at the end of the summer; his best friend volunteered to take me, and I cried for the entire six hour trip (that poor boy).  

I’ve always thought that young man broke something in me.  We use the term heartbreak without thinking that it might be a literal explanation of what’s happening inside us. I certainly changed after that break-up; in many ways I became harder, less able to find the happiness in life, more withdrawn.  

I had relationships after that, obviously, but they’ve all led to the same conclusion.  I’ve taken my friends seriously – IRL and here – when they remind me not to let SG write my story for me.  His issues were his issues, just as the ones before him had their own issues.  But I have mine, too. And I’m not sure I know how to fix them.

I don’t like the imagery of being broken.  I’ve gotten through cancer, I’ve managed multiple back surgeries, I’ve lost people I love, I’ve left my home, I’ve distanced myself from my family; my life has had some very shitty turns but I’m still standing, scars and all.  I know that I’m not a fundamentally unloveable person; my friends and family prove otherwise (and children love me, and they always know).  But is there something broken in how I function in relationships that writes the ending before the first act is finished?  Is there something bent in how I connect to men I believe I love?  

I’m musing, because it’s late and my mind has been wandering down these paths lately.  I’ll probably continue musing, even if I’m not writing about it.  I’m quite sure there is no easy answer to any of my questions, perhaps no answer at all, but I still wonder.

the hell that is committee work

God, I hate committee work.  Just give me the task and let me do it myself; in the end, it’s much better for my mental health.

The only positive experience I’ve had with committee work is when a small group of like-minded people came together because they were focused on something very specific.  The work was short-lived; the task was clearly defined; people were on the same page.

It’s like hunting for a four-leaf clover in a field of kudzu to find that permutation, though.

I’m currently co-chairing a committee that is nothing but awful.  We do not have a well-defined purpose; the members are not like-minded; and my co-chair is passive-aggressively difficult.  I’m not interested in what we’re working on and I would dearly love to walk away from this train wreck. Alas, that is not an option.

As an aside: In talking to a friend about this mess, she offered an interesting insight regarding the generational differences between female academics.  My co-chair is probably 25 years older than me, an established academic respected in her field.  I work with many female academics that fit this exact description.  They also share another characteristic: an utterly overwhelming passive-aggressiveness.  The facade may be sweet or slightly discombobulated but it hides a stubborn streak that bludgeons you senseless to get its way.

Perhaps this is how female academics had to get by all these years: conform to the shy and retiring female stereotype while being hard as nails in order to advance.  I realize we haven’t gotten far away from that in many respects.  However, I see my generation of female academics more willing to play the man’s game.  We’re hard, too, but it’s on the surface; we’re direct, we’re upfront and we’re stubborn.  Playing these passive-aggressive games… Well, as the saying goes, we don’t have time for this shit.

today’s report

I got up.

I read.

I took a shower.

I fixed lunch (and read).

I thought about doing laundry.

I took a nap.

I provided feedback on a university piece in which I am quoted.

I completed my paper revisions.

I sent some emails.

I decided it was too late to start laundry.

I fixed dinner (and watched TV).

I headed to bed with a book.

That is all.

okay

My life may be different now, it may be very unappealing to me, but the days are still passing, and I need to come up with something else to talk about than my roiling emotions, deep unhappiness and general apathy.

Okay.

I went to the local farmer’s market this morning.  Tomatoes, zucchini, blueberries: yum.  Summer is really the only time I eat vegetables – because it’s the only time they actually taste like vegetables – so I enjoy picking out my veggies at the market each week.  I even bought into a CSA this summer, where you have credit at the market rather than a basket of veg delivered to your door – because what in the world would I do with a basket of anything, given my eating and (non)cooking habits? 

I went to a movie with some girlfriends later in the day.  It wasn’t particularly good.  This summer has been a little slow on the movie front, it feels, but there are some good ones lined up for the fall (or so the trailers indicate).

I’m thinking I may take a trip to the closest big city before the semester starts to do a little shopping.  I wouldn’t mind some new clothes, especially if I can keep the weight off I’ve lost this summer.  I don’t have time before I leave for my conference this coming Friday – and I should see if the weight stays off for a bit before thinking about a different wardrobe.  I don’t need lots of stuff, but a few new trousers, blouses and dresses would be welcome for the fall.

There, some normal topics for a change.

because reading

Reading has been my salvation more often than I can say. 

When I was growing up, you’d have been hard pressed to find me without a book.  I read before I fell asleep, first thing when I woke up, on the bus, at the dinner table (when I could get away with it), at family gatherings, in the car, in class.  I checked out more books than I could carry at the library; I snuck books from my sister’s and brother’s rooms; I borrowed books from relatives. When we traveled on family vacations, my side of the car always included a bag of books – a very large bag, too.  I don’t know exactly why I read so voraciously.  I loved the stories, obviously, but there was simply a compulsion to read.  

Hindsight being what it is, I suppose I was escaping my square peg-ness between the pages of all those books.  When I was reading, I fit into my own space.  I was lost in another world and that world was so much more suited to me than the one I was inhabiting.  That’s rather melodramatic, actually – and I don’t know how 18th century London or 19th century Virginia was exactly “more suited” to me – but that’s the best I can do.

I stopped reading as much in high school and college – my work load and social life took a big chunk out of my free time – but I still managed to read a little, mostly during the summers. I usually had a book with me when I went away for any length of time, and I usually read at night, before I went to sleep.

When I went to London, first for study abroad, then on a work visa, the first thing I did was sign up for a library card at the closest public library.  That was my entertainment most evenings: free, engrossing, distracting.  I didn’t have as much money as some of my fellow students; I didn’t manage to meet a guy to while away my evenings.  So I read, a lot.

As an adult, I realize that I retreat to my bookshelves when things aren’t going so well in my actual life.  I always have a book beside my bed and, often, one sitting on the coffee table but when I’m happy engrossed in something or someone, I only manage a few chapters a week at most.  I suppose my life is entertaining enough at those times; I don’t want to escape it, I want to live it, so my books take a back seat.  I’m still buying them, of course, and stacking them all over my house – in bookcases, on the floor, beside the sofa, beside the bed – perhaps because I know it’s only a matter of time before I’ll need them again.

I started reading with the same greediness of my youth while I was on sabbatical.  Part of it was the sheer relief of having time to indulge in reading something I wasn’t using in a paper.  Part of it, I realize now, was because I could feel the sadness encroaching and I needed to escape it. Not exactly the healthiest approach, I suppose, but humans are rarely logical when it comes to their own lives.  I kept it up over this last year, burning through books at night and on the weekends.  I would pack several books anytime I got on a plane, often buying one or two more on the return trip because I was through with the others.  I took six to London with me this summer, bought about nine more there, and only brought three home (one of which I finished on the plane) – in a month’s worth of travel.

So, I’m reading lots now, mostly mysteries and thrillers, a few historical fictions – nothing that requires a whole lot of intellectual stamina.  I’m not happy, and that makes sense right now, but I can forget that if I’m engrossed in the words on the page.  Once again, the books have come to my rescue, and I’m quite certain we will continue to be good friends in the years ahead of me.

finding the normal

I made record time yesterday, so I suppose I was quite ready to get back to my own bed.  It is a very comfortable (and empty) bed.

Today was what I expect will be the shape of things to come: some errands, worked on paper revisions, answered emails, drafted a memo, read a journal, went to dinner with friends. Tomorrow will be more of the same: pick up my watch from the jeweler, go to the grocery store, draft my response to the editor’s feedback, respond to emails, do something with friends.  

Being busy doesn’t really equate to being happy but I suppose it will suffice.