I was thinking about therapy the other day. My therapist and I have drifted apart over the past six months or so. We had been doing phone sessions, which was great because it allowed me to eat while talking to her, and also load the dishwasher. But eventually, even those became complicated, with her new job schedule and my relentless morning sickness. And, without any formal farewell, we became unhooked and slipped apart.
The dishes have suffered. I’ve been trying to decide if I should make an effort. If I should reach out to her, or find a new therapist.
It’s often hard to explain to myself exactly why I maybe should, because therapy is often vague like that. I used to get annoyed at listening to my own problems. And then I’d have to talk about that. Which is awkward. The whole thing is awkward. Once my therapist said to me, laughing, “Kate, you overthink everything!” I liked her for that.
But when I think about therapy now, the part that frustrates me is really more about storytelling than anything else. Actually, a friend of mine who is a successful storyteller, like, as a thing, not just as an expression, said something about how in therapy she feels aware of the things she has to leave out to tell a certain story about her life. There are all of these contradictory, complicating details. There are all these details that are really the beginning of a totally different story or interpretation.
The truth is, we all need to tell ourselves stories about our lives all the time. It keeps things manageable. We get this sense that we have some idea of who we are. We sort out characteristics and assemble something that comfortingly resembles a personality. People, like dogs and chimps and probably caterpillars, too, like the reassurance of identifiable patterns. We pat ourselves on the back for being a person who consistently hates the taste of licorice—it’s a clue! Have you ever notice how proud people sometimes seem of their little weirdnesses? Oh, I NEVER wear periwinkle! It makes me nervous about buying people gifts, because what if I am forgetting one of their major quirks? What if I get them something in periwinkle by accident?
One of the things that’s so frustrating about trying to explain Bear, or anyone I really love, to other people, is that I always have to leave so much out. And as I describe him, I feel myself narrowing his character into something simpler, more consistent. But I love him for a million other tiny details, a million more quirks and other, bigger things, that might render his character confusing in the telling. He is deliciously bashful/he is quietly cocky—these realities blur and blend and twist each other into different shapes all the time. I love him in this indescribably big way, like water sloshing over the top and seeping into everything. My love is sloppy and undiscerning an all-encompassing. Sometimes I am horribly afraid that he will die and I won’t be able to preserve even the imprint of him—of my love for him—because I won’t be able to ever recreate the infinite complexity of the particulars—he’ll just be a faint fossil outline. I am not smart enough or observant enough or a good enough writer to preserve his wholeness, or even close.
And I think that all of this is why I don’t feel like analyzing my childhood, or my parents, sometimes. Even now, as I approach parenthood myself. I feel a little gross when I do it, like I’m always getting something obviously wrong. Like all I can remember about Louie C.K.’s show was this one joke and a loud farting sound. I’m translating poorly into a language I don’t speak with enough fluency for nuance. Thank god for fart humor, I guess. Really, I’m thankful. But there needs to be more.
Especially growing up so unusually, like I did, outside of school, I sometimes don’t know how to make sense of myself.
I had a wildly free childhood, bursting with innocence, where I spent hours in the woods, following the stream, pretending to be the heroine in an epic tale. There was something untouched, holy, fantastical about it.
I was sheltered, but that’s OK.
Or should I be a little resentful at how unprepared I was, to face the other girls my age in college? How bowled over I was, by their different definitions of friendship, by their lightning-quick once-overs, their unspoken rules, the awful, intimidating ways they had fun, the foreign ways they were cool, the effort they made for beauty that I didn’t understand but soon understood painfully well—all the more painful for not having known it before.
My innocence was complicated, growing up. I was sexually confident. People don’t associate that with innocence. I was proud of my mind, and I operated in the adult world without too much trouble. There was something badass, unapologetic about me, then, I think. Something helpless and fragile and embarrassing, too. Something brittle about my aggressive self-confidence. Something charming about my bluster. Something frighteningly earnest or refreshingly upfront. I don’t know.
Why did I grow to hate my face enough to cut it open? How did I let myself slide into perpetual self-criticism? I remember telling myself a very hard-lined story about the way I looked: bad. And I needed to be proactive and try to fix it, and then life would be better in so many ways. I would probably just start winning things, because people would want me to win, because they’d be rooting for me, because I’d be prettier. See? Logic!
Later, I told myself a story about my childhood, and how all that naïve, dorky self-acceptance had left me naked and vulnerable to the eventual onslaught of beauty rules and subtly ruthless social ideas about femininity that left me shredded, bloody-faced, shivering in the cold of my own sudden, fundamental failure. I mean, I am literally writing a memoir about this. It’s definitely a story I’m telling.
But it’s not a totally simple story, either.
And when I let it be un-simple, I don’t know what to blame or thank my parents for.
I’ve tried, for a while, to figure it out. My parents are, after all, fascinatingly, dramatically flawed. You know, like people are. They might make easy targets, if I were to start firing angrily. And I can get angry, thinking about the stupid things they did or didn’t do. The ways they missed some important point.
But right now, as I waddle towards the beginning of parenthood myself, I find I am less interested in solving them. I look around, and it seems like everyone is weird in one way or another, and plenty of people had strange upbringings that set them apart in certain ways. And ultimately, most of us just don’t know why we are exactly the way we are. It’s too intricate and our lives are too sprawling and we are too influenced by too many things to keep track of.
As time shrinks, and I am swept nearer to the edge of parenthood, I don’t want to waste another moment trying to figure myself and everything else out. It’s never right enough to justify the angst. Instead, I feel almost lavishly forgiving. I forgive my parents. I forgive myself. I forgive the world for being extravagantly confusing and big.
It’s kinda all I can do, I think.
I want to start motherhood open-hearted and nonprescriptive and wide-minded. I will, of course, tell myself plenty of stories along the way, but I want to also remember that every time you tell a story, you don’t tell a lot of other ones. And those stories are often just as true, just as real. Maybe, at least, I can pick one where I look good in all the colors I like. Where I have a cool face. Where I am open-ended, unsolved, still fresh and learning. I figure we’re all always like that, anyway, the whole time, until we die.
(a periwinkle dress. source)
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I don’t even know what to ask. This was such a meandering post. Do you feel you get something out of therapy, if you go? Do you like to analyze your parents?
Unroast: Today I love the way I can really appreciate other women’s beauty, sometimes, without being jealous. Or, maybe I’m a little jealous, but I’m mostly appreciative. Sometimes. It’s nice.
Giveaway results from the baking giveaway: The winner is Jodelle Brohard, commenter #53 under the post about sexy back hair. That’s just fun to write. Congrats, Jodelle!! I’ll send your email address to the giveaway sponsor and get you hooked up with some baking swag
And here’s a cake pic! From reader Ashley (she blogs here), who says: Here is a pic of me, no make-up, hair not done, and probably wearing the clothes I slept in, going at my son’s birthday cake! I just turned 29, have been married 9 years and given birth to 6 kids in the last 6 1/2 years, no twins. I figure I am more than entitled to make my cake and eat it too.
I LOVE it!!! Send me your own cake pic — email@example.com.