“Finding Ourselves”

These are the words poking at my waking brain: I am finding myself.

This phrase, not spoken by an adolescent seeking the reach of her wings; not spoken through the torpor of middle age and reassessing decades of a regulated life; not bounded by the exigencies of the daily dramas — schedules, money, pain.

Instead, I know this phrase to be articulated by the woman I am: thoughtful and vital, and operating within an established framework — the complicated juggle of relationship, motherhood, career; the conventional triumvirate that steers our expectations, and threatens the survival of the female self.

How many of us are seeking, and what is it, truly, that we want?

What name do we give the imagined goal, the impossible state of emotional permanence, the promise of solutions to the discomforts of our consciousness, to our inquisitive essence?

Repackaging the Product

Sometimes we label it Presence. Sometimes we label it Happiness. Sometimes we label it Acceptance. We believe it will grant us a measure of control, and sometimes it does.

A measure of control.

Is popular culture conditioning us to turn away from a broader reach of human emotion? From a sense of place that is grander than ourselves, that is tangible or spiritual or inevitable? Are we encouraged to dismiss the very friction and doubt that propels us to challenge assumptions, to create and achieve, aware that discomfort and disorientation are fertile ground for a state of self-discovery?

If cultural norms are the product and we are struggling with its features, have we yielded to rebranding and repackaging? Must we adopt these marketing terms for our very human need to belong and to feel safe?

My approach is to question; my approach is not for everyone. This is my nature and if I am relieved at my uncertainties, I am also buttressed by my own interrogations. I do not seek to find myself, though the notion of an explicit search tumbles around in my head as I imagine a caged Lotto ball on a secret trajectory. Surely it can nudge its neighbors to follow suit, popping out the string of winning numbers, the Solution to All Problems, the Happy Ending At Least For Now, the realization that All Happy Endings Are Moving Targets and beginnings, after all, of something new even in our constrained comprehension of borders, boundaries, and moving beyond them.

Changing the Lens

Now I am slipping, I am drowning, I am drifting; my markers are disappearing. The face I know, the limbs that support me solidly, the script I cling to as my life.

Now I am climbing, I am projecting, I am revising; I do not name this evolutionary topography, but I know that I am not broken. I know that I am not lost.

Rather, I am aware of being newly found and repeatedly — heartily, painfully, joyfully. In each hour, each day, each sleepless night as dreams crystallize my resolutions or stomp on them, lull me as if intoxicated or toss me back to weary consciousness in a lifetime of hours, of days, of so many duties that I lose myself in and tied to sleepless nights, nevertheless, dreams will newly find me.

This is how I am found, and found again, and found again.

Now I am slipping, I am drowning, I am drifting; now I am climbing, I am projecting, I am soaring.

Some days and nights, the lens is everything. It is up to us to hazard changing the lens.

Allowing the Self “To Be”

To know myself a dozen times daily is not to be lost, though it may be dizzying. To float without coordinates is not to lose one’s sight. It is, nonetheless, disorienting and I know in this period of spinning and blur that eventually I will identify a suitable soft landing.

I am determined to make peace with quaking and contradiction, with battering currents and cold, with hovering close to beat and bone.

If I do not seek to find myself, this does not mean that I do not seek, that I do not examine, that I do not sketch while wandering unfamiliar landscape. I anticipate the times I reside within the marrow, replenishing reserves, and knowing that I will reemerge with all that I have learned as answers arrive in their own time.

Recognition is realistic: I am the woman in this moment however dreary; I am the woman in this moment that is brighter and just as fleeting; I am the woman in constant preparation of a taut new canvas, ready to gesso, to splatter colors, to layer oils, to recondition the cracking surface as time takes hold like memory, to celebrate the once fertile womb, the wonderment of the divine human hand, the fingers that are my own, the sorrows of aging, the pride of continuing to question, the vision that is always nascent if we stand back even a little and allow it to flood the spirit.

Changing the Game

I do not live without a plan, yet I revere improvisation and its necessity.

I reject rules not of my choosing. More importantly, I reject their premise: one settled self that will not stagnate, duos that need no break from their rut, trios to tempt us into more plentiful arrangements.

I offer my belief in variations on a theme: each human emotion in its turn; each action and its consequences; the consequences of inaction, inertia, silence.

I know the monarch; at times I am appreciative of its infinitesimal breeze.

I know that I will march, advancing. I know that I will stagger, blindly. I will stumble, and pick myself up. A stranger may startle me with her assistance, and another, with the possibility of shared exploration. Voice will reawaken on a schedule of its own and instruct: now it is time for tears, now it is time for laughter.

The Happiness Board

I cannot grasp the token I am given, nor even the one that I select to move from place to place, to accumulate wins by conventional means, to claim the prize or return to the starting line. This is a lesson.

You who sit and dictate are chaste, would-be puppeteers, however well intentioned, carrying your placard of Happiness Now, Happiness for Everyone, Happiness at All Cost. I understand the multiplicity of your reasons, the governance of sustained social systems, the insistence that we all shuffle around the same board both in forfeit and in victory.

These are the rules, you say. We are expected to follow.

But I say no. You choose your game, I will choose mine. This, too, is a lesson.

Can’t you see? The players fade in and out, prescribed paths grow old and demand a renovated face, new movers and shakers take up the reins as they should. I toss the dice when I must, I spin the wheel understanding it may be rigged, I count off paces before firing off my reasoning, flipping the cards for the next instruction, or trying to believe.

And I balk, which is another lesson.

Finding Meaning

I opt for nouns that comfort me and use them liberally for effect: pleasure, joy, meaning. I pluck each from a register and sequence of my own, unbounded and unapologetic. Isn’t pleasure our most natural entitlement? Doesn’t joy find us whether or not we seek it? Aren’t we capable of knowing noise from melody, truth from propaganda, bitterness from the sweet flavors of a beloved’s body pressed against our own? Isn’t meaning ours to define, ours to shape, ours to adopt, ours to share?

I am a moving target and I am not lost, though I may be here, then gone, then here again. I note little in my beginnings knowing they will regroup and return, and remarking fully on the morning sun breaking as it unveils the long day’s labor ahead, I cherish the legacy of dream as it lingers then sets me energetically to task.

I recognize the roulette we spin, and equally the one we do not, content in this process.

I am finding myself.

This is a simple statement, a worthy statement, a waking statement that serves us as a headline at best, a moment’s marker, a sidebar. But this is not my search. This is a lesson.

Visit Motherese on The Happiness Project for a provocative discussion, including the comments, which sparked this musing.