About a month ago, I said to a friend that I was waiting for the landscape to transform. I wanted it to snow. I also knew it was a metaphor for my inner landscape.
The end of the year turned very dark for me. I rode a roller coaster of black depression with occasional moments of gray. The precipitating event that sent me on the ride happened the day after my birthday in mid-October. It involves a profound loss, but not because someone died. I would have to reveal others’ stories to include the details, so they will not be a part of this post. I did not lose Tom, nor is he responsible for the loss (just to reassure those of you who know the two of us).
What is important is that it coincided with the waning of my seventh decade. I will turn 70 in October.
As I worked through the loss I alternated between feelings—sometimes the landscape was the waste land, other times a blank page. I kept asking myself, why am I here, where is here, and what is “here”?
I turned to story, as I often do, to navigate the course—and accidentally landed on “13 Reasons Why.” I had avoided it, thinking it was something it was not. I think it is a pretty accurate depiction of adolescence. I’m sad to see that it is still a breeding ground for the Brett Kavanaughs of the world—a place where young women get ground down and good young men struggle to find their way as well.
I recognized myself in Hannah, the young female protagonist. Seeing her struggle with trying to fit in, I saw clearly that I had made the choice to not quite make a choice about being myself back then. When I was in my 30s, I met women in their 60s and 70s through the Gray Panthers who had navigated a different path. They had defied what was acceptable at a time when being “acceptable” was enforced with an even more heavy hand. They had written their own stories. They showed me an alternative.
Yet, even with their model, the heavy burden of wanting to be nice, likeable, and placating—to make people comfortable, to fit in—weighed me down. I didn’t necessarily behave in the nice, likeable, or placating way, but I felt guilty about it when I did.
As I made my way through the “13 Reasons Why“ story of Hannah, Clay, and the other characters, my family’s dynamic started coming back to me. It was the matriarchy as much, if not more, than the patriarchy who enforced the narrow path of choices for me. My mother was the younger of the two daughters. My grandmother and aunt (my mother’s older sister) dominated. They were not alpha females—they just inflicted their dominance, which was fueled by their disappointments and bitterness at what they perceived as their lack of choices in creating their stories.
My mother submitted to their dominance, muffled her own light, and so could not shine a light on a path for me to write my own story. Whether it was her intent, or my interpretation of how she felt, I made the choice to protect my mother from the truth that we are the authors of our lives. I wrote my story, but in secret. Or, as I have described it before, I became a wolf in sheep’s clothing—I donned the clothing not to fool the sheep so I could make a meal of them, but so they would find me acceptable.
But, there’s no fooling sheep. They know a wolf when they smell one.
In the waning days of my seventh decade, I can see the ways I have tried to fly under the radar and the consequences of it. Thus I have been confronted with that empty page in my story as I complete my seventh decade.
I woke one morning two weeks ago in acute anxiety, with no reference to why. I don’t even know how I changed my perception of anxiety from fear of danger to fear of the unknown. But I did. I understood that I had the option to leave behind that which wasn’t me: walking those high school halls being nice, placating, and likeable.
I gave up on waiting for the snow to change the landscape and realized that I had to just walk those high school halls (they still exist everywhere) without reference to the nice-likeable-placating expectation.
And then it snowed. This hasn’t been the usual snow we have here on the Olympic Peninsula. It’s been one that brings with it the challenges associated with prolonged snow, cold, and ice.
The snow-transforming landscape still enchants me, but it also brings with it a lot of unknowns.
The metaphor continues.
NOTE: Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Maxine Waters, Radhida Tlalib, Maria Cantwell, Ilhan Ohmar, Tammy Duckworth, Elizabeth Warren, Mazie Hirono, Kamala Harris, and so many more who are currently serving in Congress walk fearlessly through those high school halls as strong, kind, badasses—they are the alpha she-wolves who will transform our national landscape. I walk with them.
Loved the snow shots, no snow here in Marin County though. As for the other gobbleygook I too turned 70 last year (July) and realize I am a NATA. “Never Amounted To Anything”. No major successes in business, art, theatre, films, writing — and most likely will not achieve any in the few years I have left. To be honest I am a fatalist. Everything comes and goes, always has, always will. No problem it’s the way it is and and soon I will be gone too. Where to after this existence — who knows? Since I don’t subscribe to any of the fairytales pertaining to Disneyland, Paradise, Heaven or Hell I seriously doubt I will be going to any of those places (limbo, purgatory or Venezuela included) when I close my eyes for the final time. I believe I will lose all consciousness forever and let all the bullshit go and that will be the end. Just fine. As for bothersome memories of highschool days and other times they will be gone too. So in the meantime if one doesn’t want to continue suffering from ‘high school days’ one must flush them and all other guilts, shoulds or shouldn’ts down the drain today and be forgotten now. Easy to say but obviously not always easy to do. But if not done then we spend the rest of our lives living in regrets and guilts and sorrows, pains that are totally mental and really a drag on the rest of our lives. I may be a complete and total failure in life but I make a point of looking for and appreciating, really appreciating what I call “wonders” that I see everyday: rainbows, deer in the backyard, birds at the bird feeders, views of Mt. Tamalpais in the rain or clouds or bright sun, and countless other simple little things that pass before me daily, grab my attention and remind me how utterly fantastic this world is and loving those sights and sounds makes being alive such a wonderful experience. May everyone find that peace. Bram
Bram, well I wrote a long response to your comment and then couldn’t post it. Why I do not know. So I’ll just post a short response: I think you misread what I wrote. I wasn’t saying I suffered from high school, but rather looked at choices I made that were made, in part, to placate the “politics” of the women in my family. High school references were meant as a metaphor. I still struggle with not being a nice, placating girl, even though I seem to be incapable of keeping my mouth shut. That’s actually a good thing, but I struggle with it.
So if you would, please take another look at the post and see if you read it in a different light. You might also want to look at my later posts to see my progression through the grief and depression.