“How could I tell you anything? You are not even talking to me.”
On to the second of the two “New Age” books I agreed to read:
“Remember that self-doubt is as self-centered as self-inflation. Your obligation is to reach as deeply as you can and offer your unique and authentic gifts as bravely and beautifully as you’re able.”
Self-doubt and struggling with a lack of sense of self are two different things – but interrelated.
I don’t feel paralyzed by strong self-doubt, and I certainly don’t feel like I lack a sense of self. But I do have those moments of doubt that stop me – maybe not the doubts that tell me I can’t do something. More that I doubt whether I have the strength to persevere through difficult things. I feel this keenly with practical things – do I have the fortitude to push through the difficulties and complexities of learning and understanding all the things I would have to learn and understand to take on X career or Y project? I never feel this doubt or self-questioning otherwise. But then, what of this obligation to reach as far, as wide, as deep as possible into your own capabilities?
Is it really an obligation? To whom? Yourself? The world? I wrote yesterday about projected expectations, and other people assuming things about you. I had a conversation with my father recently (it doesn’t happen often; he is the king of assuming things about others), and he told me something about his sudden bouts with anxiety and the nervous and constant buzz he has in his stomach; he asked if I had ever felt that way. Oh, only every day of my childhood. He was incredulous when I said this, “But why on earth would you be nervous or anxious? You were so smart.” As if being smart erases the kind of self-doubt, nervousness, shyness that shadows you every minute of your life – all it does is help you craft an identity, authentic or not, that you can use when you are out, forced to interact in the world. Does the innate ability or intelligence you possess eventually outweigh or overtake all the doubt or nervousness – or the complete misunderstanding or blindness that those, supposedly closest to you, have applied to you?
Are we obligated by having a natural gift or talent to pursue it? Sure, it seems a waste not to, but are we shirking a duty or responsibility by ignoring our “unique and authentic gifts”, or merely letting ourselves down?
Ultimately, as Julie Carr writes, “You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do”.
FORECLOSING ON THAT PERIL
I’ll keep explaining—because maybe you still don’t get it
Those children in California (substitute any state), dead from gunfire—
Let me begin again in a little roof garden with my friend
A perverse reader, he listens to my stories as if they were TV
I mean he mocks me lovingly on the roof and at the library book sale
My friend is not a banker but a prison activist
He used to be a philosopher, but like many philosophers, he’s taken a turn
that should be easy to understand
The trajectory from philosopher to activist is like the curve of a single brushstroke across a large canvas
Artists in the fifties paid attention to that
I hate flat language like this, but I’m pretty flat
sometimes. You have to be your own dictator
and the law is, hate yourself if you have to, but don’t stop doing the thing you said you were going to do
As I tell my daughters often
Emotion is a site of unraveling (JB)
I admit, gripping my T-shirt
I wish I were writing in prose an unfolding intensity that shocks history professors and prison activists equally
Later, in the grass, we’ll practice gymnastics and that way contribute our sweat
to Our Ephemeral City
And, reflecting on the doubt, and the not-entirely-accurate identities we inhabit in figuring out who we are, I realize we are like animals who shed their skin. You change identities no matter who you are, and the former you still informs, as memory and experience, but does not define, as the previous New Age tome I read wisely posited:
“To relinquish your former identity is to sacrifice the story you had been living, the one that defined you, empowered you socially – and limited you. This sacrifice captures the essence of leaving home.”
The writer also cited one of my favorite poems from Derek Walcott (here’s a piece); it half-applies:
“The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.”
Photo (c) of Mt Rainier by the late, great Paul Costanich.