It’s been a long few weeks. This morning, as I watched my daughter walk down the street to high school, I felt the tears well up. It seem like only moments ago, we were holding hands, walking to her preschool and my parenting classes while she bounced up and down off the curb chatting away. Time. Sometimes it seems endless, like a languid, humid summer. And suddenly, it’s autumn.
I packed a whole summer of experiences in the last few weeks. I went to the Minnesota State Fair for the first and last time in my life. I boated down the St. Croix with a friend who has known me for over 30 years. I did the absolute worst interview in my life, which gave me insomnia and crushed my ego into dust. I tried to register voters (the least popular table at a school open house) and wrote pithy comments on a zillion ACLU voter postcards. I frequented bookstores and often fell asleep in my reading chair, book in hand.
I’m a slow processor. It’s taken me a couple of weeks to superglue the pieces of my fragile ego together, after interviewing for a vacant city council seat. There were mitigating factors – it was more like a military board, where there was a prescribed set of questions, no interaction, and a bunch of white guys staring at me grim-faced. 30 years ago, I would have probably aced it. Too many years of learning how to develop rapport and human connection had me little prepared to be interviewed by a room of stenographers, who were literally writing down and grading my answers as I spoke.
I drove away from city hall with the Talking Heads playing in my brain “How did I get here?” I’d tried to prepare for this interview in the way I try to prepare for everything. But I was not prepared to feel simultaneously angry and embarrassed that I had pushed myself to do this thing my heart wasn’t really in – that I’d allowed my ego to speak louder than my gut.
It’s hard to come back from failure and mistakes. But I am my own Spin Master. And my efforts to be an activist, to be engaged in politics, had taken over a good portion of my life. I’d been getting progressively miserable over the last couple of years and while the President would be delighted to take credit for this, as he does all things, I’m not giving it to him. Because we are, no matter what the state of the world, ultimately responsible for the state of our selves. It’s easy to shelve that responsibility when larger causes are on the horizon and to become a mini-martyr in the course of things.
There is an argument that to make a difference, you have to put some real skin in the game. We see the costs throughout history – those who died and suffered or the famous humans who ignored their children, cheated on their spouses, had secret fetishes and addictions of every ilk, yet who made a difference, who went down in history for the one thing that they did really well, whatever it was. But that’s not the path for most of us.
I remember being very irritated by something Brené Brown wrote in her book, Rising Strong. “The ego has a shame-based fear of being ordinary.” She went on to say that this was how she defined narcissism. Nobody wants to think of themselves as being narcissistic, albeit there is a huge difference in degree. But some of us, most of us, are quite ordinary. We’re not building bridges, curing illnesses, climbing whatever tall things we can find. Most of us will never write literature that will be read into the next century or be called the greatest anything (except by those we love, on t-shirts and coffee mugs).
I’m at the age where I know who I am – that I will never enjoy huge crowds of people, I am prone to/revel in saying the wrong thing when I’m irritated, I am never in the moment more than when I am writing, I need shitloads of solitude, I adore my family, and I want to perpetually learn. But then there is my ego. Martyrdom? Sign me up. Hard labor? Tell me where to dig. Endless devotion? Here – have an organ. These are not sacrifices for me. This is business-as-usual, not altruism.
Despite all the jokes about men and their vehicles and overcompensation, I’ve realized that I have my own Hummvee – doing good in order to make up for not feeling good enough. This is ego. This is thinking that it be critically important I be seen as being good – that appearances are more important than the infrastructure. I let my ego take me to a place where I would not thrive, because it sounded important. More than ordinary.
It’s been a messy, messy epiphany – one that I’ve experienced before in varying degrees, but at this stage in life, it really needs to stick. The outcome is that I’ve put some limits on activism and volunteerism and I’m working to change my time to reflect activities that feed me. I joined a local writers’ group, pulled out the many unfinished writing projects, and am getting down to the business of being ordinary.
That’s how I wrapped up my summer. How was yours?