Tag: Identity


Raw Art

In college, I had a wide network of friends who blogged right up until (I suspect) the moment they started feeling like adults. I did the same. Once I got engaged, I could no longer find the same 4 a.m., dormitory-buzz, cafeteria-fueled inspiration to write. College gave me a great writing niche, but it also formed a cocoon around my creativity that shriveled once I flew into “the real world.”

Maybe my brain was just too accustomed to being ordered around by textbooks. I had none of the energetic, free-flowing awareness of my own art that I now consider essential. (Just listen to Ben Folds Five’s “Naked Baby Pictures,” and you’ll hear what I mean.) Not that I’ve perfected the whole dancing-to-my-own-rhythm thing yet… Toddlers and laundry and spider solitaire all help ensure that I don’t spend too much time peeking into my brain and extracting best-sellers therefrom. But at least now I know a few untextbooky things:

1) College is over. Yes, really.
2) Now that I’ve been a real-life adult for 3-1/2 years (see above), I have the rights to my own brain.
3) Life is drenched in raw art just waiting to be sensed, interpreted, channeled.

Note to self: Go thou and enjoy.


Disowning Regret

It stands out like a hologram from the pages of my journals:
Regret for being too innocent.
Regret for far surpassing the bounds of innocence.
Regret for being too shy.
Regret for letting boldness take over.
Regret for liking the boys I’ve liked.
Regret for rejecting the ones I didn’t.
Regret for being too melancholy, too low.
Regret for experiencing giddy highs.
Regret over my numerous emotions.
Regret over my compensating numbness.
Regret over being boring.
Regret over having fun.
Regret over every person, place, and circumstance woven into the fabric of my past.

I’m startled to see it pop out at me so clearly. Has it always been lurking between the pages of my past, waiting patiently for me to approach with open eyes?

An entire lifetime spent regretting myself…

This morning, I sat on the floor immersing myself in the ghosts of Bethanys past, laughing (at age 14, I decided I would marry my first boyfriend on October 20, 2003), aching (the Sunday my entire youth group stood in front of the church to promise abstinence for True Love Waits, I cried alone in the bathroom as the only teenager whose parents were unwilling for her to think about sex–even to pledge celibacy with all her friends), and wishing desperately for a time machine.

I wish I could protect the sweet little girl who learned about unfounded yet unrelenting, soul-crushing guilt at home every single day. I would tell her she was precious and wanted, that it was OK to smile and play and think that God liked her. I would show her that her beautiful little heart was anything but “hard, cold, and black” like she was told, that the daily accusations against her were untrue, that her deep little-girl wounds were not her fault. I would stop regretting my existence.

I wish I could give the excruciatingly lonely teenager a heaping dose of the love she lived without. I would tell her how funny she was in her blossoming creativity. I would hold up a mirror and show her how pretty she was, even (especially) with the freckles and red hair and too-long legs she hated. I would whisper to her about her intrinsic value and the luscious life ahead. I would give her reasons not to kill herself other than the sole terror of facing a God who, she was told, hated her. I would stop regretting how my goody-two-shoesness kept me from sneaking out at night to recapture my boyfriend’s attention.

I wish I could inject Valium into the college student’s frantically over-analytical brain. I would tell her to relax into the gentle process of learning, to enjoy each moment without dissecting it to death. I would give her the confidence to stand up to the guys who mistreated her and to unabashedly be herself with the ones who captured her affection. I would remind her to have fun dating, building friendships, learning, becoming an adult. I would stop regretting the fun and crazy side of my personality making itself known.

I wish I could extract the vast self-imposed disillusionment from the newly-inaugurated adult. I would help her see her fears and misgivings as the product of misguided childhood teachings. I would tell her that her perpetual doubts about love, capability, purpose, and belief were natural but not world-spinning. I would encourage her to enjoy rediscovering her identity, to face her life with courage and joy, to accept her new marriage as safe, to let herself feel at peace as a woman. I would stop regretting my imperfection.

I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m a human and that that’s OK. I imagine most people realize this while they’re still in diapers or at least when their first smudgy fingerpainting is taped onto the fridge… not years after getting a minor in psychology or even more years of dedicated self-therapy or still more years of affirming friendships. (When did you find out it was perfectly OK to be you?)

Hello, my name is Bethany, and today I’ve stopped regretting Me.

I feel like a newborn being snuggled for the first time by ecstatic, weeping parents and thinking it the most natural moment in the world.


September Slump

I’m in a droopy mood right now, though I shouldn’t be. The sunshine today has been so light and fluffy, and lemon meringue breeze is still floating in through our wide-open windows. Natalie has hardly stopped singing all day. Plus, even though the spiky green germs gouging out the inside of my head exempt me from having to be productive, I was able to write for 2-1/2 hours this afternoon. I should feel like tap-dancing in a glittery dress, not pulling on yoga pants and burying my face in a pillow.

It’s frustrating that my brain cannot manage to stay in a happy place for longer than five minutes at a time. I really don’t try to be moody or complicated or all the other adjectives usually reserved for women during PMS. I just can. not. manage. to feel like I’ve climbed high enough on my list of “Shoulds” to justify feeling good about myself. And yes, I realize that’s both absurd and counterproductive. I realize that with my personality, I will always come up with “Should do” lists too long and time-consuming for me to make much of a dent.

So, where this entry is going, I have no idea. I don’t have any neat, pre-packaged revelations that I can tie a ribbon around and bestow upon my psyche. Even if I did, I hang out with the kind of guilt that is completely impervious to logic. No chance of reasoning my way to good cheer, guaranteed.

Maybe it’s just overflow from last September, when I started a teaching job that nearly sucked the life out of our family and made me want never to teach again. Or maybe from the previous September, when I was a cleaning lady–the only job I could find that didn’t require putting newborn Natalie in daycare–and feeling 200 degrees of unfulfillment. Of course, there’s always the September before that, when I found myself stocking shelves, trying to come to grips with an unexpected pregnancy, and feeling utterly lost in the world. I guess I don’t have much hope in Septembers anymore.

I miss starting school at this time of year (nerd alert… but you probably already knew that). I loved jumping into challenges that came with syllabi and final exam dates and objectives I knew I could handle. I even liked the deadlines, because I knew once each date came, I would have accomplished something definite. Now, I feel like I’m struggling to fit motherly and housewifely duties into an academic life that I don’t have rights to anymore.

I still don’t have any glossy way to wrap this up, but I am hoping upon hope that this September will end my three-year trend of soul-numbing, joy-crushing days… that I can wake up each morning excited about what I get to do… that even if all I do is mother my daughter and love my husband and take care of the little tasks of survival, I can feel valuable at the end of the day.


“Perineal Tear”

I found myself today, for the umpteenth time since getting pregnant with Natalie, reading a birthing story online, all the while shuddering in horror and praying for Dan to walk in the door with a crowbar and pry my eyeballs away from the screen. It’s rather hard to appreciate the miracle of life when it’s described as a series of excruciating pains, awkward bodily functions, and positions that suggest the mother has officially renounced her dignity. Plus, no matter how special and unique your baby-having experience may have been, I’m still not [at all] interested in a grand tour of your womanly regions!

Maybe I just don’t have the proper respect for such things. After all, I spent the “breathing” portion of Labor 101 giggling into my jacket. (You try keeping a straight face in a room of purple-faced women gasping “Ooo-ooo, eee-eee!” as if their lives depended on it.) And Natalie’s birth basically consisted of a leisurely breakfast with Dan, a supposed-to-be-quick stop by the hospital, and a simple surgery. No screaming, no squatting, no squeezing — no gruesome or terrifying details to brag about later.

Online stories containing the words “perineal tear” aren’t the only features of childbearing that make nunhood sound appealing to me; I’m also quite horrified by curtain-inspired maternity wear, yoga labor positions like The Incontinent Cow, and breastfeeding in public. (Yes, I know that’s a right being vigorously defended by many topless mothers, but having a baby somehow failed to turn me into a nudist. Call me old-fashioned.)

Here’s the point where I would just end up paraphrasing my parenthood entry, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll just remind all of you in the blogosphere that it is possible to become a mother without dressing like a wall-hanging, undressing like a Vegas showgirl, or telling the whole world how many stitches it took.


Say No to Crack

Here’s how I described myself in college:


I am a dance draped in chartreuse
With ostentatious flecks of glitter.
I am a bright pink bus with busy yellow flowers
Caught up in a refulgent whirlpool.
I am a sea urchin, dangerous and prickly,
That everyone wants to touch “just to see.”
I am a leopard-print chaise
Floating around to an oboe soliloquy.
I am a disco, full of colored light
And platform shoes and energy and Aretha.
I am a guilty pot of melted chocolate
That imitates women who like to imitate cats.
I am an amoeba who occasionally shimmies,
And I am only afraid of wrinkles.


And the only question remaining (as I’m sure you too are wondering) is what exactly was I smoking back then?


Growing Young

I’ve never particularly liked the word “parenthood.” It conjures images of harried women in wrinkled clothes, scurrying around town in minivans that smell like fifteen varieties of feet. These women always seem to be just ahead of me in the library line; they spend an extra ten minutes chatting with the librarian out of desperate need for a conversation that doesn’t start with “No-no!” Even the glossy magazine version of parenthood seems narrow and uncomfortable, like a culture contrived for people out of touch with everything else.

Fortunately, having a daughter hasn’t made me forget to brush my hair or to listen to good music or to hang out with friends. I remember feeling terrified in the early months that I would wake up one morning with no sense of individual self, but I’m learning to settle comfortably into the knowledge that I’m still me… even on my forty-seventh consecutive encore of “that Barney song.”

So what has parenthood, in all its fledgling glory, been for me? It’s been waking up to a sweet voice singing at the top of her lungs in the next room (picture a Disney cartoon, but without the possessed birdies). Some days, it’s been waking up to panicked crying from the next room and knowing that one hug from me can offset all the scary garbage truck noises in the world. It’s been teaching Natalie to be patient when we go out with our adult friends, and it’s been teaching myself to be patient when “potty time” doesn’t go according to plan. It’s been frustration, but more gratification; mistakes, but more triumphs; growing up, but more growing young. It’s been soaking up the joy bursting out of my little girl’s eyes and arms and legs and mouth [especially her mouth!] when she’s excited about life, which happens with a frequency and enthusiasm I hope I can learn.

Yes, I’m a mother (good heavens, does that sound as stuffy as I feel just by writing it?)… but I’m still a wife and a friend and a sister and a daughter and a woman who loves to write, look pretty, and drink frivolous coffee concoctions.

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