Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Are My Feelings?*

Sometimes, the hardest thing to know is what I am actually feeling. Is it true that I would feel better if I worked less? Is it true that I feel better when I spend more time with my son? Is it true that not spending time with my son makes me feel rootless, shiftless, rudderless? (I almost wrote "udderless" - a Freudian slip? A Jungian one? Signs of an impending psychotic break? Nonsense?) Or is that simply the way one feels when one's life seems to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? Does one's life always seem to be slipping out of the reigns a bit too much? In any case, I know nothing of reigns or horses, and I suspect that that is not a properly constructed appropriate metaphor.

Here's what I am getting at, though, so listen. Was one ever happy? And is one actually unhappy right now? I mean, I think I was happy. I remember being happy. My husband would come home, and he would say, This is the happiest I have ever seen you. Maybe the baby would be asleep and I would be reading a book. Or maybe he would be awake looking at the toys dangling from the baby gym. And I would be happy, so much so that my husband would say that thing about me being happy, and I would agree. But I wasn't always happy, not even then. Not that I think that a person should be always happy; I'm just acknowledging that even that time that I am looking back upon as the happiest time of my life wasn't always really happy. And the unhappy was pretty badly unhappy, because I am me, and one of the things about being me is that being unhappy usually means being really, really, really unhappy. It's a good thing that I am not a drinker, because otherwise I would be a drunk. If drinking could make me forget about my feelings, or at least make me not care about them, I would do it a lot, all the time. ALL. THE. TIME.

But that is beside the point. The point is, Was I happy? And why? Could it be just because I wasn't working? Could it possibly be that simple? I had a new baby, yes, and my body and mind were reeling from the effect, yes, but I was not working - like, at a job, I mean. Could it be that the simple cessation of work was responsible for, say, 30-80% of my feelings of contentment? (With the continuing caveat that, yes, I know, I was not always content. But we can agree, can't we, that I was really noticeably happy? I mean, my husband noticed. Right?) And if that is the case, what does it mean for the old saw that you need to find yourself in your work or whatever? And what does it mean for the fervently-held (by me, maybe?) conviction that a woman must do something "outside of the home" if she is to keep herself truly fulfilled and happy? And what does it mean for me and my own continuous buying-in to the idea that I am really better off working?

Because look at me! Here I am: I have switched careers with gusto, with at least 50% of the motivation being the desire to work less and be home more. And am I home more? Am I working less? NO. I AM NOT. I AM BUSY AS FUCK. And I am not sure that I see any more of my son than I would if I had a normal fucking job with a normal fucking salary and some goddamn benefits. Please, sister. Please. Tell me what it means.

Listen, work gets you, and I don't just mean the money. There you are, meandering along, and you try doing a little something, because it seems convenient or wise or fun or something. And you are smart and you like to learn and to be successful, so you do learn, you learn quickly, and you are successful, and then, suddenly, you are enmeshed. So, just a hot moment ago, you were just a person dabbling in something, and now that something is forming the parameters of your life. You are committed, and you feel like you owe things to people, and like there is so much more success right around the corner, and it would really be a shame to drop things right now. And this happens really fast, and it happens with everything that you happen to stick your nose into, and then there are a million things, and you are juggling them all.

Is this what I wanted? Is this where I meant to be? Am I happy now? Was I ever happy before? Should I work less? Should I work more? Would anything change my feelings? Has anything ever changed my feelings? What are my feelings? Does it even matter? There is no clarity here except the clarity of the confusion, and it is perhaps a bad sign that I actually feel halfway content with just that.

*I can't quite remember why, but this phrase was, at one time, very funny indeed. It was a long time ago, like my second or third year of teaching, I think, and one of my colleagues had found this stupid article, like in Cosmo or Glamour or similar, that said something to the effect that men often don't know what they are feeling. Of course, this is standard Cosmo/Glamour fare, but there was SOMETHING that made this particular statement in this particular article REALLY FUNNY, although I cannot for the life of me remember what - a drawing? an infelicitous turn of phrase? - and we were just ROARING over it. And I went home and told my husband about it, and he was roaring too, and since then, he sometimes turns to me and says, "What are my feelings?" in a particularly sensitive, whiny, helpless voice, and this was funny to us for a long, long, time, although it is now just something we say out of habit, something that has lodged itself in our mutual discourse, despite having entirely shed its original meaning and impact.

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