My Life Isn’t Open to Revision

This essay was written a while back for an online journal written by and for mothers. I think it was probably not quite upbeat enough about combining motherhood and creativity. Suffice it to say, it was not published, so I thought I might as well make it available here. Although, in the meantime, as I am reading Andrew Solomon’s ‘Far from the Tree’ about families who have faced real challenges in raising their (deaf, autistic, schizophrenic, transgender etc.) children, I feel terrible guilt about being a whiney spoilt brat who has never encountered real hardship. And that’s why I’m not really made to write creative non-fiction or memoirs. Fiction is much more fun (and less painful).

A few years ago, through no effort of my own, I became a ‘lady of leisure’. I’d resigned my job to follow my husband abroad and when we returned to Britain 18 months later in the summer of 2008, the job market was unrecognizable. I became a ravenous hunter, with 50+ versions of my CV to fit all occasions. In-between the rejections and the fortnightly humiliation of signing on at the Job Centre, I strove to become the best possible mother to my two sons. I may not previously have had time for toddler-aided bake-offs or 100 creative uses for wrapping paper, but now was the time to build all those cherished memories. For which I lacked talent, but made up through sheer force of will. In my remaining leisure time, I would also pick up and dust down that long-neglected passion of mine: writing.

Our minds play tricks on us: allowing us to pile so much upon ourselves, yet fiddling with the knobs on our measuring capacities. So we say: ‘More, more! It is too light still, not enough!’ even as we sink into the morass of multiple roles, none of which we fully own, none of which we play to perfection.

motorwaySo full-time and full-on was my life, that I used to do the weekly shop late at night at the 24 hour supermarket, once the children were tucked in bed. I would toss things into the trolley on autopilot, load the car and speed off home. One night, instead of turning right at the motorway junction, I paused.  On the left, a sign beckoned.

‘London’, it said.

‘Freedom’, I read through tear-soaked eyes. ‘Creativity. Endless possibility.’

The urge to turn left and never look back was so great, it frightened me.  Who can resist the siren call of simplifying your life, of escaping the chaos, of devoting yourself to a single pursuit far greater than yourself?

How had my life got so messy and overwhelming? You see, at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot… In my case, this manifests itself as the deep-throated relentless chime of a grandfather clock in the darkened hall of my conscience. One lifespan is not enough for all the beings I am, for all that I could be. I want to accumulate blindly, wildly: experiences, skins, memories, loved ones. Never possessions.
Discarded snakeskin,

The problem is not the trying everything, it’s the hoarding thereafter. I can never let go. Imperfection hurts me like a blunt saw. One of my skins dropped by the wayside is a tragedy. I not only want to be, I also want to be good at it.  It overwhelms me at times, the cacophony of demands. It threatens all that is good, kind or creative in me.  So you can understand why I sat mesmerized at that junction.

I turned right. And I’ve never, ever allowed myself to question that decision.

I am far from that place now.  Physically and mentally. Yet it frightens me still. How there is always a disconnect between the life we feel we were meant to live and the one we actually have. How easy it is to err on the side of discontent. How the sinuous murmurs of temptation can slither its way into our hearts and convince us that single-minded perfection is attainable and that its costs are bearable, ‘if only’ and ‘when this is over’.

22 thoughts on “My Life Isn’t Open to Revision”

  1. What a powerful essay, Marina Sofia! I think you bring up two points that really can hamper our lives if we let them. One is that we feel so often that we can’t say ‘no.’ It’s considered lazy/impolite/unsociable/etc…. somehow to decline to do something. And yet we cannot be everything to everyone. Still, people try and it can bring a lot of sorrow. The other point you make is that we think we can create a perfect life. I don’t think there is such a thing. What we can and should do is make as much richness as we can of the life we have. And that includes saying ‘no,’ and not feeling guilty about it.

  2. I once read a book about a woman who left her home and family and moved across the street and spied on them to see how they did without her. Not quite the same thing, but it’s an intriguing thought nonetheless.

    I would imagine that everyone feels the ‘disconnect’ at some point in their lives–the problem being if you feel it all the time.

    1. Ah, but just imagine what if they actually did better without her? Wouldn’t that be even more heartbreaking, especially if she felt she had sacrificed so much for their happiness? Great idea for a story, though.

  3. A great piece! The pull of that current, the energy of the march, the desire to be part of it. Then the challenge of how to create in the life we have, with the things that can’t be changed. I am sure the metaphoric destination is possible, we just need to pack a few more things than the most recent grocery haul! 🙂

  4. I can connect with the feeling that I have to make everything perfect for my family, no matter the circumstances and I battle and battle against myself and my disability on that one and I also have dreams and desires and what ifs. I think it’s natural. We are bombarded with the vision of what others can achieve and feel that with a little something else we can…

    But life is hard. It is also what we make of it. And we can choose to make it happy and happiness free from guilt.

    A great piece Marina.

    1. I am sure that others are struggling with that crazy juggling as well, no matter how serene and swan-like they seem. But I can imagine it must be even harder for you – and even more necessary to pull back occasionally.

  5. Your writing has moved me to tears again. I have never been at that junction, but I can certainly understand the feelings. I am not sure I would want to win a Mother of the Year award anyway, but that piece describes the pull away from the overwhelming responsibilities of being a mother and how they affect your life… and the heroic choices you have to make every day.

  6. Wow! WOW! What a powerful essay, beautifully written and extremely perceptive. I am with you, Marina, every step of the way. I quite frequently feel the urge to jump on a random plane and fly away. Just this morning, I had vivid flashbacks to my peaceful, quiet single life of long ago whereby I’d go to work, come home, and just have myself to look after. The freedom! The time! Limitless resources at my disposal, squandered and never to be reclaimed! Needless to say, I was lonely then, and anxious, and yearning… for… pretty much what I have now. Why is it that the human condition makes us eternally unhappy with what we have, always wishing for ‘the other state’?

    I, like you, try my hardest to bear in mind that the life I have is the life I live, and love, even though I feel pulled in all directions and wish I could fulfil potential in every way, shape and form. I envy you the way in which you eloquently and elegantly described these emotions, as I feel every single one.

    So the other big takeaway is perhaps: we’re not alone. I’m right here, sister, and I salute you.

  7. Awww, that brought tears to my eyes – thank you so much, Nicky! And you are, of course, right: I could not imagine life without those bundles of squirmishness and opinions.

  8. I really don’t see why they didn’t publish it, as many people (myself included, and probably no mothers of the year) can find themselves in it. I often rationalize this feeling as a result for being raised along the lines of “you can be anything you want”, so we end up in frustration, regretting every single choice we make (or we have to make) along the road.

  9. I enjoyed reading this. I remember coming home from various pursuits, feeling guilty for time taken for myself, saying brightly ‘Let’s make pancakes!’ when all I wanted was to put my feet up, read a book, and someone else make me a cup of tea. I’d mutter darkly under my breath ‘I need a wife.’ But then, as Nicky says, we wouldn’t have the rest of it.

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