In 1987, a college professor and mentor gave me a book written by Hugh Prather called Notes To Myself: My Struggle To Become A Person. In it, there was one particular verse that struck me immediately:
There is a part of me that wants to write,
A part that wants to theorize,
A part that wants to sculpt,
A part that wants to teach….
To force myself into a single role, to decide to be just one thing in life, would kill off large parts of me.
Kill off large parts of me? As a young man fresh out of college, I thought: Why in the world would anybody want to do that?
When I first read these words, I felt as if I had just been given license to be myself, and not who everybody else wanted me to be. Not seeing the irony in my ways, I kept that epiphany a secret for a long time. I felt that if I told anyone about all of these different “parts” of me, they would tell me how foolish I was being.
“It’s not the domestic model,” they would say, “so you’d be a fool to stray too far from the plan that you – and we – have had for you all along. Such distractions are unnecessary.”
Sometimes, I feel like those of us who were coming of age in the eighties were the last generation to feel tied to the rules and mores of the past. We were still too eager to honor and please others, and we felt tremendous guilt if we strayed.
But maybe it’s wrong of me to brush such a broad stroke. Perhaps it is just in my character to please, to resist the disappointment that I feared I would feel from others.
And, maybe, still fear.
Yeah. that’s probably all on me.
I remember my friend Ginny telling me about her father, who was quite the artist, and how he had kept that part of him inside all his life because his wife would not allow him to live fully as that artist. Ginny said to me that the artist within him was too strong, and no matter what anybody did or said to suppress that artist, it was going to manifest in some way to leave his body. In this case, it was cancer. And it took his life — and his art — swiftly.
I mull over Ginny’s words often.
Earlier this week, in Jodi Cleghorn’s The Daily Breath, she writes:
When you stand in your authenticity and truth, you make space for others to do the same. Especially those closest to you.
What rebellion are you trying to enact?
Or that place between?
After I let those words sink in a bit, I realized that, ironically enough, one of the things that stands in the way of our authenticity is social media. I’m reminded of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and how so many of us keep wearing that face that we keep in the jar by the door. The only difference is we’re wearing those masks for the world to see.
Behind them lies the individual desperately seeking authenticity and truth – not to mention validation – in all the wrong places.
On days like this, when I am pondering the balance I strike between the artist and the domestic, I go back to Prather’s words and remember what it was like as that 22-year-old kid feeling liberated, but keeping it all a secret.
I’ve been balancing that irony all my life.
The path less trod for me has been an internal journey, and I know that I am speaking for so many others as well. I’m talking about people who are just like me who have lived a quiet, creative life, suppressing so much of who they really are, for the compromise of a safe, domestic life.
Is it too late to change any of that? Of course not. Do I have the courage to do it? That’s an entirely different story.
So I believe this to be more like the path more trod, because I think that many of the people reading this will identify with that struggle to become a person.
So what do we do? We carry on with the rules we have established for our lives; we don’t wallow in some melancholic waters of what we have not done (but honestly, how soothing is that!). We continue to fuel the parts of us that want to write, to theorize, to sculpt, to teach. We do what we are doing here at The JAR Writers’ Collective. We create portals for our creativity to flow more freely.
And we stand as best we can in authenticity: for ourselves and for others, as we continue along our paths more or less trod, but our paths nonetheless to call our own.