There are some lessons that just seem not to stick, that I have to keep learning over and over again. I seem to have relearned one of those lessons this week, and it revolved around that issue of a desk and a chair. Such a simple thing isn't it? Or at least it should be. It seems however, that for me at least, sometimes the biggest lessons are learned from the smallest things.
I was looking for a desk through the eyes of I-as-part-of-a-we, or through the mindset of my former life. I recall that during the first six months or so following George's death I was struggling with identity, and it was a puzzling experience for me. I had thought that I knew who I was. I had strong opinions about many things, and generally knew what I liked and what I didn't. Or so I believed.
In retrospect I see that it was not so simple really. I could see that during those years I was caring for George, I was also struggling with my own frustrations and, sometimes, animosity toward the role of caregiver. I was struggling with how to fit this new perception of my place in the world with my prior perceptions of myself as seen through my marriage, my career, and my role in the world prior to this great reversal. Although George and I shared a sense of the importance of steadfast responsibility and loyalty, there were times when I struggled with having to always be the strong one, the rock, the protector, the comforter. I wanted to be protected again, to be comforted, to be understood, and there were days, weeks, months even, when the protection and comfort and understanding of God seemed far, far away. Yet although I craved comfort, I was afraid to be vulnerable, afraid that if I opened my heart I would fall apart and not be able to live up to the responsibilities that bound me.
It is apparent, to anyone who has followed my blogs over the years, that during that time I was struggling to define and understand myself, and that I was not quite ready to accept the need to do so. I was clinging to the known for fear of getting lost in the unknown. In retrospect, perhaps I was not asking the right questions. I was struggling from a position of "I want" and "I can't" rather than a position of "I can" combined with "I need".
Although I did eventually let go and let vulnerability and faith back in, and I was beginning that process of transformation and rediscovery before George died last May, I was still very much in in a place in-between. And yet I thought I was firmly established on a path toward my future self, even while still acknowledging that my life was in many ways a precarious balancing act between a past and a love that was rapidly fading into the mists and a future life that could not quite be achieved. I was not prepared for the way that George's death would plunge me even deeper into that act of questioning. I was unaware that this one great loss could wrestle up from the depths all those past losses I thought I had resolved, but in fact had only shelved. I had not realzed that this questioning, this becoming, would force me to face my life and see how the world as I experienced it had shaped and altered that person who I was born to be into the person I had been. Nor had I realized that if I truly wanted to move forward, rather than opt out and rest upon some shady bank along the way, I needed to resolve and reintegrate these various aspects of self: the self I was born to be with the self I am in the world.
So how does this affect the choice of a desk, you ask?
Each thing we do in the world, each choice we make, even the choices we refuse to make are a reflection of the complex mapping of ourselves, our history, our place, and our time. We exist in the world, and although we are unique, we are also complexly shaped by the world in which we live. Of course, most of the time, we simply live in the world and do what we need to do with little angst. But occasionally we stumble, and although sometimes we simply right ourselves and move on, sometimes we manage a glimpse of something more.
My search for a desk helped guide me to a few basic realizations:
- First I should not chose a desk because it was one my husband would have also liked, because it would have fit our life, our style, our place in the world.
- Nor of course should I take the reactionary "I always liked x, but he hated it" tack which I see as the foot-stamping, temper-tantrum induced I-want-what-I-want-and-no-one-can-change-it stage, a stage that is not necessarily true to the self but a reactionary, oppositional choice.
- I had to address the WHY of my search for a desk, a question that proved far more complex than I had imagined, tied up as it proved to be with my own definition of who I am now. After all, although my current desk is not ideal, I have been using it for several years. So the question was begging to be asked: Why do I need a new desk?
- When I was working with computer clients, going to grad school, and designing databases and computer systems I used a large desk that basically consisted of a door atop a couple of file cabinets. I could spread out my books, printouts, and ages of materials perfectly happily. But although I loved that career, and at times I have struggled with wanting to update or refresh a few programming language skills or application skills, and although I've often considered looking into reinstating my IEEE and ACM memberships because I miss the connections and learning opportunities they provided, I realize they do not reflect a career path I wish to resume. They are a part of who I am but they do not define where I am going.
- When I first worked in medical billing, and even as an office manager, I had a very small desk, not much bigger than a student desk. It was too small. I was surrounded by piles. When we moved the practice and I moved into a more comprehensive administrative role, I needed a larger desk. But, once again, although I loved my work, loved learning new things and mastering skills I had not appreciated I possessed, I am done with medical practice administration. I have no desire to go back.
- I bought my current desk when I retired to care for my husband. In many ways it is a desk that seems like an afterthought, something I needed, but which did not warrant much space, or thought. I needed a place to put a computer, to pay bills, to write. But although I had published a couple of poems in minor journals while I was in my twenties, and an essay around the same time; although I journaled extensively and wrote a couple of blogs, I did not consider myself a writer
It seems it has taken me this long to accept that this is who I am today, and that accepting who I am means accepting that I need a space that works for what I do. I am a writer. It may not be all that I am. The majority of what I write may be only for myself but that doesn't matter. I don't need external reassurance to prove that I am who I am. I accept that I write. I accept that if I don't give myself time to write I become grumpy and small and cannot be generous with other people because I cannot be generous with myself. I need to accept that I will always spend a lot of time at my desk. I need to accept that this is a part of who I am and it is deserving of attention.
So,I simply went out and bought a desk. It will not be here for two weeks. It is not either of the desks I showed you in that last post. I could ask what I was I thinking, but it is apparent I was not thinking as myself.