I’ve spent years thinking I’m a pretty damn good writer. Years of assuming that the only reason no one has paid me to be a writer in real life or recognized my genius is because I haven’t tried hard enough to really put it out there and/or because everyone else is just too oblivious to know quality when they see it. I once thought I was just so fucking amazing because someone told me that I had a way with words and I responded, “Sometimes it feels like words have their way with me.”
Do you see that? How I turned that phrase there? Why don’t I have a contract and an “Oprah’s Book Club” insignia and a hilarious interview on Ellen that all centers around how stupid her people were to fire me from her show because why wouldn’t everybody want to be able to say they knew me when?
I have been convinced for most of my life that I am supposed to be something. That I will be known. That I might even make a difference. But here I sit, 32 years old, working as a freelance transcriber (I fucking type for a living, like, way to effect change there, kiddo), not sure how I’ll be paying the bills during the “dead season” in the next two months, obsessively checking the bank account several times a day in case some bill I forgot about is deducted at precisely the wrong moment, and just wishing I could get past this overall sense of malaise, of ennui, that has been right under the surface for the better part of a decade.
Let someone, or a number of someones, tell you the same thing over and over again, and you’ll start to believe it.
It’s why I’ve had more than one moment in my life, even recently, where I’ve broken down over the thought of all those fundamentalist Christians being right when they say I’m going to hell for being gay. I don’t even believe in hell and they still get me worried about it.
Then I have to remind myself that I don’t believe in god. Because I can’t believe in a supposed almighty creator that made us all of us in his image and then kicked us in the fucking collective face, over and over again, for centuries. He knows all and sees all, and hears all prayers, but he lets babies die and women get raped and then lets us warm this whole place up, but tells his followers it’s all a hoax perpetuated by the elitist liberals?
I don’t know about you, but when I create something and I’m proud of it, I take care of it. A few months ago, for a class I was taking, I came up with a marketing plan for the Cornballer, based on the product of the same name from Arrested Development. I spent all of eight hours working on the thing, but I thought it was hilarious and I’m proud enough of it to brag about it now. And that was a fictional marketing plan for a meaningless class. I worked for eight hours, not six whole days. I didn’t create the universe.
Even a fictional omniscient presence can get to me occasionally, if its believers are bigoted and hateful enough. So imagine how I’m reacting to the all the people pointing out all the reasons I’m such a miserable failure at life.
Well, two people, anyway. My parents have effectively disowned me. In the sense that I can count on one hand the number of conversations I have had with my mother in the last 28 months, and though the ones I’ve had with my father have been slightly more frequent (but only by a little), they generally involve my attempts to understand what the hell happened and why this has gone on for so long.
Here’s what I know: I broke up with my ex. I left California. I moved to Portland. My parents were aware of every step, and even of the less than ideal circumstances involved with the breakup. But I guess my actions were too far outside the scope of their understanding, and because I didn’t sit down and have a heart-to-heart about what exactly I, as a then 30-year-old woman, was going to do with every step of the rest of my life, I betrayed them. Or something like that. The reasoning for any of this is rather cloudy at the moment.
Suffice it to say that they don’t recognize my relationship with Katie (or “Katy,” as my dad wrote recently in a rather insulting email), largely due to the fact she doesn’t have a “real” job and that it’s terrible that I have to be the breadwinner. And they certainly don’t recognize Merritt because “he already has grandparents.” Which means they don’t recognize the fact that their own daughter has been a mother, even if not biologically, for quite some time now. But none of that matters when you have to deal with the shame first of telling your friends that your eldest child is gay, and then, years later, telling them that (gasp!) she cheated on her girlfriend and moved to Washington, where she has no career. Honestly, I just hope my parents have looked into support groups because I don’t know how they’re dealing with this. I mean, the embarrassment is obviously too much to bear.
This is where being a writer should come in handy. I should just get it all out, right? It’s cathartic. The problem is, I don’t really know how to write about this. I know we’re nearly 1,000 words in at this point, but have I really said anything? I don’t know how to explain how any of this makes me feel. My malaise and ennui came before any of this, but it was less defined, more nebulous back then. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grow up, but it was okay back then because someone was taking care of me and the need for me to figure it out was less imperative. I was affected by being fired from Ellen for far too long, and I just let that take hold of me. And I did nothing, even though I could have done anything.
Now I can’t do anything, but I want to do everything.
Which is not to say I agree completely with the prevailing opinion of the people who created me that I have done nothing with my life. I know they aren’t proud of the fact that I have a happy marriage, but I am. No part of anything I’ve written here should be a reflection upon that. Katie is amazing. I’m not writing that here to make her feel better; I’m writing it because it’s true. If it weren’t for her, I would be even more adrift than I already am. I don’t know if I have an anchor at this point, but she’s at least hanging on to the life raft with me while we figure out how to set off our flares.
Do you set off flares at sea? Do they work when they’re wet? They had them in Titanic, right? That metaphor may have gotten away from me.
I know they’re not proud of the fact that I am a mother. But I am.
And I know they’re not proud of the fact that I have no real career. I’m not too pleased about that, either. But I’m a grown-up. So while they’re certainly entitled to their concern, their disappointment is a little much. And the way they choose to showcase that disappointment is way too much.
So, no, I do not believe myself to be an complete failure. But I do recognize that I haven’t had a lot of success since college. For that matter, I didn’t have a lot of success in college. I went to film school, but realized pretty quickly that the worst part about film school is actually making the films. It’s boring and often tedious and I just wasn’t that good at it. So in reality, the last real success I had was getting into NYU in the first place. And my first major failure was choosing to go there, as opposed to going to USC or the University of Chicago, where I had also been accepted. Either would have been preferable, and would have saved me so much grief. Probably.
I chose the wrong college, or at least the wrong field of study. I chose to be the wrong kind of person while in college. The one who latches on to the idea of being the introspective one, the one (legitimately) afraid of emotion and real human contact, but who is so busy playing the role that she neglects to actually be introspective and gain something from that self-reflection. I was the person who decided I was in love with a girl I didn’t really even know, and let that be the overriding force for two of the three years (I graduated early) of my college experience. These were hugely formative years, and I spent them thinking I was being romantic, when instead I was just being an annoying asshole.
I chose the wrong relationship after college, probably for the same reason I chose the wrong school and the wrong girl while in school. It was this “romantic” inclination in me that believed that film school would make me a success, that getting this college girl to love me back would make me a success, and then that this relationship after college, with a different girl, would make me a success. None of it worked. And none of it was romantic.
I chose the wrong way to get out of the relationship. But getting out of it was not the wrong choice. It was the first successful choice I’d made in years. Whether my parents want to believe it or not.
Katie has had a strained relationship with her parents before, and she’s said to me, “No matter how we feel about our parents, we always want them to be proud of us.” And I suppose that’s what you’re gleaning from this post right now; that deep down, I just want my parents to be proud of me. Except that’s not true. I wouldn’t mind if they’d stop thinking I’m a failure, but I’m not particularly concerned with their pride.
I look at Merritt now and wonder what he could ever do that would make me turn my back on him. I realize he’s only three and I’ve only been a parent for a little more than two years. Shit happens in life. I get that. But what could he do that would make me capable of going months without speaking to him at all? Right now I hate going hours without seeing him or hearing his little voice. I honestly can’t think of anything, short of him becoming a malicious serial killer. And even then, it would probably be hard to cut him out of my life. Unless, of course, I’m his first victim.
So I just don’t get it. I have lost all respect for my parents. And for my brother, too, for that matter, since he has no interest in a relationship with me. His girlfriend, whom I’ve never met or spoken to in any way, texts my sister and mother to tell them funny stories about things like some random dude they met in Hawaii who happens to know my dad. And then I find out about these texts because my sister calls to share the hilarity with me. As if I really give a fuck. Oh, this chick I’ve never met is hanging out with my brother, who doesn’t talk to me, in Hawaii? And she’s BFF with my mother, who also doesn’t talk to me? Tell me more!
I don’t believe this relationship is salvageable. Too much has happened. And it’s not me being stubborn; I’ve given them 8,000 chances to apologize and make things right. This is not a case of there being two sides to every story. There is one side here, and it is that they are 100% in the wrong. It is their job to make it right. And they’re not going to, so I guess that’s that.
This turned into a post about my parents. That was not my intention. But I guess since I started writing about feeling like a failure, it was inevitable that I would mention them. I’m moving past caring what they nthink, though I know the above words don’t exactly illustrate that. But I know it’s true because if they called me up tomorrow and said, “We’re sorry for everything. What can we do to make it better?” I wouldn’t feel like all is right in the world. The relationship would never be the same. They’ve lost too much time. And their opinion is not the only one leading to my feeling of being a failure, so that would still be around.
I suppose the question now is, what would make me stop feeling like a failure?
I need a job that pays well enough to allow me to pay the bills and get rid of my debt, at which I do not have to work 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week, as I have for almost the last two years. I don’t need a six-figure income, though I wouldn’t turn it down, either.
I need the ability to buy a house. Given the rent I pay now, I know I could afford two mortgages. But that means qualifying for one first. But without a down payment and a possibly subpar debt-to-income ratio, that’s not super easy.
And that’s it. I don’t need much else. I would like to be able to show the world that I have a good head on my shoulders, but I don’t need fame. I just want to be able to take care of my family without this non-stop stress that I’m absolutely certain is going to lead to an early death if I can’t find a way to alleviate it.
Sometimes you read things, and people weave a tale, the parts of which are all over the place and seem a little unconnected. And then at the end, everything comes together. I wanted to be able to write this post like that, but that would require anything in my life actually coming together. I can’t write the ending to this story when I am still very much stuck in the middle. Or maybe still at the beginning. It’s hard to tell. So maybe this is how I connect it back to the beginning: the words are having their way with me, and they’re not done yet.