Monday, November 15, 2010

Ambition: Imperfection?

Assignment from Dr. B.: Imagine (and write) about what my life might look like if I wasn’t such an obsessive perfectionist. No easy task. In fact, I’m resistant to it because it means reconfiguring the ethos that my entire life has been built upon—that sheer force of will, mind over sick mind, a ruthless determination to be the best at whatever I set my mind to, is all I need to see my ambitions through. But these past few years of debilitating illness, of life under ITs dictatorship (and no benevolent dictatorship at that) has fostered a soul sickness in me. I haven’t wanted to do anything except flog myself, exact pain and suffering, following IT to what often feels like my premature, foreordained end. Scarred, starved, bat shit crazy. Locked away for good. The woman in the hospital gown pacing up and down a hallway, unable to hear anything but the deafening thrum of ITs voice whispering in her ear: die, die, die.

Except that’s not entirely true. I am hounded by the persistent belief that I am not doing what I should be doing: and that is writing. I am a writer. It is what I was born to do, to be. Impossible to separate words, the rhythms of language, the tumult of image and story from who I am. Writing is no mere hobby. Nor is it merely my profession. One word placed after another, one sentence exhaled after another—as essential as breathing.

My first writing teacher, Frederick Busch, told me that not only was I innately talented at writing, but that I had the energy and drive to see it through. Energy and drive: that’s what IT has taken from me and ground to dust. IT has convinced me that I have nothing left to say, nothing original to imagine, no stories to reveal. All I am is inert matter, an imagination left floundering in the desert, gasping for water, scorched by ITs damnable heat. IT tells me that unless I have something perfect to say then I should just shut up. Silence over stupidity and IT has me convinced that I am Idiot Extraordinaire.

Except there are the small niggling doubts that throw ITs system into question. For instance, would my ECT psychiatrist have asked me to talk to his hoped-for future residents about what it’s like living with—and recovering from—depression? Would my brother forward an email on to me from an old friend of his whom recently reread my first book, a collection of short stories, telling him how moved and stunned she was by the force of my writing? Would students keep asking me to advise their senior projects in writing if they didn’t believe that I had something to teach them about this mysterious craft? Would my college create a one-of-a-kind teaching position for me that accommodates the difficulties of living with Bipolar Disorder? Isn’t this a sign that I am a valued, irreplaceable teacher and colleague?

And, as Dr. B. reminded me, I am writing this blog. Christopher seconded that: “Think how many tens of thousands of words you’ve written for the blog in just the last year?” But, IT protests, that’s not enough. The blog doesn’t “really” count. IT has a way of discounting my small successes over IT, refusing to let me believe that “good enough” is what is letting me live right now. Good enough. A disquieting phrase. “Surely,” IT argues, “you should be doing more and better and longer and more perfect?” But Good Enough may be my saving grace. Good Enough leaves room for mistakes and forgiveness. Good Enough means I am, by right of birth, imperfect.

Isn’t that a relief? It means I can relinquish control over deadlines, over the “should haves” and “supposed to’s.” It means I acknowledge that I can be (and in fact am) loved because of my human failings. It means my own love can be imperfect: cranky, impatient, and frustrated. But also: that my love is good enough and this is revealed to me over and over, day in and day out by the mere fact that I have a husband who has persisted by my side, insisted upon loving me throughout these crazy, tumultuous years. That I have children who trail me around the house, throw themselves at me with passionate hugs and kisses and fight over whose turn it is to sleep next to me each night. That I am still fighting IT, still surviving IT, willing to stare IT down each week as I, terrified, go for ECT. That I know, without a doubt, each time I go under anesthesia for ECT, that I want to, no, must, wake up because the rest of my life is waiting, expectantly, for me. There are books to write. And children to love. And a husband with whom to share my dreams. And dreams. Dreams, still. Dreams, again. Dreams that promise a future.