At times my mind takes me curious places. Ever since I was a small child I’ve had this inclination to make connections between things- however disparate they may seem to be on the surface. It’s my particular way of making sense of the world- and it reinforces my deeply-held belief that we are all connected and essentially alike- by virtue of our shared humanity.
I’ve always been an observer- taking note of and carefully storing away experiences and memories and information- and the fact that I have a well-developed ability to retain information and images sometimes leads to a fair bit more introspection than may be completely healthy. Those ‘curious places’ can be more than a little dark and dangerous, at times. Remembering often leads to regretting. And that’s a slippery slope, for me.
Venturing into some of the darker realms means that I’ve been absent lately. From life in general, and certainly from around these parts. The drafts folder is full-to-overflowing with false starts that will likely never see the light of day.
I have mixed feelings about that. This forum, here in WordPress World, has become, over the past couple of years, one of my favourite places. I’ve had some really interesting conversations, read a whole lot of eye-opening and thought-provoking essays, and made a number of good friends – I’ve even had the opportunity to meet some of them IRL (looking at you, A-M. You know it’s feeling like 40 degrees Celsius with full sun and a breeze from the lake here today, right? If you’re thinking of heading out of Glasgow- although you know how your hometown stole my heart- may I suggest Toronto as an option? We’ve definitely had a summer the past few weeks!).
But something is off. I explained my lack of recent posts to one of my oldest-and-dearests last night, mentioning that, lately, I look at the drafts- or start working on something that catches my fancy- only to feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The windmills are forever and always the same- and the tilting isn’t getting me anywhere other than frustrated and feeling completely ineffective and ineffectual.
Not good. The act of writing has become counter-productive. It frustrates, rather than frees. Which sucks. Bigtime. I’m a writer. I write. Not writing is not good for cole’s soul (using the term irreligiously, of course).
Ironically, this means that more introspection is required if I’m to get to the heart of ‘what’s up with that’? (Cue visual of Kenan Thompson as Diondre Cole telling Bill Hader’s Lindsey Buckinghan that they are, once again, out of time, and he won’t be interviewed this week. The SNL sketch is oddly apt, actually…)
Over the past few months I’ve attempted to re-focus my energies- spending time with fiction, rather than struggling to articulate essays/commentary about those things that reallyreally bug me. The ultimate themes and messages- such as they are- are echoed, regardless of form. I am who I am, after all. The way I think- and the things about which I think- stay pretty much the same whether I’m writing a blog post or a novel. I write as a way to suss out answers. To get my thoughts straight on a given topic, and to provide those thoughts something like coherence and exposure to the world outside of my brain.
None of that is happening right now. I’m scattered and disengaged- pretty much all around. I’m in a holding pattern of lackadaisical ennui (how’s that for some purple prose?) that is both out-of-character and concerning.
But I’m working on it.
Per usual (for me), that involves a lot of reading, and listening to music, and paying attention to what smart, talented people have to say about things that interest and/or concern me.
While working on a presentation for the day job, I came across this TEDTalk (I DO love the TEDTalks):
Tattoos? I have none. Regrets? I’ve had a few. And, unlike Mr. Sinatra, I can’t call mine ‘too few to mention’.
Kathryn Schulz’ talk was personally interesting in many ways. I tend to move beyond the denial stage fairly quickly. I generally get that I’ve made an irrevocable, regrettable, decision pretty much right off the bat. The alienation and self-punishment? Those things sound more like me. And they last.
Perseveration? Oh yeah. That one is a biggie. The soundtrack of error runs round and round and round in my head. Ad nauseam. The memory of the action that caused the regret gets set on endless repeat. It becomes a one-song iPod that I can’t turn off.
So, illumination! Making peace with regret? You can do that?! As a fellow-perfectionist, I share her struggle. I rarely balk at forgiving others their trespasses against me (unless they are especially banal and/or heinous) but I have an inordinate amount of trouble cutting myself any slack at all. At. All.
‘Learning to love the flawed, imperfect things we create? Forgiving ourselves for creating them? Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly- it reminds us that we know we can do better.’
I like that. I like all of that.
It’s a far more human approach to looking at ourselves- our lives, our actions, our fallibility- than a lot of the ‘mindfulness-speak’ that is out there in the ether of ‘holistic health’ and the push for ‘positive culture’ that dominates our social media soundbites these days.
Funnily enough (although I tend to see it as another one of those connectivity things), the whole regret-thing (and the absolution of said regret-things) has been circumstantially at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks.
Been thinking about choices a lot as I try to figure out next steps. For example: What, exactly, do I want to be when I grow up? How do I define happiness? Has that definition changed? If my goals/wants/needs have changed, what do I need to do make those things manifest?
I have a birthday coming up next month (all being well- shouldn’t count chickens/tempt fate and all that)- it’s not a biggie- no zero at the end or anything. But it’s been a while since I last really thought about those questions. It was around the time of my last zero-at-the-end birthday (funny how those markers tend to make us take stock)- which puts it few years ago. Five long years, to be specific. So it’s past time to revisit the questions- and see where I’m at- existentially speaking. Especially since that last round of questioning led to some decisions that ended up being rather regretful, in retrospect.
Adulting and First World Problems. Ick. It’s whiny and ridiculous- in so many ways. I get it. I’m a good feminist- aware of all my intersections. The choices are myriad- a reality that is a product of my privilege. Everyone should be so lucky to have to the choices I have had- that I continue to have. I get that too. But the sources of that privilege- my family, my friends, my opportunities- keep hitting me with the insistent realization that I need to keep on striving to do better.
Which I can’t do if I’m locked into the perseveration of regrets.
There are these songs (I know- there are always some songs- as I said, I am who I am)… two of them. They speak of regret- in very different, yet complimentary, ways.
The first is a cover version of an older song, performed by a guy that I love so very much. I’ve talked about Midge before. A few times, actually. And he more than deserves all the positive print I can offer up. This song most definitely helped me through some rough times over the years.
It’s over. It’s done. It’s for the best. No looking back.
Healthy, right? Yet melancholy-as-Hell in tone, and speaking to the truth that even that which is the right thing doesn’t necessarily come regret-free.
I had the opportunity to see Midge live (again! Twice in less than a year!), playing a pared-down and fabulous acoustic show- just him and his guitar- back in March, and took the opportunity to meet him after the show and express my thanks for all the years of music and lessons and wonder that he has brought into my life.
(And made my bud, the incomparable Len, take my picture with him. That is an example of whatever the absolute opposite of regret might be).
This other song, though…
It’s the one that keeps on running through my head. That whole self-punishment and ‘what the hell did I do’ sort of thinking that Kathryn spoke about. That’s much more my style.
And this song makes my heart hurt with the physical weight of such regrets…
Regardless of how often I listen to it, Airborne Toxic Event’s (I’ve talked about them before, too) rage against the regret of the loss of love sends my stomach all butterfly-ish. Every time. That’s power– sourced in the fact that our human-ness means that we’ve experienced that depth of self-excoriation about decisions made or roads not traveled- and react to the memory of the regret.
It’s a big deal, regret. A big, messy, complicated deal.
So. Starting last night (interestingly it actually was sometime around midnight), inspired by a great, if much-delayed, conversation with a too-long-absent but ever-important person in my life, I’m working on annotating and embracing my regrets. Perhaps that evaluation will lead me out of my current stasis and back into some positive directions. Even if those directions end up being transitional- or transformational- and even if some of them are regrettable.
I can do better.