Monday, February 10, 2014

desire as victimless crime

1. swimming with sharks

When I was a camp counselor, we had to pass a swim test in order to get a wristband that would allow us in the deep end of the pool. I dog-paddled the length of the pool sloppily and then treaded water for five full minutes. I got my wristband. I was proud of myself for being less tired than the counselor who chain smoked.

So Diana Nyad—the woman who swam from Cuba to Florida on her fifth try, at age sixty-four—and I don’t have a ton in common. But I cried when I read this part of Ariel Levy’s New Yorker profile of her:

“My journey now is to find some sort of grace in the face of this defeat,” Nyad told an audience a month after her third failed attempt. “Sometimes if cancer has won, if there’s death and we have no choice, then grace and acceptance are necessary. But that ocean is still there. I don’t want to be the crazy woman who does this for years and years and tries and fails and tries and fails, but I can swim from Cuba to Florida and I will swim from Cuba to Florida.”

Nyad has always believed that a champion is a person who doesn’t give up. (In high school, she hung a poster on her wall that read, “A diamond is a lump of coal that stuck with it.”) But another kind of person who doesn’t give up is a lunatic.

That ocean is still there.
Champion or lunatic? That’s always the question. It might sound silly to compare AK’s and my baby-having journey to Diana Nyad’s swim through shark-infested waters. We’re waiting for our kiddo from the comfort of our own home, there are no naysayers other than the ones in my head and the whole IUI/IVF/adoption process has probably cost less than one of Nyad’s jellyfish-proof silicone masks. There is not a good reason to quit at this point.

And yet, as I told my therapist today, it feels like such an uphill battle that I must be some kind of pitiable, desperate figure who should give up and stop embarrassing herself, right? Or at least stop blogging about it, for god’s sake.

“What makes it desperate?” he asked. “Where is the despair?”

That’s when I contemplated, for the first time, that despair is the root word of desperate. I couldn’t answer his question directly, but I told him about the time I was sitting in a room full of former gang members talking about how they wanted to be good role models for their children, and I thought, They all have children. Whatever I did to not deserve kids must be worse than whatever they did that landed them in prison.

Welcome to Cheryl’s Patented Extra Strength Guilt-Logic.

My therapist said, “So you don’t feel like you deserve to be a mother.” Merely working hard toward a goal and having setbacks along the way wasn’t despair, he said; that was passion. The despair came from feeling like it was wrong to even want the thing you wanted.

(And even as I type this, I’m like, Yes, but it is wrong….)

Passion is what I have for writing, that strange little corner of my life in which I model healthy attitudes and behavior for the rest of me. I have my good days and bad days, but I usually—usually—don’t doubt that writing is a worthwhile use of my time. Not because the world needs my writing so badly, but because writing makes me feel good and doesn’t hurt anyone and I’m not really good at anything else.

“I guess wanting to be a mother is a pretty victimless crime,” I said. “Especially if we adopt—then we’d be giving a home to a kid who needed one. Even if I fuck that kid up a little bit, I won’t fuck them up much.

And if I say that enough, maybe I’ll start to believe it.

2. sharing the shitty rainbow

Last night, Wendy and AK and I went to Good Luck Bar to hear Bronwyn read a fantastic and global and heartbreaking short story as part of the Rhapsodomancy series. Also on the bill was Sara Finnerty, whom I’d liked ever since hearing her read excerpts from her foul-mouthed middle school journal at Mortified. But I knew from Facebook (naturally) that she was pregnant, and my hackles were up.

I'm superstitious, but in an ironic, retro way.
I imagined myself looking like my cat OC does when he sees a dog half a block away. Or like Ollie does when he thinks someone is going to steal his bed. Fur up, ears back.

Never try to take a toy from crazy eyes here.
She read about trying to heed the advice everyone gives pregnant women—to listen to her body, to surrender to the things she couldn’t control.

You have to do those things when you have cancer too, I thought bitterly. AGAIN. In my little notebook, I wrote, But there’s a pot of gold at the end of your shitty rainbow.

I kept listening, though. Maybe I have finally had enough therapy that I could do that much (also I was surrounded on all sides and busy eating some pumpkin bread that I shouldn’t have, not if I wasn’t pregnant and if I was really serious about avoiding cancer recurrences).

She read about surrendering to her body’s lack of discipline, and to her needs—from yoga to Al-Anon meetings—and to her own desires. Her desire to write when no one encouraged her and when publishers didn’t publish her. Her desire to have a kid even when her mother thought it was some sort of feminist defeat.

It’s hard for me to remember that pregnant women are people too. My bar for pregnant-lady lit is HIGH, but Sara Finnerty met it. She sat me down and pulled me in and made me see her humanity when I all I wanted to see was her good fortune. She seemed to understand—that you don’t choose what you want any more than you choose whether you get it. She wrote about that strange paradox of surrendering and not, of accepting your lack of control and fighting on.

So I surrender to my desire for the things I don’t think I deserve, and I’ll fight the battles in my head and in the stacks of adoption paperwork that will, with any luck, eventually come our way. But I won’t surrender to pumpkin bread, even though I totally deserve that.


Claire said...

If having children were some kind of karmic reward, I think the world's population would be a lot smaller. You haven't done anything to not deserve children. Let that sort of thinking go if you can.

Easier said than done. There are people I've known a long time and when I look at their lives now, I think, karmic payback! But then I think, what did I do to deserve my situation? Nothing bad enough comes to mind if that were how things worked.

Perhaps every time you think of saying or writing something about the adoption process that feels desperate to you, substitute the word/outlook passionate for it. It is something you are passionate about, but I don't know that whole story here. The why behind it or what you'll do when it comes to pass. Perhaps just a tweak from what you don't have but want to what you would provide might shift your inner vibe? I don't know, C. I'm rooting for you though!

Cheryl said...

That's an interesting idea. I've realized that I have stopped a certain amount of the self-denegrating language I used to be prone to. Like, instead of saying, "I'm a loser," now I'm more likely to say, "I'm having a really hard time."

Thanks for being in my corner. :-)