Friday, March 29, 2013

50, 30, and The Identity Exercises

Here's another one I wrote for some friends on Fet


I have a good friend turning 30 soon, a good friend turning 30 soon-ish, and a good friend turning 50 soon. Got me to thinking.

When I was in college, I was in therapy for family reasons, a theater major "because I learn more about what it is to be a human through stories than I do psychology or hard sciences" (that was my standard answer, and yes, I know it was pretentious), and heavily involved in a close-knit religious community which encouraged emotional honesty. So I basically thought about myself and my emotions ALL THE TIME. It sounds exhausting now, but obviously, it was what I needed then. Don't judge.

My religious wrestlings, therapeutic processes, and artistic growth often fed each other, but never as much as the week of The Identity Exercises.

In acting class, we had to make a list of our identities: daughter, niece, sister, student, actor, lighting designer, girlfriend, friend, dancer, mathematician, tutor, teacher, comedienne... Then my acting professor had a guy named Joe read his list. It included "boyfriend". She asked whose lists included "girlfriend", and I was picked to go up to demo.

I stood on stage with Joe, and the professor asked us to talk with each other as if we were interested in dating each other. She told him to start with the question, "How was class today?" and so we chatted, flirting. Within minutes, we were well on our way to our first kiss if nobody stopped us.

Then my professor said "And now, you're father / daughter." (which, first of all, was a brutally emotionally sadistic move, because I had only recently begun talking with my father again, but hadn't seen him in two years, and she knew that... but her irresponsible bitchery is not the point of this story) It was suddenly VERY AWKWARD as we both adjusted and he asked me again, "How was class today?"

The class told us afterward what they observed - when we were boyfriend/girlfriend, we stood closer, we touched more, we met each others' eyes, we laughed more easily... when we were father/daughter, we stood further apart, stood up straighter, both our hands went in pockets, our eyes narrowed... We both looked and acted completely differently.

I took the list to my therapist. After she helped me through wanting to strangle my professor, my therapist asked me to fill out the list more - recognize positive attributes of each role, identify roles where I could borrow confidence (student had confidence to spare for daughter...), and generally ponder the complexity of human interactions by mapping how I wanted to behave in each role.

(Hooray for competent cognitive/behavioral therapy: that therapist was an amazing gift)

Then the topic for the Fall Retreat was announced, with the kickoff talk, "What Would Change If You Really Believe God Loved You?" and there were all those identity roles and behavioral choices rolling around in my head, so I spent a week in a daze, imagining God pouring love over me in each of those roles, and soaking in the understanding that I could simply... choose to believe it. Or at least, to do my best to fake it until I believed it.

My next time in therapy, I was barfing all my thoughts to my therapist, and she asked, "So, with all this information, how do you see yourself in the future?" And I closed my eyes, and I imagined.

I was 50. I knew I was 50. I was wearing a sun hat, kneeling in earth, planting things, or maybe tending things that grow. I knew I was on my own land, and I knew that I enjoyed the gardening, and I looked up at something in the sky and wiped the sweat from my brow, and grinned, and I was... So. Amazingly. Peaceful.

I wasn't a peaceful kid. I wasn't a peaceful college student. I wasn't at peace with my family, my body, my career choices, my intellect, my talents... None of it. I saw myself as a constant barrage of insecurities and facades. Sure, I was honest, but almost I was almost unbearably messy. Spastic. Chaotic.

But she... This 50-year-old. She was... well... You've met peaceful, happy 50-year women, right? They're strong and solid and trustworthy and comforting and huggable and funny and amusing and wise, and ... y'know... awesome. I grew up in a big multi-generational church with many confident, awesome women in their 50s. And in that moment of imagining, I could see myself as one of them.

And I wanted it. I wanted to be her. I wanted to be guided by her. I wanted to know what she knew. I wanted to skip 30 years ahead and go to be her, immediately. Of course, I couldn't skip my 20s and 30s and 40s. Darn it.

But that vision of my 50-year-old self has continued to be my North Star. Literally everything else I thought I wanted for my life has changed completely since then, but in every season - reconciling with Dad, losing Dad when he died, my first marriage, my unexpected technical career, my divorce, my discovery of kink, my relationship now with my husband, my vertigo, losing the house, becoming a phone sex operator, and this past crazy year of explosive polyamory - in all these wildly disparate seasons, my 50-year-old self has always looked back at me with kind eyes and a peaceful-but-mischievous grin, and encouraged me to be like her.

So I guess I've lived my life as "What Would I Do If I Were 50 And Awesome?" And then I try to live up to that, as best I can.

When I turned 30, I was "happily" married, living in a house that we were "going to be in forever", and we were going to start having kids soon. I felt good about the external circumstances of my life, but I was growing increasingly uncomfortable with my emotional realities, how I felt about myself and my increasingly angry husband.

My 30-year-old reflections on my 50-year-old self led me to leave it all, so by the time I turned 32, I was divorced, redefining my faith and romantic relationships and sexual desires, and rebuilding my sense of self-worth from the ground up.

It felt, at the time, like I had wasted a huge chunk of time, that I would never "make it up", that I would always feel stunted by the choices and mistakes of my 20s. But now it's laughably easy to see that I had so much time ahead of me to make whatever I wanted. Several times over, in fact. For that matter, I couldn't have predicted my current life 15 months ago, much less 20 whole years!

So getting older doesn't bother me. I'm excited every year. I get to be closer to her, that vision of myself. Someday, I will meet her in myself, I think, although it may not be exactly at 50. Most importantly, every year, I can see ways that I become more like her.

So, to my good friend turning 50 soon, congratulations on getting to experience the awesomeness. I'm a little jealous. You may not always be peaceful, but neither will I. But you know stuff. You make good choices often. You're full of awesome. I hope you can appreciate it.

And to my good friends turning 30, I urge you to imagine a version of yourself at 50, full of every drop of awesome that you want to become, and to think about becoming her, more than you think about what you've already done or not done, and even more than you think about who you are today. Let her love you, nurture you, and assure you that you'll make it. Because you will.

I know what she'll say: you'll be amazing then, even more amazing than you are now. But let's face it, you're pretty damn amazing now.

Happy Birthdays, friends. I'm glad you were born. I'm glad I get to journey with you now. I'm looking forward to our journeys from here.

And hey, wait a minute: why don't I own a sun hat?

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