Updated: Jul 11, 2022
I sat on the oversized beanbag that filled our living room beyond max capacity, and plopped a square velvet pillow in the diamond of my legs. It was a color somewhere between gray and green that looked a bit acrid but elegant; we’d found it in a gem of an antique shop downtown, the kind that’s beautifully cluttered from floor to ceiling, stacks upon stacks of eclectic old and precious things, no surface sans knickknack. We bought the pillow knowing and not caring that we could never wash it even though it held a century’s worth of germs. Laying a woven throw over top to make a crash pad for my Oreo-cookie cat, I patted it gently, signaling him to step on. A few minutes earlier, while I was in the kitchen, mixing drinks to cleanse my liver — fresh ginger, lemon, raw honey — he scampered over to our morning hangout, bathed in sun, white whiskers and shimmery fur illuminated like a panda angel, eyes pleading, “Come on, Ma!” We were racing the sun on these waning fall days, sleeping later and catching a wedge for 20 minutes if we were lucky.
I need to get up earlier, I guilted myself, mentally marking the beginning of a list I wanted to stop writing. Jaxy had been my alarm clock for as long as he’d been with us, padding up my side of the bed and meowing with increasing urgency until I sat upright and my feet hit the faux fur that ran the length of our Cali king. The years we’d been performing this routine matched up with how long I’d been free of commitments. It was comforting, but I used it to emphasize the lack of career opportunities I had going. My life was un-busy, uneventful and I worried constantly that when it picked up and success began to bloom, I’d burn out from simply showing up, because life for half a decade had been small, quiet and free. When I got up at nine a.m., I made it into a proclamation that I would never be the early-riser, high performance type that crushed it at life. This relentless judgment of myself made me even more tired and unenthusiastic, it singed my natural propensity toward creating and producing and moving. Most days, it kept me horizontal and worried and scared that I couldn’t handle success, and so I acted accordingly, sleeping in and starting my days slow, pressing repeat, feeling like nothing would ever change. Both loving and begrudging that.
I need to stop picking at myself. When the sun slanted in just right, illuminating bumps around my knees, up my biceps and over my shoulders, I compulsively pressed my skin into a volcanic mound. Sometimes a bit of compacted sebum popped out and I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction from the pressure release, like loosing tiny parts of me I’d been working tirelessly hard to control. Sometimes nothing materialized other than a big, ugly self-created welt. Either way, I wouldn’t stop until the skin around my knees and all over my arms was covered in red pick-pocks. I’d been picking at myself this way since middle school, and some days, most days, I thought, How am I still doing this? Will I ever be over it? Am I going to actively hurt myself this way my whole life? I couldn’t see myself doing this when I was 80, but how would I change in between to make that so?
I need to meditate more. Whenever I engaged in compulsive, excessive, sabotaging behavior, this was the thing I attributed it to. I’d meditate for a day, a string of days, and then, I’d have a day where we went out, my routine changed for any reason, and I didn’t carve out another space to sit and exercise my mind. I’d drop the practice as if I’d forgotten how vitally important it was to becoming a human being that helped myself and made progressively better choices.
I need to exercise more. I doggedly guilt-tripped myself about this to the point of complete avoidance. I’ve always loved sports, been shapely and enjoyed movement of all kinds. The outdoors calls to my adventurous spirit. Hiking has healed depths of turmoil nothing else could reach. But in hard, depressed, hiding and stagnant times, where I’ve gained weight and felt immoveable, I thought my way out of a thing that helps me most. I’d start up again, then tell myself it was never enough, wanting immediate, full-body transformation, and realizing it was the daily work of a holistic lifestyle. The gap from where I was to where I wanted to be physically made me feel so inadequate, I didn’t want to do it at all. It was a trap.
I need to edit my book. Every time I read over my book, I saw everything wrong with it. I heard a million voices in my head, from podcasts to movies to webinars to other writers’ personally relayed experiences, all screaming: REJECTION / NOT GOOD ENOUGH / YOU’RE NEVER GOING TO MAKE IT. I avoided moving forward in myriad ways, because I doubted I was smart enough to be a well-paid, successful author of a lifelong career.
I snuggled my hand under my cat’s paw and we sat on the bean bag, his head now the only part of us still soaking sun, a diagonal across the back of his neck, the rest of us cooled in shadow made up for by the rickety space heater oscillating a few feet away. I wanted to take a walk, get out of the house, breathe air away from chores and life lists and the editing I wouldn’t do today. I wanted to stop picking at myself and not feel like I was doing absolutely everything wrong. Perpetually behind. Gaaawwwd, it was exhausting. I wanted to ditch the detox drinks and make a cup of decaf, cozy into bed and write, snack on Abe’s mini muffins (“special food” leftovers from the holiday). They were vegan but not gluten free — that was wrong, too, damnit! They had to be both, or it was shit. That’s how you got results. That’s how you got there. That’s how you did anything of consequence in life. People were rewarded in public for what they practiced endlessly and unglamorously in private. Ugh. I just couldn’t and didn’t wanna. Buy into any of it.
“I think you really gotta remove all the need’s,” he breathed and turned himself around so we faced each other in bed, “I mean, just lift the pressure. You’re doing what you wanna be doing, and anyways, you’ve said this a million times, just as many times as you’ve said you know.”
“Yeah,” I harrumphed, “part of me has absolutely no doubt in the success that awaits me. I see it, always have — almost to this insane level of what I think sometimes is total delusion or denial. BUT, the other part is like: Not Good Enough. BAM. I look at other people’s writing and I just don’t see mine fitting anywhere. Too niche or not suited to any particular genre. I don’t know my genre! I can’t figure it out. It’s not quite memoir, not fully fiction, and it’s not creative non-fiction either. I’ve gotten shit feedback so far, like, supremely unhelpful, and I’ve only doubted more because of it — although, there has been good feedback, but it doesn’t even penetrate, like I can’t even receive it! — it never makes its way in and stays like the negative stuff. I’m terrified to share it with an agent. I have this awful vision of them tossing it aside a page in, like, Who is this girl kidding? I don’t know if I’m smart enough for this.”
My shoulders sagged and I saw, almost out-of-body, how I’d given myself a peek-a-boo light before spiraling back into the abysmal doubt of it all.
“Those are all lies, Babe,” he said gently and quietly but resolutely, reaching out his hand and resting it on my leg. “There’s no proof to any of it. It’s all just stuff you’re making up.”
“I know,” I nodded. “I’m regurgitating a bunch of crap I’ve been told or learned growing up. Fucking social media, familial, societal propaganda bullshit.”
I sighed, shook my head.
“But how do I stop?”
I thought about this, plus the countless other support talks he’d cradled me through from the other side of our comforter, how our bed used to be two twin mattresses from my childhood bedroom pushed together on the floor. A lot had changed. So much of my internal life felt the same . . .
How much credit am I not giving myself?
Me and Jaxy migrated back to bed. He curled up in his donut pillow and tucked himself in a tight ball. I wriggled under the covers, trying to not disturb his equilibrium. I didn’t want him to move, wanted him here, close. And I wrote. Windows open, space heater whirring, two liver detox drinks sitting, un-drunk, on my seven-dollar thrift store side table. An approaching-tepid cup of decaf and empty container of mini muffins resting between the pillow stacks at the head of the bed. Jaxy now chin-up, paw outstretched at my feet.
I wrote until my energy drained and I walked barefoot to the kitchen to pour decaf lemon verbena green tea into a reused RAO’s pasta sauce jar. Drew a bath with lavender and sage essential oils. Bubbles. Opened the window. Sunk in. Read the intro to Sensitive is the New Strong by Anita Moorjani. Highlighting every word, underlining more, to the point where it defeated the purpose, everything yellow. I set it down and got out, soaking wet. Walked to the bedroom, still dripping, and laid down a towel on his side of the bed. I masturbated, then wondered what else I could work in before he got home. Usually once a day I did a grip of things I wouldn’t do if he was here. It was freedom. Sometimes I’d squeeze it all in right before he was expected home. My delicious rebellion.
Was this enough?
Maybe I wouldn’t read him this one. Not because of the masturbating. He hated when I got out of the shower and didn’t dry off.
“It’s all wet!” he’d gripe like a crotchety old man. He hated standing water on surfaces and I liked making puddles.
How did that work? Love, I guess.
Would I still feel like this writing was real if he wasn’t going to be my audience of one from the other side of the bed? Would I make up something else productive to tell him when he asked how I spent my day? Maybe he wouldn’t ask.
I considered that at some point I’d have written so much there was no way he could possibly read all of it. There would be such momentum around the work, financial fuel and positive, constructive feedback, I wouldn’t feel the need to read to him out loud anymore.
What would I say then? What would I admit to?
Even the fiction of it felt so real.
Jaxy’d gotten up and sauntered back into the living room. I followed, opening the door so he could watch cat TV through the security screen.
I felt pretty relaxed and satisfied. Creatively exercised.
I looked down at the flattened beanbag that laid like a thick rectangular cot at an awkward angle in the front of our home, sandwiched between a giant monstera, my writing desk, a leather loveseat and long, tiled coffee table.
Maybe I’ll wake up earlier tomorrow, I mused, I could set the alarm and count down with The 5 Second Rule — jump up and stretch my arms — pull back the curtains — open up the front door. Burn sage — make my detox drinks. Sit with Jaxy for a whole hour of sun . . .
For a decade of my adult life, I’d determined I wasn’t living right until I got down a morning routine.
Now I had one.
Most mornings possessed a cadence and cleansing that moved me forward. On the beanbag, with my cat, journaling, tapping, sitting in the sun, hunched over so I could nestle my arms around him. It was private and unglamorous, and somehow, I thought it had to look completely different to be good enough.
My reach would get bigger, I’d have places to be, things to do. I wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore. I’d always be working on a book, a screenplay, a creative, purposeful project. My insides may still be scrambled. My physicality may not present perfectly. My cat would remain my best friend and the one I spent most of my time with. I’d still need support talks. I would doubt myself and be successful anyway.
I’d build a room off the front of my house, all windows, full of golden morning sun. The only piece of furniture, our beanbag. That’s where we’d start most days, missing it sorely when we didn’t. I couldn’t admit it to myself, just yet, that beanbag mornings were perhaps my favorite part of life.
Because I felt I should want more.
In ways, I did, but what I had was sweet and soft. Hopeful and rich in love.
It was my life, and I was living it. Everything culminated in these moments in the sun, and I regretted none of it.