Enough is enough

Oversharing little griefs again: the only pathway I know into writing again. (Originally posted on Substack.)

Sometimes, when I’m facing a scene in my life that I know will later become grief or trauma, I fixate on a very specific way that I’m inadequate.

When my grandmother passed away last year, my first coherent thought was to wish I’d spent the last few years learning to paint with oil, because I wanted to paint her how I remembered her. When my mother had a panic attack in my arms, I realized I did not know how to hold a paper bag to someone’s mouth with one hand while holding their body upright with the other. I did not know the correct way to hold her when she was anxious, or how to spot a possible heart attack in somebody who couldn’t speak.

I know exactly what I might tell somebody else to do. I can think of the words I would choose that might best comfort or assure them. When it’s my own two feet in quicksand and my own two hands in a crisis, the only things I know are the exact ways I am helpless.

I have always wanted to be a writer personality — somebody who put out beautiful words occasionally, not necessarily essays and not quite poetry. I just wanted to write and be read. In chasing the dream of being read enough, and perhaps liked, I never looked for words that might maybe point me north.

And so, despite writing pretty much all my life, I find myself half a year away from thirty, without any words to my name. Not the ones that count.

I’ve long since stopped writing the way I wanted to, the way I knew how, the ways that felt right. I used to have blog after blog and newsletter after newsletter, long captions on Instagram, Facebook notes when they still vaguely existed. At the time they were silly little words that “didn’t count,” but looking back on them they were a lot more than what I have now.

Why did I stop writing, really? I want to say work. I want to say burnout (three years and counting) or depression (twelve years and counting). Framed against today’s truths, I think instead I wanted to feel enough; like I was doing enough, my words being useful somewhere and not just things typed out thoughtlessly into the ether.

I wanted to be “serious.” I wanted to be aspirational. I didn’t want to be a girl who constantly bled on paper and happened to put it up on public display. I didn’t know that at some point they would be the most I ever had. Had I known, maybe I would have loved the words more deeply and held them like water in my cup.

It never feels like you have enough, not until you learn the hard way how much less you can still have.

So perhaps it’s okay. Perhaps you’ll forgive me if I return to my old self and begin again to write the most grief-stricken words I’ve been misfortunate enough to learn.

Because when Sylvia Plath said, “I want so obviously, so desperately to be loved, and to be capable of love. I am still so naive; I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am. A passionate, fragmentary girl, maybe?” 

and when William Chapman said, “I have never known who or what I am supposed to be. The only thing I know for sure, is that I am supposed to be more than I have been,” 

and when Virginia Woolf said, “I am not one person; I am many people; I do not altogether know who I am,” 

and when Brian Andreas said, “I’ve always like the time before dawn because there’s no one around to remind me who I am supposed to be, so it’s easier to remember who I am,” 

and when Elizabeth Kinkaid-Ehlers said, “What would it take for me to wake and walk through the world as who I am?”

I remember briefly that I feel way too much for it to be not enough to write about.

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