Some days are eating days, where my thoughts are dedicated to what I’ll eat, how I’ll improve it, what I’ll serve next, what I won’t eat, and where the next reservation will take me. Other days are makeup days–not days where I live with vigor, attempting to make up for time lost to food obsessions and sloth–actual days that are somehow spent exploring colors, finishes, and combinations… of cosmetics. I can’t say how often either day squeezes into a random week, only that neither makes me feel ashamed. I can own (read: rationalize) my lack of productivity as a critical hibernation stage, crucial to generativity. Today has been neither of these days.
My concealer-free face and I spent the bulk of the day in the library, my favorite place in the world, truly. Yes, besting the gourmet shop and even Sephora, the library is my island. In horn-rimmed glasses and a green boat-neck sweater, I made another unproductive attempt at writing the overview of my next book. Because I don’t know where to begin or how to say it. I need to talk it through. But there’s no talking in the library.
Lots of false starts.
I reflected on this earlier post about identity, on losing yourself in a relationship, on the fight we put up to remain the individuals we worked so hard to carve as we surrender to intimacy, and I felt close to something. I’m very close. Because what I know now that I didn’t know when I wrote that post is that it’s only through sacrifice and compromise that you truly grow, as even more of an individual. Not to the detriment of self but to the expansion of it. This feels like a huge lesson. But doesn’t it also seem simple and somewhat glib and unconvincing? Then again, most films and books can be whittled down to a single dose of self-revelation. The big aha. It’s definitely one of my top five self-discoveries over the past few years. I can’t help but liken our personal growth, the building of our unique identities, to a declining sex life.
It all comes down to a can of beans. Okay, a marital jar of beans. Ever hear the theory that if you put a jellybean into a jar for every time you have sex during your first year of marriage, and remove one each time you have sex after the first year, you’ll die with a jar full of jellybeans? A softened sex life, and the casual acceptance of it, is just part of the great decline. We can strive to fight it, shift our priorities, read sad little books on how to “spice it up,” but despite Botox and even Viagra, what goes up, must come down. It seemed the same could be said for my own personal growth.
My formative years were spent filling the jar, equipping myself with the skills that would serve me later in life–writing, reading, wiping myself. We spend years, money, investing in building ourselves, pelting beans into a jelly jar, amassing our colors and confidences. Then we get married, add a few more beans from what we learn about compromise, more about parenting. Then that’s it. We’re made. The jar is full. The idea is we’re supposed to spend the rest of our lives handing out our jellybeans to the needy and hungry, giving strangers and children our candy, until, ideally, we’re left only with an empty pot to piss in. Die broke, leave a legacy and a mark on the lives of those you’ve touched.
I’ve got a big ol’ jar of jellybeans sitting on the coffee table, and I worry that they’ll go stale before I’ve had a chance to share them. It’s as if once the amassing of the beans slows, it feels like I’ve given up. Stopped learning and contributing. I’ve reached critical mass and stagnation. Thankfully, I’m in the life stage where vacillating between feeling stagnant and productive is required.