One of the gifts I have given myself over the years, and painfully gained, is how to unlearn everything I was taught while growing up. Everything that was fed to me about the world, religion, being female, who I am, and how I was supposed to end up. It has been a gradual process of taking apart everything I had come to believe and associate with, shedding it, and putting back together belief systems that suited me and my place in the world.
Unlearning is a gift.
I have been spending a lot of time with a conflicted heart. It’s not easy to lay down how I feel or what I believe and that’s why I don’t write much anymore. Safe to say I am in a conundrum of who I am and who I want to be. I don’t know if I like black coffee or if I am a solo traveller forever. I don’t know. Do I like fiction? If yes, what kind? Am I drawn to poetry because it allows me to flex my language or hide the instability of my beliefs? I don’t know. I don’t spend much time alone these days. I miss it. Getting to know myself. Figuring out who I am, what I like and dislike, and how I want my bread slathered — with honey or butter or cream cheese. I miss hearing the sound of my voice clanging inside my head telling me to stop eating so much mango ice cream coz God, I don’t even like it all that much. (It’s a metaphor just so we are clear.)
For the purposes of this post, we will focus on my major problem at hand. The more time I spend being a woman in a man’s world, the harder the days seem to get. I’ve been feeling claustrophobic for many days now. Men are always so concerned with doing the “right” thing. No matter that right thing may be deporting immigrants or women covering up so their prayers are accepted (even during mass, yes, look it up). It exhausts me this constant hammering of wanting to correct the world to suit their needs. But I am not naive as to think that these behaviours need to be dismantled all at once. I may not explain this well, but I will try.
Honestly, the pursuit of building a world that is completely good seems unnatural to me. How could such a place exist? It’s quite impossible. I think that our lives are jumbled wool yarns of all that is pleasant and unpleasant (I’m trying not to say good and evil) and that’s why we are able to live. While I appreciate the sentiment of trying to be a good person or escape karmic justice, I think it is only a means to live but not achievable at all. That’s exactly why it works. It is unattainable, so all of us have to just keep trying.
I am currently reading The Pearl and I love John Steinbeck’s work. Make no mistake. The Grapes of Wrath is a holy grail I’m willing to take my wedding vows on. East of Eden is a legacy I am willing to pass down to children yet unborn. But as I read him, I cannot help but notice how Biblical his works are. The constant tug of his characters trying to be good, trying to fall in line with what is “right” and failing or tiring at it. Despite the “humanity” of his characters I cannot help but feel they are always aspiring towards the notions of heaven and hell on earth. I say “on earth” because he has very large swathes of forces of good and evil juxtaposed against each other in very human settings (but largely male).
In contrast, I am also reading Elif Safak’s new book 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World. While I didn’t enjoy her previous two books as much, starting to read her prose reminds me of why I loved her work so much that I identified with it to such a great degree. (You remember that phase of mine, don’t you?) So much that I wanted to be like her. She weaves in religion and spirituality in everything she writes, but never have I ever seen her characters aspire to a common notion of “good”. They’re all flawed and fragrant and free in their own skins. Almost all her novels blur the lines between right and wrong. They provide perspective, make you see something else. Also, in very human settings (but largely female).
Of course, this could be a half-baked assessment but what I’m getting at is that wrestling with the pursuit of being good is worthy, it just isn’t attainable. We’re all hamsters in a wheel.
As I struggle with the way things are inside my heart right now, I can’t help but fail at being myself from time to time (whatever that person may be). The litmus test is this. I’m so unsettled that I forget to stress about my skin – my most favourite thing to be concerned about. Today as I stood there under bright white lights in the shop of an optician, I looked at myself in a large mirror without critique. Maybe I have graduated to worrying about new things. Maybe the pursuit of flawless skin is not my thing anymore. Maybe I will stop scouring the skincare routine blogs and join the hordes of men trying to set right this universe. Maybe saving to buy a Bobbi Brown charcoal mask is a passé goal. It’s such a pity, though.
Don’t you think?
- The title of the post comes from a number by a new favourite artist Sasha Sloan. Check out her music. Totes recommended. (I don’t say totes in real life or anywhere else. I swear I don’t.)
- Please fuck right off if you think skincare is not a worthy issue. I honestly don’t need to educate you about how women have perfected the practice such that it is now an art form worthy of library documentation.