I sometimes look around and realize I’m living a strange life—well, “strange” by the standards of what a woman in her thirties (I refuse to say the number out loud or write it down) might be living. I haven’t given my mom grandchildren. Every time I see her and I think of her with her friends who all have grandchildren, I feel a pang of guilt—even though she assures me she wants me just the way I am and that I’ve given her two “grandchildren” so far: Dani Noir and Imaginary Girls, with a third on the way this coming winter.
I don’t feel the need or desire to have children. It’s just not in me to be someone’s mother; there’s no biological clock in there, and I’ve tried to listen for it. No ticking. I say I don’t want children every single time I go to doctor visits, because they keep asking. But I also know they’ll stop asking me soon. My window is soon closing, and I’m fine with that.
I’m not such a successful grown-up either. I haven’t bought a house or an apartment—and I will never be able to do that. In fact, I own nothing of value at all. I’m married, but I don’t fit the standard definition of “wife” —I don’t cook; I barely clean; I don’t even do my own laundry. In fact, sit down because you might find this too romantic—I got married to give my boyfriend health insurance after he finished grad school. I took a personal day from work, we went to City Hall, and the next day I went to work and signed him up for my insurance with HR. We’d never intended to marry before, even though we love each other and have been together since we were eighteen. But I insisted. For health insurance, I told myself. Ironically, I no longer have that job. So it goes.
I don’t have a work career anymore, beyond freelancing. I don’t have many friends—I lost touch with so many of them over the years—and the only ones I do still have are writers too. I don’t like holidays. I don’t understand why people stay close with family just because you share blood. I keep close with certain members of my family, a tiny circle who I love, and I don’t need anyone else. I don’t have a social life. I don’t have hobbies. I don’t have savings. I enjoy spending time alone, with only myself. Very much. I look around lately—with so many people I know having children, and moving out of Manhattan, if they ever lived here to begin with, and doing things with family and going to weddings and going on vacations—and I see how odd I am. I am writing this alone at a café table on a beautiful weekend morning when most people seem to be outdoors, and I’m perfectly content staying right here.
I have and want one thing, and I’ve been single-minded about it since high school: I write. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, to the detriment of everything else.
When the writing is going well, I’m happy, I’m alive, I’m more pleasant to be with—and when the writing isn’t going well, I’m destruction on short legs. I’m a nightmare. I’m all or nothing. I’m that self-centered, temperamental artist no one wants to live with. When I want to go away for a month at a time for an artist colony, I jet off and go. When I want to stay home for days at a time revising and not cleaning or doing dishes or picking up things I drop on the floor, I do it.
I’m everything I always wanted to be—because I only ever wanted this one thing. And I’m also a bit of a monster, because when you have only one thing, you have quite a lot to lose.
I’m thinking of all this now because of this beautiful post I came across last night, “What I Did the Summer After I Graduated” by the Rejectionist. It’s this quote that resonates with me, this one I shared on Tumblr last night:
“When you are a woman or a girl or female no one says to you Look, artists who are great take without asking and take and take and do not apologize because when you are a woman or a girl or female the only thing you are supposed to take is a lot of other people’s shit. No one says to you Be sure you are strong enough to take and not apologize and keep going when the taking leaves you nothing to go back to. Be sure you are strong enough to steal and live alone with what you’ve chosen to make yours.” —The Rejectionist
You see, that post speaks to me. It speaks to me about ambition. About having this kind of larger-than-life ambition as a girl and now a woman. I know so many of us have it, but I also know it’s all I have. It’s all I want. My life is made up of this and nothing else.
Which is dangerous.
That beautiful post makes me think of all I let go and thought I didn’t want and so lost, over the years. About being this strange kind of creature who’s filled with only this WANTING to become something she may never get to be because it’s never good enough, where I am, it’s never the best I can do. What will be left of me if I never reach the heights I see in my dreams? And does it even matter if I know I’ll never stop reaching?
Recently, on Twitter, I asked, cryptically, if it ever ends. If, for authors, you ever stop and think what you’ve done is good enough. Authors said no, so I must not be alone in this.
I know in my heart it won’t ever be enough. I will never have written enough. Having aspiration this enormous means it can never be fed.
I have a memory of being eighteen, the summer before I left for college and met the boy I dragged to City Hall. It was night. We were in the woods, some boys, some girls, and of the friends I was with that night, I was the only one headed off to college in a week or two. Three of them would go on to become heroin addicts and one would be murdered over a drug dispute before she turned thirty. But at that moment, the summer nights smoking innocent bowls and running naked into the reservoir and hanging our arms out the open windows of speeding cars down long, dark roads seemed to be the only thing worth having in the world. A friend was talking of all I’d miss. All we had here. How much he wanted to stay and how he couldn’t fathom how anyone would want to leave. And it was a beautiful town, yes, where people still go on vacations. But it was so not enough for me.
We were on the edge of a cliff, looking off into the dark night and there was no way to know how far we’d fall if we jumped. I remember looking into the darkness of my hometown and feeling it in my bones, this thought: I have to get the fuck out of here. I couldn’t stay. I had so much more to do. I’d barely written anything beyond amateur poems and stories at that point, and I didn’t even know what being a “Writer” even entailed, but I knew I had to be one. I was going to be a writer. Somehow I felt sure I had to give up everything and anything to do that. I looked into the darkness and swore to myself I would.
It’s a promise I kept. I did go off to college. And I never did look back, though I mourned my friend who died, who was so talented, she should have gotten out, and away from drugs, herself. She would have become an artist whose name you would have known.
I’d miss my chances at trying heroin with my friends—I thank the universe for this every day—and I’d move to the city, where I always wanted to live, and I’d stay far away from drugs and I guess I’d become this thing I wanted to become. An artist. A writer. A cold-hearted person who cares for nothing else. Somehow I got it in my head that this is how I had to be and I whittled down my life to only this.
This is a strange life, the kind of life—decades ago—only men were supposed to live.
Ambition. Why did I let go of so much while chasing after it to get here? And if I hadn’t, would I have made it anyway?
Is this where I thought I’d end up when I looked off the cliff into the darkness?
Complicated questions I ask myself. Complicated answers I can’t ever hope to know.