David got me these flowers on our anniversary in July (13 years, baby. Our marriage is officially a teenager). I’d chosen them as part of my wedding bouquet, but just got around to looking up their meaning today, and what I found kind of threw me off a bit: on the positive end, hydrangeas stand for gratitude. That’s lovely. On the flip side? They also portray frigidity, or disinterest (probably not what a couple wants to consider as it goes waltzing down an aisle, but let’s move on, shall we?).
Gratitude and disinterest: oddly enough, they’ve been the presiding emotions inside this ol’ body of mine this past year. It’s what’s prevailing, these conflicting feelings of extreme thanks for all the good in my life: the publication of All the Difference, my lit agent, my writing community, my family and friends and home and all of that. When I wake up every day, my first thought is just that: thanks. I’m so thankful to have this. But that’s before the second emotion sneaks in there, flowing around the side of that gratitude like the angry devil it is.
Disinterest. Listlessness, hopelessness: ever since the book came out, right after the rush of promotion and interviews and reviews, something inside me felt like it went limp. I started a new book project, only to lose momentum, only to go back to it and lose my mojo again. I started another, an idea that had been tugging at the back of my brain for years. I backed away from social media. I slowly stopped interacting with my writing friends, my online community. And the whole time, I wondered: why? What is wrong with me? I saw so many debut authors around me publish their first books, then announce their second–and sometimes third–book pub dates with months of that first one. And here I stood, packing school lunches and checking homework and thinking about all the other stuff I had to do that would fall away if I got back into the writing, that would fall apart in my personal life if I turned to the work again. I’ve never known how to balance life–I throw myself in and figure that since I know how to swim, I’ll worry about how far I am from shore later. So I guess I made a choice. But I knew it was wrong. With each new deal announcement from another writer, with each happy friend asking me how the next book was coming along, jealousy seeped in, as did failure. Discouragement. Doubt. I was doing it to myself.
On a walk with our dog the other week, I saw a mouse dying on the side of the road. I watched in horror as it flopped around, and I didn’t know what to do. Should I have killed it? (I was wearing flip-flops. I was not about to commit mousey-murder in rubber soles.) Should I have tried to save it? (That little mouse was not going to make it, and frankly–call me heartless–the only mouse I like is a dead one.) I stood there for a moment, transfixed, before turning to walk away. The mouse had stopped flopping around by then, crossing the bridge between life and death as I stood there, immobile.
Are you picking up my analogy (and did I just give you nightmares tonight about floppy mouses?)? I don’t know what happened to me this year. I don’t know if I was burned out, or feeling guilty, or scared of not being the writer I wanted (want) to be. Sales of All the Difference were fine. Reviews were fine. Was that it, though? Did “fine” paralyze me? Do I think that’s all I can do? Am I afraid of not being better? Or worse–did I feel like I shouldn’t try to be better, that I should be fine with just “okay?” It was like all my self-esteem got chewed up right along with those gummy bears I ate while I’d been writing. I can sit here and say that I felt like I needed to focus on my kids again, that I felt guilty for all the time I took away from them to write, but c’mon. One of the biggest reasons my children are proud of me is because I’m a writer. They still think I’m famous. My children are not–and never should be–an excuse. A reason, yes, if necessary. But not an excuse.
Gratitude. Disinterest. Do you know what hydrangeas also mean (they’re a very multifaceted flower, these hydrangeas)? They stand for abundance, and prosperity. Grace. Beauty. Know what else? Heartfelt, honest emotion. You guys, I can make them mean whatever I want them to mean.
So I’ll go back to gratitude. Gratitude for the people in my life who love me and keep encouraging me. For you, for reading these words. Most importantly: For the words themselves. Forget disinterest. I’m truly not not interested. A little lost, maybe. I little unsure. But disinterested? No way.
I suppose it’s time to change my interpretation of myself, then. I wonder if men ever feel like this, because whatever weird wallow I had myself in seems purely female. Expectations. Obligations. Self-doubt. They all mix together until we don’t know how to stick the flags of our own goals into the middle of it. And as for me, it’s in my head. Or heart. Or psyche, or something. But I don’t want to be a dead mouse–not even a floppy one. A friend of mine was over this past Friday, and she mentioned how different it was that I use glass jars to store our leftovers instead of Ziploc bags, and it’s something I’d never really thought about before–we started doing as a little way to cut back on waste, and now I figure everybody does the same thing. It was a small deal, not overthought, but just who we are, as we really are. We put action where our values were. So maybe I need to put action where my values are with my own goals, too. Maybe that’s all it is. I see David do it all the time for his work. I see my kids do it when they’re determined to master a skill (headstands in the pool, anyone?). I see it on Instagram and Facebook and all the social media outlets I peek into and then run away from with my tail between my legs, ashamed. Until I realize that a glass jar can be the same as a scene written, a contact made, an idea explored.
Sometimes, I think, what we put on ourselves is so much greater than what others expect of us. Maybe a glass jar and a hydrangea and a Leah aren’t all that much an issue. Maybe disinterest is just an interpretation, and I’m free to look at that flower any old way I want.
And look. The only way I knew how to figure that out was to write it all down, on this computer, for you to read.