pre-car-i-ous, [pri-kair-ee-uhs], adjective:
- dependent on circumstances beyond one’s control; uncertain; unstable; insecure: a precarious livelihood.
- dependent on the will or pleasure of another; liable to be withdrawn or lost at the will of another: He held a precarious tenure under an arbitrary administration.
- exposed to or involving danger; dangerous; perilous; risky: the precarious life of an underseas diver.
- having insufficient, little, or no foundation: a precarious assumption.
It’s no coincidence that I named my blog after an Emily Dickinson poem. And if you’ve been following me for the last year, you know how apt a name it is. But I have been feeling particularly precarious of late….
There is nothing wrong, exactly. In fact, there is plenty that is right. As I sit here and contemplate my life, I can tick off nearly every aspect that is just about as good as I could possibly hope. But something is definitely wrong.
Work right now is amazing. I am spearheading a project for which I have no past experience, no staff, minimal training, and minimal resources. Should I mess it up, the repercussions would be serious and long-lasting, generate terrible negative publicity, and could (possibly but not likely) result in expensive lawsuits. But my colleagues seem to have unwavering confidence in me, and that is enormously gratifying. I have attacked the project with a focus and determination I had nearly forgotten I possessed. I have found myself calling on knowledge and skills I haven’t reached for in 10 years or more. And so far, I have it in hand. It has been a wonderful reminder that there are some things in my life that I truly do well. And if that wasn’t enough on the professional front, I even received an award last night. At a community dinner in the small town in which I work, a “community champion” award was bestowed upon me. How’s that for external validation?
At home, I have sunk myself into my children in the last two months. We three girls have played more games and painted more nails and done more cooking than usual. We’ve had more heart-to-heart talks and cuddles on the sofa and shared jokes. I have felt closer, more connected, to my children than at any time since right after my separation. They have confided things to me and asked me tough questions and engaged with me in ways that have made me feel like I must be doing something right in this whole mess we call parenting.
I have been putting my house in order, quite literally; ticking items off my to-do list and re-visiting projects that I abandoned in the chaos that was late December. I have been running on my elliptical. Doing yoga. Reading for pleasure. Re-connecting with friends. Going to my favorite church. Puttering in my little yard. Writing in my journal. Getting sleep and taking vitamins and eating well.
In short, I am doing all the things that a person should do to feel grounded and safe and connected. But I don’t. Not at all.
I feel, lately, as if I am merely moving through my life, rather than really living it. I’m apparently doing an excellent job moving through it, though, for what that’s worth. I suppose that, in much of life, just showing up is the point. And I am definitely showing up. No balls being dropped over here. No mistakes or flubs or crises in my life right now. Oh no, I’ve got it all under control, thankyouverymuch.
Except that I have found myself quite often teetering on the brink of tears for no apparent reason. I sleep well and deeply and have pleasant dreams, but awaken feeling sad and… stuck. I no longer have certainty in some of the cornerstone ideals that have guided me my entire life. New, less promising and less optimistic futures play about in my head and create fears I have never, ever known before. And something about this last break-up demolished my confidence in my appearance; I can barely stand to look in a mirror these days and the thought of getting naked in front of a man leaves me cold. This is true, despite the fact that I have actually lost weight in the last two months and bought a smaller size jeans today. Go figure. Finally, and perhaps most disconcerting, I have started and abandoned a handful of posts for this blog… the words, the ideas, the concepts are not there. And when I run out of words…. well, that is a bad sign, indeed.
There have been multiple times in my life during which I have felt as if I am holding it all together through the sheer force of will, and looking damn good while doing it. I remember, in particular, a time in law school when I felt as if I were faking my way through every single day — juggling a full-time courseload at a rigorous university with a nearly full-time, incredibly demanding job and some vague semblance of a social life. I felt like an utter fraud, because each and every day I wondered if it would simply all fall apart.
I feel that way again now. Collecting my award last night was surreal. I was acutely aware of what my image is to my colleagues and the townspeople, how they perceive me and respect me and experience me. As I returned to my table and handed the award to my daughters (who promptly began fighting over it), I wondered at how much we conceal in our hearts.
Were I less encumbered with children and financial obligations, now would be the time that I would make a drastic change in my life to shake myself out of this place. Something on the scale of moving to another country. As it is, I am not certain of what to do next. In fact, I find myself, for the first time in many, many years, quite frightened by the thought of what “next” will look like. My greatest fear is that it will simply look like more of “now.”
My brain knows that this is not possible; that the only constant in this life is change. Whether you’re happy or sad, you can be sure that it will change. So, presumably, at some point, change will come again, and possibly it will be good change that chase away my feelings of mild melancholy. (I am well aware that it could also go in the other direction and change could come in the form of a major health crisis or terrible emotional loss or financial ruin, but we’re going to pretend that those possibilities do not actually exist. Just because I want to. So humor me, please.)
My touchstone these days is this: A small patch of crocus and tulip and narcissus bulbs that have begun to push through the top soil and reach for the weak sun that bathes my courtyard. Each day, I go out and check on their progress, for they are my harbingers of change, a tangible representation of what I so desperately need right now: life in bloom. I allow myself to imagine that by the time they are actually blooming, things might be different in my heart. Perhaps my soul will have recovered its old buoyancy. Maybe my faith and hope and optimism in the future will have returned. Or maybe I will have learned to be contented with some new version of my future that presently seems scary and foreign to me.
Time, in its inevitable march, will surely tell.
And until then, I’ll keep moving forward. Precariously.