Blame it on the increasing darkness, the shortened days, the low ceiling of clouds that cling to the mountains, swallowing this valley in a blanket of gray. Or fault could lie with the simple change of the seasons, from the pulse of summer, with its brilliant long days and a perceptible fever to climb every mountain and float every river, to the slip into fall with its hunkering down effect as the leaves change colors and spin, like helicopters, down from the branches and to the ground. Whatever it is, this time of year I habitually do a few things, some that range from good for me (like stack firewood) to not-so good for me (like eat pastries and hunks of bread with such intensity it’s as if I’m entering hyperphagia) to the really not good for me (pour over every detail of my life and examine each and every flaw and dwell on my mistakes). With all of these hours of darkness, I slide into a state where I can’t get past myself, where I blame myself for every misdeed and mistake. I focus on the past and spend hours second guessing each and every choice I’ve made on this planet in my thirty-one years. It’s downright depressing to put the screws to oneself day in and day out.
I know that this is the time of year for thanks and gratitude. To use the quiet of the fall to reflect and recall the joys of life. To appreciate hearth and kin. To bake pies and drink inordinate amount of beverages containing pumpkin.
For me, this is a time, especially as I write and have to examine my life and my choices, where I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Did you know that I still question my choice to attend DePauw University? That it’s apparently not enough for me to have graduated from a good school in the Midwest. Perhaps, in some ways, it wasn’t the best school for me and perhaps I would have preferred to go to college with a little less Greek and a little more topographic excitement. However, I chose DePauw, not anyone else. And I chose to stay there for four years. And if I stop kidding myself, I did make friends and have a good bit of fun. And it is where I fell in love with literature and writing. But there’s a part of my brain that triggers and begins the series of questions that ultimately leads to a path of self-doubt. What if I had gone to college in Montana? Would my life be better? Wouldn’t I have experienced more, gotten cooler jobs and been a better person?
Aha! That whole ” better” fallacy. I cling to it like a life raft. What does better even mean? I don’t know. All I know is that I scrutinize my actions (like each and every bad relationship in my early 20s) and determine that if only I’d _______ I’d be a better person. It’s not as if I have defined what “better” means, only that I’m not good enough.
Not good enough.
That’s a doozy, isn’t?
I know well and good that yes, I have made mistakes. Many. But this relentless examination of each and every misstep is self-defeating. And I’m becoming more and more aware of this nasty little habit of mine as I write. My essays and stories are about a girl who can’t forgive herself for a myriad of reasons, most of which are the simple lessons of growing up, discovering oneself, and trying out independence under the shadows of the Rocky Mountains. This relentless self-blame is defeating to the creative spirit. And, who wants to read about someone who puts her entire life under the microscope and blames herself for each and every deed? I’m like the ultimate Debbie Downer on the page.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, I do have much to be thankful for. But I believe I can’t be truly grateful until I first forgive myself. For being a girl who left home at age 22 and moved west and doesn’t return as often as she should. For making a million mistakes in relationships. For not focusing on writing enough. For not saving money. For blah blah blah.
For being human.