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The pulsing drive of fear - #65
No unsolicited advice required.
It is never a good sign when you think about getting bangs. This past week, I managed to emerge from the hair salon without any drastic changes, but only after leaving the imprint of teeth in my bottom lip, holding back whatever chaotic energy spurred the thought. I am watching myself as I book these hair appointments and visit cat shelters and decorate the house, watching this energy of change for not only where it might land, but for where it’s coming from. There is always the me who is watching and the me who is doing, the bird in the sky who sees the trail start to finish while the animal on the ground runs the length trusting only ever the next ten feet. And the bird knows I am scared.
We are planning to have a kid next year, but the we has been on tenuous ground. On our first date, Ben and I covered several topics in rapid succession: what’s your method of birth control, how do you feel about abortions, and do you want kids. We both agreed: no kids. Neither of us had ever wanted kids.
But things change. When I was 34, I told Ben something was happening in my brain and in my body. What used to be a 0% of having kids had suddenly jumped to 10%. I could imagine it. He said, “can you stop imagining it?” Six months later, I told him it was 25%. Then it was 40%. And as it crested over 50%, I told him I would understand if he wanted a divorce. This wasn’t the life he wanted, and I did not want to bear the resentment it might incur. Ben, to his credit, said offering him a way out was not only deeply insulting but absurd. In his words, “if anyone is having a kid with you, it’s me.”
Since that conversation, 50% became 90%. I would not be bereft without having a child, but I do want one. And so we made a plan. Move here, make friends, get in one more mountain biking season, one more ski season, and then start trying in March. And as March looms large in the distance, so too does my fear. It was slithering through my body in the dark hollows, disguising itself. I thought it was centered around having a partner who never wanted to be a father, but Ben is a man driven by duty and care. His language has shifted from “Kelton wants to have a kid” to “we want to have a kid.” A world where he abandons me surely exists, but I can’t fathom it, and as his devotion crystallizes, my fear’s costume turns transparent. It’s not him I am afraid of losing. It’s me.
When you try to level the scales of accomplishment with parenthood, everyone is quick to the queue with threats.
“Your newsletter will completely change.”
“You won’t enjoy traveling as much.”
“You’ll be more concerned with them than anything else.”
“You won’t even care about your pets anymore.”
“Good luck getting anything done.”
I believe them. Children, after all, listen. We listen when our parents tell us what they had to give up, what places they never went, what dreams left behind, the burdens carried, the stress added. There is no denying any of this, and I can’t help but wonder if this thing I feel called to do is going to ruin my life, if it is going to ruin all the possible lives I could have lived. If my beauty, my desirability, my drive, my ambition, my imagination, my rigor, my fight, my allure, and the countless fantasies of alternate lives I continue to live out in my mind will simply crumble under the weight of a helpless, gelatinous sac sucking them out of me.
Have I done enough before I become someone else?
The answer is obviously no, at least for me. You can tell by my actions. If you watched me for a day, you would see a person preparing. More squats. More time writing. More nose in a book. Stricter schedules. Bigger dreams. Outlines, time frames, check boxes. And I can see the queue of threats fill again and again:
“You can’t plan for it. All your plans will go out the window when you have a kid.”
“Enjoy your time now while it’s still yours.”
“Get all the sleep you can because that’s all you’ll be thinking about later.”
“You’ll barely have time to do your job, let alone write.”
“Have fun navigating mom-brain, because it’s real.”
These are the shadows cast on my current landscape, slinking between the words as I try to feverishly finish a novel. But the fear of losing who I am is matched in intensity by the fear of finding out who I might be: a failure, a nobody, a woman whose writing is good but not good enough, whose ideas and worlds and characters don’t resonate, don’t matter, don’t even get a chance to exist. Or even worse, a shell — a woman neither obsessed with her child nor dedicated to her work. A ghost who cannot move on from the life they thought they would have.
I find it incredibly embarrassing to write this. These are the kinds of big emotions I was chastised for having as a child, and while I now allow them and acknowledge them, I still find them dramatic, histrionic, and a little ridiculous. Some 80% of women my age have kids, and they’re accomplishing plenty, however draining and taxing and expensive it may be. And I’ve already been watching my own dreams die like poorly tended houseplants for years, replacing them with whatever I fall in love with at the nursery. But the death of my own freedom, however illusory it may be, is harder to accommodate.
The potential of having a child is part of why we moved here. If we were going to add to the tally of 8 billion humans, we wanted our addition to be immersed in nature, connected deeply to the soils and roots around them. We wanted to live somewhere a child could leave the house at dawn and not return til dusk. We wanted to raise something wild and feral and independent so we could still be wild and feral and independent. So we could still become the people we dreamed we’d be.
Earlier this week I asked on Instagram what I should write about, and many of you asked for an essay around creative regiments, writing, writer’s block, my sense of place in the world, what moving to the mountains has done for me creatively — maybe it’s the wintering that prompted so many of you to ask these questions. We’re preparing for the coziest and loneliest of seasons, the one where our inner lives are not blotted out by sunlight but grow like mold in the recesses of long, dark mornings. They smell a bit funny if we don’t tend to them. We’d like to prepare before our fingers begin to ache in the cold, damp air, lacing any retaliation with arthritic pain.
There was no way for me to write about my current creative approach without naming the fuel within it. I am writing like the person I am now is going to die. I am throwing every what if and remember when and I wonder into a pot of god I fucking hope because the last thing I want to be is a disappointment to myself when I am meant to be a guiding light to someone else.
This is not my favorite essay to write. I don’t like admitting this kind of thing. People have real problems, after all. And more than one March may come and go before we find out we can’t even have kids, and all this fuss will look pretty silly then.
When I moved here, my biggest fear was becoming irrelevant, forgotten. That I wouldn’t get hired, I would never be taken seriously as a writer, that the opportunities for a bigger life would in fact become smaller and smaller. But I don’t think I’ve been forgotten so much as I have forgot. My life has not become smaller, but I have. I am not clawing my way to the top of anything but mountains. I am an animal panting up the trail. I am a fleck dashing in the snow. I am a thousand little worlds pent up in two hands too small to palm a basketball. And I’m ever quick to forget that whatever I left behind made room for something here. That I made room for something here.
There was once no goal more rigid than my own to become VP, CMO, and rich. But god how quickly that dissolved like tearing off a poorly constructed Halloween costume at the end of the night. I mean the candy is nice, but jesus. And I try to remember that in abandoning that dream, better ones came true.
Every day now, I sit down to write: for my job, for this newsletter, and for two characters that have been begging me to let them out of my head for years. Obviously, these books (should I finish them) might be bad, and it would be difficult not to murder anyone who might say something like, “but you still wrote a book! That’s amazing!” I am still attempting to write them nonetheless. And the way I do this is just by sitting down and setting a timer. This newsletter has a timer after all. It goes off every Sunday at 8am Mountain Time, and because of that timer, 150,000 words have been written in 64 weeks.
Fear, for many years, locked those stories inside. But fear is a malleable thing. What it can cradle it can also spur. What it can hide it can also reveal. I am afraid of all the lives I will lose by creating one. But I think I’d have to be fucking crazy not to be.
One other prompt came through for this week from my friend Jade: what about you is immutable? If you didn’t have your past, your parents, your traumas, your wins, your losses, what about you would still be there? The question came from the book The End of Loneliness by Benedict Wells. I told her I’d need to sit with it before I could write an essay about it, but here I am at the end of this thinking maybe that was the prompt all along. I am worried that what I consider immutable, what I consider to be the core of who I am, will be stripped of me by marrow, by milk, and by sleepless nights.
But then it wouldn’t be very immutable, would it.
We are in the guts of shoulder season now, all of life’s joys checked out by someone else at the library while we wait for our turn. Not enough snow to ski, too much mud to ride, too much snow to run, too this and too that and not yet, with everyone festering in their cold houses waiting for the sun angle to change and the fun to begin. But what I still wake up with in this holding pattern is drive, with the characters in my head showing me what they can do in my dreams, and with a desperate need to get whatever chaos I have brewed into a bowl on the table only to eat it again and again and again.
I’ve always been a little bit afraid, and then I’ve always done it anyway. I know that if we have a kid, many of the lives I imagined for myself will die. But I can’t help but be certain it will unlock something else. At my most frightened, I’ve always been determined to make the fear worth it. One might say that’s what defines me. One might say it’s immutable.
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