Discover more from some antics
Nostalgia for narratives
Content warning: brief mention of suicide.
Recently, I've been contemplating the curiosity that my sense of imposter syndrome seems to have evaporated over the past couple years. I wanted to figure out why so I could perhaps communicate some useful ideas to other people.
Against this pondering, a friend of mine asked me if, given my relatively late-in-life gender transition, I've ever grieved the loss of the life I could have or 'should' have led. Oh, yes. I know this feeling viscerally. At times it's been the driving force of my life.
The pain of feeling like I was trapped in the wrong life has pushed me quite literally to the brink of madness and death at various times in my life. I've spent time in mental institutions, survived suicide attempts, and run the gauntlet of addiction, always hounded by a sense that my 'real life' had yet to start; haunted by ghosts of other selves, variously stronger, better looking, richer, more famous, more talented, funnier, healthier, smarter, more loved, or more loving, depending on where I was at in the process of growing up.
The thing is, I don't feel this feeling anymore. I mean, if I could go back in time and change every single circumstance of my life so that I could start HRT 20 years ago, sure, in theory that'd be cool, maybe my shoulders wouldn't be so very broad. The amount of change that it would take to make that possible though would eradicate the person I am today. You see, I am a product of my suffering. It has made me tender and compassionate and funny and sensitive to the world around me. I've come to love and value the person I am now, and through that to see a fragile, impossible web of meaning in the pain that shaped her.
I'm also at an age where I've lived a few different lives, chased a few different dreams. I've come to understand that those things, while real and important, are not the essential matter of my heart. The dreams and costumes and relationships and postures and careers we take on for a season are a means and a medium, but our hearts are the artist. And like a work of art, it's all there at once. It's a totality. The kind woman who sips tea and writes for a living can't be extracted from the closeted young man who chugged whiskey and worked as a line cook any more than a painter can extract blue and yellow from green paint. Whether we get what we're chasing or it slips through our fingers and shatters on the floor, the result is the same. We're changed, and we change the world. The ghost that went left when you went right is every bit as sad, wild, funny, lost, scared, and in need of love as you are.
That said, I don't have to like the person I was, or enjoy failing. I don't have to think of trauma fondly. I don't. I can forgive and accept and still feel tremendous pain. Memories can fill me with embarrassment, guilt, and frustration and I can still say 'I accept you and I care about your pain, and I'm here now’. Hearts are inherently messy, cluttered places, and the impulse to tidy them, to clear away the old, to solve them and check them off a list, is a futile waste of time.
So when pangs of this strange nostalgia for a life I never lived press on my tender heart, I soften to them and let them in. They're just another flavor of feeling I'm grateful to taste in this life. Rather than play through the narratives of how I could've, or should've, walked that path, I find the raw emotion I'm experiencing here and now grounds me back in the totality of who I am. This pain guides my goodness, pulls me deeper into the experience of myself: a journey, a project, a work of art I'll continue on until I die.
“Don't surrender your loneliness so quickly. Let it cut you more deep. Let it ferment and season you as few humans and even divine ingredients can. Something missing in my heart tonight has made my eyes so soft, my voice so tender, my need for God absolutely clear.”
"When you look at a face before you, at a scene out your window or a painting on the wall, you see a whole gestalt. All the parts present themselves simultaneously. One bit does not cause another bit or precede it in time. It doesn’t matter whether the painter put the reddish blotches in last or first, the gray streaks as afterthoughts or as originating structure or whether they are leftover lines from a prior image on that piece of canvas: What you see is exactly what you get, all at once. And the face, too; its complexion and features form a single expression, a singular image, given all at once. So, too, the image in the acorn. You are born with a character; it is given; a gift, as the old stories say, from the guardians upon your birth."
— James Hillman