Throughout our seemingly endless and recursive life-decision-planning discussions, Gimli kept circling back to this question: “But what do you want?” We would talk and talk and then he’d say, “I’m still not getting a clear idea of what you want.” And I would feel so stuck because I couldn’t see why not.
In our life-coaching conversations, my SIL commented more than once “I’m hearing that you don’t know what you want.” And again I’d feel stuck and bewildered because I just couldn’t see why she was saying that.
I just want everybody to be happy.
This is what I say when pressed, more often than not. I want everybody to be happy and content. But does this just mean everybody else? Or am I included in “everybody” too?
There have been times in my life when I was very, very clear what I wanted: where I wanted to go to college (I only sent in one application), my major, my internship program, volunteering afterwards. I knew I wanted to kiss Gimli about a year after we met, and then I knew I wanted to marry him a year after that. I knew I wanted to get a PhD in Anthropology – although I can’t necessarily say I absolutely knew I wanted to go where I ended up going. I knew I wanted to have kids. I knew I wanted us to come to Albania. And now I know I want to go to Colombia.
Gimli keeps asking me if I’m doing a Gift of the Magi thing in postponing the academic career I once said I wanted, and really at a gut level this question makes no sense to me. It doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me to be going a different route right now. It did feel like a sacrifice – one that I have grieved – to agree not to return to our home in Virginia. But the life itself, and the work – I’m terribly excited about it.
He wrote me this in an e-mail, and I still tear up when I read it:
[During the orientation for the new job] I could see you feeling valued for who you were – feeling that you belonged and had something to contribute – it’s different from when I see you sort of crinkle up in that sort of “I don’t want to bother anyone with my presence” that I see you do here sometimes – such as when I suggest that you ought to have coffee with Zana or Fjoralba. Or that “I’m faking it so that the evangelicals won’t turn on me” that I’ve also seen at church with the subsequent self-loathing after that. Or the “I don’t want to spend the time and energy finding real friends” that I’ve seen you sometimes lapse into here. At the leadership seminar, it felt to me that you felt that you could be real, and that even real that you were worthy of love, and that you belonged and were competent. Seeing you like that was wonderful emotionally for me.
So my SIL suggested that invite myself to the conversation. Ask myself, Self, what do I want? Because that knowledge is there; I just need to access it.
I love the imaginative work she prompts me into doing. I had no idea what life coaching was going to be about. Her approach, at least, is very right-brained and gestaltic, all about exploring symbols and metaphors as a way of unblocking creativity. I imagine that it’s not unlike what a good tarot reading might accomplish. Or contemplative prayer. It’s powerful stuff.
So after our last conversation, I tried a new approach to my daily to-do list. Instead of writing down tasks, I wrote down the answers to the question “What do I want today?” Things like: to feel rested (so I took a nap this afternoon), a clean floor (I mopped), a new idea (I read several chapters of social theory and almost immediately had an idea of approaching data analysis succinctly). I could see and feel myself in motion, not spinning my wheels all day and then feeling annoyed that I had accomplished nothing of substance.
And I wrote a poem, of sorts, pulling together some of the imagery I’ve been working with as a result of her prompts. Hesitantly, since I know there are actual real poets whose blogs I comment on who might read this, I’m posting it here:
What does this woman want?
Ask the lady in red.
Invite her to the table
With her knitting needles, her books
ablaze in flames that do not consume.
See her serious eyes, set between
Smile lines and worry wrinkles
Strands of silver in her hair.
She is wiser than you know.
She holds wisdom in her womb.
An lotus blossom opens
At the base of her skull,
Behind her neck.
She is a brown-skinned warrior
Spear and fishhook made of bone.
She is clothed in llama wool.
Ask her what this woman wants
Today, this moment, even
In this lifetime.
She will know.