Julie Heffernan, Self-Portrait as Broken Home
Throughout the course of a day, many battles are fought. The mere fact of having a physical body creates stress--whether in the form of exhaustion, bouts of emotion, anxiety. But the alternative, floating around in some amoeba-like wavy film, doesn't sound any more appealing.
And so we have this body. I've been a bit unhappy with my body--now into my thirties, I lack the motivation to lose the weight I've gained in the last year. This requires discipline and for a long time, I've avoided the necessary restraint to curb my appetites.
I wonder if as we get older we lose certain motivations. I'm obsessive about writing, reading, and my work--those things seem to motivate me to a fault--but the care of the body, once a concern, no longer matters.
I'm sort of embarrassed to say that I don't care for my body as I once did. Because the real reason for this is I don't have anyone to impress. There are no women I'm trying to woo, or otherwise get their attention, have dinner with, etc.
Since my late twenties, I've socialized less and less, and my circle of intimates has narrowed.
By choosing to marry, you can prevent the circumstances I've just described. You may be lonely in another sense, but you'll never feel isolated. If anything (and I'm speculating here because I'm not married), you'll feel crowded or as my mother used to put it, "I feel like I'm drowning."
My mother was a fierce individualist, an artist, and not really suited to raising a family or having children. But she did and I acquired many of her traits for contemplation, creativity, solitude and private work.
She used to keep journals in her art studio, many of them handmade. She bound her own sketchbooks and journals. I remember seeing the half-cut fabrics in the laundry room beside reams of thread. But she stored her journals downstairs, in a chest of drawers. My mother's art studio had immaculate white walls and was filled with repurposed furniture and random objects cluttering the floor.
She created scenes with the furniture, rugs, or whatever she found around the house. Her models sat under giant flood lights, and for hours my mother would stand at a canvas and translate this imaginary situation into a painting. The window of her studio regularly appeared in her paintings, with a view of our suburban enclave, a privileged world protected by a gate.
It was a beautifully landscaped, dead conglomerate of houses. The houses were so big and set apart that it was an inconvenience to visit people. You would have to drive to their house just to say hello.
As a teenager, the vastness of the subdivision inspired many adventures on my bike. I charted the territory available to me. Originally a golf course, which had been transformed into a gated community, there were several large ponds, always with a great deal of Canadian geese squawking and shitting in the grass. I remember the exact color of the grass on most days. It was dark green. Around the ponds were massive weeping willow trees and I used to stand on the tops of the roots jutting out of the ground. Sometimes there were nooks in the bottom branches, where you could sit and watch the cars go by.
The grounds of the Midwest Club, where I lived, were expansive. Cul de sacs snaking up hills, and new houses always being built, large, preposterous modern ones. I used to to explore the construction sites with a friend, and we collected those bottle-cap things. The little metal caps were scattered in the sawdust, and we filled our pockets with them.
The basements, I recall. Most basements of the houses we couldn't go down into; there wasn't a staircase built yet. But we peered into the gaping hole that extended into shadows and frameworks for rooms. We marveled at this part of the house, I imagine, because it was so inaccessible.
In time, every basement we peered into would become a finished one, with lush carpets and modern cooling devices to keep the temperature just right. Some of the basements would be equipped with small movie theaters or bowling alleys. The general rule of the place where I lived was that every year a newer, more elaborate house would be built. The new house in the subdivision with a waterfall, indoor gardens, and running streams, would inevitably provoke gossip and cause the other residents to look with envy as they drove back to their humble, dated mansions.
This probably explains why I wanted to spend so much of my later adolescence outside of the house, and the neighborhood, for that matter. Our environments undoubtedly shape our personalities, and when I was younger, I remember being by myself a lot. Whether it was amid the vastness of the gated community or sequestered inside my own large house, it was a common experience that repeated itself.
It seems I had more friends when I was younger, but at every stage of my life I've felt a disconnect between myself and others. I felt this even when I had made friends in high school or college; my friendships were always private and never in large groups. They were also tenuous. When a friend was accepted into a larger group, I was usually left on my own. I'm not wallowing here--that's just how things turned out for me. And I kind of liked being by myself.
Of course, a part of us desires what we don't have, and so, I did long for acceptance and to be part of a larger group. But my personality never allowed for it. Another way to put this is I didn't fit in.
And now that I'm thirty years old, soon to be thirty-one, I'm slowly recognizing why things are the way they are for me.
We tend to forget the past, and how we developed into individuals. I feel stuck when I forget my past, like a coma has obscured some vital reference points. And these instances of my separation from others, where I lived, how I grew up, describe my tendency toward contemplation and creativity, as opposed to other forms of immersion, like social immersion, which has always made me slightly uncomfortable.
I understand why I'm on my own, and it doesn't bother me as much as it used to. I've always wanted this, even though I may have pretended otherwise.
Every choice in life implies the loss of another. Since I was very young, I chose to cultivate my interior world. And that's where my poems come from, and these essays.
Strangely enough, when I write these essays, I'm consciously reaching out to the world. The fact that my interiority changes to its opposite makes me think that while we're always "on our own," we also have this place to meet others, through language and art. It's a wonderful hidden doorway, and I'm passing through it a lot these days.