The Unmade Me

Moving around the pieces, looking for peace.

Sigh.

Coming here makes me feel sad.

I used to write. I used to get paid to write (crazy, I know). I used to get paid to write and have ideas and share those ideas and then work with wonderfully passionate and talented people to bring those ideas to life. And then share them with millions of people, hoping to strike a spark of inspiration, offer a moment of company and commiseration.

I used to think I could make anything happen in my life, with the right amount of intensity of focus and hard work and praying and pushing and just leaning into it. (Not the Sandberg kind, thankyouverymuch.)

I used to have a mother and a father, whose role in shaping me and leaving their marks, both good and bad, on my developing self was still an alive and developing thing.

I used to think I had firm ideas about who I am.

But apparently we are shaped by circumstance and situation and geography and employment and current relationships and current events and things we didn’t plan for and events seismic and small that shape our daily living.

I used to be a self-made woman. (And I’m typing that with a bit of a smirk on my face, because I love the 1970’s “Enjoli” vibe of it: you know, bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, never let him forget he’s a man.)

The self-made me was a fantastic creation of will and imagination and hard work and certainly a lot of luck. But above all, that self-made me was certain. About anything and everything. I had opinions for days, could make very challenging decisions quickly, ran on instinct and a friendly hubris… and thought maybe I was headed toward the “safe place,” the fantasy place where relatively stable and predictable vocational, social and emotional patterns become regular enough we are momentarily lulled into a sense of safety and permanence. A sensation that our life is “in order.” And will therefore stay that way.

Now I’m the unmade me.

And I’m not just talking about the losses upon losses. I mean, holy hell, my parents died 7 years ago!! How is that possible? I stopped running Redbook seven years ago! Now longer than the years I worked there. Seven years ago is forever ago, even though everything I am right now is because of those years.

I’m the unmade me because I’m living in the wide open. There is no firm career creating my identity. My brothers and are I not doing a great job of figuring out how to redefine our family without our parents’ lives and our parents’ house as the hub of how we connected. There is no sense of financial stability and progression. My son doesn’t need me the way he used to, now that he’s 13, and that’s both a gift and a loss. I’m the unmade me because I’m still working on making friends for myself up here in Garrison. I’m the unmade me because I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m the unmade me because I’m no longer exactly even quite sure in what direction I want to be headed.

That is a really big change after 41 years of writing my script and then living it.

I have ideas for myself, different ones every month, and, yes, there are some popular ideas that keep coming back around.

But I feel like I’m still working on…. just living. I still feel like I’m holding my breath and waiting for some signal that I’ve moved from Transition into Order.

But: nope.

Order I work on. Every day I wander through my house arranging and rearranging, putting away and reorganizing, clearing out and cleaning up. I made order of my artwork, my books, my closet, my kitchen cabinets. I make order by moving my office to the conservatory, by deciding the surprise of pink in my neutral living room will delight me, by giving away furniture and rugs and dog-eared books and Legos and anything that’s not nailed down.

I am trying to get lighter, but it’s not working; inside I’m hunkered down, holding on, leaden and uncertain.

And afraid sometimes. I never used to be afraid. Of anything.

Was that youth? Was that my instinctually honed reaction to the volatility in my growing-up years? Was that willful ignorance? Yes and yes and yes, I’m sure is the answer.

I’ll be 48 soon. The numbers please me, one of the very few even numbers I have any affection for. And the years don’t faze me. But I do wish I had a vision for myself for the future. It feels totally strange not to have the constant push of ambition welling up inside me.

My ambitions for myself are different, though. Peace. Reflection. Purpose. But I do miss certainty and energy and being in the flow of a busy pace that made pausing to wonder if I were even in the right place utterly beside the point.

I wish I still felt like a writer. (But a writer has to write, says a voice.) I wish I felt like I were overflowing with ideas. I wish I recognized more of myself in these days I am living one after the other.

I’m lonely for me.

Maybe I always have been. And this is something I am only now seeing clearly for the first time in my life.

Yes. That is it. I’m lonely somewhere down deep inside, and it’s probably always been there.

So, fine. I’ll be lonely for a little while. I’ll straighten the books and fluff the new pink pillows and arrange a beautiful vignette of miniature fluorite pyramids and a big glass fishing float next to my Buddha statue on the lovely, old wallpaper pasting table I drove to Rochester, NY to pick up from a dealer, and have turned into a pleasing sun-drenched workstation. I’ll do all that and cook delicious meals for my son and hate working from home even though working from home is the greatest thing ever, and I’ll have good days and bad days and blank days and joyful days. I’ll do all that while I’m being lonely while at the same time being known and loved by plenty, and I’ll wait until I’m finished emptying all of that out—those years of lonely I lived and never, ever felt.

And maybe that is when I’ll feel like I get to start living the next stage of “And begin again…” and come to know who it is I’m becoming in the absence of certainty.

I want to be a breath of fresh air. I want to be able to come here and write of beauty and peace and transformation. But first I have to stop holding my breath.

And the unmade me simply can’t remember how.

About stacy

I am a writer, author, mother, former magazine editor (last at Redbook), optimist, and, above all, a searcher. I'm still searching for whom I'm really meant to be, after a series of very jarring losses: a divorce and house disaster that led to a book (Falling Apart In One Piece); a week after the book came out, my parents suddenly fell gravely ill, I resigned from my job (and, apparently, my career), my son went into crisis, my parents then rapidly died four weeks apart, and my boyfriend (who had moved in with me and my son just weeks before the book came out) began the painful journey of realizing we couldn't make our relationship work (that story unfolded on this blog). Since then I've been trying to figure out what's next. Or, in other words, how to fill in the blanks.
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31 Responses to The Unmade Me

  1. Rita Arens says:

    I wrote something similar last night. I understand, completely. The world isn’t as easy to succeed in as it used to be for creatives. We’ll have to create the place to be needed, and I don’t have the money to do it. But I do believe phase II is coming.

    • stacy says:

      Rita — yes, we share so much in this. And also: I totally miss working with you, still, every day. 🙁

      • erin says:

        I can completely see the two of you creating a new space together — and it is already needed. The phase II. You have both impacted my life in some pretty significant ways and I look up to you more than you’ll ever know.

        Love. So much love. For this post, and for both of you.

        • stacy says:

          Erin, that’s such a beautiful thing to say. I’m so honored, really. All I ever wanted to do was be company for people who were feeling lost and/or lonely. And I’m only now learning that’s because *I* felt lost and lonely. And I would do anything with Rita, in a heartbeat.

      • Polly says:

        Can I say, “Ditto”? And: I’m with Rita: phase II is coming. Because it can’t not. Though spoiler alert: phase III will be following phase II at an unspecified time.

        And also? How about, writing *is* beautiful, peaceful, transition. And the opposite. From wherever “here” might be, on the day you write, to that day’s “there.”

        I’m in the same spot as you, from a different vantage point. Would love to keep you digital/virtual company as you take each day’s step.

        • stacy says:

          Oh, Polly, I miss you! This is so beautiful: “From wherever “here” might be, on the day you write, to that day’s “there.” Yes, it’s true. This post today walked me to a there, There where I know a lot of people who have open, aching hearts like I do. I’m just too isolated right now, methinks. I was never meant not to be in a scrum of people hashing out THINGS. And yes, please: let’s keep each other’s company. I treasure yours so much. xoxo

  2. Lena says:

    I’ll take honesty and self reflection and masterful storytelling any day over beauty and peace and transformation.

    Keep coming back here.

    And please write your next book.

    • stacy says:

      Lena, very kind words from you, as always. I hope to write again, I hope to write that book, or another book, or poetry, or more words like this. It means a lot to me that there are still people out there who want to read them, so thank you very much for that. xo

  3. Michelle says:

    Ummm…holy shit this speaks to me.
    So, you’re still a writer. I’m pretty sure those are words up there and I’m pretty sure you wrote them.
    These words moved me – I feel a sense of not being alone in my present state in life. Thank you. I can’t possibly be the only one who feels this.
    I really wish we could sit and chat.

    • stacy says:

      Michelle, turns out this post touched a nerve in quite a few people — which makes me so glad on two levels. One, my writing still has the power to tell some kind of universal truths, and two, we are not alone in our alone. I am sure we will get our chance to sit and chat, and I’m honored that you would want to do that. xo

  4. Brent Almond says:

    I turn 48 this year, too. And while I haven’t been “writing” as long as you have (I only use the quotes because I don’t quite fancy myself a professional one), I’m all about the transitions and fear and breath-holding.

    But I’m reinvesting every morning (though sometimes it’s closer to noon) and trying to figure stuff out.

    Thanks for continuing to write, even if sporadically. Yours is one of the few I always take the time to read, so this was a nice Monday surprise.

    • stacy says:

      Our whole world is in a transition, but boy, it doesn’t make it any easier. Though I guess if everyone felt stable and sure I would feel more like a failure — which isn’t at all what I feel right now. I just feel unmoored. And you officially have permission from me to stop using quotes around writing. You write, and you write beautifully. Thank you for being a fan of my writing, too. That means a lot a lot a lot right now. xo

  5. Joanna King says:

    Just know you are not alone in this–as you are letting others know this about themselves here. love.

    • stacy says:

      Thank you, Jo. You are one of my favorite guardian angels and I love seeing you here. And I am always happy when my own loneliness can be company to someone else… It’s a fair reward. Thank you for reading me, still. xoxo

  6. David Handelman says:

    Yes our 20s was full of bold heedless ambition and energy. And then our 30s we were given some power. And now post 40 unlike our parents’ generation, we are all freelancers. It’s partly the internet, but also partly the consolidation of corporations and the increasing wealth disparity between the top 1% and the rest. It’s unclear what this will mean for future generations, but I don’t think the job security etc is coming back.

    For a while all the editorial assistants I knew had become editors in chief. Now they’re replaced. The few people with longterm jobs must feel almost more panicked than the ones who’ve already experienced the downsizing, because they have no experience fending for themselves.

    I developed a different set of skills almost by chance when I was between jobs and now the backup IS my job. When I look around CNN though, the people who have the most stable work are the video editors — it doesn’t matter what ratings are, or who the EPs are, or who the anchors are — every show needs editing. So they’re actually more inured from the ups and downs than the much more visible (and prestigious) jobs. Not sure how that translates to other fields. Even my boss’s dad, who was an undertaker, which seems the MOST reliable profession, had to get out of the biz because so many people are now cremating.

    On that happy note….

    • stacy says:

      Yes, many absolutely true and brilliant observations above. I keep trying not to feel like we got robbed of the great American promise in our adult lives — things had been running so smoothly for 60ish years? What was another decade or so to keep us in the flush? But I kid, because I know we of the formerly prestigious careers still suffer less than so many. But it is true I have no idea what to tell my son about how to make his way in this world. Certainty is kind of gone for everyone, now, isn’t it? xo

  7. Mandy Fish says:

    I don’t think you can turn off the writer thing.

    And that’s a good thing.

    I’m navigating this space of being in my 40s. Not exactly sure of where I’m going either. But I’m okay with that too. I worry less, the older I get. Which is odd because I should probably worry more.

    • stacy says:

      Mandy, ha! I don’t think you need to worry more. In general, I’m not a fan of worry. But I definitely don’t like this drifting feeling. I’m trying to find the difference between peaceful and dead in the water, ya know? xo

  8. Maria Niles says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Stacy. Your words are beautiful and a gift. Also, I can very much relate so I appreciated reading this today.

  9. Christal says:

    Hi Stacy, I SO totally understand where you are coming from. I’m only now coming out of my own painful stretch of personal loses, career stagnation and creative stops and starts–with many more stops lately. And I so miss the fellowship of being part of something new, creative and exciting. I don’t know what’s next or how I’m going to get to where I’d like to be, but posts like this are an encouragement and an inspiration. So hang in there my dear.

    • stacy says:

      Christal! Hello, lovely!! Yes, let’s hang in there together. I’m sending fortitude and love, and you do the same for me, and I’m sure it’ll all work out all right. xoxo

  10. D. A. Wolf says:

    Yes. And yes. And yes. You describe the lives that many of us lead and then find ourselves and leading. I know myself to have been cast into that great wide open this nearly 15 years ago, and each time I think I have found a small oasis of certainty again, just as I begin to be less afraid, something happens. Something that feels beyond me bigger than me more powerful than me on manageable by me, the old me, the transitional me, the less capable me, the more tired me.

    I believe very strongly that some of it is aging, yes. But I also believe it is a place where too many women find themselves, where we find ourselves, after buying into our own myth, the myth we so wanted to believe in and work hard on that we could be if not everything to everyone very nearly so.

    And then life happens. Messy in explicable life, life that we cannot control or parts in any recognizable way. Life that we cannot pull back from the disorder.

    Certainty desserts us. Selves that we fully recognize desert us. And it isn’t the desertion that is so terrible, we are resourceful after all, but it is the fact that we have little capacity to replace the emptiness with something else that feels good or fitting or even close to good or fitting.

    In the in ternal chaos and disorder, we keep hoping for something a kin to moments of peace or acceptance or even the horizon line staying still long enough for us to get our bearings.

    And then there is everything that truly is bigger than we are, because after all with our big brains and our big hearts we do wish to reach out and contribute to that broader world. And that is where the battered hubris, however friendly, comes in. We see it for what it is or was; some of us feel wretched for ever dealing in it, for ever allowing ourselves a faux-safety in the aftermath of loss and rebuilding, liss and rebuilding, and so on and so on.

    And in that everything that is truly bigger, for some of us, there is the place where we find ourselves in this country. There is dread. And inescapable anxiety that hangs over everything, as if even if we find our own voices again and our own power again for however long they may last, this something bigger — this creeping ignorance and incompetence and intolerance will get us in the end.

    And so we wish for that “former” certainty that we once possessed, to fight the fights that are far bigger than ourselves. Fights for decency and intelligence and common sense and order on a much larger scale. And that loss, that loss for me, makes it all so much harder.

    • stacy says:

      My dear D.A., you are so brilliant. Thank you for this incredible, thoughtful, spot-on response. This is so true, and I didn’t address it in my piece, though it is certainly part of the dark that I feel lurking just behind me: “this creeping ignorance and incompetence and intolerance will get us in the end.” Our country is in such a sad, deluded state. We all bought in to the promise of America, and did not notice that greed was going to destroy it all, that we would turn into a country where we actually believe that if people aren’t succeeding, it’s their fault. Plenty is supposed to lead to generosity — but no, that’s not what we see. (“Plenty” is a deeper idea for me, something I’m incubating with a friend, something I hope to bring to light sooner rather than later — but it speaks to alllllll this.) The reaction this post brought out shows that so many more of us are adrift than I could have guessed. We all are. We are waiting to see who we will become as a people, at exactly the same time we are all holding our breath and waiting to see what will become of us each, as individuals. Unprecedented, really. Sending so much love, and hope your arm and shoulder heal soon!! xoxo

      • D. A. Wolf says:

        Yes. Exactly. And the isolation that results from the finger pointing, the blame game, the deflection of looking at core problems and instead, making it about individuals who “must be doing something wrong.” The fear it engenders, when reaching out and building communities is so much more powerful, and human, and necessary to our survival.

        So many of us still believe in each other, in the coexistence of individuals AND responsible governments — hello? “health” as a human right??? hello? — so I try to cling to that. But these past months make me very very fearful. Yes, unprecedented.

        Thank you for the love. (Insert smile _____.) I’m looking at several more months of physical therapy, but it is a common (albeit aggravating) injury. With time, it will get better. (And I’m now able to spend 20-minute chunks at the laptop again — woohoo! and also, getting a bit better at talking into my iPad!) xo

  11. Gregg says:

    It’s not just you sis – I think their leaving so unexpectedly left a bigger hole in each of us than we ever could – or would – have imagined.

    • stacy says:

      And the horror of it all — how just unbelievable it was. Terrifying. Inexplicable. Brutal. I now realize I will never actually be able to resolve it, find a resting place in my mind for the way their deaths played out. It’s just too big.

      Also: I love you and I miss you, Gregg. xo

  12. Janet Zinn says:

    How beautiful to speak the truth about an unspoken truth so many of us experience. Thank you.

  13. I love this, Stacy. I feel like I’m a writer who doesn’t write. I feel like a person lunging toward 50 but not sure what I could/should be doing. And the loss upon loss. Things are so different from the way they were. XOXOXO

    • stacy says:

      It’s so strange, isn’t it? What we believe life will be, and then we discover what it actually is. I love you madly, Anna. So glad to know you and your beautiful mind. xoxo

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