Thursday, November 09, 2006

Becoming Nobody

I'm Nobody! Who are you?Are you a Nobody Too?

These words from an Emily Dickinson poem keep going through my head. Suddenly this once silly-seeming poem, one that I always thought out of character for a poet as significant as Dickinson, is making sense.

She was a writer with ambition, yet she lived undiscovered. Her fame and importance came after death. How did she reconcile her writing, the desire to be read (an important part of the equation for any writer) and the failure of the universe to deliver publication and readers?

Did she finally decide to surrender to being nobody?

This week I am at this place. I think of it as Surrender to Nobody, or Embracing My Inner Nobody. The process has gone like this: I was asked to do some volunteer work editing a newsletter for a community organization. It's the kind of thing I can do but find no pleasure in, yet the possible pay off was being part of a committee of other businesswomen who have some stature of a sense in the community. It's been my bad habit in the past to say yes to this kind of project, hate every minute of it and then push thru with constant dread or resentment until the project is over, or sometimes quit halfway through and feel tons of guilt.

This time when I saw the email asking me to sign up I felt dread. I knew in every cell that I did not want to do this. But I did not immediately answer and say no. Why? I began to look below the surface and found this: I wanted to be part of the Cool Club. I thought that maybe there'd be some recognition, some cachet. But my second breath and the second beat asked me: cachet from what? And for what? Is it worth that many hours of my life and giving up even just precious time alone to get an Atta-boy from some folks I barely know and am not sure that I like?

So what was underneath this then? Recovery really is a process of deep mining, and the steps teach us, like archaeologists, to sift through layer after layer, to check our motives and look for patterns in our character. What I began to see was that under my hesitation to say a clear NO to something I clearly did not want to do was this sad little thought: This might be my only chance to have some recognition, to be somebody if only in a Chamber of Commerce kind of way. Ouch. Was--or is--my need for Somebody-ness that great? Apparently it is. Thoughts flowed faster then: How many times had I joined committees, Boards, attended events, paid for tickets to dinners or paid to have my name on a list to buy a tiny piece of Somebody-ness? The answer: many. And how many times did I take jobs because I wanted a certain title or to say I work for SO&SO, Inc. because it might impress or cause me to have some--some what? Some Somebody-ness.

What would it mean to give that up? The rewards were clear with the first question I posed to my inner self: My God, I could save time, money, committee meetings, eating bad food and endless smiling and shaking of hands. I could use that time and money to do things I liked: be alone, write what I like to write, read more, take classes for pure pleasure, and spend time with friends, people I genuinely like rather than people I wanted to have like me.

And the cost to get there? The price? The process of achieving that freedom? Emily Dickinson's words came to me: "I'm a Nobody! Who are you? Are you a Nobody too?"

Can I be Nobody? Can I aspire to Nobody-ness? Shall I surrender my craving for costly somebody-ness, to achieve the peace of nobody-ness? Dare I?
I'm hoping so.

No comments: