Part Two: Success
At twenty…oh god. At twenty, success meant that I could make it through the month on my budget of $150 and I wasn’t hungry. That’s what success was then. Budget was $150, it started at $120 and went up to $150 a month, for everything. For rent, food books, entertainment, you name it. It was a time in my life when I couldn’t even go to the dollar film on campus without a major debate. I used to eat beans five days in a row. I was putting myself through college, so it was a rough time financially.
Success meant that I was doing well at school, I mean it was just so exciting to find that I was smart. With my glasses, learning I could do well, I mean it was such a change from how I’d ever seen myself. It was really, really a nice time for me. I was really excited. I was involved in the women’s movement, trying to figure out what it meant to me. And success at that point too meant I was going to be financially independent, that I was never gonna have to beg for another $20 from Mom. That was also success. I was not gonna get tied down until I had my career firmly established and I never had to ask for money. That was really important to me.
I didn’t have a lavish lifestyle in mind, ‘cause I always enjoyed going to the thrift shop, and I still do to this day, going on a scavenger hunt for what I might like. You sometimes come out empty-handed, you sometimes come out with someone else’s treasures. So I’ve always enjoyed that aspect of success was going on a fun trip to St. Vinny dePaul’s or Goodwill on a Saturday when I spent two dollars and ended up coming out with treasures. So, success at that point was just continuing to learn and be financially independent person.
You know, in some ways the concept of success really hasn’t changed much over the years. I’ve added in that my goal in life is to be thought of as a mench. It’s a Yiddish word that used to primarily be geared towards men. A man was thought of as mench if he was a good person, if he was someone who you could turn to, if he was someone who was trustworthy and had integrity. I made up a word somewhere along the line—I got stoned many many years ago, I used to do that—called integrituitous that I wanted to live my life so that someone could look at it and say that I, I just displayed integrity and I had an integrituitous life. And also to have love in my life. To be a loving person and to be loved and to have people in my life who are loved and appreciated. That’s what success has meant.
…I happen to live in a house right now that’s bigger than my wildest dreams ever ever were, and we got that by moving from California, where we had an 1100 square foot house, two bedrooms, one bath, and we could not move out. It was on a lovely plot of land, a third of an acre… to here, where our house here was less expensive than our house there but it’s 3400 square feet. So I have my own office at home, which brings me back to twenty. I probably read A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf when I was about twenty for the first time. I reread it in the last couple of years and found out that it was different than I thought it was. I thought she said—my memory serves me—that every woman should have a room of her own. And she was just talking about a writer, or an artist. But I truly generalized that, and I have always wanted a room of my own, and actually have always had, not always but since I was in Ann Arbor, which was …when I was about 27, I’ve always had not just my bedroom—sometimes I share my bedroom with a man, but I’ve always had another room that was mine. And I’ve really cherished that, it’s been really important to me. Until I had our son, I did have a room that was my own. When we had two-bedroom houses, it was kind of known, because I wrote, that would be my office. My husband just understood. Until we had our baby, and then there wasn’t any room, and then my office became parts of the den, parts of the living room, so that he could have his own room. There were those three years…
In terms of how my attitudes towards relationships have changed…I’m not willing now to accept some things that I had in the past. I realized that one of the things I made a mistake in my marriage, this process of ending, is after twenty years, something I gave a really good try. The realization for me is that I am very, very strong, and that somewhere along the twenty years, and I have to say we’ve had good years and he’s a good man, but…he’s very passive. And somewhere along the line what I realized I crossed over the line and that I didn’t realize I was doing it…was something around “yes I can handle it, but I shouldn’t.”
And that was because I’m so strong and because I’m so independent and I really don’t need a lot. Although I’m finding that without him in the house I’m much more relaxed and free and have enormously more energy in a different, non-hyper way than I had when he was there and I was being drained by trying to get something from someone who wasn’t capable of giving it. And so I’ve really learned more…I think my overriding philosophy for my own mental health from here is the how of AA applied to myself and relationships: the honesty, openness, willingness… I really need to keep honest about what’s happening around me and what I’m getting, and to be open to look at what is instead of what I want it to be and willing to make the necessary changes if what is isn’t what I want it to be.
In my 20s I was desperately seeking a mate. Desperately went from relationship to relationship, sometimes overlapped. Had very little in between relationships, could not handle being alone. Um, and now my husband moved out in mid-January and I love it! I have not had a lonely night. I have not had a lonely day. I have not had a date and not spent any time with a man. I have some good women friends, I have myself, I have reorganized my house, I am moving forward on my book that he discouraged me from the last few years is all kinds of really exciting things happening. I’m working out in a different way than I’ve ever worked out. I’m doing things for me. And I’m enjoying that a lot. But I’m not lonely. I’m not desperate. It’s really…it’s such a nice place to be at, versus single in my 20s, when there was truly a desperation and a dissatisfaction with an evening spent by myself. I just didn’t like it. Maybe I could handle one, but sure as hell didn’t want to stretch—you know, put two or three together. God forbid! I mean, and God forbid I should go out and eat and what would they think of me eating by myself? I mean, I can do any of that. You know, I went to a music festival by myself. I had a blast! I wanted to go, and some of the time women friends were there with me, but I bought the ticket on my own and I might go by myself, but I was not gonna miss it again, and I went for it. And I had a blast! And it was just—it was not only a blast doing it, it was a blast recognizing that I couldn’t have done that at a different point in my life. And here I could and I was really proud of myself for the change and I was pleased to have gotten here.
And there were other empowering things. At 27 I packed up everything that I owned, put it in storage, got in my car, moved from Michigan where I had a phenomenal job, had just written a couple of grants that got funded, would have been starting this institute on aging in Detroit, and hated my boss, hated the environment, hated Michigan, and I just said, I gotta get the hell out of here. And I moved out to California, without any leads on a job, without anything except I knew two people in the Bay Area. I had done some research on some places where I wanted to live, decided to go to the Bay Area, quit my job, moved out there, put my stuff in storage, and a couple of months later brought my stuff out…but I didn’t have a job and I didn’t have a job for nine months. I just had a settlement on a car accident so I had enough to live on very very frugally, but I was used to living frugally so that was a hot issue for me. And all my friends kept saying “Oh, God, that takes such courage, oh my God you’re so brave”—I didn’t see it as brave, I saw it as something I needed to do because I was unhappy with where I was and I wasn’t gonna stay. And that’s another thing in my life, that once I realize I’m unhappy, I don’t stay there. I don’t stay there.
But what I learned in my marriage is that I can be unhappy in a more insidious way and not know it, and deal with it. And the other thing about staying as long as I did was—I had contemplated many times leaving. But I was not willing, when my son was seven, and eight, and ten, and twelve, I was not willing to lose him at the time. And that his dad would want as much time as me. And I wasn’t willing to lose him, and so I couldn’t leave, and it wasn’t bad enough yet to leave. He’s fifteen…
I realized that I felt like I would get sick if I stayed, that I was taking too much. Plus we had been in counseling last year and I had drawn some very clear boundaries. And through the fall he had broken every single one of them. And when he broke the last one, the decision was made. He made the decision by breaking the last boundary, so when I found out he had broken it, ‘cause he lied to me…there was no question in my mind that I had to say “excuse me, I need to think this over while we separate.”
It was not difficult. At that point, it was so damn clear. I had known it the year before, when we were in therapy and were doing a last-ditch attempt, and he had done some stuff that was absolutely unacceptable to me, and I had outlined it in therapy in front of another person. She had said “what do you need for this marriage to work? What do you need, each one of you?” And I outlined it, I said, “If these are broken, this isn’t happening. I’m not willing to do another go-round of our cycle together. I’m not. Just that no is my last thing, I don’t have another go-round in me.” And I truly meant it, and she knew I meant it. She did. So when he broke it—you know, the final one, he lied to me about it, and then I caught the lie. The decision had been made the year before.
It was not hard at that point, at all. What I said to myself that night was that if I have any self-respect, the decision has been made for me. He made his choices, now it was my turn to make my choices and to live up to what I said I needed. And I knew I needed. I needed a certain amount of honor and respect in my life, in other words someone who can honor and respect my bottom-line boundaries when they’ve agreed to, and said it’s not too much to ask. …Then how could I disrespect myself enough to allow him to do that? Since then, I haven’t had one shoulda woulda coulda. Not one. Because I did a hell of a lot of work in that relationship. And uh, I haven’t had one look back. You missed out, you could’ve… He is a nice guy for someone else.
I don’t know [where I see myself going from here]. I know it’s going to get better. I am looking forward to, when my child is ready, moving out of what has been the family house and getting a fixer-upper and fixing up a house. I’m really looking forward to that project. And I love decorating, I like color, I like patterns, and I’m really looking forward to not just a room of my own, but a home of my own. Uh, and I really like that idea. It may be after he leaves for college, and I don’t know, you know, I always thought I’d stay in Evergreen. And I don’t know if I’ll stay in Evergreen. To me, the world’s an oyster. I like Portugal, I like Israel, I like Spain. I like a lot of places that I’ve seen that I hear I might like…I’d like to travel more and see where I want to be.
If this book thing goes, and if I get to write sequels, and I get to do more training, and I’m less in the office, and I’m more around the world or around the country…who knows? But I am so open to the possibilities of what may happen. You know, I’ve always been open to it—things the universe presented me, and, and I feel very very open to that. Because once my son’s out of high school and college, I’m not tied to anything or anybody, and if that continues, I can do anything—I can just follow dreams wherever they take me. And I’ve never been afraid of change or reassessing, and saying, Well, this didn’t work, let’s try this. Not in a manic way, but just what’s life presented, and so for me right now, because I’m so much more comfortable in my body, I can do whatever I want to do. So it’s like…it’s awesome. I have no idea. But it’s gonna be good and when it’s not good, I’m gonna change it.
And I think the other thing, someone said to me once when I was considering a job and I wasn’t sure that I would take it was, “Would you like this job for now? Don’t look at it as the job for the next 20 or 30 years. Do you want it for now? They don’t give out the gold watches too often any more for 30 years of services to a company. So if you would like it now and for a while and until it doesn’t feel comfortable anymore, and you can leave and you know go on to something else without leaving it in the lurch, be responsible, but don’t think of this as the next 30 years of your life.” And that was a really nice philosophy….I did that really with everything except when I got married. When I got married I got married to stay married and tried damn hard to stay married, which is why it lasted 20 years. But…everything else I do until I’m ready to do something else. Now, it’s been years on each thing, I don’t flip every three months or six months…
That’s how I was as a kid, too, and that’s how my parents thought I was the retarded one and my sister was the smart one. Things that kids do, like lanyards and things…I would make two, three, five potholders, and I was ready for something else. My sister would make a hundred potholders, or whatever we did. I did it until I felt like I had mastered it enough for me, and then I moved on to something else. And I wanted to learn something else, do something else. And it was always around my sense that I had mastered it, or gotten enough out of it. I think in some ways I’ve brought that with me. I think that’s why I liked my PhD so much: I got to learn about womb to tomb education, and it had that whole idea, that you want to always be learning, to exercise your brain and your soul. And then spirituality came in…it’s fun to look at the world and your life as a continuingly blossoming flower or thing that will just keep going to the next stage and you won’t have to be afraid of it.