This week’s photo challenge from WordPress:
“[W]e’re challenging you to think ahead and show your work in a representative photo. If you set New Year’s resolutions, give them some thought a few weeks early. If resolutions aren’t your style, show us something that you want to achieve — it could be setting a new goal, making plans, or even tackling that pile of laundry waiting by the washer. The goal is to get out of the busy “now,” and imagine your new horizon.”
A tinfoil star tops our tree this year:
It was supposed to be a temporary fix – just something to sit there, kind of a placeholder, until we got around to buying a new, fancy star…one that looked lush and bold and glittery. We were thinking big and bright and fancy – because that’s the quintessential Christmas star, right? The eye-catching kind…something impressive.
But as soon as we stuck this little tinfoil one on there, we were – all of us – charmed by it. It took us by surprise! It just seemed so much more personal and real than the one we’d been envisioning picking up at a store. It felt like Christmas is supposed to feel. It made us happy!
And I’ve been thinking about that since – and spinning some philosophy in the doing (which makes this a perfect image for this particularly appropriate photo challenge!)
I’ve been thinking about the way we – my ex, my kids and I – have taken, over the last few years, a situation that could have been utterly negative (the breakdown of a marriage) and turned it into something kind of lovely.
I’m not going to say that our situation is perfect…not any more than our little tinfoil star is perfect. There are some basic and inescapable problem issues that come of being made of tinfoil and cardboard and a recycled (from another project!) pipe cleaner.
For us: we’ve been separated for over five years now. And I can tell you: that’s a long time to live in a holding pattern. It would be so incredibly nice to be able to bookend the marriage…to just be fully and completely done with it already, and be able to leave it in the past where it belongs!
But it’ll likely be at least another year, maybe two, before we can reasonably expect to have reached the place we want to reach, wherein we can legally finish everything and finalize a divorce on the terms we want. That’s just the reality of the way we’ve handled the dismantling of the marriage.
It was our choice to prioritize the needs of our kids over pressures to handle our divorce in a more conventional way. And it’s true that if we’d done things differently, we’d be more financially secure right now…I’d have my own apartment, my own fully separate life…a lot of things would be different.
That doesn’t mean they’d be better.
On a personal level, for both me and my ex in different ways, we don’t think the conventional route would have made us happier. We actually tried that for a brief time – and sure, we were spared some of the censure and judgment and eyebrow-raising that has come at us since we changed course. But in every other respect – in every way that really matters – the conventional path was a miserable one for us.
And our children, we’re absolutely convinced, wouldn’t have been happier. They need us both in their lives on a regular, preferably casual, daily basis – and we’ve managed to give them that with what we’re doing. We couldn’t have otherwise. “Conscious uncoupling” has been the right path for us – of that I’m certain.
But it’s a slow process. By its very nature, it’s slow – slow and thoughtful and considered; it takes time to untangle yourself from a marriage – much more time than to take a knife and ruthlessly sever those tentacles. And when you’re not actually Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin – when you don’t have multiple homes to your name, and movie star + rock star money to boot – when you have to juggle serious financial considerations with the needs of your kids and into the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish, this slow progress can easily devolve to a snail’s pace.*
And this can be really frustrating. We’ve found it so particularly in the last few months, as we’ve moved to a new town and are meeting so many new people. It’s frustrating for me, particularly – because I’m much more of a social animal than my ex. I enjoy getting to know people. I like to talk! Ask questions…answer them. And there’s simply no succinct way to explain what I’m doing with my ex (that we’re good friends, co-parents, roommates, working our our personal lives, working toward divorce.) It’s unavoidably awkward.
To avoid throwing tons of personal details at strangers, what he and I both usually end up doing at this point is simply not bothering to correct people about our true situation when we’re getting acquainted – which then feels disingenuous. Not to mention sets you up to have to make a “big reveal” later. Which feels weird.
The result is that it becomes harder to forge the kind of breezy, casual social connections that I used to make so effortlessly. I’m just not fully easy. There’s a barrier – and I don’t know how to surmount it.
It’s a state of affairs that I’ll very much enjoy seeing the end of.
But we’re wary about being more open, too – from experience. Both he and I haven’t historically had good experiences with openness – not from longer-term friends, or even from family members. Once in a very great while, we encounter someone truly supportive of what we’re trying to do – and that’s been amazing. But even just sincere curiosity and interest – even if it falls short of support – would be hugely appreciated and valued. And it just hasn’t been forthcoming.
The vast majority of the time, what we’ve received has instead been judgment – usually silent, but not always. (And I think silent is actually worse.) Cold…critical…disapproving. Or maybe arrogant…superior…supercilious.
Why in the world, after all, would you choose to put a tinfoil star on your tree when you could buy a fancy one that people would actually admire? Who does that?
That’s the common attitude.
But you know what I think is important – in both life and Christmas tree stars? I think it’s that you exist thoughtfully. That you embrace the beauty of each moment. And that you make decisions about how to conduct your life from a deep place inside, one that is rooted in authenticity and kindness – rather than let your actions be guided by some attempt to please the judgmental masses who have a more vested interest in promoting conformity than in seeking creative solutions.
That’s what I truly believe. That’s what I aspire to live to.
I will be grateful when I’m finally, officially, legally divorced – very grateful! It’ll be a relief to lift the ambiguity that is my marital status out of my life once and for all, and I’ll savor that! But for now, in the meantime, I’m going to try to do a better job at stemming my frustration with the pace of things, and allow myself more often to embrace the magic of what it is we’re doing here. A snail’s pace, after all, is still progress. And it’s progress toward a very wonderful place…a place I very much want to reach.
The challenge (quoted at the beginning of this) asked us to think about resolutions. I don’t know that I would call what I’m saying here a resolution for myself this year, exactly – but it is something I want to work on more consciously.
I might have to hang that little tinfoil star someplace in the apartment after the holidays – just as a reminder of that.
*Though even Gwyneth Paltrow & Chris Martin were separated a good three years before they moved to legally finalize things. I felt slightly less frustrated with the pace of my own situation when I read that.
Finances are slowing my pace more than it slowed theirs, obviously…but the truth is that this is a process that simply takes as long as it takes. Rushing (or being frustrated by your inability to rush) toward a finish line doesn’t help anybody in the long run. This is about shaping your life in the most positive and constructive way possible – as well as your children’s. And that simply takes time.
It helps to stop and meditate on that sometimes.