In the past few months, I have finally started to feel like I’m entering the home stretch of a long and fierce Saturn Return. If you are dimly versed in pseudo-astrological wooness, this is the period around your 28th year where life kicks the proverbial shit out of you. More like what makes you you, as in your concepts of self, stability, and reality. According to The Wikipedia (which I quote with fierce abandon), your Saturn Return is when you must, by the very act of rounding 30, “jettison old concepts and worn out patterns of living,” the same cycle that eventually results in a midlife crisis.
This has been a year of tremendous transition – switching jobs, moving from the woods of Appalachia to the jewel of Oakland, breaking bones, writing maniacally, and a number of other things that are a bit t.m.i. for this venue. Usually any of these would not merit much processing beyond the ordinary, but at the right time a culmination of events like this can catalyze tremendous internal upheaval. It’s a bit like reverse plate tectonics, wherein surface tremors cause high-magnitude emotional earthquakes at the most buried of faultlines. In my case, Saturn returned, filmed itself kicking the shit out of me, and then posted the footage to YouTube.
Which, I am elated to discover, turns out to be a beautifully didactic experience. After careening blindly through my adolescence and twenties, I can now name the converging forces of my adulthood: knowledge (that I know absolutely nothing), insight (that I am no different from anyone else), realism (that I was never invincible to begin with) and wisdom (that I am a completely better off and more solid knowing these things). Because I have finally started learning my lessons, I feel compelled to share them via this series of Saturn Return posts.
Lesson 1: Clean up after yourself.
Like most people I suffer from an innate lack of confidence, otherwise known as insecurity. Insecurity is the nagging feeling that something somewhere is not quite right about yourself (or anything else, for that matter), and that if you could just either a) ignore it or b) root it out or c) compel enough people to tell you that nothing is wrong that it might go away. The thing is, you never can quite put your finger on what or how many things are amiss, and the very idea of wrongness shifts and blends depending on your context until it is simply a pervasive feeling of fear. In meetings, fear of saying something inane or unerringly stepping on someone’s toes. In relationships, fear of messing up or being deceived. In cooking, fear of burning the pie crust. In teaching, fear of coming off as uninteresting or realizing that your fly is down. In this post, fear of sounding like a bombastic jackass. And so on.
Insecurity results in all manner of unpleasantness depending on your personality, from arrogance to excessive apologizing to bar fights to cyclical depression. I have come to believe that the root of insecurity is a simple unwillingness or inability to face what you fear about yourself, which, if you let it, manifests in the abovementioned variety of negatively conditioned responses. To get the obligatory Texas reference out of the way, this is somewhat akin to the invisible cockroach threat I experienced in my Austin kitchen in library school. You are pretty much certain that something very wrong is lurking just out of sight, but you’re not sure where and you certainly don’t want to find out. All you can really rely on is that the thing you are most definitely not looking for will jump out at you when you least expect or want it to.
Given the situation, your choices are limited. You can 1) flinch every time you open a drawer 2) decide you weren’t that hungry in the first place, 3) leave the light off and crash around trying to find the churchkey while pissing off your neighbors, or 4) pretend roaches don’t exist while going about your business with an omnipresent sensation of proto-palmetto nausea. The thing is, the choice you make in this situation depends on the strength of your fear. To extend the disturbing metaphor, there are roach seasons, and there are not-roach seasons. In July, I lived in abject terror of the kitchen, but by January I had completely forgotten to worry about it.
For the past 28 years I have been trapped in the July kitchen of my insecurity, much likelier to flinch, turn on my heels, and take my Lone Star without a coozy, thank you very much, than deal with the fact that I had a roach problem. Every so often I mustered the courage to pick up my broom and enter the combat zone, but usually I just succumbed to dread and avoidance. My saturnretinized wisdom has helped me discover that trying to kill an emotional cockroach is just about as satisfying as attempting to ignore it, and furthermore that neither tactic works in the slightest. Not only that, I have come to see the hilarious irony in this cycle of fear and (lack of) response: the real strategy was there all along, and insanely simple to boot. You can create January in July by simply cleaning house. It’s amazing – you don’t have to ignore or kill as many things if you just pick up after yourself every once in a while. At age 23 I finally remembered that somewhere in the recesses of my apartment was a bucket of cleaning supplies, furnished lovingly by my mother as a welcome-and-what-took-you-so-long-to-get-home present when I moved back after college (along with a gallon of Bluebell, a six pack of beer, and a bag of brisket).
I have definitely grown tired of flinching and, with a lot of work, have realized that if I own up to the things I worry about and keep them from getting away from me I won’t be as likely to develop nervous tics or rampage through infestations. Oddly, confronting insecurity is not actually confrontation at all – it’s a process of ongoing damage control wherein you keep your emotional recycling on the porch and mop the floor of your conscience every once in a while so that there will be fewer invisible threats lurking in the corners of your brain. The best part of this is (and the point at which my analogy breaks down a little), I have found that many of the things I worry about often turn out not to be there, or something entirely different than I expected. In other words, the more drawers I open, the more it dawns on me that the roaches were illusory, or in actuality were just napkin rings.
Caveat: The opposite extreme is just as important to watch out for, however. If you are obsessive about emotional tidying, you become as controlling and irritating as an anal host. Neither is pretty, and both are avoidable.
Stay tuned for Postcards from Saturn, Part 2: Know Your Limits.