by Margaret Mann

I wake up each morning and sit on the edge of my bed dreading the day ahead of me. Not because I have an overwhelming list of things to do but because I have nothing to do. Except for an occasional doctor’s appointment or luncheon engagement I rarely have any reason to leave the house. This persistent idleness terrifies me. I feel lonely, isolated and useless. Something deep in my psyche is terrified that if I have no purpose, no reason for being here that I don’t exist. Carl Jung’s annihilation. A deep existential terror that I do not matter to anyone, I could leave the planet tomorrow and no would care all that much. No one will throw themselves on my coffin and wail. My friends and family would be sad for a short while and then go on about their lives. Four friends about my age died this past year. I envy them for checking out early and not having to endure this agony. I could be dead a week and the maintenance man will discover my stinking body before anyone knows I died. I could move out of town and no one would know until I told them. 

It makes no difference if I get up at 6:00 am or 10:00 am. It makes no difference whether I eat breakfast now or later and it makes no difference what I eat. It makes no difference if I watch TV, read a book or stare at the wall. I have no demands other than what I invent. I can shop any day of the week. I can do my laundry any day of the week. I can wander aimlessly around the shopping center and no one will know or care. It is a huge burden to think up things to take up the time until I sleep once again.

I notice that I am no longer listened to. I applied for a job recently which years ago I am sure I would have gotten. I used to be a successful grant writer but in the last two years two different directors of agencies have ignored my work and failed to submit the proposal I wrote, both time denying me a job for a year. I feel like they would not have dared to dismiss me like that when I was 40. I feel ineffectual, unimportant and that I am sitting on the sidelines. I once was valued for what I knew and now I am not. I used to be in the know and now I only have memories. I speak now more of the past than the future. I have entered the realm of becoming an entertaining, eccentric old lady who is patronized, patted on the head and thought…cute. When did the worm turn? When did I become marginalized?

What happened to my busy, purposeful life when I had no time to do anything? What happened to getting up on a Saturday morning after working all week, going off shopping, coming home to chores around the house and garden, having interesting people over for dinner, or going to the theater with friends with whom I shared season tickets. I can no longer afford season tickets. I live in an apartment with no yard and my friends are scattered across the country.

What­­’s the strategy to prevent me from throwing myself off the lanai railing? Do I simply assign myself a life? It’s contrived but if I don’t examine the smoke and mirrors too carefully it could seem like a purpose. Did I always do this and just didn’t notice? I assign myself tasks, swim twice a week, go to Tour and Tea at the Academy each week, sign up to be a docent at the museum with a two year training program and take classes at night to fill up the empty hours. Should I try to find people to go with me on these adventures so it seems like a pressing obligation? Or do I just suck it up and go alone to the festival in the park? I dream up projects and set about organizing them as though they mattered. My deeply terrified psyche is sure they don’t really but it is nice to pretend that I have a purpose if only for that moment. 

October 14, 2011



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