Rendered Fat Content


Pablo Picasso: Nu à la serviette (1907)
" … even my heart takes a rest beat for every working one."

Not all days are created equal. Some seem rich and full, others, quite naturally hollow. My forebears, none of whom included a Southern belle subject to periodic bouts of 'the vapors,' seemed to live fuller days, many of them life-long seven day each week workers never once declaring a mental health day. Rain or shine, as they say, they were up scrabbling, often for bare survival. Whatever emotional life they might have lived was not enjoyed or very sincerely respected, for feelings offered no good excuse. Work trumped everything, or so I imagine. My mom prescribed 'turning that frown upside down' as the sure-fire cure for every ill, well, that and, later in life, a medicine cabinet overflowing prescriptions, each duly supplied by a doctor intent upon keeping her days just as full as inhumanly possible. Reading the record, though, I notice a concerning frequency of what we now recognize as repression-related illnesses in my forebears' later lives. They might have practiced stuffing, but eventually flooded their systems with unacknowledged emotions.

Each generation considers their successors wimpy and spoiled, a curiously personal indictment on their own parenting skills.
They characterize the kids as whiny and pampered while exhorting them to suspend themselves from their own bootstraps, an impossibility with which they mostly do not comply, thank heavens. Most manage to grow up anyway, much to the surprise of their grands and parents, with many even managing to construct lives of distinction. Each generation embraces a somewhat unique manner of living—some jogging, others smoking—each seemingly coping all the way. Some forms of engagement earn praise while others, only derision. Nobody praises mopers, I've noticed. My older sister's father-in-law carried the nickname 'Hap' because he seemed endlessly mournful, a genuine Sad Sack. I suspect that he just could not help it. He was prone to angry outbursts, and, reviewing his family history, I was not surprised. I would have been shocked had he matured into well-balanced. He might have been the poster child for unacknowledged anger turned inward.

I have my good days and my bad ones, my fuller and my emptier ones. I earlier in life tried my best to hide these variations and engage as if I welcomed each new day and every fresh challenge. I never once begged off working my paper route, for instance, even though, some mornings, I felt no fueling passion for the pre-dawn bike ride. I thought myself mature beyond my age, able to suppress actual feelings in service to my customers if not precisely to myself. I was young enough to suffer few consequences from this discipline, and even thought my suppression virtuous, though I suppose that I was banking emotional demerits while so engaging. Later, after declaring myself an artist—work relying upon actually acknowledging and expressing rather than suppressing emotion—I started noticing certain contradictions inherent in just putting my head down and bullying through each new challenge. Some work demanded dreading, not blithe engagement. Some efforts hollowed me out and I struggled to justify my apparent indulgence in them. I ran cold as well as warm, hot as well as frozen. With therapy, I came to greater appreciation and even occasional full acceptance of my visiting hollownesses. This fleeting understanding has proved a blessing.

I expect some Hollowdays to come visiting, though I rarely warmly welcome them. It still seems to me that I really should be the human equivalent of a perpetual motion machine, never tiring, always focusing, always on. I struggle with my circadian idlenesses, those days when I recognize that I'm not very likely to be good for very much of anything. My guilt and I might hide out, hoping The Muse won't call out our avoidances and absences. I attempt to maintain, even then, some semblance of my usual routines, still writing, for instance, however hollow I might feel, still making a manly attempt to concoct supper, though I, myself, experience no compelling hunger for anything then. Empty and adrift, I'm learning not to make too much of these cessations of forward progress. Tomorrow could be different. My Hollowdays do not define me, though I suspect that they carry unbidden information which might help inform later progress. I still value forward momentum above any alternate state, though I recognize that even my heart takes a rest beat for every working one.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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