What’s Holding You Back?

What's Holding You Back?

Suggested Listening: The Cocteau Twins/Harold Budd. “Memory Gongs,”
The Moon and the Melodies, Album, 1986.

Several weeks ago, someone responded to one of my tweets with a question: “What’s holding you back?”

Distracted by responsibilities, I dismissed the comment outright. Yet, in the back of my mind, the direct question lingered, niggling away. I sat at a computer. I typed a few pages on my Hermes 3000 without a plot; an incomplete sentence here; a sentence fragment there. I repeated the question to myself but never aloud: What’s holding you back?

I refused, of course, to think too deeply as the answer was multifaceted and would require an unsettling answer I think too many of us bury for far too many reasons. We grow older. We become our parents. We become entrenched in an outdated idea. 

And this is why the elders bicker about the youths of today, which could be any generation. The generation doesn’t matter. The regrets — the bitterness — are always the same and always mundane. 

The young inspire me. The young are fearless and filled with new and bold ideas. What’s holding me back from the courageous person I was decades ago? Some would argue fear. My answer? Expectations. 

I touched on this briefly in Haunting Patagoniawhere the novel’s protagonist had “done it all” for a house and a zip code to impress people who didn’t care about her. “I have arrived” was her answer and is ours, a dream conjured up by advertising agencies to sell goods and services we enjoy but do not need. That’s not an assault on capitalism; quite the contrary. Still, the idea gnaws away. 

How, I asked myself this morning, did I become so distracted by the mundane? 

There are two scenes in two movies I can never shake. The first? “Under the Tuscan Sun” and the scene where Diane Lane’s character, Frances Mayes, looks around her sprawling San Francisco restoration and dumps the remaining water from a vase onto the floor with a look of apathy across her face. She tucks the bud vase into her pocket and leaves behind all she’d worked for over the years. Thus begins her journey. A movie, yes, but a reality for many. 

The second? “He’s Just Not That Into You,” where Jennifer Connelly’s character, Janine Gunders, obsesses over a house remodel — small bathroom tiles, in particular. I’ve known a few women who’d buried their misery in such a way. I’ve been there and recognized the first signs of a troubled marriage. The husband works overtime. The woman embarks on redecorating to pass away the lonely years. 

These scenes bring me back to my original thought and the question that lingers: What’s holding you back? Expectations? Or something else?

I stared at a glass table I’ve despised since it was delivered and overheard another senseless argument in a parking lot below. What the hell am I doing here? My friends left the United States over two decades ago and have never looked back. I haven’t made new friends since the Everyone I’ve met seems too wrapped up in politics and fear. 

The work environment has degraded considerably over the years. Small business owners are apathetic, and I can only nudge with suggestions or reminders so many times before giving up because I cannot, for the life of me, care more about your livelihood than you. That makes zero sense.

And that brings me back around. I’m drowning in expectations, and there are two extremes: Those who care too much and those who don’t care about anything at all. Perhaps expectations of how one should live, manage their money, and carry on the facade doesn’t resonate with readers, but I thank you all for sticking around while I write this idea through. 

Do I like that table? No. I don’t. It’s a dust collector, as is the candle I’ve never burned because it’s too pretty, sitting perfectly in the middle of an apartment that’s lonely with my daughters moved away, too hot, and too cold. 

I’m paying for square footage to house things I cannot take with me when I’m gone. Sure, there are memories attached to items — memories I treasure — but those stories will be forgotten when I’m gone unless they’re written down. Then, only the words will matter. My daughters will not pay to house relics of the past, weighing them down like the balls and chains they’ve become. 

I suppose I could work longer hours, save money, and buy a parcel of suburban sprawl that, I’m told, is the surest way to build wealth. I will be saddled with taxes, maintenance issues, and bills. I will be burdened with square footage to shelter objects I haven’t used in decades. What’s holding me back may as well be rephrased: How much money I’m a wasting living up to expectations I have no vested interest in maintaining? 

Who’s idea was that anyway? The grandkids, if ever I’m blessed with them, can visit me in Paris as I stroll along the Seine, popping into Shakespeare & Company, perusing the titles. Hell, I may even hand them a signed copy of my latest for free. 

I could wander down to Marrakesh and buy some fresh paprika from a canopied vendor in a crowded market stall because that errand seems far more intriguing that mimicking the gesture in an air conditioned grocery store whose ceilings are obnoxiously high. 

Wandering the streets of some ancient city, I can converse with interesting people from all walks of life while the neighbors I’ve left behind spend their days in cubicles on Zoom calls or drowning out the misery listening to music in cars left running in parking lots for hours at a time. What a waste of fossil fuel. What a waste of more than precious time. 

What’s happened to wanderlust? When so many become too afraid to take a chance? When did people become obsessed with politicians who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about anything but their pocketbooks? Where’s the inspiration? The art of conversation without sarcasm or complaints? 

I’m bored. And that has to change. What’s holding me back? The status quo that’s been lodged in my brain for far too long.

“How will you live? How will you survive?” The overburdened love to remind.

So many of us have done all that we were supposed to, and guess what? We’re bored out of our minds. Have typewriter, will travel. I could sell it all and move away. The best decisions I’ve ever made were on a burst of inspiration.

One question remains: Do we have the courage to throw away the chains? Do I have the courage to dismiss the fear projected as “concern” I know is coming my way? 

Thank you all for reading. Thanks for sharing, too.