Finding the new perspective, or: How do I shift how I see myself?

I was thinking of this problem today again when I saw CC’s post. (CC is a fellow Armitage fan — though not as intense as I am, perhaps — whom I met back in the days when I started blogging, and who’s on her own creative journey now, and has been writing about her steps every week.)

Saturday night here has been really strange the last three weeks; usually Pesky comes to the café after Havdalah and we have a nice long chat, but he’s away for the summer, and I won’t be here any more the coming Saturday if the moving plan unfolds the way it is supposed to. On Thursday someone asked me what I do, and I said, I’m a professor, and then, I used to be a professor, and then, finally, I’m unemployed at the moment. It got me thinking — I knew there would be some grief that I hadn’t yet felt about the loss of this professional identity, but it pinged me there. How to stop seeing myself as a professor and start seeing myself as a just a person, like everyone else, who’s seeking above all to be happy.

I am not only what I do. The entire enjoyment to be had from life does not consist of working.

All of this encouragement exists to say, you just decide, dress for the gig you want, fake it till you make it. That’s never worked especially well for me. I need the shift to happen, and I’ve never been able to force it.

I can remember this happening twice.

One the fall I turned twenty. I’d had a wonderful boyfriend in México that summer, but when I came back home, sick with an intestinal parasite, my father insisted me that he only wanted me because I was American or rich, reminding me that I am not pretty, and no one loves an ugly woman who can’t hide her intellect better than I do, and then my Spanish professor said, Mexican men think American women are easy. I didn’t go back, in any case, I never saw him again, but I decided to finish the Spanish major so I needed another language. I fell into a severe crush with a study partner in my German course, after a lot of wonderful conversations about philosophy, and thought it was unrequited, and my BFF agreed he was out of my league. Until one night, we were practicing vocabulary for the parts of the body, and I noticed him looking at my mouth. Der Mund, he said. Halt den Mund, I said, idiom. I’d love to hold your mouth, he said. I blushed. Die Zunge, he said, die Zähne, die Lippen. Die Augen, I said, and I saw his eyes move up to mine, and down again to my mouth, and then down to my breasts and further. So stupid, so trite, so visceral, the way his eyes scanned me and drew their own conclusions. It took about two weeks more of late night studying for vocabulary quizzes till we were a couple. Sometimes I would see him, looking at me from across the room — and I knew.

The lock on my soul popped open, and I knew. I am desirable. All of me together, mind, body and soul. To the right person.

The other time, the fall of 1995. I’d converted to Judaism several years before and had always thought to myself, you’ll never be Jewish the way these people are, so you’ll never be really Jewish. I kept myself on the back bench of the synagogue at home, thinking that I belonged but didn’t belong, didn’t really have a say, didn’t deserve one. In 1995 I’d moved to Germany and fallen into the emerging liberal synagogue movement there, populated heavily by expatriates who didn’t care for the German orthodox rite, people who lived outside of the metropoles, and immigrants from Russian whose main connection to Judaism was the “J” in their Russian passports indicating their nationality, who were trying to figure it out. And then one night, in Göttingen, I’d been there about three weeks, the rabbi who’d been paid to lead services didn’t show up, and we were consulting about what to do, and someone said, Servetus can lead the services, she knows all the prayers, and I said, surely there’s someone else, and the president of the congregation said, no, you know them best and we all know you like to sing, so go ahead and do it.

I’d never done it before, but after some urging I pulled out my siddur and went to the bimah and said, I apologize in advance for any mistakes, and I faced the ark and started the psalms, and soon everyone was singing with me, and I realized — you don’t need to hide. You are just as Jewish as all of these people.

I can’t make myself feel the shift to the next thing, to the next identity, to the next realization, to the answer to the question, what do you or do or even what makes you happy, but I am keeping my eyes open. I want the pieces to shift. I can’t say how they will, but I know they have to. I just have to find that place where I can stand, to look at the old me and see something different, something I haven’t seen so fully or clearly in the last forty-five years. I am looking.

~ by Servetus on May 27, 2014.

25 Responses to “Finding the new perspective, or: How do I shift how I see myself?”

  1. I wish you the very best on your journey.

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  2. Where is Stuart Smalley when we need him? Personally, John Standring teaches me a lot about others perceptions and personal worth. So, however you shift, whatever you call yourself, whatever you see when you look back at her, you should know, she is priceless to me.

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  3. Bless you on your journey, Servetus. I hope the way opens up before you and you’re half-way there before you even realize you’ve started out.

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  4. This is beautiful. Whatever you’re doing to “get to” these revelations, keep doing it!

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  5. re-reading this, part of the issue seems to be getting to a place where I can look differently at how I assume people see me. Let go of my presuppositions.

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    • Or getting to a place where you accept that what you feel and experience are so much more important than how other people see you 😉 One of the (few) blessings of getting older is that I care a whole lot less how people see me. I took early retirement from a challenging professional career and don’t miss it in the slightest. I now have a lot less money but a lot more creativity. Good luck with your move, both physical and mental.

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      • I think part of the problem with the “self” is that it is multiply constituted. How people see one is a piece of that. (This is one of the more important philosophical points brought up by Hamlet, incidentally). So even if seeing how others see one shouldn’t necessarily be solely determinative of something, it plays a role.

        Thanks for the good wishes.

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  6. Sounds a bit like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, but with all your talents, I imagine you’ll land just fine.

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  7. Thanks for all the kind comments — I think one thing I had to get over, doing this, was my fear of being long-term unemployed and homeless. At least in the short term I won’t be homeless and I don’t plan to be unemployed all that long. It’s important to throw out unrealistic fears, no?

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    • Thankyou Servetus I.
      can relate to you a little as I choose to take early retirement not knowing the sadness and uncertainty that I faced in the future. I went from being a Finance team leader responsible to approx 200 Science reserachers (from Profs to Post Docs). A very challenging and interesting position but one that was draining. Hence the retirement. I was all at sea for about a year. Then gradually life took a new turn as it usually does. Your blog in no small way played a part it is always the first thing I check before breakfast and my walk. I admire your blog and wait to read th each day. Thank you.
      and God Bless

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  8. I think that we are always reinventing who we are, I think we have to. We can’t stay the same, age will not let us. You will find the next chapter of you life. Take Care!

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  9. Thanks again for sharing your journey with us!!!
    Stay safe :*

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  10. Bearing in mind that I am not criticising you with what I have to say – I think it is early days yet. How can you already identify with a new you, when your previous life as Prof Servetus has only just finished? And who says that it has? We are multiple identities – not in a split personality kind of way, but in the sense that we unite many different interests, functions and aspirations in ourselves. In a way, Prof Servetus will always be there, as is Jewish Servetus or Woman Servetus, as she is part of your history.
    The shift to your next stage in life will happen, whether you force it or not. Your past experience has shown you that “faking it” or “dressing for the gig” doesn’t do it for you. But it has happened anyway. It will again. Whether it is your god or my universe that is shifting it – it is already working in the background.
    By the way, I loved the way you told your story of the discovery of the desirable you, a beautifully expressed vignette.

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    • The beginning of the post is really telescoped b/c there were a few things I didn’t want to blog about in there, but I think the concrete issue is how an identity that I consciously began to abandon a few years ago still lingers in the form of a question, a name, a need for an answer that I don’t have. Because you can’t say, for instance, I’m a writer. Or, even if I can say that to myself I can’t say it to other people because I need to have a place. I haven’t been Prof S in my own mind for a fair amount of time but I’ve still been calling myself that and the calling myself that wasn’t just a thing I was saying. I knew this was coming but the work is so hard that it’s easy to miss the positive elements of that identity because one is just so exhausted all the time. I’ve really done well the last three weeks on the positive side of freedom from all the annoyances of the role, but the emotions to be dealt with are larger than that.

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  11. 🙂
    All I can say is that the journey so far has been more about letting go, than it is about embracing the unknown. At times it feels like trying to uproot an old dead tree, but discovering the roots are more extensive and far deeper than anticipated.

    And the shift, well, I’m still waiting for that penny to drop, but perhaps it’s something I don’t see clear enough until someone else points it out?

    Also yup, I’m not as intense in my RA fandom as you are, or in any other fandom for that matter. More a nonchalant follower in general. 🙂

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    • yeah, it’s like you leave a building but you are standing outside of it not wanting back in but not knowing where to go in next … I think I’ve accepted that I’m just not ever going to have that kick in the gut feeling of “this is right” (I never had it about lovers, either). I’m just not like that emotionally.

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  12. Wishing you the revelations of acceptance, the joy of becoming, and best of fortune on the path. Thank you for sharing your journey.

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  13. I retired last year after 36 yrs in one job. The realization comes later that I had no real identity any longer and it did bother me for awhile but I don’t think about that now. I had plans for retirement which were then stopped by a medical diagnosis and gave me another identity. However I don’t feel that I am just a person with cancer. I am not ready to go look for a part time job but I am not unhappy either being retired. I still have hopes and once the medical issue is stable I will start again to look for something to keep myself active physically and mentally. I think it takes a lot of courage really to quit a job and move on not knowing for sure where it will go. I wish you all the best Servetus and I do believe that “you” will succeed in whatever you choose.

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  14. I am very proud of you! It takes like bull super sized balls to consciously make a life change. I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner for you. Let me know I can be of service to you.

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  15. THROW out those fears. You have put into motion the law of change. Good things will come to you. I promise.

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    • yeah. No looking back now, or at least not to a version of myself that is receding. We’ll see. Thanks.

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  16. Thanks for all the thoughts, prayers, and kind comments!

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  17. […] for me? I was in college, in San Antonio. I’d just started kissing this guy in my German I class and was developing a new picture of mys…. I was taking contemporary international politics and intro to German that semester. The morning of […]

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