I hate to admit it, but one reason my marriage failed was because life was too good. Success was overwhelming and numbing. We had it all —money, big home, healthy kids, personal trainers — and I missed the simplicity of my childhood. I longed for meaningful experiences with family, less complexity and the sincere words of passionate friends. I missed poignant living. I missed being me.
The Catastrophe of Success
In, The Catastrophe of Success (New York Times 1947), Tennessee Williams writes of his experience with overnight success after the release of his play, The Glass Menagerie. He claims to have been, snatched out of utter oblivion and thrust into sudden prominence. Upgraded from rented rooms to first-class suites. The life he led prior to Menagerie was one that required endurance, clawing and scratching and holding on tight with raw fingers. He missed that life and became depressed and disenchanted with his new existence.
I was not aware of how much vital energy had gone into this struggle until the struggle was removed. ~Tennessee Williams
Immersed in success Williams became indifferent to praise and people. He felt his friends used insincere voices that lacked kindliness. He stopped calling them.
I was walking around dead in my shoes. ~ Tennessee Williams
Williams took drastic measures to withdraw from the world. He decided to have another eye surgery. This allowed him to hide behind gauze and elicit true compassion from his friends. Once he was back in pain and darkness he felt his friends’ voices regained sincerity.
After surgery, he decided to continue to escape his newly acquired fame by hiding out in Mexico. There in a foreign land his public self did not exist. He regained his natural being. There he returned to his work where he found reality and satisfaction and wrote a little play called, A Streetcar Named Desire.
But once you fully apprehend the vacuity of a life without struggle, you are equipped with the basic means of salvation. ~ Tennessee Williams
This is What You Wanted, Right?
The joy and excitement of Jeff’s (ex-husband) grandiose paycheck lasted about a year. Then we began to pay for our financial windfall. Jeff’s job became extra stressful (high risks) and the people he worked for were not especially kind or empathic. The boss’s mood, end-of-year bonuses and the car you parked in the lot became gauges for happiness.
I felt obligated to maintain the large complicated house, manage household help, entertain Jeff’s co-workers lavishly, push our kids socially and academically, schedule every minute and act like a conservative. I needed to be a gregarious extrovert. I wanted to reflect and savor the relationships and experiences we had created. I missed my introverted way of being.
I was doing and doing but getting nowhere. I felt numb, dumb and anxious. I did not feel alive, vibrant or content. Dead in my shoes. There was clawing and striving, but not for anything fulfilling.
What I really wanted to do was test my wings; simplify our lives; befriend household help; let our kids play and discover what they love; have a few casual dinners with close friends; keep our schedules open so we could read, watch movies, talk at the dinner table, listen to music, daydream; and act freely.
How to Get Out of This? Surgery? Run Away?
I didn’t feel I needed to schedule surgery in order to escape expectations or regain sincere companionship. Although, I do know people who end up sick or incapacitated because they are worn out from the maintenance of perfection and sparkle.
We did employ the escape to a foreign land option. Traveling became the best thing we did as a family. We were able to get away from the pressure of performing. We could be ourselves and enjoy the fruits of success.
I also took refuge in such foreign places as music school, writing classes and volunteer positions in the city. In these places I was not a wealthy suburban mom. I was a woman struggling to learn, create and help. The lack of security made me feel alive and connected to myself and much more than myself.
Unfortunately, returning to or finding my natural way of being did not bring me closer to my husband. Energy flowed out of me but not toward him. I often felt I disappointed him by not maintaining a smooth running household. By not being able to make our kids consistently happy. By not loving him enough for the security he provided.
…the only somebody worth being is the solitary and unseen you that existed from your first breath and which is the sum of your actions and so is constantly in a state of becoming under your own violation…
~ Tennessee Williams
Please take away from this that life exists in the striving for and possibly the dodging of success. Security is fragile and limiting. That which restores or guides you to your natural state of being is precious and should be treasured.
Have you ever made it to the top to find you were happier at the bottom? What restores you to your natural being?
If you enjoyed The Catastrophe of Success… then you will love:
Self-Actualization and the Suburban Mother (space2live)