The prompt for this week’s Sunday Scribbling is powerful. When do you feel most powerful? I did something I usually don’t do this week, which was to procrastinate on writing about it and to read other people’s posts first. Some people think that they were powerful as children, and some feel powerful as adults. Some feel powerful as women—it seems especially as women who have given birth, and some because they are men. Some write about the use of power. Myself, I had to think about personal power for a while, because it’s usually something I avoid thinking about at all.
First I thought I would say I felt powerful as a child. But the moment I thought about that I started laughing. I do sigh sometimes and think how great it would be to be a kid again. But the reason for that is not because I want to be powerful again, and have the confidence and resilience and imagined power of a child again. I never had the confidence in the first place, although I did have more resilience, and I still have all the imagined power.
The reason is because I was not powerful then.
I knew when I was a child that I was not powerful. All I had to do was look at my parents to know where power was. I wasn’t even powerful among children. My older sister was able to tell me to do anything and to shut me in a closet if I didn’t do it and she was upset about it. My older brother could roll me in a rug and sit on the end and reduce me to a screaming and gibbering claustrophobic animal. Both he and my younger brother could complain to my mother about anything and prompt her to send me to stand still with my face to the wall. Before I was home-schooled, I couldn’t prevent other children from putting clods of mud down my clothing. I was very aware that I was not a powerful child, nor important to many, although I suppose I did have the power to sit in the closet for long periods of time, and the power to stand very still in corners for even longer periods of time, and not be bothered by it.
But when I was a child, because I was not powerful, I was not expected to use power wisely. I had no responsibility. If I goofed, someone else would fix it. I did not have to think about the consequences of my actions, and how I could make life better or worse for someone.
And I used to run and jump off the roof because I was sure with a fast and high enough start that I could fly. Then after three or four times I realised that, as my friend says, “Gravity was inevitable.” But I’d run and jump again and again anyway, even knowing that I couldn’t fly, because I could pretend I was flying, that the fall was merely the start of flight, and because there was always that tiny hope that maybe this time might be different.
Of course it never was—I never flew. But I did jump. As I’ve grown older I’ve lost the ability to jump off the roof. Because now I am powerful. I have the power to own my mistakes and take the gaff myself. I have the power to make things better for other people, and I have the power to make things worse. If I need something done, I know people who can and will help me get it done, because I have the power to ask or persuade them to do it. I am a single, white, western woman impeded only by other western women in my rise to greater power.
Well, them and myself. If I do not think about what I am doing, but set myself on a path and focus on reaching the end of it, I do great. I’m certain I can get there, and I have the power to do it. That’s how I graduated from university, that’s how I wrote my first story, that’s how I’ve done everything major I’ve ever done in my life. I thought about it in the beginning and then took a breath and dove, continuing straight on without giving it thought. Most people who meet me think I’m singularly determined, but really I only seem that way because if I did not plunge ahead, I would never get anything done.
Because as soon as I think about power, and if my actions are increasing my own personal power, I freeze up and become indecisive. That’s why I did not apply to graduate school while I was in university and am running around trying to apply now. I’m still worrying about it. Would it be better to go for the thing that would surely help me—should I get a one-year education degree that would guarantee me a stable job? Or should I do the Ph.D.? I love math, and the only people in my school that would not help me are the female professors and secretaries. But do I really love math that much, or is it just to prove myself to my family? Am I creative enough to come up with a Ph.D. dissertation? Should I get any sort of degree at all, or should I just continue substitute teaching until I sell a book?
Today I feel that if I jump off the roof, I certainly won’t fly, but I might break a leg and have to pay for the enormous hospital bills (health insurance, you ask, and I laugh) and certainly if anyone saw me jumping off roofs they would think I was suicidal. I have to think about these sorts of things, because if I take a risk and it turns out bad, I’m the one that has to fix it.
But until I start thinking about it, I do fine. Until I start thinking about everything that I do in terms of advancement and loss, power and control, I’m great. When I was a kid, I never thought about that, and nothing mattered to me. I sometimes wish for that back, but then again, my childhood was kind of miserable. I just want to be able to not worry about it.
So the answer, for me, to the Scribblings prompt is: I am most powerful when I do not think about power at all.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go jump off the roof. I’ll let you know how it goes.