let oneself go
- act in a uninhibited way.
“you need to unwind and let yourself go”
- become careless or untidy in one’s habits or appearance.
“he’s really let himself go since my mother died”
It’s that time of year when people take the opportunity of a new year, beginning to reset, change a behavior, develop a new habit, or achieve goals that have eluded them throughout the previous year. This upcoming year will be an eventful one for me. I will turn 70. My first book as a non-academic writer will be published. Caregiving for my grandson will no longer be five 6AM-4:00PM days a week and there will be hours of time to fill, or not, as I choose. I am thinking about who I might become next year in my ever ending quest of becoming the person I was always meant to be. I am visioning who she will look like, what she will do, who she might do it with. Where she might go. I will set intentions when the images become clear. I use the word intention rather than goals as objectives remind me of productivity, which reminds me of capitalism and how it corrupted my creativity, albeit with my unknowing consent. Intention speaks to desiring, dreaming and hoping and feels less controlling. It feels frothy with creativity, not labor. I use these words hoping I will then not respond in the rebellious way I have in the past whenever I have set my goals. I find them so confining I end up doing the opposite of what I wanted. I end up “letting oneself go.”
As I review the end of this year and look forward to the next one, I am confronted with the fact that I have, in the colloquial sense, “let oneself go”. I gained 20 lbs and abandoned all pretense of putting a look together or wearing make-up every day as I did when I worked as Accidental Icon. I wear baggy over shirts and athletic pants. Make-up is a rarity. I don’t like my hair. I don’t feel like me. I am trying not to care that I look and feel this way because I am so opposed to caring about it because of standards of beauty and youth. But there is a part of me that does. I’m furious that it exerts its power. In fact, I suspect that some of this grand scale indulgence that has added up to 20 pounds was a rebellion against having to meet a certain standard for the previous nine years I have spent as a public figure. I don’t recall ever feeling this way about my body before and I wonder if my time as Accidental Icon, rather than confronting standards of youth and beauty, actually made me aspire to them more than I ever did before in my life. Another unintended consequence. This is not acceptable to me. It interferes with my ability to put myself out there, to post more frequently because I feel I must include a photo. It has made me isolate myself. So it must change, but it must be gentle because I am still bruised.
There are two dictionary definitions of letting go. The first suggests someone who has become careless or untidy in one’s habits or appearance. Usually directed towards women, how often have you heard someone say, “Well, she really let herself go!” A pejorative statement often associated with gaining weight, not dying one’s hair or using make-up. My doctor assures me I am still within range of a healthy BMI and suggests I was underweight before. She tells me it is better for an older woman not to be too thin like I was before. It will increase my chances of becoming frail. A few extra ponds on my hips will provide better protection from a fall. Gaining weight seems to be a common response to loss, and I certainly experienced that during the last year. I lost my mother. I lost the life filling and creative parts of Accidental Icon. While there are huge parts of me that feel very relieved and satisfied about the not so fulfilling parts, there is a small space of emptiness that remains.
The second definition speaks to one’s ability to act in an unrestrained and uninhibited way. I have heard no one use the phrase in this meaning as a compliment. I’ve never heard it in reference to admiring someone for letting it rip, ridding themselves of toxic relationships, impossible to meet standards or finding that place of flow in their creative life… letting oneself go. Wow, she really let herself go in that piece of writing, in that painting, or whatever it may be. I know that the potential exists for letting oneself go when baking scones or gardening. I lose many minutes in a deep engagement with my grandson, but there is a particular stimulation that I miss in this new life in the suburbs. It’s intellectual. It’s a kind of conversation with others. I need it to trigger really “letting oneself go” into the work of writing.
There are times I find this conversation on-line when I Zoom with a friend. There are posts where there are such thoughtful and articulate comments in response to what I write. It’s hard to always respond as sometimes on Instagram these comments number in the hundreds. Even responding to comments on my blog takes hours. I long for a way to have these conversations that allows us to share the affect we feel while writing them. I’m sure in my response one can not see the moments when I read something you say that takes my breath away. In my imagination, I see these conversations taking place in a café over coffee or tea, or even a Zoom room, would be preferable.
When I told my sister about my “empty space” on Christmas, she noted that for most of my life I have traveled, as she put it, “120 miles an hour.” Multiple jobs, multiple degrees, multiple projects, multiple neighborhoods, traveling, always on the move. In her view, my move to the suburbs, my commitment to a home and the amount of caregiving I do brought me too abruptly down to “0 miles an hour.” She suggested I need to fill the space with something that may be more in-between, say on the scale of “40-50 miles per hour.” There was so much wisdom in her observation that I cried, feeling that comforting knowledge that someone knows me. Someone has been watching and observing, even when I didn’t believe they were. It is a remarkable gift to feel “known”.
Operating at “40-50 miles per hour” means finding that sweet spot between taking care of my health and my body because it feels right to me. Dressing with a little more care because it elevates my mood when I do. Letting myself go away from the standards that no longer serve me or under which I am required to perform as a woman. Eating as much of the right kind of food as I want, without feeling deprived or that need to rebel. Moving my body and doing exercise that does not feel like discipline but brings me a sense of well-being. A daily routine that brings health to my body and brain. One that gives me energy and bursts of serotonin to lift my mood.
For what that speed zone means for work, I believe it means that I focus deeply on one thing and not several at a time as I have done. I have never done this before, there has always been several objects of my attention. It means being unrestrained and inhibited in the doing of one thing and doing it in a way that does not create risk to my values or my sense of self because I build in the time to think and reflect on what I am doing. I return to intentions, to the things that help me find balance and live in the “40-50 miles per hour” zone. Things that I dream of, that I hope for, that I desire. To the way I must live to make sure I ride comfortably and consistently in that zone.
I want to fill my empty space with all the many things that are also part of a writer’s life. Writing does not need to be the solitary activity I have practiced it as. A notebook to jot down those small moments of daily life that can provoke me into sitting down to write an essay about something way bigger than the thing that instigates it. When I bring my imagination to it, I see this space slowly, and over time fill with writing classes, conferences, maybe even a residency where I can satisfy that need for a certain conversation. There are readings to attend and platforms where writers from all over the world meet each day to write together in silence. If you are willing to engage, you can find accountability partners, Zoom conversations with others who wish to write. Writing can be a community if you are active and make it so. If I have learned one important lesson in my time in the “0 miles per hour” zone, it is that I need to be part of a community, one that stimulates me to think and to grow. I have also understood that it will not find me, I must find it.
Beginning with this post, I will launch a Substack newsletter. My newsletter is called, “How to be Old.” And it’s Lyn Slater’s Substack. As I wrote in my previous email, that does not mean I won’t keep posting on my website, it just means you will no longer receive an email letting you know I’ve posted an essay unless you subscribe to my Substack. Substack has many features that I believe help create community; you can continue to comment, there is a chat if you want to converse in real time. I can post photos and videos and I will notify you by email when I post. You can post photos on the chat as well. Right now my Substack is free to subscribe.At some future date, I may consider adding supplemental paid content like Zoom conversations, classes, videos, more frequent writing, but I’m slowly moving from “0 to 40-50 miles per hour” so not there yet. No matter which direction I go in, there will always be an essay for free. I do hope you will consider subscribing because that will eventually become my home as a writer. At some future point, my website may become just a tool for PR and/or book selling. Not so much a place where I will write.
Here’s the link to subscribe and I really, really hope you do!
I wish you a very happy and healthy new year. I thank you for your confidence in me as a writer. I often return to your comments when I am discouraged or doubt myself. I am so grateful to have your wisdom available as we share our “How to be Old” journey.
What are your intentions (not goals) for 2023?