Posted by: M.C. | 3 April 2011

Inside Job

When you sit in the bathroom on the second floor of our house, you can hear overhead a scurrying and scratching. We haven’t yet decided for sure whether the noise comes from a storage space beside our bedroom on the third floor above or from something outside, on the roof. I tell myself it’s from outside because I don’t like the idea of an animal scratching around only a thin, drywall away from me as I lie in my bed; I don’t like to think of that noise as coming from inside the house. But I have to admit that—disconcerting as it may be—we may well share our apartment with something wild that goes about on all four legs.

Funny what we don’t like to admit may dwell close to home, what can be hard to distinguish from inside or out. It reminds me of those conspiracy theorists who like to claim that “9-11 was an inside job.” When you get down to it, isn’t everything that rattles through my head? As with the unseen, scurrying animal, I want to place all my anxieties outside me, in the world, in other people, in things outside my control. My worries all consist, I want to say, of things “they” are doing to me. But when I get down to it, life hasn’t so much made demands as posed certain questions: What am I willing to give up for the things that matter to me? Or the things that I say matter? How much do I care what others think of me? And if I do care, which “others” will I try to please and which will I ignore? Nothing about the answers is self evident, and no one can determine my answers but me.

Before he won his Oscar a year or so back, Jeff Bridges played a man—Max—trying to fundamentally reorient himself in a film called Fearless. After he survives an airplane crash that kills dozens of others, including his best friend and business partner, Max can’t seem to get back to ordinary life. He finds many of the expectations of others trivial; he becomes brutally honest with everyone, including his wife; the everyday has at the same time become precious and lost its meaning. Trapped in a kind of limbo, unmoored, Max feels driven to take dangerous risks. At the film’s end, he almost dies again, this time by purposely ingesting strawberries, which he knows himself to be allergic to. When his wife literally breathes life back into him, he gasps and says, “I’m alive.” I’ve always thought Max struggled because, after the crash, he couldn’t believe he had survived; as the plane was about to go down, he had accepted his death and come to terms with it, and when it doesn’t happen he doesn’t know how to accept—or whether to believe in—his life again. His emotional journey is an inside job.

I’ve always identified with Max, because I think we have something like the same problem. Too often I find myself living life less like someone who is alive and more like someone who’s about to get caught where he doesn’t belong. I want to be, to write, to run, to play, but I hear that scurrying around somewhere in my head that I’ll have to answer for it if I do. The only way out is to recognize that my life, too, is an inside job. I have to choose a way of being, each day, each moment that feels true to me. After 50 years of living, it’s time for me to accept that I am alive and act like it.

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