Every time I finish something that I’ve been working on for a while, I have a jarring feeling that combines “I did it!” Euphoria with bewildering dismay.
The duration of this unsettling and unstable stretch depends on the size of the effort and the amount of energy I put into it. The joy of having a great accomplishment is fantastic and affirming, but with that accomplishment comes a feeling of emptiness – a big or small gap depending on the weight of the effort.
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Perhaps this disorienting reaction represents both the future and the past. Thinking about the future, there may be an underlying fear that I won’t have anything to do with it. I don’t think this is the biggest problem for me. Fortunately, I always seem to have something to look forward to – a new article, a new book, or a family event.
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A bigger and bigger problem has to do with the past. Once I have completed a project, there is a sense of loss because a compelling goal is no longer there to think, worry, and aim.
I have just published my fourth book, “Prohibition Wine: A True Story of One Woman’s Daring in Twentieth-Century America” on May 25, 2021. I am relieved and delighted that this book is launched, but I miss many aspects of the journey. . : the writing, the constantly emerging questions, the research, the focus and the “aha” moments of sudden clarity.
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I was talking to my granddaughter, Hannah, about these conflicting feelings of happiness and discomfort. She said she felt the same!
For Hannah, it was around her very recent graduation from Newton North High School and the gradual end of her four-year deep involvement there. Naturally, she is very happy to have graduated and of course we – her family – are all extremely proud. She will be leaving for college in September. Even though she has an exciting stage ahead of her, she too has this contrasting feeling of euphoria and lack of purpose.
Here we are, two disparate generations, sharing similar responses to our unique transitions. She is heading for a long future that has already started with big decisions about leaving home, selection to college and initial thoughts on a possible major. In her process of advancement, she will maintain powerful friendships from her childhood years as she finds other friends in a different place and learns things that she may not know now. Her sense of bewilderment will fade as she establishes a next phase of life and achieves a new balance.
For me, I step into my future and think about my options. Unlike Hannah, I have no plans to move or go back to school – although I will always continue my studies and only have to choose what I want to discover. Much like Hannah, my longtime friends will stay with me as I find people I haven’t yet met. Hannah will have a lot of new projects and I have a long list of writing projects. We both have a lot to look forward to.
Certainly some very important family milestones are built into my plans: graduation from high school for my grandson Sam (in three years); Hannah’s university degree (in four years); and my 10-year-old granddaughter Lina’s college and high school diplomas (four and eight years old).
When Lina graduates from high school, I will be close to the age of 91. Until then, I hopefully expect to have more days to get things done while going through difficult transitions. But long personal experience tells me that action and creativity will eventually prevail. I have no doubts that this will be true for me and for Hannah.
Marian Leah Knapp has been a resident of Newton for 51 years.