The Queen of My Self

By Carol Nissenbaum

My favorite episode of The Twilight Zone featured Burgess Meredith as a man who longed to read all the books in the world, but didn’t have the time. I was young and don’t remember the whole thing, but the upshot of the story was that the world came to an end and the man was left all alone with every book in the world. Thus he got his wish, but the episode ended with his reading glasses suddenly shattering. The irony of this ending had a great impact on me, even to this day.

I’m the queen of excuses (although I’m also frequently referred to as “Captain Sarcasm” at home). The clutter in my house is epic, but if I didn’t have to work it would be gone. My body is out of shape and I never exercise; if I didn’t have to work I’d be a workout fool. I have 36 unread books waiting for me on my Kindle; if I didn’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn I’d have read them all. The laundry in my house is out of control; the clothes might actually get hung up in the closet instead of being snatched from the “clean” basket if I didn’t have to work, etc. All I need is some time. Time is all I need. I work full-time; I wake up at 6:00 each morning. No time.

Well, be careful what you wish for and all that. Due to an unfortunate reorganization at my former company, my job was recently outsourced and I was laid off (on April Fools’ Day, no less) with a nice severance package. I now find myself with that most precious of gifts: time. Time off. Unallotted, unscheduled time. I can sleep as late as I want. I can exercise, eat properly, and get in shape for summer. I can eliminate all the laundry piled up, maybe even iron occasionally (yeah right). I can plant the beautiful garden I’ve long imagined, instead of impatiently waiting for the landscaper to plant impatiens again. I can sit on my porch in the beautiful weather and read as much as I want. Yup, I can do it all. Or can I?

Much like Burgess Meredith in The Twilight Zone, everything I thought I wanted has suddenly landed in my lap. And much like him, I am unable to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s not a pair of broken glasses that has me paralyzed, it’s that I’ve suddenly lost the crutch I’ve leaned on for so long. I have no excuse anymore for why my house is still a mess. I have no excuse for why I’ve only walked the dog once. No excuse for why the laundry is still piled up (although I swear the socks get together and multiply at night). This “free time” thing is not working out at all as I had planned and I HAVE NO EXCUSE.

The interior of my house needs a paint job desperately. The carpet, once off-white, is now just off in several spots. My dog occasionally throws up, as some dogs do, and she always chooses the carpet to unload, and never in the same spot twice. So it is stained and threadbare, and woefully in need of replacement. We planned to finish the hardwood floors beneath it and get a paint job “eventually.” Well, eventually has arrived and I’ve yet to even make a phone call or get a single estimate, although I have complained about its condition for years.

Yesterday was a picture-perfect day for planting the summer-flowering bulbs and multicolored pansies I envisioned in my garden. Only problem is, those plants are still waiting at a nursery because I haven’t even bought them yet. It’s as if inertia has taken hold of me and made it impossible for me to move forward. I blamed it on the weather last week, as it was depressingly gray and dreary. But warm, sunny days are forecast and I doubt that sunshine will suddenly give me the motivation to get off the couch.

So, what’s ahead? I’m not sure, and that’s where the problem lies. I hope I can take control of this gift of unscheduled, uncommitted time before it slips away. I couldn’t wait to break free of my foam-walled cubicle, which made me feel like a rat in a maze, but without its confines I truly don’t know what my next move should be. I feel like a victim of identity theft without my full-time job. It’s only been a little over a week, a period which will be remembered forever as “Wallow Week” by my family. I hope I can turn this time into something exciting; this is a chance to reinvent myself, which is at once exhilarating and terrifying (mostly terrifying). Maybe I should get a spare pair of glasses?
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Donna Henes is the author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife. She offers counseling and upbeat, practical and ceremonial guidance for individual women and groups who want to enjoy the fruits of an enriching, influential, purposeful, passionate, and powerful maturity. Consult the MIDLIFE MIDWIFE™

The Queen welcomes questions concerning all issues of interest to women in their mature years. Send your inquiries to


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