Can people change?

I mentioned in my post below that we never leave the house without something to read. The book I stashed in the trunk on Sunday morning was Separate Flights - a collection of short stories plus a novella by Andre Dubus.

The novella included in this collection is called We Don't Live Here Anymore. The protagonist is Jack Linden, and the story is about marriage and adultery - the near dissolution of his marriage due to adultery. It's not a happy picture of marriage, but what makes the story so resonant for me is Jack's description of his wife, Terry, a woman he no longer loves. Terry is described as angry, as a slob; she drinks too much and never takes care of the house, and one event that really raises Jack's ire is when he realizes she never changed the sheets after their son wet his bed. Tied together with finding two pots on the basement stairs, pots that were used a month prior and still were never cleaned, Jack finds his justification for his ongoing adulterous relationship with his friend's wife.

Terry claims she forgot about them, but Jack doesn't believe her - and although Jack may not be the most reliable narrator, he makes a compelling case for why she really didn't forget about them.

Because Dubus is a masterful writer, Terry is still a sympathetic character. She is a woman who found herself unexpectedly pregnant, before her own life even started, and clearly yearns for a life that doesn't involve washing dishes or changing sheets. She spends her days reading books Jack brings home. She wants something other than what she has, but she seems powerless to change.

If you are a regular reader, you might see from the previous paragraph why the story is resonant for me.

So I was navel gazing this weekend in between reading stories and sitting in my car waiting for my promised ride to pick me up. I am a great inputter of stuff: I watch too much television, read too many blogs, eat too much food; meanwhile, I put off doing stuff: while I read, the dishes pile up in the sink. While I watch TV, life is happening. And the eating...alcoholism is prevalent in my family, and food is my substitute for booze. I eat too much and for reasons other than hunger.

As a child, I hated to admit that I was wrong, or that it was even possible for me to be wrong, but I'm comfortable with it now, and I freely acknowledge my many flaws: my bad temper, overeating, neglect of my home, the way I have embraced entropy. And I tell myself that it's just the way I am, and everytime I try to make a change, I find myself back where I started, and that just reinforces it: I cannot change.

But it's not how I want to be, and if it's my life, I should be able to change it, right? I'm not sure I believe that I can change my life; that anyone can change, really. And if I can change, I'm not sure how to do it. I've tried to change my habits before and I always end up back where I started. I am quick to break promises to myself.

I wonder if the only way to really change is do something dramatic, something that throws your old life into upheaval, making it essential to find a different way to do things. Or should it be done incrementally, slowly and methodically?

Any suggestions, oh so quiet and perhaps non-existant readers?

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