Tag: Identity

5Jun

Dosing

I’m fighting it hard today, the smothering despair simultaneously manufactured and feared by my own mind. Yesterday, I couldn’t fight. With the slow approach of rain, my inner world drained of color, and I only knew how to mimic the motions of the living… vocalize polite response, bring fork to mouth, place one foot in front of the other. This morning, the sun rose again, a diluted but obvious yellow, and I’m breathing instinctually again—a mercy, this. But what if tomorrow dawns gray again? What if the next wave of this infernal springtime virus is already gathering speed? There are so many unknown days ahead, and I’ve rarely felt so utterly tapped out of resources.

We’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming around here lately, sketching out possible paths down which to channel our energy. This freedom to chart our own course is one of the luxuries we have as a freelancing family (other “luxuries” include paying a million percent in self-employment taxes, just in case you were toying with jealousy), but it also scares me into an off-kilter pendulum swing between hope and despondence. On the hopeful upswing, I start to catch some of my husband’s optimism and see the intersection between creativity and success. I fill notebook pages with ideas that energize me. I put days on end into researching how I can best use this word-besotted brain of mine to benefit both the world and our bank account.

The downswing seems inevitable though. At some point in my reading, I suddenly start to see others’ successes as intimidation rather than inspiration. It occurs to me that everything worth writing has already been written and that pursuing any of my projects would be like trying to nose my way into an already-overcrowded party. My old friends Self-Doubt and Shame see their opportunity here and jump in to convince me that not only do I have nothing special to offer the world, I’m a burden to it. Dead weight. Dan offers to make me an iced coffee, and I have a minor crisis because what have I ever done that makes me worthy of a coffee? That’s at least ten cents in ingredients right there, not to mention preparation time, and what about the labor that went into picking the coffee beans, what about the sun or rain or slow seasonal whisperings that coaxed them into growth? What about the electricity it takes to freeze the ice? How can Dead Weight Me warrant even a single drop?

This kind of thought degeneration would be comical if it weren’t so devastating to live through. I would never in a million years tell a fellow stay-at-home mom that she didn’t deserve the roof over her head just because she wasn’t bringing in as much income as her husband. I would never tell her that her significance and value were tied to her career, much less that only a self-made, wholly unique, preferably award-winning career would count. I would never expect her to view a cup of coffee as unjustified.

Instead, I would bust out the metaphorical pompoms and deliver one of my favorite Oscar Wilde quotes with a few high kicks and some glitter paint: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” I would assure her that her interests and ideas do matter and that, unless her life goal is plagiarism, she absolutely does have something unique to offer the world. The way she talks, creates, and thinks are a gift—unless, of course, the way she thinks leads to a biannual spiral of self-loathing, in which case she really might want to get that checked out.

I hold myself to a different standard than I hold anyone else though, and in my own cramped construct, sick days are failure, brain fog is failure, clutter is failure, mood swings are failure. It’s all failure, all the time on the mental channel that’s been blaring on and off for the last few weeks, and oh lord, what I wouldn’t give for silence. I’m in honest-to-goodness awe of those of you who know how to quiet your minds; I only get about five seconds in to a meditation exercise before my failure alarm starts screeching about how laughably bad I am at achieving inner peace, and then a second alarm joins in to berate me for letting that first one disrupt my serenity, and by the thirty second mark, I can’t hear myself think a single distinguishable thought.

If you’re nodding your head in commiseration right now… I’m so sorry. I have nothing in the form of advice and only the faintest inklings of how to steady my own incomprehensible self against the pendulum. So far, I’ve ruled out chewing tobacco and daytime TV, but only just. In fact, I only have one idea right now that strikes a chord with both mind and heart, and it’s this: over on Instagram and Twitter, I’m going to revive my outdated experiment in capturing a #dailydoseofbeauty. Snapping pictures with my phone is the kind of meditation I can rock right now, and my hope is that even this fragmented focus on gratitude and grace will grow into something larger than myself with its own steady pulse of joy, something that can slip me silent past the alarms and the fight and back into this beautiful land of the living where I belong.

Starting… now:

A daily dose of beauty

Opening our front door is so sweet this time of year. #dailydoseofbeauty

~~~

What do you think? Would you care to join me? (Please do!)

1Jun

Anti-Humanitarian Effort

Hello there, world.

So. These past two weeks of lifestyle reevaluation have not gone exactly according to plan. The Plan, you see, went something like this: I would wake up early, all self-imposed pressure having evaporated overnight. I would read an inspiring book over coffee and then journal my way to self-actualization. It would take two, three hours tops. After an invigorating run, I’d start the pasta water for lunch and, while waiting for it to boil, whip out a manifesto or two. That afternoon, I would make serious headway into some new, affirming, revelatory project—while having plenty of mental energy left over for my family of course—and I might not even need to sleep that night, so profound would be my invigoration. By dawn the next morning, I would have replied to all the emails I’ve been so delinquent about lately (sorry!), conquered the ironing pile, and come up with a portfolio of new business plans. Who knows? I might have even switched to decaf.

Reality, however, went more like this: Wake up. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Breakfast, with a side of ANXIETY. A lengthy meditation on panic followed by escalating stress. Sprained ankle. (For the record, I no longer recommend jumping up from your computer chair when your leg has fallen asleep. It may look funny, but… well, it is. But still.) No workout. No revelation. Foot turning purple; water-boiling is no longer on list of known abilities. ANXIETY. Can no longer locomote. Can no longer see beyond Cage of Failure. Will never be able to write anything again ever. ANXIETY ANXIETY ANXIETY. Repeat to varying degrees for several days. Ankle mends. Head cold descends. Life ends.

These haven’t been the best of weeks. I’ve been letting everything slide—my writing, my friendships, those five freaking kilometers I’ve worked so hard to be able to run—and I’m feeling the void keenly. I thought that by taking the pressure of my own expectations out of the equation, I would find instant peace and clarity, but it feels more like I accidentally removed myself from the equation. When I’m not nurturing the creative or communal parts of my life, I become a shell… and maybe that’s the real revelation I needed from these weeks of navel-gazing.

Or maybe it’s not so much of a revelation as it is a truth that I discover over and over in different ways. The negative and deprecating voices in my head have been doing a number on me lately, assuring me that I have nothing of value to offer the world, that the world would actually be a better place if I weren’t contributing to it, and that the only respectable course of action for the good of all mankind would be to slink into a quiet corner somewhere and try very, very hard not to be noticed. (Now you understand that my blog is at heart an anti-humanitarian effort.) Going through life as a shell of a person though… Nothing is worth that. Nothing.

I do have some other projects percolating now (should I thank the sprained ankle or the head cold for that?), and I’ve confirmed in the space between my heart and my fingertips that this blog is meant to be sanctuary, not money-maker. The ads are gone now, and coming back to the page now is like opening my front door after sending away guests who had long overstayed their welcome. The air is lighter, the ambiance softer. It feels like home again.

And now that you know I’m not here for you and am actually here in flagrant disregard for your wellbeing, how are you? What have you been up to these past two weeks? Any fellow sprained ankles enjoying their restored dignity?

18May

Meevaluation

The last couple of days were for holding my breath, playing the undercover researcher to my own life, and sometimes just hiding under the blankets for an hour or, um… four. Some days are just this way, and it’s probably due to a combination of late nights and early mornings and too much not enough coffee and hormones and the weather and any number of swiftly colliding circumstances, but in the murk of it, all I can reason is that I have finally, irrevocably failed at existence. (People who are not me would call it a bad day, shrug, and move on. To those people, I ask—Where is your commitment to suffering? I mean, really.)

The funk had been creeping up on me for a while—see here, here, here, aaaaand here—and my husband and I both agree that it’s time for some lifestyle reevaluation. The fact that we missed an episode of Sherlock to talk through this just goes to show how badly we need a change. More specifically, how badly I need a change. This year so far has looked nothing like I thought it would; my Ready, Set, Write! expectations were strangled by a months-long situation I couldn’t share about here, and I’ve been getting up each morning at the last possible minute without a glimmer of creative purpose.

Some mornings once the coffee is stirring my veins back to life, blog entries land decisively on my heart to be typed out in a heady glow. This compulsion to write is why I started blogging in the first place. It’s one of my favorite processes in all the world. But many other mornings, far too many, I stare at my computer screen trying to force sentences out of a thick silence and spiraling by the minute toward self-disgust. If I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a mere blog entry each day, how can I consider myself a blogger? And if I can’t hack it as a blogger, how can I even hope for the infinitely vaguer and cooler title of writer?

Here’s where the lifestyle reevaluation comes in. See, I have an idea of what is required of a successful blogger—a personal brand, dedicated networking, and frequent content that manages to be both familiar and engaging—and I chafe against all three points. I have no agenda for my blogging, and I honestly feel claustrophobic at the thought of limiting myself to one theme or niche. I’m just me, folks, and I write because I can’t not write, and I share that writing here because I can’t not share it. This blog is my community. However, I don’t think it was ever meant to be my career. All those mornings spent glaring at a blank “New Post” page should have clued me in long before now. This space here is a place for inspiration and outlet, an aviary for my thoughts, a personal lounge for kicking back and drinking in beauty. It’s not my nine to five.

Which means it’s high time I stop letting misdirected stress over branding and networking and commenting and posting schedules keep me from asking myself what projects I’m truly meant to pour my energy into for the second half of this year. Ergo, I’m going to be taking some much-needed time to figure myself out, starting in approximately eleven minutes when I hit the running trail and the horrible, agonizing pain of exercise stabs my stress level to death. I’m not abandoning this blog, never fear, but posting might be sparser than usual while I get reacquainted with me. Either that, or this space will soon be overrun with blurry snapshots of my navel and esoteric questions about the meaning of life. Either way, you’ve been warned.

~~~

How do you go about lifestyle reevaluations? Do you have any tips for ditching unnecessary stress and honing in on a direction that will bounce me out of bed with the sunrise? (Drink recommendations totally count.)

15May

Pinterest Parenting

I have a confession to make: I dislike taking my children to the park. So strongly do I dislike it, in fact, that I agree to a maximum one hour a week at our neighborhood playground and sigh in relief when inclement weather lets me off the hook. All that changing of clothes, applying of sunscreen, and filling of water bottles so that I can hover near my daredevil four-year-old while craning my neck for my seven-year-old who is playing hide ‘n’ seek with her friends and may no longer be in the country for all I can tell? Goodness, it is so not my favorite thing.

I feel like I’m admitting to some heinous crime against parenthood here, but wait—it gets better. I also strongly dislike showering the girls after swim class, organizing their birthday parties, teaching them to ride bikes, and doing crafts with them. Don’t even get me started on that last one; there is little in this world more unsettling to me than glue in the hands of a preschooler.

Keep in mind that I’m not exactly glowing with pride over this. I’ve absorbed enough parenting magazines, mommy blogs, and Pinterest boards to convince myself that the ideal mom would help her children mix up eco-conscious finger paint as they rode their bicycles from an all-day picnic at the park home to the lavender-infused bubble baths they’d brewed the day before. I have a glossy image in my mind of the ideal mom: creative genius with infinite patience meets soccer mom with sex appeal, something like June Cleaver and Maria von Trapp rolled up in a sugar cookie crust and pretty much nothing like me.

I’m embarrassed to be writing this, any of this, because I don’t want to add any credibility to the Mommy Wars. I want to proclaim in bold, confident type that if a mother is invested enough in her child to worry about how many months she should breastfeed, she’s doing a good job. End of story. Yet… I’ve known many parents who earnestly believed that physically and mentally abusing their children was the best strategy. Even now, I often notice parents letting their children hang out the passenger window on the highway, their kindergartners go on violent rampages, and their children’s teeth rot from hygienic neglect, and I have to admit that there’s something to be said for holding up a standard. We parents need humility and accountability just like any others in a position of power. We were never meant to do this job in isolation.

At the same time, the comparison game can quickly turn into the shame game. Having access to so many inspired ideas at once can make us forget that we’re looking at a collage of unique personalities and talents, not one composite superhuman. I see a mom who creates whimsical food faces for her children’s lunches and think I should be doing that. The next mom knits stuffed animals for birthday gifts, and never mind that I don’t know how to knit one, purl anything, I should be doing that too. Living room chemistry labs, French idiom flashcards, Mommy & Me Karate, I should be doing it all.

Clearly, logic has no place in my compare and despair routine. The karate mom, chemistry mom, and knitting mom are not the same mom, so why do I feel like a failure when I can’t master all of their individual strengths? I can’t really blame the media for this one; it’s all me. I’m the one focusing on pinboards meant for the karate mom and the chemistry mom and the knitting mom and the loves-taking-her-children-to-the-park mom and taking each one as a personal attack.

Here’s what I should be doing instead of browsing Pinterest for reasons to feel unworthy: I should be piling a dozen oversized pillows on my bed, calling the girls in, and cracking open a storybook. I’m great at reading out loud—did you know that?—and contrary to busting out the bikes or the glue (shudder), reading together is an activity that the girls and I love with equal enthusiasm. It’s one of my personal mama-strengths. Family travel is another, and if I were pressed to come up with a third, Sophie could tell you just how much fun we have baking cupcakes together.

I think that the main reason we moms take up arms against each other is in misdirected self-defense. We feel like other women’s successes are a commentary on our failings, and we bristle, desperate to believe that we’re not screwing up our children as thoroughly as that snide little voice in the back of our minds says we are. As a realist (code name for pessimist) and a chronic internalizer, I struggle with that mindset more often than I’d like to admit. However, I’m finally fighting back against it by trying to give the most attention to my strengths rather than my deficits. The key word here is “trying.” Self-congratulation feels like such a taboo, but honestly, why wouldn’t I work on celebrating and cultivating the ways in which I love my children best? It’s the quickest antidote against my own mental Mommy War that I know of… and? It lets me return to browse the eco-conscious-lavender-bicycle-karate-supermom pinboard without an ounce of guilt.

~~~

Your turn! What are your own awesome talents as a parent, a child, a friend, an artist, or a Pinterest-browsing human being? What are YOU especially great at? (No cop-out answers now; your strengths are worth a little celebration!)

20Sep

Sockanalysis

These last two weeks… well, I’m not easily finding the words to describe them. Finding out so suddenly that I’m neither alone nor a [complete] nut-job has flipped my perception of life on its head, and I’m still trying to sort up from down. Coming out of a culture specifically designed to make its victims its staunchest defendants, I feel a bit star-struck around other escapees; I had no idea until two weeks ago that there were others. The conversations I’ve been having and articles I’ve been reading have been a form of intense psychoanalysis for me. Oh, so that’s why I can’t decide so much as what socks to wear some days. You mean my discomfort around all things emotional is to be expected? So it’s not some glitch in my system that makes me revert back to a bitter misotheist every few months? My so-very-unwelcome perfectionism, paranoia, skepticism, criticism, defensiveness, insecurity, and proclivity for burnout are natural side effects of that lifestyle; who knew?

I can’t really express (see above re: emotional ineptitude) just what it does to me to realize I’m not alone in this. Up until now, I have literally felt like the only woman in the world suffering under a unique brand of memories. The unshakeable weight of shame was all the more stifling because I was the only one who knew how it felt. But now… to hear that I’m not alone? To discover that my many neuroses are not proof I’m defective but are rather the stamp of mistreatment? To peek ahead into other people’s journeys and see increasing happiness and healing? It’s making my soul feel practically weightless.

My fervent thanks to those of you who braved that hopeful darkness and brought your own painful stories to light, to those of you who wrote me and shared your hearts, to those of you who offered encouragement and love, and to those of you who simply read what I had to say. Almost right could never have inspired this kind of community, and I would love the chance to meet up with each of you face-to-face (let me know next time you’re coming through Italy!). I’ll be the star-struck one wearing seven pairs of socks.

4Nov

NaI’llHaveToCheckTheCalendarMo

My autumn fantasies have never strayed far from the pencil aisle. As soon as I knew how to put graphite and imagination together, I was writing books… even if they were only a frothy whip of princess lore and Southern Baptist morals (“Thou shalt not smoke”) scribbled on handfuls of printer paper. At the start of each semester throughout high school and college, I read syllabi like campaign promises. (A portfolio of deadline-inspired masterpieces by spring! New skills learned! World peace!) Since graduating, I’ve consistently imagined fall mornings spent at my desk with orange leaves filtering sunlight onto the pages of my half-written memoir.

And now, another November is here—NaBloNoPoWriWhateverMo—and it feels like every other linguistically-gifted person on the planet is publishing daily blog entries and composing chapbooks and penning novels. After getting home at 10:30 last night from piano practice, I washed the days’ worth of dishes and pictured entire chains of American coffee shops swirling with warm cinnamon and the happy clacking of laptop keys. The thought landed in my sternum like a well-aimed punch.

I want to be there too, at the little table in the corner with headphones of my own artsy music drowning out the artsy music on the stereo, a tall gingerbread mocha within reach, my muse at the next table leaning over to whisper brilliant sentences every time I get stuck. I would even be delighted with a few uninterrupted hours each day at my own desk, inspiration venturing out of its hole to see what all the quiet’s about. I cannot quell this longing to write—maybe not for a living, but for a life, yes. However, this autumn seems to have conspired with its last five predecessors to keep me away from blank pages and novelty espresso beverages, and I’m questioning once again if “author” will ever come after my name. The [grossly pessimistic] idea that this dream may never have a fighting chance is a pillow of porcupine quills when I lay down at night.

The glitch in all my moping is this: I’ve been too busy to write because I’m actually starting to have some semblance of a life. A checking the calendar, leaving the house, having actual social interactions kind of life that takes an embarrassing amount out of me by the end of the day. I am forever making mistakes in Italian and having to talk myself off mental ledges mid-sentence (my inner perfectionist can be pretty dramatic), and it takes real effort to stop comparing my clothes and figure to those of my supermodel friends. Plus, simply being around people zaps my energy rather than recharging it. I’ve been ready for bed at 9:30 for weeks now. See? Embarrassing.

 

But as embarrassing and challenging and draining as this Having A Life is, it feels good. Or if not good, exactly, then a step in goodness’s direction… a few more inches up the muddy, rewarding path to relationships. So this won’t be the November I write my Great American Novel, but I am stocking up on real-life inspiration for future stories. And while my pillow may be lined with porcupine quills, I’ve been sleeping beautifully.


Why yes, I did begin every sentence of that last paragraph with a conjunction. Watch free will triumph over the English degree!

4Aug

Navel Date in 2025

August decided to play a practical joke yesterday and turn into October, and our modesty-optional summer wardrobe gave way to long sleeves and socks. Socks, people. I gave into the iron-hued weather and blew off chores to read The Kite Runner, which left me feeling more Octoberish than ever. Even today, motivation only glimmers from behind clouds in fickle bursts. Oh sun, wherefore art thou?

Since I laid off the poison pills in April, I’ve slowly felt more and more normal, and I’m just now normal enough to realize I don’t know what constitutes normal anymore. (Please tell me you get what I’m talking about.) I read through old journals and shake my head at the stranger on each page. Nope, don’t recognize that one either. Was she really me? Am I really me?

Burrowing somewhere in my stomach is the awful suspicion that I like the eighteen-year-old me better. She was often confused and always dramatic, but she had energy and passion and a crazy, glowing sense of life purpose. I feel like I’ve acquired a bitter aftertaste as the years have mellowed my personality; my vim and vigor are sprouting mold. Is there any chance I’ve retained some of my positive characteristics through the constant upheaval of college, married life, and babies (not to mention seven moves in the last six years)?

I suppose this could simply be disorientation after so many months of mind-fog. Maybe I’m still too bewildered by the clearing view to recognize me for myself, to notice the residual beauty. After all, my husband claims to still like me, and I don’t think he’s entirely delusional. On the other hand, I know I’ve lost a lot of touch with the better aspects of life. Maybe this is a call to attention, a prescription from the lazy psychologist in my brain to do some navel-gazing, stat.

~~~

Heavens to Brawny, Sophie just decorated the walls of our newly-painted entryway with a bright green marker. It seems the navel gazing will have to wait for another day, one in which my toddler can be trusted to coexist peacefully with our house. Perhaps by 2025?

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