No deniah I’m no Shania

This is dangerous, more dangerous than last week’s nighttime adventure.  This is me, talking about how I’ll never be Shania Twain.  Someone I know loaned me her autobiography recently.  Frankly, I have never been that interested in Shania (no offense, Ms. Twain, but you have plenty of people who are interested in you and you say in your book that you don’t like being the center of attention anyway.) but I thought, “Why not read it?”.

Welllll, let me just say that the foreword was so full of beautifully-presented true life and death wisdom that I started to feel a sensation that was much more frequent in my younger days than it is now:  the sensation of wanting to shrink and shrivel in the face of Better Than I Am.

Unfortunately, I grew up doubting my lovability, which was at the root of much of the pain (and often ensuing bad decisions & their consequences) that I’ve experienced.  My childhood eyes observed three phenomena that became truths in my mind.

1)  Being beautiful/sexy would get me attention and therefore love.  Talent might be good, but without looks, not so much.

2)  Being a victim of some sort, either physically or psychologically, would get me attention and therefore love.

3)  Striving for perfection is reasonable, and if I could actually get perfect, love would be a slam-dunk.

Now, I always knew that I was decent looking, but no exceptional beauty.  I learned this early, in first grade, when I laid eyes on a gorgeous-like-I-have-to-stare-at-you-gorgeous classmate of mine.  I knew I wasn’t and probably wouldn’t be that.  The victim thing would have been my fallback, but I didn’t know how to do more than fantasize about being deathly ill in the hospital, surrounded by my adoring family who was sorry for not making me the center of their world.  Being perfectionistic paralyzed me, and stopped me from putting forth true effort.  If I put forth effort and fail, how stupid would I look?  Very, in my mind.

As I got older, I dabbled in attempts to be beautiful, be a victim, be a beautiful, perfect victim (the ultimate, right?  eye roll.).  It didn’t get me what I wanted, but I swore I saw it repeatedly working for women around me.  That made me feel even more unlovable.  As attractive as I was, and even as I wore my pains on my sleeve (forget the perfectionism because I was so so far from achieving even an appearance of it in any area of my life), I couldn’t manage to inspire the love I sought.

Old roots of insecurity/neediness still dwell inside me, so when I picked up Shania, I had some thoughts.  “She is very beautiful.  She looks younger than I do and she’s older than I am.  Wow, she’s had a lot of bad things happen in her life and it sounds like she reacted in a far more grown-up way than I ever would have (or even would now).  But look, she’s humble at the same time.  She wants to encourage people.  Oh my gosh.  That was a lovely metaphor.  And of course, I know she is super musically talented.  Shoot.  She is beautiful, she is a victim, AND she is perfect.  Therefore, she is so much more lovable than I am.  This is terrible.  I am not her.”


“Wait.  This is wrong.  Is my husband Shania Twain?  Do I love him?  So much.  Is my family Shania Twain?  No, and I adore them.  Are my friends Shania Twain?  [sorry again, Ms. Twain]  I am grateful to say, no.  All of these people make my life rich with love, and I am not sad that they’re not Shania Twain.  And you know what?  I don’t think they’re disappointed in me for not being Shania Twain.  Right!  They love me.  They love me.  ME.  Even though Shania is Better Than I Am.”

As I read her story, I will feel secure.  I can, because I am truly loved.  Does this also mean that I don’t have to feel threatened by others who out-do me?  YES, IT DOES.  If I keep being myself and evolving gently and positively within my relationships (as opposed to becoming a narcissistic, evil jerk), I will be loved for the remainder of my life.   It can take years for love to sink in, but when it does, it’s, it’s…what word can possibly describe it?  I’ll ask Shania (whose name is Eileen) and smile and nod confidently when she gives me the perfect word.





An October tale that happened to happen

Truth really is stranger than fiction, and those who know me know that I am visually creative, but I am not much of a creative writer.  So, this tale is absolutely non-fiction.

Several months ago, my husband and I adopted Vasco, a handsome salt-and-pepper, high-energy German shorthaired pointer mix.  This guy needs to run hard at LEAST once a day.  Yesterday morning, given the late sunrise time of fall, he and I took his glowing ball to the local school field for such a run.  At some point, he dropped the ball and we lost it.  We looked then, we looked later that afternoon, and then.

This being the following day, I thought, “Okay, it’s early evening.  The sun was shining on the ball.  It’s dark now.  If the ball is there, we’re going to see it.”  My studly husband happens to be out of town.  I happen to be reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula (getting to the climactic end).  As Vasco and I went out the side door, our protective neighbor happened to be there at his side door, which mirrors ours.  Said he, “Look, if my wife wanted to take our dog out right now, I would not let her do it.  It’s not safe.  I’m going to take our dog out in a bit- let me take Vasco when I take our dog.”  Oh, phooey!  I’m fine!  Vasco and I are just going to look for our glowing ball.

We approached the entrance to the school yard.  Hooded figures milled around cars parked in the street.  Three of them actually blocked the stairway entrance to the school.  Excuse me here- I’ve been picking up trash lately in this area of the school yard.  Apparently, I’ve been picking up the trash of these mini-grim reapers (lots of Doritos and sugary drinks.  ??!!).  As Vasco and I approached, I boldly excused us and said we would be looking for our glowing ball, and, by the way, had they seen it?

Now I am laughing out loud.  These guys could have been oppositionally defiant, angry young men without consciences and I spoke like an insane alien huntress.  Fortunately, [the typically overly-friendly] Vasco decided to bark once but quite aggressively after we passed the hoodlums to commence our search.

The quest was one hundred percent innocent and unsuccessful.  The three occluding figures had moved back to the darkness of the street as we were leaving, so Vasco and I slinked out without interaction.  Then, from the dark porch of a house close to the school yard’s entrance, an older man’s voice with a Scottish accent, “Why, yer a very brave young lady, going to the school by yerself at this time of night.”  -This is not a joke.-  “Really?”  “Yup, they’re here every night, hovering and making trouble.  Ye best not be coming around, especially without yer dog.”  Okay.

As I walked by our wise neighbor’s house, it so happened that he was at the door.  I humbly stepped up his walkway and said,  “You’re right.  I won’t do that by myself again.”  We laughed together and I quickly and rather spazzily ushered Vasco in to the side door, locking it with much more grim alacrity than usual.

I suppose what I should say is, “Happy [early] Halloween!”  But I’m  really just happy to be safely locked in with Vasco and Dracula.  My dear friend just told me that one of the most important lessons she has learned is that the best adventures are unplanned.  How true!  And there I was two hours ago, trying to decide what to write!  Fortunately, my naivete escorted me past the teenaged grim reapers this evening. I’m off to crochet, snuggled on the couch.  Other thoughts can wait until next week.  IF I survive…

which I think I will.

Showdown II: The ugly nitty gritty

This is a moment when I could get stuck.  I have just walked in the house after seeing my morning student and there are messes everywhere.  There are many things I need to do, and most of them do not have to do with the messes.  To be honest, I’m starting to feel a bit panicky.  How can I help myself?  For now, I’m going to ignore the list and go with my gut.  I can not feel good and be productive with visual clutter everywhere.  Let me start by allowing myself 40 minutes to just focus on clearing clutter.  Okay, go.

That wasn’t even 40 minutes of clean up, but now I am not feeling panicky.  Surfaces look much better now.  They’re not screaming at me.  I can do some things that need to be done.  Walking in the house and seeing (and hearing) the disorder was enough to cripple me.  It was important to blow off my list and follow my instinct of impulsivity.  Today is a day I can see that I will wrestle with getting things done.  What is happening?  Thinking back to my rules, let me check my list.

The list has been checked.  There is not too much on it, but the problem is my head.  Those items I formerly would have written on the list even though I can’t get to them are now swimming around in my head, unkindly bumping in to my skull.  Deep breath.  Do the next thing I need to do and focus only on that until it’s done.  Listen to music while I do it to distract the swimmers.  Okay, go.

I did the thing I was dreading most, (NOT THAT IT WAS A BIG DEAL.  Why do I make small tasks much bigger than they are in my mind?) which was smart because now it’s done and I can enjoy that fact for the remainder of the day.  Now it’s time for lunch.

Lunch was easy.  Then it was time for some of those “life” tasks, the ones that “interfere” with the list.  Now here I am with a half hour before I need to leave to see a student.  Time for the creative task.  If it doesn’t happen now, Mrs. Roboto wins.

I am still in the lead.  I just played the piano.  Can I keep it together for the rest of the day?

It is now almost 9:00 p.m., and if keeping it together means continuing to be responsible, I kept it together.  There has been a lack of joy inside of me, but some days are like that.  What I have done, by doing what I must, is the right thing.  In spite of how I was tempted to shirk, I did not.  That doesn’t make me feel less powerful or worse about myself.  That means I feel slightly more powerful and positive about the fact that I have used grit.

Having re-read this, I forgot about how I had allowed the unwritten to-dos to bother me.  Apparently, writing that down helped me to refocus.  See how deliberate it can be to follow through?  The effort has exhausted me.  It doesn’t feel like an effort toward enjoying my life, but it is.  It was I who stepped in (against you-know-who) to allow myself to clean up the messes.  That was actually a kindness to myself, even though it might have appeared to be obsessive.

Reading this might be dull and tiring, but it is an accurate reflection of what this day has felt like.  I am allowing myself the lack of joy because my mom is in the hospital.  She is okay for now, but I can’t blow off my sadness about the bigger picture of her declining health.

I was still able to engage in my life, even with my sadness.  As I acknowledge my sadness, it seems to be shrinking a little, lightening me up slightly.  Deep breath.

It has been a successful day, and laughing a few more times would make it more so.  It’s not too late.  Off to seek the company of my humorous husband before I get stuck here and self-critically delete this vivid peek in to my very human brain.


My showdown with Mrs. Roboto

Monday, during a bathroom break in the middle of a particularly productive session with my to-do list, I looked at myself in the mirror and proudly thought, “I am a machine!!”  It’s obviously a figure of speech, but the human in me said, “That’s a compliment to myself, but it doesn’t feel quite right.”  As I have made it part of my mission to embrace my humanity and rise above some of the challenges of being human, it was almost a betrayal to tell myself that, at my working best, I am no longer human.  Hmmm.

I couldn’t help considering my long-time love affair with to-do lists.  Part of what I love about the to-do list is that using it allows part of my mind to shut off.  The decisions are made and I go in to automatic mode.  Briefly, when it’s time to check something off, a bit of glee comes to the surface, but other than that, it’s work work work.  I become Mrs. Roboto.  I have created a way of taking a break from feeling, from being human.

Providing myself with that break is a positive thing, but then there is that moment when I glance at the list before it goes in to the recycling bin (it does not have the same satisfyingly final tone as “garbage”, but this is 2011).  At that moment, I feel good about what I have done to be a responsible adult, but I can’t help feeling a bit bad about neglecting an important aspect of myself.  On what I consider brilliant days, I add creative tasks to the list and actually do at least one.  Much more often, creativity is neglected, either by not making it to the list, or by sitting on the list with nothing next to it as it enters the bin.

Another issue with the to-do list is that I consistently put more on the list than I can practically do in a day, so I make it impossible to actually complete a list.  Is this what I do with my students?  Do I make completion impossible for them, or do I do what is necessary to make failure impossible?  I know that they must experience success to continue their learning journey, so why can’t I allow myself to recycle a list with all of the boxes checked?  Does Mrs. Roboto need that kind of job security?  If she doesn’t get her work done for the day, she has to come back tomorrow!

The problem is, Mrs. Roboto is not in favor of creativity.  All she cares about is accomplishing.  And I value creativity.

Perhaps it is time to use my list-making skills to make some rules regarding the to-do list with the big picture of my life in mind.

  • Limit the list to LESS than can be done in a day, because issues/interruptions usually pop up during projects, and there needs to be room for that.  This is life, not a factory.
  • Add a creative activity to the list every day and DO IT.  Creative activities should be reasonable as well, not “produce a convincing copy of the Mona Lisa” or something.
  • Include relationship-enriching activities on the list.  If paperwork is so important that it makes it to the list, don’t people deserve to make it too?  I doubt that, on my death bed, I will think lovingly about paperwork.

Take that, Mrs. Roboto.  Humanity and creativity, I ! will be interfering with your automaticity from now on.  The lists that are recycled will be part of building a more satisfying life than they have been with you in charge.