Forgetful: Need Reminders

I’ve been forgetting things lately.  (I’ve been forgetting things for the past three years, let’s be real, but more things, different things lately).  I don’t mean things like forgetting to grab toilet paper while at the store (though certainly that happens too).  I mean I’ve been forgetting to do my work.  Not my job work.  I’ve been forgetting to do my self-work.  Forgetting is lack of remembering, and I have not been remembering to let things go, to accept life as it is happening, to stop trying to micro-manage my family (Dawn mostly, but this even includes my dog!).

I love weekends (like most people).  I love having family time (this past weekend included a cookout with friends and play time at a new playground with more friends). But sometimes weekends are tough for me because I am not in charge.  The plan (or lack thereof) is the family’s plan.  What we do and how we do it is not up to me exclusively–these things are a group effort.  I’m not really the best with group efforts.  So much out of my control leaves me feeling anxious and tired all at the same time.  And while I think I have gotten marginally better at controlling my outward annoyance, on the inside I’m having a meltdown that rivals any of Levi’s.

People and animals don’t bend at our will, and that makes me crazy.  And yet, all I can change in that equation is my reaction to things not going my way.

Today I was reading about the “Serenity Prayer” in Katrina Kenison’s Moments of Seeing:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

While I’m not an addict nor a 12-stepper, I can appreciate the idea of the serenity prayer. For years, in fact, I’ve tried to live by this rather difficult concept (hence the need for God’s help, I guess…).  However, today it struck me that I have tended to ignore the first and last lines of this opening stanza.  I always kind of assumed that last part was a no brainer–of course I know the difference.  But now I am realizing there is a hell of lot more going on in life that I simply cannot change, and I’m not always super skillful or efficient at recognizing that.  And I will confess that I just went back and changed this paragraph to include the fact that I’ve also always ignored that first line.  Who needs God and serenity for all this!?  For someone who likes to be right, I am wrong so much of the time.  Now there’s an important (and difficult to make) admission.

This post took a kind of meandering term from forgetting things to ignoring things; however, it all has to do with the theme of acceptance and the paths necessary to get to that point.  Not only do I need to remember to do my work and remember the underlying concept of the serenity prayer, but I also need to take into consideration the parts of that concept I’ve ignored for so long.

 

The Fine Line Between Quiet and Chaos

In our always “on” culture, which only is amplified by being a parent, many of us are seeking quiet, slow, space, down time, calm, etc. So much of what I read these days is focused on finding the antidote to busy.  And I am on board. Ever since giving up my quest for perfection around the start of 2017, I’ve been conscious to put less on my proverbial plate each day.  My goal is always to create reasonable, manageable daily to do lists, so as not to leave myself disappointed at the day’s end.  I’ve been trying to take the “less is more” approach to life.

But then I noticed something the other day:  I had what could be described as a quiet day–a day with not too much planned, a couple of goals that I needed/wanted to hit, but not a lot of concrete necessities.  Yet, when I got to the end of that day, my head was spinning.  I felt exhausted, out of sorts, and completely untied.  It felt like the most chaotic day I had experienced in a long time, and yet, nothing had really happened.

The key here is ultimately that the day felt that way to me–this is based on perception, but when we are talking about things like calm versus chaos, productive versus peaceful, and so on, perception is really all we have to go on.  It wasn’t actually a chaotic day, and yet I was left reeling.

I am also aware that the day might have felt so chaotic because I had not structured all of the open space in it very well.  I had no carefully made plan for the few things I had to do.  And this girl without a plan is like a fish on a bicycle:  useless, fumbling, and just not right.

Still, that day got me thinking that there is some kind fine line between quiet and chaos, and, as with all of life, we are left needing to create the balance. My guess is that self-help gurus, Buddhists, and other contemplatives would argue that we simply need to learn to be more comfortable with the quiet–that if I had better embraced the quiet, I wouldn’t have been left feeling so unhinged by it.  I’m betting they’d say my reaction to all the “down time” is an outcome (a consequence) of our always “on” culture and my own tendency toward wanting every moment to be productive.  Indeed a large part of my discomfort at the the end of that day was caused by my fretting over the fact that nothing had happened, meaning nothing had been accomplished.  I am also aware of my own need to redefine that “nothing” (for example, I went to a small gathering of colleagues on campus to send off one of our (many) departing Deans.  I count this as “nothing,” and yet I know I would be better off viewing it as an important and necessary part of work, of being a part of that community).  But all of this is part of balance:  It’s easy to blame culture for creating this feeling of always needing to be on and busy (it’s especially easy for a monastic to place that blame), but ultimately culture constructs us as much as we construct it (or try to), and we all need to live within the reality and constraints of that.  The reality is that we all need and want to be/feel productive.  We all need to have moments of busyness.  I recently heard poet Marie Howe, in her interview with On Being’s Krista Tippett, say that busyness can be the prayer if we allow it to (I’m paraphrasing).  For me that is the balance:  busyness as prayer.

Balance and Acceptance

Last month I joined the Abundant Mama Peace Circle (I made this move after a long period of resistance based on my feeling of not quite fitting in there).  Each month we have a new theme to focus on in the journey to becoming a more peaceful and productive mama.  This month’s theme is acceptance (last month’s was being awake). Each month I have this moment of viewing the theme through the dark colored lenses of negativity.

For example, this month I’m cruising along thinking about all of the things I need to accept in my life, focusing on letting go, jotting little mantras in my journal, until I find myself writing:  “Accept what it is; It is meant to be.”  Suddenly the brakes in my head are screeching loudly.  Imagine if Elizabeth Cady Stanton had lived by that idea?  What about Rosa Parks or Malala Yousafzai?  Acceptance in this sense equals blind submission and the perpetuation of societal injustice.  If we accept things as how they are supposed to be, then change doesn’t occur.

I fully realize that not accepting segregation or the degradation of women is completely different from accepting that the house might not look perfect or that our partner doesn’t load the dishwasher the same way that we do.  I also know that the goal of the peace circle is to focus on the latter.

Ultimately, like everything in life acceptance is about balance.  Yes, I need to accept that Dawn is different than I am and does things differently.  No, I don’t need to accept the current administration.  Yes, I need to accept that I submitted an imperfect piece of writing to a contest.  No, I don’t need to accept the current toxic climate at my place of work.  And so on.

How one actually achieves this kind of balance in life between caring deeply and accepting what is, I don’t fully know.  I think this is the kind of thing that activists deal with on the regular.  They have to maintain sanity while fighting the good fight, and balancing acceptance with movements for change is one way to do that.  It’s really freakin’ hard though, and I guess we just have to accept that fact.

Impostor Syndrome

A theme that echoes through much of my writing is the impostor syndrome.  In many ways it is an eye-roll inducing concept.  I mean, come on people, get over yourselves and just own your accomplishments.  And yet, I suffer from it (or have suffered from it) in both work and motherhood, and I know so many other women who do too.

I was recently re-reading an old Meghan Daum essay (“According to the Women I’m Fairly Pretty”).  It is a profile piece on a polyamorous community in California.  In it she describes the feeling of being an outsider as one of the characteristics of all members of the group.  These are people who throughout their life have felt fringe or not generally accepted–geeks who sat alone at lunch and on the playground during school days.  What Daum points out though, is that at one time or another we all feel like the one who doesn’t fit in–particularly through our elementary and secondary years of schooling.  We all feel like frauds at one point or another, making the boundary of “outside” almost nonexistent or one that exists only in our own minds.  I am a huge fan of Daum’s, and I recognize her analysis to be accurate to an extent.  Let’s be realistic:  some people fit in better than others.  Some people are more comfortable with their role in a community.  And some people just more easily accept and project their achievements (perhaps even with a sense of pride).

In order to feel truly alienated one must keep a safe distance from the fact that, as self-concepts go, ‘not like the others’ is fairly standard….  The need to be different means we must constantly promote our unusualness.  Meghan Daum, “According to the Women I’m Fairly Pretty”

I recently received a big award at work.  Upon receiving the news that I am the awardee, my very first reaction (before excitement or pride) was, Oh, I must have been the only applicant.  My next reaction was, Wow – they must have had some really crappy applicants.  I wonder who applied?  This reaction despite knowing that any of the applicants had to be my own colleagues (it was an internal award), and I know for certain that my colleagues are super accomplished and amazingly talented.  In fact, it is this same group of colleagues amongst whom I’ve felt like a fraud for the past six years, convinced that they are real teacher-scholars and I am merely an impostor, faking it ’til I make it, as they say.

The line between humility and a constant feeling of having pulled the wool over someone’s eyes is very thin.

The fear of waiting to be found out is exhausting.  And I’ve spent much of my adult life in this state.  Since my early days of graduate school (which I only got into–twice–because they were desperate for students, of course…) I have set goals.  I told myself that when I would hit a certain accomplishment, then I would know I was the “real deal” and stop feeling like a “fake.”  So once I got the Ph.D. in hand, then I would be legit.  Not so.  Once I got tenure, then I would be legit.  Not so.  Once I get this one project published, I will be legit.  Not so.  With every accomplishment my reaction is sincere amazement that I have somehow “tricked” another committee, another group of experts in my field.  I’ve won awards for my scholarship.  I was awarded the most coveted graduate fellowship in my program.  My reaction every time is, Well, the competition must not have been very strong.

In other words, as someone trained to look at evidence and carefully analyze it and assess it, I haven’t proved very good at it when it comes to my own life.

I don’t write this post as laundry-list of all my achievements.  I write it as a call for all of us to own with pride and deep acceptance who we are in life, along with the amazing things we accomplish.  Remembering Daum’s statement, “as self-concepts go, ‘not like the others’ is fairly standard.” We all feel like we don’t belong at times, and as my former therapist always said, “feelings don’t necessarily reflect reality.”  Let’s not stand in the face of evidence and ignore it (we already have way too much of that going on in the world these days…).

I know too many people (women, in particular it seems–though I have no social data to support this) who suffer from this syndrome.  And much like addiction or a search for fulfillment through food or shopping, it doesn’t end when you get to the next stop.  I cannot sit here and tell myself that if I make it to full professor, then I’m the “real deal.”  I have to join with others around me, whom I trust and respect, and give myself the pat on the back that I deserve (even if I’m just faking it ’til I make it…).