Friday, May 18, 2012

Shoulding Myself

I'm having an attack of the shoulds. The volume is up on my gremlins today. I can't get past my long list of things about me and my life that "should" be different.

I feel like nothing's good enough: not my glasses, not my khaki shorts, my apartment, my cleaning habits, my organizational schemes, definitely not my job(s), my income, my budgeting, my goals.

I've been obsessing about my day-to-day choices...first I obsessed that I was too tired to go to the museum like I'd told Redbeard I would, and now that I chose to stay home and relax, I'm obsessing that maybe it would've been better to go to the museum.

The ridiculous thing is that I know I'm being ridiculous. It's not exactly a new revelation that I tend to ask too much of myself and make unrealistic, impossibly high demands of myself, the people around me, and life in general.

I got into my dream school (Ivy League, bitches), with a scholarship, and I'm going... yet my mind can't help drifting to the one person, among a sea of well-wishers, who made an ass-y comment about how many loans I'll be taking on. I've been doing an admirable job completing scads of paperwork, yet I'm dwelling on the one field on one form that I missed (which is now, naturally, gumming up the works.)

I don't want to be that person! I want to be one of those positive-thinking, blessings-counting people! But you know what? My fear of being a Negative Nancy might as well not be one more thing to beat myself up about.

Deep down I already know the antidote. I know that self-acceptance and kindness is the way out of this mental state. I know not to compare my insides with everyone else's outsides. I know to remember that everyone has "days"...sometimes several in a row. I know that no one's life is quite as catalog-ready as it might appear. Life can be messy and hard. Choices are not always clear. Outcomes are not guaranteed. I don't have to live my life according to anyone's rules but my own.

I know this. I do. It's just hard to remember sometimes.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Scenes from a Good Life

-Strolling through the neighborhood with Redbeard drinking coffee on a spectacular May day. Some of the neighbors are having a porch sale. We know them now because we joined the neighborhood watch (which, pleasingly, involved more dog and more popsicles than expected.) Joking with them. Buying lemonade from some neighborhood kids.

-A wonderful May fair at the park, where we ate spectacular food truck pizza and sat in the shade listening to a local band play some bluesy tunes.  I talked to some folks who were tabling at a very cool school that I want to learn more about.

-On to the farmer's market, where we bought fresh vegetables and some of the most exquisite strawberries I've ever tasted. Also home-made Amish root beer.

-Then, to see art and hear music and share in a potluck at the local yoga/wellness/art studio. It made me inordinately proud that all my  homemade vegetable curry disappeared! Plus I drank mead for the first time.

-Now we're going to bike to Center City to go see Dark Shadows and possibly have gelato.

I did an impromptu bartending gig on Friday night so I'm feeling flush with a little unexpected cash (I will leave the argument of saving it vs. spending it on my own pleasure for another time.)

What a spectacular day. Wish they could all be like this.

Friday, May 11, 2012

How to Shut Down

I like to do it with food. I was telling my friend C about this. I've been re-reading Women, Food, and God, this time with a more open, less eye-roll-y mindset. Geneen Roth essentially posits that when you have the urge to eat something when you are not physically hungry, the antidote is to become curious. You ask yourself what you're feeling  physically, mentally, emotionally.

Today I found myself in front of the refrigerator trying desperately to be curious. I picked up food. I put it back in. I took it out again, heated it up, left it on the counter. It's hard to figure out. If I'm not hungry what am I? The answers surprised me. Today I was

  • Panicky - but why would I be panicky? It was a nice afternoon. Home early from work. Friday. What's not to like? Then I realized that Redbeard wasn't home, the house was too empty and quiet. Actually it was kind of 
  • Lonely. Huh? I am a strong, independent, butt-kicking lady! I don't have a problem with solitude! Except when I do... and then I feel ashamed. Strong, independent, butt-kicking ladies aren't supposed to feel lonely! Or like the house is too quiet...or that when they are alone it's because the world and those who love them have somehow forgotten them, or abandoned them. This is not the stuff of a savvy modern woman!  Which is why it's easier to stuff that particular unacceptable feeling down with food. Also:
  • Tired. I was just tired, I realized! Long week! Babysitting sick kids! Grad school paperwork death march! In addition to being a savvy kickass modern woman, I also expect myself never to tire. Even after early mornings and car trouble and staying up late to watch Jon Stewart. I expect myself to be an indefatigable machine (I'm pretty sure we have an industrial-era efficiency consultant to thank for that. Also my upbringing. And my hearty farmworker Eastern European stock.)
But... I'm not a machine! I'm a human bean! I have highs and lows. I get droopy when I'm running on empty. Circadian rhythms and all that. The pull of the moon on the brain juices. The internal hormone floods.

Eating, and my other go-to avoidance/shut-down tactic, dicking around purposelessly on the internet, often take the place of the rest I feel I can't give myself. Because they both look like something "productive" or "worthwhile"...I mean hey, I gotta eat! I mean hey, it's the [celebrity gossip] news! I've gotta stay informed!

But when I'm tired and all I want is rest, these things are poor substitutes. This afternoon, in a moment of great personal triumph, I lay on the couch in my study and stared into space for a good twenty minutes. I closed my eyes, opened them, lollygagged, picked up books and put them down again. The cat came to visit and left.

And, remarkably, after about twenty minutes or so, I felt renewed! Refreshed! I remembered a couple of action items I'd been meaning to do. I got up, I felt better, I moved on with the day...which could very well have been stuck in an infinite loop of avoidance behaviors, in which the more I avoided the things I really wanted the worse I felt, so the more I avoided the bad feeling.

So there you have it, folks. After years of instrospection, study, meditation, and therapy, I have gained the superpower ability to lay down when I'm tired.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Beauty of Biking In the Rain

It was tricky week, overall. I am in that hazy amorphous period of one life's phase winding down while another is still winding up. I don't do well with ambiguity, so I spent more time than I like to admit hunched over the computer avoiding real life by staying plugged into the screen.

But. Redbeard and I went to go see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Museum tonight, a last minute decision when we realized it was in its last weekend. And sure, we're eating hot dogs and cornflakes lately to make ends meet but art is food too. And when else do you get a chance to see in person, in living color, world-famous pieces you may never see again, 3-D, textured, close enough to breathe on.

 It was like getting my brain power-washed with color and light.

The story of Van Gogh's moods and internal struggles was threaded throughout, along with his own family. I feel for the guy, toremented, ravaged by demons that chances are we have meds for these days.

But, his medicine was the sunlight of Arles (it's one of the few places I've been in the world and I have to say, the quality of the light really is spectacular); sheaves of wheat; poppies in field and bowls; the forest's undergrowth. And who among us will say that any of those don't have healing powers?

I was captivated thinking about his family, too, especially Theo, always sending him money and art supplies and finding him new doctors. Vincent went down in history but what about Theo?

I guess Theo got the solace of a family and a wife and respectability and stability and a career and children. Vincent, for him, the landscapes, the irises, the wind moving across the grassy fields, that was it, man.

I like to think that despite his demons he had moments of being totally absorbed by stunning, everyday beauty. Looking at the painting called Trees and Undergrowth, how can you doubt it? I hope he got to say what he wanted to say about the world, about what he saw and felt, how his mind worked.

From a letter he wrote to his sister, Wilhelmina: "I believe that at present we must paint nature's rich and magnificent aspects. We need good cheer and happiness, hope and love. The uglier, older, meaner, iller, poorer I get, the more I wish to take my revenge by doing brilliant color, well-arranged, resplendent."

I love that. The beauty of the world as revenge for everything the world has cost you.

When we left the museum, the hot soupy evening had turned into a stormy night. People idled in the doorway, opening umbrellas, discussing what to do. Redbeard and I felt that in honor of Van gogh we should charge out into the rain with our arms open, and we did so. We stood on the pavilion at the top of the hill that overlooks the wide river and the highway, and a vein of lightning cracked in the sky. 

Saturated with Van Gogh, his horizons and close ups and frames, everywhere we looked we saw a painting: the lights of cars sliding down the highway across from Boathouse row, framed by the columns of the pavilion; a white blossomed tree highlighted against a purple colored stormy sky, the mists and lights of the city in the background; the leaning grasses; the gnarled trees along the bike path; the white streetlight illuminating the leaves of a tree as a girl passed underneath.

We rode along the river, faces thrust toward the raindrops, the river pierced with raindrops turning it mottled and matte, instead of its usual dark patent sheen. "I feel so alive," Redbeard called out jokingly, but he meant it too.