Letting Go of “Should”

Lately, I’ve felt so blah. As if I needed a Life Makeover. New clothes. New hair. New makeup. New body. New habits. New life. Nothing particularly wrong with my current life, yet still, I feel unsatisfied.

The problem with any makeover or getaway, however, is that eventually, you go back to your life. Your real life. And even with new clothes, hair, makeup, or whatever, someone, namely you, still have to maintain and live your life.

What use are nicer clothes if you don’t wear them because your kids will just use you as a human napkin anyway? (I cannot tell you how many times I have to repeat to my children, “I am not a napkin.”) What use is my fancy haircut if it’s in that weird stage of growing out and I just have no patience for it anymore but am too lazy to style? What use is all my expensive makeup that I never wear except on special occasions? (And don’t suggest that I wear it on a regular basis because then I will have to also wash my face on a regular basis and that idea is laughable.)

Really, why can’t I just outsource my whole life and only reap the benefits? Can’t someone spend time with my kids but they will still love me and search me out? Can’t someone cook for me or clean for me or work out for me? (I suppose given enough money, I could hire a cook and a house cleaner, but I really don’t have the inclination to do that, no matter how I complain.)

The thing is, I can do all these things, but I already feel crushed enough by an ever increasing list of “things I should do.” And it’s not that these things are even bad things. They’re all good things. Things and activities I legitimately believe will make me feel better about myself and my life.

However. I have realized (finally) that I tend to crumble when it comes to expectations. Some people rise to the challenge. I am not that “people.” One of the side effects of my childhood and the demands to be the best and never quite being good enough, as soon as I get wind of any expectations (no matter how reasonable), I worry about failure and not being good enough or perfect enough. Instead of working ever harder to achieve a goal, I make a bunch of exacting standards and rules and things to achieve and I look at that list and say, “Fuck it!” Because come on! I will never be able to do all of these things so why bother?

For example, when my friend, Fleur, initially floated the idea of spending the summer in Taipei last year, I was game – but I made very clear that I was only tagging along for the ride. She would have to find the preschool, tell me where and when to apply, work out with the teachers, find a place to live, and I would just throw money at her. The thought of me doing anything was horrifying and terrifying and paralyzing. I didn’t want her to have any expectations of me.

And for some bizarre reason, Fleur was ok with that arrangement. What can I say? She’s awesome. (And one could argue that she was going to be doing it anyway, I might as well benefit!)

Well, a funny thing happened. Once there was no expectation of any work from me, I actually did the majority of the research for where we would live and found us a place over a weekend. That’s about the only thing I did though. (Fleur still handled all the applications for the school, found us places to eat, and went to places for us to buy things. I just went along for the ride and negotiated for cheaper prices.)

Without the spectre of responsibility, I had no problem looking for a place. I had no problem conducting actual research (which is normally anathema to me). Go figure!

And that’s the thing: I wanted to be able to disclaim all responsibility in case of failure. Why? Because I take failure personally. As if I failed versus a situation not working out.

For instance when we finally arrived in Taipei and the apartment I rented for the summer (and there was a repeat of the scenario when we arrived at the apartment I rented earlier this year in January), my mother showed up at the apartments and just basically did her Taiwanese mother thing and ripped the place apart. I was livid. I took things personally – as if this were my apartment and my fault. When of course, how was I supposed to know? I could only do the best based on my research.

But nevertheless, I took my mother’s criticisms as an indictment of me as a person. She was baffled (and not more than a little pissed off) that I was so upset and angry with her comments. She kept asking, “Why are you so defensive? This has nothing to do with you!” Except in my mind, she was telling me I had failed and that yet again, I wasn’t good enough. My best was just not up to par.

Of course, there are decades of parent/child dynamics at play here (and my mother is pretty much impossible to satisfy), but in general, why was I so upset when my mother was merely pointing out facts and reality?

There is definitely more to say about this topic, but I am exhausted (and starting this post rather late in the night), so I will table that for another time. Suffice it to say, my therapist, Dr. T, thinks that the next thing that would be good for me to work on is to let things go. To not see statements of fact (or opinion) as a judgment on my worth.

I have to tell myself that it is a “good thing to do” versus another “should.”

It’s a vicious cycle, my friends. Also, I now have Let It Go stuck in my head. You’re welcome. (Sorrynotsorry.)

May you have a should-free day.

Denial Is A River

Lately, I’ve been trying out (again) Julia Cameron’s suggestion to write three pages a day first thing upon waking. The idea is to just write and brain dump everything out of your head and that will kickstart creativity. Even if you have nothing to say, you write, “I have nothing to say” (or something similar) for three pages.

It’s been less than a week.

Who knew my brain would freeze so early on in this daily process? I feel as if my thoughts are chugging through molasses. I didn’t think I’d have to resort to, “I have nothing to say,” over and over again for at least a few more weeks. I suppose constant interruption by Glow Worm isn’t helping but that can’t be helped. Otherwise, when would I get anything done?

I have to get used to this new reality. Which is hard because I insist on eating uninterrupted or reading or writing or cleaning or whatever. Of course, when I try to do these things during the day, I am interrupted constantly.

I hate that.

No, seriously. I truly despise it. So I try to cram in a whole day’s worth of stuff from 9pm-6am. No wonder I get nothing done because by 9pm, I just want to do fun things – certainly not write or do work or anything remotely resembling productivity.

Dr. T has repeatedly told me that I just have to get used to doing things in small ten minute increments during the day. Hapa Papa, too. But it is frustrating and I don’t care that I am in complete denial. LET ME JUST DO SHIT IN BLESSED PEACE AND QUIET ALREADY!

However, the other day, I was reading a recent Christianity Today article and the writer talked about how she was no longer able to have quiet times now that she is a mother. And that’s Ok. And her relationship with God still grew.

I can’t believe that was a crazy thought to me. OF COURSE her relationship with God could still grow. And yet the article was freeing. In fact, I DO think a relationship with God has to look a certain way – you know, like a college student with a moleskin journal, some hipster glasses, sitting in a cafe drinking tea leisurely or staring at a beach or something.

Not only that, I expect mealtimes or errands or cleaning or writing to look a certain way, too. In relative ease and silence. On a laptop in a cafe. Or in blocks of uninterrupted time. Which is crazy because that is no longer a reality. Or a remote possibility. Unless Hapa Papa doesn’t work and stays at home with the kids. (But then, we’d have no money or food so either way, these situations would not resemble my fantasies.) But even if he were at home, he wouldn’t particularly care for it if I left the kids to him the whole day (which I have done) all the time just so I could eat, run errands, clean, or write. He really is a saint.

I think a lot of times, I am so angry or frustrated because what I’m experiencing in a given moment is not what I had hoped or expected or wanted. Which is so crazy because how long have I been a parent? 5+ years now? HOW CAN I STILL BE SURPRISED THAT THIS IS MY LIFE?

But perhaps I’ve lived in denial so long (eg: lying about my father, to my father, to my family, lying about work to myself re: financial advising, lying to myself about my major or WHATEVER) that I’ve lost the ability to correctly see reality – especially as it pertains to me and what I want or desire.

OMG.

I just realized that I am rather inflexible a person. I am not as I previously prided myself in being – an easy-going person.

I have turned into my mother.

I am reminded of the high/low maintenance concept. (I always thought I was a low maintenance woman. But really, I am – according to Hapa Papa – the worst kind of high maintenance. I’m high maintenance but pretend I’m low maintenance.) It’s an alternative version of the Madonna/whore complex. Just another way to control women. To keep them in their place. To make us want to please men by having us compete and compare with one another.

But I digress. (And one day, I will write my overdue rant about high/low maintenance and how that is all just a crock of shit. But again, I digress.)

It’s like how I am with the kids. Easy going until I’m not. And you never really know when that threshold will be crossed. How are my kids ever to know when Mommy is going to be ok with something or not? Talk about walking on eggshells.

It reminds me of my father forcing me to listen to classical music and saying when he comes back, he should be able to stop a piece anywhere and I should be able to sing the next few bars accurately. Otherwise there would be consequences. Not sure what they would have been, but whatever. I would panic and right before my father came back to visit, I would play the tape over and over again (especially while I slept) so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. It didn’t matter. My father never remembered. (But what a way to kill enjoyment of a thing, yeah?)

My father really was a dick.

Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Denial.

I think I would be much happier if I saw things as they really were: messy, chaotic, and full of frustration. Then, when my children didn’t miraculously eat everything quickly and silently, or when I inevitably ran late for school, or whatever, I wouldn’t go insane with fury.

I have more to say about Reality and Denial and perfectionism and how I often perceive people making truthful observations as judgmental and personally insulting, but it’s late and this post is meandering enough. I will expound upon that in some future post. Until then, we’ll see if calibrating my expectations to align more with reality makes a difference. Hopefully, that isn’t just another, subtler form of denial.

Wish me luck, friends! And give me some tips. How do you deal with your reality when it is not what you hoped?