It worries me that the songs most often stuck in my head are by Foreigner. 1.) I’m not that old. 2.) Foreigner, really? Why not The Cure or Violent Femmes or Concrete Blonde or Elvis Costello or Nirvana or PJ Harvey? Bands that seeped into my adolescence, bands that soundtracked me into adulthood. Bands that meant something to me. I’d welcome something recent – I do listen to new music daily, after all – anything decent, something to reassure me I’m neither obsolete nor lacking in taste.
But, no. It’s all “Jukebox Hero” and “Cold as Ice” and “Urgent” bouncing around in my skull as I’m lying in bed at 3 a.m. unable to sleep. That, as much as the inability to stop the concurrent roil of thoughts, forced me out of bed.
Let’s talk about surfing instead. As ever, I don’t surf enough – there is no enough – but I did get out for a session earlier this week, scored a few fast, head-high rights in a friendly crowd before the wave shut down like our time had run out. (“Put another quarter in!” we joke, those of us familiar with quarter-driven mechanical animal rides.) The wind accelerated as we paddled around in search of that one more, one more, one more that would finally take us in to the beach. I need a new wetsuit (again) and the breeze on top of the cold water had me shivering – by the time I managed to pick off a left, my calfs were cramping and my knees stiff.
But, still. Surfing was better than not surfing. The current never relented and my shoulders ached the next day from all the paddling – “It should be called ‘paddling,’ not ‘surfing,'” one of my friends regularly jokes – and the ache made me happy.
I should read something and I think I will soon. When did the habit become always to turn to the computer? Alison Bechdel’s marvelous Fun Home waits to be finished, New Yorkers pile up alongside Mental Floss and The Atlantic as if our living room is a waiting room, only I never find myself sitting down, killing time until someone is ready for me. Instead, I am the person people are waiting for as I finish the dishes, fold the laundry, pay the bills, complain that the bathroom needs cleaning, announce for the millionth time, “I have so much to do.” Last year, I practiced making Sundays a no-screen, no-car day with the only exception being to look up the swell and/or drive to the waves. It was lovely to lie on the couch, book in hand, or jaunt out to the beach sans phone, and I think I will try it again.
Does everyone obsess about improving themselves? We absorb endless messages about how to be smarter, happier, more successful. Thinner. (Always thinner.) In between the “22 Things Happy People Do Differently” and “8 Facts Will Make You More Productive” (both of which I have bookmarked, along with “5 Things Super Successful People Do Before 8 a.m.” and “5 Scientific Secrets to High Performance“) – in between these manifestos on How To Be Better are treatises on the importance of self-acceptance. I often wonder at what point we’re allowed to stop striving and say instead, “Look, this is how I am.”
Because I know a lot of people who wear their faults without regret, embrace their curmudgeonly or messy selves or, more likely, just get on with the business of living as if part of them isn’t hovering above, watching and judging their behavior without pause. Oblivion to one’s effect on others has drawbacks, but sometimes I would appreciate a break from so much worry.
I was reading an advice column – partly because I enjoy advice and good writing, and partly because I’m a human who does things and has people, so I can usually relate in some way to what’s happening (unless it’s Savage Love, which, perhaps sadly, offers problems more exciting than my own) – when a line in a letter from a frustrated former employee regarding an open position at her prior workplace resonated: “I don’t think I actually want the job; I’m well aware of the frustrations and challenges of that particular role. What I want is for them to want me.”
Oh, yeah. I know that one. Even if I don’t want to come to your party, I will be hurt if you don’t invite me.
And then it was as columnist Heather Havrilesky climbed into my brain with her response:
“…So you wanted someone to show you that they noticed all of this hard work. You wanted to feel wanted. Instead, they said ‘Sorry, we just can’t promote you.’ Here’s what they DIDN’T say: ‘Sorry, you’re not good enough.’ That’s what you HEARD, but that’s not what they actually said.
“…And maybe you’ve never seen a therapist. Maybe… you return to old slights as if there’s some important mystery to be solved there, as if the more you dig up buried disappointments, the more you’ll learn about what you did wrong. You figure you fucked up something, or maybe there’s something off about the people involved, and if you look really hard at the mess you left behind, you might figure it all out.
“…I will work tirelessly to be understood. I will explain and re-explain. And at some level, I am absolutely certain that, with enough explaining, I will be understood and embraced—at long last!”
That last one, seriously. My friends laugh (at least I hope they laugh) about how prone I am to following up conversations with emails elaborating on “What I actually meant in case I wasn’t clear” or “I didn’t mean to be a jerk when I said such-and-such.” Havrilesky’s lengthy response could have been aimed at – or written by – me. Which is kind of crazy, right? Because I’m not lacking in validation or (I think) confidence. But we take the good feedback for granted sometimes, weight the criticism as if it means more, then spend our efforts trying to prove ourselves to the wrong people. (Please note how I switched to third person there. Because it’s not just me… right?)
Which is why the advice in the final paragraph should be taken to heart:
“Some workplaces, some bosses, some friends, some relatives, some exes will never want you, and will never appreciate all of the amazing qualities you bring to the table. It has nothing to do with you. Forget them. Build those parts of you that make you feel peaceful and accepting and satisfied and soft and vulnerable. Make a religion out of letting go. You do great work, and everyone knows it. Don’t fixate on the indifferent. Keep yourself surrounded by people who look you in the eye, listen closely, and really seem interested in you as a person. Try to do the same for your friends. Stop working so goddamn hard for once in your life. You are already good enough.”
Look, this is how I am.