Last year I wrote about Being Kind – To That Special Someone.
I think in this difficult time – and in good times too, all time, really – we need to be a lot nicer to ourselves.
Use the good china. Buy yourself flowers. Take a walk and look at the trees instead of your phone.
And please, please, please –
Don’t be so hard on yourself.
I don’t understand where all the self-criticism comes from.
Why, I like myself more than I like just about everyone else. And although I can readily admit my mistakes… (well, maybe not ‘readily’, but ‘eventually’)… I am also extremely forgiving of my mistakes and shortcomings.
After all, I have to be with myself one hundred percent of the time. It’s so much easier if we don’t fight.
I see and hear people fighting with themselves all the time. Self-criticism. Discouragement. You need to get over your disappointment in just how much you let yourself down. Forgive yourself a little. I forgive myself for so much I am constantly surprised by my generosity.
“Don’t worry, you’re fine,” I reassure myself.
“Oh, you are too kind,” I answer.
For example, I just wrote that I will readily (eventually) admit my mistakes. I have found that it is much much easier to admit a mistake, and then get on with your life. At work especially – the sooner you admit to your mistake, the sooner everyone else forgets it too.
But – once in a while – I have found myself covering up a mistake. Finding an excuse (the file got corrupted) or just plain lying (I missed the deadline because I was sick). Oh, this is a terrible thing to do. But holy cow, work is hard and getting yelled at is hard and confessing to being stupid is hard. So try not to make sad excuses. But if you do, forgive your excuses as much as your mistakes.
Or sometimes you pay a bill late. Someone I know had just completed a hostile phone call informing the credit card company that the check was sent WEEKS ago, only to discover it was really six weeks ago, and that was last months’ bill. Oops. So: Apologize. Apologize to the billing person you hollered at. And then apologize to yourself. Time flies. It’s trite but it’s true. It’s so easy to think you JUST did something that you didn’t do at all.
Sometimes your standards are just too high. You have not failed as a mother if you give your kids Cheerios for supper. My mother used to say – “I can have a clean house or I can have happy kids. Sometimes I can have both. But not always.”
And it’s not only the kids eating Cheerios. We all intend to eat healthily. And sometimes we do. And sometimes we have chocolate covered caramels for breakfast. In this country, we are bombarded with food. It lures us from the cupboards. It seduces us from the refrigerator. It beckons us from the pantry. It shouts to us from the TV. Shit, even the gas station sells potato chips. Just do your best.
I just read a story a woman wrote that was filled with guilt. She bought something expensive she did not need. And came home to find her husband had lost his job. Crap, that is bad timing. But that is all it is. We all buy unnecessary shit. That’s what seems to keep the country going. You did not cause your husband to lose his job. Your purchase will not directly result in your car being repossessed. But do return it if you can. And if not, try to find real pleasure in what you bought. It may comfort you during difficult times.
My husband worries that our dog Theo is not very well behaved. Well, I suppose he isn’t. Theo’s spoiled and willful and I give in all the time. Discipline is not my forte. But when I think back to the dog I had as a kid… to the dogs we all had as kids, expectations were different. We didn’t expect a dog to spend four hours in a crate. Or stand perfectly still while a squirrel ran by him, or keep quiet when the mailman walked into our yard. (By the way, do you know that my dog can set off the house alarms if the UPS truck comes while we are not home and he barks too near the windows? We know that now. So do the police.)
Anyway, maybe you should think about your crazy dog with a different perspective. You are brave enough to have An ANIMAL living in your house and he doesn’t poop on the furniture and hasn’t eaten you yet. Pretty damn good!
I am appalled and saddened by how hard people are on themselves when they are learning something new. “I suck at this,” I heard someone in my painting class say. Really? Did she never fall down as a toddler or crash her bike? Was she fluent the first day of Spanish I? Why do people expect to be so good at something so quickly? I have been practicing Yoga since 2001. I am still in the beginner class. That’s why they call it “practice.” It’s been many years, and I may still improve, but if I don’t, then I am proud of my patience and perseverance.
To that lady in my painting class – and to everyone learning a language or learning to dance or to play a musical instrument; to teenagers learning to drive or learning a sport; to older people filling in Medicare forms: You don’t suck at it. You just don’t know how to do it. YET. You will. Don’t say “Holy Shit, I suck!” Say “Holy Shit, I have POTENTIAL!”
My Yoga practice: Tree.
I drew this several years ago, but I have improved.
My drawing, not my Yoga. But who cares? I have POTENTIAL!
Back in December, I wrote a post to my mother, apologizing for all the aggravation I caused her. I finally understood how aggravating I actually was, now that I had a dog who was demonstrating to me every possible aggravation a mother can feel.
I never showed that post to Mom, however. Sometimes she’s a little embarrassed that so many people know her through my blogging. I tell her not to worry: I’m not exactly famous, so neither, unfortunately, is she. But she deserves to be in the Mother’s Hall of Fame in about a zillion categories: wisdom, integrity, cheerfulness, patience – to name a couple.
This year, for Mother’s Day, I have turned that blog into a little book.
I had it printed up, and I am delighted with the results.
So this time, I will show it to her.
Here it is:
Happy Mother’s Day to all the aggravated Mothers everywhere in the world!
(PS – I would love to know if you think there might be a market for this little book. I am considering offering it for sale on this website.)
Here’s a story:
When my nephew was a little boy, he had a friend that he often played with.
Every time they played a game, his small friend always started the game by saying, “I’ll go first!”
I remember wanting my nephew to SAY something about this – to stand up for himself and say, “You went first last time. This is MY turn to be first.”
And I wanted to step in and say that myself. But I don’t like to interfere in children’s dynamics – if it works for them, it works for them, fair or not. So I bit my tongue and never said what I was so tempted to say.
My nephew was a good-natured kid. Still is. So he always let that little girl go first. Always.
Here’s another story:
When we vacationed in Jamaica three years ago, we went zip-lining. This is not my usual occupation. This is not my crazy vacation self. My crazy vacation self is to have a pina colada on the beach as I read my book.
I was pretty frightened. And my husband was scared shitless. Not only for himself, since his vacation past-times include martinis and naps. But also for me. He checked my safety harness over and over again. Which is why I wasn’t scared shitless but only pretty frightened. I knew I would not plunge to my death. Only perhaps smack face first into a large tree.
Several people went off before we did. They stepped off the platform and they flew through the air. It was breathtaking. But I didn’t think I could do it – take that first step.
The person who went just before me was a young boy of maybe eleven. His mother was very nervous, but he was happy and laughing and he jumped off as soon as he got the go-ahead. You could hear him screaming, “YYAAAAYYY!!” all the way across.
That boy made me brave. I stepped off the ledge. I soared.
And another story:
Years ago, I was working as a financial executive in a male-dominated industry. On business trips, I was often the only woman.
On one occasion, several business associates and I went out to eat at a very nice seafood restaurant. There were five men and me. Since I was the only woman, when the waiter came to take our orders, he naturally turned to me first and asked what I wanted.
Well, we had all been talking about business and sports and the usual small talk, and no one had discussed the menu. So I took a quick glance and said, “I will have the filet of sole.”
And then around the table. Each man put in his order.
“I’ll have the double lobster.”
“I’ll have the double lobster.”
“I’ll have the double lobster.”
“I’ll have the double lobster.”
“I’ll have the double lobster.”
This was not good. I was about to sit around the table with my measly paper-thin slice of flavorless fish – surrounded by TEN lobsters.
“Excuse me,” I said politely to the waiter. “I need to change my order.”
And they brought twelve lobsters to the table.
So there is a moral here.
It is not always so bad letting someone else go first.
For my little nephew, he had a friendly happy playmate, and he always got his turn eventually. He never seemed to mind.
In Jamaica, seeing how much fun other people were having, especially that little boy… well, it reassured me, and gave me the courage to experience a delight I may never have otherwise known.
And during that business dinner… Well, I did go first. It didn’t serve me well. It was not an advantage. Better to see what everyone else is having.
I’m not saying you should always be last.
But there are often definite advantages to not being first.
I had a boss once who was rather forbidding and often moody. I learned to hold back in a meeting until a few other people spoke first – to get the lay of the land, so to speak. There was no use making a suggestion or proposal if the boss was not in a receptive mood. I let my coworkers step into the quicksand first. Not brave, I admit. But practical. And survivable.
When cross-country skiing, it is so nice not to have to push my way through heavy, virgin snow. I love skiing in someone else’s smooth, clear path.
My husband was involved for years with drag racing. Watching a few other cars go down the track was extremely beneficial in tuning his own vehicle.
You learn from watching others. And you can’t watch if you’re up first.
Of course, there are occasions when you really need to be first. First off the blocks in the 100-yard dash. First to hit the buzzer in Jeopardy. First in line to get the best seats in the house.
But most of Life is not a competition.
You win just by getting to play.
Like my nephew happy to go last.
Like a dozen lobsters.
Like swinging through trees.
When I was a freshman in high school, I had a pretty long walk to school. And I added to my long walk by meeting up with some friends who did not live near me. I had to walk several blocks in the opposite direction of the school in order to join them. I could have met them closer to the school and saved myself the time and extra steps. But I really liked these friends – and I wanted the full distance of their company.
One day on this long walk, as we were walking under some trees near St. Anthony’s Church, a bird shit on my head.
This was not a slight speck of shit. No. This was a ponderous plop of poop.
I was horrified.
So were my friends. All three girls dove into their handbags to come up with as much Kleenex as possible. And they pointed me the right directions to clean it off. They did not touch it themselves, it was too disgusting.
At fifteen, I was not yet as prolific at swearing as I am today, but this occasion called for something extra, so I said, “Holy Shit – that was truly some holy shit coming right from the church and all.”
We all laughed.
We went on to school where I immediately went to the lavatory and stuck my head under the sink, drying my hair with paper towels and knowing that I looked horrible but at least I was clean.
And then I worried.
– I worried that the girls would be laughing at me forever.
– I worried that they would tell everyone and I would be ridiculed by the whole school.
– I worried that all the boys would find out and think I was creepy (I’d seen “The Birds”) and no one would ever ask me out.
– I worried that I would get some terrible disease that is carried by birdshit, and all my hair would fall out.
– I worried that the girls would think it was a bad omen and that I was unlucky and wouldn’t want me to walk with them anymore.
– I worried that if it ever happened again, the girls would be right.
– I worried that my mortification would be so permanent, I would never be able to face my girlfriends again.
– And I worried that the stupid bird KNEW something, That is was a SIGN. That I had deserved to be pooped upon. It was my fault because I was an idiot.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
But we do this every day.
We worry about every dumb mistake, every stupid fluke accident. We worry about what people will think of us. Whether our friends really like us. How anyone could like us when we are so stupid.
So what is worse – having the bird shit in your hair or having your hair look lousy because you washed the shit out?
Just fix the birdbrained, birdshit mistakes and don’t worry about it.
Because here is what happened after my birdshit incident:
– My girlfriends only laughed that one time, and maybe once or twice more. After all, a bird shit on my head.
– My friends did not tell the whole school – because although friends might laugh at you, they don’t want anyone else laughing at you.
– Boys found me shy and gawky, but not creepy. And the boys who were shy and gawky themselves dated me once in while.
– I didn’t contract any bird disease and my hair was the same catastrophe after the birdshit catastrophe that it had always been.
– The girls may have thought I was unlucky, but they still walked to school with me, and we walked AROUND that fucking tree.
– It never happened again.
– I stayed friends with those girls. They even thought I was sort of stylish and pretty, especially without birdshit on my head.
– That bird DID know something. It WAS a SIGN.
It was a sign that when shit happens to you, just clean yourself up and get on with the day.
A wise friend commiserated with me about the frustration and anger that engulfs me in dealing with some of the awfulness in the world.
I remember an old “Far Side” cartoon. I will not repost it here, because Gary Larson has asked that people not do that, and I respect him too much to go against his wishes. But in this cartoon, the dinosaurs are having a meeting, and the dinosaur keynote speaker says something like,
“The news is bad: The climate is changing, the humans are taking over the world, and we all have brains the size of a walnut.”
That’s often how I feel. The news is bad. It seems unrelentingly bad. And I have a brain the size of a walnut.
I can’t handle the bad news anymore. My walnut brain can’t cope.
But this smart and thoughtful friend gave me some loving, practical advice.
She didn’t recommend sticking my head in the sand.
“You are a citizen of this world,” she said, “and you have a duty to live in the world and understand what is happening. And deal with it. Participate.
“But you also have a duty to be kind to yourself. Your health – both mental and physical – requires you to protect yourself so that you will be strong enough to participate.
“So, yes, pay attention to the world – but not EVERY MINUTE.
Her advice is transcendent.
I was reminded – and told her this story – of the time I was a teenager and was anguished over some environmental disaster, and my father said to me that I needed to find my composure. “You can’t change anything if everything makes you cry.”
My friend suggested I give myself a break every day – more than once a day – to unplug. (I dislike that word ‘unplug’ by the way, but it is literally the correct word here.)
I need, as my father advised fifty years ago, to find my composure.
So I am seeking refuge.
It’s so hard.
I admit that I am addicted to the news in general, and to Twitter in particular.
I heard someone say that the reason why social media is so addictive is the same reason why gambling is addictive. It is the quest for instant gratification. Your phone chirps and you say, “What did I get?” As if the notification were some kind of prize.
And on top of that, there is the satisfaction of just being “in the know.” I can see every moment what has just happened. I can be the most informed person in the room. And I love that. But of course, it means that I am not noticing anyone else in the room.
It also means that – much of the time – I am the angriest person in the room. Because I am addicted to the news. And I hate the news.
And I need to stop being angry.
So I need to shut off the news.
I need to seek refuge. I’m trying.
I am seeking refuge in books and music.
In writing – my blog, my next novel.
In spending time with my family.
In seeing old friends and making new ones.
In enjoying a nice meal, a glass of wine, a cup of good coffee.
But I’m worried about how much refuge will be enough. I still feel such an urgent need to know what is happening. I just popped over to Twitter just now. I fell off the wagon that quickly.
Will a small bit of unplugging be enough? Can I do it?
Today, instead of checking my phone as soon as I got to my car after Yoga class, I did not look. I made it for forty minutes.
And I did not look at my phone during lunch.
And I read a few chapters of a book at the hairdresser.
I feel anxious and unsettled. I NEED to know.
But here is what I am hoping.
I am hoping that those few moments of refuge will eventually calm me, not agitate me.
I am hoping that it will add up.
I am hoping that refuge is cumulative.
There is an author I greatly admire.
She is a novelist and essayist, a columnist and, well, I guess although the word is out of fashion, you could also call her an orator.
She is profound and brilliant.
She is also on Twitter.
And so I am following her on Twitter.
I am a fan.
But something confounds me. I think something has changed with the terrific writer. Or perhaps, it has just taken me a while to notice. Perhaps my admiration got in the way of my perception. (which, in today’s world, is probably often true)
Her tweets are not exactly profound.
As a matter of fact, they consist mainly of the same thing:
Oh dear, how she complains. Nothing makes her happy. Everything displeases her. And there seems to be no tiny incident not worth her scorn. There is no sense of proportion. She is as upset that her hairdresser kept her waiting as she is outraged about sexual harassment. She doesn’t like the temperature in her hotel room. She’s angry at restaurants and hotels and cars and clothing. And she can be ruthless and sometimes embarrassingly petty to anyone commenting on her posts.
How disappointed I am that she is not happy.
After all, she is a successful and renowned author. Shouldn’t that make her unceasingly happy?
How dare she be unhappy??
If she is unhappy, does that mean that if I become a successful and renowned author, I may also not be unceasingly happy?
I think I would be unceasingly happy.
It confuses me.
So I go back and reread her tweets. I reread hundreds of them.
I look for happy ones.
And I find some.
Actually, I find quite a few.
So I am confused again.
Why did I think ALL her posts were so angry and unpleasant?
I suppose it is because the angry ones stand out – not because she was disappointed, but because she disappointed ME.
How dare she be human?
From now on I am going to concentrate on the tweets that express her pure joy – and there are many – because they will bring joy to me.
And the petty, sad, irritated, angry tweets?
For those, I will comment once in a while, and risk her withering wrath.
What I will say:
“Oh, I’m so sorry. That must feel so bad!”
Come to think of it, I think I will say that to everyone feeling sad.
Exactly one year ago, I wrote – albeit indirectly – about mashed potatoes (Humbled). That post was really about learning from animals to be a better human, and the mashed potatoes were an example of Excess.
But here I am again, using Mashed Potatoes in another metaphor. A metaphor for one of my favorite subjects: Being unashamed of what you like.
On Sunday, my husband and I went out to Sunday dinner. We have done this a couple of times now – had a traditional Sunday Dinner in the middle of the day, like both of our families used to do when we were kids. Not that either of us actually went out to a restaurant for Sunday Dinner – that was something rich people did – but our mothers would put on a nice roast after church, and we’d all stay in our good clothes and eat off the good dishes.
So it feels pretty sweet and nostalgic to have a nice meal on a Sunday afternoon.
This Sunday though, we were busy and it was getting a little late, so instead of a fancier restaurant, we chose one of those big Chinese buffets. Because you can start to eat within 17 seconds of entering.
I have written numerous times that you should be unashamed of what you like, whether it is romance novels or coloring books or fuzzy dice for your car or “Say Yes To The Dress.” You like what you like. That’s okay. That’s more than okay. It’s what makes you YOU. And you are just fine.
So here’s the first part of being unashamed of what you like. Why do I feel the need to explain away our choice of the Chinese buffet?
Because it is not classy enough for classy me? Classy me who likes poetry and opera but also potato chips and YouTube videos with makeup gurus? And… yes, “Say Yes To The Dress.”
A couple of years ago, I said something about the Chinese buffet (I cannot fathom the reason now) to a young man I know and love, and this 14-year-old kind of sneered at me and declared, “Well, if you like that I guess you don’t like REAL Chinese food.”
And I was taken aback. For a moment, I was a bit embarrassed. And ashamed. Fortunately, I recovered quickly by remembering that this kid was fourteen. I leaned over to him and whispered in his ear: “I guess I may NOT like real Chinese food. And I also guess that you might be a little snob.”
And it was his turn to be taken aback.
But you know, his words did get to me a little. They must have, as I rationalize why we went out this Sunday to the all-you-can-eat Chinese Buffet. Saying we went because we could get our food quickly. Not because we like it. But guess what? We LIKE it. We don’t do it often because of the calorie count, not because it is beneath us. So when we go, it is a TREAT. We don’t just like it. We LOVE it.
Gee, that feels kind of good to say.
And here’s the second part of being unashamed of what you like.
As I wandered over (okay, trotted really quickly) to the copious food laid out for our gluttony (and speaking of gluttony, they had a sign on the door stating they had a three-hour limit), I noticed a woman sitting by herself.
This is not unusual… lots of folks appear to be sitting by themselves, because one person always watches the purses and coats while the others are loading up. What was unusual is what she had on her plate: A HEAPING PILE OF MASHED POTATOES. And just mashed potatoes. Nothing else. Just the potatoes.
And for a second, the inner me was fourteen years old, and I kind of sneered. That this woman would go to a Chinese buffet and eat MASHED POTATOES. How dumb.
But fortunately, I recovered quickly.
For heaven’s sake, if she likes mashed potatoes, she likes mashed potatoes. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe her friends wanted to go to this place, and she just wanted to be with them. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe she is allergic to Chinese food, but she wanted to please her kids. GOOD FOR HER!
Maybe someone else took the mashed potatoes but decided not to eat them and she didn’t want good food to go to waste. GOOD FOR HER!
This Chinese Buffet makes the BEST mashed potatoes in the whole world –
And I was the one who was missing out!
The next time I go there, I am going to try the damn mashed potatoes.
Every once in a while I see an essay or blog or video that looks back to the author’s childhood – hoping somehow to make it better.
Invariably, these stories are titled something like, “What I Wish I Could Tell My Younger Self.”
I can see the appeal of it. From a decades-later perspective, when we know how everything turns out and what matters and what doesn’t, how we wish we could revisit the children that we were and ensure their happiness and spare their hurt.
If I could send a message to little Nancy, I would tell her not to care so much what others think of her. That little girl was so desperate for approval, she often became who she thought others would like her to be. And yet she already had the approval of those who mattered. Just the way she was.
I want to whisper in her ear – or perhaps shout – “You don’t have to please everyone.” That not everyone has to like you. And that’s it okay if not everyone likes you. Just listen to Mom and Dad. And to your own little heart. You are sweet and pretty and smart. And those who don’t see it are missing out on your funny unique soul.
But I can’t tell her. And if I could, and she learned how not to care about approval quite so much – well, she might have turned into a self-centered brat. Or at best, if she stopped trying to become what someone else wanted, if she stopped trying on so many personalities, maybe she would not have developed such an imagination. Little Nancy might not have become Grownup Nancy the Writer.
Instead of envisioning messages and advice to my younger self, I think it might be more useful the other way around.
Instead of Grownup Nancy sending Little Nancy her post-facto counsel, I think I would prefer if Little Nancy sent Grownup Nancy her innocent advice. Instead of trying to change the past, which I can’t do anyway, how about changing the future? Maybe go where the possibility of change actually exists?
Little Nancy might have important things to say.
Just because you aren’t the best athlete doesn’t mean you aren’t an athlete at all. Get dirty and sweaty once in a while.
The same goes for drawing and painting. Not about getting sweaty. About doing it.
Kiss your mother and your sisters and your brother.
Write that children’s book. Make funny rhymes.
Eat more vegetables, which includes potato chips.
Be a good friend. Be loyal to your old friends and generous to new ones.
Go to the beach every chance you get. Live there if you can. And most probably, you can.
You don’t have to please everyone. You are just fine the way you are.
A few days ago, while I was driving, I had an overwhelming urge for the piece of chocolate that I knew was in my purse. My mother had given me two Dove chocolates the day before, and I had eaten one immediately. But the second one was in my purse. And it was calling to me.
My bag was on the passenger seat, and as I drove, I rummaged with my right hand, trying to find the wondrous little foil square. But I couldn’t. I felt a lot of lipsticks, and a few stray falling-apart sheets of Kleenex, a nail file I had looked for previously and could have sworn was not in that bag, some loose change that felt like sticky pennies, and a ballpoint pen – that even though I could only feel it and not see it, I knew would never write, since none of the pens in my purse ever wrote. It’s like once they jump in there, they dry up in dark sorrow.
But no chocolate.
But I was not discouraged. I knew that when I came to the next red light, I could actually look in the purse, and find the chocolate.
And guess what? For the remainder of my 35-minute ride, I did not once have to stop at a light. Only green lights for more than half an hour.
And I was so annoyed. I wanted that stupid chocolate so much.
But it got me to thinking.
How lucky is it to drive that far and hit only green lights? I should have been delighted instead of annoyed. And how many lucky things have happened to me that I did not appreciate because I was distracted by being annoyed at something else.
Aggravation seems to be stronger than Appreciation.
I remember studying my ass off for an exam, only to wake up to a snow day. Sure, I was thrilled that I didn’t have to go to school, but I was really annoyed that I studied so hard, when I had a whole extra day to study a little more leisurely.
I felt exactly the same emotion when I prepared for an important business meeting like I was taking the entrance exam for heaven. I so badly wanted to make a great impression. But the executive I was trying to impress had a last-minute conflict, and the meeting was rescheduled for the following week. I had a whole extra week to be even better prepared, and that should have been wonderful. But I was disappointed beyond belief. (and did not do any extra prep in that whole week, by the way).
And there was the time, I fell down some steps and was sure I broke my leg. And the doctor in the emergency room said it was only a sprain, and I should just elevate it. He didn’t even give me crutches for God’s sake. I really wanted crutches AND a cast.
Or even when my sunscreen works TOO well, and I come up from a glorious beach day as white as when I left the house.
And I rehearsed the most excellent argument to force that horrible store to take back the item I bought and instantly regretted. And that horrible sales clerk said, “Of course, we’ll take it back. So sorry it didn’t work out for you.” And then what the hell am I supposed to do with all that hostile and perfect outrage?
And most of all, I am annoyed when someone I really dislike does something sweet. I hate having to change my opinion. Why do unpleasant people have to be so damn nice?