Diametric Opposites Conspire to Inspire

So there’s this turtle video that either has or is fixin’ to go viral. It’s pretty amazing – the Michael Bolton soundtrack aside.

I’m feeling a tiny bit cynical today. When I posted the link to my Facebook, I commented that I have friends who would have insisted, “Oh no, really, I’m fine.”

Perhaps one or two of them really would have been just trying to tan the pasty-white undershell, but others of them would cut off body parts before asking for help.

I’m like that sometimes.

So. What is it that’s so hard about asking for help? Or even accepting it when you haven’t asked?

Given that it is so hard to ask, why is help so often proffered with a sermon? (I do that too.)

Do you suppose the helpful turtle railed on and on about whatever stuck turtle did to get stuck in the first place?

And speaking of stuck, I ran across an exceptionally long Q&A on a website about how to get unstuck. It rocked my world. I shared the link with a friend who said to me afterwards, “I don’t know whether to punch you or thank you.” It’s a powerful piece that does have the effect of a sucker punch – you are warned! The columnist’s response to the letter doesn’t go where you think it’s going to – again, you are warned! Chances are pretty good you’ll be plunged into despair and yet hopeful. You are warned!  The central idea is it’s up to you.

I feel stuck some days. I’m finding inspiration in two diametrically opposed viral pieces – one that says let a friend help and another that says that you have to do it yourself. Both are true. Neither are true. Life is complicated. This too shall pass. Yada Yada.

I ended my 50th year last week. As excited as I was to turn 50, I’m just as glad to leave it. 51 is a nice number – a calmer number, a less fraught with significance number. In spite of my stuckness, I am moving forward in some areas, backwards in others, but I am moving. So, “clearly” (to quote the Princess Bride), I’m not stuck.

The week of my birthday was spent catching up on sleep (primarily) and eating (far too much). I spent time with HMOKeefe, friends and family. I saw some movies. Read some books. Played some board games. I opened presents.

Chef Boy ‘R Mine sent me French champagne and truffles. (Is he a great kid or what?) I’ve yet to partake of them and I’m sure he’s puzzled as to why. The answer, I think, is I’m waiting for the right time. There’s a good chance that tonight might be the right time. If the gorgeous weather of this weekend holds, this evening may find me at the patio table, all loosey-goosey from time in the spa (fitted thanks to HMOKeefe with a new cover) munching, sipping, and wallowing in champagne and chocolate.

We’ll see.

I return to the real world tomorrow. I’m both looking forward to it and dreading it. This seems to be a theme with me lately – diametrical opposites. It doesn’t seem like I should be able to hold two opposite ideas in tandem and expect to feel motivated. It could be what an old friend called the Private Benjamin Effect.

Said friend was infuriated by the end of that movie. Goldie Hawn plays an unlikely Army soldier, one who impetuously joined the Army without having investigated the situation too well. One who after a number of missteps and misunderstandings finds what she believes to be True Love ™ only to discover she’s been duped again. The movie ends with Goldie tromping down a dirt road in the south of France. My old friend would point out that she had no money, no plan, no place to go, no way to get there, and wildly impractical clothing.

Sound familiar?

Lies

imagine

Used under a creative commons license. Pareerica's http://www.flickr.com/photos/8078381@N03/2894159255/

I did a search on Flickr using the term imagine – I was delighted to find the very kind of image I set out to find on the very first screen of results. It’s a good day to be me.

I wanted an image that was a little edgy – one’s imagination can be a fearful place as well as a hopeful place. It’s most powerful when those two mix – hope rising out of fear.

One of our features as Homo sapiens sapiens is that we possess the ability to think beyond the here and now – to both hope and fear, for these are components of imagination. We can see possibilities. We can anticipate barriers.

Most of us lead comfortable little lives only barely tinged with the quiet desperation of Thoreau’s imagination. We go through rough spells. Some of us will throw up our hands and say, “I can’t do this.” But we can. We do.

Our lives sometimes feel like an endless stream of I-can’t-do-these-things-I’m-doing. Perhaps that’s the core of Thoreau – the desperation of self-imposed limits.

What-if is often seen as a brain-storming, motivational force. My what-ifs are worst case scenarios. I don’t think I’m a fearful person, but then again, I’ve had a right awful couple of years. There’s that old chestnut about 99% of what we fear never happens. If that’s an accurate statistic, my 1% has been powerful enough to cause lengthy analyses of dark what-if scenarios before I can move forward.

I discovered I was stronger than I thought I was. I’ve moved forward when I didn’t think I could even stand.

I-can’t-do-this is a lie.  

Still, I wasn’t impressed with myself.

I’ve whispered I-can’t-do-this and I’ve shouted I-CAN’T-DO-THIS. But I did it and I’ll do it. The doing can be worrisome, terrifying, humbling. It can also be strengthening. A large part of the downside is the fear of what will people think.  That fear is that we’ll be alone.

Another salient feature of Homo sapiens sapiens is that we’re pack animals. We need one another at the primal level. And yet we pride ourselves on our independence. We’re quirky creatures.

Pride is not an integral part of dignity. Dignity is imbued by the creator, pride is manmade. Pride can be squashed, but a loss of dignity is self-imposed. Independence is a chimera; and quirkiness, well, quirky is dignity in faded jeans and a clever t-shirt.

I’m not that strong. Every I-can’t-do-this that I’ve done has relied on help from someone. It’s always easier to accept help when you haven’t asked for it, but the I-can’t-do-this when the this is asking for help is a lie too. I can do this. I can ask for help. I’ve proved it.  And when I’ve been asked for help, I’ve always been happy to.  We’re pack animals, we’re cooperative – we’ve had to be to survive.

I-can’t-do-this is a lie.  

We-can-do-this is more accurate.

Routine (or the New Normal)

I’m working part-time at a group home for teenagers. The kids are there because of stuff they did or because of stuff done to them. In most cases, though certainly not all, these kids have lived a life of routine that does not have a discernable pattern – or in other words – no routine.

For years, I viewed the concept of routine as a Great Evil to avoid at all cost. I was, and perhaps still am, convinced that routine stunts creativity and turns us into automatons. But more on that later.

Anyone who has been charged with the responsibility of taking care of a three-year-old understands the importance of routine in a child’s life. Toddlers without a routine are some of the most miserable beings on the planet. More importantly, they know this. If you change a toddler’s routine for any reason, in most cases (aside from holidays, vacations, etc.), the toddler will scream blue-bloody murder.

When Chef Boy R’ Mine was that age, any deviation from the weekly routine turned him into a hyperactive monster prone to tears, rage, and publicly embarrassing behavior. Being sufficiently enlightened, knowledgeable about child development, and having examined all of my parents’ shortcomings as parents, I, like nearly every other parent, was convinced that my child would always be happy and well-adjusted. It’s such a rude awakening when enlightenment, knowledge and introspection does not, in fact, make a damn bit of difference as to whether or not the child is going to have a tantrum at the Kroger.

Anyway.

The older the boy got and the older I got, the more I realized that routine is not just important to toddlers, it’s important to everyone. It’s not the blanket evil I was once believed to be true.

My first day of school.

My first day of school.

The beginning of the school year was always a time of relief and rejoicing. Staples used to run a commercial with a happy, frolicking father tossing school supplies into the basket with great glee. His two disgruntled children watch. I laughed every time I saw it and said Amen! I thoughtfully provided the commercial at the beginning of this post.

The start of school signaled a return to routine. After a couple of months of flexible bedtimes, erratic meals, impromptu outings, and any number of unscheduled activities, we were all worn out from too much deviation.

Now of course, school brought its own challenges, but there was a carved in stone routine that was only interrupted by Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, Easter and Memorial Day. Those interludes provided needed respite from the grind, but like the first day of school in August, I always looked forward to January 2nd when the holidays were officially over and we could get back to the routine.

At the group home, the first thing we do is put these kids on a schedule. They have standard mealtimes, standard bedtimes, and a daily rhythm that doesn’t vary too wildly. They chafe at first, but like the toddlers they come to both expect it and need it. The minute something gets off-kilter, they get hyperactive and there are tears, rage, and the occasional tantrum. Routine is good.

As the years went by and I began noticing how much I looked forward to the first day of school (and January 2nd), I realized that routine was important in my life too. While it does inhibit my creativity and does, to some extent, turn me into an automaton, the emotional equilibrium that routine provides does mitigate the downside. For the most part.

Several years ago, I became disgusted with my routine and made some sweeping life changes. I do not regret this.

Can you see John Lennon's head?

Can you see John's head?

However, these sweeping changes punctuated by some disasters of varying importance have left me, metaphorically, in the cereal aisle at Kroger having a tantrum. Everything is in flux and while I can envision the goal line, I cannot see it. (I can’t believe I’m using a sports metaphor, but there you have it.) I had a plan and I have goals, but I don’t see the plan being executed for another 5 to 7 years which means attainment of the goals are going to take even longer. I have resisted looking that truth in the eye.

I am emotionally exhausted and prone to rage and tantrums. I am simply tired of not knowing what I can expect from the next day, the next month or the next year. I’m fond, perhaps too fond, of quoting John Lennon’s “Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.” It’s good to have goals, but that doesn’t preclude having a routine or abandoning a plan that can’t be executed under the circumstances. Muttering “This too shall pass” has been comforting. It may very well be passing, but the movement is so slow as to be imperceptible.

I have chafed at the routine that is trying to emerge, because it is in direct opposition to my goals and expectations. I had a major setback yesterday. I’m still reeling. I do know that the chafing, the grumpiness, the rage and the tantrums have not changed one damn thing. I need to embrace the latent routine and accept my New Normal.

So. My task for the day is to try and fine tune the routine that I think circumstances are dictating; and tweak it enough to insure I don’t become a bitter, old woman whose creativity is limited to seeing what happens when she substitutes Campbell’s Cream of Celery soup for the Cream of Mushroom in the tuna casserole.

The New Normal I’m trying to talk myself into embracing is so far outside my realm of experience (and not in a good way) that figuring out how to turn it into something that’s going to work for me is daunting. I do know that viewing it as temporary is not working. For years now, I’ve hung onto arbitrary timeframes uttered by doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs that have proved to be complete fiction. There is no goal line in sight. (Damn it, did it again.)

So, channeling the sentiments of many sages, the goal is to be right here, right now with a routine, day in and day out, that doesn’t ignore the future, but doesn’t treat the now as the aberration. The now is the future. I will resist discussing quantum physics to make this point.

And this all seems much grimmer and whiny than is my intention. I’m more at peace right now than I have been. Years ago when the New Normal began, I would have told you I couldn’t have gotten to this day without losing my mind. While my mental health has ups and downs, I have not worn a strait jacket or been prescribed haloperidol. While I’m not dancing around singing “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” I am also not railing at the universe.

Now then. If you’ll excuse me, I have a set of chores that I’ve previously allotted 9 hours to, but which the New Normal dictates must be done in 45 minutes. I need to get cracking.