October 15, 2010 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, one of my worst fears was realized. It is a petty fear, one that has nothing to do with my family or with anything really important. It is a fear of the ego, but one that feels so very urgent. So very gripping. I have always been afraid that someday – any day – the world will realize what a fraud I really am. It’s like that dream, where I have no clothes on and the only thing I can hide behind are parking meters.
Recently, I wrote an article for the San Diego Reader on local food and where to get it. I’m a big fan of local food and local farmers, and my piece “Local Harvest” was meant to support San Diego farmers and direct people towards their produce and milk, meat and eggs. I defined local as “in San Diego county.” I was given 1000 words, paid $300, and spent over 40 hours on it. I thought it was good. I talked to farmers and chefs and butchers. I asked everyone I spoke to where I could find local meat, and the answer was always the same. “You can get local cows but they’re sent up to Imperial Valley to be slaughtered.” Or, “You can get local eggs, but no local chickens.” I wrote in my article that local meat – truly local meat – was impossible to find.
Yesterday, my editor sent me a note. You need to write an apology on Twitter, he said. And he forwarded me a link to a blog that skewered me for saying there was no local meat in San Diego. The writer of the blog owns a small restaurant in San Diego and uses local produce, California meat, and he makes his own sausage. He – like me - is a big proponent of local food.
On his blog he accused me of “screwing the factual pooch.” He said my article was a shame “because there might be people in San Diego who are thinking about looking into eating better food or local food, who then read some phoned-in nonsense and erroneously decide there’s no point in even asking for good food.” He said I misquoted the people I spoke with.
I read it and felt a growing sense of horror. I’m on your side, I wanted to say. Did you even read my article?
Regardless, Jay, the mean blogger was on a roll. He took bits of my article, made fun of it, and soon he had 15 commenters talking about what an idiot I was. Each comment seemed less and less based on reality. Each commenter grew more and more militant about things that had never happened. This, I thought is why we are at war with Iraq for the 9/11 bombing committed by Saudi terrorists. One of the commenters was even someone I interviewed and praised in my piece. Maybe she didn’t read the article either?
My favorite comment was from someone named “Becky” who said I wasn’t a “real reporter.” You’re right, I wanted to tell her. I’m not a real anything. I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying to do some writing. I have a degree in biology, half a clue about parenting, 3 hours of paid childcare a week, and no idea how to do much at all except bake a pretty good pound cake. I wanted to cry, except the babysitter was leaving and my son wanted me to play with him.
Luckily for me, my husband shooed me off to yoga later that night, and on the way to class, I thought about how compassionate my editor was to me, how kind. “Write another article,” he told me. “Call the cranky blogger and follow his leads. See what happens.” I was so relieved, I was so grateful, and then immediately I was so ashamed. I never let people off the hook. Although I don’t want to, I believe people need to pay for what they do. They need to atone. The fact that my editor let me off so quickly, without hesitation, showed me how I keep everyone on the hook, from George W. Bush for the war, to the lady at the dry cleaner for yelling at me for losing my ticket, to myself, for everything.
In yoga last night, Kathy, my instructor started off class talking about teachers. “Our teachers are everywhere,” she said. “The word Guru means to take away the darkness.” Deepak Chopra wrote something similar in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. “Our tormentors and our teachers are one and the same.” I thought of my editor. I thought of my son, who pushes me to my furthest limits. I thought of my husband. I thought of Jay, the mean blogger. I thought of Becky, who didn’t think I was a real reporter. What is real anyway?
The real reason I was online yesterday and had a babysitter was that I am taking some writing classes through UCLA Extension. Some of the people in my class think I am OK, or at least that is what they say. One side of my computer had my gmail account up, my editor’s email to me and Jay’s blog about my phoned-in nonsense and factual pooch. The other side of my computer had a window up to my online writing class. “I like your story,” someone said. “I think you’re brilliant,” was another comment.
In yoga class, as I lay in Savasana, I thought about my computer, those disparate messages on my screen. “Not a real reporter.” And “You’re brilliant.” “Screwing the factual pooch,” and “I love how you write.” Opposites, staring up at me. They both can’t be right, I thought. And they both can’t be wrong.
I did some coaching with Rolf Gates this summer and he often reminded me about a poem by Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
Rightdoing and Wrongdoing. Wasn’t that how the world worked? You’re right, I’m wrong. Black. White. None of it made any sense. I wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t screw the factual pooch. I wasn’t a real reporter. I wasn’t a fraud. I finally got – lying there on my back in a stinky, sweaty yoga studio – that in the end, it didn’t matter what people said. They would say I was great. They would say I sucked. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. In the end, all there is is the work. In the end, all there is is yourself. You show up. You do what matters. You do your best. You do what you can. Finally, I saw that the reactions – even the good ones I have built my entire life around – were meaningless. Reactions were only other people. Reactions were only their work.
To understand the magnitude of this is to know that my entire life has been based around pleasing people. My whole life has been a huge effort to make sure people don’t know that I am really a fake. That I am not who I pretend to be. And now I see that it just doesn’t matter. What matters is kindness. What matters is love. What matters is letting people off the hook.
I watch my children to whom all of this hard stuff comes easy. My sons fight about Thomas trains. About LEGO catalogs. About crayons. And yet, in the back seat of the car, three seconds later, they are holding hands. They are interlocking a finger. They are holding onto each other. They are showing me what a fraud I am and how, in the end, it doesn’t really matter very much.
September 27, 2010 § 2 Comments
The idea to give up suffering is not unique to me, of course, but I have been thinking about it a lot. Always I am in the process of giving something up: chocolate, wine, complaining, dairy products. I have this idea that if I restrict some part of myself – the feline part, the aspect of myself that craves warm sunshine and sweet pleasures – that I will fit the mold I am supposed to fit, that I will somehow be able to lop off all the parts of myself that I am not as fond of. I realize that this doesn’t make any sense. I just finished a yoga workshop with Rolf Gates who asked us this very question. “Why is it that we think that if we kick ourselves around enough, we’ll be good people?”
On Saturday, I decided to try out this idea. What would happen, I wondered, if I stopped trying to get my life to look like the inside of a magazine, if I stopped obsessing about the outsides of things: fluffing the pillows just so, cleaning up the endless parade of Thomas trains, trying to get the golden tan and perfect abs of a swimsuit model?
I lasted about two minutes. As soon as I left my bedroom at ten of seven Saturday morning, I tripped on a stack of children’s books and immediately told my son (not even five) that he needed to be a bit more responsible about his things. “It’s OK, I’ll clean it up” my husband said, coming out of the bathroom with toothpaste still on his lip. “Go. To. Yoga,” he mouthed. I sighed. Already I was failing. Only now I was beginning to suffer about the fact that I couldn’t seem to stop suffering.
In yoga class, I felt like I had been given someone else’s body. Someone older and remarkably inflexible. I have just started running again and my hips are tight. I could barely manage downward dog and still breathe. What would not suffering look like right now? I asked myself. My body answered by sinking into child’s pose, which I rarely ever do. My usual mantra is “Do it right or don’t do it at all.” Hardly conducive to a lack of suffering.
On the way home I decided to stop at the store. Instead of calling my husband and checking to see if he needed anything, I continued on and took my time selecting apples, some chocolate chia seeds, coconut milk yogurt. No suffering, I thought to myself. I am going to enjoy myself. When I came home, Scott came running out of the house to meet me. “I almost called the yoga studio,” he said. “We’re really late for Oliver’s project.”
“What?” I asked. “I just went to the store.” Then I looked down at my watch and realized I was home almost an hour later than I said I would be.
“Oliver’s project,” Scott repeated. “It’s today at Lowe’s.”
“Oh God,” I said, “I’m sorry.” I had forgotten that Scott signed he and Oliver up for a father-son-build-a-firetruck project from ten till eleven. And then I added, “But you didn’t tell me. How was I supposed to know? I really wish you would learn to communicate more with me. I can’t do all the work here.”
Later, after they left, I found the word “LOWES” in big letters on today’s date on the wipe-off calendar we have in the mudroom. Oh, I thought, he did tell me. And I just made him feel awful. In my desire to end my own suffering, I had somehow passed it on, chucked it into my husband’s lap. Even the silence in the house felt accusatory. Gus, my baby, not yet two, walked in. “Mommy, play,” he said. But I was already gone into the buzz of feeling bad, and on top of that, the pressure to not suffer. You are just not doing it right, I told myself.
Also on the calendar under “LOWES” was a reminder about an Octoberfest party I had forgotten about. And I needed to bring something. “Let’s make brownies,” I told my son, and instead of playing, I sat him up on the counter with me as I took brownie mix from the pantry and added melted margarine and water, letting Gus taste the thick batter. I made frosting too, following a rich vegan recipe that made me feel a bit better about myself. After I frosted the brownies, I tried a small spoonful of icing and then another. Pleasure, I thought to myself. I am going to make this day about pleasure. I am going to allow myself all that I usually restrict, all that I typically deny. The spoonful of frosting was followed by another and then more, until half of the bowl was gone.
“Mommy, play,” Gus said, wandering into the kitchen again, after the leftover frosting was in the trashcan, safe, where the part of me that can’t be trusted couldn’t get to it. Now, in addition to being miserable, I had a stomachache, a head flying with sugar. I wanted to cry with the failure of it all, with how hard I try, only to come up short. I had just been to a yoga class. Why wasn’t I fixed? I felt like a fraud, like someone who goes to mass and then yells at the car behind then while still in the church parking lot.
Somehow I had mistaken a lack of suffering with hedonism, I had confused letting myself off the hook with allowing myself to get out of control. I had thrown self-discipline out the window. I had simply externalized my suffering, handed it off to someone else, and in my pursuit of external pleasure had created a brand new type of pain. I had just gone from one extreme to the next. I had abandoned my northern Puritanical roots for a day on the Las Vegas strip and had completely skipped the middle. Why, I wondered, did moderation feel so extreme?
In the same yoga workshop in which Rolf Gates talked about the way we beat ourselves us, he stressed the need for stability. Equinimity. A sense of happiness with ordinary things, with the way life was at that moment. The workshop was held in a large gym, and even though outside, it was a normal, swampy D.C. summer, inside the gym, the air conditioner was on full blast. Those of us in yoga tanks were shivering. “How many of you practice yoga in a warm room?” Rolf asked. All of us raised our hands. “Is this room warm?” he laughed. “But it shouldn’t matter,” he continued. “You show up, you do yoga. It’s hot, it’s cold. It doesn’t matter. You don’t feel like it? It doesn’t matter. You show up. Yoga isn’t what you are doing. It’s how you are being.” I thought of that now. Being yoga. Practicing equinimity. Ignoring the whining voice in my own head the way I sometimes ignored my son’s: “I can’t understand you when you talk like that, sweetie.” A way of only paying attention to my power, to the truth, to the way things were, regardless of how I felt about them. A way to end suffering by simply ignoring it, by waking up to the present moment and just sinking in to whatever it offered. Maybe suffering was optional?
When I was moving, my yoga teacher, Jessica Anderson suggested I make a self-care package for myself, something to get me through these days and weeks of change and uncertainly. She herself had a book full of inspirational quotes, photos, poems. She told me about how she paves her weeks on Sunday nights, making sure she had what she needed in the days ahead to be her highest self: time to meditate, healthy food in the fridge, time with her children. A way of caring for the powerful part in her. I, on the other hand, had forgotten the discipline it took to be an adult. To take responsibility. I had mistaken selfishness for self-care.
So I wrote down a list of what I need for the week. Green smoothies for breakfast and chocolate-flavored tea. Poems by Mary Oliver and my fleece-lined flip-flops. More vegetables. Time on my mediation cushion and time watching Glee. Talking like Sir Topham Hatt and watching my sons giggle and race Thomas and Gordon around their wooden track. Snuggling with my husband. Simple, simple things. Things that take me out of my head and into that soft, still place behind my heart.