Then and now

Very recently I had the pleasure of visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.  We had a lovely afternoon catching up and laughing at the antics of her small son.  Life took us on our own paths, and then somehow dumped us out into a fortuitous afternoon — one where we could just walk and smile and enjoy a moment in time together.  It got me thinking, about thens and nows, and about the people we become.

Certainly I am not the same person I was 18 years ago.  It was more than half a lifetime ago, and since then I have experienced joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, pain and love.  But in some ways, I think I am still that girl, too.  Idealistic, quick-witted, a bit self-conscious?  That girl is still there.  She is deeper now, though, and more multi-faceted.  Hopefully a little wiser.  Maybe a bit more of a realist, but no less a romantic.

The way we grow, the paths that we carve towards change — these make for quite the journey.  I get caught up in the day-to-day so often that I forget sometimes how far I’ve come, and how far I still can go.  Thank you, C, for unwittingly prompting this meditation on self.  It was lovely to see you.  And to see me, in a slightly different light.

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Putting my ̶b̶e̶s̶t̶ foot forward

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After the rain, Galerie d’Orléans, Paris

Being a perfectionist with anxiety is a difficult combination.  For years I thought procrastination was a bad habit I couldn’t seem to kick.  Recently, though, I have realized it is more of a symptom than a bad habit.  I habitually worried so much about whether I’d truly be able to do my best, and whether that best would be good enough, that I put things off until the fear of complete failure eclipsed the fear of “not good enough.”  Ta-da!  Last minute, there I was.  Stressed and harried, procrastinator extraordinaire.

I am starting to teach myself that sometimes, good enough is just fine.  The old adage of “just do your best” can be problematic for me because I always think I can do it a little better.  Was this my best?  Not quite, I should work harder.  Put more time into it.  Stop being so lazy and do more.  It wouldn’t end.  The negative feedback loop was on repeat, all the time.  So now I am learning that some days I am inspired, and most days I can put forth excellent work.  But if I am having an off day, it is okay.  Putting one foot in front of the other is better than freezing into perfection-induced paralysis, because then I am still making progress.  And if I am having a really bad day, that is okay, too.  We can’t be full speed ahead, all the time, every day.  The world has seasons and rhythms and so do we.  I read an article last month that keeps coming to mind — how winter is a great reminder to give yourself permission to slow down — and I’ve been trying to take that to heart.  Slowing down sometimes is okay.  Stopping to recharge sometimes is not only okay, but necessary.  Huh.  How novel, right?

We can be our own worst critics more often than not.  I seem to be very good at reminding friends and the people I care about to slow down and take good care of themselves, and not very good at treating myself with the same care.  “Treat yourself the way you would a good friend” seems a bit trite, but it is more difficult than one might think!  Would I berate a friend for being too tired at the end of the day to take on an extra project?  Of course not.  Would I call them lazy and tell them to put in more effort when they are already doing good things?  Never.  Perhaps it is time we all give ourselves some gentleness.  Our society seems built on more-better-harder-faster, which can make it difficult.  But the world needs more kindness right now, and starting with oneself can be a quietly revolutionary thing, indeed.

That’s my jam

 

This weekend I took some time on a gloriously rainy Saturday afternoon to putter in the kitchen and make some jam.  This seemingly simple project was one literally years in the making.  There was a tea bar years ago that served a lovely afternoon tea, including homemade spreads and preserves.  One of my very favorites was their strawberry black pepper jam, and I missed it when they closed up shop.  Cue the very-occasional brief longing, and then the inspiration to make some myself, and then the busyness that inevitably made me forget about it for another year, and then another… and another.  How many times do we think, “I’d like to do XYZ,” and then it hits the back burner as life and to-dos and work take over indefinitely?

Well, my friends, this was the day.  I used this recipe from Epicurious, doubled the quantity, and added a good amount of cook time to get the jammy consistency I wanted.  It turned out delicious, and I spent a very happy weekend eating my preserves on toast with a bit of chèvre.  I also now have 8 little jam pots (very Meg from Little Women, although mine jelled!) sitting in the fridge, ready to be enjoyed or distributed to loved ones.

Not only did I finally get my jam, but the whole little adventure got me thinking about the want-to vs. the have-to.  We’re all very busy, all the time.  We have tons of things we have to do.  I commute a long way, so it often seems that my downtime is even more scarce than most.  But the immense satisfaction of enjoying something you really want to do outweighs even the most efficiently handled to-do list every time (and believe me, I love a tidy finished to-do list).  Let’s resolve to find more time for the want-to.  Schedule it, prepare for it, treat it with the same priority as the rest of your to-do list.  It may seem like less “fun” if it is something you have to schedule, but it will be so enjoyable to actually get to paint that watercolor, go explore that new bakery, make that jam, or learn to knit when you finally do make time for it.  Trust.

 

 

On women, money, and shame…

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Last week I read an excellent article in Harper’s Bazaar about the culture of shame that still surrounds women and the money they spend on… well… basically anything that brings them pleasure.  Read it and ponder.  It resonated deeply with me, as I have become more and more aware this in my own life over the last several months.

I began musing over the fact that for years I have enjoyed nice accessories — handbags in particular, but also shoes or the occasional pretty wallet.  It is my one thing I splurge on, but thanks to the intense judgement of women and how they spend their money, I realize now that my enjoyment of them has consistently been tainted by the perception that I have been judged by others for that enjoyment.  In some ways, it it very easy to dismiss that feeling as me “just being sensitive” and “caring too much what others think.”  However, I think that kind of dismissal is an insidious form of gaslighting that ignores the real issue: women are consistently shamed for anything that brings them pleasure, whether it is sex, food, jewelry, a handbag, or even just a few minutes of time to relax.  The stigma attached to female pleasure — that it is decadent, unnecessary, overly indulgent, materialistic, or any number of other negative adjectives — is very real, with very real ramifications.  Jennifer Wright hit the issue square on with her observation that “monitoring what a woman spends her money on represents a new, sophisticated way of infantilizing women and reminding them that they’re too silly to know what is good for them.”

While I knew I was uncomfortable when people commented on my handbags, whether it was an offhand compliment or an observation that I must have quite a collection, I was not aware of how much I had internalized this cultural insistence on shame.  Spending money on myself was somehow shameful.  Everything must have utility attached, or it is egregiously indulgent.  A compliment as innocuous as “cute jacket!” might come my way, and I would reply how warm it was, because heaven forbid I just think it was pretty, or even worse, think I looked pretty in it.  Then I would be wasteful AND vain.  And overly self-indulgent.  And a drain on my husband and our household.  Clearly.

Nothing has crystallized this double standard of men and women and the perception of the money they spend than the recent experience of buying a new (to us) car a couple months ago.  My husband and I were both excited, but while he told friends and colleagues about it delightedly, I found I was embarrassed to even mention it to my closest friends.  Now I know exactly why that is: because it is socially acceptable for a man to spend money for enjoyment; for women, it is anathema.  Never mind that we had very practical reasons for our decision; a nicer car means high-fives for a man, and assumptions about gold-digging or materialism for a woman.  Rich or poor, women cannot seem to escape the toxic message that they need to enjoy less, take up less space, streamline their spending, take pleasure in less.

“If you can afford it, and it brings you a bit of joy, there is no reason to feel ashamed,” Wright tells us.  While it will be a long road until I can fully live this way, knowledge and working towards better is a good place to start.  As women we can rein in the ingrained habit of judging each other — and the even deeper habit of judging ourselves — one day at a time.

On birthdays…

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One of the dearest people in my life has a birthday today (happy birthday to you!), which has me musing about birthdays, and the nature of growing.  Growing older.  Growing wiser.  Growing happier.  Growing up?  Do we ever really grow up?  These days, at least, I feel like I am stretching and growing into the woman I want to be.  It is not easy, though, I must admit.  Growth and change are never easy or comfortable, but I try to remember that those are the things can move us forward to new places, to new realizations, and even to new joys.  Shedding the self-doubts, embracing the imperfections, trying to make a difference in the face of injustice — these are the difficult, but worthy, parts of the journey.

New Year’s Day comes flooded with resolutions, good intentions, and reflections on the old year, but I think birthdays can be much more personal waypoints for introspection and new intentions.  There is no external pressure to make a NEW YOU and improve ALL THE THINGS the way there is at New Year’s — just you and your own personal new chapter, a new year of you, and perhaps some loved ones to celebrate with as you turn that page.

I won’t pretend that I am there yet, wherever “there” might be.  I’ll keep trying to learn and grow and be as me as I can muster, discomfort and all.  But in the meantime, I can surround myself with people I trust, bake an amazing birthday cake, and celebrate another year in the life of someone special.

One of the most decadently delightful cakes I have made is this peanut butter chocolate stunner from Smitten Kitchen.  Make it for someone you care about (even yourself!), and enjoy wholeheartedly.  Relish that birthday, and the person you are becoming.