Wednesday, November 21, 2018

it's fine

Unfortunately, I am always thinking about self-improvement. To the point that I am starting a pretend nonprofit called IT'S FINE. IT'S FINE's mission is that whatever is going on is fine. Could we use volunteers and donations and a board? I mean, maybe, but mostly we're fine.

IT'S FINE was born because panic--the concern that MAYBE EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH EVERYTHING, AND WE'VE BEEN DOING IT ALL WRONG UP UNTIL NOW, BURN IT DOWN, BURN IT DOWN AND START OVER, BUT THIS TIME BE PERFECT!--usually doesn't make anything better.

Photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash
I'm better at getting better when getting better is a whispered goal rather than a shouted one.

So this is one thing I've been thinking about. At work and in my personal life. Not as much in my writing life, which is the one place I default to growth orientation and/or act like the mature human I strive to be elsewhere.

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Here's another worky analogy for how I want to be in the world. Bear with me.

I was raised on Microsoft Word and still use it for my just-for-me writing projects. I always thought the goal was to create a perfect document that you could share with others, but not let them touch. You have to hit "save" to overwrite anything, meaning you have to make a conscious decision about what is true, and worth keeping.

Oldie that I am, I only started using Google Docs regularly a year ago. In Google Docs, you work together, and every change is real.

At 826LA, we use the phrase "build it out" a lot. As in, "I've created an outline for that campaign, and I'm starting to build it out." I think we may have borrowed that phrase from Rachel, who comes from the design world. I like it. I like the idea that campaigns/documents/life are this thing you're always building, even if at times it feels like the Winchester Mystery House (which was actually not the work of a madwoman, but rather an amateur architect who didn't have a lot of outlets for her creativity--check out the 99% Invisible episode about Sarah Winchester!).

Mysterious, yes. Crazy, no.
I like the idea that progress is incremental and a team effort. It's hard to explain how I think of teamwork and work, in general, differently now than I did pre-826LA, but it feels more three-dimensional now. It feels both more challenging and more comforting. I want to carry this idea into my personal life and daily habits, where I hope to be less perfectionistic and, paradoxically, better.

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I'm reading Joshua Mohr's addiction memoir, Sirens, and his relationship with drugs and alcohol feels a lot like (all too much like) my relationship with food, which has not been great lately. Here's a quote that especially resonates with me:

If I zero in on my life, if I scour and stew on any aspect, I'll always locate some benign reason to give up. To fail and flee. So the question becomes, is that what I want? Do I want to end up alone and alcoholic?"

No, of course not.

Yes, of course.

I was raised in the cult of Personal Responsibility (a Microsoft Wordy cult) that half our country is still obsessed with. Hard work fixes all, etc. In a country where corporations have more rights than humans, this is bullshit; meritocracy is the opiate of America's masses.

I try to reorient myself toward the systemic. On a recent episode of This American Life, David Kestenbaum talked about why, as a scientist, he doesn't really believe in free will, and I was right there with him. We are the product of our atoms and our circumstances. No one can really be any different than how they are, or they would be.

But does that make me a person who can't help but guzzle eggnog until I hate myself, or does that make me a person who has a habit of guzzling eggnog and hating herself, but who ultimately stops leaning into self-sabotage and develops some healthier habits for more than a week at a stretch? Either could be written in my bones, my circumstances, my "choices."

But in a plastic cup, and refilled three times.
What is the line between acknowledging the reality of your situation and looking for reasons to fail? As someone prone to addict-esque black-and-white thinking, I think the main thing for me to remember is that there is a line.

Yes, it is exhausting working full time and raising a kid, despite all the help and resources I have. Yes, the holidays are a minefield of cookies. That doesn't mean I have to race ahead of those facts and gain thirty (more) pounds just because. That doesn't mean I'm-fucked-so-why-bother-trying. That does mean the serenity prayer. It all comes down to the serenity prayer.

A friend in recovery told me addicts tend to see themselves as either special or terrible. Another wrote this amazing post about how both sexual abuse and cancer can trigger the same kind of thinking. And even though I'm not an abuse survivor or someone addicted to anything you can quit cold turkey, I'm like yes yes yes.

Photo by InĂªs Pimentel on Unsplash
Being better--to my body, my soul, my family--means accepting that I am neither special nor terrible. I am average. I need food and rest and time to think, and without those things, I get grouchy, and that's okay. I have strengths and weaknesses. My strengths are special because they are unique to me, but I am not fundamentally set apart from everyone else. This is so boring. This feels like accepting that, after a lifetime of believing I was either a unicorn or an ogre, I am in fact beige carpet.

But it's fine.



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