While media images of women these days seem to be startlingly and aggressively belittling, I have been delighted to watch the growing backlash, the awareness-raising which reminds girls and women not to pay attention, to step outside the story that the media tells us we are and should be. Even after years of working with body image and railing against the media storm, I still find myself nodding or agreeing in those conversations where people are talking about weight-loss, “Yes, I should lose a few more pounds. Oh, I know, my body is shamefully unwilling to be thin and svelte. . .” It’s constant work to step out of that cultural narrative, to question the underlying assumption. Stop and breathe. Ask, “Am I really too fat?” No? No. Okay. Move right along.
Yesterday as I was trying to keep myself calm in the face of all the things that I have to accomplish, it hit me that I have been buying into another culture and media-generated story, totally without questioning the underlying assumptions. It goes something like this: “You are too busy. You have too many things to do. You will not be truly happy until you buy this product that makes your work seem easier, or until you take this pill that relaxes you, or until you take this vacation or buy this wine.” It hit me that while I have constantly questioned the advertising response to this, I don’t know if I have ever truly questioned the underlying assumption. Am I really too busy?
For years in my life, I couldn’t answer that “Am I too fat?” question with a comfortable No. There have been a few times when I really was heavier than was healthy for me, but for years I was answering the question wrong, following the script the media offered, and hating the way my body looked, despising my soft squishiness instead of being satisfied and even happy with how I look.
Now, I ask, “Am I really too busy?” and a little piece of liberating intuition is on the cusp of saying a hesitant little no, but I’m still pretty steeped in it. If I say No to that question, then I have lots of other questions to unpack. Why is my house cluttered? Why haven’t I yet painted over that spackled mess on the wall? Why is the faucet still leaking? Why is the hillside back there covered with vines and pokeweed? I can keep going on here for a few more hours. The fact is, I do feel too busy. I think I am too busy.
But what if that’s a state of mind, too, instead of a state of fact? As I step into this next stage of my life, with all the many new demands it holds, perhaps I can try to go into it challenging the assumption that I will be overwhelmed and tapped to the limits. There seems to be an underside to the “Am I too busy?” question, and that is the assumption that if you aren’t feeling completely stressed out and overwhelmed, perhaps you aren’t actually working hard enough. I think that’s a dangerous assumption. When I am feeling my most overwhelmed, I am a much less productive and effective person. I am thinking that one of the gifts that I can give my students (if I can remain conscious and aware enough to manage it) is to model a healthier answer to the question. “Am I too busy?” Umm, no? No. Okay then. Move right along.
1. That fascinating dream, just now, in which I was reading a poem about examining a screech owl’s pellet to a very attentive black bird with bright eyes and yellow wings and yellow wattles that hung down low over each side of its face. (After a night of difficult dreams, it is lovely to be left with this image as the final story.)
2. Listening to the boys giggle and guffaw while Jon reads them Winnie the Pooh stories. These days they’re so quick to reject so many things as “Baby stuff!” I was afraid that Pooh Bear might be relegated to that category. I am grateful that they can style shift between Lord of the Rings and Winnie the Pooh.
3. The way ideas build upon ideas when you let them. Sometimes I feel so dry, like I’m afraid to try to put new ideas for writing or projects together. What if this is my last good idea? I want to hoard it, hold onto it. The more you let them flow, the more they flow.
4. Deciding not to be too busy.
5. Being a strand in the web. Sometimes I don’t know what else I have to offer but my place in the web. And sometimes, perhaps, that is enough. It seems like an odd thing to be grateful for, for grief, to grieve the heart-wrenching loss that a friend is experiencing. But that’s part of being part of that web that connects us. I am intensely grateful for that connection, even when the web is shaken by grief.
May we walk in Beauty!