Today we have the much-criticized “hipster” culture. Back then, preceding the “hippie” culture, were the Beatniks. February 1961 my parents and their friends decided to mock Beatnik culture – a creative way to have fun in Iowa in the middle of the most depressing month! My dad is at the left, with the bongos. My mother is looking cool center stage in black beret with cigarette.
So, I am standing in a small bar in small town Iowa, watching the small crowd rock out to a local guy singing the karaoke version of Snoop Dog’s “Gin and Juice”. Standing next to me is a woman I’ll call Beth (because that’s her name) who is pretty much the exact opposite of me in most ways:
New Parent Not
Pretty sure we are at opposite ends of other spectrums (spectra?) as well, but these examples will suffice to point out our differences. Despite these differences, though, we are in complete agreement on two things: the men in our group (one of whom is her husband) are among the best guys around and neither of us could ever do what the women on the “dance floor” are doing. And what, exactly, are they doing you ask?
Dancing. Dirty, uninhibited, take no prisoners, body-punishing drunken dancing. While screaming out the words to every song at the top of their lungs. Hugging and high-fiving each other. Challenging each other to shout a duet of “Love Shack” or “Baby Got Back” as soon as they can get their hands on the karaoke mic.
And while Beth and I are in agreement we could never behave that way, it isn’t because we are judging the other women harshly. Rather, we are judging ourselves and finding that we lack the ability to set aside self-judgement long enough to cut loose and just enjoy ourselves. Without regard to what the tall and short women standing by the bar watching us are thinking.
The atmosphere in the bar isn’t conducive to deep conversation, so Beth and I stand side-by-side, mostly silent. And I realize that it is fine with me that I will likely never be one of the dancing queens. But I do find myself wondering what I would choose to do if I could just silence my inner critic for a few brief hours. If I could just realize that the bystanders, like Beth and I, are probably actually thinking about themselves. Here are a few:
- Wear sloppy clothes in public. My friends Molly, Colette, Wendy: all of them can head out wearing sweats or scrubs, unshowered, no make-up and they just look “natural”. I look hideous.
- Rollerblade. This one has the element of personal injury folded in with the fear of looking stupid in public.
- Ask questions in public forums. Of course, this would reveal that I am not all-knowing, and I’m not sure the rest of the world can handle that truth…
- Take an art class. Really? Even as I write this I realize how supremely silly it is – the whole point of taking the class is that you don’t already know how to do it!
Well, those are probably enough examples to illustrate my point here. Like many other women – even women as unlike me as Beth – I have spent a lifetime being socialized to keep my behavior within certain parameters, and I have internalized those boundaries. Above all, don’t look stupid/slovenly/slutty: the adjectives vary but they are all cut from the same cloth. This is one reason so many women aren’t able to cut loose and fully enjoy themselves (without massive quantities of alcohol to loosen their inhibitions). We watch our own behavior and apply such tough judgements to ourselves.
I’ve heard people say that women are each other’s harshest critics. That hasn’t been my experience. In fact, quite the opposite. I have found that women tend to be fairly generous with one another. The problem is one of projection: if I look at the women in the bar and project myself into their midst, I judge myself very cruelly. With self-censoriousness as the starting point, it colors how I view others, too. When I sneer at a stranger (0r her behavior) I am really “hating on” myself.
I wonder how our lives would shift if we could extend the same generosity of spirit towards ourselves that we do toward others who are trying new things, cutting loose in public, arriving for morning coffee unkempt? I’m pretty sure one of the first outcomes is that we would feel less judged by others, simply by being less judgmental towards ourselves. Definitely something worth trying!
Someone sent me a photo of a scale, with a person’s feet standing on it. The readout, instead of showing the weight of the person, had a piece of paper over it which said, “This does not define me”. For the record, I couldn’t agree more. What does define me is the level of commitment and hard work I have put into becoming a healthier, more self-aware woman. This only represents one facet of that journey, one part of the complex person I am (that we ALL are!).
A week ago Sunday evening, I drove a college van to the small town of Vinton, Iowa. We were a subdued group on the drive out, befitting the nature of our trip: to attend a visitation for the father of two of our students. At our arrival, there was a line out the door of the church. When we were finally allowed inside by the local fire department, I was stunned to see several hundred people waiting to make their way , single file, past the open casket and through the line of close family accepting condolences. It took our little group two and a half hours to process through. Along the way, we learned a great deal about the man whose death had brought us there. His was a story of love, engagement with the community, commitment to the people and activities of his life. While maintaining strong relationships outside the home, he also supported and encouraged a truly loving family and helped raise some pretty wonderful human beings. Through the course of that day, literally thousands had come to pay tribute to his life.
On Tuesday of that same week, my sister underwent major surgery. When we spoke late on Monday, she was attempting to get one more workout under her belt before having weeks off her regular routine. What surprised me, throughout the process of determining the nature and extent of the surgical response to her cancer, was that every conversation included her words of gratitude for the blessings bestowed: that the cancer had been caught early; that she had competent and up-to-date doctors and surgeons in her small town; that she had trust in God and the unfailing gentle-kindness and support of her husband. After the surgery – more of the same, in a slightly more tired voice.
Adeline Bell Finnegan was born on Thursday, January 12 at 7:06 pm. She weighed in at 8 lbs 12 oz. and was 21″ long. My great-niece was welcomed into this world with much rejoicing – on the part of her parents (Ben and Elsa); by her aunt and uncle (Tim and Nikki) who arrived for her trip home from the hospital; by her Grandma Chris whose (almost) only verbalized complaint about her cancer recurrence was that she wouldn’t be there in person to welcome Ada. And by the rest of our “clan”, as my sister Annie posted on Facebook.
Sunday through Thursday – five days. But in those five short days, so much to learn, to process, and to celebrate. Three of the major human life events: death, illness, birth in such a short span of time. Those five days touched me profoundly, in ways I don’t have the grace to articulate. Luckily, the great poet Rumi said it for me, centuries ago. He tells us to welcome every experience which comes our way, even “if they’re a crowd of sorrows…treat them honorably” because each experience brings a gift as well. And so I am practicing being the proprietor of the guest house of my heart – throwing open the doors to all who seek admission, with gratitude and welcome even for the difficult guests.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
This is one of my favorite photos from childhood – Chris, Jeff and I outside in the snow. We played outside constantly, and there was always plenty of snow in winter. It seems like a fitting post today for several reasons:
- 5.5 inches of new snow on the ground here, the first measurable snow of the season;
- Chris in our hearts this week (her surgery went very well, and she is resting at home – thanks for all your prayers on her behalf);
- I had lunch with Jeff on Wednesday (rare one-on-one time with my brother).
Good week, good memories.