Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Course Corrections

On Sunday, I was in the mountains of Pennsylvania on snowshoes, gazing at snow-sprinkled trees, trying to remember the words to "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost, spinning a historical fiction yarn in my head set in the adorable town-formerly-known-as-Mauch-Chunk, all but giving Spangles affectionate little eskimo nose-rubs.

Congratulations to me, I said to myself. I am turning the disappointment of a canceled trip to upstate New York into a spontaneous romantic weekend getaway into the foothills of Poconos with my beloved, not to mention living the life I've imagined, carpe-ing the diem, enjoying nature, all the types of things I'm always saying I ought to do to live a happy life.

Fast forward to Monday night, when I was in the car headed home from work, nauseous, scream-crying "I don't know! I don't know!" over and over again to myself in a primal-therapy-like fashion. I was what you might call a touch stressed out. I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say the basic story was, too much to do, too little time, coupled with the all the rationality, reasonableness and perspective that accompanies the ole' cyclical female hormone spike.

How did my zen-like weekend state unravel so quickly?, is I want to know. Granted, Mondays are always hard, a crash landing back onto Planet Goal-Orientation, made all the more difficult by a pleasant, relaxed weekend shuffling and daydreaming my way through the sylvan hollows.

But I have been helped immensely in situations like these by an internal project I've taken on, which is the cultivation of my Voice of Reason. She's like my wise, sassy, kind, don't-take-no-shit-from-nobody sidekick, who's there to slap some sense into me when I go off the mental deep end (which happens in some form or another pretty much like every fifteen minutes.) For example:

Me: OMG I can't believe I ate TWO porkchops for lunch! I am such a glutton! I am like one trip to Pizza Hut away from being the subject of one of those late night documentaries on TLC about the morbidly obese people who have to be cut out of their homes with a bulldozer to get to the gastric bypass operation! WHEN are you going to figure out PORTION CONTROL you fat stupid lazy moron?!!

VoR: Yeah, Liklik? With all due respect, you were hungry, so you ate lunch. It was pork chops and veggies. This is not a red alert situation. You can always go for a walk or something later. Let's move on with our life. K?

Isn't she smart? She's nice but no-nonsense. Actually she kind of sounds like my Aunt Jane. And she always has something good to say, if I just let myself listen for her input. Last night when I was melting down in the car she was equally as wise and solution oriented. Regarde:

VoR: OK listen. You're obviously stressed out, so let's just take a deep breath. The Bosses already told you that the five-day business trip is optional. Why don't you go to the first part, but skip the second part? That cuts the trip in half and gives you time to work on the other projects. I know your preference is to be the best at everything at all times, but let's not let perfection be the enemy of the good, here. Give yourself time to do a quality job and cut out the non-essentials. Tomorrow morning we're going to go in there and let them know the plan. All right?

Me: *sniffs* Ok. Fine.

VoR: And tell you what, when we get home, want to put on your jammies and eat crackers and download that Tim McGraw song you like?

Me: Yes. Yes, I do want that.

VoR: I thought you might.

Me: I like crackers.

Lo and behold, the next morning after a good night's sleep life seemed a lot more manageable. And on my way to work this morning I had a chance to reflect on everything a little more and give myself a nice pep talk.

I gotta remember that there's never going to be some magic finish line that I cross, after which I will be sublimely happy and no problems will ever confound me again. It's good to have bright, sunny days when I feel like I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing in life, and it's good to work toward a higher ratio of those kinds of days. But it's also OK if some days are just OK. It's OK to work at a job that doesn't leave you squirming with pleasure to the tips of your toes at every moment, especially if it allows you to take care of yourself and enables you do other things in life that you want to do.

And it's OK to get stressed out sometimes, get out of control, and then pull yourself back in. One of my favorite little life analogies is the explanation of how airplanes fly - it's not a matter of flying in one straight line the entire time. In order to get to a destination, it's actually a series of a zillion little course corrections, moving from one side back to the other back to other over and over again until it gets there. And that's what we humans have to do to - keep your eye on the final destination, and if you go too far to one side, just scoot back a little the other way.

It's a balancing act, a dance, an airplane flight, all of that. It's not about fixing something once and then you're set for life. It's just habit, or mental hygiene, or whatever. The dishes get dirty, so you wash them again. Happiness isn't a goal, it's a lifestyle. It's figuring out the balance between working toward a goal and taking time to play. It's about getting caught up in the flow of working on something, and taking time out to notice your surroundings and the passage of time. It's working toward getting what you want out of life, AND letting yourself fritter away some down time without beating yourself up.

It's saying, OK, this week is shaping up to be a beeyotch and a half, so why don't I schedule an appointment to use that massage gift certificate on Friday? It's staying tuned in to what you're feeling and wanting, and acknowledging it, even if there isn't much you can *do* about it at a given time. It's about taking care of yourself, and the sense of - and I hate to use this term but - the sense of empowerment that comes from knowing that you have the ability to take care of your own needs (even if that means reaching out for help from someone else.)

It's acknowledging that hey, you don't have all the answers, we're all basically wandering around like confused but purposeful ants, each of us just trying to figure out how to operate this big ungainly gift we got of a stroll through the glass-paneled dirt farm.

It's about practicing using and listening to your own Voice of Reason, and the comfort and serenity it brings to know you can summon it whenever you want.

Like right now, she's tapping me on the shoulder, saying "All right, wrap it up, kid. We thought writing this post would make you feel better, and it did. Now what's going to make you feel better is getting down to business and tackling some of this big ole' stack of work you have. You can return to the blogosphere later."

So, like a self-schooled experimenter in home remedies with a long-winded hypothesis on how it all works, I will now leave you to ingest a tincture of my own making, hoping to add it to my shelf of not-so-magical potions.

1 comment:

schoolmarmalade said...

OMG, you are so right about the V of R. I've TOTALLY been noticing mine as well and working with it. Mine kicked in when I was all sad about the rain and N. I was like, I'm crying? But I don't know why I'm crying? Must be that Aunt Flo is comin' to town. And I looked at a calendar and was like, yup. That's it all right. So I'm not going to get overly concerned about my mental breakdown or spend too much time on it.
I am also honing my V of R with "projects" i.e, not start re-organizing my desk at school at 5:30 pm, and also preepmtively realizing tasks that could easily snowball into "projects" beyond completion and maybe not starting them or setting limits first. Yep, perspective is useful.