I look at the seed catalogues piled up on the little table next to the chaise. They have been piled there since December and I have not been interested. But the sun is at a higher angle and the air, while still annoyingly cold, has softness not discernable two weeks ago. The cardinal is calling, as are the chickadees, and the goldfinches are starting to turn from buff to yellow-buff. Yes, spring’s coming—hard to fathom as I look at the 30 inches of snow covering the landscape—but it must be. So it really is time to knuckle down and make seed decisions.
But I’m still not interested.
I’ve been planting vegetable gardens from seed every year for thirty years and I have to admit it—the thrill is gone. Maybe it’s because the local food supply around here is fantastic. I belong to both a meat and a vegetable CSA. I joke that all I need is a dessert CSA and I’m set.
So I’m thinking about something radical. I’m thinking about planting a flower-cutting garden in place of the vegetable garden. Flowers, big, honking, colorful armloads of flowers. A crop of color and scent. Can I do it? Can the practical Swede throw a season to the wind and be frivolous with flowers?
Ja, I believe she can.
Someone told me recently that they enjoy reading what I have to say because I write what everyone thinks, but nobody wants to say or admit. That pleased me because thinking I have a connection with others is something I have struggled with all my life. The theme of the one recurring dream I have had is that I am on the outside looking in. The dream could be about a picnic or a party or a meeting but the feeling it brings up is always the same—I don’t fit in. The others do not reject me though; instead, I hold myself apart by choice, evaluating and assessing and yes, fearful, even as the heart of me longs to belong.
But this person’s observation brought into focus for me the universality of all our longings and to that end it gives me the courage to share something I learned just recently. It was an epiphany of sorts for me, although it may not be for you. It is simple: be kind to yourself.
When I said those words to myself for the first time not long ago, discovering them as an archeologist would discover a treasure sifting through a pile of rubble, they struck me with the same wonder. I saw my actions in lucid perspective—my actions toward myself, that is—and for the most part, those actions have not been kind. They have had a driving, critical and pushy aspect—like a stage mother whose child is never good enough. But with the simple phrase, be kind to yourself, I perceived a whole different way of treating myself, one that is forgiving and gentle and humorous and relaxed.
When I treat myself with kindness, I exist within the rich moments of my day, savoring them, not expecting any return or reward. I almost used the word ‘grateful’ here, but ‘gratitude’ is becoming a vague, sanctimonious term, stacking us against one another in the spiritual materialism department and that’s not a very kind thing to do to ourselves, is it?
So I’ll just say that reminding myself to be kind to myself gives me a long perspective, and like all long perspectives, it reveals choices.
At first I felt Facebook was a way to unproductively clutter up my life. Later, when I started this blog, I thought it was a way to let people know when I’ve posted. Then, for a brief heady moment, I felt it was a community.
Now, I have to admit, I feel like it is a competition. Honestly, I never feel better after reading my FB news feed. I feel inadequate. Why am I not on vacation in the Lesser Antilles? An old college friend has a big house and a vacation house? Everyone seems to be having much more fun than I am.
These are not supportive-of-my-friends thoughts. These are envious thoughts. I don’t feel like I’m staying in touch when I read these posts; I feel like I’m missing out.
After I browse through FB, invariably I feel I must defend my life to myself, quiet as it is. This is what I do: I work in my garden, I write every morning. I swim when it’s hot out. I run errands, I make dinner, I read and do crafts. That’s about it. I don’t have a stressful job, I love my husband, I don’t go out to dinner much. I don’t even go on vacation usually. But reading my FB feed makes me feel bad about this.
I want to be wanted. I think most people do. So out of insecurity, we tend to accentuate the positive and FB as a platform exploits that. No one ever posts about the non-glam side of existence: “Plucked out chin hair number ten—why am I growing a beard after menopause?”
FB puts a lot of pressure on us to “have a great time all the time.” To heck with that, I say. For the record, I’m not happy all the time—far from it—and I’m wicked out of shape right now, and I do have chin hairs until I pluck them out (this may be news to my husband—sorry, sweetie!) But I’m also kind and smart and lucky—oh so lucky—and so yes, worth filling up space. Maybe even Facebook space.
I was walking around the Cyclocross Nationals venue with my husband, Richard Sachs, and we remarked that it looked like one of those giant slums in India. Mud everywhere churned underfoot. Tents, some blown over. A general look of poverty and monsoon effects. But nothing could be further from the slum reality. People spent thousands of dollars to experience this deprivation and visual ugliness. They travelled across the country, flying and driving and all for this. A mud-slung venue in a frozen prairie. (the mud is from a warm rainy night, now the front has moved out and the cold arctic air has moved in.) People want to pit themselves against others in their sport and see how they rank up. And that makes me wonder about this whole competition thing. As a species, it seems we must always be competing and engaging in that summation of competition; giving out awards. The best this, the largest that, the fastest, the slowest. I used to work in video production and I once jokingly said to my camera man that production companies could just make up an award and give it to themselves in plaque form so they could hang it on their waiting room wall, thereby giving themselves the look of credentials. He said, “Don’t think they don’t do that.”
Way back when, in cave man days, we needed to compete to survive. That, like so many of our patterns, has stayed with us, even though the necessity for it has largely disappeared.
Today, we compete to help define who we are as a substitute for actual survival. Pretty harmless behavior until competition becomes our sole definition of who we are. I was struck by that actualization as I watched Lance Armstrong’s interview with Oprah. He had to win, or to put it another way; he had to beat other people. That seems like such a lonely way to live your life.