My Two-Year Plan

Los Carrizales. Tenerife, Canary Islands

Image via Wikipedia

That’s it. I’m tired of embracing imperfection. From now on, I’m going to implement a plan designed to make me perfect.

I will have perfect nutrition and a perfect exercise regimen, which will lead to a perfect body (stress incontinence and people thinking I’m pregnant will be things of the past). I will have perfect sleep habits and stress reduction techniques, which will make my mood perfect (no more yelling at my kids or at other motorists!). I will have a perfect writing routine in order to be a perfect writer, and perfect housework routines so my home is perfectly clean at all times (both Martha Stewart and the folks from Pullitzer will be beating down my door).

In addition, my car will stop consuming oil, I’ll stop obsessing over blog stats, my children will stop whining, my husband’s eczema will go away, and my carbon footprint will be in negative numbers. I will never be late, I will make meals for every person I know who’s had a baby or experienced an illness, I’ll entertain shut-ins, I’ll drive immigrant families to the grocery store. I will remember every birthday, and I’ll use only reusable fabric gift wrap intricately folded and tied into the shapes of bunnies and meerkats and elephants.

Every word I utter will be witty, empathetic, and grammatically correct.

My hair and clothes will always be kempt.

My children will eat all of their vegetables, ask to be excused from the table, and put their own dishes in the dishwasher.

My cats will no longer vomit on the rugs.

And I will accomplish this within 30 days, and then publish my plan (Thirty Days to the Ideal You: How to Stop Being a Slob and Start Being Perfect), which will become a worldwide bestseller. I will go on an international book tour, allow myself to be seduced by a 24-year-old Italian named Giuseppe, be hounded by Paparazzi, get caught up in the drug scene, and spend six months at an exclusive rehab facility in the Canary Islands.

When I return home, I will have a renewed sense of gratitude for the simple things in life. In the face of the daily hassles that accompany modern motherhood, I will smile serenely and hug my children. Having finally unlocked the secret to happiness, publishers will beg me to write the book of my meteoric rise and precipitous fall, and perhaps I will, but I will give all of the profits to charitable organizations and refuse to participate in book tours, preferring to keep the focus on the lessons rather than on myself.

I will bask in the free time afforded me by no longer being the sweetheart of the media.

I’ll spend my time playing with my children, taking long walks in the sunshine, and holding hands with my husband.

By the time I’m 37, I will conclude that there is perfection within imperfection.

I suppose I’d best get started.

The Pain of the Verbal Gaffe

I once mixed up Ken Kesey (author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Alfred Kinsey (author of the Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior). Another time I confused Sinclair Lewis (Nobel Prize-winning author of Babbit and Elmer Gantry) and Upton Sinclair (muckraking author of The Jungle). My husband will attest to the fact that I routinely mix up Bob Seger and Van Morrison, and have been known to confuse Rod Stewart and Kim Carnes (just on “Bette Davis Eyes,” though). And I won’t even try to list how many times I’ve totally messed up song lyrics in the presence of other people (a tidbit: there isn’t actually any swearing in American Pie. Who knew?).

Just Monday night I realized that at book club last week, I referred to Jim Jeffords (former US Senator from Vermont who left the Republican party in 2001, changing the balance of power in the Senate, a piece of news I actually knew and cared about at the time) when I meant Warren Jeffs (President of the FLDS, a polygamist religious sect).

If someone else made that kind of mistake, I’d assume that they’d misspoken. I’d correct them but only if it seemed necessary for clarification of their point, and I certainly wouldn’t think any less of them. But when I make that kind of mistake, it sends me into a tailspin of embarrassment even worse than when I find that I’ve typed the wrong “its” in a blog post.

When I mentioned my Jeffords/Jeffs mistake to my husband tonight, I actually had to sit down because I became lightheaded. (Yes, making verbal gaffes makes me swoon like a 19th-Century heroine. Perhaps I should loosen my corset.) I wished there were a way I could contact each person who was at book club that night (even the guy who seemed to be discussing an entirely different book than the rest of us) and own up to my error. I don’t understand why no one corrected me at the time. The thought occurred to me that I might not want to go to that book club again.

Ah, how much easier life would be if I were perfect!

Do you experience physical discomfort when you make an honest mistake in casual speech? If so, what do you do to alleviate the pain?

A Year with Frog and Toad

Panther, a cat using toilet, photographed in S...

If my cats did this, we could have left the house on time this morning (Image via Wikipedia, Photographer: User:Reward.)

NaNoWriMo Day 19 word count: 33,208

We went to see A Year with Frog and Toad, put on by the University of Utah Youth Theater this morning. We were supposed to meet some homeschooling friends out front at 9:20, and against all odds, we were making wonderful time. I stopped to fill up some water bottles (I have a thing about having enough provisions for any outing). I heard my daughter yelling from the laundry room.

“No! Put that down! No! No!”

I set down the water pitcher and walked to the doorway of the laundry room. I saw my daughter standing about a foot away from my son as he reached into the litter box with his hands, grabbed cat poo, and then put it into the small covered garbage can we have next to the little box for that purpose.

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” I yelled (or something of that nature).”Why didn’t you stop him?”

“I was putting on my jacket,” my daughter explained. Well, I guess I did only ask her to watch him, not to actually intervene if he was doing something that needed intervention.

I grabbed the baby and shook his hand to release his grip on the turd he held, then I took him in to the sink to wash his hands, saying over and over, “We’re gonna be late, we’re gonna be late.” I must have scrubbed his little hands for a good three minutes before I felt satisfied that they were clean enough.

I got our water bottles and stuffed them in the diaper bag.

“I’m thirsty!” my daughter said. I pulled out her water bottle and shoved it towards her.

“Here, take it!”

Then the baby signed “water” and I handed him his cup, which he promptly dropped on the floor.

“Please carry that water for your brother,” I directed my daughter.

“I can’t,” she said, “I need to open the door. Mommy, why are you wearing your brown shoes instead of your shiny black shoes?”

“Because we might need to park far away, and my shiny black shoes aren’t very comfortable to walk long distances in.”

“My shiny black shoes are comfortable. What does ‘walk long distances’ mean?”

I stammered trying to figure out which part of that statement she was having trouble with.

“Let’s just go to the car,” I said, propping the baby on my hip, shouldering the diaper bag, and opening the door.

“I want to be the first one out!” my daughter whined.

“Fine!” I yelled. “Just get out there! We’re going to be late!”

I locked the door to the house while my daughter stood at the car pulling on the door handle repeating over and over, “Mommy, unlock the door! Mommy, unlock the door!”

“Does that help unlock the door?” I asked her as I hit the button to unlock the car. “The yelling and whining. Does that work? Because if it does, maybe I’ll try that next time instead of using the key.”

My daughter laughed. I fastened the baby into his car seat as he grabbed a stuffed giraffe from beside him. My daughter screamed.

“Dear God, what is it now?” I asked.

“That’s my giraffe!” she said and yanked the toy from her brother’s grip. He began crying, but calmed again when I handed him his Doggies book (by Sandra Boynton).

“Fine,” I said. “Let’s just go. We’re going to be late.”

“Mommy, it’s OK if we’re…”

“No! It’s not OK if we’re late! Have you ever been to a play? Do you know if it’s OK to be late?”

I didn’t wait for an answer. I shut the baby’s door, then went around the car and got into the driver’s seat.

“Don’t go yet!” my daughter yelled. “I can’t buckle it! I can’t buckle it!”

“You have got to be kidding me!” I yelled as I got back out of the car, opened her door and fastened her buckle. She started to cry.

“Don’t talk in that voice!” she cried.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I just don’t like being late.” I hugged her and gave her a kiss, then slid back into the driver’s seat.

As we backed out, my daughter asked, “Mommy, does it really take a half an hour to get there?”

We ended up getting there just after our friends arrived. We found them right away, checked in, and got seats with no trouble. The play was lovely. It was a musical, which I didn’t expect, but which kept the kids’ attention better than a straight-up, non-musical play would have, I think. The costumes were adorable, although perhaps a little subtle for the younger kids. There seemed to be kind of a 1920’s theme to the clothing and the music and the dancing. It was cute and quite enjoyable. The baby watched a good portion of it, grew restless, and then nursed to sleep. My daughter was frightened of the Terrible Frog (just like she is when we read the book), but otherwise loved the show.

After everything turned out so well, I was left wishing I could have gotten us there without the yelling that went along with our departure. Sure, it was stressful, but in retrospect, it was actually kind of funny. I’d like to be able to see the funny part better in the moment.

I’ve been anxious lately. I’ve managed to keep my inner critic fairly quiet about my novel, but that seems to have got her working overtime criticizing everything else I do. I’m just trying to sit with my imperfection and see all of the positives, but it’s a pretty big challenge. I’m fairly confident it will be worth it, though. It kind of already is.

But I’d still like to yell less.

Perfectly Exhausted

NaNoWriMo Day 18 Word Count: 31,187

Tonight, I am tired. It took a lot of mental energy to get myself to write. Yesterday was so easy. The baby napped for 1.5 hours straight and my daughter entertained herself for most of that time, and I got my writing done before my husband even arrived home, which gave me tons of time to write a long post about a real-women’s Victoria’s Secret catalog.

This morning, the baby woke up at 4:30 with his daddy. Of course, his daddy was going off to work. I suggested he take the baby with him, but he thought I was joking. My son and I finally got back to sleep around 6:30. Then my daughter woke us up at 7:30. Well, she didn’t think she was waking us up. She was hugging the baby as he slept and whispering in his ear how much she loves him, and she was rubbing my forearms gently with her cold little fingers while I tried to sleep.

And then the baby decided that all he needed was a 40-minute nap today.

So, I’m tired. And kind of cranky. But I feel somewhat better now that I have my writing done. And I’m glad I’ve been working ahead because I didn’t have to write a full 1,667 words to meet my Day-18 goal.

OK, now I’m done complaining.

Last night I found this post by Brené Brown entitled 12 Tips to Becoming Your Authentic Self. I’m generally not a huge fan of the “9 Secrets to a Slimmer Waist” and “Increase Your IQ in 3 Easy Steps” type things. They seem, for the most part, over-simplified. But I do find value in some things that are in numbered lists (this from a woman with Seven Personal Commandments), and Brené Brown’s list is one of them. Or maybe twelve of them.

Her list is all about letting go of perfectionism. I think her tips are a great starting point. They’re not the full answer, but they’re not meant to be. Just little jumping-off points to get a person thinking. Little things like, “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best,” andPerfectionism is not self-improvement.”

It’s good stuff. Enjoy! And get some sleep. (That last one’s a reminder for myself, but if you’re tired, you can apply it to yourself, too.)

Book Review: Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride

Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride : A Psychological Study (Studies in Jungian Psychology, 12.)Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride : A Psychological Study by Marion Woodman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It probably isn’t quite fair to give a book four stars rather than five simply because I couldn’t understand all of it, but that’s what I’m doing. I think if I read it again, I would absorb more of it, partly because there’s so much there and it takes a while to percolate and make sense to me, and partly because I had very little exposure to Jungian psychology before reading this book, so the language was a little inaccessible to me at first.

Some of the take-home messages I got from Addiction to Perfection:

-We are each, man and woman, made up of masculine and feminine sides of our psyche. The masculine side is the intellectual side, and it’s also the side that strives for order and control. The feminine side is based in the body and the earth, and it’s more intuitive. Neither is better or worse than the other, but if they get out of balance in our selves and/or in society, weird, off-kilter things happen (neuroses, if I’m understanding the vocabulary correctly).

-The impulse toward perfection is the result of an imbalance toward the masculine side. The “cure” is to awaken the feminine side, build trust with it, and bring it out to help integrate the psyche.

-Perfection is static, unlike life which is constantly changing and moving. Therefore, perfection is more closely related to death than it is to life, and the pursuit of perfection can be seen as the unconscious pursuit of death.

-When we begin the transition from an overly masculine psyche to a more integrated and balanced psyche, we can expect to pass through turmoil and fear before we attain the balance and peace on the other side.

This book was very well-timed for me. The practice of shifting my focus from my mind and the intellectual, with which I am most comfortable, to my body and my intuition dovetails nicely with the mindfulness practices I’ve already begun.

One passage in particular resonated with me, as it echoes an impression I got about modern birth practices as I compared the hospital birth of my first child with the home birth of my second. It’s actually a quote from R.D Laing’s The Voices of Experience in which Laing describes the reaction of an obstetrician to a woman’s description of her home birth. The obstetrician didn’t understand why the woman would want to go through all of that when she could have experienced no pain at all in the hospital. The birthing woman explained that she wanted to have a home birth because she wanted to have the full birth experience.

“He [the obstetrician] could not see how such a sentiment could have any value. He evidently sniffed some hysterical-masochistic heresy. Birth: abolished as an active personal experience. Experience: dissolved into oblivion. She is translated from feeling subject to anaesthetic object.

The physiological process is taken over by a chemico-surgical programme. End result: the act, the event and the coherent experience of birth has disappeared.

Instead of the birth of a baby, we have surgical extraction.

This domination and obliteration of the feminine by the masculine in modern obstetrics could go some ways to explaining why women who receive pain medication during labor report lower satisfaction with their birth experiences than women who receive no pain medication. The problem isn’t one of location (home birth vs hospital birth) or whether a woman receives pain medication or not. Rather, it’s based in the marginalization of the experience and the removal of a woman’s participation in her own birth process. For many women, this marginalization is decreased or eliminated with unmedicated and/or home births. That certainly was my experience.

At any rate, I really liked the book.

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(By the way, my NaNoWriMo word count for Day 16 is 28,456)

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may seem strange, but I found many similarities between Coraline and Marion Woodman‘s Addiction to Perfection: The Still Unravished Bride.

In Woodman’s book, she deals with two archetypal mothers, the positive mother and the negative mother. The positive mother is that which nourishes us, is authentic, and brings us the balance we need between the feminine and masculine aspects of ourselves. The negative mother is inauthentic, greedy, misleading, and if it feeds us at all, feeds us poison and lies.

In Coraline, there are also two mothers, Coraline’s real mother and the “other mother.” Her real mother isn’t perfect, but she loves Coraline and does her best for her. The other mother loves her, but in a greedy way. Gaiman writes, “It was true: the other mother loved her. But she loved Coraline as a miser loves money, or a dragon loves its gold.” The other mother wants essentially to devour Coraline, and will use whatever tricks necessary to accomplish this.

Woodman describes a process of birthing ourselves as whole individuals, nurturing ourselves with our own inner, authentic mother. In the end of the book, Coraline escapes the other mother by running through a dark, warm, damp tunnel. Seems somewhat similar to a birth experience to me. Once on the other side again having vanquished the other mother, Coraline has become more herself. She’s not perfect and neither is her life, but she recognizes the joy that exists in her life and accepts and believes in her own power and wisdom.

There’s even something of a theme of hunger and eating/not eating in Coraline, which relates to Woodman’s focus on eating disorders as a way of trying to feed a starving part of ourselves.

I’m not going to revert back to my college English-major persona and write a 10-page critical essay with citations about images of the “mother” in Gaiman’s Coraline, but I thought it was interesting enough to give it a little time in my review here.

I initially picked this book up thinking it might be something I could read aloud to my five-year-old daughter. It’s rather too scary for her, I think (she still talks about how scary the scene in E.B. White’s Trumpet of the Swan was when Louis’ father crashes through the window of the music store, and it’s been probably six months since we read that book), but I can see enjoying reading it with her in a couple of years. It’s a modern story written in a classic fairytale style. I quite enjoyed it, willy-inducing images and all. And it was an enjoyable break from all of the “heavy” reading I’ve been doing lately.

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2,300 Words and a Trip to the Emergency Room

My mom bought me a MacBook, about which I’m very excited as it will make it easier for me to sneak away and write during NaNoWriMo. It’s supposed to arrive by Wednesday. Until then, I’m finding alternative ways to write away from the kiddos.

Today’s big plan: take the kids and the babysitter to the library where they’d all play in the children’s section while I wrote on the computers in the “Technology Center”. All was going according to plan. There was a computer available immediately, and I sat down and started to write. Every time I started asking whether what I was writing was any good or why I was trying to write a novel or if anyone would ever want to read this thing or what the people surfing the internet on either side of me would think if they knew I was writing a novel, I just took a deep breath and kept writing. When I hit a sentence I didn’t quite like, instead of deleting and re-writing it 17 times, I just wrote an alternate sentence or phrase to remind myself of the newer, greater wording I’d come up with, then I kept on going.

About an hour and a half later I had 2,300 words. Not a bad start for Day 1 (the goal is to average 1,667 words per day). I browsed the CDs for a bit, hit the restroom, then went in search of my children.

When I found them, it was clear that the baby had been crying. He resumed crying quite heartily when he saw me. Turns out, he’d fallen at least twice and bumped his head pretty hard on the steps in the Ice Cave play area. He calmed down long enough to nurse, then picked up the frantic crying where he’d left off. By the time we got home, he’d been crying for about 45 minutes, which is longer than he’d ever cried in his life. I put in a call to the doctor’s office and they instructed me to take him to the emergency room. He’d been crying for about an hour and a half when we got into a room, at which point he promptly stopped crying and started acting like his normal happy self. Three nurses, two doctors, and 90 minutes later, we were given the all-clear and left for home.

Not exactly what I’d planned for the first day of NaNo, but I suppose it’ll make both events more memorable (the first day of my first NaNo and my son’s first ER visit). Now to get everyone to bed and snuggle in to sleep myself in preparation for whatever adventures tomorrow may hold.

November: Writing Month Kick-Off!

240/365 National Novel Writing Month begins

Image by owlbookdreams via Flickr

Here I am jumping into November with as much enthusiasm as I can muster! I’m excited for this month’s resolutions, but I’m also greeting them with some trepidation as they’re pretty darned ambitious.

November 2010 – Writing
Focus: Jump start my writing practice and make it a part of my daily routine again.

-Write a Novel. November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo or simply NaNo for short. Did I know about this before this year? I think I must have. At any rate, I know about it now. One of the biggest hurdles to my writing has always been that pesky inner critic. She shoots down ideas before I can even get them on the page. She’s such a perfectionist that I end up staring at a blank page or an empty screen until I finally just give up and read a book. NaNoWriMo is my attempt to side-step this inner voice. I figure if I set a writing schedule and sit down and write as fast as I can and focus on averaging 1,667 words a day rather than on writing something “good,” I might be able to complete a “Shitty First Draft” (as Anne Lamott calls it in Bird by Bird) before that inner killjoy realizes what’s happening.

-Establish a Daily Writing Schedule. This is the second biggest hurdle to my writing practice. Something is always more important than writing. I recognize that this is largely a reaction to fear of that inner critic (she’s really mean and scary), and I’m hoping that with such a lofty goal as NaNoWriMo to motivate me, I’ll finally figure out how to squeeze in an hour or two of writing each day. I suppose I could always just count the time I spend blogging; in which case, I’m done!

-Facebook Fast. Facebook is the biggest time-suck of my day. It does often add value to my life, but the value I get back is a very small percentage of the time I put into it. The other thing I get back is information overload and a compulsive need to check for updates and comments people have left saying how witty I am, both of which are probably just as damaging as the sucking away of my time. I have my blog set to notify Facebook automatically when I post new entries, but I haven’t figured out how to automatically notify my Imperfect Happiness Facebook Page, so I might allow myself to log in once a day to post the link to my latest blog entry on the Page. If any of you Facebook-and-Wordpress users know how to do this automatically, I’d love some tips. Because I’m not at all sure I can simply sneak into Facebook, update my Page, then sneak back out again without getting sucked in. Also, I will allow myself to reply via e-mail to comments friends make on my profile and links and to messages they send, so if you’re a FB Friend and see me commenting, don’t get your panties in a bunch thinking I’ve broken my fast so soon. I’m just circumventing the spirit of the fast via e-mail, not breaking the rules per se.

I’ll also try to keep my resolutions from August, September, and October, perhaps without quite so much intense decluttering. If you’d like to see my full Happiness Project Schedule, please click the link to the left.

Week 13/October Review

What a trip this month has been! I’ve not gotten through the whole house yet, but much of it has been decluttered, or at least organized so that the clutter can be easily stashed. With my mother’s help, I’ve finished a bazillion unfinished tasks — mounted and hung my belly cast, cleaned out the garage, put the garden beds to bed for the winter, caulked the bathtub, framed and hung our photos and cross stitch birth samplers — and only have about 347 to go. I don’t know that I’ve made much progress on daily and weekly routines, but I’m not doing any worse than I was in September. On that, at least. I’m back to late bedtime and eating fewer vegetables, but I’m not going to dwell in that.

Oh, the purchasing fast? What purchasing fast?

Focussing on Order was more emotionally turbulent than I’d expected, and only became more difficult as the month progressed. It’s brought some awareness to how I use material possessions to try to meet emotional and spiritual needs. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now at the end of the month I’m looking to renew my search for a local religious congregation.

Yesterday I attended the Kick-Off Party for NaNoWriMo 2010 and was reminded that writers can be a socially awkward bunch (and that it’s not just me). Tune in tomorrow for more about what’s in store for me in November!

Martha Stewart is no Friend of Mine

I don’t know if it’s country-wide, but in our neck of the woods, trick-or-treating happens on the 30th when the 31st falls on a Sunday. My Halloween experiences have given me a sneak peak of what I’m likely to experience throughout this fall and winter holiday season. And unless I can change my outlook, it’s not going to be pretty.

I’ve recognized for a number of years that I can’t reasonably accomplish all of the things I ideally would like to in relation to holidays. Since I’ve never been quite willing to give up my desire for perfection, however, I generally compromise by doing a half-assed job while feeling as tense and acting as irate as I would were I actually attempting to achieve perfection.

The past couple of years, we’ve gone trick-or-treating with our friends in their neighborhood. This year, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, we’re on our own. Now that my daughter is old enough to remember Halloweens past and compare those with this year, I felt extra pressure to make this Halloween special for her. I’ve sought out every event involving costumes I could find, and we’ve been attending Halloween-related activities since the 21st. As a result, I’ve been burned out on Halloween for a week already and it’s not even officially here yet. And my daughter seems totally content with whatever we end up doing. Trick-or-treating? Great! Staying home and giving candy out to the kids who come to our door? Great!

I’m really at a loss as to how to reconcile my desire for traditional holidays (with things like decorations and special foods and gift wrap) with my desire for holidays that don’t involve my daughter very patiently explaining to my husband that Mommy tries not to yell, but that sometimes she does anyway. (“When she yells, I just cry and ask her for huggles. Sometimes she just says bad words without yelling. I think when she yells, she’s teaching me to yell.”)

Do I lower my standards even further, which would reduce our celebration of holidays to little more than a “Happy [insert holiday name here]!”? I would love to hire someone to do the decorating and planning while I just relax and concentrate on not criticizing the people I’ve hired for not doing things the way I would were I perfect. I don’t really see how I can do any celebrating at all while at the same time letting go of the perfectionist part of me.

I guess the nice part is that I’m thinking about this already and it’s just Halloween. This gives me hope for figuring something out by the time New Year’s rolls around.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we did:

 

Our Jack-o-Lanterns. Somehow I ended up carving them all myself (although I only chose the design for one). I let go of my desire for the perfect photo and let my husband take the picture while I made dinner.

This is the only reason I carve pumpkins at all.