The ‘good girl’

So late last week, the Universe, in her infinite wisdom, presented a wonderful opportunity to practice “enoughness” — to notice my thoughts on that topic with curiosity rather than judging myself as lacking.

“Enoughness” is knowing and believing I am enough, without needing affirmation, confirmation, or even recognition from other people.

It’s a tough task for me. It has been my whole life. You’d think I would have it nailed by now.

The backstory. Without divulging too many details (for safety reasons — this is a small town), I recognized a “bad guy,” in the vernacular of my cop friends, at one of my workplaces. This individual was wanted by the authorities, but because of company policy and procedure I couldn’t alert them (or lose my job), and those in charge at the worksite didn’t seem to have any urgency about reporting his sighting.

As luck would have it, this person returned the following night, the police were called and they took him into custody.

It was an adrenaline rush, the kind I used to get at the newspaper covering courts, cops and fire. But more than that, I felt proud of myself for doing some detective work that led to his arrest. This initially was my payoff.

But in the days after, I wanted attention. I wanted recognition of my resourcefulness. I resented other people who inserted themselves in the arrest scenario. This is embarrassing to admit, but I told myself (and them in my head), “If it weren’t for me, there wouldn’t have been an arrest. This whole thing went down because of me (implied: and my brilliance 🙄).”

Now, I know that everyone loves a pat on the back, an atta-girl for a job well done, but this was something else. I craved it, as though my actions themselves would disappear if someone else didn’t confirm by praise … well, that I was a “good girl.” (See why it’s embarrassing?)

I struggled with staying open and curious about these feelings. This time, when I felt the fear or hostility rise up, I talked to myself gently. I reminded myself that I was enough, that I knew what I did was enough, and that although kudos are nice, my knowing was enough. I didn’t need anyone’s validation.

On a recent Writers Oasis audio, Jennifer Louden talked about practice and patterning. As it is with practicing a new skill or habit to get better at it, so it is with our thoughts — even the negative ones. The more we think those self-defeating or harmful thoughts, the more we’re “practicing” them, and the more ingrained they become as patterns of thinking.

What I am attempting to practice instead, with the goal of changing my thought pattern once and for all, is self-compassion, self-acceptance, and the belief, nay, the knowledge — that I am enough … and always have been.

‘Welcome to adulthood. Nothing is as you remember it.’

My daughter ordered a Cabbage Patch doll for her young son, so when his new sister arrives this month, he will have a baby to care for, too, and won’t feel left out.

A. had such a doll when she was small. The doll’s name was Edie; it was the moniker bestowed in the adoption papers that were tucked into the cardboard box by Edie’s maker. Edie had a chubby peach-colored cloth body and a soft plastic head that smelled perpetually of baby powder.

That’s what A. had in mind when the package arrived and she opened it. That’s the doll she wanted to give to her son.

A picture from EBay of a Cabbage Patch doll, not Edie but similar.

“The god damn cabbage patch doll is hard bodied,” she texted me.

I texted back, “Welcome to adulthood. Nothing is as you remember it.”

I’ve been thinking about that flip remark, and about memory itself, how fluid it is. How at times it can either smooth the edges like breakers on sea glass, or sharpen them into shivs.

Memory is both reliable and unreliable. It is a reflection of our experience of what has been, but not a soulless carbon copy of it.

Memories have so much padding around them (Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition: 1. Soft material used to fill the hollow parts of something; 2. The representation of something in terms that go beyond the facts. … Did I choose the right word or what?!)

I once heard memories, especially those related to intense emotions or trauma, described as like Post-It notes. How memories are organized in our brains is not into neat and organized files within file drawers, but as a pile of Post-Its of all different colors, shapes and sizes stuck together, one on top of another. Pull one, it’s attached to another.

That’s why one memory, when triggered, can ping-pong to this one and that one and then that one — out of order and not even necessarily related. (It’s why rape survivors, when recounting their experience, often can’t do so chronologically, so they are called unreliable or are accused of making up details. There’s a whole new law enforcement protocol called the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview that takes into account what we know about how memory works.)

Back to A. and her disappointment about this 2019 version of Edie. She remembered Edie accurately, at least from my recollection. But the new doll, being not at all what the old one was, couldn’t preserve the past nor unravel all the good memories and emotions around Edie. That is what A. wanted to pass on to her son.

It’s for the same reason some of us hold on to stuff we’ve been given or have collected over the years. It’s not the stuff, it’s not the doll; it’s what we knew and loved and counted on in the past. That’s what is written on all those Post-It notes that we’re trying to recover and even recreate. It’s the memories and emotions tucked around those objects.

It’s the intangible padding, not the thing itself, that we’re after.

And there’s only so much of that you can pass on.

Not just a Whit for Wednesday

Why isn’t it safe to desire, to want something with my whole heart and believe it’s both attainable and a good thing?

I wrote on the topic of desire last week and what’s at the root of my procrastination: the heaviness, the overwhelm, of getting from here to there. It feels like too much … and I am not enough.

As writer and writing teacher Jennifer Louden suggests:

Desire is not about fulfillment. It’s about working with the gap between reality and our idealized longing — and not clinging there.” ~ Jennifer Louden

If there’s one thing I can lay claim to it’s idealized longing.

Idealized everything, actually. I’m not a realist and never have been. Check my horoscope — sun and moon signs, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Enneagram, numerology reading. They all support it.

I like this about myself. Why not believe in the possibility of something way better than what is?

Except when it comes to my own goals. Idealizing those keeps me stuck, not motivated to move toward achieving them.

Breaking goals down into bite-sized pieces isn’t the problem. I’ve had lots of training in time management.

For me it’s not safe to desire. There’s the fear of not being good enough, of falling short, of not measuring up to my own (super high) expectations and the voiced (or imagined) expectations of others, of embarrassing myself (Yeah, I know. Weird. I’m still working on uncovering the root of this one).

There’s also this other fear: How do I know what I really want? How do I know that I can trust myself and believe in myself, that my desires are really my desires, and that my desires are “legit”?

It’s ridiculous when I write it down. If I desire something, it’s my desire. Simple. But I make it complicated. I think I want x, but do I really? Should I want x? What if I’m only telling myself I want x … but don’t really? Or what if wanting x is not a “good” desire to have? Maybe someone out there knows better than I do what I really want.

And then, what if I get x and it’s not really what I wanted? Then I’d have spent (meaning wasted) all that time and energy on reaching it, all for nothing. (There’s that theme of time again that leads to procrastination.)

I don’t think I’m alone in this lack of confidence in my own knowing. I think it’s an issue and a struggle for many women.

There was — and still is — cultural assumptions and programming regarding what women can and can’t, should and shouldn’t, desire and do. Recall history. There are women writers who used a male pseudonym to avoid discrimination; much made of women who “broke barriers” by entering male-dominated fields; and efforts being made to overcome stereotypes and attitudes that still keep girls and women out of professions in science, technology, engineering and math. Overwhelmingly, men still make the rules that govern women’s bodies; the Equal Rights Amendment, introduced in Congress in 1921, still is not law; and sexism in politics is alive and well. I’m sure you have your “favorites” as well.

Is it any wonder many of us don’t feel safe in wanting what we want, even when in our stronger moments we feel quite competent, thank you very much.

My friend Debbie and I have talked about this a lot over the years since we’ve “awakened.” We’ve wished for some type of program for girls — born fearless — to help them hold on to that belief in themselves, so they don’t have to rediscover their enoughness when they enter middle age as we did.

May it be so.

And yes, that’s an idealized longing. But if we all work with that gap between today’s reality and the goal of us all believing in ourselves and that which only we are uniquely prepared to offer to the world, it can happen.

I want this with my whole heart and believe it’s both attainable and a good thing.

That’s a desire I feel safe in having.