Monday, February 25, 2013

Perfection vs. Chaos vs. NO THANK YOU

About a month ago, I officially (if privately) declared myself as being a part-time doctoral dissertation proposal writer. My new co-advisors (who are fantastic, compared to my previous nightmare advisor - I got an email from them asking if I wanted to meet to discuss my progress, and nearly fell out of my chair) are encouraging me to set my own pace, and when one sets one's own pace, why should one be knocking herself out when one does not have to? It was remarkably freeing to disengage myself from the expectation that I be frantically trying to finish.

And then today a couple of friends shared this post about how we sanitize our lives before posting them on Facebook and how we really should be sharing more of the reality - frustrations, spilled cocoa, and all. That's all very well and good, I suppose - although a more truthful version of my news feed would involve way more carbohydrate cravings than anyone is interested in hearing about, particularly from a thin person - but it also just idealizes the other end of the spectrum.

The way I'm seeing it this afternoon, there are two fields of battle on the internet, as well as "IRL": 'Whose life is more perfect' (Pintrest, you are an accessory here) and 'Whose life is most hectic.' Both options exhaust me. I'd like to declare myself the Switzerland of this particular war. I would like to just not play this game. I would like to define perfection for my own self, and this morning that was waking up on a Monday morning with one important task on my list: Mail four packages.

You see, by being on the part-time track, I am rediscovering things about myself that I had lost and hadn't even remembered to miss; laughing out loud at the computer screen and going out of my way to do nice things for people. I surprised myself at one point, bursting into laughter at the guy who fell off a treadmill, shoes flying every which way. I laughed when Bones breezed through Booth's crossword puzzle and then earnestly asked where Gilligan's Island is located. It's such an amazing feeling! It's like deja vu; I think I remember it but I'm not quite sure.

One of my packages this morning was just my Gingher scissors that need sharpening (dropping really good scissors on a cement floor should be punishable by a lot more than an eight dollar refurbishing fee). The other three, though, were little presents for friends across the country, people that I don't necessarily even know very well, I just felt like doing something nice for them. This shouldn't feel so unusual, is the point; I used to be the kind of person who did stuff like this on a fairly regular basis, I think. I don't want to live a life in which writing an address and making a trip to the automated postage thingy feels like the final, camel-killing straw. I don't want the little things in life to be shoved out by the panic of too much to do. We'd have to ask my friends if they really wanted me to make them a set of cloth napkins, but - cliche alert - it's the little things in life that really matter.

I love/hate it when yet another cliche turns out to be true. I love that we have such pat phrases to describe life truths, but I hate not being able to come up with a more original way to say it. I feel like I did when I read The Dialectic of Sex for the first time and had an utterly profound realization, only to turn the page and discover that Shulamith Firestone had figured it out before I was even born.

It's also true that it's easy for me to come to this conclusion from my relatively privileged position. Between child support, the margin on the house I rent out, a very lucky housing situation, and a modest standard of living, our basic needs are mostly covered. I can work part-time, write my dissertation part-time, and still have time for three o'clock tea with Twelve and the occasional gratuitous Anastasia re-read.

I'd conclude with something cheesy and grossly side-steppy like "everybody should be so lucky," but what I really mean is that everyone should be empowered to pursue whatever kind of life they want, whether that is super-perfect or super-frantic or just plain chill. This is partly - perhaps mostly - a call for society to distribute wealth in a manner that makes this possible, but for many of us in the middle class it's also a question of personal empowerment; a personal decision to step off the treadmill (hopefully gracefully and with no loss of shoes) and define success for oneself.

My next challenge is to define my parenting efforts as successful even though Twelve's definition of success still involves owning handbags with garish logos.

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