I am so glad to be back here. Typing away. I have been very busy, of late, tending to several things that have either brought me great satisfaction or consternation; sometimes both.
The quote in yoga last week was along the lines of choosing a life for yourself. That no matter how laudable the pursuit, that if it’s not your idea or it doesn’t set your heart on fire, then it’s not for you, and pursuing it may very likely leave you feeling empty.
I have been faced with several situations which fit right up that alley, a few of them lately. Most of them were foisted on to me as a child and then I just learned that fighting someone else’s battle or managing someone else’s business was just the way the world worked, even though I was rarely the benefactor, nor did my life advance much because of my involvement.
When one parent is unavailable for one reason or another, the other parent will likely enlist a child to either manage the deficit or solve the problem, sometimes both. If that scenario rolls out enough times, the boundaries get blurred so much that it’s like wiping Crisco on a windshield. The only way to cut through and see what’s going on is to eliminate all the smears. If you’re in a situation where that simply didn’t ever really happen, then the wipers just glide over the haze and the boundaries are never really established or even imagined. You can’t see what isn’t clear.
That’s how a lot of my life went for many years. I took on way too much because I thought I was there to solve everyone’s problems. Adult responsibilities were abdicated on to me (I can’t speak for anyone else so I don’t) and slipped and slid through the Crisco.
The boundaries and responsibilities aren’t vetted and established until someone with a clear mission in mind and a strong sense of advocacy comes along and wipes down the glass with a really firm hand, soapy water and a brand-new squeegee. There it all is, laid out before you: what’s yours and what’s not yours.
Suddenly you are lost. The sun is too bright. The air is too cold, clear. The ground is too stable. The items are to large. The items are too small. The items look totally different than they used to. The items don’t fit anymore. The items aren’t familiar. You want your old items back: at least they were predictable in their unpredictability. You want the grime and the haze. You miss the instability it all assured: at least you could count on the crazy. You miss the confusion because now, you aren’t a fixer or the blame or the cause or the cure. You are just … you. Responsible only for your Self and the choices you make, and you’ve made all along for your life.
So you get used to that after a while. Sometimes you even enjoy it, this not having to apologize for the weather if it rains on a picnic day; or if the store is out of the requested ice cream; or if there are no close-enough parking spots outside the movie theater / restaurant / boutique / bookstore / psychiatrist…
I used to feel responsible for stuff like that. When you grow up with a parent who says you’re the reason s/he gets up every day, then the algebra would also dictate that you’re the reason s/he DOESN’T get up every day… It’s a double-edged sword.
The relevance any of this has to my current life is that I’ve recently attended to some things and made a few choices that have not always been “mine.” I have not always chosen them with My Interest in Mind. I chose them because it felt socially appropriate, or I wanted to Be Someone to someone else, or because the void existed and I didn’t have enough guts to say “no.” PTA vice president, PTA president, Sports Club President, rowing partner.
Always a recipe for disaster: following through on someone else’s plan because you don’t want to let them down. HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I DONE THAT?!
You learn who you are real quick when you’re in a tiny boat with another person in the middle of a river committed to a six-mile row, three miles of which are dedicated to competition. The good news is that we came in second. The could-be-better news is that I likely lost my patience and sacrificed an otherwise amiable friendship because I wanted to stick to my commitment and see my way through the race because I was not going to let any static take me under: either I was jumping out or we were going on.
My therapist would tell me that blending personalities in a confining space (be it a racing shell, a marriage, a dorm room or an airline cabin) is a tricky endeavor no matter the context. That blending is ok as long as respect is shared and the work is doled out fairly. In a rowing shell, it’s possible to not do your share of the work, but it’s unlikely if you make good time (and we made good time, we could’ve gone a little faster, but seeing as how we’d only been together six times previous, I’m pleased with how things turned out). It’s also possible to confuse your perception of the work due to stress or in my case a conscious effort to counter the stress load borne and expressed by the other person in the boat.
I wanted to row in a race this fall. I didn’t get to last year because Mom died and I was overwhelmed with grief. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to this year because I didn’t get on the water very often, so when the chance popped up to row a double with someone as equally interested and dubious of her own performance, I was nervous, but grateful for the chance. Her enthusiasm was contagious.
The thing is (and here’s where we get back to the yoga quote and the lessons I had to unlearn earlier in life by not taking one someone else’s program): just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should.
When things get crazy in my world now, I tend to go quiet. I used to jump in and lose my mind and amplify the craze (i.e., act like an idiot) because it was easier and way more fun than rationality, but those bells can’t be unrung. So now, after years of couch time and a ton of mat time, I just breathe deeply, sit on my hands and do my best to wait.
The first day we sculled in the double I chalked up the chatter to jitters and newness. I thought a few things about some of the drills we did right after warming up and I wondered about the near-constant outflow of commands at me. It had been a while since I’d been coached, and about four years since I’d had a coxswain, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to always be about drills and racing starts and other things so early in our pairing — after all: this was casual; we’d not even discussed a race yet. (We’d discussed plenty else.)
The second day, the chatter continued and I have to tell you: as a yoga person and someone who’s used to being alone a lot in a shell, the talking became unnerving. I didn’t mind talking while we stopped for breathers and breaks, but it wasn’t like that. I decided I could do a race, hopeful that things would ease down.
I also started to fall into a creepy and familiar place, the Crisco. The boundaries were getting blurry and I started to feel responsible for this person’s ease and I also wanted to be liked, be trusted and be considered a help. (Bad move.)
So I talked to my husband. I described the scenarios and conversations. He told me he was getting antsy just hearing about it. He noticed I started ramping up too, taking on the anxiety / jitters I was steeped in in the boat. “You have to get to a place where you’re comfortable, Mol, or this is going to be a disaster.” I noted internally that I felt like I was with my mother when I was in the shell with this partner. She expressed so many verbal observations, too many issues with the rigging, the oar locks, the slides, the water (it was too dark), the position she was rowing, the footstretchers, the boat itself… Ordinarily, I’d consider what I could to make it all better — make it stop, just make it stop! — solve the problem. Be the fixer. But not anymore. Something switched in me and I knew the difference between what was mine and what wasn’t.
The following week, I asked my coach to observe us in a launch, it was great. She was super helpful and really got us to work on some of our stroke habits and errors. She said, “No talking in the boat. When you talk in the boat, you screw everything up; you lose place of your hands, where your breath is, where your blades are, where you are on the slide… just be quiet. Eyes ahead and no talking.”
I WAS SOOOO HAPPY!!!
A funny moment occurred between my partner and me after a row later that week. She expressed her awareness of her chatter and said kindly but without apology that when she gets nervous she talks a lot. “I understand,” I said, because I did understand. “I used to be like that,” I said.
She asked, “Oh? What do you do when you get nervous?” I laughed a little and paused. I said, “I just get nervous. But I don’t talk anymore. I get quiet and try to focus. My nervous chatter is wasted energy,” and I finished to myself, “I still seek a moment to learn to be OK with the silence.” There was no comment.
A couple more days of practice and she made a few more asides about seats we rowed and inquiries about the shell. I took on one request which made sense for safety and fitting concerns and that was taken care of. I also took on another request, despite my better instinct to let it go. I paid for that one. After that, I was out. I realized they weren’t mine. (There was that old Crisco lurking again: solve someone else’s problem.)
I decided ahead of time that regardless of how the event was going to end up, that I was going to hold fast to whatever fraction that belonged to me: that I would make it mine and I would make it good.
The night before the race we had a disagreement because of a late-night email she sent me which I considered an unnecessary distraction / spill over from her continued apprehension about the class in which she registered us and boat we’d rigged and were promised. I was done. I offered to drop out and let her go in a single. I was determined, even at this late juncture that I was still going to brand for me whatever I could of the training and of the moment: the choice was going to be hers because the problem was hers. I had to leave her with her stuff.
This was a big moment for me. I’ve been faced with many of them before and I know this won’t be the last. The more experienced I become with familiar personalities and Crisco moments, the faster I’ll be looking for the squeegee to cut through the muck and show me what’s mine.
We spoke by phone the next morning and agreed to race. We smoothed over what we could. There’s a song “Loving a Person” by Sara Groves which starts out, “Loving a person the way they are isn’t just a small thing, it’s the whole thing …” and it goes on to say “it’s the beauty of seeing things through…” and that was the message for me in this situation. I was going to accept how she was and how things were, but I didn’t have to own what wasn’t mine and I was going to see it all the way through — we’d worked hard to get here in a short amount of time and if parlayed properly, we were both going to be each others’ teachers.
When we pushed off to row the 2.5 miles to the starting line, my further (Crisco) attempts at smoothing things over were received but brushed aside; she made it clear, there would be no group hug. That’s the part about being in a small boat in the middle of a river that teaches you about yourself: just get it done (seeing it through). Sometimes you gel, but not then. It felt pointy and perfunctory for the most part, but I can’t own that. It was never mine. What’s great for me is that I realized it and we had no choice but to work together to get it done. To me, it was a success!
It was a “head race” which is a longer distance and thus is usually following the curves of a river. You’re also racing a clock. The starts are staggered to allow for room on the water. We came in second of three boats. Although we were the first to start, we had our asses handed to us by the boat which started immediately after us. It passed us in the first two minutes but we kept the boat which started after that one where it belonged. I knew we wouldn’t likely win, but I didn’t want to finish last. That was my intention.
And I’ve decided that it has to be this way for all of my life. That if I grew up with dysfunction, that I have to find a way to make it worthy and valuable: mine. That if I have a crappy time at a party or event, that I find something about the occasion that makes it mine, so that it doesn’t belong to anyone else: I wore my favorite shoes or scarf or the weather was gorgeous that night or I heard an old favorite song I’d long forgotten.
So it was with the race: I made mine what I could. The weather was perfect, the water fair and I had a great workout. Are you wondering? The chatter in the boat continued but I just did what I could to listen for “need to know” content and I want to say we kept our spirits up even though we were both pretty raw from the previous night’s discourse.
We made good time, about 25 minutes and docked well “That was very professional!” the dock master said and he was right, she’s a terrific bow seat even though she is convinced she’s terrible at it. I disagreed once and moved on.
So I guess this is a long-winded way of inspiring you to know the difference between what’s yours and what isn’t yours. What’s yours feels good and it fits. What isn’t yours feels forced and might cause you some struggle — but you can always make it yours when you find the beauty in it.