few days ago I was talking to a colleague who is the perfect embodiment of “I
got it”-ness. With her Vogue-in-the-classroom look and absolute dedication to
going above and beyond the call of duty for her students and all of the
students in our school, she is a failure-free go-to gal, who clearly revels in
that role—and reputation. But that morning her smile was tense, and her laugh-whatever-off
ease was strained. What had put her over the top was not administration, with all
its glorious decisions. No. It was family. What a shock, huh? Why is it that
the people who are supposed to be our mattresses offering endless support are
often the people who give us beanie bags?
That day her bottomless pot of things
she “got” overflowed when her sister volunteered her—because she’s so good at
it—to get their father’s gift, less than a week before Christmas. Her husband
protested, but she preferred one-more-thing-in-her-pot than to deal with another
‘round and ‘round conversation that she would have with her sister that would deflate
her more than the search for the perfect B&B for his gift. So she took on
one more task, once again.
I asked how busy her sister is. She
shrugged, unimpressed by her sister’s busyness, and commented that it’s normal.
Then she added, with a hint of scandal in her tone, that when her sister needs
“me” time, she takes the day off and does nothing for anyone—she tends only to
herself she practically whispered. A concept she found hard to fathom, since she
is never able (willing?) to slough off responsibility.
“So,” I said, “she’s overwhelmed by the
ordinariness of life.”
She looked at me with a “Bingo” look
and laughed a laugh that doesn’t stop until you’re ready to lose the aha-ness
of the moment.
That’s when I realized that I am like
her sister because so often I, too, am “overwhelmed by the ordinariness of life.”
How else can you explain the medal I expect after I finally call to question a
charge on a credit card bill, or actually check my cell phone bill before
paying, or bring the car into the garage for regular maintenance? Far too often
life, even in its basic configuration, is overwhelming.
The other day, the mortgage broker at
my credit union (I’m apartment hunting) told me that I shouldn’t have gotten
another credit card (I don’t want to use the Bank of America card anymore) because
it doesn’t look good when my credit score is checked, and also that I should
not have let the balance on my credit card four months ago be more than 50% of
the limit, even if it was paid off on-time. How was I supposed to know that regular
activities would count against me in my credit rating and possibly in the
mortgage rate I would get? Maybe I should have known this, but it’s darn hard
to pay attention to the important and the trivial, and remember which is which.
I joke with my students who are anxious
when they receive a failing grade on an essay, that we are not born knowing how
to write a five-paragraph essay. I reassure them that it is okay, that I will
teach them and work with them, and that they will have a few years to perfect
it before they move onto other forms of essays that they will need to perfect. So
much of what we need to know is not intrinsic: experience trumps intuition. And
there is so much experience to meet and master.
I’m not sure where the root of the overwhelm
problem lies, but I’m sure that we are all overwhelmed at some point, some of
us on a daily basis. We are expected to do too much and know too much. Just
living life requires more skills and knowledge than a person can comfortably
But there doesn’t seem any stopping.
Now that I’m looking to buy an apartment, I’m thinking of all the
do-it-yourself things I might have to do. Maybe I shouldn’t have watched the
home repair show that made fixing the kitchen look so easy, but I did and now I
wonder if I should learn to use drills or saws or whatever those cutting tools
are. Another colleague said that a friend of hers has become a competitive
crafting mom; she blames Pinterest for that—a combination of keeping up with
Ms. Jones and wanting to be, at least, on par with all the other mothers.
Seriously, spring blossom cookies in white and pink fondant or a tower of white
Christmas tree cookies—what happened to Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies using
the recipe on the back of the bag?
Who is enabling all the overwhelming?
The expectation that we learn and then
do so many things exceptionally well is turning out to be too much for too many
of us. The other day I heard a scientist talk about a field that he had started
and how now, not even 50 years later, he is unable to keep up with all of the
information and discoveries in his field.
Every year I have about 150 students. I
learn their first and last names in a week. I remember their names for a year.
But once the year is over, their names are as the names of the stars in the
sky—unknown to me. That seems a good way for my mind to handle the overload.
How many people did Neanderthal woman know? And how many routes to how many houses
and supermarkets and stores and types of restaurants (Thai, Chinese, Mexican,
Greek, Vietnamese, barbeque, breakfast place, fast food, and deli) did she need
to know? No wonder people are picking up yoga and meditation where the goal is
to silence the mind. At least I think it is (I should check that).
While I am overwhelmed, I am also
astonished by the things that overwhelm others. Yes, I excuse myself and not them.
I guess that makes me a hypocrite, but it also makes me a person trying to give
herself a break and a bit of a lift at the same time. A coping strategy for
someone who doesn’t do the lotus position or hum ohm, and needs to stay away
from those cookies, fondanted or not.
“Overwhelmed by the Ordinariness of
Life” is going to be a regular feature because it’s important to curtsey to
ourselves in recognition of all we do and laugh at how some people are stumped
by the very nature of putting one foot in front of the other—which really is
laughing at ourselves, which we really need to keep doing so that we, too, can
keep placing those feet one in front of the other. I’m not sure why, but this
feels critical to me. Maybe it’s because I am not a doer and the degree of
doing that I do in a day must be acknowledged so that I don’t keep thinking
that I have done nothing. It may also help me better value people, like my
brother and my mother, who bother the heck out of me by how overwhelmed they
are by the ordinariness of life. But more on them in future posts—this is my
curtsey to self.