Here’s the thing–I just don’t deal very well with reality. The whole 24 hours in a day concept? Sure, I’ll tell you with a straight face that I get it, but then you should ask me what I anticipate getting done in the next 24 hours. Or, I might have that covered, but if you multiply it at all, say, times two (as in a weekend), and ask me what I think is going to happen, if I’m honest at all about the list in my head (or the one on paper, or in my laptop), we’ll stand there realizing I’m in cloud cuckoo land.
In some ways, my husband helps me notice reality (in other ways not so much). He did me the hugest favor when we were first living together. I have what is officially diagnosed as “mild to moderate hearing loss,” and although I’ve known about it since I was five, I was never told I needed hearing aids. I missed a lot, and in conversation, people would often say, “Did you hear what I just said?” and I would always, ALWAYS say yes, because it’s embarrassing to miss what people are saying, and it’s exhausting to attend carefully to what people are saying when you have even mild to moderate hearing loss, and I wasn’t raised to show my weaknesses. (In general, I think I was raised to be honest, but nevermind about that.) Nath was the first person in my life, ever, who added a second question to “Did you hear what I just said?” If you know nath, this won’t surprise you. He said, “All right, so what did I just say?” At that point, I might be honest and say “no, I didn’t hear you,” but I was just as likely to take one last stab at it and say, “You said, ‘the broccoli is on the air conditioner?’” It was hilarious in one way, because he wouldn’t have said anything about broccoli or an air conditioner, but embarrassing and frustrating (for both of us) in every other way. So I got hearing aids.
So what I need, and nath can’t be this person for me, is someone who can help me with the math and ask me the second question when it comes to scheduling my time–not just, “What’s on your to do list?” but also “is your to do list in any way realistic given that you have neither clones nor droids nor parallel universes that might help you in the next 24 hours?” Obviously, it would be best if I could ask myself that question, and I try, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t always deal with reality well.
I like to say that my life goal is “sustainable chaos,” which I imagine as just enough stuff going on and lying around that life feels vibrant and alive but not overwhelming. It’s a skinny-minny line between “sustainable” and “horrific,” however. At least in my experience. I want my house to look like a professorial version of Mary Engelbreit-land, but it’s really easy to go from that over into my own private episode of Hoarders.
As I mentioned in a previous “inner weasel” post, I tend to try to do too much. It’s sort of a 21st century virus, I think, though it certainly was catching in the late 20th century. It’s what we say to each other all the time, right? “I’m behind at work,” “I’m too busy,” or “I don’t know how some people manage to get enough sleep.”
And as I’ve mentioned so far in several posts (sensing a theme here, or a chronic, nagging complaint I really should see someone about), I tend to suffer from burnout.
So this post from Nadia Bolz-Weber, one of my spiritual heroes, came at the perfect time. “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No” is pretty mind-boggling to me. She has a terrific list of good reasons to say no, and concludes with the following:
“Women especially get the message that they are not allowed to say no and if they do say no they should feel really bad about it. This is a lie.
My friend Sara told me that when I write an email or letter telling someone no, to write it, walk away for 20 minutes, then come back and take out all the apologies because they make me “sound like a girl”.
Now I try and say no graciously and with some humility but without apology.
Certainly we should all say yes to some things that are inconvenient or not on the top of our list of how we’d like to spend our time. I’m not talking about trying to pawn off narcissism as a virtue. I’m just suggesting that sometimes we say yes for really stupid reasons and then spend our time or energy on things that rob us from being able to say yes to things that are actually ours to do and care about.
Lastly, if you need to say no, you do NOT need to try and borrow the authority to do so from the person you are saying no to. Would it be ok if I need to say no? Oh I’m so sorry. I hope that’s ok. Are you ok with that?
Yikes. Stop it. (note to self)”
This really resonated with me. The following phrase occurred to me at work a few weeks ago, which I haven’t used yet in seriousness, but am holding in my head as a kind of talisman for when someone asks me to do something and doesn’t take no for an answer: “Please use this as an example of how budget cuts are beginning to affect quality.” It’s not a bad point, really, and in some cases it’s true, but why do I feel the need to have a sentence like that in my head? (I mean, other than amusing myself and a few others.) Because somewhere deep inside me I believe that no matter how hard I work, no matter how much I do, I’m not doing enough to justify my existence on the planet.
That’s pretty wacked out.
I actually read “The Spiritual Practice of Saying No” after I’d read “The Spiritual Practice of Saying Yes.”
Here’s what resonated with me in that post:
“Any Pastor or leader of an organization that requires a great deal of volunteerism to function can attest to how frustrating our culture of selfishness can be. The people who are inclined to say yes to everything do all the work and then burn out and become resentful about the people who are inclined to say no to everything. It’s as though the world is divided into martyrs and slackers.”
I can see my life as plotted out on a roller-coaster graph careening between martyr and slacker. I don’t seem to get moderation, though I have long pointed out that “moderation in all things” is not a very moderate statement, and that “moderation in most things” makes more sense as a moderate motto.
Honestly, this is a big part of why organized religion and I are spending some time apart at the moment. I don’t seem to know how to be a part of a faith community without volunteering too much, too soon, and burning out. The last faith community I was part of got some good stuff from me, and I got some good stuff too, but at the end, I was so burned out that I ended up responding to some social missteps by pretty much cutting all ties. I felt as though I were Jonah, vomited out by the whale. Headed in the right direction, sure, but YUCK.
Bolz-Weber concludes, “Some of us need to know how to say no to what is not really ours to do. And some of us need to know how to say yes to what might be ours to do, we just don’t feel like doing it. And most of us are both of these people.”
I am both those people, all the time pretty much. So. How do I figure out what is mine to do? And what is not? Until such time as I can answer those questions, I think I will continue to have problems over-packing to the point of not being able to zip the second-hand kid’s backpack on rollers I bought to use for my classes since my shoulder is so messed up I can’t carry bags any more. I would worry even more about looking utterly uncool and middle aged if I hadn’t recently seen this video of George Clooney in which he uses the roller to pull his backpack. Just one more reason to love the man.
(And yes, I do realize that by adding George Clooney to this post, I’ve cluttered it up, but THAT’S what I mean by sustainable chaos–I did, in fact, say no to including every single thing I thought of while writing this, but I said yes to George Clooney. In that sense, I know one thing that is mine to do. When it comes to Clooney, I will always, always say yes.)
UPDATE: It has occurred to me that I injured my shoulder by trying to do too much in the pool, exacerbated the injuring by doing a weight-lifting routine I wasn’t really ready for, and made everything worse by carrying really, really heavy bags on the same side as the injured shoulder. Lovely as a metaphor, really a drag as reality. So I’m just going to meditate on that pain for a few years.