I come to this weird place mentally from a society that’s constantly asserting opinions as facts and inundating us with a never-ending barrage of commentary that seems to boil down to one thing: one size should always fit all. But it’s simply not true. It’s not practical. It’s not usually helpful. But somehow that idea that we’re all supposed to fit into the same customs, the same values and the same processes is everywhere, hammering away at us as we try to navigate things as simple as going about our jobs or choosing our outfit for the day. It pervades how we eat, who we are “allowed” by society to love and encourage, who we can support financially, what shows we can and cannot watch… the whole thing is exhausting. And it’s really puzzling here in the US, where individuality and independence is supposed to be upheld as the pinnacle of being (according to stereotypes and financial/political aspirations) to see such a strident and teeth grinding rage manifest whenever someone chooses to exit someone’s idea of uniformity. So we’re apparently supposed to be “unique” and “self-sufficient,” but “not like that.”
Somehow, this clash of ideals manifested in my mind today as I was driving home and passively reviewing things I’d read and seen and felt this week. We have announcements in my gardening class on Monday nights and one of the things that has been announced several times over the last few weeks is how many people have completed enough volunteer hours and education credits to immediately receive their advancement to Master Gardeners at the end of our final class. Those people are celebrated and lauded. A moderate round of applause and a brief crowing of such an accomplishment. And, as I drive home today, I remember this announcement and I feel… something…. inside. I feel like I’ve been slacking. There’s an enormous event being held next weekend that they’ve requested we all volunteer for as interns. They’ve also admitted there’s not very many slots left for volunteers to sign up for as nearly all the required jobs have been filled at this juncture. And I’m feeling this negative feeling, perhaps a reproach, towards myself for not having signed up yet. For not being ahead of schedule in the reading. For not having completed and turned in all my education and volunteer hours yet. But here’s the thing: I was legitimately busy. And I have until the end of the year to complete these hours. And the Expo is nearly full up on volunteers so they’re not desperate or lacking. And there’s a slew of birthdays happening over the next couple of weeks that will be celebrated both this weekend and the weekend of the Expo in my circle of friends. I’ve also just returned from a trip out of state and am still doing the laundry and cleaning the house and putting away the suitcases. On top of that, I still haven’t completely moved into my studio or finished purging and putting away the decor from my major event in January. So why, in the name of dog, am I comparing myself to a retired married couple that managed to leave their home a few times and watch a few videos? They have nothing like the schedule that I do. They have nothing like the commitments that I do. They are apples to my coconuts.
“You are so LAZY!”–Dad
And there it is. There is the reason that I compare my life to the life of an elderly retired couple with nothing else to do most days than weed the flower beds and look at the birds. I must be lazy. My dad said so. But here’s the thing…
I’m not actually lazy.
It’s relatively complicated and convoluted how we, the residents of the United States, arrived at the idea that any moments spent in lack of productivity were evil, so I’m going to skip all that and sum it up with “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop” is an idea that my dad apparently ascribed to. And because my ADD, salutatorian of my class, involved in multiple extracurricular school activities, taking voice lessons while doing a distance learning course in music theory, choir touring, solo performing in church, songwriting backside liked to sleep until 10 or 11am on Saturdays or during the summer, I must be lazy. And I’m going to tell you right now, Ben Franklin can keep his sunrises to himself because I tend to start productivity around 2pm and don’t stop until somewhere between 2 and 4am. That’s a 12-14hr span of productivity every damned day when left to my own devices so early risers do not, in fact, have a monopoly on “getting it done.” And that’s where The Princess and the Frog comes in.
For approximately 3 minutes of our lives, Mama Odie proclaims the need for folks to “dig a little deeper” to find what they truly need, sagely pointing out that what they want and what they need are usually two completely different things. What Prince Naveen wants is to be human again so he can go back to loafing about and womanizing while his parents support his lavish lifestyle. Mama Odie obviously wants him to learn he needs to learn to work for things in life. Mama Odie wants him to feel the pride, joy and value of earning his way. So who walks away hearing that message? Tiana. Tiana has already been shown as a complete workaholic that has so little time for her friends she’s a punchline. In the age of the internet those girls would have left her in the dust long ago, only barely remembering her as someone they grew up with. But since this is New Orleans in the 1920s, their world is smaller than the one we know, so they still see her regularly and still have hopes that one day she’ll finally accept their invitation to come out with them. You see the montage early in the movie showing she only sleeps for a couple of hours a night in an effort to “work hard enough” to raise the money for a down payment on a building that’s literally falling apart, all in hopes of making her dream of opening her own restaurant come true. As she jubilantly proclaims this is what she learned from the song to Mama Odie, Mama and her menagerie visibly wilt and you know Tiana’s on the wrong path still. Mama Odie did sing a verse specifically to Tiana in her upbeat serenade, but it was about looking up from your work and opening your eyes to see the love in your life before it’s too late to enjoy it. Tiana isn’t crazy. There was a “work harder” element to the song, but that message was for Naveen. Tiana is missing out on living her best life because she listened to the wrong verse.
Speaking of verses, let’s circle back to my Dad and the idea of uniformity and conformity, blah, blah, blah. I grew up in a very conservative Protestant Christian environment. We weren’t Quiverfull, but I knew those people. My dad admired those people wistfully. I wasn’t stuck in dresses with my hair in a bun, but my dad definitely thought about it when he saw families with an even stricter policy than the one he imposed. And a part of that policy that was rigorously enforced was that when the church doors were open we were there. I went to 2 services on Sunday and Sunday School. I went to AWANA. I went to youth group. I was in the choir. I assisted in set up and tear down for events. I started working weddings with him when I was like, 11. I started performing solos on the church platform when I was 6. We were questioned Sunday afternoon about the sermon (no children’s church for us) and about what we learned in Sunday School that day. We were supposed to memorize scripture and the lyrics to hymns. We went to a Christian school instead of the local public school. We had family devotions. We were supposed to do personal devotions. We were supposed to attend Bible studies. To say that I was presented with scripture and doctrine regularly doesn’t even remotely touch on how much of my life was permeated with “The Word.” Something I realized about midway through highschool was that there were just sermons that didn’t pertain to me. I was sternly informed that there was always something to get out of every sermon and I was supposed to look closely in order to find the way that sermon did, in fact, apply to me, but I’m a bright girl and there were just things that got preached about that had nothing to do with me. Unfortunately, like Tiana, I started paying attention to verses not meant for me in that moment and graduated with a whole slew of beliefs about myself that were completely incorrect. I’m not lazy. I’m not usually spiteful, although I do have my moments. I’m not usually greedy and the culture there actually had to teach me to be jealous. My confidence was mistaken for pride. My intelligence was confused with arrogance and my curiosity with challenging authority. My asexuality was mistaken for a strength against temptation to lust. My anorexia convinced people I never struggled with gluttony. I had no idea who I was until over 2 decades later. Because all these sermons and verses that I listened to I had been convinced had to have something to do with me.
I have a thing for sidekick characters. In case you’re unfamiliar, this is Heather Burns (may she live forever) playing the best friend character, Meryl Brooks, in Two Weeks Notice. And BLESS her delivery of this line. I hear it in my head now when it suddenly dawns on me: not everything is about you. See someone ranting online? Not everything is about you. Friend didn’t text back for a couple of days and starting to wonder if it was something you said? Not everything is about you. Someone’s shooting off the mouth online about “those millennials and their entitlement” again? EVERYTHING is not about YOU!
Eh. Those sorts of things maybe are a bit more obvious. So let’s get philosophical. “Today’s culture is unwilling to get involved and do the work because they’ve just had everything handed to them all their lives…something, something, participation trophies.” This used to burn my buttons. I mean really just lit me straight on fire, Inside Out style.
Then I got ludicrously in my feelings frustrated about how so many people I worked with, now well into adulthood, were doing the bare minimum or less and I was over here burning out trying to keep everything going and to do everything to the highest degree of excellence. And it hit me… that there really are full fledged adults out here running around being bad at their jobs and sleeping completely peaceful about it through the night. I literally cannot fathom. I’m still embarrassed about missing a deadline because I got sick 5 years ago. But those people are getting their paychecks direct deposited on Thursday, same as me. And, get this: there are people out there that do not care at all about their jobs. Hand me a pumpkin spice latte, my yoga pants and some Uggs, because I white girl cannot even. I do not have a box for that in the filing closet of my brain. So when people are out there complaining about there being people that don’t want to work, it’s actually true, even though I cannot FATHOM even having the capability to do it. When there are people out there complaining about service being substandard and the provider behaving like they don’t care at all, that stuff actually does happen every single day. But I didn’t do it. It’s not about me. I don’t have to look at my schedule and see how I can work harder for the company because we had a team meeting and it came up that we’re missing the mark as a team. I’m already giving the place my all. It’s time for someone else to step up, not for me to buckle down harder and overcommit. I can let it go because it’s not about me.
What other things in life are we holding onto that have nothing to do with ourselves? Do we believe that we need to be productive every minute of every waking hour? Studies show that’s incredibly unhealthy for humans. Do we believe we need to be friends with everyone at work or church or in Bible study? Again, unhealthy. It’s entirely sufficient to be courteous, nice or professional without actually befriending anyone. Not everyone is a good fit for everyone as friends. Is that retired couple making you look bad because they had the time and availability to complete their outside class requirements early? Honestly, who else is even comparing the two of you but your own self? If “studies show that” people with a certain BMI have a higher chance of heart attack and stroke, but you are Lizzo and capable of singing, dancing and playing the flute simultaneously for 2+ hours straight on the regular, maybe you need to pay more attention to your own personal statistics regarding your heart health and cholesterol and discuss them with your doctor instead of with internet keyboard warriors armed with cherry-picked statistics. (And Lizzo does, which I find highly admirable.)
Where are you sabotaging yourself because you’re applying standards and verses and opinions and whatever…when EVERYTHING is not about YOU?