An Ongoing Exercise In Dismantling Self-Doubt

“You’ll never be a first class human being or a first class woman until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty.” ~C.K. Dexter Haven, The Philadelphia Story

This week, my therapist and I began working on my ever-present self-doubt. Self-doubt, I’ve only recently come to acknowledge, has played a big part in my life. It’s not that I always felt confident or comfortable in my skin or my actions. I didn’t. But, through trauma, I became so adept at pretending to be sure of myself that I honestly bought my own fiction. I maintained this alternate sense of self that existed completely disconnected from my true self. My persona was a cardboard standee I would place in front of people, somehow absolutely convinced that they took my bravado at face value and would never peer around the side of the 2-D cutout I’d presented to them to discover there was nothing there to back it up. In fairness, I think some people figured out that my insides didn’t match the outside I presented to the world long before I understood that I had been play acting for others most of my life. Their superpower was being comfortable enough in their own skin to recognize an imposter when they saw one. My superpower was pretending I was perfect when, deep down, I felt like shit scraped off a shoe.

In my therapist’s office the other day, we did some guided meditation to address my lifelong self-doubt. First we did a basic relaxation technique, starting with visualizing my happy place. From there, she asked me to conjure up a meeting place, a place where I would feel completely at ease. I envisioned a warm, cozy room inside a log cabin house with a fireplace, a plush sofa, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows through which my view was the surrounding mountains in their fall splendor. When I was good and comfortable in that mental space, she asked me to invite my self-doubt to join me there. Self-doubt, my imagination decided, arrived in a dark cloud that obscured the sun and dimmed the room, making it feel chillier. She asked me to give the dark cloud a name, so I named it after the place where my self-doubt originated in my early youth. I was required to sit with my self-doubt with a neutral mindset, neither allowing it to overwhelm me nor allowing myself to ignore it. And that’s as far as we got in my session before we had to end for the week, but even that small effort made me consider my self-doubt in a new way.

I wasn’t born with self-doubt. Self-doubt was thrust upon me at a young age, the result of incessant criticism, which led to an understanding I was not good enough or worthy of respect, attention, or love unless I did what others thought was best or wanted. Self-doubt is what I got when I tried and didn’t reach the mark others thought I should. It’s what happened when, instead of being told, “You’re human and humans don’t always get it right and that is okay,” I was informed, “You should have known better” and admonished “You’re embarrassing yourself.” I have since come to understand that my relentless perfectionism is a by-product of continually being told I could and should do better, rather than being gently reminded that life is a process and you learn and grow over time. I wish I had heard more thoughtful “Go easy on yourself, you’re trying” and less demeaning “Everybody knows THAT.” The perfectionism I ended up with in a useless attempt to be good enough for everyone else (in order to believe I was good enough in my own skin) was backwards.

The truth is when you feel good enough in your own skin, you don’t have to be perfect for anyone else to appreciate you. You live your truth and know that you screw up sometimes but you also get it right sometimes. From that place, you learn to forgive yourself and others for the crime of human frailty. It’s challenging to think of myself 10 or 20 years ago, when I was 150% convinced through my perfectionist mindset that I was mentally healthy the way I was. I was throwing down that cardboard cutout of a perfect me as reality and challenging others the way I had been challenged. It was misguided, but it was all from a place of deep hurt and misunderstanding. I didn’t know who I was. I only knew who others thought I should be. And so, with my own sense of self dampened and obscured, I became full of self-doubt that could only be lessened by my attempts to be perfect at everything and for everyone.

Self-doubt is insidious. I know it plagues even the most well-adjusted among us, but it’s such a pointless place to work from, whether that place be a waiting room we occasionally occupy or the impenetrable fortress we inhabit. I’ve come to the place where I can acknowledge it’s a shame that I didn’t get better messaging as I was growing up, but I’ve also come to believe it’s incumbent upon me to give to myself the grace and forgiveness and gentleness and kindness I did not receive back then. It’s up to me to lift that dark cloud. No one else can do it for me.

Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
      Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.

A poem by Shel Silverstein

Bringing New Life To An Empty Nest

I fell off the blog wagon this summer, partially due to life (son’s graduation, travel, house maintenance, family priorities) and partially due to feeling too emotionally scattered to write. I never run out of opinions to share, but I do run out of energy to deal with the jumble of unrelated thoughts in my head. Overwhelm. That is what does me in. To write, you need mental space and time with your thoughts. And because it was such an emotional summer for me as I careened towards the empty nest my husband and I now inhabit, I checked out. Focusing too long on the grief in my heart was not where I wanted to be, nor where I felt I should be as my youngest embarked on his exciting new adventure. I kept telling myself I would break down and navigate the tangled web emotions I was cycling through in background mode in due time. I suspect that time is coming soon.

What happens when you have too much time and a label maker

In the meantime, though, I have been celebrating the good. Our sons are moved in at school, settled into their study routines, and making the most of their college experiences. Thing Two’s transition has been seamless. I don’t think he missed one orientation workshop or opportunity to make new friends. Thing One has been reunited with his college sweetheart, and all is well in his world too. A thousand miles away, we are finding empty nest life kind of refreshing, honestly. Sure. It’s quiet at home, except for the barking of our sporty dogs, but we’re finding ways to distract ourselves. We’ve begun the digging out from underneath the clutter that accumulates when you spend 21 years putting your nuclear family ahead of everything else. We’ve also been meeting up with friends for long-overdue dinners and trying new things, like pickleball. We have relished peaceful nights picking shows we want to watch and enjoying them with a glass of wine and a couple chocolate truffles. So, all things considered, we’re settling into this new phase of life, to quote Larry David, pretty, pretty, pretty good.

With all the newly regained downtime, though, I’ve been doing some reflecting. Our satisfaction with our journey in this life comes down this: we make choices, and our ability to negotiate our expectations about those choices versus the reality those choices bring determines our general level of satisfaction. We chose to have children. The expectation was , if all went well, they would eventually move on to create their own lives, make their own choices, and navigate their own expectations. That has come to fruition, and we are grateful for it. In the aftermath of their departure for their own adventures, Steve and I have new choices to make. What do we want our lives to look like now? What will we choose to prioritize going forward? Yes. There is some grief in giving your children to the world, but there is joy there too. The most important thing I can do is recognize my choice in this moment. I can choose to feel superfluous now that I’ve retired from 21 years as a full-time parent or I can choose to find my next adventure. I can wallow in the vastness an empty and clean house or I can find something new to occupy the space left in the boys’ absence.

To that end, may I introduce Puppy-To-Be-Named-Later, scheduled for a late October arrival.

This little guy

Life is full of decisions. There will be plenty of time to imagine my next career move later. For now, though, I will fill our empty nest with puppy breath, tiny barks, and dog hair and I will occupy myself with frequent walks, potty training, and breaking up raucous scuffles. It might just end up feeling like the old days, when our sons were young and needed me, all over again.

Walking With Dinosaurs Again

“Let your age get old but not your heart.” ~Unknown

Joe, likely watching dinosaurs something dinosaur related, circa 2005

Our son, Joe, is a college sophomore. He has been interested in dinosaurs since he was about 3. We are not sure what first fueled his intense curiosity about them, but we’ve narrowed it down to Disney’s Dinosaur film (circa 2000), any of the library of Land Before Time films (1988-2007), or the BBC television production called Walking with Dinosaurs (1999). While we don’t know which show originally piqued his interest, we do know that we spent hours upon hours watching those productions with him. I partially credit Joe’s fascination with dinosaurs with our initial discovery of Joe’s learning disabilities. It made zero sense to us that a four year old who could instantly recognize a specific type of dinosaur and share with us its name, its size, and the period in which it lived, along with myriad other facts about it, could not remember that we told him to pick up his shoes and carry them up the stairs a minute earlier. He had an insanely acute long-term memory and a dismal short-term one. But, I digress.

Over the years since then, even as he discovered new interests (geology, flags, geography, history, world religions, travel, and geopolitics), his passion for dinosaurs was always running in background. As new discoveries were made, he would share them with us. At those times, be he 8 or 14 or 18, he would become so excited and animated and awestruck about his new knowledge that we would transported back to the days when four year old Joe was regaling us with dinosaur facts. Dinosaurs, a link to Earth’s past, have been our link to Joe’s past.

Yesterday, a new BBC series premiered on Apple TV+. Joe texted me the links to the first trailer for this show over a month ago, as soon as it was available online. I hadn’t heard Joe this excited about anything in a while. Joe’s ADHD provides him with this marvelous capacity for hyper focus. When he discovers something that captures his imagination, he becomes temporarily obsessed with it. He learns everything he can about it, and he passes his knowledge along to us, whether or not we find the subject as compelling as he does. So, yesterday, I was asked to join him in watching the first episode of five, one being released each day this week. Yesterday’s show was about the coasts and the creatures that inhabited them during the Cretaceous period. Even if you are not a dinosaur aficionado, I suggest you find this show and watch it. It will obliterate what you thought you knew about these creatures. Everything I learned about the dinosaurs while I was growing up has evolved with the discovery of new dinosaur fossils and the use of current technologies to analyze them. Science is amazing. And although I knew some of the changes that have occurred in our knowledge about the magnificent creatures of the Cretaceous thanks to Joe, I am still learning more through the series.

I can’t explain what a treat it is to watch our nearly 21 year old son seeing these episodes for the first time. After years of railing against the inaccuracies of the plastic model dinosaurs he would see and sometimes purchase (it seems Joe knows more about the dinosaurs than the toy companies that produce their likenesses), it was a delight to listen to Joe ooh and ahh over the depiction of the creatures in this series. He paused the show several times to tell me what has changed and how we know what we know now. He also paused the recording a few times to cry out, “That is speculation, but there is science behind it so it is possible.”

Yesterday morning I surreptitiously captured this photo of our deep-thinking, curious son investigating the first few moments of the first episode of Prehistoric Planet up close. I wish I had recorded it on video because there were audible oohs as he watched. I teared up seeing him like that because, although he is much taller and heavier now than he was when he was 3 and first discovered dinosaurs, for the briefest of moments there I could have sworn he was 18 years younger. I will never be able to hold that young boy in my arms again, but it brings me great joy to realize that the evolution of our human understanding about dinosaurs will continue to offer me opportunities to see that sweet child again and revel in his excitement about the world. My heart is full.

There was audible “oohs” when I was taking this photo

Traveling Back In Time

This weekend I got to be a time traveler. I traveled back to the 1980s with my husband. We flew to LA for the Cruel World Festival, a music experience at the Rose Bowl featuring new wave and classic goth bands. To make the journey even more retro, we attended the pre-show festivities and the concert with a friend I have known since fourth grade, Kerry. This is not the type of concert I normally attend. Over the years after graduating from college in 1990, I embraced grunge and post-punk and then went straight from that into alternative music. Since acquiring satellite radio in 2009, I’ve primarily listened to indie rock. As I tell my husband, the 80s are a great place to visit, but I don’t live there anymore.

Still, I thought it was about time for a visit with my much younger self. So Steve and I boarded a plane bound for LAX Friday morning and headed to California. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew my friend would be an excellent tour guide, as she had kept up with her younger self and her love of 80s music. On Friday evening, Kerry and her husband let us tag along to a pre-concert 80s party co-hosted by Chris Olivas, former drummer for Berlin now known as DJ Christopher J. It was held at Mijares Restaurant in Pasadena, owned by co-host Tom. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was a fun evening filled with margaritas, great Mexican food, 80s-era new wave hits, dancing, and nostalgia.

Someone had wisely hired a photo booth for the sake of memories, so we enjoyed being silly and making use of it.

I met a lot of Kerry’s friends from the 80s cruises she takes every year. They were a lot of fun and were so kind to let us weasel our way into the celebration. After way too many margaritas, Steve and I walked the 20 minutes back to our hotel and crashed out to prepare for the full-day festival on Saturday.

Saturday morning, after obligatory coffee and some lunch, we caught a shuttle to the Rose Bowl. The festival was held at Brookside, a golf club adjacent to the stadium. The temperature was quickly approaching the forecasted high of 94 under clear skies, so we applied vats of sunscreen and swilled from water bottles because we are old enough to be responsible now. There were three stages to wander between and the sets were staggered, so it was a pick-and-choose menu.

Festival line up

We headed straight to start the party day off right with Dave Wakeling and The English Beat. One of my all-time favorite songs is Save It For Later, which I am sure Dave played especially for me. From there, we went to hear Missing Persons and then it was on to see Johnny Rotten and PiL (aka, Public Image Ltd). We had recently learned that Johnny has been home caring for his wife who has Alzheimer’s, so we appreciated that he took time from his devoted, kind-hearted care-giving to drop some choice f-bombs and share his rebellious alter ego with us.

Public Image Ltd

After that, it was on to see The Church and then Violent Femmes. The Violent Femmes took me right back to bus rides in 10th grade when the alt crowd would sit at the front of the bus (rebels we were against the cool kids at the back of the bus) and sing along to Blister in the Sun playing loudly on someone’s boom box. Next we hit up Devo, which turned out to be our favorite concert of the evening. They pulled out all the stops with videos, props, and costume changes. Devo was never a favorite of mine when I was younger because I didn’t really get them then. I get them now, though, and can understand their idea that humanity is devo(lving).

The famous red flower pot hats, though

After Devo we caught the first half of Bauhaus’s set before finding a spot to see Blondie. I had never seen Blondie perform and knew I might not get the opportunity again. It was pretty empowering to see a 76 year old woman on stage, still rocking out. Girl Power!

We headed towards the shuttle after Blondie’s set because I have already seen Morrissey perform and it was one of the most disappointing shows I have seen. I suppose I could have given him a second chance. Maybe Moz deserved it and would have redeemed his poor showing in Denver years ago, but I’ve never been great at giving honest, open-hearted, second chances to men who broke my heart once. I tend to be cynical that way, which Morrissey of all people should be able to understand since it was he who penned this lyric:“So now you send me your hardened regards when once you’d send me love.”

All in all, my return trip to the 1980s was a success. It was a blast to spend time with my old-school bestie reliving our high school days. And now I fly back to 2022 to rejoin my life, already in progress. It’s fun to find your younger self sometimes to check in and remember where you came from and how far you have come.

The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged) (Revised)

Saw our last school play

Parting is such sweet sorrow

We will miss these days

Tonight, we attend our son’s last performance in a school play. We loved watching Luke in plays. Although he had zero desire to pursue drama in school, we sure did enjoy seeing him act when he was forced to. Tonight’s play was a hilarious summarization of William Shakespeare’s works, which pleased his English major mom. It was presented by the Honors Literature class, and it was perfection. Cheeky, inappropriate, and hysterical. And, of course, Luke killed it as Juliet.

And as I was watching the play, thinking about how this was the last time I would see Luke perform this way, this lyric was playing in my head:

I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell my myself to hold on to these moments as they pass.” ~Counting Crows

Don’t Mess With The Senate

First day of 8th grade

When our youngest was in 8th grade, his teacher told me he thought Luke had a good shot of becoming his class valedictorian. I thought it was sort of a crazy thing to say to a parent, but I took it to heart because Mr. Beckwith was a no-nonsense, honors literature teacher with high expectations. He was not the type to throw around undeserved praise. At the continuation ceremony, each homeroom teacher spoke briefly about their students. Mr. Beckwith said this about Luke:

“We call him The Senate. That is what he liked to be called*. But unlike the Senate that the adults are accustomed to, Luke works really, really hard. He is a diligent, quiet leader, but don’t let that fool you. He has a powerful, powerful voice in class. And his work ethic, I can’t stress this enough, it sets the bar for everyone around him. He raises the level of excellence by just walking into a room. It’s pretty profound. Luke, you will be missed but never forgotten.”

As a parent, I was blown away by Mr. Beckwith’s words of praise and by his assertion of where Luke might be able to take his high school career. When we left the ceremony, I told Luke what Mr. Beckwith had shared with me about being valedictorian. Luke’s eyes lit up. In that moment, I immediately regretted my words. Luke is a formidable person who sees a challenge and makes it a goal. He’s like a border collie with a job: get out of his way and watch how quickly and efficiently he lines everything up and puts it away. Like Mr. Beckwith, I knew well how hard Luke works, and I wondered if I had just doomed him to a difficult and decidedly un-fun high school career.

Luke started freshman year with honors English and social studies. Sophomore year he added honors math and science. Already a student ambassador, Luke joined Student Senate. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and became an officer for that. By senior year, he was Lead Ambassador, NHS president, and a leader on the cross-country team in addition to maintaining straight As in all his honors and elective classes. I regularly asked him if he wanted t have friends over. He regularly declined. My worst fears were realized. He was working too hard, I thought. I told him repeatedly he could try giving 90% sometimes instead of 110%. My words went in one ear and out the other.

Last Friday, the dean of the high school announced the senior awards. When he was about to name the valedictorian, he noted there were two this year and said he would announce them in alphabetical order. I held my breath since our last name begins with W and I know Luke is the last kid in his class alphabetically. The dean named the first student and went through his academic and community achievements. Then he named the second valedictorian. It was Luke. Although Luke had carefully been monitoring his progress towards his goal and thought he had a good shot at it, you never know until the fat lady sings, right? He scanned the room for us, looked right at his father and I, and waved, just like he did when he was on stage for the Christmas program when he was in kindergarten. He was beaming. He’d done it. He’d locked his gaze on his goals, rounded them up, and escorted them, one by one, into the pen until he saw the gate close behind them. Mr. Wood later announced that Luke was also voted Senior of the Year by the teachers because, of course, he was.

I recount this story about our upward climbing Luke not to brag or because I had anything to do with his accomplishments (other than being his chauffeur). I tell this story because 9 years ago, I sat in my kitchen and wept after I heard a dyslexia specialist quizzing Luke and realized my 3rd grader skipped letters in a recitation of the alphabet, couldn’t name the days of the week in order, or name even half of the twelve months of the year. I cried because before she left she told me Luke needed to go to a special school. She told me his dyslexia was severe, and he was years behind other students. Years. He would likely never read well. Looking back now, though, I know I shouldn’t have worried. That specialist knew a lot of things, but she didn’t know Luke. She didn’t understand the power of The Senate.

(*Luke liked to be called The Senate in 8th grade because of his love of Star Wars. It was a joke he made once with his classmates and it stuck. He’s as powerful as Palpatine, but he has no desire to join the Senate.)

Finally Going To Take My Own Advice

I have posted this quote from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on here before and it is the intro portion on my Facebook bio.

Me in a nutshell

Tonight, though, I’m finally deciding to take my own advice for real. I have been thinking for quite some time now that I need to take a social media hiatus. To that end, I’ve decided to go dark on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for a month. I’m not walking away from the platforms forever, just long enough to give my life a good detox. It’s not even that I necessarily spend too much time on them. It’s just that the time I do spend on them often leaves me feeling negative or isolated or frustrated or annoyed. I don’t need the ads. I don’t need the opportunity for comparison. I don’t need the divisiveness or the unhelpful and unnecessary commentary. I feel like too much of my life and my headspace are being taken up, frankly, by crap that does not matter.

Facebook has done some good for my life over the years. I’ve reconnected (even if a bit superficially) with some truly genuine people. I’ve used it to check up on and check in on friends who live at a distance. It’s been a good place to store memories of things I’ve done and places I’ve gone. If I scroll back through photos I posted, Facebook is a flip book of my life over the past 14 years. Back in those early days, Facebook was fun. Sadly, it has changed since then, but then so have I.

What at last led me to the conclusion that it may be time for me to take a vacation from the site was, oddly enough, an episode of South Park that I watched last night. Stan doesn’t want a Facebook account, but his friends create one for him. The next thing he knows, he has hundreds of thousands of followers. His girlfriend, Wendy, is mad at him for a comment another female made on a photo of him in a bunny costume. (That person turns out to be his grandmother’s friend who is 92.) His dad keeps bugging him to be his Facebook friend and to “poke” his grandmother. Remember pokes? Ugh. Sick of the whole thing, Stan decides to delete his account, but his profile has become more powerful than its user and it can’t be deleted. There’s a scene reminiscent of the movie Tron where Stan is now actually in the Facebook realm and there he runs into the profiles of family and friends. They keep saying things like “Grandma likes Teddy’s photo” and “Teddy thinks Stan’s bunny costume is fantastic.” And that is when the insanity of Facebook really hit me. This is what we’ve become.

In lieu of actual human interaction, we’ve become a nation of people who show our support and friendship with a thumbs up or a heart. Instead of getting together over coffee and sharing photos of our trips, we post them online for the world to gawk at. Rather than calling someone to catch up or writing a card or even sending an email, we hop online and try to validate each other’s existences with quick comments, funny memes, and likes. We also use Facebook to leave unnecessary, snarky opinions on each other’s posts as if this type of hit-and-run commentary is actually useful dialogue. It is not surprising to me at all that Gen Z is the most depressed and anxious generation yet. They may not use Facebook, but Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat serve the same purpose, a giant popularity contest and yardstick against which to compare themselves. Imagine the psychological damage when you discover others don’t find you interesting or likable at a time when you are still discovering who you are.

I am going to keep on using WordPress because I am still on my blog-every-day-for-100-days timeline, and I will keep Snapchat because I only use that to send silly selfies to my son at college. My other social media apps will be temporarily deleted from my phone so the temptation to open them is gone. I have no idea what this detox will do to me. I’ve been a fairly regular social media user for years. I’m hoping that by sometime mid-next week I will find my brain focusing a little better and my productivity at home increasing. If I am able to be more mindful and rediscover my inner peace, it will definitely be a win. I’ll let you know on June 5th.

Polly Purebred Needed Underdog Tonight

Trivia is hard

I missed Underdog’s theme song

Polly Purebred failed

Me and my sisters and mom about 33 years ago

We went to our neighborhood trivia night with four other couples from our amazing block this evening. In the grand scheme of trivia scoring, the most important questions are the double-dare guesses at the end of a round, where correct answers score you double points. I guessed one double-dare question right, but we didn’t put the answer down because I had doubts about whether I was remembering the correct Star Trek movie with a brash, young James T. Kirk. (For the record, I never have doubts about Chris Pine. Sigh.)

Then, on a clutch, bonus-round question about a theme song to a classic television show, I totally choked. The theme song lyrics ended up being from the Underdog cartoon show from the mid 1960s, which shouldn’t be a big faux pas because the show aired four years before I was even born. But, in college at the University of Colorado, I was gifted the name Polly Purebred, after Underdog’s reporter girlfriend. I never did nail down if I got that nickname because of my blonde hair with bangs or because I was a writer. I liked to think it was because I told people my ancestry was 100% Polish and, therefore, I was a purebred and not a typical US, melting-pot mutt. I have no idea why I ended up with the sobriquet Polly Purebred among my then boyfriend’s roommates and friends (I may not want to know, either) but, in any case, I missed the question tonight, and that took us out of contention for a prize. I am hanging in my head in shame. Now, I need Underdog to fly in with his red cape and save me from my humiliation.

Underdog, help!

I just hope my neighbors let me play trivia with them again on another Wednesday night. I swear, I am a lot of things, but I am not a dumb-blonde dog who constantly needs rescuing.

Evolution Isn’t Just For Finches

If anyone is wondering, I am finally sick of my own bullshit.

I am tired of my whining about people who put me in a box, closed the lid, and then sat on it to keep me in my place. I got strong enough to topple them, to push my way out, and then I complained about being held down for so long. I spent so long bitching about it that then I was holding myself down. I think that is a common pattern for people recovering from abuse. You have to process it to make your peace with it. And part of processing is wallowing. It’s the wallowing that makes you sick of yourself. And getting sick of yourself is a good thing because it pushes you out of the track you’ve been running in and allows you to begin a new track.

I understand now why I operated the way I did. And now I know how to operate differently. I don’t always get it right, but forward progress in any measure feels like a win. I will never let anyone speak for me again or tell me who I am or what I like or what I should do or be. I might solicit advice, but that doesn’t mean I’ll take it. No one is an expert on me, not even me. I am in the middle of an evolution.

All the best people are.

Individuals Feeling Exceptional Have Destroyed American Exceptionalism

Photo by Kyle Mills on Unsplash

I was sitting at the metering light at the on-ramp this morning after I dropped my son at school. I had inched my way to the second position. There were two cars in front of me and one car to my right. As soon as the light changed, the two cars in front of me lurched forward as it was their turn to enter the highway. Then I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye. The driver in the car that had been next to me decided he’d waited long enough and was merging onto the highway with the other two cars. I see this occur at least twice a day in my travels, and it happens so frequently that I expect it. The metering lights, which are meant to stagger the plethora of cars merging onto the crowded interstate, seem to be optional these days. I shook my head, waited my turn as I always do, and then entered the highway when the light became green.

I’ve tried to eliminate as many fucks as possible from my change purse. I’ve tried to stop caring about jerks who refuse to believe the rules apply to them. I have not been successful. Every time I get into my car, I get triggered by the effrontery of people who decline to abide by the conventions put in place to keep everyone safe and moving in traffic. It irks the shit out of me. There aren’t enough vials of lavender essential oil, cups of chamomile tea, burning aromatherapy candles, or warm neck wraps in the world to relieve me of the tension I feel around Americans who think the rules, whether they be traffic-related or queue-related or common-decency-related, do not apply to them. The “me first” mindset is pervasive and toxic. When there is no perceived negative consequence, people do whatever they damn well please. Their mothers must be so proud.

This morning, as I stewed for the remainder of my thirty minute commute home, I began thinking about American exceptionalism. I understand what the term entails. It refers to the idea that America, with her ideals and her political system and her geography and abundant natural wealth, is a shining city on a hill, an example of the best a nation can be. Here is what I decided about American exceptionalism these days. America has the potential to be exceptional, when we all work together in our democracy and play by the rules. As it stands now, however, we’ve devolved into a country filled with individuals who believe they are exceptional and the exception to the rule. We’ve become so focused on the individual and individual freedoms that we’ve sacrificed the idea of “one nation indivisible” for it. We can’t agree on anything. Believing in the concept of American exceptionalism doesn’t make us exceptional. History is peppered with examples of city-states that believed they were getting it all right. They no longer exist.

Social psychologist Jonathon Haidt hit the nail on the head in an article in The Atlantic on April 11th: “It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history.” It’s this type of righteous mindset that has led us to the place we are now, where every faction and every individual within that faction believes they have cornered the market on what is best and on what they deserve. We’ve become a nation of petulant children, throwing tantrums while doing whatever we want and hiding behind the talking points of freedom and the First Amendment. We’ve forgotten how to adult, how to put on our grown up panties and accept that we can’t always have our way. We tell our bickering children to follow the rules, to play nice, and to compromise, but I’m not confident we’re capable of those things. How can we be a shining example when we can’t even clean up our own house?

I’m not saying that folks who ignore the on-ramp metering are destroying the fabric of our society. I’m afraid it may be a little too late for that.