Self-Portrait of the New Me

The forties have been an interesting decade for me. I started them with some sort of vendetta, something to prove to myself and to others. After a few years of tearing down my comfort zone and boldly going where I had not gone before, I began to get restless in a different way. I began to feel like none of it mattered. Like everyone else on this planet, I was simply getting older, and no amount of fighting the aging process was going to stop the clock or stop time from marching across my wrinkling, sagging body. Why bother? I mean, we’re all going to die anyway. Who cares if I do it ingesting chia seeds or peanut M&Ms? Most recently, though, as I approach my 46th birthday, I’ve hit upon a new phase. It’s a whole new thing for me, something I’ve not yet experienced. I’m trying to find softness, to forgive myself for what I’m not and to appreciate what I am. After a life of being a perfectionist and being unfairly hard on myself, I’m starting to look the other way on my shortcomings and focus instead on the good.

As I begin this new phase of self-discovery, I’ve found that there are people in my life who are determined to derail me. They remind me of what I’m not, rather than celebrating what I am. It’s a constant battle to remain ahead of the naysayers who want to throw sand on my picnic. Last night, I was sharing something Luke did at school with someone. I was particularly proud of this project and was excited to show it off for him.

Luke's self-portrait
Luke’s self-portrait

One of his teachers had him draw a self-portrait. Around the self-portrait, he’d written ten statements about himself. All of the statements were positive. I asked him if he’d had a hard time coming up with ten nice things to say about himself. He said he hadn’t. I was so proud of him for having a level of self-worth at 11 that I know I don’t have at 45. The person with whom I shared the artwork had only one statement about it: “Well…he’s cross-eyed.” I looked at the drawing again. It’s true. Luke had drawn one of the eyes toward the center edge, and I guess it does look a bit cross-eyed. I hadn’t noticed that earlier because, well, I was so impressed with the wording around the drawing that I simply hadn’t noticed. Guess my pride in my son clouded my critical, artistic eye.

Today, I spent a bit of time reflecting on the negative comment on my son’s sweet piece of artwork. Putting yourself out there like that is a bold move. Letting your mom share it with others is even more bold. If he could be that brave, I could to. I decided to put myself to the test. I decided I would draw a self-portrait and see if I could come up with ten positive statements about myself. I wanted to share my page with Luke because he’d allowed me to share his page with others. I also shared it with three other people just to get used to the idea of having confidence in my own self-worth. Tonight, though, I am taking it farther still. I’m going to share my self-portrait with the Internet.

My self-portrait
My self-portrait

I’m no artist, and this activity was difficult for me. As hard as it was to try to sketch myself, harder still it was trying to find complimentary things I was willing to say about myself. It took less time to draw and color my sketch than it took to compose ten positives, and even then I felt very uncomfortable owning everything I’d written. In my head was that little voice spewing self-doubt, saying Who are you kidding? and A lot of folks believe they’re good writers so you’re not special. It was a good exercise for me, though, and one I desperately needed today. It’s not easy for me to find positives because I’ve fairly well breathed a steady stream of negatives through outside voices and disparaging self-talk my entire life. I’m more likely to look in a mirror and find five things wrong than I am to find even one thing right.

When Luke got in the car after school, I told him that I’d spent my afternoon drawing and I was hoping he would critique my work when we got home. Luke, being the kind-hearted kid he is, appraised my art and told me that he thought it was pretty good. Considering how much I had struggled with it, I thought pretty good seemed really great.

It’s a long road I’m on, this path to self-love and self-acceptance. It has to start somewhere, though, and I’ve decided that somewhere is here and now. Some people will approach everything from a point of cynicism and negativity. I don’t have room for that anymore. I don’t want my children growing up with a mom who has nothing nice to say about herself. I don’t want to be that model for them. The world will beat them up enough. They don’t need to be experts at it too. As for me, I am making changes. You’re entitled to your opinions about me, about how I live my life and how I’m doing it all wrong. You can even share your opinions with me if you want. I’ll hear what you’re saying, but I’m not absorbing it or changing to meet your expectations. I’m happy with the life I’ve built and the person I am continually becoming. I’m not perfect by any stretch. I make mistakes. Point them out if you must, but know that I’m kicking negativity to the curb. If you have nothing positive to say, you can go with it.

My Silver Linings Playbook

If I ever found the end of the rainbow, I'm pretty sure someone would have gotten there a minute before me and claimed the pot of gold.
If I ever find the end of the rainbow, I just know someone will have arrived there a minute before me and claimed the pot of gold.

“To expect defeat is nine-tenths of defeat itself. ”           ~Henry Louis Mencken

On the flight back from Hawaii, one of the movies offered for my in-flight viewing pleasure was Silver Linings Playbook. I’d seen it in the theaters just before the Academy Awards, but I had liked it so much I told myself I would have to see it again. (Someone must have told United Airlines this, which is why I was able to view it not once but twice on our six hour flight from sunny Honolulu back to snowy Denver.) If you haven’t seen the movie, rest assured I won’t ruin it for you with this tiny summary. The story’s protagonist, Pat, is working to regain control of his life after an ugly downward spiral. He plans to overcome his difficulties by focusing on the positives, the silver linings that life presents to him. Pat’s willingness to remain open and look for the positives touched me because, well, I am not great at that.

For most of my life, I’ve regarded myself as a cynical person. I’m Eeyore. I would like to believe the best and be a Tigger. I really would. But people keep disappointing me. Just when I think I see a glimmer of hope, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, I am proven wrong. I hate to be proven wrong. I hate it so vehemently that I am careful about what I say because I want to avoid just that fate. If I don’t know the definitive answer to something asked of me, if I’m not absolutely 100% certain, I will insert a disclaimer. I’m an attorney in my own mind because being this way saves me the future headache of explaining my wrongness. I am many things, but I try earnestly not to be irrevocably wrong. (Yes. I know I have issues. My therapist and I are working on it.)

There is something worse than being proven wrong, though. And that is being proven right on something you truly hoped you were wrong about. This usually means having a negative opinion about a person or a situation and then determining by some word or deed that your original, less-than-positive assessment was entirely correct. Doesn’t that suck? Now you’re right, which is what you prefer to be, but unfortunately you’re right about something you wish you had rather not been right about at all. And that’s just wrong.

When I stretched these thoughts out before myself tonight to investigate them fully, what I uncovered is that I am not cynical at all. I say I am cynical because negativity is easier than positivity. If I expect things not to go well and they don’t…well, I’m no worse for the wear. I expected as much. If I expect, however, for things to be fine and they’re not, I struggle. So, like water, I take the path of least resistance. A tender heart is far better off dealing with an expected disappointment than planning for the best and being forced to deal with the worst, right? But this is where things get sticky. To have been disappointed in the first place, there must have been some sort of room for that, some positivity…no matter how hidden. How sick is it to try to convince yourself that you’re negative when really you’d rather be hopeful? There must be at least 40 sessions on my therapist’s couch for acknowledging that I choose to be negative because it makes facing disappointment a trifle easier.

I know the best way to be is to remain without expectation, but I’ve never been very good at that. I would like to be like the Dalai Lama and be open to the guidance of synchronicity rather than allowing expectations to hinder my path. But, dammit…it’s hard. I’d like to be like more like Pat in Silver Linings Playbook and look for the good without always keeping a wary eye out for the bad. If expectation of defeat is nine-tenths of the defeat itself, maybe I should try a bit harder to think positively and therefore potentially avoid the defeat altogether? Perhaps that’s my next life assignment on the road to Zen?




When Life Lobs A Dodgeball

Luke has invented a new comic book character named Lord Zen. I find this encouraging.

I am not, by nature, the most positive of people. I try not to be cynical, but I am never surprised when someone disappoints me. This tendency towards negativism is one of the reasons I started this blog. I was trying to find myself a better attitude. Aided by the wisdom of Eckhart Tolle (among others), I’m working towards becoming a more complete version of my best self, even though it’s not an easy journey. Just about the time I feel I am coming closer to reaching a better place, some new challenge presents itself and I’m back in Eeyore mode again. Luke’s recent diagnosis of dyslexia is the latest in a recent string of course corrections my life has taken. I’ve been trying my hardest at every turn to put a positive spin on the things I never asked for but got anyway.

Today, I went to a Lunch and Learn lecture with Luke’s new tutor. A local pediatrician was speaking about diet, exercise, and health, especially with regard to raising children, and Marcy invited me to join her. Given our boys’ difficulties, I figured that at the very least I would have an opportunity to learn something new by attending. And I had to eat anyway, right? Sitting there with other parents and individuals concerned about their health and eating habits, it hit me that two weeks ago I hadn’t even met the woman who was my host at this luncheon. It’s incredible how quickly changes come at you sometimes and how fast a new discovery will broaden your horizons if you let it. The experience I had today was just a small part of what will be a new adventure in my life. If we have to change schools or move, the adventure will alter the landscape of my life even further.

Today I determined that life is simply a giant game of dodgeball. I have two options: 1) go on the defensive and duck, weave, dive, and avoid or 2) go on the offensive and catch the ball. Attempting to avoid what’s being thrown at me seems a bit defeatist. So, I’m going to catch the ball and get in the game. Who knows what I might learn about myself along the way?

“You can never win or lose if you don’t run the race.” ~Psychedelic Furs