It’s been a long day. Waiting tables is never easy unless business has been slow. Otherwise, it’s a very physical job, taxing on both the body and one’s patience. Just 10 minutes before the end of my shift, as I am trying to finish my duties, ready to hand off the dining room to the next server, an older couple walks in and says, “There’s a bunch of us.” I hope by “bunch” they mean no more than 8. Maybe 10. But they mean 24. I feel my face twitch a little. I breathe deeply and sigh in the weakest parts of my sick body. “OK!” I say, hoping my dread doesn’t come across in my one-word reply. I look around and hope my relief has arrived. She can have this party. The day has already done its damage. But there is no rescue in sight, and so I serve the party, and they are actually a delight, no doubt, but my body can’t tell the difference. It wears exhaustion and weariness all the same, draped over my shoulders like lead.
As they leave, finally, way past the time I was supposed to leave, the head of the family returns, smiling. He thanks me for the wonderful service and then holds out a small gift. It’s a button on string. “Since you were so patient with us, I wanted to give you a gift. Oh, it’s probably useless, but it’ll keep you busy staring at it when you’re doing nothing. Which you probably never do nothing, but anyway.” And so he demonstrates the button on the string as it twirls and twirls. “And when you aren’t entertaining yourself with it,” he says, “You can just wear it like a necklace.” I thank him, and I mean it, and I put it around my neck. It looks like a gift one of my children would have brought home from school when they were small, over a hundred and eleven years ago, and it’s beautiful. For a few moments, I delight in the joy of the gift, and then another thought comes along: how long will I keep it?
In recent years, I’ve been downsizing my life little by little. Sometimes it means pulling pictures from dozens of frames and inserting the pictures into albums instead, and sometimes it means donating books to the library. But as I’ve minimized more and more, it’s meant letting go of trinkets and such, things that collect dust and take up space and don’t always hold value — monetary or otherwise. I like having less in many ways, but there is often some guilt attached. I forget that it’s not very likely that others have attached emotional tracking devices on gifts they’ve given, that it is ok to part with them eventually. I forget that I don’t remember every gift I’ve given others and if they have parted ways, that’s ok too. I don’t have to keep everything.
So often, I hold on to gifts like I hold onto the past. Slights and hurts cling to a heart that usually doesn’t think about the when and the how, but then a moment comes up, a smell, a tiny smidgen of memory, and I realize I’m still keeping the pains, still tucking them away like little treasures, carrying that which should have been discarded so long ago. A bad day at work can stay with me just as long as the memory of fists from childhood, and as much as I try to shrug things off, how that bad day went will often turn expectation of the next working day into one of dread. And I will carry that with me too. Like pain that paints an ugly picture of distrust, I will take something too personally, and what did she mean by that? and what did I do so wrong here?
The button on a string around my neck today reminds me that I keep and carry too much. I hold onto that which is useless and tiresome, and instead let go of that which matters. I don’t have to keep everything. But maybe I will keep the button on a string, the sweet memory of a stranger’s kindness. A gift that has little monetary value but carries a strong message: you can do hard things, and you can push through hard times and still be great and kind, and you are worth more than the ugly things you have been keeping.
I always say that of all the things I’ve done in this life, parenting is the one thing I’ve done well (not perfectly). But that’s not exactly true. Because I’m also very good at quitting. I’m probably a Professional Quitter, if we’re being technical. It is said that our thoughts can make up a huge part of how our lives go. My days are sometimes made up of a lot of potential quitting.
- A customer is rude and impatient. I decide to walk out.
- I can’t think of words for my weekly post at MiddlePlaces.com. I can however think of the words I will use to leave the site.
- Or, it seems no one even reads my words, so I quit over that, too.
- My book stalls. I decide to delete it and move on.
- Potential clients choose another photographer. I decide to close my business.
Obviously I haven’t actually walked out on my job, quit MiddlePlaces.com, trashed my book, or closed my photography business. But I consider it on a very frequent basis.
This probably sounds very pessimistic and unhealthy to you. Except, this is actually progress! You see, years ago, I WOULD just quit. I WOULD just walk out. I WOULD just trash my book and close my business and hide from the Internet at large. I have quit friendships, jobs, career, school, and ideas simply because the going got tough – or because it was going too well. It has never made much sense. My coping skills always led me to simply quit. I reacted out of emotion and fear instead of rational thought and legitimate reasoning.
What I’ve been practicing instead is Quitting on Quitting. I go through the process of quitting in my mind, even act out the “This is what I’ll say” imaginary conversations, and how the people will react, and what I’ll do/announce/start next. By giving myself permission to process the ideas and feelings without actually acting on them, I’m much less prone to the actual quitting part. Because the quitting part stinks…because 99.9% of the time, I regret such decisions. In the heat of the moment, they made perfect sense, but after acting on them, I would beat myself up.
When people talk about the healing process, about growth, about gaining courage, I think a lot of the middle journey gets left out. There is the “I need help” part and then the “I am healed!” part, but rarely do we get to see how someone got from Point A to Point Z — or Point G, because the journey is often still happening. Hopefully Point Z isn’t until the last day of life; hopefully we all keep working toward growth and healing and living life.
So, as much as I quit in my everyday thinking life, I am still going forward, still taking each day one hour at a time, still battling old wounds sometimes, still getting back up again and again. I’ve been a quitter for a greater part of my life, running from that which scares me, and then, like a child, peeking out at the world again to see if it’s safe, and then re-emerging. I don’t have a clue what I’m doing half the time, but I’ve come to find out I’m not alone in this department. Aren’t we all just doing the very best we can?
In the next day, week, month, year…I will quit everything over and over again. But maybe it’s not the quitting part that matters. Maybe instead it’s the part where I keep going anyway.
Recently, I was sitting in class and could not concentrate on my work because a guy nearby was carrying on an animated one-sided conversation that started off about why he didn’t get his rough draft finished in time for class and it wasn’t his fault because he had work and he was tired and and and… The conversation (his talking, I mean) turned to how on the way to school, he got pulled over and got a ticket for speeding, and lo! He wasn’t even speeding! Because it wasn’t his fault he didn’t see the speed limit had changed, so technically, not speeding at all. And then this other time, a cop pulled him over and gave him a ticket for speeding, and hark! It wasn’t his fault because he didn’t mean to speed but but but… And then he brought the conversation (his ranting, I mean) back to how unfair the teacher was being by not giving him credit for the work he DID do (the teacher was in fact giving credit, but that seemed to escape his memory), which was merely practically nothing, but still.
Anyway, he just went on and on, and I was super annoyed by his excuses (and his disparaging remarks about cops too, but I opted not to take it personally…this time). I didn’t finish my rough draft that day either, but I could accept the truth, and the truth was…sure, I had work, and sure I was busy, and sure I was tired, but when it came right down to it, I just didn’t finish it. I chose to go hiking, and I chose to read, and I chose to do other things, and in playing that dicey game of chance, I ran out of time.
And it was my fault. No one else’s. Not the teacher’s. Not my family’s. Not work. Mine.
But we all do it. We all want to blame something else, someone else. We don’t like cops because they give us tickets for speeding (ummmm…we were speeding but that’s neither here nor there). We don’t like teachers because they don’t give us all the points available even though we mostly kinda sorta did some of the work, and plus, they probably don’t even like us. We don’t like our bosses because they actually expect us to work for our paychecks. Crazy, right? But it’s true — we do this!
We make excuses for what we don’t get done, even though we are responsible for our time. We can’t write our books because we don’t have the time to sit down and write, but at least we made time for TV. We don’t have time to finish our homework because Facebook was hopping with news. And how can you get the bank account balanced out if there are still books left to buy?
The truth is, until we accept personal responsibility, nothing will change.
It is officially right past the halfway point of my social media fast and my second Whole30. And I only have 2 and a half weeks left of the summer semester. I think it’s safe to say I’m swinging back and forth between “Are we there yet?” and “I can’t believe how fast it’s going by!” I’m pretty sure that right about the time I find the perfect balance of school, work, art, career, and life, it’ll be time to reset the scales. Of course.
But I decided today to end my social media fast. As I sat with a fellow classmate before philosophy, we talked about how we are both fragile right now (school is stressful no matter your age, but especially so when you’re walking that fine line of balance of family and marriage and work and self) and this summer semester has taught us more about ourselves and what we need and how we can work, but that it’s still a tenuous, emotional journey. She noted that she had been staying at the college for hours on end to do school work because she didn’t trust herself enough to get it done at home, and I noted that I was fasting from Facebook so that I wouldn’t get distracted. And then we both agreed that these were excuses we were giving ourselves. We’re grown-ups and we are responsible for our choices. Besides, we both realized (or acknowledged, really) that if we want to avoid the work, we will find any means. If Facebook used to be my go-to, now it’s chores around the house, Solitaire, or reading (and not the academic kind, of course). The point is, taking breaks or not going on the site during a certain period of time is different than leaving the site because self-trust is missing.
If you want something badly enough, you don’t need to avoid the rest of your life to get it. You will do the work, and then you can also do the things you want. The quiet was nice for me, but I also miss my relationships with friends, so my quiet time often became my lonely time. Social media isn’t all bad, and though I sometimes get pulled in too far — by my own accord — I am a happier Angela when I can connect with my family and friends with the tap of a few keys. Deactivating my account is just an excuse I use to act like I can’t get my work done because I’m distracted. Truthfully, that is my fault, not anyone else’s. If I don’t get my work done, it’s because I didn’t do my work. Period.
I often find that that which annoys us the most in someone else is actually mirroring that which is annoying us about ourselves. I want to practice the art of responsibility. I will get my homework done whether I’m on Facebook or not. Or, I won’t get it done, whether I’m on Facebook or not.
And now, I have a paper to finish. No excuses.