Where the hell are the oars?

I realized recently that I always have the sense that someone is bearing down on me. And living steps from Penn Station and Herald Square, that is usually true. I cannot possibly stop to pick up Wally's water bottle if he drops (flings) it without first running along 15 feet or so then pulling off to the side. What's stranger is that I feel it psychologically, even in calm spaces like the YMCA locker room. I always sense that someone is rushing me, and somebody, I guess, is. I think it's related to the idea that other people's opinions are more important, so too is their physical space. I'm always feeling in the way. Maybe they're trying to get to the locker next to mine or see the yogurt that I'm looking at in the store. I have that awful kneejerk of saying "Sorry" when someone bumps into me. Now that I'm aware of this bearing down feeling, I'm starting to get out from under it. I think part of it too is that weird, New England, Puritanical fear of wasting even a second. But then it's totally part of the old haste makes waste -- throwing the keys into your bag and dashing off, only to be forced to dump the contents out on the street on to find them on your way back in.

Things that force me to slow down sometimes scare me. I like "slow cooking", slow days, I'm an absurdly slow reader but still enjoy it immensely, like wandering slowly in the park, even mindful cleaning sometimes. I'm not one of those, "What's next? Where should we go? What should we do?" type people. But there is this element of slowing down, I guess when it comes to work, that strikes a panicky feeling through me. I'd always rather race on ahead, do something poorly, but fast. I'm a total junkie for first drafts and then moving on to a brand new project and never going back. Same thing for songwriting. It's terrible. My friend Eli and I used to idealize not working hard. It seemed to us the only way to "prove" your intelligence was to not work too hard, but to still do well. Finding that perfect ratio between time spent and success achieved, small to big. Plus we loved to argue and compete over who had less time after school to commit to studying. It was so backward -- getting an A without even reading the book was something we valued. We prided ourselves on careless mistakes. I think I should probably make a list soon of all the things I used to think of that are just completely dead wrong. Or at least, things I don't agree with at all anymore. Hard work is more impressive than any kind of lightning-bolt talent or good luck. Even Einstein -- even EINSTEIN -- said 99% of the time his conclusions were wrong. It's crazy how much we all expect to come to us so quickly. Or if it doesn't, "Oh well, that didn't work, moving on." Again, the hard part isn't always the hard part, often it's just the ploughing through, the chopping wood, bird by bird. (If you haven't read it, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, you must.) So that is part of the shadowy figure bearing down on me. This fear of slowing down, doing something carefully, because then there's the chance that you'll do it carefully and it will still be terrible. If you rewrite a paper 5 times, if you say, this is the absolute best I can do, it better be pretty freakin' amazing, right? So much easier to say, I could have done better, but...and I guess that's all part of being busy on purpose. Losing the keys, forgetting the bills, never finishing the album, the novel, the livingroom design, not following through on important plans, not prioritizing what you say are priorities -- those were all careless mistakes. I just didn't have enough time.

That's me in the middle, Heather in the yellow/red combo, and 
Eli in the denim skirt. 


  1. I initially rationalized my obsession with Britney Spears by thinking "Geez, look what very little talent but hard work can get you." It was actually the first time I remember realizing that hard work could get you somewhere which is so odd given the numerous examples of people around us that worked so hard - our parents, teachers, friends. But, just as you said, I always had this sense that "I shouldn't need to work this hard" or "if I were really talented, I wouldn't have to work hard" and, generally, of hard work being an embarrassment! And, you are absolutely right - it was just another way for us to devalue ourselves to the point where we couldn't feel good about ourselves, even if we did well, we felt bad about how long it took. So much that we aren't even worth the space we take up.

  2. OMG! The picture! Can I have a copy?

  3. Of course! That came out awful b/c my scanner broke so it's a picture of the picture. I'll make real copies and send.

    What you wrote above is perfect. Where did we get those ideas from? I can't believe we so looked down on the value of hard work that it was actually a put down. "Oh, you only did well on that test because you studied so much." Why was that considered bad? Britney Spears is a good example; people often put down celebrities without any outstanding talent, but a lot of willpower and drive. Yet the other way around is what's a waste, embarrassing, or should be. I'm really, really curious as to where we got those ideas about prizing innate talent and low drive.


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