Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Permission to Say "I Don't"

I got the idea for this post from a very odd place: Christian talk radio. (Or, at least, it's strange for me, as I am a staunch follower of the Church of I Don't Know and You Don't, Either.)

I was on my way to my second interview for my current job and couldn't find anything to calm my nerves. Sometimes I'll get hooked on random talk radio as I flip through the stations, and this includes the religious kind. Not surprisingly, I often disagree with what I hear, but this particular talk had a message that I felt was pretty universal: the idea that we can't be everything, all at once.

A guest author was talking about how we tend to focus on what we "do" do (Friends moment!), will try to do, or should do, and overload ourselves with expectations. She then provided her "I don't" list: ways in which she demonstrates that she is, in fact, human, and that she has limitations. (It's a deceptively simple concept, but I doubt I'm the only one frustrated by my insistence that I should know and be good at everything.) So I decided, especially after an entire summer spent worrying about all my weaknesses and whether they would keep me from having a real career, that it was time to give myself permission to not do and be certain things.

And then they started talking about how this all applies to Jesus and I (literally) tuned out, but it's a good message nonetheless.

I don’t like cake.

It’s not that I don’t have a sweet tooth — I eat enough ice cream to make up for the lack of cake in my life — but I just don’t think cake is that good. I liked it when I was little, when I would lick the frosting off and give the rest to my dad to eat.

The reason I have to give myself “permission” for this is because not liking cake causes a lot of socially awkward situations. People love bringing cake to events, and because most people are into it they expect everyone to drool and fall all over themselves with excitement at the prospect of eating their delicious store-bought cake. So I have two options when someone inevitably notices: A.) pretend to like it and cut myself a "retard piece," as my uncle once critiqued at my birthday, or 2.) announce sheepishly I don't care for cake and invite scorn.

I don’t read pretentious literary journals or listen to contemporary art music.

I tried to get into the highly academic, highly pretentious writing and contemporary music when I was nearing the end of college — I really did. I believed that, in order for my work to be worth anything, I had to love and understand this art, too. Then I realized that I had caused myself so much anxiety trying to tolerate everything I was “supposed” to be reading and watching and listening to that I had stopped creating or enjoying art at all. And that even if my reading tastes were to devolve into an addiction to something like the Shopaholic series (which, thankfully, they have not), at least I was reading.

So when I think something will be interesting or fun, I will read/write/consume it. Occasionally I feel guilty that I would rather tear through another historical fiction novel (read: glorified Harlequin romance) than Ulysses, but I have realized that getting through Ulysses will not get me any closer to being the artist I want to be unless I want to write like James Joyce. Every bit of information one ever takes in informs one’s creative output, but it is a collective effort. I can’t say that I will read it or not read it, but I will no longer punish myself if I ultimately choose not to.

I don’t cook much.

I'm not good at cooking. I don't like cooking. I like the idea of buying interesting foods and whipping up something amazing, but I will never be that person. A salad, sandwich, or box of mac 'n' cheese is fine by me.

I don’t watch/read the news religiously.

There was another phase I went through in recent years. Some time during high school I discovered I was capable of watching the news, digesting the information, and forming opinions about the things I saw. Reading the news made me feel informed and worthwhile, and I scrambled for information. I started watching the news and reading the New York Times website nearly every day — not always because I always wanted to, but because I wanted to be prepared to demonstrate my knowledge. Everybody else in the world seemed to know more than I did. But it was also then that I realized that differing political views could ignite bitter debate and unspeakable hatred among people.

Now, I read news magazines at book stores, but only if the mood strikes me. I try not to force it. The balancing act between being information-obsessed and avoiding ignorance is a difficult one, but I am trying. And I’m trying not to punish myself so much over it.

I don’t do handiwork/repairs myself.

I hate being defined by gender stereotypes and don't like to admit that I fall under many of them, including but not limited to interest in the arts, shitty sense of direction, laughable athletic ability, chronic passivity, right-brained intuition, and total dependence on men to do anything mechanical.

I don't know how to change my own oil, don't remember how to change a flat tire, and have no idea what that light and awful grinding sound means. I don't understand electricity or plumbing. If you open a tool box in front of me I will glaze over. I hate that I have to have people do things for me and that I have to take a guy with me to the tire place so someone who knows what they're talking about will be there; it's embarrassing.

Still, I can't force natural abilities on myself. The best I can do is learn what I can and hire people to do the rest.

I don't like sports.

I'm tired of dealing with drunken idiots and limited parking because of them. I have no interest in painting myself and going out with tens of thousands of other people to watch people jumping on top of one another, throwing and/or catching objects, or hitting things with sticks. I realize I look like a sourpuss to people who live for it, but I'd just rather stay home.

I don’t make the right decision all the time.

Really, no one does - it's just hard to accept this sometimes.

I don’t feel comfortable having everything organized.

I'm a total slob. I don't want to be, but I am. I admit that I get fed up with my own messes and eventually do huge cleanings, and wish I could be more organized. Still, I can't stand spotless houses. Clean is good, but it doesn't look lived in if everything's shut away in a drawer or labeled container. And if that's what it takes to be grown up and respectable, then I'm not up for it.

I don’t give money to people on the street.

If there were any real guarantee that people asking for money had really fallen on hard times and needed a little help, I would open up my wallet all the time. But I'm sick of dealing with the same liars who change their "I'm from out of town, everything happened to me, woe is me..." stories each week. I even see them come in at my job - again, the same people who always claim to need "change for the bus" or have a sister with cancer or have starving children at home, but never seem to go anywhere. Nice, gullible people inevitably give them money, which only feeds their sense of entitlement. So I just don't trust anybody on the street anymore, and I've stopped caring about how much money is in my wallet or whether or not I look like a compassionate human for refusing them.

I don’t like fashion.

Let me be clear: I care how I look, and I try to find clothes that suit me. But Vogue is boring. Fashion shows are boring. I don't care what ridiculous getup a bleach-blond queen draped onto some 19-year-old waif in New York. I will never spend my entire paycheck on a piece of fabric to sling over my shoulder just because someone sewed a name on it that certain people arbitrarily decided was important. Other people can do all that, but I am no less of a woman if I don't.

I don't dream of marrying.

I don't reject the possibility of a wedding, life partner, or children in my future. They're all just incredibly low on my priority list at this time. I believe I will change enough in the next five years that there is no possible way I could choose a life mate now, nor do I believe that children will fulfill me.

I don’t like my body.

I realize it's become a trope of American society for women to be unhappy with their bodies, but that's no reason to act like I'm a sulky teenager fishing for a compliment just because I express dissatisfaction with mine. There's simply no way to reverse that many years of insecurity, which came from so many sources; nor is it fair to say that I'm immature because I can't just "let it go" right away. And as much as I'd love to be happy in my own skin, I can't be until I stop believing there's far too much of it.

I don't feel happy all the time.

We're often taught to accept everything, and that we're ungrateful if we don't behave as if everything in life is a blessing. Sometimes life just plain sucks, and while others in the world suffer exponentially more than I, I can only speak for - and respond to - my own experiences.

What are you going to give yourself permission to NOT do, think, be, or say today?


  1. I'm right there with you on not giving money to people on the street, for exactly the reasons you just said.

    I decided recently to not cover up how much I like TV. I am so not the person who can give up cable because sometimes, NO, I would NOT rather be outside or reading a book. Yes, I would rather be curled up in bed watching Jersey Shore or Real Housewives. And yes, I did just damn well say Jersey Shore. Best show EVER. :)

  2. found your blog thru the bitchy waiter...

    cake is crap...frosting is the bomb...i ususally eat is ok to just eat the frosting...and then oppsy the EVERY time...

    i am trying to give myself the permission to not continue the career i just was laid of from...unfortunatly when i see a tool box i drool, cuz i am a tool guy...

    nice post BTW

  3. I really enjoyed this post a lot. So many of these things apply to me too and it's nice to see that someone else feels the same way!


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