292 posts tagged Life
The only people who question why I spend so much time in reflection are older people who are riddled with self-doubt after pushing aside their concerns for so long. I don’t want things to plague me for years, to build into something greater than my heart. I don’t want this all to be a terrible surprise I should have seen coming.
Haha. I always say that if you live life in a state of perpetual mini-crisis/evaluation, it should stave off the bigger crises (quarterlife, midlife, three-quarterlife…).
Well, you know, hopefully.
I’m pretty sure Liz Phair was talking about critical v commercial success in this song, but her advice still stands for women negotiating salaries/pay rates: "It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid."
(And men too, of course, but women seem more prone to fall into the trap of “But what if they think I’m DIFFICULT?”)
Image: Me, circa 2004. Me, circa 2013.
I’ve been soaking myself in nostalgia this past week or two, reading over old diaries from my early-mid 20s. And in amongst all the good memories, not-so-good memories, and general hilarity (seriously – I was so much funnier back then – or my writing was, anyway), there are a few things I’d like to go back and tell myself as I was then.
1. Stop worrying about how ‘fat’ you are. Firstly, because you’re obviously not. But more importantly, because it’s tedious. I’m not going to go all Nora Ephron on you and tell you to spend your entire twenty-second year in a bikini, but this obsessing over minor, possibly non-existent, fluctuations in weight is pointless.
Your value lies in more than the width of your thighs. And they’re never going to look like Miranda Kerr’s no matter how little you eat anyway, so you may as well just get over it now. Accept what you have and work with it.
2. Quit it with the aesthetic “armour.” I’ve noticed that whenever you feel particularly sad and hopeless you retreat into artifice. You know what I’m talking about: high heels, Elle Woods pink, overpriced haircuts that don’t even look as good as you think they do.
You believe that in order to be loved you need to be beautiful, and in order to be “beautiful” you need to cynically fit a formula. Secretly, you know that fitting this formula won’t win you the love you desire, but you figure that checking the boxes means no one can ever say it was because you weren’t “good enough.”
But the truth is that armour doesn’t protect you. It hurts you. Because you can’t shake the feeling that without it, people would treat you differently. That all the good things you currently have in your life would go away. They won’t. (And honestly? If looking good is your priority, the best thing you could do is stop frying your hair with bleach and start eating properly.)
3. Insecurity is a waste of time. Easier said than done, I know. But reading over your words, it strikes me that you spend a whole lot of time worrying about things that aren’t actually problems, to the point of self-sabotage.
(Case in point: “[Redacted] and I have an odd dynamic. We banter, touch arms, constantly glance at each other…” Meanwhile, a few days later: “And it occurred to me that if I continued to have a crush on The Boy I’d only start feeling sad about the fact that I didn’t think he would ever like me - not because of any obvious inherent flaw in me, but because he just… wouldn’t.” Right, Rachel. That’s logical.)
I know that, like your aesthetic “armour,” you engage in these thoughts to protect yourself. It you don’t get your hopes up, they can’t be dashed, etc etc. But here’s the thing: you’re dashing your own hopes all by yourself. Insecurity doesn’t protect you from disappointment. Insecurity guarantees you disappointment – because it holds you back from going after the things and people you really want.
Fun fact: The photo on the left was taken on the same day I met the man who is now my husband.
Related: Advice for my 22-year-old self.
Like most people who spend too much time on the internet, for me the joy of watching TV (or listening to music, or reading a book), is only partly in the actual consumption of it. It’s also about what comes after. Letting the characters and the emotion soak into your skin. Trawling the relevant blogs and forums for dissection and analysis. Taking a moment to reflect on what it all means.
It was during one of these trawls that I stumbled upon this sucker punch of a remark about Mad Men’s Pete Campbell yesterday.
“It’s Pete being the guy he thinks he is, rather than the one he’s more or less conscripted to be.”
It’s not a spoiler, because the event that inspired it is pretty much irrelevant to the remark itself. This is Pete’s perpetual struggle: between the person he wants to be (a stand-up Alpha male on the right side of politics and history, a magnanimous gentleman who mostly plays by the rules but still wins when he breaks them), and the person he so often is: petty and insecure, someone who treats women like crap and whose own mother tells him is unlovable.
The line struck me because, well, isn’t that what so many of us struggle with? The gulf between the person we would like to be (and perhaps in our better moments, the person we really are) and the shadow that lurks beneath it. The person we are trying to become, and the seemingly inferior version that keeps rearing its head instead.
It felt particularly pertinent because, just the day before, Mr Musings and I had had a conversation in which he used a word to describe me which – while not by definition insulting – had implications that were decidedly contradictory to my own self-perception. Certainly to the person I would like to be, or to the parts of myself I most value. (Okay, the word was “observer,” which I acknowledged my negative reaction to was somewhat perplexing, as I am presently writing a story for a publication of the same name.)
I had bristled, retreating into Marina and The Diamonds and silently vowing that if he thought so poorly of me – if this was the person that he, who knew me better than anyone, thought I was – I would have to double down on my efforts to be something different. I would have to be bigger. Bolder. More fabulous. The kind of woman who teeters on high heels and grins through the pain. Who stays out late drinking even after she wants to go home. Who doesn’t want to go home.
But really, what had affronted me most was the possibility that he might be right. That I did watch from the sidelines instead of participating. That people didn’t want me in the action. That I was small and easy to ignore. (None of these, it should be noted, were things he actually said. They were only implications I drew from his choice of words. And again, my reaction was ironic given that one of my other insecurities is that I am too loud and conversationally dominant.)
This isn’t the kind of story I want to tell you about myself. If Pete’s fantasy is that he is a magnanimous Alpha male, mine is that I am a Serena van der Woodsen-style fountain of charisma, or an Arianna Huffington-type “queen of connectedness.” Or, if I’m really in the mood for a personality makeover, a Gwyneth Paltrow or Beyonce-style Queen Bee(y) who doesn’t give a rats what people think of me. To publicly declare (as I do, over and over, as the only things I ever seem to publicly declare are my insecurities and ambivalences) that I might be otherwise is embarrassing.
But here is a thought that is more embarrassing still. (If for an entirely different reason: it reeks of ego.) I might be, as Mr Musings put it, someone whose first instinct is to observe rather than participate, and also someone who is, if not a “fountain of charisma,” then at least someone who is at ease in social situations, making conversations and forging new friendships.
Pete Campbell is, after all. Petty and douche-y in spades, a walking masculinity disaster machine, but also a man with a sense of justice and humanity; the only character on his show who cared about anything but business the day after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. Pete isn’t the man he wants to be, but he isn’t conscripted to be something else entirely, either. He is both at the same time.
As are we all.