My brain is a swirling mess right now. When I really need to focus, I painfully force myself to shut out distractions and just get down to work. That is what I’m doing right now, or this post just wouldn’t happen. I know this for certain. I know this because I discovered Polyvore this weekend, a good eight years after it came into existence, as I do. I love to write and I love blogging and the creative outlet this community provides for me, but let’s be real here: spending my weekend making abstract art collages out of advertisements cleverly disguised as social media contributions wins hands-down every time:
Above: Polyvore art by the author (siennaacre)
I know this, also, because I began writing this sentence phonetically, as “I notice”. Good thing I noticed that. I KNOW THIS THAT!
I have known since early in my childhood that writing is my fail-safe skill. It’s too bad that many people still don’t know that, however, since I rarely execute my most brilliantly-conceived writing projects. Follow-through is uncomfortable, eschews spontaneity, and rarely bestows instant gratification. This is why very few among us reach the upper heights of accomplishment, prestige and power: it’s really difficult fucking work.
I gave up dreams of fame or infamy (at one point in my life, I would have been fine with either) a long time ago. That’s partly because I’m old enough now to understand how shallow it is to pursue goals for no reason other than celebrity status. Of course at the time I thought I was completely altruistic in pursuing a career where I could heeeeeellp peopppllllle–and now I realize that, if you want to fucking help people, you don’t go to law school; you work in a soup kitchen or volunteer at a battered women’s shelter. For fuck’s sake! At least the people I graduated with who openly pursued big firm jobs because they wanted to make big firm money were being honest, not just with others but with themselves.
But the other reason I am no longer concerned with fighting the world’s injustices and bringing about change on a grand scale is more mundane: I am just so consumed with the day-to-day minutiae of managing my home and my family that I simply cannot bear the additional burden of serving as the vanguard of … well … anything.
And with that, we are back to the post title. Life requires a lot of skills right now. Some of them are basic household tasks that are a part of daily life for any adult human, without regard to one’s breeder status or lack thereof. The trick is not in the singular tasks to be completed, but in the overall project management aspect to householding. Now add to that one or more forever-loud children. You know how it is when you catch yourself about to yell at your kids for some kind of misbehavior, but it turns out they are just being LOUD and not actually fighting or destroying things or breaking a rule of any kind? But you nonetheless just want the LOUD to go away. And not because you’re on the phone or have asked for quiet to work on something; you just want NO LOUD RIGHT NOW.
So the more challenging skills, aside from the overall big-picture type of project management I just referenced, are things that go beyond basic survival, but sure as hell make life feel a little saner. Things like effective and age-appropriate disciplinary tactics for wayward children. Things like cooking a dinner where all three of the food things are ready to eat at the same time, like savory little synchronized swimmers. Things like having the cognitive and executive functioning skills to get laundry done before midnight, so that everyone has something clean to wear to work/school the next morning.
Oh, and for us working folk, there is the whole issue of needing to rinse and repeat by extrapolating all these skills to the office or wherever it is you may work. I hope you work at a circus. It sounds fun. If you work at a circus, you may be utilizing very different skill sets than the one I mentioned above. Like fire-breathing. For the rest of us, we are drawing upon our already tapped-out brain functions to manage our clients, collaborate with vendors, and brainstorm with our colleagues.
Because I am your typical mom at home and your typical lawyer at work, I have the daily experience of feeling like I’m doing a multitude of tasks that don’t really move the needle on deep, meaningful goals. Even worse, I don’t feel like I am doing any of those things particularly well, not because I’m not skilled with those tasks, but because I don’t have the time or energy to focus my effort and attention on any one thing long enough to do brilliant work.
And what kills me is the feeling — hell no, the abso-fucking-lute KNOWLEDGE — that I have the ability to do BRILLIANT work.
And this is where I want to blame other people, or modern life, or institutional barriers or cultural norms for the way things are. I want to, but I can’t, because the blame belongs solely to me.
No, don’t leave a comment here about how “you’re doing the best you can!” and “you rock mama!” and “you are not alone” and such. I mean, those are nice sentiments, and while they are sometimes untrue, they are always appreciated. I am not trying to deflate anyone’s happy sisterhood balloon or anything. But believe me when I say that I am completely dispassionate and neutral in making this observation: most of us remain mediocre, live comfortably mundane lives, and are restless or vaguely unhappy or merely complacent about some aspect of life, because we accept less than we deserve in exchange for the reassurance provided by the status quo.
I really would like to be a jack of all trades, and master of all trades. But I can settle for being the best in the world at one thing. In fact, with some time, energy and focus, I think I could garner some serious talent in some things other than writing. From my career and other life experiences, I kind of already know what these things are. But I’m afraid of taking the next step, because I can’t tell if that step will lead me right off a cliff, or get me up onto the path I was looking for up ahead.