Ignore yourself at your peril.

January 21, 2011 Comments Off on Ignore yourself at your peril.

Here’s my current obsession: how much we ignore what we really want. I remember being pleased when I got to my early teens and found that I really did enjoy e.g. leaving the biggest piece of cake for my youngest brother and other maternalish sacrifices. It felt so much better to make the sacrifice that it didn’t even matter that I really, really would have liked to go to the movies with everybody else rather than watch the baby.

For the record, I think maternalish sacrifices are okay. But it’s amazing how infrequently you stop before making a decision and ask yourself what you would really prefer. In fact, sometimes the decision before which you should ask yourself doesn’t even register as a decision. Good examples of this are scarce, so I’m going to use this one with the disclaimer that this is not actually relevant to my life at this point—no wedding in the offing. But take weddings. Young girls are presented with so much wedding imagery, toys, &c. that we end up thinking about it a lot. Even I, who am quick to buck convention, daydreamed about the perfect dress, where I would have the ceremony, and so on. Because I wanted to get married someday, I was going to have a white wedding someday. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I thought to ask myself whether that really followed. As it turns out, I don’t like to wear white, am embarrassed by ceremonies with large audiences, think the idea of being given away by one’s father is comical, don’t like the idea of bridesmaids, am not religious but think non-religious weddings are pointless, and so on. Once I thought about it, nothing about the daydream appealed to me except the party and finding a great dress.

It frustrates me that I have such trouble coming up with examples when the whole reason I’m obsessed with this is that it keeps happening to me. But it does keep making me think of one woman I know, who shall remain nameless because I’m not sure who’s reading this blog. She continually spouts sunny living-life-to-the-fullest soundbites, but not one thing she has ever said to me has sounded honest. She has completely papered herself over, even though she is slightly neurotic, easily upset, and frequently depressed, and is in a relationship that cannot possibly be happy or fulfilling, although she will talk your ear off about how wonderful it is. I want to lock her in a room for two months, and every morning I will go in and ask her a question about what she wants in life. When she gives me a facile vapid answer I will leave the room and come back in the morning to ask her the same question until finally she is forced to think about it. For most of us I think this is what it would take, sometimes. It can be hard to break the habit of just doing something because you have always done it or because everyone else does it.

Recently I realized that I don’t actually love barbecue chicken, even though it’s what I always get at barbecue places, and I like barbecue sauce and chicken and they should go well together, and I told myself for years that I loved it, and it wasn’t until six months ago or so that I confronted the truth. It’s a tiny thing, and after all is said and done, I like barbecue chicken okay. It’s just that you must constantly be alert to things that you aren’t happy doing. And of course there’s always work and chores and so on that you really do have to do, but once you start paying attention, you can see that there are millions of tiny things that you do mindlessly, which take little or no effort to start doing differently, and suddenly you enjoy them! It’s quite astonishing: please try this in your own life. More examples as I think of them.

UPDATE: The entire book The Not-So-Big House. It makes you examine your life in a way that seemed revolutionary to me at the time that I read it: do you really need a dining room? The whole thing was an exercise in revising your blueprint of your house or your dream house in order to make it conform to what you actually want. There were examples of people who were unhappy and constantly fighting because their house was very modern and had no doors, or had enormous open spaces that didn’t ever feel comfortable. The author points out that whenever someone gives a party or reception, more often than not people end up crowded into the kitchen, because it’s a comfortable room and regular dining rooms are too formal. But because we grew up in houses with formal-ish living rooms and dining rooms and entryways, we assume we want the same things for ourselves because it’s what we’re used to. It’s only when we’re hit repeatedly over the head with examples of how to make houses better that we begin to think to ourselves, “You know, I never really had any use for dining rooms.”


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