Friday, March 24, 2017

Thoughts and feelings

I haven't tagged blogposts in a long time (because I forget to) but maybe I need to revive the "random maunderings" tag for this one.

This was spurred by an ITFF discussion. One person linked to an article: What if All I want is a Mediocre Life?.

My first reactions to it were mostly positive: sort of a Heck Yes! Why should I be pushed to constantly do more, more, more? Why can't it just be accepted that what I'm doing is ENOUGH.

But then, I admit, I was somewhat uncomfortable:

1. With mediocre as a word used here. Frankly, the woman writing has a pretty good life - she's doing a lot (she has kids, for example, which I don't). I wish I could be happier being a "mediocre at best" pianist - I came to it too late in life, I don't have the sufficient time to practice as much as it would take to be really good, I lack the kind of confidence it probably requires - but I can't be happy saying, "I'm just mediocre at that." I want to be GOOD. And it frustrates me when I can't, and often it makes me less wanting to keep up with the thing.

2. She is in some ways luckier than I am: she has a loving spouse, she isn't totally dependent on the sweat of her own brow (figuratively speaking) to keep herself housed and fed. She probably has people who are happy to see her when she comes home*

(*This has once again become an issue for me. I'd get a dog, but based on how badly my allergies responded to paying the homebound visit to the couple with the dog - which didn't even get all that close to me - I don't think I can)

Also, on ITFF, a lot of people "unpacked" it more critically than I could - a lot excoriated her from coming from a place of "privilege" (married well-off woman in a culture that generally treats women well) or for the idea that she was setting herself up as some kind of self-help guru.

So I don't know.

I don't like the idea of "being happy with being mediocre" because that's something our culture has kind of turned into a pejorative. Mediocre MIGHT have once meant "average" or "median," now it's kind of gone the way of the "gentleman's C" - where it used to be OK for a student to earn Cs because that was an average grade, and frankly, more people are close to the average than above it. But now, a C is seen by some as a mortal assault. ("Why did you give me a C?" "I didn't give it to you, you earned it"). And while I don't want to dig into the sociological reasons behind C now being a "bad"'s sort of related to the whole issue of expectations-inflation.

And why people like me, who objectively are doing very well, are sort of dissatisfied a lot of the time, because we're not doing MORE.

No, I don't mean it in a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses way, at least not materially speaking. I don't give a flip if one of my neighbors has a big-butt Cadillac SUV in their drive. I like my Ford Edge just fine; it gets me where I need to go, it doesn't need a lot of maintenance, it's easy to drive.

But in terms of CONTRIBUTION to the world....if my neighbors are, I don't know, digging wells for impoverished Central American towns, okay, then I feel a little bit like, "Wow, why am I not doing, I should be doing that or something like that."

And yeah yeah, I've harped several times these past weeks in Sunday school on the "works-vs.-faith" thing and it's NOT a "trying to buy myself a spot in Heaven" thing at all, it's more a....I guess it's more a "I want my life to have meant something" thing.

I don't know. The author of the piece I linked remarks:

What if I never build an orphanage in Africa but send bags of groceries to people here and there and support a couple of kids through sponsorship? What if I just offer the small gifts I have to the world and let that be enough?

And yes. Why can't I accept that giving money to Mercy Corps and Heifer Project and buying peanut butter and tuna and stuff for the local food banks is more than a lot of people do, and be happy that I'm doing that? Why do I look at my contributions and go "I should be doing more?"

I don't know. It's probably linked to the "I want my life to feel like it means something."

And also, the whole post-tenure review thing (and YES I am still salty about it, but): the feeling that nothing I do will ever quite be "enough" to get a "you're fine, keep on keepin' on," that there's always going to have to be some area in which I will be found lacking, because apparently that's how this process works and oh it seems so INSIDIOUS to me, that you can't ever just relax and say "This is good. What I did was good." but instead you must say "That could have been better, next time I will do it better by x,y,z..." or "Yes, that was good, but I could have done these three other things as well as that thing..." and it feels like endless escalation - kind of like that bit from Modern Times where the machinery keeps speeding up until the point where the Little Tramp can't physically keep up with it any more and winds up crushed between the cogs. (I may be misremembering  that part)

I don't know.

Someone else on ITFF brought up the point that you need to measure yourself by your own yardstick. And yes, yes, that's very nice - but again, that's a privilege that apparently the lesson-writer has that not all of us do. I mentioned post-tenure review? A very unlikely but not impossible outcome for someone who fails to conform to expectations is they get tenure revoked and are let go. Like I said, it's unlikely (especially given the budget constraints and how hard hiring a proper replacement would be), but it's possible, and that's enough to scare me.

And so I keep planning new research. Or keeping up with teaching. Or not saying things to students I might want to say and they might need to hear, but that would cause Upset and I don't want to risk upsetting the wrong person. Or taking on extra committee work and maybe dropping other "service" that I realized didn't count towards my post-tenure review. So not so much cutting my coat according to the cloth, but according to what the powers-that-be say should be the cut of the coat.

And it all makes me sad. Because again it does come down to "what the world values" and "what I value" (and by extension: what all my religious training taught me was valuable) being different things some of the time. And I can't just say "forget the world's yardstick" because I have to live in the world, and it's just me* between me and starvation, so I have to take note of it.

(*Well, not quite: if something went spectacularly wrong, at this point in time, my parents would take me back in. I don't know about the distant future when they're gone; possibly my brother and sister in law would help out, but then again, they face fiscal challenges of their own)

I don't know. I was thinking yesterday about how HAPPY I was those few hours over break that I was in my sewing room, and I think I realize why: that is one place where the only way I have to measure up is to my own requirements or interests. I don't have to make, for example, a quilt top big enough to cover a California King if all I really want to do is a lap robe. And I don't have anyone telling me that what I'm enjoying doing is unimportant and I really need to devote my energies to this thing over there that I don't want to do nearly so much.

I remarked later on ITFF that perhaps the ultimate marker of privilege in today's world is being able to 100% go by your own yardstick and be able to tell anyone else who's trying to make you measure up to some other scale to go pound sand. Maybe when I retire I will be able to do that, I don't know.

(Several women in my AAUW group retired last year. They flatly refused to take on any new responsibilities, on the grounds that they were told, "Don't take anything new on in the first year you retire" which seems odd advice to me and I can guar-an-damn-tee you that when I retire, "they" (whoever makes these guidelines) will have changed them, and it will be "The new retiree should carry ALL of the burdens" And yes, I do think retired people sometimes forget a bit about what it's like to work full-time. ESPECIALLY work full-time as a single person, where the laundry, marketing, bill-paying, life-maintenance stuff is 100% on you.... and that's why I'm exhausted so much of the time and feel like I'm grabbing at straws)

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