Monday, March 9, 2009

Lighten up…

Yesterday I set out to put a better spin on my life, to reframe it so to speak. I tend to be a perfectionist and so, of course, I wanted to figure out why I wasn’t feeling the joy I thought I should feel at being a new grandmother. My son is 17 and his girlfriend only 16, and this is not how I wanted his life to start. And yet, there’s a sweet new grandbaby to be enjoyed…

I started out by walking the labyrinth in front of Berry Hall at Chatham University. This is a stone path embedded in the lawn, a sort of walking meditation. After I slowed my racing thoughts with a bit of deep breathing, I simply put one foot in front of the other under the blue sky and kind breeze. I noticed that most of the stones were gently squared off but others were cut in severe triangles and wedged in to create the circular path.

I tried to dump the nagging negatives about my past, present and future, or more specifically: regret, shame and fear. I actually tried to drop them right in the middle of the labyrinth and leave them there. I redirected my mind to the competent part of my seventeen years of parenting. Then I began to focus on the deep pleasure of a holding this healthy and pleasant child of my child. This allowed me to appreciate that I get along well with my son and he is, in fact, being responsible and fatherly. As the birds sang their way through the branches of trees, and the trees stood steady and strong, I began to have more confidence that the values I've instilled, mixed with the love and good intention he and his young girlfriend have for their daughter, will bode well for their future. Fears calmed.

Oh, and here’s the funny part (the first of two for the day): I vowed to be less of a perfectionist. I thought I’d be happier that way - maybe I’d feel more centered or peaceful if I cut myself a break, and, maybe I’d be a better parent if I didn’t always notice what was wrong, but focused instead on what was right. In short, it would help me to move towards having everything just a little more ... perfect. Ha - it was a gotcha of sorts - I broke my vow before I even stepped out of the labyrinth.

After the labyrinth I went to the Mattress Factory. I highly recommend this unique and interactive museum on Pittsburgh’s northside, especially the permanent exhibit showing variations on light in a dark room. As I sat near the entrance (fielding a phone call from my sister about whether, and if so, how, to remind our mother, our mighty oak, that her cancer has recurred) I noticed something interesting in a little corner of the lobby - it was a booth with a computer and a bright light shining on an empty chair. A giant photo of the rainforest papered the wall behind the chair. I thought it was somewhere visitors could listen to, or leave messages about, how we’re wrecking our wilderness. I went in to explore it. It’s art, after all; I was open for whatever might move me.

And it did move me - not the way it’s creator intended I’m sure, but that’s the way with art …

The following link is 59 seconds of me being me - on YouTube. I don't know if it's vanity, idiocy, or just because we don't get to see our own selves that often, but when I went home I watched the clip a dozen times and laughed, out loud, each time. Embarrassment can do that, I guess, but somehow for me, on this particular day, it reminded me to lighten up in a way that even realizing that I was trying to be more perfect by trying not to try to be more perfect didn’t. Life is not, after all, a constructed circular path - it juts this way and that, unpredictably, and sometimes you just have to step in and feel your way around. And, maybe, just maybe, there will be some good fun along the way.



  1. Well written janice. It's not often that you set out for the day with a path in sight, looking for some sort of answer or comfort and then end up finding something. I think the perfectionist in you can find the perfection in all situations, like that little baby just brought into this world..what can be more perfect than that?

  2. ALways a joy to follow your writing. Just love the way the moments and ideas of perfectionism expanded and collapsed. Ah life!

  3. What a fascinating exhibit. I just watched some of the other videos.

    I've been thinking about perfectionism. Realizing recently that so many of my problems come from this. I think I've had trouble acknowledging this. Thinking always of a perfectionist as one who keeps a clean, organized house. (And I most certainly don't). But in reality I am a perfectionist of the highest degree. I am cruel to myself. Nothing is ever good enough. And it's entirely internal. I've never had a single person in my life not be supportive of me, and happy with everything that I've ever done. Perfectionism causes such stasis. If you don't do anything you can't fail. I'm realizing too that so many of my body/appearance issues are perfectionist in nature.

    Lighten up. I like that. So simple but so apt.

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  5. You're so techno-savvy! First a blog, and now youtube! You're more connected than I am.

    What I love about this piece is that you're never actually going to shed your perfectionism. You've already admitted that you've made a mistake, which means that you noticed the slip and fault yourself for it. You're being a perfectionist about NOT being a perfectionist!

    I love the video clip of you trying to figure something out, and inveitably, you fail. That's a very powerful message in relation to the essay. I wish that you had returned to the stones in the path - the fact that some are rounded and some are jagged. I think that's a very important symbol to the thread you're beginning to weave through the essay.

  6. Your voice is very direct in this piece Janice. Are you considering to extend this into a longer piece?

  7. thanks all, for the comments, and yes, this may be a longer piece, someday, thanks for the ideas.

    Amy, i did try to go back to the labyrinth in general, by saying "Life is not, after all, a constructed circular path," but i like the idea of additional attention to the stone shapes as well. thanks.

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  9. Wonderful reflections, Janice. So filled with wisdom and observance. I love how the labyrinth episode leads to the Mattress Factory. Children incarnate when they're meant to, when they sense love is optimum, I think. It has nothing to do with how ready (or mature) parents are. Luv ya!


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