Monday, February 13, 2012

The Art of War

There is a War that rages continuously inside me.

On one side, there is my “true self,” which strives to create: poems, stories, blog posts, Facebook notes, skits, innovative PowerPoints, engaging in-class exercises, new ways to do things, and even, on occasion, puppet shows.

On the other side, there is the “good” me, who strives to be: good daughter, good student, good cadet, good Army officer, good wife, good Army wife, good… whatever it is that I am supposed to be at that point in time of my life.

I do not include good mother in that grouping. As I do not view motherhood the same way. I love being a mother. And, sure, I might at times think I am not being a good one, but I try very hard. Being a mother is by far the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, but it is also the most rewarding. And I feel being a mother is true and right for me.

I am happiest when I am my true self.

I am saddest when my true self gets obscured by trying so hard to be so damned… good all the time.

I have spent an awful lot of my life trying to be good, trying to do what I think is the right thing to do – not right as in “right and wrong” (but I try to do that, too), rather right as in what is expected of me by others and by society and by the world I find myself living in. In almost every area of my life, I have tried so damned hard to make a square peg fit into a round hole. And it is exhausting. I can do it – I can do pretty much anything – for a while. And then, I just can’t do it anymore.

It has also taken me a very long time to realize that just because I am good at something, that does not mean I should do it. And just because I am not good at something, that does not mean I should not do it.

For example, I was a really good Army officer, and I loved my soldiers and I loved working with them and training them and leading them and mentoring them. But the Army was not right for me.

I cannot sing. But I love music. And I love to sing. I am not saying I think I should get up on a stage and sing like the poor, sad woman in Citizen Kane, but I should feel comfortable singing in the shower or belting out a tune in the course of my day.

I am not sure why I try so hard to be so “good.” It has never brought me happiness. And has only brought me sadness and pain and a profound sense of failure.
I said that I could do pretty much anything… for a while. And that has proven true. I give it the good go. I pack up my troubles in my old kit bag and smile, smile, smile. I carry on. I… “do.” And I often do it well. From an outside perspective. One way that I am able to do this for as long as I am able to do it is that I figure out ways to be creative or turn the system on its head and incorporate humor or creativity into how I do things.

At West Point, I wrote much of the Color Line Show and had a huge input in writing the 100th Night Show. I spoke fluent Martian whilst “hypnotized” by the Great Zordini.

As an Army officer on REFORGER, I formed the G2 Choir, where we wrote and sang songs (secretly and perhaps subversively) to boost the morale of the troops on an exercise that was long and cold with extended periods of enervating downtime interspersed with brief, intense periods of soldiering.

As an Army wife, I performed skits at Officer Wives’ coffees, wrote a fake column for the Wives’ newsletter, and created traditions in my wives’ group that truly honored these women for the support and hard work they provided not only to their spouses but the Army as a whole and which went largely unnoticed and taken for granted by the Army.

I will never forget the time one of my husband’s commanders in Germany found out that I had been a Marshall Scholar. He looked at me with utmost incredulity and asked, “Why the hell are you sitting home making bologna sandwiches?!?”

My first reaction was, honest to God, “But my husband doesn’t like bologna.”

In every career field, in every profession, in every job, I have no doubt there are things one must do that are boring, even tedious, or downright annoying. Still, if one has passion for what he or she is doing, and feels that he or she is making a positive difference, then those times can be endured. For the good of the cause.
But when those boring, tedious, annoying times take over, then perhaps one is being told something.

I often feel that my “true self” is not allowed to exist, to come out and play. To live in broad daylight, so to speak. On occasion it emerges. And I am secretly always writing and creating, if only in my head.

I know that when I am truly happiest it is when I am either creating something or enjoying others’ creations. Or actively engaged in talking about creating or created works or performances.

In high school, a dear friend of mine with whom I had done a lot of theatre and who was graduating and going off to college gave me a copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Inside she had transcribed: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

I have not been very good at being true to my own self.

I am not sure why that is. But it is so.

And I have paid a very great price along the way continually trying to be something I am not.

To make it worse, I am very, very hard on myself. Much, much harder on myself than I would ever, ever be with anyone else. I am not sure why I do that, either. But I do it. And I don’t much like it.

At yoga, our instructor always reads something at the end of class. It is usually a quote or a passage or something to get us to think and to appreciate life and being alive and our lives. Yesterday, she read: “Compassion for yourself is the greatest gift you can give to others.” I do not think she meant: if you are more compassionate to yourself, then you will be more compassionate to others. I try to be compassionate and understanding of others. Just not of myself. I think the quote was supposed to mean that you cannot genuinely be yourself if you do not have self-compassion.

I am not a huge fan of Joel Osteen, but a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning, I turned the TV on and caught Osteen, who has a very slick, sleek, calming way of speaking, question what it means if we do not have self-compassion. He said, if you do not have compassion for yourself and you always find fault with yourself, are you saying that God made a mistake in how He created you? Wow. I had never thought of it that way before.

Facebook is full of pithy sayings that people post and others “like” and then re-post, and these spread like wildfire, but to what end? A recent quote said: “Depression and anxiety and panic attacks are not signs of weakness. They are signs of having tried to remain strong for way too long.” I think the point was for people to share this and increase awareness of Mental Health Month or something.

When I read this quote, I thought it to be true for other people.

But not for myself.

It wasn’t that I try too hard, it must be that I don’t try hard enough.

If only I were stronger….

If only I tried harder….

I am not sure why I think this way about myself. But I do. And it leaves me feeling like a defective person. Which is not a very good feeling to have.

I do know that I have a lot of talents and gifts. And I have a lot of very amazing friends. And wonderful children. And an awesome partner.

But sometimes it is very hard for me to be nice to me. For me to accept my humanness. For me to allow myself to be vulnerable.

And to demand that my true self be allowed not only to exist, but to thrive.

As part of the end-of-class meditation the other day, our yoga instructor read: your true self is like the sun. It burns brightly no matter what. Even though sometimes the sky is overcast or full of dark clouds, the sun is still there, shining brightly. So, too, your true self is there, shining brightly.

That is encouraging. It makes it sound like my true self is always there, burning brightly. I just need to remove the clouds. Or, at least, when there are clouds there, realize that my true self is true. It is shining brightly no matter what.

And, now, what am I going to do about that?