Doubt

A seed

in a wayward wind it blew,

it lit on me

took root, and grew.

The soil was rich,

and fertile, too.

And from that seed

a vine did sprout-

a pesky weed,

a creeping doubt-

came winding in

and winding out.

It grew so fast

and so complete,

it bound my hands

and bound my feet-

I can’t advance,

I can’t retreat.

This pestilential plant I’ve found

has got me rooted to the ground,

but I can’t make a single sound.

I just let it take me down.

Doubt is such a tricky thing. Even the spelling is tricky. Pretty sneaky, silent b! Doubt is an uncertainty, a mistrusting. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I mean, I believe it’s important to face life with a healthy skepticism. You know, take everything with a grain of salt. What I have, and what this poem is referencing, is a crippling self-doubt. A doubt in my abilities, a doubt in my intelligence, a doubt in my worthiness. And this feeling persists regardless of any evidence to contrary. No amount of success has been able to erase it.

Apparently this feeling has a name- impostor syndrome. It’s the feeling that any achievement or success a person may experience is based on luck, or charm, or any other factor rather than actual knowledge, experience, competence, etc. I cannot believe or accept that I’ve earned or deserved any award or accomplishment I’ve received in my whole life ever. All my degrees and certificates are shoved in a box in the back of a closet somewhere because they aren’t real, they are meaningless, and I don’t deserve them. I always feel like I’m in over my head, but at the same time I have to keep pushing myself to do more and be more because I crave validation. Gold stars, pats on the back, affirmations, whatever. I’m a big black hole of need. So I work too much, I take on extra responsibilities, I over-prepare and yet the cycle continues. Nothing is ever enough, nothing satisfies. The voice in my head tells me, “You don’t deserve this.” “Don’t get a big head- nobody likes a know-it-all.” and the one that makes me the most sad, “Who are you to want this, to dream this?”

So in a weird way, impostor syndrome pushes me and holds me back at the same time. I feel like I excel at being mediocre. I’m afraid to try new things because I don’t think I’ll be successful, but even if I was successful it wouldn’t be good enough. I think even if I won a Nobel Prize, the voice in my head would say, “So what? Anybody could do that.”

OK, so you have a problem. But what to do about it? I did some reading and research (because of course I did…) and I found this article from The Muse to be helpful. I need to be more mindful of the way I think and speak about myself and my accomplishments. Stop seeking external validation, and learn to cultivate internal validation. Take risks, try new things, and focus more on the process, not the product. Screw up and be OK with it. And finally, make friends with that inner voice. If I can’t shut her up, at least I don’t have to listen to her.

To this end, I’ve decided every month to try something new, something that pushes me out of my comfort zone. Something I might even (gasp!) NOT BE GOOD AT. Something at which I might even (gulp!) FAIL. I have no idea what this will look like or how it will unfold, because I’m so deeply entrenched in my comfort zone that I can’t even see beyond it. So in the coming days and weeks I’ll be doing some soul searching and reflecting. What is something I’ve always wanted to try? What would I love to do if I wasn’t afraid? Amazingly, these questions draw complete blanks. I have no idea. So I guess this month’s adventure is compiling a list. Which on the surface seems boring and stupid, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

And I’ll learn to embrace my inner impostor along the way.

Looking for the Silver Lining (or, is there such a thing as Viagra for my self-confidence)

Like many children of the 1980’s, my brother and I were latch-key kids. Every day after school we would let ourselves in the house, dutifully call our parents and let them know we made it home, then feed and entertain ourselves for a couple of hours until our parents made it home from work. We didn’t have cable, and back in those days we only had about four channels to choose from. And even though PBS had quality children’s programming, for some reason we watched a lot of divorce court.

I don’t know why this particular memory decided to surface today, but I remember so vividly this episode, this divorce. The wife had said the husband was impotent. I didn’t know what the word impotent meant, but I understood from the context that it was a bad thing. I remember so well Judge Keene’s scathing rebuke of the husband as he handed down his decision. “Not only are you physically impotent, but you are morally impotent…”

“Boy, I wouldn’t want to be that guy,” thought my nine year old self. I still didn’t know what that word meant, but from the emotion surrounding the entire episode I figured that being impotent must be about the worst thing a person could be. I held fast to this new knowledge and waited until the time was right…

We were visiting my grandmother’s house. My brother and I were arguing and fighting, as we always did when we were together, and I decided to use my new weapon. I can still feel the sneer on my face as I growled through clenched teeth. “You’re IMPOTENT!!”

I couldn’t wait to see how my insult had wounded him. Instead I heard a sharp intake of air from my grandmother, and then shrieking. “WHAT DID YOU SAY??? WHERE DID YOU LEARN THAT WORD??”

Wow. Judging from my grandmother’s reaction, this word must be more powerful than F. But it remained shrouded in mystery, no one would explain the meaning to me.

I eventually learned what it means to be impotent, and I think I understand why this memory came to me today. It’s because that’s the name of this feeling I’m experiencing.

I’m feeling impotent. Powerless.

I found some baby birds and I tried to save them but they died. Natural selection is a bitch.

My husband has been out of work for a couple of months and I can’t provide for my family on my salary. Music lessons? Sports camps? No, no, no. Why does everything have to cost so much money?

My sweet children are being corrupted by their peers and I can do nothing. There are some words I just don’t want to hear come out of my child’s mouth. I know these things happen, and I remember being this age and being fascinated by the world of adult language. I’m just not ready for this.

Every now and then we all feel overwhelmed by life, don’t we? My initial response is just to lie there flaccid and let the chaos consume me because who the hell thought it was a good idea to put me in charge of anything anyway. When I think of all the things I have to do, everything I am responsible for, and all the myriad ways I could screw it all up I get that sick feeling in my stomach like when you’re walking and you miss a step and for a half second or so you’re just free falling into the abyss.

Powerless. When it seems that everything is out of control it helps to remember that nothing is ever really under control anyway. Put the blinders on and focus on what you CAN do instead of what you CAN’T do. Your power lies in your response to what life throws at you.

I couldn’t save the baby birds, and while it was sad, it did introduce my children to the fact that death is a part of life. This is something they need to know, and I’m grateful they learned it from these birds first, before a beloved pet or close family member. Baby steps, you know.

My husband will find work again, and in the meantime we will just have to learn to live on less, another important lesson for our children. I’m grateful that even during this time of hardship, my children have never been hungry. All they know is that we can’t go to McDonald’s right now. Even at our lowest we have it so much better than so many. And the biggest blessing of this hardship is that it has made us more resourceful and forced us to lean on our friends and each other.  We truly are each other’s keepers and therefore we take care of each other.

As for my children being corrupted, well, it’s just time to step up and prepare my children for the path. And for all the punks and assholes they will likely meet on that path. This is perhaps my hardest task, because everything I want for them runs counter to what the world seems to expect from men. Having empathy and compassion for others, not wanting to take stupid risks, these things do not make you a pussy no matter what that kid down the street says. Don’t play with him. He is not your friend.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that my impotence is largely imagined. All I needed was some gentle coaxing and a few positive strokes, something we all need from time to time. We may be powerless to control life’s ups and downs, but we do have a choice as to how we handle the situations that we face, and how we handle each other in the face of those situations.

We are only impotent if we choose to be.

Project Summer 2016: The Garden

I’ve decided I need to cultivate hobbies and pursue activities of personal interest because the empty nest is looming on the horizon and it takes me forever to do anything. I don’t want to be caught off guard with no hobbies in the autumn of my life. Teaching gives me ample time in the summers to delve into projects and try new things, so for this summer’s project I decided to have a garden.

Before I get into the how of this project, let me explain a little bit of the why behind it.  Quite often I feel ashamed at my inability to do very  basic things. I thought perhaps tending a garden and growing food would boost my self confidence. Also, produce is expensive, and wouldn’t it be nice to fill the dinner table with delicious dishes made from vegetables I grew myself? I had visions of big family dinners, my children would be so robust and healthy… It was going to be beautiful. It was also going to be very easy. See, several months ago I read some articles that basically said that memories could be passed down through your DNA. There was more to it than that, but that was what I gleaned from my reading. You can read more about it herehere, and here. And because I came from a long line of people who had worked the land, I believed that gardening was in my DNA and that my body would remember. Looking at that statement now it seems laughable and crazy, but it made sense at the time. (People often think that I am quiet because I am shy and reserved, but honestly it’s because sometimes I have really dumb ideas.)

Now about my garden, I saw this really cute idea on Pinterest explaining how to have a container garden in an old swimming pool. This was appealing to me because I live in a zero lot house, so my yard is very small, and I just happened to have a swimming pool my kids had outgrown. I found the directions here.  I prepped the pool, drilled holes all around the outside, cut holes in the bottom, put in a layer of newspaper, and filled it with dirt. Apparently dirt for a container garden is not particularly cheap, and I’m not a very smart shopper so it probably cost me way more than most people. I spent $80 on plants. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to grow. I like to eat squash, broccoli, and cabbage, but for some reason those things just seemed impossible to grow in a swimming pool, so I planted tomatoes, bell peppers, and banana peppers, none of which I actually eat. But no matter. I planted my vegetables. My garden was ready to grow.

IMG_2704

From the beginning my plants were never healthy. June was an exceptionally rainy month, and the pool didn’t drain well. All of my plants took on a sickly, pale yellow hue. They were puny.  Eventually the weather did clear up and the garden dried out and the plants seemed to perk up a bit. By late June, early July they began to look healthy. My tomatoes were full of tiny blossoms, but only one or two tiny  little fruits. My peppers were doing nothing.

I tended my garden every day, which was actually pretty boring until I began to notice several spots where the leaves and stems had been chewed. Something was eating my plants. I looked and looked and eventually I found this monstrosity:IMG_3119

He was big enough to have a soul, so I couldn’t bring myself to kill him. I recruited my husband and children to pick him off and drop him into soapy water like the internet told me to. I was able to pick off the smaller ones. When you drop the worms into soapy water, they convulse and puke out their insides. I was oddly fascinated by this. I was told I needed to get some sevin dust, but I never got around to it.

By mid-July I finally had some tomatoes. My youngest son and I would go out each morning and check on them. He enjoyed watching them grow. That’s when we met this guy:IMG_3249The guardian of our tomatoes.

All told, I think I got about four tomatoes from my little garden, which I put salt and pepper on and ate like apples. When my bell peppers finally did put out, they were small and squishy. I only got two banana peppers, but I don’t like those anyway, so it wasn’t much of a loss. I think poor drainage was the biggest problem. I don’t think the plants had healthy roots. They may have also gotten too hot because there wasn’t enough dirt in the pool. So basically I spent about $180 on 4 tomatoes.

Once school started I was too busy and exhausted to bother with the garden, so it became a science experiment in decay. This was the garden in early August:

This is what the garden looks like today:IMG_3835

I’m waiting for it to return to the dust of the Earth.

I wouldn’t count the whole experience as a loss, though, because I did learn some valuable lessons. (Cue the After School Special music…) The most important being that I do not enjoy gardening. This is not the hobby for me. Nothing can survive in my house unless it a) feeds itself, or b) cries to be fed. I also learned that a swimming pool full of dirt is very heavy, and getting this garden out of my backyard is going to be a chore. For my husband, maybe.

Next summer’s project will be much smaller and less expensive. I have about 170 days to think about it.