Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

The Acrid Scent of Red Sharpie

T

When I was younger, my energy, enthusiasm, and motivation ran at about an 11 all the time.

It’s more than just the ever-present pickling of years that leads to where I am now. I’m more aware of social injustice and have a sharpened understanding of my own helplessness in the jaws of a system that whispers promises of the power of the many.

I feel tired — soul-tired and bone-tired all at once — more often than I don’t.

And I feel guilty when I see how little I’ve produced. I feel worried when I re-read a chapter, fingers smoothing over the crinkled edges where I’ve erased and edited and bled and finally just left as an exercise for future-me.

I’ve done better.

I should be doing better.

I should be better.

A better writer. A better person. A better friend. A better daughter. A better aunt.

That’s not even the full list of nouns that hang around my neck like so many decorative, hand-knit nooses.

Every once in a while, I can feel the flickering light of a resurgence of enthusiasm. I set goals. I’ll work out more. I’ll write and draw every day.

Then the enthusiasm shivers and hisses and dies back down and I’m left staring at a list of homework assignments that I’ve given myself. And the hours turn into days, and each task gets covered in a big red F surrounded by the acrid scent of sharpie markers and failure.

I need to be kind to myself.

Not just in a patronizing “surely you’ll do better next time” kind of way.

I need to be kind to myself. Without turning a kind word inward, I’ll never make it. I’ll just burn out trying to light too many candles, and wonder where all my wax has gone.

When I’m feeling enthusiasm and energy is a bad time to set goals. I appreciate those times, and need to make the most of them, but I can’t hold myself to that as a daily standard.

I’m not looking for advice or sympathy.

I’m just trying to figure out how to look back on a night spent with an open book and a mug of tea without staining the memory in a thick coat of red sharpie. To value the clean home and the quiet night as being worthy and good enough. They don’t have to be a dirty secret. They can be a goal. They can be a positive checkmark for a way to end a day. They are a success in and of themselves, and not just a cute pitstop on the highway of life.

11 comments

  • Good news! I have both some advice and some sympathy for you.

    Oh wait. Sorry. Just got to that part.

    Here’s what really stood out for me: “When I’m feeling enthusiasm and energy is a bad time to set goals. I appreciate those times, and need to make the most of them, but I can’t hold myself to that as a daily standard.”

    This is just a different manifestation of, “Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.”

    I’ve gone (and have been going through) much of what you’ve detailed here, but that’s not news to either of us. I’ve also done some deep self-examination and may have come up with something to help. But I need to let it steep for a while before I triumphantly return to my blog with The Solution.

    In the meantime, that mug of tea sounds nice.

    • I just don’t want people to feel obligated to try and fix me. There’s kinds of broken that can only be worked on from the inside.

      • Well, _now_ I feel like it’s cool to produce a wall of text. That said, I wrote something, lost it, slept a bit, wrote something, hated it, and have had this in the back of my brain for over a month now not making any steps forward. And that feels DUMB. So I’m writing a response again now. Hopefully the whiskey helps my writing. πŸ˜‰

        Personally, I related to a lot of what you wrote. Especially, “I feel tired β€” soul-tired and bone-tired all at once β€” more often than I don’t. And I feel guilty when I see how little I’ve produced,” the expectation of “being better”, and the self-flagellation for not meeting those expectations.

        I don’t think of you as a broken person in need of fixing, least of all by me. And I certainly don’t feel obligated to attempt it. I know there’ve been a lot of years since we last hung out — around the time you left that company we worked at together (whose owner is now facing charges for $2 billion in tax fraud). But, in spite of all that time, I _do_ care and I’m sorry that you’re having those feelings. I know they suck.

        For me, dealing with those feelings has been a multi-faceted thing.

        1. I need something that I just have to always do and don’t get excuses to back out of. This has ranged from Orthodox Lenten fasts (back in my religious days) to exercise (last two years or so). I’ve heard of people making their beds every morning.

        First, it gives me something to look back on that I accomplished. Even if I did a bad job, I at least did it. Second, it weirdly gives me a bit more mental discipline to unrelated tasks.

        2. I try to force myself to interperet disappointing events in non-judgemental terms. So, instead of, “I didn’t learn the Rust programming language because I’m a lazy piece of shit that doesn’t _really_ care about his craft,” it’s more, “I felt too tired to start learning a new language. I decided to do something relaxing instead.”

        This type of approach, which I’ve more recently learned is a part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), keeps me from beating myself up as much. More than that, it gives me the space to really look at the problem I’m having and to try to solve it. I get to ask why I felt too tired to learn a new programming language instead of why I’m lazy. The latter is a personality flaw I’ll never overcome. The former might be as simple as solving a structural problem with my day.

        I’m not great at it, but it’s been an incredibly useful practice fo me. Weirdly helped me finally deal with some stuff around a high school ex-girlfriend. (Note to anyone else reading this that doesn’t personally know me: I’m way too old for that shit.)

        3. This is a bit related to the above, but I have had to force myself to at least semi-celebrate successes / completion of tasks. I’ve always been terrible at it. Something could’ve always been better, but something good was done there.

        And it has to come from me. It does not work when anyone else does that for me. I will _always_ interpret it to be a hollow gesture or coming from having really low standards or poor knowledge of the situation. Always.

        So there it is. Some poorly written sympathy coupled with some not-quite-advice that isn’t because I feel obligated to fix you because I don’t and couldn’t and don’t think you need fixing anyway. Maybe next time I’ll do better. πŸ˜‰

        • For the record, you give excellent not-quite-advice.
          I’ve started a rewards system using decorative rocks in a pretty jar (which I can then “spend” to buy fun things). When in doubt, treat yourself like a kindergardener, I suppose. Thus far, it’s actually worked pretty well, so I think it’s gonna stick.

          • Thanks.

            I’m firmly in the “do-science-on-yourself-and-use-whatever-works” camp and, while you may think of it as a kindergarten activity, educators run schools like psychological warlords. Really, I tend to think people need some basic structures, semi-unique to them, that they can generally stick to consistently or things can go off the rails. So, I wouldn’t get too down on the idea just because some expert child manipulators use it too. πŸ˜‰

            A reward system (and probably gamification, generally) works for you and that’s awesome. I have a friend that literally assigned herself experience points for doing different things and would “level up” herself every so often. For me, reward systems look a lot more like a whole series of Sarah Andersen comics (that I can’t seem to find). For my kids, it makes literally everything worse. They either become too focused on how they’re not going to get the rewards and pre-mourn the outcome or they get so focused on the rewards that they lose control over their inner sociopaths.

            Beyond that, being able to keep it going is important. My mom has never met a crash diet she didn’t love and regularly complains about gaining weight. A coworker keeps going on keto and falling off of it. Pre-COVID, I was able to just set a really long-term diet plan where I just tried to eat a little less than I used to, psuedo-counted some calories so I could ballpark my intake for the day, and tracked a weekly weight average to make sure things were generally trending positively. I guess my “Reasonable BMI in 5 years through slow, smallish changes that you can more or less keep up with afterwards” program needs a catchier name/slogan (or the ability for me to make it survive in a pandemic in this political climate).

          • True true. And I think the catchier the diet name, the less likely it is to be followed long term, so maybe you’re on to something there. πŸ˜‰

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned