I’ve made progress. I used to compare myself with every airbrushed cover model, every long-haired laughing girl advertising Diet Coke or tampons, every beautiful girl at the mall smiling up at her adoring boyfriend. I don’t do that anymore- I’ve seen enough airbrush exposés to be a trifle cynical about beauty in advertising; I’ve felt beautiful when smiling at my own truly wonderful boyfriend.
A glimpse of my distorted reflection in a car door usually doesn’t send me into the tailspin of too-big nose/too-high forehead/too-flat eyebrows. Of course, I’ve been examining and analyzing this face of mine for a long time. I’ve made peace with it. It’s quirky.
I don’t find it terribly difficult to ignore Cosmo when it tells me to “Get Gorgeous Now!” or Vogue when it demands that I get the latest look. But those other magazines–the ones with artfully arranged flowers or towering desserts on the front cover, with articles that gently and insistently urge me to ‘feel good now!’, ‘achieve your balance!’, ‘find your peace!’, ‘stop stressing!’– those are the magazines that send me into paroxysms of self-doubt.
Embrace your life! Live mindfully! Creatively! Live your best balanced life! … suddenly, I’m questioning every decision, berating myself for falling off the morning pages wagon, for not nurturing myself more, fretting about the lining of my stomach and what I’ll do when that ulcer finally shows up, and wondering why my life isn’t more consistently meaningful. More peaceful. More balanced.
I think the balanced life is yet another version of the myth of the woman who can do it all, the woman who is the perfect mother and the head of the company, the full time student/full time worker who also has a meticulously clean house and cooks healthy meals and takes long, peaceful walks with the dog… I think she’s a ghost, this immaculately-coiffed specter who makes elaborately decorated Easter cakes. She is the first wife to whom you will never measure up. She’s as much of a construct as the air-brushed celebrity. I don’t think she actually exists.
Oh, she exists for moments. I’ve been her for moments. When a beautiful pink tree literally takes my breath away… and there just happens to be fifteen extra minutes in schedule during which to stop and bask in the loveliness. The moments that reverberate with poetry; when my soul feels still, and calm, and I can take a deep, cleansing breath and love the minutae of my life and let my miseries all melt away.
The next day the tree is pale pink blur in the rear-view mirror as I scan for flashing blue lights.
Long, long ago, in a completely different stage of my life, I struggled with this exact thing in a rather different context. (Brace yourself, I’m going to quote a preacher.) I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t always “on the mountaintop” (to put it in a Southern religious colloquialism). Why I didn’t always feel close to God, why my emotions were so horribly changeable. Every time I slipped, whenever I just wasn’t feeling it, I worried that all wasn’t as it should be. The preacher told me that you aren’t supposed to live on the mountaintop. The mountaintop exists to give you faith and comfort while you are in the valley.
I disagree heartily and fundamentally with 99.9% what he or any other preacher who has ever berated a sinner believes. But if you lift that sentiment- the ‘not living on the mountaintop’ idea- and transfer it, whole-cloth, to my current frustrations at not being able to live a peaceful, balanced life with any sort of continuity, it puts everything into perspective.
I don’t have to marvel at the pink trees every day. My kitchen will not be clean every day, I will not be creative and charming and confident every day. Those moments are extraordinary. Those are the mountaintops.
And some days I really just need to get to class already.
But the memory of those pink trees, even in my hectic, often-frustrating, and beautifully unbalanced life, provides a shimmering moment of poetry, of peace, of balance.
And that works for me.