Life is a Mess, But Also Often Quite Pretty
Hockey child baking cakes amongst the deplorable kitchen mess
This is a tiny conversation in one of the outer galaxies of the internet, but I want it to be a truly useful one, both for me and all who read. We have been discussing in the comments recently about the difference between the face we present to the world, especially on social media, and the dark, ashamed place that we often really inhabit. Can I tell you how much I love the conversations that happen in the comments? So many kind, wise, brave, thoughtful, vulnerable people. I have some rather unconnected but themed thoughts about a few of the insecurities that perfect lives on social media generate for me.
The game: I think that those of us who are women are especially vulnerable to this kind of insidious comparison game. Clearly, everyone except ourselves is living pretty much the perfect life, and the proof? There it all is out there on social media. We are too clever to know that this is true, but somewhere in the depths of our souls, we believe it, because we are convinced that actually, everyone out there has it all together except us. We are the middle-aged lost people who feel that despite decades of parenting and work, and managing to pay the electric bill, that somehow we have failed to adult. But at the same time we don't really want to adult, because it just doesn't seem like that much fun.
Myself: It is excruciatingly uncomfortable for me to expose myself 'out loud'. I think a lot of us grew up in a space where we were encouraged to put our shiny happy faces on for others to see. I have done the same for my children, and regret it now. But they are tough and brave and luckily ignore a lot of what I do and say. I have spent a lot of my adult life learning how to be sociable. I am quite good at it as long as I don't have to sustain it for long. I quickly get out of my depth, and sustaining relationships is tricky. I rely on the kindness of friends, often, to keep relationships going because I am not that great at following up, answering the phone, emails or texts or actually wanting to leave the house. I am even not that good at doing this with my adult children. Although better at it with them than with anyone else (short break in transmission while I call my girl). And my poor mother mostly has to call me, although I am always pleased to hear from her. It's not you, Mum, it's me. I joined Facebook several months ago, but haven't been able to sustain it. All those people saying witty or even just nice things about other people on a daily basis.. and confidently putting it all out there in a format that I can't even begin to decipher. I think I can confidently say I am pretty much a fail at Facebook... but then I roll my eyes at myself, because all the people seem to manage it and run all their creative projects and change the world. And many do it so well with honesty and bravery and vulnerability a well. And here I am walking the dog.
Parenting: I am consistently at sea about parenting. I have four very different children and think it is unfair that just as I get used to working out how to deal with one child, then I have to turn around and work out completely different ways of relating to another one. Much as this seems an odd thing to say, I love being a single parent. I am a much nicer person now I am not unhappy and emotionally holding my breath all the time. But still, mess and trauma and shouty voices and slammed doors and anxieties and troubles and ill health, too much driving children about, and even worse, teaching children to drive, and concern about studies and schools and worry about adult children and their concerns and difficulties and all the cleaning, such as it is, and all the cooking, such as it is.. sometimes I feel like I am drowning. And yet.. sometimes also I discover that the children are propping me up as well. They have made me stronger and wiser and taught me empathy and conflict resolution as well as turning me into a shouty, whiny haggard person. No, actually, I did that to myself. They just provided the perfect excuse.
Here on Blueday I do not discuss my children's journeys, because their paths are their own. Sometimes I post a photo or a conversation with their permission. If I don't mention them it is not because I don't want to share the difficulties of parenting with you, it is because I can't do it without co-opting their stories. We are normal, middle-class citizens with an average load of difficulties and challenges. I would really like to try to find a way to discuss some of the down times if I can do it without exposing my kiddos to the internet.
Where is the real?: Do you know what intrigues me about modern fiction? It can be soul-searingly honest, dark, gritty. It bares the hidden corners of modern life, which I think is admirable, if sometimes quite difficult to read. But you would hardly know that any of these dark corners even existed if you relied on social media for your version of reality. Often people reveal their problems, but only after they have triumphed over them and have a really useful solution to offer. See my last post for a classic text-book example of this. There is nothing wrong with offering useful solutions to life's many dilemmas, of course. But what about when there aren't solutions? What about the demons we battle over and over and over, and realistically know that we will continue to do so for the rest of our lives? It is good sometimes, to hear about these. Good to know that yes, they happen and no, we are not alone.
And it's not even the big things, often, that we want to know about, but the tiny, annoying things, the mosquito problems that torment us every day. And there, my dears, is where I can be so, so useful. I have in recent times given up caring particularly about all sorts of things that used to worry me terribly, like grey hair and foraging on public roadsides. Well, now I may as well go one step further and share all the abject foolishness of the ways I fail on a daily basis. It will no doubt be very therapeutic. The Stoics would be all over this. In Stoicism you focus on the things that you can change for the better about your life. The areas of life that you can't change you completely dismiss from your list of things to worry about. What Other People Think About You is very high on the list of things that you can't change. So why worry? Well, I will see what I can do..
The photos: And finally, to address the carefully curated photos of my house that I love to post here. Well, I love them because I can almost convince myself that I am living that dream. It also comforts me a little because I can point to that and say, hey, there's me. And it's true for a tiny slice of my life, but not a lot of it. So... because life is never all one thing or all the opposite, I will be forcing myself to share more photos of the mess on the bench around the fresh sourdough loaf. But sometimes I will just go for the beautiful shot, because I like it. And also the happy thought, the uplifting platitude, because life really isn't all about our failures either; sometimes it is about glorious, everyday wonder.
The end: This feels like the most incoherent and badly structured piece of writing I have ever sent out into the world, but in the spirit of getting over my perfectionism, I'll put it out there. Along with a photo of the never-ending dishes. Tell me all about the conversations you really want to have. Be as anonymous as you like. This is, after all, the internet:)