I don't remember when "I can't" became such a constant -- or even a possibility -- for me. As i was making tea this morning, i asked myself that and the first think i recalled was hiking in the Sangre de Cristo mountains near Santa Fe (probably the Pecos Wilderness). We hiked in for an overnight stay, and i sprained my knee somehow when hiking in. (We got caught in a hailstorm, and i assume the injury happened while i was chilled.) I was in a great deal of discomfort hiking out, but it was clear no one was going to send a helicopter to rescue me. So i just kept walking. The next weekend, despite the discomfort, i went ahead and played in an ultimate frisbee competition the best i could. (And got yelled at by a woman on another team for letting the guys take me out so often. Um, no, that's not it.)
That was right before graduate school, so "I can't" probably happened during grad school.
I was wondering this morning, because the sense of "I can't" i have this morning seems so young, so tender. Stories about me as a child are of an assertive, somewhat fearless child.
I wonder how much of that was the "parentless" child me taking as much care of my emotional needs as i could since my parents weren't. (Physically, i was cared for and protected. Neither was i neglected --but my brother probably was. I was, however, pulled into the adult emotional storm between my parents at a very young age.)firecat
shares a link to a book review of a series of articles on procrastination. [“The Thief of Time” (Oxford; $65)].
One could say my dawdling yesterday was procrastination, but i've grown more in touch with my fear in the past few years. I haven't realized how much was there, and i wonder about the little girl whose mother was so angry with her father and whose father seemed so conspiratorial in getting around what her mother wanted. I know she felt responsible, and did run away -- not far, not long, because she really was an obedient child even if she was constantly told she was not -- hoping that they would be happy without her.
So, in touch with the "i can't" and the sense of fear of destruction that lead to the "i can't", i read this paragraph and resonate:
Lack of confidence, sometimes alternating with unrealistic dreams of heroic success, often leads to procrastination, and many studies suggest that procrastinators are self-handicappers: rather than risk failure, they prefer to create conditions that make success impossible, a reflex that of course creates a vicious cycle. McClellan was also given to excessive planning, as if only the ideal battle plan were worth acting on. Procrastinators often succumb to this sort of perfectionism. [Read more]
The next chapter of that article describes the experience that i had during my youth, a clear sense of a divided self, of being a committee. My somewhat obsolete LJ bio points at the work i did during grad school's therapy on integration.
The same research, though, also suggests that most of us have a limited amount of will power and that it’s easily exhausted. In one famous study, people who had been asked to restrain themselves from readily available temptation—in this case, a pile of chocolate-chip cookies that they weren’t allowed to touch—had a harder time persisting in a difficult task than people who were allowed to eat the cookies.
I remember reading a brief blurb about that research and the sense of relief i felt. I know i use my will power to get through so much that i would like to just not do, it's a relief to find that if at the end of the day i can't make myself do laundry, it's not necessarily that i'm some lazy slattern. Thus my conflict about my work, my job. I motivate myself over and over: i will contact this person, i will make a decision, i will commit to a time line, i will explain this (despite uncertainty), i will... I know i need to start focusing on the pleasures and rewards to help. For example, i do enjoy coaching many of my staff, and i have a hesitant belief that i am effective there.
The end of the article begins with this observation:
The philosopher Mark Kingwell puts it in existential terms: “Procrastination most often arises from a sense that there is too much to do, and hence no single aspect of the to-do worth doing. . . . Underneath this rather antic form of action-as-inaction is the much more unsettling question whether anything is worth doing at all.”
It's a familiar one to me: this sort of questioning rises forth in my depression. Why bother. Why? So much action seems to be about holding off the inevitable contemplation of existence and extinction. My mother's long lists of must-dos were a bulwark against really being present. I don't doubt that was learned in some unpleasantness of her own childhood, and it certainly held back a certain type of discomfort durning my childhood. I can remember the sense of insight the holiday where i realized that when we had guests (almost always her extended family, very occasionally my Dad's mother) and my mother had extra to-dos on her list of what must be done, my parents argued less. Stirred into fevered activity from early dawn to late at night, my mother had no time to really reflect (but oh, i'm sure she obsessed in circles, as even now when i visit, she chats at me as she does things, and i can hear the thoughts rattling in the deep ruts).
I think over the eighteen years of my marriage Christine and i have done a great deal of carving away at unnecessary to-dos. "Just because everyone has turkey on Thanksgiving, why should we?" we asked, long before we were vegetarians. What Christine enjoyed and delighted in was a pizza (and actually that's more of a splurge than buying a turkey and roasting it). There are aspects of things we have chosen not to do that i am proud of, that i feel are freeing choices even if the difference creates a dissonance with the dominant society.
But then there's a sense of failure, of "i couldn't," of "i/we can't manage," and the "i can't" echo shows up. "I can't manage to set a day to do laundry and get it done." "I can't keep the floors clean." This "i can't" is a judging type voice, unlike the whimpering child i heard in my heart this morning crying "i can't." One echoes the other? A cycle?
Yesterday, i know i was struggling with the sense of impending doom, that there was something to be panicked about in the email from while i was on vacation, something i should have followed up on over the past weeks, something, something. That fear wouldn't allow a rational review, and each email seemed to call for some impossible task i'd have to work up my energy to do. (And i see now that if i zoomed through that task, i'd only be met with the mystery of the next email.)
offered to me the mantra, "OH NOES, A TIGER. RUN UP THE TREE!"