I’ve no idea how exactly this will shape up in time, but then, I never imagined the way The Swan’s Heart, or The Heron Clan evolved over the years. And maybe that is the beginning bit of “wisdom” earned in the passage of years: The future is impossible to see or predict. Whatever we might hope or plan or wish for, life will carry us on currents not of our making. We float; tiny motes; on a great ocean. Energy expended in an attempt to control the path forward into the unknown future is a waste.
So, I am just going to begin right here in this time and this place with what is on my mind tonight. The year is coming near to its end, and it is customary to make resolutions for the new year. I have never been one for the making of resolutions. Promising myself that I’ll do better for myself in the coming year than I did in the year just past seems an odd mental construct. I’m pretty sure that I have done the very best I could over the course of the years. Likewise, I am fairly certain that I’ll continue to make choices I can next year. So no resolutions. Instead, I find I am in the mood to enumerate the things I have learned, for me. And that is important -- I’m not here to judge or advise. If there is anything I have learned to this point, it is that people choose for themselves regardless of what others might think of those choices. I could make a very long list of times in my life when I ignored (and often resented) the well-meaning advice of friends and family. So, take it all for what it is worth.
- I’ve learned to stop apologizing all the time. I think it is important to take responsibility when I’ve made a serious mistake. In that case, the best, most sincere apology I can muster is appropriate -- and then I try hard to fix the mess I’ve made. I’m all for stepping up and apologizing when it is appropriate, but I’m done with apologizing over and over for the same thing, and I’m really determined to lose that female cultural norm, “I’m sorry” that my generation learned to offer for just being and breathing and thinking. If I’ve done no harm, I’m not apologizing for thinking and doing what I choose.
- I’ve learned that there is no value in comparing my real life to what I can see of anyone else’s life. Whether I know you in person or via some sort of cyber connection, I know that I can only know the parts of your life that you choose to share. Because I share bits of myself with friends and colleagues, I am very aware that we filter what we offer to others. Those boundaries are there for a reason -- or maybe for a number of reasons, and whatever those might be, the fact is that we cannot see to the insides of one another’s lives. My life is mine. It is constructed out of the choices I’ve made at every juncture along the way. I believe as I do, and I think as I think. What I can see of your life, of anyone’s life, is only a series of fragmented snapshots. Because I can’t see clearly, I cannot reasonably compare. And so I simply refuse to do it. I will rejoice in your joys, hold you close in your sorrows, offer my hand in friendship and support if it is wanted. I’ll be glad for those who can do the same for me.
- I’ve learned that guilt and regret are emotions that produce no benefit. I’ve tortured myself with regrets and guilty feelings for far too many things over the years (blame my Catholic upbringing for that one). I’m not perfect, and I’ve made some stupendous mistakes. I’ve hurt people and done the wrong thing -- and not just once. There are no do overs. If I could fix those blunders, and save the hurts, I would, but those moments have floated past me and into the story that lies behind me. It is time to let the feelings of guilt and sorrow go, too.
- I’ve learned that I need to pay attention to the things I want and need. I’ve come to understand that it is OK to say “yes” to those things in my life. Putting my desires on permanent hold isn’t good for me, and it isn’t doing anyone around me any favors. I’m not about to turn into a self-absorbed, greedy, inconsiderate twit (I hope), but I think it is time to allow myself an afternoon out with a friend, or to refuse an invitation to an event that I’d rather not be part of. Taking care of me is a good and healthy thing.
- I’ve learned that I ought to love this body that I inhabit. I think it is pretty common for women to denigrate our looks. We are all confronted with the impossible beauties paraded in the media, and we learn, at a very early age, that we should have perfect hair and perfect teeth and perfect nails and perfect clothes. We learn to blame ourselves for the shortcomings we perceive in our physical bodies, and we become convinced that if we only figured out how to subsist on the correctly restrictive diet, if we only managed to make time for that hour or two in the gym each day, if we only learned the intricacies of applying makeup or choosing the right accessories, then we too would be “good enough” to stand in the ranks of THOSE women. Well, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to make the body I was given fit that impossible image, and I am done. This body, these curves, this height, these teeth, this voice, this hair, these legs and shoulders, these scars and saggy places -- these are mine and I claim them. This body has carried me this far, and I trust it to take me the rest of the way on this life journey. It is mine and I will love it as it should be loved.
- I’ve learned that I am an accomplished, skilled, intelligent, capable person. I tend to hold back and stay out of the limelight. I am not an attention seeker, especially in my professional life. I know the quality and value of the work I do, but I am pretty quiet about it with others. I think it might be time to let that part of who I am to show more, shine more. I’ve got skills and talents and experience to share. There are no goodie points for being unnecessarily humble or modest.
- I have learned that I am sometimes a little “crazy.” Heck, there might be times when I am more than a little “crazy.” I can get all the way to fucking nuts, and that is just the way it is. Deal with it. I am tired of feeling like my emotional reactions are somehow inappropriate, and I am done accepting the negative judgement of those who want to use that label, “crazy,” to make me back away from where I am in the moment. I manage to take care of the things that need taking care of. I play an active role in my community, family, and workplace. Clearly, the crazies of which I am sometimes capable don’t keep me from being there for all those other folks, so on a day when I am feeling wobbly, I am going to insist that the world will not come crashing down if I just take a little time to unravel for a bit. It might look messy to the rest of the world, but I’ll pull it back together. I always do.
- I’ve learned that everybody’s sexual choices are theirs to make, including mine, and it isn’t anyone else’s business how those choices are made. I don’t want anyone judging my sex life, and I don’t think it is my place to judge anyone else. Consent matters. If everybody involved is fully and freely consenting, then it isn’t my business. No slut-shaming. No gay bashing. No “my way is better than your way.”
- I’ve learned to say what I think. Once. Mostly, I don’t argue anymore. Winning the point isn’t the point in most circumstances. Whether the conversation is between colleagues, family members, friends, or social media connections, there is seldom a need to reiterate anything I’ve said once. Clarify? Maybe. Sometimes. But, in my experience, the repeated effort to get heard, understood, and most of all, agreed with, just leads to conflict and feuding. I don’t need it. If I have something to say, I’ll offer it. That’s it. Take it or leave it. It is what it is.
- I’ve learned that it is usually better to look for what makes me happy. I am capable of feeling sad about things, but wallowing in sadness is yucky feeling. Better to sing, hum, smile, and hug. The world is full of sadness. It is also filled with beauty and wonder. I have learned that it is best to look at the lovely bits when I can.