My roommate Hannah came back from a meditation retreat on Monday with a present for me. It was a book written by this smiley aging lesbian-type (I am judging her based on her author picture) named Cheri Huber titled, "Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe, There Is Nothing Wrong With You." It really looks like one of those books you buy at a gas station. You know, the ones that are called "A Sister Is A Sneeze From God," or whatever. There's a monarch butterfly on the cover, and all the titling is in a font that can only be described as an unfortunate knock-off of Comic Sans.
Hannah said, "I hope you don't feel offended by the title." I did not feel offended by the title (although I was clearly offended by the inexplicable cover design), but I didn't really feel like another book about meditation was going to be terribly useful to me right now. This book didn't know me. It didn't understand how necessary my self-loathing was to ensure my ultimate happiness. I told Hannah thank you and put the book in my room.
Then later, I was cleaning up some things, and the book fell open, like in a movie with a magical book in it. The page that it opened to, near the beginning, was very difficult to ignore, because it only had one sentence on it (also printed in puke-ic sans font, as was all the text in the whole book, inexcusably). The sentence read, "If you had a person in your life treating you the way you treat yourself, you would have gotten rid of them a long time ago."
At first I was like, "Whatever, book. I keep some pretty abusive people in my life." But then I realized that it was true that if anyone said the things to me that I said to myself, I would probably distance myself. I'm really mean.
I decided to just read a chapter. It started out with a variation on its title: "You have been taught that there is something wrong with you, and that you are imperfect, but there isn't, and you're not." It then goes on to say that in our society, adults think it is important to teach children to assume there is something wrong with themselves, to look for flaws in themselves, to judge those flaws when they find them, and to punish themselves until they change.
I thought about being a teacher. I thought about all the times I had been told by people I really respected that "children have to be taught" how to behave. If we don't show them the difference between good behavior and bad behavior, they will gravitate towards bad behavior, and they'll end up bad people, which will ultimately be our fault. The schools I work at are full of "consequences" (no one likes to say "punishments;" I guess it sounds too Medieval, which some of this stuff is). There are consequences for talking, for walking the wrong way, for dawdling, for drawing when you're supposed to be listening, for jumping in the bathroom, for jumping in the hallway, for jumping down stairs. But if you ask a kid who has received a consequence what she did to earn it, nine times out of ten she'll come up with something like, "I was being bad."
For a long time, I bought into this system of rewards and consequences. It's only been about two years since I shifted away from it. Now I think that what children need the most is to love themselves. Unfortunately, by the time kids are seven, the social conditioning that says that they are bad is already done, and it can be difficult to get them to unlearn it. This is exactly the work I feel so committed to being a part of: encouraging children to like themselves. To ingrain daily practices of self-love. To be a force helping to lift the weight of "you aren't good enough," if only a little, from their shoulders.
So why am I so bad at it myself?
I wake up every morning to a voice in my head that says, "You have to get out of bed. Why are you having such difficulty getting out of bed? GET UP! Other people get up and do ten times as many things as you do."
So I get up. "What are you going to have for breakfast? Ugh, you have such eating problems. You eat like shit all the time. You're fat. You're like really fat. You could be less fat if you would just eat less. But I guess you don't have control over yourself enough do you? Nope. You're a spineless, fat piece of trash."
So I eat breakfast. I turn on the computer. "What are you going to write about this morning? You haven't published anything in a long time. You're slowing down. You have all these ideas, why aren't you finishing them faster? You spent like four hours on a comic yesterday that isn't even good. No one is even going to want to read it. Let's look on Facebook. Look! CHELSEA is doing things. CHELSEA is getting a book published. She's five years younger than you and she's publishing a book. And 133 people like that. Do you even know 133 people? Look! GREG is going on a comedy tour. Why can't you just fucking go to more open mics so you could go on a comedy tour? Oh, who are you kidding. No one would want to go on a comedy tour with you. You're not funny. Also, everyone in the comedy world hates you and thinks you are a lying hippie. You're a bad person. You have spent ten minutes just looking at other people succeeding. That's real cool, Sophie. STOP PROCRASTINATING AND WRITE A DAMN ESSAY."
So I write the essay. "You're so selfish. You spent an hour writing for your narcissistic blog while there are people out there who are up teaching right now, and the kids are suffering and the teachers are suffering, and you should be volunteering your time, but nooo. You're just sitting around staring at a screen. What, are you addicted to the computer or something? Should I get you enrolled in CA? WAS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE AN AA JOKE? YOU ARE SO BAD AT JOKES IT'S NOT EVEN FUNNY. WAS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE A JOKE ABOUT JOKES NOT BEING FUNNY?! SHOOT ME IN THE FACE."
There is a constant flow of voices telling me all the things I should be doing, and what success is supposed to look like, and what people must be thinking about me, and what's wrong with me that makes me such a failure. And I guess I felt like I needed the voice because without it, what would I get done?
Then I realized that I would get done whatever felt good to get done. And it would probably not be as much as I get done now. But honestly, who cares? The world does not need me to write a book or be publishing articles constantly nearly as much as it needs me to love myself. That's the best and foremost way I can contribute to the greater good. Because when you are not judging yourself, you don't judge others as easily. You live more gently. You have a greater capacity to love everything.
So on Tuesday I spent two hours (seriously) doing nothing but telling the voices in my head that they were lying:
SOPHIE: What are you doing? GET UP!
SOPHIE: I can just lie here if I want to. I love that I'm just lying here right now. It feels great.
SOPHIE: You're such a bad, lazy person for just lying there! You look like melted Fro Yo with SMALL BREASTS.
SOPHIE: No, that's a lie. Also, small breasts are hot right now.
SOPHIE: Get up! You HAVE to get up! If you don't you're causing the world to implode. Everyone will see how lazy you are!
SOPHIE: No, that's a lie. The world is fine. I'm not lazy.
SOPHIE: I HATE you!
SOPHIE: I love you!
And so on and so forth. I honestly had this moment of epiphany when the mean voice was silenced, and I felt like I'd defeated the ultimate boss in Paper Mario. (Paper Mario is the only video game I've ever played. It RULED.)
But then yesterday morning, the voice came back full force. "GET UP! WHAT ARE YOU DOING DAWDLING AROUND? YOU LOOK LIKE A DISEASED OYSTER WITHOUT ITS SHELL." I decided I wasn't having any of that. I told the voice it was lying, and I went back to bed.
So I didn't post a blog entry yesterday, because I decided to make a nice breakfast for myself instead. I decided to sit in the sun and count lizards in the morning. I decided to linger a little at work talking to children and telling them how good and precious they were. And that pissed off the mean self-talk brain-creature that has been so happily growing inside me for the past two dozen years. But I felt great.
When I went back to the book Hannah gave me, I thought the font was maybe not so bad after all. I realized that the font was probably on purpose -- daring its readers to see how fine it was with just being awful. At least, I hope that's the reason the publisher moved forward with that design decision. I hope against hope that that was it.