I think it’s human nature to apply a narrative to our lives, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — but the consequences can be chaotic when our narrative doesn’t match our reality. And I’m not talking about schizophrenia or mental disorders that mean your narrative is, like, CIA operatives spying on you or supernatural entities talking to you. I mean the small narratives, like defining yourself as a good person when everyone else see’s you as selfish.
Sometimes I’m tired of my voice. I’m tired of trying, and I’m tired of talking. I feel as though I keep trying to explain myself, and I keep failing miserably. I feel as though it’s useless to keep trying, but I do. I mean, I know my own intentions, thoughts, hopes, dreams, and feelings — but it feels like I keep miscommunicating them to others, like I’m somehow off-step and out of line.
I often feel as though I’m speaking a foreign language, and when I say something like, “I don’t believe in god because I have found no rational evidence for such a deity,” someone else hears, “I left the church because my feelings were hurt.”
Or when I say, “I wasn’t trying to be mean when I stopped talking to you for a bit, I was trying to avoid conflict because it seemed like you were angry or hurt at everything I said,” I feel like someone else hears, “I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you you suck.”
I mean, I know our own experiences and thoughts and hopes and dreams and neuroses feed into how we interpret what’s said or done to us. For instance, I often feel slighted by extended silence. I begin worrying that someone is avoiding me because I’m annoying and needy. I feel nerve-wracked about extending affection, because I’m concerned that I’m coming across as clingy — then I start worrying about being too stand-offish because I’m afraid I come across as cold and superior.
I know that underneath my chronic bitchface, I’m constantly worried about offending people or accidentally hurting someone’s feelings — but I also know that because I do have a very angry-looking face when I’m not actively smiling, and because I’m nervous about my crowded teeth so I don’t smile, and because I’m often uncertain in social situations so I choose silence as the better part of valor (or, as my dad used to say, “You can be silent and thought a fool, or open your mouth and remove all doubt.”)
In other words, I know that inside, I am not necessarily the way the world perceives. Ergo, logically, the internal minds of others do not necessarily match their external actions/ words — I am projecting my own experiences and knowledge onto them, as all mankind does. So someone else might look at me and say, “Wow, you clean up nice!” and I hear, “Holy cow, you normally look awful — how’d you pull that off?” or, perhaps, “We can’t go out because we’re short on funds,” and I hear, “You’re really bad at budgeting and now we have to stay inside all week because you suck.”
I think my internal narrative conflicts. I at once firmly believe I am a competent, hard-working, intelligent, awesome person — and this an image I have been taught, an image given to me by co-workers, teachers, classmates, and peers — and that I am a miserable failure who can only disappoint others.
The competent image is one that has been gifted to me. Over and over again, I have been told by those who have worked and studied with me that I am a hard worker, I am intelligent, and I am talented. Over and over, I have earned grades, awards, scholarships, and honorable mentiosn that indicate these claims to be true. But this image fits me badly, at least from my perspective. I am usually uncomfortable with it; it is an ill-fitting coat. I look at others, like my sisters, and think, “They’re such much more successful and driven than I; they’ve done so much more with their lives.”
My personal narrative slides much more easily into the “failure” motif. I do not measure up to my high expectations. When I earned a 3.7 GPA and got into Phi Theta Kappa, I was disappointed in myself for not getting a 4.0. When I learned to ride my motorcycle, I was disappointed in myself for not picking up cornering as fast as my husband. When I fold the laundry, I’m disappointed in myself for not figuring out how to neatly fold a fitted sheet. It doesn’t matter how many times I watch this video, my fitted sheets are still slightly puffy and off-kilter after folding them.
I’m disappointed in myself for not decorating the house a full 3 weeks before holidays; for not making home-made Halloween costumes; for not being more patient with my husband and son; for not cooking gourmet meals; for not being 125 lbs and attractive to my husband; for not wanting to be 125 lbs ever again; for moving stuff when I clean up and not being able to find it when someone asks where it is; for being bad a cake decorating; for complaining that I’m a failure and being a whiny downer; for not finding a job fast enough; for taking 3 days to read a book I once would have finished in 24 hours; for not visiting my friends enough; for not liking shopping; for being introverted.
The thing is, I don’t really want to change myself, either. Except for my teeth. I’d love to change those. I should have worn my retainer. I digress, though. I like myself, by and large. I like who I am — I’m just sad that I keep disappointing people. I don’t disappoint myself, because I think I’m an okay person. I make mistakes, but everyone does. I have bad days, but everyone does. I just wish I made fewer mistakes and had less bad days, because it would make the whole world a heckuva lot easier.
See, if I lived on my own in a little white-washed adobe hut with a red tile roof on top of a hill in the middle of India or Mexico or something (and you had to take a 5-day trip by goat cart to reach my house), then I’d be mostly content. I would miss people, but I’d spend my days tending my garden and keeping my hut neat and bright and clean and milking my goat and collecting eggs from my hens. I would write for several hours a day, and once a month I would get in my goat cart and bump down to the nearest village and mail off my latest manuscript.
But I would be alone, and that would be the sad part. Although the little white adobe hut with a red tile roof sounds nice, the reality is that I would really miss the people in my life. If I had reached that little white adobe hut with a red tile roof before I met my husband or had my son or lived this life, I would have been content with just my goats and hens and cats. But now, I could never be content with just goats and hens and cats. Real life is messy and relationships are hard, but they’re so worth it. For every time I disappoint someone, there’s all the times I do something to make their eyes light up and a genuine laugh or smile burst forth. For all the times I fail at being the best wife/ mother/ friend I could be, there’s all the times I manage to step up and hit it out of the ballpark, so to speak.
I need to remember that more often. I need to remember that we’re all flawed; we all misread each other’s words and intentions, and that we need to be more forgiving and compassionate. I need to remember that most people do not set out to hurt other people. I need to remember that we all have good intentions, and that sometimes when we are mean to other people it’s because we’re continuing a cycle of misunderstandings.
I honestly don’t know if any of that made sense to anyone but me. I friggin love language and words and writing, but dear god in hell English is an ambiguous and verbose language.