Monday, July 17, 2017

It's all about me

"Every move you make, every vow you break
Every smile you fake, every claim you stake
I'll be watching you."

Since before he retired late last year, Neil has been growing his hair.

I like it, or at least I don't dislike it. He's cute with short hair too. He's having fun with having it longer and that encourages me to encourage him to keep it growing.

But the other night, after dusk, Neil wanted to get the mail. He loves mail. Our mail comes late mostly, which doesn't stop him checking the box earlier in the day if he's out and about, and sometimes when he isn't.

Our mailbox is at the end of our street, eight, maybe ten houses away. He said, I think I'll drive. I wondered why. He said, I wouldn't want our neighbors to get nervous seeing some long-haired hippie strolling down the street after twilight.

I said, you're too self conscious. You are way more self conscious than I am.

That got me thinking, is self consciousness a bad thing or a good thing?

I mean, I'd walk to the mailbox in my workout clothes and my crocs, no makeup or jewelry, and not give it any thought. I would go (and have gone) to the post office and the grocery story that way, just because I didn't think about it when I was walking out the door.

In some ways I'm vain and in other ways I rarely give my appearance a first thought, let alone a second.

Last week, I had a facial, primarily because I had some milia on my neck that I wanted removed. I had the whole shebang facial just for the aesthetician to extract a few comedones.

It was worth it. My skin is squeaky clean and glows. I may just make a habit of it again.

I have my hair done once a month to conceal the gray, but I'm thinking about letting it grow out once we move. It's time consuming and costly and I might just look good as a (is there a word for gray-haired like blonde or brunette?) gray headed person. I'll never know if I don't try.

In addition I have my nails done every three weeks or so. I have a gel nail french manicure - what the salon girls call "a pink and white" - and I love the look, but I get it for a more compelling reason. Without the coating, my nails split, chip and peel and I can't stop picking at them.

It's for similar reasons that I wear my hair long and pulled back in a ponytail always. If my hair is down, even if it is short, I play with it obsessively. I also pull it out. I have some version of trichotillomania, a hair-pulling presentation of OCD. I have lots of hair so there'd never be bald places, and I also pull it selectively, a hair here and a hair there, the oddball kinky ones among my generally soft wavy tresses. It makes me crazy, but pulling it back snuffs the urge totally, so that's my solution and it suits me.

Circling back to self-consciousness, I think over the course of my life I went from having too much of it to having very little and possibly not enough.

My mom, bless her critical heart, once commented that I never did anything unselfconsciously, and she didn't mean it as a compliment. It's true that as a kid and moreso as a teenager, I never really relaxed into myself, spoke my mind naturally and unguardedly, lived in the moment without preoccupation about living in the moment. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, of not being a whole, fully-fledged human being but a deficient one who would say and do the wrong things if not carefully monitored and censored.

The roots of my lack of self confidence or more succinctly, my lack of a good self image, run deeply and mysteriously. I don't think it was innate, I think it was subtly conditioned into me, particularly by my mother, presumably an outgrowth of her own repressed self doubts.

I've talked about this before and all these years later, with my mom dead for more than three years, it doesn't really matter any more. Whatever shaped me, whatever work I did to understand and overcome my insecurities, I am where I am and who I am and it is what it is.

I do remember feeling that there were two of me, one living and interacting, the other observing and judging. I lived that way for a long time and I'm not sure when I stopped feeling that way, only that I did. For the most part I stopped caring what people thought of me, maybe because I made peace with myself and felt okay about myself. I won't say I didn't want to be liked, but not at the cost of trying to be someone I wasn't. If someone had a problem with that, well fox 'em if they can't take a joke.

That feeling of watching myself does come back every now and then, but usually only when I invite it. There are times when we are out with a group of friends or at some family event, when I will step outside of myself for a minute and think, look, there's that Elizabeth, welcome in a circle of friends and love and camaraderie, taking her place at the table, that scrawny, awkward, diffident girl, who would have thought it? And I bask for a moment before I return to my body, forget myself again and resume simply living.

That's not a bad thing, it's more about gratitude and affirmation, and not taking things for granted, and appreciating how far I've come. It's about being present.

There is another side of being unselfconscious that isn't so laudable. If you aren't conscious of yourself, you may find yourself saying things that you can't backspace over, even though you'd like to. While you don't want to have to weigh every word and you do want to be authentic (at least I do), it's not always good for your mouth to be faster than your brain.

I have a tendency to be blunt, to speak what's on my mind. I do try to be tactful, but it's not like writing a blog post where you stop and think, cut and paste, delete and rewrite. Things don't always come out sounding they way I intended. That can be true of print too, and at some point it's not worth writing if you overthink every word and put every opinion on a leash. My best writing I think comes from a place of unselfconsciousness, where words flow naturally rather than being carefully crafted.

So, it's a paradox. Too much self-consciousness is akin to self-aggrandizement. Face it, you aren't all that important, the world doesn't revolve around you. People really don't care that much what you think or say or do, so you might as well be yourself. Live your life, stop being the fly on the wall of your own existence, stop judging every move you make.

Too little self-consciousness is tantamount to too little inhibition, and while sex, drugs and rock 'n roll might sound like fun, it's not your soundest long-term life model.

Finding the balance might be your best bet for living a purposeful, intentional life. And by your, I mean my.


Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you

Oh, can't you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I'll be watching you

Since you've gone I've been lost without a trace
I dream at night, I can only see your face
I look around, but it's you I can't replace
I feel so cold, and I long for your embrace
I keep crying baby, baby please

Oh, can't you see
You belong to me
How my poor heart aches
With every step you take

Every move you make
Every vow you break
Every smile you fake
Every claim you stake
I'll be watching you

Every move you make
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

I'll be watching you.


(Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner aka Sting)