If the shadow of guilt doesn’t follow you daily from task to task especially on your days off, then you are a lucky fellow.
I, on the other hand, started dancing with the dirty dog of disappointment when I was eleven; I wrote one of my first poems describing troubling feelings of inadequacy as the day would wind down before I could fill it with mastery and wondrous works.
How is it possible at eleven that I was already proficient at self-flagellation. I realize anxiety can be genetic but performance anxiety while still a tween? If you’ve ever questioned my ability as an artist, writer or painter-you’ve never had to question my ability to demean my own character, for I am unequaled, although I can tell you of a few people in my life who rose to the task.
What has followed is forty years of this type of restless, performance based anxiety. Why? Has this been learned; is this nature or nurture? Did I pick it up intuitively through society’s grape vine of inadequacy. My mother was constantly frustrated with my father; the opportunities he squandered letting his talents lay out of pure laziness. Did I pick it up at home? Public schools can be a dirty dealer of push-to-achieve, success-at-all-costs, good- grades, and college, blah blah blah. Did I contract it there with my milk and cookies? A virus spread from the mealy mouths of mediocre teachers?
The truth is until now I’ve never looked that far back for an explanation. I assumed the culprit responsible for most all of my anxieties about my performance ability was My Ex. My first Ex. The Big Ex. The one who had plenty to say about the way I did things Ex. I’ve carried his vibe if not his voice, and blended it with the vibe of mainstream culture and social media. Did I do enough today? Did I make “it” happen? Is my vacation productive enough? Did I surf? Climb a mountain? Did I finish that novel? Remodel my house? Lose 15 lbs? Did I learn a second (or third?) language? Did I run a marathon? Get my masters, no, my doctorate? “C’mon this is Saturday! this is Wednesday! this is your One Life! What on earth have you been doing with your time you lack-less-luster!?” ( I met an artist years ago at a meet and greet, he was productive if not original, a starry-eyed guest fawned “Is there anything you don’t do?” “Waste time” was his pompous response.)
Does any of this ring a bell? Now do you recognize this anxiety? If you don’t you are a fortunate fellow. If you do, know that this torture has a secret origin. And, by the way, it isn’t your fault, it never was. It had a beginning, it was fabricated.
First, do you know what a traffic wave is? It’s the phenomena of a stream a cars suddenly slowing in speed for a matter of distance, but for no discernible reason. You know how sometimes during rush hour you and the cars around you are forced to slow to a crawl and then suddenly are able to return to prior speed? But there was no accident, no police, no little old lady with a flat tire. Well there was something; an accident, an incident. Those involved are long gone but the traffic wave is still reverberating and will continue until it can fade out over time.
Well, this guilt is like a traffic wave. A phenomena of feelings associated with events that no one is aware of any longer. We’re talking hundreds of years ago; Reformation, Lutheranism, Puritan work ethic and so on. In the beginning it was the Catholic religion that fated salvation to good works, what followed were centuries of reformation, dissent, yadda yadda yadda. Wives nagging husbands is the residue of centuries of work ethic based on religious proclivity. Good works were the way into God’s salvation, then good works were the way into society’s salvation, then good works were the way into your social salvation. Idle hands the devil’s workshop, idle hands the loser’s Facebook status. America has grown affluent under this precept. No wonder it has passed on in one form or another through generations of the devout or the reformed or the capitalist-minded. No wonder we can’t discern it from it’s initial form. No wonder it affects us in such a way as to seem perfectly natural and jut the way things are.
Be somebody, or else. Now do you recognize this anxiety? Can you hear it’s voice in one of your parents? In your girlfriend?
Hey, do you know the Pot Roast Story? The young woman wants to cook a pot roast, asks her mother how to, the mother instructs to cut off the ends first. Why? asks the daughter, just the way I was taught, replies the mother. Later, the mother, curious, asks her mother “why? did we cut the pot roast all these years” the elderly mother explains “because the pan was too small.” I can tell you this really happens, I have seen it in my own workplace. I’ve worked with people who followed a precept never questioning why. Sadly, when I demonstrated that the adjustment wasn’t necessary they still continued the action. It can be hard to snap out of ingrained, seemingly preordained, unexplained expectations. We continue to jump through hoops, spin dishes over our head, run ridiculous marathons through our life because of some fleeting, damning, weirdly prescient, annoyingly transient definition of “Success”.
I’m here to tell you we’ve been flim-flammed, sold snake oil, burned by a bait and switch. God doesn’t give a darn about your stock portfolio so why should your fiance. God doesn’t care if you mowed the lawn yet, so why should your spouse?
Just relax, baby.
I’m good. You’re good.
It’s all good.