Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Self-Regard Project

I'm blowdrying my hair for social change.

Remember in August, how people dropping spoons were making me burst into tears? I was stressed and unhappy and sleepless and on edge. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried, life didn't get any less chaotic--generally my response to this kind of situation is to try yet harder. More home-cooked meals? Leave work a little early. Need to get more time at the office? Get up a little earlier. Everyone running late? Drive them all in, skip the shower, throw on some jeans. Mornings a disastrous rush? Get a low-maintenance haircut. Develop a uniform of wash-and-wear jeans and tees. Pynchon has to work two full time jobs at once? Take two (or three) weeks of vacation time to mop up the extra on the home front. Lot of expenses for the house this month? Cut back my own spending .

Trying harder wasn't working. All the sacrifices of my own time and effort and resources weren't making anyone any happier, healthier, more productive, or less stressed, least of all me. So, with Pynchon's very strong encouragement, I pushed back at life. I started what I am calling the 'Self-Regard Project.'

The Self-Regard Project is pretty simple, but its effects have been profound. I found me again, and even if life is still largely a disastrous chaos, I am much more firmly rooted in my own strengths. Here's what I did: I stopped martyring myself, and devoted some of all that energy I was expending trying to smooth everyone else's life into things that were important for me. Currently, the Self-Regard Project is proceeding on three fronts that maybe don't seem to be related, but are: fashion and beauty, exercise, and saying no at work.

Fashion and Beauty:

I got a high-maintenance haircut, a glossy and stylish angled bob that suits my face and my aesthetic. I didn't think it suited my lifestyle: it requires daily washing, daily moussing, daily blow-drying, and just a touch of straight-iron. And do you know what? For eight weeks in a row, I've blow-dried my hair every damn day. It takes 10 minutes, but I walk out of that bathroom feeling attractive and polished. There is a spring in my step. Every day, too, I do my makeup. It takes about five minutes, but that five minutes brightens my eyes, evens out my skin tone, makes me feel well-rested because I look well-rested. In eight weeks of school, also, I've not worn the same outfit twice. Many of the same pieces, yes, but in different combinations. During the day, or in the shower, or at night in bed, I idly run through my wardrobe in my head, combining and recombining pieces. I feel creative. I feel connected to the world. I feel attractive and competent and engaged.


I walk home from work nearly every day. I have had to sort out the child-care pickup/dropoff routine with Pynchon, but he is happy to support me in this. We just have to plan it. I walk with my colleagues, chatting. I walk by myself, listening to podcasts. I take the time to smell the fresh air, watch the leaves fall, splash in puddles in my boots, feel the sun on my face. I go to yoga twice a week. I've moved into the intermediate class and I find that as we are doing more complex poses with more integrity and learning yogic thinking, I am calming down and getting strong all at once. Yoga is in the early evenings, and I leave Pynchon and Munchkin at the dinner table. "Have a good yoga, Mom!" Munchkin hollers, smiling. I'm home to put her to bed, and she hasn't missed me at all.

Saying no at work:

We all work too much, you know? Checking our email at home, bringing the paperwork to the dinner table after the dishes are cleared away, sneaking a couple of hours at the office on the weekends, tackling a pile of grading at 4:30 am, just because. I say no. I won't do it. I need the rest and I deserve it. If I put in a full day at the office, there is absolutely no reason on earth I should be emailing about policy or grades with colleagues or students after supper, on the weekend. And I am getting better at enforcing this boundary.

"Set your foundation with strength and integrity," counsels my yoga teacher. We line up in well-formed mountain pose--push down from all four corners of your feet, hug muscle onto bone, set your shoulders and lift your heart toward the sky--and as she walks around the room pushing down on our shoulders as hard as she can, we don't move. We don't feel it. A strong foundation greatly increases the loads you can bear, and bear more easily than before.

Women, generally, are bearing a lot of loads in their 30s--work, family, life. If I could reduce these loads, I would. I'm still an insomniac, Pynchon still works a lot of overtime, Munchkin still does her best to stay awake in her bed until 11pm so that she is a screechy overtired mess at 7:30am. As it turns out, martying myself doesn't change any of this things. What I can change is me. And I'm marvelling at what a change my sense of self, my life, have undergone simply by committing to blow-dry my hair every day.

The Self-Regard Project has me setting my foundation with strength and integrity. I feel better; I look better; I'm stronger; I smile more.

Do you have a Self-Regard Project?

Exercise, most of us can agree, is usually an unalloyed Good Thing. Fancy hair and unique outfits and daily makeup might look more like the Beauty Myth, but for me it's about acknowledging that it's okay to take time for myself. That I deserve it. Similarly, there is a strong cultural narrative that proposes that 'flexible' work time gives us more freedom to schedule ourselves, but I've found instead that perpetual connectivity means I never have any time I can fully devote to myself of my family, and so for me a strict 9-5 is much more freeing, and healthy. Your self-regard project might look different.


Sandra said...

Love the yoga comments. I practiced yoga a zillion years ago pre-daughter and just returned a few weeks ago. There is so much truth in the poses - my nemesis is camel and in addition to the tight quads/hip flexors, there's something about not wanting to open up.

Anyhow, it feels good to be back moving again and not rushing/running/martyring.

Omaha Mama said...

Yay you! :0) Glad you see you posting, I've missed Mimi.
I need to exercise and currently don't. I also haven't had a haircut since August. Not good.
I do, however, maintain fairly strict home/work boundaries. I don't do much after I leave school and I leave most days by 4. I also have let my house go completely messy because I just take time at night to veg. I need it. So I take it. Even if it means the tile is in a bad need of being mopped and the dishes stay in the sink. So be it.

Cloud said...

I love the idea! You go, girl.

For me, a similar project will have to wait until we're out of the "just get me through the day and night" survival phase of having a newborn.

But I did blow dry my hair today.

ruby rojo said...

I'm glad to hear all this. And your comments about the fashion stuff give me insight I'd never had before. I never really understood why you might WANT to spend time on that, but I get it now.

Re: munchkin staying up late and being overtired? She's probably growing out of naps. E still naps at daycare, but we've asked them to limit it to 1 hour, and on the weekends we mostly don't let him nap (if he falls asleep in the stroller or car, ok, but we try not to set up those situations). The long quiet evenings and easy bedtimes are HEAVEN. The transition days were a bit awkward with the witching hour but it got better fairly quickly. Just a thought... sorry for the assvice.

slouchy said...

I am so happy for you.

Mimi said...

Sandy: For me, Camel is a snap--I'm very very bendy, particularly in back bends, but my main problem is that I lack muscle strength and balance, so if you extrapolate, I'm a classic too-open-to-the-world type unable to stay strong for the duration. Yoga. Metaphor for life.

Ruby: Yeah, I'm wondering about the naps. Sometimes she seems ot really really need them, and then to go to bed well at night, but sometimes it's a disaster. Sigh. Transition time indeed.

Bea said...

I don't work after 8 pm. This is not so much self-regard as self-defense because my mind simply shuts down at that point anyway. I seem to need 3 hours every evening of me-time - if the kids are up until nine, I find myself staying up until midnight, no matter how tired I am. Mostly, though, the kids are down around 8 and then I read magazines, watch HGTV, eat cookies, and then read a book in bed until 11. It's definitely a life-preserver, that three-hour block.

Jenifer said...

You are inspiring me and reminding me that I do feel better when I make myself a priority. Sweetpea is 9 months now and I think it will be time to reclaim some of my time back.

I am always torn between my to-do lists and endless jobs undone and understanding that at the end I am what matters most. If I am depleted then how could I possibly give to anyone else.

Thanks Miss Mimi for the reminder.

Jenifer said...

I also meant to say that bea and I have a very similar pattern. I need that three hours and no matter how it falls it seems I always take it. It is like my decompression clock is built in.

Jessica said...

GREAT post!!!

Patti said...

Thank you for this post.

My longer response would be the length of a book, thus my simple "thank you".

Kyla said...

Good for you! I think we would all be happier if we spent a bit more time on ourselves every day.