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Posts Tagged ‘Santa Barbara Independent’

This one’s a taboo buster, people, buckle up.

So, last week, the Santa Barbara independent published a couple of excerpts from Undecided as its (incredibly illustrated!) cover story. One was long; one was medium; one was wee—just one lonely paragraph. But an important one. Despite the fact that I picked it (and, you know, wrote it), I honestly don’t think I realized just how important, actually, until I got a long email from a dear friend who lost her father last year. It was a catching-up variety email, but she’d seen the story, and ended the note with a sharp aside:

P.S. your book is unmistakably about loss. Do we just need to grieve more?

If you’re thinking she’s got the wrong book, here is the excerpt in question:

Here comes some wisdom, (from Daria Todor, an Employment Assistance Counselor, career coach, and psychotherapist who has dealt with thousands of women in the workplace for the past 20 years). “Every decision entails trade-off, and it entails commitment,” she says. “And with that comes the sense of grief and loss. You make a commitment to one thing, you are by definition turning your back on other options. Not knowing how to grieve a loss is really powerful. And I believe that a lot of what shows up in a therapist’s office as depression may be a form of this grieving that is a natural part of growing up. And so there’s an avoidance of making a decision because of the pain threshold.”

Think about it. Could the woman be more right on the money??

Interestingly, late last week I was on the local radio station, and the host of the show—a dude—brought up another item from the Indy story, from a different excerpt, that he just couldn’t get his head around.

Chloe’s story cuts to the chase: “I was walking home from work, having a low self-esteem day, and I saw this sign in a storefront. It was of three smiling women, around my age, and I just thought to myself, I bet they all have kids.”

Chloe doesn’t even want to have children — an assertion she reiterated before admitting that, nevertheless, it didn’t stop her tears. “I just feel like life is passing me by.”

For the record, Chloe is amazing and enviable in her own right: She’s lived and worked everywhere from New York City to Brazil, Mexico to Southern California, and she is successful, beautiful, talented, and happily married. But those things never seem to matter much when we’re confronted with the green-grassed monster; when we catch a glimpse of the place where that road we opted not to travel may have led.

“I’m a guy; help me understand this,” he said, seeming quite honestly flummoxed.

And so I answered–and my answer had to do with grief: Consciously, we might not want to have kids, but as women, I think the vast majority of us grew up with the unconscious assumption that we would. And so, I said to the baffled man-host, maybe Chloe just needed to take a moment, to allow herself to consciously grieve the children she’d never have; the mother she’d never be.

(Interestingly, though, even while the words were spilling forth, I don’t think I would have said that the matter at hand was grief. I needed my friend, my friend who’s in the thick of it and can therefore recognize it, I guess, to point it out for me. Even when what she was pointing out were, in fact, my words.)

And that idea applies not just to the kids question. For women who’ve been told we can do anything—well, I think that somewhere, deep down (and not so deep down), there lies the assumption that we will do everything. And so whenever we sign on to do one thing, there’s a whole bunch of other things we’re signing off on. Maybe we don’t ever write them off outright, but, with every day that passes, certain dreams grow more and more out of reach. And maybe, just maybe, all of that leaves us with a little bit of latent grief, lurking within. Maybe that grief is showing up as something else, but, more and more, I believe that it’s there.

Feeling uncomfortable yet? Me too. I also happen to think that this whole issue is made worse by the fact that our culture is not exactly what you’d call ‘grief-friendly.’ I can think of few subjects more roundly avoided.

And I think Todor makes another important point: that we avoid making decisions not just because we’ve been told we can do anything and are therefore holding out for the perfect thing, but also because we’re avoiding the pain of closing a door. We’re avoiding the grieving that will entail. And no wonder: is anything less allowed in our culture? Where happiness is the holy grail, and achieving it in its most perfect form is national sport? Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, and spending our days adrift upon it, driven by its current, well, where does that get us, other than deeper?

The whole thing just kind of makes me wonder: would the decisions we make every day, big and small, be so hard if we knew how to grieve? If our culture recognized it, allowed it, showed us how to do it in a healthy way? Would it make decisions easier, if, rather than hopping on a raft on that river, we were allowed—and encouraged—to recognize the shadow side of our choices: those things we aren’t choosing? And to take a moment to be sad, to say goodbye?


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Rob Walker’s “Consumed” column, “This Year’s Model“, in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine presents an interesting question: when constrained by a lack of choice, are we forced to get creative? Walker tells the tale of Sheena Matheiken’s Uniform Project, “which involves wearing the same dress every day for a year, and seeing just how aesthetically creative she could be despite that limitation.” Matheiken’s personal background clearly factored into the project’s inspiration: on her site, she writes:

I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality… Poking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare.

This sounded familiar to me: I wore a school uniform for 12 years. In high school, my sartorial self-expression was limited to my shoes. But while part of me engaged in the grass-is-greener fantasy of a post-high-school life in which I could wear whatever I wanted, while stuck in that plaid skirt, I embraced the challenge and got as creative as I possibly could. Doc Martens, alternated with converse low-tops, became my statement of choice. Of this sort of forced creativity, Walker writes:

Rules stifle creativity and enforce conformity. Rules can do something else too: inspire creativity that thwarts conformity.

Which makes me wonder: as it is in fashion, is it in life? Are there instances in which a lack of choice has forced you to get creative? Is that a good thing? Which would you rather have: a lack of choices that forces you to think out of the box, or endless choices proscribed by no box at all?

As for me, fifteen years post-uniform, I still love clothes. I love the freedom to wear whatever I want. (Is it any wonder that one of my regular writing gigs is as the style columnist for the Santa Barbara Independent?) But I’m not gonna lie: with the hours I’ve spent staring at the innards of my closet, digging through drawers, and trying on outfit after outfit, I could have written The Great American Novel (not to mention come up with The Great American Premise for the Great American Novel). Just this morning, I went through three options before deciding on the one in which I’m currently ensconced. But would I go back to the uniformed days of my youth? Not a chance.

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