Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A lot of different "me"s

I am rereading (for the umpteenth time) one of my favorite books- Anne of Green Gables. There is so much in Anne that I feel makes us kindred spirits and I love all the descriptive passages that L.M. Montgomery includes. I feel like she always has little gems of wisdom and truth tucked in the humorous stories of Anne's adventures.

One passage in particular caught my eye the other day- Anne is talking to her friend Diana and says:

"There's such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I am such a troublesome person. If I were just one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but the it wouldn't be half so interesting."

Like Anne, I feel like there are such a lot of Marias in me. Some of the Marias are not very admirable and are rather selfish, and some of the Marias can just dance and sing for joy that the world exists and there are people in it. I am working constantly to encourage those Marias to grow bigger and stronger. Sometimes the progress comes in great leaps and bounds. Sometimes it feel like it might be going backwards. And such is the joy of life.

When I was a girl, I was extremely haphazardous. I had no self-discipline for anything. I took ballet lessons, gymnastics lessons, played soccer and coach pitch and did swim team and 4-H. My mother taught me to cook and sew and garden and play the piano. And I loved all these things. But I wanted to jump right in and go, proceed without thinking, and I couldn't stand the disciplined work it took to do a job well done. My early sewing projects can attest to this. I remember when I made some delicacy in the kitchen and was amazed at how poorly it turned out because I had no clue that the directions included with the ingredients list were actually meant to be read and followed. I have no idea how many scowls and fits of temper my mother put up with or how many times she told me to slow down a little. It was probably a near-daily occurrence. It reflected in my schoolwork, too. I loved school and learning and reading, but the discipline it took to be a good student was more than I was willing to invest. I was a certified bookworm by the time I was eight, but my mom had to make a rule that when we went to the library I had to get at least one book I'd never read before, because the effort of reading a new book was too great compared to the ease and comfort of a book I knew like an old friend.

This carried over into junior high. I started playing the flute and I remember conversations between my flute teacher and my mother that essentially consisted of Merrilee telling Mom that I could be a very good flutist if I would just take the time to practice, and Mom rolling her eyes in agreement.

Two things initiated the first change from the haphazardous Maria to the more work-oriented Maria. The first began, actually when I started junior high. That's when Mom started showing symptoms of her illness. With so many younger siblings, I'd always played a caretaking role around the house, but now it increased. I got up early a lot of mornings to make breakfast for the family. I felt sorry for myself a lot, until I realized that I was spending more time feeling sorry for myself than I was actually doing anything useful. Then, as Mom's health got worse, I slowly started stepping it up.

The other thing was the change in my own health. I had always prided myself on my good constitution and strong little body. When I was 10 years old, I could do 15 pull ups, a fact that delighted my father. But now in junior high, I developed a very painful condition in my arms called thoracic outlet syndrome. It was two years before the problem was diagnosed and operated on. Those were two long, painful years. But the stubborn Maria decided to face them head-on. Now that it was actually challenging to play the flute, I started practicing with an intensity I'd never had before. Now that I couldn't do much else, I was certainly going to do well in school. One semester in ninth grade, I missed two weeks of school (and would have missed more if my mother had her way) recuperating from two surgeries. Well, I may be missing school but you'd better believe I head-butted that challenge straight on and stayed on the honor role with my grades.

Isn't it interesting that the stubborn Maria actually ended up being a tool for the disciplined Maria to make an appearance? It continues today, to be honest. I chose to be a scientist. I love science, but it's not the most intuitive thing for me to do. When I started working in a lab as an undergrad, my lab book was a mess, for a scientist. I didn't have an eye for the kind of painstaking detail and note taking that is required to excel in this field. As I look back over seven years of mishaps and learning experiences of all kinds, I feel that I've really pulled myself up by the bootstraps in a lot of ways. And that has spilled over into other areas of my life and what I've come to refer to as conscious creating. Every second of every day, I am creating things- usually I am creating moods and feelings and thoughts and words, but sometimes I am creating assays and documents and lab notes at work, or quilts and skirts and gardens and meals at home, or experiences for myself or other people. A lot of what I create is not really intentional. It just happens as life goes by. But when I stop and map out what I intend to create and what my goal is, then I am creating consciously and taking hold of the reins of my life rather than just always allowing life to happen to me.

I feel like that's the most important difference between that Maria that used to dominate my life and the one that I am currently cultivating. This Maria has plans and dreams. She has goals and she knows enough to know that she wants them and is willing to set aside momentary pleasures and desires (often, but not always) to achieve her desired creations. She wants to create a good career, a beautiful singing voice, a healthy body, and a compassionate spirit, all of which involve a good deal of commitment and dedication. And it's not easy, because the Maria who's stubborn and always wants to have fun and get results right now without any effort is still here, putting in her voice and opinions. And another Maria, who is depressed and anxious, also speaks up from time to time and makes the whole vision blurry and seem pointless and hopeless. But these Marias have served to make me stronger in the past, so I trust that they can continue to do so, even though I dislike their presence so much.

So maybe in this life I'll never get to the comfort of having a single Maria inside of me. But maybe I'll continue to learn from the other Marias, since they may not be going anywhere. And as Anne said, that might just make things more interesting.


Danielle said...

What a nice introspective piece about yourself. I agree, all those Marias do make you an extremely interesting person.

Nasty Butler said...

Thank you for posting this Maria. I really needed to read this right now. :)