Friday, February 19, 2016

Of Anthems and Adaptation

Fiona Apple’s song Extraordinary Machine has always spoken to me as a sort of anthem. There are a few lines I overlook as I don’t find them applicable, but those that resonate, really resonate.  
For reference, here they are:
I'm good at being uncomfortable so I can't stop changing all the time
But he's no good at being uncomfortable so he can't stop staying exactly the same

If there was a better way to go then it would find me
I can't help it the road just rolls out behind me
Be kind to me or treat me mean
I'll make the most of it I'm an extraordinary machine

I seem to you to seek a new disaster every day
You deem me due to clean my view and be at peace and lay
I mean to prove I mean to move in my own way
And say I've been getting along for long before you came into the play

The themes (to me) being change, discomfort, doing the hard work, and moving forward despite what life throws at you. These are all things I excel at and have employed in my life to not only buoy those around me even when they didn’t deserve it, but to launch myself out of the circumstance in which that was necessary.

I am the extraordinary machine. I have endured unkindnesses (understatement of the year) and forgiven when forgiveness was not due. I maintain constant, unyielding forward motion in my life. I routinely seek out flaws and cracks in myself and the life I’ve built because I am a perfectionist and a fixer. My mind is a ceaseless whirlwind of plans and criticisms and “what else? What’s next?” I closed on my house exactly 6 months after I decided I should start saving for one. I know what I’ll be doing for 7 of the next 8 Saturdays, and what from-scratch meal I’m making for dinner for the next 15 evenings. Mentally, I rarely leave a stone unturned.

So, what happens when everything is fine, when the big stuff has been taken care of? What’s the heavy machinery to do when its job is done? When you’re a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If I were a hammer, I’d spend every day looking for nails because doing what one does best is far preferable to being tucked away in the toolbox, acquiring little spots of rust. The truth is it feels good to be useful, even just to oneself. The sense of accomplishment that comes from vanquishing obstacles is addictive. When the naked eye reveals no major imperfections that require attention, I break out the proverbial magnifying mirror to pick at the nonexistent blemishes on the face of my life. You know how it goes, “That perfectly reasonably sized and normally colored pore looks like I could get something out of it, so let me jam my nails in there and make a huge ugly lesion that’ll take over a week to heal.”

The time has come to learn a new skill. To don a new hat and be someone who knows how to exist, happily and contentedly, in the lovely life that I built with all that machinery. From the outside looking in, it seems to come so easily to most people to be content with the mundane peaceful routines of normal life. I set an intention at the beginning of the year to let 2016 be a year in which I settle in, put down roots, slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor. Actually doing this has been far more challenging than I ever expected it to be. I thought I couldn’t relax with a messy house but as it turns out, I’m not so great at relaxing when it’s clean either. I’m used to being good at most things, so why do I suck at this so much?

I need to put away the hammer and use my other tools. I need to adopt a regular practice of mindfulness and gratitude. I need to let myself get immersed in a good novel, and then another one when I finish it. I need to take time to have a glass of wine on the porch and revel in the fact that life is good because I worked hard for it, because if I can’t do that, what’s the point?

I’ll still keep my anthem, though. Extraordinary machines need to be adaptable to really be extraordinary, even if they’re just adapting to the obsolescence of one of their many functions. 

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