• Steph VanderMeulen

They're Singing Songs of Love, But Not for Me

I'm lying on my stomach on the hardwood floor. I was just sitting on the couch picking the bottom of my foot and fighting the feeling that I should be working because I have an upcoming deadline. I looked outside at the grey, rainy day, and thought, Please don't waste this day. Even if it's not productive, do something with it, anything.

I lowered myself to the floor, stretched, and did twenty pushups. Ahhh, weekends. I flipped onto my back and thought about the decision I'd just made that led to this indecision about what to do with the day.

I decided to quit reading the book I'd committed to reading to improve myself. It's about bucking societal convention, becoming untamed, busting out of the cages of all the expectations and ways we're taught to be that don't actually serve us. It's by a prominent author in the motivational women ring. Reading it was the right thing to do.

But just over halfway through, having underlined only a few choice lines as resonant, I thought, I'm bored. I'm not getting much out of this. I don't care about what she's saying most of the time. I'm loathing her tone. And then: wow, I just really do not like this book. I want to quit. Is that okay, though? Does that mean there's something wrong with me? Am I rejecting being enlightened?

The more I read, the more I found myself squint-eyed and scowling. I don't like the seemingly self-congratulatory insight, the purposely "untamed" structure... just everything. I thought, I said I'd finish this in spite of not enjoying it, because there could be gems that change me. I said I'd finish this because everyone highly recommends it. The New York Times Book Review called it "riveting." Liz Gilbert called it "phenomenal." The Washington Post called it "a haunting powerhouse."

But actually I'm sick of all the Insta posts and bestselling books giving me permission to feel and do and professing how we should live and be true to ourselves. I hate being called "Love, Dear One, sweet friend." I suddenly thought, No. And I closed the book and dumped it on the coffee table feeling as if something significant had just occurred.

I thought, It's okay to feel like everyone is exaggerating about how mind-blowing this book is. I'm going to be untamed and say, this book is not for me. The author is not for me. I'm deciding that I quit this book even though that might mean I'm close-minded or that my shit is preventing me from liking her and her message and from being enlightened, or that my decision to reject all of the self-help advice that makes me roll my eyes is somehow reflective of something wrong with me.

And it's important, I think, that this decision felt like an epiphany. In this time of the plethora of enlightened motivational influencers compassionately telling us how to be and do and think, the unconsciously self-righteous Twitterers chirping what to care about, act on, and be supportive of; with the self-made pros giving us permission to feel what we feel, entreating us to be kind, be grateful, be happy, be motivated, be different, be untamed, be better, be feminists, practice self-care, and go easy on ourselves, as opposed to the kind of thinking that damages us, it's become just as shameful, as least that's how it seems, to not get behind all of rah-rah or melting-with-empathy-and-collective-love stuff out there.

In my head, I hear, If you don't love it, maybe you don't love yourself. Maybe you're ignorant. Maybe you just aren't there yet. You should care about this. Maybe you just don't get it. This is how you should be and think and believe so you can be a better you.

But no. I do get it. I've had a lot of therapy, for one thing. I understand vulnerability and self-care and -love, and compassion and kindness toward all, environmental and political responsibility, and undoing the thinking and beliefs we've been taught that are harmful to ourselves and others. I do want to be the best version of me I can be. And while I need to listen to my body and believe that I'm worthy and enough, and while I want to continue to be a good person who cares about a better world, I've also learned I have my limits in this regard, and I've been feeling guilty about that.

So today, for me, being me also means not feeling guilty as a woman, as a human, for not being into the power feminists who are keeping it real out there and making edifying videos and posts about being human; for not loving the people sharing deliberately self-deprecating hot-mess posts in opposition to those perfect life/body/skin etc. posts. It means not feeling guilty for not liking and finishing a book that is taking the bestseller lists by storm as life-changing. It means I don't have to feel guilty for being put off by the glut of self-care and compassion advice out there, or about not being brave enough to take enormous leaps into the unknown and saying yes to everything. And it especially means I don't have to accept the message or approach about how to be human from someone who has figured it out for herself.

Growing up, I rebelled against and questioned the way I was taught and expected to be. My favourite thought was, Don't tell me what I can't do. I was an angry, stubborn human. And now, more than ever, when I read "This is how you find yourself" (these are the words on the inside flap of the book), I find myself thinking, What makes you right? Don't tell me what I'm allowed to do or feel. Don't tell me the "right" way to be human, to be me.

This might all just be social media and marketing fatigue talking. It might be some sort of shortsightedness because of immaturity and misunderstanding. But I suspect it goes deeper than that. I'm thinking that what's happening is I'm becoming conscious of the fact that, while I will always be open to insight and guidance to self-realization, I decide what is truth and how to find myself. How to be a good human, how to be me, is all already in me. I decide what is the right way to be me. I want to be the one who leads me.

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