Reading List: We Are All Our Own Works in Progress
I’ve been wracking my brain for the last week trying to figure out how to complete a poem. Right now, it’s about 10 lines long, and I have been keeping it in my “works in progress” folder. Whenever I get something new in that folder, I tend to obsess over it for a few days, trying all kinds of directions to try and “finish” the poem.
That Works in Progress folder sometimes feels like it’s mocking me. For the last while, I’ve been trying to not get angry and frustrated with myself for all the works in that folder. And that Works in Progress has been taking on a new meaning for me. By not judging myself for having “too many” things in that folder, I’ve been realizing that a “Work in Progress” is far from something to judge myself harshly for. It’s the sign of work happening. It’s the sign that creativity is happening (something that, for a long time in the depths of my depression, had been hiding from me). In fact, having works in progress, to me, is a sign of life.
Works in progress need to be respected for exactly what they are and where they are. Their potentiality exists, but respecting them for what they might be instead of what they are seems like a path to insanity.
Brain Pickings: The Psychology of Your Future Self
Quoting philosopher Joshua Knobe and author Daniel Gilbert, Maria Popova’s always-thought-provoking Brain Pickings considers the question of present self and future self. The constant challenge of long-term planning — we are the people we are now, trying to guess what the people we are in the future might like.
Gilbert argues that we’re bedeviled by a “fundamental misconception about the power of time” and a dangerous misconception known as “the end of history illusion” — at any point along our personal journey, we tend to believe that who we are at that moment is the final destination of our becoming. Which, of course, is not only wrong but a source of much of our unhappiness.
I really like the idea of the end of history illusion — because the idea that someone is “done” or is “perfect” or that everyone reaches a point of being “complete” is something I’ve struggled with a lot. Like a poem that doesn’t quite feel right, constantly stressing over that incompleteness ends up making things worse. After we reach a supposed “finish line” we still need to wake up the next morning, after all.
The Fat Nutritionist: Real Food
And the fact that we are all works-in-progress and deserve the respect for that very effort is highlighted in a heart-wrenching way by Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist in her post about “Real Food”:
Right this minute, there is someone going through chemotherapy shopping at your grocery store, buying popsicles and ice cream to help their sore mouth, and worrying what the cashier is going to think.
There is someone on hemodialysis buying white bread instead of whole wheat, trying to keep their phosphorus levels reasonable between appointments and hoping for the best.
There is a person attending intensive outpatient treatment for their eating disorder who has been challenged by their therapist to buy a Frappuccino.
There are dietitians picking up a dozen different candy bars to eat with their clients, who feel ashamed and guilty about enjoying them.
There is someone who just doesn’t have it in them to cook right now, and this frozen pizza and canned soup will keep them going.
There are people recovering from chronic dieting and semi-starvation who are buying chocolate and chips at their deprived body’s insistence.
All around us are people listening to what their bodies need and attempting to make the best possible choice within a context of overwhelming food pressure. All of their choices are valid, and every single one of these foods is “real.”
It is not a coincidence that the foods popularly imbued with “realness” map so cleanly onto class-related ideas of healthy, high-status food.
Everyone deserves respect and kindness from others, and almost more importantly from themselves. That respect and kindness, sometimes, can be very difficult because it involves standing up for yourself, which sometimes doesn’t feel kind. However, unless you show kindness and empathy and respect for yourself, then showing it to others can become draining, because unless your own needs are met, you don’t have a chance to rebuild enough energy for others.
Meghan Tonjes F.A.T.: Love isn’t Unconditional
And Meghan Tonjes, who I am a constant fangirl of, makes some extraordinary points about this in this F.A.T. video, where she points out that it’s better to “give people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the very best they can.” In this same video, she highlights how incredibly important it is to treat yourself with that same kindness and benefit. As she puts it,
“You never feel like you have to stick by something … that doesn’t serve you on your journey to being a healthier person.”
“Love isn’t unconditional. Love thrives on the condition that you treat me with respect.”
At the end of this video, I wanted to stand on my chair and high-five this beautiful woman. Being a work in progress doesn’t mean you are required to stunt your journey for others. Responding authentically includes being willing to cut someone out that simply is not healthy for you.
Jill Malone: Four Agreements
And finally, we return to Jill Malone. In her post Four Agreements, Jill lays out how important it is to not protect someone from their journey. The entire short post is worth a full read, but here’s the conclusion:
My life is easier when I don’t attempt to decipher the behavior of others. If I have questions I’ll ask. If I’m curious I’ll engage. But I’m not here to save anyone, which is lucky, because I can’t.
Embracing the Work in Progress
A work in progress is just that — not finished. As human beings, I believe we all have a right to learn from our experiences, and treat ourselves and others with respect. A big part of this is being willing to embrace with open arms that we make mistakes, we can’t figure some things out, and that we are worth respecting ourselves. Like the poem that just isn’t quite finished, it’s a sign of life, a sign of respect, and a daily practice of self-care to care for ourselves first.