Bad Habit

I have some bad habits.  Although one might say there are worse things, one of them is laughing, a lot–often times incongruently with the emotions I feel inside.  It is nervous avoidance that drives the chortle and somehow allows me to brush past the acknowledgement of a feeling. It is an involuntary habit and I’d like to catch myself doing it more, not because laughing is so bad, but I’d like to be more aware.

During the Christmas season, my daughter drew my attention to a habit I wasn’t really aware of until she named it.  We were driving along Dempster at dusk and a woman with a long, gorgeous braid of hair, wearing an ankle-length patchy winter coat was draping twinkle lights along the hedge in her front yard.  She had threaded the lights to spell “Love,” and we were both so touched by the gesture, the sense of embrace from a stranger in front of her home.  I exclaimed, “Oh, that is so wonderful,” and immediately followed that with, “Oh, I’m really bad.  I never take the time to hang lights or decorate my home so nicely.”

“Do you know you do that all of the time?” my daughter asked. She fumingly explained that every time I express admiration for someone else’s talent, attribute or deed, I habitually follow it with an affront to myself; self-deprecation, criticism. As I sat with that feedback, I understood she was right.  I could see all of the “I am bad…” attributions floating around in my recent memory of blather that spews from me involuntarily.


First I felt shame to have modeled the behavior in front of my daughter.  I would be saddened to hear any of my children talk about themselves in that way.  Further, it gave me pause to consider why I do this and be more aware of the habit.  I think somewhere along the way, I came to think of humility, a value that was reinforced by my family of origin, as denying my own value.

Humility doesn’t mean self-effacement, but an effort to remain grounded and refrain from thinking I’m better than others.  Self-love is no affront to humility, but an opportunity to replenish and more authentically care for and love others. There is just so much to do and so much good to contribute, the self-ripping is over.  I choose to love myself and all of the identified and unidentified parts that add up to Penelope.


Taking a walk along Grey Street

imageI heard this song for the first time about 15 years ago and the lyrics registered immediately–I felt so heard, so understood and knew I wasn’t the only person to feel like I did. How could someone with so many talents, with so much going for her and with so many privileges feel so empty? There was no answer in the song, but validation, oh yes.

Grey Street
By: Dave Matthews Band

Look at how she listens
She says nothing of what she thinks
She just goes stumbling through her memories
Staring out onto Grey Street

She thinks Hey, how did I come to this?
I dream myself a thousand times around the world
But I can’t get out of this place.

There’s an emptiness inside her and she’d do anything to fill it in.
But all the colors mix together
to grey
And it breaks her heart.

How she wishes it was different
She prays to God most every night.
And though she swears it doesn’t listen
There’s still a hope in her it might.

She says I pray,
Oh but they all fall on deaf ears
Am I supposed to take it all myself
To get out of this place?

Oh there’s an emptiness inside her
And she’d do anything to fill it in
And though it’s red blood bleeding from Her now,
it feels like cold blue ice in her heart.
When all the colors mix to grey
And it breaks her heart

There’s a stranger speaks outside her door,
Says take what you can from your dreams.
Make them as real as anything
Oh it’d take the work out of the courage.

But she says please
There’s a crazy man that’s creeping outside my door,
I live on the corner of grey street
and the end of the world.

Oh there’s an emptiness inside her
and she’d do anything to fill it in,
and though it’s red blood bleeding from her now it feels like cold blue ice
in her heart.

She feels like kicking out all the windows and setting fire to this life
She could change everything about her
Using colors bold and bright
But all the colors mix together
To grey
And it breaks her heart
To grey.

Grey, not blue, is a much better color metaphor for depression. It is an involuntary, bland and lifeless place tempered by a spectrum of grey–some days feel a bit lighter while others get dark and bleak and the darkness is where the pain is most crippling. It blinds and obscures the ability to see anyone else. Shame, pity and solitary confinement are a heavy, muddy cloak draping and pulling down.

I hope it isn’t redundant to reference song lyrics again.  While I can’t be so histrionic as to say I’ve been “crippled” with grey lately, I have also been in the winter doldrums for sure.  Imagining the connections I can make to other thoughts and heroes, in spite of the chilled dormancy, has helped to prompt and stimulate me, borrow some energy from creative heroes for some inspiration.  And who isn’t inspired by some Dave Matthews?