Could we change our attitude, we should not only see life differently, but life itself would come to be different. ~ Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Shoulda, woulda, coulda

I had a professor in college who wanted to eradicate the word "very" from the English language. His reasoning? If a writer had to resort to using it, then their adjective wasn't strong enough and they needed to pick another one. He was very smart.

I would also like to kill off a word. Not an obvious one, like "moist" or the love-to-hate-it "panties." The word on my chopping block is much more fraught with the poisonous nuances of guilt and shame. It's a word that I hope to erase from my vocabulary in order to lift a shroud from my life and protect my children from its dark and foreboding presence. So who gets voted off the island, sent to swim with the fishes, goes down for the big sleep?


I hate it.

Is there anything more crippling to the present moment than niggling thoughts of what you should be doing? Reading a novel when you should be starting your taxes. Checking in on Facebook when you should be writing a grant proposal. Going to a movie when you should be seeing live theatre. Eating a brownie when vegetables should be on the menu.

And the constant running list. The shoulds that always live in the background. I should:
do yoga
take the kids to the library
learn Spanish
make a grocery list
hang the pictures stacked in the closet
answer that email I've been avoiding
get a haircut
fold the laundry
buy a broom
replace batteries in all the dead toys
make a Goodwill drop
create a filing system to help out next year's taxes...

In reality, there is no such thing as a should. It is a bogus construct designed to instill unrest. Nothing is ever good enough when there is something more that should be done. Well, fuck you should. I declare you null and void.

And really, outside of this random rant, there is no such thing as a should. There is doing, and not doing. So how to kick should to the curb? Time for an action plan.

1. Question the reasoning behind the should.
Why should or shouldn't I be doing something? Outside of this moment, does anyone besides me care about the implied morality of what I am doing? Sometimes all it takes to release an old idea is to face it head on. So screw you, Nancy Reagan, I didn't always say "No" and I turned out just fine. 

2. Drop the guilty implications of should.
What is the point of "I shouldn't be doing this?" Whether it's polishing off a box of cookies or robbing a bank, either stop the action or at the very least don't ruin it by adding shame. Savor those cookies. Steal those dollars. Be in the moment. Then go for a walk or split the take with a favorite charity. 

3. Break the habit of should.
Sometimes I think I use a should for no good reason other than making myself unhappy. Not on purpose, just as a lazy form of ennui. Case in point, everyone's favorite "I should exercise more." This is not an action item, this is a way to feel less than while still watching TV. Which is lame. Let my jeans chastise me by being too tight if they must, I don't need to add insult to injury. I'm back to the idea of "do it, or don't." Exercise, or don't. Thinking on the should of the matter results in a whopping nothing. And some of the shoulds are even more mundane. Alone, "I should start packing for my trip" may not be that big of a deal, but left unchecked it can multiply into a giant list of actions that a better person would be taking while crappy ol' me just plugs along. Enough! If a giant fist punched me in the face every time I said "should," I'd stop saying it pretty quickly. I'm smart like that. Time to extend that same self-preservation skill to my general happiness and sense of worth. 

4. When saying or thinking the dreaded should, take a moment to reset.
If I "should" be sending an overdue birthday card, am I able to stop what I am doing and crank out the card? If yes, do it and move on. If no, either decide not to send a card and live with that, or decide to send the card as soon as I am able and return to the task at hand.

5. Let the "should cycle" die by not using it with my kids.
It's pretty easy to rework a "You should share with your brother," into "If you don't feel like sharing then you can go to your room and play by yourself for a while. But if you'd like to play together I'd love to have you stay here with us. Your choice." No guilt. Lesson imparted. Child retains a small sense of control and dignity.

Man, I should have made this list years ago!


Claudia said...

You are a wise one, Yod-ette.

The Bohemian Voice said...

Amen sister! Action is everything and guilt just keeps us at a standstill-looking back at the past with regret.

troy said...


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