Letting Go of My Russian

My sister emailed me this article last week. It really touches on where I have found myself at this turning of the year. Despite all of my Bu-Jew leanings and As-Is aspirations, the hard truth is that I am completely goal-oriented. I am hung up on being extraordinary. On making a big splash. The goals roll: Raise happy kids, write meaningful stuff, nurture my marriage and friendships, mitigate the damage we’re causing to the planet spiritually and physically, build an amazing coaching practice, create the perfect balance. In short: Be amazing.

Be amazing. Fuckin’ A, that’s a lot of pressure.

This past week, I watched my nephew work on a 1,000-piece puzzle. He wasn’t overwhelmed. He wasn’t frustrated, reactive, or impatient. He was just chipping away at it. I turned to Greg and said, “I don’t like having so many pieces.” I pictured the baby puzzles with the big pieces of fruit – banana, pear, apple. The kind with maybe six or eight pieces that fit together easily, making a simple picture without much effort. That is what I want my life to look and feel like.

It seems that since having kids, I’ve been revisiting the “what I’m doing” question every fifteen minutes. I keep trying stuff – teaching a college course, for example, or taking a writing class; or thinking about trying stuff – becoming a certified coach with a gorgeous office, being a famous writer who gets big checks for reading to adoring crowds.

The “Average” article hit a nerve. What am I trying to prove here, and to whom, and what for? The classic question keeps coming up: If I knew I couldn’t fail, what would I do? How would I spend my days? Basically, I’d be all the things I am already. The difference is that these would be enough. I would be enough. As they are, as I am. (By the way, if you want to read a great post on this theme, read this.)

About ten years ago, when I was in grad school, my mother once made one of those off-the-cuff comments that forever stayed with me. “Do you think you’ll ever get back to your Russian?” she asked. She insists to this day – and I believe her – that she was asking this from a place of curiosity and not judgment; that she simply wondered if I missed the intensive and immersive connection to Russian of my high school and college years, which I had indeed loved and been good at. Here I was, getting an MFA in poetry without a definitive sense of where that would lead. The question implied failure; that somehow I hadn’t lived up to my gifts.

Would I ever get back to my Russian? I didn’t know. I still don’t. I may not. It doesn’ t matter. What I want is to be able to let it go without regret, to grow beyond perfect, beyond extraordinary. To move slowly towards the just-rightness we shower our daughters with, the gentleness I find so easy to grasp for others, like a child holding a big wooden puzzle piece.

We’ve all read Wild Geese before, and it bears reading again and again: You do not have to be good. I look at my kids playing yoga, and if I have any resolution for the new year, it is to stop trying to be good, and to start being average, letting the soft animal of my body love what it loves…

5 thoughts on “Letting Go of My Russian

  1. Karen says:

    You could forget about the average too and just be. That’s as awesome as it gets anyway.

    “Do not judge by any standard.”

    I took one semester of Russian and my teacher wanted me to major in it. Nyet. Unrequited romance must be a Russian thing.


  2. bella says:

    I’ve been having this exact conversation with my husband the past couple of weeks. Letting go of the need to excel or be exceptional in everything. It’s all an illusion anyway.
    Here’s to letting ourselves love what we love. Which is truly a well lived life.
    Love to you.


  3. Meg says:

    I relate very much to the drive to be exceptional. Letting go of it has been one of the most difficult most rewarding things I did in 2007. It freed me up to experience all sorts of things I never would have tried because I knew they were not anything I would excel at–but they make my heart sing. 2008 will be another year where my dearest (and dare I say only) resolution is just to be–completely present in each and every magical moment that passes by–exceptional, ordinary, miserable and blissful.


  4. Moanna says:

    Just browsing around your blog and I can see why Bella gave you the award. Your writing is inspiring.

    To stop trying to be good is to relax. And I think I want fewer pieces in my house. Less clutter in my life.



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