Monday, June 14, 2010

You Can't Make Me

by Sophie


Oh, dear.

Rules are sort of a hot button issue for me. It's not that I don't believe in them. It's not that I don't understand that, in the absence of some sort of societal structure that includes limit-setting and behavioral expectations, the world would descend into chaos.

But rules make me chafe like a six-year-old boy wearing a tie to church. I hate being told what to do.

As you can imagine, this isn't the most effective way to go through life. Sometimes I think I'm only a few frustrations away from moving into a hut in the woods, where neighborhood associations can't tell me what color my mailbox has to be and bureaucrats can tell me what classes my kids have to take to get their high school degree and Real Simple magazine can't tell me I ought to be composting. Most of the time, though, I find it interesting to push back against expectations and see how many of the pressures and strictures I can resist - not to be a contrarian, but in the interest of honoring my true self.

This is a reversal from the first few decades of my life, when I went around trying to mold myself to fit the expectations, rather than the other way around. In fact, this reversal became the theme of my mystery series. The second book, A BAD DAY FOR PRETTY, came out last week, and once again it features the adventures of avenging middle-aged widow Stella Hardesty, who was herself a "behaver," a nice lady who stayed quietly out of the way serving her family and community and making sure everything looked pleasant to outside observers.

Stella was covering up a terrible secret - her husband's abuse - and when she had a life-changing mid-life crisis she did a dramatic 180, going from June Cleaver to won't-take-shit-from-anyone pretty much overnight.

My own transition was more subtle. I started rebelling in small ways against what was expected of me. Stating my opinion a bit more often (and for women my age, that may be the most subversive act of all, given how forcefully we were coached to defer and "make nice"), insisting on doing things my way, making unpopular choices and taking responsibility when they didn't work out the way I wanted.

I think the worst of that particular storm is over. With apologies to all the innocent bystanders, I think midlife change requires a bit of a meltdown (much like the transition from teen to young adult, a process I am participating in with a couple of frustrating people around here) - and I think I'm at the stage where, like the toddler, I'm a little tired of beating my fists on the floor and screaming, maybe ready to wipe the tears off my face and go out and play.

As for Stella, she's through the worst of her "reinvention" as well, but she's chosen to stay lean and mean and looking for trouble. Which is a good thing, because she's fictional and all...and badass makes a much better story.


Rachael Herron said...

Real Simple can bite me. Lala was telling me that they gave instructions recently on HOW TO FORAGE FOR YOUR OWN MUSHROOMS without giving warnings. What?? Someone's gonna die while they tell us how to be cool. You can borrow our compost any time you need it, though.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Ha ha! The funny thing is I come from a family of gentle world-savers, but every time someone gets in my face about it I want to buy the Tshirt I saw in Berkeley recently that says "I HATE THE ENVIRONMENT" Also maybe we ought to manufacter a few less tote bags and t-shirts that say GO GREEN...that might cut down on toxic emissions right there.

Jamie Freveletti said...

Dodged a red worm composting bullet when the kids tried it at school first and returned Monday morning to a stench and clouds of fruit flies. Apparently there are things the worms will not digest....:)

Sophie Littlefield said...

Yeah Jamie, I have a few friends who've tried the compost route with mixed results. My dad's been doing it since the 70s...but we lived next to open space where you could kinda toss the junk on the other dude's back 40. It's different when your back yard is 10'x10'....

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Taking risks and learning that we can fail (and how to fail!), that we don't have to be perfect, or perfectly well behaved, is incredibly important.

In Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear, he talks about how many women put "being polite" over "not being assaulted" without even realizing there is a choice. He encouraged women to remember, for example, that any man who is alone with you in an empty parking garage KNOWS you're scared of him, and if he isn't working overtime to give you space and act nonthreatening, he's probably a predator and it's really not rude to treat him that way. Same with the guy following you up the stairs, etc.

That said, listening to my family tell stories this weekend about how incredibly, stupidly stubborn we've all been from time to time (touching the stove just to see when if it stopped being hot?!) reminded me to try and moderate my natural tendencies toward stubborn willfulness.

Talk about tilting at windmills :)

Eloise Hill said...

Sometimes, I girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do: My dad was an electician and forever going on about electical safety. One hot summer afternoon when I was eight I got to thinking "How bad could it be?" and stuck one of my mom's bobby pins in an outlet. Needless, to say it was a stimulating experience (for me and my mom) and, while I don't recommend it, I can only say that it HAD to be done.

Sophie Littlefield said...

oh, mysti, i JUST ordered that book. Lori Armstrong recommended it. I can't wait to get it, and you are right, I think it will start me in some new directions thinking (and writing) about fear.

Sophie Littlefield said...

Eloise....I know *exactly* what you mean! I'm not 8 years old, but any time someone says "you should never..." I immediately start scheming about how to try.

Adrienne Miller said...

I wish I could go back in time and meet this meek version of you. I just can't imagine you like that. I'm sure I'd want to shake her and yell, "Snap out of it, Sophie. There's greatness waiting!"

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