Monday, January 12, 2015

New Year's Whatevers

It's that time of year again. A time when I reflect on how I did not achieve my goals set forth last January, pretend there was some good reason for this without specifically identifying it, and then set new, even less obtainable goals for the year ahead. And I'm not alone in this self-punishing, futile exercise. It's like we all enjoy setting ourselves up for failure. Who started this tradition?

For 2015, I debated if I should even make a resolution. Or, really, resolutions, plural. I like to set more of them to increase my odds of success. I thought maybe I could find a loophole in the system by claiming that I was going to let myself off the hook this year, thereby making a resolution of a different sort. I resolve not to make a resolution. Yeah, sounds like bullshit to me too.

Then, while I was in New York over the holidays, I was struck by a tiny jolt of inspiration. Devin and I went to a small day spa to get massages because, since the baby's been born, our backs have gotten completely out of whack from all the hunched over cradling of the baby. Then throw in the various sleeping surfaces we'd endured while bouncing around between relatives' houses around Christmastime, and we'd basically become stuck at 90 degree angles.

Before being led to the massage tables, we sat in the lobby filling out consent forms which asked entirely too many questions. One of them was:

What is your daily stress level? (circle one)
  • Low
  • Medium 
  • High 

I hovered my pencil over High, then Medium, then High again, then thought, "Okay, I'm not like a hostage negotiator or anything," then went back to Medium. And then I looked up at Devin, who was standing up, having already completed his questionnaire because he was aware that it was just a bit of obligatory nonsense paperwork that zero people would ever read and not cause for inflection. I asked him if my life was Medium or High stress. When he responded with Medium, I felt a twinge of defensiveness, like he was insulting me somehow. Why doesn't he think my life is stressful? Is he calling me lazy?

I circled Medium, returned my clipboard to the front desk, and got on with it.

Of course I realize the irony of a woman who is able to go get a massage debating how high stress her life really is. So shut up. In fact, that's the whole point. Stress is all pretty much perceived, isn't it? And Low, Medium and High are defined by each person individually. For example, have you ever seen a delivery truck driver backing up into a tiny 7-11 parking lot? He's like 2 inches from hitting a row of cars, and the whole front half of the truck is still sticking out into the street, holding up traffic with a bunch of people honking at him. You see this and think that looks like the most stressful job ever, but he's just yapping away into his cellphone, steering one handed and probably thinking about what he's gonna have for lunch. Or conversely, you see someone like Jennifer Lawrence on a late night talk show, lamenting about how stressful it is to be on an awards show red carpet. You shout obscenities at your TV because you would just love to wear a quarter million dollars worth of diamond jewelry, exchange knowing "aren't publicists assholes" glances with Matt Damon, drink free actual Champagne from Champagne (not sparkling wine), and call yourself "stressed." I mean, come on!

Oh, whoa I just blacked out there for a second. Now, where was I?

Right, so one person's High stress is another person's Low. There's no set barometer for stress levels. Which means, I hope, that it's all totally controllable. It's all in my head. And it's often something I unwittingly seek out. For some reason I, like many other people, am trained to associate stress with hard work, accomplishment, and the feeling of being needed. So we get used to saying how stressed we are, how busy, how we just can't even deal. And this is supposed to make people respect us, I guess?

But if I think about when someone tells me how stressed out they are, I just feel bad for them. On the other hand, when I encounter the rare breed of human who lives by a kind of "no worries" principle, I am always impressed. So how is it that I've wasted so much time emulating the behavior of people I pity instead of people I admire?

Anyway that's where my head is at for 2015. By December, I want to go to a day spa, fill out a first time customer form, and circle Low on the question about daily stress levels. And if this spa doesn't have that question on their form I'll write it in. And if the receptionist gives me a funny look it won't stress me out in the slightest.

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