When I learned I was pregnant with our first child, I suddenly had pregnant lady radar, and it was like an over-sensitive fire alarm. These balloon bellied cutie pies were everywhere, in their sensible shoes and gigantic tshirts. Everywhere. It was as if pregnancy was in the water.
Same thing happens when I learn a cool new word. It pops up in casual conversation, in books and magazines, in television shows. As if the universe is trying to remind me that I do not now, nor will I ever, approach the full capacity of my intellect.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about excuses, and like the propagation of our species or the proliferation of cool new words to use, I see excuses everywhere. Well, I hear them.
People are already stressing about how they’ll get it all done for the holidays. The first thing we do is decide what we WON’T be able to do. Like stick with a healthy eating plan or continue to incorporate fitness, or maintain a gift-giving budget, or schedule writing time. We’ve decided before it even (allegedly) gets hectic that we can’t. We’re just too busy.
I ran two races recently of a long enough length to afford some proper Jen-needs-to-think time. A few years ago, I had promised a friend I would run a race with her. But my knee started to hurt. I didn’t want to fork over the money for a race. My shoes were stupid. I was too fat to be seen in public. My kids had a soccer game. My husband was going to be out of town. I bailed on my friend, who went on to run that race. And I was ashamed.
I wondered, as I ran these two races this year, what had changed. Why now? Why not then?
I could tick off my list of reasons, or excuses: you say tomato I say my knee hurts. Most of them are fairly decent reasons. But none of them was the real reason. The real reason I did not run that race with my friend is because I was afraid.
Afraid of looking foolish. Of not knowing what I was doing. Of attempting something grand and failing audaciously.
I stopped writing when the daughter referred to above was born, for the same reason. I was afraid. Afraid of the discipline it took. Of discovering I sucked. Of toiling away alone and unrecognized for a thing I thought I could do, but was too askeered to try.
Funny how I can spot someone else’s excuse from the moon but my own are like a gauzy vagueness I pretend not to notice. I heard someone say recently that he “hates excuses.” He was referring to the ones we use to avoid doing the hard work of writing. And I totally get that. Sometimes the “I don’t have time,” crap is just crap.
Except. Excuses are like stereotypes. They exist for a reason. I didn’t know I was afraid to run with my friend all those years ago. I just knew I didn’t want to; saying I was busy was the best I could do. I didn’t realize I was afraid of writing until I wrote the thing I had been wanting to write, but was too afraid to put into words.
When we decide that others are just using excuses, sometimes* we fail to recognize what the excuse masks. It could be so deep and dark admitting it seems far too daunting, it could be none of our cotton-picking business. It is easier to say: too busy, too poor, too tired, too uninterested. Whatever. When we decide that those are “just” excuses, we both negate another’s larger experience and fail to recognize our own.
I wonder, too, if excuses don’t have their place. I could not have written what I wanted to write without having done the things I did in the intervening years. In a sense, they kept in tact, or added texture to, an experience I wasn’t ready to explore.
You read that right: I’m making an excuse for having excuses.
Our reasons for doing things, or not doing them, are complicated. Look again at those who are worried about how they’ll get all their holiday business done. Maybe they really do know something, about themselves,their lives and how they prefer to work. What I see as an excuse they might see as self-preservation.
*please note my lack of absolutes here. Sometimes an excuse is just an excuse