Pail by Pail II: Shame on Shame

A little over a year ago, I posted this story: Pail by Pail. I thought about it this morning after stream-of-conscious journaling—a practice I wish I could admit I stick to regularly. I’d not written in my journal since mid-October and mentally beat myself up for it. I even started today’s journal entry with something along the lines of not being surprised that I started something and didn’t stick to it. Started projects, half projects, ideas on post-it notes that scatter my office, my fridge, and my mind. Shame.

Shame runs deeps. Fear of shame is torture. Being shamed, publicly shamed, shamed behind your back, shamed for not being someone else’s vision of what you should’ve been, shamed for the failure of others, shame for your own failures, shame of things you can’t control and the shame on things you can—it all aches. Shame for dropping a glass, for missing a deadline, for not being as good as some other or new person, for hurting so bad that you can’t get yourself out of bed even when there’s so, so much to do.

I could go on and on and reader, maybe you have your list of shames to add, too.

But then I thought of this little blog, “Pail by Pail” that I wrote in the dead middle of what I guess we can call our collective freshman year of Covid and I tried to push back against the bursting levy of shame to say that look, I might not be able to do more than one pail at a time right now. Hell, I might not even be able to do a full pail or even make the trip every day. And maybe to some, that’s shameful but damnit Jess, it doesn’t have to be shameful to you.

It’s hard though, isn’t it? Convincing ourselves that our bests—be them vastly different from others ultimately leaving us behind with our small puddles sinking into the cracks of the Earth while vast oceans of success accomplished by what feels like everyone else are glittering with reflecting sunlight—are good enough? Are we hard-wired to compare or did society and the rat race make us this way? Or is this one of those characteristics that I should shame myself for?

It’s easy to say that all we can do is our best and that should be good enough but it’s much more difficult to believe it, at least for me. It feels like wishful thinking. If I say it enough, maybe I’ll start to believe it. The “positive vibes” people would call that manifesting what you want/need/vision board for, etc. But I think circumstance has left me so cynical that instead, I scoff at the idea that if we wish and vision something enough, it will come. I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong. Maybe that’s not even the point.

I do, however, like the actual mind’s-eye thought of carrying one pail at a time. That, I can envision. I can almost touch it. And so as I start my day, waiting on an important call back from a doctor (again), making space to catch up on an assignment I’m behind on, and resting sometime in the afternoon like I know I always need, maybe today I’ll settle with three little pails. Or perhaps I’ll surprise myself with four. But if I only manage one or two, I should fight the urge to shame myself. Shame is an ugly, ugly monster. Shame on you and me? No. Shame on shame.

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