More than I worry about not being Enough, I work at not being Too Much. As long as I can remember, I have been Too Loud, Too Emotional, Too Silly, Too Chatty, Too Intense, Too Bossy, Too Passionate, Too Demanding, Too Sensitive, Too Enthusiastic . . . on and on and on. Almost all the time, I am censoring. I try to leave half my personality at the door lest it overwhelm everyone around me. My yoga practice, my interior prayer life, my diet and exercise and even my bad habits – I do many things daily to calm my brain, cool my energy and move through the world like a wave of warm and gentle light.
I suck at it. I fool no one. No matter how hard I try to appear calm and graceful, my entrance into a room is usually explosive. I know it, and I work at it, and I cannot help it. When I was a child, my family moved around a lot. Every new school was an opportunity to adopt a new identity; I attempted each year to cultivate a Shy Personality. How I longed to be the quiet, mysterious girl in the corner, lovely in her reticence, mysterious in her detachment, wise and calm and soothing to be around. How soon, every time, I broke my vow! When something excites me, I whistle and shout and scream and speak my mind. I am noisy and messy and I have a lot (A LOT) of energy.
On the other hand, I get things done. I have big ideas and I do a lot of things. I am a fierce and loyal friend and I am especially passionate about children. I over-celebrate and over-react. The good news is, if you want to feel affirmed and great about what you are doing, you can call me. One of my students put things into perspective for me when he wrote, “Your crazy kept me sane during my senior year of high school.” I know it is true. Even my teenaged son, in a kind moment, forgives me for having “an excess of joy.” And yet, probably as often as once a month, I hear people say things like “too much” or “you’re a lot to take” or “calm down.” The process of censoring myself is exhausting. One of the goals of the skort365 project is to accept myself as I am. I’m working on it, and two recent deaths have made me think about the whole idea in a new way.
Last week, Broadway legend Elaine Stritch died. Shortly thereafter, my grandmother gently slipped from this world into her eternal life. Although I am not usually affected by the deaths of celebrities whom I did not know, hearing that Ms. Stritch was gone left a hole in my personal life. She was bold, brassy, loud, opinionated, and maybe a little crazy. She loved her husband and her career with equal passion and never seemed to give a damn what anybody thought of her. When confronted with personal tragedy and misfortune, she offered pearls such as, “Everybody’s got a sack of rocks.” Imagine the multitudes who told Elaine Stritch throughout her life that she was just Too Much. Knowing there are women out there doing their thing despite their critics comforts me. I shall miss her.
And then there is my grandmother. We remember her for her soothing voice, speaking and singing. She was kind and gentle; her love was expansive. But this was also the woman who, in her 90 years on this planet, rolled up her sleeves and helped raise buildings, bale hay, diaper babies, prepare feasts, irrigate dry and rocky soil, deliver rural mail, send care packages of her famous Monster Cookies to granddaughters in college. We remember our sweet and loving grandmother who never complained, but she is also famous for throwing an apple at a high school wrestling referee. She cheered loudly at football games and sang lustily in the church choir. She had all those kids. Surely people along her way told Patricia Ruggles Lane that she was Too Much. As far as I know, she marched on, quite sure of herself and her place in the world. I say it again: knowing there are women out there doing their thing despite the critics comforts me. Furthermore, my grandmother called me, my many cousins and our prodigious offspring “the jewels in her crown.” I shall miss her.
So I decided just now (hoping to comfort myself) to compose a list, off the top of my head, of women who were probably told quite often that they were Too Much, and who didn’t seem to care, and whom I admire in some way. Do you know I almost couldn’t stop? The list goes on and on. I only quit because I got tired. It seems I am surrounded, by people I know and do not know, who inspire me. What a nice thing to realize. I am comforted, in fact. A wave of calm has settled, and for that I am grateful.
A Short and Incomplete List of Women Who Are Probably Too Much (and Who Never Seem to Care, and Whom I Admire): Lucille Ball, Tina Fey, Joan Rivers, Hillary Clinton, Gilda Radner, My Godmother Christie Thomas and Her Twin Sister Cathie, Amelia Earhart, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou, The Bronte Sisters, Drew Barrymore, Gloria Steinem, Annie Dillard, Toni Morrison, Joan of Arc, Sandra Day O’Connor, Olympia Dukakis, Sofia Vergara, Harriett Tubman, Carol Burnett, Julie Andrews, Lily Tomlin, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli, Golda Meir, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jane Fonda, Mary Tyler Moore, Oprah Winfrey, My Mentor Annie Scurria, Ellen DeGeneres, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Gurley Brown, My Students Shari and Molly and Andi and Jessica and Morgan, Sally Ride, Frieda Kahlo, My Little Friends Natalie and Kiele and Taylor, Dorothy Day, The Resplendent Cher, Sarah Silverman and Phyllis Diller, Mother Theresa, Gertrude Stein and Diane Keaton, Rita and Jeanie and Monica and Billie Holiday, Nella Larsen and My Husband’s Dear Aunt Esther, Viola Davis and even poor lost, adolescent Miley Cyrus.
Funny. The list could go on forever should I just keep typing, and I wonder what the Hell my problem is. (And believe me, there is an article forthcoming on the first-world-problem-ness of worrying about what to wear and how we look. Crikey. I’m aware.) For every message I have internalized about being Too Much, surely there are several examples of women who don’t let such silliness stand in their way. Why have I admired them from afar and not dared to count myself among them? Oh, who cares anymore – time is ticking. I have better things to do than worry about how I might be perceived while I am busy living and enjoying my one precious life. Too much; not enough; I’m trying not to let such concepts worry me these days. Perhaps it will help, remembering Ms. Stritch and my grandmother and all these fabulous women unfettered by labels or opinions or criticism. Here’s to the ladies who LIVE. Aren’t they too much?
Below, the incomparable Elaine Stritch reprises her gut-wrenching solo, “Ladies Who Lunch,” from Sondheim’s COMPANY.