MAKING THE WORK // Self-Esteem: Who Needs It?
I’m on Day Ten of a cold. When I’m sick, I’m not mentally stable. I've currently living out of a pillow nest and have developed a temporary self-esteem issue that can’t be cured by doing my nails.
What is self-esteem? It’s “a psychological term,” says Wikipedia, “ to reflect a person’s overall emotional evaluation of their own worth.”
In my early twenties, some well-meaning asshole of a friend gave me Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life (and a pack of incense—an acceptable birthday present on the west coast). The book is considered a sort of bible in which you can look up your symptoms and find out what mental causes are behind them.
For years, every time I didn't feel well I looked up my Louise Hay diagnosis. A persistent cough? There may be a need to “speak up” or “bark back.” Lung problems? Must be due to “unshed tears.” I bought it. Maybe because I was a flake, or maybe because a writer is always looking to explain the world in metaphors.
Now I rail against the Louise Hayification of our culture. I've learned this not from having a cold, but from having an autoimmune disease that has been my bête noir. The most damaging thing I can do to myself—whether it’s because of a cold or an autoimmune flare up—is to look for how I’m responsible.
And yet, by Day Four of my cold I was all up in my own grill about my personal failings. I particularly love to pick on myself over my writing. A. very patiently gets the box of tissues and tells me that my feelings are a reflection of the struggle of making the work and how much it matters. Which brings to mind what I really want to share.
I recently came across an email from my friend Jenny who self-describes as “a semi-retired warhorse” and is the matriarch of a family I’ve known for a long time. The email was from 2006 and I must’ve been down then too. It started out like this: “Dearest Jilly, I have been thinking about our conversation this evening and all the wonderfully wise things that I failed to assert... upon reflection I must say that the emotions you are describing are constant elements in the life of a writer.” It’s a beautiful letter that invokes Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman and Margaret Laurence. Later on in the letter comes the kicker:
“... true achievement requires us to see ourselves as part of something much greater than oneself...our momentary so-called self-esteem is a seriously minor factor in achieving our goal.”
And here I always thought my self-esteem had to be in perfect order to get work done. Jenny’s right, self-esteem doesn't even have to come into it. This is what we makers of things have to remember: the best work happens outside of self.
And a cold is just a cold.
FANCIFUL LISTS // Opi's "In the Dumps" Nail Polish Collection
- Berry Your Head in the Sand
- Wine & Snivel
- Strawberry Fields of Nothing
- Orange You Going to Stay in Bed
- Not Peachy Keen
- Lady in Blue
- Watch Another Mauvie
- No Rosy Outlook
- Brown & Down
- Grey is Here to Stay
MINOR OBSESSIONS // Sia & Lena Dunham Spooning
I’ve re-discovered Sia during my sick time, thanks to two videos posted on Facebook, followed by a bit of obsessive research.
Before, the only thing I knew about Sia is that she sings “Breathe Me,” that amazing song featured on the last-ever episode of Six Feet Under; the one that made everyone bawl.
Now I know that Sia has issues with being famous. (One of her Tweets from January 22nd says, “Your favorite celebrity MAY be pooping right now.”) She’s shy and wants a sober life out of the spotlight. That’s why she’s getting others to inhabit her brand—the platinum blonde bob—so that she can do the only thing she wants to do: sing.
In the first video, Sia is on The Ellen Degeneres Show recreating the music video from her new single, “Chandeliers.” Introducing her, Ellen says, “When she performs she chooses not to face the camera.” Then we see Sia in a baby-doll dress, standing at a mic in the corner with her back to us. And there’s some wonderful child—Maddie Ziegler—in dance underwear and a Sia-like wig. The kid’s Spidermanned to a faux-window frame and then jumps onto the set and does a wacky interpretative dance with silly, creepy faces. It’s executed with impressive skill and what looks like ballet training.
In the second, more recent video, Sia is performing the song again on Late Night with Seth Meyers. She’s face down on a loft bed and Lena Dunham is now in the Sia-like wig. Her interpretive dance is a send-up of Maddie’s. It’s just as wacky, but Dunham’s skill isn’t dancing; it’s a commitment to play and not caring how she looks as she strews toilet paper about in a white pant suit.
Critics have raved about the Sia/Ziegler collaboration, but they mostly don’t know what to think about the Sia/Dunham one. Jacob Clifton, on Gawker said Dunham had “gone too far” and wrote, “This is the video you show your kid if he or she says they want to go to art school. Then you make ‘em smoke a carton of cigarettes and think about what they've done.”
It’s a shame that Clifton was looking for high-art and not seeing the joy. That’s why I love the Sia/Dunham collaboration. Because two grown, extremely talented women did what they bloody well wanted to and at the end of it, they spooned in that loft bed, wiggled, and happily kicked their feet like children.