Green slime under my fingernails. Chapped knuckles. Cuts on every finger. Falling madly in love with every new bloom that came in the door.
I was 21, working in a flowershop, and had just gotten (most unwisely) married.
Dethorning roses…scrubbing buckets with bleach…cleaning out the frigid fridge before the big February rush…oh, it was dreamy. Truly!
I didn’t mind the terrible hours, the low pay, the dirty grunt work, the lugging of heavy buckets up and down the stairs dozens of times a day. Because the beauty of the flowers we worked with filled me right up with happiness, right up to the brim and overflowing. I loved the cold and the wet and our demanding customers and the berries and the eucalyptus and the roses– oh, the roses!
Roses in every color, new bunches arriving all the time, palest white with green throats, fiery red with purple edges, pinks blushing every shade of champagne to sunset.
And peonies, and spicy-smelling stock, and friendly snapdragons, and the thrill of tucking little apples and bits of moss into the arrangements…
My coworker at the shop– the one who put together the most gorgeous wedding bouquets– handed me a book and said, “Read it.”
I smiled politely. How sweet! She knew I was a bookworm.
This book was not Jane Austen. This book was not Toni Morrison. This book was pink. BRIGHT pink.
I was way too bohemian for bright pink, even in 1999.
But she was so insistent that I took it home to appease her, tossed it on my shelf, and didn’t look at it.
That is, I didn’t look at it…
until I grew so sad and confused and miserable in my unwise marriage that I was driven to taking advice even from BRIGHT PINK BOOKS, god help me.
The book was Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Who else remembers this book??? I found it at a bookstore last week and all these memories came flooding back– how it was so trendy and ubiquitous that I actually was too embarrassed to be seen in public reading it. (The pink shame of it!) How I would never keep it on a bookshelf in my living room because god forbid anyone knew that I read self-help. How I would read it in secret, under the covers, like it was the most scandalous porn.
And it WAS porn, basically, for this virtuous girl.
It was SCANDALOUS advice.
It was a book full of ideas about how a woman could make her whole life sweeter.
Not more useful; not more productive; not more of service; just sweeter. (The very idea!)
It was full of ways to bring comfort and joy…not to others…but to your own self.
I was shocked. I was appalled. I was HORRIFIED.
No no! I was finishing up my feminist college degree, which absolutely forbade me from indulging in soft pink feminine betrayal. I was part of a church that was devoted to radical social justice. Most of my friends were social workers who lived in intentional poverty and gave all their money to homeless shelters.
This book was profane, filthy, capitalist self-indulgence at its worst!
But oh, dear reader, I must confess– I just couldn’t stop reading it anyway.
Something in that book fascinated me, compelled me, wouldn’t let me go. I was so ashamed of wanting the things she talked about in that book– a nice house, pretty flowers, new clothes. Because obviously only terrible greedy materialistic people want those things.
And yet something inside me was starving for the nectar of that bright pink book.
It’s the same part of me who will walk into any store and unerringly pick up the most expensive thing.
It’s the same part of me who, at age 8, desperately wanted pink silk carpet.
It’s the same part of me who, at age 8, having been denied the silk carpet, tried to put my rainbow comforter down on the floor instead.
(“But it’s like we’re walking on clouds!” I said. My mother was not swayed.)
I have always hungered for beauty. I have excellent, expensive taste.
Oh, I was so ashamed of this terrible flaw! My only comfort was that Anne Shirley had this same horrible longing for beautiful things. (Puffed sleeves!) I had worked very hard to eradicate this part of me who was so hungry and thirsty for such selfish, forbidden indulgences. I wanted so badly to be good!
You will not be surprised to find that this immense self-eradication effort on my part did not work. (Thankfully.) But it did leave a swathe of destruction.
Here is a strange truth.
If I had had this book before I got married, I might have saved myself and many people I loved from a great deal of heartache.
It contained the exact messages I needed to hear.
You’re allowed to want things for yourself.
You don’t have to starve so that you can feed your soul to others.
Beauty is a healing energy, one you’re meant to work with, not shun.
Instead, I let my soul get so hungry– so deliriously ravenous– that in a dramatic bid for freedom, I eventually ripped open my virtuous life. I left my young, doomed marriage– not with integrity but with the ruthless desperation of a prisoner running for freedom.
The simple compassion of that bright pink book would have helped me.
If I had known how to honor my longings in a healthy way instead of shame myself for them.
If I had known how to tune in to my own inner responses– yes yes, no no, this feels good, this feels bad– I might have made wiser choices.
If I hadn’t been so mortified by my own “ridiculous, clearly stupid and embarrassing” desires, I might have leaped into a writing program instead of a too-young marriage.
How ironic, isn’t it?
I tried so hard to be good– to fight against every natural urge and longing and dream– that I ended up breaking my life.
A little self-kindness would have gone a long way.
I think this is true for so many of us, wherever we are at in our lives.
A little self-kindness will go a long way.
I think about this sometimes when I am talking to women who are at a breaking point. So many women push and push and push until they just can’t take one more thing– and then they push back with the force of a thousand suns. (Someone witty once called this the “exploding doormat” phenomenon.) Or they get sick. Or they say something they can never take back.
It’s like some part of us believes that the only time we are allowed to stop and take our OWN needs into account is when we reach that breaking point. We aren’t allowed to choose ourselves unless it’s a life-or-death choice, dramatic and agonized.
This is a really crummy narrative, dearhearts. Let’s write a new one together.
Let’s fill ourselves up before we’re running on empty. Let’s stop and course correct before we sail into a treacherous harbor. Let’s weave support and nourishment right into our daily lives instead of needing a week in bed to catch up.
Let’s decide to become women who are SO FULL OF LIFE– of joy and curiosity and kindness and interesting ideas– that we spill those good things all over the people around us!
Doesn’t that sound fun???
And weirdly enough– doesn’t it also sound immensely useful to the people around us???
I know. Crazy.
And totally worth a try.
P.S. A group of us are taking 3 weeks this February to deliberately FILL OURSELVES UP so that we ARE those vibrant, brimful women with light and joy to spare. Come join us– a Queen Sweep to fill you up startsMONDAY! We’re sweeping away the cobwebs of old beliefs and habits. We’re clearing our literal physical spaces of these things, and we’re clearing our heads, too. And once we’ve cleared that space, we’re going to let new things bloom. Dendrobiums and delphiniums and anemones but also deep breaths, and quiet walks, and sweaty yoga, and hours curled up with good books, and meals with our beloveds where we aren’t checking our phones or mentally running through our to-do lists. Join us, bring a friend ON ME, and let the sweetness rain down. Because life is short and we don’t want to miss it!