I try to play it cool but confess I am not always. My most recent case of not-coolness manifested just last week, when we hosted Thanksgiving at our house.
The house that is… not finished. To put it mildly.
Look, having my home resemble a West Elm catalog is not normally at the top nor at the bottom of my priorities list, but something about having guests over really brings out the nothing-is-good-enough monster in me. And because this was our first real opportunity to entertain old friends in our new home, the monster was operating at about 500% capacity.
So instead of just wiping the bathrooms down, stocking the fridge, rolling up the Burt Reynolds posters, and shoving the piles of unfolded laundry in the closets like a normal host, I stalked the rooms gazing critically at our hand-me-down furniture and wringing my hands over unfinished projects. IN THE VAST SCOPE OF LIFE, no one we invite over is going to care a whit that we’re breaking bread under the dim wattage of the same brushed-nickel nipple lights that came with the house or that our coffee table looks like it was left out in the rain.1 All they’re going to care about is that we’re together again, sharing good pleasures among good friends, listening to laughter ricochet off the walls and watching love lift the roofbeams ever higher.
Or some gross sentiment like that, I don’t know because I was too busy forming a litany of explanation-apologies in my head and then letting them spill out of my mouthspace.
OH DON’T WORRY, we’re going to replace all these ugly door knobs, I reassured my visitors; I reassured myself. We’re going to paint all of this trim, and of course the baseboard will look nicer once we get the quarter round tucked neatly against it. We’re going to paint these walls, not just leave them smattered with swatches in a psychedelic patchwork. We have plans, we have plans for actually installing these lengths of crown moulding currently stacked in the stairwell. We’re going to of course demolish the maze of cardboard boxes in the basement and replace the carpet that looks like a mud-soaked dog got into a fight with a full vacuum cleaner bag all over it. We’ll eventually fix those holes in the floor of the bedrooms upstairs, mind your step there, haha! We don’t intend to keep the furniture arranged weirdly like this, this is only temporary, and we also hope to get different, better furniture someday. Don’t you worry.
Turns out that sometimes I’m my own worst double standard. I rail against buying what you don’t need when you’re not ready, but I panic when my house looks pathetically college-esque and unfinished. I rail against the immaculately-designed tablescapes in lifestyle blogs, but I still went down to Crate & Barrel and picked myself a couple sets of contrasty-yet-matchy placemats, ironed the shits out of those bitches, and tried to set the best Thanksgiving table possible. I rail against the commoditization of nature but I still went down to Whole Foods and shelled out $5.99 for a handful of coniferous boughs; the same fucking branches and twigs I could have clipped from someone’s yard for free under the cover of night, and I arranged those shits in some vases and placed those bitches strategically around the house.
Part of me, uh, part of me kind of liked that, a little.
What do you do when you become what you hate? Forgive yourself, I guess. Be a bit gentler. There’s a lot of pressure around this time of year to begin with. The pressure to perform, to do right by someone. To give the ones you love the ultimate gift. To throw the perfect party. To host the utmost dinner. It’s Farmer’s Market Syndrome writ large. There is some kind of event happening and you have to forcibly swallow every last tepid drop of communal happiness-wine. There are people coming over and you have to ensure that every last square inch of your home is sheer visual transcendence.
I see a pattern now, I see that I struggle with this every year. Every year I feel like I’m missing out on something everyone else has got down pat. Every year I’m one of the last people to decorate anything; to participate in any of the seasonal markers. And every single time someone comes over I worry that our house does not look good enough — in comparison with what, I’m not sure. I just know that it’s the same dull whine of anxiety emanating from somewhere in the back of my brain, over and over again.
I’m working on locating the exact source of this sound and cutting those wires for good, because it already took me an embarrassing length of time to learn that it’s okay to go about your own life the way you see fit, and sometimes I see that I am not yet done learning that. My thoughtmonsters and I still occasionally shake hands and head out on the mat for an obligatory tussle, rolling and grappling and grunting until the spectators have grown weary and left.
What ended up happening with Thanksgiving? It was fine. Of course it was fine. Our friends arrived, they made a few polite compliments about the house, and we spent the rest of the weekend being normal people. Imagine a thing like that!
I can, sometimes, when I try.
1 That’s because it totally was