At school we learn to sit up straight – very straight – crossed armed and legged, spine so stiff you could practically pop a vertebrae. We are told to raise a hand and eat only when the bell rings.
We learn to use correct grammar in order to avoid the scolding remarks of those who act as if bad grammar is a death sentence; as if each miss-used apostrophe represents one less day we are allowed to live.
We get told to work hard and do our chores, then we will succeed. Because people who play by the rules are the ones who go on to do well.
As we get older we learn other rules: Like take a bottle of wine to a dinner party or take some biscuits to a kids' play date – extra points if they are home made. We are taught to ask people in for a cup of tea when they pop over to drop something off – even when we are really busy or just don’t like inviting people into our homes out of housekeeping shame or due to being a socially anxious introvert.
We even learn things about hygiene and cleanliness. As my grandmother once said in praise of another woman she’d met. “Lovely woman, spotless home, spotless children.” As if cleanliness is some kind of test. If you’ve showered today then you can’t possibly be a hobo. Or Satan.
Why oh why does everything have to be so damn spotless? Who made up these rules? Is there some Good Housekeeping Bible I missed?
-Thou shalt change thy entire families’ bedding every Monday.
-Thou shalt clean thy toilet and thyself daily.
-Thou shalt not let dishes fester in thy sink for more than 30 minutes.
-Thou shalt fold all sheets once said sheets have been ironed.
A failure to live by the rules means simply that we will be cast into the fiery pits of housekeeping hell. Made to clean toilets with our own toothbrush for eternity.
But what of those who don’t live by any of the rules? Those people who lift a middle finger to the sky and leave their sheets unchanged until someone accidentally sharts in bed? Those same people who go on to live highly successful lives despite the fact that they refuse to use any punctuation. How is that even fair?
When we force ourselves to live by a set of rules that were handed down to us from our parents or grandparents or even grammar-Nazi friends, we are potentially just setting ourselves up for resentment.
How do you think I felt when we I re-read Harry Potter to find it littered with adverbs? The Adverb: supposedly the worst kind of word you can choose to decoratively and descriptively explain how someone is doing something. At first I was enraged. How dare she use adverbs in her book if I couldn’t even get away with one stinking adverb in a short story, without my writing tutor snuffing it out and ridiculing it with her judgy red pen? But then my resentment turned to awe. She broke the rules! She broke them and she still got published!
I’m in awe of actresses like Lena Dunham who dare to be different. Who write their own show and take off their clothes on camera without any heed to the idea that they are not allowed to. Despite not being a “thin” actress like the so call rules seem to dictate, Dunham is doing it and winning awards. The only way that this can piss you off is if you have secretly told yourself that you were not allowed to do similar things because of the way you look. Because the rules said no.
I’m in awe of the YouTube star from How to Dad, who makes hilarious videos of himself “Dadding” using simply an iPhone stuck to a clothes horse with duck tape. Watch any clips on how to make a “successful” YouTube channel and they’ll tell you to spend upwards of $700. Just to get set up with camera gear. But the simple set up didn’t stop How to Dad from going viral.
The rules that we believe to be real are simply just guidelines that we can choose to live by or to ignore.
I’ve recently had my first manuscript assessed. Not any easy process to go through. It’s a kin to having a baby and raising it tenderly, trying to do everything “right” then when your child turns 18, paying someone to tell you all the shit you’ve done wrong and all the ways in which your child could be better if you’d only played by the rules a little more.
My manuscript has taken me about two years on and off to write. However that’s taking into account that my youngest child has only just started school, so it has been a very part time journey, filtered with other writing and acting jobs. Still two years. Two freaking years! And I’m not done yet.
I have more work to do to finish my book. I could cry and complain that I have so much more work to do on it. I could sulk that the assessment didn’t come back with a gold star stuck on it and a stamp that said PERFECT! But I know that won’t get me anywhere.
While it may be hard to have my baby (read: book) picked on, unlike with a real kid who has grown out of childhood, at least I still have time to fix things. I have a chance to make it even better!
What I need to do is decide. I need to decide what to change and what to keep. I need to decide which rules to play by and which to break.
Because the mind we live in for the duration of our life is our own. We are the Queen of our own world. Why live by anyone else’s rules when we can make our own?