In my exploration of what Having a Rich Life means to me, I have unearthed my desire for aplomb. I want to have composure and grace. The process of ripening into the person I want to be is to identify what I don't want and then take the two-pronged approach of altering the old habits while working toward the opposite attribute and acquiring those new qualities.
Over the years, I have discovered many things that make me feel poor in spirit i.e., not rich in the sense of abundance. Losing my temper is one example; getting stressed at work, or while rock climbing, and complaining or whining about it is another. Snapping at my husband is a habit in the same vein.
Some things cause me to feel insecure: lousy posture is an example. My mother and my grandmother are shaped like a question mark when they stand up. Photos of me in my teens show that even back then, my shoulders were pronated. I notice the tendency is exacerbated when I'm tired, and it makes me look and feel old, tired, and not poised.
Arriving somewhere and discovering my fingernails are still dirty from gardening, or there is a stain or rip in my clothes, causes me to feel poor in money as well as poor in bearing. Ill-fitting clothing makes me feel frumpy.
Growing up in a family of carpenters and bikers, then finding Punk Rock in my teens, and working in restaurants since age 16 has led me to be foul-mouthed and fond of dirty jokes. Recently, that behavior leaves me feeling silly, certainly not poised. It's uncouth as my Ma is fond of saying. But, how to incorporate elegance without seeming affected and staying true to my working-class/punk roots?
Another result of years in the restaurant business is the habit of shoveling food into my mouth while standing up. Taken out of the foodservice context, it's coarse behavior.
Last fall, the Sweet Loving Man (SLM) and I traveled to Belize, where we stayed at an eco-resort. Each evening meals were served family-style. We dined with other guests from all over the world. I sat straight and put my fork down between bites participating in the conversation, and still, the SLM and I finished our meals in half the time it took our dinner companions.
In my large family at Thanksgiving and Christmas, we work for days getting ready for these meals together, and we eat so fast that it feels like I've barely sat down from cooking when it’s time to get up and do the dishes. This feels neither poised nor rich.
Inevitably, after I've given in to a bout of negativity or drama, I feel tarnished. I know that I've let myself down by not using my life skills to a better end. My experience has shown me that complaining rarely makes me feel better, nor does it resolve the situations.
These are a few of my least favorite things. Now that I've identified, then I can do something about them. As I was taught in education classes that telling a student simply to stop a behavior never works. It leaves a vacuum. The way to change a behavior is to cease the old behavior while implementing the replacement simultaneously.
Thus, the antidote to these undignified feelings is to commit to actions that do make me feel poised. Many times, the answer can be found in the question 'What would feel rich?' The response is 'Being poised or dignified, cultured, graceful, polished, couth/uncouth, unflappable, or serene.'
Two women I work with, N and I, embody this idea. In the years we have worked together, in stressful environments, I have not seen them loose command of themselves. They have sangfroid. There are a few others who lose their cool regularly, that too is an example to me. I believe that I fall somewhere in the middle, but I want to be better. In stressful moments I breathe, not groundbreaking but effective. I remind myself that, mostly, the stressor is temporary, like five minutes. In rock climbing, the stress exists until I make the next move and having sweaty palms only makes it worse.
When my taxing situation is not temporary, I find discussing the situation with someone whose opinion I value and looking for solutions makes me feel better and is an elegant reaction. A key component is keeping my side of the street clean. Have I had unspoken expectations? Is it possible that I acted poorly and am blaming another? I identify the parts that I am in control of and work on that. Sometimes the outcome is an apology. For me, being poised isn't never admitting I'm wrong but having the composure to do so.
Another quality that both I and N share is good posture. On a whim last week, I said to N, "You're very poised. Does this come naturally, or do you work at it?" She was surprised by my view of her replying, "Oh, I'm clumsy, so I'm careful." This admission made me like her even more. Much like me, she identified a trait she didn't like and is working toward the opposite. My actions to improve my posture are raising the height of my computer and getting an external keyboard, so I don't sit hunched over when I write. I wear a minimalist shoe. Oh, how I miss my high heels, but my back and feet are so much happier now. I'll write more on the challenge of finding elegant, minimalist shoes another day.
As a child in ballet class, we were taught to pretend we had a string in the middle of our chest, pulling it up. Doing this opens my chest, so I breathe better, straightens my neck, so my head aches less. My shoulders automatically go back, and my stomach muscles tighten, taking more pressure off my lower back.
Years of bad posture, a motorcycle accident, and four or five car accidents have resulted in aches that, in turn, result in yet more lousy posture. Stretching and the foam roller help relieve the niggly pains. Running, and all forms of exercise that strengthen my core, help with my bearing.
Also, when I know I'm going to be in front of the computer for hours, I wear a posture corrector. It's a set of straps that tighten over my shoulders with Velcro and hold my shoulders back while putting slight pressure mid-back between my shoulder blades.
The essential posture improving technique is reminding myself countless times throughout the day to 'stand up straight.'
I never feel as put together as I want to, and I so detest the feeling of looking shabby. I have simplified my grooming as much as possible. My hair is in a pixie cut, and the color is highlighted to blend my gray hair into the rest. I have short, unpolished fingernails. I own only clothes that I love and look great on me. Nearly everything matches, so I rarely overthink what I put on. I take stained or torn items out of circulation until I fix them.
Identifying my style as Casual Chic has helped streamline the process. I translate Casual Chic into all clothes should have form and function. I wear scarves with nearly everything; scarves zhuzh up any outfit. Shivering is not chic. I have learned to layer so I can be comfortable in a variety of situations, including hot flashes, by adding or removing layers.
Living in the country and being an outdoors person, it's easy to slip into inelegance, but I remind myself I feel poised when I put my best foot forward. Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize, simple and natural makeup, so wherever I go, it's with panache.
Though my exploration of what it is to be poised, I can across this quote: "It's impossible to be poised when your fingernails are dirty." It does seem that way at first, but also for someone like me, a rock climbing, gardening, trail runner, I often have dirty fingernails. I think real poise is being elegant in inelegant situations. I accomplish this by maintaining equanimity and a bit of polish.
In a similar vein with complaining, I have identified language as an area I wish to improve my savoir-faire. By language, I mean both not cursing and not using overused words and crutch phrases. I entertain myself by finding unusual terms to use: Shucks. Cricky. Zonks. Dagnabbit. Gadzooks. Malarky. Blimey. Thelma from Scubby Doo is useful for this. I only use literally when it is literally the only word that will express my meaning. Likewise, amazing. The English language is so varied, and I always strive to be interesting.
Table manners, as I have mentioned, is an area in need of attention. I own an Emily Post Etiquette book. I bought it for myself, and I read it. Money is not required for elegance by manners are. Working in the restaurant business, I have encountered the gamut of dining etiquette and lack of. Most manners are the result of practical needs. No elbows on the table come from not wanting to jiggle the table. Don't reach- because things get spilled, or someone's sleeve ends up in the sauce. Using the silverware from the outside of the plate inward is practical. Putting the napkin in the lap keeps it accessible and keeps food off the lap. Simple and practical. Form and function. I must remember to eat slowly as food is something to be savored.
The remedy I've found to negativity is being positive but pragmatic. Life is not all good all the time. Nor do I think pretending it is will make it so. With that in mind I do believe that what I focus on becomes my reality. I've learned to, simply, accept compliments and not disparage myself.
To avoid descending into gossip or talking crap about others, I strive to talk about ideas, not people. The corollary to that is to not talk about myself much. I ask about others and endeavor to be well-read and well informed, so I always have something interesting to add to a conversation. To me, that's classy.
I am exuberant, excitable, passionate, sometimes loud, and perhaps boisterous; these qualities do not meld easily with poise. "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Said Walt Whitman in his poem "Song of Myself." Each day is another opportunity for my recipe for poise- patience and posture, with a dash of manners and kindness, and a good measure of consideration. There are innumerable areas I can improve my composure- driving my car, crowded stores, with my neighbor, when I'm feeling incapable, when I'm being criticized. I do what I can each day and know that the goal is progress, not perfection.
Euro Chic: Three Books on How to Live a Chic, European-inspired Life. Krisi Belle
Polish Your Poise with Madam Chic Jennifer L. Scott