Advice from a Caterpillar

Advice from a Caterpillar

Today’s post takes its title from Chapter 5 of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. You’ve probably read it, or seen a film version. Stick with me, because really, it’s all about change. About transformation. And, frankly, about not really knowing who we are:

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.
’Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, ‘I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
’What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. ‘Explain yourself!’
’I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,’ said Alice, ‘because I’m not myself, you see.’
’I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
’I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, ‘for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’

I mean . . . Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt like Alice. And the way I see it, that includes

  • feeling like you’ve been jerked around by outside circumstances, or have been pulled in multiple directions

  • feeling like you’ve lost touch with who you really are and are unsure about who you are

  • feeling as if you’ve changed, but you can’t get enough perspective to figure out how, or if you like the changes

  • feeling as if people are constantly asking you to explain yourself

  • feeling uncertain about what to do next

John Tenniel’s illustration from 1890 in  The Nursery Alice

John Tenniel’s illustration from 1890 in The Nursery Alice

Rather than debating the wisdom of accepting advice (and criticism) from strange caterpillars,— and seriously, that could be a topic for another day,—I want to talk a bit about how relatable Alice’s inability to describe herself is.

I can’t speak for you, but I can tell you that when I was a younger girl, I felt pretty certain that I knew who I was. That slowly got packed away bit by bit when it didn’t fit other people’s expectations: parents, teachers, friends, peers, co-workers and bosses, even spouses and children. All the weight we carry that belongs to other people’s expectations and demands is enough to bury who we started as.

And then there are the other things in life, like the roles we play. I was a music major in college, worked in retail for a year and then in the metal industry for another four. Then I went to law school, got pregnant and married, became a lawyer, had a miscarriage then a second baby, got divorced, eventually remarried, then became disabled. After several years, during which my ex-husband got cancer (and recovered), I got divorced again, then met my sweetheart. After a couple years, we decided to move in together, which required me to downsize. A lot. And in 2016, we got married at township hall. The next year, I started my art business (Kelly Ramsdell: Art & Words). Plus there have been some family care-taking gigs thrown in for good measure. So let’s add all those jobs and labels, too. Oh—and we should chuck in “middle-aged” and “post-menopausal”, because why not?

My quick summary only hits “highlights”, and I’m pretty positive you can rattle off something similar for yourself. Even if all the things on your list are good things (and I would love that to be the case), Is it any wonder we end up feeling a bit like Alice, uncertain who we are anymore?

No. It’s 100% understandable. With all the changes, all the roles, all the expectations that we juggle, it’s easy to become unsure and to lose ourselves.

Please know that we see you, and that you aren’t alone. If you don’t have it all together yet (or you had it together but then forgot where you put it), we’re here to help. We are ALL about permission to make new choices, try new things, and redefine yourself in a way that you love. Because actually, you can.

As a woman, my country is the whole world

As a woman, my country is the whole world