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Getting Back on Track

7 June 2022

Janie turned to Rita Dove’s poem, Against Self-Pity, to help her regroup after getting off track.  

Tags: balance, janie read, poetry, rita dove

Do you ever get completely derailed? You have a plan and then something happens that you didn’t anticipate, and it forces you to change everything? This happened to me last week. We had lots of fun planned over Memorial Day weekend, and my intention was to have a very productive week after the rejuvenating long weekend. What happened instead was that my younger son got sick and I wasn’t far behind. Thankfully, the rest of my family stayed healthy, but it still took me down for several days and rendered my planned productivity for the week impossible.

Normally when something like this happens, my immediate reaction is to feel guilty, both for missing work and for not accomplishing my goals for the week. I’ll confess that this is often closely followed by feeling sorry for myself. This year, in my continued journey to find better balance in my life, one of the things I’ve been working on is rebounding more quickly after getting derailed. I was looking for inspiration to help me rally over the weekend and turned to Collected Poems (1974-2004) by Rita Dove. I found exactly what I was looking for in Against Self-Pity.

It gets you nowhere but deeper into

your own sh*t—pure misery a luxury

one never learns to enjoy. There’s always some

meatier malaise, a misalliance ripe to burst: Soften the mouth to a smile and

it stutters; laugh, and your drink spills onto the wake

of repartee gone cold. Oh, you know

all the right things to say to yourself: Seize

the day, keep the faith, remember the children

starving in India…the same stuff

you say to your daughter

whenever a poked-out lip betrays

a less than noble constitution. (Not that

you’d consider actually going to India—all

those diseases and fervent eyes.) But if it’s

not your collapsing line of credit, it’s

the scream you let rip when a centipede

shrieks up the patio wall. And that

daughter? She’ll find a reason to laugh

at you, her dear mother: Poor thing

wouldn’t harm a soul! she’ll say, as if

she knew of such things—

innocence, and a soul smart enough to know

when to get out of the way.

The first line of the poem really caught my attention and helped me realize that self-pity is exactly what I was feeling and that it always makes things worse. I’ve re-read the poem several times over the last few days, and it’s helped me let go of my feelings of self-pity and focus instead on getting back on track. I was able to have a productive weekend and returned to work yesterday feeling energized and ready to tackle the week. Where do you turn for inspiration to help you get back on track when things don’t go as planned?  


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