The contradictions that live in every cell of my body

On Monday afternoon I interviewed about 8 people for positions in finance.  In between interviews, I hurriedly opened Katrina Kenison‘s Mitten Strings for God and devoured a few pages.

This summer I drove down to New York for an event that Aidan hosted with Dani Shapiro.  As I drove, I listened to Mary Oliver reading her poems (At Blackwater Pond – highly recommended) and intermittently switched over to listen to Top 40.  This mirrored my summer reading list, which was conspicuously short: I read almost everything in Mary Oliver’s oeuvre (many for the second time) and also didn’t miss an issue of US Weekly.

I have more photographs than I can count of images like that above, of wine glasses juxtaposed with sippy cups or bottles.

I often toggle back and forth between an Excel spreadsheet and a Word document.

More than once I’ve run home from a yoga class, showered and pulled my wet hair into a ponytail before sliding into heels and a suit and rushing to a meeting in a downtown high-rise.

These are just the kinds of incongruities that exist in every single day of my life.  And these reflect, I am realizing, the contradictions that live in every cell of my body.  Even more than that – these contradictions animate who I am.

I’ve spent so much energy on angst about these things: how is it that I can devotedly shop at only farmers’ markets in the summer months but also down lots of Diet Coke a day?  What does it mean that I give time and money to one of the causes that means the most to me, homelessness, but also own more than a couple of pairs of Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahniks?  How did I, an at-least-borderline-introvert, end up in a career where I spend most of my day interacting with people?  Why is it that someone as incredibly sensitive as me, who assumes every single thing is a personal comment on my own inadequacies, is often told she comes across as aloof, even a b%t#h?

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

Of course there are lines we ought not cross.  There are ways in which one part of our lives can violate important tenets of others, or choices we can make that conflict with our essential values.  I’m not endorsing this.  But beyond these, I’m increasingly convinced that some contradiction is part of almost every person.  The challenge as I see it is to walk the fine line between acknowledging our inherent variety (and the occasional tension it produces) and recognizing when the friction between the various pieces represents that something is awry.

I remember a friend of my parents’ saying once, years ago, that she was suspicious of people who were, as she put it, “smooth like an egg.”  There’s something to this, I think.  Any time I have really gotten to know someone I’ve witnessed incongruities and things I did not expect.  None of us is as simple as most of the world would like to imagine: that is what makes people so fascinating, so tender and so terrible, so human.

My magazine list represents my multi-faceted interests; you could ascribe this list of titles to someone who has no idea what she wants, or you could simply say they reflect a kaleidoscope of a person.  Even in my “about me” page on this blog I instinctively described myself in terms of some of my seemingly opposed traits: “I am strong (I delivered both of my children without any pain medication) and I am weak (I get really sick at least 3 or 4 times a year). I cry every day, possibly more than I laugh (and I want to change this ratio).  I grew up moving around every five years, which has left me with a contradictory combination of restlessness and a deep craving for stability. I’ve been to most of the countries in Europe and only about ten states.”

As long as we do not make choices that oppose essential values, I think this kind of complexity is both entertaining and captivating.  The fact that we do not, any of us, fit into the narrow categories that the world would seek to cram us into is the source of our very humanity. As long as all of these facets are authentically felt, they are not inconsistent; they are real.

Sure, there is friction, because the world is more difficult to order and understand when people are always overflowing out of their compartments and subverting the black-and-white definitions others would like to impose on them.  But it makes the terrain of the world so endlessly transfixing and the stuff of art.  And I don’t want to live in a world where every single week doesn’t contain both wine and sippy cups, poetry and Hollywood magazines, and sneakers and high heels.

Very well then, I contradict myself.

Get Lindsey's thoughts on mindful living and parenting in your inbox


  1. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:03 am | Permalink

    Beautifully explored. And spot on. I, contradict myself, too. Never quite thought of it in this way. Thank you. xoxo

  2. Christa
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:11 am | Permalink

    i love this quote – and the post! Can’t imagine life without contradictions…

  3. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:24 am | Permalink

    This is so exactly right, Lindsey. Beautifully and clearly put–we are all full of contradictions and the more we embrace and accept our complicated selves, the more at peace we will be. (Or so I hope.)

  4. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink

    As I settle in to a day of Word and Excel (maybe a little heavier on the Excel than I might like), this post buoys me. Beautiful.

  5. Haile
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Try toggling between Excel and Adobe Illustrator! A very defining mini slice of a life full of contradictions. I love to surprise people just when they think they have me pegged…

  6. Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    Just like I insist on 100% natural fibers for knitting, yet don’t think twice about buying a polyester raincoat – or how I’ll spend $8 on an organic cabbage, then cook up a box of Kraft Dinner for Saturday lunch. Each of us is like an attic stuffed with the mundane and the eccentric. Imagine if we were all boringly perfect, blech. Hmm, Gattaca comes to mind…

  7. Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    I love your take on contradictions. But I think the contradictions move us forward, to question and to live our life the way we choose.

  8. Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    as always, soulful poetry, lindsey. thank you. my head actually hurts often from trying to assemble my contradictions (and seemingly polarizing tendencies) into some seamless whole (or at least an artful mosaic of shattered fragments). i find freedom in the dance. when i put my body in motion, only then can i transcend for a moment the boxes, labels, categories of self and enter into the spaciousness and mystery that is true and real (where contradictions are allowed and tenderly held).

  9. amy
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Beautiful post. I am always wishing I was more “simple” or more “consistent.” There was a scene in this week’s Grey’s Anatomy (yes I *still* watch!) in which Christina is speaking to the therapist while looking at bridal magazines and longingly says “I wish
    I was more simple as gunmen don’t hold a gun to the head of a simple dr.” I could so relate to her musings and to your thoughts in this post about wanting to be less contradictory. Your posting really makes me think that part of being human is being complex and having different parts — that’s what makes us interesting.

  10. Trish
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I too am a girl on contradictions. Organic carrots I munch at work during the week while I’ll devour a bag of sun chips or Aunt Vicki’s vinegar potato chips at first glance. I can be in flip flops / sneakers one moment and heels at a moment’s notice. I’m an extrovert in many aspects of my public persona but am an introvert on a moment’s notice. I cheerlead others but doubt myself at first chance. I summer in the shadows of possibility while now I tip top out and start to truly live out loud despite the reaction of those around me. Sippy Cups galore too.


  11. Christa
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    “We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.”
    – Anne Lamott

  12. Posted September 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I was going to quote Anne Lamott and then I see that Christa already did. I think that’s cool.

    Anyway. Yes, I’m a ball of contradiction and you know what? I’m starting to embrace it. That feels REALLY good. And freeing. Your words make me think you’re embracing it too and that makes me happy, because what you are is beautiful.

  13. Posted September 29, 2010 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I love finding out the contradictions that friends live, because to me it makes them all the more human 🙂
    (obviously I’m full of them…)

  14. Posted September 29, 2010 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

    Such a great post! I LOVE your blog (and thank you so much for the kind words on mine!) They especially mean so much with me being a newbie and all.

    I think we all have these contradictions. We’re just led to believe we should only be one thing or the other. The contradictions are what give you a unique point of view.

    And I LOVE that you drink the good stuff and take the time to put a raspberry in your bubbly! That’s what really matters in my book.

    Much joy,

  15. Abby
    Posted September 29, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

    I love this post because only moments ago, I was posting a far less eloquent version of the same thing!! lol! I called it “conflict” which is completely the wrong word – you said it best 🙂 Happy to be in this crazy conflicted world with you

  16. Posted September 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    I’ve often thought that the “self” of which Whitman sings (and of course you have your own little Whit-man) is the collective Self, the soul-Self, the expanded essence that can never fit within the confines of identity as we typically think of it, constricted and predictable, the sort of grown-up that makes the Little Prince groan.

    Here’s to contradictions, confluences of opposites and their songs.

    admin Reply:

    And his name actually is Whitman … love it. Thank you. xo

  17. Posted September 30, 2010 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    Just catching up on your blog after being too full of friction these past few days. Love the Whitman quote and love the concept eloquently expressed here. We are all so complicated–giving ourselves a pass to enjoy those inner contradictions (and remembering that others have them, too, whether or not they are visible) is a good thing to remember.

  18. Posted October 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    I thought you were going to go down a path of feeling somehow inadequate that you have all these contradictions. I agree with your take and am glad that you “don’t want to live in a world where every single week doesn’t contain both wine and sippy cups, poetry and Hollywood magazines, and sneakers and high heels.” Me neither. Afterall, variety is the spice of life, right?

  19. michelle
    Posted June 25, 2013 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    My most favorite people in the whole world have contradictions and i’ve had to sever relationships with friends that insisted that they were “smooth like an egg” …well said!

    admin Reply:

    Though I am sorry about the severed relationships, I am glad you can relate to the power and richness of contradictions! 🙂 xoxo

One Trackback

  1. By Outing our Inner Perfectionist « Walking on My Hands on September 29, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    […] what is out there. In the last week, I have read two wonderful posts about contradictions; one from Lindsey Mead Russell and one from Danielle LaParte. Each was a coming out of the closet of sorts- an outing of our inner […]