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A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do – a reflection on the word “MUST”

There are words that lie like melting toffee in my mouth – words like twilight, ubiquitous and cornucopia (I’d like one of those, but unfortunately they seem to be very rare)

(Abundantia and her magic horn – by Rubens)

There are words that empower me, words like knowledge, leadership and ambition. (Or maybe all this ambition drains me; is it an asset or a liability, I’m not all that sure)

There are words that define me, such as woman, determined and creative (alternatively bitch, stubborn and maverick – it depends on your POV)

And then there’s that dratted word that controls me, that rules me and drives me before it like a mindless sheep towards the slaughtering block: MUST.

File:Josefa de Ayala - The Sacrificial Lamb - Walters 371193.jpg

(A depiction of me? Josefa de Ayala)

Must is a terrible verb. It expresses the abdication of my free will, of tasks superimposed on what I really want to do, which is to submerge myself in my writing and my books – alternatively slouch on the sofa popping chocolates in my mouth while watching a re-run of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth. Not a chance, not as long as a whispered must, a written must,keeps my nose squashed flat against the proverbial grindstone.

“Hang on, I must do this first” If said when your loved one is nuzzling your throat, it’s the equivalent of groaning “ I’ve got a headache” – even when that’s not what you mean.

Despite it’s harshness, “I must…” are probably the words I say most often. My desk is littered with musts, at home I just must clear out the closets, structure the pantry, clean the windows. In our summerhouse we must paint all the cabinets and do something about that spreading spot of damp in the ceiling. I must phone my mum, I just must visit my mother-in-law, and I mustn’t forget to put out the garbage on Wednesdays.

I must keep in touch with my friends, I simply must buy myself some new clothes (See? Something that could be fun is converted into onerous duty) and I must have that dratted report off my desk no later than Thursday. I must look nice (easier said than done when you’re having a bad hair day), I must be challenging, I must be prepared, I must be… oh, and by the way I must ensure my son gets to the dentist, and then I must hit the sack really early tonight, because the plane leaves at six tomorrow and I mustn’t miss it.

I must join a gym. I really, really must do that! (Time is a-flying, the bikini season is approaching, and my curves need some polishing and shaping before hitting the beach. Or I forsake the beach and lie in the shade and read. Hmm… As you all know, I joined a gym) Or I could go back to doing Bikram Yoga, but then I must take it seriously this time and not give up after twenty sessions.


File:Bologna Death of Lucretia.jpg

(My wannabe me – after all those sessions I must attend. 
but I think I’ll skip the knife… Death of Lucretia, anon) 

Right; STOP! I can feel my coach from some years back grabbing me by the nape and sjaking me, like a lioness does with her disobedient cub.

I went to a coach to regain control over my life. She wrote down two words on a piece of paper: MUST and BUT.
“Stop saying those and you’ll be fine.”
Okay, that did leave me feeling somewhat conned. And sceptical. Very sceptical, in fact. To this day, I’m not sure why I went back after that first session, but back I went to understand why a conjunction and a verb should have such monumental impact on my well being.
“The moment you use the word but you’re already lining up arguments to prove why something is impossible to do,” my coach said.
Well, excuse me, but sometimes but is the only word to use, and as I’m somewhat conscientious about grammar I don’t want to write sentences with missing conjunctions, okay?
“Use and instead,” she said.
Now to me there’s a major difference between and and but.
“Absolutely. One designates opportunities or additions, the other designates hurdles and detractions.”
Dear reader; think about that one for a moment. Let’s just say that these days I’m much more of an and girl than a but girl (Oh dear; that almost sounds naughty)


(Still life with oranges and un-cracked walnuts – Luis Meléndez)

Must was a harder nut to crack – and as you can see from my list above, it is as yet un-cracked, however much I understand the theory behind replacing must with want and thereby putting a positive spin on my to-do list. Except that I don’t want to write that instruction on how to file an expense report – who in their right man would? No, I must do it, you see, and once I’ve done it and all the other musts in my life then I’ll do what I really want to do. Maybe, unless I first must…

I really MUST stop using the word must. Truly, I must!

11 thoughts on “A woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do – a reflection on the word “MUST””

  1. Crikey, Anna! Did you just nail it on the head. Yikes…*slinks away to rethink life and the words being used therein…*

  2. You’ve really got me thinking here, Anna. I use ‘must’ and ‘but’ all the time – oh dear! This will be my practice for the week – leave these two words out of my vocabulary! 😀

  3. I find that a headache or heavy snow can remove the musts from life.
    When I was at the peak of my motherhood stress with one at school and two in a double buggy – I de-stressed by acknowledging that there was only one “must” in the day and that was my son’s attendance at school. Once that was sorted – the rest of the day could pan out any way it liked.

    Now, if I had been a homeschooler …

  4. I know I use “but” a lot, be it in English, Portuguese (mas) or French (mais)… I tried to correct it when someone noticed my tendency… but it just felt wrong. 🙂

  5. Agreed. “Mais” is too soft to introduce an opposition. (Tu vas le chercher mais il n’est plus là.) The Portuguese conjunction is kind of diplomatic since we pronounce it maaassssss and that give us time to deliver the bad news. “But” is very direct, almost abrupt. But this comment is to use but in a very positive context: your latest post (The sounds of silence) is just beautiful. 🙂

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