Waking up 15

She goes to bed 32 years old. A single mother who runs her own business. She wakes up 15 years old. Terrified. Sound like the premise for a cheesy airport novel? (or suspiciously similar to the movie, 13 going on 30). Well it is. It’s also Naomi Jocobs’ true story of losing 17 years of memory overnight due to Transient Global Amnesia.

I don’t know all the factors that can lead to something that sounds made-up, but the story did make me think… how would I feel if I woke up in my current life as my 15 year old self? Would I be happy? proud? disappointed? panicked?

At 15, I knew a few things. I knew I wanted to do something significant. I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. I knew Mr Darcy was close to perfect. I knew I wasn’t athletic. And I knew I’d have to get over my shyness.

Twelve years later, I know less. But I’m arguably more athletic and definitely less shy. I don’t know what “something significant” could possibly entail and I’m suspicious of anything that pretends to fall into the category. I still wonder if I should’ve been a doctor after all to provide some level of “essential,” if not “significant,” service. And I sympathize with Mr Darcy’s pride. Or is it his prejudice…

My 15 year old self would be surprised more than anything else to wake up to who I am today. Your teenage years are supposed to be for change and development of a purposeful identity. I was relatively consistent across these transition years and instead moved the flux up to my twenties where I sometimes get the sense that I’m waking up to a different human being on an almost daily basis. I’m at once in love with the world and disgusted by it. I’m motivated by some drive that believes in an inherent good and yet paralyzed by a perceived impossibility to actually nudge anything in the “right” direction. I’m a lot more negative than my 15 year old self would suspect. More reckless too. Definitely more interesting.

The negativity would probably bother 15 year old me. I keep trying to course-correct it, grasp at glimpses of the bright and shiny. But they flit away as quickly as they come. The internet tells me to write three new sources of gratitude daily, meditate, drink water, exercise, do an act of kindness – these are supposed to shift my mentality. Apparently I’m just twenty one days of positivity habits away from bright and shiny. And I try. But maybe I like wallowing in the negative. Maybe it’s safer. Maybe it absolves me from doing anything productive because well, what’s the point anyway.

I don’t know. All I know is, 15 year old me would be confused by all the angst.

Define Successful.

My daily procrastination. My daily scroll down the newsfeed.

And there it is, the life status assessment of the day: “The bad habits you should give up if you want to be successful,” attached to a soothing photo of women doing what appears to be some form of yoga in hot springs. What success. Somehow the image does evoke a soothing “I’ve got my shit together and that’s why I have the time to be doing yoga in a hot spring” success. What life awareness.

The title is provocative only in that I can’t help but get defensive – define successful. Successful presumably means vastly different things to different people. I’d be hard-pressed to accept that success defined only by the number of commas printed on my bank account statement would mean success to me in 20 years, though it may for someone else. Likely success in this case is meant to be generic, to be whatever success means to the reader. But then, in that case, would the advice in the article ever be relevant to a person’s own so-called barriers to success? It’s bound to be a list of all the traits that a normal person can’t possibly give up if they are defined by exactly that. Normal. But I take the bait.

It’s a list. I skim through the bolded text – that’s the important bit. Yes, the little tidbits of wisdom that I can say I’ve absorbed for the day, a day unwasted. Except that I reach the end and feel that I haven’t been enlightened. There is nothing new that I can add to my hoarded treasure trove of forsaken goals on my way to a seemingly unreachable “success”.

I’m generally healthy. I go to the gym. I do things. I plan for the long-term. I take opportunities – not only the small ones I like to think. I very much take responsibility for what happens next. Perhaps too much so. I know that learning takes effort, and that I have the discretion to make that learning happen. I don’t believe that it’ll happen overnight. In fact, I’d be disappointed if it did. I gave up perfectionism long ago – I’m told failure is supposed to be healthy. I’ll keep going with that for my own sanity. I’ve learned that to be really efficient, I cannot – cannot – multi-task. I don’t need to control everything – again, my goal is sanity. Okay, I admit, I’m working on not saying yes to everything. I’m improving. I’ve most definitely given up on toxic people, just ask my friends. The real ones. Okay, I’ll make another concession. My need to be liked still hangs around, but I can’t say I’m in it for mass appeal. Dependency on television doesn’t seem to exist. In fact, the opposite seems to be the problem in my ability to be a normal social human being.

So is there anything in there? I’ll admit, a few were borderline. But for the most part, I’d say that I’m pretty satisfied in my ability to say that I effectively don’t have any of these “bad habits”. So what do I do now? If these are all that I need to give up to be successful, by my own definition, why does the path to success seem so obscure? Perhaps it’s more of a question of reaching that satisfactory definition of success. At this point, it’s more probable that I’ll never reach it simply because I’ll never be able to define it. When will I feel that I’ve “made it”? Maybe that’s a list worth reading.

A Dinner Party

Winter is the season of dinner parties. Excuses to get together with people, but stay indoors, dress up in sweaters and sweater dresses and celebrate when the sun sets early and the ever present fog leaves beads on your scarf and colors your nose.

Early evening: Accepting the invitation

It’ll be great to get out of the house. It’s an excuse to dress up, because, why not?

It’ll be fun. I’ll see people and have lively discussion. It’s my chance to be social and energetic and show that I’m a fun person.

I do things. Yes, I do things with people.

Getting ready

What kind of get-together is this? Are we talking full makeup? Or would that be trying too hard?

And what to wear. Is this too much party? Or should I be safe and go with black? Maybe it’s too sad and dark. But black is safe.

I’ll just add some color with my shoes for some fun. Heels aren’t too much. People wear heels to dinner.

Purse. No purse? Purse. Which purse? The everyday one, not too much. And coat. Definitely coat, scarf, gloves.

Okay, ready.

Wait, lipstick. Always lipstick. Yes, done.

Oh, and the champagne. Your one job. The champagne. How could you forget?

And late, of course.

The (late) entrance

Okay, hi. This is a lot of people. I’ll say hi to as many people as possible, and then just happily ignore the others that are difficult to reach. I’ll be introduced eventually. I don’t want to make a whole disturbance now. It’s pretty unlikely that I’ll ever see them again in my life anyway.

This is a nice spot in the room. Just nod and smile. Don’t forget to ask questions. You can talk less that way.

Yeah, I don’t understand half of what’s going on…but that’s fine. You’re the foreign one. You’re not supposed to understand. It’s a nice excuse anyhow, a nice excuse to not talk. I just feel bad that they’re trying so hard to include me. But I can also see them getting tired of that responsibility. Sorry! It’s okay. It’s okay. I can’t fix that right now.

À table

Ah finally, we’re sitting down to dinner. I can just eat. Eating is a valid excuse. It takes ALL of my attention. It does. Taking the right amount of salad from the bowl. Not looking ridiculous that I can’t get lettuce onto my fork and on a successful journey to the mouth. How to make the lettuce not overly large? Yes, that’s right. Be sure to fit the entire piece in or else you’ll look like a dumb rabbit. Dumb in all senses of the word, considering that you can’t engage in conversation like normal person right now. ALL THE ATTENTION. Okay, that’s normal.

Hm, that wasn’t enough food. I’m definitely still hungry. I thought the “I’m American” disclaimer was well-distributed at this point. There’s not really anything much left though. I can’t be the one to take all of the final drippings.

The bread! Thank God for bread. The bread will do it. Eat the bread.

I hope they don’t expect me to have followed the conversation. My brain is tired. It can only translate so much in a prolonged period of time. I also have the jetlag excuse in my pocket. I must have zoned out for the past five minutes at least. Okay, fine. Try again.

This conversation isn’t particularly exciting. Maybe I’m not actually understanding. But I think I am. Would I be having fun if I was with my own friends? Or is this really just a language thing? Or do people just get boring when they get older? Or am I just more disinterested? I think I’d still be bored if it were my own friends. Maybe I’ve been here too long. Maybe that’s all it is. This is probably what it’s like for outsiders to hear my friends and I hanging out. I’m suddenly so sorry for all of those people that have to sit through us…

Bored. Maybe this is why I don’t come to these things. Just smile. More smiling.

Woo! Dessert! This is cause for celebration.

Post hoc

Dinner, check. We have to be leaving soon. There seems to be lots of talk left in them yet. *sigh* I’m exhausted. But I still look nice.

Okay, yes? Yes?! Coats. I can do that. I have all the things. Coats, gloves, purse.

Bisous! Love you all! We should do this again? Yes, of course! Let’s do this again soon!

*door shuts*

SWEET FREEDOM.

Let’s take a walk.

A walk sounds marvelous.

On having things

978-1-60774-730-7.jpgYou’ve probably heard the hype about Marie Kondo’s “The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.” (Example A, Example B, Example C, Example D )

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER! 3 MILLION COPIES SOLD!!

First of all, let’s call this book what it is: this is a self-help book for the masses. It’s a self-help book for people who are surrounded by objects, some of which they love/need and most of which are entropy encapsulated in objects.

So yes, this is a self-help book. I know. Bear with me.

I read this entire book and despite the many eye rolls, it was honestly life-changing in a small but important way. It is not about ascending Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self actualizing. It’s more simply about changing your relationship with objects (and maybe that makes you happy, maybe it helps with anxiety, or maybe you find it doesn’t really do anything for you).

The short explanation of Kondo’s approach is to approach your ownership of objects with intention, retaining only things that “bring you joy” and ensuring you appreciate those things and treat them with care. It sounds SO simple, yet Kondo has raked in millions of dollars for putting this into a book.

Yes, some of her tidying mentality is exhausting. She encourages the readers to have a dialogue with their objects, which I found silly. (*Enters house, kneels in entrance* “Hello house. I am here. Please accept me.” *Takes off jacket* “Thank you jacket for keeping me warm. Now I will ceremoniously, carefully place you where you belong so you can rest after keeping me warm all day….*Takes off shoes* Thank you shoes for helping my feet walk!…and so on.)

But, this book forces the reader to think about about the objects that surround us. We love to buy things, to collect things, to fill our spaces with things. That’s not a bad habit. But, Kondo has a point. When we are surrounded by objects for the sake of having objects, we don’t appreciate what we have, and our space becomes cluttered (i.e., diminishing value).

I drank the Kool Aid, and I applied her method to my space. I held every item I owned in my hands, and if it “sparked joy” as I held it, I kept it. If it did not have that special spark, I gave it away. Slowly I found myself in possession of honestly, 1/2 of my original stock. But what remained were things that I needed and enjoyed. It’s been four months and I found that I take better care of the fewer pieces of clothing I have. I seldom lose things in my apartment, and I have almost no clutter. I used to compulsively make multiple tiny random piles of things in my apartment. The more stressed I was, the faster these little piles of things would crop up. Now, clutter doesn’t surround me, my space is simple, and it doesn’t distract me.

I am fully aware I sound like an infomercial. And whatever, I don’t care. This book is ridiculous, but its central message is great and it’s clearly connecting with people. We are fortunate enough that we have the means to fill our space with things, but we take that fortune for granted. So why not pare our object repository down and re-learn what it feels like to appreciate and value our things?

Well. It’s now time to power off my computer, thank it for helping me write things about things on the internet, and then ceremoniously place it in its special place on my desk.

 

Opinions. And on having them.

Maybe this was only the irrational fear of a 12-year-old, the fear of not having opinions on anything. It came from this idea that I don’t have anything to say because I don’t have thoughts about them and that those non-thoughts form only non-opinions. I don’t say things because I don’t have anything to say. Without an opinion, I don’t have a stake in the conversation, in what’s being put forward as right, as legitimate, as ethical, as the way things should be in the world. I don’t have opinions on anything. This fear hung in the air for a good chunk of my teenage years.

American grade school (and into college) is a place where young people are lauded for their “participation” because this active contribution to the classroom is hailed as the way that people are heard and legitimate and intelligent. These people are the ones that move the discussion forward, that defend their arguments to others, and have influence, and what I’ve heard called “leadership” skills. To voice your opinion and your thoughts on some issue is to be worldly and to “know your stuff.” In other cultures, it’s called being rude, loud, obnoxious, and/or imposing on others. For a long time, I had trouble reconciling these two worlds.

I’ve come to realize that, back then, I was only gathering information, so-called data on truth. It is without doubt that from a young age, I had some kind of obsession with the truth. I struggled with the idea that perhaps, and probably, there is no real truth in the universe. As you can imagine, this made religion a difficult concept for me to grasp. While you could argue that I wasn’t brought up Christian enough to take certain ideas as self-evident, I’d argue that it was in my nature to be skeptical of that which could not be reasonably or definitively proven multiple times over. Rather, it was my acceptance of religion as a value to human society rather than the belief system of any one religion that answered my questions into why it should exist at all.

I had a certain way of speaking. [Some would argue that this sentence should be written in the present: I have a certain way of speaking. Perhaps.] Things had to be worthy. Statements had to be worth the effort of speech. And correspondingly worth the time spent listening to it. Hey, I’ve always been considerate. Speech had to make some worthy contribution – worthy meaning thought-provoking or relevant, adding something new. Why would you spend your time listening to and learning the same things over and over again? You wouldn’t. But perhaps this leads me to make too many assumptions about what other people would find interesting or relevant or new or of value. Maybe it is only an excuse for me to continue gathering information without making my own contribution to that data collection and its synthesis. Maybe the assumption that people see what I see given the same information is too strong. But hey, I’m learning.

This is yet another fear about which my 20-something-year-old self would be able to reassure my 12- and 15- and 17-year-old selves. I have opinions. And strong ones. I have opinions that after 20-odd years of data collection in the form of experiences, anecdotes, media consumption, diversity, culture, and (I hope) continued openness have cultivated. I have things to say and it matters that I say them. Though I remain reserved, these are opinions that I will honestly share while being conservative with who is worthy to hear them. After years of being a woman, I know well when words only fall on deaf ears.

This past month has reminded me of these past fears and more recent realizations, and really in ways that I would have gladly gone without. It reminded me that I am capable of an emotional violence in my opinions and beliefs at a very basic, fundamental level – a driving force that remains hidden if not completely smothered in the day-to-day. And it reminded me again that there is so much more truth to learn. That settling down is not an option. We must instead strive to engage and listen and contribute and find those things that are worthy. That complacency and blind trust is dangerous. And that those with all of the loud opinions may be more empty air than American reverence would make them seem.

Dud defense strategy #431: head in the sand

NOTE: Google image “head in the sand” and you will come upon the glorious collection of stock images.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger for a LONG time. Spans of blog silence filled with useless fretting about being silent. Transition periods are always hard, and this many-month period of quitting a job, getting some R&R, and moving overseas only to remember that life’s a little rough without your family/friend network was no exception.

In the past quarter of a year, so much has happened in the world (see below posts for proof). Instead of jumping into the blog and writing about the world, or writing productively about my life + its intersection with the world, I’ve sat at a computer with brainlock and frozen fingers. Every blog idea I’ve had has fallen somewhere in the realm of self-indulgent, in the agonizing narrating voice of Gossip Girl (XOXO).

There’s a whole lot of hurt in the world. In this exceptional time of an unprecedented surge in human displacement by war and natural disaster, the incredibly depression electorate validation of Trumpism/Brexit…ugh you know what? I’m not going to try to list this all out. The world is in rough shape. I don’t understand.

In this global context, the already overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety-drivers in my life carry on. I’ve buried my head deep in the sand, and I think my radio silence is a bit of evidence of this.

Head-in-the-sand is not an appropriate defensive stance for dealing with the world, or with my own life.

So, here’s a pre-New Year’s resolution to plug in to the world and deal with my life. Process it. Write about it in a useful way.

Pulse.

It was gone too long, a familiar friend, this familiar feeling. The feeling of dread and loathing that I thought I’d stomped out on the way to leisure and happiness. But it’s always there, deceptively lurking, ready to come out when it’s allowed, when it’s tempted. I feel it’s pulse. It’s steady, stronger now, threatening.

I’ve been better at keeping it at bay. So maybe something has really changed. But the precipice looks closer than it did. I can only hope it’s an illusion. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s getting caught up in the thick of things, hardly having time to think, or having too much time to think about the wrong things…

But I’m better at keeping it at bay. Keeping the dwelling and obsession to a minimum. Reminding myself what matters, that it can’t get better than this. This is what I’ve wanted. This is what I want.

Still, the dread is there, at the surface, just barely breaching the water, waiting. As the days get shorter, I can feel it approach and recede again. It’s not yet the time to fully take hold. I get nervous about the dark. When the days are short and the dark is long, will I be able to find relief?