How Do People Run Out of Gas?

The sight of brake lights is infuriating whether you are heading home or leaving it.

This was certainly the case when I took a right to jump on the fast-track this evening and saw that one lane was completely blocked. People were performing the typical shenanigans of driving as far as they could, where the lane was still open, and then quickly flicking on their indicator and pulling in front of the people who were already in the second lane. And, as usual, we all slowed down to have a look at what was causing the blockage. Would it be a grisly accident? A traffic violation?

None of the above, in fact. I saw a woman standing nervously next to her car, chewing her nails, while a man in a dark coat poured gas into her tank, her hazard lights blinking to a steady rhythm.

Okay, no problem. Just swerve around the scene and continue forward, I thought. 

Except, it got me thinking: who actually runs out of gas and has to stop in the middle of a busy intersection?

I mean, you have a dashboard meter and lights that warn you when you are low. And then lights and sounds to alert you when you are dangerously low. And it is not like we were in a rural area. My bet was this person had plenty of times to stop and get gas, passed at least a dozen gas stations. But that’s what she did: passed them by, only to land in the middle of a lane, choking rush hour traffic.

So, I ask again: who actually runs out of gas and has to stop in the middle of a busy intersection?

Well, anyone who didn’t know they were losing their job. Anyone who didn’t know their significant other was cheating on them. Anyone who didn’t know how out of shape they were until they joined a gym. So, this is to say: everyone. Everyone can run out of gas and stop in the middle of a busy intersection only to be helped by a complete stranger.

Why? Because people are terrible at reading the signs. We’ve completely turned off our instincts now that we don’t have to hunt for our own food. We rely on ignorance and are blissful.

But they are there. There are still signals that can help us to realize what is happening before it is right in front of us. In fact, some of these signs are so loud and annoying that they are like an empty gas tank alert. Yet, we keep going, keep driving. Hoping that we can make it before our time runs out.

The truth is we are never completely blindsided in this life. Whether we decide that we will deny the obvious or that we are truly oblivious, we miss the signs.

Oprah has this great quote that says essentially, “life will whisper to you. And if you don’t pay attention it, it gets louder until it’s like getting hit in the head. Then, if you don’t pay attention to that, you get smacked with a brick. And then, when you really aren’t getting it, an entire brick wall falls down.” And if you haven’t realized what life is trying to do before the brick wall, then you are going to have a hard time. Of course, it would be really great if our entire lives had dashboards like cars, where the lights would brighten when there was a problem or to tell us that we were low on something.

But we don’t have that. We only have our hearts, which are terrific compasses, when we allow them to be. Yet, it does not matter how good a sign, a piece of advice, or a set of directions is: it only matters how well we listen to it.

You’re Invited

I think people are still waiting for the weekend. I think people are still counting down the days until it’s vacation. I think people are still waiting until they have more time. I think people are still waiting for their sign. I think people are still accepting advice from their horoscope. I think people are still waiting to be told they are good enough.

I don’t think people understand that there isn’t a green light for them. There isn’t a white checkered flag. There isn’t a pit crew waiting to change their tires. Everything is set into motion the minute we are born, and if we are lucky, the clock will still be wound when we are long gone.

But for whatever reason, people don’t think that this is their life right now. They are told  that they need to be adults before their opinion matters. They need to be taller to ride this ride. They need to be older to make this phone call. Then, as adults, they watch their dreams die, and it feels like nothing ever mattered at all.

The truth is you are the Captain Oh! Captain of your life, and no one can tell you what you should or shouldn’t do with it. The entire world is your oyster and—okay, so you think, I’ve acknowledged this. I know I should be embracing the world. So, what happens next? Where is the giant novelty check with my name on it?

I think we have all been a tad mislead in this department. Everyone tells you that opportunity knocks. But that’s not altogether true. Opportunity only knocks when your doorbell is broken. And you break or disconnect your doorbell when  you expect people to just walk in because you’ve been waiting for them to arrive. Opportunity knocks when you’ve made that the only option.

But people don’t do this. Instead, people wait for their fairy godmother to give them a lottery ticket to catapult them into their dream life. People expect to be escorted to their carriage so that it can take them down the smoothest path of most happiness and least resistance.

Believe me, I’ve been waiting, too. Waiting for words to spill out on a page. Waiting for my abs to show up (they’re always late to the party). Waiting for my life to be what I want it to be.

So, just in case you have been waiting like me:

You’re Invited!

What: The rest of your life

When: Right now

Where: Wherever you please

Here it is. Here is the invitation to get out there and make a difference. To show the world that you aren’t good at accepting the status quo. To transform yourself into the person that you’ve always wanted to be while keeping your roots firmly in place. To finally look forward to each new day, instead of looking back.

I love the saying: “Life is what gets in the way when you are making plans.” Because that’s just it. Everyone is so concerned about living that they forget to actually, well, live. It’s like taking pictures at a party of everyone smiling and having fun so that you can look back at the photos in a few years and then forgetting to actually smile and have fun at the party when you are there.

This is it, people. This is your life. The curtain is open, and the audience is waiting for you to do something besides stand and breathe. They’re ready for your solo or monologue, and you are most certainly ready to give it. So, what are you waiting for? I can tell you what you aren’t waiting for now: an invitation. You have one. So, get out there and shine.

Why I Was Not as Impressed with Lady Gaga Last Night

I told my dad to shut up tonight. This is not something I do often. This is not something I want to do often. But I think it was warranted, at least for a moment. Why don’t I tell you what happened, and you can decide? (As if you have a choice…)

We were watching a recap of the Oscars on the nightly news when Lady Gaga’s performance of the Sound of Music came on. In her flowing white gown and her equally white hair, she belted out the songs formally made famous by Julie Andrews and countless others. No one could deny that she did the Sound of Music franchise justice (after Carrie Underwood almost buried it completely).

Then, after her last note rang out, my father said the following: “If only she didn’t have a trumpet tattooed on her arm…”

And so, I said the offending remark because I am sick of people judging others for what they choose to do with their lives and their bodies. But then I thought about it. And I realized that my dad had only said what so many people had written in articles all over the Internet about the performance (so, sorry, Dad).

Everyone could not stop talking about how great she looked. But what they were really saying was how normal she looked.

You see, everyone liked Lady Gaga’s performance last night because everyone understood it. Because for once in her career, she wasn’t wrapped in meat, she didn’t have a mask on, she didn’t look strange. She looked like us, and she sang like she was “supposed” to sing. And everyone was shocked at how good she was! And yet Lady Gaga fans were saying, “uh, duh? Where have you been since ‘Poker Face’? She is tremendously talented! Not everyone has to sing opera to be considered a good singer!”

Now, as a Lady Gaga fan, I understand this reaction from the world, to a point. I definitely fell off the bandwagon when ArtPop came out. It was too politically charged with far too much symbolism (I know, coming from an English major that’s a bold claim.) After her latest album, I felt that she was trying way too hard, drawing inspiration from her fans instead of from the wonderful person she is, creating a vacuum where we drew on her and she drew on us.

Of course, I think we can all understand where Lady Gaga is coming from with her past appearances, even if we wouldn’t also wear shoulder pads that are the size of our own head. At one of her concerts, she talked extensively about how she was bullied as a kid. And you don’t need a psych degree to know that most of those costumes are her armor. She also said that she was told that she was too “broadway for pop, and too pop for broadway,” and so it is obvious that Lady Gaga has spent a lot of her time trying to fit in somewhere.

But along the way, has she lost herself?

We see it time and time again. Sometimes, the “persona” in Hollywood is really a shtick. Sometimes, when celebs get to be famous enough, they shake off the excess and turn into what the rest of the world wants them to be because they’ve made it, and they don’t need to draw attention to themselves anymore. And sometimes, that’s okay. I get it, anyway you can make it, you should. But I thought that Gaga’s creativity was a part of her, and not a complete front.

I don’t think the Internet is right to applaud for her not looking “crazy.” It sends the message that she shouldn’t be who she is because if she isn’t that person, more people can appreciate her talent. If she was more mainstream, she could make a real “comeback.” If she did what we expected her to do, she would be more successful.

In the end, I don’t care how Lady Gaga dresses. I don’t care how well Lady Gaga sings. I just hope that she stays true to herself because so few free spirits do, especially under the glaring eye of the media.

So, Lady Gaga, if that was just a quick dip into the normal gene pool, then I hope you don’t listen to anyone about how much “better” you look. I hope you continue to be yourself. And, if this is who you have been all along, then, welcome to the rest of the world. You will truly be at home here.

I Don’t Like to Be Picked Up

They say you can’t help people who don’t help themselves. They say you have to pick yourself up by your own bootstraps. And, most importantly, they say when you get knocked down, you should get up again (because they’re never going to keep you down).

So, why do people insist on trying to pick you up themselves?

Have you ever had someone tell you to calm down when you’re really angry? It is the most frustrating, infuriating thing in the world, right? Almost as bad as stepping on a Lego. And how many times have you heard “there are plenty of more fish in the sea” when you’ve had troubles of a romantic nature? Yeah, okay, but what happens when you want that fish, who has not only swam away, but is moving up the stream? It’s all so horribly futile.

Well, it’s the same when someone says that it’s going to be “A OK” when everything seems like it has just blown up in a large mushroom cloud that used to resemble your life. I mean, when it feels like your house is crashing down around your ears, it is really not helpful to have someone tap you on the shoulder and make a joke about not having to pay rent anymore. Okay, call it petty or childish that I’m not able to look directly at the cloud with the silver lining when something bad happens, but when the gloom and doom has arrived, the bright side is a little blinding.

Which is why I don’t like to be picked up. I don’t like to be told that things will be alright. I don’t like to be told that I should be more optimistic and grateful. In the end, I like to discover these things on my own, and only then, do they have true meaning in my life. When I realize that my own situation isn’t as bad as it seems, well, that’s a lot more freeing than being told that time heals all wounds by someone else. Plus, your comment is like putting a band aid on a bullet wound: it does nothing for the immediate woe.

Here’s an example. Today, I suffered a generic loss. On a scale of 1 to Maroon 5’s latest album, I was about a 6 on the disappointment scale. So, I sought my typical creature comforts, food, warmth, and finally music. You see, no one was going to be able to bring me out of that slump but me.

Sure, the condolences from my family and friends helped, but they didn’t take away the pain. Do you know what did? Just Around the Riverbend by Disney’s Pocahontas, on repeat. After the 5th time I heard her ask if she should marry Kocoum or if her dreaming was at an end, I realized that everyone questions their decisions and choices, and that this is a universal feeling, even in the Disney universe. I didn’t tell myself to get over it, but I was able to ease myself over it anyway, like slipping into a tub of hot water, one toe at a time.

Sure, humans are gregarious creatures in that we like to be social, not that we travel in packs (although, if you go to a mall on a Friday night, you may see that some teenagers in dark clothing will band together like water buffaloes). However, when it comes to healing, we already have everything that we need. We already have the peace and solace inside us that we can use to scab over our wounds. While sentiments from others are nice, it is up to us to take action.

In the end, seek support from your friends, but don’t ask them to do all of the heavy lifting when it comes to picking you up when you’re down.

Be Like Stained Glass

My parents got into stained glass when I was young. (I realize that I just made it sound like a new street drug, but stay with me.)

I can distinctly remember creeping down the wooden stairs of my basement to peer through the small space between the wall and the staircase to watch my father shape the glass pieces he was using. The shrill sound that the machine made as he meticulously ran the piece against it is still loud in my ears. Then he would take a ribbon of copper-colored foil and cover the edges of the glass with it. After that, he would make sure that the foil had stuck to the glass by using a plastic knife to flatten it. When he was finished, he would carefully solder it all together, the liquid droplets streaming like mercury, to make a small angel or a hot air balloon or a sunflower or a unicorn. Soon enough, his creations would pepper every window in our house and our friends’ houses. Then, when we needed a new creation, my mother would take me to the stained glass store so that she could pick out clear dark blues, milky pinks, and opalescent whites. Sunlight would strike the shop through the windows and illuminate her choices with dust motes swirling.

And so, I’ve always loved stained glass. I’ve sat in churches, fading in and out out of sermons, wondering how anyone could get that much detail into a window, how they could render the images of saints and souls in vivid color. I would watch light shift and undulate through the panels, making them shimmer and come to life.

But in the end, coming to life is what it is all about. We’re all stained glass windows. No, really. Light shines through us all of the time, through what we do and what we feel. We let light pass through us out into the world, and we also let light pass into us from the world. We are simply mediums for what we see and experience. This is living.

But what will you do with your life? Will you make it more than you were given?

Because you always have a choice: you can be the window, everyday. You can let the light shine through you, no matter how smudged or mud-covered you may get. (And that’s good enough. I promise you that). But you can also be the stained glass window, in which light not only shines through you, but allows you to project color and beauty outward. Through this, you are able to give something back to the world when it is giving so much to you.

So, what will it be for you? Will you dazzle in a technicolor display? Will you, no matter what, let the light shine through you? Will you be like stained glass?

I hope more than anything that you will. Because once you see yourself for the piece of art that you are, you will make use of the light that shines through you.

Hold On, I Have to Pee

I’m so sorry about not posting yesterday, but when I have off from work, I take off from my entire life (including this blog).

However, I did go to the gym. And I realized something while I was there. No, I didn’t learn how painful it is to be twisted into a yoga pretzel. No, I didn’t learn how many drops of sweat could fall on a treadmill before it short-circuited. No, I didn’t learn whether people could actually see how long my leg hair was through my pants, especially since I forgot to shave.

I learned that it is really important to go to the bathroom before you start working out. I personally take a Zumba class, as I have noted before, and I learned that jumping, twisting, and twirling can take a toll on your muscles, as well as your bladder.

But this isn’t news. Anyone who has been to the gym directly after dinner can tell you that it is best to wait a bit before trying to burn off the calories.

Rather, it’s the crazy, metaphorical perspective that I gained from this ordinary experience that is really mind-blowing.

You see, after the fourth time I halfheartedly kicked my leg up in the air to dance along and try to escape the notice of the instructor while similarly hoping to quell the discomfort that was aching in my abdomen, I realized that I was purposefully holding myself back by not going to the bathroom.

And that, in a greater sense, is the same feeling that anyone might be having about his or her life. This urgency inside that simultaneously holds us back from what we want to be doing and yet pushes us forward toward something new so that we are stuck somewhere in between.

Real or not, most people view obstacles as excuses to not try as hard at something. Usually, we hold ourselves back because we are too scared or nervous for the future. So, we try to convince ourselves that we don’t deserve the opportunity that we might want or even that we are too good for it. We try to tell ourselves that we are right to get in our own way so that we won’t get hurt. For awhile last night, I didn’t mind that I had to pee because I didn’t have to work out as hard, and that, as anyone who exercises knows, was okay with me. It was an excuse that I maintained for myself that helped me in the moment, but also sabotaged my future (hopefully, fitter) self.

Because the truth is you’re only hurting yourself if you hold yourself back.

All you have to do (which is all I had to do, too) is release. I simply had to go to the bathroom to have full range of movement, if I had decided to do so. And since life is all about choices, you can apply to a new job, find a mate, or yes, even achieve your dreams if you simply choose to stop holding yourself back.

I agree that it can sometimes be painful, difficult, or downright uncomfortable to put your best foot forward, to invest your energy and effort into something. But it is even more so when you realize how much time you have wasted by not believing in yourself. Just like going to the bathroom, you are the only one standing (or sitting) in your way.

You “Like” Me!

Maybe love really is in the air. Or maybe I’m just feeling overly mushy.

At any rate, I would like to take a few minutes to simply thank everyone that has ever read this blog.

Whether you roll your eyes at it, skim it, look forward to it, judge it, or proofread it, I want to thank you.

You see, I would do this anyway. I would write my fingers to the bone. I would stay up late at night and pour out words. I would talk about myself in a less than admirable light. That’s because I have to do this. I can’t survive without writing. But you? You don’t have to read it. And yet you do. Maybe not every night, but enough nights that I notice. And you don’t have to hit “like,” but you do. You make me feel like what I’m doing matters to someone.

In today’s world, we’re told that we don’t know how to make a difference that isn’t clicking something on a screen. This “clicktivism” is how we show our support for everything, and that we should really be out there doing something. Fighting on the front lines of injustice.

Well, I’m here to say that your clicks mean something. And any “like” you give anyone: to a selfie, to a post, to a video, matters. And I can’t begin to articulate what yours mean to me.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Even if you feel completely unproductive and a failure at the end of the day, know that I am forever in your debt and that you matter to me.

Happy Valentine’s Day. Know that you are loved.

Winning the Lottery is a Great Way to Die

Yes, if you haven’t heard, the Powerball Jackpot is up to a whopping $500 million dollars.

And if you really haven’t heard this news, then it’s probably because you haven’t been watching the news, or it’s because you’ve been fantasizing about what you’ll do with all of the money.

So, what will it be? Pay off your debt? Buy a new house? Move to another country? Own a yacht? Donate to charity? Get a sporty sports car? Quit your job in the most dramatic way possible?

Of course, this is not to mention all of the things that you’ll have to do when you hit it big: hide from relatives, remain anonymous, donate to your alma mater, squirrel it all away or blow it one shot, enroll in therapy to cope with your losses.

See, the problem with winning the lottery is that it is completely life-changing (says the girl who has only won prizes out of a claw machine and knows nothing about actually winning the lottery). But, sans experience, if you really think about it, if you think about coming into a lot of money, you’ll find that there are a lot of parallels to dying. No, seriously:

  1. There is a formal announcement. (People who aren’t your relatives may cry. Your relatives may cheer.)
  2. Everyone pretends that they know you. (And show up at the most inconvenient times).
  3. You have to disappear for awhile. (Whether you come back is really up to how much you win and how much debt your relatives are in).
  4. You have to give up your current lifestyle, sometimes unwillingly. (Which is exactly like death because, well, you know, you’re dead.)
  5. Relatives have to sort through your belongings. (And decide what to move into your new castle).
  6. You realize that it was your health that mattered all along. (Again, death sort of puts a stopper on anything “health-related”).

And so what do I mean by all of this? More money is the way to solve my problems, you say. And it is in some ways. I’m not about to sit here and tell you that my student loans have gone away because I have been wishing on every 11:11 I see.

But there is a price to receiving gobs and gobs of money. What everyone doesn’t realize is that when you receive it, you have to give up a lot, too. You inevitably experience a sort of death in society, as it were. And it really isn’t a happy demise. (If you need specific examples, google every single celebrity ever.)

Let’s face it: you have to give up your sense of anonymity because everyone knows the person who won 500 mil at the office, drug store, mall, etc. You have to give up your current life because everyone is going to call you a cheapskate if you don’t buy a mansion, and everyone is going to whisper when you pour every cent into a new Ferrari. But most of all, you have to give up your sense of humanity. Sure, you can donate to charity, and it will most likely make you feel good. But you’ll never be able to really empathize with the struggles of the common man or woman ever again. You’ll be a ghost, looking in.

The point is, if you say that you need more money in your life, you are simply looking to deaden yourself to the world. You are simply saying that you would prefer to disappear. What you really need to be saying is that I need more love in my life. And when you have that, you begin to realize that all of the best things in life are truly free.

Look Mom, No Pants

It all started with one very stubborn girl that refused to put her clothes on as a child.

That girl was me. From all of the home movies that I see of myself as a kid, I can testify (and my mother can verify) that I did not like to wear clothes. Apparently, I would simply remove all of my clothes as someone might put up their feet or turn on the television to get comfortable at home.

But even though I may watch my bare bottom fly up a staircase over and over again on tape, I can recognize that all kids went through this phase, where clothes were cumbersome and nudity was freedom. Then, after there were plenty of complaints abut “decency,” all children would grow up to understand that clothes were a necessary part of life, a burden unspoken. (Yes, even I, the perpetually naked toddler now wear clothes regularly. In fact, I like to layer several times over because it is one more barrier between me and the rest of the world.)

But that’s just it. We don’t grow out of that phase when we get older. Really, we just develop a voice inside of us that tells us why it is unacceptable to be nude in public. The instinct, however, still lives inside us. So, like most things, we’re resigned to keep our activities in the sanctity of our houses.

But trust me when I say that everyone knows the joys of sitting around in their underwear. Every person who has to wear a bra knows the absolute ecstasy of slingshotting it across the room. Even, in a less extreme way, a person who is forced to wear a uniform to school or work can revel in wearing a pair of denim jeans or a t-shirt after a long week at the office or the classroom.

And this is how I perceive humanity.

No, not the old public speaking trick of picturing everyone in their underwear.

It’s the idea that deep down, underneath our clothes, we’re all naked. And not only that, when we slip under the sheets of our beds, with someone lying beside us or simply by ourselves, we have no pretense, only our pajamas (or lack thereof). We share our nothingness, and somehow, it is something.

In short, I think if we could focus on the simple pleasures in life that we all know, the desire to get out of uncomfortable clothes or situations, the goal of being comfortably intimate with someone you love, or the way that we all seem to be able to shed the same second skin at the end of a long day, humans would realize that we are no different from one another. And even though we wear clothes, we’re no better than any other organism on this Earth. Pants are not a symbol of intellect, but of oppression, if you ask 4-year-old me (and sometimes, even 24-year-old me.)

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone should join a nudist colony to connect with their inner and outer selves. Just the opposite: if we are forced to confine our humanity and experiences to the private spaces of our lives that we must work harder to recognize them in public. We must open more dialogue about the topics that we would like to keep hidden. We must all learn to celebrate each other, since they don’t call it a “birthday suit” for nothing.

To Kill a Language

I think about words a lot. I think about what I am going to say, and I think about what I said. I think about how words taste, how they feel when they roll around in your mouth. How they choke you when they are left unsaid. How they are so slippery sometimes that they slide right out. That’s why I try my best to choose the right ones when I need them, to use precise language when I am able to.

So, why doesn’t anyone else? I mean, I get it. We can all get a bit lazy with our speech, and sometimes, we can only reach the words that are in our grasp. So, we tend to repeat things. We tend to say things that don’t make any sense. We can even say things we don’t mean.

But what happens when we use a word so much that we warp its true meaning? What happens when we say a word so many times that it doesn’t seem to be a real word anymore? These things have consequences, you know.

And that’s where the monstrosity “literally” comes in. It is a cross between good intentions and mixed signals. Weirdly, it’s used to emphasize what we are saying by completely invalidating it. It means in “actuality” but we use it figuratively. So, we get ridiculousness like this:

“I literally died when I heard that.”

“She literally killed me.”

“I literally could not stop laughing.”

“I am literally starving.”

“You are literally the dumbest person on Earth.”

The problem is, if we don’t stop using “literally” in contexts that it should not be used, its meaning will change. Because that’s all our language is: transforming meanings and uses. Someone simply said “dinosaur” or “bulbous” enough times that it became attached to a specific image. Our language is simply made up of symbols that represent other symbols. And it is changing all of the time. That’s why we get 50/50 slang words like “bad,” which can also mean good.

However, the only way that we can preserve the integrity of our language is through saying what we mean. Inevitably, that means we need to mean what we say. And don’t get me wrong: I am in favor of free-styling. Go ahead, use LOL.

But don’t give a new meaning to a word that has never needed an upgrade in the first place. “Literally” should be reserved for clarifying puns, and not as an honorary curse word to give your sentence emphasis. Words are more than what meets the eye or rolls off the tongue, and we need to keep it that way.