In Defense of Self-Pity

If there was ever a day to pity yourself, that day would be Monday.

The weekend is gone. Your inbox is full. And there isn’t enough coffee in the world to wake you up from the general grogginess of the day. I think the scientific community calls it a “funk.” (Although not the uptown variety.)

Today, I felt a “funk” coming on, and it took me by surprise. It was marked by a vague disinterest in society and an increased frustration over the world’s shortcomings. Without really meaning to, I felt myself slip down into the shallows of my own misery and, appropriately, wallow.

Which is approximately the time that I stepped into my car to go home. Feeling no less melancholy, I popped in one of my mix tapes. This particular gem was called, “When You Get Down.” There, I rationalized, I’ll listen to this CD on the ride home, and I will sing a few ballads, and I will feel better. Actually, I will NOT let myself out of this car until I do. 

So, I did. I belted out “Creep” by Radiohead. I crooned “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. And then I topped it all off with “All These Things I’ve Done” by the Killers to seal in all of those self-pitying juices. And finally, somewhere between the bridge and a few traffic lights, I was able to leave those weird, funky feelings behind. (I hope they don’t leave a residual stain on the seats.)

And it felt good. Which is strange because almost every single self-help book and graduation commencement speaker tells you that you should never feel sorry for yourself. There are so many people who have it so much worse than you, and you should be thankful, and you need to get up and fight for your right to party, etc.

But what about the times that I slip up, and there is no use trying to “CareBear” myself out of it? I can’t optimistically tell myself that everything will be fine when it feels far from it. The truth is, I can only pull up my bootstraps when I’m low enough to the ground to be able to reach them.

My point is simply this: even if you pretend there is not a landfill at the edge of your property, it doesn’t change the fact that it is there. The smell. The flies. The mountain piled high with other people’s trash. It’s all right there. So, you might as well acknowledge it. You might as well point out the fact that the landfill at the edge of your property mirrors your own emotional run-off that occurs when you choose to ignore your problems with cliches, phony whistling, and half-hearted attempts at finding the silver lining. At least, if you acknowledge its existence, you can do something about it.

So, for me, I don’t mind a few moments of wallowing in self-pity. As long as you don’t drown yourself and as long as you towel yourself off when you are done, why not be immersed in the problems you face? Isn’t that the best way to solve them, to be one with them?

Adorn Your Own Heart

I don’t think anyone wants to be disagreeable.

I don’t think a person’s feet hit the floor when they roll out of bed, and they think to themselves, Hmmm,  I’m going to act like I ate a full serving of b*tch flakes today, and then I’m going to act like someone peed in them. Specifically, I’m going to cut in line at my local Starbucks and then ask for really specific things in my latte. Like, for it to be hand-stirred. 

But then again, I don’t think people want to be too agreeable, either. You don’t want to be a sheep or a lemming. You want to be cordial, but not naive.

Then, there’s me. I will walk into traffic to avoid an argument. I do everything I can to make someone feel comfortable around me and to make them like me, even when they’ve already decided what they will about me. This has pretty much always been my reality, but recently, it has gotten a lot worse.

I find myself nodding when someone says they like something, on instinct. Almost anything. Even if I’ve never heard of it. And I have to stop myself and think, Wait, I don’t listen to Elvis cover bands. Why did I just say that peanut butter, banana, and bacon is my favorite sandwich? All in the name of amiableness. I am the Miss Congeniality.

And it’s not that I am trying to be disingenuous. I’m just trying to be nice…aren’t I? I’m trying to make the other person feel safe in my company. The problem is that I just start hanging up posters of things I don’t entirely like inside my heart. I pump blood through my veins that is driven by someone else’s passion. I create shrines inside myself to activities like pilates and white water rafting because not only can I somehow connect with the people I know on these newfound interests, but I can be intriguing to the people I’m still waiting to meet.

But the truth is, (I’ve come to realize) if you don’t adorn your own heart with the things that YOU love, you might lose yourself (and maybe that friend) completely.  Like your life, your heart is only what you make of it and how much love is inside.

The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves

Did you laugh at that title? It’s funny, right? The thought that beatings could actually improve your outlook on life seems ridiculous.

Well, if it’s so funny, why do we do it to ourselves?

Let’s see if you recognize the following situation:

You’re in a rush. You are out the door before you realize that you don’t have your keys. You run back into the house to grab them. They’re right by the door, where you left them. You run out through the door back to your car. You’re driving, driving, driving. You are minutes away from your place of work when you realize that you have forgotten your lunch at home. All of that sandwichy deliciousness is left to become warm on the kitchen counter. It is not likely that it will be any good come dinnertime, and it certainly isn’t doing you any good being left at home.

So, what is your first reaction to the above scenario? What if that were you, leaving your lunch, in this situation? Would you say, oh, fiddlesticks! I will just have to eat out today or Well, I guess I will just have to make leftovers for dinner tonight–leftovers from lunch! And then you giggle and titter behind your hand like a schoolgirl.


Yeah. There’s basically two people in this world, as you can see. But unfortunately, if you are the second person, you’re probably not getting the results you want from yourself. Why’s that, you wonder? Why, after the first hundred times that you forgot your lunch at home, do you think that yelling at yourself is going to help you remember? Emotional stress = increased memory, perhaps?

Disregarding any pseudo-scientific explanation your brain tells itself, the answer is it’s just not. The most it is going to do is make you feel bad (and most likely hungry).

And there are millions of people who do this. Who don’t think they’re good enough, who think they need to be perfect, who are yelling at themselves right now.

But the thing that they don’t tell you about lies is that if you say them often enough, and loud enough, they become the truth. You become the stupid idiot who deserves to starve for whatever small crime you “committed” against the world when you tell yourself it is true, even when it is not.

The short and long of it is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up so much. The world will only be too happy to do that for you, if you let it. Don’t think you are saving yourself by beating everyone else to the (mental) punch.

Read All Over

Did you know that reading can relax you in under six minutes?

That’s right. You can put down the bubble bath and candles. Although, not those bon-bons. You should keep eating them to deal with the crisis you are going to have while reading The Fault in Our Stars.

Thankful for its magical healing properties, I’ve taken to reading at any point during the day. In the morning, right before bed, even when someone has something written on the back of their shirt and I’m standing right behind them. I can’t stop, and I won’t stop.

But it does make me feel a little bit guilty. Because when I’m home and reading, I’m usually sprawled out on the couch, in sweatpants, warming myself by an open fire (but not too close that I burn the pages and never get to read the end). I’m all relaxed and consumed by the book when it suddenly crosses my mind that I could be working on just about anything else. My novel, my self-esteem, my laundry. In fact, reading gives me a guilty feeling that television may never provide: it’s usually a solitary activity. It makes me feel downright selfish for blocking out the world when I should be participating in it. And I don’t mean to glare at people when they interrupt me, either. It just sort of happens.

However, you should never, ever feel bad for reading. You should actually never feel bad for anything that makes you a better person. Because reading does. As I mentioned, it decreases your stress. But it also increases your vocabulary. It makes you understand someone else’s perspective, even one so foreign to your own. It gives you more things to think about and talk about. In fact, reading a book in public is like an invitation to someone else to connect with you on a common interest (unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. You may want to back away slowly if you see someone reading that.)

But best of all, reading is the easiest and cheapest way to get from point A to point B. You can fly halfway around the world and never feel as at home as you do reading a favorite book. And unlike even the best travel destination, you can visit it anytime you want, from anywhere.

Like life, books can enthrall us and enrage us if we let them. More like life, we need to see books to the end, no matter how terrible. We may never know what kind of ending they have in store.

Burn Your Life Down

Do you ever want to burn your life down?

Metaphorically, speaking, of course.

But really. Do you ever want to start over? Raze all of your relationships to the ground, put fire to any friendships in your life, and walk away from it all, in slow motion, as the spark finally hits the gasoline barrel and your life explodes in a swirl of flames that somehow blows your hair away from your face as you casually slip into your Porsche, like in all of the movies?

Yeah, I feel something like that too, every once in a little while.

Because wouldn’t it be easier to start over? Wouldn’t it be easier if you could just pick up and leave? Move to another country where no one knows your name or the fact that you still haven’t grown out of the footie pajamas you wore to elementary school a few times? Wouldn’t it be easier to give up on all of your responsibilities in favor of being slightly selfish, locking yourself in a hotel room and eating good food and drinking better wine?

From this side of the fence, it sure looks like it would be easier. Or maybe it just looks like the entire plot of Eat, Pray, Love. 

But for whatever reason, when I consider my distant future, I get overwhelmed by the fact that there are so many pieces to put together. And it seems like nothing fits. And even worse, it feels like my life has pieces that don’t even go to the same puzzle. What am I supposed to do? Build two puzzles? Build another path in case I change my mind?

Of course, I’m a firm believer that you can’t really “mess” up your life. To admit that a person can mess up his or her life would be to suggest that there is a correct way to live. As profound as it may be, I simply believe that whatever you choose is your choice. And you can’t be anyone but yourself, so you can’t do anything in this life that isn’t right for you. You just have to live your life.

But, why does it feel like I’m going to be disappointing people if I don’t do a specific thing? Why do I feel like I have to everything figured out, retirement plan and all, before I have even considered the next ten years? Why can’t I just burn my life down and start fresh whenever I want to?

There’s a relatively simple answer. No, you shouldn’t burn your life down. (Or anything else, for that matter…)

When I start to feel like this, I realize that it probably isn’t because I want to start over. More like, I don’t know what to do with the resources I’ve been given. Metaphorically speaking again, it’s like I have a hammer and a few nails, but instead of building a house, I just want to throw the tools on a bonfire. It’s like I don’t know how to ask anyone, my friends or family, for help.

Really, when you want to burn your life down, it’s not necessarily that you want to start new. It’s probably because you are trying something new. Remember that your greatest assets are the people that hold out a candle to you so that you can make your way in the dark, not the people who hand you the book of matches.

Your Life is a Woman on Acid

I originally saw this video on Mentalfloss, and if you have never visited Mentalfloss, you should leave this blog right now and go experience that wonderful site.

Now, if you haven’t slipped down a black hole of knowledge there, and you are back reading this blog, then I need you to watch this video. And turn your sound on. (I know, I know. I’m asking a lot of you today.)

For some reason, this video really stuck with me. For one, the woman sounds exactly like a Disney princess. So, it is basically like a Disney princess doing acid. For another, you don’t know who to feel sorry for: the doctor who does not understand “reality,” or the woman who can’t put “reality” into words. The entire thing is a bit unsettling.

But not for the reasons that you might think. It’s not unsettling because the woman has ingested an hallucinogenic drug. And it’s not unsettling that we, like voyeurs, are watching her attempt to understand the world around her.

It’s the skeptic tone in the doctor’s voice that is so strange. She even notes that his presence does not allow her to become “one” with everything. I know that he is trying to be a good scientist. He is trying to get an objective account of what she is seeing. But for some reason, I felt that I had heard a voice like his before.

And I realized that I had. It came from everyone in the world who ever refused to believe in what someone was saying. I started to realize that the woman was just anyone who had ever had an opinion, a dream, or an idea. And the man was someone who did not believe in the sanctity of that opinion, dream, or idea. You will notice in the video that he does not move to ease her discomfort when she is completely confused about why he can’t see beautiful colors or shapes in the corner. He does not try to make her feel better by telling her that he sees it, too. He simply allows her to think whatever she wants. And she’s visibly frustrated by his non-reaction.

This is the dynamic of the entire world. One person understands and sees a reality unlike the rest of us. And other people don’t understand. Other people are technically not even on the same plane. Other people are confused or bothered by our perception of the world.

But that doesn’t mean you should stop believing. It doesn’t mean you should stop describing what you understand. Whether it be religion, equality, or your own success. Like this woman, you need to be strong in your conviction, even in the face of people who literally do not share your vision.

You have to understand that this woman truly believes in what she is seeing. Her fear is real. Her wonder is real. Her love is real. The only question is: can you say the same of yourself?

The Bridge to Happiness

For the thousandth, millionth time I am going to talk about my commute to work. I apologize for the redundancy, but it does make up a small portion of my every day. So, if I am forced to do it, I think, selfishly, that you should be forced to relive a part of it, too.

And what makes up a small part of my daily commute? Crossing a rather small bridge. It’s great because it is the perfect landmark: once I cross it, I’m either halfway home or halfway to work. It allows me to let out a little sigh of relief.

However, I do have a seatbelt cutter and a window breaker in case I get a little overzealous when going over. (Let’s just hope that I’m coming home if that happens. How would I ever explain that to work without sounding like the dog ate my homework?)

But I can assure you that the water on either side is not what I am considering (not if I want to keep my lunch in my stomach.) Rather, when I can sneak a glance, I look at the people driving past me in their own cars, on their own commutes across. Mostly, I want to catch them lip synching to a song on a radio, like me. But they rarely are. They occasionally talk on the phone. Adjust their air fresheners. Put on sunglasses. Mostly, they just drive, staring straight ahead.

What I don’t see? Smiles. I have yet to see anyone smiling. And hey, I get it. You are either driving to work or you have a long road ahead. Neither is anything to smile about most of the time.

But from my seat, I still see plenty of other reasons to smile. For one, I see lots of expensive cars crossing that bridge. Now, you don’t have to give me a Lambo to have me grinning from ear to ear, but I certainly wouldn’t be crying. And yet, these people in cars that must have cost them thousands of dollars…are sitting with actual frowns on their faces.

And okay, expensive cars do not always equate to a perfect life. But as these people cross the bridge in front of me, I wonder, if a Mustang doesn’t make you smile contentedly every time you rev the engine, then what will do it?

The point is that no matter where you are in your journey of “happiness” or your journey on your way home, there is always a way to appreciate what you have right now. (Even if you just have to be grateful that you aren’t in the river below.) I hope that my fellow commuters remember that when we are all crossing the same bridge, in the same town, on the same Earth.

Faith is a Staircase

On St. Patrick’s Day, there is no way that I cannot reminisce about spending this special holiday in Ireland.

I’ve never seen such a display of pure patriotism. Float after float, band after band, dancer after dancer marched down the street in the coastal city of Galway. Feeling like a kid again, I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd of people, to get a glimpse of the festivities that I was suddenly apart of. When it was over, there was another parade–to the pub. Funneling down the narrow streets, we would eventually arrive at our favorite bar. And people would get their beer “to go” in a plastic cup so that they could take their merriment out into the street, to watch performers put on yet another show.

It scares me to think that this may have never happened. I almost didn’t go to Ireland at all.

Let me set the stage. It was my junior year of college. A lot of things were finally coming into focus for me: I was afraid to start a job but at least I knew who my real friends were. Actually, I was with the best roommates a girl could ask for. But still. As is customary in these situations, I wanted more.

I had always been interested in studying abroad, even though I had only left the country once. So, I set up a meeting with my study abroad advisor. With my high grades, she told me I could go anywhere I wanted. Emboldened by her faith in me, I proudly stated that I wanted to go to Scotland. St. Andrew’s, in fact. You may recognize it from the tabloids: Kate Middleton was educated there. But I was drawn to the school because they had a terrific creative writing program (and an excellent golf course so that my dad would come to visit me there). I had done mild research on it, and I felt sure that I would be comfortable in Scotland.

Imagine my surprise and heartbreak when my study abroad advisor flatly stated that I had missed the deadline for that school. Then, imagine the rift in my heart deepening when she told me that I would only have a few more days to submit an application to any school. I felt the experience slipping out of my fingers before I even had a chance to entertain it.

She must have seen the horror on my face because her next reply was decidedly cheerier, “Have you ever thought of Ireland? My husband was an English major, and he loved his time in Galway.” With an enthusiastic nod, a frantic recommendation letter from my favorite professor, and a hurried phone call with both my mom and my boyfriend, it was settled: I would go to Ireland to study in less than a month.

Despite the rocky beginning to my experience (threw up on the plane, forgot my debit card back in the US, broke my finger playing Gaelic football), I had the time of my life. I met some of the best people I have ever encountered. I saw landscapes that were nothing short of unreal. I learned a new language. But it almost didn’t happen.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not submitted my application on time. If I had let the fact that my dream school was no longer an option hold me back. And, oh yeah, if my family, boyfriend, and roommates hadn’t been so absolutely encouraging and accepting of my decision.

However, it was about the only time in my life that I was able to let go of control completely. Of course, I was in the capable hands of my study abroad advisor, but I still put a lot of trust in her. After all, she was going to decide where I would spend the next 6 months of my life. That’s a lot of faith for a person I considered one baby step above a stranger. An incredibly accommodating and complimentary stranger, but a stranger nonetheless.

And so, if there was ever proof that MLKJ’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase” is true, I am a living example. Maybe the best parts of life aren’t planned or even up to us to decide. Maybe it is just luck that brings us to the right time and place, where we are meant to be (I’m sure the Irish would tell you that). For me, I think it is a combination of being ready for everything and having everything ready. In the end, if you have a parachute, you still have to muster up the courage to jump.

Do Your Job So I Can Do Mine

Okay, I’m going to do some math tonight.

Now, that should set off some alarm bells in your head. The size of the bells of Notre Dame, to be honest. Because I’m not a math person. Therefore, I should not be doing any math of any kind, even under pretend circumstances. But humor me. (Hope your funny bone is the size of your femur).

So, basically the world has this equation to determine if you are doing what you should be doing with your life. It’s simple: direct societal contribution + deliverable good  = your job.

Now, think about it. For example, you have an architect. What does he or she contribute to society? Places to work, eat, and sleep by building structures. What does he or she deliver? Those buildings, more opportunities for revenue, etc. That’s a one-to-one relationship, if I’m not mistaken.

Now, think about another job. A professional dancer, let’s say. (The math is going to get significantly harder, here.) What’s the societal contribution? Beautiful art. Sadly, not enough people seem to appreciate this societal contribution or consider it as such. What’s a deliverable good from a professional dancer? Well, it certainly isn’t tangible. But professional dancers create memories for their audiences. Visual interpretations of what a piece of music is “saying.” More art.

Not exactly the most straightforward equation. So, many people look at a professional dancer’s career and see this: 0 + 0 = 0. Which isn’t the correct math (even if my own math is not always sound).

Now, I have no grudges against architects. I don’t hold anything against professional dancers, either. But when professional dancers are forced to become architects because society sees value in architects but not professional dancing, then we start to have a problem.

Because this happens all of the time. Professional dancers, and other people who don’t fit into the stark equation outlined above, think that their passion cannot sustain their lifestyle. In many cases, they are right. Since society doesn’t value their contributions or deliverable goods because their careers do not benefit society as obviously as other professions (see above equation, again), they are told to pursue other things. Then, their passion is thwarted, and we get lifeless accountants who were supposed to be painters, we have frustrated attorneys who were meant to be novelists, and yes, we have jaded architects who were meant to be professional dancers. We get people who are displacing themselves to make a living, which then, in turn, displaces the people who really wanted to be accountants, attorneys, and architects.

Which brings me back to my original point. I should never, ever do math. I’ve never been good at it. Even trying to double recipes is difficult for me. I’m a writer. I like words, not numbers. Which is not to say people can’t like both. I’m just not one of those magical, incredibly talented people.

The point is, I should not be forced to find a job that is outside of my realm of expertise simply because society doesn’t think I can make a real societal contribution or deliverable good from writing.

Basically, you should do what you want to do, no matter what. Because if you can’t follow your passion, then things won’t really add up for you, no matter how (badly) you do the math.

Do It For The Story

This was both the slogan and the excuse during college.

Wait, you have a test tomorrow? No, no, no, dude. DUDE. We need to rob a bank, grab some corn dogs, jump the fence to the community center, and draw mustaches on all of the “Rent-a-Cop” posters. 

And any sensible person would at least ask why. But your friends already knew the answer: It’s so that you can be the coolest person at the party, strangers gathered around, beer in one hand and the other hand slightly raised in the air, describing how you scaled the fence to the community center only to find that your best friend was hanging from his underwear at the top. Like your friend, all of the people at the party are also hanging: on your every word.

And really, this isn’t news. Humans have a long oral history. We love stories. It’s how we communicate dangers, humor, and understanding. We are completely fascinated with telling others what has happened to us in order to warn them or simply make them laugh.

But that’s the key. To tell a story, you need an audience.

Which brings me directly to my point. You can have all the money in the world. You can jet-set to Japan to see the sunrise only to race back to New York to see it again. You can wear bikinis in Hawaii and parkas in Alaska in the same weekend. You can rub elbows, and maybe even noses, with celebrities. You can buy a mansion and have a wing just for your dog. You can invest that money, donate it to charity, and make it all back again.

And that would be great, truly. But it wouldn’t mean anything without someone to talk to about all of your adventures, all of your experiences, all of your fears. It would mean nothing if you couldn’t share it with at least one other person (romantically or platonically).

You see, as a young person who is not entirely sure what she wants to do with this box of chocolates we call life, I’ve always figured that if I had enough money, all of my problems would be solved. I could travel the world, like I want to. I could buy a house and rescue all of the homeless dogs, like I want to. I could feed the hungry and make a difference, like I want to. Yes, I could eat lots of corn dogs, like I want to.

But in the end, what would it amount to if I couldn’t tell my story to someone? Is a sunrise seen alone as sweet as one shared? For that matter, is a corn dog?

That’s a lesson this social media generation can relate to: “pictures or it didn’t happen.” Well, your life is one snapshot in a billion. If there is no one to appreciate its beauty, does it really matter that it happened?

And I know, it’s sort of like a “if a tree fell in a forest” argument, but I wonder if I didn’t have life already figured out in college, when I did everything for the story. I wonder if I’m not trying to complicate everything now that I’ve graduated.

The point is, you can rob a bank, eat corn dogs, and draw mustaches on unsuspecting Rent-A-Cops. But if you have no one to talk to, no one to laugh or cry with, no one to enjoy the stories of your life with, you have nothing.

In the end, it isn’t what we leave behind. It’s who we leave behind, and what we shared with them that truly matters. Write your story and make it a good one so that others will want to share it, too.