(Don’t) Give Me a Break

As you may know, I took a week off from blogging last week. (And if you didn’t know that, then don’t worry about it. I’ve been here all along.)

So, why did I do it? Well, have you ever seen a sitcom where the characters pretend to drive, and they sort of wiggle the steering wheel back and forth and the scenery seems to pass by quickly, even though they never change speed? The actors do everything they can to convince you that they’re moving, when they’re really standing still?

I had been feeling a lot like that lately. I was feeling as if I was trying to do everything but doing nothing at the same time. And I had to take a break. Recenter myself. Reorganize my soul.

I thought I was doing myself a favor. I thought I would be able to get some things done that I had been putting off, that had been hard to do when I came home, when I had to type out a couple hundred of words per night. Yet, the words were still there. Even though I didn’t commit anything to paper, I was still writing in my head. Jotting down ideas for blog posts this week, a short story, a poem. I was so happy to find that everything was still coursing through my veins even though I didn’t have any way to express it.

Except when I got into bed. As you can imagine, everything was still there. I tossed and turned with the fullness of my thoughts because I had nowhere to put them or file them away. It was like my mind had to pee, and I couldn’t relieve myself of the urgency.

It turns out that taking a break from writing didn’t help me to get my life in order. It just stopped the flow of it all. (Okay, I’m seriously done with the extended pee metaphor.)

Now, I know that everyone needs to set aside some time for themselves every once in awhile. Everyone needs to take a step back from their life to reevaluate. And even though I fought it, I know that I needed to do this, too. But I didn’t like it.

During the last week, I recognized that it is much, much harder to stop a moving train than it is to try to get one to move. I know that for me, I need to be constantly progressing in order to get anything done.

In other words, if you let me sit in my pajamas all day, I will put off any chores that I had planned. But if I go to the gym and take a shower, I will knock out all of my responsibilities one by one. (And even if you let me sit in my pajamas, I’ll probably still make myself finish a book because I am all about that productivity.)

I don’t think I’ll be taking any more breaks any time soon. And I thank you for humoring me for a week because I had to humor myself. But I can’t really stop. Even when I try.

And so, I ask you to consider this: what has been holding you back? But more importantly, what have you been holding yourself back from?

Killing One Bird with Two Stones

Humans are pretty fantastic.

We can surf the Internet on our computer and make calls on our cell phones at the same time. We can run on a treadmill and watch television. Some of us (the chosen few) can even drink a beverage and walk down the street.

But, like normal humans, we want more.

We would all sleep with our eyes open if there was a way to get the rest we needed while being able to knit a scarf.¬†In fact, I actually saw someone applying foundation at a red light the other day. With a brush and everything. I wonder if she was trying to do the mortician’s job for them by not paying attention to driving and risking her life, but putting on her make-up anyway.

Of course, I won’t pretend that I am above this type of behavior. I am currently talking to you and watching television. After all, I am a child of this multitasking generation. In my head, I am killing two birds with one stone.

But which is it? Am I watching television? Or am I typing out a blog post?

The reality is I am doing neither. In order to save time, I have chosen to type my blog post while trying to catch up on a television show. But my mind is split: one half is firmly on the plot while the other is firmly on the blog. Thus, I am being productive in neither task because I am always not paying attention to one or the other. I am actually killing one bird with two stones. (If you will pardon the cruel and crude adage. No birds were actually harmed in the making of this blog post.)

And it makes sense. Think about a juggler with three balls. (Or chainsaws, or batons on fire, whatever, pick your poison). Now, imagine that this man or woman starts to juggle whatever he or she is to juggle. If you watch closely enough in your mind’s eye, you will see that he or she is not holding on to any one ball, chainsaw, or baton for longer than a second. This is what happens when you try to multitask. Your mind is a sieve; it only holds on to something as long as it doesn’t slip out of the holes.

But you argue,¬†I can listen to music and study at the same time!¬†or¬†I can cook two different things simultaneously.¬†And I don’t doubt that, except for the fact that I doubt it.

You see, you aren’t really listening to music. You’re studying, and your brain registers the music in the background. Or you are listening to music, hearing the lyrics and notes. And you are just moving your eyes along, taking in nothing. And then, if you are cooking two things at once, it is only because one of those things does not require your full attention. You can set the timer and work on something else while the water boils. That is hardly multitasking. It’s more like babysitting pasta.

I know, I know, it is a hard truth to recognize that we can’t squeeze every drop out of every moment of our every day. It’s hard to reconcile that we can’t do more to fill our lives with the time that we have. But if we measure out our time carefully on this Earth, if we sip on life instead of taking large gulps, we will not want for another second. We will be able to truly multitask: we will be able to taste and savor life simultaneously.

Can I See Your I.D.?

Isn’t it sort of strange that the blanks you fill out to get your driver’s license have pretty much nothing to do with your actual identity? That’s right. Eye color, height, whether or not you are an organ donor, has nothing to do with who you¬†really¬†are. (That’s right, kids. Keep your liver or don’t. Your kidneys don’t define you.)

And okay, maybe you already knew that your entire identity is too big to fit on a card that you can fit in your wallet. But then again, if there was a card big enough, what would be on it?

I can distinctly remember discussing identity in one of my literature classes. It was with one of my favorite professors, and he was spouting, like a fount of wisdom. He challenged each of us to define the idea of identity. And each time, he shook his head and countered our explanation. I can recall him being especially frustrated when I stated that your identity is what you believe in and what you like and dislike. He told me if that were true, then we wouldn’t have an identity until we were born. I astutely replied with, “oh.”

So, an identity comes from birth, I had to reason. And then where does it go?¬†Somewhere along the line, I think it must align itself with whatever people perceive of us. If we’re smart, we’re nerds. If we’re good at sports, we’re jocks. If we like school, we’re weird. And whether you accept or reject your label, whether you wear it proudly or like armor, it becomes a part of you. So much so, that when you are freed from the black and white judgment of your peers, you feel a little lost.¬†I was a nerd in high school,¬†you think.¬†Now there are about a hundred other people who are smarter than me, if not more, at this company.¬†Suddenly, without that preconceived notion of yourself that you can slip into like a second skin, you can’t be defined. You’re amorphous.

And then, you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out the identity that you should have been developing since, well, birth. Who am I, really? (I’ve been asking myself that a lot lately.) And how am I going to define my identity if the answer to the question¬†who are you is something other than my favorite band, my job, my religion, my sexual preference, or my gender? (What do you¬†mean the fact that I love Taylor Swift won’t help me to make big life decisions?) [April Fools! I hate T-Swift].

Of course, it helps to start with what you like. What you know about yourself to be true. But your identity will never simply be who or what you associate yourself with, so you’ll have to move on from there. Rather, identity is what my literature professor was trying to teach us all along: it is a workable concept that is as diverse as the amount of people who possess it. It is never attained, but exists all the same. Like you, identity is amorphous and never constant.¬†But this is a fact to be proud of, not scared of. Having no definition does not always mean that you are lost, but rather, that there are infinite possibilities.

The Three Words I Am Most Afraid Of

There are a lot of phobias out there. Spiders, sharks, even mustard. (Yes, mustard.) And sure, there is a lot to be afraid of in this world. But mostly, humans are afraid of the collective “unknown.” They’re afraid of not knowing what is going to happen¬†when they hold that spider, jump into the ocean, or er…make a burger.

And so, what am I afraid of? Well, three little words. I bet you are trying out all the most obvious calculations right now:¬†I love you,¬†You are fired, You’re wearing that?

But it isn’t any of those. It’s “could have been.”

I think most of our lives are spent battling the “could have beens.” Our entire existence consists of ordering the dessert we want and then seeing some other frosty cake pass by our table, making our mouths water. And¬†sometimes, “could have been” is not getting dessert at all. It’s bypassing the sweets so that you can make sacrifices for your entree, so to speak.

You have to understand that “could have been” carries with it the most pungent sense of loss. It is the epitome of the “unknown,” and thus, manifests as the most frightening. When you are off being something else, there is always the allure of what “could have been,” but there is no way to see what it is without abandoning your pursuits completely.

As a writer, “could have been” is especially painful. You write a story or a poem, and you abandon it in an old notebook. You have a brilliant idea for a short story, but you forget to write it down. You send out your writing into the world as one thing when there are about fifty other plot lines that you could have delved into. I guess that’s why there are so many sequels of movies and books that could have simply ended where they did (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones¬†television show. )

The difficult part about life, though, is that there aren’t any sequels. Despite appearances, there really are no second chances. Life is like a tree with so many branches. Each branch represents an opportunity, and when you travel down the length of one limb, the other branches are suddenly out of your reach.

So, what is a person to do with his or her “could have beens”? Make them into something. Even if you can’t do what you have set out to accomplish in the first place, do something.¬†It will take the emphasis off what “could have been” and give you back all of the wonderful things that you are.