In Fear of the Awkward

There’s a lot of motivating forces in the world. There’s pride, of course. But then there’s money. And I suppose love. Maybe even revenge (if it is served cold).

But really, I think there’s a specific one that trumps all: awkwardness. If someone feels that a situation is going to be awkward at all, they avoid it like it’s the plague, Ebola, and adult responsibilities rolled into one. People will avoid a certain store if they feel that they will see someone they know there. People will put their heads down just so they don’t have to address someone walking on the same side of the street. I mean, people are afraid to make a doctor’s appointment, for goodness sake.

And guess what? I count myself among you. I am actually the queen of awkward. Your oblivious ruler, reigning not with an iron fist but one clenched in frustration when I say something utterly stupid.

Oh, sure, I’m so “off-the-cuff” on this blog, but ask me how the weather is and if I don’t stutter, I’ll say something incredibly weird and inappropriate. Then, I’ll think about it for the next three years and blush every time.

Sure, I’m making light of this now, but really, it is crippling and sad. I have to rehearse my food order so that I don’t say it wrong. I am constantly being told to speak up. I am always sighing and cringing after every social interaction ever. And I’ve never known what it’s like not to feel this way. Instead of ruling my life with fear of the unknown, I’ve chosen to shape my future with the fear of the awkward. My  life is a bad romantic comedy on steroids, all bumping into someone four different times, trying to dance around him or her, and then finding yourself face deep in his or her chest yet again.

Now, I could tell you that I’ll overcome this in the next five years, and maybe, so will you. I just have to tell myself that “people are just people,” and there isn’t anything to be afraid of, right? But that’s the thing about fear: it is completely irrational. And the problem is that every situation is going to be awkward if you continue to think too hard about it. We all just need to let ourselves go to let the situation and conversation flow, man.

I know, I know. Easier said than done. But if you try to think a little less during all of your “awkward” experiences, you may find that it really was all in your head.

An Extra Set of Hands

I don’t have to tell you that there is only one of you.

You already knew that. Because you need to be in about seven different places at the same time, and it’s abundantly clear that there isn’t enough of you.

When you’re here, you’re thinking about being there. You’re planning to run errands tomorrow when you’re doing them today. You’re wondering when you’re going to get time for yourself when you’re at the gym, driving to soccer practice, picking up dinner, doing homework, doing your kid’s homework, reading a book club book, writing a book, cleaning the house…well, you get it.

You think, could I at least get an extra set of hands here? At least then I could text and cook a meal at the same time. And maybe scratch my nose. Why does it get itchy when I am making curry?

While that would be great (I mean, more curry for everyone), there’s a reason that we don’t have more hands or more of ourselves. No, it’s not because the science hasn’t caught up yet (it has). And no, it’s not because it would be ethically wrong to experiment on humans (Orphan Black makes sure we know that this isn’t the issue here.)

It’s because there is only supposed to be one of you. You are supposed to only be one individual person so that you can recognize when things are getting to be too much. If you were able to handle everything that was ever thrown at you, you wouldn’t grow. You wouldn’t be challenged. You wouldn’t even bat an eye over the zombie/cockroach apocalypse.  Study for an anatomy exam? Done. Cardiac surgery? No problem. Fly a plane? I have to be better than the pilots I’ve seen in the news lately!

You would just catch up with it all, thanks to your other set of hands, on your body or on a clone’s body. Nothing would ever be enough because you would never be able to give enough. And then you would truly be worn out.

So, the next time you feel like cloning yourself so that you can get more done, try stepping back for a moment. Actually, step so far back that you take yourself into another room. Once there, try to find a blanket, wrap yourself in it, and take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay not only because you are one person but specifically because you are you.

Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?

Do you ever get the feeling that people are in love with the idea of life, but not life itself?

That we’re all waiting for someone to start filming our lives so that we can play out the scene and deliver our lines? That we’re all waiting for our boss to say something really snarky because we have the perfect comeback? That we’re all waiting for our significant other to break up with us so we can stereotypically eat ice cream and binge watch Dirty Dancing? That we’re all waiting for it to rain so that we can kiss someone in it? That we’re all waiting to take a cruise so we can stand at the helm with our arms out like Kate Winslet?

It’s like we’re all waiting for our lives to look like something. Waiting for them to be “perfect.”

I like to refer to this idea as “Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?.” Stolen from Hemingway, it simply encapsulates the idea that life is really poetic, but we still try to force it into something that is meaningful to us.

I mean, it is really beautiful how most things in life come together in a way that you would have never expected but should have expected all along. And yet we still spend so much time trying to force the pieces into place, gluing everything down so that it doesn’t blow into the breeze, even though the breeze is what will guide us, if we let it.

I see a lot of people fall under the spell of “Isn’t It Pretty to Think So?” when they fall in love with someone new, and they think that they’re perfect together because they both like corn dogs and they both love to talk about how bad the last season of American Horror Story was. But I also see people who build up events or experiences in their head until they could not possibly go the way they had planned, even if it wasn’t just “pretty to think” that it would go a certain why.

So, how do you avoid thinking pretty? You simply remember that your life isn’t a Hemingway novel. Or a Fitzgerald novel. Or a Shakespearean play. Or a Quentin Tarantino film (thank goodness?). You write your own life, from beginning to end. And it’s messy, and confusing, and frustrating, and weird, and terrific, and great, and inspiring, and depressing, and glorious.

And oh yeah, it is also always, always perfect, no matter how bad or good it seems.

Bursting All Over

My house is always a sight for sore eyes when I’ve had a long day.

But now that it is spring, all of my mother’s green thumb handiwork looks especially beautiful. (Even though my eyes literally get sore from all of the allergies.) The tulips that stand so tall, their heads bobbing in the breeze. The pansies, huddled and colored together, their little faces turned to the sun. Then there’s the lavender bush with its symmetrical kisses of blossoms whose scent hangs lazily in the humid air. Everything has been waiting so patiently to pop and now that it has happened, it’s as if they couldn’t wait any longer.

Then there’s the redbuds. In great spirals, the pinkish reddish buds climb the branches, grasping bits of sky. From young saplings to sprawling trees, their display becomes more and more beautiful every year.

Of course, they’re pretty trees. And yes, they add some interest to an otherwise normal front lawn. Sure, they offer plenty of shade.

Yet, I never noticed something about them before tonight. When I was walking up to my house, I happened to pass very close to the nearest, lowest branch. I found that instead of shooting out leaves and blossoms in one cluster, the redbud grows flowers everywhere. Even on a long stretch of bark, small little groupings of buds burst out. Just a random crop here and there, wherever it feels like it.

Besides being incredibly adorable because it looks like the tree simply couldn’t contain itself, it is a perfect reminder for us all to look for beauty where you wouldn’t necessarily find it. In order to do that though, you have to start with yourself.

It doesn’t matter how you are supposed to look or be. Growth can be messy. Sometimes it can mean that you change in places you least expect. Sometimes it means that you change all over and become completely unrecognizable. And even sometimes still, you’ll surprise people by changing in leaps and bounds, like my entire yard did. But you’ll just have to trust that the end result will be beautiful, as it is every spring.

Ma’am, Put the Cookie Down and Step Away

Authority. We all know that it likes to wear shiny black boots. We may call it the po-po or the fuzz, but it also comes in the form of our first-grade teacher, our doctor, and our dear, sweet mother.

From the moment life begins, we encounter this over-arching presence that works in the name of our safety and tells us that we need to follow orders, for our health and the health of others. And like I said, this presence comes in many forms.

Except, one day you’re an adult. Somewhere between losing a bunch of baby teeth and earning your first dollar that isn’t allowance, you become the authority. That’s right. You start to realize that you are the captain of your soul.  You are driving this bus, and you, only you, can turn the steering wheel left or right.

So, why do you still feel like you need to do certain things to live a satisfying life? Or even have a good day at all? Why do you feel like there’s a Twister board, and you need to step on green and put a hand on yellow to feel fulfilled? Why do you feel like you have to follow the directions in the box instead of creating your own?

A succinct but sad example. Today, I had some tasks to do after work. But I couldn’t do them until I exercised. But, as is usually the case, I didn’t feel much like going to the gym, which inevitably halted my progress. (I know. This story seems as painful in the retelling as it was when I was experiencing it.) So, I finally decided that I would take a walk. And upon that decision, I asked aloud:

“But is that enough?”

Is that enough!? What do you mean by that? I had to ask myself. According to what? To whom? Who is measuring my daily progress? Who is pinching my fat rolls and telling me that I should have gone to the gym? Who says that I need to complete so many things a day in order to be allowed to exist?

The answer is I don’t.

This may be difficult to understand, but there isn’t going to be anyone leaning over your shoulder, making sure you fill any kind of quota once you have left work for the day or school for life. No one is going to berate you for not working out. No one is going to scream at you for not attending that party you said you’d go to. And no one is going to leap out of your cupboard and smack the cookie out of your hand that you snuck in the wee hours of the morning.

Now, you’ll have to live with whatever decision you make. And that’s an entirely different kind of punishment. But that also means that you can let yourself off the hook indefinitely.

When you’re the authority of your own life, not only can you decide the consequences but you can define the rules.