I Slipped

Winter has arrived. And I stayed inside.

Yes, if you were on the East Coast, you were hunkered in on Saturday against the blustery winds and “blizzard” conditions. Then, when you emerged, you had to dig yourself out of the snow or just dig yourself out of your front door by sifting through all of the food wrappers you had snowed yourself in with.

And frankly, no one was ready to go back to “normal life” after that.

So, enter me and my busy Monday schedule. I’m trying to get everything together early so that I have enough time to get to work on time because I have to account for black ice, traffic, and idiots. (Fair warning, idiots are out in every weather, so be vigilant.)

But I’m late, as usual. And I’m frustrated, since it’s Monday. And I’m not really paying attention.

And I can quite literally feel the frown on my face, the tension in my brows. But why would I notice that?

Because I felt it all change when I walked out onto my front porch: and I slipped. I didn’t fall, but I lost my footing and my arms went way out to the side. And I laughed immediately. Maybe because I didn’t fall. Maybe because of how I must have looked to people driving down the street.

But I’d like to think that it was the release of everything in myself. I stopped taking everything so seriously. For one lighthearted moment, I could laugh and stop pretending that I could control everything. Because I obviously couldn’t. I was delightedly out of control of the situation.

I slipped, and it had the effect of a banana peel in every cartoon show–comic relief.

Now, I don’t particularly want to almost fall every day I’m upset. But for this one moment, it was an acute reminder of how I should be acting as opposed to how I was. It made me remember that I can’t always know what’s right around the corner, no matter how much I prepare.

I learned that sometimes you have to be knocked off your feet to learn your lesson. And sometimes you have to laugh at yourself to realize that you’re doing just fine.

 

Liar, Liar

I am an awful, terrible, no-good, bad liar.

(Now, I understand that you think that I could be testing you by saying this–by saying that I am a terrible liar when I’m really not. But I’d like to assure you that I am a bad liar, and you’re just going to have to take my word for it, which I understand, is suspicious.)

The problem is that I have a glass face. Everyone can see everything bloom on my face like a dark cloud in a bright sky. And I realize that. So, I can feel my lies disintegrating when people look into my face. Heck, I’m even easy to spot on social media. (Nothing is worse than an insincere emoji.)

So, how do I get around lying? Mostly, I tell the truth. Which has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. But mostly, it’s good. I don’t have to remember what I’ve told someone, and I don’t have to believe my own lies. (No, really, Bailey, you totally won’t eat another cookie. That was definitely your last one.)

Where it becomes a really bad problem is in writing–especially fiction. The people who write the best fiction are exceptionally good “liars,” in a sense, because they are capable of incorporating tons and tons and tons of imaginary detail into a life they’ve already made up. Lies built on lies. And they believe themselves and so they know their characters. And, as you already know, lies make terribly good stories.

Now, this frustrated me. Because how am I supposed to become a great writer if I can’t lie? Even about made up things? Even when it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings?

I’ve thankfully found a solution. I’ve found that when I write, I’m still lying, but I’m actually getting closer to the truth. Think about it. Writers may be making things more beautiful, more real, more relatable, but we’re only distilling the truth and showing the world what it really is through lovely descriptions. We’re not really inventing anything–every story has been told at least twice. We’re just reimagining what we encounter and see everyday, giving it new dimensions. True lies can become tangled, but truth is the web itself, a perfectly organized system that will only betray you if you betray it.

In the end, I don’t really need to lie. I simply need to lie closer to the truth.

A Case for the Broken Heart

Do you remember when you first had your heart broken?

Was he or she the love of your life? Was it love at first sight when you first saw him or her? Was he or she the most beautiful creature you had ever seen? And at the same time, the cruelest for breaking your heart?

I can’t really say that I’ve ever had my heart broken. I mean, I guess when I found out that I was half Johnny Depp’s age. Or any time that I go into the kitchen, and there are no salt and vinegar chips. And I’ve certainly experienced the acute pain of an unrequited crush (and the elation of a requited one).

Of course, none of this has stopped me from wanting to have my heart broken. I know, that’s like writing “get run over by a car” on your bucket list. But think about it. It’s sort of a rite of passage, isn’t it? You can cry and sing along to really depressing songs. You can indulge and eat whatever you’d like and watch movies in your pajamas. And the best part? No one looks at you weird. No. They bring you more ice cream. They comfort you and spend time with you. Or at least, this is the picture that the movies paint for us.

But there’s another reason that it is important to sometimes be broken-hearted: it makes you all the more stronger. How do I know this cliche is true? Because I realized it while ripping up a Post-It note today. Yes, if you thought I had gone off the deep end before, then you are in for a longer dip now.

Today, I used a Post-It note, as one does, and as is the case with this infernal invention, it had lost its stickiness within about three seconds of my placing it onto a surface. I wanted to discard it. But I didn’t want anyone rifling through my trash to look at it later (because I’m obviously paranoid and self-important). So, I ripped it. It was quite satisfying, actually. It split almost in perfect halves. So, I did it again. And again. And again. Until finally, I was unable to rip the pieces anymore. (No doubt you’ve heard a similar story about it being incredibly easy to break a single stick but incredibly hard to break a bundle of them.)

My fun was over with the sticky note at this point, but it did get me thinking. Maybe, just maybe, when we’re torn apart, ripped into tiny, tiny pieces, made less than whole, we become stronger, more resistant to damage.

While I don’t know from experience, I can almost assure you that this is the same case with a broken heart. It isn’t that its cracks and fractures make it vulnerable to more destruction. Rather, they fortify it. The heart defends itself with its own undoing.

So, I recommend getting your heart broken as many times as you can. Do you know why? Because it means that you felt something. And it made you stronger. That is something no one can take away from you, and it is something that you can’t teach yourself.

You Probably Already Know How You’ll Die

One of my favorite movies is Big Fish. It tells the story of a man whose tall tales and colorful lies create a beautiful life in retrospect but a difficult reality to accept for his son. It is a gorgeous film about what happens when cliche and skepticism meet with a truly masterful lesson at the end.

It opens with a few boys sneaking onto the property of a “swamp witch” that lives in their neighborhood. The story goes that if the witch lifts her eyepatch and peers at you with her milky eyeball, you will see how you die.

She inevitably comes out to scare away the rabblerousers. And as you probably guessed, the main character’s friends, one by one, look into her eye to see their fates. When it is the main character’s turn, he dutifully looks and watches himself die. (The audience doesn’t get to see it.) Interestingly, however, the knowledge doesn’t haunt him throughout the movie. Instead, it informs him. Much later in the film, when he gets into some trouble, he rationalizes that this isn’t how he saw himself die in the witch’s eye. Therefore, he tells himself, he’ll probably get out of this pickle unscathed.

I don’t think this thinking has to be exclusively relegated to movies. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, we already know what will probably kill us in the end, too. Or at least, we can make an educated guess.

For example, you may know that you have a lot of cancer in your family. You may live in a dangerous part of the world. You may smoke. (Enough said.) Heck, Elvis died on the toilet, for heaven’s sake. So, maybe he didn’t know, but he couldn’t do anything about it, either.

Me? I know I’ll die of something heart related. First of all, I have too many feelings, so I will probably die of a broken heart when my favorite television show is cancelled. Or I’ll simply give up and eat everything that my food allergies say that I can’t have until I clog my arteries in one fell swoop. (Talk about dying happy…)

Now, I’m not trying to be morbid. I’m simply saying that this is one less thing that you need to worry about. If you’re wondering how you’ll die (and you shouldn’t because it is a waste of time), you have to rationalize that you have probably already encountered how it will happen. In fact, you may have been the one to initiate the behavior in the first place, by crossing the street or lighting up a cigarette. And, in actuality, that is a freeing thought, to be lifted from the accusations of time and the punishment of “what if…”

Oh, I’m sure it’ll still be a surprise when it happens, which is good, to keep the suspense up and to keep you on your toes. But you can’t be afraid of how it will happen. You can only hope that your death will be fitting of the person you were in life.

But in the end, we’re all staring into the witch’s eye. It’s how we react to the information we see that shapes us.

This is Going to Get Hairy

Everyone in the entire world, at any given moment, is trying to sell you something. Whether it be a new toaster, a new car, or a new lifestyle entirely, we are constantly consuming.

Actually, advertising is such a part of us that we probably don’t even know what is truth and what gimmick has been shoved down our throat enough times that it is now disguised as truth. Usually, we can’t tell the difference. But every now and then, the veil slips, and we get a glimpse.

I caught the briefest of peeks of the world beyond the billboards today.

It was a shaving cream commercial. Or maybe it was a razor commercial. At any rate, it was directed at women and their absolute primal need to have smooth legs, and it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever seen. The women in the advertisement were set up on a staircase and actually singing about how repulsive it was to have hairy legs. They illustrated this point by looking disgusted when there was a close-up shot of a couple of cacti that were supposed to represent the prickly feeling of not shaving.

Which I immediately took offense to. Cacti are one of the most resilient plants in the world, and they provide nutrients to inhabitants in one of the most severe climes: the desert. So, what if they’re spiky? Haven’t you ever heard of self-defense? Why should their appearance have anything to do with their worth? A better question: why should yours?

But of course, more importantly, the fact that a woman’s legs must resemble a baby’s bottom rather than a cacti is the primary concern that I have with this ad. The problem is that society is dictating what personal hygiene and beauty means for women. And we all know the real reason that shaving companies don’t want us to have hairy legs: we need to buy their product. They’re not really concerned with the image we have of ourselves. Just as long as it is hair-free.

Yet, if these companies really wanted to sell more of their product, why don’t they just tell us how much easier shaving with their razor and cream is? I don’t think women mind who touches their legs and feels prickliness. They certainly don’t mind going the entire winter season without taking a razor to their fur coat. (Go ahead. Poll the female audience. They will tell you that this is true. The ones who say it isn’t are lying.) What we all don’t like is how much a pain (literally and figuratively) it is to shave or wax your legs. And when it comes to the hierarchy of beauty rituals, shaving just isn’t at the top. No matter how loudly you are going to sing about it.

In the end, it does not matter what you do to make yourself feel beautiful. It also does not matter what someone else wants you to do with your body, even if they show you some ridiculously crafted metaphor (like a cactus) for how undesirable you will be if you do not follow their rules.

Actually, let’s not split hairs here. Their message is simple: you are not perfect as you are. My message to you? They’re wrong.

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?

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.

Or…do you do what I do: #@$%* I FORGOT MY LUNCH. I AM AN IDIOT. I AM THE WORLD’S WORST, AND I DESERVE TO STARVE FOR THIS.

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.

Shower Singing

Author’s Note: 

I love this post. We are our truest selves when we are alone and clean. Please enjoy my thoughts for a second time!

An underrated art form, really.

Whether you use the shampoo bottle or the shower head as your microphone, you have probably belted out a few choruses under the hot stream of a shower once or twice during your time here on Earth.

But what is it about shower singing that makes it so attractive, so universal?

Well, for one, the acoustics in bathrooms are usually to die for. It’s like, I didn’t know my voice had so much vibrato, but in here, with all this soap in my eye, I can really hit that high G. For another, you’re completely alone. (Unless, of course, your cat wanders in, thinking that it hears another cat, composing some screechy mating call love song, or because it believes that it has finally found the warmest place in the house.)

But for whatever reason, being in the shower makes you feel like you have this hidden talent for singing and that you would totally pursue it if you didn’t get stage fright so easily. (Sing naked? Sure! Sing in front of people I know who may judge me for things I can’t control? Not so much.)

Of course, before you try out for The Voice, I want you to consider something: maybe you feel like you can sing because you’re relaxed. And if that’s the case, think of everything else that would come naturally to you if you could do it without nerves, without fear of judgment. If you allowed yourself to do so.

I mean, really. If you’re anything like me, you don’t sing in the shower because you genuinely believe that you have a lovely voice. You sing because it is comforting, perhaps tapping into some memory of a lullaby when you were younger. Or maybe, you just want to entertain yourself, making up new lyrics to an old favorite.

Whatever the reason, as we’ve discussed, you have no audience when you are sudsing up (except maybe for your tabby). Which is polar opposite to the rest of your life. On the bus, at work, in a park, even pumping gas, you have an audience. Someone, somewhere, even for five seconds, is looking at you, thinking about you, seeing you (horribly creepy, I know). And you are so very aware of it. It’s why we toss our hair, or smooth our shirt, or wipe our mouths. We are aware of this gaze, all of the time.

So, to completely escape this voyeurism, I believe we sing for ourselves in the shower. We take back it all back from the wandering eyes of humanity by doing something that is for our ears only. And isn’t that wonderful, that we acknowledge our own needs for once? And isn’t that so powerful, to be unburdened by clothes or the urge to perform for someone else?

In the end, it doesn’t really matter if your voice is good or not. Rather, it is with what intent that you sing, or do anything, that makes it beautiful.

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.