Thursday, June 25, 2009

Everyone is Different

Everyone is different.
Yes, thank you, Captain Obvious.
No, really. Everyone is different.

Everyone is different.

It may seem like a strange thing to say over and over again, yet over and over again I have to say it to myself. It isn’t so much a mantra so that I’ll leave others to their own lives that are different from mine; it is more a mantra to remind myself that it is my life to do with what I wish.
I have been pondering this point a lot lately, for a number of reasons. Firstly, many of my friends have started getting invitations to their 10-year high school reunions. Whether we want to admit it or not, we want to make a good impression on people who used to know us. As a result, a life that has seemed satisfactory could suddenly look dull when facing the threat of scrutiny. To some extent, everyone dreads former classmates who look down on you because your measure of success does not meet their standard.
I was joking with a friend today about starting a company that supplied “spouses” for reunions: someone that you could write a back story with, who would make you look like you had a successful life; someone who would help you impress those people that you hardly know anymore.
There’s just one problem with that, and it’s a glaring one: it’s not you.
Making a good impression is great and all, but eventually that great impression fades into the everyday impression you give. This isn’t to say that you can’t constantly give a good impression, but no one is perfect all the time.
I’ve actually given up on trying to be. I’m more likely to speak my mind than I used to be; I’m more likely to say something unpopular if I feel like saying it, instead of holding my tongue for the sake of appearances. I’ve realized that you have to accept people for who they are, every single freaking part of them, not just the good parts. This has kind of run over into the pictures I’m tagged in on Facebook. Even when I look at a picture someone else posts of me and I know I look like absolute crap, or fat, or ugly, I won’t let myself remove the tag. This is because I am not just a person in a picture. If I looked like that in one brief moment that was caught on camera, then I have probably looked like that more than once, or every day for that matter. The people who see those pictures just saw me in an every day moment, when I wasn’t sucking in, when I was concentrating and my tongue was sticking out in a very awkward and unflattering way, when my lips and teeth are tinged red from the wine I’ve been drinking.
As unflattering as it may be, it’s me. I’m not only those moments when I say and do the right thing and impress the right people. I’m also me when I vomit all over myself at a company Christmas party. I’m me when I tell you you’re wrong but you’re right; and, unfortunately, I’m me when I sing horribly, off-pitch and too loudly.
Just as I have come to accept me for being me, bitchy and imperfect as I am, I am also trying to do the same for others around me. Unconditional love is loving someone and their faults, not in spite of them. I think my biggest accomplishment in this area is being able to truly be happy for people who are getting what they want, even if their idea of bliss sounds like hell on earth to me. I can’t do it all the time to everyone – I’m not perfect, remember? – but I no longer feel the streaks of jealousy or condemnation that I used to feel when someone told me that their newest boyfriend is just perfect for them despite the fact that he has never left the state, or that they just booked a trip to Nebraska for their honeymoon. This doesn’t mean that I’m not without my opinion on these matters, but I at least can recognize happiness when I see it and not get in its way. Everyone’s idea of bliss is different. It’s better that way.
Another reason for my new mantra is, of course, that I am not following the normal path, and it’s getting more and more apparent. It kind of made me feel like an outsider when my friends started marrying or holding steady jobs and I didn’t, but I got over it. It feels like a bigger deal now that they’re starting to talk about children; that they have houses; that they’ve been in the same jobs for long enough they’ve been promoted multiple times. Basically, they’re settling down, right when I’m starting from scratch. It’s not that I want their lives, but I do feel the differences between their realities and mine becoming more and more apparent.
But it’s okay. Everyone is different. I have known that for a long time in specific aspects of my life: not everyone loses the same amount of weight on the same diet; not everyone gets spiritual bliss from the same religion; not everyone thinks swimming in ice-cold glacier-fed lakes is the best form of exercise on earth. But really, the beauty of it all is that we are all different in nearly every way. This is why we aren’t all clamoring to marry the same man; why they don’t constantly have a shortage on dark chocolate Lindt truffles (my favorite, so you’re gonna lose if there’s one bag left and it’s you or me) or why you don’t have to book years in advance for flights to Mexico and the Caribbean. Not everyone wants the same thing. We are not all built in the same way. Everyone is different.
I just heard an interview with Woody Allen, and I think he put it best.
“What kind of life would you have if you made your decisions based on the outside world and not what your inner dictates told you?” he asked, before answering his own question, “You would have a very inauthentic life.”

Monday, June 15, 2009

Restless Panic

All day I’ve been facing a panic that has been hard to hold down, yet it has paralyzed me. I realized that I began thinking about how easy it could be; how easy life could be if I just let go of this dream and rejoin the rest of the working world. After getting the job – the hard part, nowadays – I would simply step back into the harness and make money for someone else. While I did this, however, I would be promised a paycheck; a chance to grow my savings account instead of depending on it. I could start thinking about vacations, buying property, houses, expensive foods, visiting friends, retirement accounts. All of these ideas are bubbling just below the surface every day. It doesn’t help that my parents have started making small, probably benign comments that plopping into this stew and causing it to bubble more insistently. Did I want to write for the local paper? Have I thought about applying to do this, or that? While I dismiss their questions, I can’t quite get rid of the thought of them. It doesn’t help when I’m having a low day and I can’t control my jealousy toward the cat; he stayed in bed when I got up and only moved to eat and poop all day long.
When people told me that this year would be hard, I nodded my head solemnly without understanding what exactly they were referring to. The truth of the matter is that the hard part is getting up and doing the work day after day. The hard part is not knowing if your plans will ever pay off, but going ahead with them anyway. The hard part is not taking that nap when you want one, and pushing down the thought that you can do it if you really want to, because there’s no one to answer to but yourself. The hard part is believing in yourself. At the same time, the hard part is knowing when you can’t do any more and it’s time to stop for the day, the week, or the month.
Can I do this? Well, I’ve been doing this, so apparently I can. Do I want to do this? The answer is a resounding yes. What’s the real problem then? I am afraid. I am afraid that I will wake up one day and know that I can’t try to write anymore. I am afraid that one day I will realize that this isn’t going to get me anywhere that I would want to be for a long period of time. More than anything, I am afraid that I will throw in the towel before it’s time and forever regret not pushing myself harder to get what I wanted.
Most of the time I believe that life is what you make of it; that positive thinking will fill in the chinks between the concrete blocks of hard work and steady, slow labor of building a future. Today? Today I am afraid that there is nothing that I can do to alter what has already been laid out for me, and that at the end of my life I will repeat the same monotone sentences that I have heard before: “I could have been more, if only I had tried.”
Tomorrow will most likely be different. The sun will shine, the air will smell sweetly of pine, and I will know that I can do whatever I want, if I only put my mind to it. Tomorrow, I will feel better. Today, I am restless while I wait for tomorrow to come.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Creativity's Best Work

Creativity looks up at me and smiles. She moves out of the way, and I sit down in her place and stare at the computer screen. Almost immediately, my eyes start to well up. She moves away, embarrassed to see me cry, but smug nonetheless.
These are the moments when I know just how great she can be. Sometimes her work is funny, sometimes soulful, sometimes downright lewd. When she’s really done it, though, the subject matter doesn’t, well, matter. At those times, something more than tears wells up inside me, and I can see the future as it could be – I can see her talent taking her to the stars and beyond, with me following in her wake. In these visions, I am but a trusting puppy with large feet that I trip over, smiling simple-mindedly while I let her shine in the spotlight. The visions aren’t exactly the truth, however. The truth is that I would be the one in the spotlight, I would be the one taking all the credit, even if in reality I don’t really feel like I deserve it. I prefer to think that I am merely a chaperone until Creativity is old enough to surpass me in her brilliance and shine like the star that she is. Once that point is reached, she won’t need me anymore, much like a daughter gets her drivers license and no longer needs her mother to cart her around. She may still prefer that I drive on the long roadtrips, but for the most part she is self-sufficient and she is simply obliging me by sometimes letting me tag along as she zooms all over existence, honking the horn at people to get out of her way.
As much as I may not agree or think it’s unfair, the truth is that Creativity will always be dependent on me. I am the one who will carry her along; whether she needs me or not I am the face that will represent her work. Sometimes I don’t think I’m up to the task, but then Creativity makes me cry with her inventions, and I vow I won’t be the one who holds her back.

Love and best work kisses


A friend of mine's father is losing a battle with cancer. Reasonably enough, this has gotten me thinking about death more than usual. I wrote the post below after watching a woman with cancer die, and decided to re-post it instead of writing something new. My thoughts are with Katie and her family.

Last night I watched a woman take her last breath and die.

I had met Bonnie once, and it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. She was only 57, a principal who had just started at a new school, she had a newly married son, her husband was closing a deal at work that would have brought them money at home.

A month ago, Bonnie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer whose carriers number less than 50 worldwide. It grew quickly on the hypatic artery that fed her liver, displacing her inner organs and causing her to lose her appetite. Her mother learned she was terminally ill two days before she died.

Bonnie was the older sister of my mother’s oldest friend; their house was her second home growing up. As we sat in the hospital room with Bonnie, slack-jawed and in a coma, her breath coming suddenly like someone gasping for air, my mother began to tell stories to Brenda, Bonnie’s sister.

“Bonnie saved me once. I spilled nail polish all over the carpet in one of the bedrooms, and she told you mom that she did it. Lucy was so mad.”

Over and over, again and again, little bits of information about this woman leaked into the room. She has a son working in L.A. for a billionaire. She did the yard work at their house, because her husband hated it. She cooked standing on one leg, the other foot resting comfortably on the inside of her knee. She wanted her ashes mixed with the ashes of her cat, Fred the Fat, whose frame had been so large when they got him that her 8-year-old son had to use both arms and carry him like a big stack of firewood.

These memories are what it came down to. Bonnie’s life had been full and she was loved. She had touched many lives as a principal, teacher, sister, mother and wife. In the end, though, what really touched me, sitting at her feet, was that her outreach had been small, infinitely small, and made monumental differences.

I had never watched someone’s last moments before. Bonnie’s breath slowly slackened, her color turned gray, her limbs grew cold, and slowly, slowly, she stopped breathing as regularly. When she stopped, I kept expecting to see her chest rise again, because it’s something you expect but don’t notice: breath. In. Out. In. Out. I realized that I had stopped seeing it, but kept believing it was there, like a mirage of life, a last defense mechanism against the inevitable.

I barely knew this woman, yet I cried the hardest when she died. I cried in fear of what was to come: for the other people whose deathbeds I would see, the friends I would lose too early, the relationships that would be taken away from me before I was ready, because you’re never ready. I cried at the thought that one day it would be me lying there, slowly drifting away, my loved ones wishing me the best but begging me not to go. I cried because I felt death cheats us all, because there is no escape. I cried because this is supposed to be normal, but death has never felt normal to me.

Then, inevitably, I couldn’t focus on death anymore. It is hardwired into our lives to want to live, to go on, to pretend that we will be young and vibrant forever. I didn’t want to fight my new focus, my new train of thought that washed over me like a cleansing wave. Death is to remind us what life is all about; what’s really important; what shouldn’t be taken for granted. I suddenly had a clear picture of what I wanted to accomplish before I made it to this bed, and realized that I was the only one in my way. I woke up the next morning not weighed down by Bonnie’s death, rather invigorated by her life.

Perhaps that is why the sun seems so much brighter today.

Love and mortal kisses