Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday Whatevers

"Whatevers" have sort of been the theme of my life this summer.  There have been lots of ups and downs, backs and forths, extreme highs and deep lows, and any other contradictory terms you could throw in there. It's hard to make sense of life sometimes--hell, all the time.  But, for whatever reason, the proverbial shit has hit the fan lately, and I've really just felt like I'm treading water waiting for a lifeboat.  Good thing I have built-in floatation devices that refuse to let me sink.

More and more I realize that you just never know what people are really like, or what they really go through in their lives.  I think that contrast is more and more apparent as we become more reliant on social media.  Most of us tend to paint these rosy little pictures with our status updates and our Instagram pictures, and I'm calling bullshit on most of it, my own included.  I'd like, just for one day, or a week, for everyone to just be REAL with what they post.  Not for the airing of dirty laundry, that's not my intent.  But just because so many of us, myself included, hold ourselves up to these ridiculously high standards of achieving perfection, or at least appearing to the outside world to have achieved that.  It can be a daunting task to scroll through my news feed some days.  It's not real, it's not factual, and it's not healthy to be so inundated with snapshots of fabulous adventures and 'look-what-we-did-isms" even under the best of circumstances.  But when someone struggles, and there are more of us out there than any of us realize, as the events of the last few days have shown me, it can be very damaging and hurtful.  Now, you'd think I'd have some sense and separate myself from social media if I think it's the root of all evil, but that's the thing.  I don't.  I have some amazing relationships with people I either met or reconnected with via social media, and my online support system is actually way more helpful to me most days than my "actual" support system.  I just want it to be real, and helpful, and sincere, and honest.  The way I want real life to be.  My bad.

I have undertaken an experiment this week, speaking of social media, in which I'm branching out in my professional life as an educator as well as my amateur life as a writer.  Hah, writer.  I don't think I've ever called myself that before.  I'm not sure how the experiment will go, because I've given myself a fairly short deadline under which to function, but I'm cautiously optimistic about my ability to work well under pressure. It's not going to make me rich and famous, but I just might get enough to buy a pair of back-to-school shoes and the ability to put a notch in my belt.  Cross your fingers.

Fleas are the devil's minions, and I can think of absolutely no good reason why these vile creatures exist.  Give me snakes, mice, spiders, any day...hell, I'd rather face a herd of zombies right now.  I love our dog, but I wholeheartedly blame his low-slung belly and the fact that not a single one of the commercial or prescription flea repellents keeps the damn things off of him.  And so, we bomb yet again, hoping beyond belief that the effects on the fleas are quick and devastating.

I had my second-ever pedicure yesterday.  It was just as unpleasant...wait, no more so...than the first one I had.  The first one was tolerable because I was with my sister and her bridal party and there were more things to worry and stress about that someone messing with my feet.  Yesterday, however, was my attempt to make good on a belated birthday gift for my sweet mom.  Next time, I'll just get her a gift certificate and save myself the unpleasantness.  I know, I know, some people love them, and maybe under different circumstances, I could, too.  But in an already uncomfortable mood, I need a little more than a stone-faced, uncommunicative guy who taps my foot and expects me to guess that I'm supposed to put it in the water, or take it out, or who takes my purse to a chair across the room and gestures to a chair expecting me to magically understand that I'm supposed to put my toes under the nail dryer, when all I could think is "WTF IS that thing, and where do my toes go?"  I don't know if he was lacking English skills, social skills, or a sense of humor (or all of the above), or maybe he was just pissed off that I had forgotten to shave my legs.

Newsflash:  I jump to conclusions.  I make assumptions.  I use my sometimes-flawed deductive reasoning skills to concoct all sorts of theories about people, and the less information I have or the less things make sense, the more I do it.  It's worse when I'm anxious about something, because, guess what!  Turns out jumping to conclusions is connected to anxiety and panic attacks, both of which pop up to bite me in the ass at weak moments in my life.  So it makes perfect sense that in an emotional state, I'll assume my BFF is pissed off at me when she's actually just in the grocery store. It's not in my nature to accept "it is what it is" under the best of circumstances, so asking me to accept that in a heightened state of stress is just as far-fetched as asking me to sprout wings from my hiney. I'm not proud of it, and it causes stress in my life more often than not...but I'm waiting patiently for the time that I figure the exact situation out based on nothing more than thoughtless comments or fleeting actions.  It'll happen.  I'm optimistic. ;-)

My final thought for this Wednesday is that we should simply let go, as much as possible, of the things that make us unhappy.  It's easier said than done, but I refuse to go through life dragging chains and baggage with me.  In contrast, the things that bring us joy, peace, and happiness, even if they don't happen on a predictable or consistent basis, should be grasped quickly and held onto as firmly as possible.  Life is short, and unpredictable, and should be lived, explored, and appreciated. Get your joy where you can.  

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Trouble with Risks

Who we are often gets lost in what we do--the vagaries, the vicissitudes, sometimes even the chaos of our lives.  And inevitably, when that happens, we start to look for ourselves among the rubble.  Some people make bucket lists, some take up hobbies, others just do really deep soul-searching.  Whatever your poison, a healthy dose of "shake your shit up" can be a really powerful and even necessary thing.

And when we do find who or what it is we were looking for, even by accident, it's natural to want it.  You'd have to be dead inside, broken, not to.  When dreams are realized, it's the best feeling in the world.  A niche that fits, that feels good, that allows us to be who we are, even temporarily--everyone wants that, to be comfortable in his or her own skin.

The trouble lies, though, with the smoke and mirrors that our minds (and others') use to fuck with us.  Strong language, I know, but it's the only word suitable.  The brain is a magical place, where dreams and wishes materialize, but that means there are magical gremlins up there firing shots in the dark just to shake us up.  That amygdala is a bitch, and not just to spell.  Get the dopamine and serotonin levels fluctuating, as they do when we're falling in and out of love with something or someone, and it's a party of emotions up there.  Not a tea party, either...more like a drunken frat party where clothes get ruined and nobody remembers what the hell happened the next day.

It's that new car smell, the sound of a beer can opening, the excitement of having a new outfit or hairstyle that you love, that first kiss, that new library book, that brand new television series premiere, Rick Springfield's (or insert favorite artist) newest album, that brand new video game that you have to play obsessively until all the characters are earned...all of those simple things that thrill us, that get our hearts racing, that make us feel like we're not just on a treadmill but actually LIVING, for a little while, anyway.

Creative people are especially at risk for being ambushed by our overdeveloped sensitivities to boredom and routine.  The science behind it is lost on me, but there are parts of the brain that sit there idle while we don't know how to get down and dirty and utilize those brain cells.  Taking risks, putting ourselves out there, stimulates those dusty brain areas and lets us use them.

I've been scared of risks my entire life, and terrified of change.  That's not a healthy place to be. Things that don't change, die...just ask the dinosaurs.  At some point, a new hair color or cut doesn't make the brain matter quiver.  And eventually, you just have to decide that risk is necessary.  You might fall and skin some knees or elbows, you might fail at whatever it is you tried to do.  But you'll live through it and come out stronger on the other side.  (And if you don't, you won't care!)

So, do it.  Whatever it is in the back of your mind tickling your fancy, do it.  The best case scenario is that you succeed like a MOTHER and it's amazing!  The worst that can happen is that you fail miserably, bruise your ego a little bit (or a LOT) and end up with a great story to tell (or write!) someday.  But you'll grow.  You'll spread your wings.  You'll learn that you are badass, invincible, that you rock your own world (as well as some others), and that you.  Will.  Survive.  You'll learn to be fearless, which makes life so much easier.  Take that chance.  It's worth it, and so are you.  Your brain will thank you.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

When I am in crowded situations, such a restaurants, meetings, or receptions, there's a safe place for me--the corner.  

I'm not sure how or why I decided that was safe, because I'm not a "goodfella" waiting for a mob hit, but it is what it is. 

I could speculate.  If I'm in the corner, here's what I avoid:
  • Surprises.  I will see everyone and everything and be prepared, thus preventing awkward social situations.

  • Physical contact from strangers and people I don't see coming.  No chair bumping, nobody sneaking up on me, and above all, nobody putting their hands on my shoulders while they speak to the rest of the table.  Aaack!
  • Missing something.  From the corner, I can see the world but not be involved in it--people watching!
But here's the thing.  I put myself in the corner, and the goal there is to blend in, to "wallflower" (if John Langan says it's a verb, it's a verb), to NOT interact.  And it's MY choice.

It's not okay for me to be put in the corner, either literally or metaphorically.  If I choose to be involved, to interact, then let me.  It means that I've decided you're important enough to me for me to come out of my comfort zone.  It means that I think you're worth it. Sometimes I'm in the mood to make connections, to engage.  And if my wings are fluttering and you try to shove me back in the corner, it's going to hurt me.  My wings are fragile.

So here's the thing.  My wings are a little bent out of shape right now.  I was fluttering along, in my own space, I might add, then rudely swatted back into my corner.  Yeah, that's right.  The one I no longer want to be in.  The one from which I can only talk to and interact with certain people.  The one that hides me from really being involved in the party.  The one in which I am NOT comfortable anymore.  

I am more than someone to carry your watermelon.

I am more than a stand-in dance partner.

I am more than a scared girl afraid to speak her mind and who is afraid of what people think.

I am more than someone who is always there for everyone else when it suits but who has no say in how her life plays out.

I am the girl who hopes the Dirty Dancing references are clear here, or all is lost.

I know, real people aren't Patrick Swayze, and nobody learns how to dance that fast.  But Baby still wants out of the corner.  And I'm an angry butterfly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In a Cage, Singing

Growing pains happen at any age.  When you're young, it's your bones and your joints that ache from the sudden lengthening and multiplying of cells in the marrow.  When you're older, though, it's not an ache caused from getting taller or developing new physical features, but it's no less painful.  The pain is in the spirit, the heart, and those aches aren't treated as easily.

Maya Angelou wrote once about the caged bird singing "with a fearful trill," and of the free bird "leaping onto the back of the wind."  Maybe, definitely, she referred to something more societal, more literally imprisoning that what I'm speaking of, but the effect can be the same thing.

A cage can be comfortable.  It has all the physical necessities of life--shelter, food, water, maybe even a cushion or a toy if you're lucky.  But a cage is limiting by definition.  The very word has such a negative connotation that we put our dogs in "crates" and not cages, although steel bars, locks--same thing.  The view is the same day in and day out, no matter how many times you turn and look the other way, readjust your position.   And at times, the need to stretch out full length and just fly or run can be overwhelming.  It's maybe not the destination that's important, it's the act of flying itself, the ability to do so that drives us.

Pet store birds are happy, I think.  They're also kind of stupid.  Someone feeds them, people talk to them, occasionally take them out and pet them, or let them perch on a fake branch that the stupid birds don't even realize are facsimiles.  But they don't KNOW any better.  They think it's a treat to be out for a little while, then go right back to pecking at the birdseed delivered to them.

Free birds don't plan to fly.  Watch them sometime.  They don't sit and think about the ramifications of flying to the next tree or power line.  They just go--and then they stop when they feel like it, or when the snack bugs look yummy.  Birds would look ridiculous perched in a tree looking at all of the other trees and trying to speculate about pros and cons of each one.  Imagine, the Overthinking, Indecisive Bird.  Much of their beauty would be lost with the spontaneity, and I'm afraid they wouldn't enjoy their flights as much as they do, either.  And that's me, sometimes.  Scared to leave the branch that might as well be a cage, scared to leap onto the back of the wind.  A ridiculous, overthinking, indecisive bird.

I think we should all learn to fly, in whatever way, shape, or form that turns out to be.  As Michael Hutchence once sang, "'Cause we all have wings, but some of us don't know why-y-y-y-y-y-y."  If you wait to figure out why, it might be too late.  Learn to fly, early and often, so that when that cage door opens, you can fly through it instead of being stuck staring at a reflection of yourself that you're too caged to realize is just an image there to trick you into thinking you're not alone.

Flapping my wings...