My Awesomely Random Life (and Everything in Between)

It’s okay to be human

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It’s one of the first pieces of advice I can remember receiving — maybe my dad said it, or maybe I only imagine he did and ascribed the wisdom accordingly because I was little and when you’re little, you live in an insular world like that: “Don’t say you’re bad at something unless you’re going to try to be better at it.”

We live in a society that prides perfectionism as the be-all of virtues, and has bred generation after generation of people succumbing to its pressures. Everyone’s expected to scramble to rise to the top — we just never take the time to tell people which top that’s supposed to be. Of course, the unsaid there is to allow for room to decide exactly what that top is, where it is, what we define ourselves as the best. And when you’re a frustrated little kid who doesn’t understand why you can’t get something right on the first try, you’re bound to let out a few sentiments here and there about how you’re lamentably bad at something.

And as we grow up, we begin to learn that being bad at a few things isn’t awful — it’s human.

It’s refreshing to have flaws, and sometimes, it’s fun to be terrible at things, to revel in ridiculous karaoke sets and botched doodles, to laugh later over that time you tried to make a five course meal and wound up ordering tacos via Seamless as a Hail Mary. Being bad sometimes makes for the best stories. There’s freedom in admitting that your prowess can’t and won’t extend everywhere. There’s something refreshing in an adult who doesn’t just admit their shortcomings, but owns them.

But when kids are little, they’re also shuttled from class to class, sport to sport, extracurricular to playdate, and we begin to form ideas that we’re supposed to be the best at everything. The best friend, the best all-star, the best in science and English and the star of the school play and the kid with whom everyone else wants to trade their lunch. We’re told to excel, to never settle for second place — not just in what we love most of all, but in anything. In everything. Fault isn’t seen as natural strength and weakness, it’s seen as an Achilles’ heel to be rectified. We don’t embrace anything we’re not the best at. We sink in humiliation until we change or feign being at least slightly above average and overall okay. Often, we give up before we have the chance to be better. We write ourselves off before we try to see what we’re capable of.

Being “bad” at something doesn’t take away from the fact that it was your best effort.

Part of owning your flaws is admitting that maybe there’s space to get better. And besides, “bad” is a subjective perception. One person’s “bad” is another person’s extraordinary advancement. Regardless, it’s okay to be at a personal “bad” now and again. Virtuosos are rare, and anyway, they’ve got their own newly heightened standards to live up to and to beat. And for every Beethoven who composed his first masterwork when he was still stringing together how to read words on a page, there are untold hundreds of thousands of people who were crappy at first. Who couldn’t even dream of even so much as touching that sort of rare talent. But no matter how bad they were, they tried over and over. And that is how they got better.

Saying you’re bad at something isn’t the problem. That’s identifying where you have room to grow — so in fact, it’s good to admit it. Especially when what you’re measuring is your own improvement. The problem is getting caught in feeling bad without a desire to change, and what’s worse is having that desire, but not taking the next steps to change. The problem is accepting being “bad” as a limitation. As a sentence. As if there’s nothing in our power to right what we perceive to be “wrong.” And that’s simply not true. Saying you’re bad at something without action is, often enough, little more than wallowing.

Because at the end of the day, the only thing that’s really “bad” is our attitude about how we perceive ourselves.

And if we’re going to call it bad, then we’ve identified what we’d like to change — and it’s now up to us to decide to actually do something about it. To change how we perform, to change how we work, to practice, to change how we structure our day to appropriate our time as needed. Most of all: to change ourselves. And to change our idea of why we’ve been lead to believe “being bad” really is that bad. You can be bad at things sometimes. There’s nothing wrong in that. But dwelling on it will only make it worse. And complaining for the sake of self-pity will get you — and everyone else — absolutely nowhere.

Say you’re bad at something every now and again. Admit to being human. Revel in that if you want to. But don’t declare yourself personally dissatisfied with your ability unless you’re going to personally work to change that. It’s self-respecting at the end of the day, and everybody has to learn to take it for themselves. Or at least, from someone else — as I from my dad, and as, hopefully, you from me.

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publishing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, so if you’ll allow me a moment of sappy self indulgence here, I’m about to get real nerdy.

People like to smile indulgently at me now when I say I grew up alongside Harry and his friends, but I’m really not over exaggerating. From the time I was ten years old, through all the misery and trauma and loneliness and heartbreak of childhood and adolescence, they were there. They were a crutch, a comfort, an escape, an identity. As J.K. Rowling once said, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home, and some days that was the place that felt most like home to me.

Whenever I felt lonely or scared or unhappy, I knew I could find comfort in the familiar waterlogged, dog-eared pages of those books, the binding creased and failing in places.

I remember the first time I read them like it was yesterday. I was 10 years old, tiny but precocious. It was hard to tell what I had more of then – hair, brains, or spunk. I was in the library at my elementary school, where I was on first name terms with the librarian, clutching a stack of books half my height and five times my grade level when I spotted it there on the display rack, all blue and red and purple and magic.

In 2000, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a hot commodity, even in my lower elementary school. It was surprising that it was even in stock, and I couldn’t help but think that it must have been a sign, waiting there just for me to find it.

When I got home from school that afternoon, I retreated to my room and didn’t come out until the third time I was called to dinner. There, laying on my purple and white bedspread, I met my new best friends for the first time. Harry, with his heart of gold and unfailing courage; Ron, always loyal and quick to laugh; and Hermione, who was, to borrow more of Ms. Rowling’s words, my ink and paper twin.

From then on, Harry’s story and mine were intertwined. At age 16, ugly crying over the final chapter of Deathly Hallows at one in the morning. On my 18th birthday, visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, feeling like I could breathe for the first time in months when I saw the castle I’d inhabited in my head for years.

Sometimes I feel that, even with all the words I’ve learned since age ten, all the things I’ve experienced and felt, I will never be able to adequately describe the bottomless pool of love I have for this series. It isn’t so much a book series, a movie franchise, a set of characters, as it is part of my identity. I truly don’t who or how I’d be today if I hadn’t picked up that worn hardcover book in fifth grade.

It taught me the value of love and loyalty and light and friendship. It taught me that courage is never the same thing as fearlessness. It taught me how to speak my mind, how to stand up for what I believe in, how to fight for those who cannot defend themselves, and how to appreciate the little moments of joy amidst the chaos.

Now, two decades have elapsed since Harry Potter entered our collective lives. Hundreds of thousands of fans and friends have come to love this series. Some have already begun passing it on to their children, the second magical generation.

Harry’s story has come to mean so many things to so many different people. A whole generation who learned to love reading, to stand up for their beliefs, to make their own magic.

I know so many people, personally and by reputation, who have used Harry Potter as a way of coping with the ugliness that reality often throws our way. So many stories of strength and bravery and survival, fueled by the magic of rustling pages, midnight premieres, a common bond that draws us all closer.

Even as I sit here in my sunny corner office at my “big kid” job, my eyes rest on the thin piece of resin and wood, fashioned into a replica of Hermione Granger’s wand. After all these years, she’s still helping me be the woman I always wanted to be. While I’ve come to fall in love with half a dozen other ladies of the wizarding world – Tonks and Luna and Ginny and Lily and Molly – Hermione will always have a special place in my heart.

At ten years old, I was all frizzy hair, big words, and unfettered, self-righteous bossiness. I was what many over the years, both kindly and unkindly, have referred to as an insufferable know-it-all. Hell, at 30, I still am. Because Hermione Granger taught me that being bossy is a good thing, that breaking the rules is okay sometimes when you have a cause you believe in, that books and cleverness are important, but not as important as friendship and bravery.

So what can I say, nearly 20 years later? Thank you seems too trite, but it’s all I have. So thank you, J.K. Rowling, for changing and saving my life in ways I am still only beginning to unravel. Thank you to Harry and Ron and Hermione for teaching an entire generation to be better and braver and bolder.

The other day, I picked up my well-worn 17-year-old copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s been awhile since I took the time to sit down and read it, but as I did, I felt like I was rejoining my ten-year old self. Somewhere, lost in time, she’s always been there, hiding in a blanket fort with a flashlight and a book twice her size. She’s been waiting patiently for me to come find her again, reunited after all these years. It’s been a long time, she says. Sit down. I’ll read you a story about love and dragons and magic and some kids who changed the world. I think they’re friends of yours.

Perfectly Mismatched

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It’s easy to forget that the best combinations in life – the things that are infinitely nicer together than apart – are often the most unlikely.

Everything from food and activities to people and ideas can be infinitely improved by its logical opposite, or just something you never would have thought of in a million bajillion years. Like the Milwaukee Brewers continuing to kick ass…in JUNE! Or peanut butter and jelly and potato chip sandwiches (don’t knock it ‘till you try it, y’all).

While crazy and often underrated, the following are things that shouldn’t go together (but somehow fit perfectly).

  1. Laughing so hard, you cry. Probably my favorite emotion of all time.
  2. … and when someone makes the perfect joke right when things are at their most sad, and you can do nothing but laugh really, really hard. I’m convinced there’s nothing a good ugly snort-laugh can cure.
  3. Being attracted to people’s imperfections, and the way they combine to make someone more interesting than conventionally pretty (and all the more beautiful for it).
  4. Breakfast for dinner. One word: waffles and bacon. Okay, that was three words, but one amazing combo.
  5. … and dessert for breakfast. (Life is short. Sometimes you have to make sure you eat your fill of all the cake.)
  6. Sleeping all day, and then staying up all night and seeing the sun rise from the other side. Repeat as needed.
  7. Having the kind of friendship where you can sit together in absolute silence or even be half a world away but you still never feel bored, lonely, or alone. To those people in my life, you know you who are and I love you.
  8. Chocolate. Covered. Potato. Chips.
  9. The knowledge that sometimes, things have to come to an end — loved ones die, relationships come to a close, you graduate from school or leave a job — and yes, you’ll be sad, but that this happens so that you appreciate the time you did have all the more.
  10. Polka dots and stripes. Plaid and leopard print. Gingham and seersucker. Leather and lace. Mix patterns and textures until you can’t anymore, and then mix them again.
  11. Remembering that asking for help is sometimes a bigger sign of strength than struggling through something on your own.
  12. The rush of satisfaction that comes with doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing — but the end result is better and more wonderful than you could have ever imagined.
  13. Indulging in childhood favorites (like rereading Harry Potter in your blanket fort even though you are a full-blown adult). You’re never too old.
  14. Dancing in the rain. Go ahead. Do it one day. See how it feels.
  15. Opposing colors. Black and white is timeless, and few things can make you feel as festive as red and green.
  16. Calling green juice and a cookie a well-balanced meal. Because if those two combined don’t equal net zero, then I really don’t know what does.
  17. Everyone thinks that when you go into a hospital, life stops. But it’s just the 
 Life starts.

QOTD: What are some of your favorite combos that shouldn’t go together but fabulously do?

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What was your career like?

Did you ever figure out what you wanted to do, and if so, did you do it? How important did the money end up being, did you take dreams over paychecks and struggle to follow your passion? Did you create something you loved? Did you work with integrity and honesty and drive? Were you a good mentor, and did you remember to give back to the people who looked up to you? Did anyone look up to you?

Did you take risks?

Did you ever climb that mountain? Did you eat the dessert whenever you wanted to? Did you see the movies you wanted to see? Which books were your favorites? What was your favorite ritual, your alone time, your just-for-myself thing? Did you remember to put yourself first sometimes, not for the sake of being selfish, but for the sake of your own sanity?

Are there people who take care of you now?

Do you have kids? Did you ever decide whether or not you wanted to have kids, and if so, how did you know? Was it a light bulb moment or was it gradual? Did you see some little girl on the light rail one afternoon and realize the pang in your heart was real and telling you that you wanted kids after all? Did you know you were ready or were you scared the whole way? And what were their names? What are they like? Are you proud of them? You must be proud of them, I imagine, the way most parents are proud of their kids, should be proud of their kids. Do they look like you? Do they love you? Were you a good mother? Do they think you were a good mother?

And if you didn’t have kids, how’d you decide? How’d you know they weren’t for you? Was there backlash when you made that choice? Was it even your choice?

Did you travel the world?

Did you explore your city as often as you could? Did you ever move back home? Or was homesickness just a comfortable constant? Was it just a small memento, and a reminder of your roots?

How did you meet the love of your life?

Did you ever have one? Or were there many, and if there were, did one stand out? How did they act? What were they like? What did they do, how did they take their coffee, and did they prefer pancakes or bacon and eggs? What color were their eyes and did you feel safe in their arms? How and when did you know that you loved them? Who said it first?

And if it ended, how did it end? Was it violent and bitter, or two friends saying one last good bye? I hope it was the latter.

Do you regret anything?

What do you regret? And if you do, do your regrets outweigh your good memories?

I hope they don’t. I hope the good far outweighs the bad.

And most of all, were you happy?

Maybe not all the time, because that’s the impossible goal, but overall, were you happy? Are you happy now? Did the things you did and the places you saw and the people you loved… did all those things bring you joy and give you meaning and fuel your drive and determination to make the world a better place?

But I guess that last answer lies in me. Current me. Present day. Right here and now.


Because the things you do now, and the people you love, and the dreams you chase determine whether or not you feel fulfilled in this moment. The risks you take build up to larger rewards, and the things you choose not to do in the here and now determine your biggest regrets.

So chase after what you love now.

And take your risks and leap off those cliffs and book those tickets to that new city and read as much as you can and love as hard as it is humanly possible.

Make the answers you’ll give when you’re older the best they can possibly be.

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I love my laugh. It’s probably one of my favorite things about me.

(I know, in a society that values modesty above all other things, that’s not exactly something that you’re supposed to say. You’re not supposed to have favorite things about yourself; other people can have favorite things about you and give you compliments and you take them graciously, but you never admit that you agree. Well, I think that’s kind of silly, because if you love something about yourself, you should own it. But I digress.)

Someone once told me that my laugh is the kind of thing people know they’ve earned, that makes them feel good about themselves, because they feel like they were genuinely funny enough to earn such a reaction. It’s a loud laugh, obnoxious at times and certainly the direct opposite of sexy (boy, I’m really selling this thing, aren’t I?) because I’ve never been able to learn how to make it quieter and I’ve never bothered to try. I’ll giggle when I’m nervous — because I can never keep a straight face when I’m really freaked out — or I’ll text a polite ‘lol’ when I don’t know what else to say, but when I laugh, I laugh real. Ugly-snort-laugh real. I think everyone should.

Life’s too short for fake laughter when you find something really funny.

After all, why shouldn’t you react accordingly when you find something funny? I don’t mean the harmful-to-other-people, at-the-expense-of-others funny, but rather just flat-out humorous. And there are tons of scientific reasons why you should laugh – from stress relief, to combatting depression, to making yourself feel closer to the person with whom you’re laughing, to the fact that it works like a domino, and is bound to make people around you feel happier, too.

With the untold number of tragedies that keep piling up this year alone, it feels sometimes like the world is growing a little darker, a little sadder, a little more cold. It’s hard to see the positive when everything seems to be pointing in the opposite direction. It’s hard to find the good (which there is so very much of) when it gets overshadowed on a daily basis by an influx of bad news.

It’s in the moment when we begin to feel the heaviness that we need laughter the most.

If only to get through all that bleakness to the next bright spot, even if it feels like it might never come.

You have to believe it will, though. And you get there by laughing. Even if it feels false at first. But laugh at your own jokes (because I know there are moments when you say something that you think is really funny–can I get a holla for all the fellow dad joke and/or puns connoisseurs out there) and laugh at the jokes your friends tell, and go out late at night and laugh about the things you did and said and strangers you flirted with the next morning.

Make memories.

Laugh until you cry. Make lame jokes and witty jokes, sarcastic one-liners and corny comments that make people look at you sideways. Laugh anyway. Laugh despite their looks. Laugh in spite of them.

Laugh every day if you can.

Even if you feel sad. Even if some tragedy struck you. (Sometimes that’s when we need laughter most.) And don’t feel guilty for it, either. The people who love you would want you to be happy, and would want you to laugh. Surround yourself with people who you think are funny. Laugh honestly, and you’ll be surprised how many people will think you’re funny too, just by virtue of the fact that you’re laughing. And you’ll feel better. Even if it’s just for that night, about a joke you won’t remember five years from now, but you’ll remember how you felt and hopefully that was happy.

Laughter brings happiness.

And the world could always use more of that.

I am

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I am the reason you have 18 different smiles,

one for when he walks into the room.

I am every penny you’ve ever wished on,

the sacred silence that stands between you and a sunset,

the tingle you feel when you fit perfectly in the nook of someone’s left arm.

I am the laugher at 3am on the kitchen floor with your best friends,

the reason you choose sunflowers over tulips,

the rhythm of rain that plays the soundtrack to your perfect Sunday morning.

I am the the tears that stain your satin pillow,

the fire in your belly when you speak your truth,

the sigh your soul gives when you feel alone and someone grabs your hand and says, “Hey, me too.”

I am the only thing that breaks

just to get bigger.

I am your heart,

and I am here to make you feel something.

The Almosts

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There is a place in which most accomplished-but-still-self-doubting people frequently exist. It’s a creeping place, the kind that gnaws at you and refuses to let you forget that you are not there. It’s the land of the people who are successful but aren’t quite sure how, who feel like they lucked into something they actually worked very hard for — the people who hold their breath because they think one false move will make it all go away.

I call it living in almosts.

It’s the feeling that what you’re doing, what you’ve done, who you are — everything about you is almost but not quite good enough. Almost but not quite exactly what anyone else is looking for in that moment, in that instance, in that circumstance. Whatever the goal — a job, a relationship, hell, even a strong-enough credit score to land an apartment — there is some sinking, nagging feeling that you overlooked something, that you said just one tiny thing wrong, that you didn’t do everything perfectly, and so because of that one small, hairline fracture, everything else will come tumbling down.

So you overanalyze. You microanalyze. You lay awake at night, trying to find the flaw, picking yourself and your attributes over, even though you know by now that there is nothing else to glean. There is no more. What you did is what you did, and what will happen, happens. You say this like a mantra. Que sera, sera. What is out of your control will happen whether or not you worry yourself to death over it.

Still, though, there is that fear.

I have always struggled with the concept of almost, but not quite. I think I fear it more than I do abject failure, honestly, because in that small space of the “what could have been,” there is an infinite amount of questioning. If you fail outright, if you are told no, if you cannot pass go and cannot collect $200, you know that is it. It’s done. That’s all there ever could have been, and it’s that much sooner that you can lick your wounds, eat your pint (or three) of Ben & Jerry’s, turn around and find another path. You can learn from your mistakes that much faster. But when it is an almost — when you are strung along and think that maybe this (whatever this is) could really be it, The One, the moment at which you finally achieve your dream, only to find out that no, now is not your time yet — it feels almost like a waste. Like you could have tried harder. Like you should have said something differently. Like you were so very close to having everything, if it weren’t for something you did to sabotage yourself somewhere along the line.

But the fact of the matter is, almost does not shift the blame onto you. Almost means you’re actually on the right path — there just might be a little more work to do. Almost is an arrow in the right direction, if you can find it. And you always can. Sometimes it just takes a step back from the gleaning, the obsession, the manic fixation. Sometimes you just have to let things be.

Because sometimes, it simply isn’t your time yet.

I know that’s a trite aphorism, and so much of life is equal parts timing and equal parts working very, very hard, but how much of each can you rely on? Simply, then, you work very, very hard, and then when timing is ready for you, it will let you know. But that feels like you’re leaving a lot up to chance. Which, honestly, you kind of are. But that’s how the world works sometimes. Not everything is meant to be in our control.

First, though, you have to believe you’re good enough as it is. Or you have to tell yourself, even if you don’t believe it yet. Because if you don’t, who else will?

And even if you’re not — if you’re not yet, you have to tell yourself, because eventually, you will be, in some capacity for some role or someone or some dream — then that’s fine. After all, nobody’s perfect. And getting everything right on every first try is never the case.

So fail, and fail a lot.

Fail spectacularly. Fail the most anyone has ever failed before. Get so close to something and let it slip out of your grasp by millimeters, because at least that means you reached as far as you possibly could — and maybe next time, you’ll be able to stretch a little further.

Maybe next time.

That little maybe is called hope.

And hope is what helps turn the almosts into reality.

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