Inconclusive

Have you ever heard a song that you immediately loved? From the first time you heard the first few chords you just knew that this song was meant for you to sing it. And I mean belt-it-out-windows-down-even-if-you-are-at-a-stoplight sing it. Every time you turn the radio on you want it to be playing, and if it isn’t you play it on your phone instead? Create a playlist for it in Youtube so you can repeat the playlist and listen to the song with no end in sight?

No? Well, I tend to get a bit obsessed with things. I jump into things with both feet. I try to push back any fear, I count to three, and I leap. It’s all I can talk about, all I can think about, all I can create.

I used to have a storyline I would play out any time I was having a hard time falling asleep. It was a short scene or two of an unfinished daydream, and I would roll it whenever it was needed. Again and Again and Again.

I could never really add to the story. The scene had come to me so completely pure, it had manifested and no matter my attempts to broaden it or change it or flesh it out it remained an only partially sketched in idea. Eventually I knew all of the nuances of it, I understood every spoken or unspoken moment. I had searched my way into the corners and seen all of the shadows. And the next night when I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep I began to play the scene. Only this time, it was stale. It didn’t resonate with me. It was flat.

The problem with my slightly obsessive personality is that there is never an in-between. I’m not a Laodicean. I leap all the way in or I don’t ever leave the house. As soon as I’ve had my fill of the water, I get out and I don’t even really feel like looking in the vague direction of the water. Like Jay-Z I am on to the next one, on to the next thing, another obsession. I play the song until I hate it, and then I cold turkey it. I find a new song, I come across a new scene.

I’m sitting out on my deck while I write these words, watching the birds go under my car and vaguely worrying that they will find their way into the muffler. I’ve never worried about that before. I keep getting distracted. Distracted from writing this, distracted from the 400 other things that I really should be doing . I’m distracted by the way the flag is flying across the street. I’m distracted by the sound of the wind moving through the trees, by the stark contrast of all of this green against all this sky,  by the spider webs and the people who keep going in and out of the apartment. I’m distracted by a different blog post that says something else entirely. It talks about things that are stable and unchanging. I’m distracted by yet another blog post that instead talks about the subjectivity of worth and the weight of that obligation. I’m so distracted by my brain trying to make plans and then continuously changing these plans and rewriting them and rewriting them, trying to write out a map when it hasn’t even seen the road or the way of transportation yet.

I went to the art museum today. I didn’t have much reason other then I just wanted to be around it. I wanted to walk through a hushed stone building and look at the amazing things people created hundreds of years ago. I wanted to think about beauty and pain and bowls of fruit and continuously try to hash out motivations and reasons. I did not go to navigate my way through large groups who congregated around my favorite pieces and laughed loudly in rooms that echoed. I did not go to discover that Snapchat filters can work with 18th century portraits. I did not go to sit on the steps outside and watch people taking photographs. But our plans rarely work out perfectly, and even while sacrilegiously using the puppy dog feature on Herod’s daughter I still got what I came for. I still was able to run my hand along the marble and stone, I still got distracted by the sculptures, I still wondered about motivations and reasons.

I did stumble upon one piece in the hallway outside one of the galleries. It was a portrait of someone. I remember neither the artist nor the subject, but I stood before it for a good while. Its framing was ornate to match the expectation of the art. The top half of it was beautifully done, detailed and rich. The rest of it was an outline. It was hastily drawn in with a line or two and never completed. There was a dollop of color on the left shoulder that was probably the intended color of the jacket. The info card talked about getting to see the process of the artist, being able to see how the work was formed.

half baked

I didn’t appreciate it for the process, I appreciated it for how hilariously the hands were sketched in. I appreciated it for how close to home it struck me. I’m not the only one who gets distracted and does not finish things. I’m not the only one who puts in so much work and detail and struggle into something to only get bored with it and wander away.

I think this probably fits into the narrative I’ve been trying to articulate for the past 4 months about worth, but that attempt remains half-finished and I’m not at the point of just throwing a frame on it and calling it good quite yet. I’ll get there soon. But I do think what I can formulate from all of this rambling, from all of the scribbled paragraphs of stand-alone dialogue, from the spectrum of uninterested to obsessed, from the hard time I have in finishing things, from the constant hop-scotching nature of my thoughts is that I’m not the only person in this boat. The clear skies quickly cloud over, the dead trees spout leaves, the flowers bloom and die and bloom and fall. It’s all a quest towards something. And sometimes if the only thing you find are questions about beauty and humanity and art or observations of how the wind still rustles the leaves on the trees that have been disfigured for their proximity to power lines, that’s an okay place to be.

I may need to go a few weeks without even looking at the water, but I always come back to it. I always end up leaping in, feet first, with my nose pinched shut. I always play that song again and dance in the car. I always wind up with my head in some day-dream, my notebooks full of moments, my mind full of unanswered thoughts. But, after all, the cookie dough is often the best part of baking.

Descriptors

We have established in prior blogs that I am a shameless sucker for reality tv dating shows such as The Bachelor/Bachelorette. I actually got into a rather long discussion with my brother on the topic of the humanity inherent within these tv shows. Even as I type this, I can hear the snores begin, so I promise I won’t spend extra time discussing the joys of Ashley S. or of poking the Chadbear. Just know, if you ever need someone to tell you their opinions on The Bachelor, I could totally jump in. I’m briefed and always prepared for that situation.

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Being that it is Valentines Day, I found this topic somewhat… topical. (Landsakesalive, I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to, it just happened).

On these shows, the girls/guys have to give a little intro. A 20 second blip of their personalities. These are mostly boring and if they are interesting they are always arbitrary. These tv shows aren’t the only places where people are asked to do this. Ice breakers are built around these very same principals. Job interviews ask these questions. First dates use this as a talking point. Why?

Somewhere in the response to a purely random question on “what kind of ice cream would you be” (chocolate chip cookie dough), there is embedded actual information on who you are. Your choices in how you answer/respond to these kinds of things may speak to your personality (because it’s not too complicated, but it’s delicious. Also bonus, most people like it). Other times, it reveals nothing. What pizza would I be? Meat. Because that’s the best kind of pizza. Done. Nothing more here.

When things are more wide open, it’s interesting to see what people choose to offer. The broad question of “If you wanted someone to know something about you that encapsulated who you are, what would that be?”

What part of you would be important enough that it would be the part you magnified and used to describe the whole? Who are you trying to portray? We are such varied, multifaceted creatures that what we want to portray depends heavily on the identity of the audience. We play to those listening, judging what things would be considered valuable to them and letting that narrow the broad question into something more manageable.

For some audiences:

  • I have 4 bookshelves in my bedroom

For other audiences:

  • I have 4 bookshelves in my bedroom, only 3 of them are used for books and even those are covered with sports memorabilia, figurines, Christmas lights, and Harry Potter Wands.

For even other audiences:

  • My idea of interior decorating is overfilled bookshelves and my grandmother’s artwork.

Another way I answer this question is in the form of “When I write my autobiography it will be called”:

  • I Know This is Important, but I Have to Work Tomorrow and I’m Tired
  • Poor Decisions Are Still Decisions: Celebrating Victories of All Sizes
  • My Social Awkwardness Might Make More Sense If I Told You About It, But Instead I’ll Just Overcompensate By Being Too Loud

What would you say? If someone asked you to describe yourself. If your audience was only yourself? If you just wanted to get down to some miniscule part of who you were, how would you describe yourself? What is important about who you are to you.

Would it be something serious:

  • I used to want to be something more than nice, and now I just wish I could be something more- like nice.

Or something silly:

  • I am way too attached to an elephant pillow pet than any 27 year old should be, and I talk about my hermit crabs too much–but Alexis on The Bachelor showed up in a shark suit and insisted she was a dolphin, so I could be crazier.

Both are sincere. Both are me, just depending on the hour.

What about you?

 

 

Tripping Over My Own Feet

It may be a slight understatement to say that grace has never been my strongest attribute. It may, in fact, be slightly more accurate to say that my lack-of-grace defines me. Endless prayers that God would transform me into something elegant were largely ignored, and in response I think He just gave me the ability to find my clumsiness overly hilarious.

I was obsessed with Daredevil when I was a kid. The cartoon episodes of Spiderman where Daredevil would show up were the absolute best. Daredevil could see things without really seeing. He could navigate his way through a city with confidence in every stride. I was so fascinated by this. I thought if I tried hard enough, perhaps I could fine-tune my other senses into comparable hyperaware super powers. I would be able to leap off of buildings and somersault through small spaces. It was parkour before I even knew parkour was a thing, AND he did it while blind. I wasn’t quite ready to jump off of my rooftop while blindfolded, but I would sit in my room with my eyes closed and listen to the footsteps of my family members, trying to identify each person by the sound.

This harmless exercise began to morph into the fractionally more involved practice of walking around my house with my eyes closed. My other senses remained dull and unenhanced, and unfortunately the walls remained in their positions- stoic, unchanging, and unapologetic.

I got a bit of a stuttering start to this year. If you want to get down to it, I may have stumbled my way through the last year entirely. Yet here we are: 2017. Still mostly new. Still mostly fresh. Stumbling or not, I made it here. We made it here.

Of all of my elective classes in college, Social Psychology was one of my favorites. It was fascinating and fun, my teacher was amazing, and the class was the rare combination of easy and informative where I felt like I learned and retained things with a minimum of stress. I finished quickly during a particular exam, the rest of the room softly filled with the sounds of pencils scribbling. Gathering my backpack and making my way out of the row, my flip flops caught the end of a chair’s legs. Unable to stop my momentum, I landed hard and found myself stuck halfway in and out of the aisle. Everyone in the small classroom stopping writing, looking at me. From my spot sprawled on the ground I let out 2 boisterous laughs that filled the room and were met with utter silence. My teacher quietly asked if I was okay as I handed her the test, her eyes expressing pity over a situation I was used to taking in stride. I nodded and left the classroom, wanting to laugh until it hurt.

My clumsy navigation of life is as if I am wearing banana peels for shoes. I’m fine until I’m not. I’m steady until suddenly I’m slipping and flailing and knocking over anything in my arms reach.

I read The Lord of the Rings when I was 13. This was the height of the awkwardness that comes with limbs no longer being the same size that you were used to them being. I had been called an elf once as a younger girl because the pointiness of one of my ears, and I had abhorred this comparison. Until I read about Lothlorian. I was completely sucked in by the magic of this elven forest, and the perfect elves that lived there. Galadriel was one of the most mesmerizing characters I had ever read. She was strong, influential, beautiful, terrifying, and absolutely graceful. She walked with silent steps, she floated as if she barely needed to even touch the earth in order to move. She was steady, she was confident. She never fell down stairs while holding coffee in one hand and a cast on the other– drenching herself and all around her in the aforementioned coffee. She never dropped glass bottles of medicine at work, or caused an entire shelf of wine to take a swan dive to the ground. She was in control. She controlled others.

I wanted to be like her. I walked around the house (eyes open this time) trying to memorize the places in the floor where it creaked so I could map out a silent path. I tried to make my footsteps light and soft. I didn’t run into any walls, but my feet would land heavily on the hardwood no matter how many times I tried.

Once a year, my youth group would go ice skating. One such night, everything was winding down and there were only a few people left on the rink. A sponsor stood in the middle of the rink videotaping the last few of us skating. I lived for the cold weather. I love the cold of the ice, the brisk air, the fleeting feeling of smooth while I’m on the ice. I turned and saw that the video was trained on me. I smiled, feeling free and beautiful with my hair whipping in the wind, waving at the video camera. She smiled back and me, and the camera stayed on me as I skated around the rink skillfully until my brother unexpectedly ran into me and pushed me towards the edge of the rink. I fell, catching myself on the wall before crashing to the ice. His glee doused my temper. I could picture what that video looked like in my head, me smiling and waving and skating with red cheeks and bright eyes and the impending doom skating up fast behind me.

I sometimes swear I’m walking through life with my eyes closed, hoping to avoid the constant black eyes from turning corners too closely. Destruction seems imminent, but humor always finds me first- always covers the humiliation. Perhaps that’s the best I can hope for; I don’t think I’ll ever be surefooted or steady. I trip into and out of things- either alleviating or creating awkwardness in my wake- and while it sometimes bangs me up and bruises me, it always leaves a laugh in my mouth. That kind of feels like success.

How Far You Think It Reaches

I started working in a photo department of a drug store when I was 17 years old. Even though only 10 years have passed since that time, the entire landscape of picture printing is different now. When I started, we still processed several rolls of film every day. Some people would bring 2-4 rolls at a time once a week. We would receive the film, process the negatives, and print the pictures. The machine for that would have you go through a screen of 6 photos at a time. Here you could make subtle changes in the coloring of the photo, adjust the size of the printed picture, and skip the photos that did not turn out at all. By the time I left that job, we no longer received many rolls of film. Perhaps a couple a week, if that. Instead ,all of our printing came from the digital kiosk or online ordering. These photos did not require you to go through each one. As a result, the pictures were not reviewed before being printed. Red eyes that could have been removed were not noticed, pictures were printed with heads missing. But the system was quicker, and people weren’t as picky.

The first month that I had been working there, my dad asked if I had seen the Robin Williams’ movie “1 hr photo”. I had never heard of the movie, but upon discovering that Agent Michael Vaughn (whom I had dedicated a late-night-red-bull-induced-dance to) was in the movie I rented it from Blockbuster as soon as I could. The movie is…. odd. And not what I was expecting. And AMV (Agent Michael Vaughn (Although I still don’t understand the acronym “OTP”, I’m pretty sure that he and Sydney are my OTP (Abi, did I use that correctly?). ). ) is not very AMV-like. But it was very interesting, and it stuck with me over the years because it has some truth in it. In the movie, Robin Williams develops film, and he becomes attached to a certain family. They bring him rolls of film from their wedding, birthday parties, their new babies, etc, etc, etc. He literally sees the highlights of their life, he knows the important things that happen, the big moments, he becomes a part of those moments in his own way.

Before I started working at the drugstore, my mom would bring her rolls of film there. Often the photo lady would be outside having a cigarette when mom would be walking into the store. She was so familiar with my mom, that she would stop her outside, take the film and say “doubles?” without having to even verify a name.  When I started working there, I got to know the regulars. They would bring in the film from their grandkids’ birthday parties and dance recitals and school programs. And more than that, they would want to talk to you about them. They would look through the prints to see if there were any they did not want, and they would tell me stories of each photo. They would laugh, cry, and share. People like to talk to strangers. It’s refreshing to tell someone who doesn’t know you, someone who hasn’t heard the same stories for years,  the happenings of your life. Some times their kids or grandkids would come in to pick up the photos and if I asked after their mom/grandma’s health or how her new car was or if she was acclimating to her recent move they would stare at me with so much distrust you would think they just finished watching “1 hr photo” themselves.

I no longer work in a photo department. For the most part I don’t miss it. I don’t miss the unexpected nude photos you would see, I don’t miss the people who would be upset that their photos were blurry (I’m not a miracle worker, the photos are blurry because you don’t know how to hold the camera steady!). I don’t miss the paper jams or the hassle it was to change to photo paper. But I do miss some of the customers. I couldn’t tell you their names now, but there was a time I could tell you the names of their grandkids.

I now work in a different industry, however it is strange how similar it is. People come in and people call during big moments: New jobs, retirements, new cars, new homes, kids going away to college, kids getting marriage, having babies, selling houses, moving to nursing homes, people dying. I see the big moments. I begin to know certain customers not just by name or face, but by phone number and car. I know about medical problems and I know if they are about to propose to their girlfriends. It’s creepy in a way. Creepier if I see these people outside of the confines of my work. But it’s also nice. I enjoy visiting with certain customers; I genuinely care about their lives. (other customers I don’t quite enjoy talking to so much, but that’s another blog post)

I had a lady come in the other day. She and I had about the sweetest conversation you could have imagined. She was the nicest lady and had seen so much life. She was so kind and we talked about elephants and her house and her son. We talked about when she was in high school decades before and classic cars. Near the end of the conversation we got to talking about babies. After bragging on my nieces and nephews I asked her if she had any grandbabies and she indicated that she did not. She said her son is very conscientious and he cannot justify bringing a child into this broken and ugly world. He cannot rationalize bringing life into these hateful times. I thought about this for a moment, and I respectfully responded that I could see where he was coming from, but if we didn’t bring people into the world and raise them to take care of each other and to take care of the world, how would things change? She took my hand, looked and me in the eye and said “Oh Honey, do you honestly think that 2017 will be any better?”. With that, my heart broke.

She gave me a kind- albeit patronizing- smile as I responded that I will hold out hope for that very thing. That I would do my best to try to improve things for my circle of influence. Backed with her 75 years’ experience, her look was soft and skeptical as she said: “you’re a good girl. Not everyone is good”.

I feel as if almost every job is similar to my experience in that you see people at very specifics times of their life. You see them at highs or at lows or at the middle plane. You learn things about people around you in episodic encounters. You see people at their best or at their worst or at their normal Tuesday being. But you see people. I understand the lady I spoke to, and she does have some excellent arguments on her side. But, as I continue to interact with people on a daily basis, I cannot fully accept her reality. I cannot accept that people are bad and life is evil, and things are only going to get worse. There is still beauty here. There is still love here. And if you cannot see beauty and you cannot see love, that is when you work to create beauty. That is when you work to show love. Hoping for better does not mean ignorance to bad, it does not mean inactivity. It just means digging for some diamonds.

Diamonds can be found, and then shared. Our area of influence, our range, is often larger than we think. Because we started with AMV, it seems appropriate that we talk about his first meeting with Sydney. She comes in to the CIA, turning in her place of work when she discovers what they really do. Agent Michael Vaughn has her draw a map of her department and how big of an operation it is “how far you think it reaches”. She takes a few moments and sketches out a small map before handing it to him. About to start lecturing him on what she believes should be the next steps, he stands and retrieves a much larger map. This map is in great detail and makes her sketch look like a block of a street while the big map shows an entire country. We may have a small bubble, but even the people we see for a moment to talk about their address change or their new piece of jewelry or even the mail person who stops in and exclaims how cold it is outside. These are still people that we impact and are impacted by. These are still places where we can plant some gold.

I was speaking with another customer the other day. He had found himself stranded on the side of the road for 3 hours out in California. While waiting for help to arrive, a highway patrol man stopped to see if he needed assistance. The highway patrolman walked towards him and asked what the problem was. My customer was upset, tired, sick of the side of the road, and mad that the tow truck was who knows where; but he said he has a rule. Anytime something like this happens, anytime he is in a bad situation that just makes him want to scream and cuss, he has to find someone and smile at them. He said he sighed, looked at the police officer, and then smiled. “Well, that’s a story, but first of all, how are you doing today?”. This interaction completely changed how he was feeling. It turned things around for him.

I’m not naïve. I know things in life are often far worse than waiting on tow trucks. But I also know that there is light to be found. Sometimes that light just looks like a matchbook; sometimes it requires some assembly. But I truly do believe that if we strive to make things better, if we strive to improve the things in our reach, it makes a world of a difference. Everything is contagious. Despondency is contagious. Evil is contagious. Encouragement is contagious. Bravery is contagious. Love is contagious.

Writer’s Block

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“Because one has only learnt to get the better of words/ For the thing one not longer has to say, or the way in which/ One is no longer disposed to say it” – T.S. Eliot

 

I have bookshelves full of books. Some books I’ve read and loved, some I’ve read and tolerated, some I’ve read and hated. However, the largest population of books are ones that I’ve not yet begun. Books upon books that I own, but I’ve never opened. I can give you many reasons for this. Perhaps I just haven’t been in the mood for that specific adventure. I’ve looked at them, thought about reading them, but just haven’t yet felt up to it. Or maybe they are the books that I am saving. Books that I know I will love, that I have been dying to read; but because they are special I want to treat them as such. I don’t want to give them the half-engaged attention I give to some things, I want to be focused and consumed by them, so I am waiting for the right moment.

However, when I have time to myself, when I have time to read and relax, I find myself between the pages of a familiar book- I find myself in the middle of stories I practically know by heart. These well worn covers welcome me like home, and I sink into their comforting predictability.

I’m this way in many aspects, I think we all are, we run to the familiar when we need to feel safe. I’ll break my strict “keep Christmas things special for Christmas time” rule to watch ridiculous Christmas movies during a particularly hard August. I will play the same songs on repeat when I am looking for calm. (See Sigur Ros “Ara Batur” for my writing music.) And every time I feel the need to take to writing to sort out my emotions, I end up with my nose buried in T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”.

“Home is where one starts from. As we grow older/ The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated/ Of dead and living […] a lifetime burning in every moment”

I never seem to know what I am saying until I have said it. I often don’t understand my feelings until I’ve written them down and attempted to process them. I’m unable to figure things out until my pen hits the paper. But sometimes even the ink doesn’t help. Sometimes I can’t find the words to write my heart. Sometimes all this ends up being is a “raid on the inarticulate with shabby equipment”. I’m trying to push past this, trying too hard to force it. But I feel like I’m in unfamiliar territory.

I’m used to big emotions. Emotions that are loud, emotions that pace around in your gut and roar their presence in a way that keeps you from not being able to notice them. Summer is for big emotions. Sun soaked days, grape soda, baseball games, heat-fueled anger, impatience: summer does nothing small. However, as summer slinks away, falling dormant, autumn glides in on the very principle of subtly.

I struggle with indecisiveness, with not knowing what I want or where I am trying to get to. I have a dozen or so blogs that I began writing in the last month, I have a handful of stories that I began-abandoned-and began again. I start full of inspiration, full of vigor, and then it falls into apathy. It isn’t right, it isn’t going anywhere, it doesn’t make me feel anything except for uprooted and unsettled. I spent hours in Florida this September staring at the waves, searching the salt water for answers or direction or something. But the waves, the dried leaves, the slight chill in the air speak calm and do absolutely nothing to direct me.

I taste autumn as I drink my coffee. It is an added teaspoon of loneliness and malaise that hasn’t yet dissolved. It is not an overpowering dose of itself nor is it the bold absence of it. It is just a trace, an aftertaste that is gone on the next sip- perhaps it disappears into the grey blanketed sky. Perhaps it absorbed into my skin.

As I attempt to write my way out of the block, as I attempt to translate myself and the world around me, I have not concluded anything. However, Bob Wallace sang a song to Betty Haynes that makes me think of Thanksgiving coming up, that reminds me to adjust my focus.

So, if I’m worried and I can’t sleep, I’ll count my blessings instead of sheep. I’ll focus on some of the things that are good. Because there are good things.

  • I am grateful that love will always be more powerful than hate. I’m grateful that the big commandments that Christians are left with all deal with love- loving the Lord and loving others. I’m grateful that Love saved me and that I have an obligation to show that love. Because, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”. This gives me hope in every situation.
  • I am grateful for coffee is all of its forms. I am grateful for the coffee I drink on weekdays that is darker than my soul, and I’m grateful for the fancy-spancy Starbucks lattes whose sugar makes the coffee as sweet as I aspire to be.
  • I’m grateful for picture messages so I can see my nieces and nephews even as they are far away, and so that I can send and receive ridiculous memes and gifs that make me laugh on a daily basis.
  • I’m thankful that every day is a new start, a clean slate, a chance to begin again. A chance to move forward.

Take some time, find the things that you are thankful for, find the things that make your heart swell, and share them. Share them, and maybe even writer’s block won’t be so bad.

 

You’re Talking To Yourself In The Mirror Again

Dear 16 Year Old Kearsten,

Hi, it’s me. Well, it’s you. Well, kinda. Don’t act so surprised. You know how much we talk to ourself, written communication from the future was the next logical step. I know you, with your driver’s license and your white Nissan Maxima. I remember who you are. Just last year you watched the trailer for Pride and Prejudice approximately 500 times while you and your friends sighed at Mr. Darcy. You know all of Orlando Bloom’s lines from The Lord of the Rings movies, but you are no longer quite so proud of that fact. Yeah, I know you.

I just thought it may be time I dropped by. I know you’ve a lot going on, so I won’t stay long. I just have some quick knowledge to lay on you.

First of all: At some point your hair will be so long that they best way to keep it out of your face is to use a pen as the stabilizing factor in a bun. While this is baller, it is NOT a good idea to keep the pen in your hair when you go to sleep. Seriously, take the pen out. Your pillows do not need ink on them. It’s very hard to remove. Sleep with your hair down. I’m begging you.

— I know that adolescent, awkward monster in your body remembers too sharply the dreaded years of 10-14. Just a heads up, that fades. The further you get from it, the more 11 year old you will be super entertaining. She’s a part of you, the unsure homeschooler who brushes her hair too much and doesn’t know not to mix patterns; but you learn to like her more. She’s not like everyone else and she isn’t afraid of that. Treat her nicely, you’ll wish you had her confidence.

— Take a breath. Life is not a competition. You don’t win by being richer, smarter, or more talented than other people. Stop trying to live like you have to catch up to them. You walk at your own pace, and you don’t have anything to prove. Everyone that you think has it all together? They don’t. Like colossally don’t. So stop stressing. Sure, you are running a race, but you are the only contestant. You are going to win this thing no matter what. Yes, that also means you are going to lose this thing, but that’s okay. All the stuff in the middle balances everything out.

— You have so many adventures in front of you. I mean, this is the year that She’s the Man comes out in theaters. You have literally no idea what is waiting for you! You are going to meet so many people, you are going to go on so many trips. You are going to laugh so hard you cry on like a weekly basis. Sometimes you’ll cry so hard you laugh. Life never will turn out as you envisioned. I would say it won’t turn out like you plan, but you can’t fool me. You aren’t one for plans. Just keep choosing between left or right, keep walking. It’ll be fun. You’ll go places.

— Don’t takes things to heart so much. When people don’t like you, it doesn’t mean you have to feel bad that they don’t like you. It’s not your job to offer apologies to everyone. Let things roll off of you like water. Treat people kindly, as much as it is unto you be at peace with all men, and scotchguard it baby.

— Just because things are temporary doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be fully embraced. Temporary tattoos have a life span of like a day and they still rock awesome. So, let things in more. Sure, jobs, college, places are all temporary; but time is funny and it runs longer than you may think. It’s okay to put down roots. Holding yourself back is stupid. Life is temporary, people are temporary. your favorite TV show is temporary. This does not diminish their value. Try to be more unguarded. It’s worth it.

— Your adventures are your adventures. They don’t have to look like anybody else’s. It’s your story, and it’s pretty good.

Hang in there. Some of your favorite people haven’t even been born yet, you haven’t read your favorite book yet, you don’t know what Netflix is yet, you haven’t watched an episode of River Monsters yet, and you haven’t even seen the Royals in a World Series yet. Seriously, There are so many wonderful things ahead of you- don’t take them for granted.

All my love,

Kearsten

Paper Dolls and People are a Similar Shape

When my fingertips itch with too much energy, I inevitably take off driving. In college I would find a road I didn’t know, roll my windows down, and drive for as far as I could. When I was home I would find my favorite roads, the ones where the trees form a canopy over the pavement, and put on my high-beams and drive. It’s not so much about going fast or about blaring the music. It’s about the sound of the car, the sound of other cars. It’s about the feeling of the wind in my hair and on my face. It’s about the heat on my toes, and the hum of traffic all helping me to reset- to find my calm.

Do you ever have your breath taken away by a sudden awareness of the existence of other people? I am not really sure how to describe it, this revelation that there are so many other people who live and work and play and dream. All of these people, living their lives, are so independent of you. We often only see people in relation to who they are to us. They are not just people, they are our mothers, our sisters, our cousins, our customers, our bosses, our coworkers, our friends. Ours, ours, ours, ours. We are our only point of reference, so they filter in to us as categories.

I remember being at my grandfather’s funeral and seeing a photo of him and my grandmother when they were young, and being shocked by it. The fact that they were once young was something I had never dwelt on. The fact that they had had dreams and a future and a life to look forward to had never been something I gave any thought to. Yet there they were, looking almost unrecognizable with hope and hunger in their eyes. They had not just been my grandparents, they had been people. I don’t know why this fascinates me, but it does.

Do you know that scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where Clarence is trying to tell George Bailey how much of an impact it makes for him to never have been born? Clarence is sad, resigned, as he tells George: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole”. We had a customer pass away a few months ago. Someone I only saw once in person, but we had talked on several occasions on the phone. I knew very little about her life or who she was, but I know that she was kind and understanding even when she was hopping mad about something. When I heard that she had passed, I was upset. But nothing prepared me for how crushed I would be when her significant other came in to settle some of her estate. He sat down and I looked him in the eye and told him how sorry I was for his loss, and how much I had enjoyed her, and my heart absolutely crumbled.

I try to block out people. I walk through a crowd as if it were a maze to be won (with elbows to throw if necessary). I grocery shop with headphones on, not to listen to music, but to avoid having to converse with other shoppers. I give my neighbors a friendly smile, but I don’t give off a “ask me for an egg or some sugar” vibe. It’s overwhelming to think of everyone’s story; to walk through a maze of 40,000 and feel their dreams and failures. I treat people in categories because it is much less work and emotional toil to see them as a collective instead of as individuals.

There is a lady who will keep me on the phone all day long if I do not guard against it, but I can never quite force her off the phone quickly. I always just want to extend her some grace because she is kind and lonely and I would want someone to treat me with respect if I were in her position. And then once she came into work and began to tell me about her life. She used to be a teacher, she made all of her clothes from feed sacks, and she sewed for her whole family. She told her husband she would not marry him until she had her own sewing machine; and while he didn’t like that, he waited all the same and once she got her sewing machine they were married. She gave me a glimpse into her life and she glowed with it.

It’s an odd balance to try to establish. The balance of the weight of knowing that other people are, and the weight of ignorance. It’s so easy to choose ignorance. So easy to worry only about things in relation to me. So easy to refuse to extend grace to others. But people break past that Plexiglas barricade. If only to remind me that to be old is only to have been young; and to that to be in pain is part of this human plight; and that while I whip down roads late at night with goose bumps covering my arms, the people I pass all have lives with victories and problems – with love and laughter. Clarence knew what he was talking about, and it’s not all in relation to me.

Processing

“Writing Is A Process”

Do you know how many times I’ve heard this, how many times I’ve said this? It is a process- and processes are messy. The world has an order, which is why- as humans- I think we crave that order to be reflected in our lives as well. Things have their place. Step 2 comes after step 1. Things fit.

You know what you want to write about, and from there you craft a thesis. You build from that an argument, and you sort things into an outline. From there you flesh it out. B follows A, and C is the conclusion.

But things don’t fit. Ask any writer. Or ask anyone who has ever written a paper for class. Or ask anyone who has ever gone into something with a set plan. Order is not what comes first. What comes first is often just a word, just the argument, just a counterpoint before you even know what the point is, or what you want the point to be. I often start on “T” and I have to simultaneously work backwards and forwards to get any bearing on what alphabet I am even in the middle of. And things get messier from there.

As a kid you have a dream. The dream morphs as you age, but in college you figure it out. You graduate, get married, work, your life is crafted.

Things are never that simple for anyone. Things never fit your order.

I went to college the year the economy went to hell. I was lucky. I had 4 years of college and 1 and 1/2 years of graduate work to allow things to rebuild before I had to step foot into the working world of obligations. I watched people graduate, and I heard them talk about such grand ambitions. But, the secret to happiness is lowered expectations, so I tried to brace myself. People didn’t get dreams jobs, I didn’t need a dream job. People don’t get dream lives. I didn’t expect the world. I heard all the negative chatter about “my generation” stepping in with our egos and our attitude like we were entitled to the things that we dreamt of and worked hard for. I lowered my expectations, and I tried to be practical about what my life would look like.

I’ve written entire papers before, thousands of words, before I discovered what I was writing about. I’ve cut out and trashed whole papers because at the end I found my thesis- I understood what the previous 9 pages were building up to. It is such a painful process, such a slow process, to not know what you are going to say until you have said it.

I hate decisions because in order to decide what to do, you have to know what you want, where you want to go. And honey, I’m drawing this treasure map out as I walk. Some days it feels like an adventure- an entirely blank landscape waiting on me to sketch in the details. Other days it feels like I’ve been dropped into an ocean blindfolded and I have to flail around until my fingertips catch hold of something to keep me from drowning. It feels like I’m writing a paper all the way to the end, and then rewriting it from the last page only to get to the last page again and realizing I am saying something completely different. So I start again, rewrite, rewrite, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

As the people around me all ask in different words and about their own life “what does it mean”, “Is this all there is”, “Is it worth it”, all I hear are my own sentiments: “when I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after the wind”. This plight is not unique. I’m not the only one who has absolutely no idea where I am going. I’m not the only one erasing the first 9 pages again and again hoping to finally have something that makes sense, something that means something. But just because the first 9 pages didn’t make the final cut does not mean that they are pointless. They got you to where you were going. And even Hannah Montana knew the value of the journey. This “it” that we question, this thing we want to debate the worth of, this is who we are and where we are. It makes up our lives, it consists of what is here and now. Chasing after the wind creates its own wind. Chasing after the wind is the fun of it.

I’ve tried to be practical. I’ve tried to do things that make sense- that followed a certain order. First a, then b. But practicality has never been my strong suit- it sits uncomfortably on my frame. And I’ve never been one to know what I’m saying until I’ve said it. So I think that I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep talking, I’ll keep looking for the argument that I’m supporting and changing with it as I go. Because, after all, writing is a process, and we are all trying to figure out just how to process.

Tall, Decaf Cappacino

Do you know that scene in “You’ve Got Mail” where Tom Hanks’s character, Joe- just call me Joe- Fox is complaining about places like Starbucks? “The whole point,” Joe emphatically expresses “is for people with no decision- making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee… so people who don’t know what they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not only a cup of coffee, but an absolutely defining sense of self.”

I am horrible at decisions. I am this Starbucks patron whom Joe Fox has every right to mock. But, I’m sorry, not all of us can have moguls for a father and grandfather. Not all of us can own a boat or two, and not all of us can figure out what they are doing in any aspect of their life- let alone inside of a coffee shop. Life is full of tough decisions, and life is all about making these tough decisions:

What do you do about your job? What kind of car should you buy? Should you renew your lease on your apartment or should you sell your house and buy a new house? How much money should you be putting into your retirement account? What kind of retirement account should you even have? Do you wear the Ravenclaw socks or the Hufflepuff socks today? Because, while you wish you were in Ravenclaw, you are almost undoubtedly a Hufflepuff. And being a Hufflepuff is not a bad thing. When you wear those socks you feel like you are a nicer person than you feel like you are when you wear the Ravenclaw socks, but the Ravenclaw socks make you want to be smarter. The problem is, you feel like you are probably actually a Slytherin at your core, and you are set to be kicked out of both Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff on account of this.

See what I am talking about? Life is hard.

One of my main problems is that I have a hard time distinguishing the important, life changing decisions from the less-important, comfort changing decisions. Every decision for me becomes large scale, every decision is made with the weight of a “change the course of your life, I will take the ring to Mordor” way. When, in actually, most of the decisions are Sam-size “what do I bring with me in my pack, what things do I downsize way”. I have to learn how to let the little decisions slide without the anxiety. Taking a step backwards, trying to see the whole forest and refocus helps.

Even when the Riddler was going to let Robin and Dr. Chase Meridian plummet to their deaths and force Batman to choose which one to save, Batman was able to save both of them. While I am not Batman, and you definitely cannot have it both ways in most of the life long decisions we make, it will be okay. There are not just “good decisions” and “bad decisions”. Sometimes a good decision is also a bad decision for awhile. Sometimes things don’t make sense. But this is when a bit of trust comes into play. I’m not great with directions (that’s an entire topic for another post), but a little faith and a good Guide will get you a long way. Plus, even the small Samwise Gamgee “what things do I keep in my pack” decisions can mean a whole lot when you are far away from comfortable or far away from home and you realize you still have some salt from the Shire with you.

Tabula Rasa

I watched the 2015 Super Bowl at home with my Mom and Dad. At one point my Dad and I were sitting in the living room and my Mom was hard at work replenishing the snack food. I don’t remember what play it was, but my Dad said: “Wow, what a gutsy call!”. My Mom, only half hearing from the other room said “What?? Jesse called??”. Not even a moment later the announcer said “that was a gutsy call”, and my Dad, without missing a beat, said “Becky! Al Michaels just said that Jesse called!”

Do you know the feeling you get when you let go of something that is not good for you? This something could be anything- a habit, a hurt, a dream, a relationship. Whatever it was it was just destructive. These things tend to linger. They fester in us and make us feel so comfortable with their presence that it is almost unbearable to imagine life without them and almost impossible to remember who we were before them or apart from them. Often times we resolve that enough is enough- we are through. We grind out teeth and plant our feet to brace for the backlash. But the backlash almost always wins.

It’s amazing how much stuff we accumulate. I don’t want to be a packrat. I have watched enough episodes of Hoarders to be fearful of the amount of clutter I already have. I suppose it is in my blood. I blame the Sutterby in me for my inability to get rid of some things. But, as you put your life in boxes, you do tend to relive some of it. I spent so many nights in late February and early March reading notes, looking at photos, or finding flowers I had pressed in the pages of different books as I tried to compile my belongings in order to transport them from my parent’s home to my new home. I had lived in that room of my parent’s house since I was maybe 9 or 10. Those walls had seen me through a lot of life changes, a lot of late nights, a lot of tears, and a lot of laughter. The walls at my new place didn’t know me yet. But I brought over enough memories and hung them on the walls, tried to give them a jump start. A cliff-notes version of what to expect. Now the walls of my apartment have seen me through a lot of life. They are inhabited by me, they are where my new memories store up.

But do you know that feeling when the backlash doesn’t win? It isn’t even really a feeling. It’s the antithesis of that scene that would be exactly 3/4s of the way through the book. Watching a bad habit cease to exist is often like watching night fall. It’s slow, creeping by so slightly that you don’t notice it is here until it has fallen completely without any fanfare or fireworks. it is done, and we are suddenly different.

Summer was sitting in my car at Longview lake on July 4th trying to leave after the fireworks show and listening to a 6 year old playing the best game of “Would you rather” ever played by anyone. “Would you rather be a gymnastic player or hit a gymnastic player with your car?” “Would you rather lose your eye makeup or rip your nose off?” “Would you rather have a water fight in the morning, evening, and afternoon or just sit and be dumb?”. Summer was not caring that it would take hours to get home, and being grateful for the remaining oreos and pringles. Summer was grape soda, cookouts, and baseball. Summer was cheesy weenies, and long nights with the perfect people. Summer was feeling like everything in the world had stopped and was perfect for just those moments.

I am well aware that people gripe about New Year’s Resolutions. I know, being over 2 weeks into the New Year, several resolutions have been “broken”. I, however, love everything about New Year’s Resolutions. I love the crisp way new beginnings start. I love empty notebooks, clean calendar pages, unopened mail, fresh snow, and the New Year. It is the hope I enjoy. the possibility of anything. The possibility of everything.

My nieces and nephews all came to spend a week at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They slept in the basement where we have a bunk bed, a regular twin bed, and then two twin mattresses all in one area. Putting them to bed is one of my favorite times. Not because they are going to sleep, but because they all want hugs and kisses, and they all are different about them. The oldest will lean down from the top bunk and give me a long single hug, kiss on the cheek, and then say “Good night” with his chin out a little and the cutest look on his face. The middle girl will giggle and giggle when I crawl into the bottom of the bunk to give her goodnight snuggles and she will not want to let me go. My first niece will request that I give her more hugs and kisses than I give the rest of them (which always ends up with my re-kissing and re-hugging everyone some more), The second youngest will hug me tight around the neck with one arm while rubbing his eyes with his other hand and telling me some story about something that happened that day, and the youngest will wait patiently for his turn, but then give a tight tight hug. It makes my heart feel so full it almost hurts.

I love that with New Year’s comes an almost mandatory reflection on the past 12 months. Who were you when the last year started? Who are you now? What did you celebrate? What did you mourn? Where did you grow or where did you utterly fail? This time of year breeds reflection. Too often we are contented and blissfully ignorant in life so much so we become masters at “staying the course” regardless of where it leads us. Reflection helps shake that up a little. It wakes us up enough to be semi-aware. Changing- letting go of the cancerous and ugly bits of ourselves is a slow moving process. It is tough going, one step forward and a rolling fall back 500 steps. But eventually, things fall away quietly. You don’t always even know things are gone until you suddenly realize they are. It’s like when a cd had a hidden track at the end and it would come on and surprise you. You didn’t realize the music had even stopped until the hidden track scares you.

Every year we go see the lights at Christmas in the Park. We’ve done this every year since we could both drive. We drop by and pick up a pizza from Little Caesars, coffee from Starbucks, and armed with Christmas music we get in line. The line is the best part. We sing, eat pizza, talk about life, and reminisce. We talk about how the carriage house makes me think of the movie Sabrina, and how when we went with a group of people one of the guys ran into the woods to use the restroom, and how we have done Chinese Fire Drills while in line. We keep this tradition  of going every year, and it has grown. She got married, so her husband was now part of the tradition, and then a little boy, and then a little girl. Now the 5 of us require a larger car than before, and the pizza is split between more mouths, but it gets better every year. the tradition expands and it is more and more fun. We have always shared life together, always had each other’s backs, always been there no matter what. And the nights, sitting in a car, waiting in line, watching snow fall or leaning our heads out windows in unseasonably warm weather, are the perfect culmination of that. This year little buddy is old enough to really enjoy it. He stood, walking around to the parts of the van to see the lights the best. Seeing him get excited about it, and then talking about it even weeks later, makes it that much better.

2015 was a tough year. It had its share of low spots. Times where I was heartbroken or livid or defeated. It was also a year of amazing moments. Even though I failed constantly, it was also a year with successes. 2015 was a great year. It was a year where the laughter outweighed the tears. It was a year of overcoming, letting go, moving forward, and it was a year where the Royals won the World Series. I think what I am trying to get at is that we do have the opportunity to take what life throws at us and do something with it. We don’t have to stay the same. We are not frozen, turned into stone by the White Witch. We can reinvent ourselves. We can have a fresh start. We can try to be better than we were last year. Even if 15 days in our fresh start is ruined. I prefer to at least try.