Forced Reflection

Social media is interesting this time of year. Last week my timeline was inundated with people posting their Top 9 on their Instagram, with Insta-stories showing their favorite moments of the year. Facebook memories being shared, and so very many pictures. The collective remembering we do as we leave behind an old year and welcome a new one. It was almost impossible to escape the peer pressure to look back over the year.

Almost impossible.

I’ve been avoiding this. I haven’t exactly wanted to reflect. I’m starting 2019 feeling a little broken. I learned a lot about myself the last few months that I didn’t necessarily enjoy learning and I do not like knowing now. 2018 didn’t seem to pull its punches. I know I had several good times – I know this last year held joy and adventures, but in truth I haven’t wanted to deal with the emotion I knew would come from remembering the year. Mostly because I know that means I’ll have to forgive it for its ugly bits. I wasn’t ready to love it – not yet. This kind of acceptance will undoubtedly lead to attempts at improvement and that’s almost never fun.

In one of Donald Glover’s standups he talks about how hard it is to change as you get older. It’s a funny bit about a Lady Gaga tour, but he essentially says “once you hit around your 30s, that’s who you’re gonna be for the rest of your life pretty much.” Logically, I know this isn’t true. But it feels true. The whole old dogs/new tricks thing.

We need weird stuff. But as an adult, we’re not really allowed to be weird anymore. Like, the older you get, the less you can take weird stuff. That’s the truth. You can’t take weird stuff anymore. As a kid, the idea of Santa Claus is really weird… It really is, but you’re just like, “Hey, there’s this fat guy that comes in your house, eats all your food, and he leaves little gifts for you and while your parents are sleeping, he runs up the chimney.” You’re like, “He gives me gifts… cool.” You’re just fine with it. You’re fine with that guy being in your house. As an adult, somebody’s like, “Hey man, ‘Glee’ comes on at 9:00 instead of 8:00 tonight.” You’re like, “… really?! “Why’d they change it?? Why’d they change it?” Can’t take any change whatsoever.

There’s a painting at the Nelson* by Piet Mondrian. At this point, I just wander aimlessly around the museum looking for rooms where there aren’t a bunch of people. I look at whatever piece of work catches my eye, and this one grabbed me from across the room. It’s a darker piece – set in shadows, heavy.

stammer-mill-with-streaked-sky-1906

Summer Mill with Streaked Sky, 1905-1907

* Yes, I’m aware that too many of my anecdotes come from the Nelson, but you go find me another place to feel equal parts comfortable and inspired to write that is outside of my house and safe and then my anecdotes can be informed by the surroundings of this new place you’ve suggested. But until then, I’ll be hiding in one of the rooms with the mummies.

Being the uncultured oaf that I am, I had no prior knowledge of Piet Mondrian. Certainly could not have told you that he was one of the pioneers of abstract art in the 20th century (or so Wikipedia says). On the plaque by the painting they include an image of his more well known abstract work and, I kid you not, I was astonished to see the difference in his later work.

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Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue

My now good buddy Piet was in his 30s when he painted the mill painting. He was in his 60s when he painted Composition C (No. III). You can see elements of his creative direction in his earlier paintings; hints of where he would go and what his work would become. But only if you are really looking. Otherwise, it feels like a complete transformation.

While I think about where I am, who I am at this place in my life, edging ever closer to that irrational fear that eventually positive change will be impossible, I think about the experiences of the past year. As expected, the good bits shine brightly even in the face of the ugly bits. I saw Hamilton, I went to concerts for T-Swift, Bleachers, Thomas Rhett, and Modest Mouse. I went to ComicCon in Denver and checked New Hampshire off the list of states I haven’t been to. I went to museums in St. Louis and Kansas City and New York City. I saw the ocean. I pet manta rays and held conversations with crabs. I moved. I watched a lot of Supermarket Sweep. I tweeted a lot about the Bachelor.

With the exception of Supermarket Sweep, these experiences all taught me new things. I learned about history, I listened to other people’s stories. I did new things and I discovered new interests. I found new favorite songs and I interacted in new situations. I did grow.

It’s frightening to stand before a whole new year – a fresh 12 (okay, fine 11 and 1/2) months. To try to figure out if I’m cutting myself too much slack or not enough slack. To think about the kind of year I want to have, the kind of person I want to be in the next 12 months – the things I want to see and accomplish. If Piet can shake things up and allow his art to transform into something new, I can perhaps allow for changes too. I can become better.

I’m not ready for a full-blown list of all that I want to tackle this year. No one needs to be buried under 478 New Years Resolutions. But maybe I can ease into it; take it one thing at a time. 1 goal for January. 2 goals for February, and if I’m feeling it, maybe 3 for March. A little bit of the babysteps mentality from Dr. Leo Martin (Good lord, can someone tell me why this movie was apparently so instrumental in my development as an adult?).

For January:

  • Face the things that come and don’t ignore them because you don’t think you can handle it.

No, wait… maybe:

  • Take the time to breathe.

Perhaps I should clarify again, let’s make 1 concrete goal for January. Something that I can put into practice.

  • Text people back within 2 business days.

There. That’s not a bad starting goal.

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Brown Paper Packages Tied Up With String

It is so very easy to get weary, isn’t it? Everything can feel so heavy, and the energy required to lift that weight off your chest is more than you can possibly conjure. It’s easier to let it stay. But the bummer is, the weight just presses in on you more, it doesn’t magically get lighter. Sometimes the good bits, the happy bits, the crumbly streusel topping bits of life get buried.

Currently, watching this snow blanket my leaf-coated lawn and for once it’s lovely thoughts that are invading. It’s a lightness in my chest. In a very Von Trapp way, here are a few items on my list of favorite things. I’m going to be thinking on them for awhile today while I stare out the window, watch Nora Ephron movies, and curl into my quilt my grandma made in 1976.

  • Snow: You know this. If you’ve interacted with me more than 3 times you probably know the main basics about me. These are: I have hermit crabs, I have questionable taste in movies, and I capital L Love snow. Have you ever watched it falling in the halo of streetlights? When it’s floating down and it glides upwards and the snow flakes dance around each other before finding their landing places.. Or when it falls violently on a direct path to find the ground or tree or shrub or eyelash where it lands… I could wax poetic about it and how it makes me feel for pages and pages. I’ll spare you for now.
  • That period of time in the Spring and Fall when it’s just cold enough out, but not too cold, and you can ride with your windows down and the heat on your toes.
  • Muppets from Space: This may not be the best of the muppet movies but there’s not a single week that goes by where I don’t quote this movie. I ask for the Goat when looking for the remote. I read off the names on the mail we still receive for prior tenants of this house “Roberta, Dolores… Shannanay!” You can’t watch this movie and not enjoy it on some level.
  • When cats headbutt you (this really is only about Indy and Lola, but I’m sure I would love any cat that did this).
  • Watching people dance in their cars: I’m a dedicated car dancer. It is one of the joys of my life. Windows up, windows down, Disney music, show tunes, Childish Gambino, rock music – I’m dancing and singing. There’s absolutely nothing like passing someone else lost in the freedom of the same. Shaking their car, throwing their hands around, letting themselves just be. Seriously, it wipes away any bad vibes I’m feeling when I get to glimpse into this window of an untethered soul.
  • The smell of food cooking all day likes stews or roast.
  • Gilmore Girls: This show makes me feel all of the feels – happy, unsettled, sad, love sick, content. It reminds me of high school days filled with marathons and taco bell and laughter. Yet it also is now and new and everything I need. (#TeamJess4Life)
  • Sleeping with the fan on.
  • My Family: We’re the kind of family who will laugh to the point of tears when we hear that one of us did something stupid with a chainsaw or a car or breaking their toe while just walking or damaging their extremities because they won’t turn the heat up. But we care for each other and aren’t afraid to show it. I turn first to my family for advice when I’m not sure where to go. They listen and they don’t belittle any of my emotions when I’m an ever loving mess of a person. Seriously, hugs from my family are what feel like home to me.
  • That Dominoes commercial where the guy takes his shirt off: “There are no rules!”. Years pass, and this commercial still is the cream of the crop.

Today I’m taking a breath, feeling some of the tightness in my chest ease, and thinking about the streusel bits. I highly suggest it.

If Your Friend is a Good Sailor, and the Craft is Seaworthy

 

Sometimes I envy stream of consciousness writers. Don’t get me wrong – I am aware that so much goes into this style of writing because, just like with art, you have to know the rules really well to understand how to break them*. But it sounds like a relief to just place sentence next to sentence and to not worry about their correlation. To have several paragraphs, or one long paragraph, where each word fills its shape to the fullest point – confident that it is placed exactly where it should be. To remove anxiety about things making sense from one point to the next. Instead I analyze every letter, questioning not only its positioning, but its very existence.

I often feel too contained, my inhibitions seem to strangle any hope of action. I second guess every step like it were a word in a story, critiquing its movement and berating its attempt. I keep my courage in my purse, down at the bottom with all the unfamiliar crumbs and bobby pins. Just like my feigned bravery before jumping off something scary, when I pep talk myself into confidence it comes with a deep breath, a straightening of my shoulders, and Amanda Bynes’ voice telling me that “I am a dude“.  But it is short lived- small bursts of energy that last long enough to get me into situations that I’m not entirely sure I can follow through on. I always end up feeling dropped in a forest, 2 feet tall, positive everyone can see how lost I really am.

After a presentation I gave once, I was talking with the person who had sponsored and assisted me. He made a comment that I cannot remember verbatim, but in essence he was proud of the certainty I had brought to the presentation. In the months that had preceded, he had glimpsed behind the curtain at the bumbling mess of doubt and emotion that constantly questioned if I could do it. He remarked that he had been a bit taken aback by this sight, that he had been worried about me. But in the end I had been able to deliver, and he was relieved to see that determination back.

I tend to wrap my optimism around me like armor. I’m always searching out hope and then declaring it as fact to anyone who will listen. Surely things aren’t nearly as bad as they appear, it’s definitely salvageable. Even in the midst of this dreadfully awful April, I am certain the Royals just need a push to get going – a spark. I keep totes full of half-finished projects that I am confident I will finish at some point. I buy planners as if just buying them will ensure I will eventually use them.

But behind the curtain it can be dismal. The discarded optimism waits for morning light, mostly staying within arm’s length in case of emergency. Climbing into my unmade bed with my water, pajamas, and podcasts**, I don’t  normally give myself license to dream big dreams.

With my apprehensions that expand to fill any space I am in, I’m amazingly grateful that they are often ignored or unseen. In some cases I think the trick might be a healthy dose of ignorance. You may need to know the rules really well before you can break them intentionally. But I’m certain I’ve broken a few in my blind, uncoordinated attempts. Tomorrow, I’ll try to start the day by breathing in that confidence breath and holding onto it a little bit longer. Dr. Leo Martin did say that all you really needed was baby steps. Next thing you know I may be a sailor, out on a boat, on the lake, way far away from the dock with the wind and the sky and everything.

Ahoy.

 

 

*This bit of art knowledge comes from Bill Anderson talking about how hard a particular strip of Calvin and Hobbes was to draw. He did the art as cubism, and he thought it would be something fun and easy to do, only to struggle with it.

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** Shameless plug for My Favorite Murder if I don’t care about sleeping, and Sleep With Me if all I want to do is sleep. Seriously don’t think I’ve made it more than 5 minutes into the Sleep With Me podcast before being out like a light.

A Year of Searching

I feel like as a general rule, I am always writing about reflecting. Reflecting on the time that has gone past, on changes that have happened, on changes that haven’t happened.  I’m sure you are tired of reading about it, but with the New Year it seems impossible to run from this reflection. And really I think this is what all art ends up being as some point- a reflection on something, an attempt to capture something and convey something.

I was at the Nelson yesterday, spent an hour in the calligraphy room completely captivated. Thinking about words as art and as indicative of a person’s culture and time and state of mind. Thinking about what people want to communicate. I’m not sure how that led me to  this list below, but it did. These are a drop-in look at my state of mind throughout this year. The things I wondered about, the things I needed to know.

There is a bit one of my favorite comedians, Pete Holmes, does. It’s about how google is ruining our lives. The ability to know everything so instantaneously has made knowing something feel no different from not knowing, so no one is ever really “impregnated with wonder” anymore. It’s a funny bit, and judging by the fact that as I read through all my google searches there were several things I repeatedly searched for, it makes a bit of sense. These are all actual google searches from each month this last year. Some of them I remember searching, some I don’t even remember why I googled it. A few I don’t remember the answers to, but there are quite a few things I learned and I remember from all this searching.

January:

  • What does “cash me outside” mean?
  • How do male ice skaters legs not get slashed when their partners stand on them?
  • If you own a horse in Missouri, do you have to pay a livestock tax?

February:

  • What are the Hours for Price Chopper in Truman Corners?
  • What is Grima Wormtongue’s backstory?
  • What are the differences between Fine China, Bone China, and Porcelain?

March:

  • What is the abbreviation for Microsoft SQL Server?
  • How long do you bake a potato?
  • What are some breathing exercises to calm down?
  • Who was the short basketball player in Space Jam?

April:

  • How do you pronounce “Fracas”?
  • What are some ways to handle anxiety?
  • What is the best kind of planner to organize your life?

May:

  • How does a bill become a law?
  • What are a hermit crab’s predators?
  • Why do Netflix originals have commercial scene breaks built in?

June:

  • How does a horse bit work?
  • Do Monica and Chandler stay together?
  • What are the hours for Price Chopper in Truman Corners?
  • What is Mookie Betts’ real name?
  • What are the lyrics for Little Lambs Eat Ivy?
  • Why do captive killer whales’ dorsal fins fold over?

July:

  • Where can I watch A Crown for Christmas online?
  • How to edit a signed doc in adobe?

August: 

  • Who is the Washington Redskins head Coach?

September:

  • What apples are best for making cider?
  • When is peach season?
  • How long does Almond milk last?
  • What are some headache remedies?

October:

  • When did the Chiefs show a game on the jumbotron at Kauffman?
  • I don’t have milk, but I want pancakes, what are substitutes?
  • What are the best cosmetic products to remove under-eye bags?
  • What are the hours for the Price Chopper in Truman Corners?

November:

  • Are roses indigenous to the middle east?
  • What year did Babe, Pig in the City come out?
  • How to fry an egg?
  • What food turns you blue if you eat too much?

December:

  • What is Delta’s carry on policy?
  • How late is Christmas in the Park open?
  • Why does crushed ice from my fridge stick together, but ice from soda fountains does not?

Seven and a Half Million Years’ Work

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually understood what the question is.”

What is the word for the phenomenon that happens when you see something so much that it takes away the meaning from the thing itself? Something that is stronger than “numbed” or “desensitized”. There’s got to be a better word that I just haven’t thought of. Like when you write a note on your hand in order to remember something important, but eventually you become so used to the writing on your hand that you completely forget to do whatever the note instructed. Like Uncle Billy with the strings tied around his fingers.

I have heard replications of the same answer to this Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything told flippantly and unsatisfyingly almost my whole life. Sometimes it isnt that the answer is wrong, it’s just stale. Eventually the words no longer seemed to fill the letters up enough to avoid their echo. The question follows me through all the miles I’ve walked and traveled, and the miles I have left untouched. My footsteps fall in sync with an almost silent rhythm of “why”.

One of my favorite people told me last week to make sure I didn’t stop doing what I loved. Life fills up quickly, even for those of us with fewer obligations. There is always something that wants for our time, that adds to our calendar. And doing what we love isn’t easy. It takes work, it takes commitment, and (worst of all for me) it takes consistency. In a list of Kearsten’s Qualities, consistency falls in the Con Column. I set out to do so many things, to be so many things, and it all inevitably winds up as plans mixed with the confidence of moonlight that dissolve at sunrise. But I’m trying to be better.

I’m trying to really listen to my footsteps instead of ignoring them. My answer may differ depending on the time of day and the level of humidity in the air, but I don’t think it’s bad to untie those strings from my fingers and take a close look at what I am trying to remember. It may be just to continue doing what I love, even when it feels like too much work, when it seems pointless, or when it hurts. Perhaps it’s to reassure that life can be beautiful even when it is ugly, and guard that sometimes it will be ugly even when it is beautiful. It could be to remind myself that being optimistic or hopeful doesn’t mean that I am ignorant, however optimism should breed action. Or it’s to remember to see the answer in quiet times at home with Christmas lights and the tinkling of crab shells on glass, in loud times of happy chaos with family, and in every spectrum in between.

I don’t have any grand way of completing this half-baked thought, just that when I was a kid I thought that as I grew up I would have it all figured out. And as I’ve grown up, all I have realized is that no one really has it figured out. And maybe’s that’s what this whole “figuring it out” thing ends up at. Learning to accept that, and working to keep doing the things that we love. Life is never going to turn out the way we planned, so we may as well find ways to make the adventures our own.

From Kansas City, With Love

That last semester of my undergrad the only class that I took that really required any effort was a grad level Early British Literature class. It didn’t exactly sound like my cup of coffee, but I liked the teacher and my friends were taking it- it would be one last hurrah for the 3 of us, except when we were 2. We even resolved that we were going to actually read every book for this class… I may not have made it through the first assigned book, but I really can only read so much of the Mabinogion before I’m falling asleep. (sorry Wayne!). But my friends would get together and study together and laugh together and it made reading Le Morte d’Arthur worth it. Those nights in the last weeks of our senior year are some of my favorite college memories, laughing until we cried with pillow pets and Emily Dickinson references all were set with a backdrop of  Royals games playing on tv. We forced the third member of our group into watching those games because that Royals team had talent, we had moxie. I just knew 2012 was really and truly going to be “Our Year”.  Man, we were going to be so good.

We weren’t good. We lost every one of our first 10 home games; we had played less than 20 games when we already had a 12 game losing streak. We didn’t even finish at the .500 that I kept telling people all year long we were going to do. But I went home that summer and spent so many wonderful nights at the ballpark. This team was supposed to be great, they were meant for it. While we didn’t get a winning season, we did get an entire stadium chanting “Billy Butler”. We did get the origin story for booing Robinson Cano. Heck, we even got to see Jose Bautista lose in the homerun derby, even if we didn’t fully appreciate it then. I mean honestly, what more can you ask for from that season? It was the first real taste I had ever had of my entire city coming together for our boys in blue. The papers in Kansas City called us a Baseball town that just needed something to get excited about. I believed them. I believed in this team.

Time is funny and it goes by so quickly. I had a lot going on in the summer of 2013. The year was flying away, and by the end of that year I was graduating grad school. I had so much anxiety about the process just in general, but it was compounded by odd situations. I learned a lot about myself that year, both good and bad. Through that whole summer of oddities, the Royals were there for me to hope in. In April we were crushing it. Absolutely crushing it. This year was the “Come to Play” year, and honestly, it felt like we had… Until May. May was rough, things got off track. But baseball is a grind, and 2013 was a winning season- the first winning season that I could remember in a long time. And it was there almost every night to be watched and to be cheered when I needed something to slow all of life down for me for just a few moments. When I needed to forget everything else and just focus on one thing.

I know I’ve written before about what the 2014-2015 run meant to me. I know I don’t have words to really describe what it meant to see this town come together. That much excitement literally made the city hum. 2014 was an incredible thing to be a part of; it was a beautiful thing to experience. It was like magic. I cannot think about it, about game 7, without getting goosebumps. I’ve never felt anything like that before, but I knew we were going to win that game. When Gordo got his hit I was in section 411, jumping up and down and screaming so loudly I’m surprised I ever got my voice back. It was destiny, I could feel it. It was absolutely destiny… except it wasn’t – not yet. After that final out I don’t think I could have moved if you asked me to. But slowly, throughout the stadium, the crowd started to cheer “Let’s Go Royals”. As soon as it started it picked up steam and then like we all collectively decided together what to do, it changed. We clapped in rhythm and steadily cheered “thank you Royals”. It was heart wrenching and cathartic and it makes me cry every time I think about it. We didn’t win, but man they had given us such a ride.

I slowly made my way out of the stadium that night, walking through the parking lot to meet my dad at the Taco Bell across the street. A guys walking to his car kicked an empty beer bottle before loudly cursing at the sky because all he had left now was a reliance on the Chiefs for his happiness (the Chiefs would go on to be 11-5 that season with their own devastatingly heartbreaking loss in the playoffs). I think we all collectively dusted ourselves off after that one. So many articles on if Jirsh should have sent Alex, so many conversations about that final 90 feet that stood between us and the trophy. But in 2015 this team didn’t let anything stand between them and victory. They literally came out of the gate kicking. The 2015 Kansas City Royals had unfinished business to attend to, and they were going to do it whether or not everyone in the league saw them as flukes. They were going to win without PECOTA’s approval, and they were going to win no matter how many balls they got hit with.

I won’t even try to elaborate on that season because I won’t do it justice. It just was. It was like the Royals were the very heart of this city, and these hometown boys were going to do everything in their power to keep that heart alive. That season created so many happy memories for me. I remember the games I listened to on the radio at work, giving up all pretense of working and instead pumping my fist as the ball went off Correa and into center field. Sitting in my cousin’s living room with my niece and nephews and watching the rain fall and worrying about the Cyborg having such a long delay in his pitching. Standing in my parent’s living room literally shaking as Hosmer took home. Waiting in the Zoo parking lot for a bus to take me downtown to try to meet up with my siblings, to see a parade, to listen to Jonny Gomes. Sometimes it still doesn’t feel real. I still feel like a kid sitting at the ballpark waiting for the Limbo in the 7th inning, hoping they will play Minnie the Moocher because I like to sing along. I’m still watching the in-between inning games where they challenge the fans to spell Kila Ka’aihue or Mark Grudzielanek’s name, I’m still anxiously awaiting that 12th hit (regardless of the score) and cheering because dang it- we DO want donuts. I’m still sitting at home crying because my brothers said they were going to use Bob Hamelin’s card as a fire starter.

We didn’t win this season. I really wanted us to. I wanted us to have one more storied season with the boys who grew up with this team and grew up together. I wanted an ending that fit just how incredible this era has been, how much this team has meant to this city. But, I’m pretty sure Posnanski already wrote an article about sports endings never being the fantastic things that you want them to be. But an ending there will be. Next season will be different. I am not prepared to handle it. I know that this is the name of the game, but I don’t want other fan bases to get to enjoy these players that I feel such a kinship with. Moustakas and Hosmer and Esky and Cain are all as much a part of Kansas City as bbq and the power and light district. No matter where they go – even if pinstripes are involved- Kansas City will always feel a sense of ownership over them. We are their family, we are their home. I think they know that as much as I know the first time these future Royals Hall of Famers play in Kauffman while wearing another team’s colors, the place will explode with applause. Because this team taught a city that despite the curse of the shuttlecock, that despite years of awfulness, despite a general disinterest and overall inferiority complex, we could be great again. This team taught a city that we are winners, and that we have something beautiful to offer. So, while the mantis and the sledgeiattos and playing with heart couldn’t fabricate enough magic to add another trophy to our collection, I still get that goosebump feeling I got on an October night in 2014 as I along with 40,535 of my best friends croaked out a thank you to the team that lost and then quietly walked off the field- We may not have won this one, but man, what a ride.

Stables Are For Horses

For one glorious summer I collected rocks. Perhaps “collected” is too strong of a word. It implies effort, deliberation, maintenance, and just ultimately too much. No, I found rocks that I liked and I would bring them inside and keep them on the floor of my closet. I would not clean them, they would be accepted into the group as they were – clods of dirt hanging off of them and any other surprises they brought to the party. The houses across the street had been removed, and they were in the early stages of building the baseball fields that would replace them. What this meant was yards and yards of rock-filled dirt piles for me to explore.

Rocks were not the only thing that I collected over the years. I went through phases with almost everything you can think of: coins, stamps, TY beanie babies, elephants, etc, etc,. I had a lot of unrelated junk that I would organize together and declare the assortment to be a set. Unfortunately, a bit of this mentality remains stuck to me as I cannot seem to stop collecting. Baseball figures, books,  my odd collection of pretty things – a ceramic elephant, a glass telephone insulator, a perfume bottle. I have a kernel of corn for every year that I have been to the pumpkin patch with my friend and her boys. If you go through my books, you will find pressed flowers in at least 10 of them, but I have forgotten which 10 and I’m unsure what to do with the flowers if I ever were to remove them. I have approximately 284 empty notebooks ready to be used. My collections don’t necessarily have a rhyme or reason, but they are mine.

My short-lived rock collection came to a screeching halt when my older brother happened upon them. I remember him telling me that mom would be so mad if she knew I had these all inside (one of them, as I recall, was very big and very heavy and very dirty), and I also remember him telling me that they probably had bugs in them (which is probably the real reason I conceded). I took them all back outside and left them in the bushes outside my window. All except for one of them. There was one rock that was long and slender and looked like it was the perfect prop for a rather young story I had dreamed up. I kept that rock, I cleaned it, and I colored it a crayola purple.

My constant indecision and half started collections seem to stand in contrast with my distaste of anything that is temporary. I hate being flakey- it is my least favorite of my characters flaws, and I desperately want to feel that I am stable. I tend to avoid ephemeral situations if I can help it. I don’t like putting down roots unless I am positive that I will not have to dig these roots back up in the near future, or really in any future that I can see. This is a problem that I have been working on. More and more I am finding the value of things that do not last, I am seeing the beauty that I am missing by side-stepping impermanent opportunities. Just because something does not last does not make it a failure. It just makes it an event, doesn’t it?

The problem with seeking out enduring things, is that nothing is truly lasting. Buildings and roads and possessions all crumble. While I do not have any cataloged memories of the situation surrounding it breaking, the one rock that I kept did break. I can say with all of the certainty I possess that it was probably either due to my lack of grace or due to my brother. I had to super glue it back together more than once, and I always had to take more caution with it after that. Even stones aren’t completely stable. Eventually they will be broken and ground into the same dust I am made of. I suppose all there is left to do is to collect the things that mean something, whether they be stalwart or fleeting.

Tonight I am collecting the sound of the cicadas and the way the wind pushes the clouds in front of the moon for just a few moments. I’m collecting the goosebumps on my arms and the comforting noise of the traffic on the highway. I’m collecting the train whistle and the slight chill in the air. It will not last, tomorrow will be a different day and I will be different in it, but I’m doing my best to collect tonight.

Do you guys take Visa?

We decorated the Writing Center with as much fervor and creativity as a group of poets and readers can conjure up. While I have about as much creativity in my entire body as the rest of them had in the exhaled breath, I still got to enjoy the personalized touches. A large piece on the wall was made out of opened books; there were snowflakes and table tops made out of book pages. The space was transformed into something homey and comfortable. My contribution was the constant smell of coffee from the pot in a backroom that was labeled the Ravenclaw common room. As a final touch, our creative mastermind was making a sign that needed a writing-related quote. We had a poll in regards to which quote we wanted. Shockingly, we all had a lot of opinions on the subject.

What was chosen was a quote that is associated with Benjamin Franklin:

“Write something worth reading, or do something worth writing about”

I have an overarching problem with relating everything back to subjectivity, so I try really hard to not cry “wolf” on things of little to no importance. That being said, it should come as no surprise to you that I often find myself in the middle of inconsequential “discussions” on commercials. Geico had a really obnoxious ad campaign a few years ago. I’m sure you remember it, it’s the one where someone would say “everybody knows that”, and someone else would respond with some rendition of “well, did you know that [insert whatever the highly-creative, insurance-marketing moguls could come up with]”. The particular one that got me into a day long and semi-heated conversation with a co-worker featured Pinocchio giving a motivational speech. Every time old Pinocchio would point at someone and tell them they had potential, his nose would grow.

Pinocchio

This co-worker would come up to me throughout the day with different professions that he deemed as “potential-less”. Ice cream truck driver, ditch digger, garbage man, ticket taker, etc, etc, etc. For me the problem was not the class of profession, it was the idea that people anywhere could decide the potential of another human being. He kept arguing that people with these jobs had no potential to “be somebody”. But, they already were somebody. And “success” has different definitions depending on your end-goal.

The co-worker didn’t care. My impassioned speech went in one ear and out the other while he chuckled at how easy it was to get me riled up. I’m sure if I asked him about this conversation now he wouldn’t even remember it occurring. But I think about it too much. Worth is wildly distorted. Worth relies on the assumption of things in relation to ourselves. What is a conversation worth to me? What is that task worth to me? Is it worth my time? It is worthy of my esteem? It is worth my energy? What is our context for that calculation? Someone tried to clarify this to me by saying, “no, it’s about what it costs. What does it cost to do that”? But if you’re paying with dollar bills and my pocket just has car wash coins, we are not using the same scale.

Who judges what is worth doing or worth writing about? I’m sorry Ben or whoever actually said this quote, but I do not write for people to read it. And my life is worth living even if it would make a pretty boring book. My choices have worth to me because they are my choices. As a society we try to generalize it, we hold some things up in higher esteem, we create a shared definition of worth, a touchstone for all others. But that’s not always accessible, and it is weighty. It is a heavy and constricting limitation.

So, this rambling about worth and insurance commercials really is just a tedious way for me to say that the stories that are important are not always the big ones, they aren’t always the ones where worlds change. We don’t always get a chance to change worlds.

I think we’ve all had problems with trying to prove our worth to others and to ourselves. I have spent too much of my time looking for things that I can point to that would support the argument of my worth, like citations in a paper. I’m not sure if there is a way to fully distance ourselves from this worth-search. It seems to be never ending. But there is a possibility to adjust the definition of worth for yourself. Being intentional in how you judge yourself and for goodness sake being aware of how you incorrectly judge others. Worth does not look the same for everybody.

For me, something worth writing about is how my niece sat on her bed expectantly looking out the window for my car lights to come down her driveway because she was excited to see me. For me it is worth writing about how she makes me want to make better choices in my life because she looks up to me and believes in me more than I have ever believed in myself. For me it is worth writing about how freaking good rainbow sherbet is and how much I love the Royals. For me it is worth writing about how I can close my eyes and picture my grandmother’s kitchen. It may not be worth it for you to read these things. These may not have any bearing for you, and you may keep your hard-earned currency of dollars or time tucked away safely in your wallet. And that’s fine. It’s worth it to me.

For you it looks differently. I just hope that you take a second to think about whose standards you are trying to measure your potential with. It’s really only worth reading if you want to read it. And it’s worth writing if you want to write it.

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.

ashley-s

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?