Tag Archives: happiness or something like it

On Learning To Love My Nose

2 Nov

I’ve been thinking a lot about this interview with Lisa Kudrow about the nose job she got when she was in high school.

My first thought is that I want to go back in time and hug teenaged Lisa Kudrow. I want to tell her that it sounds like she made the best choice possible given the options she had. But I also want to tell her that it sucks big time that society presented her with so few options, that it’s unbelievably shitty for a young girl to think that her only chance not to feel hideous is to surgically alter her face.

Most of all, I want to tell her that I get it, because I’ve been there. And if surgery had seemed like a viable option when I was fifteen, I probably would have jumped at the chance. But it wasn’t, so I just had to live with how my nose looked, and eventually I learned to like it. I’m not entirely sure, though, that telling a fifteen year old to suck it up and wait it out until they feel loveable is the best way to go.

I hated my nose for a long time. A long, long time. It’s large and pointy, and, as my friend Steve once helpfully remarked, it’s hooked, like an eagle’s beak. It’s what, on a man, would be called “strong” or “aquiline” – on a petite woman, it looks out of place, or so I thought. My sister once told me that my squinty eyes and prominent nose gave me a rat-like appearance. A friend once avoided the question of whether I had an ugly nose by telling me that I have a nice personality. The first time I saw Cyrano de Bergerac I cried, because I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life composing eloquent love letters for friends who wanted to date the dudes that I liked. I hated my nose.

For a really long time, I would only let people take pictures of me from head-on; I avoided shots of my profile at all costs. I looked up makeup techniques that would somehow minimize the appearance of my nose. I kept my hair long so that I could tilt my head and let my hair fall forward, covering my face. I thought about getting a nose job. My grandmother once told me to get a nose job. Or rather, she said, “Annie, you only live once, and you only get one body. If surgery will make you feel happier living in the body you’ve been given, then more power to you.”

Not long after that conversation, my cousin, whose nose resembled mine, really did get a nose job. I worried that when I saw her I would feel envious, but I didn’t. I just felt sad.

Mostly I feel sad that we live in a world where there is such a narrow definition of beauty for women. I feel sad that I scrutinize every photograph of me that goes online, because I don’t want people to think that I’m “ugly.” I feel sad that when I put on makeup it seems more like painting on a mask, one that will hide or at least distract people from my actual face. I feel sad that I’ve spent most of my adult life feeling so goddamn unattractive.

I have, somewhat pathetically, tried to remedy this situation by getting outside validation for my appearance, but that’s a double-edge sword, isn’t it? Relying on people other than myself to make me feel attractive is foolish and misguided at best. First of all, doing that puts a lot of pressure on my friends and family to constantly reassure me that yes, I am pretty, and no, I’m not ugly. I mean, it’s fine to like compliments and everything, but requiring them as some sort of clause in our friendship contract isn’t cool. Second of all, feeling that I need an outside source to provide me with self-esteem just isn’t sustainable. Third of all, when I feel bad about my appearance, it doesn’t matter how many compliments you lob at me, I’m just not going to believe them.

Part of the problem is the format in which I tend to look for validation; usually it’s by posting pictures of myself on Facebook or Twitter. But it’s well within my power to make sure that those pictures don’t necessarily contain what I think is the truth. That doesn’t mean that I edit or doctor these photographs in any way, but I do tend to do things like take pictures in full sunlight, so that my face is completely washed out, or hold the camera above my head, so that it’s a more “flattering” angle. I’ll also often take twenty or more pictures of myself in a row and then delete most of them for being too ugly. And if most of my selfies are ugly, if the vast majority of pictures of myself make me cringe, then doesn’t that mean that the select few that make it to a public platform are really lies? So even the pictures where I think I look good somehow end up making me feel bad.

Look at it this way: yes, I can take photographs and look at these images that I’ve created and recognize that the subject is, in fact, attractive in a mostly conventional way. But that doesn’t mean that I can recognize that I, myself, am attractive in a mostly conventional way; it only means that I know how to use things like angles and lighting and sneaky makeup tricks in order to produce a static version of myself that I find palatable. And then I can take these photographs and post them to social media sites and receive positive feedback on them, but again, that doesn’t so much make me feel attractive as it makes me feel like a liar and a manipulator.

I always worry when meeting someone offline for the first time about how they will react to my appearance. I worry that they will think that I’ve misrepresented myself, made myself seem prettier, my skin smoother, my nose less prominent.

I always worry that when friends who know me in real life see the pictures that I post online, they just roll their eyes at how unlike me these photographs are.

I always worry that I’m never, ever going to learn to love how I look.

I am learning, though, albeit slowly. Over the past year or two my nose has gone from being this huge blemish on my face to being something about myself that I like a lot. It’s different, and it makes my face more interesting. It gives me character, makes me appear somehow both dignified and a bit oddball. It just plain looks kinda good.

I wish it hadn’t taken me twenty some-odd years to learn to love my nose, though. Nobody should have to feel that badly about themselves for that long. And though it would be easy to blame the kids who teased me or grownups who rolled their eyes and told me to get over it, the problem is so much bigger than that. The problem is that we only ever see women who fit one specific model of beauty in the media. The problem is that we put way too much emphasis on women’s appearance, and not enough on their thoughts or character or actions. The problem is that we criticize people for posting selfies “for attention,” but don’t ever talk about why those people might want, maybe even need, positive attention paid to their looks. The problem is that there are so many problems and I don’t even know how to start solving them.

Here’s my first, faltering step at trying to find some kind of solution. A picture of my nose, in all of its enormous, pointy glory:

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Miraculously enough for me, I don’t hate it.

Nostalgia Machine: Re-watching The X-Files

28 Oct

I’ve been re-watching The X-Files since I’ve been sick, and it’s weirdly been more emotional than I thought it would be. I mean, yes, I snarkily posted this mini-review on Facebook:

So the x-files is basically a show set in the far distant past, back when they didn’t have cell phones or digital cameras. It centres around a 15 year old boy with daddy issues named Fox Mulder. He sulks around and breaks rules and believes in every ridiculous thing ever and uses his Feelings and Troubled Past to justify everything he does. He has a lot of Feelings, by the way. The show also features an actual bonafide adult named Dana Scully who is literally the most patient, tolerant person on the planet and also understands how things like Science and Logic work.

And I still stand by all of that.

But, still.

Emotions.

I was eleven years old when The X-Files first came on the air.

I looked something like this:

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I was in that weird place between childhood and puberty; I had the beginnings of breasts, but no period yet. I liked boys, but had no idea what to do about that fact. I read grownup books, but still secretly played pretend. The siege of my childhood had begun, and I wasn’t yet sure whether to welcome the invading army or fight at all costs.

As if there was even a fight to be had.

I don’t know why I started watching The X-Files – I think I overheard someone talking about it at school, or maybe it was because my Aunt Carolyn, the arbiter of all things cool, was a fan. I’m certain that most of the appeal was because the show seemed so forbidden in our house. My mother has the lowest threshold for fear when it comes to scary movies; even Jumanji was too much for her to stomach. She saw one episode of The X-Files, said that it was disgusting and grotesque, and swore that she would never watch it again.

So of course I had to find a way to see it.

I would tape it off the television, onto cassettes labelled Star Trek or Road to Avonlea. Even though we only had one VCR in our house, this wasn’t so hard because the X-Files aired at 9 pm on Friday nights, at which time my parents were either bribing, cajoling or threatening my sister Catherine to go to bed, or else they were holed up in their own bedroom, trying to pretend for an hour or two that they had no children. If they happened to be in the living room when the VCR started clicking and whirring, I would make up a lie about taping some old movie musical off CBC and then change the subject. Somehow, I never got caught.

I would set my alarm for one in the morning, and when it went off, I would creep downstairs and settle myself into a little nest of blankets and pillows on the couch. I didn’t dare turn any lights on, so the house was completely dark. I would sit there in rapt attention, drinking in every tiny detail of Mulder and Scully’s weekly adventures, even the stuff that I didn’t understand. Especially the stuff that I didn’t understand. Afterwards, I would rewind the cassette to the beginning and tape an hour of test patterns or infomercials, so that no one would know what I had been up to.

I was a cautious kid by nature; nothing that I’d done up until that point had ever felt so daring.

The X-Files gave me the same queasily excited feeling that I got from looking through the Victorian medical dictionary we had in the basement. I didn’t exactly enjoy poring over highly detailed drawings of deformed fetuses or diseased genitals, but I couldn’t seem to look away. Those crumbling onionskin pages had some sort of pull on me that I couldn’t quite explain. And as much as aliens and deadly parasites and ageless dudes who wake from their hibernation every thirty years in order to gruesomely murder people and eat their livers terrified me – and let’s be clear here, as an eleven year old, The X-Files fucking terrified me – I couldn’t look away. Part of it was that I was sort of daring myself to be cooler, less wussy than I was, but part of it was that I was genuinely, horrifyingly fascinated.

It wasn’t long before that horrified fascination somehow turned into love. I loved Mulder, whose deadpan goofiness fit perfectly with his desperate need to believe that there was something, anything out there. I loved Scully, with her take-no-bullshit attitude and her scientific smarts. I loved Skinner, and Deep Throat, and the Cigarette Smoking Man. I loved their stupid basement office with its stupid UFO poster. I loved all of it.

I guess I sort of grew up with The X-Files. That show might have been the first inclination that I had that the government didn’t always have the good of the people in mind. I learned about conspiracy theories, and unethical experiments carried out with the full knowledge of legislative officials, and exactly what happens to the people who go against the official party line. Most of all, I learned to trust no one, and if there’s ever been a more fitting slogan for being a teenager, I haven’t heard it yet.

The X-Files also acted as a touchstone between my father and I after he left. He started watching the show too, and during our weekly phone calls we would compare notes on the latest episode. My father had always had strange nightmares about being abducted by little grey men, so aliens were already a bit of a family joke; once my father and I were both watching The X-Files, that joke amplified in and echoed across the distance, both literal and figurative, between us. We would buy each other alien and spaceship-themed presents at Christmas and on birthdays, and those became a sort of code between us, a code that translated to mean, “I love you. I’m proud of you. No matter what.”

I kind of lost the thread of The X-Files plot towards the end of high school. The mytharc was too complicated, and anyway, I was too old to be watching the same babyish shows that I’d liked when I was eleven. I had new and more exciting ways of feeling daring, like drinking and kissing boys and smoking pot. I didn’t have time for Mulder and Scully anymore, in the same way that I didn’t have time for my family anymore. And then in the last season Mulder wasn’t even there, which, I mean, fuck that. Right?

I did watch the last episode of the show, though, which aired just a few months before I turned twenty. And when I say watch, what I really mean is cried through the entirety of. Because, fuck, man. The Lone Gunmen were dead. Mulder and Scully were finally together. And the siege of my childhood was definitely, without even a shadow of a doubt, over. The city was conquered, the population killed or enslaved, and the buildings razed.

I was a grownup, and The X-Files was gone.

But re-watching it? Re-watching brought me right back to that dark living room twenty years ago, the light from the screen flickering across my impossibly young face. It was like rewinding the tape to the beginning, back to the hard, bright cynical innocence of the early 90s, back to Scully’s boxy suits and Mulder’s enormous wire-framed glasses. It was falling asleep and dreaming something lovely, or else maybe like finally waking up. It was perfect nostalgia.

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Sometimes It Hurts When I Breathe

23 Oct

I’ve realized that I live in this cycle of frantic activity followed by total emotional and/or physical collapse. This has been happening a couple of times a year since my late teens, and you would think that by now I would be able to recognize the signs enough to stave off the impending crisis, but no. Apparently not.

My head’s been strangely fuzzy for a few weeks now, and my body’s been aching with the weight of something – my bag on my shoulder, my kid on my hip, all of my stupid anxieties. I kept feeling like I couldn’t catch my breath, and then one morning I woke up and I literally had a hard time breathing. So I called in sick to work, stayed in bed for the morning, and then ran some errands in the afternoon. By the next day I was fine, just tired.

I’ve been so goddamn tired these past few weeks, you guys.

I kept meaning to rest, but it always seemed like I had something pressing that needed to be done. A class to teach. Work email. Regular email. A workshop that I signed up for 6 months ago. Studio paperwork to take care of. Invoices. More invoices.  A band that I’ve been wanting to see live for ages and ages. A blog post that I’ve been putting off writing. Guest lecturing a high school English class. A friend having a crisis. Another friend having another crisis. A friend not having a crisis but that I haven’t seen for months. Matt. My sisters. My mothers. My grandmother in Spain. Housework. More housework.

And then there’s Theo. Because even once I’d checked everything else off my list, there was always Theo. How could I ever justify taking a break when I had Theo who needed my time and attention? Theo, who uncomplainingly let Matt pick him up from daycare and feed him dinner and bathe him nearly every night of the week because I had to work the evening shift at the studio or teach a class or do whatever it is that I do that seems to take up all of my goddamn time. Theo, who makes me feel pangs of guilt just by smiling at me. Theo.

So there was never a question of taking a break, because there was never a way of getting to the end of the list. And even though I will happily berate other people for not practicing proper self-care, I am terrible at it myself. Doing things for the express purpose of feeling good always seems like a terrible self-indulgence. Like, how can I justify spending an hour napping or reading on the patio or going out by myself for a coffee when it meant that all the other things weren’t getting done? How can I especially justify doing any nice stuff for myself when it means taking time away from my kid? My kid who I barely get to see these days anyway?

What I’m trying to say here is that I’m a horrible hypocrite.

I’ve spent the past two and a half weeks pushing myself through this deepening haze, shuttling from one end of town to the other, from Toronto to Kingston for Thanksgiving and then back again, from writing to teaching to mothering to hand-holding to coughing until I couldn’t catch my breath, until I was bent double and thought I might throw up in the gutter and oh god how embarrassing.

I forgot to mention that along with the exhaustion, there was a cough.

Finally, at the end of last week, I had this conversation with Nathan:

Nathan: When are you going to see a doctor?

Me: I’m fine, it’s just a cough.

Nathan: You’ve had this cough for what, two weeks now?

Me: Sometimes these things linger on. You know how it is. I’m fine.

Nathan: You are not fine! You might have pneumonia!

Me: I don’t have pneumonia. If I had pneumonia, I’d have a fever.

Nathan: You do have a fever.

Me: I would have a higher fever. I would be, like, bedridden.

Nathan: Maybe you have walking pneumonia.

Me: NO I DON’T.

Nathan: You know what? If it was me who was coughing like this, you would have forced me to go to the doctor ages ago. You would have even come with me, just to make sure that I went.

Me: Uh, yeah. That’s true. I guess.

Nathan: And you know what the worst part of it is? Your cough is so bad that I can’t even make fun of it anymore. You’ve taken away one of my few joys in life.

So I went to the walk-in clinic yesterday and the doctor sort of nodded his head and jotted down a few notes and said that it sounded like I probably had bronchitis. Then he moved his stethoscope around my back for a while and asked me to breathe deeply a couple of times. He kept bringing his stethoscope back to the same spot and pausing there.

“I think I hear some crackles in your upper left lobe,” he said. “I want you to go for a chest x-ray – you might have walking pneumonia.”

Afterwards, when I texted Nathan with the news, I received this delighted reply:

“Wait, wait, wait … walking pneumonia came up?

If you weren’t sick I would revel in my rightness, but you are, so I won’t.

I could be the first person to receive a doctorate just by watching medical dramas. 7 seasons of House, 8 ER, 3 Chicago Hope …”

I went for the chest x-ray today. Afterwards, I asked the tech when my doctor would have the results, and he told me they would be sent out in three to five business days.

“I just want to know for work,” I said. “Pneumonia just sounds so much more impressive than bronchitis.”

“Where do you work?”

“I manage a yoga studio and I teach yoga classes.”

“Let’s just say,” he said, glancing at the image on the screen, “that you might want to take it easy for a while.”

So I’m trying to take it easy. I’m trying not to think of all the messages in my inbox. I’m trying not to feel guilty about popping a kid-friendly DVD in the machine as soon as Matt and Theo got home. I’m trying to rest, and most of all I’m trying not to feel guilty for resting.

Because most of my to-do list can wait.

Because the best way to be a better mother is to get well.

Because it’s fine – good, even – to take a break sometimes.

I’m not good at this stuff. Not just because I kind of sort of maybe enjoy having a hectic life, and not just because doing stuff for myself makes me feel pangs of guilt, but also because I’m not great at being taken care of. I’m hardwired to make sure that everyone around me feels safe and happy and healthy, and I will gladly scold friends and family for not going to the doctor as soon as I think they should, or not taking enough time off work, but when it comes to myself it’s a completely different story. I hate having other people care for me; it makes me feel deeply, skin-crawlingly uncomfortable in the way that few things do. In fact, just thinking about it right now makes me want to barf, although that might also be from the super-strong antibiotics that I’m on.

But I’m going to try to be good and lie still and let other people bring me things, because right now, I kind of have to. More than that, I’m going to try, really try, to break out of this cycle that I’ve been in for the past decade. Because this shit’s getting old, this pattern is not sustainable, and I can and will change.

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How To Be A Grownup

19 Oct

It’s late afternoon on Thanksgiving Monday. I’m lying on a chaise longue on my mother’s back deck, a ratty old knitted blanket across my lap and a book that I am not reading in my hands. I am pretending to be a 19th-century invalid, recuperating from a non-specific ailment at a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps. I am breathing deeply, imagining that I am taking something called the fresh air cure. The sun is warm, its light buttery and yellow. I can hear my son laughing in the distance as my husband chases him around my mother’s small garden, and I pretend that he is a small Swiss child who lives in a nearby thatched cottage. I tell myself that he is amused by the antics of the goats he is herding. This is, I assume, what small, 19th-century Swiss mountain children do: live in picturesque cottages and laugh heartily as they herd their goats.

I am thirty one years old and I am still playing pretend.

Is this what grownups are supposed to do?

Ten years or so into my purported adulthood and I’m still not really sure how to be a grownup, or what that even means. As a kid, I thought that being an adult meant that you did whatever you wanted, although for some reason all of my grownup fantasies were oddly baking-specific. For instance, I imagined myself making cookies whenever I pleased, and thought about how I would be allowed to use the electric mixer without any help. I would, I told myself, be able to wear party dresses every day of my life. And while all of these facts are empirically true and have been true for over a decade, the ability to do these things is neither as satisfying as I thought they would be, nor do they make me feel especially like a grownup.

What does adulthood mean? What is it supposed to look like? As a kid, there seemed to be recognizable difference between adults and not-adults, but now that demarcation is becoming less and less clear. There also seem to be more stages on the way to adulthood than I’d first realized – I used to think that you were either a child or an adult, but now it turns out that, rather than being a binary, it’s more like an evolutionary process, from infant to toddler to preschooler to that nebulous age between when grade school starts and puberty begins to teenager to university student to young adult to – what? Just plain adult, I guess.

Except that I’m not really sure if I feel like an adult.

Mostly I just still feel like myself.

It probably doesn’t help that I don’t look so very different from my teenage self; sure, there are a few lines here and wrinkles there, but the basic structure is exactly the same. I dress the same way that I did as a teenager, too, or rather I dress the way that my teenage self would have had the funds been available. I don’t wear what I think of as grownup clothing: crisp white shirts, tailored suits, prim polyester dresses in black or grey or navy. I like the same things as I did when I was a teenager, more or less – reading, writing, watching painfully earnest indie movies, dressing up, acting out, telling bad jokes, sitting on people’s living room floors while drinking and playing board games. I still read Little Women when I’m feeling down and want literature that’s akin to comfort food. I still get that same funny ache at the end of Empire Records when everyone is dancing on the roof, just like I did when I was sixteen. I still put waaaay too much sugar in my coffee. When we drive past a cemetery or over a bridge, I still hold my breath.

I’m still me, and I can’t help having this weird sense of disappointment over not being the prettier, smarter, more capable creature that I thought growing up would turn me into.

Maybe  part of the problem is that I’m no longer certain of what being an adult looks like. I used to think that there was a sort of set formula: you finished high school, went to university, started a career, fell in love, got married, bought a house, had kids, then watched your own kids repeat the same steps. But then I watched as this blueprint, which seemed to be the  How-To guide accepted and promoted by family, teachers, guidance counsellors, and just about every movie or book that I’d ever seen or read, failed my parents and many of their peers. They hated their jobs. They hated each other. My father stopped being a lawyer, left my mother, and moved to the city where he lived in a bachelor apartment and worked as a bike courier. My mother was exhausted and miserable, trying to raise three kids by herself on a secretary’s salary – by the end of the day, once everyone was fed and bathed, once the homework was done and the dishes were clean and half a dozen petty arguments had been mediated, it was all she could do to sit in front of the television and fall asleep to the sound of the laugh track of some corny late-90s sitcom.

That wasn’t what I wanted for my life.

I didn’t know how else to move ahead, though, so I tried my hardest to follow that old How-To guide. As the end of high school approached, the adults in my life encouraged me to apply to universities. Or rather, there wasn’t even much encouragement – it was just assumed that this was what I would do, and any divergence from that plan seemed impossible. There didn’t seem to be any alternatives that my parents or guidance counsellors felt were acceptable. College, it was intimated, was for the not-so-bright, and with my critical thinking skills I belonged in an undergrad program somewhere. Getting a job was out of the question, unless I wanted to be stuck working at McDonald’s for the rest of my life. Even taking a year off to figure my shit out was frowned upon – I was too flighty, they said, and would almost certainly never go back to school if I left. So my mother scraped together the hundred or so dollars needed for the application process, and I filled out the forms, and it felt like we were doing the right thing.

And I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t want to go to university – I did, I swear I did. I just want to make it clear that it also felt like that was the only way that I had of moving forward with my life. And I was desperate for some way, any way, of moving forward.

The problem with university was that while everyone agreed that I belonged there, no one seemed certain how I was supposed to pay for it. The provincial loan system was Byzantine, the forms and online application difficult to navigate, and the resulting funding amount impossible to understand. For example, the government could refuse to give you a loan if your parents earned a certain amount per year, even if said parents were not helping you pay for your education. Lines of credit from the bank weren’t much better – I mean, they were fine, I guess, if you had someone to co-sign. I didn’t.

When I asked the grownups around me how I could possibly afford this education that was supposed to be so critical to my life, they gave these strange sort of blank stares and suggested that I get a summer job.

Because when they’d gone to post-secondary school, a summer job had been enough to pay a year’s tuition and then some. That was obviously no longer the case.

The good old How-To guide hadn’t anticipated changes like this.

I managed to finish two years of university on a combination of government student loans, kind student affairs workers and a healthy state of denial. By the end of that second year, though, my finances were so badly fucked up that there was no question of finishing my degree. Two steps in to my path to adulthood, and I was already failing the model. Or rather, the model was failing me.

I’ve spent the last ten years trying to figure out if and how I can make the old blueprints work for me. It’s true that I can check off a few things on the list – I did manage to fall in love once or twice, I am married, I do have a kid. On the flip side, I haven’t finished school, I’m not sure that I would call my hodge-podge of jobs a “career,” and I can’t imagine a time when I will ever be able to own a house. Even the things that I’ve managed to check off seem, upon closer examination, to grow a bit murkier. My marriage doesn’t necessarily always look like what I thought a marriage should be. I don’t spend as much time with my son as I could. I often worry that I’m a bad partner or a bad mother. I am slowly learning that marriage and motherhood aren’t so much accomplishments as they are a lifelong work in progress. I’m also learning that being a wife and mother aren’t necessarily fool-proof indicators of adulthood; it’s not as if some magic switch is flipped when you say “I do,” or in the moment that your child is first placed in your arms.

So where does that leave me?

It’s both freeing and terrifying to realize that the old formula for adulthood doesn’t apply to my life is both dizzyingly freeing and incredibly terrifying. On the one hand, in theory, my life gets to be whatever I want it to be. On the other hand, I have no fucking clue what I’m doing, and the potential for failure seems high. It’s like wandering in the forest without a map, or even a guide to the flora and fauna – this glade seems like a nice place to build my home, but what if it floods every year during the spring thaw? These berries look tasty, but what if they’re poisonous? Of course there’s always the possibility of a happy ending, but it seems to be equally probable that I will die alone, frozen to death, maybe, or else eaten by wolves.

Lately I’ve been looking hard at my friends’ lives, trying to pick and choose the things that I want to emulate. What’s funny is that it’s not the friends who have the most material successes, the ones with the best jobs or the nicest houses that I’m drawn to, but rather the ones who have certain traits and behaviours that I covet. I admire, for instance, my friend who makes difficult choices, who goes ahead and does things even when he’s afraid or thinks that something is impossible. I admire another friend who’s an expert at saying no. I want to be more like the friend who seems to have that extra split second to figure out if their emotional reaction to any given situation is warranted and appropriate. I want to be like the friend who seems effortlessly organized, who holds family meetings every week to figure out who will be where doing what when during the next seven days. I want to be the person who fights for their beliefs without being disrespectful or unnecessarily cruel to the people who don’t agree with me. I want to be measured, calm, and collected.

And I want to do all of this and still be able to get a little weepy over Empire Records.

What I’m realizing is that, while creating a guide to my own personal grownup life, the best place to start is with myself. I need to work harder to build the type of person that I’m happy with before extending my energy outward. I need put a dot in the middle of the map marked you are here and then radiate all other lines outward from that spot. When I write this all out, it sounds unbelievably selfish, but I also can’t think of any other way to make a guide that suits the kind of life I want to live; because before I make that guide, I have to figure out my own shit, which means answering all of the big questions like what the fuck do I want, and why am I even here, and where do I go next?

Maybe that’s the best way to be a grownup.

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You Are Worth It

4 Sep

I sometimes feel as if you’ve spent most of your life surrounded by people who told you over and over that you weren’t good enough, or smart enough, or trying hard enough. These people seem to flock to you, maybe because they know that, head bowed and ashamed, you’ll listen to what they say. Some of them might be kind-hearted, trying to push you or fix you with tough love, while others just want someone to hurt and humiliate. Whatever their motivation, I wish I’d been there when they said these things, so that I could have raised a ruckus, shouted them down, told them how very wrong they were.

The real kicker is that you blame yourself for listening to these people; you honestly believe that you should have known better, should have held your own. Having grown up in a world that loves to quote Eleanor Roosevelt on how no one can make anyone feel inferior without their consent, you think that it’s your fault that these spiteful words and ideas crawled under your skin and wove themselves into the fabric of your being. It’s not, though. It’s not your fault. No one could ever endure that much raw malice without starting to doubt their own self worth.

You tell yourself that you’re nothing but wasted potential, when in fact the exact opposite is true. All of your potential is still intact; you still have every possibility of achieving the things that you want to achieve. That’s not to say that it will be easy, or that it will happen right away – I’m not discounting your struggles, both past and present. But still. A sixty-four-year-old woman just swam from Cuba to Florida after trying to do so for thirty five years. There is no statute of limitation on dreams.

You think that no one notices when you get up to leave the room or slip away early from the party, but we do. We all do. We miss you when you’re gone; we miss your laughter, your warmth, your kindness. We miss your bad jokes. Most of all, though, we miss your steadiness, your solid, comforting presence. We miss you.

You want so badly to keep everyone else safe. You’re the quiet fixer, the person in the background making sure the show runs smoothly, but you’re also the first person to stand up and say something when others are threatened or in danger. You think nothing of disregarding your own safety or well-being if someone else needs your help. You are always there to help.

You are astonishingly loving and protective of so many people, without ever feeling as though you deserve any love or protection for yourself. You put yourself in the line of fire over and over again, though you would never let anyone else return the favour. You act as though you have a debt to pay to the universe, although you’re not quite sure why or how. You act as though the only way that you can justify taking up real estate on this planet is by living only for other people. But you don’t have any debt to pay, and you are just as worthy of our love as we are of yours.

You deserve everything good in this life, starting with a person-shaped space that you can occupy without feeling guilty or inadequate. You have so much worth, not just because of the wonderful things that you do, but because of who you are and the particular talents and skills that you possess. You are worthy because you are you – a person who always thinks of others first, who keeps their head down and uncomplainingly does their work, who delights in bringing a smile to someone else’s face. In room full of people, children and animals are drawn to you first because they know that they can trust you. We all trust you.

When we run into you on the street, or catch sight of you across a crowded bar, or watch you quietly, hesitantly slip in through the door, we are always so happy to see you. We are always so happy that you are here.

You deserve this, all of this.

You deserve our delight in you.

You are worth it.

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A Few Truths About Love

22 Aug

The truth about love is that there is a part of you that honestly believes that giving away all of your love will – no, must – result in receiving some kind of equal love back. If you didn’t believe this, your love would be impossible. How else could you justify all of the heartsick tears, the sleepless nights, the work and play that you’ve neglected?

The truth about love is that it’s not a physics equation. There is no law of conservation of love. Love can be created; love can be destroyed. The love that you put out into the world will not last forever, ricocheting between atoms, shifting shape as needed. A thoughtless heart can stop your love cold.

The truth about love is that someone can love you very much and still be careless or hurtful. Love is not a charm that protects you. Love is not magic. Love is not inherently good.

The truth about love is that your faith in it is misplaced; love is not a god or a system of belief or an altar at which you should kneel down and sacrifice. Love is a wild, dangerous force – exhilarating, yes, but also destructive. Loving someone else is like standing at the edge of the water in the middle of a hurricane; the waves that smash against the shore are mesmerizingly beautiful, but the threat of drowning is very real.

The truth about love is that it is a slippery beast. A slippery beast with teeth like razor blades.

The truth about love is that it is so bound up with regret that it seems impossible to separate the two. You regret the words you said, which you didn’t realize would come out so badly. You regret how vulnerable you let yourself be, how you cracked open your chest to reveal your still-beating heart. You regret all the chances you gave, the forgiveness you bled so freely. You regret the time not spent together, the days you sat side by side on the couch both engrossed in your laptops. You regret the time wasted arguing or sulking or spent in a state of deliberate misunderstanding. You regret the beginning, because it could only ever lead to this. You regret the ending, because of everything you’ll never get back. You try so hard not to regret everything in between, but you do. You do.

The truth about love is that so many of us have a hard time differentiating between love and habit.

The truth about love is that it’s not a panacea or a cure-all. You can have all the love in the world and still be just as broken as ever. Being in love will not fix you; after the first flush of romance you will find that you are in exactly the same place, except that now you have to worry about dragging someone else down with you.

The truth about love is that we talk about it as if it’s something we’re somehow owed, but really, it’s not. People deserve to be treated with decency and respect. People deserve basic necessities like food, shelter and clean water. People deserve to feel safe. No one deserves love.

The truth about love is that you would do it all again.

Vintage Photos of Hurricanes and Their Aftermath (4)

Your Life As A Play

18 Aug

You think that if you get all the window dressing right then everything will be fine.

The floral-patterned dress, the beat up cowboy boots, the vintage leather jacket.

The carefully tousled hair, the oversized sunglasses, exactly the right shade of peachy-pink lipstick.

The golden tan, the throaty laugh, the full smile.

The way the sun hits you from behind, so that you’re sweetly backlit in the late summer afternoon haze.

The books on your shelf. The distressed furniture. The tacky knick knacks you wouldn’t have been caught dead with five years ago.

The antique china tea set your grandmother gave you.

The mint green bike you bought second hand.

The midcentury modern buffet you found on the street on garbage day.

The smart, funny, handsome husband.

The smart, funny, precocious child.

The off-beat, artsy career.

The morning yoga classes you teach, the playlists you create timed perfectly with the flow of poses, the warm, sympathetic tone to your voice.

The afternoons you spend in coffee shops drafting up your novel, your screenplay, your heartwrenching poem.

Everyone who looks at you is envious. You can feel it when they size you up. You can tell how much they covet your life, all of it, every tiny detail.

You’re so good with details.

You’re so good at so many things.

You lucky, lucky girl.

It’s like creating a set for a play, isn’t it? A play about a life you’d like to live. You think that if everything is placed just so then it must follow that you will be happy. If the print on the table cloth is exactly right, if the soft cotton quilt that your grandmother gave you is just tattered and faded enough, then you will break the spell. You will finally feel alive.

It doesn’t work that way. Your things are just things. Your hair, makeup and clothing are part of an elaborate, time-consuming disguise. Your husband and child are not as perfect as they seem, because no one is perfect, but the tantrums, the arguments, the dull drag of day-to-day life never make it on to your Instagram account. The print on the table cloth is just slightly wrong.

The window dressing is just window dressing. Your heart is the reality, and it cracks in a way that can never be repaired. You will always be you, no matter what your life looks like, no matter how many best-sellers you write, no matter how envious anyone else might be.

You will always be you, living in this particular skin, on this particular planet, at this particular time in history.

You will always be you.

Talk about a life sentence.

Talk about a life sentence.

Talk about a life sentence.

Alice Summers in Paris