Come on, be real with me.

I got my first visible tattoo recently, and interesting assumptions were made. Assumptions about my lifestyle, my priorities, the salvation of my soul, you get the idea. Few of these concerns were voiced directly to me, of course, but the ones that were all mentioned how I’ve “changed”.

There was a time I would have felt tortured by this and compelled to delve into every facet of that comment, but I’ve been relieved of that impulse because now I realize it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’m still the exact same person I was when I got my first and second tattoos, the only difference is they are under my clothes. I’m still the same person I was when I had no tattoos at all. What they really mean when they say I’ve changed is that I’m different from their perception of me.

That got me thinking. There’s a lot of pressure on us to “find ourselves”, as though we’re not really living, but merely existing in some kind of holding pattern until we can tick off the right boxes.

I’d like to propose that the real you has been there all along, it’s just covered by a layer of gunk like expectations, misinformation and false obligations. As you begin to live consciously, and get honest with yourself about what you want, how you feel and what’s important to you, all that fake stuff will begin to fall off, and the person you were meant to be will shine through.

For example, my tattoos are deeply meaningful to me. They feel like badges that represent aspects of the real me that I’ve come to love and respect. In a way, I feel like getting them revealed a bit more of my most authentic self. It feels like they’ve always been there, and I finally gained the wisdom to knock off what was hiding them. The reason others will think you’ve changed, is because some people just haven’t developed what it takes to see through your shell yet. They actually think that’s who you are!

 

 

Snow Days

We humans labor under many delusions that erode our quality of life. One that particularly makes my eye twitch is that we are all extra-special, super-unique little snowflakes. Friends, give me a break.

Like most stereotypes and over-generalizations, there’s some truth to it. We all have our own little oddities that make life more interesting and provide lots of opportunity to learn about different points of view, but while our quirks supply diversity, it’s our common human expereinces that gives us stability.

 “You don’t know how I feel!”
“You don’t understand what I’m going through!”
“Well maybe you’ve done this before, but [insert lame qualifying statement here]!”
Why is that our knee-jerk reaction when people try to identify with us? Statements like these not only isolate us, they also discount the empathy of the person trying to reach out…and that’s something we can’t afford to lose.
Here’s some stuff to keep in mind when you find yourself in a similar conversation:
1. Recognize the Empathy: It might sound a little harsh and sloppy, like the person is trying  to one-up you or make it about all about them, but remember humans are imperfect. Appreciate the effort they’re making to acknowledge your situation and help you feel less alone.
2. It’s entirely likely they don’t understand every single facet of your feelings, because no one can read your mind. Make it an opportunity to explain/educate, not an excuse to shut them down. If I’m every Queen of the World, it will be a crime against humanity to discourage someone’s attempt to empathize.
3. If you are trying to be the comforter in a scenario like this, be careful to keep your “I              statements” to a minimum, and make them reflect back to the comfortee.
All the –isms in the world, sexism, racism, ablism, etc, continue to exist because we make a million little decisions every day that lead toward ignoring what makes us the same and remaining ignorant about the unique qualities of people we think are so different from us.
Not making the effort to put yourself in someone else’s shoes WILL have serious consequences (so will keeping others out of your shoes for that matter). Always remember all we know for sure is everyone you encounter only gets this one life and your existence will affect it.
Isolation will destroy you. An individual snowflake won’t last long on it’s own, but when it starts sticking with its buddies, they are literally a force of nature.

5 Suggested “Value Tales”

My Grandmama read “Value Tales” to me when I was little. There’s a whole set of them. Each story is about how real, historic figures and their theme-appropriate imaginary friends demonstrated a specific value like honesty, kindness, determination, etc. I’ve lived a little now, and had the chance to apply some of those lessons and a few others the books didn’t mention. Here’s some suggestions, in case they ever decide to expand the series:
1.The Value of Self-Awareness – You are entitled to every single one of your own feelings. You are also free to express them however you deem necessary, but as we know, to every action there is a reaction. So before you act or react, take a minute to name what you’re really feeling and evaluate what really made you feel that way. For example, maybe there’s somebody you think you don’t like. If that guy has done something to legitimately earn your hatred, you should be able to draw some pretty straight lines to why you feel that way. Do you actually dislike the person, or do you dislike the way you feel when he’s around? If you land on the latter, are you reacting to something that person did, or to some insecurity about yourself? It’s quite a labyrinth, and emotions often disguise themselves, but having that knowledge gives you power to construct your life! In the end, out lives aren’t made up of what happens to us, but how we FEEL about what happens and how we react.
2. The Value of Empathy – For better or worse, everybody filters the world through the lens of their own baggage. Every experience adds a layer that either clarifies or blurs everything that happens next. IT’s impossible to really communicate with someone without putting yourself in her shoes. I’m certain that would go a long way toward dissipating some of the world’s most insurmountable problems. We’d all be a lot nicer if we stopped to consider how it feels to be the other guy.
3. The Value of Personal Responsibility – OWN YOUR STUFF! What you love, what you hate, what you believe, how you feel, ALL of it. It’s your privilege AND your responsibility. Blaming others for your emotions and actions eats away at your integrity and hands them control over your life. It says a lot more about you than it does about them. Nothing in your life will improve until you take responsibility for it.
4. The Value of Trouble Shooting – Learn how to figure things out. Look for clues. Read the instructions. Ask questions. Seek information and put the pieces together. These steps translate to problems as minor as unjamming the copy machine to scarier situations like finding a job. There’s a lot of freedom and confidence to be gained by knowing you have some tools to help solve whatever you’re up against.
5. The Value of Discernment – We are living in a time of unprecedented access to information. Along with that comes exposure to the agendas and opinions of all kinds of folks who have no shame about twisting the facts in their favor. The trick is to develop a set of mental filters to help you sift through the baloney and get as close to the truth as you can. What the world needs now is way less deceit and misinformation. You can be part of the solution by refusing to accept everything that’s fed to you. Learn how to do your own research, and verify your sources. Don’t spread that stuff around; it’s quickly junking up the world…and that’s where I LIVE with the people I LOVE. The people you love live there too. STOP IT!
The difference between living a reactive life where you’re a slave to your circumstances, and having a deeper, more meaningful, productive experience is developing these tools.

 

I’m much happier now that I know what makes me miserable.

 

Everything good in my life is a result of infinite grace and the kind of wisdom you can only get from screwing stuff up the first time.

If my first marriage hadn’t sucked, this one wouldn’t be so awesome. The trick is to learn, not only what went wrong, but why. We make a big deal out of trying to figure out what we want in life. We start out early asking kids what they want to be when they grow up and lay it on really thick around high school with all the “What are going to do after graduation? Where are you going to college? What are you going to major in?”. Most of the time, these early plans don’t pan out for two reasons:

1. You didn’t have enough experience to understand everything the plan entailed.

2. You didn’t give equal consideration to what you don’t want.

Number one is obvious. I want to talk about number two.

Having an idea of what you want is super, if you’re flexible. You may get it and see it’s totally different than you expected.  You may discover a million really great things you didn’t even know you wanted along the way. What you want is usually a very fluid concept you tweak a little as you go along.

What you don’t want is probably not going to change much. I went into my last job knowing exactly what I wanted: A steady full-time job that offered benefits (in spite of all my pre-existing conditions, thanks Obama) so I could finally emancipate myself from Social Security Disability. I grew up thinking I could get a job, really dig in, learn everything and work there for the rest of my life. I thought there would be room for advancement, and I would be compensated according to my value as an employee. I knew I was valuable. I believed these things so deeply that finding out they weren’t true shook me to my core…something akin to definitive proof that there is no God.

I had to suck it up and regroup, searching out all the happy accidents  and bits of wisdom  I’d gathered in my time there, not the least of which was a sturdy list of things I’d learned I couldn’t live with in my next employment like blatant, raging sexism and condescension, or a boss who sometimes seemed to bully his staff out of sheer boredom.  I have a lot more confidence going into this job search (and every aspect of my life, really) knowing I can make a more informed decision about the situation in which I spend most of my waking hours.

The moral of this story is: don’t stress about figuring out exactly what you want.  Be realistic about the things you just can’t put up with. We’re often told we can’t change other people, and that’s super true, but there’s also only so much we can change about ourselves. That’s not an excuse for bad behavior. As in “I’m a jerk. It’s just who I am, and I can’t change”. I was thinking more like “I used to think I would be ok with a boyfriend who bites his toenails (or is a different religion than me, or has different social convictions than me, etc.) but now I know I can’t”.

I’ve know what makes me happy, pretty much since birth, but it was leaning what makes me miserable that actually brought me happiness.

Let’s just get this out of the way.

 

I always wanted to be a writer. As luck would have it, my life has turned out to be one lesson after another, and someone really should write this stuff down. So many things have stopped me. Isn’t it kind of narcissistic to write about yourself? Many biographies and autobiographies become best-sellers, but they’re almost always about celebrities whose lives have already proven marketable. I’m afraid of being perceived as self-indulgent, trying to elevate my experiences as thought I think everything that’s ever happened to me is a big deal. I know a lot of people…many, many people…loads of them…have had much more meaningful and profound experiences than mine. Others have even had tragic experiences and handled them with infinitely more grace than I could ever muster, coming out stronger, triumphant and doing all kinds of good in the world. They’re more interesting than me, and probably even better people.

Above all, because so many of my experiences are colored by disability, I’m afraid you will:

• Immediately dismiss them because they don’t pertain to you (yet… God forbid!)

• Decide I think the world should cater to my every whim because I deserve it.

• Think I’m indulging self-pity.

• Apply the “angry cripple” stereotype to me, and refuse to give audience to what you perceive to be the chip on my shoulder.

• Make me into a pitiful (gulp) poster child.

• Get a slight case of the warm-fuzzy inspirationals, then not take any sort of action.

Furthermore, because my faith strongly influences many of the things I’ll write about, I fear you will:

• Apply your opinion of general Christianity to me

• Discount the way I demonstrate my spirituality because it doesn’t look like yours.

I bet this looks like I’m desperate for you to like me. I hope you do, but that’s not the case. It’s really that:

• I want you to give me a chance.

• I’m afraid of being the reason you to dismiss or minimize any social issue I write about, because it’s intensely important to me or I wouldn’t have risked it.

• I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings. If you get mad…well, that’s up to you, but I don’t want to hurt your feelings.

You probably think I’m insecure, but isn’t it the opposite of that to commit this kind of stuff to print? I’m just keeping it real. Now that I’ve addressed all my neuroses, I’m going to proceed to empty my head. If it resonates with you in any way, let it stick.