#TheFourFriday – Me as Bullseye

Every Friday, I’m posting something about how the real life “The Four” overlap with the fictional four Kota Warriors.
As some of you know, The Kota Series is based on what “The Four” (myself, my brother, and our childhood best friends Kaly and Luke) played as kids.  Each of us is represented by one of the four Kota Warriors (Bullseye, Rave, Tigris, Whitewolf).  So, I’ll be sharing personal quirks that carried over into fiction, fun/weird stories we played as kids, our childhood drawings, pictures related to The Four and The Kota, etc.
Should be fun, and it’ll give you an idea of how weird or little minds were as we created this story that, years later, turned into my book series.  🙂

This week, Me as Bullseye.
I’ve been putting this one off – not because there aren’t similarities, not because I don’t have anything to say, but mostly because this character is so, so personal to me.  In a lot of ways, writing/developing/evolving Bullseye was my life-saving form of catharsis through my late teens and into my early 20s.  I took what I was feeling and dumped it all into her (poor, fictitious soul).  Bullseye’s pain and depression and struggle for something “better” was very much my own struggle, and getting it all onto paper via my alter-ego not only made the character richer but also really helped me personally.

Here’s a sum-up.

Books 1-4 very much reflect the 4 stages of life I was in while I wrote them.  There’s something almost autobiographical about how things line up.

  • Book 1 = High school, plain and simple.  The Dominion (…no way of sugar-coating this…) was my fictionalized version of my own personal hell.  Taking this out on Bullseye meant the Dominion nearly broke her.  It haunted her.  The people there left emotional wounds.  Etc. Etc.  This was all obviously amplified (ACS wasn’t so bad that it was a murderous tyranny), but my emotional upheaval during that time was very, very much fodder for Bullseye’s journey.
  • Book 2 = College.  As Bullseye allows herself to start a new life on Ebon (more literally, of course), so I tried to move forward when going to college.  It was a new environment for both of us.  New people.  New ways to learn to care about the world and people around us.  New challenges that had nothing to do with the crap of the past.
    Cliqani was largely based on my freshman year roommate, who was kind and generous and for some reason put up with my withdrawn, moody, wounded-puppy self.  She helped me heal more than I think I ever told her, but I put a lot of her into Cliqani.
  • Book 3 = Adventure period after college.  Once I/Bullseye stopped being such a mess, the big challenge came in restoring relationships and figuring out who to be.  It’s rough to change people’s perceptions of you once you HAVE changed.  But it leaves you with a great feeling of personal peace once you know you’ve got your shit at least semi-together.  I used this time to branch out and have fun, and I tried to let Bullseye have that breather too…for a while.
  • Book 4 = Adulthood/now.  So, once all of the above was sorted for myself and my alter-ego… What did I want?  You get to a point in your late 20s/early 30s when you’re kind of supposed to have a plan.  Bullseye – it felt very naturally as I was writing – had never dared to make plans for a life of “happily ever after.”  She and I are just not wired optimistically.  But, at some point (as Rave points out to her and as my brother pointed out to me), you have to let go and find SOMETHING you want.  So, once we both figured out what we wanted… I guess we’re both in that place now.  No spoilers. 😉

BullsandMe

The Problem With Being Comfortable

There’s a downside to being encouraged too much as a child.  Growing up, I was always the Golden Child, although I think I was only eager to please because I found it so easy to please.  I could get by with little effort and even excel in some areas without trying.  I was always told I could do anything I wanted, be anything I wanted.  And I knew I was smart enough and talented enough and driven enough that that was true.

But here’s one of the internal hiccups of being me:  I get option paralysis.  When any and all roads are open to me, I can’t pick.  I was always told and believed that I could do/be anything I wanted…but what did I want?

What I’ve always ended up doing is just settling into whatever is good enough.  I slip into the comfort zone of what I’m good at so that I’m satisfied to a passable degree and don’t feel like some kind of floundering failure.  I make myself comfortable with my surroundings, my regular activities, the people I regularly see, etc.  And I just kind of… accept that comfort zone because it’s good enough without having to try, even if I have no idea if it’s what I really want.

Fortunately, somewhere along the trail of growing up, I whack-a-moled the Golden Child reflex to please everyone.  I know perfectly well by this point that I meet expectations without trying, so woo-hoo for me.  Except, not woo-hoo for ME.  Internally, I know that settling for what’s good enough is still settling.  Is my comfort zone really what I want?  This question has always, always plagued me – What do I want?  I don’t think I’ve been able to answer that question for myself at any point in my history.

So what do I do?  I stick with my comfort zone.  I DO like my life, don’t get me wrong – if I was miserable, I’d change things.  I have a pleasant life.  Close family.  Good friends.  Beaches within a reasonable driving distance.  More local breweries than I can possibly visit in a week (I’m sure some could, but I’ve apparently become a lightweight).  I’m generally content.  Comfortable.  But is this all I want?  Or have I gotten so comfortable that I’m a bit in denial about being…satisfied?

It doesn’t help that I work at home, alone, with buckets of time to think.  As generally content as I am with my life, still questions of “What if” creep in to fill the hours.  What if I’d made an ambitious pursuit of a vocation at…something I’d wanted?  What if I’d said “yes” any number of times, maybe making mistakes but maybe not?  What if, at any point, I’d wanted something so passionately that I’d been driven to aim for it?

I’ve always been a quietly restless person, probably exactly because I’ve never known what I want.  I’m just not comfortable with being comfortable.  I need to be shaken up semi-regularly.  I need stimulation from the norm.  I hate feeling stagnant.  I hate ruts.  I go through periods (now, obviously) where I get restless and twitchy and question every life decision I’ve ever made.  But still – what do I want?  I have no idea.

I’ve always rolled my eyes at people who adopt the personal mantra of “All who wander are not lost.”  I’ve known people who can’t settle anywhere and “want to see the world” because they think that’s going to solve their problems that they’re carrying around with them everywhere they land.  I’m self-aware enough to know drastically moving or traveling is not going to be a cure-all.  At the same time, some of my best decisions were drastic, made on a whim, and excellent examples of my inability to control my impulse-control issues.  (I’m looking at you, move to Detroit.)  There is something beautifully freeing about hitting some kind of reset and throwing yourself into new surroundings.  There’s something wonderfully freeing about being surrounded by nothing you know.

I’m pretty sure this possible solution entered my brain because a friend recently pointed out to me that I would “never move.”  This bothered me because:

A) It’s frustrating when someone knows you disturbingly well in so many ways that you have to wonder if they’re right about you all the time.

B) A John Locke (LOST) voice in my head always yells, “Don’t tell me what I [won’t] do!”

Also, it got me thinking.  In the back of my mind, I know that moving is always something I’m quite open to if presented with a good enough reason.  In fact, I think that’s why I rent.  So IS that what I want, right now?  A drastic move (literally), a shake up from this comfortable, pleasant little life I’ve settled into?  Or would that just be a quick fix?

I’ve never been comfortable being comfortable.  Maybe that’s all I want – to not be so damn comfortable – although that’s a terrible wish for a pessimist to throw out into the universe.  But I am restless constantly, and I can’t blame it on winter anymore.  I need…something.  I think – I think – I should find baby steps to shake things up where I’m at rather than some drastic move (say, Iceland, for example…Iowa is easier to resist), but I don’t know.  I guess I’m just trying to stay open to possibilities (good ones, please, universe) that I can jump on if they’re what I want.

#YesAllWomen

I haven’t really properly blogged in a long time, but I’ve been asked my thoughts on the whole #YesAllWomen movement, so I figured I’d write my response here.

 First, a few reactionary thoughts…

 I’ve read a lot of grumblings against #YesAllWomen, saying that it seems to be blaming all men.  Many of us have loving brothers, fathers, uncles, male friends, etc. who are NOT assholes.  Well, good.  Of course not EVERY man is the problem.  I don’t think the point of #YesAllWomen is to imply that all men are the devil.  The point, it seems to me, is to bring to light what IS the problem.  And there IS a problem, even if the men in your life are all saints.  If you don’t identify with this, that doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.  There are things men do that are offensive which they might not ever realize are offensive.  There are things we women do that men don’t understand the reasons behind.  The point of acknowledging all of these things is to strengthen both sexes’ understanding and work towards solutions…at least I hope that’s the goal.

 I’ve also read the arguments that #YesAllWomen is a media trend feeding off the tragedy from Santa Barbara.  Some say that it’s belittling actual victims of real abuse – like women stoned in Pakistan or enslaved Nigerian girls.  Okay, some guy smacking my ass as I walk by is not on par with either of those situations. But it’s a part (granted a very small part) of the overall problem.  Different women in different places experience different symptoms of the same sickness.  I would assume most of us realize that we have it better than many, many others.  But, again in order to work towards understanding, talking about our individual experiences can contribute to finding solutions.  And when you tell any woman that her problems and fears and painful experiences don’t really matter, HOW THE HELL IS THAT HELPING?

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 Anyway, here’s a brief overview of my experiences and opinions about this whole issue:

I’ve never particularly thought of myself as a feminist.  I grew up as a tomboy, as a daddy’s girl, as “one of the guys.”  In a weird way I guess I always was a feminist, even if I didn’t realize it – everything I did and everything I believed about myself stemmed off of an assumption that I was just as good as my male companions, just as full of worth, just as important and equally deserving of respect as a human being.

This underlying belief of equal worth (what I think feminism should be about) was passed onto me by my parents.  I was a daddy’s girl, so in a large way I owe my “feminism” to my father.  I don’t remember him ever telling me I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.  He taught me to think for myself.  He taught me to stand up for myself.  My mom also played a big part in my self-confidence, and I learned from her example that you can be kind, loving, generous (“feminine,” in short) but also have biting wit and an internal drive that spurs you to succeed in whatever you’re tackling.  I blame my hyperactive self-esteem on too much good parenting, honestly – I was encouraged constantly by their belief in me, and there were never limitations because I was a girl.  (Growing up, the only way I was treated differently from my brother was that I wasn’t allowed to run around with my shirt off or pee behind trees.  Whatever.)

I will say that even my “perfect” childhood was tainted by a very minor episode of what so many more unfortunate girls have experienced.  I thank God that I’ve never been truly abused, raped, assaulted, etc.  But there was a time when a creepy older boy wanted me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with, and I tricked him and ran to tell my mom.  My parents never spoke of it again, I’m sure hoping/assuming I’d forget about it, but I remember even then realizing how scared other little girls must be who didn’t have anyone to tell. This episode, however minor, at least taught me sympathy for girls who found themselves in situations where they had no control.

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Growing up on a hunt club, with scores of men around all the time, was an interesting education in how men treat “the fairer sex.”  I truly believe that a lot of men from older generations honestly don’t understand why women get offended.  To them, it seems natural that women do the cooking and cleaning.  It never enters their minds that it makes us uncomfortable when they put a hand on our back to guide us through a door.  I don’t know what can really be done to change older men’s understanding of “feminism” honestly.  My deceased grandfather (whom I did love dearly despite infuriating moments) would be horrified to know I’m still single at 32, and he just never understood that a girl could be happy and alone…for example.

  •  I remember the first time a man didn’t believe me about something and thought he should ask my little brother. (I immediately thought of that part in “The Boxcar Children” where the one sister isn’t allowed to use a knife and instead they give it to her little, 5-year-old brother, because he’s a boy.)
  • I remember the well-meaning assistance when men assumed I couldn’t lift something heavy, which always made me feel put in my place…and a little defiant.
  • I remember older men telling me I was pretty when it had absolutely nothing to do with our discussion, which I always thought ridiculous because my brother’s looks never had anything to do with anything.  (I still get annoyed when interviewers comment on my looks…as if that has anything to do with how I write sci-fi.)
  • Then I turned 18.  Some – and I must stress that this was not the majority of hunt club members – started treating me differently.  I remember a few times out on the Sporting Clays course when I was honestly very uncomfortable. Once I was wearing shorts and a tank top, and so they laughed at me when I said I wasn’t interested, telling me I must “like the attention” – never mind that it was 95 degrees outside and I was doing physical labor.  Sometimes I would be a little afraid to be out in the middle of the woods with these men.  If they ever wondered why I walked so quickly back to the clubhouse (where my dad was), that was why.

And here’s something:  I’m a tough girl.  I grew up on a farm so that I’m strong enough to usually feel I can defend myself if I have to.  Still, there are times when I’m afraid around men.  If I feel that way, I can only imagine how powerless some other women must feel.

Another thing:  I read in another #YesAllWomen post about how men submit and back off when another man is involved.  I never thought of this as a pattern, but it makes sense.  Back with those creepy hunters, they would back off and act like they didn’t even notice me the second my dad was around. (I think THAT is actually a big part of why I’ve always preferred the idea of eloping, honestly.  I hate the idea of my dad giving me away – I’m not HIS.  No one should have to ask his permission to have me. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but it’s all a part of the same thing in my head.)

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In Detroit, I worked for a while as a model scout.  This whole time period was a personal experiment to study people anyway, and the ways men treat women was certainly a key part of that.

In another #YesAllWomen-related blog, the female writer talked about how she and her boyfriend were watching a woman at a bar.  A creepy dude sidled up to the woman and talked to her, obviously making her uncomfortable, but the woman gave bare minimum responses and chuckles. The writer’s boyfriend said something like “I can’t believe she’s putting up with him. You’d never do that.”  The writer admitted to thinking, “I do it all the time.” There is so much truth in this.  As a woman who’s been hit on at bars by many, many creepy men, you learn that the safest and easiest response is to…put up with it. It’s awful and feels like you’re encouraging bad behavior, but the truth is that sometimes you just don’t know how a guy is going to react to a flat out “no.”  Putting up with it until he takes the hint, gets disinterested, or goes away is quite often the safest way to go.

Also during model scouting, I again saw the truth that unwanted “suitors” (the most polite term I can think of at the moment) would back off if another guy was around.  A good friend of mine knew my “get over here and help me” face.  Whenever I couldn’t get rid of a guy, I would give my friend that look and he’d come over and stand by me protectively.  Every single time, the creepy suitor would bow out immediately.  I HATE needing a guy for that.  But it always works – men will hear men say “no” every time.  It’s infuriating to not have that kind of power yourself, as a woman.

Here’s a problem:  We women do like SOME attention.  Being told you’re pretty is nice when it’s said respectfully. We do not, however, like to hear “You’re hot!” when shouted from a dark alley.  This doesn’t mean girls are fickle or teases or leading you into some kind of trap where we’re going to shut you down after you buy us 3 drinks.  I have been accused of being an Ice Queen, but I’m perfectly willing to give someone attention who treats me like more than a piece of meat – WHY IS THAT SO DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND?

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Here’s the pretty basic bottom line:  Respect people.  Respect women, not because they’re women, but because they’re people.  Respect men, not because they’re men, but because they’re people.  If we want equality – acknowledging that there are differences, but equal – then just treat everyone with the same level of respect and decency.  And understand that women put up with a lot that we can’t control.  Sometimes men can be offensive without even realizing it.  Sometimes we’re outright afraid of men, and there IS male behavior that is sick, misogynistic, and needs to be addressed.  Some of my favorite feminists are men who are working to change the way men understand their behavior in relation to women.

I for one choose to see that as the purpose of #YesAllWomen – acknowledging that we all need to work to fix the gender issues that affect all of us.  Even me.

You and You and You Complete Me

They say your 20’s are meant for finding yourself and your 30’s are for sorting out and getting comfortable with what you want in life. Personally, sitting here in my 30s, I’m finding that what I want most is good relationships with people in my life.  If you knew me in my teens, this is probably kind of shocking – back then, I had a handful of people I could tolerate, let alone love.  But I’ve never been vocationally driven, creatively over-ambitious, or heard a biological clock ticking to the point of deafening every other thought.  As I’ve moved out of my teens, out of my 20’s, and now into my 30’s, PEOPLE matter most to me, and my relationships are what push and pull me in a hundred different directions so that I feel like I’m getting the most out of life.

I’ve always hated the line “You complete me.”  Part of this may be because I was on the Rolls-Eyes-At-Tom-Cruise bandwagon before there was a bandwagon.  Mostly, I just think it’s a horrible idea because no one person can ever completely fulfill you.  It’s a dangerous, romantic idea to invest all happiness and well-being on one person (think “Twilight” style).  That way disappointment lies.  And resentment.  Anger.  Often, divorce.  No one, no matter how wonderful and no matter how much better they make your life, is perfect all the time.  Putting that kind of pressure on a relationship of any kind – marriage, BFFs, doctor/patient – can be disastrous.

And that’s why I’ve learned that I have to let relationships be whatever they are, not what I might want them to be. You can’t  make some work, no matter how hard you try to invest and make someone an important part of your life.

  • That cool girl might not want to be your BFF, but she could be someone you enjoy immensely whenever your paths cross.
  • That person you worship as a mentor might not have time to take you under their wing, but you can still learn from what they can give.
  • That guy might not love you like you wish he would, but he could be a great friend who cares about you.

I’ve learned to let relationships be what works.  You don’t need to throw people away if they don’t completely fulfill you.  That one person might be great in one specific area that everyone else misses, so let other people be the rest of what you’d want from that person.

The reverse is true too. I’ve found I often fall into the trap of trying to be everything for someone.  I want to give someone whatever they need from me, whenever they need it.  But that can be exhausting and relationship-ending too. I grow resentful, even if I am kind of encouraging them to be emotional vampires.  Some of these relationships I’ve learned I have to back off from.  I can’t complete people all on my own any more than anyone else can complete me all on their own.  But I can be something for them – just not everything.  I can still give advice or support when an emotional vampire really, really needs it.  I can still send a joke message to that awkward friend when I find something I know he’ll enjoy.  I can exchange low-maintenance emails with that girl who’s life has moved in a different direction from mine. I can’t force these relationship be what they once might have been, but they can still mean something to me, each in their own way.

Of course there are different levels of connection, and some people complete us more than others.  I have an amazing family, and I have a close circle of friends I love dearly who feed me and love me and get me – we all have these people, I hope.  But even in this group of people who fulfill me, it’s a group effort. I get different things from different people – the strain of fulfilling a person’s needs is best passed around, I think.  I don’t go to my girl friends for advice I know I’d respect more from my parents, for example (that might seem abnormal, but there it is – my parents are awesome).  I likewise don’t expect my parents to understand memes about “New Girl.”

  • I have a friend I talk to about hairstyles.
  • I have a friend with whom I discuss religion.
  • I have a brother with whom I share more personal life angst than I dare expose anyone else to.
  • I have a friend who shares my hermit/introvert problems.
  • I have a childhood friend who gets my past and how it still affects me today.
  • I have someone I met at a party who is more supportive of my books than anyone in my day-to-day life.
  • I have an author friend who knows the writing headspace and also knows that sometimes I just need a break where we have stupid conversation for an hour.

It’s good to have people to count on.  Everyone in your “inner circle” shares something unique with you, probably. It’s good to have go-to people.  It’s good to know who can handle what level of your crazy.

For me, I also know that, no matter how much I love the people who fall into the categories above, I’m always going to need new people too.  It’s not that I get bored with people in my life too often… but it’s nice to bring in new blood and see more of humanity.

One of my favorite quotes:

“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.” – Anne Lamott
 

Also, this:

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And it’s these “ah-ha” kindreds, as well as these people who have something that makes them completely stand out, that maintain my faith in humanity.  I think you also have to let these people just be what they are without forcing these “single serving friends” to mean more than they can.  If you meet someone on Twitter who shares your love of Supernatural and you go on to become BFFs, great.  If someone shares a great moment with you and you never hear from them again after that day, that can be great too, if you look at it right.  Let it be what it is.

I guess all this boils down to letting go of control.  Control of other people.  Control of relationship definitions.  Control of what you think you need and what you think you need to be.  Let everyone in your life have their own space that is just theirs and don’t demand they fit the mold of some idea in your head.  With less pressure, less expectations, who knows?  You might find fulfillment from a thousand different sources.

Hermithood

It’s that time of year when I typically have had it with winter anyway, but today I’ve spent most of my time eagerly anticipating the moment when the wind is going to finish tearing off my neighbor’s screen door so that it joins the blowing snow, which just doesn’t seem to want to fly down

I miss the color green.
I can’t even remember what dirt smells like.
I remember what birds sound like only because of TV.
I’m sick of being cooped up and having way too much time to think and consequently freaking out about every life decision I’ve ever made.

 But here’s the thing: Despite the weather, despite hating being cooped up (yes, I could do things outside, but I’m not a crazy winter person), I really don’t mind this winter causing me to spend so much time alone.  I would like to be out, at the park, at the beach, among the living, etc.  But I’ve gotten pretty good at doing these things by myself.  Maybe it’s part of being a writer, but I like to be out in the world and just observe.  I like having great stretches of time where I can think without having to entertain anyone else. Selfishly, I like doing things my way.  Less selfishly, I like not making other people accommodate me into their plans.

Of course I like spending time with my family and my friends.  Most of them.  Many of them.  Some of them.  Sometimes.  It would be absolutely detrimental to my mental wellbeing if I didn’t interact with people regularly. I genuinely love meeting new people.  I’ve had a job in the past which required me to be more social than any of you probably will ever be in your life, so forgive me if I smirk a bit when you get all judge-y like I can’t be social.  (Okay, that started to get specific…) Anyway, yes, I like people.  I’d say I need people.  I may be an introvert, but people feed me creatively, spiritually, etc. in ways that neither I nor Netflix can.

But my usual, comfortable state involves a table for one.

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The natural question most people ask is, “Don’t you wish you were in a relationship so that you’re not alone all the time?” My first reaction is usually to find this insulting.  My second reaction is to take a deep breath and try to make the person understand that I’m quite happy being single.  Well-meaning relatives and friends of course try to “help.”  My usual response echoes Liz Lemons’s “No, thank you, please!” Okay, being in a relationship wouldn’t be a bad idea, but having some guy in my life usually just exhausts me.  If someone wants to see me more than once a week, I start to feel claustrophobic.  Maybe at some point someone will surprise me, but I don’t NEED someone to make me feel content.  I think that’s a much healthier space to be in – hoping to be surprised – than dating anyone/everyone in the hope that I won’t have to be alone.

If I’m being honest, most of the time it’s probably better that I’m not around people.  Usually in public my verbal edit switch IS clicked to on, but I apparently have lost all ability to control my facial expressions.  While I might really, really want to spend time out with friends, after a few hours that enthusiasm is likely to wane and I’d rather be back enjoying Sammy (my TV) or else writing.  However, this time of year, I think everyone has had it with being stuck inside and so we’re a bit more likely to enjoy each other’s company just for the sake of being in each other’s company. I can be okay in public, and this time of year even I am willing to give it a go.

 On that note, I have to go get ready to leave my apartment.  Good luck to everyone dealing with me tonight.

Muppet Christmas Lessons

[This is from a few years ago, but it’s still appropriate. And still a lesson I struggle with…although I hope I’m better. Anyway, ’tis the season.]

I am proud of Jason Segel.  I don’t know him.  Never met him.  I know being proud of someone you’ve never met is odd, but it’s true.  He brought the Muppets back to life.  The Muppets were essentially dead for over a decade, and now my whole generation has back this wonderful element of our childhood.  Better yet, as one of my friends pointed out, we are free to love the Muppets without irony (the culturally acceptable attitude painted over long-forlorn objects of childhood affection).

After watching the new Muppet Movie, which happened to release around my birthday, my friends went on a Muppet binge for over a month.  It helped that this was around Christmas, and the Muppets’ several Christmas specials fit with perfect timing.  Chief amongst these was, of course, A Muppet Christmas Carol.  Admittedly, I’ve always been partial to Muppet Treasure Island and hadn’t watched their Christmas Carol in several years, but it’s still one of my favorite adaptations.

This time, however, I for the first time noticed something about the general story of the Christmas Carol that got to me – Scrooge.  I’m sure several people who know me would say that I should always have identified with Scrooge, but that’s not exactly what hit me.  The thing about the story that I noticed this time was this:  After his midnight ordeal, Scrooge wakes up in the morning a changed man, and though we only see his first morning after, the projection implied is that Scrooge was a changed man ever after.  That made me think, as many a jaded adult should probably admit to thinking, “Yeah, but how long did it last?”

Then I watched Young Adult, where Charlize Theron plays a woman so self-important and miserable that she honestly thinks it’s not only a good idea but a possible one that she can steal back her now-married ex-boyfriend.  As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help make the connection – she’s a scrooge.  She’s entirely focused on meeting her own needs; she sees the world only from her own viewpoint.  However, unlike Scrooge, when her climactic moment of decision arrives and she realizes that she must change or else be miserable the rest of her life…she doesn’t.  She reverts.  She not only doesn’t learn her lesson but she believes that there was no lesson necessary to learn.  It’s a disturbingly accurate portrayal of our contemporary approach to choosing to be better people, I think.  (I never thought I would accuse Dickens of being optimistic, but by comparison to Diablo Cody, I guess he was.)  In Young Adult, this scrooge thinks there’s nothing really wrong with her, and it’s deeply disturbing because you come to want so badly for this person to grow up and be better.

So.  When/if we repent, change, heal, whatever, how long does it last?  At least for me, the answer is usually “not very.”  I have all the gusto in the world and have every honest intention of being a better person once I’ve been slapped in the face with my own idiocy, and I might even make a really good go of it for a week or two.  But pretty soon, old nature sneaks back in and my enthusiastic decency-revival fades.  Or, worse yet, like Young Adult, I talk myself out of needing to change because I’m so comfortable wallowing in my own mess that I can’t see how to do anything else.  I’m not really that bad, right?  Maybe it’s everyone else who’s wrong.   Maybe I just need to focus more on myself.

Example:  Lately (I use that liberally but feel free to replace with “for quite some time”), I’ve been a pretty sulky, victimized, snippy, unpleasant brat.  I can easily admit that my biggest problem is that I quickly find flaws in people and expect too much from them, and I was living from the position that all my problems were caused by everybody else.  (Let’s face it, this is an easy road to go down.)  The stupid thing is that I’m horribly self-aware and knew I was being an ass, but I have always been able to rationalize my behavior and thoughts – okay, maybe that’s my worst quality.  Anyway, I was definitely being a scrooge, pre-ghostly visitations.  Fortunately, what finally got to me was not as traumatizing-ly supernatural.  While reading Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman, I realized that I was being completely, self-righteously ridiculous.  The problem was me.  Yes, everyone else has problems and nobody’s perfect, but I CAN change ME.  For starters, I needed to at least realize I had a plank in my eye.  If I can rationalize my flaws, why can’t I do the same in others?  I needed to be more forgiving of other people’s flaws.  It’s only fair.  What right do I have to think I’m better than everyone I’m upset with when I know I’m being a jerk?  Why can’t I be as forgiving of other people as I am of myself?

As a Christian, I believe that the great, great thing about God is that he’s just waiting for us to realize we’re idiots.  I always imagine a spiritual finger poking me when I need to realize I’m being stupid.  The scary thing about us humans (or maybe just me…but I doubt it) is that we get really good at ignoring the poking.  Sometimes it takes something to get our attention, and in my case is was Not A Fan (I’m really happy it wasn’t the Ghost of Christmas Future, because that guy always freaks me out, even in Muppet form).  As I finished reading a chapter, I felt a weight lifted, and I knew it was my own stupidity.  I acknowledged for the first time in way too long that I was being a self-righteous, judgmental idiot.  And just like that, I felt God going, “Ah-ha, there ya go.  Welcome back.”  I realized at once that this was yet another time when I had to decide where to go and how to be better.

  1. Be fair – treat people at least as kindly as I treat myself.  If I don’t like something about someone, first ask myself if that’s because it’s something I don’t like about me.
  2. Be a more invested friend – show up when people ask, because they might stop caring if I don’t.
  3. Get out of my own head.  Empathize more.
  4. Let things go.  People aren’t perfect.

Of course, in this approaching time of New Year’s resolutions, there is always the question of “How long will it last?”  There will be slips.  I’m not perfect, and no one ever completely changes.  Within a short time, I’m sure I’ll catch myself saying something or doing something that will make me feel that finger-poking rebuke again.  But I intend to remain aware and try to fix my behavior and thoughts as often as possible.  

NOT THIS:                                                         THIS:

adu       scro

NOT THIS:                                                          THIS:

adul                scroo

My brother’s first songs

[This Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table listening to the cassette tape she’d recorded between 1985-1988 of my brother and me saying our ABC’s, singing “Jesus Loves Me,” etc.   It’s amazing to me how early our creative loves developed – I take every opportunity to tell stories; my brother wants to sing.  I took the tape home with me and uploaded it, and so here we are.]

As promised (or threatened, depending on who you are) earlier in the week, here is the recording of my brother’s first recorded performances.

He’s come along nicely in 20+ years, so feel free to check out his music at: ChrstnSmrvllMsc

My First Stories

This Thanksgiving, my mom and I sat at the kitchen table listening to the cassette tape she’d recorded between 1985-1988 of my brother and me saying our ABC’s, singing “Jesus Loves Me,” etc.   It’s amazing to me how early our creative loves developed – I take every opportunity to tell stories; my brother wants to sing.  I took the tape home with me and uploaded it, and so here we are.

My first story, which I have henceforth titled “MYSTERY” for reasons that will soon become obvious, was recorded when I was 4.  It’s full of twists and turns and beloved childhood characters, and it is a confusing gem, if I do say so myself.

The second story I guess should be called “Snowball and the B-B-B-B-Big Bad Wolf” and is from when I was 6 and had clearly developed my storytelling skills.

Enjoy.  And yes, my brother Christian is in the background and will later this week be embarrassed with a YouTube upload of HIS first performance.

Is My Nerd Showing?

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A common lesson of mothers everywhere is “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This is bunk.  You ALWAYS judge a book by its cover and really should only NOT use this method in regards to people.  Failed metaphor, in my opinion.  Where was I going with this… Oh, yes – judging people.  I don’t know when it started for me, but at some point I developed a weird reaction to people’s covers.  I have a friend who admits she feels uncomfortable around rich people, and I think I’m this way with pretty people.  It’s not that I feel inferior or anything – I’m secure enough with my cover and am reminded I should be just often enough.  It’s not that I’m bitter and assume you’ve been gifted with blessings we mere mortals cannot hope to attain.  My real reason for not being crazy about pretty people is this:  I assume they will be boring.

I should clarify straight off that by “pretty people” I mean people who obviously care a great deal about their physical appearance, their projected persona, their level of cool.  Having worked with models, I’ve trained myself to look at people and figure out how much time they spend on the way they look. Tip: Shoes are always a good indicator.

Anyway, there are fortunately exceptions to this “rule.”  Some pretty people manage to be both cool and interesting.  One 6’5” model guy and I were once really good friends for about 10 minutes as we talked about his philosophy degree.  This is not, however, what I have come to expect, and I don’t find it true the majority of the time.  Take the girl I met a few summers ago who, while wearing an oversized scarf…in June, told me that she was a nerd because she had seen Star Wars.  Not liked Star Wars.  Not loved Star Wars.  Not memorized Star Wars.  Seen Star Wars.  Umm, thanks for playing; move along.

There are probably all kinds of studies on how class, schooling, genetics, success, attractiveness, etc. are all related to what a person is interested in, but “pretty people” are generally not interested in the things that interest me.  I don’t care what car you drive.  I don’t care how much your apartment costs.  I don’t care how many touchdowns you threw in college.  My eyes roll up into my head a little bit whenever I’m with a group of people who can’t talk about anything deeper than the last party they went to.  And, more often than not, when I find myself in these situations, I’m surrounded by pretty people.  So, I blanket judge the lot of them.

Hypothetically speaking (translation: not hypothetically speaking), I have no interest in that pretty guy at a party who only wants to talk about how much money he makes while eating Twizzlers and accidentally flicking spit at me as he gestures with said Twizzler. However, I am VERY interested in the conversation going on across the table about the Avengers vs. the Justice League.

These are my people.

This is my language.

I was summing up this story with a friend last weekend, and he laughed at me, “So being smart and interesting means being a nerd?”  I blinked and realized that, yes, this is exactly what I mean.  So, I guess I judge in the opposite way that most people view pretty people vs. nerds.

To be clear, I’m not saying that being ugly or socially awkward is a prerequisite for being interesting or vice versa.  And I’m not limiting being interesting to only a quality of the nerdy.  What I’m saying is that nerdy people tend not to care about exteriors.  They’re much more all-inclusive.  With pretty people, appearance is everything.  With nerdy people, interests are everything.

I think this whole dynamic is much better as adults than as teenagers, obviously.  Bridging the gap is attempted more often.  At that party, for example, the dude-bro was welcome to sit and talk about comic books – even if he did eat his Twizzlers in boredom and play on his phone.  And he did invite me to the basement where the pretty people were playing beer pong. I went as a kind of experiment, and I was at least pleased to find that they were nice. They seemed confused why I was there – sheep in wolf’s clothing that I was – but they were nice.  (Sidenote:  The dude-bro made an honest mistake in assuming I was one of them.  On the rare occasion that I go out in public, I do take the opportunity to wear the better part of my closet – i.e. nothing from the sweatpants section.  I can care, but the majority of the time I forgo makeup and end up walking around the Knapp Meijer being judged by the natives.)  Anyway, nice as the pretty people in the basement were, I just didn’t fit down there.  I wanted to get away from the discussion about their last party and back to the convo upstairs about making homemade movies.

As an author bud told me recently, “You’re unique.  You don’t have to be pretty.” …I’m really not sure how to take that, but I think I thanked him.  I guess I like not worrying about being a pretty person and instead letting my nerd show.  That is what I want people to see of me.  That’s the interesting part of me that loves connecting with other people’s interesting, nerdy bits.  I guess it feels more real to me to get to know what a person loves.  Can you be a nerd about football? Sure.  Can you be a nerd about iPhones and the GAP and breweries? Certainly.  I’m not limiting my interest in what people love – just have interests that matter to you more than how you present yourself.

So.  Maybe I do judge people by their covers.  I’m delighted when I’m wrong.  But I think maybe it’s healthier for me to focus on being unique rather than pretty, and that attitude is certainly something I gravitate towards in others.

Apologies to Twizzlers Dude.

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