To Be a Sister

I wear a lot of different hats during the day. And before you picture me wearing a fedora on top of a top hat on top of a yamaka, let me explain.

Most people are different things to different people. A single person can be a mother, a lawyer, a colleague, a friend, a grandmother, a problem solver, a Buddhist, a member of a band, an artist, a guitarist, a lover, a wife, a daughter…you get the picture.

And sometimes, we can get really caught up in defining ourselves by what we do. I actually find myself doing that all of the time because I’m always trying to be what people need me to be. On any given day, I’m a…

…sounding board, receptionist, manager, friend, teacher, mediator, cook, commiserator, expert, researcher, advocate, optimist, realist, marketer, writer, jester, woman…

And it’s draining and exhausting all rolled into one. Because how do I know who I am after all of that? How do I know who I’m really supposed to be when I’m supposed to be all of that at once?

Well, I was thinking about that when my sister stopped by the house the other night. It had been a few weeks since I saw her, but I relaxed into the rhythm of her driving the conversation, telling us every single detail about her life, and I slipped into my part of listening to every detail (because I’m a great listener too.)

And during this time, I had a single thought: I had forgotten what it was like to be a sister. Where you know what role you play, and so does she. You just fit together. Because that’s how it’s always been and always will be. There’s no hat to put on because you’ve been wearing it all along.

In that moment, I realized how much I missed that easy assumption. I realized how much I missed being only one thing to one person. But more than that, I realized I missed being a sister.

The good news? Any time I forget what it is like to be a sister, I can just call her up, and she’ll remind me.

Probably by stealing clothes out of my closet and making me do things “because she said so.”

But secretly? I’m looking forward to it. Just don’t tell her that.

 

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The Picasso Effect

Art is weird, right?

I mean, it’s the expression and perspective of one person at one time in space. So, it is completely dependent on how their ability, ideas, and experiences will shape their work. (Note: This is why that dog on a spaceship that your 3-year-old nephew drew doesn’t really look like a dog on a spaceship. But you’ll hang it on the fridge anyway).

And that first element, ability, is the really important part of art. What good is an artist if he or she cannot render how the world really is as well as what the artist perceives?

Well, actually, it turns out, that artist can still be pretty darn good if he or she does not adhere strictly to the rules of reality. Take Picasso. See Exhibit van Gogh. Look at Monet. Just because they didn’t paint in a realistic style does not mean they couldn’t. In fact, they needed a core understanding of how to paint “well” in order to deviate completely from the straight forward, photorealistic self-portraits of the time. If they had stuck to their basic skills learned in any class, they would have created art. Instead, they chose to strip away all of their knowledge and so made masterpieces.

Let me give you a more concrete and less abstract (art) example. I know how to dress to fit in. I know what make up to wear. I know what hair style is current. I know all of this because it is being forced down my throat in every media outlet, but I also know this because other people are reinforcing it for me by the way they style themselves as well. In the end, I could easily put on the right clothes, the right make-up, and do my hair the right way, and I might be considered by popular media to be “pretty.”

But I reject striving for “prettiness.” Instead, I strive for “me,” and my own truth, whatever that may be, and yes, my own truth sometimes eclipses with popular media’s desires for me (van Gogh did craft a self-portrait, after all), but mostly I try to step out of the box that people try to put me in, the same box that they try to stuff Picasso, van Gogh, and Monet in when they told them that they were not making art.

The basic point is that I know all too well how to fit in. I would have no trouble doing so, like a leaf floating down a fast-moving stream. It is that I choose not to.

Whenever you rebel against the norm, it is the Picasso Effect at work. It is simply doing what is different and new at the cost of your own personal comfort and the comfort of those around you. (Because when you aren’t doing what people expect, they get uncomfortable real fast.)

My only hope for you is that you will effect to the highest degree of Picasso, whenever faced with the choice to do so. That you will acknowledge your teachings but abandon them in favor of your own vision, irregardless of your ability. In the end, my one hope is that you will stay true to yourself no matter what the cost.

 

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I Slipped

Winter has arrived. And I stayed inside.

Yes, if you were on the East Coast, you were hunkered in on Saturday against the blustery winds and “blizzard” conditions. Then, when you emerged, you had to dig yourself out of the snow or just dig yourself out of your front door by sifting through all of the food wrappers you had snowed yourself in with.

And frankly, no one was ready to go back to “normal life” after that.

So, enter me and my busy Monday schedule. I’m trying to get everything together early so that I have enough time to get to work on time because I have to account for black ice, traffic, and idiots. (Fair warning, idiots are out in every weather, so be vigilant.)

But I’m late, as usual. And I’m frustrated, since it’s Monday. And I’m not really paying attention.

And I can quite literally feel the frown on my face, the tension in my brows. But why would I notice that?

Because I felt it all change when I walked out onto my front porch: and I slipped. I didn’t fall, but I lost my footing and my arms went way out to the side. And I laughed immediately. Maybe because I didn’t fall. Maybe because of how I must have looked to people driving down the street.

But I’d like to think that it was the release of everything in myself. I stopped taking everything so seriously. For one lighthearted moment, I could laugh and stop pretending that I could control everything. Because I obviously couldn’t. I was delightedly out of control of the situation.

I slipped, and it had the effect of a banana peel in every cartoon show–comic relief.

Now, I don’t particularly want to almost fall every day I’m upset. But for this one moment, it was an acute reminder of how I should be acting as opposed to how I was. It made me remember that I can’t always know what’s right around the corner, no matter how much I prepare.

I learned that sometimes you have to be knocked off your feet to learn your lesson. And sometimes you have to laugh at yourself to realize that you’re doing just fine.

 

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The Dumbest Thing Ever

What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done?

Wore your glasses while swimming in the ocean? Left your phone in the pocket of your jeans that are cycling in the washer? Forgot the top off the blender and pressed start? (Or maybe Alanis Morrisette would just tell me that these are all ironic things…?)

Anyway, I’m sure we’ve all done things that we’re not happy about, let alone proud of. But do you know what’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done? I do. You probably do it everyday. Heck, you’re probably doing it right now. (And yes, it’s really dumb.)

Worrying. Yup, that’s quite easily the dumbest thing you can do.

Think about it. (But don’t worry about it, that’s counterproductive.) What is worrying? It’s traveling down all of the avenues of thought that concern hypothetical situations and possible scenarios. And do you know what’s absolutely stupid when you think about any alternatives to anything in your life?

You have no way of knowing what’s actually going to happen. So, the what ifs don’t matter. And even if you did know what was going to happen because you can time travel or something, it may not happen exactly as you’ve worried it might (an eternal problem with time traveling, too.) So, you are quite literally worrying for nothing.

And here’s the kicker: worrying is never general. That’s anxiety. Worrying is when we’ve made up specifically what might go wrong. And does it? Yeah, sometimes. But worrying hasn’t made it so. It’s just that it has worked us all up so we become irrational and make a mistake. Self-fulfilling prophecy and whatnot.

And not to mention that worrying is exhausting and highly draining because it’s so negative. I mean, with the time that you’ve spent worrying, you could have easily envisioned what could go right and made that happen instead of calling down a dark cloud to cover you.

Look, it’s like this. You wouldn’t blow out a candle and hope that it turns on a lightbulb, right? And you shouldn’t worry to protect yourself from potential negativity during the course of the day. You can’t save yourself from what might be, only what is.

My advice? Just don’t worry. And if you can’t? Still don’t worry; not worrying will come naturally to you someday.

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Happily (Unhappily) Ever After

One of my greatest fears is that I will die before finishing the book I’m currently reading. I mean, how tragic, right? Not knowing what happens in the sequel, let alone if there is a sequel? It’s like reverse George R.R. Martin syndrome: We think he’ll die before the last books are written; I think I’ll die before I finish reading them.

(Come to think of it, that will probably be my first question when I arrive up at those pearly gates:

God/Higher Being/Morgan Freeman: Ask me anything, Soul #389482923.

Me: Yeah, I know it was supposed to be a shocking ending, but what happened in Gone Girl? I had like 20 pages left. Should I just skip to the movie?

Morgan Freeman: Rosamund Pike is a babe.

Me: Tell me something I don’t know.)

And that’s not because I walk around with an intense premonition that I will die any day now. It’s just that I ensure that I always finish the book I’m reading. I may put it down for months at a time, but I very, very, very, very, very rarely stop reading it altogether. Which means that I’ve read some really awful stories. I mean, like, terrible.

What were some of the worst?

Three Cups of Tea

Crime & Punishment

Izzy, Willy Nilly

 

And the best?

Stargirl

The Book Thief

The Knife of Never Letting Go

 

And as you couldn’t see but could probably guess, my favorites sprang to mind and were typed out much quicker than the bad titles. The good ones certainly stick with me while the bad ones fade to black.

But I can tap them out all the same because I’ve read every word of them. I’ve analyzed their metaphors, I’ve caught their drifts, I’ve found their extensive typos. And so I am able to make an informed opinion about their excellence or mediocrity.

Of course, I know what you’re thinking, what’s the point of reading a book that isn’t very good? That you hate, even?

The short answer? Because it has something to teach you. The long answer? It teaches you empathy. When you read a small bit of a book, you’re only getting one side of the coin, a spoonful of the truth. When you read the entire thing, you suddenly know what the weaknesses and strengths of any character in it are. And you can defend or condemn them as easily as you want. (A skill you can translate to reality, too.)

But really, reading an entire book is having the ability to say I know the shape of another human being’s soul. And I have not played God/Higher Being/Morgan Freeman by passing judgment on it until the very end. Which is the only thing that any of us can really hope for when we truly bare ourselves to an audience.

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Fully Full

I don’t think anyone would say that they are intentionally ungrateful. I’m not sure I’d have much respect for someone who says, “Yeah, I like my warm bed at night, but I’m not really living until I can make it vibrate with a touch of a remote,” anyway. But it happens (not the vibrating bed thing, the ungratefulness thing).

We forget how lucky we are to have food on our table, electricity and running water in our houses, and most importantly for some, internet access so that we can talk to the rest of the world. Sometimes we just get caught up in what we should have and we forget about what we do have. Like I said, it happens–and it happens to the best of us.

But why?

I have a theory. You know that half full/half empty/optimist/pessimist glass of water metaphor? Well, I’d like to extend that idea. I think everyone is given a cup when they’re born. We gain and lose a lot of liquid from our cups. The more we give and do for others, the more we drain that cup. And that’s alright.

Unless we don’t leave any for ourselves, any liquid to hydrate with, any warmth to soak up through that cup. That’s when we get frustrated and stressed. That’s when we get a little ungrateful. Because we’re giving and giving, and then we have nothing left. And we can’t see half full/half empty because we see nothing.

Then, when the cups are full, we notice that, too. We notice the weight, we notice the warmth it gives us. We are more likely to be grateful for what we have when we can readily see it.

The problem is then really simple: we need to be grateful when our cups aren’t so full. When we don’t have much left, and what we have left is going to be given away. But how?

Of course, that’s where I get stuck a lot, and I don’t have all the answers. But I think I figured out a solution: when we have nothing left, when we’re not fully full, we have to be grateful for the cup, which in case you got confused earlier, is quite simply, the fact that you are alive. So, if you have nothing to put in your cup, just be thankful for the fact that someday you will. Because the capacity to be grateful is all you need to be so.

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Liar, Liar

I am an awful, terrible, no-good, bad liar.

(Now, I understand that you think that I could be testing you by saying this–by saying that I am a terrible liar when I’m really not. But I’d like to assure you that I am a bad liar, and you’re just going to have to take my word for it, which I understand, is suspicious.)

The problem is that I have a glass face. Everyone can see everything bloom on my face like a dark cloud in a bright sky. And I realize that. So, I can feel my lies disintegrating when people look into my face. Heck, I’m even easy to spot on social media. (Nothing is worse than an insincere emoji.)

So, how do I get around lying? Mostly, I tell the truth. Which has its advantages and disadvantages, depending on the situation. But mostly, it’s good. I don’t have to remember what I’ve told someone, and I don’t have to believe my own lies. (No, really, Bailey, you totally won’t eat another cookie. That was definitely your last one.)

Where it becomes a really bad problem is in writing–especially fiction. The people who write the best fiction are exceptionally good “liars,” in a sense, because they are capable of incorporating tons and tons and tons of imaginary detail into a life they’ve already made up. Lies built on lies. And they believe themselves and so they know their characters. And, as you already know, lies make terribly good stories.

Now, this frustrated me. Because how am I supposed to become a great writer if I can’t lie? Even about made up things? Even when it won’t hurt anyone’s feelings?

I’ve thankfully found a solution. I’ve found that when I write, I’m still lying, but I’m actually getting closer to the truth. Think about it. Writers may be making things more beautiful, more real, more relatable, but we’re only distilling the truth and showing the world what it really is through lovely descriptions. We’re not really inventing anything–every story has been told at least twice. We’re just reimagining what we encounter and see everyday, giving it new dimensions. True lies can become tangled, but truth is the web itself, a perfectly organized system that will only betray you if you betray it.

In the end, I don’t really need to lie. I simply need to lie closer to the truth.

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