Don’t Worry, You’re an Octopus

The butterfly has long been the symbol of rebirth and fresh starts. The caterpillar eats its way to a new life, which is an idea that everyone can get behind. Then, it is released from the cocoon, beautiful and new, ready to ride the breeze to its next destination.

Yeah, okay. But does anyone else feel like we need a mascot for new beginnings that’s a little, uhm, sturdier? A little more resilient?

Enter the octopus. Besides being incredibly smart, these creatures have an entire array of self-defense mechanisms. From mimicry to expelling ink, they don’t become prey easily.

And if they do get between a rock and a hard place, if they really need to get away, they have one last resort. They lose an arm. That’s right. They can sacrifice their own arm without suffering any nerve damage. Now, that’s a representative of a fresh start that I can truly believe in. (Although, I can sort of see why losing an arm over gaining beautiful wings is why the butterfly trumped the octopus in the self-help symbol department.)

Of course, if we can’t exactly follow in the octopus’s eight footsteps, we can at least take away a lesson from this ingenious animal.

Because even when it feels like you’ve given all you have, you can still give more. And even when it seems scary to give anything at all, you can take heart in the fact that regrowth is imminent. This is what survival is all about: doing all or nothing.

So, maybe you’d prefer to look at life as a butterfly. Maybe you are waiting for the day that you are able to transform into something better, more acceptable to the world. Something to help you transcend everything, as a butterfly takes flight after its wings dry and unfold their shape.

Or you could look at your life as the octopus does. Making sure that when you are cornered, in danger, you have a way out. And even when most things look bleak, you are ready to fight for your existence. And of course, you always have a final trick up your sleeve (literally, your arm.)

Either way, you’ll survive whatever you’re going through. Whether by flying above it or never letting it take what you hold most dear, you will live, but also, you will thrive.

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A Love Letter to the Earth

Listen,

Admittedly, I forgot today was your day. But you have to understand: for me, every day is your day! Okay, I know that sounds a little bit like “It’s the thought that counts…” but seriously. How much more do I have to prove my love for thee than by staying firmly planted on thine soil? Fine, it’s gravity that anchors me here, but give me a chance to explain!

I know that you’re just jealous since we’ve been checking out other planets recently, but they don’t have what you have (specifically, water…). I mean, we had a thing with the moon for awhile and that was great, but it was never going to last (or we were never going to last in the atmosphere). And now, you’re worried that we’re going to replace you with Mars as our favorite planet to explore. Please believe me when I say that the people that may be going there would much rather stay here. And really, Mars doesn’t hold a candle to you in looks. She has obviously applied too much self-tanner to achieve that reddish, dusty look. And no one can deny that you get hotter every day (except for the people who refuse to acknowledge climate change).

I know. If we love you, then we certainly have a funny way of showing it. We tear you apart, and we poison you, and we claim you. Yet, you still allow us to walk on your surface. (I guess love really is blind.)

As a result, I would like to make it my personal mission, as we all would, to see that you live out the full extent of your life so that we can all live out the full extent of ours. But more than that, I want to help you to reach your fullest potential. You continue to amaze me, even when I’ve only seen a fraction of you. What could you be if we all devoted more time and energy to preserving you, helping you to thrive?

Don’t worry, I’ll set the mood by turning out the lights so as not to waste electricity. I’ll hand wash the dishes that we eat a romantic dinner on to save water. I’ll even recycle the wine bottle after we’ve drained it so that it can be used anew. I always know that the little gestures and things (like a single species of creatures) matter the most to you, Earth. And we would all do anything for you.

From the bottom of the deepest oceans to the heights of the tallest tree, we love you.

Sincerely,

Humans

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What the Frick Does That Mean, Coco Chanel?

Do you ever ponder how a quote becomes a quote? Do people just quote a quote so often it becomes a quote? Or does it have to reach a certain number on the relatability factor before it can be deserving of that little dash and the speaker’s name after it?

To decide, let’s consider this one, by Dr. Seuss:

“Fun is good.”

Huh. The simplicity is definitely attractive in this quote, but I could probably string these three words together myself. In essence, I could have said this quote. In fact, I probably did say it. So, how is it fair that it gets credited to one person?

Let’s try another, by Confucius:

To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.

Thanks for that wisdom, Confucius. Just one question: how am I supposed to know what I don’t know if I don’t know it? Didn’t really think that one through, did ya? (Tongue firmly in cheek, mind you, but you have to admit, he could have taken a few more years to think about this one. Just so there’s no Confucius confusion.)

And finally, we have the fashion icon, Coco Chanel:

Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.

Like, okay. I get it. Don’t try to change something that you can’t change. But how do you know it’s a “wall” not a “door”? What if it just needs a doorknob? Maybe your beating translates to knocking and someone answers it? And how do you know when to stop?

Now, you would probably argue that these people had other quotes that hit home. That these may not be shining examples of their intellect, but these are still incredibly wise people we’re talking about. (Or quoting about.)

And yes, you would be right. Which proves two things about life: one, that even the best and most interesting people don’t always make sense. Yes, truly successful people can sometimes produce non-masterpieces. Yes, they can create badly. And actually, this is what makes them great. Because they are willing to say things that don’t really work in the hopes that they will strike upon something that does.

Which brings me to my second point. These quotes may not appeal to me. They may not ring true for my life.  But they could be important to someone else. Maybe someone needs to be reminded that “Fun is good” on a daily basis. Maybe they need to accept that they don’t know everything. Maybe they need to remember that they can stop when it gets too hard. This is what is so rich and inviting about our lives: we’re on different paths, and yet there is still a universality to our experiences.

So, maybe Coco Chanel knew what she was talking about. And then again, maybe she didn’t. The best part is that you or I don’t have to decide. Just don’t quote me on that.

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You Need to Get Good at Dying

Okay, let’s all practice now. Hold your breath until you turn blue in the face. Do this until you feel like you can do it on command. Congratulations! Keep doing it, and you’ll be good at dying in no time!

(Please, tell me that you know I’m kidding. I don’t need any of my readers dropping dead on me. What if you die before hitting the “like” button?)

But still, you should get better at dying in a metaphorical sense. And what could I possibly mean by that? I simply mean that you need to get good at saying goodbye, at leaving it all behind, and starting over. Because you are going to be doing that a lot in life, not only with other people, but more often, with yourself.

Let’s see if this scenario is familiar: a person from your past or slightly distant present has a beef with you over something. Whether you forgot to text him/her last night or you weren’t keen to listen to their latest drama-filled story, you brushed them off, accidentally. What is the first stone thrown in the argument that ensues? You’ve changed. The old (insert your name here) wouldn’t act this way. The old (insert your name here) was my friend. 

Except, what that other person is really saying is that you are not acting in accordance with how he or she thought you should act. How dare you not stick to the script of your own life!

Which is just about as ludicrous as it sounds. You, believe it or not, are going to die a few “deaths” in your lifetime. You, though your friend may not believe it, are going to change, radically. You may have already “died” a few times already, as you had to reinvent yourself to survive. When you first experienced heartbreak, when you moved out of your parents’ house, when you lost someone who was close to you, etc.

Now, anyone who has lost someone dear to them can tell you that they are never really gone. We carry them with us because they’re bodies were too tired to carry the weight of their full soul. And that is what will happen to you. You will die, in a sense, but continue to live. You will say goodbye to the person that you once were, but you will never lose them. You will simply tuck that part of you away, for safekeeping.

And you should. Humans, by nature, have to adapt. We need to be able to keep changing and growing with our environment. It would be a real, true sort of death if we weren’t able to do that. If we weren’t able to keep going after we thought life had ended for us.

Of course, I’m sure you’re worried about losing yourself in this dying in life process. What if I shed a layer of myself that I wanted to keep? Well, put simply, everyone has a lighthouse inside them. The seas of our souls can get stormy, and they can obscure the lighthouse, sometimes the ocean spray can put the light out altogether. But you can and will relight them.

You see, people fall in love with each other’s lighthouses. That is to say, people fall in love with the core of who they are, not who you are or who you were or who you will be. They fall in love with something far less tangible and far more constant.

In the end, you need to get good at dying. You need to recognize that you will never live forever as the person that you are, but that you will build and create yourself, the person you were always meant to be. The sooner you say goodbye, the easier it will be to begin anew. Like the tides that meet the shore, you will fade and ebb and then surge and surge again. You can rely on this cycle, as so many boats out to sea rely on you.

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To Kill a Robin

I don’t exactly live in the wilderness, but I certainly don’t live in a concrete jungle. The most common creatures I see on a walk through my neighborhood are deer, songbirds, and the occasional Scottish terrier followed by the traditional senior, suburban citizen.

So, I wasn’t really surprised when walking with my mother recently to find a robin. What was rather intriguing was the fact that it was in the middle of a quiet road and that it let us get ridiculously close to it. Being the adventurers we are, we were thoroughly curious, but we knew that our proximity probably wasn’t a good sign. We knew something had to be wrong with it. Trying to inspect it, we didn’t see anything at first, but we weren’t convinced that it was a healthy omen of spring.

I should also mention at this point that in addition to being adventurers, we are also do-gooders. And we couldn’t let this poor robin sit in the middle of the road. Sure, it was a quiet street, but it was a street nonetheless. We had to figure out how to move the robin out of more danger’s way. It certainly wasn’t afraid of us, but it didn’t react to our incredibly convincing “shooing” gestures either. What could we do?

I finally decided that I would have to pick it up. But just shy of cupping him or her in my bare hands, I took off my shirt. (I had a shirt underneath, you dirty birds). I tried to swaddle him when he started to hop forward. When I went to attempt it again, he moved a couple more inches. By the time that I corralled him to the curb, without having to touch him, a car was patiently waiting for me to finish my half-hearted rescue mission. Time had run out, and this was all that we could do for the creature.

As we started to walk away, I heard my mother conclude that here was something wrong with its wing, so for better or worse, we had to leave it at the side of the road. Like a helicopter parent on the first day of kindergarten, we kept looking over our shoulder as we walked on. It didn’t comfort my nerves or my stomach that I saw plenty of hawks flying over my head as we trudged home, minds turned to the inevitable circle of life.

In addition to being  an adventurer and a do-gooder, I am apparently also a masochist. I returned the next day to the spot, with one eye squinting as if I had eaten something sour, not wanting to see what I thought I would see. No small robin carcass rotting in the sun, though. Once again, I was thoroughly surprised. But this time, I was also overjoyed. I started walking again, a spring in my step.

Until I realized that it could have been scooped up by a hungry, flying predator, with no evidence of a struggle to leave behind. (The reason for my masochism, of course). The thought made me cringe and lose any happiness I felt when I saw the absence of a small corpse.

But then, I slowly realized, as I kept walking, that my happiness was never hinged on whether the robin would survive. It was only about doing what I could to help it, however insignificant to the grand scheme of it all. And I knew that even though my second thought had been rather morbid, it was only my first expression of hope that truly mattered. It was only the fact that I had tried, even though it had been possibly in vain and what I hoped to be true.

Belief is all about what we can’t see. What you choose to believe is completely up to you, especially when there is very little evidence of a foregone conclusion. And so, you define your own happiness or your own sorrow in the very idea of what you believe in.

I didn’t want that robin to die, and I choose to believe that he or she didn’t. I could be wrong, and I could be right. But I can’t prove either. And isn’t that wonderful that it doesn’t matter at all?

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I am a ______.

I have finally figured out the perfect adulthood metaphor: musical chairs. Everyone is walking around a small area, waiting for the music to stop, but sort of lingering near a chair just in case the music stops and they’re stuck. Then it does. And everyone sits down, out of breath, and looks around to see what poor schmuck didn’t get there fast enough and has to stand with their hands dangling at their sides in complete disgust.

Now, in your imagination, replace all of those chairs with jobs. Ah. I bet you can see it now, how creepy that music sounds to your own ears when you’re the one walking around those “chairs.”

You see, I’ve realized that everyone is uncomfortable in adulthood because for as long as we’ve been alive, we’re students or dependents. This is how we identify ourselves, how the government sees us on our parents’ taxes. But then, when we drop out or graduate,  when we grow a little older, we’re ____.  Blank.

And suddenly, we’re all asked to fill in that blank with whatever vocation we choose. But how? We’ve been given the profession of student by others. We’re born, and we’re dependent on other people. Why are we suddenly authorized to make this next decision on our own?

And just like that, you hear the music start to play. You’re unleashed into the world, and you start the delicate dance of job and bills. You need money to survive, which is to say you need to sit in a chair. The chairs can be anything you want them to be, but for most people, we arrange a selection of predictable life choices that will define us. Veterinarian. Salesman. Cashier. So, you sit in one profession/chair. And you sit, and sit, and sit. The music never really starts again. But at least you’re in a chair, right? It’s what we tell ourselves, day after 9-5 day.

No one tries to imagine a new fate for themselves, tries to sit in one specific chair. Any chair will do. And in doing so, they fill in the blank that must be filled to talk to anyone at any party. The answer to “What do you do?” is suddenly so readily on their lips, “I’m a ____.”

And that, I’ve realized, is the problem. Everyone wants to sit in a chair and have an answer when someone asks them what they’re doing with their life so that it will sound good enough to their own ears. The problem is that no one wants to just be. They don’t want to take their time, dancing to the music, walking around, trying each chair out, essentially living their life.

What no one realizes is that life is happening in between sitting. Life happens when that blank isn’t filled just yet.

We all need to remember that we don’t discover our lives, we create them. So, turn the music up for now, and don’t be scared when it stops. Whether you have a chair or not, at some point, you’re still going to have to stand up for yourself.

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The Evolutionary Need for Blushing

The short and long of this post? There isn’t an evolutionary need for blushing. That’s right. Scientists have no idea why it would be smart for your body to tell your enemies that you are a little embarrassed or concerned about your well-being by letting your blood vessels bloom on your skin in a rather showy manner.

But it happens anyway as part of our “flight or fight” response. Apparently, it also has some effect on our social relationships. When people see our red faces, they can tell that we are sorry for whatever faux pas we have committed, and they deem us trustworthy as a result. I’ve even heard that pink cheeks indicate good health and robustness of life, which can be helpful in attracting a mate.

Except when you blush over everything. Then everyone just thinks you have a problem, not that you are a potential friend. Much, much, much to my chagrin, I find myself feeling a bit flushed and warm over the most ridiculous situations. I get red just answering the question “How are you doing today?” or drinking a beer (which I blame on my Irish heritage that also allows my face to get red in other ways, like when I get sunburned on an overcast day).

So, what is with my bodily betrayal? Shy of getting surgery to stop my blushing (and have facial sweating as a side effect for the rest of my life), I have no way to stem the obviously embarrassing tides. The reaction is completely involuntary.

I know, I know. In terms of evolutionary short sticks, blushing isn’t the worst of them. You could be the white moth who is living during the Industrial Revolution when all of the trees turn black with soot from the greed of machines. But isn’t it bad enough that I don’t own a poker face? Not only can people read exactly what I’m thinking, they can also tell how I feel about it. Which is bright red embarrassment. Constantly.

Yet, maybe that’s the rub. Maybe blushing is the closest we can get to reading people’s minds and knowing their true feelings. As humans, we’re terribly susceptible to covering up our emotions or, put simply, lying. And sure, we express our emotions, but it’s hard to tell how someone really, truly feels. Tears can be false in that we can make ourselves cry without stimulus or, conversely, when we’re happy. Smiles can also be painted on, and more likely than not, we don’t naturally wear them. Blushing, as I mentioned, is unable to be controlled. You are embarrassed, and your body is exactly aligned with your emotions.

And so, maybe we all need to be genuinely embarrassed sometimes. Not because it feels good to have a hot flash, but because in a world that it is superficial, blushing reveals our deeper selves (specifically our cardiovascular system).

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