October 25, 2012

a small price to pay

There's a thing I do, sometimes, when I get bored or tired or burned out on normal life; when I need a minute to rest, to get away, to not worry about things I worry about. For a little while, I pretend I'm not me. I put on a little show, in fact, and it goes like this:

I go to a coffee shop like the one I'm in now, I order something soy, I find somewhere to sit. I'm quite picky about my placement - I try to make that unspokenly clear to other patrons watching me choose. I find a place that will suit me, I sit there. I've worn something I like, usually, and made sure my hair is pretty good that day. For some reason that's important. Sometimes I wear glasses, but they're not real glasses. I'm telling you this because I trust you won't judge me. I trust that some days you wish you could pretend to be someone else, too. And if it's as simple as donning a $10 pair of fake glasses, I mean, can you blame me?

Anyway, I sit. I have great posture, maybe prop my leg up on the chair opposite me sometimes. I open my MacBook, plug in my headphones and choose something cool to listen to. The Avett Brothers today, I think. It's important that I wouldn't mind if someone knew I was listening to it, should they ask, though I know they won't. I drink my soy whatever and I tilt my head thoughtfully, as I am doing now. I look discerningly at my laptop screen as though to let onlookers know I am carefully choosing my words, which I am, but I want it to be apparent. I do this sort of consciously, actually, as though I think I have an audience, but I promise I know I don't. I know I am only performing for one person, and that person is me. Because I am being someone different today. Nobody here has any idea, how could they, so I guess I want to make sure I know it.

As I sit and sip and tilt, I write. Because in this scene I am a writer. A writer who spends my nights at coffee shops and writes things that are important and meaningful and poignant, who wears glasses, sometimes, whose hair is good on all days, not just this one, who is thoughtful, chooses words carefully. Here I am not a person who's job it is to worry about other people's problems, here I am not a person who has sadness, or grief, and if I am, I am the kind who knows exactly what to do with it. Here I am not the kind of person who cares what other people think. Here, in fact, I am sort of demure and glamorous, mysterious, in whatever kind of way someone wearing a hoodie can be. Here I am the kind of person who doesn't wear my heart on my sleeve, I am someone people wonder about instead of just knowing because I probably already told them. Because, I remind myself, head tilting, here tonight, I am not me.

Eventually, though, I will get sleepy; because I am a person whose job it is to worry about other people's problems, who cares what other people think, who wears my heart on my sleeve, and those things can be tiring. I will stay a little longer, even then, but eventually I snap my laptop shut, take one more swig of soy and pack up my things. It's time to be me again. Maybe just slightly more like the girl in the coffee shop than before, just from the practice, but mostly still just me.

That might sound depressing to you. At first it did to me, too, but I think instead it's actually kind of hopeful. Because I like to think that even though I am me, even though I am set in a lot of ways, I am not stuck. I am me. But the girl from the coffee shop is also just me, in the end, aside from the glasses which I already admitted aren't real. I am a writer. A writer who is also a lot of other things too, things that can be tiring, but who can sit in a coffee shop with a pair of fake glasses on and forget about all that other stuff for a little bit.

Maybe that's what life is, in the end, maybe growing up just means being what you are and practicing the things you'd like to be more of until one day maybe you are those things too. Maybe one day I'll discover I'm a little bit glamorous. Even slightly mysterious. Maybe one day I'll realize I care a little less about what other people think and even though I'll probably always worry about other people's problems, I'll always have coffee shops and fake glasses to fall back on when I need a break, and that's enough to keep me going. Yes. Hope. That's what that is. And as dumb as I felt buying those stupid hipster glasses, I'd say it was $10 well spent. A small price to pay [and by "price" I mean both the $10 and the pride I had to sacrifice to own fake glasses, no matter how cute they are] for an evening of rest and hope every now and then.

October 19, 2012

do the next right thing

Children are very concerned with justice, I've noticed. Or maybe not so much justice as they just always want to be absolutely sure that whatever is happening at any given moment is 100% fair. If he got a cupcake, I should too, and it better be exactly the same size and flavor with the precise same amount of frosting on top please. And if she got 6.75 minutes on the swing at recess then SO SHOULD I IT'S ONLY FAIR. Playgrounds are a veritable court of law. At some point though, we stopped talking about it. We stopped claiming things weren't fair or telling people they should do something because it's only fair. But I thought about it recently and I'm not sure we really did stop. I think we stopped saying those exact words; we realized at the very least it made us sound immature and kind of petty, as grownup people, to say those things. So usually we don't. But did we stop worrying things may or may not be unfair? I think we absolutely did not.

The thing about fairness, I think, is that worrying about it isn't terribly productive. On a given day there are any number of facts about my life I can't change. I am 27 years old. I've made countless choices in those 27 years, some good and some not so. I will tell you from experience that I could spend entire days going through all of those poor choices one by one, regretting them and wishing them to be different, but my past remains a fact. While I can move forward, I can't go back and change any of it because whether I like it or not, it happened. I can spend even more days thinking about the things that weren't my choice, hard or life-altering things that happened to me, and I can think about how those things aren't fair. They may very well not be. My point is, I could sit and dwell on how things aren't fair for some serious amounts of time. How there are things I can't change and how much I hate that. But, to recap, it's not a terribly productive strategy. Because after the days of dwelling, everything remains just as it was before I started. The alternative to that - and I thank the good Lord there is one - is to accept those things as true, if unfortunate, and then [this is the important part] decide what to do moving forward.  I think I can accept what is true about my past while refusing to accept it as my future.

It's really easy to get stuck there - in thinking life sucks and believing the unchangeable truths about our lives are too much to overcome. And you know what? It really does suck. A lot of it really isn't fair. It's easy to feel like we are trapped by our circumstances with no way out, but if only for my own survival's sake, I need to believe that's not true. And when I stop and think about it, I have to wonder if the only circumstance trapping me anywhere isn't the one where I decide I'm trapped and live the rest of my life as if it's true.

When you're faced with a past that is riddled with mistakes and poor choices and missteps, when you're forced to look at the facts of your life and you don't always like what you see, or when you've just screwed up for the hundred millionth time and it seems like you'll be screwing up forever - in those moments, all you can do is the next right thing. Sure, you could sit in your bed or office or car for another 3 hours being mad at yourself, mad at the circumstances, frustrated with your whole life, and maybe you need to for a minute. Get it out of your system. Pitch a little fit. But then you have to get out of bed, accept the facts as they are, take a deep breath, and do the next right thing.

I think on paper this concept can sound really negative and traumatizing, but acceptance is freeing in a way you maybe wouldn't think it'd be. Take it from me - someone who spent a lot of years wishing a lot of facts weren't true. The minute I stopped wishing for something different and asked myself instead what I could do differently, even if it wasn't terribly fair, everything changed. Some days I still feel trapped. Those days are less productive, but sometimes I think I need them just to prove to myself that I don't. And after they are over, I get up and I do the next right thing. The lovely thing about the next right thing is it's always an option. It might look different every time, but even if you've just done 37 wrong things, even then - it's never too late to do the next right thing.

[A moment of honesty - I wrote this yesterday. I believed it with every fiber of my being until I read over it this morning and I found I was less convinced. I'd started spiralling down through a litany of my wrongs, of the wasted years and days and hours wishing that things were different. Even though I am as we speak living the next right thing, I felt inexplicably terrible. Hopeless. Sad and full of regret for the years wasted, and the the unfairness of it all. And then, for what seemed like no reason at all, a little something popped into my head. I remembered a verse I wrote down once from the book of Joel - Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart. I remember feeling the comfort of those first words, as though the Lord knew my litany and even still, even now [even though these facts of your life are true,] return to me. I read on, just because, and I read and re-read 100 times to let the beauty of this next part really sink in. Further down chapter 2 of Joel, the Lord makes a promise.

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.

Is that not just the very best kind of unfairness?]

Accept the facts, take a deep breath, do the next right thing. It's never - not ever - too late.

October 7, 2012

an invitation to not be a liar

Once upon a time, I was a big fat liar.

When I was a teenager I went through a phase where I lied kind of a lot. My favorite thing to lie about was school. We refer to this time in my life as "the hiatus," wherein I went from pretty highly ranked in my class to literally just never turning in my Algebra 2 homework. When people ask me why this happened, I'm never sure what to say. I think I worked really hard and took school really seriously and one day I looked around and realized that there were people who didn't do that. And they were fine. I wondered what it would be like to not work hard too, soooo I didn't. I was not, however, ready to deal with the consequences of that. I wanted to try not trying, but I didn't want anyone to actually know I was doing it. So, I lied. I lied a lot. I lied very specifically and strategically so as to keep anyone from knowing what I wasn't doing. I delayed the inevitable, deluding myself that I would be able to figure it out by the time any real consequence came along.

Imagine, then, when mid-semester parent-teacher conferences come around and my parents come in to learn that their star student is not doing so hot. Upon hearing how drastically my grades had fallen, I'm told they were immediately worried about my psychiatric wellbeing, that I'd fallen into a deep depression or gotten into drugs or didn't have any friends. Until Mrs. Thiel looked my mom in the face and said, oh no, I think Megan's feeling just fine. She's just not turning in her homework. Ever. Oops. It wasn't a pretty time in my household, that much I can tell you for certain.

There were other things, too, things I didn't want to face, so I lied. The situations were different but every time I lied it was because I was afraid. I was afraid of being a big screw up who didn't do things right enough or well enough, and I couldn't handle the thought of that, so I made up something I thought was acceptable to myself and everyone else. I thought it would be enough, the pretty life I crafted for everyone to look at, but all it really did was make me a whole new kind of afraid. I was afraid of the consequences of an action, so I lied to delay them. But what I didn't realize was that my fear of getting caught for the lies delaying my consequences was FAR greater than my fear of the actual consequences themselves. It was miserable. I lived my days as a liar constantly in fear that my jig was about to be up, that I was about to be caught. I was constantly calculating and reconfiguring for when the curtain was drawn and I would have to come clean. It was an anxiety I couldn't handle. I'm just not cut out for secrets.

I screw up a lot. I don't do a lot of things right. But I don't lie anymore. Sometimes I decide I don't feel like working hard and I have to face the music. Sometimes people aren't ready for the mess, and they won't stick around, and that part sucks a lot. But any day of the week I will choose being seen for the messy, broken screw up I am over living with the constant fear of being caught in the lie of trying to make things look pretty. Because I meet people all the time whose lives, to look at them, are carefully crafted and artfully worded and beautifully sculpted into something that is pretty to look at. I even feel envious, sometimes, because I am a lot of interesting colors maybe, but I'm a mess. But then I remember that those pretty store-front window li[v]es are flowery, but flimsy. It only goes so far. Once I go even one step inside I see you've got a bunch of junk much like mine. Having been a liar myself, I wonder how long you've worried about being caught. I wonder how long you secretly hoped and prayed you would be. That someone would uncover your big fat lie so you could stop living in fear of it happening.

I understand the appeal of lying, of pretending, of putting on a show to cover up what's really going on if what's really going on isn't pretty all the time, but it nearly swallowed me whole, way back when. Maybe it'll delay your consequences for a while, but the part where you wait to get caught isn't worth it. Or, heaven forbid, you never get caught and live the remainder of your days alone in a tangled lace of secrets and lies. Here's something else I know about lying: it doesn't make the right kinds of people like you more. It's off-putting and unattractive and as well as you think you're hiding it, you're probably not doing quite as well as you think. I'm not shaming you - which is I know what you think will happen if you stop lying -  I'm inviting you. Inviting you to join the rest of us losers and screw ups and enjoy your life. Relax. It won't be easy, I'll never pretend that's true. But it'll be better. Because you'll never for one more day live in the fear that you're about to be caught. You'll be you, broken like the rest of us and facing music on the reg, but you'll be at peace more days than not, and that's something.

Don't be a liar. Tell the truth and face the music and quit living in fear. It'll be really terrible at first and you'll curse the day you ever read this blog, but then you'll survive it and relax and realize I'm right. I'm a recovering liar and you could be too. Join us in the mess. You'll fit right in.