The Human Condition: A Walking Oxymoron

A few weeks ago, it was one of those weeks. The weather was crap, and I felt out of sorts, and as Anne Lamott put it, "It was like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible." I also got a parking ticket.

Then someone unkind started doing quite well, and everything finally bothered me all the way down. I wanted to yell: "That person is awful, and mean, and loud, and could use a haircut, like, 3 years ago. Can't anyone see this person needs a haircut?!"

I was hardly an adult.

Sometimes these things get to me in a way where I become silly and small and really not my best. For a few low moments, I am personally offended at the seeming success-infringment. My well wishes are reserved only for those who are good, and humble and bake pies, and kiss puppies, and say "bless'er heart" but actually mean it. How can a human so underserving be so celebrated? It just isn’t right.

See? Hardly an adult at all.

I was reminded eventually that we are all a mix of good and bad, humility and pride, jealousy and generosity. We are walking oxymorons. Myself included.

And you know what my problem was? I wanted my own life to be slightly different. Success is never quite a threat unless it challenges our own expectations, goals, routine. I didn't want to be where I was: angst-y and whining and tired. And when I get like that, which is to say like a sunburned 3-year-old on a hot day at the zoo, the best thing for me to do is write. I get out my journal and put a few things down. I write until those answers appear.

I wrote out the angst, I worked through some of that damn process. I talked about the feelings. I dove into it all, and I took a break. Then, I wrote some more.

I remembered how we each have that thing—that one thing we'd do if you put us anywhere on this planet. Some of us would read, or write, or sing. Some would build, cook, make, think. People’s thing helps them survive, live, grow. It's more than a passion, really. It's the way we learn to be, to be here, to make things bearable, and to help us not yell at strangers.

And maybe that mean, awful, haircut-needing person was doing their thing. Maybe that’s how they were surviving. Who knows. I suppose it doesn’t really even matter now. Either way, I finally realized I was wasn’t, I wasn't doing my thing. I wasn’t leaning into my truth. I was too busy getting parking tickets and complaining about not-my-life. I was distracted.

So I kept writing and talking and listening and even complaining until I finally got somewhere. I finally realized what was going on: I wasn't where I wanted to be and I was a bit to blame.


Making Room for Angst

I catch myself holding my breath, having to remind myself to relax my shoulders, unclench my jaw, inhale, exhale. Breathe. It is a work unto itself these days, breathing that is. There is so much bad, and so much good, and it's hard to make sense of it all while pushing for equality, and kindness, and some decent customer service from your cable company.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Everything seems so convoluted and mixed up, like a child's chaotic finger painting, except way less endearing. It's all over the walls, and the carpet, and the furniture, and I'm not quite sure how to get the stains out of, well, everything.

Inhale. Exhale.

It's a difficult thing to live with angst, especially at this age, especially when puberty and middle school are so far away. Frankly, it's annoying. It's annoying like the way my friends keep telling me to go deep into the angst and this is what comes before change and stop acting like a 5-year-old.

Clearly I need new friends.

Inhale. Exhale.

It's not that I'm distraught or don't know what to do. I do. Kind of. You put one foot in front of the other. You show up, lean in, do. You don't rush the process--not if you really want to get somewhere. You write things down, talk them out, cry, listen, and really try to keep your blood sugar stable. You fight to get all those incongruent life-things back in order. You realize you don't quite know what order they go in. You push. You try. You fail. You do it all again. You don't stop. You keep breathing. You get so damn uncomfortable that you finally decide to give a few less fucks, and off you go, making the work you are supposed to do.

Sounds real fun-like, doesn’t it?

Now it might seem like I'm complaining, and I suppose I am. But more than that, I'm trying to sort out these feelings and the path, and make sense of it, and do this all before I turn 30 because, of course, that’s completely reasonable.

I realize we do not quite arrive while we're here. That's maybe for another time. But wouldn't it be nice if we could? If we could get our shit together and save the earth, and be kind to our neighbors, and get a good night's sleep, and maybe even find decent parking?

I wonder if really surrendering to the process is about holding space for the hope that we can do more, be more, change more, and get those incongruent life-things in some type of order. Maybe a good start is being honest. Saying yes, I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm going to try at it anyway.

I think we all hope we can do good work, something that is authentic and alive and true. But then we set out to do it (which is an entirely different thing) and it's mostly shit. It's usually a disappointment. But I think we're supposed to fight through that, fight through the ugly finger painting mess until we finally get somewhere we sort of recognize; we look around and realize we might be on to something. And finally we've got that story to tell.

Change happens while we're doing the shit-work, slowly, gradually, and then all at once. It happens while we're uncomfortable and trying really, really hard to breathe. It begins when we make some room for the angst, and introduce hope, and keep remembering to inhale first, and exhale second.

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The Valiant Fight

"If I believe one thing to be true about heaven, it's that the collection of souls that gave up the fight after valiantly fighting depression - they are treasured for the battle, held in precious regard because it's unlike anything else." (Shaylynn)

Pain, depression, loneliness, despair: they are often in the distance until they aren't, until they take up space next to you, dig in, hold on. They are written across your forehead, staring at you in the mirror, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot erase their bold black lines from your memory.

Sometimes it is just so hard to be here.

The debate has started: Is suicide a choice? Is it selfish? Is it a disease? Should we do more? Are we doing it right? Are we all just fucked? I can hear the noise in the distance, the questions, the tears, the yelling, the fights. It's all getting louder, and angry and hurtful, and sometime it's all too damn much.

Then I remember we are human, and broken, and we're going to hurt each other along the way. We are. When we are trying to pretend we are not scared or tired or confused, we make a mess of things. We are still learning, so imperfectly, so begrudgingly, and we forget. There is a place for dialogue, for questions, for pain. We're allowed to raise our hands to say "Why?" "How?" "I do not understand." The hurt, the broken, the beautiful, they are raising their voices too, sharing the truths of their lives, and we wake another morning to know we are not alone in this. As the wagons circle and the stories rise, the need for kindness and for grace is so very high.

I've discovered that the truth, the painful ugly truth, is the story that will kill us or free us. Sharing my story is what saved me. It made room for people, for help, for change. And while I realize this is an easy thing to write, and read, and even say, it is another thing entirely to live.

"Gravity yanks us down... We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can't be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity." (Ann Lamott)

When there is one day or one small moment we're able to forget for a few seconds how broken everything is, there is nothing quite like it. We know how hard, how breathtakingly hard, it has been to have that moment, that sliver of hope. It is almost not worth; it is almost unbearable, really. That is until we see someone else have that same moment, that same relief from the cosmic sorrow, and their moment happened because of us, because we were here.

And, finally, something about heaven suddenly becomes very clear.

Related Posts
Suicide Prevention Resources
National Suicide Prevention - US
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
International Association for Suicide Prevention

photo credit: deathtostockphoto.com


Self-Esteem: Why Christian Girls Don’t Need It?

I read it this week. Someone wrote an essay entitled:
Self-Esteem: Why Christian Girls Don’t Need It.

To quote my sister, "That's shit."
(Side note: love my sister.)

The fabulous thing about the Internet is people can write whatever the hell they want. Exhibit A:
Self-esteem is defined by many as "feelings of worth based on their skills, accomplishments, status, financial resources, or appearance." This kind of self-esteem can lead a person to feel independent and prideful and to indulge in self-worship, which dulls our desire for God. [1]
I suppose that's the type of definition you get when using a Bible-centric search engine. Didn't even know those things existed. #TheMoreYouKnow

Now, to quote those Ph.D.s who actually came up with the definition.

Self-esteem is a disposition that a person has which represents their judgments of their own worthiness. [2] The famous sociologist, Dr. Morris Rosenberg defined self-esteem as a personal worth or worthiness. [3] Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself. People are motivated to have high self-esteem, and having it indicates positive self-regard, not egotism. [4]

Psychologists didn't invent the term "self-esteem" to better capture an epidemic of people feeling bad about themselves. They came up with it in 1890 as a way to talk about the "global self" and the "known self." They gave us language to describe how we operate in the world. [5]  Shout out to William James for that. Holla!

Making people feel guilty for feeling good about themselves is, frankly, mean. Not inherently, intentionally mean like kicking-someone-in-the-face type of mean, but neglectful and irresponsible  in the Christians-have-enough-guilt-they're-dealing-with-anyway type of mean.

Nonsense like self-esteem being bad for women isn't helping the conversation. It doesn't create space for a dialogue about identity, worth, or value. It creates a false dichotomy where there doesn't need to be one. It's this same type of thinking that demonizes the use of the word "happiness" because it's only "joy" that is godly and magical. To put it succinctly: it's silly.

If we can't speak openly about insecurities, failures, mis-steps, and the like, then can we really have an honest discussion about abuse, depression, feminism, sexuality, and religion? I think not.

So, self-esteem? It's good to have. Even for women. Even for Christian women.

I know. I know.


[1] gotquestions.org
[2] Olsen, J. M.; Breckler, S. J.; Wiggins, E. C. (2008). Social Psychology Alive (First Canadian ed.). Toronto: Thomson Nelson. ISBN 978-0-17-622452-3.
[3] Baumeister, Roy F.; Smart, L.; Boden, J. (1996). "Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of self-esteem". Psychological Review 103 (1): 5–33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5
[4] University of Maryland: Rosenburg Self-Esteem Scale; August 8 2014.
[5] José-Vicente Bonet. Sé amigo de ti mismo: manual de autoestima. 1997. Ed. Sal Terrae. Maliaño (Cantabria, España). ISBN 978-84-293-1133-4.
Photo credit: deathtostockphoto.com 


The Wolf's Howl

Writing may not be an excellent way to make money, or support one's self, or effectively convince one's friends that you are, in fact, not a narcissist. That must be why so many good writers drink and are barely sane, and fancy sticking their heads in ovens. They're quite upset about what life has dealt them because this lonely, solitary, uphill thing is the only thing that fits.

Maybe that's what it feels like to grow up: you finally figure out what you want to do with your life only to realize, Fuck. This life-fulfilling thing has a very low ROI.

But in the end, don't we all have story's worth telling? Isn't that what makes it worth it?

Whoa, just stuck an apostrophe in the wrong spot. Like, really wrong spot. Like, college-called-and-wants-the-degree-back wrong spot.


I'm interrupted by that tiny quiet voice, the one that says ignore the mistakes, I'm writing, and I have something to say, and maybe I'm unique, or maybe not, and maybe I'm just a narcissist. Right. But either way I manage to squeeze out one decent sentence after a string of nonsense and that feels pretty damn good. Then I pour myself a glass of whiskey and settle down for the ride. Because it's going to be a long fucking ride.

And what's that sentence I finally get down on paper?

Writing is my cry into the human abyss; it is my wolf's howl.

image from deathtostockphoto.com 

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August: A Month of Writing

Remember when I blogged all the time? I think it was 2012. It was mostly when I was unemployed and trying to read the entire Internet. Now I average a healthy pace of once a week...or once a month. You're welcome?

Either way, the point: I'll be blogging on the regular in August. Probably best to subscribe so you don't have to check this damn thing every morning. Plug in your email address and you'll get posts delivered straight to your inbox. Sure it's like spam, except you'll want to read it and I won't be selling anything. I'd say that's a pretty solid deal.

And finally, here is my promise to you: I commit to writing three times a week. I do not promise it will be good, or interesting, or even grammatically correct. Although, I do like to occasionally exceed expectations.

Enough of this dry spell.
Pretty pictures will really only get us so far.

[Insert pretty picture.]

image from deathtostockphoto.com