November 25, 2015

Dear Young Hearts

Dear young hearts,

Love is a weird thing, and as you grow older, it doesn't stop getting any weirder or more complex. The love you felt for friends and first loves in high school shifts to a different kind of love in college, which shifts again as you enter adulthood. And each time you fall in love, it'll be different, too. You are, after all, the only thing that stays the same in each relationship you enter, no matter how much you think you have a "type" or that you're doomed to repeat the same relationship over and over again. 

When you're in your 20s, though, there's a lot that flies up in the air all at once. You're juggling a job and debt and a social life and trying to figure out who you are, now more than ever, and some things feel like they slip through the cracks here and there. Relationships sometimes seem like more trouble than they're worth unless you're in them (and sometimes even then, on the bad days), but that doesn't mean that you won't fall in love. You can try, to avoid it, but it'll happen. You can't outrun falling in love.

And whatever the outcome, heartbreak or happiness, forever, or just that momentary second, it'll teach you something about yourself, and about what you do and don't want in your life. Because you need love, and you need it in multiple forms. But what does it mean to love, when you can barely juggle your bills and your student loans and everything else in between? And who do you choose to love? Do you even choose at all? (After all, sometimes it's the love that finds you.) But those are different questions for a different day. So here's the 5 people you'll fall in love with in your 20s.

1. A complete stranger. 
It'll be the cute guy with the perfect hair you see on the bus, or the girl whose carefully-edited Instagram lures you into thinking you really know who she is, or the sales rep who you swear always flirts with you when they make the rounds to your office. It could be anyone, someone whose coffee you accidentally grabbed for at the shop, someone who interacted with a tweet once, someone who you saw in a restaurant and imagined a whole future with in 5 seconds, only as long as you keep them at a distance. This is crucial. You might never see them again, or you might see them under the circumstances that you can't make a move to be something more. But you'll unload all your craziest fantasies onto them without their ever knowing, both because it's less of a burden for you to carry, all of these goals and no one to share them with, turns into all these goals with a make-believe someone else, and because it's less of a risk. You never have to put your heart on the line. You can love from afar. And even unreciprocated love is real. But it's not sustainable, and you'll have to give them back their stranger status eventually, even if you felt like you knew them inside and out. You never did. They were never yours to know. Your idea of them was the only thing you had a right to love. 

2. Someone who could have been.
This can happen frequently now that we live in a world where our memories are preserved forever online. You'll see someone's name pop up on Facebook, or in a throwback photo or at a reunion, and you'll wonder. What could have gone differently? What would you have to do differently to keep them in your life, to keep the relationship going, or to have a relationship at all? And when your 20s are a crazy whirlwind of ups and downs, it seems like a great escape to revert back to your past, and what was once familiar and safe. This is not where you grow, however. Sure, sometimes you realize someone's been under your nose the whole time, but not always. Life isn't a Hollywood romantic comedy, and often, people were left in your past for a reason. Playing a game of could-have-been is an endless free fall. See what lies ahead. You know what could have been, but you don't know yet what could be. And that surprise is magical. 

3. Someone who could give you everything.
You will fall in love with them in the abstract way, that you love the idea of who they are, of where they've been and what they've achieved, because you'll either want to follow in their footsteps, or glean off their success. It's natural to do the latter; in your 20s, you're still young and starry-eyed despite your crappy walk-up, and going on a date with your boyfriend with a Ferrari seems like the way to beat the system. But beyond the material, you'll also fall in love with a boss you really admire, or a mentor whose career you'd love to learn from, and you'll realize that falling in love is not always romantic. Sometimes, it's just fuel. Sometimes it helps remind you why you need to keep pushing to achieve your goals. Sometimes it's just a sign that the path you're on is the right one. (Just don't get inappropriately moon-eyed around your boss. That's weird.) 

4. Your best friend.
Your early adulthood is going to be cold and quiet and lonely at times, and you're going to wonder how it is that people meet other people, and you'll reach out and latch onto the few people who you already have in your life. You'll never want to let go, and you don't have to. Help each other move into crappy apartments and eat pizza on the floor before you unpack. Call each other and text each other and chat each other off the record and snapchat ugly faces and cling as tightly to one another as you possibly can. Learn what it's like to worry about another person so unconditionally that you can tell they're having a bad day just by the length of their texts. Have people wonder if you're actually in a real relationship, but know that this is the truest relationship either of you have ever been in (and that this is not a bad thing). We say best friends are forever in school, and we test these notions in college, but it's in your 20s that you learn the true depth of being in love with your best friend. 

5. Yourself.
At the very least, I really hope you do. Everyone deserves to know what it's like to know that someone loves them just as they are in that moment. It doesn't mean anything less, and sometimes, it even means more, if that person is you.

November 17, 2015

Looks May Fade, But Selfies are Forever

I've never been very big on compliments. I never quite learned how to take them, in part because I always thought that if you accepted a compliment, people would think you're conceited (and surprise, surprise: they do) and in part because it took a long time for me to believe these things. When people complimented how good I was at school, I shrugged it off because it was never like I tried. That's not a humblebrag, I promise. When they told me I was funny, I balked. And when they said I was pretty, I...well, I'm still working on that one.

It's not lost on me, then, that I work in a world that's very surface, What you wear, how you do your makeup, what your scarf looks like on any given day, how you can arrange your life to look just so on Instagram. And I've learned that sometimes, the bits of your life that you want to capture and share with the world are the moments where you feel your best. And a lot of the time, you can feel your best when you feel like you look your best. Also, why are we still so pegged on this idea that caring about how you look is inherently bad?

Sure, there are deeper things in this world to think about. There's atrocious poverty and war and people are constantly fighting for equal rights. But to capitalize on these things for what? The likes? For people to think that we're aware of what's going on in the world and that somehow makes us better than the people who aren't posting about it? If all you're doing is joining in on the social trend du jour, and you're not actually doing anything to change the world for the better, is that really less surface than an iPhone photo of somebody's eyebrows?

Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that learning to love yourself is a lifelong process. There are days when I wake up and I think I'm pretty (so you agree, you think you're pretty? Lol.) and then I'll wake up the next day and think I'm nothing special. And those are the days I'll put a little extra effort into my makeup, or choose my outfit a little more carefully, because I know I'm going to need the confidence boost to power through. But I'm not chronicling that for the compliments. I never want to be someone who exists online to be pretty. I want to empower. I want to show people that yeah, you can own how you look and what you do and that you shouldn't apologize for either. I want people to not only know that it's not a bad thing to have high self-esteem, but to believe it, and to have it themselves.

You deserve that. Really. And so I don't think I'll ever get "good" at accepting compliments online. I hate it when men try to slide into DMs or try to hit on me, because that's not what I'm here for. That's not the space I'm trying to occupy, and to be frank, that detracts from the message that you can be here for yourself. Not for anyone else to think you're pretty, but for you to think that you are pretty, and not to need validation from anyone else. 

Learning to say "thank you" wouldn't hurt, of course. But the next time you catch yourself judging someone's 5th selfie in a week, ask yourself when was the last time you complimented yourself. And then do it. Revel in yourself. Because you should. Because there's nothing wrong in that. And if someone has an issue with it, it's just too bad that they're too blind-sighted to revel in how awesome you are with you, too

November 13, 2015

Grow a Thicker Skin

Something I've been thinking about lately is toughness. Being tough, being strong, being resilient, being scrappy, being brave, being stubborn, being unfazed and unrattled and unshakable and relentless. Being confident. All of these these things are synonyms in places, overlapping like a weird venn diagram of words and emotions and feelings. These are all good things to be and to have, and work as assets no matter who you are or what you do. Everyone's faced with criticism and critique, and everyone has to rise again from setbacks. That's how life works. It ebbs and flows.

But of all these tools in the spectrum of human emotion that help get you from valleys to peaks and back again, I don't want to have a thick skin. I don't want things to bounce off of me. I want to feel. Even if the feeling sucks. But the feeling's a reminder that I'm human. 

In some ways, thinking you're not human, that you're superhuman, and maybe even invincible, is helpful. It's the adrenaline that pushes you through something scary and challenging, and makes you think you're stronger than you are. Fire isn't as scary if you don't feel the flame. And whether you work or even just spend part of your life in a digital space, you learn pretty quickly to let things bounce off you. We're told to know better than to read the comments. People send nasty messages to complete strangers, either forgetting or ignoring the fact that there's another person and not just an anonymous computer screen on the other side of those words. It seems like the news is reporting on another atrocity every single day. Life would, in theory, be so much easier if you felt and reacted less.

But I don't think that's the way to go about it. Often, telling someone else to grow a thicker skin is to excuse the actions of everyone around them. "People are awful, don't let them get to you." But of course awfulness is going to get to a person. Of course it'll bug someone. That's human nature. You can't tell a person to not feel, just because it keeps the status quo intact.

And okay, sometimes people can be hypersensitive about some things, but they have the right to feel any which way they choose. You can't tell them that a feeling is wrong. And excusing the actions of other people, that oh, people are just overwhelmingly shitty, grow a thicker skin, move on, is to excuse that shittiness and let it keep happening. Sure, you can only control your own actions and not the actions of other people, but your actions can also include taking other people to task when their actions are bad. You don't have to ignore, and you don't have to roll over, and you don't have to simply accept things as they are. You don't have to grow a thicker skin. 

You can and should be resilient. You should stand your ground as much as you can, and especially when it's for things that are right. But don't grow a thicker skin. Don't teach yourself how to not feel. Let things affect you. Let things get under your skin and crawl up your veins and sit uncomfortably with you until you do something about them. Call people out when they say mean things to you. Stand up for yourself, and for anyone else you see being bullied or put down. 

We may mostly be grown ups, but we're still not so far from the playground. And sometimes on the playground, you'd skin your knee and it'd sting and you'd get gravel and grit in your scrape, and it'd hurt, but you'd remember that sting and you'd learn. Sometimes it's your own damn fault. But sometimes it wasn't. Just because somebody else pushed you over didn't make that sting hurt any less. And sometimes, those scrapes left scars. Sometimes, those moments of vulnerability lead to lessons and breakthroughs. Those moments of weakness often tell us who we really are.

Be strong and confident and believe in yourself and know when people say things, sometimes they say wrong things just to get to you. By all means, be stubborn and be smart about the fact that the internet is often dumb and people on the internet say dumb things and it's often smart to ignore these things. But having that wisdom is different than having a thick skin. Don't confuse the two, whatever you do. Don't grow a thick skin, or at least keep parts of it vulnerable. Feel. Be human. Be imperfect. Be alive.

November 11, 2015

What I've Unlearned

When I was working with kids, I've noticed something. I've noticed that the older the students, the more fearful they are in the classroom. Of learning. Of putting themselves out there, making mistakes, and doing it differently next time. My point: there's a ton of stuff I learned growing up that I'm spending my 20s trying to unlearn. Didn't Picasso say something insightful about how it takes a very long time to become young? Related: we teach ourselves our limitations, you guys. I started to write the following manifesto as a notebook entry, but to hammer it home I wanted to make a public declaration of it. (Don't I always?)

Here's what I'm unlearning:

Life's hard
You have to fight for what you want. It's not designed to be easy. Prove yourself. Urgh. My new year's resolution for 2015 was to do more of what feels good, and less of what doesn't. And you know what? It's awesome. And that's because life wants me to be happy. Life wants me to pursue my dreams, and see the magic in the everyday, because the universe wants to be noticed for the glorious work that she does. We notice the presence of the divine by personifying love, by leaning in to what feels amazing for as long as it gets us off. What if I believed that I deserve every lovely thing that happens to me?

Chase facts, not feelings
Nope. You know what facts do? Distort the truth. There's not a single statement that can't be justified with a percentage or statistic or number. We prize numerical data above all else because we can quantify "facts", and feelings are slippery little devils that change and alter, that can't be "proved". I don't have to see something to believe it: I can see it if I believe it.

Being alone is lonely
How many times must I learn the lesson, that I feel one thousand times worse spending time in the wrong company than I do if I pass the time in that of my own? I recently declared to myself that for any social occasion, I'll only go if the thrill of it outweighs the thrill I feel of being at my desk writing or reading: my happy place. That means my social life will shrink exponentially, then, and I have to be comfortable with that. FOMO (fear of missing out) is for the insecure, and I have to be determined to find peace in my own (much less busy, much less outwardly interesting) path.
(Shockingly, I'm applying this to fellas, too. You don't need to have a romance in order to have a romantic life, said a very wise woman. I hear that so hard.)

Likeable girls are modest
This is absolutely the hardest non-truth for me to navigate. Oh, how I want to be liked! LOL. I consistently talk myself down, making jokes at my own expense (getting to the punch line before anyone else can), so as not to appear threatening. But actually, I'm a badass. I'm smart and kind, self-aware and determined. I'm a good person. But beyond that, I have talent. I can write. I'm over the moon about that. It makes me wonder: What would I do if I wasn't so afraid of what other people think?

Disagreement is bad
I find comfort among those who agree with me, but growth among those who don't. Not seeing eye-to-eye with somebody is where the good stuff happens, and I wish I could be braver about that. See: stop trying to be so likeable. Furthermore: I am enough.

Screwing up is failure
You know what? My mistakes have taught me so much that I'm thinking about making a few more. The only failure is not trying. Failure is not trying again, when that 1st attempt didn't work. Failure is fear. And fear is a learned state. It's the flawed, imperfect, mistake-riddled path that leads to the best games adventures

November 2, 2015

An Open Letter to Socality Barbie

I spilled my coffee this morning trying to take a photo of it. It's dumb to even ask why I was trying to document the experience, I wanted people to know that I'd gotten up, made my own coffee, and was now preparing to conquer the first Monday of November. Why else would I need the perfect morning lighting and my cellphone at 6am? My mom looked at me and blinked twice like, "why are you even taking a picture of it?" Now not a single soul knows how authentically I managed to live this morning with my coffee. If you felt like your day's missing something then it's probably that photo. Happy to solve the mystery for you, Barbie.

But do you know what happened after the coffee spilled this morning? Life moved forward without the documentation. I made my new coffee. It's still good and piping hot. No one's made better or worse because of some inspirational caption I planned to pair with a photo softened by VSCO Cam. I tasted real life for a second and it felt pretty foreign on my lips. I wrapped myself in a blanket and a little bit of conviction for this day: why is it necessary to obsess over making life look perfect for the others? We all know it isn't. Why does the charade play on until something breaks? Glass or a heart, why can't I actually show you my real mess?

You weren't made to have my actual, day-to-day mess. It's you and a couple hundred or thousand followers who are not equipped for what happens when my junk actually hits the fan. You and I both know it, Barbie: the day you get drunk and leave Ken, and act like an angry train wreck with a megaphone on all your social media streams then people on the fringes won't want you anymore. It's harsh but probably true. Ken's friends will unfollow you. So manage your mess, Barbie. We want a mess we can monitor from the people we follow. We want honesty without the bruising. We want the kind of pain that's digestible and won't disturb our days. The day you use social media as a megaphone for your pain, the kind of pain latte art can't touch, people will leave you.

Some people will start talking in their circles the day you start to let the anger and the rant statuses flow. They'll start psycho-analyzing and putting the pieces together from a safe distance. They'll take social media and turn it into a soap opera, sigh out of relief as they say, "at least I'm doing better." But when did tiny glimpses of our lives, cropped to perfection, become the measuring stick for who's doing better and who's doing worse? When did life, and managing to live it, become a competition and a comparison? When did we confuse the real with fake and the fake with real?

Maybe I'm being a little too cruel to you, Barbie, seeing as you're not really 'real' but I reminded her of all the times people manage to say, "well, that person was fun to follow until that happened." And we all know what that thing was. Point's this: we want you right now, Barbie. We like you right now. You're doing something awesome and managing to make some really great puns of out of posed coffee shots and #liveauthentic hashtags. When you're doing something awesome people will always want to claim you and tag you. When you're making life look easy then people want to follow you.

Social media's in the DNA of our relationships now. It scares me to say that but it's true. I wanted to see how a friend's doing the other day and I clicked into her Instagram. I checked her off my mental list without even using the phone in my hand to perform the task it's always meant to do, dial and hear a person's crackly voice on the other line, find out they're okay. I know how damaging that action of mine was. I know because I sat across from a friend, and I heard them say to me, "from the looks of social media, you are doing just fine."

Them saying that, it broke my heart. It broke my heart to think that, because I had white walls in all my pictures, it meant there's no longer a reason to reach out and ask if I was really doing okay. Barbie, I'm so afraid to check people off my list because of surface level visuals. I'm so afraid to find out, too late, that I needed to ask "how are you" before someone died inside and no one could get to them. Please don't hide within the cracks of the exposed-brick breweries and trendy tiled coffee shops you find. If you're lost, pick up the phone and call someone. If you think you're about to lose someone (and yes, there's a gut feeling for that), pick up the phone and call them. Ask them 4 words: are you really okay? We save lives everyday when we just manage to speak up.

This whole letter might be a terrible waste. Maybe your life's as perfect as you portray it to be, Barbie. In that case, congratulations! You beat us all with your plastic lattes and trendy hiking boots. Regardless, I hope you find something real today. Something tangible and intangible, all at the same time, that you would skip the act of documenting it just so you could live inside it for a little bit longer. I hope you spot a rare, soon to be extinct, moment. And I hope it's all yours, no need to share it. Maybe it's the smile of an old man who's going to leave this earth real soon. Maybe it's a piece of a mail from a friend you used to be able to trace the scent of when they showed up in a room. Maybe it's a single dance from a cute stranger at a wedding who makes you feel like you're the most beautiful thing in his orbit.

Either way, I hope you feel known. I hope you feel picked out and chosen. I hope something grabs you so hard, shakes you so good, that even the notifications can't touch it. You're not fake, Barbie. You, like the rest of us, are probably just doing the best you can within a world that wants to trace and tag every tiny, beautiful piece of itself.


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