Author Archives: Aardvark's Bizarre

Balloon Animals Will Save the World

They will. I believe it. Just creatures of breath covered in skin, they are all shapes and colors and sizes, turned and molded by their makers. They wander the world giving joy, but are, at the same time, so fragile and scared, so tempted to hide. Their skin is thin, and the world is full of sharp edges and surprises.

It could be so terrifying for them, the idea that one day, one false move will end in POP and they will be no more. Only rumpled husks, breath loosed out into the ether. And even in long life, their inescapable fate is to grow wrinkled and deflated, slowly losing their shape until the last puff of life leaks out.

Yet there is such joy to be had! Continually shaped from inside and out into new forms, squeaking and laughing and wrapping in and around each other, they smile and bring smiles, looking around in the world from all angles. Inside out. Upside down. Outside and around and through. Such joy to bring, to be found, to be shared. What a world!

Yes, they could hide, but they have learned there are worse things than POP! There is the slow, sad deflating of a careful life safely hidden in the shadows, afraid of every corner, of any surprise. So instead, in joyful defiance, they travel and explore and feel every tug and hug and laugh, embracing the uncertainty in every turn.

So brave they are, these great, small creatures—so fragile, made only of skin and air—willing to spend every moment they have spreading love and delight in the world, to be filled up with life and travel joyfully into hands of all colors.

We, too, are these fragile breath creatures.

We are the balloon animals.

We will save the world.

Categories: From the Imagination | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fortytuity: Chance Encounters with Life, the Universe, and Everything

Spoiler Alert: For those of you who do not already know this, there is a very, very simple answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Remarkably, mind-bogglingly simple.

In The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote about Deep Thought, a computer designed solely to answer just that question. And after running its complex program for seven and a half million years, it announced, “with infinite majesty and calm,” that the answer was indeed very, very simple. The answer was 42.

Don’t you feel better now?

“Forty-two!” yelled Loonquawl. “Is that all you’ve got to show for seven and a half million years’ work?”

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

If you don’t feel better after hearing that, don’t worry. No one else there did either.

I’m not going to take the time to tell you how much I love HHG2G. It’s been my favorite book since 1996 and never seems to lose its charm. (You find another book that clarifies the problems of materialism, capitalism, and organized religion on the first page and doesn’t make anyone angry. Well, very angry, anyway… )

Anyway, as there seems to be no other such succinct answer that makes more sense in light of the human condition, 42 works just fine for me. (Though I did recently read a completely plausible and rational explanation for it, I’m grateful to have spent almost 20 years not knowing it.) So here we are, the human race, continuing to ask, “What is this whole thing about anyway?” and trying our best to cope without exterminating ourselves in the process (though sometimes I wonder about that).

I tend to ask a lot of questions. And my own personal delight is that 42 keeps popping up all over the place, peeking its little pointy-serifed face around corners and grinning at me when I least expect it, hinting at what that unknown question actually is, what this “Life, the Universe, and Everything” is all about anyway. Sometime I think it’s flirting with me. It wants to be noticed, and I try to pay attention.

And so I thought, from time to time, it might be fun to share these things as they pop up. Here’s one:

By somewhat sideways means several years ago, I came across a passage by Florida Scott-Maxwell, a woman I’d previously never heard of, but loved instantly, because of this:

“You need only claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, which may take some time, you are fierce with reality.”

“Fierce with reality.” Oh, how I love that phrase. Not that you are overly aggressive with some forceful agenda, but just that you are so fully yourself, so aware of who you are, that you are fully alive. I read those words and wrote them down, and they’ve popped back up into my life in a couple of different places over the years. Finally, I managed to track her book down at the library. (It’s called The Measure of My Days—it’s a good book). And I knew it was coming, but when I came to that passage in the book, it struck me again, passionate and fresh. Fierce.

fiercewithreality42And guess what page it was on?

This happens to me all the time. It’s like the universe is giving me clues, like we’re playing a game.

How fortuitous.

Categories: In the Lexicon, On the Page | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Persistence is Futile: When to Give Up

I have a weird relationship with goals. Making a goal feels like locking myself in a cage while being lowered into deep water and saying, “Okay, I have X amount of time to get out of this cage, or I will die.” And I’m not particularly Houdini-like. Goals are things to be conquered. Measured. Pass or fail. Live or die. “Did you achieve your goal in the specified time?” is a question for a True/False test. I think I might be allergic to True/False.

We get so determined about accomplishing things. And we’re very linear and quantifiable about it… “I will set out to do a thing. Then I will do the thing. And then I will have done the thing. And then I will be happy.” It’s funny we think it actually works that way. I have a very wise friend who says, “Progress is not linear.” And if we’re honest, we know that’s the true answer.

But we keep setting goals for ourselves anyway and slogging away at them—money, relationships, appearances, power, thinking that if we just keep being determined, keep pushing, keep striving, we will eventually get somewhere, get something and be happy. And an awful lot of the time, we just get more frustrated regardless of what happens—beating ourselves up when we don’t meet those goals, or actually meeting their goals and still being miserable. There’s that brief breath of “I did it!” and then, “Why don’t I feel any better?” After all, that’s usually why we make goals—because we think that if we accomplish them, then we will be happy. But happiness is a whole other thing…

As an experiment awhile ago, I decided to stop making goals, to stop planning for things to turn out a specific way. Stopped trying to make quantifiable, “If I do/have _____, then I will be happy” goals. I gave up.

Instead? I just started asking myself, “I wonder what will happen if I _________?“

And you might think that, in the absence of quantifiable goals, life would turn into a filthy, moldy basement where you just eat popcorn and watch tv all day. Except, as it turns out, wonder is actually a lot more dangerous than setting “normal” goals. Imagination is so much worse. And so much better

Because, at least for me, deciding to stop setting normal goals has turned into the antithesis of stagnant. For instance, I wondered what would happen if I stopped my normal, methodical gym regimen and walked into a CrossFit box. What happened? I learned to feel strong and more alive. (Quantify that.). And then I wondered, feeling strong and alive, what would happen if I stopped looking at the scale. What happened? I feel strong and alive and made friends with my body. What’s a scale for? (Weighing protein in the kitchen, that’s what.)

None of those were quantifiable goals.

It is worth pointing out that I still can’t do a strict pull-up even if someone were to hold a gun to my head. However, that is also not currently one of my goals. Ask me about my deadlift. Or my cleans. Or my double-unders…

And somehow I seem to be a whole month into doing 30 push-ups a day. Because evidently one day I just thought, “I wonder if I could get better at doing push-ups,” and started marking the days off on my calendar. There’s no quantifiable end goal. When 30 get easy and tight and bouncy, I’ll increase the number. For awhile. Then we’ll see what happens. There are numbers involved in this adventure, but there’s no pass/fail, other than the sense of wonder and the commitment to showing up every day.

Showing up is key. It’s loving what you’re doing even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard. Deep down, you know if it’s worth it or not. When it’s not time to give up. Figuring out how to make things you didn’t know how to make—out of wonder, not a deadline, not for money—is a lot of fun. Reading books you haven’t read, just because you wonder what they’re about. Writing about things you don’t know about, just because you like to ask questions. This blog? So not a goal. Neil Gaiman wrote, “I write to find out what I think.” As much as it’s anything, I think that’s what this is. There’s no schedule, no need to have anyone know who I am. I never know who will ever read it. It’s just about the doing… and it all just makes me so much happier, holding all these things lightly, with no end goal. No pass/fail. It’s just curiosity and wonder and play.

One is the Loveliest Number: A Side Note on Happiness

Whatever you want to call them, these personal goals, wonderings, etc., they always start with you. Only you. They don’t need to end with only you, but they have to start there. They can’t include requiring anyone else to do something. That way lies madness. Because, hypothetically, if your grand idea is to sit on a beach eating Blue Moon ice cream with Bob, you’re involving Bob, and Bob may not even like Blue Moon ice cream. Or sand. Of course it’s possible Bob loves all of those things—and you—too. So it’s worth a shot to ask Bob, “I wonder what would happen if… ?“ and if Bob thinks it’s a great idea, then Bob can make it his idea, too. Then you have two people with the same idea. Not one person with a goal for two people—this is important. Because if you keep insisting to Bob that he needs to be out on that beach in order to be happy, Bob may ask you to stop contacting him, and if you continue to call him and drive over to his house and leave packages of travel brochures on his doorstep, this is not going to be helpful. Trust me. If Bob isn’t so keen on the sand, grab your own ice cream and go. You’ll be fine. And happy. You can only choose your own adventures and do your own thing. And who knows who else you’ll meet out there…

So anyway, for what it’s worth, maybe it could be interesting to take a look at where you’re heading and wonder if you’re going somewhere you really want to go. Not just what sounds good or normal. Maybe play around with giving up on normal for once. Maybe experiment in wonder.

Wonder about making something or climbing something or singing something or reading or writing or lifting or painting or sewing or gluing or dancing or… something. Even just for a few minutes a day.

It’s so much more fun than making goals.

Categories: From the Imagination | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Radio Meditation: Music Lessons in Impermanence

So here in the Twin Cities we have this brilliant radio station, 89.3 The Current. (You can stream it here if you’re not a local.) It’s a Minnesota Public Radio station, which means yes, pledge drives every once in a while, but all the hosts/DJs are great, and consequently there’s loads less advertising than other stations. But the best thing about it is (as it should be) the music. And the best thing about the music (for me) is that it’s unpredictable.

Because what’s great is that I don’t even like all of the music, which you’d think would be completely counterintuitive, but this is what makes it so fantastic—the element of surprise. Most of the time, if we’re choosing to do anything, our first preference is to pick something we expect to like so that we won’t get surprises, won’t get stuff we might not like. Love Oldies stuff? Find an Oldies station and settle in. Like Country? Just scan the dial. With most stations, you pretty much know what to expect. We tend to pick based on familiarity. It’s comfortable.

But the only thing I’ve learned to expect from The Current is the surprise—and they pride themselves on it. In addition to some of the more “normal” fare you’d expect from a pretty much all-ages-friendly station, the hosts have this deep and diabolical love of throwing new/random/weird stuff your way from pretty much every genre imaginable, though they do tend to skip the realms of Classical (there’s another MPR station for that) and stuff like German death metal (which is admittedly fantastic, but not really a public radio sort of thing). But they will often say, “If you don’t like the song that’s on right now, wait five minutes.” And they’re right. It’ll be something completely different. Don’t like Johnny Cash? The next track might be Johnny Rotten. Still not your favorite? Wait five minutes.

This is just the radio, sure. But this is also life. Constant change. Every moment is new. If I don’t like this particular part of my life right now? Wait a bit, play my part while whatever it is plays through—it will change. And if I like what’s playing right now? Yes, in a while, that will change, too. We’re more than seven billion people here trying to make music out of our lives, and the harmony and dissonance of that changes every single moment. And when it comes down to it, I know I’m not completely in control of my playlist anyway—only how I respond to the songs I’m hearing. The practice of being really alive is just to pay attention to each song as it plays, engage with it, see what it’s about, what it contains, what you can learn. And then decide what to do with it.

In another setting, this sort of observation could actually be called Zen Buddhist meditation practice, noticing the impermanence, the constant change, of life, the universe, and everything. That would be done in silence, and you would be sitting and noticing the thoughts showing up in your mind—what you like, what you don’t like, where you get stuck. Your job there is just to notice your response to life.

But the practice of noticing life doesn’t have to look exactly like that. So sometimes I use The Current for a somewhat unorthodox meditation practice. What’s this song? Do I like it? Am I itching to change the station? Why? Why does Justin Vernon’s voice bug me so much? And why does my whole body relax when my ears hear even just the very first notes of Nick Cave’s “Red Right Hand?” And when are they going to play that Courtney Barnett song again? (The one I really like, not that other one…) And I get it, I get it, he was magnificently talented, but really… 24 hours of Prince?

And so I listen to the radio sometimes to find out what I’m like. I notice feeling like I really hate a song, but then I realize the guitarist has really great technique, and also notice someone made that guitar with great care, and those strings, and the piano, and somebody really loves that lead singer who’s really just trying to put his soul out into the world through his music. By the time I’ve considered all of that, I realize I hate that song a lot less than I did five minutes ago. There are people in there now. And it’s really unpredictable, because one day, after hearing a song I didn’t like from someone I consider more celebrity than musician, I read that she’s locked inside this soulless performance contract, and I actually found myself feeling sorry for her. So now every time I hear that song, I just feel sad.

This is a weird practice.

But my most favorite things are the songs I never saw coming, that I never knew existed, that come on the air and I realize halfway through the track that I’m grinning madly (Ursula 1000’s “Mambo”) or notice that my jaw is dropped open because wow, who even thought this could be a thing? (Like seriously: Sturgill Simpson covering Nirvana’s “In Bloom?”) Or the slow recognition of the sideways genius in Father John Misty’s “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the War.” If I actually controlled my own playlist, I would never have chosen these songs, and my life would be massively less fun than it is now. There’s just so much great music out there I don’t even know about, and I can’t wait to hear more of it. (Of note: listen for the “No Apologies” track around 4pm every day and wait for the crazy to roll in.) I still smile remembering one dreary afternoon when I was driving home and they played Suicidal Tendencies’ “Institutionalized.” I was laughing so hard by the time the song ended. There were no words for this—well, okay, there were words: “All I wanted was a Pepsi… ”

This is life for real, the big picture: it’s a surprise, and it can be way more fun than what you had planned. You’re not in control anyway. So enjoy yourself, make good music, notice the people making all the music around you. Welcome the surprises. And practice paying attention—even if it’s just listening to the radio.

Categories: From the Imagination, In the Ears, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope Springs a Turtle

It’s called an eggcorn—a substitution of a word in a phrase that changes it in some way, but still seems oddly right. (They’re a lot of fun—NPR has a great short article and accompanying list here.) At it’s core, I suppose an eggcorn is something you don’t expect that makes you look at things a little differently. Hope does not always spring eternal. Sometimes it springs something else. Like this week.

A few days ago, I finished reading this biography on Dr. Seuss. I couldn’t believe it had taken this long for me to pick one up. In addition to his classics, I’d already known about his advertising work and his war cartoons, but when I got to the part where he met his wife Helen at Oxford, I was sort of enthralled—fully and completely hoping a fairy tale for them. She would watch him doodle in class and finally told him he would be wasted as a professor. “That’s a very fine flying cow,” she said. And she became his inspiration and his support and his encouragement and his rock and pretty much organized his/their life. Until forty years later, when, from the one book I’ve read, it sounds like when she got very ill, he eventually distanced himself from her mortality and “adopted” another family—a still-married woman with two daughters of her own. Physically unwell and deeply unhappy, Helen realized she had made her whole life about him and hardly knew who she was herself any more without being his active partner. She committed suicide.

I’d started the above paragraph saying I couldn’t believe I hadn’t read a biography about Dr. Seuss yet because he was one of my heroes. But then I saw the problem. Dr. Seuss books were and are still some of my all-time favorite books—but I never met or knew the real person. And it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t greatly loveable, or amazingly creative, or a completely worthwhile human being.

It just makes him a human being. But I was still feeling really, really low after I read that. You have these ideas about people from the work they create, and it’s not always what you expect.

And then, there was this morning… in which I picked up a magazine I’d almost instantly thrown away (Rolling Stone), with a story I didn’t intend to read (the cover), about a band I have little personal interest in (Rush)—and my hope sprung a turtle.

Evidently, Rush has been together for 40 years at this point with little internal group drama (“We’re never mean to each other,” says [Geddy] Lee, “so if we disagree, we pout.”), stable relationships with each other, and also long-term faithful marriages—Geddy married his wife, Nancy Young, in 1976.

I read about their relentless rehearsing (still practicing by themselves before they start working together, and then playing on their own even after three-hour rehearsals, that last part “… a pure exercise of joy,” according to Alex Lifeson), their insistence on creativity and craft, and how they drive each other and respect each other, even after all this time together.

“If any of us were the slightest bit less stable,” says [Neil] Peart, “the slightest bit less disciplined or less humorous or more mean, or in any way different, it wouldn’t have worked. So there’s a miracle there.”

And this from a famous rock band from which, in any stereotypical situation, you’d expect chaos, rivalry, animosity, possibly less creativity, and a fair bit, after 40 years, of resting on their laurels. (Though evidently there is still a fair amount of responsibly-ventilated drugs and a lot of very, very impressive sports cars.)

But I was impressed and not just a little inspired. You just never know.

You’ve got to be careful with words. After reading just one book and one article, I still know pretty much next to nothing about the real Dr. Seuss or the real Rush. But it reminds me that things aren’t always what I expect them to be, which is what I loved—and still love—about what I learned from Dr. Seuss.

Categories: In the Lexicon, On the Page | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Apples & Oranges

First, here is an apple.
It is smooth and red.
It is heart-shaped.
You can bite right into it.
Its skin crunches, yielding quickly to your teeth.
It is firm. It is crisp.
Good job, apple.

Now, here is an orange.
It is not smooth. It is not red.
It is not heart-shaped.
You cannot bite right into it.
It makes you work to get what you want.
It is not firm. It is not crisp.
Bad job, orange.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Poor orange. I’ve been thinking about him for days and I still feel sorry for him, hoping he will never, ever read this. And I’ve had this constant urge to go out and buy some oranges and just reassure them, tell them, “No, really, you’re all beautiful.” (And then eat them, savoring them joyfully, as is the natural order of things.)

Comparison is useful—but it’s not enough. It’s discernment that brings some wisdom to the picture, showing what’s most true, most important. It’s good to be able to tell things apart. But you need to know what a thing truly is, not just how it’s different from what’s around it. (Like when you’re standing in the bathroom and you want to brush your teeth, it’s important to know which long-handled white plastic stick with the bristles on the end you actually need, because there’s a big difference between a toothbrush and a toilet scrubber.)

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this for awhile and it was just a good reminder, if only to myself, to look at everything for what it is—not what it isn’t.

Categories: From the Imagination, In the Lexicon | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

The Department of Self-Doubt

For today, a small “What if?” story…

So. Imagine you’re the head of a company called YOU. It’s a pretty complex place, lots of stuff going on, and your job, you’ve always thought, is to make sure everything at YOU runs smoothly. But you’ve always had a hard time making decisions, not sure what’s right, what’s best for YOU, and so you’ve been cautious. But lately there’s been a lot of excitement, a lot of hope, but there’s also been a growing dread, more overwhelming than you’ve ever experienced. And you’re not sure YOU is up to the task of whatever is coming.

You feel out of touch with YOU. Disconnected. You wonder what’s going on down on the ground levels of YOU. You think maybe you should leave the office for a while. Head downstairs. Take a tour. See how things are really going.

You pass all the usual departments—Organization, Coordination, Digestion, Circulation. Breathing. All of that stuff is humming with no problems. Creativity is going strong—you can hear them laughing as you pass by. A little nutty, that crew, but they’re having a lot of fun and you could sense that joy even up in your office. But still, something is jarring…

As you near the end of the ground floor, there’s this horrendous noise growing louder. Getting closer, you see it’s the door marked Self-Doubt. You’d practically forgotten it was there—they’ve been there forever, a small department, behind the scenes. But what the hell are they doing in there now?

You walk inside and floor to ceiling there’s this great contraption cobbled together from miscellaneous ancient parts—office furniture, old computers, adding machines, reel-to-reel tape, light switches, knobs—an old vacuum cleaner? And these two guys are pulling levers and adjusting some array of sensors, completely intense, lost in their work. You remember hiring them mainly to be fact-checkers, desk men, pretty much just to make sure YOU didn’t ever do anything really stupid. What was all this?

“Guys!” you wave and yell over at them. They finally see you, cut the noise down, and come over, grinning. Wiping grease off their hands, they shake yours. “Hi Boss!”

You look around. “Uh, guys? What is all this? I don’t remember all this ever being here.”

They look slightly sheepish and one of them grins and says, “Well, Boss? We were just doing our jobs, you know, but the other departments were running a pretty tight ship—no really weird requests were coming through that anyone thought we needed to look at. We got bored. Really bored. And those guys over in Creativity—they get to make stuff! And they’re having so much fun, so we thought, ‘Hey! We can make stuff too!’ Our job is to keep YOU safe—so we started thinking of all these scenarios and options for things that could be scary or dangerous or pretty much just what could go wrong in any situation in general and then we built a machine that could generate the possibility of all those things based on predictive mathematical formulas! It’s been a huge challenge, but we’ve worked really hard on it, and we think by next year we’ll have figured out everything that could ever possibly go wrong so that YOU will never be disappointed or embarrassed or afraid or hurt ever again. So don’t worry about us, boss. We’ve got YOU covered.”

At this point, you’re rubbing the back of your neck with your hands, massaging the muscles that have gotten so strained over the last few months while you were sitting at your desk worrying, and you finally realize what’s been happening.

But you look back at them. They’re so eager, so earnest. They just wanted to do their jobs. You see their care, their concern, their love, and this crazy contraption they’d built just trying to keep YOU safe. They’d just wanted to help. To make something useful. And you hadn’t been paying attention.

“Uh, guys?” you say, smiling at them. “Would you consider a transfer? You’re both just completely wasted here. Just go on over to Creativity. No paperwork necessary.”

“But what about…?” one trailed off, pointing at the machine.

“Just leave it on low. And maybe just pop over from time to time, just to make sure no one’s doing anything really stupid?”

“Will do, Boss.” they saluted and headed down the hallway. Grinning.

Categories: On the Page | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Asking, Telling, and Making

I’m falling in love with Amanda Palmer a little backwards.

Over the holidays, some people overeat a little. I over-read a little (assuming there is such a thing). But I had a chance to read a lot of books. Good books. And the best of them, hands-down, and a complete surprise to me, was Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and it blew me away.

The reason I say I’m falling in love a little backwards is because Amanda Palmer isn’t primarily a book writer—she’s a song writer. And to be honest, I really hadn’t been a huge fan of her music. But reading her book made her a real person to me, and now I see a bravery and a beauty in her music that I really hadn’t seen before. And even now, some of her music is still pretty hit-and-miss with me, but that’s really okay.

I’d thought the book was going to be about her record-breaking Kickstarter campaign—which it was, but that was only the tip of the iceberg. What it was really about was relationships—the art of connecting with people as an artist, about sharing the excitement of stories and ideas and the interplay between any artist and their audience. It was about intimacy. About being seen. About inviting people into an experience where everyone is a willing participant.

Ever since I finished her book, the nature of asking has been on my mind. When we discover that we want something that involves another person, it’s kind of amazing, really, how vulnerable we make ourselves when we really, truly ask for it. Because there are other ways to get it.

Say you meet someone you like. You want to spend more time with them. Here’s a sampling of your options:

Asking: (Looks like: “Will you hang out with me?”) You’re acknowledging your desire with no guarantee you’ll receive what you want. You’re also making it clear that the decision isn’t yours. The power is theirs—they have the freedom to choose their own response. This makes you vulnerable.

Telling: (Looks like: “You should hang out with me.”) You’re implying you’re the one with the power, influencing their choice. But in any situation, people always have a choice. It can be a hard choice, but there’s always a choice. But in telling, you’re making them think they’re the vulnerable one. This is manipulation.

Making: (Looks like: “You will hang out with me.”) It’s not always so bluntly stated (it would be easier to deal with if it was), but in effect, you’re taking away their option to choose and taking what you want by force. You’re telling them they’re powerless, not just vulnerable. This is control.

Now granted, making is not always wrong. If parents only used the option of asking with their kids, I wonder how many kids would ever eat peas? Or try new things? In my own life, years of forced-march piano lessons (which I loathed passionately and complained about constantly) turned out to be the thing that allowed me to skip a year of music theory in college and let me hang out with more of my musician friends, one of whom had a roommate who turned out to be my husband who is hands-down my favorite person ever. So “making” in some relationships? Not always inappropriate. However, “making” doesn’t always have a silver lining like that, so you have to be really careful with it.

But in truly loving relationships, telling and making are never the best options. Because in the best relationships, asking is the only thing that ever winds up with people willingly spending time with each other, quietly watching a movie together, hiking ridiculously hard mountain trails together, laughing hysterically, hugging fiercely, and losing track of vast quantities of time together because they both want to be exactly there, and nowhere else, right then. Because they both chose. Because one of them asked. And the other said yes.

Now granted, sometimes we didn’t know exactly what we were saying yes to, especially in the case of crazy hard mountain hikes. But we did it anyway. And we’re pretty sure it was worth it.

Categories: On the Page | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peace on Earth: Be Careful What You Wish For

So somewhere back in season seven of The X-Files, there’s an episode called Je Souhaite, which means “I Wish.” A sharp-witted, bored-with-the-world genie is found in a rug by people who make some predictably stupid wishes, made even worse by the genie’s wickedly-literal way of granting them. Idiots, you think. I’d make better wishes. I’d be more careful. So when Mulder inevitably finds himself with three wishes, he tries to do better and starts with “peace on earth”—and discovers that aside from him, the genie’s vanished the rest of the human race. Well, technically…

I’m not actually sure I even believe in the possibility of peace on earth. As people, we don’t seem to ever have been that good at it. And really, even if you did clear all the people out, the food chain of animals and nature would still exist, and they devour each other all the time, so what’s your definition of peace? Where nothing ever dies? Play that one out in your head.

I don’t know. For me, the only peace I can even begin to wrap my head around starts small, in the only place I have any control over. In me. Being comfortable with whoever it is I am right now, but choosing to stay open, trying to do better. And being honest that I can barely keep that going, let alone influence what other people choose. To not get dragged around by insisting that things should be different than how we want them, which is the instant where we’re actually deciding to be unhappy, to not be at peace. I think maybe peace starts when you’re just able to sit in a room, quiet, all by yourself, and be truly content. To not wish for something else. I think that’s where peace starts, at least for me.

Sure, I think peace on earth is a good idea—but even if I controlled the script and all the characters in it, I don’t exactly know what that would look like. So it isn’t a New Year’s Resolution. It isn’t even a wish. And given human nature, it’s pretty much completely impossible. But it’s still a good idea.

Categories: On the Screen | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

You Are Who You Meet

I read Su Meck’s “I Forgot to Remember: A Memoir of Amnesia” awhile ago. It’s her own story of having her life vanish at 22 years old, after being hit in the head by the blade of their kitchen ceiling fan. Something’s been bothering me about it—but it wasn’t what I thought it was.

Su’s story is about more than just textbook memory loss of detail, where she couldn’t remember her name, her husband, her children, or her house. She couldn’t remember what those things even were. She didn’t know what it meant to be a woman, or a wife, or a mother. And because no one realized or accepted the extent of her injury, after a very short time in rehab, she was sent back into her normal existence and expected to perform life as an adult, except she was as uncomprehending as a newborn.

With babies, we expect and understand that they don’t know any of life’s logistics. But Su was that blank slate as an adult, completely vulnerable. She had no idea of what was happening or had happened before, and the people around her (including doctors) either denied her condition, covered it up, or even took advantage of it. But she was forced to cope, even if it was all just rote repetition of doing what people had told her to do, or imitating what people around her did. In rehab, she had been taught how to make a tuna sandwich. So after she was sent home, all she ever made was tuna sandwiches, for every meal, because that is the only thing she knew how to make. Imagine what the next twenty years of life were like for her (including the logistics of marriage and pregnancy). She couldn’t string information together, couldn’t understand patterns or people or relationships. And because no one really believed this could be true, they didn’t discuss it with her. And she didn’t ask questions. Because all the while she didn’t understand that she understood nothing.

I got really upset reading her story, which isn’t surprising, since it’s full of unfairness and frustration and pain, but there was something more about it that just kept making my brain itch. What finally dawned on me is that how Su learned things and operated as an adult isn’t really much different from how most of us do it. We all start as blank slates and develop our operating systems, the way we see the world and ourselves, largely based on what we learn from the people around us. Then we take what we’ve learned and run with it—and just keep running.

if this is true, it makes sense that the kind of people you know are (generally) the kind of person you turn into. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s who you really are. Su, having nothing else to go on, became who she thought she should be based on what her family told her to be, and on what she saw the people around her doing. And she continued to make tuna sandwiches for a very long time. (The extent of her trauma did eventually come into the light, but there was no magic fix, and you should really just go read the book.)

Everything goes by so fast. For so much of life, we just keep running with what we’ve learned so far and don’t often stop to look around for ourselves—it’s always a bigger world than we think it is. Always be curious. Ask lots of questions. Tuna is great. But what do you think of peanut butter?

Categories: On the Page, Uncategorized, Visual Books | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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