Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to Ruin a Manicure (Or the Problem WIth Can't)

"It's good to take a longer view and think, What would I really like to do if I had no limitations whatsoever?"
Laurie Anderson

Let me explain to you how the home manicure works: 
Step 1: Clean nails, clip cuticles, soak (if desired) and apply new polish. Preferably two coats of the color and a clear top coat.
Step 2: Wait 





And wait some more. 

If that looks a little painful to read, just try to imagine what the process of sitting there waiting is like. 

Here's the thing. I don't have the patience to wait. For anything. I may have graduated college, but I am still working (a year later, mind you) on getting out of the mentality that I have time. Despite an excessive lack of papers and work to do, I still can't manage to wrap my mind around the idea that I don't have to stress about every moment. That I have enough time to breathe, to eat, to sleep a normal 7 hours. That I can stay up a little later to wait Switchfoot on Letterman because I can catch up tomorrow. It's unfathomable that time tables and deadlines may actually have a little leeway. 

This inability to comprehend my current situation leaves me, more often than not, in peril. Suddenly, the littlest tasks seem looming, like there will never be enough time. I admit to sometimes melting into a puddle of reruns; I forgo the few things that need to get checked of my to-do list for my own well-being, and skip out to the wonderful world of Friends. 

But tell me that i have t sit still, for like half an hour, so the last 20 minutes of work that I put into painting my nails just right won't be wasted, and suddenly I have all the energy in the world. There are letters to write, desks to organize, clothes to fold. There are stories pouring out and begging to be written. There are books that I've just realized I've neglected. And they all need to be done now, wet nails and all. 

There's something in me that thrives on the pressures of being told "You cannot". I hate that. My own lackadaisical attitude towards things becomes suddenly determined when someone tells me that I can't do something. It's as if hearing that it would be a mistake has challenged me to have to try, and prove that I can be successful. A few summers ago, the asthmatic in my got frustrated when the doctor reminded me, just once more, that running was a no-no. I spent a good month and a half training myself to run all the way up and down my street- everyday, I got up half an  hour early, and spent a painfully breathless hour trying to convince my lungs that this motion my legs was into was a good thing. And at the end of my 90 day trial, I could get three-quarters of the way back to the house without feeling like i needed to curl into a ball. 

So apparently, I could run. It was just gonna take a few years to work up to any measurable distance. 

So when I paint my hands, and I tell myself (diplomatically, of course) that it would be best to spend my time waiting for them to dry watching television, or listening to a podcast, or laying on my bed and staring at the wall, the rest of me fights right back with a list of things that I HAVE to get done. It's one of those arguments that you have with yourself that you just won't win. Almost every manicure has given in to the pressures of cleaning, of playing games, of getting work done that isn't due, ever. As a matter of fact, I will admit that I am typing this with a fresh coat that may not be entirely dry.

We do not like to know our limitations because they make us feel weak. It's one thing to be lazy, to know that we have the potential to do great things, but hey, there's a new Modern Family that just needs to take precedence tonight. When we think we have a choice, we are coated in the goodness of control. If I wanted to, I would. That sort of thing.

But limitations are a good thing. They keep us grounded. They remind us that we aren't going to feel satisfied, or well, after eating an entire box of cookies in one sitting. That we cannot stay up for 72 hours, sleep for 8, and then be ready to go again. That heels are never going to feel like clouds.And that sometimes, even if you train for a month and a half, it can always rain for a week, and you are going to have to start all over again (hence why the running project ended when it did). 

And if we look at them right, limitations should be motivation, not just to strive or what we can't do, but to work on what we can. When we are reminded that there are impossibilities, it should make us grateful for all the possibles. Especially when we realize that there are other people who can't do what we can. I can't run. Maybe someone else can run, but they can't love. I can love. Being able to run suddenly seems like silly ambition.

I'm not saying I can't learn to sit still while the color dries on my fingers. That may be one of those things to strive for. But it's good to remember why my limitations upset me so much. And to be mindful of them so I can my head where it needs to be. Because patience is not just about waiting for something until it happens. Sometimes it's about accepting what is and what isn't until it's possible to make change.   

I am learning that accepting where I am and what I can do is a big deal. That this kind of self acceptance makes days happier, brighter, faster, and more fun. By accepting who I am and what I can do, I can make a difference. Just sitting around trying to fix what I can is a painful, slow, and boring process.

Sometimes it feels a little like watching paint dry.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

My American Dream

"Your success depends on what you do yourself, with your own means."
- P. T. Barnum

My father subscribes to a small publication known as "Invention and Technology" (although don't get me wrong, if he didn't get it, I probably would). It's a magazine that invests its articles in new things that are coming, in the history of what has already been, and in the celebration of new movements. My favorite articles are the ones that go back in time a bit though, and capture the nostalgic whims of an artist who took something that already existed, and made it better.

I was reading one such article today. The piece outlined five men who took objects that hadn't been perfected, like the shopping cart and the tennis racket, and made them useable for society with minor modifications. Each designer was highlighted for their sketches, made in down moments, when they thought about something in their lives, and how it needed improving. Their efforts may not have given them famous names (with the exception of Mr. Tupper, who created tupperware), but their work has changed how we live and operate in the consistent tasks of life.

Considering these men's work, I noticed a trend. The man who worked out the shoe measuring device (the one that gives you height and width in one shot) knew the shoe business because his father owned a shoe store. The guy who worked out the shopping cart had a friend with a grocery store. These guys knew their trades. They were working for the good of something they were familiar with, something they understood. As a result, they were able to better create things that would make the world a little easier.

On Friday night, I had dinner with my father, his father, and a man that the worked with when they owned grocery stores. There were others of us at the table, but the conversation rarely strayed from the good old days- from who used to know their products, from what the shelves look like in stores today, and from what it was like to work with a team of grocers who loved what they did. To the people around us, it must have sounded crazy to hear these men talk with such passion, about such an everyday occurrence like a supermarket. But to them, it was talk of the dream, of the golden age, and of who they used to be.

During that dinner, I was thrown back to a smaller America- pre some of the technology that I use on all the time (including this venue which I write this to you now). I got a crystal clear shot of the world when people didn't have to find themselves in corporate America. They had jobs that contributed to their lives- they loved what they did, and they lived what they loved. I was touched by those moments of sincerity that we lack so much today. We all work in jobs, but they are separate from who we are. Don't get me wrong, I know that there are still people who are married to their work, but it's such a negative connotation.

It's almost as though the problem is that it's rare that we feel like we are working for the good of others. Many people who have jobs that take up a lot of their time are luxury workers- they don't feel any greater good coming out of what they do. Most people want to feel like they've made some sort of contribution to greater cause. And instead they find themselves making some contribution to the consumerism thats causing uprising, upheaval, and unhappiness in America.

I spent a little time the other day talking to a friend who has made it his mission to spread love and understanding to America. I asked home (sincerely, I promise) how he planned to do that. Think about it- it's not that easy to figure out how to positively touch people's lives. Maybe it was easier when life was all about figuring out a skill, getting to know how to do it right, and then having employees, other co-workers, , and friends who shared in the dream. Maybe knowing how to do something- knowing a trade of some sort, made people feel like they had worth, and that let them show others their own worth. Maybe the American dream was about making friends and plans and a life that benefited others through simplicity, before mechanical technology made networking all about staying ahead, and jobs all about providing things that people don't need, and left us in a recession that people can't stop spending through.

Or maybe I'm off in my own little world here.

Either way, I'm longing to learn how to do something old fashioned, and to do it well. I'm wishing for a simpler world where I could spend my life engrained in a service of some sort that people really needed, surrounded by people who just really want to make some good. I feel like I want to live a life surrounded by good memories, by hard work, and by the hope of a day when I can sit and reminisce about the good old days.

I think maybe I need to start my own commune somewhere. Or maybe I just need to figure out who else feels this way, and we can open our own grocery store. Either way, it's my own version of the American Dream I guess.

And maybe I'm already in the middle of something great, and you just don't see it until it's a long time past. So for now, I'll just keep myself in check, and find something to do that makes me feel worthwhile, and lets others feel that way too.

Or maybe I just need to subscribe to other magazines.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ride to Freedom

"Freedom means you are unobstructed in living your life as you choose. Anything less is a form of slavery."
-Wayne Dyer

There is something about being stuck in a car that I find free.

I see the obvious dichotomy here- being constricted is not usually where a person feels most unchained. Specifically since when I say in the car, I mean stuck in my seat, surrounded by a blanket and a number of suitcases with my parents, my sister, and our little white dog. There's not a lot of room to move, but it's in the constriction of my quarters that I find myself feeling least claustrophobic. 

First of all, in the car, even though I'm in a small seat, the world is moving around me at 40, 50, 60 mph- passing by with such quickness that I cannot capture small snapshots even with my mind. It's a blur that makes me realize all the things that have been plaguing me- questions of existence, of purpose, of love, of the undying needs of my heart. It's as if with the speed of the world increasing, the speed of my life is decreasing, and suddenly I am capable of making well intentioned analyses of all that is going on. 

Throw in the fact that this most recent car ride included about 22 hours of driving in 2 days, and we've arrived at the moment where you start to really question my sanity. 

For me, a little road trip was a much needed break for all that was dragging me down. Lately, the burdens of life have been a bit more than my shoulders can carry. It seems like every new ambition is merely another distraction from the older goals. I take them out every few weeks to polish them off, but it doesn't make them get used. My time management skills do not allow me a lot of additional moments to get things  done- adding anything in often leads to the loss of sleep or time to eat, and eventually even that runs out. 

But sitting in the car, watching the world fly around me, a priority list came well in to view. What was most important? What was most exciting? What was on my list because I truly believed it might impress someone else? It all fell into clearer levels as the miles became hours on the the open road. 

I won't lie- I am increasingly impressed by writers who give up everything to jump out on to the open road- to follow their aspirations to whatever paths it will lead them down. It's as if it takes losing everything to find the door into your soul- you've got to open up and let yourself in. We fall into such heavy patterns with what we have, and become held down by it. But on the road, I understood. I found great amounts of joy in realizing that the true question was not about what I wanted to do, or what I wanted to have. Prioritizing is all about slowing down, and asking ourselves not what we want to achieve,
but instead, by asking ourselves if the world fell away, what would we want to do? What is the simplest desires of our heart? And what do they mean for us when we still have everything in tact? 

Don't get me wrong- I understand that life is full of things we don't want to do, and that at one point or another, we are going to have to continue something we used to love and now hate. I understand that there are responsibilities in life. I understand that achievement is part of what we need to keep us going. We can't spend all day in our cars being driven while we ponder life and meaning.

But for just a moment, it was me, and the sky, and the road, and my thoughts, and I was soaring through the depths of myself, realizing what was holding me back and what needed to be done. And in those hours on my road, I let the wheels rock me to an easier mode of development, to a hope of things that one day, I might feel differently on, but for right no,  I was seeing clearly. And in the perception of that clarity, I felt released from some of the biggest things that were holding me back, like the chains strapping the baggage to my shoulder had fallen away. I left it behind me on the open road for other cars to run over, as I snuggled down in my seat underneath the blanket. 

Freedom never felt so cozy.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Non-linear living

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." 
-Henry David Thoreau

A little over a week ago, I was walking towards a car, tripped over a step, fell down, and managed to do some damage to my ankle. Nothing major- some torn ligaments, a few unhappy bruises, and just enough pain to start a small Advil addiction that I cannot wait to withdraw from. The slight injury has not kept me out of work for as much as an hour, and aside from a few extra hours of hanging around the house than normal, hasn't stopped me much at all.

But I'm a writer, so of course, it's got me thinking. 

I didn't expect to fall and hurt myself on a random Saturday. The falling isn't such a big shock- I'm not the most balanced person, and I'm a little scattered, which is sometimes conducive to finding myself sitting on my butt in the subway, or on the sidewalk, or in a particularly speedy elevator. And I've been falling for the better part of my 24 years, so I'm usually a bit more graceful and flexible. I usually get right back up again. 

But this time I did some damage. And I realized that in a second, everything can change. 

It's a bit dramatic- I mean, really, I changed very little. I got myself a good excuse to spend some time laying around doing nothing- doctor's orders of course. The doctor also mentioned that if I had hi-tops, they might help to be a little supportive, so I took this as a prescription that I could fill with some new converse sneakers (blue with pink interior, thank you very much). But maybe it's all the extra time I have to reflect. Or maybe it's the haze of modern medication (which I using on a sparing basis). But whatever it is, it reminded me nothing is certain. 

Lately I've been wondering about why we settle down. We work in time and space, in money and stability. We aspire for homes and jobs and kids and all the things that society tells us is important, and while they are good (and somewhat necessary for the survival of man kind), sometimes they aren't realistic. At least, not at all times in life, and not in this systematic fashion that we design- God does not have to work in lines. He works in interests- what is best for us at any given moment. And it is not always what society subscribes to as fundamentally important. 

Because life is unpredictable. What we think of as certain, as foreseeable, as always true, is nothing more than a moment in time. It's a peak of the sunset, a particularly wonderful stanza of a symphony, a good sale on something that you've always wanted. If you don't grab it, you'll miss it. And there's no promise it will come around again, or it will ever be this good. We consider the inverse a lot more clearly, always telling ourselves that a dark moment will end, that things will get better, that we will return to some sort of normal.

Nothing, I'm sure, you haven't heard before. But here's the kicker for me. These moments of beauty- they aren't linear either. We don't have good moments, then bad moments, then good ones again. Everything happens together. And we get so caught up in one or the other, that we then lose sight of it's partner. We feel our lives are so dark, that we don't notice all the wonderful and beautiful things happening at the same time. And in the midst of the really good, we are not mindful of the bad, not watching to see what's happening, not looking out for the step that is standing right before us. The one that is going to trip us, leave us flat on our face, with twisted ligaments and a lot of pain, on a random Saturday while walking to the car. 

And now, my friends, you've gotten a bit of my mental journey. 

Dear readers, I hope that the good in life is always bigger than the bad, but that you are mindful of what is going on at all times. I hope that you can always seen the sunset peaks, hear the music, shop the sales. And I hope you never hurt your ankle, because it can be quite obnoxious after a while to be stuck in bed, and if you're anything like me, you'll get tired of it and end up overdoing it before the week is even over. 

But mostly, I hope you're crazy enough to over think and over appreciate whatever God has in store for you at all times. Because one door opening doesn't mean that another is closed forever- it just means it's closed for now. And life doesn't always happen the way we want, because it doesn't work the way we think it should. We don't get to plan it. It goes on despite our feelings. 

And if we enjoy every moment of it, we never miss out on it. And then we never feel bad about the new changes- they become adventures, new stories, each with a full story behind them. And to a writer, that is what we call the good life.