Tag Archives: life

The Importance of Failure

I’ve been thinking a lot about bones lately. I’ve been thinking about what happens when you break one. A friend is a power lifter; he literally wrestled a bear once (for charity. Both he and the bear were fine). But he fell while trying to fix a toilet and broke his elbow and now has a very impressive-looking brace on it.

I was thinking about how, when a bone breaks, it hurts a great deal, and even after it sets it can throb and be sore for weeks. (I’m taking this on faith; I’ve never actually broken one and was unwilling to do it for science’s sake).

But then it begins to heal, and while it heals, a mass of bone surrounds the broken area. As a result, the place where a bone broke is temporarily stronger than it was before it was ever broken.

The effect isn’t permanent, or I imagine every athlete and soldier in the world would be throwing themselves down stairs to try to break-and-heal more, but it’s got me thinking about failure in general.

I was reading one of those stupid lists of “things everyone should do before ____,” and failure showed up there, too. Most of the list amounted to that: fail, and fail again, and learn from failures while you can. It also quotes J.K. Rowling, who famously was on welfare and at rock-bottom before she sold Harry Potter and became a hero to authors and readers everywhere. She told Oprah:

“I’ve often met people who are terrified—you know, in a straitjacket of their own making—because they’d rather do anything than fail. They don’t want to try for fear of failing,” she says. “[Hitting] rock bottom wasn’t fun at all—I’m not romanticizing rock bottom—but it was liberating. What did I have to lose?”

I wonder if perhaps it was her failure that allowed Rowling to succeed?

Resilience is one of the most amazing characteristics of humanity. Did you know that, psychologically speaking, there is a large segment of cancer survivors who say they are grateful for the cancer, as terrible as the experience was? That is failure of the body. There are many kinds of failure, some for which we contributed and some that happen for no reason at all. They all hurt wickedly, and are sore for a good long time after the event. But what if, like with a broken bone, we are stronger after we have healed from a failure? What can we do with the lessons we’ve learned from our failures, and what will we go on to achieve?

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Review: The Sweet Spot

The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and WorkThe Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work by Christine Carter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was so persuasive, I implemented some of its suggestions even before buying and reading it!
It’s true. I first heard about The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work on the incredibly excellent radio program Think. I only heard the tail end of the discussion, but it was very convincing: that implementing a few routines and intentional habits into your life could make work, life, everything more copacetic.
And that’s how I started doing pushups as soon as I woke up. And then how I bought the book.
Carter does a great job in grouping concepts and providing both detailed research and easy action points. Because of that, I think this is the kind of book you read twice: once to grok it and let it really sink in, and a second time with a pencil and paper as you work out what you’re actually going to try to do.
The things she advocates are both really easy and seem like they’ll be very difficult to implement in real life. Most people already know they should get enough sleep, but allow themselves to stay up late anyway, for example. But even if you take only a little bit away from reading this book, you’ll probably be better for it. I fully intend to go back and complete some of the personal challenges Carter suggests. My favorite was outlining, literally, the top 5 most important things in your life, and only doing things that serve those goals. Oh, and I’m working on halting my habit of checking my cellphone at stop lights while driving, though “embracing boredom to allow for creativity” is proving easier said than done.
Why is this book only 3 stars? Well, it’s true that I liked it (what a 3-star rating on Goodreads means). But it felt a) a little sanctimonious and b) like doing literally all these things would make you a very boring person.
Carter often uses examples from her own life to explain how her concepts could be performed in real life. But these were the absolute low points of the narrative for me: the details of your childrens’ daily breakfasts (a “healthy meal of half an avocado spread on toast!”) just come across as a humblebrag for anyone who knows how much an avocado costs outside of California and how weird it is to eat that every single day. I was further (and possibly unjustifiably) irked when Carter got into her hard-knock story as a single mom…but she still paid for a regular, weekly housekeeper. #firstworldproblems? She gives herself a bedtime of 10 p.m. so that she can wake at 6 to begin her day–I had to wonder, does that ever vary?–and even went so far as so detail her wardrobe (if you have her as a speaker, don’t worry, you’ll know which of the three dresses she’ll be wearing!).
And yet despite the rigidity of her self-imposed habits, Carter never satisfactorily explained what it had gained her (except for the section on her morning workout routines; apparently that has led to some nice benefits). Presumably more creativity–but for what? Potentially more time with her kids, I guess, but they all sound relatively young, with early bedtimes?
Because of that, despite all the positive things I think I can get out of this book, I was a little distant from it and felt myself rebelling. What if I don’t want the same routine forever and always?
Honestly, Carter leaves room for that. She doesn’t necessarily want to make you accept her goals, but does want to teach you how to make your own. I’ll have to try it to see how well it works out.

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Don’t Let Rejection Weigh You Down

This New York Times article is…weirdly composed. It’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster (what do odd resume’s and rejection lists have in common?), but I’m glad it brought the rejection list to my attention.

Basically, author Monica Byrne has kept track of every single rejection she has ever gotten. There are more than 500 now on her list, compiled over 6 years. Which just has to be brutal. But I found her comments about it inspiring:

“Of all the things I’d ever submitted to or applied for,” she writes at The Washington Post, “I’d gotten only 3 percent of them. That’s a 97 percent rejection rate. That means I got 32 rejections for every acceptance.”

But she DOES have acceptances, including a book deal and a sold-out play. I also liked this quote:

“The anti-résumé remains my deceptively simple answer to the question, ‘How do you do it?’: that I persisted during all those years of rejection for no other reason than that I loved writing so much I wanted to spend all my time doing it. Writing must be its own reward, even for the most talented and hardworking writers, or they’re going to have a tough time.”

I’ve not had much success with courting agents. I’ve gotten some nice comments, a few requests for manuscripts, but nothing has really gelled. And it’s been frustrating. Sometimes I think back on my rejection list and wonder if maybe I’m “doing it wrong”–“it” in this case being “everything.” But Byrne reminds me that this is sort of just how it is. Just keep going for it.


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Step Away From the Camera/Pick Up the Camera

I’m about to speak out of both sides of my (metaphorical) mouth.

First, I’m going to jump on the “cameras are ruining everything!” bandwagon. Then I’m going to step off it. OK? Ok.

Step Away From the Camera

There have been a proliferation of “articles” and videos about how people aren’t experiencing life anymore, how even live concerts are viewed through the screen of an iPhone and how that’s horribly annoying. Here’s the most recent one I’ve seen.

This article talks about a study that found that the act of taking a picture impedes memory. Basically, by choosing to take a picture instead of just soaking up the moment, that you deprive yourself of the moment.

My first reaction was “Omigosh, yes!”

When I went to the Grand Canyon, I was stunned. I mean, I figured I was prepared: I’d seen lots of images of the canyon before. But when I got there and saw it for myself, in person… I cried. It was a really powerful moment. The wonder of nature and God and the incredible feeling of being so small in the face of something so huge and incredible and old… it literally took my breath away. One day, I tried to capture that sense and the sun sliding down the canyon, to bring home the wonder of that sunset.

And it completely did not work. Photographs just do not contain that kind of depth (I don’t know, maybe Ansel Adams could have done it, but not me and my dinky tourist camera). I envied the woman I met who was fast-painting the scene in watercolors. That image got much closer. Plus she was doing something pretty incredible.

I’m getting married soon (oh my gosh, so soon),  and therefore reading a bunch of wedding blogs. One was so trollish that I still struggle to believe it was real: it was about how “rude” it was for the bride and groom to request that guests don’t take pictures during the ceremony. It was, hilariously, demolished by the commentors, who poked right through the argument.

And I agree with those folks: it’s so frustrating to see people actively missing this big moment because they are so busy trying to “catch” it. Plus I’m spending a bunch of money on an impartial professional photographer to get those photos, anyway.

But then again…

Pick Up the Camera
I saw this video just before I was going to write this post, and it changed my mind…somewhat.

First, it’s adorable. Second, I hate this guy, for making my life seem so crappy in comparison and being so methodical about his planning. Third, it is a great way to have captured 4 years of his travels.

And that is the upside to the camera. So long as we don’t live behind it–or vicariously through it–it can bring us back to those incredible moments. I know my photos of the Grand Canyon don’t really capture the grandeur of it, but I remember the trip when I look at it. I can imagine myself back there under the sun and I can practically taste the wind. The photos make the memory more vivid. They ground us, give us a sense of space and time and history. For some of us, like my grandfather, they are literal doorways to memories.

So pick up the camera. Do capture your life. But remember to live it, too.

And maybe take a few trips, like the proposal guy there. Me, I’m going to Jamaica.


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A Name I’ll Miss

I’m getting married, and it’s made me contemplative. I wrote this just after picking up the marriage license, when I was feeling really contemplative about the whole name-change situation. It is a challenging choice, and I think it’s become so expected that a lot of people don’t even think about it. But I do. It bothers me. It bothers me that it is assumed (at least in my area, in my licensing office) that a name change is just a given.

Anyway, that’s how you get weird prose-poems like this. Sorry.


First, they called me “the bun in the oven.” Then, “sweet baby.”

Then they gave me my name, 21 letters that spelled out my parents’ hopes, the legacy of the family unit.
My name I learned, writing it out in waxy kindergarten hand, scrawling it at the top-left corner, papers held by the lopsided staple poorly mashed in. I knew trouble was my name yelled in full.
 I grew into my name–it always was, and always would be. Even as nicknames proliferated and clung like sticking burrs, the name fit, comfortable as a hug.
Then I owned my name. Proudest moment the first time it blazed in fresh ink on a high school newspaper. My name rang out at graduations to my family’s applause; my name on a resume opened doors to shaking hands; my name on a check at the bank bought a sense of accomplishment, ability to spend.
Once again I’m called “baby,” having found my love.
But to be with him, I am rewritten, my name undone.
Though the change is a choice, it’s often assumed. Something is wrong with me if I reject a new moniker, a new life, all at once.
I grapple with this new name, this unwanted pre-supposed choice. I pin it to the ground an try it on. It fits a little tight; it’s not quite my style, but I suppose it’ll suffice.
(I leave my name on underneath, because it’s mine and I don’t have to take it off, not for no one.)
But outside, I’m different. I’m changed. The shift is subtle, but I notice, the looks, the gentle mentions. The rudimentary paperwork I plow through; the expense, the awkwardness.
In time, this name will fit me, like the one before. As I wear this second skin, it will gain meaning, import, weight. Maybe it won’t feel so strange.
I’ll be ma’am’d and not miss’d… and that I may miss.

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Not Real Friends

One of the glib phrases people toss out in times of stress goes something like, “Don’t worry: your real friends will be the ones who are there for you.”
Which is no solace when they aren’t.
Our safety nets in life are designed in layers: while you’re up there, teetering on that thin wire and juggling some flaming sticks, you have several layers of protection you’ve built up. You have your friends; your family; maybe another tier of friends–coworkers, maybe?; people who helped bring you up but you don’t confide in; and so on and so on, all the way down to strangers.
The number of nets you’ll have will depend upon much, but most people have more than one.
Aside from my high-wire partner in life, my first tier of netting was built up of my close friends. Yes, they were newer to my life, but we’d celebrated birthdays, trashed-talked bosses, helped each other move.
And then I slipped, and I fell off my balancing act, and…
They weren’t there. They didn’t even drop me; Worse, they just let me fall.
I am lucky that I had farther layers below that net, that I was caught elsewhere, but the pain of the fall was sharp.
Some people have told me “at least I know how my true friends are.”  And I worry, because I don’t trust myself to know anything at all.
But then I discovered I have other people, with relationships so tenuous that they couldn’t count as a safety net, but with each faint touch of support, they strengthened this guide rope. They couldn’t be called “real friends” at all, by even a generous interpretation: I’ve never even met them.
These are people I met online, who live several states away. A friend from one quiet corner of the internet used to talk video games with me; lately we’ve been swapping wedding-planning horror stories. A sweet sweet girl on the wedding forum APracticalWedding reached out and, out of her own kindness, made me dozens of paper flowers–just to be nice. Others have offered advice, support, sympathy, and friendship.
Those friends kept me going when I felt bleak about everything. They helped in ways I can’t measure and I can’t thank them enough.
Which calls into question the meaning of “real friends.” What makes something real, anyway?
Though it’s lessoned, people still disparage these internet connections. It isn’t the same, not at all, but those “unreal” internet connections have been far better friends than some of the “real” ones I thought I had. And so I am grateful, and walk steady on my wire toward the big finale.

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Let’s Talk About Bridezillas

Let’s talk about the concept of “bridezilla.”

It’s the idea that weddings inherently turn perfectly nice young women into some sort of fire-breathing, plate-throwing, tantrum-screaming monsters. That women develop this malady through their own lack of character, a high budget and the desire to achieve a selfish fantasy in which their every whim must be met.

I hate this concept. It needs to go.

First, as Slate so humorously describes, it is a really bad portmanteau. “Godzilla” and “bridezilla” don’t even sound alike, so it doesn’t make sense from a language standpoint.

Second, it is a term used to judge, cut-down, and control others. “Bridezilla” is a term that comes out when a woman–only a woman, you never hear about “groomzilla,” do you?–doesn’t perform to your expectations. It is a weapon.

Personally, I have heard it several ways.

  • “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m sure that Major Wedding Problem will work out! You don’t want to be a bridezilla now, do you?”
  • “Don’t get all bridezilla about it, but I need you to…”
  • “You’re really acting like a bridezilla now.”

Every time, it came up–sometimes “jokingly”–as a way to brush off my genuine concerns, to minimize my experiences and stress, and to manipulate me into being something else.

Okay, by now you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Geeze, she must really be a bridezilla if this is going on!”

And maybe someone objective would say that–but I really don’t think so. All throughout wedding planning, this term has been hanging over my head: don’t be “like that.” I’ve tried to be accommodating wherever possible, and I truly don’t care about things like what color napkins we use or if we use live flowers or not.

Now, will I agree that there are women who do go overboard? Absolutely! But we already have words for unreasonable people, tons of them, and the act of being unreasonable is really not limited to women in this situation. The truth is, some people are bitches all the time.

The other truth is, weddings are extremely stressful and there are a lot of competing values at stake: what you want, what you have money for, what your parents want, what your SO’s parents want, what your neighbor who isn’t even invited to the wedding thinks a wedding should be like, etc etc. (Seriously, I had a family friend call to ask me the color of my guest book, because this was apparently critical to her preparations. Really?!)

I mean, how often do you plan an expensive multi-hour event for hundreds of people? It’s not like you know how to plan a wedding going into it; you’re stuck browsing Pinterest and getting sucked into the DIY rabbithole as you try to navigate all this.

And the wedding industry is literally built on people telling you you are not good enough, that if you don’t have XYZ, your wedding will be the worst and you’ll ruin “the memories.” I am shocked by the mountain of pressure that gets dropped on women when we get engaged (and on the men, but to a lesser degree, in my experience). (This article in The New Yorker does a good job analyzing this.)

In my own circumstance, the accusation of bridezilla-dom came from the then-maid-of-honor. What had I done? I told her I was upset that she went dress shopping without inviting me. Without even telling me. I felt left out of my own wedding, and when I told her–honestly–about my feelings, she came back with that. “You’re really acting like a bridezilla.”

It hurt. It hurt deeply, and I cried. It was an insult from someone dear to me, and I didn’t feel like I’d deserved it (particularly because the dress I was suggesting she wear cost all of $50).

That was a low moment. But it wasn’t the worst thing to come from wedding planning. There have been a lot of stress-tears, and grief-tears (which came when she decided to drop out of the wedding rather than wear said $50 dress). Wedding planning is hard, but, really, it’s just a party. And I’m not a monster for feeling hurt.

I’m looking forward to the marriage, and an end to this madness.


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On Death, and Life

Sometimes I marvel that human life exists for longer than a mayfly’s. With news of wars, car accidents, freak accidents, illnesses, and more, sometimes it feels like we are constantly living in some kind of Final Destination scenario: everything is trying to kill us.
And yet, here we are, living another day.
It flummoxes me. It feels like, what with all the peril we encounter every day, that we are all, individually and collectively, beating the odds. And that amazes me.
Sometimes, because of circumstances or age or geography, it seems like the odds get really stacked against us. That things almost compete to try to off you first.
I knew someone who worked at a cancer-education place. She said it was crazy how nonprofits competed to be “worst.” See, if your illness was “worst” or “deadliest,” you could pull more funding, get more grants. In a twisted way, it was like the nonprofits were sort of hoping that their illness would be the most horrible.
Maybe the illnesses and other maladies are competing. Maybe they really are conspiring to get us.
It feels that way. A family member of mine is dealing with a cascade of health problems now… I’ll be macabre and say it: it’s like a race. Will it be age that does it? The broken hip? Maybe that mole is really a cancerous growth. Perhaps it will be pneumonia, slipped in on the hand of a healthcare aid.
Are they placing bets?
When I was recovering from a rough patch in life, I wrote a short story, attempting to highlight this: how many things are trying to get you any given day. I laced it with real death statistics to try to hammer the point home. And yet, my conclusion went somewhere totally different (in the way that writing sometimes does). It ended up not bleak but hopeful: there are all these things, and yet…life goes on.
Life goes on. What a miracle.
In the immortal and wise words of Kurt Vonnegut: So it goes.

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The Bride Price: Pedestals and Critics

Before it happened to me, I did not realize it, but being a bride–a female person intending to get married in a ceremony in front of a group of people–comes at a price.
Being a bride, just a few weeks out from the wedding, means you are suddenly completely open to judgement, direct and indirect, on EVERYTHING.
(This is said in no way to diminish the realities of those people who still, in 2014, have to face a LITERAL bride-price: those women and, frequently, girls who are bought and sold for “marriage” because women are not worth much in their society. I realize I am privileged in that my problems are very first world. My heart hurts for those women, and I wish I had an answer to banish the practice forever. )
Growing up in the American South, I expected some of this. I more or less knew the protocols for attending a shower and had a vague sense of what was required of me. But I had no idea it would be this long and tiring a stressful slog that it has been.
First, there’s the pressure from the “WIC” (the Wedding Industrial Complex). These are the folks whose only aim is to make you feel shitty so you’ll spend more money on their products in an effort to reach an unattainable ideal (looking at you, The Knot!). This came out from the bridal shop who was dismayed that I’m not a size 6…and then was dismayed when I did lose weight before the fitting (told ya so, lady!). It’s the patronizing way the vendors call me “sweetie” or “darling.”  It’s cloying, but I can write it off (most of the time) as someone just trying to wring cash out of my little fists.
But there is also family pressure. People who, despite my directly asking “is there anything in particular you care about a lot that I should know?” coming up at game time (or when it is too late to change the choice!) and expressing their shock that I’m not doing something “traditionally.” (I’m marrying a man, while wearing a white dress, in a church, followed by dinner. What isn’t traditional about that?!) This was/is more painful and there just isn’t anything I can do, as far as I can tell.
There was the expectation by some of my bridesmaids that weddings follow one script all the time, and that if I was not going out of my way to accommodate them and their vision of what that meant, that I was a “bridezilla.”  (And then, when I tried to ask them for support, decided to quit instead. Both those things hurt a great deal).
But even when I win, I lose.  After a bridal shower, I wrote my thank you notes. I was super-proud of myself for finishing the 20+ notes in a weeks’ time. But by Sunday, I was informed that I had “caused a kerfuffle.” Apparently my heroic thank-you-note feat had made some other girls look bad, and feathers were ruffled. (I “joked” with the worried parties that, don’t worry, I don’t be able to keep up that pace for long.)
Can’t win for losing.
It’s exhausting to try to be “perfect” all the time. I don’t even really WANT to be perfect–I’d so  much rather just be myself.
I apologize, wedding-reality-show girls and real-life brides, for any judgmental thoughts I had about you. That’s not what you need. That’s not helpful. It’s okay to relax; remember, it’s about the marriage, not the wedding.
Until then, let me know if you want to share a margarita. I use as heck could use one.


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Never Gonna Grow Up: Permission to be Silly

In second or third grade, I resolved to never grow up.
Even then, I knew I couldn’t stop aging. There was no way to stop growing up–besides, I wanted some of the perks of being big, like being allowed to eat ice cream whenever I wanted and have my own money to buy things.
But I felt, deep in my heart, that I never wanted to be a sad grownup: I wanted to keep playing, forever (and, being me, this was meant in a slightly more responsible Peter Pan way). Grownups didn’t seem happy. They never did anything fun. And I didn’t want that.
I grew up, as is the way of things, of course. But it’s only fairly recently that I’ve thought about how difficult that “be fun” part is. It’s a constant battle to maintain creativity: adults have inertia tugging at them all the time–it’s ok, just sit down and watch that show and zone out for awhile; just sit at your deskjob and hope things get better; just wait patiently. And, in many ways, the “fun” and joie de vive is intentionally squashed: even a casual office has rules about what you can wear, and there’s a lot of subtext about what you can (or shouldn’t) do at work, and while you may want to go and play *someone* still has to do the dishes… And those things never really stop.
And there’s some peer pressure to conform, too: it’s considered perfectly acceptable to spend your paycheck on that sport TV package, but you’re unusual if you do tabletop gaming or read a lot of books.
My fiance is of a similar silliness quotient to me, so he doesn’t blink when I do things like text him to let him know that I have a newfound interest in starting an aquarium so I can put an Aquaman figure in it. But his response made me think.
See, he took my completely ridiculous concept at complete face-value, and replied that “we could, but we’d have to worry about the cat.” When I asked him about it later–and pointed out how silly my idea had been–he said “well, I thought I’d be the responsible one so you could be silly a little bit longer.”
See, being an adult is a lot of work. That ice cream for dinner had to come from somewhere, and it turns out people don’t give you money very often when you are big, so you have to earn it. That sometimes means being serious and not-fun. But we are not alone! We can team up and be silly together or take turns!
I think this is a revelation.
Truly, I think I’m not the only Gen-Y-er to have this sense that we don’t want to become like the grownups we knew when we were small. I see a lot more embracing of everyday silliness and niche interests, and more people are carving time out to participate in a hobby. Heck, even my own parents aren’t like the grownups I knew them as when I was younger.
I think this is a good start. Yes, you may be alive if you are getting through the day without thought or passion, but you aren’t truly living. Give yourself permission to be silly–even if it means sharing with someone else.


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