Overwhelmed.

It’s nearly October, and I’m tired.

I’ve been writing a lot of “advice-y” posts lately…where I try to sound wise or knowledgeable, where I share so-called insight. I know what I’m doing! I organized it into a list! Read me! Read me!

That seems strange to me this week.

I haven’t written since August 11th. I’m not apologizing; I’ve never liked the idea of churning out meaningless article on a weekly basis (I did try it once, but it felt disingenuous). I’m not apologizing, but maybe I should explain.

The readers of this blog have followed me through so many periods. You’ve joined me for ridiculous commutes, new jobs, viral rants, self-doubt. You’ve followed me through awkward holidays, musical train rides, and SO much “AHHH ADULTHOOD WHAT IS THIS?!?!” (seriously, like every other post).

Through all of it, all of it, I have been busy. Disgustingly busy. Here’s a confession, friends: Between internships and capital-J jobs, I have worked for twelve different organizations in the last three years. Twelve. Not one at a time, either. Jobs have been stacked like pancakes–four, five, six at a time. And that’s not including writing gigs, community service projects, tutoring, babysitting (counting those, my commitments are nearing the twenties). It isn’t counting this blog, either.

Oh, and it’s not counting school…which I attended full time.

This isn’t a braggy point. It used to be. The full schedule–being needed, being professional, knowing how to organize my time–it used to lend me a lot of confidence. I used to be really proud of my superhuman job-juggling skills, but now I’m not so sure.

Now I’m tired. Just tired. And I’m wondering exactly how long I’ve been tired; how long I’ve been ignoring the more unhealthy aspects of my commitment-a-holic ways because doing anything different is frightening.

So healthy, I know.

Don’t get me wrong, the opportunities have been phenomenal. It was exciting to grow in my faith enough to become a church youth leader. It was exciting to have writing deadlines to meet. It was really-freaking-cool to turn from a goofy history geek to a historical tour guide (aka professional know-it-all). And being paid to go on Twitter? Kind of the best.

But there was a problem. There was a big problem. I didn’t just like my full inbox and ringing phone–I defined myself by it. I measured my value in reference letters, scheduling conflicts, social media stats. I cared about klout at age 20 (Why. Why.). I said things like “I’ll pencil you in” and “Can we push this deadline out?” and “Hold on, let me grab my blazer.”

It was nice to be needed. It was affirming to watch my hobbies turn into volunteer commitments, for those to turn into paid jobs. But the lifestyle that came along with it was less-than-ideal. I developed fears, ridiculous ones: An empty schedule is frightening. Not being needed is frightening. Not moving forward actively, obsessively…well, that must mean I’m moving backwards, right?

Faulty logic. I’m learning that now.

Perhaps we spend too much time and energy building an “identity” and not enough time just building ourselves. Yes, sure, I was really good at being a blogger, a workaholic, a stressball. But I got too busy being those things. I didn’t smile at people in the elevator. I ran for the door after class ended, instead of staying a moment to socialize. I ate fast food, drank too much coffee, snapped at tech support.  I got really good at being “Shauna Vert, Communications Professional.” But that got in the way of being “shauna.”

Sometimes being “shauna” will mean writing, or working, or juggling. But sometimes that will mean going on long walks or cooking a lasagna or watching football and holding hands. Hell, sometimes it will just mean sleeping. It’s not just my title. It’s not just my job.

Of course, it will always involve doing-stuff-for-people. It has to. But that’s because I love people and I love doing stuff…not because what I’m doing defines me. We should honour our commitments, but we shouldn’t morph into them.

So, yes. It’s nearly October, and I’m tired. But I had a day off yesterday. I have a vacation in two weeks. I love my jobs–all four of them–and I like my classes. It’s getting better. I’m getting better.

I didn’t take a break from this blog because I was “too busy” (though, sure, that was a factor). I took a break because a) I didn’t really have anything important to write about, and b) I didn’t want to write anything, really. I didn’t want to, and now I do, and that’s fine.

That’s fine.

Advertisements

We Get Second Chances (and it’s awesome)

I’ve reached the point in my life where most of the “firsts” have come and gone. My emotional life is currently a mishmash of seconds, of thirds.

Last week, my best friend and I sat on my second bed, in my third apartment. We were laughing over our middle school journals, pages of smeared gel pen filled with trite “firsts.” We empathized and rolled our eyes at the little girls we used to be, before we even knew each other. Back when we were doing everything for the first time. Back when it seemed like the first time was all there was.

The world is bigger now, I guess.

Nothing is a first anymore, not even our friendship. We’re happy, we’re close, and it’s awesome. But it’s certainly no first. I met her in adulthood, after all. My trial-and-error timeline was already well on its way by the time we joined hands.

Firsts are important, sure, but I think we sometimes downplay our seconds, thirds, fourths. Maybe it’s because they’re less of a learning experience and more of an experience, period; they can rock your world, but they don’t rock your worldview. They just happen, they just are. I’ve put together a bed before, signed a lease, called a girlfriend in hysterics. Caring and craving and crying are officially somewhat-familiar territory. Circumstances will change, but I am at least aware of my basic emotional range. When big things happen again (and we all know they will) I will have an emotional compass established, a moderate understanding of how I respond to these things.

Perhaps that makes them seem like less profound follow-ups. But that can’t be true, it can’t. The fact that we even get second chances is incredible. We can hurt, and love, and be passionately interested with our whole selves. It can feel massive and real. But when things end, if they end, we get second chances. We can give ourselves permission to continue the story. We can move forward, we can try again. And again. And again. We can tire ourselves out so fully, yet still have more to give the next day.

That’s amazing. We get to fail, and life still goes on.

I think that’s worth recognizing, don’t you?

So here’s to the seconds, thirds, and fourths. The feelings we’re kinda-sorta familiar with. The stuff that happens after we learn from our mistakes. The ones we meet a little further down the timeline.

Because anything that reminds us of our personal capacity for resurrection? That’s pretty awesome in my books.

Saying “I Have A Boyfriend” Isn’t A Good Move…But We’re Wrong About Why.

It’s always scary to question something that people appear to be passionate about, but…if we didn’t, nothing would ever get done. Nothing would ever get better. I would never learn if I’m dead wrong, and neither would you.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about THIS:

boyfriend1 boyfriend2

There is a very well-written article that explains this thinking, and on some level, I get where it comes from. I see the arguments, and I don’t even disagree that lying to people so they leave us alone is something we should change. But look at that tweet. Look at how over-simplified that is.

“Yep, it’s the patriarchy. That’s it. That’s all.”

Really? No mention of peoples’ feelings, or egos. Of our cultural norms. Of, say, the fact that the word “boyfriend” is actually a relatively new term.

Yeah, that. Let’s talk about that.

The very concept of being able to have a boyfriend comes out of the feminist era. When you say you have a “boyfriend,” you are not referring to some ancient tradition of men-owning-women. You are referring to a relatively new tradition of people-being-committed-to-people.

This chart shows when the terms “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” entered our vocabulary (based on the contents of Google’s digitized books).

ngram

This may sound strange, but in some ways, it’s actually progress that people accept the “boyfriend” excuse. Today, we generally respect peoples’ commitments to one another, whether they’re gay/straight/young/old/married/dating. We are past the days where an unmarried woman was considered fair game. Now having a boyfriend or a different sexual orientation are very legitimate reasons to reject someone.

Of course, “I’m not interested” or “nope” should also be considered legitimate reasons to reject someone. And I think they usually are. But I get that it isn’t always perfect. I just think we’re wrong about why.

“I have a boyfriend” is more likely to get a guy to back off than “no,” because they respect relationship structures more than individual opinion/attraction. Not because you’re a woman. Not because your so-called “boyfriend” is a man. But because you claim to have a commitment that can’t be moved. Because people respect monogamous relationships a lot, and they respect peoples’ personal judgment less. Simply, it’s a lot more likely for someone to change their mind or their level of attraction as the night goes on than for them to change their relationship status. Attraction is considered nuanced; relationship status is clear-cut.  That’s why it works.

(Not to mention that this rejection is not personal, so no egos get caught in the conversation.)

I’m not saying it’s a good thing. People should back off if they are asked to, and you shouldn’t need to give them a reason to do so. But if we’re going to talk about a problem, we have to talk about the actual problem. I really don’t feel like the male-female dynamic is at the root of this one. I think “not respecting peoples’ jurisdiction over their own bodies/time” is more the issue.

And yes, I’m using the word “people.” I have also seen men use “I have a girlfriend” as an escape maneuver. Hell, I pretended to be a buddy’s girlfriend when a woman was coming on too strong once. It does happen on both sides.

I have always believed that feminism shouldn’t be about battle cries and blame games. It should be about questioning everything you see, looking at it from all angles, considering whether the patriarchy has seeped in, and responding to that.

Let’s be smart. Let’s think with a little more complexity here. Let’s dig deeper.

And then, then, let’s fix this shit.

How To Be Creative (Without Also Sucking as a Person)

It’s a caffeine-fueled week, folks.

I’ve started writing for myself again—just a little bit, just mission critical stuff. I bought a new journal two weeks ago, and it’s nice to have my own private space to be…well, a writer.

(Maybe it’s better to say “a person who writes.” Sounds less pretentious. )

This isn’t my first journal. In a few months, it will likely join the dozen other half-finished notebooks boxed away in my basement. Yet another awkward testament to my young narcissism. Or to my passion for artistic expression. Or both.

IMG_3675[1]

Narcissism, self-expression. They kind of go together, don’t they?

Here’s a reality I’ve uncovered recently: Being a creative person can be pretty freakin’ self-involved, especially in the share-centric twenty first century. We’re claiming our own little corners of the internet, competing for attention, measuring our value in likes and upvotes. I have a website which is a pun of my own name, guys. That can’t be good for ego control.

And so it goes: I made this. I wrote this. I produced this. Please admire me?

Journalling for myself remedies some of that, sometimes. At the very least, it lets me differentiate between what is (and isn’t) relevant to the public. It lets me organize my thoughts before I throw them at you guys (that’s a good thing, trust me). I also have a private micro-journalling app called Day One, which often takes the place of InstaTwitterBook posting. It means I can caption, organize, and record little memories, without forcing them all upon every person I have ever met. It means I don’t spam you with my daily monotony.

Well, I do sometimes. But the app at least helps with the self-control.

I think having different outlets for expression is really healthy, especially if you seem to have a lot to express. Being creative means that I write articles like this, but it also means I take pictures of everything. I write stupid poems. I record brainwaves, I pen songs, I text weird puns at my best friend.

You don’t need to see all that.

I’ll show you some of it–when it could be inspiring, or interesting, or funny. When it becomes something more powerful, when it could reflect on your life in some way. When I can release it with an assured sense of “Yeah, this doesn’t belong to me anymore. This idea, this article, this story…I can let people have their way with it.

We shouldn’t hold back our gifts. I would be a hypocrite to speak against good ol’ self-promotion. Still, I think it’s fair to commit to creating things worth promoting.  The things we create matter not because they’re a solid contribution to our own “collected works,” but because they’re an important (or entertaining, or enlightening) contribution to the collected works of humanity, period.

And that can end pretty freaking well:

art is

I think the secret to creating without also sucking as a person (or just being annoying to be around) is to be thoughtful with when and how you share. Not everything matters to everyone…but, at the same time, one unexpected piece of art can completely change the game. Be bold. Be real. Remember that a well-crafted personal letter to just one person can be 10 times more powerful than a semi-popular blog post. Remember that appreciating the creations of others, large and small, can have a profoundly positive effect on community.

And remember that as soon as you share something you have created, it becomes a gift. It can be about you, you can put yourself and your effort inside of it, but ultimately it no longer belongs to you.

When I press publish on this blog post, it will go from being mine to being ours. You get to have your way with it.

And I’ll just be here–sipping cheap coffee, privately sketching out my self-obsession, and letting you know if I come up with something worth sharing.

Love.

My Parents Aren’t Superheroes (which makes them even more amazing)

I don’t remember the exact moment I realized my parents weren’t superheroes, that they were fallible. It probably happened right around the same time I realized “I’m not so special, really” and the ever-shocking “plans don’t always work out.”

In some ways, I’m still uncovering my parents’ humanness. I still expect my mom to be a rock star super-provider who can always answer the phone. I still expect my Dad to be the best cook and game-player and puzzle-maker and goofy math whiz and dude in general. Beating him at Scrabble is great for my ego, but genuinely weird for my worldview. Calling home and getting the answering machine still makes me feel strange,  even after four years of living on my own; um, don’t you guys exist purely to serve my needs?

But they don’t. And while decades of effort to serve my needs, or at least make sure my brothers and I don’t starve (slash kill each other) was successful, sort of, it wasn’t perfect. I’m realizing that they were just “winging it,” that my teachers were just “winging it,” that every adult I ever looked up to was pretty clueless (because we’re all pretty clueless).

And honestly? The whole thing just makes them way more impressive.

If a Domestic Goddess can raise a family and keep it relatively together, then whatever, that’s just what Goddesses do. But when a regular, imperfect woman does it, that’s freaking impressive. As I watch my mother run late, lose stuff, overschedule, undersleep, and drown in paperwork, laundry loads and self-doubt, I can’t help be be amazed. Somehow, she (sloppily, beautifully) created four kids that can say “My childhood was happy. My family loves each other. My home is safe.” She created that. She made that happen.

Holy, holy, holy. That’s a pretty amazing feat.

mommy

She didn’t do it alone, of course. The thing about not-Goddesses is that they need help, sometimes more than they can actually get. We are fed this narrative of heroes and saints, of people doing it “all on their own,” but really? That’s bullshit.

The most impressive thing my parents ever taught me was how to work together. To learn the neighbours’ names. To care about your community. It wasn’t “how to do it all, perfectly, always.” It was this:

  • Surround yourself with people who you can ask for help.
  • Ask for help.
  • Respond when people ask you for help.

Those aren’t the lessons of superheroes. Those are the lessons of people who are “doing their best.” People who sometimes have to call in backup. People who link arms with other people “doing their best,” because how else can you raise a kid, really?

daddy2
“Wait, you weren’t a superhero. You just loved me enough to pretend you were when I needed one.” Thanks, Dad.

I’ve seen tears well up in my non-Goddess mother’s imperfect eyes–frustration, fear, anger, saddness, joy. I’ve seen tears in my Dad’s eyes, too. Sometimes I was even involved in causing it, and not in a cutesy “I’m so proud of you!” way. That’s the worst.

I have power. They have power. I can hurt them. They can hurt me. We are peopleAnd we won’t be here forever.

As Rachel Held Evens wrote:

“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain. All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them.”

Learning I could hurt my parents (and that I shouldn’t, because they’re basically love incarnate) was a big lesson, no doubt. Same goes for learning that when they hurt me they probably didn’t mean to. Sometimes they were doing things “for my own good.” Sometimes they were doing things just because it seemed right at the time.

Either way, they were just “winging it.” And I have to thank them for that, because they prepared me for a pretty weird and wonderful life of clutching hands and following love and pretending to know what I’m doing.

That’s all any of us not-Superheroes can do, really.

And we are all terrified (but in a good way)

I have been witness to a lot of happy dances this week. I’ve “liked” an obscene number of Facebook statuses. I’ve high fived and comforted and clinked glasses with many excited-slash-nervous students–my friends for the last four years. Everyone’s too tired from the essays and exams to really process that they’re graduating, that this is it. We all talk about it like we know what it means, but we all have no idea. We’re excited, definitely, but we have no idea.

I sit in the student bar, splitting a pitcher, smiling, counting the days, complaining about the weather. I’m not graduating. I have a semester left in my program, thanks to co-op. I graduate next winter, maybe even next spring. I’m just a cheerleader in the middle of this mass exodus. And that’s a big difference, no doubt. A girl I met in residence, who grew so close we even road tripped to my parents’ house, is moving to New Brunswick with her boyfriend soon. Another good friend, an old University roommate, just celebrated her acceptance to grad school. She’s moving. She’s going to be a teacher.

A lot of people are going to be teachers. Or lawyers, or people-with-Masters-degrees. Or they’re just going to find a job, travel some, hope that they’re enough for whatever system they’re thrown into. People are moving to Toronto, to Montreal, to wherever they got accepted. Some are just going “home.”

I wonder how, after 4 years of University, anyone really knows where “home” is.

The people with plans and grad school acceptance letters seem very comfortable with the whole thing. They have a next step in the foreseeable future, and that’s great. I’m happy for them, and I’m jealous of them, and–deep down, really deep down–I’m quite okay with not being them.

Plans and I don’t have the best history. It’s always been about more about possibilities than plans.

Everyone is tired. I see the congratulatory hugs, the crying fits from rejection letters, cheerful bursts of “YOU GUYS, I just finished the last class of my University career EVER.” It’s exciting, it’s anti-climactic, and it must be exhausting. No one knows how to express what they’re feeling. They don’t know who they can relate to. They don’t know if they’re doing it right, if they did it right, if they’re going to do it right. They just know they’re done. They’re staring down the barrel of “So, sweetie, what are your plans after you graduate?”

I feel like I’m cheating the system somehow, by not graduating at the same time as everyone else, by not having a concrete plan for when I do. But I know it’s always been more about possibilities than plans. I like that. Possibilities have more room to move than plans. They’re more fun to chase, easier to move on from. I’m surrounded by them. We all are, and that makes us damn lucky.

And maybe that’s what people are having trouble expressing. The fact that University was one massive possibility, and we picked it, and we’re going to finish it. The fact that there were a million different possibilities within that University–programs, courses, people, dates, clubs, crams, apartments, attitudes. We tried them out. Stuff happened. We learned which possibilities work for us…and which ones really don’t.

And now–at least in a way, at least for some of us–it’s over. Those possibilities are gone. They’re replaced with a million more possibilities, this time in the real world, and that’s awesome slash scary. It’s scary for the people navigating falliable “plans,” and it’s scary for the people grasping at “now what”s. It’s scary for the ones leaving and the ones left behind.

Of course it is.

Possibilities are overwhelming. Watching a possibility become reality can feel surreal.  The thought that the possibility you’ve been dreaming about and working towards might not happen is horrifying. And, of course, there are a million more possibilities where that one came from.

But knowing these people who are graduating, knowing what they’re capable of, knowing how much they care…I can only imagine what kind of badassery will come out of the right person meeting the right possibility. I’m excited. I’m scared.

But I think we’re terrified in a good way.

 

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

I feel fake.

Not all the time.  But lately, at least on the internet, I feel like I’ve been putting my “best self” forward. And that’s fine, I guess. But it’s not particularly genuine.

I have business cards! I was at an awards show! I wrote some stuff, and people read it!

I’m proud of all those things, I really am. And I’m glad I can share them. But between the collection of #humblebrags, the over-edited status updates, and the filter-on instagram version of my life….

I mean, it looks like I’m the kind of person who puts on pants before noon. Who watches intellectual TED talks, instead of mindlessly binging on Dr. Phil.  Who always, always gets along with her picture-perfect family.

And that’s simply not true.

1939781_677342468978693_1865372605_n

So here’s the reality, friends:

I’m insecure, overzealous, and uncoordinated. I swear, sometimes when I shouldn’t (sorry, mom).  I don’t exercise enough…unless you count running late, I guess. I make jokes that aren’t funny, and I laugh at them. Out loud.

(Yeah. I’m that person.)

I suffer from foot in mouth syndrome, fear of missing out syndrome, there-are-always-clothes-on-my-floor syndrome. I also make up syndromes a lot, apparently.  I’m messy. I play mind games without meaning to, mostly with myself.  Sometimes, I have trouble being happy for people.  I can be a bad listener–or worse, a good listener but  a terrible responder.   I am sensitive to a fault; I use big words when I do not need to; if there is a mirror nearby I will be looking at myself.  I’m kind of awkward. Definitely impulsive.  Occasionally preachy. I don’t know how to hide irritation, even when I should. I cry at commercials, laugh when I’m nervous, and rarely think before I speak.

I’m a mess. And that’s okay.

It’s not that I’m proud of these qualities. Not even a little bit. But I’m not ashamed to recognize them, either.  They mean I’m here, I’m awake, I’m aware, I’m human, and I’m trying to be better.  They mean that even through imperfection–serious, serious imperfection–I can still live, love, and be loved.  We all can. And we can love other people through their not-so-perfect, too.

That’s amazing.

The judgement machine of the online world sometimes makes that difficult, I know. We put a filter on everything. We compare our everyday lives to everyone else’s “greatest hits” (thanks, Facebook).  We blog about the times we win, not the times we lose. We talk about the times we have been wronged, not the times we wronged others. We manufacture our own stories in which we are the heroes.

But we aren’t heroes. We’re People. We make choices. We have personalities. We have bad habits and imperfect histories and honestly, we’re pretty boring most of the time.

may-your-life-someday-be-as-awesome-as-you-pretend-it-is-on-facebook-520x357

So let’s take solace in the fact that we won’t always be perfect.  The fact that we will annoy people. We will try to be helpful and it won’t work. We will apply for jobs and not get them.  We will suffer failed relationships, send regrettable text messages, and come in last place.

I’ll be a mess. You’ll be a mess. We’ll be a mess. And that’s okay.

Life isn’t about being perfect every time you show up–life is about showing up, period.  And tomorrow is about being a better you than you were today. If we were perfect today, then tomorrow would be pretty boring.

(And right now, by pretending I have it all together, by pretending it’s only smiles and professionalism and good news, my internet-self is probably pretty boring. Hopefully this helps to keep it real.)

Love.

Why I Love People, But Hate “Networking”

I think we have a issue with objectifying people.

Not just sexually. Not just women. Not just in the media. All of those are problems, to be sure, but I think objectification is a problem that goes way beyond all that.

subjectobject

A couple months ago, I was given a lesson on “networking.”  I learned I was supposed to fish for connections, to groom people into becoming opportunities. I was supposed to be nice to people for the sole purpose of achieving my personal goals. It all seemed really fake and icky.

(Can I use the word icky as an adult? Is that allowed?)

I tried to express this to a friend, who laughed at me because dude, you network all-the-freaking-time.  She was right, of course. I talk to people. I have a LinkedIn account, and I use it. I’m the queen of “let’s do coffee!”  But there was still something weird about how the word “networking” was being used in professional-land.

Isn’t that, like, making friends with an ulterior motive? Can I just get to know people? And maybe some of them will do cool stuff, and then I can learn about that cool stuff and maybe get involved with it, if it makes sense? Is there a word for that?

26795_comic_12_6_07_network1

Objectification means looking at people in terms of what they can do for you. For a service they can provide. For how they can help you reach your own goals.

So we “network.” We date. We care about people selectively–because they might be useful to us someday, because they fit into our personal narrative.  We greet people with expectations. We ask “who can you be to me?” instead of asking “who are you?”

And when we do that, we miss each other.  We miss each other on a human level, and it sucks.

We’re so busy trying to write our own story that we sometimes straight-up ignore people who might not fit into it, as though their stories don’t matter at all.  We hold onto our agendas so tightly that we forget to hold each other. If someone isn’t a potential employer, or a potential partner, or someone we can get the notes for next class from…why bother with them at all?

There is something very inauthentic about that.

So here I am. Trying desperately, desperately to approach all people as people.  Not opportunities. Not props in some story that I think I have control over.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hella hard.  But I think it will be worth it.

Letting God Laugh at Us (is probably a good idea)

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans”
– Woody Allen

I started teaching Sunday School this year. A group of 5 or 6 wonderful, wonderful wide-eyed girls (age 7 to 12) stare expectantly at me in our small church clubhouse, every week. Every. Week.

I don’t know why they’re all girls. It just worked out that way. Since my siblings are all capital-D Dudes, this is definitely new territory.

For better or for worse, I can be a wishy washy teacher. I know it, and so do the parents. I’m a goofy, guitar-strumming, United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist, so honesty and nuance rule the day: I can teach biblical literacy. I can teach general values. But, no, I don’t know what exactly really happened, or what exactly we’re supposed to get out of these stories. I have no indoctrination-esque end goal, not really. I just teach what I understand, whatever that means. And maybe the girls will be inspired and Jesus it up and light a candle. Or maybe, they will raise their hands and shout “Shauna, that’s craziness.”

As long as they’re using their minds and their hearts at all times, it works for me.

And so it goes: Insert life lesson here. Insert scripture here. We make thank you cards. We celebrate holidays (and normal days, too). We laugh and we read and we use way too much glitter. Money is raised for charity. Songs are written.

And sometimes the lesson doesn’t quite work. Sometimes there’s apathy, or chaos, or I am overshadowed by the air hockey table. (Why is there an air hockey table, you ask? I don’t even know. Because Canada.)

“Okay girls, I’m going to turn away from you for 10 seconds. When I turn back I want to see you all sitting calmly on the couches. 1…2…”

Last week, we were starting the Christmas story. Yeah. I was worried. The whole “Mary” narrative is a difficult subject for a United-Churchy-Half-Agnostic-Historian-Jesus-Feminist (who really doesn’t want to explain the word “virgin” to your 8 year old). My carefully-crafted plan was to talk about how our plans and goals are good, but God is great—basically, it was this article steeped in Bible-talk.

Yeah, my plan was to talk about how shaky plans are. I’m an irony whiz, clearly.

I pulled out the markers and paper, suggesting that the girls draw pictures of their lives 20 years from now. They took to the project immediately, drawing themselves as Olympians, doctors, zoologists, geologists, rebel graffiti artists… the works. Some of them were very careful, drafting their dreams in pencil first. One was hyper-detailed and ambitious, another was just plain goofy. By the time I was ready to explain the point of the exercise, they were too excited by their dreams to really care about my message. I wrapped it up quickly:

“You guys get what I’m saying, right? No? Yes? Good. Okay.”

My plan hadn’t really worked. Their plans were strewn around the classroom in bright, goofy marker.

And somehow, it was all perfect anyways.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”  I used to see these words as an invitation to avoid plans altogether.  But as I felt my classroom shake with the joy of best laid possibilities, I reconsidered.  

What’s wrong with making God laugh, exactly?  

God probably likes to laugh. Laughter is good. Silliness and vulnerability and hope are good.  

Plans are not bad in and of themselves. They’re actually kind of beautiful. Those dream-fueled drawings in my Sunday School classroom were beautiful.  Same with the laid-back, loving lesson plans. Same with your fallible to do list, daydreams, and drive for the future.

Plans happen when our gifts and dreams and brainwaves and feelings manifest into a motivational timeline. And when those plans don’t totally come to fruition, that doesn’t mean they were wrong. It just means something else became right.  It means that life is beautiful in a very different way than plans are beautiful. 

If you can be idealistic enough to plan something, but reasonable enough to not be debilitated by disappointment when that plan doesn’t work out, then do it. Do it. And then change it.  And then change it again.

For my part, I’m going to continue making and breaking lesson plans. The girls are probably going to keep dreaming and suggesting.  We’re all going to keep changing. And that’s okay. That’s okay.

We’re just making God laugh. I’m sure (S)He doesn’t mind.

 

Because Easy Answers are Boring.

 “What should I be when I grow up?” she asked, crossing her ankles and looking at me hopefully.

I smiled at the question.  She smiled back.

“I dun’no, mom. What do you want to be?”

My mother asks this question every now and then, in different forms. I always like when she does. It’s sweet, and it’s vulnerable, and it makes me feel like we really aren’t so different.

We are different, of course. She’s an employed, secure, middle aged woman; I’m brand new to the big girl scene. She’s rocking the house/husband/kids/dog combo while I bounce between internships, roommates, and take out in the fridge.  Maybe that’s why it’s nice to have something so simple and juvenile in common: Neither of us can see the future. Neither of us “know” what we want to “be” when we “grow up.”

DSC_0359

I remember the first time she shared this. I was young, still under the impression that “my parents have everything together all the time!” (even if I liked to disagree with them some).  I was sitting on my mother’s office floor with a Fisher Price boom box, interviewing her onto a blank tape. “When you were a kid,” I asked, putting on my best TV voice. “What did you want to be when you growed up?”

She laughed. “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”

Wait–what. What?

At first, this terrified me. What do you mean you don’t know yet? Will you ever know? Will anybody ever know?

Answer: Probably not.

[Insert prepubescent panic here.]

As I get older, however, that answer feels less and less scary. At this point, it’s practically comforting.  “I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.”  Of course you don’t. Of course I don’t. Look at those loaded words, momma, look: “know,” “want,” “be,” and *shudder* “grow up.”

DSC_0381

A few days after the conversation with my mother, I turned the “want” “be” “grow up” question loose on a 7 year old friend of mine, a bubbly little girl who had stayed late to help me clean up the Sunday school classroom.

“I dun’no what I wanna be,” She responded, then shot me a goofy smile. “Something where I can sit in a hot tub and relax with my friends sometimes.”

I briefly thought about responding with something moralistic; ‘Oh honey, it shouldn’t be about material things.’ Maybe I should bring Jesus into it somehow, because that’s what a Sunday school teacher is supposed to do, right? But honestly, Jesus didn’t say much about 7 year olds who think hot tubs are kinda cool (which they are).  So I just smiled back at her. “Maybe you could sell hot tubs for a living, huh?”

“Hey, yeah! Lots of people buy hot tubs. My mom has one.”

“You wanna be like your mom when you grow up?”

“Well, yeah. I mean, she has a hot tub.”

“Awesome. In that case, I want to be like your mom when I grow up, too.”

It wasn’t the deepest conversation, but it made me think back to my own mother; beside me on the couch, half watching TV, crossing her ankles and asking me what she should be when she grows up. We all have little moments like that, I think–whether we’re 7 years old kids, 20 something college students, middle aged mommas, maybe even as we trek through the much later years.  Wondering what comes next. Working through what we do, but optimistically unsure of where we are going.

Maybe we never “know.” Maybe the process of figuring “it” out can take a whole lifetime or longer.

But maybe, that’s the best part.

Big thanks once again to image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!
Big thanks once to my image master Samantha Polzin for her fabulous photography!