5 Truths That Will Change the Way You Think About Arguments

My best friend and I had a fight a couple weeks ago. The curse of neither-of-us-are-backing-down reared it’s ugly head, and we were yelling. We were yelling. We weren’t listening to each other, we weren’t giving benefit of the doubt, we weren’t keeping things in perspective–hell, we weren’t even arguing about the same thing in the end.

The unnecessarily intense interaction made me think about how to do conflict better…a little more grace, more love, more not-being-a-dick. It took a lot of reflection, but here are five important things I learned:

1) Start by assuming good intentions.

If you go into a disagreement feeling like a victim, you’re going to argue like a victim. And while victims are great at accusing and ranting, they’re pretty bad at actually coming to a solution. Don’t get me wrong– if someone has betrayed you in a major way, victim it up. But if you’re actually trying to solve something? Going in with a defensive attitude is totally unproductive.

Very rarely will someone intentionally do something just to make your life harder (and if they do, you should probably cut them loose). So why confront someone as if they are purposely trying to hurt you? Instead, talk to people as if you know they care, you know they’re on your team…even if there are some issues to address. It’s much easier to bring things up (and to be receptive when issues are presented to you) when you can always count on a side order of “benefit of the doubt.”

2) The most important question of all: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

So often, petty arguments aren’t really about what they seem on the surface. They are symbols of deeper issues. And that makes for a whole lotta miscommunication.

Example: The argument “You never do the dishes” could be about doing the dishes. But it could also be about “I don’t feel like you respect my space” or “I feel like I’m doing more of the work around the house” or “I don’t feel your support right now” or “WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!”. And none of those things are about the dishes, really.

BUT, if the argument focuses on those stupid dishes, then none of those actual root issues are addressed. Or worse, when they are addressed, it comes ten minutes into the conversation with a burst of hot tears and accusatory language and geeeeez, that escalated quickly. That’s how shit gets confusing and angry, folks. Simmer. Make sure you are both arguing about the same thing (so often, people are not). And when an argument goes in a weird direction, stop and ask: “Wait, what are we really fighting about?”

3) Avoid blowups by recognizing when you’re “collecting evidence.”

In an attempt to be right and not look like we’re overreacting, we have a tendency to “build a case” and legitimize how we feel before attempting a confrontation. When we do that, we skip the calm, loving “Hey, this is how my world looks right now,” conversation, and silently build up to a cold, grudge-filled trial.

“You did these 7 things in the last week that pissed me off. I have been writing them down, and they are now alphabetized in this list. What do you have to say about THAT, hm?”

Naturally, when we put someone on trial, they defend themselves against our evidence because that’s how trials work. We end up arguing over individual instances (“I’m working overtime! And I did the dishes three days ago!”) instead of the actual issue at hand (“Oh, you feel overwhelmed? How should we work this out moving forward?”).

By approaching conversations with “Hey, I just caught myself collecting evidence on you, can we talk?” you are taking responsibility for your expectations and feelings, rather than waiting for enough ammunition to put all the blame on someone. You make it about being real, instead of being “right.” Obviously, that’s a much better strategy.

4) People yell because they want to be heard

Ah, the good ol’ screaming match. When we start arguing with people, especially if we refuse to see their points or perspective, it’s only a matter of time before they raise their voices a little. Or we raise our voices a little. Although it seems like an emotional response, maybe even irrational, yelling actually makes a lot of freakin’ sense.

It’s pretty simple, really: We learn from a very young age to speak up when someone can’t hear us. Talking louder is a very natural response to not feeling heard. Mix that with a little bit of frustration and you have a high-volume warzone (where, ironically, no one is listening to anyone).

While your body assumes that TALKING LIKE THIS will help you make your point, experience tells us that it really won’t. The best way to be heard is actually by being clear, honest, calm, and timely…not by bringing the roof down. So take those deep breaths (they really work, guys) and remember that when someone raises the volume in your general direction, sometimes THEY JUST REALLY WANT TO BE UNDERSTOOD AND IT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU WILL HEAR THEM, OBVIOUSLY. They may be wrong, but this isn’t your cue to talk over them or defend yourself—it’s your cue to listen better.

5) When it gets competitive, no one wins

There is a point in every big argument where a simple disagreement turns into a capital-F Fight. And who wins capital-F Fights? Um, no one.

Learn to recognize when things are getting into a competitive space, and cut it off then—because in relationships, “winning” an argument by brute force is rarely a true victory. Here are a few signs your disagreement has turned into a showdown:

  • Your body temperature rises, your body language becomes aggressive, and your focus narrows
  • You lose sight of all your initial goals (to be understood, to be legitimized, to find a solution to an issue) and take on short-term goals (to have to other person give in, to be “right”).
  • Displays of emotion (tears, yelling, etc) from the other party seem like a victory, rather then a sign that you’ve crossed a line
  • Oh, and you cross lines. Because YOU’RE RIGHT, dammit.

Any game that is won by someone you love bursting into tears is not worth playing. Period. So when it goes there—and it can, of course it can—give it a break. Disagreements can be productive. Capital-F Fights rarely go anywhere positive.

Not the best role models.
Not the best role models.

So, as always, let’s be good to each other.

(I know I say that almost every post, but man, it’s so worth repeating.)

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Things We Do For The People We Like (That We Should Start Doing For The People We Love)

You know when I’m at my best? When I’m ordering coffee.

Things could be tense at home, I could be mad at my best friend, work could be stressful, I could just be having a grouchy day, and still. Still. 

“How’s it going? I’ll have a medium black, please. Thank you so much. You have a great day, too!”

Most of us have the capacity to be polite, interested, borderline flirtatious. To treat people well. To manage expectations. And most of us demonstrate those qualities in certain situations–when we’re attracted to people, when we’re ordering or asking for something, when we’re in public.

We have kindness in us. We give that kindness to complete strangers everyday. We give even more kindness to the people we particularly like, or those we wish to impress. For the most part, that’s a good thing…there’s nothing wrong with being nice to people, right?

Mostly, yes.

EXCEPT: If we’re polite to the guy at the cafe, if we pay attention to that girl we like at the gym, if we compliment our co-worker…and then go home and ignore or snap at our family? We’re really not winning the game. We’re not really that nice. We’re just good at faking it until people get close.

I think we could make our relationships much better if we treated the people we love as well as we treat the people we like.

Here are 4 ways to start.

1. Give patience.

The people we like don’t owe us anything. We have no real social contract with them. Because of this, we can’t get away with being impatient with them. We can’t. We would look ridiculous.

So if someone you like doesn’t text you back for awhile…well, chances are you’re just happy they answered at all. When someone you like makes an honest mistake or a slip of the tongue, you accept it with a heaping spoonful of “benefit of the doubt.” When they’re a little late, you smile because at least they showed up at all.

Yet for some reason, the people who have earned our patience are the ones we give it to the least.

I’m not saying we should let loved ones push us around, or be fake when we’re annoyed. But we do need to soften up a little with the people we love. We shouldn’t jump on them when they make a mistake, or make them suffer for our insecurities. Sometimes, we are more patient and accomodating for total strangers than we are for our own best friends. That needs to change.

2. Don’t make your bad mood their problem.

I am always in good spirits when I talk to the people I like.  I may tell them that I’m “tired” or “nervous about this test” or “out-of-breath because I totally just ran for the bus, man,” but I won’t present it in a bitchy way. And I certainly won’t act like it’s their fault.

It’s harder to do this with the people we love. We know they will stick around even if we’re irritable, critical or hard to please. I think we often take advantage of that. Almost all of us have been guilty of taking out the day’s frustrations on the most well-meaning folks in our lives. That’s not cool.

None of the people you love are wholly responsible for your happiness. And none of them deserve to be punished for your unhappiness, especially if it has nothing to do with them.

(Plus, if you get upset about every…little…thing, or get cranky without cause too often, no one in your life will take your legitimate concerns seriously.)

3. Read/watch what they’re into.

If you love someone, you should read their favourite book.  This is the life-rule I just made up.

(Admittedly, my personal progress on fulfilling this rule kinda sucks. My roommate’s favourite series is over 1600 pages and I am a very busy lady.  But stick with me.)

We always find ourselves interested in the things that influence the people we like. We take shameless peeks at what the people we admire are reading from across the room, because cool and attractive people probably read really cool and attractive things.  We click the links they share. We let their interests and recommendations silently invade our Netflix cues.

Gee, that is a great show. I enjoy similar shows. Please find me relatable and also intriguing.

This is okay, I guess, but it’s kind of weird.  If you’re picking out a new book (or movie, or TV show), doesn’t it make way more sense to try one that means something to a person who really matters in your life? I mean, then you get to be entertained/enlightened and improve your relationship. I feel like that’s a pretty solid win-win.

4. Put down your phone.

I am so often checking my phone for messages from the people I likewhile I am with the people I love. Not a great move, I know.

I distractedly text buddies and boys during family dinners. I read non-urgent work emails when I should be watching a movie with my friend. Too often, the vibration in my pocket trumps the person in front of me. It shouldn’t.

You don’t check your phone when you’re in the checkout, or on a date, or at a job interview.  In those moments, you are focused on the individual you are with and the task at hand. You are in the moment. You are seeing the person you’re with, and they are seeing you.

The people you love deserve to be seen, too.

Basically, this:

be good

Be good to the people you like (hell, be good to the people you don’t like). And when you catch yourself being good to someone, hold on to that. Hold on to that courtesy, the sweetness, the attentiveness, the patience.

Hold on to it, and bring it home.

 

 

On Work, Play, and Goin’ Professional

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. In some ways, I get it. I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.

– – –

I was sitting in the back seat with a friend.

It must have been 2005, I guess. I was young. She had just shared the new Black Eyed Peas album with me, and we disagreed on the quality of the song “My Humps.”

(Yeah, we were really hip to the important issues.)

I digress.
I digress.

This friend and I had become close through the local little kid theatre scene.  We had both been through summer camps, community productions, that kind of thing.  She declared that she was going to be an actress when she grew up.  I asked her why. She recited, “Because when you have a job you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”

And I was horrified.

Obviously, I couldn’t speak for her–but in that moment, I knew that my enjoyment of little kid theatre would be destroyed if it were forced upon me.  Even as a child, the things I did purely for capital-F Fun were precious. And so, instead of being nice and supportive, I argued back (which I’m sure was super annoying): “Wouldn’t turning it into work make it not Fun anymore, though? What would you do for Fun if you made that a job?”

I wasn’t suggesting that Work had to be unenjoyable–at least, I don’t think I was.  There were a lot of things I liked doing in a “potential career” way.  I signed books out of my little-kid  bookshelf, organized by author’s last name (not because I was organized–I wasn’t. I just wanted to be a librarian). I regularly turned the basement into a carnival, a stage, a restaurant–anything where I could charge admission. I painted rocks and sold them. I rocked the lemonade stand. At halloween, I even turned my parents’ bedroom into a “mall” and charged my brothers for space and hand-drawn business cards.  

This, to me, was what “work” would look like someday. I created something, or did something. It helped or entertained someone, who then decided it was worth signing up for. If I was lucky, they might even decide it’s worth paying for.

I loved it. But the idea of those considerations tainting something I did purely for Fun was terrifying.

ForShaunaColour

– – –

The idea of being forced to do my little hobbies for hours and hours every day is not a comfortable one–it wasn’t comfortable in 2005, and it isn’t now. Work means being accountable to other people. It means meeting quotas, training, building, attaining results, providing something to someone. And it means doing all that OR ELSE.

With some things, that would excite me–but with others, it would be draining.  I love doing puzzles in my spare time, but I would be miserable if you made me jigsaw through my 9 to 5. I like playing guitar, watching sports, scrapbooking, cooking new food–but I also like that those things are not obligitory. That they ultimately belong to me, just me.

“What would you like to do if money were no object?” is our most cliched career advice. And I get it, I do. I’m a shameless member of generation “follow your passion.”

But I have abandoned that particular question.  Instead, I ask this one:

What would you enjoy doing even if you were getting paid for it? Even if you had to. What would you love even if it became a Job?

Work-style accountability can take the enjoyment out of a light hobby or interest.  It’s why readers often resent the books English teachers assign.  Or why people edit Wikipedia…while procrastinating from writing a report. It’s what makes some students realize that  they really picked the wrong major, because being interested in something and wanting to do it full-time are two very different things.

Work-style accountability is not totally unmotivating in and of itself.  It’s just different. It changes the reason you do something, the way you do it. If you’re truly passionate about something in a Work way, it can be incredibly rewarding and awesome to go professional. I think everyone has something (maybe a whole lot of somethings) that they would enjoy even if they were getting paid.

Even if they had to show up.

Even if they had quotas to fill, and people to please.

Even if it became a Job.

Right now, we just have to figure out what that is.

Making Mountains Out of Moments

We’re really bad at auditing our own histories.

Okay, I can’t speak for you. You’re probably great.  But other people, over-sensitive, nostalgic people like me, struggle with making sense out of a personal past.  We get caught up considering moments. Moments distract from patterns.

And patterns are what matter.

images

Now, I’m all about good ol’ reflection.  When a long-term relationship falls apart, for example, doing a solid autopsy is just about the most positive response you can have. It’s constructive.  It’s necessary.

Good. Great.

But when things are fresh, when memories and emotions are running high, our autopsies tend to trace scars instead of patterns.  Sometimes, when we should be looking at recurring toxic (or not-so-toxic) behaviours, we dwell on moments.

And if you focus only on moments, friends? You are in for an emotional ride.

You’ll relive and relive and relive the really intense stuff.  Only the really intense stuff.  The major disappointments. The I-can’t-even-breathe-right-now romantic gestures. It becomes a mental scorecard–was the whole thing horrible, the worst, or was it unbelievably amazing? Was it that time I cried all night, or the time I laughed all night? I don’t know. I don’t know.

(Neither, guys. It’s probably neither.)

Instead of looking for patterns, we pit “good times” against “dark times” in our minds, acting like our history is defined by extreme stories and emotional confrontations. We forget the day-to-day behaviour. The reactions. How communication worked (or didn’t), and how do you feel about that?

Focusing only on tear-stained memories of “good times” and “dark times,” can paint a pretty dramatic and unfair picture of all these things.  Sure, mega-scars need healing, and the happy times are worth remembering…but in most cases, using only the most epic stories to illustrate how things went down might not be the best tactic.

Basically, it’s big picture time.

you-are-here

The relationship thing is just an example, of course. In general, we seem to have a habit of over-valuing stories drenched in perception and projection (and probably other dangerous things that end in -tion).  And that’s a pretty big problem when our little-picture memories are this malleable and unreliable.

Can big-deal moments be important? Of course, of course, of course. I’m not talking about overlooking major losses, abuses, and epiphanies.  Intense things can happen, and they can effect us.  Fallible as they may be, our memories make us who we are.

But, when we’re trying to learn from something long term, to make sense of ourselves and our pasts, we cannot just lean on landmarks.

When we are auditing our lives, little antecdotes shouldn’t override the whole story.

(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

The Most Common Writing Advice (is kinda stupid)

A common piece of writing advice, one which has always bewildered me, is this:

Force yourself to write. Write often. Write at least one thing per day. Discipline; Practice; Commitment-to-craft.

Strange.  I never thought of writing as a choice.

At least, I don’t recall ever choosing to invite semi-colons into my most intimate moments.  I never “pushed myself” to scribble in so many half finished journals. The act of typing as the hours slip by–four, five, six–barely stopping to recall “Wait. I am a human.  I have to go to the bathroom, don’t I?”

I don’t remember signing up for that.

If being a writer were a choice, if it came down to hours logged with a dictionary and office chair discipline…well, I’m not sure why anyone would bother with it at all. I certainly wouldn’t.  Creative writing seems like strange brand of madness, rather than the product of a determined spirit.

Slicing and dicing phrases, posting it publicly, feeling unsure–that’s just how it has always been. I don’t write because have to, because I know how to, or because I want to know how to. I write because I don’t know how not to.  It’s a curse, if anything. Right now, I should be studying for a test. I should also be sending much shorter, less heartfelt emails. I should certainly be less concerned about my word choice in text messages–or word choice in general, really.  And my quality of life would definitely improve if I weren’t constantly composing blog posts in my head.

Constantly.  It’s weird, I know, but I cannot stop.

Recently, a few people have asked me why I blog, how I update this blog so frequently, how I think of what to say.  I suck at answering those questions. The only response I have is: sputter, sputter, “Because I don’t not update the blog frequently.”

Yeah. Untangle that one.

I’m sure the sentence a day commitment, the brick-by-brick (or Bird By Bird, as the talented Anne Lamott would say) building towards a masterpiece works for some people.  It must.  For someone who finds writing fun or therapeutic, the advice of  “Anything! Anything! Write anything!” works, I suppose. It’s not an unhealthy resolution. My truth is in no way universal.

But generally, I would much rather read the story of someone who can’t bear to hold that story in. I want to read words which are necessary to someone–not a sprint towards an empty wordcount, not a checkmark on the bucket list.

And I want to write like that, too.

In Elie Wiesel’s testimonial novel, Night, he echoes the sentiment:

Write only if you cannot live without writing. Write only what you alone can write.

As a Holocaust survivor, a man needing to bear witness, a writer with a message, Wiesel’s works were just that necessary. (More necessary, of course, than anything I have to say.)

When you look at Weisel’s career, or the career of any writer, you realize–for these men and women, a typewriter is an extension of the soul.  Committing to writing like you would a workout routine or piano practice just doesn’t make sense. What happened to the madness? What about the urgency?

When I have something to write, I do it. I do it, among other things, as an offering to the readers because ‘You guys! I just thought of this thing! I put it into words that kinda-sorta-sometimes work.  I hope it helps you.  I hope it helps me.  It’s sad, I know, but this is really all  have to offer the world right now. So, will you read? Please? Can we talk?’

This offering only works as long as it’s me writing–me, needing to write, having something to say.  Not my arbitrary need-to-put-words-together.  Not a clog of cliches on the internet, stealing time from much more important words.

Just me.  To you.  It really only seems to work as long as you are there reading.  Every time you stop by, you are accepting my selfish, crazy offering.  Thank you for that.

So, maybe you are a writer.  Or maybe you’re a reader, or a thinker, or a speaker, or a listener…or maybe, your art is something entirely different (but equally unavoidable).  Whatever your offering is, you should do it. Do it actively. Do it because you need to. Do it because it will make the world a better place. Do it because it’s who you are.

Do it because you wouldn’t be able to stop, even if I told you to.

Five Sentences That Changed My Life

I don’t want to throw clichés at you.

Clichés, my high school teachers told me, are worse than useless. They’re uncreative. They’re filler.  Usually redundant, always unimaginative.

They were right. Of course they were right. Even the things I live my life by have never really been “clichés”–my mantras and reassurances come from quotable places, but they matter because they caught me by surprise. Yes. That. That right there. Never thought of it that way before.  

Usually I consume words, but every now and then, words consume me. (sorry. that was cheesy).

Those are the rare, rare words that stick.

Here’s a peek:

Im-not-worried-about-you

I know, how simple and strange.   “I believe in you. I trust you with yourself.”

Obviously these are terrible words to say if you’re actually worried about someone. But if you have faith in someone’s survival skills, it’s a pretty great way to share the faith without demeaning their situation.  To say that it’s normal to be falling apart at the seams, rebuilding, laughing, crying, calling a friend at 3 am, insert lifeline here–they are going to be okay. At least, you think they are.

That seems to be worth something. It was worth a lot to me.

You-are-where-you-were

This is part of the poem “Transient” by Al Purdy…a great poem, though not overly relevant on the surface. But these words, these two lines–dude. The best way I can describe it is, they let me move.

It’s a weirdly big deal, and I can’t really explain it, but anyone who knows me well has seen these words written on something (my blackboard wall, my binders, in pen on my arm).  The words are honest, and make no assumptions: Yes, I was always headed to wherever I am. And yes, the dirt under my fingernails, the person that I am, this can be “home.”

These are lovely ideas.

Everything-might-happen

Here’s some tough love. Sometimes, it’s someone else’s turn. A person you love will leave, because they’re meant to be with someone else. A family member will die, because they’re in a lot of pain.  Your business will fail and you’ll be left with nothing, because society needs to move forward and economies change.

You can spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out why that happened to you. Trying to figure out the reason. Thinking in a vacuum–something must have happened to you, so that something else can happen to you. Post hoc ergo hoc propter hoc.

Now, I’m a pretty religious person.  I believe that everything does happen for a reason, and I believe in resurrection–closed doors leading to more open ones.  But it’s silly to think that the exact reason for everything has to do with you, right now.

God has a lot of kids to look after.  At one point, you’re going to end up being collateral damage. We take hits for each other all the time, whether we know/like it or not. That’s the price we pay for balance, for the circle of life, and for the privilege of being so beautifully interconnected with each other.

Your fate does not only belong to you. But what you do with that fate? That’s all yours, baby.

Does-everyone-realize

The ladies down at everyoneisgay.com say awesome stuff all the time, but this line from Danielle really stuck.  So simple. So valuable.

Fact: If you worry things are going to suck, and you’re wrong, you’ve wasted your time worrying.

Fact: If you worry things are going to suck, and you’re right, you’ve wasted your time worrying. So you’re miserable twice as long–waiting for the thing, dealing with the thing, recovering from the thing.

Constructive concern is a go. Any other “worrying” gets served with this lovely question:

Who-am-I-today

This is my mantra.   I close my eyes and repeat these words in my head as I rock back and forth–because I’m totally sane, obviously.  It’s an every-other-day thing, at least, and I have no shame in my brief reality checks. These words bring a great deal of focus: “Who am I today?”  That’s all that really matters, in the end. Screw the coulda/woulda/shoulda.  Screw worrying.  Screw the fact that I do both of those things…until the mantra walks in and gives me a role to play. Today.

“Who am I today?”  A student. An employee. Sometimes a writer, always a sister and daughter.  I’m pretty alright at those roles, once I remind myself what they are–and who I am.  Right here, right now.

What phrases give you pause, comfort, or something-in-between? Which sentences shape your life?

Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

I’m going to describe to you a hypothetical scenario.  (Just hypothetical, mind you. I am not admitting to anything.).

You check Facebook. You see a post from an old friend.  This post suggests that they’re doing cool stuff, and they’re doing it well. Yes, someone else’s life is awesome.

You’re a good person, of course, so your first thought is: Hey, that’s cool! Good for my friend!

(…except that it’s not.)

You start clicking through pictures.   They have really cool looking new friends (who, you assume, are way cooler than you). And they’re hot.  When did everyone get hot? When did everyone start doing cool stuff?  By this point, your friend has completely trumped anything hanging around your profile–three months worth of George Takei “shares” and one music video from the 90s, to be exact.  You look up.  You are surrounded by all the laundry you have to do, clutter on your desk, a bleak-seeming text messaging inbox, the way your hair is growing in funny.

In a few hours you might be happy for them–but right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

Dude. Stop.

Here’s the thing about jealousy.  Jealousy has a stage name.   It’s called inspiration.

I’ve learned this the hard way (okay, here comes the admitting part).  I have spent way too much energy wanting/waiting/wishing/generally being useless.  I think a lot of people have.  It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  To pick a totally random example (Judi), you could see a picture of an old friend tobogganing down volcanoes in Nicaragua (Judi).  At that point, it’s very easy to say “Well, I’m not in Nicaragua.”  It’s easy to feel a little bit smaller than you did a second ago, to just move on with your day.

But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  You could add to your bucket listYou could surround yourself with people who live amazing lives.  You could learn from them.

Every year, I have the same overarching goal:  to make next year’s Me someone that this year’s Me would crumble in jealousy of…or at least dread going up against in a job interview.  I couldn’t even go about that without my jealousies-turned-inspirations.  The fact is, I would not be in Washington DC right now if someone (Judi) didn’t offer so many envy-inciting stories about interesting jobs in new places. And I wouldn’t even be writing this had I not been struck with admiration(-cum-jealousy) after seeing other women’s mega-blogs this summer.

“Maybe I could do that. Right? Maybe?  I don’t know.”

There was literally one way to find out. Just one.

Jealousy may be ugly, but inspiration is beautiful.  Is someone else is trying new things? Noted. We should also go try new things.  Did someone else accomplish something big? Noted.  Let’s go start something big.  Do you wish your butt looked even half that good in a pair of skinny jeans?

…yeah, me too.

Skinny jeans aside, we have a choice every day (cliche alert) to get bitter, or get better.  I’m gonna try to be on team “get better.”

Who’s in?

Because Sometimes, Google Searches Get Real

I have this mildly unhealthy habit of checking my blog stats WAY. Too. Often.  Thankfully, WordPress only gives me really basic information–I steer clear of Google Analytics, since the geographic detail feels a bit too creepy.  Here, I just get the basics: I can see what different countries readers are coming from (‘sup, Yemen?), and I can see how they’re getting here. Usually, people find the blog via social media like Facebook or Twitter. Sometimes, Stumbleupon points people my way. Mentions or comments on other blogs can also spur a few hits.

And a few times each day, someone finds my blog through a Google search.

The search terms are usually predictable enough: “Things to do in Ottawa,” “Blackboard wall,” “Stocking stuffers that give to charity,”…you know, straight-forward subjects directly related to blog entries.  Every now and then, though, I see a search term that makes me FEEL THINGS.

These search terms are the desperate, doomed-from-the-start pleads to the internet for guidance.  These searches come from the same place that bring us 11:11 wishes, untimely text messages, bad “poetry,” and worse habits.  There’s a knot in someone’s soul and they can’t massage it out.  The default solution? ‘Maybe, just maybe, Google knows.’ 

And then, if they find my blog, a ‘Maybe, just maybe, this Shaunanagins website knows.’

Full disclosure: I have totally been that person, sitting alone and unsure of something (everything?) at approximately 3 o’clock in the morning.  I will shamelessly admit that I have turned to Google for validation, or just a gentle reminder that it’s allllll good.

“Coping with stress”
“How long does it take to get over [thing I am under]?”
“How to deal with learning curves
“What is good about being single?”
“a;gnfdbldfkb mdfl;vdf”
“Plane tickets to Seattle.”

(No, I’ve never been to Seattle.  The alone/unsure/3 am combo sometimes ends in weird places.)

It is this past experience in the field of “Well, shit.  Life. I guess I’ll just Google it?”  that makes me FEEL THINGS when I see search terms designed to…massage out those soul-knots.  This month, two such search terms really stuck with me:

“i can never relax. what do i do?”
and
“don’t exactly know where home is”

Heavy.   I feel you, Person A.  As for Person B…I have so much to say on that topic, it’s a little ridiculous. All I can say for right now is that I feel you, too. Or at least, I felt you for awhile.

Dear Person A,

In response to your search i can never relax. what do i do?” : Dude.  I wish I knew.  I guess turning off your computer would be a good start.  Maybe drink tea and do a puzzle?  Or go to a used CD store, pick up some new music, and put it on.  Close your eyes and listen.  Or, hey, just read. Maybe read a blog. Maybe this blog, brought to you by another person who can’t relax.

That totally killed my “Turn off your computer” thing, didn’t it?

Dear Person B,

You told Google that you “don’t exactly know where home is.”  My response to this could, and should, be a full blog entry.  It should be a series of blog entries. What I can say in short right now is that Home is the place where things grow. It’s the place where you grow. And sometimes, growing can be uncomfortable. So, sometimes, Home can be uncomfortable. But if it’s safe and loving, if whatever needs nurtured is being nurtured, you’re on the right track.

Oh, and Home doesn’t have to be a geographical Place. It can be a person, or an attitude. And if you get spiritual, that there’s a whole new dimension to the concept of Home.  But for now, just focus on finding a safe spot, geographical or otherwise, that has positive energy.  A Place that you can move and shake in.  Do not worry if, while moving and shaking, you stumble away from that Place for awhile. A life well lived will always bring you back Home eventually.

Okay, I feel so much better now.  I know Person A and Person B will probably not be back to this blog, but maybe other people with similar pleads to the internet will.  And maybe they will also be able to help me learn how to relax, or figure out where home is. Because we’re all just floating, you guys. And we’re all alright.

Yeah.

Growing up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now

I just sent the following email to my father:

Dear Dad,

I love coffee so much.

Signed,

Your daughter who swore she would never drink coffee.

In middle school, my father embarked on a quest to get me to drink coffee–or give it a fair try, at least. This quest didn’t last long. I recall it ending mostly in frustration on his part (see also: all good-intentioned interactions with a pre-teen daughter ever). I was thirteen, dammit! I knew what I liked! And if I didn’t like something…then I didn’t like it. And I would never like it. Ever. Not even if you covered it in hazelnut syrup and cream and sugar.

[Please note: Hazelnut syrup/cream/sugar have A LOT more bargaining power in my post-pubescent life.]

Alright, so I’m a big kid now. I’m not who I was in middle school. That’s…a big relief. You should be relieved, too. Consider: I recently discovered a letter pre-teen Shauna wrote, heavily detailing her affection for Lou Bega’s “Mambo Number 5.” Also in the letter, 13-year-old Shauna cited the following hobbies: Singing to herself, making stupid videos with her friends, talking about boys, and “letting it all hang out.”

Pfft. Please. I now sing catchy 90s tunes to myself while I do my taxes. My latest boy talk was about my unrequited man-crush on Anderson Cooper. As for stupid videos: post-production, bro. Because I’m an adult now, and that’s what adults do.

It’s like Steve Martin and Martin Short had a sexy, gay baby. Am I selling this yet? No?

Alright, we’ve established that my tastes have changed at least a bit in the last decade. And we’ve established that 13-year-old Shauna was…well, thirteen years old. But there was one very profound thing she said in her letter–yes, the one with the Lou Bega, and the hobbies, and (this just in) the words “everything I do is just awesome.”

Here’s the profound part: Thirteen year old Shauna had a rough outline for her future. She knew what she liked, and she really knew what she didn’t like. But, in an unprecedented moment of maturity, she gave it a big ol’ subject to change disclaimer. Sure, 20-something Shauna was strongly encouraged to keep writing (actually, the term used was “make magic with words,” because it simply had to be as dramatic as possible). But…that was it. There were specific dreams and ideas, but they were beautifully tentative. There was a lot of encouragement, a half disturbing and half adorable, “You’re awesome! Because I’m awesome, and you’re me!” but no specific expectations.

Basically, I was sucking up to my future self. I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. It’s incredible how often those words apply. And therein lies the (very brief) wisdom of my 13-year-old dreams: the best (or, at least, most successful) long-term goals have been so, so vague. Not vague as in “uninterested,” but vague as in “unlimited.” They have had to be. The world is changing constantly and life throws so many curveballs. Somehow, even uncaffeinated 13-year-old Shauna realized that if you marry goals that are too specific, you end up closing more doors than you open.

So few of the amazing opportunities I’ve had were even on my radar a few years ago. Things that didn’t even register to me as possibilities for my life have gone on to define my life. When I went on an Ottawa walking tour as a teenager and my mother pointed at the guide, saying “You could totally do something like this,” it didn’t register as an actual possibility. No one would hire me for that. My French isn’t good enough, right? I’m clumsy and silly and auditions freak me out. They don’t hire people like me to do things like that. I would want it too much to actually get it.

I’m now entering my second year as a tour guide for that same Ottawa walking tour company. Amazing.

I am, however, taking a temporary leave from guiding for four months. I’m taking a temporary leave because the Smithsonian’s record company has taken me on as a Marketing intern. Try telling high school Shauna, buried in research on blues music and the Harlem Renaissance, that she would EVER be on the Smithsonian’s radar–never mind be working for Folkways. Just try it. She wouldn’t even know how to go about something like that. And yet–it’s happening. It’s happening right now.

I’m not saying this as an “I’M LIVING THE DREAM, BRAH. SUP WIT’CHU!?!” I couldn’t even say that if I wanted to, because 1) my pronunciation of “wit’chu” is awful, and 2) until we’re presented with “THE DREAM,” we often can’t even know what in the world it looks like. All I know is that I applied to everything. I tried out a bunch of cool-seeming things with varying levels of success. I dabbled in new technology. I avoided the word “No.” But how could I have ever known what kinds of things I would end up saying “Yes” to?

I had no idea. No idea I would ever like coffee. No idea that my affection for Mambo Number 5 would (somewhat) fade. And certainly, no idea that such jobs or internships even EXISTED for me to pursue.

My brother Michael, now in the 10th grade, has figured this one out. He told me this summer that when he grows up he wants to be “Happy.” Just happy. I had some reservations about this “happiness as a goal” thing at first, so I told him not to focus too hard on being “happy.” I worried that he might miss the real moments of joy in pursuit of some non-existent fulfillment ideal. He shook his head at me; “Your big words have no place here, lady.”

He might be onto something. I still think that happiness can sometimes be what happens while we’re busy trying to be happy, but…I do love the vagueness and optimism of Michael’s aspirations. Happy doing what? He doesn’t know yet. Something he loves. Growing up to be what? Whatever comes from being himself as successfully and actively as he can be.

I didn’t know that was even a thing someone could do. You really, really never know what could be out there. I certainly had no idea. But now I’m getting ready to face it, latte in hand.

Who would’ve thought?