When Love (and Christmas) Looks Different

On the surface, it’s not particularly Christmas-y in this house. We spent last night watching the Biography channel and eating leftover pizza. My youngest brother and I did a puzzle together, aren’t we the coolest, and I fell asleep pretty quickly after midnight. No twinkling lights lit the pathway to my “bedroom,” a small mattress in the corner of my mother’s attic office. There is no snow on the ground. After a month of ugly exam-time eating habits, eggnog just seems like a bad idea.

The house isn’t decorated this year. It just isn’t.  My mother dragged a cheap, small tree into the bare living room yesterday. My brother proclaimed “It was only ten dollars!”. And I smiled because, oh man, this calm and relaxed version of Christmas is so much better than any National Lampoon-esque stressball.

The extent of our Christmas decorating this year.

That brother is seventeen now. Another brother is twenty (twenty!) and the youngest, the baby, he’s fifteen. I joke that he’ll never be older than seven in my eyes, but really, he’s taller than me now. His shoulders are wide and his voice is deep and his mind is razor-sharp. He can tell a story and have the whole room crying from laughing. All the boys can. We were taught by the best.

No, it’s not Christmas-y in this house, not the way it used to be. We aren’t little any more. We have competing job schedules, friendships, health-stuff, plus ones. Maintaining the same old traditions would just be a headache.

There’s joy, though. It’s here, I can feel it. Sure, it’s not colour-coded in the usual green and red. There’s less of a soundtrack, less of a menu (though I did insist on sausage rolls, because how can you not?). The choreography is limited, though it never really went to plan anyways, did it?

No–the joy, this year, is in simply being able to get together for a little while and sit around and be grateful for those pesky jobs/friendships/health/plus-ones. And be grateful for the fact that, even as those come and go, we are still here. The joy is quieter, time feels different, but we are still here. 

So let’s be here, shall we?

Let’s be together in a place where expectations are small, smiles are genuine, and “Christmas magic” can be simple and quiet. Where we surrender control. Where we laugh in the face of “This wasn’t how it used to be.” It’s okay. You’re okay. You are here. We are here. God is here (in a pretty big and amazing way, or so the story goes).

Love looks different, it looks different every year, but we are still here. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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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.)

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.

 

 

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.

The Biggest Mistake We Make With Each Other.

I have a challenge for you.

I want you to think about the industrialized world (you know, the one you live in, where you use money for stuff) in two categories:

The first is services. The second is products.

Think about what you spend money on. Think about what you do for work. Think about that really awesome business idea you and your buddies came up with around last call that would totally make you millionaires.

I want you to close your eyes (actually don’t do that, then you can’t read) and think about the difference between the products and the services involved in all those industries.

A product “is anything that can be offered to a market that might satisfy a want or need.” Anything. Products are things. Products can be owned.

A service is an action or process that a person or business provides to another. A service cannot be owned. Providing a service is something a person does, not something they are.  Here, we are selling an non-tangible action, not an object.

For example: In music, a service would be performing a concert; a product would be the recorded CD of that concert. In finance, a product would be a bank account while a service would be a personal tax consultation. In education, teaching is a service while learning software and textbooks are products.

Human beings, fundamentally, are service providers. People may provide services that result in products, but they should never be products themselves. It would be offensive for us to treat them that way, wouldn’t it?

As such, any industry which appears to be selling people as a product deserves serious scrutiny.

trade

paris hilton

picked

Picked. Traded. Owned. Branded.

We use a lot of “product” words to talk about certain people in our society.

It isn’t surprising that we do this. We seem to think we’re some highly evolved society, that we have somehow figured out how to properly humanize people. We haven’t. Only a few centuries ago, we were explicitly buying and selling people as slaves.  This means that our capitalist system has a major history of people-as-products, one which persists in ways which are obvious (human trafficking, for example) and not-so-obvious (celebrity culture, college sports, the deifying of religious leaders, etc).

I’m sure there are also hundreds of human nature-y reasons why we might objectify people. Sometimes, we look up to someone (or the idea of someone) so much that we almost literally want to own a piece of them. Other times, we recognize that people can serve a purpose in our lives and “use” them in that way.

But when objectification becomes the cornerstone of entire industries, when we turn people into sellable products, wow. 

That’s really bad.

Perhaps the worst part is that we have created a world where becoming a product is glamourizedThat’s success, right? Isn’t being contractually tied to a company a good thing, a secure thing? Isn’t being a cover girl, a professional athlete, or a figurehead something to be sought after?

As long as those are jobs, as long as they are services that a human being is providing in good faith, then fine. Fine. But when being owned becomes our definition of success, something is terribly wrong. When people are becoming products because it’s the only way they feel like they can be seen (and hey, don’t we all want to be seen sometimes?) or loved or wanted, something is terribly wrong.

So keep your eyes open, friends. Keep looking for people who are being treated as products, for human beings who are being bought, sold, and owned.  Watch out for that product-centric language that we use so often when talking about people, especially those in the spotlight or who “serve a purpose” (yuck).

It happens more frequently than we think and, in my opinion, it’s the biggest mistake we make with each other.

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.

On Fear.

“I am scared of things changing. And I’m scared of them staying the same.”

Recently, these words tumbled out of my mouth, confession-style. There it was: I was scared. It was unconstructive, and it was awkward, and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I knew I was scared.

My friend offered a mini-pep talk, but she didn’t sound totally sure.  I grabbed a kleenex as I teared up.  She teared up, too–because fear is contagious, because empathy is the real deal, because it’s freaking January and the lack of sun is cramping our style/emotions, guys.

I was scared. It was good to talk about it, good to recognize it.  But the fear itself?

I knew, and I know, that fear is not a good thing.

It’s not good that many of my biggest stressors are fear-based. Just fear-based. Not things that are actually happening.  Not things that exist outside my head. 

It’s not good that these fears often do the opposite of protecting me–instead, they just kind of make me inaccessible.

It’s not good (in fact, it’s straight-up dangerous) for fear to be anyone’s main motivational force. And, of course, it’s never fun to be facing the world scared kitten style.

Not the best role model for coping skills.
Probably not the best role model.

But despite all this, the fear was there. It was real. It is real.

And so I began searching for where that fear fit…and where it really, really did not fit.

What is fear, why is it here, and what should we do with it?

I guess it’s easy enough to define fear, at least in simple terms.  Fear is really just an evolutionary instinct which helps us to recognize situations that present physical, emotional, or mental danger. My momentary burst of “I AM SO SCARED OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING INSIDE IT AND WHAT AM I EVEN DOING” was a (twisted kind of) fear response.  Simply, my brain and body recognized that something could go wrong, and made me aware of that–whether I liked it or not.

Fear responses can be pretty great for survival. We can use them to identify and respond to threats–potential predators, unhealthy consumption, I probably shouldn’t put a fork in this toaster. Fear is a great tool.

Again: It’s a great tool.

But the thing about tools is that you are supposed to control them. They aren’t supposed to control you.

The problem with fear is that it can grow, it can get overzealous, and it can control you.  Our fear impulses don’t only warn us against being electrocuted or poisoned or thrown in jail.  They warn us about other “dangers,” too.

Here are a few popular ones…

Loving always, always leaves us in danger of losing.  Scary.
Trying consistently leaves us in danger of failing.  Also, scary.
Living has a 100% probability of ending in death. Yiiiiikes.

Essentially, if fear is doing its basic, natural job, it’s going to be fighting all this loving/trying/living stuff.  After all, what is more fatal than life itself?  

Fear is the natural enemy of living. And loving. And caring. And trying.  Giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding those things.

(Actually, giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding pretty much everything.)

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The problem is that you can’t avoid many of these things. You can’t. Locked up hearts still break. Not giving something a shot can still leave you feeling like a failure. And not living your life isn’t going to make you any less likely to die.

Whether we fear it or embrace it, we’re all going to lose, and fail, and change, and die.

Which of course begs the question…

What is fear’s place in our lives? And how do we keep it there?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of fear.

In fact, I tend to think of “fear” as being the opposite of “love”…or at least, the closest thing to an opposite of “love” that the English language has.

But that’s the English language.  And it’s not perfect.  Those opposites are certainly not perfect.  Love and Fear are pretty vague terms which don’t always reflect on each other– you and I both know that.

But they both are often involved.  And when they are, love should dominate.

Here’s how:

Fear, from an evolutionary perspective, exists for a reason. So sure, sure, it’s allowed to be a juror on your internal decision making panel.  Instinctive self-protection, caution, whatever you want to call it…your fear can make a quick statement.  Of course it can.

But then your courage gets to make a statement. Same with your reason, empathy, experience, goals, and values.

And Love? It gets to be the final judge. Love should always be the final judge.

You have a lot of internal jurors at work inside of you, a lot of tools at your disposal. Fear can be one of those tools, it can be.

You just have to control your fear before it controls you.

Sidenote: this video was what got me thinking about this and it is awesome and will blow your mind.  So you should all watch it. kcool.

(The real reason) Why I am So Excited About Christmas

This is the first year I can say, with 100% honesty, that I am not excited about Christmas presents.

But I am excited. I’m up at 5 am with a tinsel-tinted adrenaline rush, and I feel like I should explain why.

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I’m excited for a big family breakfast. For cheesy Christmas specials on DVD. For rum and eggnog at 12:00 sharp.  I’m all warm and fuzzy about the fact the family dog is sharing my makeshift mattress on mom’s office floor and that’s cool, puppy, my feet can hang off the bed. Really.

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Really, really.
I can’t wait to see little Mikey’s new haircut with bedhead. I will probably force a selfie upon him, if it’s particularly magnificent. And my father will probably photobomb it, because he’s hyped. We’re all hyped. We’re buzzing with the unspoken amazement that this year, finally, we’re all happy and healthy for the holidays.

Finally.   

I’m excited for the tacky, blurry photo evidence.

I’m excited about the snow, now that it’s not threatening my commute home.  About a real day off.  About my new discovery that singing a loud, off-key version of “Wrecking Ball” on my ukelele can pretty much persuade my brothers to do anything I want because “SHAUNA. STOP. PLEASE.” 

I’m excited for the beautiful weirdness of love looking like a family sitting around a souped-up tree.  I look forward to trading symbols of “I CARE ABOUT YOU AND YOUR INTERESTS,” I suppose. But that’s all they are. They’re symbols this year, and not particularly necessary ones. They’re excuses to hug people and to appreciate people, and that’s all. That’s all.

I’m excited for the hugs, too.

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Snapshot from the train ride home.

I don’t have too many expectations for Christmas 2013. I’m sure our poorly-mixed drinks will spill, often. People will disappear for naps, cutting well-intended board games off prematurely. There will be chipped nail polish, CDs that skip, and burnt food (because our oven is a menace). The zoo that is our family home–four kids, one dog, two hamsters, a bird, a snake, and an open door policy–will need tending to.

And, as always, I’m going suggest that we read the biblical version of the Christmas story.  And everyone is going to agree that this is an okay idea, I guess, but it’s not going to happen because we’re a little busy laughing right now.

And that’s okay, too, because we’ll write our own version.

We will tell it through awful puns and funny faces, through unseemly snapshots and battle cries of “YOU’RE SO ANNOYING” and “THAT’S SO AWESOME.” It’s the story about what happens when perfect love pays a visit to an imperfect world, and we’ll tell it. We always do. 

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And that is what I’m excited for this year. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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.

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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.

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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.