One of the most delicious ways to spend a summer afternoon is propping yourself down on a bench and people watching.
Am I wrong? It feels like the refreshingly unedited version of what we do on Instagram and Facebook every day. All of these individuals walking around sans filter or tongue-in-cheek caption; I’m witnessing behind-the-scenes footage here!
Social media encourages us to edit, edit, edit until all that’s left is a somewhat flat caricature of who we actually are. As a result, we’re more often exposed to and interact with the personas of those in our social networks than we are with the actual humans behind them.
What does that mean for people watching? Oh, baby. It feels indulgent. Because rather than seeing someone’s hyper-edited story online, we get a glimpse of the first draft instead.
Seeing people as they are feels like a privilege today. I live for seeing the familiar glances between two friends before they erupt into laughter; for the briefest moment of serenity sweep across an old woman’s face watching children play; and even for the somber moments, like a fleeting indignant eyebrow raise at a friend’s remark or the quickest roll of the eyes from a couple deciding on dinner.
Seeing people as they are feels like a privilege today.
Half the time, yes, I’m probably completely off base on my interpretations of situations. But, hey, I’ll craft a story from whatever I can get. And through this internal storytelling, I feel connected to the strangers around me. They’re no longer one dimensional characters smiling on patios and going for brunch. With every eye roll or unabashed laugh, I am reminded of the fact that every one of us has a universe full of thoughts, anxieties, dreams & memories all rattling away inside of our skulls. And that brings me some much needed comfort sometimes. It’s like, hey, remind yourself, we’re all figuring our shit out. Daily.
I’m not expecting anyone to put their whole story out there. Our first draft hardly suffices for ourselves; why would we risk sharing it with the world? But, paradoxically, I think there’s something deeply instinctual about wanting to risk it all, to share every last bit of ourselves with someone. Maybe anyone. Perhaps that’s what we’re trying to do through social media, but our nerves get the best of us. We ache to be seen, to let people in, but shy away from sharing the very qualities that make us, well, human.
There’s something incredibly lonely about the fact that no one can see the world the way you do. Sure, it’s beautiful. It’s life! But it’s also frightening. When we tell a story, though, we’re inviting others to see the world through our eyes. We’re saying, step inside my life for a moment. And, just like that, we’re no longer alone.
But, paradoxically, I think there’s something deeply instinctual about wanting to risk it all, to share every last bit of ourselves with someone.
I just think, most of the time, we’re inviting people into a story that isn’t real. The connection we crave, then, is misdirected towards a persona instead.
People watching, in all of its unedited glory, serves as a reminder that these personas only graze the surface of our humanity. Sitting on this bench, I am let backstage to the digital performances paraded about online, and I am reminded that we’re all participating in the same absurd reality. Because with every selfie I see being snapped, I also see the awkward, silly little creatures behind the camera who then promptly turn around to make six thousand chins to their friends.
Next up, some rooms I would like to make six thousand chins in and spend entire afternoons with my friends. (I am so good at segues.)
There are a few strange souls in the world that don’t write things down, anywhere, ever. When I hear this, I don’t know whether to stop what I’m doing and bow down because their mental capacity is ridiculously impressive, or to run because they’re quasi-robots.
So yeah, I get a little dumbfounded either way. This is because I depend on writing my life down. Otherwise, you can consider that appointment, test, meeting, hangout, you name it, gone. Gone into the abyss that is my daytimer-dependant brain, not even with a dramatic poof of smoke.
I enjoy my dependence on daytimers though because, goddamn, I love them. I could spend hours in stationery stores and probably get the same amount of relaxation as a couple hours spent at some fancy spa.*
Something about having your life transcend its pages is so inherently soothing. It’s like all the pages ahead offer a sneak peak into what the next few weeks or months hold for you, which I get is completely ironic because there’s nothing surprising about something you’ve scheduled in yourself, but it feels that way.
And just like clothing, each daytimer brings on a different vibe. I recently purchased a daytimer that makes me feel as though I am an elvish empress, and each test deadline now appears like a mysterious quest (okay, not really, but whenever I open it, I do fully expect to see, “Journey to Alzareth,” and “Meditation at Moon Kiss Point”).
Now, in my opinion, the only place (ar at least the first place) you gotta go to get your daytimer game on point is Anthropologie. Above are a few of my favorites, especially the Every Moment journal – a poignant reminder that while life can be chaotic, there are so many moments to savor in between. And to never forget that you can create moments to savor, too.
The following paintings have stayed on file for a while now (months even) because I haven’t been able to articulate how I feel about them. Are they worth posting? Will anyone resonate with what I’m saying? Is this just a “fluff” post? When it comes to this blog of mine, there are hoards upon hoards of drafted posts gathering virtual dust for exactly those reasons. But sometimes I need to ask, and we all need to ask, what’s stopping us?
As you can see from my sporadic posting, I tend to succumb to the voice in my head that challenges the value of my thoughts and ideas. In fact, he or she or it has become something of a jedi in wielding these powerful words of doubt against me – and not only in the sphere of blogging. Doubt can parade into every part of my life. Is this outfit too look-at-me? Did I just destroy that first impression? How can I even consider applying for this?
All of those questions, hesitations, and insecurities brought on by doubt means one thing: Doubt stops me in my tracks when I’m on the road to something good, to something happy and meaningful. And so I’ve come to realize that the grip of doubt on our confidence and happiness can be lethal.
Doubt, to me, is easier to face when it’s personified. Rather than looking at it as some intangible force that renders us weak and powerless from the inside out, as this seems virtually impossible to contest, try looking at it as something outside of yourself. Try looking at Doubt as the bully that picks on you when you’re being you. When you’re leaping into new ventures, finding happiness in the now, or sporting red lips to the grocery store – Doubt is the one who pulls you back, mid-air, from that euphoric mental jump you’re taking into new places.
As any bully then, Doubt grew up in an atmosphere of insecurity. It did not arise out of malice, but genuine fear and uneasiness about its value. So, as hard as it may be, give Doubt a hug. Stroke its frazzled hair and talk through its worries. Why, Doubt, do you not want to apply for this writing contest, or this internship? Because when you scream into my ear that I don’t have the slightest chance, or that this is a waste of time because there will inevitably be better writers, better applicants, and better people out there, I know you don’t really think these are valid reasons. I think you, and I, am worth it. I think that we can do this together. I just need your support.
Whenever I look Doubt in the eye, I can see that my worries are its fears. It’s fascinating, really, to look inward and see the multiple relationships we have with ourselves alone. It’s incredibly valuable, albeit difficult, to challenge the more painful relationships. I often tiptoe around them, not wanting to confront where they have come from, but as soon as I sit with them, I feel my ambitions and confidence returning.
I need to remind myself to practice looking inwards daily. My life right now is made up of so many if’s, how’s, maybe’s that I could burst from uncertainty. It’s as though I’m losing myself a little bit the more I let Doubt take over me. Who knows – maybe if I don’t confront Doubt, I will become Doubt. On the contrary, however, if I let confidence back in the picture, I can return to the self I find pride in. I like that self.
So where do you stand on Doubt? What is its role in your life and how do you cope?
In full circle, here are the paintings that I didn’t think anyone else would find interesting/cool/neat/groovy/awesome. But you know what? I think that was Doubt speaking.
Kim McCarty’s Boys & Girls
Like blurry afterimages drifting past closed eyelids, Kim McCarty’s watercolors hover between presence and absence, innocence and wisdom, and past, present, and future. Working rapidly, at times using only a single color and at others a haunting, bruise-inspired palette of acid yellows, greens, and browns, McCarty’s portraits evoke the sense of uncertainty, ambivalence, anxiety, and loss with which we view today’s generation. – Maloney Fine Arts
We see a lot on the internet. Some, rightfully so, may say too much. But true and complete genius strikes me still when I see it. Kim McCarty’s series, Boys & Girls, overwashed me with wonder.
First, I felt a sense of loss. Heartbreaking loss. The blurred colors almost look like the product of tears watering them down. Then, I saw passion. That same use of blurred reds, pinks, and peaches in the woman leaning forward looks to me like a body that is radiating warmth after making love. The woman approaching us, whose naked body is a myriad of greens, yellows, blues evokes a similar sense of earthy sensuality rather than explicit sexuality.
When I consider the title, my perspective changes. The fused colors don’t necessarily represent sorrow but merely an unformed impression of the world around us. Adolescence and childhood is a time of absorbing what’s around you. We are unsure as to who we are, filling in the lines of our dreams and personality as we age. Perhaps the edges become more defined with age and perhaps they don’t. Perhaps we don’t even want them to.
So, there you have it. The thoughts, short & sweet, that sat on the shelf of half-written blog posts for months on end. Now, I could write more, but there’s something satisfying about showing the thoughts in their unedited form – the form I had doubted for so long – presented as is. As is. Hold my hand, Doubt, we’re getting better at this.
Everybody has that friend who defies all previously held notions of “effortlessly cool.” You know, the one who wakes up in the morning, picks out any of the perfectly classic numbers hanging in her closet and spends a little under five minutes preparing her face for the world. Everything just clicks. They just seem to get things. For me, that friend is Adrienne, the bold-browed beauty smiling coyly below. We’ve been best friends going on a decade, which is half of my life thus far (winning at friendship, to put it bluntly), and she only embodies this stereotype more and more with each year. Should I be resentful? Hell, no, because she imparts her wisdom and unbridled inspiration on me every time I see her. This past weekend, though, my whole idea of my best friend just catapulted out of an ornate ceiling with stringed lights draped from an archway. In short, I visited her house and quickly died, went to the heaven reserved for vintage wares, crisp white walls, fireplaces-in-bedrooms, and historic architecture, and then came back to go for waffles. Her apartment almost brought tears to my eyes. So what kind of girl would I be if I didn’t share with you a home so perfect that I almost cried? Not an effortlessly cool one, let’s say that.
Thank you, Adrienne, for letting me share your beautiful home with the world! It’s almost as cool as you are. (Yay, cheese!) Signing off, *m
This morning I read a piece over at Brain Pickings, and my innards are still stirring. Mostly because I feel as though it was directed right at me, and I was about as unprepared as a deer prancing across the highway in the middle of the night (sorry for the visual – deer in headlights is about as apt an image I have for myself right now). Maria Popova, the writer (or perhaps literary waitress) who served me a side of wisdom, reality, and unexpected saudade this morning to accompany my comparably innocent looking slices of french toast, couldn’t have possibly known that I’ve been bent on coming to terms with death lately. Death has a split-personality disorder, in my mind. It keeps showing up, right in front of me, slurring the words that one day everything that I love is going to go down with me, into some sort of intangible abyss of rotting organs (sorry). Or, there it is, legs crossed with a rather serene look about it, nodding over to me that spending time with death isn’t so bad. By the time your meeting rolls around, you’ll be ready for the kind of contemplative discourse I pose, she promises. Surrendering the remainder of your time won’t be so bad, especially if you believe that your lover, parents, and siblings are sitting cross legged right behind me. I have yet to figure out who she (he? it?) really is.
Meghan Daum introduced this line of thinking to me, with excerpts from her collection of personal essays, The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion. She elucidates how our minds, our past and future selves, adapt to aging, and how we have this tendency to constantly reshape our opinion of our past selves so that we are on “nodding terms” with them. After all, our past self is always a part of us, whether we like it or not, and it’s much easier to enjoy this past self than wish to be rid of it. She also confronts us with the idea that we may never attain that idealized older version of ourselves. In fact, it doesn’t seem to be just an idea – it seems an inevitable reality. Just as she says we romanticize our past selves, I think it’s safe to say that this older self we dream up in so many different ways, dependent upon the day, hour, situation, is romanticized to the same scale, if not more – the limits to the potential of this older self are unbounding. I could fill up whole novels on just one route my life could go; can you imagine how many trees I’d kill if I contemplated each and every route with just as much fervency?
Please, dig your teeth into a round of Popova’s concise, reflective review on Daum’s The Unspeakable. Your Tuesday morning deserves a little introspection; we’re hardly in that state enough. Let’s become comfortable in it together.
This conundrum is one of the many human perplexities Meghan Daum, one of the finest essayists of our time, explores in The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (public library | IndieBound) — a magnificent collection of personal essays examining “the tension between primal reactions and public decorum” and aiming at “a larger discussion about the way human experiences too often come with preassigned emotional responses,” driven by a valiant effort to unbridle those messy, complex experiences from the simplistic templates with which we address them, both privately and publicly.
For all the lip service we pay to “getting real,” we remain a culture whose discourse is largely rooted in platitudes. We are told — and in turn tell others — that illness and suffering isn’t a ruthless injustice, but a journey of hope. Finding disappointment in places where we’re supposed to find joy isn’t a sign of having different priorities as much as having an insufficiently healthy outlook. We love redemption stories and silver linings. We believe in overcoming adversity, in putting the past behind us, in everyday miracles. We like the idea that everything happens for a reason. When confronted with the suggestion that life is random or that suffering is not always transcendent we’re apt to not only accuse the suggester of rudeness but also pity him for his negative worldview. To reject sentimentality, or even question it, isn’t just uncivilized, it’s practically un-American.
In one of the collection’s most pause-giving essays, titled “Not What It Used to Be,” Daum reflects on the conflicted, paradoxical nostalgia we tend to place on our youth — nostalgia woven of an openness of longing, as the infinite possibilities of life stretch ahead, but also of many misplaced longings for the wrong things, the dangerous things, the dangerously safe things. Daum writes:
Most of us have unconscious disbeliefs about our lives, facts that we accept at face value but that still cause us to gasp just a little when they pass through our minds at certain angles. Mine are these: that my mother is dead, that the Vatican actually had it in itself to select a pope like Pope Francis, and that I am now older than the characters onthirtysomething. That last one is especially upending. How is it that the people who were, for me, the very embodiment of adulthood, who, with their dinner parties and marital spats and career angst represented the place in life I’d like to get to but surely never will, are on average six to eight years my junior? How did I get to be middle-aged without actually growing up?
Illustration by Lisbeth Zwerger from a rare edition of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.
Luckily, even some of the most confounding questions have soothingly prosaic answers. On the subject of growing up, or feeling that you have succeeded in doing so, I’m pretty sure the consensus is that it’s an illusion. Probably no one ever really feels grown-up, except for certain high school math teachers or members of Congress. I suspect that most members of AARP go around feeling in many ways just as confused and fraudulent as most middle school students. You might even be able to make a case that not feeling grown-up is a sign that you actually are, much as worrying that you’re crazy supposedly means you’re not.
Daum’s astonishment is especially resonant for those of us who compounded our dissatisfying college experience with the culturally inflicted guilt of feeling like not finding satisfaction there was a profound personal failure:
I managed to have such a mediocre time at a place that is pretty much custom designed for delivering the best years of your life. I’d like to say that I wasn’t the same person back then that I later became and now am. But the truth is that I was the exact same person. I was more myself then than at any other time in my life. I was an extreme version of myself. Everything I’ve always felt I felt more intensely. Everything I’ve always wanted, I wanted more. Everything I currently dislike, I downright hated back then. People who think I’m judgmental, impatient, and obsessed with real estate now should have seen me in college. I was bored by many of my classmates and irked by the contrived mischief and floundering sexual intrigues of dormitory life. I couldn’t wait to get out and rent my own apartment, preferably one in a grand Edwardian building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. In that sense, I guess my college experience was just as intense as my husband’s. I just view that intensity negatively rather than nostalgically, which perhaps is its own form of nostalgia.
To illuminate that curious misplacing of nostalgia, Daum invokes an imaginary encounter between her present self and her older self — the concept behind an emboldening old favorite of letters by luminaries to their younger selves — in which Older Self ambushes Younger Self “like a goon sent in to settle a debt”:
At first, Younger Self is frightened and irritated (Older Self speaks harshly to her) but a feeling of calm quickly sets in over the encounter. Younger Self sits there rapt, as though receiving the wisdom of Yoda or of some musician she idolizes, such as Joni Mitchell. But Older Self is no Yoda. Older Self is stern and sharp. Older Self has adopted the emphatic, no-nonsense speaking style of formidable women with whom she worked in countless New York City offices before deciding she never again wanted to work anywhere but her own home (a place where, over the years, she has lost a certain amount of people skills and has been known to begin conversations as though slamming a cleaver into a side of raw beef). Older Self begins her sentences with “Listen” and “Look.” She says, “Listen, what you’re into right now isn’t working for you.” She says, “Look, do yourself a favor and get out of this situation right now. All of it. The whole situation. Leave this college. Forget about this boy you’re sleeping with but not actually dating. Stop pretending you did the reading for your Chaucer seminar when you didn’t and never will.”
To which Younger Self will ask, “Okay, then what should I do?” And of course Older Self has no answer, because Older Self did not leave the college, did not drop the boy, did not stop pretending to have read Chaucer. And the cumulative effect of all those failures (or missed opportunities, blown chances, fuckups, whatever) is sitting right here, administering a tongue-lashing to her younger self (which is to say herself) about actions or inactions that were never going to be anything other than what they were. And at that point the younger and older selves merge into some kind of floating blob of unfortunate yet inevitable life choices, at which point I stop the little game and nudge my mind back into real time and try to think about other things, such as what I might have for dinner that night or what might happen when I die. Such is the pendulum of my post-forty thoughts.
And yet the most paradoxical, most endearingly human thing is that most of us invariably fail to see our Younger Self as part of that amalgamated blob and instead romanticize it as the counterpoint to those “unfortunate yet inevitable life choices,” as our highest potentiality at a point before crumbling into the reality of necessary concessions and mediocrities. For all its cluelessness, for all its complicity in the making of our present dissatisfactions, we continue to worship youth — especially our own.
Reflecting on the disorienting fact — because that fact is always disorienting to those of whom it becomes factual — that nothing she ever does will ever be preceded by the word young again, Daum writes:
Any traces of precocity I ever had are long forgotten. I am not and will never again be a young writer, a young homeowner, a young teacher. I was never a young wife. The only thing I could do now for which my youth would be a truly notable feature would be to die. If I died now, I’d die young. Everything else, I’m doing middle-aged.
I am nostalgic for my twenties (most of them, anyway; twenty and twenty-one were squandered at college; twenty-four was kind of a wash, too) but I can tell you for sure that they weren’t as great as I now crack them up to be. I was always broke, I was often lonely, and I had some really terrible clothes. But my life was shiny and unblemished. Everything was ahead of me. I walked around with an abiding feeling that, at any given time, anything could go in any direction. And it was often true.
The read is not over, but please continue it over on Brain Pickings (I certainly wouldn’t want to wrongfully snag a reader away from its many gems). Who knows what else could pick your brain this morning?
a. one that brings me back to my girlhood, when I’d rearrange my dolls into a position where they could surely be entertained for long hours at a time (reading or talking to one another were some favourite activities of theirs). My auntie Leanne has a knack for picking Christmas gifts that cue squeals of girlish glee no matter how old I get. This charming little fox suited up in a red christmas sweater and English schoolgirl skirt is no exception.
b. this vintage locket stirs up thoughts of beloved heirloom jewels that were passed from generation to generation, harbouring stories from each, and keeping them pressed between the locket’s doors. I just imagine a long line of ancestors eagerly whispering their vivacious stories to my heart. (Disclaimer: I snatched this up from a thrift store, so my great-grandmother is not, in fact, whispering vivacious stories.)
c. collars poking out from a favourite sweater – this look is easily rearranged four times a week.
d. the late afternoon light that pours through my makeshift, hippy dippy curtain is tinged in the warmest hue. I can hardly articulate the satisfaction I get from seeing my room lit up in this way… but it does remind me of the ephemeral joy of birthday candles. It’s like I think that if I soak up this moment as best I can, and if I linger as long as possible, I won’t blow the whole scene away.
I’ve always had a knack for standing still. With the likes of that skill, you might think I’ve already paved a very successful future for myself. A mime with a single pose, an FBI agent who excels at eavesdropping until the guy leaves the room, one of those silver-painted humans downtown who think they’re statues. My options were endless from the beginning… And even if that doesn’t become my life’s passion, standing still makes for some excellent entertainment. For example, sometimes I pretend to freeze on Skype. Throwing in a good ol’ mime act in the middle of a conversation (most likely a virtual conversation, but if you do so in real life then you are the most excellent human being I know) offers up some serious bonding with me, myself & I as we all wait and see if our mime act is so good that they hang up on us. Ah, the only time being hung up on is an unmistakable victory.
So that’s what I do for fun! What do you do?
I kid, I kid. But I do enjoy, in some weird way, seeing life as though I were frozen, while the rest of the world continues. It’s a bizarre version of the classic aspiration to put life on pause – where everyone else around you is a mime in a single, generally mundane pose – and you go on your merry way for an hour or two to travel the world, see the Eiffel Tower, shave Kim Jong-un’s hair off, and sift through your enemy’s garbage can. But this doesn’t interest me as much. Seeing the the world around me in a motionless, robotic state would be paralyzing as it is. If I were the one person on Earth who still had some remnant of life in me, well, the world’s outta luck because I’d join them in their paralysis.
There is, however, a subtle fascination with the world’s resistance to stopping when I do. Yes, I just realized this. I’m not the center of the universe, someone pinch me. Okay, thanks for the pinch – the hard truth has been swallowed.
What I mean is that we don’t often contemplate, or contemplate enough, the world’s ignorance to us – these tiny little human beings motoring around, laughing at bad jokes, gossiping, making love, picking their noses. Just as we don’t contemplate breathing or an occasion of rain as anything more than a fact of life. Recognizing this ignorance, as scary as it is, grants you the most genuine form of modesty and brings you back into reality, in that you are not the centre of the world and the world will most literally keep spinning without you. The clocks will continue ticking, rest assured.
Does that scare you? Perhaps. But should it scare you?
Let’s pause for a moment. Take a breath, and be completely still. Your eyes alone scan my words, your chest rising like the tide in tune to your breath. Register the fact that everyone else around you – every human, every bird, every slug – is continuing on, ignorant to your stillness. You are not the sun, you are not the moon. You very well may be to your loved ones, but to 99.99999% of the world, you’re as pivotal as the slug on your sidewalk. Your time spent on this Earth is for you. Your time is no one else’s.
For me, I use the power of time as motivation. Or at least that’s what I strive to do. Because time shouldn’t need to scare us. As a child, I remember my mum once told me I was given thirty seconds more to play on the playground and I distinctly remember thinking, oh my gosh, what is my mum thinking? That’s so much! What will I do with all this time? And I ran like a mad-woman in the body of a seven year old up and down a slide, through the monkey bars, and underneath the ladder until she said it was up. That time was glorious. Time empowered me then, and it can empower me now.
The perspectives we have as children are valuable. We may grow older, we may grow wiser,but if only we could harness some of that innate optimism we had as children. To marvel at the world around us and recognize joy in the little things is momentous; It’s those moments of marveling that slow down time and center us in the present, and allow us to recognize just how much power we do have over time. Because it’s you who chose to pause and it’s you who chose to marvel. No one else.
The following series of photographs evoke that sense of wonder in the little things. A brilliant collection by Christopher Boffoli entitled Big Appetites. Feed your eyes some serious whimsy with these shots, and please let me know your favourite!
A couple weeks ago today, at 9:53pm (give or take), I was swaying to the tune of “Ghost” by Yellow Ostrich in a sea of Antlers fans. And at 9:55 pm that night, I declared my devoted fandom. I wanted to catapult my body on stage and just jiggy with them, because I was feeling them, man. A few strums in and a couple lyrics out and I was making a sign at the back of the crowd saying, “I ❤ U YELLOW OSTRICH.”
Now their song “Ghost” and I have met once before. ‘Twas a passing meet-and-greet on Songza’s playlist Tar Beach Lullabies, but they still offered a humble & charming wave in between the string of underground indie bands. In hindsight, Yellow Ostrich actually left quite the weighty impression on me – at least enough to strike a chord of nostalgia as soon as frontman Alex Schaaf’s sweet hymns coated the air. Once Michael Tapper’s pointed drums pierced through the words don’t remember your face, I knew I’d inadvertently stumbled upon the song that made a stellar first impression once before. I’m telling you – my fandom was instant.
But as a new fan, I’m not here to talk about the indelible and ardent concert they gave, nor their charming stage presence (which was somewhere in between the “original” variety of hipsters and teenagers jamming in their parents’ garage), and not even the fact that I met Alex Schaaf afterwards and was weirdly starstruck (I hadn’t even heard of the fella before that night and here I was mumbling with big ol’ animated stars in my eyes). First and foremost, I’m here to bring you “Ghost”, because everyone needs to hear this song at least once. Secondly, I’m here to share my feelings on the song because that’s what blogs are for because this is a song that makes me stop speaking, writing, thinking, really functioning whatsoever as a human being for the 3 minutes and 46 seconds it’s playing. It’s hypnosis, stirring my heart round and round in its wake.
At it’s core, I think “Ghost” is a love song, but it doesn’t follow the rules of Love Song Writing 101 (and that’s precisely why I love it). There’s no “I want you back” or “take me back” or “I regret this, I regret that.” It’s a love song lamenting the difficulty, and ultimately the impossibility, of forgetting an ex-lover; the thousands of blinking memories playing themselves over and over in someone’s head act as constant reminders. And not the memories one would expect to remember, either. They’re not from a high school dance, or a fancy dinner out, or a big meet n’ greet between friends and family, or any “milestones” in the relationship. They’re memories of a pair of hands sneaking around your waist, or how you felt following in their footsteps on a sunny, ordinary walk to the grocery store, or the tickle of their eyelashes on your collarbone. “Ghost” depicts the intimacy between two lovers as a result of knowing that person better than anyone else, and how the memories forged into your mind reflect that familiarity. In conclusion, this means that a part of that person, no matter how small, will always impose some sense of influence on your life’s direction (and I can’t decide whether this is heartbreaking, uplifting, or merely touching).
Consider the line, “I remember the way you move, the taste of you and your eyes – green or are they blue?”
I ache at these words. These are the words that leave me still, contemplative in the very definition of intimacy that society imposes on us. Instead of painting intimacy in a blinding light of sexuality, we’re introduced to an alternative “taste” of it: the taste of someone’s eyes. See, eyes are inherently intimate already. Relationships have been made and broken by certain looks. One pair of locked eyes can be enough to ignite an electric connection, while other times a fleeting glance can be taken to betray someone’s words and reflect their true thoughts & feelings instead. They carry the nuances of someone’s personality, and deliver the punchline to a joke on their own. In time, eyes become more than the staple of that first pick-up line. They become your support system, and they share whole stories in seconds. The “taste of someone’s eyes” shows just how intimately two people know one another; it shows that you know the true quality of someone. You crave them not because of their physical attributes, like their “dreamy ocean-blue eyes”, but because of the quality of their soul. Everyone can know the colour of someone’s eyes. One glance at a driver’s ID will tell you that. But when you look into a lover’s eyes, you get the taste of who they really are. You get whole stories back. You get their fears and ambitions and clever observations back. You get their soul looking back at you – fearlessly and trustingly.
But then, after a breakup, those eyes and all that they can reveal become nearly cruel. Because you’ll still get stories looking back at you, but you have to pretend you don’t. Small talk trumps opening up because, maybe, it’s too hard to dabble on that side of the relationship again. Maybe it’s all or nothing. But here they are, back to strangers. Back to small talk. In fact, come to think of it, this song reminds me of a quote I heard a bit ago.
Strangers, friends, best friends, lovers, strangers.
To see the cycle of broken relationships in this sordidly simple way is devastating. I’m sitting happily in the fourth stage (and I do feel blessed), having never experienced a breakup. I can only use lyrics, poems, stories, eavesdropped lines while waiting for coffee as my way of experiencing mere fragments of what others have felt. And perhaps this is why “Ghost” tugs at so many heart strings that haven’t ever been plucked before.
“I’m so tired of you, I can see the way the clouds move. I’m so tired of you, I can see the way your legs move. I’m so tired of you, but I’ve got no one else to talk to.”
The words manage to invoke a sense of hollow weariness inside me; I can imagine the emptiness of a heart that once felt it belonged to two. The exhaustion of seeing memories of an ex-lover continuously coming into your life, unannounced, seeking to fulfill the imprint they once left on your mind. And see, I don’t think you could ever be “one” again – not with someone’s memories and thoughts and taste so tirelessly infiltrating into your mind. Yet, you cannot be two either; the other half of them are broken fragments that haven’t been swept away. There will always be a few left in your mind – to poke you, to hurt you, to reflect certain things when you least expect it.
I imagine a break up to feel like this: a vase of flowers that has been broken. Once upon a time, it was a thing of beauty. Friends, loved ones, even a couple of strangers on occasion would remark how beautiful the flowers look together, how naturally they fall into one another, how they’ve lasted so long. But as life gets busy (isn’t that what they always say?), the flowers are no longer as lovingly nourished as they once were. The radiant colour is no longer exceptional – it doesn’t stop them in their tracks. They pick at the wilted petals, deplore the delicate nurture it requires, yet put off throwing out the whole batch together (they have a few more days in them, don’t they?). But this leads to murky waters. Friends and loved ones remark how it’s time for it to go; after all, it pains them just as much. Finally, the wilted, deprecated bouquet is thrown out altogether. But what is there to see now? Filthy waters? The vase is stained anyways. A favourite vase. The only vase.
You wipe it off the table immediately, propelling shards of glass into every corner of the room. That felt good, didn’t it? But where do you think those shards of glass fell if not for under the table, behind the curtains, lingering underneath the rug? Even with a thorough sweep, there will always be that bittersweet reminder of bygone beauty.
I may have gotten away with myself during that last analogy. I just ran with it. To be completely honest, writing about this makes me so weary. Genuinely, it leaves me mentally exhausted. I find myself so quiet after, my thoughts a little tinged with melancholy even though I am so madly and deeply in love right now. I’d say this weariness is justified though; the mindset is not a happy place. And then again, “Ghost” is not a happy song. There’s no conclusion of acceptance in moving onto another stage in life. The only conclusion I can come to is that ex-lovers permeate through your mind long after they’re gone. This young man, or whoever Alex Schaaf is imagining as the narrator (himself?), is deep in the throngs of desolation not because of the breakup, but because of the realization that so much of that person will never leave him. It’s a whole other type of grieving, and one that I’ve certainly never contemplated. The imprint of those who have touched you, and just how profound that imprint is.
p.s. I’m thinking now perhaps I should write a follow-up song. I can be the one to write in acceptance for this grief. Remember, to be madly in love is a blessed, beautiful thing, but make sure you are always just as kind to yourself, and look into your own eyes with just as much love. You deserve that, more than anyone.
When the words “I just don’t know what to do with my life” slip out of my mouth, recklessly and often to the wrong person, I always imagine the word fool trailing on the end of their answer. “Just do what you love, fool.” It’s as if I’m being absurdly ignorant to some sort of widespread fact/piece of common knowledge that everyone has picked up along the way – like how to ride a bike, or how to walk, or how to, you know, breathe. The same knowing eyes and hasty shift in conversation generally follow such an answer. Honestly, I should probably leave the soul-searching to myself. Because it’s not just asking about a job; it’s asking about how to spend your whole damn life. And that’s terrifying. I’m also pretty sure that it didn’t just come to someone over night or right out of the womb. (Pleasant imagery on that one. But please do picture a baby whose first words are, “Chief Executive Officer of Nest Labs! Now burp me.”) So chances are they fell into a career and so what words of advice are they expected to give to this hopeful young lass in front of them? “Hah! To be honest I just kinda made my way here through a connection here and there, a lay off or two, and one and a half mid-life crises!” To which my response would be: *faint*. And even still, with the same answer over and over, I know it’s coming, I can see it in their eyes by now – that trademark shift from the ordinary territory of small talk to the uneven ground of embarking wisdom – still, I just can’t help but blurting out the question in the hopes that someone will say… (answer still pending, probably something revolutionary).
In light of this, I am frustrated. An undergraduate student entering into third year doesn’t feel particularly chipper when they think of the job market ahead and don’t even know which market they’re looking at. The whole thing? Is it staying that general for me at this point? Maybe. So my first semi-selfish word of advice to society as whole is (yep, suddenly I’m in the position to give advice to society as a whole – oh, what authority blogging has given me): Take a chill pill on making sure that the leaders of tomorrow “know what they want to do” by the time they’re 18. They won’t. Generally speaking, this whole mantra of “knowing” what you will do with your life a$ap needs to be slowly laid to rest for the sake of every twenty-something’s anxiety levels. And I understand that 20 years old is young. Some of you would probably roll your eyes at the fact that I expect to know what I want to do with my life at this age, but really I just want to have an inkling of an idea about where I should be looking. So this isn’t necessarily about finding a job. It’s about finding this oh-so-elusive “passion”.
Sidenote: I sincerely wish we were all given a year or two after graduation to explore ourselves and the world without hearing the booming seconds of a job clock ticking on by. Sure, that sounds cheesy, but I’m serious. If I were president of the world, it would be the first platform point I’d make. No keeners skipping over your head with their diploma in hand, snatching up the jobs just because they were lucky enough to know what they wanted to do with their life. Oh, no. It would be the most natural next step in the world, and as we all slip on cloaks to signify to everyone around us where we’re at, they would say in voices tinged with nostalgia, “Ah yes. They’re in the exploring stage.” Some would explore every nook and cranny of their hometowns, intent on seeking out every secret that has languished inside the walls they’ve passed, and others would travel far across the world, leaving a trail of their wanderlust behind them. (Sadly, no one would vote for me if this was my only platform point. And the president of the world position is currently non-existent. Look it up. ;))
BUT! I came across some brilliant words of advice (10 Job-Hunting Tips) from the hubby of one of the gals behind A Beautiful Mess for all of us who won’t be wearing exploring cloaks anytime soon. For those of us who know what we love, and have failed on nearly every occasion to try to box that into a career, consider this: Simply do what you’re good at. Not what you like. Because if you are like me, and your “passion” is either a) unknown or b) not going to work out in the long run, then do what you’re good at, and save what you like for a hobby. I know a handful of people who are taking this advice. A friend of mine has, for example, always known that he wants to travel. Not in the way of business-travel, but rather seeing and exploring this beautiful world without it being tied to a career. So he has accepted a career-life of dentistry. Now this is bound to provide him with ample funds so that he can travel to his heart’s content. And I consider this a very wise choice.
But, a couple questions.
What on earth are you supposed to do if you haven’t the faintest clue what you’re even good at? I’m moderately well-equipped in what feels like a lot of areas, but that doesn’t do much for me (or it doesn’t feel that way). It’s like I need to start training right this second to reach that lofty goal of gathering 10,000 hours under my belt in some skill – HTML coding? Painting? Rapping? (Likely.) Of course, I don’t even know which skill would be the best selling asset for a career (other than rapping), because, quite simply, I can’t decide what career that will eventually be.
If you’re following along with my struggles here, then we’re on the same page. Glorious. Good to place to be, eh? (Just kidding, let’s grab some ice cream and turn on Orange Is the New Black.) Well friend, let’s turn to zenhabits.net. The wisest of all my friends (who don’t know they’re friends with me – relationships are a one way street, ignore what others say) and who has always been able to dish out some advice that is much needed. It started with this: how to find your passion. Now if I truly, truly, truly can’t find my passion, I will adamantly head down the route where I hone my skills to absolute supremacy in some area… but for once in my life, I want to be able to resonate with people when they say to follow your passion. I just need to find it. The “just” makes it seem as though this is a ten minute inner quest of exploration, but just with a quick scroll it’s easy to see that this is a much more demanding, but much more rewarding, journey.
I’ll break it down.
He asks the following of you.
What are you good at?
What excites you?
What do you read about?
What have you secretly dreamed of?
Learn, ask, take notes.
Narrow things down.
Banish your fears.
Find the time.
How to make a living doing it.
So the first four questions are easy-peasy in comparison to the latter ones. I’m currently on the five’er. After pondering the first four questions for 30 minutes each (which goes by pleasantly quickly when sprawled on the beach), I’ve chosen the one thing that I’ve never let stray too far from the possibilities of what my future might bring: architecture. But already I feel rewarded with this “inner-quest” because that occupation, future passion, interest, whatever you want to call it, has been validated. The first four questions left me with at least a couple answers that laid the foundation for a position in architecture. And that brought, more than anything, relief. Honest relief. It’s difficult to understand what draws you to certain jobs. Vanity? Fame? Laziness? Simple persuasion? But when I see that there’s a web of skills and interests all weaving themselves into the profession I’ve often considered intriguing, that’s unbelievably satisfying.
Some personal thoughts on the guide.
Try to tie together certain ideas to see which career path they fit into, even if you were never expecting it. For example, I had down that I enjoyed giving presentations, was moderately good at drawing and sketching, and liked working with kids. So, of course, the possibility of teaching tiptoed by and for the first time in a while, I didn’t reject it altogether because I saw that it encompassed quite a few of my skills and enjoyments.
Write down anything you can think of (even if it’s silly). Decipher what it means later. Now don’t force meaning onto it, but at least be open to a message that’s in between the lines. For example, I wrote down, “good at walking quietly.” It’s a true part of me, yes. Now since I’m really good at walking quietly, I could be an FBI agent. Who woulda thunk? (Don’t worry. Such logic did not take place. Just thought I’d show you the extent of how silly you can get with this list to lighten the whole soul-searching mood up.)
Most of all, do not rush this. Some of the best points, most surprising points, were hurriedly written down in the last few minutes. Certainly don’t think of it as a testing situation (can you just imagine if there was a testing period where we had to find out what our passions were – let the sobbing begin), but more so a chance to explore every dusty corner of your brain, where the fog has settled over some truly golden experiences, no matter how small, that could hint at something that changed you and excited you.
Take a “me day” to do this. Go to the beach, your favourite café, stretch it out over a couple days and just start with being aware. I know I don’t go about my days thinking about how to find my passion. God, that would be exhausting. But most days something gets your heart pumping. Write it down. Soak it up.
Also, drop me a line on where your own thoughts are at with this shtuff! I’d love to know how other people are navigating through this. Really, I find it fascinating to see how people cope with the odds and ends of this question, because has it ever really been answered? Stated with confidence, unabashedly, this is how you find your passion?
Finally, thanks for taking a read, if you’ve made it this far. I genuinely hope you don’t go banging your head against the wall at the futility of your reading this. Instead, I hope you felt some pangs of resonance and most of all, I hope you have a lovely, lovely, lovely day.
Currently, I am in a mid-move-in crisis. Which is arguably much worse than a mid-life crisis, because aren’t those usually accompanied by a sporadic purchase of a Porsche, snazzy speed boat, or a cabin tucked away in the Hawaiian Islands? You may be surprised by this, and you might need to stand up and sit down again (unless you’re reading this while walking, in which case please sit down mid-stride): as a student, living under the same roof as five other students, with a student budget, with a student-sized grassy driveway, a Porsche is not in the cards for me.
And apparently neither are shelving units. My walls are as bare as a baby’s bum aside from my poster which is the epitome of tranquility (catch it at the end of this post, if you so desire).
But can this one please work its way into my hands? Either in a card game, or just, life?
Some pieces of furniture just soothe me. And maybe it’s in the smooth neon lines, the buttery-smooth oak, or the delicately placed Japanese decor, but OutofStock’s shelving unit does that to me.
The inspiration behind its tranquility is suspended in suspension bridges. I don’t know about you, but whenever I drive across a suspension bridge, that alone is enough to make me bask in the sweet, passing moments of invincibility. This isn’t to say every time I cross a bridge I walk steadfast forward with my hands positioned like so, but there is that feeling of being powerless and unbreakable all at the same time while passing over such heights. As the designers put it, “Strong and functional, at the same time awe-inspiring.”
To be totally blunt on the most teenage-like level (sometimes I revert, I can’t help myself) – this bridge is like, totally, cool because things are hanging.
Yeah, teenage self, I agree on so many levels! (See what I did there.) But more than that, it’s the elegance in its minimalism fusing with the boldness of neon suspenders that make it a work of art. Minimalism + neon = playful modernity.
Maybe it’s my mood today, in that I wish I could just hang out in my lounge pants (which are on a level so comfortable they aren’t allowed to leave the house) rather than studying for a rather hellish midterm, but I am loving anything that hangs.
Outofstock also came up with this sweet, dangling vanity. I thought I’d include the strokes of inspiration they had during the brainstorming process. Speaking of vanity, it also gives me hope that my doodles could become something one day. Because, if I say so myself, I would love a lightbulb headband that turns on when I’m studying (trademarked).
In line with outofstock’s graceful minimalism, the finished product is rich in quality. It’s made with black lacquered metal, complete with a leather trim. Practicality also pulls through as it can be adjusted in terms of the mirror’s height. Maybe I could swing this by my roommates as a worthwhile investment piece for our hallway? Please tell me yes.
On a final note, their website is literally out of this world. If all websites were designed like this, I honestly feel as though my life would have a whole other level of zen to it. The whole experience is so smooth, so minimalist, so quality… wait a second, that’s just like their products. 😉
All in all, I would request for my life to be as soothing as outofstock. Thank you, gods of furniture design. I will be waiting.