Admit You’re a Feminist for International Women’s Day

Back in 2012 I realized I am a feminist—albeit with a little hesitation. Claiming to be a feminist, after all, can carry a lot of pressure, and a good deal of judgement. People see feminists as shrill, bossy, angry hordes of women coming to rip men apart with their pointy feminist teeth. Snap!

I am a feminist graphic with empowered fist

So I thought, “I’m not shrill or angry. I don’t want to chew on the souls of men…maybe I’m not a feminist.”

We’re also in a really interesting time in history. It’s like the smelling salts have been snapped, and we’re all getting a jarring new look around. Organizations like Miss Representation, Feminist Frequency, and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media are doing the painstaking work of really inspecting what we see and hear in TV, film, and advertising. Through that process a lot of really normal and accepted stuff is being called out as sexist. Misogyny lurks under so many things we really dig (Blurred Lines, anyone?), and one of the roles of feminism is to really look at our world, and call creepy, sexist BS for what it is. But if you’re in the shower singing Blurred Lines and thinking, “This is my jam!” and then you read about how it’s a bunch of creepy, sexist, BS that normalizes rape, suddenly you feel like a creepy sexist who normalizes rape culture. Hmm…(It’s okay. You probably aren’t.)

Feminism also tackles a whole host of topics, some of which might make you uncomfortable. Like the roles of women (and men) in the workplace. The roles of women (and men) in the home. And reproductive rights, which necessitates the use of the word vagina. (Why is vagina such a scary word, you all? 7th graders say it in health class.)

And that stuff? That makes feminism feel like a club that you’re not in.

But unless you’re the mayor of Crapville, you’re probably a feminist. Here’s a test to find out:

  1. Do you think women are just as important as men?
  2. Do you think it’s wrong and bad for women to be beat, groped, harassed, or raped?
  3. Do you think that babies need parents, and that women and men should be allowed to take time off from work when said babies are born or adopted?
  4. Do you think men can be whatever kind of person they want to be? That they don’t have to be strong, or violent, or void of emotion?
  5. Do you think women can be whatever kind of person they want to be? That they don’t have to be subservient, or demure, or “pretty”?
  6. Do you believe that all people are valuable and we should treat them that way?

Did you answer “yes” to most of those? Well, friend…you’re a feminist.

We’re not going to agree on everything. We feminists—we’re going to have differences and diversity just like anyone else. We’re going to muddle through all of these topics, push back on norms, and bumble around quite a bit. And you’re not going to feel like you’re doing it right.

But you don’t stop being a parent because you don’t know all the answers. You don’t stop voting just because the issues are complicated. You don’t stop shopping until you straighten out your economic theory. You dive in. You work it out. You take it easy on yourself and your fellow humans. You know there’s room to grow.

It is actually important to use the F word

The more people freely say, “I’m a feminist,” the less people will associate feminism with harpy witch women who hate men. The more men say, “I’m a feminist,” the more we can use feminism to improve men’s lives too. (Want to see a man doing some badass work for feminism? Look no further than your favorite Star Trek captain.) The more people throw their weight behind feminism, the faster we’ll progress.

And you know what? We need feminism in a bad way. Click that link and check out aaaaaall those reasons.

I promise once women get equal pay, I won’t care if you call yourself a feminist or not. When women and girls stop getting raped, then executed for it, I’ll leave you alone. When girls don’t get shot in the head for wanting education, when parenthood and earning a living can co-exist, when johns are prosecuted more than the underage prostitutes they rape, when women earn the same pay for the same work—WHEN I DON’T HAVE TO MAKE A LIST OF THIS CRAPPY STUFF, we can abandon the word feminist on the side of the road. It will have served it’s purpose. Until then—and it’s gonna be a while—pretty pretty please use that F word.

So, congratulations! You’re a feminist!

Go celebrate International Women’s Day by claiming feminism as your own. Tell your friends and family to join in on the fun. Let’s make a ruckus and do some good work. I’ll raise a fist in the air for you.

I Have Gray Hair, Stretch Marks, And Love Handles…Because I’m a *Human Person*

Old friends

Image by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons license.

Sigh.

I don’t know what it is about today; about this week or this month… Maybe it’s been years now, maybe a lifetime—but I’m hitting a little bit of a tipping point when it comes to how I perceive my body and its various shortcomings. For review, let’s list out what’s wrong with me (limited to physical appearance, of course—we only have so much room here):

  • gray hair
  • deep forehead wrinkles…nay—crevasses
  • stretch marks (thanks kids)
  • flabby arms (or underarm dingle-dangle, as Ruthie would say)
  • love handles
  • untamed bikini line
  • splotchy pores on legs
  • dry lips
  • cellulite
  • knobby knees
  • hairy uprising on the facial region
  • several “companion pounds” I’ll call them, that may never leave me…

And you know what? Who gives a shit?

I have all of those things because I’m a human person. I am a human person who has yet to develop some crazy disorder that prevents me from aging. So, as I get older—as we all are forced to do by the time-space continuum—I look older. And, I ask again, who gives a even a tiny turd about it?!

Take just a moment to think about how nuts it is that we try to stop aging. I mean, when you see a product in the store labeled “anti-aging,” do you think, “What kind of crack pot monkey dreamed that up, and how stoned was the group of people that launched it into reality?” Because that’s what you should think. That’s what we should ALL think.

The Silver Fox of Snark

English: Steve Martin at the 120th Anniversary...

English: Steve Martin at the 120th Anniversary of Carnegie Hall in MOMA, New York City in April 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I started going gray in my mid-twenties. It’s not really a look that most people want to cultivate. I discovered I was gray when I stopped dying my hair. I was like, “I’m gonna be all natural and embrace myself and yadda yadda,” and my head replied, “Well, that’s fun because we’ve changed a few things around here.” And there it was. I kind of decided (likely due to my frequently mentioned laziness) that it is way too much fuss to dye away the gray. I just didn’t have the energy to put up a 70-year-long fight against, of all things, my freaking hair.

So here I am nearly a decade later and I’ve got a whole lot of that stuff sprouting out of my head. Every now and again it bothers me, but I really don’t care. My plan is to let it all come in and take over, then I’ll rock that business like I’m Steve Martin. I mean, look at that guy’s hair. Pure, 100% silver white and no one cares. Which brings me to a sticking point…

Men are allowed to age. Women are not.

Yep. That’s the deal. Steve Martin sports his gray hair like nobody’s business and he seems distinguished. Hillary Clinton grows her hair out and pulls it back instead of coiffing it just so and people go bananas. Hey, people: shut up. Because Ms. Hillary Rodham Clinton is allowed to look however she wants. She’s allowed to get older, and to decide not to invest endless time and money into pretending she’s not getting older. Just like I am. We’re all allowed—men and women—to age with grace, and dignity, even affection (!) for our changing selves. My new rule: if Steve Martin can do it, so can I.

And then there’s the Thinspiration problem

I think the reason this is all on my mind right this second is because I keep happening upon what I’ve learned is called “thinspiration.” It’s like all those “how to drop 10 lbs in a month” or that picture of a woman squeezing her leg with the caption “how to solve the cellulite problem.” (Here’s a hint: stop squeezing your leg like that!)

Pinterest is brimming with these things, but so is the Today show, major news outlets, magazines—basically everywhere you look, you can find some “solution” for the problem of your—ahemnormal human body.

And to revisit my last point, how many dudes do you think are trying to solve their “cellulite problems”? How many under-eye creams do you think dudes are buying? Waxing kits? Boxes of hair dye? Skin primers? Lip balms? Anti-whatever-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you salves? Not nearly as many as women are. If a guy can save his money to go to the movies instead spending money to rip/bleach/laser blast his hair off, don’t you think you’re allowed to do the same? And menfolk, if you find yourselves falling into the trap of needing to look like a glowing, 2% body fat stone sculpture of a human, don’t worry about it. No one cares. Be a real human person with skin and hair and flaws. It’s okay. For all of us.

I don’t need to feel beautiful

I think our normal response in this discussion is to affirm beauty. To say, “No, no! You look [enter appropriate compliment here]!” And while this, indeed, is quite comforting, it doesn’t entirely solve the problem. Because, you know what? I’m not going to be “beautiful” when I’m 85. In fact, I’ll likely fall well below the beauty standard far, far before then. So will you. Even if you get surgery and shellac the crap out of yourself, everyone’s going to know that you’re not a 16-year-old girl. (Which is, apparently, our effed up standard for what people should always look like.)

I need to feel human. I need to watch time mark the days around my eyes and on my hips and through my hair and somehow feel more like myself, not less. I want each season to bring new scars, new wrinkles and more sag and for all that to make me feel that somehow, some way, I’m winning. I’m living. I’m human. I’m aging. It’s great.

Closing eyes and clicking heels

I want to believe all of these words through and through, without batting an eye. I want to banish that pang of guilt I feel every time I’m presented with the b.s. yardstick society so politely reminds me I’m not measuring up to. I want to embrace my changing, aging body without the knee-jerk reaction to sculpt it, starve it, or slather it into some other, better form. But for now, I’m closing my eyes, and clicking my heels, just hoping I’ll be transported to a mental home, free of these crazy, shrieking, body-hating monkeys.

And so, heroes of the internet with sagging boobs, and gray hair, and furry potbellies, I ask you to join me. Try with me. Get everyone you know to be down with aging. Wouldn’t it be rad if in 2033 there isn’t a single person out there writing this same freaking blog post? Fighting these same shrieking monkeys? There’s no place like…

What do you think?

(p.s. Check out this TED talk from model Cameron Russell. If models are still bummed about how they look after, you know, being the model for how people should look, maybe we’ve got it all wrong, huh?)

If You Don’t Live Forever, You’re a Sucker

Plastic mannequin head with futuristic v shape

Mannequins are going to have scary faces in the future. You don’t want to miss out on that. Photo by Horia Varlan, on Flickr.

I kind of want to live forever. I know it’s crazy. I just…I do. Because I just have this feeling that if I die—if I slip in the bathtub and break my neck or die from an aneurism while pooping (those are real reasons people die, y’all)—I’m going to miss out on AMAZING stuff by like 5 minutes. And wouldn’t that be terrible? I mean—to die right before life and science get REALLY cool? I don’t know if I could stand it. Even beyond the grave. I’d be haunting the crap out of a bunch of people.

I think it was the iPhone that did it. Not the first iPhone, but the comparison between the first one and the current one. Because here’s the deal: if you bought the first iPhone, you got an 8GB cool phone with texting and apps and stuff for a whopping $599. That’s a pretty penny. No subsidies. No free phones for AT&T users. You just walked up to the counter, gave them your entire wallet, coughed up a little blood, and you got a fancy doodad in return. Now—just five years later—I can get an iPhone with eight times the storage space, more battery life and a much better camera for $200 less. Or, if I don’t feel like paying ANY money for it, I can get the iPhone 3GS that’s still better than the first one for exactly zero dollars. What a difference 5 years makes. In 5 more years they’ll be stuffing iPhones in boxes of Cap’n Crunch.

And that, friends, is the world we’re living in. Except the iPhone—as cool, glorified and worshiped as it is—is no where near the coolest thing on our horizon. If we can make it another 50 years—shit’s gonna get crazy cool. And that’s why I want to live forever. Or at least for another 50 years. Or 100. Yeah, 100 sounds better. Reasonable.

Anyway…

For your enlightentainment (mashing words together is fun), here’s a brief review of stuff that is going to happen to you if you don’t go and die like a sucker before the tech evolves. Better go get you some vitamins, because it’s gonna be worth it.

Fix Skin Cancer with a Band-Aid

Umm…yeah. With a freaking band-aid. Or, rather, a patch. Same thing. You put the patch on your arm for 3 hours, then a few days later for another 3 hours and—shazam!—no more skin cancer. That’s being tested right now. Isn’t that crazy?! The current treatment for Basal cell carcinoma involves burning, freezing, scraping or zapping with radiation. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather slap a patch on my arm. It’s like those stickers from Trader Joe’s, except that it HEALS YOUR FREAKING SKIN.

Print Some Organs on Your Home Printer

“Keep your liver, Mr. Donor-face-guy,” said everyone on the transplant list, “I’ll just print one up after I’m done printing the banner for my daughter’s birthday party.” Okay, it might not be that simple, but I kid you not, people are PRINTING. ORGANS. Printing them! Like a coupon for Trader Joe’s. Except that it goes in your body to save your life. (Trader Joe’s really needs to up their game.)

Anthony Atala at the Wake Forest School of Medicine has done some stunning work with regenerative medicine.  The school is working on printing skin with a souped-up inkjet printer that would totally change the way wounds and burns are treated.

Skin is cool, but they’re also working on printing hearts. Hearts! It takes 40 minutes to print with a desktop printer, then 4-6 hours later the muscles are contracting. And because these things are comprised of the patient’s own cells, there’s no need for rejection meds. The body just says, “Oh, sure. That’s cool. You belong here.” Work is being done with all kinds of 3D printing, and an 83-year-old woman just received the first 3D-printed jaw transplant.

Is your mind blown? Mine is. Cra-zi-ness. This stuff is happening right now. Can you imagine how cool it’s going to be when I’m 132? Real cool, you all. That’s how cool.

Stop Driving the Car Like a Schmuck—Let the Car Drive Itself

This one’s already happening, too. Steve, the first user of Google’s Self-Driving Toyota Prius, is legally blind, and—I assume—feeling like a badass. Granted, he used the technology to drive to a Taco Bell, so clearly he needs some guidance on where to actually go (Umm…Trader Joe’s. Obviously.), but hey…we all gotta start somewhere. Clearly, the technology is perfect for people like Steve because it opens up really practical solutions to problems he faces. But it would also be perfect for people like me who are tired of wasting drive time not practicing hip-hop finger dancing. I mean, come on.

This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of stuff that’s being developed right now. Like I said, 50 years from now—who knows!? We’re in a time where the technologies that are being developed are working in synchrony to create exponential growth, understanding and revolution. And, dammit, if I die two years before I have a Speech Jammer gun, a cyborg mouse, or an iPhone that can cook me lasagna, I’m gonna be pissed.

So what do you think? Will you be drinking bloody marys in a space car with me? Or does a robot-filled super future scare the plasma out of you? Don’t be shy, friends, let’s talk this business out.

All Hail Old Lady Crutchfield

I'll be like this fine looking woman, but older, and possibly meaner, and likely a little tipsy.

I was sifting through my blog feed when I came across this article from the LA Times on Bloody Marys, which reminded me that Bloody Marys are one of my favorite drinks. They’re so delicious and strange. Refreshing but fiery (if they’re made right). Bloody Marys are the perfect blend of getting schnookered and pretending that you’re eating vegetables. They are also a key element in the role I plan to play  later in life—Old Lady Crutchfield.

Bloody Mary

Image by holisticmonkey @ Flickr

For your amusement (and since this is the best idea rattling around in my attic-like mind) I shall now detail the fabulous life I intend to live in my winter years. Those years are going to be splendid for me, but mostly questionable or possibly unenjoyable for those around me. I think this is fine, because it is my firmly held belief that old people earn the right to kinda do whatever the crap they want to. So, my plan is to take the fullest advantage of this belief when the time comes.

The first element in the grand scheme that is Old Lady Crutchfield, is a porch. Preferably with a rocking chair. Like this one here, but with less of a “someone gone get keeled in the woods” feel.

Doesn't that look nice?

Next, we need Bloody Marys. Duh. And lots of them. I plan on drinking them kinda all the time. I mean…what? Is some youngster really going to try to pry a Bloody Mary from my wrinkly, determined claw? I think not. So I’ll be drinking them a lot.

So, a rocker and some drinks…not a rough start. But here’s where I might lose you—I also want to spread rumors around the neighborhood that it’s not tomato juice in my drink, but ground up little kids! Bwua-ha-ha-ha-ha! Too add to the effect, I’ll keep some little smokies in a bowl of tomato juice to fling at kids when they come a-knockin’. They’ll be too focused on not peeing their pants to inspect the thing thoroughly, thus ensuring a furthering of the neighborhood lore.

Now, you might wonder why I would chose torture children in this way. And I’ll admit, it sounds mean at first. But I’m not just scaring the bejesus out of tomorrows youths (though this is a fun side effect), I’m giving them an enemy to rally against. I’m giving them an entity so great and terrifying that they will be forced to set aside their petty differences for the sake of the common good. Geeks, cool kids, saxophone players and D&D enthusiasts alike will forge alliances in a vain attempt to defeat me (of course this could never happen, because Old Lady Crutchfield is immune to death). And if the tiny tyrants decide to toss one of their own under the bus and send him up to my house to be eaten, I’ll bring him inside, give him some cookies, then send him out covered in tomato sauce so he can be donned “The One That Survived”. It’s for the common good. The common good.

What about you? What are your favorite drinks/plans for your wrinkly future?

Don’t Let Shame Tell You Who You Are

Don't Let Shame Tell You Who You Are

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m in love with Brené Brown. It’s true. She’s a vulnerability researcher stuffed to her eyeballs with grace and wisdom and I just want to hug her a whole lot (i.e., too much). I wrote about her first TED talk a while back, and she just did another one. After fighting back tears and hugging my computer screen I thought I should probably share it with you all, too. It’s only 20 minutes—and it’s amazing.

It’s raining today, and I love the rain. It makes me love the world we live in. But I’ve also been researching pimps and prostitution again, and it’s just so, so dark. It’s crushingly dark. I just needed some tiny amount of hope to keep me going. Just a teensy, weensy bit because, I tell you, it’s like every word I read steals a little light from my life. I needed something to say that there is still goodness in the hearts of humankind somewhere, somehow. This did it for me. This is enough for today. Thank you, Dr. Brown.

If you REALLY, really can’t spare 20 minutes, here are a couple of thoughts to take with you:

Vulnerability is not weakness. It’s courage. Vulnerability is what is going to save us from shame. Shame is the thing that lurks in the darkness and tells us not that we did something bad, or stupid or greedy or selfish; but that we are bad, stupid, selfish and greedy.

Shame tells men that they can’t ever be weak. Shame propagates the myth that being a man requires that you stay in control of your emotions, that you prioritize work over everything else, that higher status should be your life-long pursuit and that violence goes hand-in-hand with manliness. Shame tells women that we must be nice, thin, modest and look beautiful. It tells women that we have to be able to juggle every task that comes before us (home, work, cleaning, cooking, studies—all of it!) without breaking a sweat. And shame tells us all that falling short of these things is disgraceful.

But shame is a liar. So, I want to ask you a favor: don’t let your darkest day be your only day. Please don’t, darlings. You are beautiful. You are sacred. You are loved. Don’t let shame tell you who you are.

Sad Waffles

Sad Waffle

There’s a very distinct time in life in which you are capable of being sad about waffles. That time ends at about age 11. After you turn 11, you realize that waffles absolutely do not rank among the things you should be sad about. I mean, by 11, you’re aware that there are boatloads of terrible things out there that deserve your sadness (getting grounded, bee stings, world hunger, Weeds, etc.) and that it’s an awful waste to let a golden Belgian delight bum you out.

But not before 11. No, before 11, you’re under the impression that anything that isn’t 100% ideal is worth being sad about. Like the kid that was sitting next to us at Kensington Café the other day. Why were his waffles so sad? Because he wanted pancakes. A horrid reality faced him. This batter, instead of being poured onto a griddle and cooked in a circle shape, was going to be poured into a waffle iron and cooked into a square shape with square depressions. Oh, the humanity. He slumped his little head into his hands and stared wistfully at the table. “But I wanted PANcakes…” *Frown*

“How about we put strawberries on them?” coaxed the amazing server.

*Frown*

I’ll draw on them with chocolate…” she bribed.

“Mmmwohhkay…” the boy mumbled out of his little trout mouth.

The kid somehow finagled a food that is essentially dessert for breakfast and he’s STILL forlorn because it’s not a pancake. Ah, the folly of youth.

But that’s what expectations and desire do to you. They turn the whole world into what you don’t want; what you didn’t have in mind. No longer is a chocolate- and strawberry-covered waffle a delicious sugary treat that no young fawn should hope to consume; it’s reduced to one thing: not-pancake.

Because it’s the beginning of a new year, and the time for sage advice and chin rubbing, I’ll ask you this: is your life full of sad waffles? Of not-pancakes? Or do you see the deliciousness of the world, regardless of what unforeseen shape it comes in?

I’ve got a few things on my to-do list for 2012, but one of them is to, as I’ve heard it said, “Look for the good, and embrace it.” Imma eat those waffles. Happily.

Why Killer Whales Make Horrible Guidance Counselors

Alternate version of Image:Orca_size.svg

Image via Wikipedia

In recent years I have attended a show which features a killer whale. Twice, in fact. And, while I’m sure this wasn’t the intention, it left me with an insatiable desire to correct the errant messages that were communicated via the jumping skills of this large mammal. Allow me to explain.

As the show opens, the audience sits with bated breath while gigantic video screens move into place. We see a boy. He’s probably 10. Nice young lad. He’s whittling. He whittles a perfect whale tail.

Now, children, just a moment. Let me clarify something for you: you cannot whittle a perfect whale tail. Don’t worry, that kid couldn’t do it, either. That’s what we call “movie magic”. If you try that at home you will, without fail, cut your opposing thumbs off. Just FYI. Moving on…

The young lad peers out the window with the introspection of a wise old soul. In the distance…the ocean. What’s that? A splash! Could it be…? Yes, by all means, lad, go! Find out what’s out there!

Moments later, the boy is on the beach. Alone. With a kayak. Now, children: no. This is not allowed. You cannot go to a vacant beach unsupervised. Where are this kid’s parents?! But never mind that, for…what is that? A splash! Could it be…?

At this point, the boy gets in the kayak. WHAT? For real? Paddle, paddle, paddle…out to the ocean. THE. OCEAN. Alone. And what is he pursuing? A whale! That’s your reaction, kid? Oooh…a whale! I should go get it alone in my tiny kayak so it can jump on me and I can die! Children, this is a bad idea. A very, very bad idea. Don’t do this. Your parents will crap their pants out of fear. Literally crap their pants. Just imagine how long you will be grounded if you are the cause of pants-crapping.

But not in the movie. No sir-ee. The lad believes in his destiny to kayak right next to a whale and—SPLASH! It jumps out of the water like it’s putting on a show just for him! Amazing!

So, you know—tada. That’s the end of the movie that is, apparently, about the dumbest latchkey kid to ever have wizard-level whittling skills. But wait. What’s this? It’s a real, live whale here in the whale tank! Yay! Look at it swim about and such! And here comes a dude! And that dude is RIDING THE FREAKING WHALE! Oh, man. That’s super cool. But whaaaa? What is that on his neck? Could it be…? It’s the whale tail on a necklace!

Now, children. Let’s reach back to that lesson about movie magic we learned earlier. This is not real, live, grown-up, dummy latchkey kid. It just isn’t. And that dude didn’t whittle that whale tail, either. He got it from the gift shop. It was made in China. Possibly by a 10 year-old, actually, but that’s another topic.

What they’re trying to say to you, young lambs, is that if you sucker your parents into buying you that whale tail, and if you come back to this bedazzled place 800 times, and if you run about with reckless abandon trying to get eaten by a whale, you will end up riding a killer whale for a living. This is not true. Not even in the slightest.

Now, I’m a big fan of dreaming. You absolutely should dream. Lots of people dream to be, and then become, teachers. Or an accountants. Or truck drivers. Or: secretaries; store clerks; general managers; or customer service representatives. Or probably 1000 other things that aren’t dude-that-rides-a-whale-for-a-living-at-an-emotionally-manipulative-theme-park. And—now this is the key—there’s nothing wrong with that.

Please, children, ignore all this silliness. Go be awesome and sensible and grow up to be the best derned office clerks you can be.

Hopes, Dreams, & Other Things You Might Find on an Inspirational Poster

As adults, we frequently find ourselves smashing our lives into the moulds we think we should be in. We take a job at 21, or graduate with a certain degree; we decide at a young age that we’re outgoing, or shy, or brash, or funny; we dream of a certain future and our fate hangs in the balance as we make our way toward it. If we fail, we’ve failed at life. If we succeed, we find ourselves thinking that we’ve found the only thing we’re good at.

This was never the case as children. Nope, you never heard the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up, Jenny?” answered with “A mid-level manager at a small company in Des Moines, paid slightly more than minimum wage.” The only acceptable answers were things like astronaut, firefighter, ballet dancer, teacher, artist—in short, the most brilliant you you could imagine.

[Note: There is absolutely nothing wrong with being a mid-level manager. I love the idea of dedicating yourself to being a good worker, and allowing that consistent centerpiece of life to make room for a flourishing personal life. I think it’s great, in fact. Just for the record.]

But now that you’re old and crotchety and you think you should be succeeding and climbing and all those other adult things, it feels a bit embarrassing to admit that maybe the 21 year-old you didn’t predict the future perfectly (shocking!), and that maybe you should try something else on for size. Or maybe fear gets you: just as you decide to get wild and dream big, you trip over your kid’s sippy cup and decide that maybe you could have dreamed big and made changes before you were responsible for other small humans, but now…now you have to think of them.

Let’s press pause on that line of thinking for a teensy weensy moment.

If you find yourself wanting a different path in your 30s (or 40s or 50s, etc.), I say you should sit yourself down and ask that little person that used to be in you to dream once again. Take off the limits and blow off the ceiling. Open your mind’s eye as wide as it can go and let your imagination take you on a tour of the world you used to think was possible. Just for a second, stop being so damned responsible and logical and sensible. Let that little giddy ember of hope go nuts and set your insides ablaze. Just go and go and enjoy the respite from all the furrowed brows that we have so expertly cultivated.

Think about what you would say to a child, and say it to yourself. If little Jenny told you she wanted to be an astronaut, you wouldn’t answer back, “Well, really I think the best you can hope for is a dental assistant. It’s a sensible job.” (If you would say that, I don’t want to be friends with you. You’re an a-hole. Might want to reflect on that.) No, you’d say, “That’s awesome! We should go to the library and learn more about space! And math and science—those will be important! Woo hoo!”

So, this very moment you should do this: tell your crotchety self to cram it for a second and, instead, fan the flames. Because we need to keep growing! We need to keep dreaming. We need to open our arms wide to the possibilities in this great, big, magical world. And about those kids: keep in mind that, just like you taught them to tie their shoes, you’re teaching them to dream. No kid can truly and deeply believe in their own unbridled possibility when they search their parents’ eyes only to find doubt, fear, and regret. Teach them (and teach yourself) that we need to open our ears to the whispers on the wind saying that there are great things to be done and that we’re just the people to do them.

What Makes You

Over the past 24 hours, my new neighbors downstairs, the musicians, have been experimenting with the electric organ and its possibilities in the landscape of their music. Primarily, this has consisted of two chords being played one after another, over and over in a sort of trance-like repetition. They worked with these two chords for many hours last night. Then again, today in the morning. And right now, they’re still playing the two chords.And they’ve added a very 90s-esque electric guitar.It’s not terrible, it’s just part of being a musician. I get it. Sounds like crap to everyone who has to hear the process, but that’s how music is written. It’s just that most of the time we don’t have to hear the rough sketch.

But now…now they’ve added bad electric drums. And the synthetic bass drum is buzzing in my ears, threatening to drive me insane or wake my napping child (or likely a combination of the two). It’s taking everything in me to not go down there, channel my inner 85 year old woman, and tell them to, “keep that derned racket down!”

I started a speech in my head. It went something like, “Hey guys, can you keep it down a little? Maybe plug in some earphones? I mean, I’m a musician…I get it, but…”

I had hit a sticking point in my imaginary speech. “I’m a musician?” I asked myself. I mean, I am. I think. The thing is, I haven’t written anything new or recorded anything new in many years now, so I’m getting dangerously close to the phrase “I was a musician.” Now that my mind had unearthed this little insecurity, I had to grab it. Pick at it. Figure it out.

Am I really so out of practice that I can no longer be called a musician? Was I ever good enough to make that claim to begin with? What makes you a musician? What makes you anything?

Bach off I'm a Musician

By ryanmotoNSB

In the end, the thing that makes my noisy neighbors musicians is this: they are actively playing music. Right now their fingers are pressing down on those same two chords, searching for something to come out in just the right way. They are playing music. They are being musicians. And that’s it.

When my older brother and I were in high school he got on the tennis team. He wasn’t the school champion or anything, but he worked hard and he was steadily improving. One day, he came home after tennis and made a bold proclamation: “I’ve figured out the key to playing tennis!”

I had no real interest in playing tennis, let alone being any good at it, but it’s hard for me to pass up the key to anything, so I asked him what it was. “You just hit the ball over the net,” he said. He gazed out the window with a quiet reverence as if he had just discovered string theory. I thought he was a little bonkers. I wondered what he had been trying to do with the ball up until that point.

Looking back, though, I think he’s kinda right. Getting the ball over the net really is the whole goal, right? Maybe the key to being a musician is just to play. And the key to being a writer is just to slam your fingers against the keyboard relentlessly until the words pour out.

Get the ball over the net. Let the notes ring out. Get some words on the page. Sooner or later you’ll get the ball over the net more times than not. And you’ll have a 45 minute set. You’ll have a book, or a memoir, or a journal, or a screenplay. And then maybe you’ll be what you set out to be.

Perhaps it’s simply the doing that makes you.

A Call to Nothing

Luz I - Rayos de luz / Beams of light.

Image by purolipan via Flickr

A calling, in the religious sense of the word, is a religious vocation (which comes from the Latin for “call”) that may be professional or voluntary and, idiosyncratic to different religions, may come from another person, from a divine messenger, or from within oneself.

via Calling (religious) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

There are some fortunate folks who, while wide-eyed and bushy-tailed in the springtime of their lives, looked to the horizon and felt a pull in the center of their being. They squinted their eyes ever so slightly at the rising sun and heard a whisper in their hearts. “This, young soul,” the whisper said, “is your calling.”

I would like to take a moment to tell those fortunate folks to take their clairvoyance and shove it.

That’s a touch on the bitter side, I suppose. I’ll settle with simply stating that I cannot, and do not understand how they came to be the way they are. I don’t know how it is that some people set a course, follow it unwaveringly, and find a quiet perseverance through the troubling bits in life due to the overwhelming conviction that they are following their calling. It must be nice. Like a cozy blanket.

I was raised in a Christian home—Nazarene, to be exact—and the notion that you have a specific purpose in life always hung around me like too much perfume sprayed in the ladies’ room. I was followed, dogged, by this suspicion that while some had meaning, I had none. Of course I did my best to deny that suspicion. I searched my heart and soul, looking for bread crumbs that would lead me back to the core of who I am—to the core of who I was to be.

Initially, I just wanted to be good. I did well in school. Got a job and kept my grades up until graduation, then headed off to college. After attending a couple of private schools I found myself still undecided in my major. It seemed that every topic was equally appealing and unappealing at the same time. The idea of pursuing one field at the exclusion of another scratched at me. The commitment to leave all those possibilities on the roadside of my life’s highway seemed wrong. I couldn’t do it. Wanting to enjoy all fields and all areas of knowledge, I embraced none. I was buying Legos a piece at a time, but they’d never make a castle or a plane or anything awesome. So, I quit.

That was many, many years ago. Now I’m 31. Not much has changed.

Today, I work in starts and fits, chasing after all the beautiful and exciting things to be done. Photography. Writing. Singing and songwriting. Knitting. Crochet. Sewing. Graphic design. Filmmaking. Each project brings challenge, life, satisfaction. Each new goal sparks a little something in me. Each challenge threatens to break me, but I press forward. I learn and grow and truly enjoy myself. But what comes next?

What comes next?

Now that question—that question is what scratches at me. All these many years later, all these challenges met, skills acquired and beauty made and still I have no course to follow. It’s as if my ship continues to find sand bars, but never finds land. My oar has slammed in to the sandy ocean floor and the sun has set. It’s disturbing. And a little chilly.

I’m still open to the idea that one day a fog will be lifted and I’ll have a comforting definition of what I am meant to be. Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe I should embrace the fact that I’m a vocational gypsy. Maybe I am called to nothing. Or to everything. Maybe those are the same thing.

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