Having Something You Rock At

I was just about to blog about the importance of having something that’s yours, all yours, that you do well. It does wonders for your self-esteem and it helps you find joy in life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your career, and you don’t necessarily have to be the best of the best at it, but I think everyone needs to feel, at least part of the time, that they’ve got this, whatever “this” may be for each person.

But just as I sat down to write, I came across this quote. Trust Kurt Vonnegut to make me see things in a whole new light. I still believe the above, but now the below adds nuance to my theory.

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break and he asked those kinds of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject? And I told him, no I don’t play any sports. I do theater, I’m in choir, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW. That’s amazing! And I said, “Oh no, but I’m not any good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I will never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before: “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them.”And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from a failure, someone who hadn’t been talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”

-Kurt Vonnegut

So, in light of this new insight, thanks to one of my favorite authors, I now have this postscript. I genuinely think that people should try a wide variety of things. And I agree with Kurt that the experience is the thing. You learn from everything you do. It adds to your skill set. And it makes you a well rounded individual.

I still think you should find something you rock at, but I think that trying a variety of things is how you will find that special thing that will give you joy. I also think that you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself. That one thing doesn’t have to be huge, like becoming president. It might seem small to someone else. They might not see making delicious cherry pie as a life-changing skill. But that pie (or whatever else) might be where you find yourself in the zone. And that is an awesome place to hang out every now and again.

Rock on, dear reader. Rock on.

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Mid-Month Marvels: Young Women Empowered

A recurring theme in this blog is the celebration of people and/or organizations that have a positive impact on their communities. What they do is not easy, but it’s inspirational, and we don’t hear enough about them. So I’ve decided to commit to singing their praises at least once a month. I’ll be calling it Mid-Month Marvels. If you have any suggestions for the focus of this monthly spotlight, let me know in the comments below!

When I read the first line on the “our story” page of the Young Women Empowered website, it gave me pause. It says, “Research shows that girls’ self-confidence peaks at age nine, then drops as they advance through high school.”

It gave me pause because, instinctively, I knew that this was true. I know it because I lived it. And I’ve seen so many other women and girls live it. We are taught to be our own worst critics. If it’s not body shaming, it’s assuming that we’re inferior in a whole host of other ways. And it has to stop.

Enter Y-WE (Young Women Empowered). I’m so proud that this Seattle-based non-profit exists and is celebrating its 10th year. It is a safe space for all young women, including people of color, trans, and nonbinary individuals. It’s a place where, to hear one participant describe it, you can “feel heard and loved and valid and smart and worthy 100% of the time.”

Y-WE is a leadership program that helps build confidence and self-esteem through a variety of activities, including camping, coding, artistic pursuits, performance, health and wellness, creative writing, and social justice. It currently serves 845 young women a year.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting this amazing organization! Please donate here.

YWE

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People Who Are Important to Me

One of the lessons I seem to be forced to learn over and over and over again is that just because I consider someone important to me, that does not necessarily mean that I’m important to them. That’s always a heartbreaking realization. Upon discovering this, I’m learning to reduce that person’s importance in my life as well. But it isn’t easy. I am loyal to a fault.

I tend to take the initiative in friendships much more often than I should, for example. I seem to forget that I deserve to be prioritized as much as the next person does. All relationships should be give and take. Not that I think one should keep score, but sometimes the imbalance becomes blatantly obvious. This lesson has intensified, for some reason, since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle Freeze is real.

If you trust someone and they do not trust you, then they don’t think much of you. Not really. And if someone is quite happy to do things with you only if you come up with the ideas and make the plans every single time, then clearly they’re not seeing you as someone who is worth the effort.

So the lesson for today, for me, anyway, is to never forget that I have value, and that value deserves acknowledgement.

Value

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Hiding behind Your Hair

The first time I saw Violet, in the Pixar movie The Incredibles, I instantly related to her. I was that girl when I was in school. I was the one with the low self-esteem, who just wanted to disappear. The only way I could do that, really, was to hide behind my hair.

I’m beginning to see that girl again when I look in the mirror. Not because my self-esteem is back to rock bottom, but because thanks to COVID-19, all the hair salons are closed. I’m beginning to look as though I’ve been raised by wolves. I’m seriously contemplating shaving my head.

I’ve known a lot of people who hide behind their hair. I have one friend with a foot-long beard, a la ZZ Top, who swears it’s just a fashion statement. But he is very reclusive and tends to keep people at arm’s length. I think that beard is one of the many walls he shelters himself behind, and it makes me very sad. He’s an amazing man, and I think he’d see a lot of positive results if he removed that barrier.

Yes, everyone should be allowed to express themselves any way that they want. I’m not hair shaming here. And I certainly don’t mean to trod upon your cultural beliefs. I’m just speaking from personal experience. Your situation may not be the same, and if it isn’t, more power to you. But if you think your hair might be a wall, consider tearing it down, or pulling it back or putting it up at the very least.

Come out, come out. I know you’re in there somewhere.

Violet Parr
Violet Parr, The Incredibles

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Anthropomorphize Much?

Just when I thought I’d seen the most ridiculous product to waste money on, another one crosses my path. I can’t even… Just… Sigh.

Neuticles, y’all. Neuticles.

According to their website, these prosthetic nuts for pets “allow your precious pet to retain his natural look, self-esteem, and aid the pet and pet’s owner with trauma associated with altering.”

As they say in the South, Jesus, take the wheel.

I mean… I’m struggling to find the words to adequately express how… (the enormously long pause while I gather myself has been deleted in the interest of space) nonplussed, stupefied and generally flipped out I am by this product.

Oh, where to begin. I can’t even…

Okay. First of all, do you honestly believe that your dog’s self-esteem is shattered when you get him neutered? Really? I mean, I’ve had a lot of dogs fixed in my lifetime, people, and not one of them has appeared to have sunk down into a bottomless pit of depression afterward. Granted, I don’t know what they’re thinking when they wake up, all alone and nutless, at three a.m. on a random Friday night, when all the other dogs are all nutfull and partying, but whatever it is, they seem perfectly willing to play fetch the next day. Life goes on.

Trauma for the pet? Well, yeah, I’m sure it doesn’t tickle, but they seem to recover quickly, and their health and life expectancy vastly improve, all while reducing the stray dog population. (Talk about trauma. Try being a homeless dog for five minutes.)

I’ve often said that I wish my veterinarian had done my hysterectomy. It would have only cost about 75 bucks, and I would have been up and running the next day, rather than flat on my back for 6 weeks. And I think my self-esteem would have been just fine.

And trauma for the owner? For heaven’s sake, get a freakin’ life. If that’s the most traumatic experience you’ve ever had, then you must be living in a plastic bubble. I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you be subjected to the average Seattle commute or, heaven forfend, a Brazilian wax. You wouldn’t survive.

But hey, Kim Kardashian’s dog Rocky has neuticles, so we should all rush out and get some, in order to keep up. Visit the website to find a participating vet near you. (I truly hope my vet isn’t on this list.)

Oh, and while you’re there, you can also order PermaStay! Those are ear implants for dogs, “to correct broken, bent or floppy ears that should otherwise stand up straight.” Because the world can’t abide dogs who don’t have perky ears.

Give me strength.

Dog
This dog fears for your sanity.

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The Day My Mother Cut Off My Hair

When I was about 9 years old, I lived in such a dysfunctional atmosphere that I was prone to dissociation. I was profoundly depressed, so I learned to “go somewhere else” inside my head. I had a rich inner life, because my outer one, in a nutshell, sucked.

One day I was abruptly wrenched from that world, though, when my mother cut off about 12 inches of my hair. I screamed. I cried. But the damage was already done.

She said to me, “I told you and told you that if you didn’t wash your hair properly, this was going to happen.”

The thing is, I have no memory of her giving me that warning. None. I remember being shocked when she said that.

Maybe she did warn me. Maybe I was somewhere else at the time. There’s no way for me to know.

In my profound depression, it wouldn’t surprise me if I wasn’t taking particularly good care of myself. Looking back at this as an adult, you’d think this might have been a red flag that called for some sort of intervention on her part, rather than an opportunity to violate my body in such a horrifying way, but no.

Please understand what hair is to a girl with low self-esteem. It’s something to hide behind. It’s practically all you have. When someone chops it all off without your permission, it leaves you exposed, vulnerable, and feeling completely out of control.

And while a pixie cut may have looked cute on Twiggy in the 60’s, one glance at the photo of me below and you realize I wasn’t exactly rockin’ it in the 70’s. When you’re 9 and have no other thing to identify you as female, it’s devastating. I was mistaken for a boy for about a year. I wanted to crawl under a rock and die.

I took to wearing a big, ridiculous looking floppy hat. But I couldn’t wear it at school. There, I wore things with flowers. I hate wearing things with flowers. It’s not who I am. But this hairstyle was not who I was, either.

When you’re a few short years away from puberty and already confused about who you are, the last thing you need is to have what little ability you have to express yourself wrenched away. I don’t know if this was the only contributing factor, but to this day, I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin.

Please don’t do this to your daughters unless they want short hair themselves. There has to be another way. Communication would be a great starting point.

Very few photographs of me from that time still exist. Whenever I see them, I can see the pain in my eyes. I want to take that little girl in my arms and rock her and tell her how wonderful she is. Someone should have done that at the time. Nobody did. That was the crux of the problem.

1972 ish School Pic - Barb

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All for Nothin’

I know someone who calls herself “Nothin’”. Actually, I only know her in passing. I wish I knew her better. I’d love to set her straight.

How do I know Nothin’? (Keep your smart aleck responses to that out of the comments section!) I’ve already confessed within the confines of this blog that I play Pokemon Go. Yeah, I know, it’s silly. But it’s also fun.

Many people are under the misapprehension that this is a game just for little kids, and that it’s about catching and killing monsters and fighting. First of all, no monsters are killed during the course of this game. No blood is shed. And while there are indeed battles, they’re more like jovial sports competitions. They barely raise your heart rate.

What I like most about the game, aside from collecting the unique monsters, is that you can make friends from all around the world, and exchange virtual postcards with them that you collect during your Pokemon travels. It’s fun to see pictures of graffiti in Spain or architecture in Indonesia or parks in Colombia. It’s fun to imagine what has brought these people to these places, and picture myself visiting these locations as well. I like to imagine what things people consider routine that I would find exotic.

When you play Pokemon Go, the first thing you do is get an avatar and choose a unique name. People can get very creative with these names. You also get to choose your gender and how your avatar dresses. But you don’t get to chat with other players.

Over time, though, you learn a little something about the person based on the superficial choices he or she makes. Nothin’ could be an adult or a child. She has chosen a female avatar, and she dresses that avatar very stylishly and conservatively. Her avatar is white, with blonde hair. She sends me postcards from Central Canada. She only plays maybe once or twice a week.

That’s all I know about her, other than the fact that of all the words she could have chosen to identify herself, she chose Nothin’. That breaks my heart. Man, I wish I could talk to her!

I hope she’s not severely depressed and crying out for help in such a way that none of us can ever respond. I hope she isn’t surrounded by people who are chipping away at her self-esteem. I hope she doesn’t feel inferior because she is female. Maybe I’m overthinking this, but the frustrating part is that I’ll never know what motivates Nothin’.

I wish I could write on the virtual postcards that I send to her. I would tell her that she is, in fact, something. I would tell her that I’m glad she exists. I would tell her that I like her style. I would tell her that I see her, and that she has value in this world. I would ask her to seek help and hold on.

Because nobody is nothin’.

you are awesome.

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A Failure to Completely Alter My Life

Due to various health issues (I’ll spare you the details), someone recommended a book to me that she purported would change my life entirely.

Boy, she wasn’t kidding. In order to be cured of all my ills, I must do the following, immediately, and all at once:

Do some form of sweat producing exercise for an hour a day, and completely avoid the following foods for the rest of my life:

  • Sugar.

  • All processed foods, including anything in a box, bag, or can.

  • Breads.

  • Cheeses.

  • Condiments.

  • Processed and smoked meats, including bacon, ham, salami, hot dogs, corned beef, and sausage.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Pasta.

  • Melons.

  • Potatoes.

  • Dried fruits.

  • Dairy products, including milk, cheese, and yogurt.

  • Gluten.

  • Fruit juices.

  • White rice.

  • Cashews and Pistachios.

  • Breakfast Cereals.

  • Soda.

  • Alcohol.

Upon reading this, I got tears in my eyes and immediately ate a pint of ice cream and fell into a deep, dark depression, as is my wont in moments of despair. Because I know me. There is no way I can pull this off. You may as well ask me to chop off my head and replace it with that of someone else. It’s too radical a change, it’s too overwhelming.

It’s a set up for failure.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s all good advice. I’m sure it would be life altering. But it’s too extreme. It’s too all-at-once. And my medical condition isn’t life threatening. It’s just annoying. So the incentive isn’t the kind I’d need to completely do away with every single thing I normally eat, with the exception of salad (without dressing) and other veggies from my garden, and then be expected to get my starving butt off the couch to jog for an hour a day.

I know I’m sounding like a whiney little kid, but am I alone in this? Could you do this? Right this minute?

Apparently this must be done all at once or it won’t work. So… it’s not going to work.

Baby steps I can do. I already don’t drink alcohol or soda. I already hate corned beef. And I eat much healthier than I did 10 years ago. But this… it’s insane.

So, in essence, I bought a book that makes me feel worse about myself than I did before, and I still have the health issue. This does not make for a successful health plan. There has to be a better way.

I’m not asking for things to be made completely easy. I’m willing to make certain sacrifices. I don’t think all life solutions should be to take a pill and continue with your bad habits.

But baby steps, you know? I can’t run a marathon when I’ve barely learned to walk. You can’t expect me to quit my job, move to the country, and eat pine trees, while building my own log cabin. Tomorrow. Or even next week. And anyone who expects that much of me is part of the problem.

The first step in designing a healthy lifestyle system is that it should be at least remotely achievable. Otherwise you’re just selling low self-esteem. Thanks, but we’re already full up on that, here.

sisyphus

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What Makes You So Special?

In some cultures, humility is prized over self-esteem. I get that. In crowded or isolated places, getting along with others is more of a survival skill than feeling good about yourself will ever be.

But it breaks my heart to see how many people walk this earth without knowing just how special they are. Yeah. I’m talking to you. You’re special.

First of all, you’ve been given the gift of life. That’s amazing in and of itself. The odds were stacked against you. If the earth had been a little closer to the sun, or a little farther away, life wouldn’t exist. If gravity were a little stronger or a little weaker, life wouldn’t exist. If all that star stuff hadn’t come together in exactly the right combination, life wouldn’t exist.

On a more personal note, every one of your ancestors had to survive just long enough to meet and reproduce, for hundreds of generations, so that just the right sperm would meet up with just the right egg at just the right time for you to be you. What are the chances? You are a miracle. What a gift you are!

And every single one of us brings different qualities and skills to the table. I, for one, am grateful that there are musicians in this world. If I had to rely on my own talents for music, I would be suffering indeed. I’m also thrilled that there are people out there with a talent for science and math and cooking and building. We all serve a purpose. We all have value.

And we certainly aren’t all carbon copies of each other. Thank goodness! How boring would that be?

If you genuinely cannot answer the question “What makes you so special?” I strongly encourage you to ask your friends and loved ones. I guarantee you that they’ll know. Their answers may or may not surprise you, but it will be good information to have, if only as a reminder on those bad hair days that all of us suffer through every once in a while.

It’s also a good idea to be mindful that those around you may not be aware how amazing they are, either. Tell them. Remind them often. It costs you nothing but a few moments, and it will be priceless to the person to whom you give that gift.

Thank you, dear reader, for being you!

special
Tattoo this backwards on your forehead if need be.

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Singleness

Recently I’ve felt a fundamental shift inside of me—a shift away from the desperate pursuit of love, with all its disappointments and body-blows to my self-esteem. No, I haven’t given up. I’ve just lost interest.

Or perhaps it’s better to say that my interests lie elsewhere. I want to focus on improvement projects for my new home. I want to take care of my neurotic dog, who seems to hate every human being on the planet except me. I want to read more, write more, sleep more, explore more. I don’t want to have to compromise or try so freakin’ hard. I feel absolutely no need to be anyone other than who I am.

No, I’m not choosing some austere life. I’m not punishing myself, and I don’t hate men. They don’t scare me. Nor am I sexually confused. There’s absolutely no reason to feel sorry for me.

I think the assumption that you aren’t a success unless you are part of a pair is antiquated and absurd. In this day and age, women can support themselves. We can live alone. We can choose not to have children. (Hallelujah to that.)

Being single is not some cross one has to bear. It’s not a sign of damage. It’s not a problem that needs solving. It’s just a state of being. One isn’t the loneliest number. It’s just another number.

But am I lonely? Sometimes. And I’m a very passionate person, so having those needs go unmet can be more than a little frustrating. (I’m not an animal, though. I need some sort of emotional connection to scratch that particular itch.) But for the most part, to be honest, I just can’t be bothered.

Will I feel this way tomorrow? Hard to say. But right here, right now, this is how I roll.

single.jpg

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