who would i be?

Flying from Ohio to Virginia today, I got to thinking about planes.  I could see two planes on the horizon.  I could see the shadow of my plane on the tops of the clouds.  There are planes everywhere, and I was only seeing a handful.  The flights so short.  The trips so far.  How could so many people have so many places to go?

I thought about the world and how interconnected it is.  I thought about how this changes our perspective, how it makes our “needs” just become more frivolous “wants”.  How it encourages our outrageous American sense of entitlement.

Just today, I was sitting back in the soils lab talking to Jeff and then I blurted out, “Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we just didn’t have air conditioning, heating, electricity?  If we didn’t have those expectations and then the simpler life would be so much more?  Wouldn’t we have less stress and less obligation and be better off?  And I wouldn’t need to worry about my hair looking lousy today or the fact that I had to put on a tank top under this shirt because I panicked when I realized you can see my bra…”

He laughed at my outburst, but he agreed.  And I think it’s true.

Then I wondered, what if… what if we didn’t live in this frantic era?  Here I am, starting a long journey overseas, ready to “seize” and “define” and “become” and “challenge” – but what in the world does that all mean anyway?  What if we didn’t have those opportunities?

Who would I be?

My incessant journeys abroad arose out of a panicky scramble when my personal life was falling apart, my academic life seemed too uninteresting to ever land a job, and my graduation date was approaching too soon for me to actually graduate.  There was no glorious find-myself-out-there moment or decision or scholarship…it was just GET ME OUT OF HERE and DEAR GOD HELP ME GET BACK ON TRACK.  Back on track in EVERY aspect of my life.

I was a mess.  What else would cause me to move temporarily to West Africa ALONE??

Every time I ride a train in Europe or fly through an airport, I can’t help but notice the plethora of young women in small groups giddily dancing around an unfolded map with hiking backpacks, black leggings, and sneakers.  They’ve got their bandanas on, their Fodor guides out, and they’re ready to “rough it”.  But why?

No, dear lord, please…don’t tell me I’m part of a trend.  I didn’t ask for this!

Now that the world is at our fingertips and women have access to more generous means (thanks to the push for higher education and the encouragement to abandon home-making for a life of independence), so so so many young women are out there traveling.  It’s like an epidemic.  It seems like I always see them, hear about them, or even witness them among my friends.  (I mean, men too, but not my point.)

What is it that they’ve lost about themselves that they think they’re going to find?  Am I really just the same as them?

I honestly don’t have an answer.  But while they’re so busy trying to find out who they will be, I can’t help but see who they would have been and wonder the same for myself.

At 23, where would I have been two generations ago?
A housewife, surely.  World War 2.  Cooking.  Cleaning.  Shopping.

It sounds dismal, but part of me wonders if I would have preferred it.

Relaxed, taken care of, at ease, important, with a place in this world.
These days, I don’t know where I belong.
These days, there are high expectations put on me.
These days, I still can’t walk into my job or my hockey game like a woman.
Because I’m still at the disadvantage.
I still have to work a little harder to just pass, because, well, men.
But that’s okay.
Look how far the world has come already.

But is there an intrinsic spark in me that would have caused me to rebel?  Would I have become a journalist like Skeeter in The Help and taken life into my own hands?  Chosen against a husband and instead fought for human rights?

I want to say yes, yes that would have been me.
But I’m not so sure it would have been.

Sure, now I feel like a rebel, going against the grain, going alone, fighting for native rights.
But that’s so trendy now.
Is that really that awesome of me?  Or am I just mundane??

It’s like when the whole world tries so hard to be “different” that “different” becomes “normal”.

But I’m not out to fight being normal,…or am I?

Questions even I can’t answer for myself.
But let’s say I am out there to be different.
And it’s 1940.
What would I have done?  Joined the Army?  Fought in WWII as a “soldier”?  Refused to marry, gone to school, practiced science?  Eventually walked on the moon?

Geez… Life is hard to understand sometimes.

Not only do I not have any idea who I am, but I’m unsure of who I will be and also confused by who I might have been.

Well, one thing’s for sure…I’m about to board a plane for Belgium.  And I know who I USED to be: a girl who could never board a plane by herself to Belgium.  And here I am, student card in hand, an ex-resident of southern France, ready to face the world with a loose itinerary and no reservations.

Because I’m kind of over asking what ifs.

do everything better.

I’d heard a lot about Shauna Niequist’s book, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way.  When I tried to reserve it and had to wait weeks on OhioLink, I figured there must really be something good about it.  And it certainly proved to have a lot of simple, selfless moments of realization.  It got me thinking about how I perceive myself, amongst many other things in life.

Reading Shauna’s book, I could feel a lot of similar internal struggle buried under the obvious fact that I am not the girly, frilly, fashion-obsessed, hair-dying lady that Shauna is externally.  In some ways, this realization made me try to compare myself to her more and more as I read – the kind of comparison she accused herself of throughout the book and strove to avoid.  But, despite the moments when I felt so underachieved (I always want to DO BETTER), there were certainly a plethora more when something seemed to stream from my thoughts rather than my reading and I wanted to flip to the cover of the book and make sure I wasn’t actually the author…

I used to think that the ability to turn back time would be the greatest possible gift, so that I could undo all the things I wish I hadn’t done.  But grace is an even better gift, because it allows me to do more than just erase; it allows me to become more than I was when I did those things.  It’s forgiveness without forgetting, which is much sweeter than amnesia.

I can remember all of those times when I actually had a perfect moment and I wanted to be absorbed by it.  I would be so blinded by what was that I would forget to live in what is and instead would dream that what will could be as perfect as what has been.  It’s been hard, but I’ve been practicing taking rejection, failure, and discomfort and dwelling on them in a positive way, one that doesn’t change who I am but which opens me to my fullest capacity.  DO BETTER, but on the inside.  That doesn’t always show on the outside.

These years will pass much more quickly than you think they will.  You will go to lots of weddings, and my advice, of course, is to dance your pants off at every single one… Time will pass, and all of a sudden, things will begin to feel a little more serious.  You won’t be old, of course.  But you will want to have some things figured out, and the most important things only get figured out if you dive into them now.

And this is why I like reading and talking to people that have been there.  Why try to figure things out for yourself?  You’re given the luck to not be in the earth’s first generation of humans.  Shauna may not be “old”, just “older”, but still – there’s a reason why the elders are the respected, wise group in traditional communities.  If you want to be better, DO BETTER, you go to them.

For a while in my early twenties I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me.  Isn’t that the truth.  Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it.  I promise.  Which is good to hear.  Because aren’t we so often concerned with the former and not appreciative of the latter?  Not just in ourselves but in other people as well?  What is really the goal in life?  For whom are you living it?

Now is your time.  Become, believe, try… Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are.  Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned.  Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path.

So how to capture that inspiration?  How to admit what I should be doing?  I would expect Shauna’s advice to be action, but in fact it’s an act of passiveness that she suggests: Admit what you don’t do.  Because spinning your wheels only buries yourself deeper when you keep trying harder to go faster and do better.

I tended to get so tired I’d cry without knowing why, why my life sometimes felt like I was running on a hamster wheel, and why I searched the faces of calmer, more grounded women for a secret they all knew that I didn’t.  (AMEN!)

This is how I got to that fragmented, brittle, lonely place: DO EVERYTHING BETTER…a super-charged triple threat, capturing in three words the mania of modern life, the anti-spirit, anti-spiritual, soul-shriveling garbage that infects and compromises our lives…

Deciding what I wanted wasn’t that hard.  But deciding what I’m willing to give up is like yoga for…that nasty little person inside of you who exists only for what people think.

So, I who loves lists as much as Shauna will now make a new one… Despite what I WANT to do, despite what I WANT to be, here are the things that I, right now, just am NOT, some things I don’t do:

—I don’t have organization.  Disorganization stresses me out, and I have OCD tendencies, but knowing I will fail when I try to keep clean and organized just makes me feel crushed before I even start.  So, thanks, mom for suggesting it’s a reflection of an “artistic” mind.  I’ll just keep being this artsy, I guess…

—I don’t accessorize well.  It’s a lot of work.  I don’t change out my earrings, rings, and necklaces as much as I wish because I just find it a waste of time.

—I don’t keep up with fashion.  It’s just not who I am or in my interests, and I especially don’t support the direction the fashion industry is going these days.  Low-cut shirt?  No thanks.  And I prefer that my underwear stays under my clothes..  Also, my mentality is stuck in circa 1962.  And I like having it there.

—I don’t keep up with TV or movies.  It’s not important to me who an actor is or what he ate for breakfast.  I would rather read a book, stretch my mind, and go for a run.

—I don’t know how to make mixed drinks.  I have the book, the equipment, the desire, but I have neither the guests to entertain nor the money to buy the ingredients needed to mix the amazing concoctions of my dreams.

—I don’t make good rice.  I did once in my life.  It was in error, I’m sure.  I’ll make a mile-high meringue, cordon bleu that I won’t eat, hand-kneaded bread, asparagus with hollandaise, an awesome pie crust from scratch… but I will over-salt, under-water, not set the timer and completely burn every last grain of rice…then neglect to scrape the mess off for days.  And the sad part is I really like rice.

—I don’t wash my dishes in a timely manner (see above).

—I don’t get my nails done.  I hate my toes (despite hating socks and shoes as well) and I just cannot for the life of me justify manicures.  They’re expensive, they actually look really dumb, and an athletic girl simply cannot keep paint on her fingers.  Plus, I just fiddle with them and pick the paint off.

—I don’t fix my hair.  I want my hair to be nice every day, but, like my lack of willpower to organize, I give up before I start.  It’s just so daunting.

—I don’t even know how to do makeup.  I try, but I usually put on patches of bronzer or blush and give up.

—I don’t go to clubs.  And I don’t intend on starting.

These are kind of silly and maybe just make me seem lazy, but I guess that’s the point.  And seeing the things I am NOT reminds me of the things that I AM, which I like.  I’m NOT go-with-the-crowd, jump-on-the-bandwagon.  I’d rather make a riot and go against something just to know that I didn’t go along with everyone else.  I like my independence.  I kind of like NOT DOING.

So, instead of doing everything better, I think I’ll start not doing more often.