Tag Archives: essay

humanity

I first heard of UVa student Hannah Graham’s disappearance through friends on facebook who know her personally. Later Monday evening in the Women’s Prayer Group offered through my church, a couple of students who are acquainted with her spoke of the difficulty they were having processing the incident.

We lit candles as we prayed for her life and the lives of others. And that visual image of light – of lives alight with concern and hope – shattered the safety net I’d placed around Charlottesville and around my life even as it helped unite us. It hit me hard. I’m not sleeping very well.

It’s every feeling, all at once.

It’s the what-ifs of a young woman who vanished, it seemed at first, without a trace. The uncertainty of what dangers await every young woman in this quiet town. The realization that our houses and our buddy systems and our routines create only a semblance of control. We have so very little control.

It’s sheer terror mixed with anxiety mixed with the desperation of hoping for her safety and fearing the worst. I feel for her and her friends. I fear for myself living in a world where someone can somehow stop being so quickly.

 

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follow through

Dry-and-Dying-Flower

My single greatest weakness is an inability to follow through.

It’s not apathy or distraction or immaturity. It’s debilitating fear.

I hate to do things I’m not good at. And if you tell me I’m not good at something, I have an unhealthy tendency to agree with you and shun my own perception.

Examples:

I love(d) to sing. I was in choir, sang at church, competed at vocal association conferences, toured with a high school worship band, and participated in my high school pageant. But then I didn’t get into my college’s school of music. And I wasn’t selected for the co-ed a Capella group. And the first church I attended in college had an inhospitable-bordering-on-hostile worship team. And the community choir was full of prima donnas and angry old women. And it slowly faded away until I stopped thinking of myself as a singer, until I started telling people, “I used to sing” and “this is what I did.” All in past tense, a resignation.

I like(d) to write poetry. It began in high school and grew wild and frequent by my sophomore year of college. I received positive feedback in my intro to poetry class. I published regularly on my blog. But then I didn’t get into poetry workshops. And I was convinced if was because my poetry didn’t stack up. And I write now, a little, but the inspiration comes slow, painfully, with trepidation. With boundaries and boxes and prompts only.

I like(d) customer service. I was great at small talk and banter. I was intuitive, useful, understanding. I recognized the challenges of navigating interactions with strangers in an environment of economic exchange – how awkward it can be to maintain politeness when you feel you’ve been wronged, embarrassed, treated inhumanely. But then I was told I wasn’t happy/charismatic/friendly enough to do customer service. That I was hard to read and seemed unenthusiastic. And it flew in the face of everything I perceived about myself in the context of my work environments. And it challenged my social relationships. Do I make a bad first impression? Am I awkward or hostile or pessimistic?

It seems that the problem isn’t fear of failure alone, but fear that the negative feedback I receive is beyond overcoming. I want to succeed. I want to be a success. And the best way to do that is to prune away at my failings, to stop growth and redirect that energy to making myself look better elsewhere.

But the more I prune away, the less I’m left with. I’ve cut off all the buds before they’ve bloomed and I’m left settling into a darkness of my own making. And I’m browning and wrinkling and crunching under the feet of those who tread on my aspirations – my delights – in the first place.

I’m afraid of not being good enough. So my ears are trained on the voices that tell me what I fear. You can’t sing. You can’t write. You can’t interact. You aren’t happy. You won’t ever be good enough.

But I’ve freaking had enough! And maybe when I think about follow through I should imagine pushing through the brambles of criticism instead of resigning myself to an innate weakness. If I fail at the very end of that path to success (and who can determine an end anyway?), I’ll still have overcome the roadblock set before me by my critics.

I’ll still be better than enough.

image source

radical

Originally published on my fair trade blog, Style Wise:

———

shopping addiction

radical : of, relating to, or proceeding from a root

I started this blog with a specific reader in mind. I wanted to encourage young women – my peers – who were already reading personal style blogs to take an interest in a more thoughtful approach to consumption. Although it wasn’t fully parsed out, I knew that simply buying better wasn’t an end to the moral journey. But it’s a lot more fun to talk about etsy and charity-minded start ups than to talk about frugality or to address the dark, addictive underbelly of shopping.

But the more I think about morality as it pertains to consumption, the more I realize that I need to buy less altogether. 

It’s important, of course, to realize on a superficial level that we bring more to the table than our curated closets and styling capabilities. But it’s immensely difficult to let that sink in, and to actually change our habits.

I assume that my readers come from a place similar to my own. I grew up (upper) middle class and, while my parents emphasized budgeting and saving, I experienced no real financial strain. Influenced by my grandmother’s sales rack obsession, I seemed to intuitively justify buying anything and everything as long as it was on sale. I liked the rush and the hunt of a good deal.

Later in college, just introduced to personal style blogs that emphasized the importance of investment and statement pieces, I replaced my sales-only paradigm with a boring, preppy basics only framework. And then, when I realized everything I owned was boring, I went crazy with prints. And the cycle continues. But the consistent result of each new set of guidelines is that it encourages me to search and spend like the addict that I am until I’m nauseated by my own materialism.

The point is that the real problem is bigger than poor labor regulations. It’s more than carelessness. It’s the addiction to new and better and cheaper. It’s the haul videos and constant self advertising and attempts to be brand ambassadors. It’s the thoughtlessness and vanity of it.

We need to spend less. I have to tell myself that, too: I need to spend less. And I need to focus less on what I can get my grubby, greedy hands on. And it’s at once ridiculous and terrible that it’s so hard for me to do.

Of course, buying ethically is a great idea. And buying things in general is fun and sometimes even necessary. But the mission of this blog is only a little better than its non-fair trade counterparts if it fails to acknowledge that maybe there’s something wrong with the whole system, that maybe buying ethically opens up a can of worms that causes us to reassess our spending habits at their root.

I’m beginning to see this process as a gradual (at times painful) journey to better, more thoughtful living in all areas of my life. The growing pains are in full swing, but I believe I’ll come out better on the other side. The important thing is not to give up – I’ve wanted so badly lately to give it all up. But I see that the fair trade mission is bigger than my aches and moans and will power, and if I can’t will myself to sprint ahead, I can at least resign myself to it – and keep pressing on.

For additional reading on this topic, see my homily here

*image source: by SnowMika leírása

the time will pass anyway: navigating life in your twenties

Girls

“Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.” – Earl Nighingale

This idea as a life framework has been on my mind for the past several weeks. I realized – in the back of my mind at first but now clearly – that it was always a lie that success was waiting just around the corner from graduation day. Success coupled with fulfillment takes time. And it’s always taken time. And the fact that the Mid-Life Crisis is a fixture of our society is proof that people have been telling each other and themselves the lie for decades, and that the delusion eventually wears off.

Life in my twenties, and maybe for its entirety, is about finding the balance between financial survival and personal fulfillment. And they don’t always arrive together, at the same time or as part of the same activity. And being content with that, and knowing I’m ok, and continuing to strive regardless, is the big life lesson.

What I’m still trying to figure out is if we need to rework what we say to kids about following their dreams or if we would cling to that idealism even if we weren’t told it. Maybe we would go through the crap of realizing in our guts that life is hard, that we can’t always get what we want, that life isn’t fair, even if attempts were made to let us down easy in the beginning.

Ultimately, it’s worthwhile to work toward hard, big, important goals. It’s easier to keep going, though, when we don’t put ourselves on a timeline, when we realize we won’t implode if we don’t get from point A to point B by age 25. I don’t think my generation suffers from a case of adultlescence. I think prior generations were simply deferring the hard questions for mid-life. And some within my generation have been intimidated into deferring it, too. But I believe that:

“Contrary to a belief popular among older people, the Quarterlife Crisis is not the idle whining of a coddled, presumptuous post-adolescent. It is the response to reaching the turning point between young adulthood and adulthood; it is the amalgamation of doubt, confusion, and fear that comes with facing an overwhelming set of identity issues and societal expectations at once.” – Alexandra Robbins, It’s a Wonderful Lie

If we do it now, maybe we can avoid it later. And that’s ultimately healthier because we’re less tied down now. We have the space – and the physical health – to move past the false expectations and self doubt and maybe arrive at a place of contentment and self-understanding in a decade or so. And we get a whole, long life to work toward our dreams instead of scrambling for it at age 50, ill-equipped and emotionally shattered.

Know that, as long you’re dreaming and reading and working toward something, you’re fine. You don’t need to have arrived. And you might never arrive. It’s the working toward something with hope and diligence that ultimately makes you a success as a human being. Believe in that and find rest.

“…The pursuit of meaning is what makes human beings uniquely human. By putting aside our selfish interests to serve someone or something larger than ourselves — by devoting our lives to “giving” rather than “taking” — we are not only expressing our fundamental humanity, but are also acknowledging that that there is more to the good life than the pursuit of simple happiness.” – There’s More to Life than Being Happy, The Atlantic

photo source: CNN

on the ash heap

Job art

I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself this month to create meaningful content. But I don’t have much to say.

I rant and discuss and reflect often enough, but my brain is too scattered, too absorbed in the task of figuring out what I’m going to do with my life, to spew out anything coherent or meaningful.

Everything’s been fine. But as I settle into living here – as it becomes less like a vacation – I’m restless to just get on with my life:

To change the world, or at least a small part of it.

To know my path.

To achieve something visible, tangible, momentous.

To feel, each day, that I’m living life right.

And I’m past the point of thinking that there’s one particular right path I was predestined to follow. I recognize the big lie that success is measured by high levels of both stress and income. And I daily stop to remember that I’m young – and I repeat all the cliche phrases that accompany that thought for good measure.

There’s a misplaced, or displaced, drive, I think. I want to Do Something. I’ve gotten used to people telling me what to do and how to plan my time.

The whole point, I guess, is that it’s up to me to create and follow all the steps. The safety wheels and floaties are actually off now. I have to make decisions and follow through. But I also get to be in charge and achieve something and bask in the results.

I’m mostly afraid that I will collapse into the ashes of my bankrupted dreams – that the light will flicker out, that I’ll end up a prisoner to absolute failure.

* image source: JOB ON THE ASH HEAP, JUSEPE DE RIBERA

I am not less

graduate photo

One Saturday night a few weeks ago, Daniel and I were in the car on the way to a potluck dinner where several grad students would be present when he asked me:

“Why do you act embarrassed that you’re not in grad school?”

I replied, “Because I am embarrassed. And I’m embarrassed now that my embarrassment was so obvious that you picked up on it.”

Here’s my confession: I’ve been embarrassed that I’m not pursuing grad school since the semester before I received my undergraduate degree.

That was always the expectation, at first from only myself and later from everyone (at least as I perceived it): peers, family, professors, coworkers, friends. I heard them saying, implicitly or aloud:

Leah is the grad school type. Leah is smart and motivated and needs to use her academic talent to better the humanities. Leah is too good to leave academia. Leah’s job as a nanny/framer/barista is obviously temporary – we know she can do better

But here I am, two years later, not in grad school. And I can’t help feeling like a disappointment to myself and everyone who invested in a dream that may have been more theirs than mine all along. And I have to learn to cope with that. To not be ashamed of myself just because I don’t have a title or prepared statement for that pervasive, incessant question: “What are you doing with your life?”

Do I have to know what I’m doing with my life? Does anyone ever stick to their early-20s response? And if they do, are they satisfied?

I need to work through my feelings of inadequacy. I need to see value in myself as a living human being trying to better myself and be good to others. I need to recognize that I am enough as long as I strive to make life meaningful – by the moment and the hour and the day.

I need others to grant me the space to breathe. I need others to have the self-respect to see themselves as more than their resumes or academic accolades so that they can see me in that light, too.

I’m trying to internalize the truth that I don’t have to – and probably shouldn’t – measure myself by someone else’s standards for success. I’m trying to overcome the pull of the myth that the highest form of human being is the employed scholar. I can be who I want to be, read what I want to read, and discuss in depth what I want to discuss without a piece of paper that tells others I’m an expert, that tells me I have the right to speak. And I can do other things too. And I have the right to respect myself for grand things like my entrepreneurial goals and lowly things like my ability to make a great cappuccino.

And I am not less for the decisions I’ve made or the place I’m in.