Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On Never Being Wrong (Or, The First Time I Saw Myself)

Note: This is...a reminder to myself, I suppose. For when I forget. But it's a worthy exercise, one I encourage you to try, if you've stumbled across this. Which is perhaps my way of apologizing in advance for writing a thing all about myself. Even if that apology kind of stomps on my point a bit. Look, whatever, shut up and read if you're going to.

Oh wait, also: I use the term, "punch people in the face," very figuratively. I'm actually super against that.

Last week, I was asked a question that I've never been asked before. I answered, of course, as I am wont to do in such situations, but I was tired and inarticulate and I haven't been able to let it go, because it's kind of a big deal.

I was asked how I see myself.

Who am I, in my own eyes?

Not too long ago, I would've lied - not to the friend who asked me, but to myself. That's because not too long ago, I didn't see myself as anything much. Tethered to the invisible and inaudible but somehow ever present judgments of the world around me, I allowed myself to become so much...less. Less than what? Less than all.

Worse than a failure, because to fail you have to try.
In a word, inferior.

I don't credit myself, not really - even when something positive comes out, it's tempered by at least two negatives, lest I be thought of as arrogant or narcissistic or, worst of all, wrong. Successes - creative, social, or otherwise - were short-lived and seldom fully enjoyed because surely everyone was one step away from figuring out that it was a fluke and I was terrible.

I know, right? Totally surprising that I was so angry and sad all the time.

Then everything changed.

No. Sorry, it did not change.

I changed it.

There was no big inciting incident, no lightning bolt, no sign. There was just a day - a bad day, the end of a chain of increasingly worse days. And at the end of that bad day, as I went to bed, more excited to tune out the world for a few hours than I was to engage with it, it became very clear to me that things could not keep going the way they were. I could not keep going. So I made the clearest, most focused decision of my entire life: I decided that the next day was going to be awesome.

It wasn't going to be awesome because of my job, or my house, or because I wasn't going to miss my bus. It was going to be awesome because of me.

I am not weak.
I am not inferior.
I am a fucking force of nature and I absolutely refuse to be anything less.

I used to call myself an, "aspiring writer," because it felt like I didn't deserve to drop the qualifier. I'm not published, I have no agent, my name isn't Ernest Hemingway. But you know what? I don't need anybody's permission to put pen to paper, and Hemingway is dead, so I'm a writer. That is a part of who I am.

I used to be afraid of not mattering, of being forgotten, lost to time because I didn't make enough of myself. Only recently have I figured out that there is no such thing as not mattering. Gandhi and Washington and Eleanor Roosevelt all had mothers and fathers and friends and teachers that touched them in some way, that pushed them to be the people they were, and we may never know their names but they did, and so a ripple was made in all space and time that will never stop circling out. There are people who have given me thoughts and pieces and words that I will never forget, long after they are gone, and that has all become a part of me. There are people I know now who will most definitely outlive me, and that isn't morbid, it's thrilling, because they will take whatever I have given them and put it together with parts of themselves and pass it on and it will never stop. Isn't that crazy and beautiful and too rad for words? That is a part of who I am.

I am an empathic sufferer but I am also a celebrator, because with all the world's pain comes all of its joy. I try to see people, not for who I want them to be or how I wish they were not, but for who they are. Because people are amazing - gorgeous and exciting and capable of so much, and maybe seeing that makes it all the more heartbreaking when some of them go wrong, but that's a price I'm willing to pay, because I don't want to turn away, not when the tradeoff is walking up to someone who believes themselves invisible and saying, "I see you." I could spend the rest of my days punching people in the face with their own excellence and be happy. That is a part of who I am.

I am a seeker, a creator, an adventurer. I want to go everywhere and feel everything. I want to find words that have never been read and sights that have never been seen and then I want to come back and show everyone because what's the point of having all of that if you can't share it? I never want to stand still. That is a part of who I am.

I want to live as fiercely as a person can, not so that I'll burn out quicker, but so I don't waste any opportunity to burn as brightly as I am able to. That is a part of who I am.

I want to be ancient and ageless and forever myself.

I am me.

And I am awesome.

And it is my choice, my personal mandate.

There is no such thing as being wrong.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On Summer (Or, That Time I Grossed Everyone Out With All of the Feelings)

Warning: This post is full of a ridiculous amount of feelings. Utterly sincere feelings, but still. Sorry. But not really, because I still did it.

I've been with my company for fifteen years.

"But CDog, you're 26. You've said so. A bunch. Pretty sure."

Very astute, dear reader. Here's a little backstory.

I work for a non-profit musical theatre company for kids. Back in my youth, I spent two years as a camper at one of their summer sessions. I worked for them every summer after that, starting as a volunteer and rising through the ranks before assuming my current position as office manager/writer/drama teacher.

So. I've been with my company for fifteen years - more than half my life - and that's the kind of thing that lends itself to wild nostalgia almost every day. A couple weeks ago, I was at the wedding of a friend who was once my camp counselor. I met the girl who would become my best friend at my first employee training day. Some of the first kids I taught just graduated from college. Kids who were the youngest when I was in my early teens are now my coworkers in the summer.

It's a funny thing, when the quiet wee six year-old who used to tug on your shirt to ask you a question is suddenly your height and teaching alongside you.  You feel old, even though you know that you are not, but they're talking about SAT scores and college applications and weren't they just eight years-old yesterday and I guess it was nine years ago that you were thinking about the same things not, "a couple," like you've been telling yourself.

It's gross, and it's jarring, and it's awesome. I've gone to a lot of high school shows over the years to support my friends and former students, and I totally get the parents who slap, "My Kid Is A (Insert Accomplishment Here)," bumper stickers all over their lives, because all I want to do is stand in the lobby after, pointing at headshots and shouting, "I know them! Did you see what they just did? Aren't you proud?"

Because I am. That's what really hit me as I sat in the theatre of a high school I didn't go to last spring, waiting for the lights to go down for a musical I was seeing for an unprecedented second time: I am so, so proud. I'm proud to know all of the people I have met through what I do - older, younger, and everything in between. I'm proud of the people they are, the people they're choosing to become, and of the fact that I get to count them as friends.

I say I've been with my company for fifteen years, and technically that's true - I never stopped contributing in some capacity. However, there were two summers where I did not work because I was at my Grown-Up Job - the one I didn't really want but reality (particularly the need for health insurance) was forcing me to keep. As bad as things felt sitting at that desk during the year, it was a thousand times worse during those summer months, knowing that just across the bridge there was magic happening and that I couldn't be a part of it. I couldn't even visit. I lied to my office manager to get time off so I could at least go to the performances, passing them off as family functions.

There is no justification for my dishonesty - I don't encourage it. But you know what? I was going to see people I'd grown up with, and watched grow up. People who had seen me at my best and my worst and never judged me, never failed to have my back. People who have helped shape me and who still manage to make me better.

Sounds like family to me.

To every camper, coworker, friend, family member: All these words didn't really do it justice, but I am so, so happy to know you.

- CDog