Where I See Purple, You See Blue

Perception is a funny thing. It varies so much that it is possible no one ever views anything exactly the same way as anyone else. Where one person sees a cloud in the shape of a sailboat, another might see it in the shape of a puppy or a flower. Two people from two different cultures can look at the exact same color and where one will see purple, the other will see blue. What’s right for one can be wrong for another, and what’s tasty to you may be unsatisfying for me. Perception is born out of the accumulation of experience, and since even twin siblings can encounter different challenges from the moment they are born I hope it is safe to say that that no two perceptions are alike.

This includes our perceptions of other people.

You are walking down a busy city street. Car horns are blaring as soon as lights turn green and citizens bustle around you hurriedly trying to make it to their meetings and lunch dates. The air smells of car fumes and the occasional tree sits up against the edge of the sidewalk to add some color to the grey urban scheme. Every piece of the scenery, every person around you, it has a purpose that you unconsciously take in as you stay true to your long strides toward your destination. But then you pass a man. He sits alone on the sidewalk, his dark eyes weary from a long life and his back pressed against the brick wall of the apartment complex behind him. A gray, scraggly beard falls from his chin, and his clothes are torn and old. Beside him is a tin can, filled with a couple dollars and a few quarters from passerby. He says nothing, and is too tired to raise his eyes and look at the countless people who stroll by without paying him mind.

In the split second it takes you to decide whether or not to add to the collection in the tin can, you will have already made a hundred perceptions about this man. Is he poor? Homeless? Lazy? Unlucky? A drug addict? An alcoholic? Disabled? All of the above? Or none? What is his age? Is the money for himself or someone else? Is he going to use it for food? Surely he could find a job, can’t he? The list goes on and on, and all of the questions are answered in the blink of an eye. Your conclusion drawn from these questions is what will make you decide whether or not to give this man money, and you answer all of them without even asking his name. That is how the human mind works. It is amazing and terrifying, the things we can assume about other people in the time it takes to snap our fingers. Not only that, every conclusion that you make before you either keep walking or drop a dollar is the result of past experience. Every person’s answer to these questions will be different because no two people are the same. Some will give money, but many also won’t, and the reasons they have for doing one or the other will all slightly differ from each other.

To get my point across, this was a more extreme example of the powers of perception. Even more incredible than this though is your perceptions of yourself and how they can differ from others. No on knows you better than you, right? Maybe, but maybe not. In the past where I have seen myself as being helpful, others have seen me as a brown-nose. In the present where I see myself as being selfish, other people furrow their brows and ask me what on Earth I’m talking about. You can spend your whole like identifying yourself one way, and then in that split second someone else can shatter those perceptions. Or something else can happen, they can become even stronger than they were before. That’s the thing about perceptions:  they are stubborn and ours have to be the right ones. I’m pretty? Yeah, okay, no one ever said that until I lost weight. I’m talented? Sure, because this one drawing out of 50 turned out decent. I’m smart? Right, ask my brothers that and they will tell you a different story. I am the daughter of Aristotle and Plato. I like facts, and the facts say that I am not as pretty as her, or as talented as them, or as smart as him. You could be the smartest, most beautiful, and most talented person that God ever had the joy of creating, but if you don’t believe it yourself then it isn’t really true, is it?

I’m not writing this for sympathy. I don’t want replies that say, “But you ARE beautiful and talented and blah blah blah.” They only thing that will get is a polite “thank you” while I go on and continue to see myself my way. No, I’m writing this because even though I don’t think I am the smartest, the most beautiful, or the most talented, I still like myself. I didn’t always, but I learned to, and when I learned to I started to like others as well and I started to see more beauty in the world around me. Perceptions of your world start with your perceptions of you, and you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself.

So where you see a crier, I see sensitivity. Where you see a weak girl, I see a strong woman. Where you see purple, I see blue.

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When I say “Introvert,” you say?

I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.  – The 11th Doctor

It is safe to say at this point that I am not quite as quiet as I used to be. In fact I have outgrown my shyness and have found that I love talking, even if it is about nothing in particular. That being said, I can still guarantee that by comparison I am a quieter person than many of the people you may know. That is something that is never going to change, but I don’t mind it. While some people may view being introverted as a negative I have learned to use it to my advantage. I have become very skilled at listening, learning, and thinking through problems. I know a lot more about the world around me than people probably realize I do, and when my mind is not distracted with other things it is one of the greatest tools that I have at my disposal.

When my mind is not distracted. In case you missed it, those were the key words. Why am I so quiet, some people wonder? Because my mind is constantly in overdrive. I often get so distracted by my own thoughts and ridiculous daydreams that I miss important plot points in movies, have to reread a page in a book two or three times, or even mentally check out in the middle of a friend talking and then feel like an awful person when they look to me for an answer to the question they just asked. It is something that I have gotten a little better at controlling over the years, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t slip up every now and again. I still remember back to when I started college and focusing in class was the most difficult thing for me to master. In high school it didn’t take much effort to do well, but after moving on to advance my education I learned very quickly that my old habits would have to become just that, old habits. It was time for new ones.

Retraining your mind is not an easy thing to do, in case you were wondering. If my professors managed to say one word that reminded me of something else (be it an inside joke with a friend or a quote from a tv show) my attention would be diverted for the next ten minutes. Next thing you knew, I was missing important information. With time and effort I eventually managed to calm my overactive brain so I could focus when it counted, and let run it wild in my downtime.

Up until this point I might have made this sound like a curse, but I can honestly say that I love my imagination. While it is annoying when it interrupts me during important parts of the day, it keeps me entertained. I have joked with my friends about how with my mind I am never bored, but I still don’t think anyone actually understands just how active the mind of an introvert is unless they can experience it for themselves. The best way I can think to explain it is that it is like having 10 different tabs open in your web browser at once:  one on Facebook (duh), three videos (one music video by your favorite band, an instrumental music video to make you feel cultured, and one showcasing the best moments from Scrubs, all playing at the same time), a picture of a Chimera (because why not?), a picture of a kitten (look at that little face and it’s playing with a ball of string and its wittle paws and ahhh it’s so cute I want to die!!!1!one!!1!), a forum thread about the best powers to have if you were a super hero (or villain, let’s not discriminate), a recipe (probably involving a lot of sugar), an educated and well-informed science article that ponders the mysteries of the universe (or possibly food…), and IMDB to look up everything about the movie you’ve been waiting to see (aka the third Hobbit movie). Yes, at peak moments that is my brain in a nutshell. Are you still wondering why I don’t talk so much?

In all of this mayhem, there are also the moments of extreme and beautiful clarity. When I can really focus all of my thoughts into something meaningful, that is when I find amazing things happen. That is when I can draw, or take pictures, or come to my own conclusions about the purpose of life and what I want out of it. In these moments I can even still let my thoughts run free, but in a more directed path that paints a canvas full of wild fantasies and dreams. Many of these dreams are never going to come true – I am never going to be standing center stage on Broadway belting out an incredible solo – but even knowing that, there is something comforting in the fantasies.

Maybe it is time to revisit the idea of it being a curse as well. Having an overactive imagination is often wonderful, but sometimes detrimental. Much of my anxiety comes from my own mind. Everything can be perfectly fine, but with just the right amount of stress and just the right destructive thought, my world crashes down around me in an explosion of negativity. Because my mind never stops, one negative thought feeds the next until I feel like I am being suffocated. It often results in the illogical feeling of paranoia. I will begin to question and make unfounded assumptions about my friendships, my choices, and my life thus far until time or someone pulls me out of that panic. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and for having fun high moments I guess it is only fitting to be plagued with intense low moments as well.

Why is it that I’m telling you all of this? There was a reason behind me going off on this personal tangent. In fact my reason behind this post is generally the same reason I had for starting this blog. Through experience I have learned the true meaning of an introvert, and I have also learned that introverts are misunderstood and often viewed in a negative light when held next to societal standards. Being quiet is supposedly unattractive. We are supposed to be vivacious, outgoing, leaders! We have to be assertive and take charge! And that is fine, for many people. What is forgotten though is that us introverts are your thinkers. We are your inventors and your artists and your writers. Don’t get me wrong, extraverts are just as amazing, just as intelligent, and just as important. No society could function properly without a healthy helping of both! But introverts are left off to the side and forgotten about. We are the ones who sit in the classroom and get looks from classmates who wonder why we are so “weird” and “quiet.” This short delve into my mind was to (hopefully) humanize me and everyone else who has ever been misunderstood because they don’t talk as much. Yes I am quiet, but I am also real. I have feelings, I have thoughts, I have opinions. I laugh, I cry, I empathize, I love, all more fiercely than you could imagine. Because of my nature I’m not so likely to walk up to a stranger and say hi, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to. Try making friends with the quiet one next time, it could change your perspective and your life in more ways than you realize.

When One Door Closes…

There’s something incredible that happens as you get older. At first aging may seem like a cage that gets smaller each time you pass another year, trapping you in the prison of shortening time and making you feel suffocated. To an extent this feeling never completely goes away, but with the oncoming of maturity also comes emotional liberation.

As children we are not ready for this experience. Childhood is meant for fun and exploration, naivete and learning our limits, and discovering the differences between right and wrong. The journey to this feeling of freedom begins in our adolescence at the first moment we start wondering what other people are thinking when they look at us. In its youth, this feeling seems like a fairytale. Around the time a pre-teen sets out on the awkward road of physical changes and self-discovery they are entirely self-centered and obsessed with fitting in. There are some people who may refute this, and to an extent everyone’s experience is subjective, but at the same time every person has the deeply-rooted need to be liked. As a teenager this need is your world. It isn’t anyone’s fault, it is a right of passage and a burden we must carry as we make our way to adulthood. You will say things that you don’t believe in order to make your friends like you, hold your tongue to avoid “tattling” on people that you want to fit in with, set aside activities that seem childish or uncool, and at some point you will say those words that every parent dreads hearing, “I don’t tell you everything that happens in my life anymore.”

Everyone hates this stage. Siblings, parents, strangers in the mall, and probably even you. I’ll admit that I think back to my teenage years sometimes and roll my eyes at myself. However, things start to change a little bit around the age of 18. Instead of wanting to fit in, you want good company. You desire to surround yourself with people that you like so that you have the option of actually being yourself. You are finishing high school and moving onward to college (or work, etc.) and maybe subconsciously you start to realize that the high school drama that you used to keep yourself in the center of now begins to feel like a waste of time and energy? You break out the classic Disney movies and reminisce about your childhood, then the next day at school aren’t afraid to say to your friends, “I watched The Lion King last night for the first time in years, I cried so hard!” Somewhere along the line the word No becomes okay to say if you are protecting your own well-being, and while your parents might still be embarrassing on some level you are starting to feel like enough of an adult to talk to them as an equal.

The next four years or so welcome forth affective autonomy. Your life changes drastically after high school whether you go to college or not:  more freedom, new friends, more responsibility, etc. There comes a moment amongst all of this change and turmoil where you realize that you no longer care. I don’t mean this in a bad way, rather I mean that the idea that others are always watching and judging you no longer bears a weight on your mind. You begin to do things you want to do because you want to do them. You start to learn and appreciate new things, make friends with incredible people you never imagined meeting, and when you get dressed in the morning you put on clothes that make you feel good rather than clothes that will make others like you. Your relationships turn into quality friendships, and you start to understand that petty drama and fake personalities are not something that you have time or space for. It is along with all of this that you also begin to feel that quality really is better than quantity, and that you will be a happier person in the long run by allowing people in your life that you want there and ignoring those that poison your mind.

This is the path I’ve traveled over the last 10 years of my life. Now when I think back to my awkward teen years I sigh and wonder why it was ever worth it for me to care so much. I’ve learned that it’s okay that I like both shopping and football, baking and playing The Legend of Zelda, doing my hair and bing-watching Netflix in my pjs while eating cookies out of my TARDIS cookie jar, and being girly around some people and nerdy around others. Even more amazing is that this liberation gives you the energy to learn things about yourself you never even thought about before. For instance, only recently did I realize how picky I am about the people I let into my life. I can tell within couple minutes of talking to someone for the first time whether a friendship with them is a good idea, and if I decide that I want a person around I will fight to keep their friendship and I will give them everything I can. This revelation is something that I never would have come across when I was 16, but learning about it now has allowed me to strengthen preexisting and new relationships.

There is a point to this whole story. As a teenager your eyesight is so narrow it seems like high school is all there is and ever will be. After you leave you realize how big and amazing the world really is, and how worth it it is to get through those difficult years so you have the opportunity to make your reality something wonderful. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good people in middle school and high school that made it a relatively good experience for me, but there are other people who aren’t so lucky. Those people are who I am talking to today. High school isn’t everything. Whatever else it is that is holding you down isn’t everything. The world is so much bigger, so much wilder and so much more invigorating. Maybe it is hard now, but it gets better, and after are you are free from those chains you have the ability to make your life what you want it to be. I waited longer than I would have wanted to to make this realization, don’t make the same mistake. Think about this now. Revisit old hobbies, make a list of new things you want to try and places you want to go, have all of this ready so the day you feel that door open you can step through with a smile make the most of it.

Counting Stars

I was 21 years old the first time that I touched the stars. Up until that summer I had seen writers talk about the feeling of insignificance you experience when gazing up at the vastness of the universe, but it wasn’t an idea that I understood or even believed existed. That is, until the night that I really slowed down and looked.

The year leading up to this had been the worst year of my life. Depression and anxiety were commonplace, and every time a person cocked their head and asked me, “How are you doing? How’s the family?” I grew a little more angry. Comforting hugs were brutal reminders that I was thought of as a porcelain vase, ready to shatter with the slightest nudge and in need of constant protecting. I hated being babied, I hated help, and all I wanted was to be left alone. I was immensely relieved when my dad told us that we were going to our family cabins up in Canada that summer. Our cabins are quiet and away from the world. They are nestled in the woods in a cozy part of Ontario and sit up against one of the bluest lakes you can hope find. It smells of wood and pine and gives you the chance to run away from the hot summers and enjoy the cooler temperatures that grace the north. There is no cell phone service, no telemarketers, it is perfection for those with a quiet soul and a book.

Despite my relief I was, of course, somewhat miserable. I was happy to have time away from home, happy to be out of the hot weather, happy to have my camera with me, but there are always those nagging thoughts in the back of your mind that say “Your mom isn’t here,” “You’re not allowed to be happy,” and my personal favorite destroyer of self-esteem, “You are a horrible daughter.” No matter how much you try to ignore them, they are always there. Even now I know that they are filed away somewhere deep in the back of my mind, waiting for just the right amount of anxiety to be stirred up that they can hammer in the spike that crumbles the wall I am always rebuilding.

In-between these awful thoughts I did remember the reason I was most excited to go to Canada that year:  a meteor shower. It had been rare that I had seen shooting stars, and having the chance to view a meteor shower further north with less light pollution and clearer skies had me excited. It was chilly that night. I wore a pair of sweatpants over my pjs and the warmest hoodie that I had with me and trekked outside. Everyone else was inside or sleeping so I was on my own, which is exactly how I wanted it. The lights from the living room faded the closer I got to the boathouse, and were non-existent by the time I laid myself down on the dock. If you can imagine, this wasn’t one of the fancier new floating docks that you usually see. It was the old fashion kind with splintery wood and four long metal rods to plant the dock into the ground. Still, it was comfortable and I was happy for a little time to myself.

Nothing happens when you first look skyward. You expect it to be this sudden inspiration that causes your eyes to glow as you recognize your place in the world, but it isn’t. I laid there on the dock still and silent for I don’t know how long, my eyes searching the immense black canvas looming over me. A few meteors passed that caused me to smile, but the more you search the sky the more overwhelming it becomes. There were more stars than I had ever seen in my life. I was looking at the arms of the Milky Way stretching long over my head – millions and millions of miles long but I was seeing at them with my own eyes. The more you shift your gaze, the more you begin to realize how grand the night really is. It covered me in an intense dome, and the longer I tried to take it all in the clearer it became that I couldn’t. My heart started to pound harder in my chest, the world around me vanished, and a feeling of panic that I wasn’t expecting washed over me. I was terrified. In a universe so big how could my life, my problems, possibly matter? I know this sounds cliche, and maybe you are even rolling your eyes thinking that I’m just being silly. Believe me, I get it, I was one of those people. It is a feeling too intense to describe. It is real and, I won’t sugar-coat it, it is very scary. That feeling of insignificance is one of the most horrifying things that I have ever experienced in my life. I cried on that dock, silently, still too mesmerized by this terrifying expanse to move.

But then something changes. Somewhere in the experience a feeling of calmness washes over you. My breathing slowed, my tears stopped, and my soul warmed. The immensity before you can easily provoke fear if you allow it, as I did, but after the initial fear fades away all you are left with is its majesty. It is beautiful and it is yours. Never again will you look on that same sky, and in that moment it is as if it was created just for you. I felt myself slowly break free of the chains in my mind that kept me from soaring through the stars. That was heaven, it had to be, and for a split second I knew my mom was looking on that same sky and smiling.

You might be hoping at this point for a “happily ever after” ending. Maybe I saw the error in my ways and decided live each day like it was my last? I’m sorry to disappoint you with a flat “no.” Life doesn’t work that way in my experience. I am after all inherently me. I am high-strung and timid, I don’t know how to be very assertive, I take time to place my trust in new people, I complain (a lot, sometimes too much) and, most importantly, I am human. I make mistakes and I attempt to right my wrongs. I have my good days and my bad days. I put my faith in the wrong people and sometimes expect too much for all that I give. Still, through all of this, I have my sky. In the end the meteor shower didn’t matter very much, but rather the memory of those stars. I carry them in my heart every day, and when I find a spare moment to remember them they greet me with open arms as I lay on the dock.

Life is fast, both day-to-day and long term. I often get caught up in the busy world and forget that there are bigger things going on around me, which is why having that experience to look back on is so important. Maybe we really are insignificant specs in the universe, but it is a universe created for us. Every night those stars are in the sky, and every night millions of people ignore them. I have no doubt that if every person took one night to touch the stars their lives would look very different to them.

My Dock, Under My Sky

Three words, Eight letters

For lack of time it has been several weeks since my last post, and for that I apologize. Today, however, I sit in my room with a blizzard whiting out the world on the other side of my window and find myself pondering three words:  I love you. It may be fitting with Valentine’s Day on our doorstep – a holiday for which I, admittedly, grow a little more disdain for each year that I am forced to stay inside and examine my flaws.

I’m sure that I’m not the only one you can find who will say that these words have lost their meaning. I have always been a firm believer in telling someone that you love them, but only if you are speaking honestly and not hoping for the allowance of sex or money. This concept – loving someone honestly – seems to be a rare find anymore. People say “I love you” because they think they are supposed to, because they want something, to make someone happy, etc., and because of this the purest and most innocent definition of love has been somewhat lost to our generation. I have spent a lot of time the past several years trying to understand what love really means, and here is what I have come to believe:

There are two kinds of love. The first kind is one that I don’t actually think is lost on us, but I want to talk about it anyway. It is the unconditional affection you feel toward someone close to you:  a parent, a sibling, a friend, the guy who brings you your morning coffee, whoever. This kind of love lacks desire, but it is just as important as the second kind of love that I will talk about later. This kind of love is a basic human right, one that I hope everyone has in their life. It is caring and being cared for, for no other reason than wanting to. Is is getting into a huge fight and knowing that at the end of it you will still be the same people you were before, and for better or worse you will always be there for each other.

This kind of love is one that I took for granted until I was 20 years old. I had believed in telling the people you loved that you love them at this point, but every time I tried to it felt forced and awkward even though I meant it because I wasn’t used to expressing myself in that way (I’m much more open with my emotions now than I used to be, there was a time that I was so stubborn I even annoyed myself). But there was one night, the night before my mother passed away. I went into the back room to sit with her for a few minutes before going to bed. I held her hand carefully, because it felt so frail and weak, and sat in silence as she rambled things I didn’t understand. Her mind was gone then. It had been a few weeks since she had said anything coherent and I wasn’t even sure that she could understand us. When my dad came back into the room I stood to leave, but not before quietly saying to my mom “I love you.” Without hesitation my mom replied, “I love you, too.” That was the moment I understood the strength of this kind of love. My mother was gone at that point, we all knew it, but she still had it in her to understand those words. The next morning I was woken up to my dad wrapping his arms around me in tears, apologizing and saying that mom had passed. My mind shut off, I was uncomprehending, and after he left I jumped out of bed and ran to my mom’s room to see for myself. I stood there lifeless and pale, not thinking or feeling anything, and only thanking God that the last words we had ever said to each other were those. My mother drove me crazy, as I’m sure I did to her. We argued and fought like any mother and daughter would, but when it came down to it she was still one of my best friends. I would give anything to talk to her one more time, but at the same time I don’t want to take away that last moment we had when I said “I love you” and I really meant it.

The second kind of love is the one we all dream of being able to share in – the intense passion that causes you to look at someone so flawed and human and see nothing but absolute perfection. Years ago I thought I understood this love, but now I know that it is something I am still discovering. I don’t know much about it, but I can tell you in its most innocent form it requires nothing more than the desire to be near the person. It is a kind of love that is terrifying, and at the same time completely wonderful. It is both debilitating and uplifting, greedy and unselfish, and confusing yet so very clear. All you want is the privilege of being a part of the person’s life. Not to change or shape them in any way, but to have them look on you every day with that smile that slows your heart. You crave their attention and desire to be their perfection as they are yours, but knowing it’s impossible because how could you live up to the standards of someone so amazing? This is the kind of love I fear our world is missing and is mistaken for infatuation. I’m not even sure if this definition of love is correct, since as I said I am still learning about it. I hope to one day understand what it is more completely.

Unfortunately I can’t go into much more detail about the second kind of love, because for the most part it is still a mystery to me. Instead I want to bring everything full circle and come back to the original point that I feel I may have strayed from a bit. Love, in any form, is the most important feeling you can experience. You grow and learn about yourself through love and through your love of others. Since it is so important, it is not something that you want to keep to yourself. If you love someone, honestly, tell them. I tell my family and my friends I love them and with my entire heart I mean it, because if today is my last day on Earth then I want to make sure they know.

Any and all feelings for the holiday aside, Happy Valentine’s Day. Make it a meaningful one this year 🙂

Do what you love, and love what you do

I’ve been asked quite a few times, “What do you do to keep yourself from going crazy?”  My answer to this question is always the same:  “Hobbies.”  After this, the conversation continues in the same way no matter who I am talking to:

“Is there anything you do that makes you feel really at peace with yourself and makes you forget about everything else?”

“No.”

“Everyone has something, you should try to find what works for you.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

This is very simple advice and is easier said than done, but the point that I try to make when a friend asks me this question is deeper.  When I feel overwhelmed with life’s challenges, the only thing that I have found I can do is to escape the stress by diving into activities that make me forget the world.  I’m fortunate to have found more than one such pastime.  Photography may be my favorite, because there is nothing more calming to me than grabbing my camera and walking out into nature (though in times when I am feeling more irritated than overwhelmed it helps more to sit myself in front of my Playstation for a few hours instead).  Passions like these are important.  How are you supposed to enjoy life when you dwell on the negatives?  When you find something that you do for yourself and love so profoundly, it makes life worth all of the irritants.

I’m not saying that you should drop several hundred dollars on a camera and trek out in to the woods, but it is important for you to have something that makes the world stop turning for a few hours, or even just a few minutes.  If you feel as though you do not have a passion that does this for you then maybe you are lucky, because this means you have the universe at your finger tips waiting to be explored.  You never know what it could be that your soul is drawn to, so try everything.  Try cooking, try writing, try running, try carpentry, try playing an instrument, try volunteering, try anything you can think of.  Try everything you’ve always wanted to try and everything that you have never considered.  Not only will you learn more about yourself on the journey, but it is rewarding to find the passion that allows your soul to silence your mind.  When you learn how to let go of your stressors and fill your time with things that move you, you will become a happier person who is more in love with life and with yourself than you thought you could be.  This is my promise to you.