Facts of Life

Fact: I started packing again.

Fact: I reached 100 pounds.

Fact: A bird set up nest on the porch next to mine, and constantly throws shade at me when I leave my house.

Fact: I started having night terrors again.

Hope: After an eternity of rain, we may be good for the summer.

Fact: I’ve graduated to side bangs again.

Fact: It’s summer.

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Fight! Fight! Fight!

I’ve been practicing how to yell.

A friend and I have been working on an improv show that explores relationship issues. It is for sure the most serious improv I have ever attempted, and the same for my scene partner, and boy, does it feel weird. The form involves discovering a relationship problem on stage, and then uncovering and unpacking that problem through dramatic scenes. So far, it’s felt really good and cathartic, but it’s hard to know whether that’s just for us as the performers, or if the audience would enjoy the mess we make too.

There have been some bumps in this process. The form has changed a lot from practice to practice. And at some point we realized that we would have to break a major rule in improv… Typically in improv, you would try to avoid conflict — and if there is conflict, then an improviser should resist the urge to solve it, and instead allow the conflict to develop a game, or the improviser’s character. Improv is not about fixing things, it is about showing the truth in the unfixed. But in this case, my scene partner and I realized that our form requires a conflict. So whether it gets fixed or not, it needs to be there.

In most cases, though, the audience wants to see the relationship succeed, and to see the conflict resolved. While we made ourselves promise to not always have to resolve it, we did decide that the fun of a form like this would be to see the couple handling the conflict. Or, in other words, getting in a fight.

It became clear that my scene partner and I were going to have to learn how to fight with each other.

This is an incredibly tricky thing to do for me. I am not used to putting it all out there when I’m angry, and I usually try to avoid arguing. So now we find ourselves having to step outside our comfort zones to master the form.

We are still in the early stages of this problem, which is wicked interesting, because we both gravitate toward conflict resolution. We keep working our way to a solution too quickly. This is not the end goal. I mean… yes, that’s the end goal, but let’s be real: no realistic relationship manages to problem solve every little thing before dinner. That’s just not the way things work. So we’ve been pushing ourselves to stick to our guns, to find our point of view and own it, to a fault. To take sides. In essence, to do the unhealthy stuff first, and then work up to the healthy stuff.

What a bizarre feeling, to do something “wrong” in order to get it right.

It’s also really interesting to have to raise my voice at someone. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never gotten in arguments before, but even at my worst, I’m not yelling. My volume level never really reaches above what other people would consider 30%.

I have always been quiet. In high school, my english class was preparing a performance of Romeo and Juliet as a part of our curriculum, and one day the teacher took us out to the football field and told us to yell. It was supposed to get us comfortable with projecting our voice, but it did little more than terrify me. I hated the idea of being loud. I was a generally shy individual. My sister and I had gone through speech therapy in elementary school because no one could hear us, for goodness’ sake, and after a few sessions, my mother had finally relented and allowed us to stop. We just didn’t have it in us to speak up.

So being out on that football field and being asked to yell in front of my classmates was probably one of the most uncomfortable things I had been asked to do at that point in my life. I don’t think I ever was able to be as loud as my teacher wanted me to be. I just couldn’t do it. I “yelled”, and it didn’t sound natural. It wasn’t a real yell… I was just raising my voice.

So now that I have to yell in a performance, it’s a bit strange. I mean, sure, I’ve had arguments on stage before (usually when I’m not supposed to, because I suck at doing the right thing in improv — read: avoiding conflict), but it’s never been a yelling match.

It has been a very backwards experience, trying to craft this form. I only hope that it will be well worth it once it makes its way onstage. But it’s also beneficial offstage, too. Learning to yell may be a stretch for me, but maybe it can train me to speak up for myself in real life circumstances. And maybe studying the way I argue can teach me about how to pinpoint the healthier forms of dissent in relationships down the line.

It’s going to take time – both with the show, and with myself. But I’m excited to see what places the show takes me, both in improvisational goals and in self-discovery. Sounds cheesy, but if I can use a source of enjoyment to cultivate myself, then I’m all for it.

Learning To Be Selfish

I don’t know who swore first — me, or my therapist.

But the feeling was mutual: there was a point where my awkwardness began to melt away, and more and more I found myself able to be me.

I’m not sure if she does this on purpose, but my therapist naturally inserts her very being into conversations. I am able to glean little bits and pieces of her life from things she says, and the way she acts. This is not a bad thing to me. I don’t know if it’s at all normal, but I like it – I like being able to engage with a real person, instead of a textbook, and it is good to feel like the therapy process is not just some stiff ganging up on me and telling me how to live my life; it’s refreshing to be able to just connect with someone and be myself.

I started therapy for a handful of reasons, but one of the main reasons was for anxiety. And even with that knowledge, it took me a while to not be anxious about my therapist. Sometimes you end up finding a therapist that isn’t good for you; what if that was happening to me? What if I had picked someone who just wasn’t on the same wavelength as me, and I was just wasting money by going and sitting and telling her about myself?

But something finally clicked in my head these past few sessions. Possibly it’s because I switched to twice a month instead of once a month… I never quite felt like I was getting everything out over the span of a month, I felt like I wasn’t conveying what I was supposed to convey and so was not helping my therapist help me. Ha. How’s that for anxiety?

But therapy is finally starting to pay off. I’ve got a long way to go, but after a while, some of this stuff starts to sink in.

It’s funny about therapy… I know plenty of people who scoff at the idea of sitting and talking about feelings with a person they don’t know. And that was completely me a few years ago… I refused to believe that talking to my friends about my thoughts and emotions wouldn’t provide the same comfort.

But that was because my perception of a therapist was someone who listens. I didn’t think that a therapist could tell me anything I didn’t already know about myself. Now I realize, regardless of what I know, it is the matter of taking action that’s the problem. Deep down, I don’t trust myself — I’m not willing to follow my own advice.

So a therapist is part accountability, and part… well… teacher. She tells me that a lot of emotional stability is conditioning, working to continually correct my thought process until it naturally goes in the direction I want it to. That’s wicked hard to do on your own. But the goal is to eventually be able to do it without help.

I do feel like this blog has gotten a bit me-centric lately, and I almost want to apologize for that. But I will hold my tongue… I never promised that I would treat my readers to issues only pertaining to them, and 80% of what I say in this blog is me just sound-boarding my thoughts and ideas. I realize that may not be what people want. I also realize it’s what I need.

I’ve always announced that perhaps an additional benefit to writing about personal stuff is that someone else may read and gain something from it. But I have begun to realize something else: I didn’t see that as an additional benefit, I hoped for it to be the benefit.

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Maybe my relief in finding a therapist whose personality I can see is because I like focusing on others instead of myself. And maybe my hope that others will relate to my posts is really just a hope that people will take the me out of what they read, and insert them.

Oftentimes, I feel uncomfortable taking ownership of something that’s solely about me because I feel that people may not be interested in it, or that it’s selfish in some way, and essentially discredit my own personal journey in hopes that someone else will find their focus. But is it so wrong for a personal blog to focus on the person who writes it? It’s like writing a story… You obviously must recognize the audience you’re writing for, but if you don’t gain anything yourself in the process, why write it? To some extent, the act of writing should be selfish.

I’ve got a long way to go with therapy, but I’m learning more and more every day that sometimes I just need to working on satisfying my own needs, instead of freaking out about everyone else around me. Sometimes there will be things in my life that no one cares about, and maybe I shouldn’t hesitate to write about those things like I have in the past. Maybe I should just let the chips fall where they will, and if one happens to land in someone else’s cup, then lucky them. But otherwise, they’re my chips.

Hope Sucks

I don’t get why everyone’s so in love with the concept of hope.

Seriously. Everybody’s all like, “Don’t give up hope,” and “Without hope, we’re nothing.” But can we just take a moment to differentiate between the words, want, hope, and fantasy?

Want. Noun. A desire for something.

Hope. Noun. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.

Fantasy. Noun. The faculty or activity of imagining things, especially things that are impossible or improbable.

So the difference between want and hope is expectation. I could want a million dollars, but I don’t expect to get it. Therefore, I do not hope for a million dollars. But I do hope in the sun rising. That is a desire, and an expectation.

There are two differences between hope and fantasy. One is the outcome – how probable is it? Do I want a million dollars? Sure. Do I sometimes imagine what it would be like to have a million dollars? Yeah, sure. But the idea of having a million dollars is highly improbable, so again, I don’t hope for it. And on the opposite end of the spectrum, it is very possible that the sun won’t rise tomorrow, but it is more likely that it will… So I don’t fantasize that the sun will rise, I hope that it will.

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The other difference between fantasy and hope is that fantasy doesn’t include expectation. Pay attention, because at first glance, this concept looks the same as the previous one. I can fantasize about having a million dollars, and I don’t actually believe I’m going to have a million dollars. But what about those who fantasize realistic things, but don’t expect them to happen? For instance, you could apply for a job, and be fully qualified for that job, but not get it, because there is also someone else that is just as qualified for that job. There are some who would hope for the job, and some who would fantasize about getting the job – they want and imagine it happening, but they don’t believe it will actually happen. Okay, so maybe that’s a self-confidence thing – it’s still possible that they could have gotten the job, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to have hope. But it proves my point: imagination does not necessarily equate to expectation.

Adversely, sometimes you can fantasize about something so much that it starts to seem like more of a possibility in your head, and so your fantasy transforms into a hope. And that is the most dangerous thing to ever happen.

This is what really messes me up. You see, wants are perfectly natural, and human. And so are fantasies. And so is hope, right? Except that sometimes, hope is more soul-crushing than anything else… just because you expect something doesn’t mean that your expectation is justified. I could expect a million dollars, but that would be so unrealistic, so why would I do that?

It’s a difficult game to play, because, as I said before, a lot of the time we don’t hope for things that are possible, because we can’t understand that they are possible. And so in those moments, it’s great for someone to push you to hope. But nine times out of ten, my wants are fantasies. I don’t want to be told to hope in those circumstances. Hope is hurtful in those circumstances.

Some call this pessimism. Okay, fine, if there’s truth in that, then I’d rather be pessimistic than continually upset when life doesn’t match my expectations. But if you apply for a job, and you don’t have hope that you will get the job, and you do get it, how awesome is that feeling? Your fantasies just became a reality! I wish that I thought all of my wants were fantasies, because my life would feel like a fairy tale. But that, I’ve been told, is more hurtful than helpful, in the long run.

This is something I’m struggling with hardcore right now. I don’t want to expect unrealistic things, but if I don’t expect anything at all, then I get taken advantage of. I need to have standards. I need to understand what is realistic. But a lot of the time, I can’t tell whether a want is realistic until I see the outcome in retrospect. And so begins the anxiety.

So let’s push ourselves to have wants, and to have realistic expectations, and to be very careful about keeping those things separate. Sometimes they do align, sure. But let them align naturally, and not because we force them to. Hope is only helpful when it’s reasonable.

My Only Resolution

A new year means another twelve months of trying to get things done in a timely fashion.

A new year means trying to perform improv without being in my head.

A new year means shmoozing with people I have no idea how to shmooze with.

A new year means having to put effort into looking for another house.

A new year means just another year full of trying to stop my mind from being too loud.

A new year means another opportunity to do the Paint Olympics, and Harrisburg on the Hunt.

A new year means the possibility of travel.

A new year means warm weather is coming soon.

A new year means fresh chances.

And more intentional decisions.

And better judgment.

And an arsenal of experience to battle whatever life throws into the mix.

And new friendships.

And old friendships, with new twists.

And new opportunities to grow and learn.

A new year will always be a balance scale, trying to decide the weight of its contents, swaying back and forth and measuring which is heavier, dread or hope.

My friend and I have made it a New Year’s Eve tradition to celebrate as many traditions from around the world as we possibly can. Among them are some really fun ones, like breaking plates (Denmark), throwing bread at a wall (Ireland), and burning effigies (Panama).

I’m not sure if the citizens of Panama will scoff at the way we did this, but we drew or wrote something on slips of paper, then all stood in a circle in the front yard and set them on fire. It seems silly, but it was pretty therapeutic. I wrote “anxiety” on my slip, and though I know it won’t be as easy as borrowing someone’s lighter, I hope that in some way, I can burn anxiety out of my life this year.dsc_10201025957911.jpg

Coming home from the New Year’s Eve party at two in the morning, I was pretty stoked for 2018. I got home, and immediately turned to my Jar of Good Things to review the year that had just slipped out the back door. I’ve done this for the past two years, and the concept is fairly straightforward: you write down a Good Thing as it happens, and save it in a jar. It makes remembering things much easier – a lot of the events I would never have thought back on if I hadn’t been reminded of them. It also prevents you from deluding yourself into thinking you had a completely shitty year.

So I sat down, opened the jar, dumped out the Good Things, and picked one up.

It said, “Buying a house.”

There is nothing that will knock you down a peg quite like unrealistic expectations and assumptions. I did not close on my house. I wrote this memory about two weeks before the closing date, when I just assumed that everything would be on track and go smoothly. That did not happen.

And so, sometimes your Jar of Good Things will be peppered with Not So Good Things.

But just as Not So Good Things taint the experience of the Good Things, Good Things can also mask the Not So Good Things. At least, I go under the impression that they can. It’s been said that it takes sometimes a hundred Good Things to make up for just one Not So Good Thing, but it can at least happen, right?

I’m beginning to realize that the sway of the balance scale is important. I don’t want dread or anxiety or Not So Good Things in my life any more than the rest, but perhaps that is what allows me to feel when hope finally tips the scale. Perhaps having those Not So Good Things will continue to remind me to keep realistic expectations at the forefront, and keep my hopes achievable.

That is my New Year’s Resolution: to have realistic expectations in life. There have been so many times when I’ve hoped for something more, and gotten crushed by reality. And it goes the other way too – so many times I’ve assumed that terrible things will happen when realistically, it won’t be that bad.

I’ve got to stop believing that life is made up of either Really Good Things or Really Bad Things, and nothing in between. There are Things That Happen, and they may be good or bad depending on my perception of them, or even on what happens next. And even if they are bad, they’re usually not my fault (I say usually because, well, I’m human). Obviously I want to take ownership of my life, but I’ve got to stop feeling so personally responsible when things happen outside of my power. I don’t want to feel hopeless every single time someone else in Harrisburg closes on a house before I do. I don’t want to belittle myself for doing what I’m supposed to do in terms of calorie counts and still not gaining weight. I don’t want to see my failures in others’ achievements, or assume that the reason a relationship didn’t work out was because of me.

Realistic expectations. Sometimes things just happen.

Here’s to the New Year. May it be full of Good Things, and Not So Good Things, and realistic expectations of what those Things mean in my life.

Show Your Heart

“What am I in the eyes of most people – a nonentity, an eccentric, or an unpleasant person – somebody who has no position in society and will never have; in short, the lowest of the low. All right, then – even if that were absolutely true, then I should one day like to show by my work what such an eccentric, such a nobody, has in his heart. That is my ambition, based less on resentment than on love in spite of everything, based more on a feeling of serenity than on passion. Though I am often in the depths of misery, there is still calmness, pure harmony and music inside me. I see paintings or drawings in the poorest cottages, in the dirtiest corners. And my mind is driven towards these things with an irresistible momentum.”

-Vincent Van Gogh

LOVING VINCENT just came to the Cinema. I’ve been excited for this film simply because I wanted to see a film in which every frame was a different painting – literally – and I’ve been seeing promos for this film for several years, now, and the excitement has just been growing. I didn’t, however, think that the above quote would strike such a chord within my soul.

I have a really hard time feeling like a person. I feel that everything I do doesn’t matter in the long run, and that even if I do something really great, that won’t make me any more secure in my future, or more liked by people. To me, the sum of my accomplishments is just that – people like the things I do, but they don’t like me.

I know this is not true. But I feel it is true.

Every day I live the life of a nonentity. I cannot believe that my friends do anything more than put up with me. I cannot believe that my presence is actually wanted in a social setting, which is probably why I try to host so many damn parties – I want to prove to myself that people will actually show up. I’m challenging myself, saying, stop it, Sam. People care about you. But I will never believe that.

I never believe it, and yet I have to keep living life like I do, because I don’t know what will happen if I allow that disbelief to grow in me. I don’t want to think about the person I will become if I let those thoughts consume me. I already think I’m constantly being put up with, but imagine if I started acting that way? I would go off the rails.

But I try to be honest. I don’t want myself to be a lie, to exude false confidence. That’s why I write so many damn vulnerable things in this blog, because I feel like I might never say these things out loud, so I’ve got to say them somewhere. People don’t want to be stuck in a conversation in which you vent to them about yourself; but if someone clicks on a link that leads to that venting in a blog post, that’s not my fault.

And so I live under this premise: even if it is true that I’m a nonentity (which I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.), I will strive to paint my heart on this canvas called life, and show what is in my heart. In my honesty, I find hope, not in being liked, but in being all that I could ever be. I can’t ask much more than that of the world, to let me be me.

That’s where my philosophy falls from Vincent’s. I don’t have any sort of calmness within me. I have music in me, but it is not harmonious. It’s a distortion of every little thing that happens, a symphony of second guesses.

I think when we find ourselves in a world we didn’t ask to be in – and by that, I mean, a mental world, not the actual physical world – we do our best to create coping mechanisms. I have a few. The first is to support those around me that I love. Seeing contentedness in others makes me content. I will give my energy to those around me, because maybe their happiness, their serenity, will leak over into mine.

The second coping mechanism is that I close myself off. I do this because I feel that people would be better off not having to worry about me, or be inconvenienced by me. I suppose we are trained to do this, in society. What a damaging thing.

I am not an inconvenience. I am not an inconvenience. I am not an inconvenience. I need to learn to share my thoughts, my anxieties, and not bottle them up inside, because the more I experience them outside of me, maybe the more they will stay outside of me. And I am important enough to take that seriously.

In the past couple of years, my mind has tried to convince itself that the person I am, the essence of me, is unfortunate. Something to pity, to hold at arm’s length. That’s not logic talking. It’s just me being unable to navigate me. And it’s really hard to shift that thinking, when you try so hard to see reality for what it is but your lens is so distorted that you just… don’t know. It’s a weird feeling, to love yourself so much, but to also question the validity of that love, of everything in your life through the false perspective of others. 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Vincent Van Gogh was a genius. He captured beauty and truth in his paintings, but in his life, he captured soul. The relatable man. There are bits and pieces of him that align perfectly with my journey, and that is simultaneously terrifying and satisfactory, all at once. My appreciation for his work has slowly developed over the years into an appreciation for him. And isn’t that exactly the point?

That’s the beauty of art. When I was a kid, I would say, I’m just not a fan of that style of art. But now I try to ask myself, hey, if you don’t like the style, do you at least understand the message? That’s a distinction that is sometimes difficult to extricate. But if I am to live my life hoping to show my heart through my work, I have to be willing to see others’ hearts, too.

Anxiety

White-knuckled moments,
Rapid eye movements,
Too many measuring cups,
Not enough trust.
The list is smeared,
The counter a mess,
I spent too much time
And I made too much fuss.

Into the bowl, now,
The shell breaks apart,
And it’s pooling, impossible,
Spoiled.
If I can’t do this properly,
What do I have?
I have after-dinner plans,
Foiled.

I wanted you to be a cake.
I wanted you to turn out great.
But my hands are in charge of
The recipe I make,
Not my wants or desires,
Just the skill that I claim —
Put to the test
Like an amateur chef,
Motherfucker, will someone
Take over this mess?

I don’t want to bake anymore.
I don’t want to make this cake anymore.
I wanted a taste,
And I thought I could take it,
But not every meal
Deserves a dessert,
And I think that means this time,
For what it’s not worth.
I’ve screwed it all up,
It will taste just like dirt,
And I don’t want to cause
This confectionery hurt.
I don’t want to bake anymore.

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