When media stops being social. Pt. I

When Instagram stories first popped up on my radar, I thought to myself: I am not getting involved with this. This is just another form of media that will suck away my time and attention span. I am going to resist.
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I resisted for about two months before I was right, up in the front, consuming and producing stories for my Instagram followers. Suddenly, everything became important. Making soup became important and worthy of documenting. Going for walks with my husband became important and worthy of documenting. Little things– things that used to be simple and all my own– became packaged and delivered out into the world. My life was ready to be consumed.
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We’ve seen the good, the negative, and the somewhat weird effects because of that delivery. We’ve been in public places where people come up to us and classify us as “couple goals.” We get the “I love watching your life” comments.  I don’t fault these people. We put it out there. As much as we think our actions won’t affect people, they do. Somehow, I have thousands of people who watch me cook dinner or go out on a date night. I give them peeks into my life. It’s on me.
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But recently, I started to feel tired. I noticed that even though I was creating my own Instagram stories, I went spending just as much time (maybe more) consuming the stories of other people. Rarely, unless it was a food blogger, did I walk away feeling like I retained any of the information. More than that, I was consuming the stories happening in the lives of my friends. I was peeking in throughout the day to see what they were up to, how their work was going, or what funny things they’d discovered about life that hour.
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Instagram stories became a regular habit in my life. I watched them in the morning, sleep still stuck in my eyes. Lane and I would sit up in bed and you could hear the voices of friends and family floating over the railings of our lofted bedroom.
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I found different feelings starting to sprout up inside of me: exhaustion, sadness, and envy. Never joy though. Envy was a big one for me. There would be nights where Lane and I would both be sitting on the couch, watching stories when we should have just been talking to one another, and our moods would suddenly switch. We’d see our friends on the screen, hanging out and laughing with one another. We’d witness hang-outs we never got invited to. Suddenly our nights became the sagas of Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
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More feelings came up. Deeper feelings of bitterness or sadness. Insecurities. It’s crazy how social media turn us on or off in this way. One minute we are golden and the next we are in a pit of despair because of something that happened on a screen. You start to ask yourself questions: What is wrong with me? Do they not like us? You question the things you post online: Am I being inclusive? Am I only posting this to let people know I am doing it? Am I purposefully hoping this story will leave someone else feeling left out?
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It’s a nasty cycle. More and more, we are beginning to have honest conversations about social media and how it is transforming our lives. We are reciting the statistics back and forth to one another. There has been a rise in anxiety and depression in the last few years, thanks to social media.
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My friends and I were talking about this other day while we grabbed a coffee. My friend Liz said something that I believe is crucial: we are in control. No one is forcing us to consume social media. It’s on us if we are allowing the snapshots of other people’s lives to make us insecure, bitter, resentful or jealous. At the end of the day, we are responsible for how much we consume and if we keep consuming it after it makes us feel nasty inside.
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So a few months ago, I started taking my life back. Little by little. Piece by piece. It began with Instagram stories.
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And let me tell you, something in me shifted. Something changed and it was beautiful.
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TO BE CONTINUED >>>

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The age of idleness.

The word is idleness. That’s the word that flew out from my lips as I meandered through the rows of chairs in the church auditorium, placing my hand on each seat.

I joined a prayer team last month at my church. The prayer team is basically the people who come in before and after the events and cover the whole thing in prayer. I like this job. I like being able to talk to God and listen as I say prayers over every seat. It keeps me optimistic and open. I want people to have whatever encounter with God they feel they need to have.

The word that I kept hearing as I prayed is that one mentioned above: idleness. I go to a dictionary the next day to read the definition. Idleness is basically the sister of laziness. Idleness is taking precious time and not using it for good or productive things.

As I am thinking about this word, I think about social media. I think about all the time I am prone to wasting when I pick up my phone and begin scrolling.

 

I’m fearful sometimes. I don’t want to give fear a big role in this story but I am scared sometimes of who we are becoming when we focus so much on watching other people live their lives. We have our own lives to live but we would rather be spectators. Assuming the role of a spectator is easier than going out and living. Watching and interpreting from behind a screen is easier than reaching out to have the hard conversation.

We do it more habitually now. We consume Facebook statuses, tweets, stories, and snaps. We peek into the lives of other people and, whether we admire or envy them, we allow their daily routines to seep into us and take space in our hearts.

I think there is a fine line between consuming content because we adore it and it inspires us and then consuming because we feel bored or we think we feel entitled to the pieces of someone else’s life. I say all of this because I have struggled firsthand with it. I have gone from watching stories innocently to suddenly being unable to control my emotions of envy, jealousy, or comparison with another person. I watch to stay in the loop. I watch to keep an eye on the person.

For a long time, I allowed social media to dictate my emotions and I floundered because of it. This does not help me. It only hurts me. I stopped watching these stories eventually. I turned a new leaf for myself.

 

I’m a believer that we either give people life or we give them death. That sounds pretty serious. I try to remind myself of this death/life dichotomy when I am going online to post something. I try to ask myself the necessary questions: Is this important? Do people need this? Am I posting because I feel full or because I feel empty? If I am not giving something to the world then maybe I am taking something way from it.

If I cannot find a reason in myself– or if I am posting out of a need for validation– then I try to step back and reevaluate. I think the more followers you have, the more weight you carry as an influencer. I want to take that influence seriously. I want to be able to say, when all is said and done, I steered people in a direction that made them feel safe, seen, valuable and able. I don’t want to say I used social media only to puff myself up and give myself false feelings of being safe, seen, valuable and able.

 

In my senior year of college, the administrators of our clubs on campus made all the student leaders participate in a service day. We scattered all over Worcester sweeping sidewalks and reading to the elderly.  I ended up playing cards at a nursing home with a group of women were around age 80 and upwards.

Maggie was the queen bee of the card game that day. She was the most outspoken of the bunch. I made the mistake of checking my phone while waiting for Maggie to make her next move. I was probably waiting on a text from a guy, fishing for some sort of approval. I don’t remember.

“I don’t understand all you young people,” Maggie said, directing her comment at me without a tinge of hesitation. “You are always talking to one another on a screen. My grand-daughter talks to all her best friends on a screen. That is not a best friend, I want to tell her! You need to be able to see your best friend, touch your best friend, smellllll your best friend.”

That conversation was 7 years ago. I still remember it. It still sticks in my brain as I recall Maggie playing gin. I didn’t know, and Maggie didn’t know, that social media was just beginning back then. We’d yet to see an era where business happened on a screen, friendships blossomed and broke on a screen, and texts became the way to reach out and ask: are you okay? The year is 2017 and, still, nothing can replace the feeling of someone sitting beside you and learning to cradle your pain like their own.

I think we can either participate in each other’s lives relentlessly or we can watch from the sidelines. Life never called us to the sidelines. It never asked us to watch people go through life from behind a screen. So when did we bench ourselves? When did we accept 2-d versions of ourselves as being enough for other people?

 

One day I’ll be the new Maggie. I’ll be playing gin and hoping people remember to feed me. I don’t know what the world will look like when that happens. All I have in my possession is this meager time in between. I want to fill it with real stuff. Tangibility. People meeting up. Friends showing up at my door with food. I want meal trains and conversations where the wine runs out. I want a collection of those thick moments you have when you sit with someone and you don’t say anything. The pain is thick but you stay. You stay and you wait for the resolution to arrive. You quit waiting for the lightbulb to go off in the room and you wake up long enough to see: you are the lightbulb. You are the carrier of that necessary light.

I want the richest life and I am making my steps towards it. I want to say I am making progress. With each moment where the phone stays face down on the table and I pull my husband in for a kiss, I stay and make progress. In order to make progress, I think you have to stay in moments long enough to feel them wash over you. Feel the pain. The love. The lack. The weight of being human. It’s rich. Really, it’s the opposite of idle.

Be a participant.

There needs to be a separation between social media and my personal life. I am realizing this more and more each day as I get older and deeper into my 20’s.

I’ve been thinking about this so much lately. I want there to be something for keeps. I want every single one of us to have something for keeps at the end of each day, something that belongs to only us.

It’s so easy to have something wonderful happen– a job promotion, an engagement, a birthday– and then immediately think, “How can I share this? How can I announce to the world this is happening?”

I don’t think there is necessarily anything wrong with that but when we put it online, we release it from our hands. It is no longer our private moment.

Continue reading “Be a participant.”

An Open Letter to Socality Barbie.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 4.45.01 PMphoto cred: Socality Barbie

 

Dear Socality Barbie,

I broke the Chemex coffee maker this morning trying to take a photo of it. It’s dumb to even ask why I was trying to document the experience– I wanted people to know that I’d gotten up, made my own coffee, and was now preparing to conquer the first Monday of the fall in a flannel. Why else would I need the perfect morning lighting and my cellphone at 6am?

The cone of the Chemex cracked as I abruptly hit it against the kitchen cabinet and watched the spout shatter into three thick pieces. My dad got my mom the Chemex for their anniversary. She looked at me and blinked twice like, “Why are you even taking a picture of this?” Now I have to buy her a new coffee maker before I fly back to Georgia on Sunday.

Now not a single soul knows how authentically I managed to live this morning with my coffee and my journal and my bible. If you felt like your day was missing something then it was probably that photo. Happy to solve the mystery for you, Socal.

But do you know what happened after the glass cracked this morning? Life moved forward without the documentation. I sipped my coffee. It was still good and piping hot. No one was made better or worse because of some inspirational caption I planned to pair with a photo softened by VSCO Cam. I tasted real life for a second and it felt pretty foreign on my lips. I wrapped myself in a blanket and a little bit of conviction for this day: why is it necessary to obsess over making life look perfect for the others? We all know it isn’t. Why does the charade play on until something breaks? Glass or a heart, why can’t I actually show you my real mess?

 

You weren’t made to have my actual, day-to-day mess.

It’s you and a couple hundred or thousand followers who are not equipped for what happens when my junk actually hits the fan. You and I both know it, Socal: the day you get drunk and verbose, leave Ken, and act like an angry train wreck with a megaphone on all your social media streams then people on the fringes won’t want you anymore. It’s harsh but probably true. Ken’s friends will unfollow you. You’ll figure out if Skipper isn’t just some Judas with long hair and high heels when she goes after Ken like hot bait.

So manage your mess, Barbie. We want a mess we can monitor from the people we follow. We want honesty without the bruising. We want the kind of pain that is digestible and won’t disturb our days. The day you use social media as a megaphone for your pain– the kind of pain latte art can’t touch– people will leave you.

Some people will start talking in their circles the day you start to let the anger and the rant statuses flow. They will start psycho-analyzing and putting the pieces together from a safe distance. They will take social media and turn it into a soap opera, sigh out of relief as they say, “At least I’m doing better.” But when did tiny glimpses of our lives– cropped to perfection– become the measuring stick for who is doing better and who is doing worse? When did life, and managing to live it, become a competition and a comparison? When did we confuse the real with fake and the fake with real?

My mom thinks I’m being a little too cruel to you, Barbie, seeing as you aren’t really “real” but I reminded her of all the times people manage to say, “Well, that person was fun to follow until that happened.” And we all know what that thing was.

Point is this: we want you right now, Barbie. We like you right now. You are doing something awesome and managing to make some really great puns of out of posed coffee shots and #liveauthentic hashtags. When you are doing something awesome people will always want to claim you and tag you. When you are making life look easy then people want to follow you.

Social media is in the DNA of our relationships now.

It scares me to say that but it’s true. I wanted to see how a friend was doing the other day and I clicked into her Instagram. I checked her off my mental list without even using the phone in my hand to perform the task it was always meant to do– dial and hear a person’s crackly voice on the other line, find out they’re okay. I know how damaging that action of mine was. I know because I sat across from a friend last winter, in the thick of a depression I chose to name after a city because it was just that wide and just that big, and I heard them say to me, “From the looks of social media, you are doing just fine.”

Them saying that, it broke my heart. It broke my heart to think that, because I had white walls in all my pictures, it meant there was no longer a reason to reach out and ask if I was really doing okay. Socality Barbie, I am so afraid to check people off my list because of surface level visuals. I am so afraid to find out, too late, that I needed to ask “how are you” before someone died inside and no one could get to them.

Please don’t hide within the cracks of the exposed-brick breweries and trendy tiled coffee shops you find. If you are lost, pick up the phone and call someone. If you think you are about to lose someone (and yes, there is a gut feeling for that), pick up the phone and call them. Ask them four words: are you really okay?

We save lives everyday when we just manage to speak up.

This whole letter might be a terrible waste.

Maybe your life is as perfect as you portray it to be, Socality Barbie. In that case, congratulations! You beat us all with your plastic lattes and trendy hiking boots. Regardless, I hope you find something real today. Something tangible and intangible, all at the same time, that you would skip the act of documenting it just so you could live inside it for a little bit longer.

I hope you spot a rare, soon to be extinct, moment. And I hope it’s all yours- no need to share it. Maybe it’s the smile of an old man who is going to leave this earth real soon. Maybe it’s a piece of a mail from a friend you used to be able to trace the scent of when they showed up in a room. Maybe it’s a single dance from a cute stranger at a wedding who makes you feel like you’re the most beautiful thing in his orbit.

Either way, I hope you feel known.

I hope you feel picked out and chosen.

I hope something grabs you so hard, shakes you so good, that even the notifications can’t touch it.

You’re not fake, Socality Barbie. You– like the rest of us– are probably just doing the best you can within a world that wants to trace and tag every tiny, beautiful piece of itself.

Drop the mic & go find Sarah.

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“What were you like at 20?”

Her text came through this morning in the middle of my writing hours.

I had to pause. Walk away from the computer. Find a space on the floor where, if you sit in just the right spot, the sunlight will flood through the window and cover your knees like a soft, thin blanket.

I honestly haven’t given much thought to who I was at 20 years old. That was seven years ago. I was a junior in college.

I responded to her text with a bunch of scenarios:

When I was 20, I had my first internship with the city’s newspaper. I wore high heels and strut around the campus center like I was really important— an absolute boss.

When I was 20, I was enamored with a boy who would read me Walt Whitman poetry at 2am and then take me for walks around campus at 4am. I wrote poems about him. I haven’t written a poem since him.

When I was 20, I was a perfectionist. As much as I would like to write that I was free and happy and spontaneous, I was really wrapped tightly into rules. I was dying for the approval of others. I had to look perfect at all times. It was a front & a facade. If there was a position at stake, I had to get it. If there was a grade to be made, I had to make it.

When I was 20, I had a lot of questions— most of them revolved around God. I wasn’t in the mode of trusting God, or actually even liking him. I was a bit angry about the amount of “hurdles” people seemed to place in front of the prospect of getting to God.

But I know I prayed big prayers. I know I prayed on more than a dozen occasions, “God, if you give me a voice then I will use it. If you give me something big to take care of, I won’t let you down.”

When I was 20, life could not move fast enough for me. People could not love me hard enough. The world could not understand me well enough.

I wanted more responsibility. I wanted more purpose.

“Does that help?” I type back to her.

She digs deeper.

“What was it like for you the summer before your senior year of college?”

“The best summer I’ve ever had,” I say. “I met my best friends. Last time I felt really known up until now.”

She goes on to tell me that everyone she knows is either engaged or moving into houses with roommates. She says that when she runs into the people, they just look at her like they expected more out of her.

“I’m not engaged or married,” she says. “I’m not even in a serious relationship. I don’t even have a person. I’ll graduate and probably still be living with my parents.

It’s 2015: the year nobody wants to be in love and everyone owns a selfie stick. And I’m starting to think the two are kind of related. We are stricken by the fear of missing out.”

This girl is wise. I cannot imagine people looking at her, at the age of 20, and thinking, “What happened to you?”

Why are you not married? Why are you not swallowed up in white and flowers and bridesmaids by now?

I have to be starkly honest:

Singleness has been the single hardest thing about living in the South.

It’s not the heat and it’s not the religion— it’s the pace in which life moves down here. If I was in New York City people would give me at least a few more years to be single and figure it out. In New York, we often pick career over spouse. We pay a ridiculous amount of rent for an incredibly small space. Dating apps are actually incredibly useful, not overly stigmatized. Life is a collection of Chinese takeout and conversations at 2am on someone’s rooftop where we keep plotting to “change the world.” 

In New York City, you explore a lot of religions. You meet a lot of opposition. You learn to be accepting and open and real. You mess up and you pair up and you break up and you grow up.

This isn’t a slam on geography or culture, it’s just my verbose & romanticized way of saying: some people think its incredibly tragic that I am 27 and still single.

And honestly? I finally think it’s beautiful.

It’s taken me nearly 7 years to finally be content with a naked left hand. I can tell you this though: at age 20, I made a sacrifice. I would make the same sacrifice at the age of 22 and 24 and 26— the choice to be alone and to be single instead of taken. The choice to invest everything I had— every hour I could— into the generation rising up.

To invest in a generation, you need to be willing to make sacrifice. It’s not like God came to me and was all like, “Boo, you have to be single (Paul-style) if you want me to give you big work to do.” Never. But I realized I only wanted a boyfriend to plug up some bottomless hole inside of myself. Just in the way you are not a lifeboat, someone else is not your hole-filler. Stop taking all the good job descriptions away from God.

I’m learning that the right person won’t make you want forfeit your whole being. The right person will make you want to grow into your whole being. The right person makes you want to fill up the space you once apologized for.

By the age of 24, I was the girl in the airports that old people pitied.

They thought if I was spending so much time in airports then there was no chance I could be in love and traveling and still be giving so much of my time to my work.

“There is no way you have time to be with someone,” they would say, looking at me with disdain. They probably wondered about those lonely, double-bed hotel rooms in Baltimore and Buffalo more than I did.

But by the age of 24, God was giving me everything I prayed for when I was 20. He had built my character, and my faith, and my capacity up until that point. He was handing me plane tickets, big stages, book deals, late night diner trips with strangers, and signings. More than anything– though I didn’t see it at first– he was handing me a chance to be with his people.

People always want to talk to me about the big crowds and the glamorous parts of traveling. These days I smile and say, “All of that matters until you meet a Sarah. It is lonely but it still matters until you meet a Sarah.

After you meet a Sarah, none of that “status stuff” matters any longer.”

I met Sarah at an awkward youth conference where I was speaking.

The kids didn’t really smell good. They had bad attitudes. I felt deflated on stage because that’s what teenagers can sometimes do unintentionally: make you feel like the least interesting creature to ever be placed under bright lights and given a microphone.

I came off the stage to find her waiting for me. Sarah, that is. Before I could even catch my breath to say anything to her, she was rattling off every shortcoming she could name: “I’m not good at this… and I hate myself for this… and one time I did this… and it made me feel this way… And I self-harmed last week… And sometimes I don’t think I even want to be here.”

She looked down a lot. She fidgeted with her hands. I think she was waiting for me to look in the other direction and walk away.

Instead, I grabbed her shoulders. I drew her in as close as I could. I whispered into her ear with the loudest whisper possible, “Sarah, you’re okay. Stop looking for a reason to not be okay. You got up today. You’re right here. You’re okay.”

Sarah broke instantly. She crumbled and was suddenly in my arms sobbing. I didn’t know what else to do but hold this stranger and rock with her for as long as she needed me to hold her and rock her. 

I don’t really know how long we rocked for. I lost track of time. In that moment, nothing was an accident. Not my singleness, not my geography. You learn really quickly that nothing is an accident when you just show up. 

And then came the broken hearts in New York City. The redemption stories in Cincinnati. The broken dishes in Los Angeles. The unrequited love tales in Seattle. The questions of identity in Boston. One girl in Minnesota cried as she told me that she finally discovered self-worth on a Fall day while wearing her favorite red sweater. The mother of a child who tragically passed away held my hands in Michigan and thanked me for the love letters we sent her in her time of grieving. A boy in Southern Alabama told me it was a letter from me— mailed back in 2010 at the height of my depression— that was one of three letters that would save his life.

At the age of 27, I have spoken in rooms with only 15 to arenas of over 20,000. I’ve been on over 100 stages. I have stayed after to talk with hundreds of college students. I have enough experience to confidently say this: we are all looking for the same thing today. We all want to belong. We all someone to see us. We are all so hopeful that our lives will not be an accident. We struggle with the fight that exists between God and culture.

Culture screams, “Be big! Be bright! Be front! Be center! Be the one on fire!”

God proclaims, “Be small. Be patient. Be humble. Find your place on the back-burner. Drop the mic, this isn’t about you.”

The things I worry about the most when it comes to my generation?

That we will somehow fall too in love with the glory that comes with being “liked” and “retweeted” and “shared.” My fear is that we love and hate ourselves too much, all at the same time. My fear is that we never learn to speak or find a voice because the culture is keeping us on some treasure hunt to find the Missing Pieces. The spouse. The house. The relationship. The child. The next step. The promotion. The job. The education. I could keep going.

My fear is we’re distracted. We are all just scrolling idly through the streams, hungering and searching for the Missing Pieces. We all miss chances when we are digging ourselves into the trenches of self-pity just because we think we should have found someone by now, lived somewhere different, accomplished more.

What if you are missing no pieces and you are simply missing people?

What if you are missing Sarah? What if you are too distracted to just see Sarah today? 

This I know: God doesn’t orchestrate accidents.

He isn’t looking at your life right now and thinking, “If you just tried harder, I would have moved more. If you hadn’t fallen for him or gone for her, I would have loved you more.” That’s not God, that’s simply the lies in your head that you so graciously bestowed with a microphone.

You don’t need a plane ticket to rescue a heart.

You don’t need be someone’s “person” to be complete.

You don’t need a house with a yard to prove you’re worthy of taking up space in this world.

The person with the home often wants the love.

The person with the love often wants to do the rescuing.

The person doing the rescuing often wants the home.

We all like greener grass. We all could have part-time jobs when it comes to worshipping the greener grass but God’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, regardless of our attitudes.

You could let him lead though. Open your hands. Take your foot off the brakes, or the gas, or wherever you’ve got it placed out of fear. You could learn contentment in the way you learn the details of a boy in a coffee shop. You could stop thinking about accidents so much— where you could have gone by now, who you could have met by now.

You could go your whole life convincing people that they, themselves, are not an accident.

Or you could do the work to see that you, yourself, are not an accident.

Your questions— not an accident.

Your geography— not accident.

Your darkness— not an accident.

Your pitfalls— not an accident.

Your relationship status— not an accident.

There is nothing accidental about the fact that you’re still here.

So come matter here. Please, come matter here.

There are Sarah’s who need you– they need you to pay attention long enough to see them just so you can tell them they’re okay too. We all need to know we are okay. We all need to hear the words, “Me too. I feel that way too.”

So please come here. Please drop your mic.

Drop the mic and go find Sarah instead. 

Tell her she’s okay. Just tell her she’s okay today. 

Thank you for staying. (Probably Part 1)

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I have stood on countless amounts of stages and delivered a talk called “Stay.”

The talk is broken up into three sections. Stay Hungry. Stay Small. Stay Here.

I never had an issue with being hungry. I have been hungry for my whole entire existence. I was always the girl who wanted to be used. The girl who wanted to be chosen. I wanted to serve God if it meant he would give me things to do. I remember wanting that before I even had a relationship with God. I remember high school parties. The room spinning. The drunkenness. Me in the corner, just thinking, “God, am I an accident for wanting to do so much and make such a difference when no one else seems to care?”

I never had an issue with being small. I have never puffed myself up to be big. I’ve honestly never believed in myself enough to do that. I’ve spent the latter half of my years not even believing in the worthiness of my own story. I probably need to learn to get a bit bigger. We’ll see.

It’s the staying part– the “staying here” part– that has always been my struggle.

I don’t want to be too hard on myself, I just want to say that staying is really, really, really hard. And I know this because I sat at my favorite coffee shop in Atlanta– the one where the baristas write you little love letters when they serve you drinks– with one of my good friends and we talked about love. And how loving someone and giving your heart to someone is really, really, really hard.

I don’t remember all the words we said but I do remember saying that loving someone is hard because staying is hard. The two correlate. They function within one another. And if you stay, you eventually have to let someone in. If you let someone in, you eventually have to drop the facade. You have to drop the act. You have to unpack your suitcases.

This probably goes deeper. I could probably write a whole book and just call it “Thank You for Staying.”

Thank you for staying.

That’s what I texted to one of my friends during one of the hardest seasons of my life. Thank you for staying. It was simple. It carried weight for me to say it.

And honestly? I used to look at that friend in church before I really knew her and I would  think, “She has it all together. And her life is full. And she would not want to be my friend. And there must be no room for me.”

And while I don’t know which ones of those things are lies, I’ve learned that I have to be really careful with that last one: there must be no room for me.

That’s a damaging lie to staple to yourself: there must be no room for me.

What I am learning lately is that it’s not about the dishes.

It’s never really about the dishes.

I used to live in a community house in the Bronx, New York. I lived with 4 other girls. And “community” is a tough and gritty word that I still don’t really like because it feels too hard and it makes you face yourself pretty honestly (spoiler alert: you won’t always like what you see).

I remember them telling us during the orientation for the program that, at one point, someone would forget to do the dishes (or in my case: I would leave food on the dishes just because I am an inadequate cleaner who is too busy writing love stories in her head). And then someone would neglect to confront the dishes. And then another thing would happen. And then another thing would happen. And eventually, there would be an explosion. And all the little things would come crashing down on top of one another. And you will realize that it all started because of the dishes. Suddenly, it wasn’t about the dishes anymore.

You let it build and build and build, instead of just facing it when it was small.

I think that has a lot to do with the lies we tell ourselves. The fear we tolerate. The things we do or don’t do.

It starts small. And it grows and it grows and it overtakes us when we don’t confront it. It gets hungrier. And hungrier. Until there is a breaking point. Until you’ve convinced yourself that you’re the sum of your fears & the sum of your worries & the sum of your lies– as if each one was written upon your skin in Sharpie marker and people could see everything when they went to shake your hand.

I don’t know how to hash all the lies out just yet.

I am trying. I like to think I am getting better than ever before. But I know that it doesn’t come from moving away from it.

The easy solution in my head is always to move. To go somewhere else. To escape. To get away. And that’s never going to give you a full life– it is going to give you a life of running with a suitcase you can’t seem to put down.

That person I didn’t think would have enough room for me, she stayed.

She prayed. She became a warrior. She reminded me to laugh. She has a full, full life and yet she keeps the doors and windows opens for newcomers who show up tired & empty.

And me? I know I would give everything and the rest of the world to be just like her. To know how to open my windows and open my doors and ask people to come in, saying, “Hey, I know you’re tired. I know you’re stressed. And I want you to stay. I want you to stay and undo the latches on that suitcase and take out everything and put it away. Put the things away for good.

I am going to make some tea. We are going to talk. And you are finally, finally going to stay.

And you are going to fight. There is enough room for you.”

How to be “less busy.”

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The tune flooded into my ear buds and I slowed my pace from a run to a walk.

A slow walk, I was huffing and breathing as the sounds of Judy Garland reached my ears. She started to sing, “Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light.”

The sun was setting. It was falling beneath a hill, just trying so anxiously to keep its head up past 5:30pm. Two silhouettes tumbled over the hill. I never would have noticed them if I hadn’t slowed down enough to walk and look around. It was a guy and girl. He was sitting in a motorized wheelchair and she was sitting in his lap. A fleece blanket was wrapped around her and that guy was holding her so tightly as if tell the world, “I know what I have and I am holding it tightly.”

The two barreled down the hill. They were laughing wildly and I couldn’t hear the words coming out from their mouths. As I walked past them, they both looked at me. They paused their laughter and looked at me in the eyes– as if they were both saying, “Come into our moment. There is room for you, too.”

The girl was grinning ear-to-ear and I bet she had her father’s smile. The guy’s mouth was agape. He was missing two front teeth and the rest of them were gold. Together, they went on laughing and rolling down the hill in their motorized wheelchair.

I watched them go on their way as the words continued to play in my ears, “from now on, our troubles will be miles away…”

I thought about the two of them the whole way home.

I thought about how I could have missed that moment– that beautiful and rare moment when you get to witness two people loving each other so fluidly. I thought about how perfect it was and I am still wondering: did they know how perfect it was? Do we know a perfect moment when we have it in our hands? No crying. No fighting. No broken dishes. Just laughter and the chance to be young and in love.

 

These are the things I miss when I am busy.

I say I want to be “less busy” but I forget that “less busy” is something you must train yourself to be. I think, these are the things I don’t see when I am trying just so hard to reach the next best thing. These are all the reasons why November shows up and I don’t know how to handle her. I don’t know how to handle her pauses. Her hopes that I’ll show gratitude. Her patience towards me when I want to keep hustling and she’s just fine to stand in the corner– letting me rip the days of her off the calendar– and only say once in all her 31 days, “You’re going to miss me when I am gone. I am the introduction to your most favorite season. And you’re going to miss me if you don’t look up, girl. Looking up is the whole point.”

Looking up is the whole point to this time of year.

Judy kept singing as I walked up the hill, sat on my porch and waited for the moon to hang and make the night jealous. I kept hitting repeat on that song– my favorite Christmas ballad– just so I could hear those two lines sung over and over again, “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow.”

There it is, I think to myself, as if I can place a finger down on how this season makes me feel: it makes me feel hopeful. It makes me feel like the world is okay. And humanity is working somehow. And yet, I am sad. I am sad because all the songs are saying this should be the happiest time of the year. And yet, life didn’t get perfect just because November came. And the songs that trace the radio always seem to remind me: people pass away. Life goes too quick. People pass away and they stop calling you to ask if you’ve noticed the lights yet this year.

I want to live in a world where we always remember to go and see the lights.

It’s as if the air gets colder and we start saying things we never thought to say when the sunscreen was out– “I miss you. And I wish you were here. And why can’t you just be here? It’s not fair. It makes no sense. Are you doing ok? I hope you are doing ok. Life is fine. It’s good, even. But I don’t miss you any less.

There is someone I still want to call up and say, “Listen, I don’t even care where you are. It could be ten thousand miles away from me and I’d be okay with that, as long as I could still call you from time to time and hear your voice. I just want to hear you tell me you’ve been okay this whole time. Tell me dying didn’t hurt you. Tell me you’ve been laughing and you’ve been okay and yes, you managed to find some time to see the lights.”

Truth told: I wanted to started this whole piece by writing, “This is a piece about nothing and everything– all at the same time.” That is just how I feel about life these days.

I mean, there are moments when we swear we have everything we want. We are happy. We are invincible. We are seeing things so clearly. And then there are moments when we realize we are nothing. We are small– just flecks. And this whole thing passes us by so quickly. This whole thing slips from our fingers and we lose people before we are ready to let them go. We shake our fists at a God who makes us attend funerals for the people who made us feel like the only thing spinning in their orbit. And then we move on. Because there’s really nothing more we can do but go on living like time would be up for us too some day.

 

This piece is about everything and nothing at all.

It’s as much about that as it is about a night that happened a few weeks ago. It was me and two friends. The coffee shop with the pretty orange stools lined up by the ceiling-high windows closed at ten and we were still talking. The night was still young for us.

We picked up our bags, shoveled laptops into their cases, and walked to a bar across the street. It was the day I got a package in the mail full of two-dozen books. My book. Printed. Bound. “Galley proofs,” as they call them in the industry.

“This girl has a book,” my friend announced to the bartender as he took our order. “It’s a real book and it’ll be out in March!”

The bartender just looked as us strangely while my friend held the book high in the air and I just wanted to whisper, “I wrote that thing. He’s holding all the proof in my little world that I was capable of getting my heart out of my chest long enough to wrestle it down to a page.”

The bartender looked at us as though he thought life was going to disappoint us more eventually. For now, we were untouchable. I ordered a margarita. We split queso dip. And somehow, someway, I just started reading the book aloud. A few sentences. Then a few pages. We were laughing. We were crying. My voice was trembling. And one point, one of the boys paused and looked at me from across the table with tears in his eyes.

“It’s only cold air and songs,” he told me. “Those are the only things that make feel the way your words do.” Cold air and songs. I thought, that is the loveliest compliment I’ve ever heard.

“We’re going to remember this,” he said, snapping the somber moment in two. He motioned us all to take our drinks and hold them high to the air. “Years from now, I know I won’t remember everything but I am going to remember this night. I am always going to remember being here.”

We clinked our glasses together. If I had a photographic memory I would have snapped, snapped and chosen to keep that pile of seconds forever.

You’re right, I thought in my head as we set the glasses down on the table. You’re right, I thought again as I opened my car door and got inside just a few minutes later, waiting for the heat to trickle into the Camry.

You’re right, I will remember this too. I’ll remember that our phones didn’t sit on the table. We weren’t checking tweets. We were just completely here in a world that makes me feel us feel like we always need to be somewhere else. We were just as we are– young, and hopeless, and hopeful and here.

And it’s true– another season will come through. And we’ll get a little older. Some of us will make it. Some of us won’t. There will be more celebrations. There will be more funerals. There will be more parties, and black tights, and clinking glasses. They’ll be more gold and people who make us feel like falling in love and chunky wool sweaters. We’ll claim to be a little busier. We’ll promise to get a little slower.

Life will keep unraveling. It’ll keep coming. But, for now, I like to think we have it good. It feels good right now, like that moment when you are sitting in an empty coffee shop on a Thursday night and someone comes and opens their computer right beside you. And suddenly your shoulders relax and you breathe out and you feel less alone because they showed up.

That’s just how it feels to me. It might not be perfect. It might never be perfect. But it’s good and we’re here. And it makes me feel like I should call someone up tonight. I should call someone up tonight and ask them before it’s too late: “Hey, have you gotten a chance to see the lights this year?”

 

photo cred.