If we hear something over and over again, it becomes normal.
Repetition, expertly applied, becomes a sleeping pill, a chemical designed to lull us into compliance.
What at first seems sharply wrong is soon softened by the cascading words, crashing against the shore over
-and over again.
If we hear dads tell their sons to, “toughen up,” over and over again,
It becomes normal.
Because apparently feeling is a woman’s sin
And boys aren’t allowed the temptation.
If we hear, “you throw like a girl,” over and over again,
It becomes normal.
Like a girl
Like a girl
Like a girl.
Spit out of mocking lips like a taste they didn’t like.
The words acidic, burning skin, a scar left to remind us that
XX chromosomes mean shame and, “like a girl” means embarrassing.
If we hear people greet each other with empty, “how are you?”s over and over again,
It becomes normal.
How are you- good
How are you- fine
How are you- actually, I’m-
The phrase left to echo in the spaces between asking and caring.
For to treat a platitude as anything else is a stamp of naivety,
A breach in social contract.
If we hear people say, “you can’t take a joke,” over and over again,
it becomes normal.
Can’t take a joke
Can’t take a joke
Can’t take a joke
The implication slapping our pain in the face,
Because even though their words slice through our thin, carefully woven beliefs,
And even though their words will leave us with a days-long stomach ache,
And even though their words chip away at the pieces that make us us,
We’re choosing to be offended.
And if we hear people say, “I love you anyway” over and over again,
It becomes normal.
I love you anyway
I love you anyway
I love you anyway
Stipulated love masquerading as real.
They tell us they love us despite our flaws,
Not realizing that the word we hear isn’t love, it’s flaws,
Their pity-sharpened claws scratch at our souls,
But how lucky that they love us anyway.
The repetition is a carousel we can’t seem to exit
And the circular justifications for cruelty
Instead of making us dizzy, make us numb.
Because if we hear something over and over again,
It becomes a normality
And those normalities, so often raised out of the ashes of good intent,
Can become a noose,
Ensuring permanent numbness.
And numbness is the desertion of feeling, the product of a society that tells you your experiences aren’t valid. Their pre-packaged viewpoints are available for consumption, though, if you can force yourself to swallow the pill.
But if repetition has the power to normalize,
Then we should be able to normalize words and actions too.
Instead of interrupting, we can listen. Over and over again.
Instead of saying, “how are you?” Out of robot lips, we can wait for an answer. Over and over again.
Instead of looking for cracks, we can look for beauty. Over and over again.
We can use repetition not to numb, but to validate.
We can let waves of acceptance crash over and over again.
So let’s say, “I love you, all of you” over and over again,
Tonight I stared up into the darkness and sighed as Conlin's sporadic snoring pushed me rather ungently from bed. I was restless and Conlin's snoring was relentless and so I rose. And here I am, my curser pulsing and my words teetering from foot to foot, anxious to arrange themselves.
I have so many things I want to write. Lists of things.
My desk has become a boarding house for post-it notes on which hastily scrawled to-do lists live. Occasionally, optimistically, I add, "blog," to the list and then watch as everything else gets checked off and the purple-penned blog begins to discolor, the orphan item on a list of completed tasks.
But here I am. Me, my words, and the illogical urge to write lists.
Buckle up. I'm 'bout to list at you.
THINGS THAT MAKE ME SAD:
//the inconsistent tone of this post //the nutritional value of pizza //donald trump //but seriously. donald trump //watching humans use tradition as an excuse for hatred //seeing the smiles slip off my students' faces when they think no one is watching //the way my student's voice quivered as he told the carpet he didn't think his parents loved him //seeing my students hurt //see any of my students hurt.
THINGS THAT MAKE ME HAPPY:
//reading books, good books, particularly in the early morning or late at night //sipping half crio/half coffee while reading //spending time with friends that make me feel whole //strawberries //laughing hard and laughing frequently //getting enough sleep so I feel restless at night //making up narratives to explore the lives of the people a few treadmills over //stumbling upon a sentence that makes life sharpen //dancing when I'm alone //dancing when I'm not alone //walking barefoot on warm pavement //watching sunlight glint off car tops //teaching //watching one of my students wait for his bus while whispering his slam poem to the sky like an offering//my students //all of my students.
I am about to proffer a smattering of
advice and thoughts. I know, I know. Who am I to offer advice? I’m 24-years
old, look relatively like the other thousands of students with whom you are
packed into the hallways like sardines, and am, truthfully, overly familiar
with law and order SVU episodes & lipstick brands. I’m not an expert in
much, except perhaps the exact amount of pizza & Nutella it takes to send
you to bed clutching your heart and wondering, somewhat seriously, at what
point you should call an ambulance. So why, amidst my abounding
imperfection, do I insist on writing this letter? It comes down to this:
Imperfection does not negate the value
of one’s words. Imperfection is at the core of the human experience and our
stories, our truths, are all worth sharing. Even the silly, imperfect ones.
So, from one imperfect soul to another, here are some of my truths:
1. To truly love, you must be willing to
fail, to crumble, to cry.Love
means opening yourself up to vulnerability and walking, arms outstretched, into
moments that could break you. Moments that could hurt you to your very bones
and make you wonder whether you'll ever be okay again.
Love is scary, but hiding is
If you run from vulnerability, your life
may feel safe. But it will be safe and small and numb.Love means taking risks when you want
to run.Love means giving help
when you're strong and asking for it when you're weak.
Love is being seen.
You are all worthy of love, no matter
how broken and bruised you feel. You. Are. Worthy.
2. For some, high school is a beautiful
time of self-discovery and growth. For most? It's a time in the trenches, a
battle against oneself and the world.
If teaching's taught me anything, it's
that everyone is fighting a personal war.The beautiful, fragile souls you pass in the hallways are in an arena
fighting self-doubt and loathing, fighting abandonment, fighting
depression.They’re winning some
rounds, losing others.
There are many versions of the people we
pass in the hallways, and most are only given a single, incomplete narrative.We assume, we judge, we compare, we
critique. We get it wrong.
We don't have to keep getting it wrong.
We can get it right by looking for the
whole story, instead of accepting the convenient pieces being passed around. We
can get it right by loving others.
Don’t love someone despite their flaws. Don’t love them anyway. Just love them. All of them. They need it and you need it.
3. There will be times in your life when
your mind and soul will be too broken to recognize your value. Maybe that time
is now, maybe it's coming.In
these inevitable dark moments, you may think your absences go unnoticed. You
may think, even, that no one would care if you simply disappeared.
I would care. I, with every other person
on whom you've left a print, an echo, would care. You have touched and taught
and helped more people than you know.We need you here.
4. Becoming the best version of yourself
may be lonely.It may require
asking difficult questions and feeling isolated as you seek those answers.But being honest with yourself is
always worth whatever pain may follow.
Ball up your fists and ask the difficult
We’re all off-brand
versions of an unrealistic ideal and hallelujah, my friends. How boring
perfection would be. Perfection has never been a requirement for value,
whatever people may say. I’m imperfect, you’re imperfect, and we all have
things to offer.
We must be able to stand proudly with our
gifts in one hand and weaknesses in the other, the good and the bad both wholly
a part of our identity.
I debated whether or not to share this piece. Like John Green says in Paper Towns, "It is easy to forget how full the world is of people, full to bursting, and each of them imaginable and consistently misimagined." These words may only assist in your, "misimagining" of me, but bottling words seems to ensure misinterpretation. And none of us can live fully if our behaviors hinge solely on what people will make of them. We have to make something of ourselves.
Writing these words has helped me and perhaps sharing them will help you.
She could hear the words spilling across the back of the room, snaking around and into the people seated against the walls. It was a pattern she had grown to recognize. Mean words, whispered quietly at first, became a steady rumble and undulated towards the front of the classroom, toward her. She pictured the words hitting her head and then clattering to the floor, only to rise again, angry and determined.
She was a dartboard and their aim was excellent.
She willed her face to remain blank. She did not want them to know that she heard. That she internalized every. Last. Word. She did not want them to know that their words twisted her stomach. She did not want them to know that their words surrounded her like a heavy coat, that they followed her out of the classroom and through the halls.
Her pen scrawled furiously. She had never looked more attentive, more utterly invested in the words of her teacher.
His words, of course, did not stick.
After a lifetime of fighting words, the bell would ring and she would rise quickly. Head down, she walked the halls. The trick was to look just past people. Never at.
When she’d reach her car she’d let out a long, shaky breath and start the ignition. She usually made it two blocks before the tears would demand release.
She stood shivering on the cold tile, turning the knob, hotter, hotter, letting the steam build. She rubbed her arms and glanced over her shoulder at the cloudy mirror. Her eyes registered a girl, brown hair, tall; her eyes registered a girl, but registering is one thing and seeing is another.
Stepping into the stream of hot water, she sucked in her breath and turned to let the water envelop her. She tilted her face up, and the water hit her eyelids, her nose, her mouth. Her breathing started to quicken. Soon small sobs escaped and she slid against the wall, down to the shower floor. Pouring water muffled her cries and she sat there, knees against her chest, as the minutes passed.
Mixed with soapy water were the tears of a girl who felt unknown.
She wasn’t sure when the unknowing started exactly. Was it with the whispers, the darting eyes? Or with the I love you despites. I love you anyways.
Despite. Anyway. Words that break the unbroken. Words that negate the, “I love you”s.
The whispers, she thought. They came from the mouths of strangers and acquaintances. They came from the lips of people about whom she cared very little. And yet. There was something in the whispers that chipped away at the her of her. The whispers said I don’t know you and never will.
She was a symbol no one understood. She was a word whose definition had been forgotten.
When the water started to cool, she reached her hand above her head and turned the knob. She grabbed a towel and, moving from a closed space to an open one, wondered at the ability to feel choked by thoughts rather than spaces. She was suffocating in the open air.
On a Saturday night in mid July, she locked the store doors and walked toward her car. The sputter of nearby sprinklers soothed her and she paused outside her red ford. She inhaled the warm night air and felt herself fill up with summer. She turned slowly around, looking at the empty parking lot and surrounding verdure.
Listening to an instinct she mostly ignored in her adult state, she slipped off her sandals and walked to where the asphalt met grass. She stepped onto the wet blades and stood still, looking up at the stars.
She thought of the customers she had helped hours before. The difference between the people who saw her for the first time and who saw her for the hundredth.
People who met her as she was now, noticed her smile and quick laugh. They noticed her bright eyes and willingness to help. The people who had known her then saw only the broken edges they imagined she had. They saw cracks that didn’t exist and smiled sadly at her. They had to believe she was broken because she had shed the things they loved. If she wasn’t broken, maybe they were.
The sad smiles had replaced mean words and she didn’t know that she liked them any better.
She thought she could live with them, though. She could live with their sad smiles because her smile had gained a bit of light.
With a sigh, she turned from the grass and walked barefoot to her car.
She sat on her mother’s bed and smiled through teary eyes.
“I’m only sad,” her mother was saying, “...because I know that the world may not treat you kindly. I am only sad because the world doesn’t know how proud they should be of you.”
“I know,” the girl whispered. “I know.”
She felt something inside of her shift slightly. She had known that questioning the world could be lonely. She was learning that questioning the world could feel good, too.
She lay on her side, listening to the rustle of the wind through the open window and to the gentle snores of her husband. She thought about her life and the beliefs her experiences had challenged. She thought about the well-meaning sadness emanating from people who thought they knew best.
Mostly she thought about the unfettered way she now walked through the world.
She thought about the way her guilt and anxiety had eased to make space for love and laugher.
She knew then that her mind was her own.
And with that, she became me and I stepped into myself once again.