I Could Care Less

My biggest problem right now is that I am constantly fighting a growing cynicism and the temptation to just not care.

That isn’t me.  I care so deeply and overthink everything.  When I’m angry, it burns.  When I’m sad, I feel like I’m drowning.  When I’m happy, I can’t imagine being underwater ever again.

And yet, when it comes to people and relationships – friendship, romantic, or otherwise – it’s like I’m one speaker short of surround sound.

“Being cheated on is a wound, and it’s going to be a while before you’re back to normal,” Terri said, but this is older than that.  It goes back to middle school, when I befriended the new girl on the mission trip only to feel abandoned when two days later, she was spending all her time with the “cool kids” and I was alone again.  It goes back to my best friend in college, the one I spent practically every day with, who I never heard from once she graduated.  It goes as far back as I’ve been alive, as I’ve always felt just a little bit off and like I don’t quite click into place with most groups.  At some point, I stopped trying and just let myself be an outsider.

That’s fine.  No one needs to fit everywhere.

The problem is holding myself back when I do fit.  Spending an outting only half-present, or keeping conversation shallow despite someone already proving they Get It and are there for me.  When I assume relationships are temporary, I refuse to fully invest so I won’t be hurt when it ends.  I choose to actually not care instead of pretending I don’t, since it feels like everyone else is playing this game of “Who can show they care less?”

I hate that game.  I always lose and I’m tired of playing.  But caring deeply is exhausting and leaves you vulnerable.  Not caring seems so much easier, and I am consistently tempted to just stop.

And not just about people, but about everything: my job, the future, the state of the country and the world at large.  If you care, you could be disappointed.  Worse: if you really care, you’ll probably have to put in some hard work.

I had a friend tell me his second break-up was worse than his first and it about gave me a heart attack.  My first almost destroyed me and I had imagined it would get easier every time.  If it was actually going to be harder, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to risk it.

I expect the same thing of tragedies – each mass shooting, each natural disaster, every human rights violation.  I think they’ll keep getting easier to handle.

What’s awful is how true that often is.

Thinking about it, I had to consider why it might be easier.  The obvious answer is because I care less, because I’m less connected.  It seems harmless.  But in relationships, if I’m less connected, I’m also not experiencing the same magic or hopefulness for the future that makes a relationship worthwhile to me in the first place.

What do I lose if I’m not connected to the world enough to let its tragedies pain me?

I lose my anger, without which I’m not motivated to take action and make a difference.  I lose my ability to see the joy in the world, the beauty of its people and cultures.  I lose the chance to be part of something bigger than myself.

Letting yourself be open to hurting is scary, but the reward is so much greater when you allow yourself to be touched.  And this is something I have to remind myself of every day so I don’t give into temptation and let myself stop caring.

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Lucifer and The Good Place

You know how I feel about a good story, regardless of format.

Lucifer and The Good Place are both good stories while being very different.  The Good Place is light-hearted and humorous, with relatable characters who seem simple on the surface.  Contrarily, Lucifer is a murder mystery show, darker by definition, with characters who transcend the natural plane.  But, at their core, both shows contemplate questions humanity has been wrestling with since our inception, questions about the nature of good and evil, what it means to be human, and what happens when we die.  And, one of the most important: whether or not a person can be redeemed.  Or change.

In both shows, the answer is yes, with one huge “but.”  The road to redemption isn’t easy.

Eleanor Shellstrop, the main character of The Good Place, grew up with parents so wrapped up in drugs, alcohol, and themselves that they neglected her entirely.  Selfishness and self-reliance were not just coping mechanisms but survival tactics.

Tahani’s parents were emotionally abusive.  No matter what she did, it wasn’t enough to please them.  No wonder she became obsessed with how she appeared to others, constantly seeking the approval and validation they never gave her.

The show doesn’t say anything about Chidi’s early home life, but it makes it pretty clear that he suffers from anxiety.  He combats it by following a moral code so strict and nitpicking that it often prevents him from living at all.

And Michael?  He is literally a demon.  It is his very nature to be evil.

In order to become good people, they have to do two things.  They have to let go of what is outside their control and decide for themselves to be good.  Eleanor seeks Chidi out and asks for help, something she couldn’t do with her parents.  Tahani literally passes her test (and I don’t care what the judge says, she did pass her test) once she confronts her family and is able to recognize that she doesn’t need their approval.  Chidi fails his, but a few minutes later, he is able to do what he couldn’t at first and make his own choice by recognizing that his anxiety can factor into his decisions without overtaking them entirely.  And Michael becomes part of Team Cockroach and literally goes against his fellow demons while figuratively fighting his personal one.  He chooses to become “human” instead of staying a demon, but he does it with and for the four humans he cares about.

And that’s the other trick: they have to do it together.

Chidi teaches the others how to think in terms of ethics and morality, but Eleanor teaches him to live in the moment and consider how those morals look in day-to-day life.  She teaches Tahani to examine her motivations while Tahani teaches them both how to care for others and think of their true impact.  Michael takes this all in and teaches them, through example, that they can still change.  Anyone can.

Lucifer explores the same concept with higher stakes: the Devil himself.  Who is more trapped by external factors than him, the Lord of Hell himself, constantly blamed for all of humanity’s short-comings?  He leaves Hell to shed the image and to quit playing a role.  Once on Earth, he begins to examine his feelings and motivations with his therapist, Linda.  Plus, he finds himself physically and figuratively mortal with Chloe, proving its the humanity in others that helps us find our own.

Lucifer’s problem is that there is always that last obstacle he can’t overcome: his determination not to play into his father’s plan.  Every time he thinks his father is manipulating him, even a little, he immediately does the exact opposite of the “right” thing.  He ignores what other people want or need and focuses on rebelling to prove he’s his own man.

As both a writer and someone who has studied the art of storytelling, I have a theory the show won’t end until Lucifer has truly redeemed himself, until he’s proven he can be both good and his own being.  Since that’s the core of the story, they’ll drag it out until the end.  So what are we learning in the meantime?

Besides the fact that redemption is possible no matter who you are, it suggests redemption is possible no matter how many times you fuck it up at first.

The Good Place says the same thing.  These people get better once the scales have stopped weighing and “that’s not supposed to be possible” according to Michael.  And in Lucifer, he takes one step forward and ten thousand back…but he always gets that chance to take one more step forward.

Fiction is so important because it allows us to consider other perspectives but also because it can encourage and inspire us in ways we would never imagine.  These stories give me hope: no matter what you’ve done, it is never too late to do the right thing, to learn from others, to define yourself.  It is a new moment.  Live like it.

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Putting Out Fires and Picking Your Battles

If you don’t follow me on Snapchat, you may have missed the news: I was promoted at Kate Spade.  It’s pretty cool, especially since people have been saying I should be for months.  It isn’t something I saw in myself at first, but I grow more confident every day and I love having that connection to the store and the brand.

Here’s one of the things I’ve learned about management so far: it’s a lot of putting out fires and solving problems in the moment.  Which, as a 20-something human disaster, is not new to me.  It’s pretty much how I live my life.  And there will always be another fire to put out…but.  But.

But that’s not how you run a store.

You have to put out fires, but you also have to pay attntion to the other things.  The things that aren’t problems but could be.  Those things that need to get done because they’ll make everything easier, but there’s no specific deadline.

Only putting out fires is no way to run a store and no way to live a life.

Lately my life is all working too much, solving problems as they come up, and resting. I’ve been living like a sprint, not a marathon.

When the most recent school shooting happened in Florida, something occurred to me. The Pulse nightclub shooting hit me in the gut and made me want to do something. But I never did because I was too busy putting out fires. Instead of picking my battles, I let my battles pick me.

At the store, we have an ongoing list of projects, some of which have an official deadline from the Powers That Be. Those automatically become top priority. But sometimes, we have to pick something that “could wait” and put it on the high priority list. It’s the only way to make it happen.

I want to try running my life like we run the store. I want to make things a priority without the threat of a deadline to deal with. It comes down to living intentionally.

So there you go. I’m sure you expected me to write about gun control – and yes, it’s coming – but I haven’t given myself time to gather the information and actually do anything. I’m going to do better. It’s not enough to pick your battles: you have to actually fight them. And fighting fires just isn’t the same thing.

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5 Things to Go Watch Right Freakin’ Now

I haven’t had a lot of free time lately, most of it filled with reading and catching up with old friends.  But the things I have watched have been really good and I can’t stop talking about them.

  1. The Good Place – This show, starring Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, just completed its second season on NBC.  The concept is kind of random – Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up to find she’s dead and made it into Heaven, except there’s been some mistake because the Eleanor they describe isn’t her.  If she wants to stay, she has to do what she never did on Earth: become better.  I love this show because it’s fun and makes me laugh, but it also says a lot of things about what makes a good person and what we owe each other.
  2. One Day at a Time – Season two of this show just dropped as well, and I love it.  In the new season, Penelope struggles to keep her career, family life, and education afloat simultaneously.  Elena grows into her sexuality and has her first relationship.  Alex deals with racism, and Abuelita learns how to be proud of her heritage while still moving forward.  I love the familial relationships on this show as well as the hopeful message it shares, proving that we can handle anything with the right support.
  3. Coco – Guys.  GUYS.  Coco is a beautiful movie with beautiful artwork and beautiful music.  Miguel’s entire family hates music because of what one of his ancestors did, but something in Miguel’s soul tells him he has to sing.  He takes some big risks in order to follow his passion, including the loss of his family until he learns just how important those ties are.  It’s fun and heart-wrenching and touching and everyone should see it.
  4. DuckTales – “You kids are nothing but trouble…curse me kilts, have I missed trouble…I’ll have to teach you how to get into trouble properly.”  I was excited about this reboot since the moment I heard of it, and only partly because David Tennant (using his ACTUAL ACCENT for maybe the first time in his entire career!!!) is the voice of Scrooge McDuck.  I love the boys getting into trouble.  I love Webby, who knows kung fu and everything about exploring except how to actually interact with people.  I love how Donald, and eventually Scrooge, feel about their kids and the adventures they go on as a family.  Plus, the one-liners are guaranteed to give you a chuckle.Oh, and:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PecOU2y6d54
  5. The Hitman’s Bodyguard – The first time I saw this movie was in theaters, and I couldn’t stop laughing.  Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds are a true power team, with Salma Hayek rounding out the cast.  A hitman on his way to testify against a terrible dictator, Jackson is determined to take care of himself but is a little over his head.  Reynolds, a professional bodyguard, puts aside his disdain for the man he’s been pitted against so many times for the greater good…and to get his life back.  Besides being hilarious, this movie also makes a lot of interesting points about moral gray areas and leaving the past in the past.
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A Closed and Common Orbit

The best problem I ever have is the inability to tear myself away from a book.  It’s happened less and less lately, but A Closed and Common Orbit was so good I could barely put it down to get to work.

It’s the sequel/companion to Becky Chambers’ The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planeta book Katie recommended to me back in 2016.  It was about a group of misfits doing a dangerous job while trying to keep the family they’ve created together.

A Closed and Common Orbit is still a “found family” story that also deals with questions of identity and purpose.  At the end of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, the ship’s Artificial Intelligence has been rebooted in such a way that she’s lost all the personality and relationships she’s developed.  For everyone’s emotional health, she’s forced to take root in an artificial body and leave the ship.  The story follows her as she learns to fit into outside society, as her friends Pepper, Blue, and eventually Tak help her figure out who she is and what she wants to be.

The story is broken up by Pepper’s story, showing where she came from to get her where she is now.  Her story is just as strange as Sidra’s.  She was created to work in a factory with a group of girls all named Jane.  Once she escaped, she found a derelict ship housing an old AI who taught her about the outside world and took care of her until they could escape the planet together.

Being raised by the AI Owl gives her a unique perspective on the AI Sidra and allows the AI the opportunity to behave like a real person.  This is an example of how Chambers continues the themes from her first book, questioning the nature of life and consciousness and what makes us human.  But in this book, she also explores questions of identity.  Pepper truly understands Sidra because they were both created for a singular purpose and they both escaped being controlled over it.  She has spent years creating herself and forging a place for herself in society and she is patient as she guides Sidra to do the same.

For the first three-quarters of the book, the story is more character-driven than plot-driven.  It helps that the characters are so dynamic and enthralling.

Despite that, this is not a standalone book.  Without reading the original, it’s difficult to get a true understanding of how the universe works.   But since both the books are amazing, it’s worth it if you want to read both.

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Nipplegate

I developed young.

Let’s be clear: I mean breasts.  I developed breasts at a young age.  Before I graduated from middle school, I was already a C-cup and it only got worse from there.

I say “worse” because I felt bad about it.  I remember performing with a church musical group around then and being devastated when I needed the large shirt we were all wearing while the other girls wore smalls.  One girl specifically made me feel awful – not because of anything she did, but because I had been trying to live up to her beauty and talent for months.  To console me, someone said, “She may be tiny, but she’ll probably never be endowed like you.”  It just made me feel worse.  It had been ingrained in me that breasts were bad because they were automatically inappropriate and I should never do anything to draw attention to them.

Still performing a year later, I wore an outfit that made me feel good.  It was a graphic tee that said “You know you love me” and a black silk vest that buttoned directly under the words.  I thought it made my waist look tiny, but one of the leaders pulled me aside before the service.  She took me into the bathroom and had me look in a mirror.  “You shouldn’t wear this,” she said.  “See how the words draw attention to your chest?  And then the vest frames it?  It’s not modest.”

I started wearing over-sized t-shirts after that.  Any fitted shirt would call attention to my chest.

This is the environment I grew up in and “Nipplegate” didn’t help.

A lot of people in my social group don’t seem to remember this but I do.  Not seeing it – I don’t really watch football – but hearing about it.  The next day, no one was talking about the game or the commercials.  It was all about the halftime show, about Justin Timberlake ripping Janet Jackson’s top off on live, national television.

I didn’t listen to popular music at the time (not in a hipster way, I was just strictly a country girl), so I didn’t know who she was and only recognized him from my school girl crush back when he was in N’Sync, but I knew it was bad.  Maybe some people blamed him but that wasn’t the impression I got at the time.  I couldn’t articulate it then, but I figured it out as I got older.  It was her own fault for having breasts.

I’ve come a long way since then.  Every other aspect of my body has the ability to give me a massive case of insecurity and self-hatred at a moment’s notice, but I have accepted my breasts as neutral, as a way to feed my future children (if I have them), and a place to hold my phone when I have no pockets.  No outfit makes them look big, they just are big.  And it’s okay.  It doesn’t automatically make me slutty or immodest.  It just is.

Fourteen years later, Justin Timberlake is performing at halftime again and I have no idea what’s become of Janet Jackson.  Some research suggests she’s been blacklisted from the Super Bowl and otherwise lost her career.  It also suggests that the incident inspired the founding of YouTube, proving that society wants to shame her while still profiting from her exposure.  As a woman who has fought for years to accept a natural part of my body while dealing with men I don’t know sexualizing me because of it, it angers and frustrates me that Jackson suffered so much from her exposure while Timberlake has been allowed to move on entirely and was even welcomed back to the Super Bowl.

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Turtles All the Way Down

I read my first John Green book in 2012 – which, you may know, is when his last one came out.  I loved them.  I went from having read none to having read all six of them within the same amount of months.  In a way, his books reminded me of Sarah Dessen’s.  They told the stories of teenagers trying to navigate their lives in a way that helped me navigate mine.  My favorite part about John Green books is that they always left me with the sense that everything was going to be okay.  I had a lot of anxiety in those days, so that feeling was crucial to me.

For four years after reading The Fault in Our Stars, I had no new John Green to read.  When he announced a new book, I was thrilled.

Turtles All the Way Down is about Aza, a teenager living with OCD and anxiety.  While she tries to cope, despite feeling overwhelmed, the world around her goes on.  A billionaire goes missing and her best friend, Daisy, wants to solve the mystery and collect on the reward.  The search has Aza reconnecting with an old friend who becomes a better one.  While her own inner world crashes, she has to learn how to manage her mind while participating in the world around her.

I believe every story we write has a little bit of autobiographical truth to it anyway, but this one was explicit.  At the reading in Charlotte, John talked about his own struggles with mental illness similar to Aza’s and how he managed it.

Now, I don’t have OCD.  In fact, I don’t have any diagnosed anything when it comes to mental illness.  But I still saw pieces of myself in Aza, thoughts she had that young Kari felt too.  He does such a thorough job of creating Aza’s voice and placing the reader in her head that I could feel the anxieties creeping back.

This story in no way glorifies Aza’s mental illness.  Instead, it does exactly what it’s intended to do.  For those who have never experienced something like this, it shines a light on what it’s like to live in a constant battle with your own brain.  For those who are currently living with it, it does something even more important.  It shows a realistic portrayal that proves there is a world outside of your head.  It gives a guide for how to live in it.  And it does what every John Green novel has ever done for me: it tells you that everything will be okay, even after the world has collapsed around you.

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Read on October 1st, 2018.

Dear Kari:

Hi! It’s me. How are you? Doing okay?

I hope you’re reading this in your tiny bed in your historic apartment in New York City with Minnie on your lap and Boo in the kitchen knocking a princess cup off of your counter.  I hope your heels are in the hallway and your books cover every flat surface, except your desk where your candles and tarot cards and your cup of novelty pens – Judy’s carrot, the Doctor’s sonic screw driver, and the purple wand Cora bought you at the book fair – are waiting for you to sit down and work.  I hope there’s a key to your place and one to the shop hanging on a hook by your door, that there’s Jack on the counter and champagne in the fridge, that your coffee maker is programmed and your purses are lined up on a shelf in your closet of a bedroom.

But maybe you’re not.  Maybe you’re in the same full bed in the same cluttered room in that house a mile from the high school.  Maybe Minnie is in Mom’s bed and Boo is terrorizing your sister’s cat.  Layla is in the garage (is she still making that noise, or was it just the cold?) and your store key is in the coat closet downstairs.

Maybe you failed.

Here’s the thing.

I’m proud of you anyway.

You worked your ass off.  You never quit.  You took a chance and tried something.  As far as you are, you got closer than you would have if you never tries.

Pause.  Breathe.  Give it a week or two, then regroup and try again.

The failure is only final if you let it be.  I know you thought this was your year.  I know it’s been long enough.  And it sucks that you have to wait a little longer.  But this still isn’t your forever.  This is still temporary.  You’re going to keep getting closer and closer until you make it.  And you will eventually.  As long as you don’t quit.  But I am so, so proud of you for how far you’ve already come.

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On Thoughts

“Never give up on someone you can’t go a day without thinking about.”

Bullshit.

Maybe your brain is perfectly healthy and never betrays you, but that hasn’t been my experience.  Sometimes my brain is really stupid and gives me thoughts like “Hey, you could totally just…turn the wheel and run your car into oncoming traffic.  Wouldn’t that be cool?”  Then I have to shake my head and say, “Brain, we talked about this: that would NOT be cool; that would be deadly and it would hurt people and, besides, what would become of Layla?”

Sometimes my brain says things like, “Everything is pointless and life sucks and you should really just stay in this bed forever.  Why bother doing anything else?”  And I have to remind it: “Okay, but tomorrow you’re going to want to eat and buy shoes and so I have to get up and go make money in order to make that happen.”

Your brain offers you thoughts and you get to choose what you do with them.  (…usually, I should say.  Mental illness is a different issue and doesn’t always allow you to do that.)

The same is true of people.  You hear a song and your brain says, “Hey, you know who that reminds me of?”  Or you’re all by yourself, watching TV, and it suddenly tells you to invite that person over.  Or they just pop up into your head.  That doesn’t mean they’re “meant for you.”  It means you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about them thus far and it’s a habit you may need to break.  It doesn’t mean you can’t give up on them.

What it should say is this:

Never give up on someone who makes you happy the majority of the time.  Never give up on someone who treats you well and makes you feel safe.  Never give up on someone who has proven they want to be with you and makes a concentrated effort to spend time with you.

Never give up on somebody who has proven they won’t give up on you.

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Please Correct Me if I Misgender You, But…

A few weeks ago, a friend from the internet decided ae wanted to use more gender-neutral pronouns than “she” and “her.”  They said they were still fine with “she” as well, but wanted to try others.

Last month I finally got to go to volunteer orientation at the Time Out Youth Center.  We went around the room and shared our pronouns and I felt awkward about it when it was my turn to share mine.

When I worked at the local library two years ago, there was a person whose gender I couldn’t easily identify.  I wasn’t sure what to do but one of my coworkers made it sound so simple.  Just ask if they’re a man or a woman.  Easy.

I’m from the South and it just doesn’t feel that easy.  Talk about people who get offended easily: how would an older person who believes gender is clear-cut react if I said I couldn’t tell.

I am a cisgender woman and my gender has never felt wrong to me.  Learning that there are other experiences has been a long process and, though I want to be a good ally, this proves I still have a long way to go.  I shouldn’t be waiting for you to correct me.  I should be asking for pronouns when I meet people.  I should be doing my part to normalize that experience instead of forcing you to out yourself as different.

So correct me if I misgender you, but I’m sorry you have to.  I’m sorry I haven’t given you an easy opportunity to tell me what you want to be called.

Thank you for being patient with me, but I’m sorry if I ever make you feel anything less than 100% accepted as yourself.

If you want to see these posts early (or just support me in eventually making a living as a full-time writer), subscribe to my Patreon.  You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

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