Are You Sure?

Are you sure?

I feel like we’re asked this question a lot in our lives, starting at a ridiculously young age. “Are you sure” really begins to be serious when you’re a senior in high school and making a decision about college. You make a choice. Someone asks, “Are you sure?”

Then you choose a major, because at 18 you’re expected to know precisely what you want to do with the rest of your life. And again someone asks, “Are you sure?”

You graduate, you find a career. You accept a job offer. And someone asks, “Are you sure?”

You meet someone, you decide you want to be with them. The question comes, “Are you sure?”

You decide to move, you decide  to find a new job, you decide to have kids, or not to have kids, and always someone asks, “Are you sure?”

Well I think we’re all in a world of trouble, because if anyone out there is remotely like me, your answer to that question is most often “No.”

I used to find a great deal of comfort in being sure of things. Certain that I was on the right path for me, certain that every decision I made was the right one, and every person I was with was the right one. But it didn’t take terribly long to realize that certainty doesn’t really exist. You can never be sure, as much as you may want to be. You can be sure of certain aspects of your life, and aspects of your decisions, but I don’t know if you can ever be truly, 100%, without-a-doubt certain that a major life decision is the right one. All you can do is look at what’s in front of you, try to figure out what you want and what’s best for you (which are hopefully one in the same), and then make the choice that gets you closest to that. And frankly, you could choose wrong. All of the false certainty in the world is still just that – false. Or you could make the right decision based on who you are and what you want now, only to find that, 5 years down the line, you want something different. Our lives are constantly in flux, and the question “Are you sure?” implies a sort of permanence to our wants and desires that isn’t necessarily accurate. I know very few people whose dreams have stayed precisely the same as they were fifteen years ago.

For those out there who do find certainty, I applaud you. I admire your ability to know yourself so well. I envy you the concrete decisions you are able to make. No second thoughts, no backward glances. And really, we should all work against backward glances. Because once you make a decision, the power to move forward lies with you. It is a choice to stick with your decision, and a choice to keep following the path you’ve started down.

For my part, the only thing I’m sure of most days is that quite frankly, I’m not sure at all.

And that’s okay.

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The Lolita Effect (or) A Literary Rant

lolita coverI was listening to a radio station the other day, and one of the morning show hosts was talking about warm spring weather and all of the high school girls starting to wear short shorts like a bunch of “Lolitas”.

Oh, the literary rage.

It bothers me to no end that the term “lolita” has somehow been transformed in our society to mean a young girl who dresses and acts intentionally suggestively for her age. A girl who is “tempting” to older men despite being completely off-limits. That is what Lolita now seems to mean.

I imagine it goes without saying that most people throwing around the term have never picked up the book that created the character they’re now casually referencing.
The most frightening thing about the misappropriation of “Lolita” isn’t the actual content of the book – disturbing and dark though it is – it’s the fact that society has taken that content and twisted it into something desirable. And more to the point, something that places the blame of the temptation on the young girl. And I mean young. It should be noted that the Lolita of Nabokov’s novel is 12 years old. Yes. Twelve. In film versions, you’ll find her portrayed at least as a young teenager, as if that somehow makes the story more palletable. More believable that maybe she had some part in seducing Humbert Humbert. That it was not 100% the result of a fully-grown adult man kidnapping ,drugging and maintaining a sexual relationship with a 12 year old child, but that surely she must have done something to provoke his desires.

The Lolita Effect is worsened by almost (but not quite) every book cover you’ll find in existence. Nabokov’s specific original instructions for all covers of the book were that they were not to include any rendering of a romantically-depicted young girl. And what do you find on almost every cover of every copy of Lolita? An image of a young girl – just her lips, just her legs, some portion of her that hints at the content within. Because that’s what sells. And that’s what’s disturbing.

Lolita is a fantastic novel, and well worth reading. But the point of it isn’t to walk away thinking that what Humbert Humbert did is acceptable. The book is not a love story, and it’s not the story of a young girl seducing a grown man. There is not one single romantic aspect of the relationship between Humbert and Lolita – also called Lo, also called Dolores.

And what does it say about our society that the most widely-recognized aspect of such a novel is the misused but universal understanding of the term “Lolita”?

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The Art of the De-clutter

Over the weekend, I took it upon myself to clean out my closet. Well, my one closet, my other closet, and my dresser. It was no small task, but once I got started it was impossible to stop until it was finished. And honestly, I feel like everything could still use one final sweep. Call it Spring Cleaning, call it a small but powerful bout of the Type A personality I’ve always lacked, or just call it a desperate desire to de-clutter. To simplify. Whatever compelled me, I feel like I’m on a roll.

The thing is that I own a lot of stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I like stuff. I like interior design and having nice bedding and great clothes (I like great clothes A LOT) and all of the usual that you’d expect. But the older I get, the more apparent it is to me that A) Fewer, nicer things are better than a lot of “just okay” things, and B) Stuff doesn’t guarantee happiness, especially if the stuff causes you stress.

I suppose the art of the de-clutter isn’t just about the physical, but about the mental, too. De-cluttering your life means creating a simpler, more peaceful space, both in your home and in your mind. One of my new year’s resolutions was to start doing a little bit of yoga every morning, but I’ll be honest, just the act of it doesn’t achieve the goal. I need to be better about focusing in and actually allowing myself to be calm. Be still. Breathe. What’s the point of going through the motions if you don’t let them affect you?

Of course, the idea of the de-clutter and actually de-cluttering are two very different things, and while de-cluttering my space might not require a Herculean effort, de-cluttering life on a larger scale calls for exactly that. I think it’s probably more about changing the little things on a daily basis, though, and understanding how those little things add up to a more peaceful existence. For example, I used to stress about money a lot. So instead of continuing to buy things that I knew I didn’t need, or things that I simply “wanted”, I just … didn’t. Our spending tends to grow with our salaries, and sometimes I have to remind myself that if I was able to live on my own sucessfully making 1/3 less of what I’m making now, I am definitely capable of living within my current financial situation. It’s a change I’m still working on, but it’s amazing how doing a few small things differently each day can affect the bigger picture.

This whole “de-cluttering” thing is definitely not a new movement (in fact I’m pretty sure I’m just late to the party), but I think it’s really important, especially being at a stage in my life when I’m not truly responsible for anyone but myself. It’s easier, sometimes, to not even claim that responsibility – what? who? me? I’m just over here trying not to screw things up  – but the truth is we have 100% agency in our lives, and for me, the art of the de-clutter is a way to actively exercise that agency. It always feels good to toss out the old and bring in the new, whatever the new may be, and I hope I can create sustainable change in my life by doing so.

After all, I did clean out my closets this weekend, so I’m already on a roll … right?

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Thank You, Mad Men

mad men Thank you for making advertising look sexy. Thank you for giving me a character to reference when asked about my profession. Thank you for the end of people confusing my “copywriter” title with “copyright”. Thank you for reigniting a love of the industry, warped though it may be. Thank you for making my job sound cool. Thank you for making drinking at the office seem normal (it is, isn’t it?).  Thank you for making me aware that some men in this business still treat women like it’s 1965 – and it’s still absolutely not okay. Thank you for a healthy sense of cynicism. Thank you for a starting point when figuring out how to make my first pitch. Thank you for a practice in ego control, and a practice in moxie. Thank you for impeccable style. Thank you for nostalgia and a wistful thought or two about “back in the day” when I never even lived “in the day”. Thank you for the push to fight for good creative. Thank you for entertainment and inspiration and a ridiculous amount of fun. Thank you for something that, by the mere nature of beginning, had to end.

And thank you, of course, for Mr. Draper.

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Choice A, Version A

At some point, some scientist said something about infinite universes – that for every action we take here, an alternate version of ourselves takes a different action in another universe, and so in theory every variation of our lives exists in the cosmos. And so to me that begs the question, which version of your life are you living?

The older I get, the more increasingly clear it is to me that just about everything in our life is a choice. Even those things that we didn’t choose to happen to us are controlled by how we choose to react to them. But the thing is, I don’t think we particularly like that. I don’t think we as humans are terribly comfortable with how much power we actually have in our own lives. And so rather than make decisions, we look to something else – a person, a society, a norm, a habit – to make them for us. That way, you see, there’s always a place to put the blame. That way it’s never our fault if we make the wrong choice.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about how I’d gotten a glimpse of three different versions of my life over a short period of time. I got to see what my life would’ve been like if I stayed in the place where I once, very briefly, lived as a child. I got to see what my life would’ve been like if a college relationship had worked out, and I got to see what it would’ve been like if I kept up with friends who long ago fell out of my life. And it was fascinating, honestly. I saw all of these different versions of how my life could be and how I could be right now if circumstances had just been a little bit different. If choices had just been a little bit different.

Knowing that every single choice you make is just that – a choice – is terrifying. You are in absolute and complete control of the decisions you make, and that’s not an easy realization. It’s much more comfortable to not make decisions, but stagnation is the worst possible fate. We are constantly reaching forks in the road, and constantly having to choose which way to go. The only thing we can do is be aware when that happens instead of switching to autopilot. We control which version of our lives we live. Now I’m not sure how much good that knowledge does, because if you’re anything like me you actually have no idea which version you want. But that’s okay, because you’ll figure it out, choice by choice.

And you know what, if Choice A, Version A doesn’t work out, you can move on to B. And C, D, E, F and the entire alphabet.

The options are infinite. We just have to choose to begin.

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You’ve Got You, so You’re Okay

I made a grievous mistake in my last serious relationship – I lost myself in an attempt to be everything to someone else. Granted, I was also 19 years old and didn’t exactly know who I was to begin with, but whoever I was, my opinion of myself hinged entirely on my significant other’s opinion of me. And when he went away, so did any belief that I was worth anything.

Flash forward six years, and obviously it’s a different story. In the midst of a healthy relationship, I’m still very much me, and I know exactly who that is (even though I can admit that it changes every so often). I won’t say I learned quickly how important it is to maintain your sense of self in a relationship, but I will say that I learned the lesson well, and I consider it to be one of the most important keys to a healthy relationship, both with yourself and with someone else.

Because the truth is life is in constant flux, and the only thing you really have guaranteed, 100%, is you. That’s why it’s so important to stay in touch with yourself. To write, read, cultivate your hobbies and passions, keep yourself a full and happy person. It’s a job that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re prone to putting the needs of others before your own. But it’s absolutely vital. We take a lot of time to get to know other people, but in general we don’t take nearly as much time to get to know ourselves. And really, that wouldn’t fly in a relationship with another person, would it? Not getting to know someone deeply because they’re just always around and always will be around, so they don’t require further understanding. That can often be the way we treat ourselves, because we live with ourselves everyday. We assume we understand ourselves simply by virtue of being us, but that isn’t necessarily true. I find that my needs and wants are often changing, whether by virtue of my youth or just the way I am. If I didn’t ask myself questions or examine myself, I would be apt to find myself ten miles down a path that I should’ve turned around on nine miles ago.

And the best part about getting to know and love yourself? You’ll always be okay, no matter what, because you’ve got you. Life may throw you a curve ball, you might suddenly find yourself alone when you never thought you’d be alone again, you might suddenly find yourself wanting something different than you always thought you did, but you’ll be all right. Knowing yourself doesn’t suddenly make everything perfect and lovely. Sometimes it can even make things more complicated. But it also arms you with the type of understanding that can give you peace and hope when things get tough. Because you’re lucky to have you – no one can take that away unless you let them.

You’ve got you, so you’re okay.

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It’s a Bypass. You’ve Got to Build Bypasses.

If you’re familiar with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know where the title of this post came from.

“But why’s it got to be built?” Arthur Dent asks as the city prepares to bulldoze his house to make way for a bypass.

“It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses,” Prosser says.

…And then the world ends.

I love the completely fallible logic of Prosser in this moment. Questioning the reason for the existence of a bypass has never even really occurred to him. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. And thus is formed what I like to call “The Bypass Effect” – in which we do things in our lives for absolutely no reason other than that we’re supposed to. We’ve got to. Because reasons. Well, reasons that no one has ever particularly thought about or asked about because it’s just the way things are. So there.

We’re all guilty of The Bypass Effect, and I think that to a certain extent it’s necessary to maintain a decent and civil society. We don’t run around lighting people’s houses on fire and singing opera at the top of our lungs all the time because it just isn’t done. No one bothers asking why (except I think people like living in their houses, so there’s that). The fact is that a lot of the rules we live by are completely arbitrary.

But The Bypass Effect can be harmful, too, because it tricks us into thinking that certain things can never be changed and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s the reason people fall into the rut of a 9 to 5 job that has nothing to do with what they really want, the reason people get married at a certain age regardless of whether they’re really with the person they ought to marry, the reason people have children who’ve never even asked themselves whether they personally want children or not. Because it’s just the thing to do. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.

I’m not advocating for a societal revolution here, but I am advocating for the act of questioning. It’s vitally important that we actually ask ourselves, every time we make an important decision, what we actually want. And figuring that out can be harder than it sounds, because we’ve spent our entire lives being told what we should want without ever really being told why. It’s so ingrained in us that we just go with the flow.

A lot could change if we just ask “Why?” a little more often. Because people say you’ve got to build bypasses, but I’m sure there are a thousand better ways to get from point A to point B.

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