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Essays

The meaning of beauty

What does it mean to be beautiful?

There is the beauty that isn’t earned. The pretty face, the symmetrical features, the perfect hip-to-waist ratio. Long limbs, elegant wrists, shapely eyes. Silky hair that flows the way it should, straight knees, ears that don’t look like barn doors. Some people are naturally born pretty, others not so much. It’s all terribly unfair, and there’s not much anyone can do about that. Plastic surgery can correct crooked noses or saggy bottoms, but it can’t make your short legs longer no matter how much money you spend on it.

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A vacation for the mind

“After all, a vacation is not a matter of place or time. We can take a wonderful vacation in spirit, even though we are obliged to stay at home, if we will only drop our burdens from our minds for a while. But no amount of travel will give us rest and recreation if we carry our work and worries with us.”

-- Laura Ingalls Wilder, essay September 1919

 

Recently I started thinking about why I talk so much. And resolved to say less in order to write more. It's not an easy thing for me to do, and it requires constant discipline, which I'm sorry to say I don't quite have. 

Yes, I talk less than I used to. But I have a long way to go yet. Old habits die hard, they say. And they're right.

There's a certain comfort in unburdening my mind on others. Because it's easy and comfortable for me to do it. I don't wear slippers on my feet, I wear them on my face. The minute I start opening my mouth to yak about the tornado of thoughts that live in my head, I feel the familiar and warm contour of the faux fur enveloping me. It's molded to my lips, not custom-made but custom-worn.

The problem with slippers is, they're the wrong footwear for exertion. Nobody has ever pushed past their limits wearing them. They're the antithesis of effort. They're fulfillment prevention tools.

I still find myself reaching for mine. When I let my guard down, my loose lips get going. I lose myself in comfort and familiarity, temporarily forgetting my resolve. Instead I close my mind and sink into my mental la-z-boy. The one you can't help but fall asleep in.

It's a trap alright.

In the last two weeks, I've become more aware of it. I still let it tempt me, but whenever I fall a little bit into it I yank myself out of it hard. I'm sure the people around me have noticed the change. Instead of continuing to let words tumble out of my mouth, I suddenly stop and become slightly withdrawn. I may even scrunch my eyebrows on occasion. That's probably because I'm mad at myself for being so damn weak.

I haven't found an elegant way to skirt the trap. But at least now I recognize the little bitch, even after it has grabbed hold of me and is dangling my mental slippers in front of my nose, and swat it away.

The good news is, I have been writing more. The ideas and thoughts and feelings I have in my head find their way onto the electronic notebook page. I have an entire folder with "random thoughts". At last count it contained 20-odd files, plus over 30 essays in various stages of completion. Not everything deserves to see the light of day, but it all needed to come out of my head. If I just babbled instead of writing this stuff down, it would be lost forever. Now at least it will stay in the electronic notebook and serve as inspiration or springboard for what I hope will be writing worth reading.

It's a small beginning. A blip of progress. One that comes with a benefit I never expected: The feeling you get on vacation when you finally hit that point where you start believing you're entitled to relax.

Your chest opens up. Your shoulders feel less heavy. You breathe better. Your mind is clear. You see yourself as a beautiful work in progress, with amazing potential. You know, the opposite of the harried stressed-out perennially dissatisfied wench you brush your teeth with most mornings.

I just had that moment hit me this morning, as I drank my coffee while reading the New Yorker after a reasonably decent 10km run. I was in the moment; I wasn't thinking about all the stuff I have to do today. I was entirely bereft of stress. I was enjoying my coffee and my article. Purely, thoroughly, and refreshingly simply. Secure in the knowledge that more of my thoughts and ideas were safely written down (synced and backed up, too; I love my electronic notebook), and that my creative energy was no longer a resource I squandered mindlessly, as though I was afraid of making a permanent mark on the world.

Working more, and with better purpose, has allowed my mind to become unburdened and my spirit finally to sit back and relax for a spell. I never saw that coming. But I sure plan to have it hit me again soon. 

Why doing things for people undermines everything

All my life I’ve been accused of trying to be the center of attention. And told it was wrong to do so. By people who I suspect very much resented not having the guts to shine in their own way.

Not that it makes it OK for me to seek the spotlight. It doesn’t. But by the same token, criticizing someone for being successful at getting attention because you’re jealous of them has its own share of issues as well.

For one thing, it doesn’t avoid the problem of seeking the spotlight as a substitute for doing your thing without thinking about rewards or consequences. And for another, it makes you uncontrollably addicted to doing too many things for others in a fruitless quest for validation.

It’s twisted and wrung ass backwards.

Read the rest on Medium.

Why fleeing from the law was right for me

I fled from the law. It was the most difficult best decision of my life.

I had parents who were more ambitious than I was. They always seemed to think that whatever I was doing should lead to a successful career because what is the point of living if one does not have a stable job? So when I took up piano and it looked to them that I had enough musical talent to warrant investment, they signed me up with a teacher who was affiliated with our university’s music school and could get me into the program.

I was nine or ten years old. I trained with her once a week and practiced every day. Once or twice a year I’d go to campus and take tests and exams. It terrified me. But I went through it. I didn’t have a choice; I was reminded often enough that this music training was an investment in my career as a concert pianist or at the very least as a securely-employed music teacher.

I reached the seventh degree in that university’s music program. If memory serves it went all the way to nine. They’d accelerated my first few degrees (no wasting of time and money allowed) and I was 15 or 16 by the time I reached that seventh degree…. and promptly quit. I was so sick of playing for a career that it made me hate music. Fortunately this proved temporary.

I was a great source of disappointment. All this investment for naught. Never again would they pay for anything like that.

Read the rest on Medium.

Course correction

To say I have a complicated relationship with the woman who brought me into this world would be a fine understatement.

I have no relationship with my mother. I have not spoken to her in over 17 years. I’m not even sure she’s still alive. And don’t particularly care to find out.

Sounds harsh, I know. But I have my reasons.

Read the rest on Medium.

Or why Ovid is full of baloney

Here's a quote I rather violently disagree with: “Habit makes all things bearable.” (Ovid)

OK, maybe I should rephrase. It's not the quote I disagree with so much, as the implied message. That if only you can get into the right sort of habits, you'll be able to tolerate things you don't want to tolerate.

It's the old comfort zone again. And the overwhelming desire people have not to feel pain or discomfort. If you get used to things that should bother you, maybe they won't bother you no more and life will be good again.

I say hell no. Not because I enjoy pain and discomfort, but because - to modify another quote - everything good in life lives outside of your comfort zone. Nothing good ever happens when you're comfortable. That's why you have to push past your limits - constantly, relentlessly, mercilessly. Sometimes, your progress is small. Sometimes it's non-existent. There are days where no matter how hard you push, you make no visible progress.

Except you do. The simple act of pushing, the very fact that you're working as hard as you can to get out of your comfort zone, is exactly what makes you better, no matter what immediate results you get, if any.

Ovid can do what he wants. I'll continue to seek discomfort and pain because I never want to be content sitting around feeling like yeah, life is bearable.