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Indelible Memories

First dances. First kisses. Goodbyes. Hellos. Life is full of tiny moments worth holding onto. We latch onto them with great tenacity, and we swear to ourselves that we will never allow them to be forgotten. Except that they are. Eventually, those memories to which we allot so much importance start becoming fuzzy around the edges. We forget the precision of our feelings in those moments, and we settle for a generalized understanding of what it might have been like. And despite our best attempts at reconstructing these memories, they begin to lose their shape in our consciousness. Looking at them then seems a bit like looking through someone else’s glasses: we know where we are, what we’re doing, and who else was there, but the lucidity is gone.

So why is it that, without trying, we can remember tiny details of obscure moments in our lives? A lost flip flop at a Fourth of July barbecue. A compliment from a teacher on a school playground. The song on the radio when your mom said you could skip that day of school.

Remembering is what happens when we aren’t trying. The memories we make when we’re not paying attention are the ones that brand themselves onto our hearts, and they become fully instrumental in our construction of ourselves. Sure, actively trying to remember will yield some results. But the truth is in the details. We are more likely to remember the waiter’s corny jokes at our weddings than we are to remember actually walking down the aisle.

Or maybe not. Maybe memory works differently for everyone. Maybe it’s the little memories that build the bigger memories. Maybe the event alone is true, and everything else is what we fabricate. Or maybe they’re all equally necessary. Maybe each memory, big or small, is crucial to building who we are, and remembering everything about everything would be overwhelming. Maybe.

I Am Nobody / Who Are You?…Wait, what?

Emily Dickinson once allowed her narrator to call herself (or himself) a nobody. I can’t help wondering how she (or he…you get the idea) came to that conclusion. Was she stuck in an identity rut? Had she been in one place so long that this seemed to be the only logical conclusion to make about herself? What might she have done if she had come outside her comfort zone, if she had started fresh?

She goes on to suggest that being a someone is “dreary” and that anyone who is someone is part of an “admiring bog.” Would she have felt this way if she had gotten the chance to try on a different personality for awhile, if she had gotten to feel what it was like to be a somebody? When we have the fleeting chance in life to start over, to be whomever we chose to be, do we scoff and pretend that who or what we were before is all we’ll ever be? Do we embrace our nobody-ness and continue living with whatever aspects of ourselves we find plaguing? Or do we grab that opportunity by the horns and hang on for the ride? Do we allow ourselves the opportunity to change, grow, experience?

Beginning a new chapter in one’s life is akin to beginning to write in a new journal. We stare at the vast expanse of space in which we can create whatever we want to create, and the hardest part seems to be what should come first. We become the storytellers, the master creators. If a character exists, it is because we made it so. If there’s something about that character that we wish to change, we can do so with the quick flick of an eraser.

Moving to a new place gives us a similar opportunity for creativity. When we move to new places, where we don’t know anyone, we get the chance to make a new first impression. We get the chance to take our past experiences, learn from them, and transform ourselves into better people because of them. Certain aspects of our personality will always be present, and they will inevitably surface without our bidding them to do so. Who we are, the core of what makes us us, is inherent; some things we can’t change. But we all have moments in which we wish we were something else: more adventurous, more easy-going, more ambitious. A change of setting always allows for new perspective for a character, and we are no different. Being in someplace new nudges us out of the norm, forcing us to either sink under the weight of all the things we don’t like about ourselves or to swim, free of the baggage of self-related negativity.

For that kind of chance, isn’t it worth seeing what the bog is all about?

Hello, Hello

Goodbyes are never easy, even when we think they are. Even when we think they should be. Some of us can move on from them, transitioning to whatever is next with little turbulence. For the rest of us, however, goodbyes have a way of exposing how much of ourselves is contingent on other people, places, circumstances. They have a way of revealing to us how flawed we have actually been.

Saying goodbye immediately opens the door to reflection. We are able to see ourselves and our lives (and how we’ve lived them) as if the drunk goggles have been freshly removed. We understand what people really mean to us, how much they’ve influenced us for better or for worse, consciously or not. We see situations for how they really were, not how we perceived them to be. And we are forced to grapple with how the part of our lives to which we are saying goodbye helped to make us who we are. Sometimes the leap from start to finish poses more questions than answers, and sometimes the effects of particular parts of life are left to simmer beneath the surface. But a goodbye always helps to illuminate both things well done and room for improvement.

If, as Newton declares, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, then the cure for the malaise induced by goodbye can be located in hello. Hellos are beginnings. Hellos haven’t been tainted with undesirable circumstances and human foibles. Hellos are a second chance, a consolation prize for the discomfort of goodbye.

The end of this chapter in my life begets the beginning of a new chapter. I’ve said (most of) my goodbyes, and I’ve regretted opportunities taken for granted. I’ve beaten myself up over what I should have done, over taking things for granted, over not seeing potential when it was blatantly obvious. And it’s been uncomfortable, lamenting lost opportunities and wasted time. But now…

Bring on the hellos.

How Old Is Young?

My mom always says,”You’re only as old as you feel.” Which means that today I can feel fourteen, petulant, moody, disgruntled, while tomorrow I can feel eighty-two, nostalgic, perhaps frustrated, perhaps content. There’s something to the idea of age being arbitrary, more a feeling than a definite marker on a timeline. But this has me wondering: at what point does age become inescapable?

Parents, friends, family all look the same, no matter how much time has passed. We look the same to ourselves despite the inevitably of birthdays. We see these people on a regular basis, and (without getting into the physics of aging) we seem to age as a unit, frozen in time, destined to be twenty-three, thirty-two, fifty-one forever. At what point do we realize that while we may feel young at heart, the lines on our faces and the creaks in our joints, our newly established inability to consume the massive quantities of cheap beer and somehow stay awake long enough to watch the sun come up, tell another story? At what point do we realize that we can no longer run from the years and instead should embrace them?

For some of us, this is an everyday realization. We wake up aching with the thought of another day, another wrinkle. For some of us, the idea rarely, if ever, crosses our minds. For some of us, the thought means nothing. It is what it is: a fact of life. Regardless of how we internalize the phenomenon that is age, we all (at least those of us old enough to drink and pay for our own hotel rooms) would probably agree that certain experiences have a solidly sobering effect on us with regards to our current placement on the aging timeline.

Take, for example, the college football game. For those of us who are on the far side of Jack Daniels and the near side of the big three-oh, the residue of college still lingers, and every now and then we find ourselves trying to recapture the glory days. We drink too much, tell stupid jokes, and wake up the next morning realizing that we can’t quite party like we used to. But we can come close.

So we go to these football games feeling the way we did when meal plans were a necessary evil and eight o’clock classes were a ruse designed by the devil for our ultimate demise. We have always seen those who are older than we at these events, but for the first time, we begin to notice that there are younger folks as well. Surely, we think, they do not belong here. Surely they are here with their parents, and isn’t that quaint? At this point they become unavoidable. They are here in droves because students get free tickets, while you, the old fogey, have to pay for yours. They don’t even let you sit in the same section anymore. The realization of how much time has actually passed in the last ten years hurls itself into the forefront of your mind.

You watch the amateurs for awhile, noting their mistakes and hoping you never made the same ones. Then you smile to yourself. Finish the second beer you’ve had that night. Enjoy the game. Sleep comfortably in a nice hotel (if it’s an away game), instead of passed out on the floor of a friend’s studio apartment. And wake up the next morning sans hangover. As you sit down to a breakfast consisting of more than pop tarts and skittles, you realize that life at this point is pretty good. Things are different, but change is a good thing. Lines on the face are still few and far between, but they don’t really matter anyway.

Maybe age isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe each generation needs the one both before it and after to realize just how amazing life is.

*Note to reader: These are my views at this current time. Ask me again in four years, and you may get an entirely different story.

A Moment of Truth

Lies come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes they’re stories we make up to fill empty moments. Sometimes they’re tiny and insignificant, ways to avoid exposing elements of ourselves that are too vulnerable. Sometimes they are momentous; they change the way we perceive the world and ourselves in it. Sometimes they are devastating, life-altering. Cataclysmic.

Whatever the type of lie or its scope, we tell them mostly to ourselves. No one else has to be involved; no one else has to hear. We create diversions to make it through the day. Yes, I am going to have the grande salted caramel mocha latte, and it won’t be a skinny because I will get up extra early tomorrow to workout longer. Yeah. Right. If I get this pair of shoes I won’t get anything else for at least the next two paychecks; I’ll save instead. Uh-huh. Keep talking.

Some of these lies are innocuous. They aren’t going to do everlasting damage that will rear its deformed head at inopportune moments. But some of them go deeper. Some of them penetrate to the core of who we are, so much so that we allow ourselves to become the lies we tell. Again, these are the lies we tell ourselves, not the ones we tell other people.

These things we tell ourselves distort the truth of who we really are. We tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough, wealthy enough, attractive enough, talented enough. These contrivances become the truth because we allow ourselves to see nothing else. We are consumed with being enough. We start to focus on what we’re not, instead of what we are. Funny how the little lies grow.

What would happen if we allowed ourselves only to tell the stories and believe the stories in which we are the champions? In which we are the people we aspire to be? What would happen if the only truth we knew of ourselves, the only truth we ever told ourselves, is that we are always enough?

There’s More Than One Way to Peel a Banana

Necessity has always been the mother of invention (please pardon the cliche). And humans have always possessed the unique fortitude required to meet their current needs. Some of our solutions seem obvious today, practical even, the only way to remedy the problem at hand. It is indeed strange to think that there was once a time when no solution existed.

Then there are the solutions for which no problems are immediately apparent. Sure, we can assume that at some time far distant from us now a problem existed, a need crucial for survival. But we can only wonder what desperate circumstances would drive a person to this aforementioned solution.

We’ve all heard the unanswerable question, “Who was the first person to think of milking a cow?” Even if we could know such a thing, the poor schmuck whose idea it was would likely choose to remain anonymous. Who are we to judge?

In that vein (although slightly less akin to barnyard desperation), I can’t help wondering: who was the first person to think of eating a banana, and how long did it take said person to figure out that it tasted better if it was peeled? Did someone with an empty stomach and an eye for ingenuity spot an animal eating this fruit? Did the animal, in fact, teach this human that peeling the fruit would make it more delectable? What does this do to the relationship between humans and animals? And how did this person who stumbled upon this method of consumption explain his (or her) findings to his (or her) friends?

Perhaps I’m being obtuse here; it is highly possible, although perhaps not probable, that all of this is explained on wikipedia, in which case my lack of research will be painfully evident. To be honest, though, this was just a fleeting thought to which I managed to lay claim before it completely escaped. Maybe it’s been carefully documented. Or maybe it’s one of life’s unexplainable idiosyncrasies, whose sole purpose is to entertain our minds in the early mornings while we’re still jumpstarting ourselves with coffee. What do you think?

Where Do We Store The Stuff?

The modern world is profoundly capable of generating stuff. And people have an inherent knack for consuming it. We pride ourselves on making progress, and we commend each other for accumulation. But when we’re finished with it, when the car has ceased to suit our tastes, when the cell phone is rendered obsolete by the smartphone, when the couch springs finally give way, where does it all go?

Goodwill or The Salvation Army or the church yard sale or the homeless shelter downtown benefit temporarily from our jettisoning the objects for which we once pined. In our never-ending quest to obtain we see these donations as benevolence for which we should be recognized. (Perhaps this is why we seek the tax write-offs for them?) We give away furniture, clothing, cars (boats too) to what we call worthwhile charities, although whether they are worthwhile or not is really not the point. This is how we appease our appetite for stuff.

But even those who benefit from our gracious giving will tire of their treasures (our trash). Either that or the stuff will completely fall apart and thus be rendered useless to anyone. When this happens, when the cars have been as pulled apart as they can be in scrap yards, when the couch only vaguely resembles its former shape, after the clothes can no longer be torn apart for rags,

where does it all go?

Get Lost

Life very seldom affords us the opportunity to lose ourselves. There are too many people depending on each one of us. But sometimes it seems that getting lost is necessary. If we lose ourselves, it follows that we will seek to find ourselves again, who we are, who we were, who we want to be. And it is during this quest that we recover parts of our personalities that inadvertently fell by the wayside. These are attributes of ourselves that at some point we decided were ill-suited to the person we were trying to be. Rediscovery makes them new again, and we remember why they were so important to begin with. We refashion them, turning them into useful parts of ourselves. We return to them because they belong to us, because they are us.

It’s time to get lost.

No Such Thing As No Strings Attached

Benevolence is a cultivated quality. We all like to think of ourselves as generous and supportive. We like to think we go beyond the necessary, doing whatever it takes to accomplish what life and other people throw our way. We convince ourselves that we live unconditionally, that we love unconditionally. But deep down, lurking in the dark and musty corners of who we really are, dwell the provisos, the conditions for our approval and our acceptance.

We don’t generally entertain these stipulations; we prefer for other people to remain ignorant of their existence. In fact, we disown them altogether if ever accused of harboring them in the first place. But there they are, inescapable and passive-aggressively unwavering. We use these conditions for access to ourselves; we engage them at our own discretion. We transpose them onto those surrounding us for better or for worse. They become an element of control or manipulation. We don’t like them, but we tolerate them.

Some of us rebel against them. We are able to see when they surreptitiously take control of our conversations, and though we may at times be in agreement with them, we stifle them for the sake of the unconditional. Others of us are in denial regarding their existence. We cry absolute when we really mean quid pro quo. Those of us who indulge these provisos will inevitably end up feeling nasty and tainted when all is said and done. But that is their magic, not that we have allowed them to rear themselves, but that we still will not give them a name.

So what are the conditions of unconditional? When we say that we are giving or loving or supporting unconditionally, do we always expect to get something in return? How much of this life is give, and how much of it is take?