Tag Archives: imperfections

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.

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Ready for My Close-Up

I am quite fascinated by the number of pictures that people take of themselves. I don’t mean the ones where you gather all your girlfriends or all your teammates or the whole crew who has gone out together. I’m not even talking about the kind of solo shots people take when they go on vacation or to some other memorable place. I specifically mean the photos people take of themselves by themselves when I assume no one else is there. Just close up shot after close up shot. See me? I’m cute. Not even “these are my new glasses” or “I just got my hair cut.” Just plain old self-portraits, shared out with the world to see.

My wonder about this is whether it stems from innate narcissism within us or from a need for others to affirm us, or maybe both? Don’t we all not-so-secretly post the “good” pictures of ourselves because we kind of hope that other people will say we look lovely in that photo?

When I look at pictures of any kind where I am in it, I am immediately judging myself. How do I look? Do I still look relatively young compared to my actual age? How’s my hair? Does that outfit make me look good? I sit there and I notice all of the external imperfections, and sometimes I think about how I can prevent that in the next photo taken. I’m not a model and I won’t pretend to be, but surely there are tricks to trying to improve what the camera captures, right? It’s a silly little self-torture game that I play, and I know I’m not the only one who does it. I think most of us spend more than enough time scrutinizing our physical selves, especially as women. Not that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves and put effort toward making our outward styles reflect our inner awesome-ness… but I do look at photos of myself and want them to look good.

Which brings me to today: Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday — better known as the day before Lent. In the New Testament of the Bible, Christ spends 40 days in the desert preparing for His final death and resurrection, and it is not an easy time. He fasts and meditates and spends time examining his inner character. Regardless of our respective faith practices, I think that we are called to similar times of self-reflection, when we take the time to look at all of the parts of our inner selves and make plans to improve the parts that need work. It’s relatively easy to look at a picture and recognize the flaws on the outside, even if we are the only ones who notice them. It’s much more difficult to turn the magnifying glass on our internal selves and be honest about the areas of our character or our lives where we need to spend some more time. For me as a Catholic — and particularly as an adult Catholic who can better appreciate Lent as part of the liturgical year — Lent is a built-in time of every calendar year when I know I will pay a little more attention than usual to strengthening my character, to thinking about my faith practice. In the past decade or so, I can honestly say that March and the Lenten season in general has often been a trying time for me for a variety of reasons (Husband moving to AK before me in March ’11, most recently), but it has also given me a regular opportunity to work on my relationship with and understanding of myself. It is usually hard work and most often it can be a lonely journey, and yet I am  always grateful for what I learned afterward.

So alongside my closest friends, who are experiencing their own trials, respectively, and looking toward self-renewal, I am also getting ready for my annual close-up, just not the kind that shows up in a photograph.