In the Darkness

Every several months I take a social media fast. Not that I think there’s anything inherently wrong with being on Facebook, Twitter and the like, but over time scrolling through the noise becomes deafening. So I stop. I let the urge to click, refresh, scroll down, refresh, express my emotion instantly, scroll, and get lost in the labyrinth of friends’ profiles pass me by, even as my fingers seek the keys instinctively. There are days that in my search bar I start typing “Face….” and stop myself just in time, although often I click enter before I can stop myself and come face to face with the tempting log in screen. It’s a daily battle with myself, which I hope will make me stronger in the long run.
The silence hits. Seconds, minutes, hours open up to a new possibility. Where once my eyes perused a 4-inch screen to discover its every last message, now I begin seeing the little details around me. My mind begins to flirt with thoughts that I’ve shut out for months or ignored vehemently by seeking an alternative train of thought at the touch of a button.
Am I enough? My mind searches desperately for a reason to escape giving an answer. Do I need to forgive? Maybe there are dishes that still need to be washed, laundry that needs to be folded, a room that still needs to be vacuumed. Do they really care? Reading is supposed to be good for you, maybe it’s time to pull an old classic from the bookshelf and lose myself in the prose of an author who actually had it all figured out. Am I where I should be? I bet there are still some unanswered emails in my inbox, and it would be rather rude not to respond to them right away, even though they’re from last week. What do I need to change?
It’s in the silence, deliberating with myself, that I start to hear the squeaks in what I once thought was a well-oiled instrument, accentuating areas that need tending to, especially in the painful-to-reach corners. The unnerving process of confronting each thought head on often gives me a headache. It’s not like I’m going to figure out the answers to all of my questions right now anyway. So why try?

These thoughts lead to somewhere in the darkness. Maybe the darkness is exactly where I need to be from time to time.

Pain

They say that pain is a signal that keeps you from causing more damage. Example being, you feel pain when you burn your hand so that you pull your hand away and keep from burning it worse. Sure, I get that. But I’m not so certain that all pain is valuable. Headaches can signal dehydration, lack of proper nutrition, and probably much more (I’m not a doctor after all).

Pain is one of those strong emotions that helps burn a memory or lesson into your mind. This makes sense, because why learn that pressure washing your foot is a bad idea if you are just going to forget and do it again the next week?

But today I have a headache, and I have NO IDEA WHY! Sure, I could go through the long, long list of what causes headaches and systematically eliminate potential reasons. But, let’s be real. Who’s gonna do that? I might drink 16 oz of water, and if it’s still there, give up. Much more likely, I’m going to break my cardinal rule of “stay away from medicines” to take a pair of iBuprofen. After all, why be at work if I’m getting no work done due to my pounding temple?

So is pain valuable if you don’t know the reason behind it? If there’s nothing you can fix, does it serve any purpose? If you don’t even know what to fix, often times we end up fixing the wrong thing.

I feel like this happens in my relationships with others. I don’t like confrontation. I pull the most ridiculous stunts JUST to avoid running into people I have issue with. So this is kinda a big deal to admit… If someone hurts me, innocently and without realizing it, and I say nothing, my pain is in vain. Sure I may learn not to trust someone or to put my guard up, but haven’t we learned this pessimistic attitude enough? This doesn’t mean I should lash out, or yell, or accuse. But perhaps, the only way for meaning to come of it is for me to sit down, calmly and logically, and let them know what they did and the result it had on me. Only by sharing this will they have the opportunity to learn from it.

Disclaimer: This does not guarantee they will learn from it. You can’t control what others do and they may hurt you again.

So maybe this level of vulnerability is what I need to learn next. Let people know how their actions make you feel if they need to know.

Give it Up

There are many moments in our life where we feel like giving up. Some times are simple, like a game you’re never going to win even if you keep trying. It can get a bit more serious, like a friendship with someone who is selfish and never takes you into consideration. There are also the big moments, like quitting a job, deciding to file for divorce, moving away, etc. And some people even get to the point that they want to give up on life. For the record, I never encourage this one. Never give up on life.

I have a hard time giving up. I will often stay waiting for hours for someone because I’m afraid that as soon as I walk away, the person will arrive. I hate that thought of missing something amazing because I walked away a minute too soon. I’m not sure where that particular fear comes from but I’ve lived with it for a long time.

I think this way on so many topics. What if I walked away from this person, and they were just about to change? Or what if I give up on this project right before the committee decides to adopt it. I guess that’s me living in the land of “what if” and letting it control my life again. This is a dangerous way to live. I keeps too many of us in bad situations because of how they may some day change. Don’t give up too soon, sure, perseverance is incredible important. But perseverance for the sake of perseverance may not get you where you want to be.

There are moments to give up on some things. I have always grown up holding tight to my memories, because somehow I thought that a moment wasn’t worth living if you weren’t going to remember it anyway. But in the last few years I’ve learned the value of giving up negative memories. Yes, negative moments may have helped shaped you into the person you are, and maybe you should never forget the lessons that you learned as a result, but you don’t need to hold on to memories that hurt you. Give it up. Some habits or traditions are in your life for no good reason. If they’re not there for a good reason, they probably shouldn’t be there. Give it up. Some things if your life might be doing damage.

Maybe, just maybe, learning to give up the small things to make a better life for yourself and those around you will give you the courage to give up the big things that are holding you down.

Day 13: Office Decorating 101

So today during lunch I ran across an interesting article about 13 Things Your Desk Says About You. While the concept of personal marketing isn’t necessarily new to me, the thought of my desk playing a part of that certainly is. Of course I glanced hesitantly over my workspace realizing how much dust had accumulated in the corners. I’m not necessarily a talented decorator. 


Day 13: For better or worse, the condition of your workspace reflects on you. The article touched on things like “too many post-its,” “too many pictures of your family,” “too many toys” (or not enough toys if you’re a creative type) and “too many pictures of travels.” The main point to me seemed to be balance and mindfulness. Be conscious of what everything you have at your desk represents something about you. I’ll keep my post-its (hey, it’s how I process), but I may be more mindful to throwaway notes I no longer need. I’ll keep up pictures of my husband, because I like him well enough, but I keep those in a corner just for me. I still think it’s very important for mental health to keep happy triggers at work. But yes, everything we have in public gives a clue to who we are, so choose wisely.


I’m sure this lesson extend to many aspects of life. But maybe that’ll be a lesson for another day.

Day 9: Chance it

I love my days off. I love when I stay at home in my pajamas doing absolutely nothing, except for a big adventurous trip to Subway to eat lunch. I also love when I go out into the real world and enjoy the day while others are busy working. One of our favorite things to do once a month is go to Creative Mornings in DC. Creative Mornings is a free breakfast lecture series for the creative community. Creative Mornings is held in 100 cities around the world and every month each chapter covers the same general topic. There’s time to network, enjoy a muffin or two (or every flavor) and then be inspired, awestruck, empowered, touched or set straight by a short (under an hour) presentation by various creative professionals.

Day 9: Live with a bit of spontaneity and randomness to allow chance a chance. 

Today’s presentation here in DC was on the topic of “Chance.” We heard from Lulu Miller who is an NPR Science Desk Reporter, and overall awesome. She spoke about the many ways that chance inspires creativity, and as a storyteller, she often finds the best parts of stories by accident. Or something along those lines. My take away was to allow as much “randomness” into your life to let it diversify and inform your creativity. Our minds may be interesting places, but very limiting. The more you people, things, concepts, etc impact you, the further you can take your ideas.

After leaving the talk, we wandered over to the National Gallery of Art, since, well, we’ve just never been in there before. It was fabulous, and precisely the practice we needed after hearing the theory. My job has nothing to do with fine art, but I felt myself inspired in many different ways. We lingered over pieces we had never seen before and stopped in awe in front of paintings we had only ever seen in books. We found a set of paintings by
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, the namesake of Daniel’s college in Peru, and an artist who helped inspire modern advertising design (or something along those lines). It was wonderful to sit on the (super comfortable) couches ever few rooms to discuss art with my husband (and rest our tired feet). I felt like it led us to thoughts and discussions we would have never otherwise had. Consider Lulu Miller’s theory confirmed at least once by the Taipe adventurers. 

So if you’re feeling in a little bit of a creative rut, fear not. Do something completely random, stay open to finding something you weren’t expecting, let other’s experience become a part of yours. You may just find yourself on a whole new path by chance.

Day 8: Distract yourself

My inspirational outlet at work comes in the form of Banangram tiles. While working, I spend a fair amount of day looking for just the right word to express a given thought accurately. But what I love about these tiles is there is no “best” word (unless you’re playing strategically I guess). I get to sit back and search for a word that doesn’t need to express any particular meaning, but rather just happens to fit the letters I have in front of me. It’s freeing. For me it feels like the difference between baking for fun as opposed to out of hunger. 
Although I will admit, I’m always a little afraid that the words I find reveal something about my subconscious self. There are days when I find several negative words in a row, and I start to worry about my state of mind. But for the most part that theory sounds a bit too much like some sort of Facebook spam, “The first 3 words you find in this crossword reveal what you’re really like!” 
I realized something today on day 8: There is such thing as good distractions. I’ve never really thought of distractions in a positive light, and especially in a setting such as work. I was often called distracting growing up (though I’m sure it had nothing to do with my “look at me, look at me!” requests). By very definition a distraction is something that impedes concentration, and concentration is good, right? Right. But. We may find a few obvious “good distractions” such as distracting someone from physical pain like when getting a shot or keeping them from fixating on something negative. I always enjoyed distracting my nephews from their favorite noisy, obnoxious toy when they were little. But work isn’t necessarily negative, so why would you want to distract yourself from that? I see a lot of value from allowing your brain an opportunity to change gears, especially if you work in a creative field. But at the same time I think it’s important to control your own distraction. If others are always distracting you, you have little control over when you get back to a concentrated state. However if you take 5 minutes away for a specific task (such as Bananagrams), you are in charge of getting yourself back as well. Because distractions will come in one form or another, so why not be the one controlling the narrative?

Day 6: Keep traditions

I’m rather forgetful. I wish I was different, that certain things sparked my memory or haunted my thoughts, but nothing sticks for too long. One of the things I’m particularly bad at is dates. I would forget my own birthday was coming if Facebook didn’t remind me of it. So of course, as life often happens, I married someone who took the effort to commit things to memory. He’s the anniversary keeper in our marriage. And he knows it all, the anniversary of the first day we met, the day he asked me out, the day he proposed, the day I left Peru, the day he came to the USA, the day we got married, the first time we changed a flat tire… he knows it all. Although I highly suspect he has an App hidden somewhere helping him out with some of those.
But we’re a family that likes to celebrate, so it works great that he has in mind so many dates to commemorate. Tonight the occasion was the 1 year anniversary of when he arrived in the USA. We had been apart for 11 and a half months, and only got to see each other once in that time for about 3 days. A year ago I picked him up at the airport and for the first time ever, drove him around. Although it was late, we grabbed a quick bite at IHOP before I dropped him off at the house where he would be staying until the wedding. I tend to bring people to IHOP when they first arrive from overseas, though I’m not sure why. I guess it’s the most American food I know. A year ago it seemed strange to sit down across the table from this man that used to live in my iPhone. 

When we went out tonight I thought to myself, “What a silly anniversary to keep.” Though that never gets in the way of having an excuse to order stuffed french toast. When taken from The word “tradition” holds a strange connotation for me I guess. Most of our family traditions growing up were for us kids. At least I had always assumed that they were. We celebrated Easter the same way every year, because us kids liked it so we wanted to do it again. We opened presents in the same way every Christmas because kids need some sort of structure to know what to expect in these sort of events. When I grew up I didn’t think I’d worry about keeping any special traditions of my own, though I always heard “you’ll start your own traditions when you have your own family.” I just always assumed that I would set up those traditions for my kids when they come around. Then I had a few sad holidays with no traditional aspects, and they were horrible. For several years I celebrated Christmas out of the country, and nothing about it felt like Christmas. In Brazil I ate tacos, in Peru I watch Titanic on TV then fireworks with my sister-in-law over Skype, and ate lemon pie. None of which says “Christmas” to me. 

And now I have my own family. It’s just me and Dani right now, and that’s pretty awesome. We’re still in our first year of marriage, but we’ve spent 2 Christmases together (3 if you count that one of our first dates was eating lemon pie together on Christmas afternoon). We still haven’t established traditions as they’re often understood. But tonight as we sat at IHOP chatting into the evening, I realized the true importance of traditions. Day 6: Creating and keeping traditions helps us blend the past, the present and the future. It’s not a matter of pulling out the same ornaments every year just because that’s what we do. It’s pausing normal day-to-day activities to appreciate what you’ve been through together, remember the great moments, evaluate the time that has passed, express what you’ve both learned and share the experience together. There’s no need to live in the past, but I’d be a fool to pretend like it didn’t happen. And one of the best ways to hold onto the good and keep getting better is to take the time to mark moments in history as they’re happening and remember the value moments that have gone.