Saturday, January 24, 2015
The old saying goes, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
Maybe this phrase satisfies the hearts of children and helps them think before they speak. Maybe it allows the most sarcastic and cynical adults to function among the moronic masses without losing their jobs or getting slapped. Maybe it reminds us that some situations call for patience and tactful words instead of brutal honesty.
Realistically, however, this simplistic phrase does not accurately reflect how the modern world works--for two reasons.
1. The word "nice" is absolutely meaningless. I usually say, "That's so nice!" when I literally have no positive feelings about something and I can't appropriately express myself. Like many expressions it has come to mean the opposite of its original. For example, two dudes are skateboarding and one scrapes his knee. He shows his bloody knee to his friend and the friend says, "Oooh, nice." Nice really does mean nothing, and it's almost inexcusable to use it in formal speech. When I was teaching middle school I reminded my students on a daily basis that "nice" should be removed from their vocabulary and replaced with... pretty much anything else in the "nice" spectrum. Nice is boring, nice is insincere, nice is hovering above the surface of an ocean of excellent synonyms.
2. If we took this phrase literally and only ever said nice things, the world as we know it would fizzle and disappear. Stories would never be told and a million lessons would go unlearned, no one would sing the blues in a beautiful baritone, and people would walk around with diseases because it's certainly not nice to say, "I'm sorry, sir, but you have The Bubonic Plague." Furthermore, marriage proposals are not "nice"--powerful, moving, but not nice. Pregnancy announcements, likewise, are not nice. Asking for a raise or you'll quit, telling the news of a relative's death, warning the country that the British are coming, or correcting a student's paper and writing 'F' at the top are all very not-nice things.
The reason I mention this is because in today's society everything you say in social networking circles or public domains can be criticized and crushed for the most insignificant reasons. Our friends, on the other hand, never say anything critical to us on these platforms simply because they want to show us support. (Siblings are not part of this equation.) We say nice (meaningless) things to our friends and rip apart strangers. It really should be the opposite.
We should say the not-nice things to our friends. To our families. We should give them words full of meaning and power, words to uplift them and encourage them grow. We should share thoughts that bring us closer together instead of keeping us at a comfortable distance. Our nice words--the ones that are polite, appropriate, and meaningless--save them for strangers.
There are so many words we use and things we say that are not nice but they are necessary. They sustain us! A life based on "nice" may be pleasant but it will be empty of meaning. And a life without meaning is no life. A nice life is detrimental to life.
I don't want a nice life. I want an incredible one.
Sunday, January 4, 2015
Five years ago today I stood in the drizzling rain at the edge of Capitol Lake in Olympia, Washington and a young man got down on his knee to ask if I would marry him. I didn't say yes. I cocked my head and said, "Yeeaaah..." because hard consonants were hard. I mean difficult. They were difficult.
In retrospect I feel that a more confident answer would have been unlike me. It was this moment I knew was coming but nothing really prepares you for when you're finally in it. Yes, I wanted to marry him. We'd known we wanted to get married almost from the very beginning of our relationship. Still, when that time comes and you have to actually face the thing you have been wanting, the decision seems much more overwhelming and incomprehensible than it did when you were just dreaming about it.
And in that moment, regardless of how confident my answer was, I forged my loser-ness with his loser-ness. We were losers together, even before the wedding. Before the vows and the rings and then the road trip cross-country and the fights and confusion and the years of wedded insanity... we were first losers together when I said, "Yeaaah..." Because for the first time, we had this tangible thing that was ours. A relationship is between two people but it is much more fluid and unpredictable than an engagement. An engagement is definitively us, it has a goal for us made by us which will be carried out by no one but us.
On that day, we lost our selves--because a marriage begins long before the vows. A marriage begins when two people agree to get married and consequently agree that every decision from here until eternity is made by both, not one.
Sure, I decide when I want to write a blog and he decides when he wants to buy coffee and we all decide when we're going to use the bathroom or make phone calls or cuddle with the dog. But we become aware that all things, even those small things, affect the other person and we begin to take that into account. This is the mindset that begins before marriage: you lose your self to accomodate the us that has just been made. So if I want to write a blog but I need to fold laundry, I do the laundry first. If he wants to buy coffee but it will make me late for work he skips out on the latte. We sacrifice and lose out on things we want for ourselves in order to benefit us as a whole.
And in all the world there is no one I am more thankful for, more blessed by, more willing to be a loser with.
I love you, Joseph. You make us such incredible losers.
Thursday, January 1, 2015
Happy New Year, world. I promise it's a good one. Or, at least, we'll find out.
As one year closes and another begins I am full of separated thoughts. First off, I dropped the ball with those Thanksgiving posts. Sorry about that? We had an odd Thanksgiving which involved someone else's car and then driving back home in the middle of the night to avoid a snowstorm. Second, I am overwhelmed with odd reflections on 2014 and also odd reflections on this whole "holiday season" in general.
Did you know it's been 15 years since Y2K? Fifteen years since that period when we stored jugs of water and canned goods in basements, and people built fallout shelters "just in case." I don't recall many details from Y2K--I was in 5th grade, after all. I remember the Christmas card I got from Ms. Trudeau (my favorite teacher, ever) and the knowledge that "Y2K" might make all the electricity go out in the entire world. Otherwise, I was happily oblivious. I wasn't afraid of the mysterious Y2K and I probably went about my Christmas break as usual by opening presents and playing outside and making some childish resolutions in January.
Ah, resolutions. As children we are taught that the New Year is a time to make these so-called resolutions, to make an alteration in the way we live. This concept is usually pushed more by teachers than parents, because those New Year resolution art projects are just so gosh darn cute. We stop learning about it around the time we become irritable/irritating teenagers. However, for at least a few years during elementary school we are persuaded to believe that every January we should find something to change about ourselves.
Yeah. That's kind of messed up.
It's not messed up because children are perfect--they are human, and therefore imperfect. It's not messed up because teachers shouldn't have the right to offer kids time for self-correction and reflection--they do, in fact, have that right, in many aspects. It's messed up because it's arbitrary, and leads us to the assumption that January 1st is prime time for changing your life, instead of changing it during some more appropriate moment.
From a teacher's perspective, it's also messed up because there is no follow-through. We give the kids this assignment, the "pick something that's wrong with you and decide to make it better" project, and maybe we talk about it for a few days. But for the remainder of the school year and into the next, no one dares mention a resolution.
And that is how kids are lead to say, "I'm going to do all of my homework before the weekend!" (not knowing that in a few years your homework will reach its deadly claws into your precious weekend.) They say, "I'll be nice to my sister." (Such a specific, reachable goal.) New Years resolutions done wrong (which is most of the time) teach kids to be idealistic and then forget their ideals, because, hey, no one is going to ask you about this for another year.
I'm not saying this because resolutions are bad. They're not! But they can be so much more than some blithe statement you make each January. Even if it's not a blithe statement--even if it's a statement you really mean--it's unlikely you'll remember it past March. People take themselves far too seriously when they make these resolutions but some reason it's inconsequential to give up the decision you made under such strain. If you make a resolution, don't take yourself too seriously, and try to be aware when you give up.
One last thought before I go. Anybody ever think about how a resolution usually signifies the end of something, and we tend to make resolutions at the beginning of the year? It's almost like saying, "Let's get started so we can get finished!" I have literally never been aware of this before.
So, my resolutions this year, which I will not take too seriously, and will probably forget half of by the end of March, are the following:
-Read more books
-Play less Tetris
-Drink more coffee
-Clean out my inbox more often (532 unread e-mails and counting...)
-Be more patient
-Smile at people
-Get more sleep at night (so, less daytime napping)
-Make more art
-Write more poems
-Sing (loudly, and often)
-Cuddle with my dog
-Love my husband (even when he buys me a box of chocolates and eats the only piece left in the box that I wanted to eat because I was saving the best for last.)
In any case, here's a toast to the old year and the new one. This makes for an incredible life.