The ocean both terrifies and inspires

I have long been an advocate of the ocean. Its shores are a place to relax, its depths something to protect, its creatures something to admire. Almost all of the ocean is unexplored. It is the unknown—and, much the same with my opinion of space—that fact fills me with wonder and hope. It inspires me.

Our world, our culture is one of finite terms. There is the possible and the impossible, the probable and the improbable, the no and the yes. You either can or you can’t. We’re told, as a global society from birth, what we are likely or unlikely to achieve based on religion, sexuality, gender, and class.

We know what we know and ignore the things we don’t understand. It’s an epidemic. And this prevalent attitude is why I absolutely adore the ocean, in all of its unknown, freakish glory.

Because there is so much unknown about the ocean, and things that are known about it somehow defy logic on a regular basis, that means, to me, that this whole possible/impossible shit is entirely relative.

The ocean is an example. We don’t actually know what is impossible. We don’t actually know, with any degree of certainty, if society would fall apart when a poor transsexual man befriends an evangelist Christian celebrity. We can’t actually say that being born in a certain class means we have to stay there.

Nature, Earth, space—the whole of the universe itself challenges global societal beliefs simply by existing.

What is impossible is only impossible because you believe it is so.

Allow the ocean to blow your mind a little when you click on the link and then come back for one final thought. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

whistles

Back? Good. So, you know how the stuff you just saw kind of defies your perceptions a tad? Yeah, hold on to that feeling. Cherish that wonkiness. Go out into the world feeling slightly off-balance in a good way.

Question, challenge, and disagree.

Fight.

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I have faith in humanity. I have to.

Making art is a very personal act. Visual arts, music, the written word—all of it requires the creator to briefly let down personal shields and imbue the work with a tiny piece of the self.

Sometimes, that makes creating art really difficult. Sometimes, it is so difficult it actually paralyzes the artist with fear. I mean, opening up a bit of your soul to others is a big deal. It is an exercise in faith in humanity.

Faith that your opinions are not completely crazy. Faith that your eccentricities are not unique. Faith that the darkest corners of your mind can actually be restored to light because someone else already has the candle.

The extra-sensitive artists, like myself, have an almost insurmountably difficult obstacle to get around.

Okay, I’m going to lower the forward shields for a minute and tell you a secret: I am super sensitive. I have built a quasi-functional wall around myself to ensure that I can accept criticism of my writing with grace and open-mindedness, because that is that only way I’ll improve. This wall also helps keep out irrelevant exterior criticisms, say about my fashion choices or what kind of movies I like to watch.

The problem is that all the strength is in the forward, exterior-facing wall. The inward wall, the one that faces friends and family, has not been fortified. So, if a friend or family member lobs an off-hand comment about…oh, maybe how they hate the shoes I’m wearing in my direction, it’s bad news.

Critical hit. Red alert. MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY WE’RE GOING DOWN.

Seriously, it gets to me. It shouldn’t at all, but it does. This makes it hard for me to write sometimes. Why? Because my friends and family will be the first people to see my writing. They get the first round of beta-reads; they are the “Is this total horse shit or should I keep going?” litmus test.

Sometimes, my little wall works—criticism is ingested with an open mind and helps me make the project better. Other times, it doesn’t. And then I think about all the exterior people who could possible hate my writing and I wilt. What’s the point? Why write anything? Hell, why leave the house? It’s a sneaky doom spiral and it sinks its poisonous claws into me more often than I’d like to admit.

The mantra of the ever-terrifying and totally awesome Chuck Wendig is to “harden the fuck up, Care Bear,” and he’s right.  But how do you balance the adamantium exoskeleton with the slow leak of soul-juice into your project?

How do you fortify that which you have put forward with a gooey center?

You can’t, not really. You sort of have to accept on faith, that someone, somewhere, is going to defend your work, and by extension, that tiny bit of your soul.

You have to have faith in other people. Other artists. Other soul-chips bouncing around in the ether.

My personal and current beacon of hope is Brandon Stanton, creator of Humans of New York. He is a street portrait photographer and if you haven’t seen his site, you’re missing out.

Mr. Stanton roams the streets of New York City (and Tehran, and most recently, Boston) and finds interesting people to photograph. The portraits are everything from hilarious to despairing, and every last one of them is beautiful. He asks each subject a few questions and puts the most revealing answers as captions for his photos. Some people merit full-on stories and the audience discovers how different people are, and some times, how judgmental we all can be.

Stanton’s project is interesting in that each portrait carries two soul-chips. The one that is captured from the subject by the camera, and one of his own. The people he chooses to photograph reveal something about the photographer. Namely, that he is open-minded, courageous and selfless.

Open-minded because he approaches people society would revile.

Courageous because he approaches subjects that scare him, or may put him in danger.

Selfless in that he wants to tell the stories of the people he photographs and in doing so, teaches the rest of us not to judge a book by it’s cover.

I don’t know how he balances the exoskeleton with the slow-leak of soul, but I’m glad he’s got a handle on the technique.

It helps me remember to write even though I am afraid, and sometimes because I am afraid.

My totem animal is a platypus

I’ve been really stressed out lately. There are many contributing factors to my stress, from external things that I can’t control to my lack of stress management techniques.

It’s become such a chronic issue that I’ve had a low-grade migraine for the past three days, spawned from too much tension (and possibly triggered by the crazy weather we’ve been having). I’m anxious, irritated, emotionally over-wrought.

Did I do the cover letter right? Did I remember to spell check? What if I'm actually terrible? Please love me. Oh, God. Please.

I have been researching stress management techniques for the past week or so to get things under control. My research revealed two things  I do that I shouldn’t. Two giant, clanging, flashing alarms that make me more stressed out than needed:

1) I over-commit.

2) I am not myself.

I wanted to share this with you all because I have a feeling we’re all guilty of doing this once in a while, and some of us (ahem, like me) are making these mistakes so consistently it is literally affecting our health.

Over committing

This one is easy to solve. Simply practice the art of saying “no.” Don’t do anything unless you are truly enthusiastic about doing it—if there is a hesitation in your decision, politely decline.

Now, we can’t do this at work. We have to accept our work assignments, whether we like them or not, and get them done. We need the money, yes? Yes. But socially—socially is where we can make some changes.

If you fee like you need practice, start with the little stuff. Don’t go with your friends to that movie you don’t want to see if you’d rather, you know, make art or whatever. Don’t eat the asparagus if you don’t want to eat it. Work your way up to the bigger stuff. Decline, politely, an invitation to a party.

You don’t need an excuse, just say you are unavailable or can’t make it.  If your friends are the kind of people who ask “why not,” you can a) tell them the truth, that you’ve over-committed yourself and need some down time, or b) fib a little. You have another engagement. You have to work. You have to perform emergency gastrointestinal surgery on a rainbow-bloated unicorn.

Your friends will forgive you. It’s better for you to say no upfront than to flake out later because your stress levels are too high. If you’re like me, this is a hard concept to wrap your brain around. If you say no, that somehow means you are unreliable, or mean, or neglectful. This is untrue. We are none of those things for saying no.  Selecting your social activities carefully will leave you with more time, and energy, to attend those things that you really want to attend. Which isn’t to say that you don’t want to attend everything. Of course you do, you like your friends. But the reality is, sometimes you have to say no now to say yes later.

Right? Right.

Being Yourself

Okay, before I lose you all in this giant cliché I need to tell you something. I don’t mean, like, “be yourself at the party/on the date/in school/at work.”

I’m talking something deeper, more fundamental.

I’m talking about being true to you.

Find the shining core of your being and polish the glass around it so you can let the light out.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on a spirit quest. Your totem animal doesn’t need to guide your through this transformation. Most of it will be simple, external change. You’ll have to start with a bit of introspection to figure out what those changes are, but I promise, this won’t hurt.

Some of the stress management techniques I came across included: following your intuition; valuing what you believe in, “walk your talk;” feel your feelings and allow yourself to express them; and make changes if you are unhappy with your current situation.

For example, a small part of my stress was not having a private, dedicated space to write. My desk was out in a den, near a big window, vulnerable to feline attack and ambient television noise. So, I decided to move my desk into my bedroom, where I can close the door and the windows are curtained. Apparently, I like to feel cocooned. It’s amazing the difference that one change made. I am more willing to sit at my desk and actually write.

I used to believe that if I championed one cause, I would have to champion them all, as I am a closet tree-hugging hippie. But that’s not true either. I can pick one or two things to really champion and concentrate on supporting monetarily, vocally, or however. I can “walk my talk” without screaming my voice hoarse or breaking a hip.

I know we all have different masks, or personalities, that we put on in certain public places. Just don’t forget to take them off when you get home. Remember to find a sanctuary were you don’t have to worry about what other people think, or feel subject to scrutiny, even if you don’t care what the other people are thinking.

Find your hidey-hole, set it up the way you want, and guard it jealousy. Spend time there. I mean, don’t hermit yourself away for indefinite periods of time, but spend some time just being you in a place that is for you and nobody else.

Maybe get in touch with your totem animal.  Make the changes you want to make (within the scope of law and financial ability) as much as you can.

Shine your light. The rest will come.

“The most common form of despair is not being who you are.” – S. Kierkegaard

Literacy: Let’s talk about text

The past few years have seen unprecedented technological leaps. We put a fully functioning robot on Mars.  There now exists a photographic technology that with focus the picture after you take it. We’re well on out way to neural controlled prosthetics, aka, Luke Skywalker’s robot hand.

Mobile technology has evolved so far as to have annoying predictive text, and it’s very own shorthand language.

All this was achievable through science. And math. Everything I just listed relies on precise algorithms, programs, coding—mathematical equations. If you get one number off, you’re screwed. Robots explode against asteroids instead of landing on the Red Planet. Cameras start shooting x-rays. Whatever.

Math is a universal language. It is the same in any country. It’s great. I mean, I hate it because I’m not good at it, but it makes the scientific world go ‘round, and I love my gadgets.  There’s a whole educational campaign about getting school kids more involved with math and science.

But, misread a number, or transpose a sequence, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket (I know from experience). It’s not nuanced so much as precise.  Excruciatingly precise. It’s a big deal if you screw it up. Teachers say so, parents say so, and professionals say so. Banks. They say it loudest. Money talks, right? Heaven forbid you read $15.21 in your bank account when it’s actually $15.12 and overdraw by nine cents. BAM. Twenty-five dollar fee for that.

But for some reason, precision in language is not touted as such a big deal. Yes, there are many advocates for proper grammar and punctuation. And yes, there is some ambiguity inherent in grammatical rules. Cross-cultures, things literally get lost in translation.

And yet, there’s no extreme emphasis on literacy. There’s no national campaign for the nuance of words.

Our language, the primary way we communicate, is being eaten alive by shorthand perpetuated through text messaging. It’s being undermined by a flippant society that states no one reads nowadays anyway. What does it matter?

It matters quite a bit. I’m not just talking about the trite grammatical comparison:

“‘Let’s eat Grandma!’ VS ‘Let’s eat, Grandma!’ Punctuation saves lives.”

While grammar and punctuation are extremely important for clear written communication, so is the meaning of words. What I’m saying, my doves—my darling, dearest readers—is that language is every bit as exacting as math.

Anyone who’s ever texted someone and been “corrected” with the phone’s predictive text or autocorrect knows the embarrassment one letter can cause. Typos are just as dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong. I like texting shorthand sometimes as it saves time and energy. But, most of the time, it just becomes confusing to me. There has been more than one occasion when I’ve misunderstood the acronym because I was thinking that it represented a different phrase than the person sending the message. Disaster ensued.

We treat language so harshly, using it like a blunt object to hammer home a point, when it could be used as a high-precision tool. A laser.

So, while your encouraging your daughter (or son) to pursue a career in the sciences, also teach them the importance of language and grammar.

Advocate for literacy.

Be the laser.

Be a light in the dark

You know, it’s a little odd, all these tweets, blogs and Facebook posts about how broken the world is in the face of recent tragedies, from natural disasters to unnatural ones.

People I know personally and people I don’t know at all seem to agree that the world is a fucked up place. That humanity is simply a cluster of random acts of badness and cruelty.

And, I suppose if I were an alien studying this planet, I would say the same thing. I mean, who would want to live on this planet, really? Nature is scary. If it’s not battering various coasts with super-storms, it’s washing it away with earthquake-born tsunamis. Humanity is scary. If we’re not contemplating our belly buttons, we’re massacring each other over land disputes or killing each other for no apparent reason.

Except I’m not an alien. I’m not on the outside looking in. And when people say they hope it’s actually the end times because we “don’t deserve” to be here, I cringe. The fuck you trying to say, exactly?

There are individuals who are messed up, broken, diseased of the mind. There are ideologies that are messed up, broken, diseased in principle. But it certainly isn’t everyone. And nature isn’t out to get us. It’s just being nature—our planet is harsh, but you know, it’s ours. And until we can travel any length of space en masse, we’re kind of stuck. Bloom where you’re planted, people.

And as for those that don’t think we deserve to be here, or think that all of humanity is broken, I have to say, look around. Yeah, there are plenty of squeaky wheels. There are a lot of things wrong.

There are also a lot of things right:

Buzzfeed’s Faith in Humanity List http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/moments-that-restored-our-faith-in-humanity-this-y

Project Night Night (via @theblogess) http://projectnightnight.org/

Robbery foiled with kindness http://cheezburger.com/6293721088

I could keep going, but you get the idea. The things that are bad are overwhelming, and numerous. It is our job to counter that with an infinite amount of small, good things. It doesn’t have to be anything overt, you don’t need to spend any money if you don’t want. All you have to do is practice kindness, courtesy, and compassion.

We will never have all the answers as to why bad things happen. It will always be tragic. It will always hurt.

But, when all you see is darkness, you have to be the light. No one else will do it for you.

Go forth. Shine.