Thursday, January 21, 2016

On Faces

The interesting thing about faces is that they always tell you the truth of a given person, especially as that person ages. When a person smiles or laughs a lot, you can see it in the way their face has wrinkled, settled, or changed over the years. The same thing happens when a person does nothing but pout, and frown, and complain. The effect is most obvious in older people, but you can see it in young people as well.

I've known a lot of people that claim to be super positive, happy beings but aren't really that way in practice. If you didn't know any better from actually observing the realities of the person's life, you could look at the permanent pout burned into their face and see the truth. Same thing goes for people that may appear sour and depressive on the surface, but have faces that give away the fact that they actually laugh and smile a lot.

I'm realizing that I might be the second sort. Outwardly, I complain and bitch a lot. I would even say I see and describe myself as a brooding, pensive person for the most part. But when I step back and really admit how much I laugh and how often I smile -- how often I ultimately wind up seeing the best in something -- I realize that isn't actually accurate. And my face gives me away. I have the face of a happy, pleasant, inquisitive person even if I don't always feel like one.

This face thing is something I think about a lot when I'm on social media. Especially when people start posting selfies and whatnot. I like to look at faces and compare what those faces are telling me to the narratives those same people put out there in an effort to cultivate a certain image. You can tell which people probably sit around and fume a lot even if they're smiling in a picture. You can tell which ones are secretly lonely, or angry, or insecure. You can tell which ones actually feel comfortable in their own skins and which ones are still very far from being at peace with who they are.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Writing Lab: Changing, Evolving, Regrouping

Prompt: "Some people find it difficult to rebalance their lives after making a big shift. Do you welcome change or struggle with it?"

I don't think that anyone really likes change. My own personal feelings about it honestly depend on what kind of change we're talking about. Obviously, I don't like being forced out of a situation that was comfortable or beneficial for me, but if we're talking about a situation that had been stagnant or unpleasant for a long time, then I welcome change with open arms. I'm not one of those people that prefers the devil I know. If something sucks, I will always be willing to take a chance in the hopes that it could get better. 

I've even been that way when it comes to major life changes. For instance, I was slowly suffocating to death in my failed marriage years ago, so I was happy to reach a place where I felt like I could ask for a divorce, move out, and eventually start a relationship with someone new (not necessarily in that order, but that's a story for another day). Facing a change as monumental as divorce was super scary. It obviously would have been much easier to just stay where I was and continue with the person I was already with, but the possibility of one day being in a relationship that would be everything I wanted and needed it to be instead was motivation enough to see things through. I figured that even if things didn't go so well, I'd at least be able to say I tried instead of wondering "what if" and continuing to settle for a situation that made me unhappy.

Whether I'm the one instigating things or not though, I tend to roll with the punches when it comes to change and I do my best to embrace it as an inevitable part of life. I trust that if God is so clearly trying to remove something from my life, that it might be for my own good. I also choose to trust that there's something better waiting for me right around the corner and I immediately start watching for whatever that "something better" might turn out to be so that it can start as soon as possible. At the end of the day, what choice do I have? 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Writing Lab: On Relationships and Technology

Prompt: "How has technology enhanced or detracted from your relationships?"

I've never been a member of the camp that thinks technology is nothing but negative when it comes to human relationships. All technology does is give people more options. What is done with those options depends entirely on the person. Some people do use it to tune out and disengage from the world around them. However, there are plenty of others that take advantage of the opportunity to be more connected, as opposed to less. I consider myself to be the latter.

I've always been a loner, as well as extremely introverted. While I have always enjoyed having at least a few close personal relationships with other people, I have never enjoyed what has to happen in order to obtain those relationships. I hate being in the physical presence of people I don't know and I loathe making small talk, attending social events, and pretty much everything else that people used to have to do if they wanted to make friends or find people to date. 

Unfortunately, that meant I mostly dated and socialized with people I was forced to be around for so long that eventually they just weren't strangers anymore. Meaning I'd almost always dated coworkers or friends of friends. In school my friends were always whatever kids I was forced to sit next to thanks to some seating chart. I never really went out of my way to seek out and befriend people I actually thought were interesting. This isn't exactly the best recipe for compatibility. Probably why I spent most of my life either keeping company with people I didn't truly like or avoiding social interaction altogether.


Modern technology actually changed all that. When I first got online in the early 2000's, I suddenly found myself immersed in a world that seemed custom-built for introverts like me and I took to it really naturally. Instead of having to make awkward verbal conversation, I could communicate in writing -- my very best thing. I found that I had plenty to say when it came to blogging and social networking. The type of people that also seemed to enjoy those activities seemed less shallow and more interested in deeper, more intellectual topics the way I was as well. Best of all, I was no longer geographically limited to who happened to exist within the limits of my own town. I could befriend people from all over the country and all around the world if I wished.

All things considered, I actually became more social thanks to the Internet. And the more convenient technology made socializing and communicating with others, the more I found I was willing to do it. I talk to people a lot more online than I ever have offline. I've cultivated actual lasting friendships. I found the confidence to start a business and make it successful as well -- something I'd never have been interested in doing offline. Even Seth was originally an online friend I knew through LiveJournal. He's also the first person I ever dated with whom I felt an actual connection. For the first time ever in my life, I chose the person I was with to every bit of the extent that they chose me.

My online life doesn't really interfere with my offline one because the two are so completely interconnected. I make my very real living on the Internet. Pretty much all of my important relationships these days, offline or otherwise, started out as online connections based on conversation and the exchange of ideas. When I'm spending time on Facebook, or Twitter, or Blogger, I'm not just sitting there silently, tuning Seth out. He is very likely right there participating in any conversations I might be having. We verbally discuss things going on online and know a lot of the same people. It's just another part of our lives together -- one more way we still connect to one another and to other people.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Thoughts on the Passing of David Bowie

Beautiful artwork from the Rolling Stone review of Blackstar
I'm really not the type of person that takes celebrity deaths super hard. Generally speaking, I am comfortable with the idea of death and loss, as I don't necessarily see dying as a horrible thing. It's just another type of very long good-bye. Sad, yes. But unless it was a gruesome, tragic, or grossly premature death, I see it as the most natural thing -- as natural and normal as birth.

Even so, the news of David Bowie's death hit me very hard. I've always known that it would, but I still don't think I was very well prepared for the reality of it. He'd just had a birthday two days prior. We celebrated it by watching the Five Years documentary and his newest music video for "Lazarus". I even remember verbally hoping that he'd be around for another 20 years, because his drive and creativity didn't appear to have diminished at all. Then I heard all about it. That he'd secretly been battling cancer for 18 months and knew he'd be leaving all of us very soon.

From the music video for the single "Blackstar"
It instantly all made a lot of sense. Suddenly deciding to get to work on these very innovative new projects. Writing a Broadway musical based on his work. It just seemed like a lot after a relatively long period of not hearing much from him or about him. He was, of course, getting his affairs in order and working tirelessly to leave us with something very poignant. He timed all of this so that he could say his farewells and exit this world on his own terms. If that isn't Bowie as fuck, I don't know what is -- turning your own death into your very last piece of theater. It makes the whole thing as beautiful as it is sad for the billions of people whose lives he touched.

David Bowie meant an awful lot to me personally. Like a lot of people my age, I was first introduced to Bowie and his music when I saw Labyrinth at 9 or 10 years old. Even then, I was really blown away by his whole presence and his fantastic music. He was the first musician that ever made me what you'd call a fan and like most of his fans can say, I'm sure, his music has been a massive part of the soundtrack of my life. Every major experience, growing pain, or transition in life -- there's been a Bowie song that captured what I was going through perfectly.

Last photo of David Bowie taken two days before his death
Because of Labyrinth, I think the first song I really fell in love with was "Underground". It captured the fantastical way in which I still saw the world as a little girl. It also captured some of the very adult worries and fears I was beginning to have at that age. Other songs would go on to just as accurately capture other major milestones in my life, especially in regards to complicated feelings about myself, my life, and other people that I wouldn't truly understand until much later in life. ("Seven", "Starman", "Strangers When We Meet", "New Killer Star", and "5:15 Angels Are Gone" -- along with many of his better known hits -- are just a few examples.)

If there's one word I would use to describe myself throughout an astonishing portion of my life, it would without a doubt be "lonely". I've never actually been alone in any real sense of the word, as there have always been people around me. However, having people in your life is one thing. Having meaningful connections to people is quite another. But really, anyone that's ever been in such a position themselves doesn't need to be told that sometimes that can be the loneliest state of affairs -- being surrounded by people and not feeling like a single one of them truly understands you or appreciates you for who you are.

Commemorative cartoon from The New Yorker
 Obviously, I have Seth now and I am eternally grateful that God saw fit to give me a person like that to share my life with eventually. But before that, all I had were the musicians, and authors, and artists whose work moved me so much. David Bowie is the only one of those that had existed in that way for me consistently from the time I was a kid as a living, breathing, human being that was still walking the earth sprinkling magic everywhere. (Most of my heroes are dead and have been that way for as long as I can remember.) Since Bowie was alive, I got to spend my life feeling like I was part of the continuing story of his work. I was always eagerly waiting for the next chapter because I knew I'd relate to it so strongly it hurt.

David Bowie taught me that it was OK to be different and that it really didn't matter if the mainstream "understood" what you were trying to do or not. He taught me that art can be this living, breathing, ever-expansive thing and that if you yourself are an artist, you're a special breed. Most importantly of all, David Bowie gave me the experience of having a hero -- someone whose work and presence influenced who I am so deeply, that I know I wouldn't be the same person had they not existed. David Bowie gave me fertile ground at a young age for what I absolutely consider to be the best parts of me. I will always be grateful for everything that he gave us and all that he was. Rest in peace, Thin White Duke.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Get Off My Lawn, Kids

I must be getting old. Like... seriously, I've officially reached the point where the way "kids today" go about existing on Planet Earth baffles me as badly as I'm sure my own lifestyle and value system baffled my parents or grandparents. 

I think the weirdest thing to me is the going attitude toward relationships today. It honestly seems as if everyone under the age of 50 considers an open relationship to be the way to go. Like it's some kind of punishment to be expected to actually be faithful to your mate. I've even heard people saying that they think it's abusive and selfish not to be OK with it if your partner wants to sleep with other people. 

Now... I've been the last thing from perfect in some of my past relationships. I've cheated on people before. I'm even relatively open about the fact that my relationship with Seth started while I was still married to Greg. However, I never actually saw that behavior as something that should be socially acceptable or that my exes should have freely allowed me to do. Ultimately, I wanted to be with someone that was not only 100% faithful to me, but that kept me happy enough for me to want to be the same. I fought for it and searched for it until I found it and it's amazing to know that I have another person that belongs to just me and that I belong to in return. I honestly feel bad for anyone that's willing to settle for anything short of that. That isn't a relationship at all as far as I'm concerned.

Then there's the way no one seems to think they need God anymore or that it's somehow "silly" to believe in anything bigger than yourself. If you actually enjoy church or are open about reading your Bible, people seem just horrified anymore. You don't have to be preaching at them, trying to convert them, or criticizing anything about their lifestyle. Just mentioning it is enough. And then there's the way that everything's suddenly about "free the nipple", and public breastfeeding regardless of who it offends, and all sorts of things along those lines. I'm no prude, but it honestly seems to me that human beings are really regressing. Pretty soon, we'll be no better than animals, socially speaking. We're letting go of everything that made us higher beings, if not actually throwing it in the dumpster with both hands. We're supposed to be better than that. 

I absolutely believe that everyone should be free to be themselves and to live the way they want to live so long as it's not hurting anyone else. But it's kind of getting out of hand. I seem to recall being the person that always thought outside the box. I don't know if I've mellowed with age or if it really is true that every generation is doomed not to understand the one that follows, but dang. I'm not used to being the most conservative thinker in any group so often. Maybe I need new friends. I think I've outgrown the old ones... or they've outgrown me. Same difference at the end of the day, I guess.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Writing Lab: On Work Life Balance

Prompt: "Do you think you have a decent work/life balance?"

BlogHer's Writing Lab was so helpful to me last month that I think I'll continue responding to prompts now and then as we make our way into 2016. I may even start writing posts ahead of time and scheduling them to auto-post at later dates the way I used to. When I get in the mood to blog, I often feel like writing more than one post, but I don't always feel like updating more than one of my individual sites at a time. 

On that note, I can definitely see I'll have plenty to say about this month's theme -- balance. The tradition one kind of covered foreign territory for me, but I feel like my entire life has been about learning to understand balance and set appropriate boundaries, both for myself and for other people. This has especially been the case when it comes to my professional life.

I am about the furthest thing there is from a workaholic and I've always been that way. I very definitely believe in working to live, not living to work. When I'm working too much, I'm irritable and upset all the time. If I'm too stressed or too overworked for too long, I can also get incredibly sick -- mentally and emotionally, as well as physically. That said, achieving and maintaining a healthy work/life balance is of the utmost importance to me. It's also been easier said than done for most of my life.

While it's true that I don't like to work, I am also the kind of person that gives work their all when I'm actually on the clock. I have high standards for myself, I'm a person of integrity, and it shows in everything I do -- even when I'm doing something I loathe. This means I've never really been the employee that winds up getting fired or having their hours cut way, way back. Instead, I wind up being the one that gets all the extra shifts, extra responsibilities, and extra work to do whether I want it that way or not. 

You'd think that would have stopped happening once I went into business for myself writing for clients out of my home, but it actually made the whole work-life balance thing a lot harder in ways I wasn't all that prepared for. When you work outside your home, there's a very clear separation between "on the clock" and "off the clock". When you're not at the office, you're just off... period. Even if you have a massive pile of paperwork waiting for you when you return or a busy week coming up, you're still off and you still behave as if you're off. If a client or customer calls your place of business outside of business hours, they don't get an answer. They know they have no choice but to wait until the next block of business hours begins and you know it, too.

When your home is your office, it's tougher. Especially if you don't use a different computer for your work-specific activities or have a designated area in your house that is only for working and nothing else. It's harder to mentally feel like you're off, so work and your personal life can really start to intrude on one another if you're not careful. This is even more the case if your family and friends have trouble thinking of what you do as an actual job. People have a hard time understanding why they can't bother you during business hours or when you're under a deadline since you're technically at home and responsible for making your own schedule.

Then there are the ways modern technology has made it more of a social norm to be perpetually available and reachable -- to everyone and all the time. Right from the beginning, my clients not only expected me to be at least potentially available to them 24/7, but most barely saw what I do as work and didn't see why I should need regular days off of any kind. It wasn't as big a deal when I only had a couple of clients and a few assignments to worry about at any given time, Once my business picked up speed though, being willing to work "any time" just wasn't sustainable anymore. I was literally working all day every day -- pretty much from the minute my eyes popped open in the morning until the second before my head hit the pillow late at night -- and I was miserable that way. (Like I said. I'm not a workaholic, so I don't get off on being busy all the time.)

I addressed the issue a few years ago by designating and announcing regular business hours and off days, just like a service provider that works out of a brick and mortar establishment would do. I put strict limits on the amount of work a given client could assign. If those business hours don't work for a prospective client, they're politely told that we're not a good fit and that I can't do business with them after all. I started charging people rush fees if they expected me to accept an assignment at the last minute. Most importantly of all, I got back into the habit of telling people "no" when they tried to force the issue or violate my boundaries. Life has been a lot better, happier, and easier since I did those things.