But why

This actually started as a comment to my good friend, Hannah’s, latest post (check out her blog, her photographs are beautiful and incredibly interesting), but as I kept typing, I figured I’d just post it here instead of leaving an essay in her comments. Hannah is French. She lives in Paris, although she’s currently in the States. My heart breaks for her, and I am thankful she is safe.

People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu November 15, 2015, following the deadly attacks in Paris. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
People light candles during a vigil in Kathmandu November 15, 2015, following the deadly attacks in Paris. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Here’s what I was starting to write to her (and it takes off from there, as you’ll see):

I can feel your pain. My heart hurts in solidarity for you, for Paris, for Beirut, for everyone. I hear what you’re saying, absolutely. I immediately experienced empathy when I heard about Paris. I immediately thought of you. I imagined my city, my home, New York, being attacked again. I took the train down to Times Square later that day for work and felt my chest tighten with anxiety. We could easily have been those victims. I sit outside on balconies eating dinner. I have gone to clubs and concerts. I didn’t hear about the attack on Beirut until later that same day, (which is an issue that should be addressed). But do we or do we not put a filter over our Facebook profile pictures – and which one? Do we not post as much about Paris, but more about Beirut? Why didn’t I hear about Kenyan University where 147 students were massacred back in April? Am I a bad person? How can I put the French flag and the Lebanon flag and the Kenyan flag all on my social media while using non-religious but thoughtful hashtags so everyone knows I am good and mean well? How do we stay politically correct – how can we accurately report war and suffering – what is the right thing to do now against ISIS – what about – if we just – what about – this is wrong – this is right – what about –

I have no fucking idea. So I’ve been relatively staying silent, because for me, at this point, right now, none of this matters. I know there are a lot of complex political issues at stake now, and yes, discussion needs to happen, but we seem to be on the brink of a global war. Everyone is shouting, everyone is in pain. The core truth is that people have died, and I am sad. For all of them.

Pain is pain. No one wins when people try to compare suffering, and it is a futile, misguided effort. When in times of immense suffering, we want our pain justified, our grief validated, and our most natural reactions when our souls are in danger is to inflate the ego, retaliate, and look for someone to blame. We need a Why for our pain. Trust me, I do this all the time. Grief is an incredibly, incredibly isolating and lonely experience, not to mention extremely frightening, to explore the depths of pain in our psyche. It’s natural to lash out and try to find someone or something to cling to, even if we drag them down with us in the process.

It’s also natural that the Western media has reacted so strongly to the Paris attacks over the Beirut attacks. Whether or not that’s right isn’t really for me to say. It just Is. The stories that we most relate to are when the victims most look like us, when what happens is close to home, that all hurts much more. It’s natural and human to have empathy sometimes and just sympathy other times. If we could viscerally feel the pain of every experience outside our own, we would go probably insane and very quickly end it. It’s too much. So we distance, we dehumanize, we point fingers, we blame, we cause more pain, in order to protect ourselves. We do so out of fear, and always have. Because the world is too great, the suffering too immense, the losses are unbearable. We are angry because life is unfair.

And we’re right. It is unfair. It’s incredibly unfair. And it fucking sucks. But it Is.

I laugh now looking at my past blog and journal posts. I always think I have all the answers. I just keep having the same epiphanies over and over again. I realize a new truth, write about it, internalize it, and try to practice more mindful living. Which lasts a few days – a week or so if I really try. Then I go right back to being a human who gets angry and hurts and lashes out and clings and gets jealous and says mean things and has selfish thoughts and rolls her eyes and cries all the time and huffs and is just so OVER IT. Because I’m human. This time last year on my birthday, I wrote a whole post about being an adult. Hah hah! Boy, that lasted long. It’s very humbling, to say the least. But it does help me take myself less seriously, which I am always in need of.

You know, now that I think of it, Life IS kind of like school. Every year, you have the same core subjects with some new ones mixed in, and every year, you advance a level – if you do the work, that is. The material gets harder, more in-depth, more complex. But hopefully, if you work hard, do your homework, and listen in class, you become better equipped to handle such challenges. Sometimes you decide to abruptly switch your majors or transfer to a new school, which can also be so overwhelming and temporarily set you back, but you eventually adjust.

Ooooh, so that was the point of the first 21 years of my life. Now I get it. School’s just a metaphor, you guys!

Right now, I’m basically in “Life Whooping Your Ass 301: You Thought You Knew But You Had No Idea!” and I think I may be in way over my head. But thank god for tutors (aka therapists), amirite?

ANYWAY, point being, I’ve recently enacted an experiment where I put into practice one crucial key to Adulting that I totes forgot for like, my entire life, you guys. Acceptance.

As I’ve stated before, I have a crazy powerful imagination, I have a penchant for fantasies, an idealistic willful heart, and quite a passionate temper. I also tend to phone it in, coast, hide, and procrastinate when I can – basically at heart, I’m lazy. I also cling. Hard. To beliefs, habits, people, and some very longstanding grudges against certain people I feel have hurt me significantly. I do this simply because I can, because it’s easier, and because I’ve been getting away with it for nearly 28 years.

When I’m in pain, when terrible shit happens, when life’s unfair, there’s this persistent little voice in the back of my head that whines, “But WHYYYYYY?!” (Did you also read this in Cartman’s voice? No? Just me?)

Me, basically, all the time. (from boldsky.com)
Me, basically, all the time. (from boldsky.com)

God, I hear that voice a lot. But I usually don’t wait to hear the answer.

If I did, I bet my inner Good Mother would stroke my hair and simply say, “Because.”

And when I ask again, “But WHHHYYYYYY!?” She would probably wrap me in her arms, think for a moment, and thoughtfully, sadly reply, “I don’t know.

So I’m working out my next thesis. I think the next step in this never ending grad school of self-discovery is Acceptance. Even when the answers aren’t clear and there seems to be no reason or logic at all. Because only through acceptance can you then move forward, heal, and let it go. Do I really want to carry my pain of the past around with me my entire life – begrudgingly, angrily, indignant that I’ve been slighted? Or maybe, just maybe, it’s really time to let that painful fire rage so that I can rise from the ashes. Truly embody the Six of Swords and leave behind past pain which has been holding me back from becoming who I need to be.

That doesn’t mean doing so is easy. Nope. This. Is. Super. Fucking. HARD. And so incredibly painful – I can’t even describe the pain. It’s a slow, very painful process and I miss everything so much and the reluctance is so strong. It’s scary to let go. (But you can’t get rid of the Babadook!)

Acceptance doesn’t discount the pain or wipe it clean or encourage apathy. Acceptance accepts the pain for what it is (that’s a weird phrase, huh), acknowledges the hurt, and eventually, hopefully, then lets the pain move through us, rather than take over us. Yes, this happened. Yes, it was unfair. I was hurt. I still hurt. It has affected me. But it happened. This is part of my story.

Because there is Life After Death. And if we’re lucky, we’re reborn a thousand times. The messages of peace and love and understanding that I’ve seen in the aftermath of these attacks are so beautiful and uplifting. It’s time to heal, as a planet, as humans, as humanity. We need to take care of each other. I see it in the strength of the Syrian refugees, the families of victims of senseless violence, the survivors of violent attacks and immense trauma. They persevere. They still have hope. They keep living. Because this is Life. And it Is.

I’ll leave you with this amazing little video. Sending you love.

Home.

“There’s no place like home.”

Ruby Red Slippers

As most of my close friends and family know, I absolutely loved the Wizard of Oz when I was a child. Actually, “loved” is a severe understatement. It was an obsession bordering on mania, as most of my loves tend to be. I remember clearly how it started. I found my mother’s soundtrack CD one day in our TV cabinet and began listening to it. From that day forth, I would play it on repeat in my small bedroom, acting out and singing along with every lyric. It spiraled from there. I received a copy of the movie and I would watch it every day. I knew every line by heart. Over the span of just a couple years, I had amassed (thanks to my very kind and supportive parents) the books, Barbies (sidenote: I should have never taken mine out of the box!), dolls, figurines, snow globes, board games, clothing, stuffed animals, mugs, posters – all of it Wizard of Oz. I was a merchandiser’s dream customer. I saw the performance live, on ice – and in 4th grade, I wrote, what I thought was a very professional letter, to my vice principal Mr. Davis asking to use the school auditorium to produce, direct, design, and star in my own production of Frank L. Baum’s classic. (Once a producer, always a producer.) That is the year I sadly learned what royalties and copyright laws are. And even though my love for this wonderful, whimsical universe is not quite as intense as it used to be (I once wrote in my diary that “Wizard of Oz is an ocean and I’m drowning in it” – once a drama queen, always a drama queen), it will always hold a special place in my heart. And I bet I can beat all of you at Wizard of Oz trivia any day.

Fast forward nearly 20 years. I was speaking with a close friend recently about which Wizard of Oz characters we would be (my preferred version of the ‘Which SATC girl are you?’ discussion) and I declared I would be Dorothy, obviously. He was surprised, he replied, “Oh, I don’t know, Dorothy always struck me as kind of dense.” I ignored that slight to my homegirl and replied, “Yes, but she’s always longing for home.”

Home.

It’s this huge, vast, complex, multi-layered concept that so many of us long for. But what it is and what that word means varies depending on who you ask.

Diana Ross sang, “When I think of home, I think of a place with love overflowing.” (I also absolutely love The Wiz, obviously, and I can’t wait for NBC’s version!) 

(Go ahead, watch Diana just f*cking SLAY this song and cry and then you can finish reading)

In fact, I don’t have to go into this much further – we’ve heard all of the theories. Any place you hang your hat is home. Home is where the heart is. Home is with the one you love. Home is wherever you are. Home. But what is home? Who is right? More so, why are we so obsessed with this idea and creating a home or finding a home?

As I’ve written before, once again I am happily resigned to say: I don’t know.

Bear with me though, I think I have some theories. I actually started writing this post months ago but never finished. Rather, I wrote down a few quotes from a podcast that I was listening to at the time which stirred something in my soul, and then never came back. Until now. Here is one of the quotes:

“It’s only by stopping movement, that you can see where to go. And it’s only by stepping out of your life and the world that you can see what you most deeply care about and find a home. And home, in the end, is of course, not just the place where you sleep, it’s the place where you stand.” – Pico Iyer (NPR TED Radio Hour podcast on Identities)

The other night, I went to a party of a super cool new friend of mine. It was an awesome party. There was a DJ and lights spinning and a lot of fun, good-looking people dancing it up. I was… pretty sauced. At one point towards the end of the night, my friend, the very gracious host, was talking to myself and two others about how he has completely stopped all dating, flirting, sex, romance – pursuing or acting on – all of it. That entire part of his life is just shut down. I was shocked and reacted quite emotionally. My breakdown went as follows:

  1. You can do that?!
  2. WHAT! Like completely?
  3. But why?!

He replied, “I’m happy.”

I scoffed and laughed and then got angry. No, actually, I was pissed. But it wasn’t until the next morning in the cold, harsh, sober light of day that I actually started to think about what he was saying.

Why did his life choice – the concept of someone choosing not to look – make me react so intensely? I realized quickly that I have actually never done that. I’ve never actually made that choice. Sure, I’ve taken breaks from dating to “work on me” or quit online dating (which I do about every 3 months) but I’ve never really turned it completely off.

Ever since I was a very young girl, Disney and Meg Ryan movies (and Saved By The Bell) have instilled in me this very strong urge to find The One. That life is not worth living without Love. That Love conquers all. All you need is Love. Okay, you get it.

And as I became an intelligent, feminist, independent grown woman, I still could not seem to shake that little quiet voice in the back of my head – that I never know where I might find him (or her, I’m inclusive) – the life partner I’m meant to be with. Someone that will actually watch Netflix and chill with me, spend holidays with me, enrich my already full life, and build a family with me. Someone to be my home. (Theeeere it is.)

Hey, don’t sit there and judge me – think about it. How much energy, time, money, emotion do you spend on the idea of romantic love? The Valentine’s Day and Hallmark industry alone prove that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

So the idea of just stopping – not looking, not desiring, not wanting – is a radical concept for me. In fact, my knee-jerk reaction was: How dare he!? How dare he just completely and effortlessly reject something that has somehow become a huge, massive part of my life?

And then it turned into: Wait… but what if… what if I don’t too? What if I just stop?

Let me be clear, I’m not saying that Love isn’t amazing and wonderful and something to be desired. I’m not saying that Love never lasts and give up hope now. I’m not saying to build a fortress around your heart so you can “work on yourself” for a while. (The Universe knows that trick, trust me.) I’m actually not saying anything about Love at all.

But what if you really looked at an aspect of your life, something that you felt was so intrinsic to your identity, and just knocked it the f*ck down? Kaboosh.

Source: Martin Hunter/Getty Images AsiaPac
Source: Martin Hunter/Getty Images AsiaPac

The past couple years have been very transformative for me – a lot has happened, a lot has changed. I tell my therapist (and a few of my very patient friends), that it feels like I’ve built these pillars in my life – everything from people that I love to belief systems to habits or addictions to values. And I’ve clung to these pillars for dear life. I thought they made me who I am, but in reality, that clinging only holds me back. It’s time to bring out the demolition team. (or wrecking ball?)  

But this time, it’s not because I want to “start fresh” or lose weight or self-improve or even self-destruct. No, this kind of self-destruction is different than one more tequila shot or texting your ex (or both). This is a… self-cleaning oven type of self-destruction. This is an inevitable part of adult life that I can choose to either face or run away from. But if I do face it, if I’m brave and strong and patient, it could clear out the old, the toxic, the no longer useful, and lay the groundwork for the Me Yet To Come, the Me that I actually truly am, and in turn, release the truth I’ve always wanted to live.

Easier said than done. Let me tell you. It sucks. It hurts. It’s painful. But I think it’s truly necessary.

Today I came across a new post by one of my favorite Facebook accounts, The Artidote, which, as per usual with this page, spoke so deeply to my heart and what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It inspired me to come back to this old post and revisit this idea of home.

“You don’t know anyone at the party, so you don’t want to go. You don’t like cottage cheese, so you haven’t eaten it in years. This is your choice, of course, but don’t kid yourself: it’s also the flinch. Your personality is not set in stone. You may think a morning coffee is the most enjoyable thing in the world, but it’s really just a habit. Thirty days without it, and you would be fine. You think you have a soul mate, but in fact you could have had any number of spouses. You would have evolved differently, but been just as happy. You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like. If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. Set fire to your old self. It’s not needed here. It’s too busy shopping, gossiping about others, and watching days go by and asking why you haven’t gotten as far as you’d like. This old self will die and be forgotten by all but family, and replaced by someone who makes a difference. Your new self is not like that. Your new self is the Great Chicago Fire—overwhelming, overpowering, and destroying everything that isn’t necessary.” –Julien Smith

Kaboosh. 

Okay, so if you’re still with me, let me try to tie this all in together:

Maybe there is no home. That’s a concept spoon-fed to us to trick us into being complacent, or restless, or try so hard to stitch together what isn’t there. Dorothy had the power to go home on her feet the whole time (spoiler alert!) and Barbra can hang her hat where ever she likes – that’s all good and true, but it’s also not as simple as oh, find home within yourself. That concept taken at face value can cause you to cling to ideologies or behaviors or people that aren’t yours to cling to. No Buzzfeed quiz or organized religion or partner or upbringing or generations-old tradition has ANY bearing on who you really truly are. None of that matters. You can let go of whatever you chose whenever you want.

You will still exist.

We are living, breathing, ever-evolving human beings and maybe that’s truly the beauty of it all – there are no constants, there is only impermanence. And sometimes you may find that you have to set fire to yourself. You need to go in and kick down that sand castle you so painstakingly built. You need to use the self-cleaning feature of your self-cleaning oven soul. But like an oven, you don’t do it just once. You may have to do it several times in your lifetime. And it’s very painful and it’s very hard, trust me, I know. I hate it. But think about it. Can you feel that – in your chest and gut? That anxious yet strangely calm warm excitement spreading – if you could just… be? Break free of things you once thought vital to your life – really consider the possibility. In letting go, think of what you could gain. Who knows? This is life. There are no answers. There is no home.

How exciting.

 

Follow the fear, love the hate

(There are some minor spoilers in this post for the hit series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the feature film, The Babadook, so if you haven’t seen these, GO WATCH THEM RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THEY’RE AMAZING – and on Netflix – and then come back and read this.)

It’s officially October, one of my absolute favorite months. Fall is here, along with the cooler weather, changing leaves, pumpkin-flavored everything, and my favorite holiday, Halloween.

It seems only appropriate then that I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of fear and what truly scares us. Not so much in the sense of goblins and monsters, but more so about the demons that are actually the scariest of all – the ones that lurk within.

The legendary improv coach Del Close coined the phrase, “Follow the Fear,” a phrase that many in the comedy and entertainment world have heard of before, and it doesn’t take a psychologist to recognize that this advice is not only helpful in improvisation, but in life as well. But lately I realized that for me, following my fears is more than getting on that new roller-coaster, watching that horror movie, or riding that haunted hay ride. Following the fear is more than just getting on stage, asking for a raise, or telling someone you love them. Recently I’ve become fascinated by the idea of not only following the fear, but becoming the fear. You know what’s scarier than ghosts, axe murderers, or even The Feels? My self.

Inside each of us, in the dark recesses of our subconscious, there is a shadowy place – an elephant graveyard if you will – that hides and represses the true things we fear most, traits we never want to acknowledge, emotions we should never feel, and beliefs that would shock those closest to us – and most of all, shock ourselves. Carl Jung called it the Shadow, and he asserted that every human has one. There are a lot of different theories (Freud has his own interpretation, for instance) on this idea of Shadow self, and if you’re interested, you should definitely look into it more, but for me, I like to think of it as a self of many layers.

credit unknown, but creepy right?
credit unknown, but creepy right?

I finally watched the hit independent horror film, The Babadook, directed by the brilliant Jennifer Kent, and not only is it a well-made, sophisticated, and superbly scary film, it delves deep into the popular boogeyman trope and all of the ways we are haunted. Single mother Amelia and her precocious son, Samuel, find themselves stalked and haunted by a very menacing force, one that represents to me many things – grief, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, mental illness, and most of all, our Shadow selves.

When we are very small children, we live very reactionary, impulsive lives. As we grow older, we are told what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We lose our baser instincts and repress traits and emotions that our friends, community, and society deem as unacceptable. We transform ourselves into becoming who we think we should be, who we want to be seen as, in order to be more palatable. Jung calls this the Persona. But those traits and emotions never really go away. As little Samuel reminds his mother, “You can’t get rid of the Babadook.” These unwanted traits and emotions get boxed up and placed in the basement or broom closet of our minds, lying there, forgotten, but very much still there.

As I continue to work on my self-growth and self-awareness, or as I like to call it, Adulting, I have lately found myself in a strange place. As I’ve told my friends exhaustively, it feels like I’ve bought a beautiful old house. I’ve painted the walls, stripped the floors, papered the shelves. I’ve unpacked and decorated, and I’m about to have a wonderful big housewarming party soon. But then I go down into the basement, and I’ve found that there are actually dozens more boxes to unpack that I have completely forgotten about. They are huge and unwieldy, filled with old, dusty, rotten things that have started to fester and smell. I desperately do not want to go through all of those boxes, especially with a party so soon, but the smell is starting to creep up through the floorboards. The funk crawls up into my nostrils, taunting me, haunting me, and I know it will never go away until I go back downstairs and sort through all of that stuff. (Ugh, this again, my friends are thinking.)

Gross, right? The best metaphors for me usually are.

Those boxes all belong to my Shadow self. But I don’t think the contents are only baser emotions and traits from childhood we’ve repressed. Freud would say that it can also stem from past traumatic events, from something as emotionally scarring as abuse to seemingly sillier ones, such as farting in your first grade music class in front of everyone. (That’s just, you know, an example, not like that happened to me…) But Jung also believed that what we hate in others, is actually a part of our Shadow selves. In fact, he believed that our Shadows are so much of an integral part of ourselves, that we not only project that self onto others, but we even subconsciously attract people in our lives that exemplify our Shadows. (Which is why I will no longer exclaim, “Why am I always surrounded by crazy people!” outloud.)

For me, it’s all of these things and more – it’s base instincts, it’s past trauma, it’s projected fears and hates, but what interests me the most is that collective whole that stems from all of it. When am I the absolute ugliest? Not in a cute Manic Pixie Dream Girl way that’s just such an adorkable hot mess. Not in the pre-makeover montage romantic comedy sense either. But when am I truly ugly? What is it about myself that I don’t want to admit, much less even look at?

Scary, right? Well, let’s go there.

But why? You might be thinking. Isn’t fear a useful emotion to warn us of danger? Why go to these dark recesses? Why dredge up the past? Why voluntarily go through the pain?

Because you can’t get rid of The Babadook! Jung believed that actually ignoring your Shadow only makes it stronger, only allows it to grow and can eventually take over. You give it power by not standing down to it. At the end of the day, pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t make the Big Bad go away. Only confronting your Shadow is only the first step. But your goal isn’t to defeat it. You can’t. But you can make friends with it.

artwork by Alex Juhasz
artwork by Alex Juhasz

Jung writes, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate… To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.  Once one has experienced a few times what it is like to stand judgingly between the opposites, one begins to understand what is meant by the self.  Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.” (Jung, 1959, p. 872).

So how do we do that? I’m not really sure, I’m figuring that out myself right now. But WWBD? (What would Buffy do?) She wouldn’t wait around. She’d go after the Big Bad first. So similarly, like Spike in the season 6 finale of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, it’s my turn to go into the deep, dark caverns that I’ve been ignoring for so long.

I recently was joking with a very wise close friend about how I hate mirrors. They’ve always freaked me out, so much so that I never kept one in my room and would cover ones with towels if they faced the bed at night. He replied, “I bet you could psychoanalyze the shit out of that.” I joked back, “What, you mean I’m afraid to truly look at myself? Yeah probably.” At the time, I was kidding. But he was right on, and so was I.

I now try to look into mirrors as often as I can. Not to make sure I look good, but to see and accept my flaws. I check in with myself when I’m feeling Shadow-y and instead of trying to squash those feelings or dismiss them, I Lean In. Another wonderfully wise friend of mine says he likes to just acknowledge his Shadow when it pops up: “Hey you, I see you. I hear you. It’s okay.” It doesn’t always make those emotions magically disappear, but I’ve found it lightens the load a bit. So I’m now sitting with my Shadow, hanging out with her, and sometimes even giving her a hug or two. Because like it or not, she is a part of me.  And by acknowledging her and accepting her, I get that much closer to fully loving my whole self. As another very wise friend of mine once said, “This thing, this whole beautiful, unimaginable, unrepeatable, glorious mess is OURS.”  (Yes, I have many wise loving friends, for which I’m very grateful.)

painting by Steven Kenny
painting by Steven Kenny

Yes, it’s absolutely terrifying. Yes, I’m going to have to go through a myriad of extremely hard tests, and yes, I’m going to get my butt kicked. But if I don’t, the boxes will only continue to fester until the smell takes over my whole house. The Babadook will possess me and take hold, leading to destructive, unconscious actions. And I will never get my soul back. But unfortunately, I don’t get a season hiatus or end to this movie. These kind of battles are lifelong, methinks.

I see now that I’m using too many metaphors. But you get it.

So go forth! Follow The Fear. Feel Your Pain Fully. Love what you Hate.

Because in doing so, you might find that’s when you’re truly free and your truest self. And that self is beautiful. And I think the benefits will prove to all be worth it in the end. In fact, so far this Shadow work has already positively influenced all of my work, which makes perfect sense, as Jung believes that in this darkness actually lies the root of creativity.

And as my one of my beautiful previously-mentioned friends says, “It’s in the darkness we find our strength.”

 

IDGAF

I want to talk a little bit about bravery. It seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. A quick Google search shows the following definitions for brave:

  1. adjective. ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
  2. noun. people who are ready to face and endure danger or pain.
  3. verb. endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear.

Well, that’s what it really is, at its heart, isn’t it? To be brave is to stand down and face the very real possibility of Pain. No one is brave for sitting at home and watching Netflix, unless you happen to be watching a scary movie on Netflix (like The Babadook), but even then, I don’t know if the average person would call you brave for that.

But brave is not just about running onto a battlefield, saving a cat from a house fire, or jumping out of an airplane. We know that as humans, we are forced to be brave every day. As a New Yorker, one could say I’m brave for even stepping out of my apartment every morning. (Or even paying for said apartment.) But I’m not even going to talk about that watered-down cliche that all the politicians and media try to cram down our throats to make us feel good about ourselves.

firefighter1
although goddess bless our firemen and women, yeah?

I want to talk about a much more subtle kind of bravery. And these kinds of brave acts are actually part of the hardest, most complex, all-encompassing endeavor that I am personally taking on – and I’ll be continually working through my whole life: Living My Truth. 

Or as I like to call it, Not Giving a F*ck. 

IDGAF
IDGAF

I don’t know about you, but I’m really sensitive. Growing up, I was obsessed with the idea of being popular, of everyone liking me. I hated displeasing or disappointing anyone. In grade school, if a teacher looked at me wrong, even if I did nothing wrong and it had nothing to do with me, it would ruin my whole day. When I was a freshman in college, one of my acting teachers had us each write down a word or phrase describing our fellow classmates, and then one at a time, he’d meet with us privately and read them out-loud to us. (I know!) 

My list went as such:

  • Insecure
  • Desperate to please
  • Insecure
  • Doormat
  • Insecure
  • Insecure
  • Insecure
  • Desperate
  • Insecure
  • Desperate to please
  • Bubbly
  • Outgoing

(Thanks Madelyn and Rachel for being sweet. And yes, I know who the rest of you are. Be scared. Just KIDDING!)

Hearing those words over and over again not only hurt, it was a huge f*cking wake-up call. That summer, I vowed to stop giving a f*ck what people thought of me and just focus on me, my friends, and what I cared about. (I pretty much make this vow about every other year whenever it’s become clear I’m slipping back into that insecure, dorky, awkward little girl place again.)

By the end of my college career, I had a lot of friends, I got along with pretty much everyone, and in my acting studio I can confidently say I don’t think I was hated or even greatly disliked at all. I even was invited to a lot of their weddings. (Gee, thanks guys. Kidding again, the ceremony was beautiful!)

But really, that doesn’t matter. It didn’t matter then. And what I’m just realizing now is that not giving a f*ck is not akin to some peppy Hollywood montage where a down-on-her-luck plucky protagonist decides to buckle down and work-out and get her job back and go shopping and clean her apartment and stand-up to that one bitch, and then suddenly life is great. Nope.

Basically every Hollywood movie ever.
Basically every Hollywood movie ever.

Not Giving A F*ck is a way of life, and it’s a constant, f*cking hard-ass battle.

I am constantly giving way too many f*cks. I still care so much about what people, even strangers, think of me, of how I’m perceived, whether or not me and my choices are validated and acknowledged. It’s in every little moment of my life. I’m constantly self-judging, self-criticizing, self-questioning. And it’s exhausting.

But I can’t stop that. I’ve tried my whole life to “stop” that, and now I’ve realized I’ve been going about it the wrong way.

It’s not about changing or forcing yourself to quit or stop your thought patterns or behavior. It’s about embracing YOU. It’s about really listening to yourself, asking yourself,

“Do I want to do this?”

“How do I really feel?”

“What do I really want?”

Why did I do that? Am I really sorry?”

“Am I meaning what I’m saying?”

And here’s the key – after asking those questions, really really listening. Really taking a moment to check in and see what the response is. Letting Kate answer for once instead of just steamrolling over her.

And then the second part, accepting those answers, whether or not you act on them, for what they are.

I have a really hard time loving myself. I like myself fine, I enjoy spending time with myself and sometimes I even think I’m good company, I’m talented, I’m entertaining, and even that (gasp) I’m attractive. But I am really bad at loving myself. As in, the active verb: To Love.

Hating myself is so much more comfortable. Which is probably why I seem like such a natural at comedy, yes?

But now I actively try to Love myself. It’s not about treating myself to a manicure and martinis, it’s about forgiving myself when I make that mistake. It’s about speaking up instead of staying quiet, especially when it’s to my detriment. It’s about letting me just really be me, and not try to mold myself into who I think everyone else (including me) wants me to be. And most of all? It’s about opening myself to the possibility of Pain. (See, you thought I wouldn’t tie this back to bravery, but I did!)

Besides, what do I have to lose? As Shia says, “JUST DO IT!” (I can’t believe I nearly forgot to add that video)

It’s hard, it’s subtle, and I am continually trying to strengthen that muscle. (Kind of like wearing emotional Shape-Ups or ankle weights all day, yeah? I mean, I’m sure you think both people who do so and myself are crazy.)

Since I’m talking in a lot of abstractions, here are some examples of how to not give a f*ck:

  • Not too long ago, I was contracted for a gig that I was very excited about. When going over the budget with my colleague, we were nervous to ask for any money at all. We had been working for free or little to nothing as artists for so long, how could we ask for money now? Newly reinvigorated by my IDGAF attitude and this amazing Slate article by writers Nicola Kraus and Emma McLaughlin, I stayed firm and we created a budget that was both modest and yet did not short-chain us, our services, nor our talents. I said, if we do not place value in ourselves, if we do not take ourselves seriously as professionals, how can we expect anyone else to?

So we sent them our proposal. The result? The client was very happy to finance the project within our budget and we were able to turn over a high-quality product that all of us were proud of, while creating a positive business relationship that will hopefully continue for quite some time.

  • I have a friend who recently starting dating a guy. They had been on several dates and even had a sleepover. She was nervous about communicating with him though. What if he “ghosted” on her? What if she came on too strong? She was very nonchalant about the prospect of possibly never seeing him again, even though it was clear she really liked him, and he had not shown any kind of signs of not wanting to continue seeing her. (No, this “friend” was not me, although I act the EXACT SAME WAY in this situation.) We all know the many issues of this complex new phenomenon called, “Casual Dating.”  There are so many personal essays and blog posts about this, I couldn’t even decide which one to link. Just Google it. But incensed by my new IDGAF attitude, I texted her this:

“As someone who has recently been “casually dating” a lot, and pretty much always just “casually dated,” and for whom acts of emotional intimacy are the worst thing ever, I’m saying this now: Don’t hold back, dude. What do you have to lose? Liking someone isn’t a bad thing, it’s awesome. How exciting and nerve-wracking and scary and special is that?! When’s the last time you LIKED someone, truly? And even though I don’t act like it, it’s true. Sex is intimate, sex is personal. You are a healthy normal human being if you become emotionally attached to someone you slept with. We act like it’s a disease to be sensitive. My new theory is that is bullshit. We’re always so worried about coming across as “crazy chicks,” which is such a misogynist concept. Be authentically you. If he’s too chickenshit or lame to like that, you don’t want to be with him anyway. But being yourself and speaking your truth should never be shameful. Why is it always on the other person’s terms? F*ck that nonsense.”

And you know what? She texted him. They’re still dating. It’s going well.

People are always talking about telling your authentic story, speaking your truth, being comfortable in your own skin. But how to do that? Listen, this whole long blog post has been me trying to find the words to tell you, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure myself. The great Mindy Kaling says, “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.” Which is great advice. And all of this is so much easier said than done. I always say, if I could live purely of my intellect, I’d be the f*cking Dalai Lama by now, but un/fortunately, I’m an emotional stupid human being.

But let me try one last time to break down the recipe that’s been working for me lately. You need:

  • Years of hard work and a lot of shitty mistakes and some pretty decent wins.
  • A couple of past emotional breakdowns for context.
  • A support system of just a few people who love you even if you don’t feel like you deserve it.
  • A therapist (optional, but it really makes it that much more effective).
  • A recent weight loss or new outfit or exercise class or haircut – something that makes you feel physically good (this is also optional but can really help).
  • A fiery passion for something you want.
  • Patience and the ability to forgive yourself.
  • The 2nd day of your period.
  • Very little sleep.

Mix it all together, put on your sunglasses, blast this song, and walk down the street. You’d be surprised how easy it is then to just not give a f*ck. God speed.

Probably the queen of IDGAF
Probably the queen of IDGAF