5 min read

Something Light, Something Heavy, Something Pretty, and Something Grateful

Some Things That Are Not the Same as Having a Personality, According to Twitter

  • Adult dodgeball
  • Being an asshole
  • Being depressed
  • Being from Atlanta
  • Being from the Midwest
  • Being horny
  • Being a newlywed
  • Being a poet
  • Being the new kid in town
  • Carrying around a milk crate
  • Cynical skepticism
  • Disliking the word "moist"
  • Drinking coffee
  • EDM
  • Enjoying dumplings
  • Following 666 people
  • Getting a COVID vaccine
  • Going to Nashville once a month
  • Happiness
  • Hating everything
  • Having a book deal
  • Having a dog
  • Having a personality
  • Having screeners
  • Liking Adopt Me
  • Liking Game of Thrones
  • Liking Hollow Knight
  • Liking hot sauce
  • Liking IPAs
  • Liking pineapple on pizza
  • Liking natural wines
  • Liking Taylor Swift
  • Loving pizza
  • Making money
  • Not finding Adam Driver attractive
  • Not liking Adopt Me
  • The one Andrew Garfield scene from The Social Network
  • Showing the finger while taking a picture
  • A single character flaw
  • Spoiling movies and TV shows for people just because you saw them early
  • Superiority
  • Taking AP classes
  • Taking naps
  • Thinking that Africa is a country
  • Tim Burton
  • Tweeting song lyrics with YouTube links
  • Wearing those shoes that individually wrap your toes
  • Working out
  • Twitter

Now I Will Abruptly Change Tone

Do you ever wonder what you would be like if you stopped trying to be the person you want to be? I don't mean "the person you think you're supposed to be" or "the person you should be" or "the person your parents/spouse/friends/therapist/society want you to be." I don't mean "your best self," or at least I don't exactly mean that. I mean that maybe there is a way that you want to be, in order to live according to values that you hold deeply and dearly. Maybe there is a part of you that does naturally exist inside of you, and you feel good about yourself when you are able to turn toward that part, but you have to work at it. Maybe there is a way to be that really works for you, that reduces your stress, helps you feel at peace, helps you accept your life, that when you lean into this way of being everything is better, or maybe not everything is better but some things are, and even the things that aren't better are at least more tolerable, but maybe it doesn't come naturally for you to be that way, maybe you struggle with it, maybe sometimes you fail and the failure is hard, and even when you succeed it's still sometimes exhausting.

I like to think—although maybe I'm kidding myself—that if you've known me less than five years and especially if you primarily know me online, you might not know that I am, by nature, extremely argumentative. That sometimes the most alive I ever feel is when I'm debating somebody, when I can get into a good back-and-forth with somebody and my whole brain lights up with the effort of making points and counterpoints, not necessarily in order to win the argument, which usually ends up feeling like ashes in my mouth, but, yes, in order to win this point, and maybe the next point, and the next one. My parents and brothers and old friends know this about me, and of course J knows this about me, but I like to think that maybe you don't know this about me, and I like to think that maybe my kids don't know this about me, because I try not to be this way anymore. A while back, maybe five, six, seven years ago, partly through therapy and partly through just looking at myself, I decided I didn't like this about myself, that it wasn't working for me, that it was causing me problems, and that I wanted to change. I think I have changed, at least outwardly. I don't argue with people as much as I used to. I have an easier time seeing other people's perspectives and accepting disagreement than I used to. I am better able to both set my own boundaries and respect other people's boundaries. But none of that comes naturally to me.

I want to be a kind person. I want to be generous and gentle, nurturing, patient, understanding, supportive. I want to be a good and sensitive listener, someone who is open and vulnerable instead of guarded and defensive. I want to be someone who prioritizes healing over justice, collaboration over competition, love over intellect. When I am able to be those things, I don't just feel better about myself, I feel better in general. But it all takes so much work. None of that is what I would be if I didn't keep putting forth effort to interrogate and counter my natural impulses. It's not that I think that these things aren't me in some way, because I believe—or at least I want to believe—that my desire to be these things is an authentic part of me, and that it's okay to judge myself at least as much by my actions as it is by how I feel on the inside. It's just that I wonder if I'm trying to squeeze myself into a shape that doesn't actually fit me. I don't know what I'd be if I stopped trying so hard, and it's terrifying to contemplate the possibility that my authentic self might be the opposite of everything I value.

But even as I write this, I'm remembering saying something very similar to my therapist several years ago. A lot of what I worked on with her had to do with letting go of doing things out of a sense of obligation to others, and at the same time ceasing to place obligations on others, and to just do things because I wanted to, and to allow others to do what they wanted to. After several months of discussions, I said to her that I could see that if I accepted this framework I would probably be happier, but that I didn't know if I could accept it, even so. I didn't know if I wanted that, because it went so far against what I thought of as being a good person, and it was terrifying to contemplate letting go of that ideal. I did eventually accept it, and I think I am happier. I guess I can hear the echoes of that same resistance here. It feels different, though, because my desires to be a certain way aren't coming from a feeling of obligation now, of what I feel like I have to be for others—or anyway they're coming much less from obligation than they used to and much more from a consideration of what I want for myself and what my values are.

I'd like to think that there's a way to integrate all of this, a way to live according to my values that doesn't feel so hard all the time, a way to be the person I want to be while also accepting the person that I am. I don't know what that looks like, though.


Pivoting to Quiet

Sometimes I just need to take a breath. Sometimes I need more.

#MatteredToMe

It's Friday. Here are a few things that mattered to me recently:

  1. Anne Helen Peterson wrote about burnout and permission structure and American work culture. "If you struggle with your own relationship to work, you understand this: your best and gentlest intentions for yourself are readily compromised."
  2. I think Lydia Kiesling has a particular talent for writing very specific descriptions of very specific anxieties in ways that are specific and specifically personal but still feel like she could be dipping into my own personal stream of consciousness. She did that in her novel, and she also did it in this recent piece for The Cut about fearing the pandemic will end and everything will just go back to being garbage, the way it always was.
  3. Jess Zimmerman's "twisty little passages" does something amazing with its form, using a very old game to invoke nostalgia and the structure of exploration to tell a story about regret and longing and being unable to let go.

As always, this is just a portion of what mattered to me recently. For whatever it's worth, I believe you can get through this—I believe in you.

Thank you, and take care.

-Mike