Category Archives: Conversation

Questions

What sorts of things do you wonder about?

There are definitely things that don’t interest me, but I’m curious about more things than not. Most particularly, I feel compelled to understand why people think/feel/do what they do. Thinking of questions is easy. Actually asking the questions makes me feel vulnerable about feeling ignorant, feeling too insignificant to deserve an answer to something that someone might consider personal, feeling like I can’t find the right words to ask what I really want to know.

That said, my curiosity is often stronger than any fear I may feel, so then I ask my questions anyway; but, amazingly, I do have a filter and I keep things to myself more often than some people might guess. Those thoughts usually end up on paper, stored away while I distract myself by musing why I’m so interested in the answers.

  • What did you wish people understood about you without having to ask?
  • Who knows you best in the world? What do they understand about you better than anyone else? What makes the way you interact so natural to you?
  • Who do you know best in the world? What is it they know/do/understand that no one else does? Is there anything you wish they knew/did/understood better?
  • How do the friends that you value most complement you?
  • What about other people makes you feel the most uncomfortable?
  • Is there a friendship from your past that you miss? What do you miss about it? Why is that friendship in the past?
  • Are there any unique, must-have characteristics you look for in a friend?
  • Is there a trait that you believe it’s important to have that you personally have to work hard to cultivate?
  • Do you believe in regret?
  • Which of your five senses do you believe you could live without?
  • What have you learned that has changed your life?
  • What do you struggle with that you wish came more easily to you?
  • Do you think the work you do is an accurate reflection of who you are? Has it always been?
  • Do you have any guilty pleasures? Do they truly make you feel guilty?
  • How do you define/identify love?
  • What was your most surprising/painful/amazing experience with love?
  • Is there anything you wish you had told someone but didn’t/couldn’t?
  • Do you resent or are particularly frustrated by any of the sacrifices you’ve had to make in life?
  • What is the thing you’re most proud of having made/done?
  • In what ways do you hold yourself back?
  • How do you want to be remembered?
  • If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?
  • What question don’t you want me to ask?

What are the questions that live in your mind? Are there questions you wonder about that you’re too scared to ask?  What are some questions you’ve been asking yourself? Are there questions that people (or even you, yourself) balk at answering, or even hearing?

I hope that you all are doing well, and have something to look forward to!

Love you all,

The Conversations We Don’t Have

This month I’ve been contemplating the impact the last year has made on everyone around me. Not to ignore the possibility that I have just taken on a particularly pessimistic view, but it seems like most of the people I know have been struggling, in one way or another, more than I have ever known them to be before.

Me being me, all I feel I can do is step back and try to understand if there’s anything I can do to make it better. It’s a double edged sword, because though I feel busy with my thoughts and I feel control by distancing myself from the rawness of all the emotions, ultimately I just feel isolated, wondering whether I have any real ability to understand the minds and actions of others, especially when few people seem to be interested in talking about the questions I want to ask.

I’ve always been the most curious about people from whom I could learn the most. I don’t just mean people that got better grades than I did – but people who thought of questions that didn’t occur to me, people to saw and traveled paths that I didn’t see, people who understood the value of something that I didn’t, people who felt strength in a situation where I felt lost; It has always been the people who saw the world in a different way than I did who have always been the most precious to me.

People who were different were the ones who helped me to see what I didn’t know that I didn’t know. They were the ones who helped me to expand the lens through which I viewed the world. They were the ones who helped me better understand the value of things I wasn’t familiar with, or how to handle situations that terrified me. Even when they weren’t kind about our differences, our interactions have helped me to become wiser and stronger. And I hope that I have, in any small way, been able to reciprocate that.

However, we are still being sold a message that similarity is a sign of value and character, and it feels like we’re still buying it. One person who was extremely dear to me once told me they were scared that if they weren’t as smart as me that they felt like they were just one conversation away from being discovered that they weren’t what I thought, no matter how aggressively I tried to explain otherwise. Ultimately, they chose to leave rather than confront that. Ignoring that the kind of “smart” that is valued (whether intellectual, or financial, or technical, or creative) typically represents a very narrow slice of what intelligence actually incorporates, my own hypothesis is that our time has become so precious, in our pursuit to survive in the Western world, that we (feel like?) we have very little time and, thus, feel very little justification to spend time with anyone that doesn’t make us feel comfortable, even if it’s unintentional.

I have become increasingly convinced that the most helpful thing I can do is to shake the cage – whether metaphorically or physically – to help people take a step out of their comfort zone and have a hard conversation with someone they love.

If it makes us too uncomfortable to have a hard conversation with someone we love (or like), how do we have a productive, compassionate, difficult conversation with someone that we don’t? 

Isn’t that what this last year has been all about?

We need to reach out and practice compassion, and patience (with ourselves as much as with others) in conversations with people who love us. We need to practice compassion and patience when people approach us with those conversations.

Maybe you all do this! Maybe I’m the only one stuck. As much as I haven’t been enjoying this feeling, I think I could bear it if I knew that it was just me, and that I was the only one that needed to grow. I recently acquired a new tool to help me, and though it’s silly, it helps.

So tell me, please! Am I the only one who struggles to have hard conversations with people? Do people avoid you when you want to talk about difficult topics (things they aren’t interested in, are scared of, or things they don’t believe they have power to change), or is it just me?

From where I’m sitting, all I can figure is that we’re being told that being unable to solve a far-away problem removes our agency, and if we don’t have power to change something – in ourselves or in others – then there’s no point in discussing it. I believe, however, that the only agency that matters is our ability to broach difficult topics and have genuine conversations, whether or not they have concrete outcomes, with the people we care about. I think the greatest power we have to change anything (and everything) is to get the people who love us on our side, and to show others that we’re not so different, and that we’re all worth loving, and that love isn’t always easy – in fact, that love – platonic, romantic, fraternal – is always hard as hell at one point or another, and it’s still worth it.

Am I wrong?

What do you wish you could ask someone and get an honest (compassionate) answer? What would happen if you tried? Do you think spreading this message can help change their reaction? Do you wish it could?

Does anyone try to have conversations with you that you don’t want to have? Do you avoid them? Why? Do you have a sense of the impact that has on the other person? Is there a cost to avoiding the conversation? Do you think you understand the true cost? Is the price worth it?

Love you all,

Dr King: The Lesson of Loving One Another

Let’s pretend for a moment that I’ve had any real claim to struggle and suffering in my life. Like many people that grew up in dysfunction and poverty, I didn’t have an idyllic childhood, and I never felt like I fit in. But, let’s be real. I’m super white. I have blonde-ish hair. I’m a girl. As long as I was willing to be vulnerable, people were always willing to help me. Although I deeply resent the superficiality of it it, I deeply appreciate the advantage; it’s helped me a great deal and I don’t know that there’s any other appropriate response than – gratitude.

So, it’s with a great deal of humility that I suggest that I have something to contribute on the day we use to celebrate the legacy of Dr. ML King.

Because of and despite both the positive and negative aspects of my life, it has been one of my life’s goals to understand the nature of human interaction and love. There are few people in history that have demonstrated the power of love more than Dr. King.

Love is the critical ingredient in making something that’s good for one of us, good for all of us.

But what Dr. King also showed, better than most, is that loving can be crazy-hard; and that the love that challenges us is the love we have the deepest responsibility to pursue. It’s easy to pursue selfish love; it’s much harder to look at the bigger picture and believe in the power of love that we give away, especially when we don’t have faith that it will grow and come back.

That sounds exactly as irritating and frustrating to me as it does to anyone else. I tend to see the world around me in a big-picture way. It’s always felt more comfortable to navigate my feelings in the abstract than in concrete one-on-one terms. What I’ve come to realize in the past few years, and this year in particular, is how important and difficult it can be to love your neighbor. But, what I’ve come to question is whether, in our inability to love our neighbors, we must face our own immaturity in love.

When I say neighbor, I don’t just mean the greasy guy next door that doesn’t ever wear shirts, throws beer cans into your yard, and shoots bottle rockets at your roof. Yeah. You don’t have to like him, but showing that person genuine human compassion and understanding isn’t about giving someone something they haven’t earned, but creating an emotional environment that makes Life better. It’s what gives you the wherewithal to create positive change. But, by neighbor, I also mean someone that you genuinely like, but struggle to understand; or someone that you love, but struggle to like. I hope I’m not the only one that rationally thinks that shouldn’t be hard, but feels like the struggle is suck-tastic.

So, I have a challenge for us. I created ten Thank You cards to show gratitude to (ten different) people in our lives. Some of them are things it’s easy to be grateful for, some aren’t. They’re meant to be colored – both as a meditation and as a way to show you’ve invested effort and time – then they’re meant to be given away. Anonymously or not. But, even if you can’t bring yourself to give them away, write names on all ten and spend some time in your awareness that these ten things and those ten people deserve acknowledgement and gratitude, even if it’s silent and even when it’s hard. In the end, confronting those difficult feelings is what makes us strong and whole, and I think that’s worth fighting for, even if and especially when others benefit, too.

Thanks and Gratitude Cards
Thanks and Gratitude Envelopes
(download links)

Which is the card that’s going to be the easiest to give away? Which is going to be the hardest? Who is the person in your life that’s the easiest to love, and why? Who’s the hardest? Why? What do you think could change if you loved that person better (the way they needed to be loved). What do you fear might happen if you did?

Love you all,

Unpacking Emotions

I’m going to read your mind. Let’s ignore, momentarily, how impressive that is – especially since I can’t even read your face right now – because this is important.

I have a sense that. very recently, you’ve had so many options in some facet of your life that you didn’t know how to begin sorting it out.

I wanted to make sure we could all imagine being in the same boat when I told you that I’ve had so many ideas for this blog for so long, that I’ve spend the last week spinning my wheels to try and sort out where I wanted to start.

Cue: Radio Silence.

But, it seems to me that’s as good a place to start as any; maybe even the most important place. Where better to begin than the place that feels the most confusing and chaotic. I always find it’s more helpful to wade through a mental mess by talking it out.

Here’s where I’m going to admit something that I’ve only ever told my two best friends in high school, though the people who’ve lived with me have kindly pretended not to notice: I talk to myself. Not just muttering and rambling, either. Full on conversations with fully-realized-yet-not-really-there people. If I’m not careful, I spend my whole day that way, trying to sort out some preoccupation of mine. I think it’s my way of trying to see beyond the limitations of whatever lens I have to look at an issue; some inherent optimism that there’s a solution, even if I can’t see it.

Some of the people in my inventory of imagined characters include: “Ivan,” who is brilliant, logical, condescending, and irascible. He’s a jackass, but I like him a lot. I understand him. “Alexander,” also brilliant, but believes it’s more important to be kind than to reinforce your view. I love him and hate him at exactly the same time, mostly because when I’m imagining him, I’d much rather be screaming and kicking than feeling empathy and compassion. There are others that don’t have names. But, what’s common between them all is that they have very specific points of view that I can use to separate myself from something that might be emotionally overwhelming and analyze it in very specific ways, in a rational manner. At least, as rationally as possible, given said emotional overload.

Here’s an example.

If someone is making me insanely frustrated, usually (but not always) I can reason out that blowing up at them is not going to solve anything. My conversation with Ivan usually makes me feel, first, like I’m justified in feeling what I’m feeling and allows me to be present with it, and it also makes me glad I’m not as mean as Ivan would be about it. My conversation with Alexander makes me think about what external forces could explain the behavior. It helps me consider ways not to take it personally, which is helpful, but it also forces me to acknowledge that we all get to be imperfect, and bad behavior isn’t (usually) about poor character. Usually, at that point, I’m tired of being rational, and I’ll invent someone to gossip with about Ivan and Alexander, and then we make up inappropriate lyrics to loud Beethoven music and sometimes go outside to draw lewd things in sidewalk chalk that I blame on “uncivilized children.”

I’m going to keep this conversation short-ish today, but I’m curious – how is it that you begin to dig out from something that’s confusing and bothering you? What works best? Does it feel crazy to you? Any less crazy than the things you’re preoccupied with? At what point do you start to ask yourself if feeling crazy is better than stuffing things down? Does everyone get to that point? Why or why not?

Hello!

Hello! I’m truly glad you could come. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation for a long time. Make yourself comfortable! I’d like to offer you a cup of warm tea … but you’ll have to get it yourself.

Seriously! Something warm in the hands. I’ll wait.

Very briefly, my aim is for us to have a conversation about the feelings and relationships — questions and discussions about the thoughts and observations we have regarding the struggles of being a person that’s trying to be a better friend, partner, parent, neighbor, or human. My personal approach is from a psychological/neurological/philosophical perspective, so, have your vodka handy.

My pie-in-the-sky goal is to post four times a week: once with a conversation piece, like this one; once with a link to a journal article, summary, and some thoughts and questions for discussion; once with an image of a quote or something funny to help us embrace our humanity; and once with work I’ve created (or found) that aligns with the theme of being human, imperfect, and beautiful. I’m hoping that, since it will align with my school and lab work, that won’t be unrealistic.

Since half of our conversation has to happen via mind-reading, I hope you’ll be patient with me and correct me when necessary because I don’t just want to imagine that I’m getting to know you. I’m more curious than you might imagine. But, not in a creepy-stalker way; there just aren’t enough hours in the day for that, and I don’t like sifting through trash cans – your neighbors are surprisingly suspicious.

Now, enough about you …

The first thing that I’d like to tell you about me is that, despite the limitations of this medium, I hesitate to filter out my dry humor. It amuses me, and I hope that it will occasionally make you laugh, too. But without the shifting eyes and barely-suppressed giggles that you’d observe in person, it may come across the wrong way … or, perhaps, the right way, without the veil of humor covering it … but either way, if you’re wondering, “was that meant to be funny?” the answer is, yes! And, yes, I’m working on it. I’m unshockingly imperfect.

My word processor is telling me that “unshockingly” is a new word. Huzzah! We’re creating new ideas already!

So, let’s formally compile the goals for this post:
1) Getting to know each other (underway)
2) Introducing you the theme for this blog (underway)
3) Creating new ideas (done and done!)

I feel like we’re making good progress.

The meandering path that has brought me to this place is long and interesting, but most of those stories deserve their own conversations. Most succinctly, the connections between all of the paths in my life are linked together by my dangerous curiosity, tears, and introspection.*

No matter where I’ve been in my life, I’ve always had the same questions: Why do we do what we do? Why are some people more motivated by something than others? What makes it seemingly easy to understand one person but so heartbreakingly hard to understand another? Is it possible to get our minds and our hearts on the same page? How do we better accept our own imperfections so that we can better love imperfect others? Does that mole look normal?

What I’ve come to realize is that those questions weren’t just ancillary curiosities as I pursued other interests; rather, my other interests have helped me flesh out the deep and broad significance of those questions.

I’m guessing that between you and me, we’re a pretty mixed bunch. I’ve had the honor of meeting so many diverse and amazing people, and if our paths have crossed I hope that you’ve tagged along to see where this crazy circus landed. For the rest of you, welcome to the party! I think you’ll fit right in.

Some of you are all in and want to explore these questions as much as I do.

Some of you are cautiously curious. You might wonder whether we should try to answer questions that seem unanswerable, or try to unwrap thoughts and behaviors that you or others might consider deeply private and/or make you feel vulnerable in a world that seems full of raging, insensitive assholes.

Some of you are 100% sure this is all new age bullshit, and that there’s no reason to mess with what works. Suppress those goddamn emotions and get on with life.

(See how long I resisted the urge to use profanity? I think I’m going to be great at this!)

No matter what questions we’re exploring, usually you’ll be wrong … but then, so will I. Probably mostly me. And that’s okay. I believe that the only real truth lies in the spaces between us and that we need each other, curious and willingly vulnerable, to shine some light on it, pick it up, drop it and pick it back up, to ask what the heck it is, and if we can’t sell it on eBay, to learn from it. So, that’s why I’m so very glad you’re here.

Next time, I’ll bring wine. You bring the cheese, the good kind.

In the meantime, comment below and tell me what camp you’re in. Do you believe that asking hard questions has value, even if it doesn’t produce actionable answers? What kinds of questions do you ask? Are you aware of anything in your life that led you to give that/those question(s) significance? And, how much do you think we should ask for on eBay?

Love you all,

* I am an Oxford comma woman, but I feel like those two needed to be together, like peanut butter and jelly, and whole-wheat tortillas. The quesadilla, reinvented.