Attendance Awards

There’s this business saying, or maybe it’s sports, but whatever it is, the gist is “Showing us is half the battle”, or “showing up is 80% of life”.

That’s pretty inspiring, right? I mean, all you need to do is show up. Just be there.

As a kid I routinely got the “award” for spotless attendance. I was always at school, always in class. Never had a sick day. I had an impeccable record. Not much of an award, really. I mean no one WANTED it and it was kind of like getting a medal for existing. Yeah. I made it to school. My mom drove me.

But if we skip ahead to my Senior year of high school, you’ll find I was rarely in Band, infrequently in Spanish, and the Newspaper class let me write from home. I didn’t win any awards that year. I barely made it to my “necessary” classes before the bell rang. I had random absences throughout the year too. I was barely in school at all. In one class I remember my teacher told me “I gave you the grade you would have gotten if you’d been there.”

The phrase “showing up is 80% of life” is inspiring because it means even if you put in the least amount of effort possible something great can still happen. But I still couldn’t manage to show up to school as a teen. Was the least amount of effort too much effort?

It’s ironic, now that I think about it, how much I flippantly regarded those attendance awards. I can’t believe I thought going to school every day was “no big deal”. I’ve had arthritis every day of my life now for eighteen years. Eighteen years, or the age of a high school graduate who could have had perfect attendance for 13 years of standard US education.

13 is also my age when I was diagnosed with arthritis and when my perfection started to plummet. As someone with a high school graduate level of experience with debilitating illness, let me assure you of something: showing up is not easy.

Showing up is the hardest damn thing I have to do in a day. In any day. Showing up to work, showing up for friends, showing up for responsibilities…being anywhere is hard.

Almost everything I know about life is that the cards are stacked against your ability to show up. The weather can affect your ability to show up. Mechanical failures of any kind — from car accidents to power outages to malfunctioning alarms, an event in someone else’s life — a total stranger — can affect your ability to show up. All of those are externals, of course. And then there are the internals: you’re too tired, too stressed, too sick, too….something.

My birthday was yesterday. Now, half of all adults think it’s not worth mentioning. It’s just another day on the calendar, let’s not make a fuss, or they’d even rather everyone just forgot it entirely. The other half want to celebrate in some capacity. Perhaps a dinner out, a cupcake, a present they got for themselves, a card from a loved one, something to recognize the incredible accomplishment of another year on this earth.

A birthday is a milestone, a victory to be acknowledged. Another year of earth attendance.

I may not be able to show up to all the activities in life the way people think I should, but I’m 31 now, and I’m pretty thrilled about that. Just that. I’ve never understood (yet) the compulsion to lie about age. Aging is miraculous to me. There are so many obstacles to getting old.

Shoot, with my diet, miraculous doesn’t even begin to cover it.

If you ask me, showing up is 100% of life.


Bubble Popping

“Bubble” is a great word, for several reasons.

  1. It’s ridiculously fun to say.
  2. You can’t say it in an angry voice without laughing.
  3. Actual bubbles are super cool in all their sizes and shapes.
  4. Using “bubbles” metaphorically gets accurately at what you’re implying.

A bubble is by nature an ephemeral creation in a specific situation of air, water, and soap. Or gum, air, and saliva. It’s not long lasting and it’s easy to destroy. You can savor a bubble for a time, but it’s always going to pop. Not only that, but when it does pop? You’ve got something of a mess on your hands.

I grew up in bubbles, moving from one Dutch Christian ghetto to another. From one Christian school to another. From one suburban neighborhood to another. I loved my bubbles.

Bubbles feel safe. Bubbles reinforce information and knowledge. My bubble had Dutch bingo, olli bollen, banket, Catechisms, Sunday school, Bible classes, memorizing verses, reciting the Apostle’s Creed from memory and saying the Lord’s prayer out loud.

Bubbles in our youth can build stability, a baseline philosophy, and a frame of reference. In short, bubbles are something meant to be enjoyed for their duration, but every good bubble needs to be popped. Every good bubble dweller needs to learn to rebel.

Air gets stale in a bubble, ideas begin to bounce off the walls and get absorbed back in and reinforced as absolute truths, we start thinking the people we see are the only people there are, we begin to believe our experiences are the only experiences there are.

And if you think bubbles are for small towns and backwater burbs, think again. Most of us have to fight the compulsion to inhabit bubbles the rest of our lives. Bubbles in our neighborhoods, our churches, our groups of friends, the places we’re willing to visit, the books we read, the media we consume.

Fighting against bubbling is exhausting and humbling. Routinely. Because you’re always learning and growing and adapting and discovering.

When I was a teenager I distinctly remember rolling my eyes when my sister talked about feminism. How absurd a concept that was. As if we needed feminism anymore! Like either of us had been stifled at home. Like we’d put up with that from the men around us. Didn’t our Dad think we were strong and capable? Didn’t we get raised to think for ourselves?

It took me a long time to realize that protective bubbles only shield you, they don’t help anyone else.

Thoughtful listening is the best way to puncture your bubble. Compassionate listening is the best way to live outside your bubble. Learn to practice selflessness, humility, kindness. I know it’s not as shiny as the bubble, but it’ll be easier to breathe. Easier to grow. Easier to thrive.

Blanket Security

I’m in that time of life when people talk about how to plan for their 401K, long term investments, the pros and cons of blue chip stock, percentages, rates, interest, babies.

I know what like half of those words mean. I care about them only so far as they apparently mean that when I’m old I’ll still have some kind of financial stability if I know what I’m doing with them. This includes babies. There are people out there who I just KNOW have factored in their children in terms of “these things better take care of me in my old age”. I mean…well I don’t know that for certain, I just assume. What are the perks otherwise?

But I don’t have that kind of stability. Which therefore makes all the words terrifying.

My Aunt bought me a blanket awhile ago now. It’s the best blanket in the world. It’s what I always imagined as a kid that sleeping in the clouds would feel like, but with outer warmth of inward whiskey. I love it. I love it with a jealousy other people reserve for sports cars and honor student children.

My favorite blanket moments are those when other people aren’t around, because then I don’t feel compelled to share. And when I do feel compelled to share, I fight the impulse and hand them an inferior blanket. When I’m not using it, I hide it in my bedroom.

It lost some fluff yesterday and I experienced an overwhelming wave of sadness as I contemplated the reality that today it would not be as warm as it was yesterday.

At work I fantasize about curling up in it. Falling asleep on the couch and waking up in a cocoon of warmth.

I am an adult and for the first time in my life I have a security blanket. It doesn’t quite take away my lazy procrastinator financial stress, but it does nicely supplement the cold reality of life and my apartment (at a cozy and financially frugal 63 degrees).

When I’m in my blanket and averages and mean income float through my head I don’t get stressed, just sleepier.

I know I need to give it up, but just a few more minutes?

Friends with Boys

Even before I saw When Harry Met Sally I’d been intrigued by the question of “Can men and women be friends?”

I distinctly remember hoping and praying in high school that I’d have boy friends and no actual boyfriends because I didn’t want the drama. I wanted boy friends more than girl friends too, and it took me years to appreciate the female friendships in my life. That’s a blog post for another time.

For example, men don’t take pictures of their feet. This is a female phenomenon. I can’t get behind this. Why would I want to show off one of my not-so-great features? Women, what is this about??

But ever since I’ve had male friends I’ve been getting the side-eye from strangers and acquaintances, and even close friends. Come on, men and women can’t ever REALLY be friends.

One of my best friends in my teens was a boy. And I still remember the looks from church people when we’d sit together, and I remember the one time we wore the same clothes to church (I was wearing a skirt, version, but otherwise…) and freaking out that people would think it was some kind of sign. I remember having to defend every time we arrived anywhere together and having to cheer lead all his romantic relationships because otherwise I’d look jealous.

I remember having one of my married male friends pick me up at work to get lunch together and the knowing glance I got from the receptionist.

Going out to dinner with a man is a problem, having dinner at his house is a problem. Driving is a problem, movies are a problem…

Romance potential is literally everywhere.

I keep asking myself the question “Can men and women be friends” and I keep hearing – from women and men – that this is not possible. Even men I am actually friends with tell me this. There’s this underlying feeling that the opposite sex is too enticing once you reach a certain level of intimacy. That sex is the inevitable obstacle to co-ed friendships. That men and women will naturally fall in love when they get to know each other really well. Thanks Harry and Sally.

No matter how much adamant agreement there is on this topic, I just can’t believe that God would create men and women to have relationships between the sexes that are only passing acquaintances, familial, or romantic. I can’t buy that I’m only allowed casual friendships with men. I can’t buy that God intended me to keep all men at a distance of several feet unless we’re planning on marrying.

I’m a single woman and  I need men in my life. I need the influence of men, the conversation of men, the viewpoint of men. I need these as much as I need the influence of women, the conversation of women, the viewpoint of women. I’m aware that as a single woman it’s far too easy in this life to simply lose touch, lose connection with a large quantity of the people in the world strictly because they are male.

I need to be careful in my relationships with women as much as I need to be careful in my relationships with men. And this is what we forget. Sure, perhaps you’re guarding against different things with men than with women, but any relationship ought to be entered into with carefulness, watchfulness, and openness.

Can men and women be friends. I have to believe yes. Are there overwhelming obstacles to making a friendship between a man and a woman work? Experience and others tell me definitely, 100%, yes. Naturally, any true friendship faces some pretty tough obstacles. It’s the nature and essence of relationship.

Is it still worth it? Is it worth valuing friendship with men as more than a gateway to romance? I believe 100% yes.

Have more movies damaged this theory than assisted? Yeah. Just. All the movies. I mean Just Friends. It’s in the title! How could that go wrong? Anyway, that’s a rant for another time. Until then, as always, I’ll remind myself that movies are a work of fiction, and relationships are real and really hard work. Woman to woman, man to man, and woman to man. It’s difficult because at the end of the day it turns out, we’re all people.

Look at that. Perhaps we have more in common than we think?

Hello, I Have a Disease

I dislike meeting new people. For a number of reasons–I’m terrible with names, I’m already “full” on people I do know (and I’m not confident how well I like most of them), I’m an introvert, I’m tired. Just, already tired thinking about it. I know I’m not alone in this. Here’s an idea: Why don’t we all carry cliffs notes around of relevant pertinent information for consumption?

I don’t mean show them your facebook page, I mean like a note card with a brief background bullet-point list.

These guys probably wish they had pockets to carry around note cards of information instead of barking it out to each other.

So in case I meet any of you in the real world:

  • Christian (but probably not considered “Conservative” by most)
  • Reformed (but mostly just a big fan of total depravity)
  • Feminist (I really don’t feel the need to explain this one)
  • Despises small talk and bores easily with discussions of weather.
  • Also not a fan of sports and car conversations. Will purposefully derail these conversations.
  • Will purposefully derail any conversation deemed “boring” or “inflammatory” or “for fun”.
  • Rants about irrelevant pop culture nonsense. Gleefully dislikes Taylor Swift, Forrest Gump and anything that’s your favorite.
  • Does not respond well to “Get to Know You” questions like “What’s your favorite book?” or “What do you do for a living?”
  • Responds very positively to “Did you see that dog?” or “What’s your favorite form of potato?” or “I hate that guy” (insert random person here)
  • Will not respond positively to attempts at bragging or showing off on your part. Will probably attempt to hurt your feelings if you do.

This is what I’d share with anyone I have to talk to for more than ten minutes, but less than an entire day, ie. friends of friends I have drinks with.

But let’s just say we hit it off and start hanging out and getting chummy. At what point do I start detailing the intimate personal stuff? When do we begin exchanging the private life-defining information?

I’ve had arthritis since I was 13 and I’ve gotten pretty used to everyone knowing it. But I’ve had to consider this conversation a few times when I’ve met new people I’d like to keep talking to. An autoimmune disease that’s degenerative, chronic, and invisible needs to get brought up in conversation whether I like it to or not. But I’m not capable of handling this with any finesse. Usually it goes like this:

“Can you help me move that table?”

“Oh, no I can’t. I have arthritis. It’s a nice table though. Have you seen The Golden Girls?”

I should write a card for this. For the arthritis conversation. But even if I did, it’d only say two things:

  • Arthritic.
  • I’ve probably been better.

Not exactly chatty about it, am I?

It’s been my experience that telling people the thing about you – that unique thing which colors your whole world – isn’t something you can ever tell anyone. It has to be lived to be believed. This is why people that experience life with us are the ones we hold on to.

I started this post with a fun idea of when do you bring up the uncomfortable topics in life, as it turns out, there’s never a really good time. But I’ve discovered good friends, really good friends, understand the things they can’t see and never need proved. I’ve made a few of those friends over the past years and in those early getting-to-know-you times I can’t remember having “the conversation” because it wasn’t just something we addressed and moved on from, it was something we both agreed to live with.

When you reach that level of intimacy and relationship, believe me, there’s not a note card in the world that could hold everything they understand about you.

Dear Working Girl: Don’t Do Just What They Ask

“Did I ever tell you you’re like a duck? That’s how James and I think of you.” Matt was a partner at the audacious startup branding firm that I had recently begun working for. We were at a swanky launch party at a very cool “secret” loft in Capital Hill. I must have looked surprised, because Matt grinned at me over his second Negroni and explained, “It’s because you look all calm on the surface but you’re working away underneath.” He spotted someone important across the room and said “I’m going to mingle over there. Have fun.”

I laughed about it at the time. But when I lost the job 6 months later, I imagined the myriad ways in which I could have changed the situation. One of the things that has stood out to me is that I let the things they complimented me on become my measure for success. Did I let my “quiet duck” persona turn me into a meek pushover? This is dangerous. Don’t try this at home (or at work), kids. If you need to write your own job description before you start getting swayed by compliments (like I do), then do that. Whenever someone says “It’s so nice that you always empty the dishwasher. It really makes a difference to have a clean workplace,” you can feel good about it, but if it isn’t in your job description, it doesn’t count as success.

I worked with a great team at that agency. But it seemed like the thanks and affirmations they often gave me focused on my quietness, my team-player perspective, and my transparency about admitting when I didn’t know things. Maybe I should have raised a ruckus more often, voiced my disagreement more vocally.

And those things they affirmed most often were some of the same things they discussed with me when they let me go:

“I wish I could afford to keep you on just to think about things, to do research.”

“You’re not cut out for project management–this role is too chaotic.”

“It’s nothing wrong with your work. We might need a different personality type.”

It’s not the only time this kind of situation has happened. In another job, I had the idea that I could provide some value in a certain area by doing research for some different branches of the company and giving them one-pager summaries on some different topics. Because I received very little affirmation at the time, I felt like it didn’t matter and stopped spending time on it. FIVE YEARS later, I ran into one of my former co-workers, who told me she still used my one-pagers. I wonder, if I had not run after affirmation alone, if I had stuck with my idea just a little longer, where would that program be now?

Affirmation is one indicator of approval and success–but it is only one. You’ll get into trouble if you focus on that alone.

Dear readers, I hope this saves you from the years of heartache I’ve walked through. I hope you never have to think to yourself, as I have, “I’ve done everything you’ve asked of me and more for x years, and now? Now you tell me it was all wrong? Now none of it matters? Now you’re letting me go, or telling me I’m not worth a raise?”

Don’t do just what they ask. Don’t let affirmations be your only barometer.