Thursday, September 22, 2011

Super 80's: An Analysis of One Awesome Decade

Our 12 year old niece said something that truly touched my soul one night recently.  We were playing a game with her, her 8 year old sister, and their parents (my brother and sister-in-law).  It was an 80's version of "Name That Tune."  I, being eternally in love and deeply obsessed with all things 80's, was of course more than happy to play a board game that revolved entirely around answering questions about bands with big hair, singers in spandex, and music with enough synthesizing to rock the sweatbands right off of you.

Somewhere in the middle of identifying songs from The Pet Shop Boys and reminiscing about how I forgot what Mr. Mister looked like, our niece said to me, "The 80's seems like it was a cool decade to live in."  As I wiped a single fallen tear from my cheek I had to refrain from squeezing her like a grandmother hugging a tiny two year old whom had just said, "I love you" for the first time.  I couldn't believe those words had just come from, not only ANYone that age, but that it came from MY niece!  Oh the heavens doth shone down upon me that evening.

I felt so very proud at that moment and replied with, "You know, I think you would have loved growing up then."  And you know, I really do think that's true.  But that's because our niece is a special kind of girl who often appreciates things in an old-soul kind of way.  Not to mention that the 80's were a very colorful decade and Nikole, like me, is a girl who appreciates a broad spectrum of hues. 

I wouldn't be surprised if people get tired or bored with my compulsion to go on and on about the decade in which I grew up.  Hopefully I'm not too annoying.  Luckily though, I married someone who has an equal compulsion and not only "gets" my love for it, but shares it in full.  I won't knock other decades or say that the 80's is the only magical time.  Afterall, I'm an old soul myself and have much love for past decades, especially wishing that I had been around in the 60's or the 30's and 40's.  But I will say that there is nothing quite like the era of neon, hairspray, and jelly shoes.  And by golly . . . it really WAS magical!

 Kevin and I talk often about how we had the best toys and cartoons growing up.  We look around us today, seeing the annoying, loud, and fame-obsessed shows all over the Disney channel, cartoons that were created solely for extreme ADD cases, and toys that assume all kids are lacking imagination and require constant technological consolation.  We see all of this and sigh . . . it's just not the same.  Everything to us seems to be too brash, too fast, too costly, and just . . . too, too much.

We had He Man, Transformers, Care Bears, the Lite-Brite, Rainbow Brite, the Spirograph, Mr. Mouth, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  We had Mad Balls, Mad Libs, The Mad Magazine Game.  Atari, Nintendo, and Sega.  Jelly shoes, slap bracelets, and scrunchies.  Okay, well maybe that last one isn't anything to brag about.  But everything else is pretty damn cool, and I haven't even begun to mention the movies and music yet!

We were very fortunate to be kids in the 80's.  We got to experience childhood with a perfect balance of innocence and awareness.  Somehow back then kids were still able to be kids, but not be completely naive either.  Now kids grow up so much more quickly, either by the pressure of society or their own desires.  Either way, it's kind of sad.  I'm sure our parents thought the same about us, and their parents the same about them.  I suppose some things never change.

But one thing that has: now just about every kid wants to be famous.  Now most of them think that they're supposed to be singers/dancers/clothing designers/night club owners/etc.  And all of this by the time they're 16.  It's not really their fault . . . this is all IV'd into their brains by pop culture at every waking moment.  I'm sorry, but the Disney channel infuriates me these days.  They glorify tweenagers, making them all pop stars who are more intelligent and more cool than their slow-minded, bumbling, lame parental counterparts.  Maybe I'm just getting old . . .

I look back at how kids came across when I was little, in movies like The Goonies, E.T., or Stand By Me.  Kids seemed to have a certain depth to them while still remaining kids.  They weren't too mature or too juvenile.  They were just right.  And movie makers didn't treat us (the kids in the audience) as too grown up for our own good nor too stupid to understand adult type things.  It's a rarity when that happens today.  And when it does, I get a good feeling deep down that maybe just a little bit of that magic we had back in the 80's is still alive and, perhaps will one day, once again flourish. 

This last summer Kevin and I went to see Super 8 in the theater.  When we first saw the trailer for it we had this instinctual feeling that it might hearken back to our wonderful movies from childhood.  And boy,  were we ever right!  We spent an hour and 52 minutes shrinking back into our 8 year old bodies, feeling like there was fun and magic swirling around us once again, this time taking the shapes of (semi spoiler alert!) magic cubes and homesick aliens.  Even though this movie was directed by J.J. Abrams it felt just like the Spielberg of the 80's; it had the same tone.  And I have a feeling that Super 8 is sort of Abrams's love letter to Spielberg as well as to the 80's.

The kids in it were remarkably deep, with plenty of humor and just the right dash of quirky edge.  It really made us feel as though we were watching one of our childhood favorite movies for the very first time.  It was sort of like a new group of Goonies.  I would have given anything to be one of the Goonies.  I wanted to be a boy so badly because of that movie . . . so badly, that if I were offered the chance today, I would consider very strongly giving up being Emily so that I could become Mikey and go on a Goonie adventure of my own.

The sad thing is, now kids want to be like the fast-talking, overly 'pop'pified, self-absorbed child-adults that they see on TV.  And the sickest thing about it all: adults are not only winking at it, but encouraging it!  Every time one of our nieces or nephews flips on the Disney channel Kevin and I look at each other mournfully, shaking our heads and rolling our eyes.  It's as if a tiny piece of our souls die.  Not to pick solely on Disney, it just happens to be the easiest way to encompass the phenomenon of this culture.  I could just as easily go on a tangent about Nickelodeon, the CG movies with talking animals, numerous reality shows, and every music TV channel ever. 

I realize that this all may make me sound really old, crabby, or possibly ridiculous . . . but I guess I still think that childhood should be inundated with magic and nonsense and colors and a degree of innocent ignorance, no matter how the world has changed over the generations.  But my generation and my predecessors have slowly become more egotistical.  We are creeping into the spectrum of loud-talking, impatient, narcissists.  And kids are being raised to think the same way, under the intention of good self-esteems and materialistic comfort.  Every parent wants to give their kids more than what they had -- more of everything, including a sense of worth in this world.  But while announcing to their kids that they are the smartest, funniest, most beautiful, most talented, most, most, most everything, they forgot to teach them the gratification of silence and solitude, the fulfillment of humility and subtlety.

I hope that when Kevin and I have children that we remember ourselves to live up to my own expectations.  I hope that our kids will have a tenderness, a simplicity in contentment, and a quirky, whimsical mind.  We've joked before that we should start a colony in the woods somewhere and raise our kids as if it is the 1980's, a la M. Night's The Village.  And every time I am forced to endure the Disney channel I am convinced that I was never joking in the first place. 

Parents, please don't try to make your kids no longer kids.  That will happen naturally on its own.  Let them enjoy a few more years where they don't have to constantly worry about wearing socially revered clothing or thinking of a snarky, clever quip for the kid taking their favorite truck in the sandbox.  Let them breathe; let them believe in the unbelievable . . . let them watch Labyrinth.  


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Night Before the Beginning

Tomorrow my niece, Nikole, has her first day of seventh grade.  And for her, that means her first day in a new building  . . . the high school.  She's spending her first day of seventh grade in the exact same building as I spent mine, which makes the nostalgia all the more easy . . . and all the more indigestion-inducing.  There is no great revelation here that my time in junior high was, shall we say, unpleasant for the most part.  I was a nerd, I had horrible self-esteem, I was "meaty," and I had social anxiety.  It doesn't take AP Math to understand that the answer to this equation is bad . . . very, very bad.

Starting something new has always been a tremendously difficult chore for me when it comes to things that are nerve-wracking.  Every single year I would spend the last week of summer vacation not only being depressed that the break was about to end, but also fretting over homework, impromptu math problems on the chalk board, what to get in the lunch line (yes, I actually worried about this in junior high), and making friends/keeping friends/understanding the fickle follies of my friends.  I might as well not have even had that last day of vacation because the entire time I had an outer body experience, with my mind floating somewhere over Impressionism paintings of large crowds and the maze of staircases in Labyrinth

I recall the night before the start of seventh grade being a particularly scary event.  I was terrified.  And as was common for me, I was so nervous that I made myself sick.  I inherited from my mom the inability to sleep the night before a first day of school.  I used to also have this problem the night before my first day at a new job too, but now that I seem to have transitioned into the old-fart-I'm tired all the time-can I PLEASE just take a little nap phase of adulthood, I don't seem to have this trouble anymore.  Back in the day though, I would ask my mom to lay down in bed with me until I fell asleep.  Unfortunately for my mom, that sometimes meant a couple hours or more. 

When I talked to Nikole earlier this week I asked how she was -- whether or not she was nervous.  I already knew the answer before I asked because I know my niece.  And my niece is a lot like me in many ways.   While I usually love that, in this case, I wish she were different, for the simple fact that I don't want her to have to go through the same feelings I did.  Kevin and I talked to her briefly tonight also to let her know that we'd be thinking about her and praying for her.  I asked again how she was doing.  I could hear the shake in her voice when she responded quietly, "I'm so nervous!"  I let her know that I've been there and understand what she's going through.  And then I told her that it was going to be just fine and she would be okay.  Whether or not that did anything to help her, I'm not sure.  If she's indeed like me, it didn't.  I'm a person who is not easily influenced, and that also means that I'm not easily comforted either.  That latter part of which rather sucks.

I wish so much that I could take away her fears and anxiety -- that I could make life just a little bit easier for her.  Obviously that's impossible.  But even more than that, if I did take it away I would also be taking away an opportunity for her to grow and become stronger.  Despite hating the feelings I experienced during these moments of debilitating fears and stomach-churning nerves, they allowed me to become more adaptable and thicken my skin.  It took an awful lot of those moments to make a substantial amount of progress in those areas, but it was all worth it.  Yes, even the times I got made fun of for being too quiet and the times I got lost wandering in the hallways, searching for my first class.  So if Nikole must be cursed/blessed with the anxiety gene, then I hope that her moments will be worth it in the end too.  I hope that eventually she'll be able to use them like proteins building her emotional muscles.  I hope that they will be obstacles transformed into wisdom.  But first, I just hope that she remembers her locker combination and manages to eat a decent lunch.  Love you, Nikole . . . you'll make it through.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Self-Esteem, PCOS, and All That Flab: Part 6

* This is part 6 of a series of posts that explore my struggles with self-esteem, weight, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and the very difficult task of trying to be my fullest self in a world that constantly demands more than what I am. Because this subject is so vast and most of my life has been spent swimming in its waters in some form or another I thought it best to break it up . . . also so as to not bore you to death!

Some of you may not be able to relate, but I hope that you will find it interesting anyway. And perhaps you will be better able to understand someone in your life. Some of you may be able to relate and I hope that you will know that you are not the only one -- that the journey may be long, but progress is progress. Remember that no matter how small it may feel, you still are not the same person that you were yesterday. And that is something to celebrate!

For Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 please scroll below . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

As I talked about in Part 5 of this series, the second half of my ninth grade year was a mess.  My life was a mess, my head was a mess, and I was a mess.  Luckily, I made it through and was relieved to have a few months of summer to lick my proverbial wounds.  I did not yet know just how much things would be changing in the next few months.  If I had known, it probably would've been a lot easier to get through those last couple months of school that year.  But as it is with most things in life, I was completely unaware of what was yet to come.  Before you jump ahead of me, I didn't suddenly see the world through rose-colored glasses, my body didn't morph into the thinner, more beautiful version that I had ached for, my loneliness wasn't quarantined to the unusable cellar, and I didn't suddenly love, unlovable me.  No, it wasn't quite the dramatic changes I may have liked.  But they were changes, nonetheless.  And any change, no matter how small, counts.

Before we ever moved to Warren, I had been there a couple times to a wonderful, small community theater named The Pulse Opera House.  My dad had gotten involved there in a couple productions through a long-time, family friend.  My family has always been in love with the theater, and I was no exception.  I inherited the love of the theater from my parents, who have been heavily involved with community theater for a good, long portion of their lives.

The summer after my ninth grade year The Pulse Opera House was putting on a production of The Pirates of Penzance, for which my dad was going to try out and my mom was going to play piano.  The idea was thrown around of me potentially auditioning as well.  The idea was certainly intriguing and I entertained it with much internal pomp and circumstance.  The only problem was . . . even though I had been involved in a lot of productions in school and at churches, this was different.  This was a community theater, in a community that I barely knew.  This was a theater of adults, of "theater people," of very talented people, of people who took their theater pretty seriously.  The problem was . . . I was terrified!  And terrified + a room full of strangers + singing in front of that room full of strangers = Ain't gonna happen!

My parents did convince me to go along, however, I had no intention of auditioning, even though I desperately wanted to.  That's the thing about a bad self-esteem and debilitating fears: they cause you to miss doing all the things you really want to do, all of the things that are so good for you.  So I sat awkwardly in the back of the rehearsal hall with my dad.  He was thoughtful enough to not parade me to the front of the room, even though he would have been perfectly comfortable with it himself.  I watched intently as each person went to the front of the room and sang their prepared audition piece, all seeming quite confident and relaxed.  All the while my dad kept prodding me to try-out as well, telling me how much I would enjoy it.  He knew he was right.  I knew he was right too.  But my terror was far too amplified for me to push it aside.  I was on high alert and I honestly thought that I would crumble into a pile of worry and nerves if I were to stand up in front of all these people.  I sat back, trying to act indifferent, when in reality I wanted nothing more than to be a part of this musical.  I was jealous of everyone else -- jealous that they weren't afraid, or if they were, that they were able to overcome it, and I was not.

There was a moment in which I almost felt my body begin to lift from the chair, when I had nearly gathered enough courage to step outside of myself and throw caution to the wind.  But, as it usually always did, that moment passed.  The moment passed and so did the try-outs.  We went home, and I left feeling . . . ashamed.

That little part of the story may have had a not-so-happy ending, but a nice turn of events came about a couple weeks later.  The director was still in need of more females for the chorus.  Being that my dad was in the play and Mom was playing, she generously offered me a part in the chorus without auditioning for it.  I was cast as Isabel, one of the Major General's daughters.  The Major General, ironically, was played by my dad.  The production became a family event, as my brother, Jeff, was cast in the chorus as well, once he found out that they still needed more men.

It was truly a great summer; being in The Pirates of Penzance helped me begin to find more of myself, more of my voice.  I met people that were a little bit more like me . . . quirky, loved the arts, understood certain references to Rocky Horror, Labyrinth, and Monty Python.  I began to feel a bit more comfortable in my skin, at least in that environment.  Don't get me wrong; I was still incredibly self-conscious.  But I had made a little progress, and it felt wonderful.  I had at least found a place where I could express myself.  Normally most of my self-expression occurred in private while writing, drawing, painting, etc.  Now I was at least able to share some of that self-expression with other people doing the same thing.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Once the summer was over I made another big change -- a different school.  When things were going poorly at my last school during ninth grade, there were talks between my parents and I about what to do to change the situation.  They knew I was miserable there; they knew something had to be different.  The option of home-schooling was presented and I quickly turned it down.  What made me say no so unequivocally, I'll never know.  Everything about my self-esteem should have jumped at the chance to completely avoid the school social scene.  But despite my fears and worries I knew that it would be running away.  I knew it was the wrong thing for me and would only make my problems worse.

I've run away from a lot of things in my life . . . enough to make me ashamed for a lifetime.  But there have been some moments in my life when I chose to face my fears -- when I could have easily passed.  I told my parents that home-schooling wasn't an option for me, and we began to search for the right answer.  The answer turned out to be a very small, Christian school in a nearby town, that was so new that it had only been open for a year.  Community Christian School was in an old elementary building, and ended up being the perfect next step in my journey toward self-actualization. 

Stepping into CCS, after having been at my previous school was a drastic transition -- going from 2,000 some kids (grades 9-12) to about 100 kids (grades pre-K - 12).  Yeah, I'm actually serious.  The only time I'd heard of something that small was back on the 1800's prairie, in a one room log cabin.  In addition to the drastic change in size there was also a change in they type of school -- going from public school to a private Christian school for the first time in my life.

My time there was irreplaceable and the people I met there are still dear to me.  There could not have been a better solution for me at that time in my life.  Again, my problems were far from solved; my self-esteem was still unfortunately far from being repaired; but it was yet another step toward healing -- toward becoming my fullest self (a phenomenon that I am still, in fact, in the process of achieving).

Because CCS was a Christian school, and a predominantly on-the-more-conservative-side Christian school, I often found myself in disagreement about spiritual and political matters.  I was even quite liberal back then, and have only become more so the older I have gotten.  I distinctly recall one particular discussion about capital punishment.  It turned out that the entire class (and teacher) were for it.  Not that they took joy or glee in it.  Far from.  They simply believed that it was a just act under certain conditions and circumstances.  Well, the entire class was for it, except for one . . . . . . me.  The teacher asked if there was anyone who was against it completely and my lone hand lifted.  I quickly felt my face flush and realized that I was going to have to talk.  The teacher (in a non-judgmental way) asked me to share why I was against it.  Knowing that I was the only one on this side of the issue -- that I was essentially the token goose flying north for the winter -- I was scared to attempt to explain my position.  I knew how I felt.  I knew that, for me, it was the right view to have.  But my convictions weren't enough to outweigh the anxiety of being singled out.

My voice didn't waiver, however.  Even though I've had mounds of social anxiety through the years, I have always managed to pull myself together for any kind of performance, even one as small as an oral book report, or a teenage expose on the immorality of capital punishment.  I spoke my piece, they had a few follow-up questions -- some, "Well what if . . ." and "What about . . ."  And then . . . they accepted my answers.  Just as simple as that.  They all still disagreed; I didn't change anyone's mind.  But they listened and accepted this as a valid point of view.  It felt pretty damn great.  

There were other times such as these during my three years at CCS.  I was frequently the lone liberal voice.  Even though there were days when I felt like a heathen, like an inferior person or inferior Christian, I wouldn't wish those times into non-existence.  Those moments helped to strengthen me -- my cognition, my spirit, my skin.   They helped to shape my so far 30 year old self, and someday my 60 and 80 year old selves.  That's the funny thing about all of the darker or more stressful times . . . if they hadn't existed, how would I be different?  And would the change be for better or for worse?  Perhaps without them I wouldn't have, and wouldn't still be struggling with loving and accepting myself or not being ashamed of myself.  Maybe I would have gone through a much more carefree and effortless adolescence and adulthood thus far.  Maybe I would never have harbored thoughts of suicide just so that I wouldn't have to feel anymore.  But really, would I still be the same person?  Would I have as much compassion and empathy for other people struggling and living in pain?  Perhaps not.

The years between 16 and 18 were very important ones.  I began to learn that there were people in the world who were more like me and who would appreciate me, just as is.  I began to see that I didn't have to hide away in the cave of my room always, for fear of looking like an idiot with every scratch of my arm and every turn of my head.  I began to see a glimmer of hope, that maybe I could be comfortable in my own skin one day.  That was about 14 years ago.  I wish I could say that I've completely arrived by the age of 30.  I have not . . . but the good news is, that day is getting close.  And though long, the traveling is worth it.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Curly Is, As Curly Does

I'm a curly head.

It's a little bit scary just how much of my identity, through the course of my life, has revolved around having curly hair.  Not only do I associate so much of myself with curly tresses, but others do as well.  It makes me easily identifiable in a crowd, especially since I also color my hair a fairly bright red hue. 

I've never been what you would call, a conventional person.  I've never had what you would call, a conventional look.  I'm not that eccentric by any means . . . I'm not goth; I'm not a bombshell; I'm not overtly and hip-ly modern.  I'm just not the average girl.  I look as if there's a real possibility that I was born in the wrong era -- that I would sit more comfortably in the Renaissance or the Medieval periods.  I have what many would term as the "classic" look: small, petite features, fair skin, plenty of meat on my bones, and . . . of course, the curly hair.

When I was growing up curly hair (natural curly hair) was not the popular do.  I was born in 1980, so I was around for the somewhat disturbing era of pom-pom perms and tsunamis of bangs.  But during my teen years, mostly the preferred look was straight hair -- something with which I was not naturally endowed.  Sure, I suppose I could have purchased a hair straightener and squeezed and forced my way into mainstream, but I felt an innate resentment for the pressure to fit inside of a mold.  Molds and I don't go too well together.  I made a conscious decision, like with most other things in my life, to go against the grain.  It's not because I see myself as some sort of warrior of the outcasts, some champion of the different . . . I just hate being like everyone else.  And fortunately (I guess) for me, I've never had to work very hard at that.

Let me share with you, for those of you who have not been "blessed" with the curly gene, the number one issue with curly hair.  Like a willful monarch, curly hair has a mind of its own; it is the ruling master over the kingdom called my head.  Example 1: no matter how many times I carefully separate the curls so that they look full, it will never fail that as the day goes on certain ones around my neck will pool together out of exhaustion? confusion? revenge? and morph into an inferior looking Shirley Temple lock.  Example 2: numerous mornings with hair shooting off in every possible direction, as if they had lost their way through the night, and after debating long and hard over which way to venture, each hair grouped together in 10's, yelling obscenities at the others, breaking off from the general population, and taking off on their own way with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

This is what we curly-heads deal with on a daily basis, no matter what type of curl it is -- small and kinky, all the way to loose and big.  Mine are more on the looser and bigger end of the spectrum.  My hair is also very fine, and therefore enjoys going flat on me at whim.  The issues are endless, just as endless as the types of curly hair that exist in the world.  And we curly-heads are still wandering in the wilderness for all the right answers to our curly plight -- some manna for our hair hunger.

Let me just lay it all out on the table . . . many parts of me HATE my curly hair, especially when I was growing up.  I hate how temperamental it is.  I hate that I can't control it . . . EVER!  I hate that I still haven't mastered the art of styling it.  I hate that it taunts me, mocks me, laughs violently at me at night, while plotting the next day's follicle failure.  Yes, I realize that I'm being a bit over-dramatic.  But I suppose that it just comes with the territory; curls are a bit more on the dramatic side, right?  Although, all of my drama has been saved for the stage . . . and apparently, hair.

I've talked with other curly-heads, and they all share at least some level of this same frustration.  We all have a strange dichotomy of often hating our hair, but not being completely willing to give it up, had we the opportunity to do a hair swap.  Why is this?  Could it be that we are all secret masochists? Are we hell-bent on making sure that we never have a stress-free start to our day?  Definitely not.  But we (at least most of us) realize that the frustrations and annoyances are part of who we are -- the curls, no matter how laden with extra work, are a strange and wonderful aspect of our character. 

There aren't many days that go by that I don't complain about my hair, at least in my own head or that I hurl at my own reflection whilst begging the mirror for a little mercy.  But truly, I don't want straight hair.  I have nothing against it, nothing bad to say about it.  Straight hair is beautiful. But it's just not me.  I'm not meant to be a straight-haired girl, which is apparently why God planted nothing but curls upon my head.  I wouldn't look right with straight hair.  Honestly, I think I'd look rather stupid, awkward . . . and, well, fatter.  The curls at least help my "meatiness" look a bit more proportioned. 

Even more than all that, I want to keep the curls because they are a physical manifestation of my quirkiness.  They offer a certain artsy, creative, offbeat stamp upon my persona.  And well, that is me.  I am a free spirit . . . always have been.  I think for myself (often thinking the unpopular ideals) and I follow my own path.  I've never been a follower.  But I've never been a leader either.  I've never had the desire to fall into either of those roles; I have just always simply done my own thing.  My favorite quote of all  time is from Thoreau: "If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." I don't think there is a single quote that could sum my parts so eloquently.  Thoreau may not have had curls in mind when he penned those words, but in a silly sort of way, I feel that they are an extension (really, no pun intended) of his thought.   

My curls are not the summation of me, but they are a part.  And over the years I have made my peace with them, and have slowly, but surely, learned to embrace them.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to hate them sometimes.  I'm still going to raise my metaphoric clenched fists to the air and ask, "Why hast thou curs'd me?"  But once the frustration cools and the curls mellow, I will accept them and even marvel a bit at their beauty.  I will let my hands course over them and feel the smooth curves, the dipping and rising of their lines . . . until, I start the whole process over again tomorrow.