Tuesday, September 24, 2013

'Normal' Is Just A Setting On The Dryer.

In February, I had the rare opportunity of spending a day shopping with my lovely mom, whom I absolutely adore. We were in a home goods store, perusing the random kitschy items that can usually be found in such a venue when I stumbled upon a sign reading, "Around Here, Normal Is Just a Setting On The Dryer" and ended up buying it; she proudly hung it in her kitchen and, every single time I'm home, I get a good laugh.

This last weekend, I was lucky enough to again be able to spend the day with my mother, hiking around Park City and talking about life, my upbringing, more life, and other random things. Near the end of our hike, we got to talking about what I'll call The Big Lie. Basically, it's my theory that in American society we all try to live by a series of lies perpetuated by fools who believe in The Big Lie. The Big Lie tells us we're all weird but that it's possible to be 'normal' if we just pretend to be happy, buy a bunch of shit we don't need and keep our mouths shut. The Big Lie also contains Other Big Lies, including the Lie about women looking like Barbie dolls in order to achieve physical perfection and the Lie about men who display real emotion not being real men. Lots of Big Lies out there these days. Among those Big Lies is the myth about happiness being a destination, a place you'll reach 'someday' if you follow the rules. Another Big Lie is that everyone had a sterile, 'normal' childhood and you're the only one that's still messed up because you have a messed up family with messed up people. Even bigger than that Big Lie? The Big Lie that says everyone is perfect.

So I'm talking with my mom. And we're talking about what a miserable teenager I was and how I ended up in the juvenile justice system for being a runaway. It was at this point that it hit me: I ran away from home as a young teenager not because my home wasn't (and isn't) a place of love and comfort; I ran away from home to escape The Big Lie and the perpetuating cycle that The Big Lie creates. The craziest part? The first time I saw heroin, it was in a group home. Yeah. You read that right. I saw heroin for the first time while rooming with a girl my age who freebased it and continually offered me some. No, I never tried it. In fact, I was a pretty damn good kid who ended up in the juvenile justice system because of some archaic belief that everyone has to live by the same system of growth. Another Big Lie. Also: I was a thief, which didn't help my cause. Har har.

The discussion with my mom led to a few more truths, which led to more discourse about how we change the perception of perfection and start living like human beings. This is my first step forward.

Time for a little confession: I'm not normal. I'm far from perfect. I'm opinionated and hotheaded. I'm stubborn, outspoken and I can be a real jerk if I get angry enough. I'm too nosy for my own good and I'm a know-it-all. I'm curious and would poke an angry bear if I thought I'd get some answers. I'm bad with money. Like, really, really bad. I also used to be a pretty shitty person. Like, really shitty. Sometimes I have really poor judgement. And I've made a LOT of stupid choices. But guess what? There's also a lot of good in me. And for every bad, awful thing inside of me, there are great moments of shining brilliance where I restore my hope in humanity, just by being myself. I've pulled myself out of a pattern of abuse and neglect and dumb decisions to become someone I LIKE. And The Big Lie says you can't do that. The Big Lie tells us we can't change. The Big Lie says that if we mess up once and we're not 'normal', we're doomed forever. The Big Lie says that teen moms end up on welfare and that felons can't get jobs and high school dropouts are dumb. Guess what? I'm all three. The Big Lie is wrong.

You know what? Fuck The Big Lie. It's a lie. And it doesn't matter if you're purple, blue, green, white, grey or yellow; it doesn't matter if you're straight or gay or bisexual or transgendered or asexual. It doesn't matter if your mom and dad are Nobel winners or alcoholics or doctors or frauds or credible masters of the universe; it doesn't matter. None of it matters. What matters (and what The Big Lie will never tell us) is WHAT WE DO. What matters is how we treat people and ourselves. What matters is the change and the passion and the fight we inspire and the people we help. We matter.

So stop selling yourself short. You matter to me. You're not normal, and it's supposed to be that way. Your dreams matter. Your thoughts and hopes and saddest moments matter, because they're all part of who you are. Embrace that. Embrace every second of life because it's brought you here. We need to celebrate because we're not normal. And that's a good thing.

Guess what else The Big Lie says? The Big Lie says that our fear is there to protect us. It also says that we're not good enough to go for our dreams. The Big Lie says that other people are better than us and that they deserve happiness and success, but we don't. The Big Lie is wrong. Again. Anything (and I mean ANYTHING) is possible. You may have to work your ass off. You'll probably have to cut a few naysayers out of your life. You may even have to scrimp and save and clean toilets and go without and and break some rules. But ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. Tell me that cancer is going to kill me. Tell me that getting pregnant at 17 is going to ruin my life. Tell me that having a criminal record (a few times over) will ruin my chances at success and happiness. And I'll tell you you're wrong. Anything and everything is achievable. It'll be painful and it's going to suck more days than it's fun. But that Big Lie? It's still a Big Lie. It will ALWAYS be a Big Lie, no matter who preaches it or lives by it or swears that it'll make you happy and perfect.

I'm not normal. And neither are you. And that's perfectly fucking okay. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Happiness (Or, finding passion and of riding bikes) ...

In modern culture, we're taught that personal happiness is paramount to a life lived well. Whether that happiness comes in the form of endless consumption, drug and alcohol use and abuse or the rejection of all things unselfish, it all seems to be tolerated and encouraged; as long as we're all individually 'happy', that's all that matters. 

It's all total bullshit. 

REAL, tangible happiness is a choice. It's a choice between fear and possibilities. When we choose fear, we retract. Other people are interruptions and inconveniences. Our hatred for the world grows and we end up bitter. When we choose to explore the possible, the exact opposite happens. We grow into kind, considerate beings who believe in good. We thrive. Others present opportunities for kindness and sharing passion. Connections happen and the world becomes a community. 

I learned this because of cupcakes and mountain biking. 

I began making cupcakes in earnest after a local sweet shoppe closed down and I was left without my weekly (or rather, daily) sugar fix. This led me to start making my own, which quickly spawned into a full-fledged cupcake racket that had me in the kitchen 18 out of the 24 hours that are in a day. And I did it. It took off. I couldn't make ENOUGH cupcakes, and every idea I came up with was absolute gold. 

But I never would have started making cupcakes had it not been for mountain biking. You see. I've always been the 'smart one', but I was lazy and lacked direction. It's easy to bullshit your way through life... I know because I did it for two decades, riding on my intelligence and a keen sense of observation. As it turns out, a life full of bullshit is just a lie; living that way isn't satisfying or fulfilling. Because of my constant laziness and bullshit, I had no confidence in myself -- I knew I was all talk and all of the 'bad' or 'unfortunate' events in my life were self-created. That's enough for anyone to questions themselves. 

Then I started mountain biking again when I met my best friend, BV. And I hated it. I freaking hated it! It was hard. It was REALLY hard! It was dusty and dirty and sweaty and I fell. A LOT. Rocks and roots and trees caught pedals and hands and feet and arms. It was stupid. But then I did it again. An again. And I got better. And because I got better and overcame obstacles and learned important lessons, I tried harder. I rode further and more often. There's no bullshitting a bike, or having bike skills. If you're out there and you crash and burn or you get a flat tire or have a mechanical and you don't know how to fix it? You're screwed. Really, literally screwed. And no amount of talking will get you out of it. And no amount of money or manipulation or a really hot, useless boyfriend will save your sorry ass. YOU have to do it. And you'd better do it before it gets dark or an animal eats you or you run out of water or you bleed to death. 

And mountain biking kicked my ass. And it taught me the important lessons. And on those rare, horrible, awful days where nothing goes right, I still hate it.. But I don't. Mountain biking taught me I can do anything, even if it sucks. Even if it's making thousands of cupcakes in a broken oven yourself for a wedding that's 24 hours away. Even if it's hiking out 10 miles with no water and living through it. Even if it's training for months for a race, only to fall in practice and get hurt and not be able to race. Mountain biking made me who I am because it's not easy and the bike doesn't lie. Either I can ride or I can't. The hard work and practice and commitment and dedication never fail, and I can do it. I can put the work in and prepare and improve and excel. I can do it, and I can do anything! So I did. And I am. 

I went from trying mountain biking to finally getting educated and certified as a personal trainer and losing 80 lbs to making cupcakes for people who like good food and great ingredients. I taught myself how to ski and printed my photographs I had taken. Then I built my own businesses because I knew it was possible. I created websites and started volunteering and working harder. I started trying to make others happy because my confidence grew with every second of work I put into the things I wasn't afraid to try and I wanted everyone to be happy. I embraced myself with all of my failings and every day, I fight a battle to be who I want to be... Everyone does! And knowing this, and remembering it, makes me kinder. And I'm trying to be better, but when I fail, it's okay. Because failure makes me human. And failure is part of awesome. And being awesome is a work in progress. 

And that's the key to real happiness: progress. Work. Kindness. Compassion. Passion. Growth. 

Mountain biking saved my life. 

Fear. Peace. Everything In Between.

I thought I knew what fear was until I started getting what I wanted. I thought I understood the lines between right and wrong and black and white. And now? I'm beginning to think I don't know shit about shit.

Let's go back to the mental implosion that began this thought process. A while ago, I wrote about 'To Thine Own Self Be True'. I was going through the end of an odd relationship and had many questions that (I imagine) most 26-year-olds have at some point or another about self, loyalty, how far is too far and whatnot. What I didn't know and couldn't plan on was that in a few short months, the words I had scrawled on my bathroom mirror in an enlightened fervor would become a taunt and I would be asking myself the same questions over and over again as I desperately search for peace. Is there such a thing as peace? Will the only solace I take from being true to myself be the words from Frank Sinatra's infamous 'I Did It My Way'?

How far will I allow myself to be pushed?

Over the past year, I feel as though I've evolved into someone more kind and more generous than I ever have been. More forgiving, less criminalizing. More understanding, less judgmental. Kinder and confident in my ability to differentiate between that very kindness and spineless weakness. What I'm struggling with now is how to draw the line between chosen magnanimity and seeming easily manipulated... Because I'm no dummy. Part of successfully bullshitting someone is knowing where to stop the bullshit, and I was a master at both for a very long time. However, my chosen naivete (or optimism or sunny perspective or kindness) has seemed to open the door to people who truly think me a fool. What to do about that? On the rare occasion I do choose to show the steel that lies beneath (i.e. 'the claws'), I'm suddenly transformed into a demonic monster bitch of epic proportions who can level cities with a singular angry glare (or so it's said).

More often than not, it's just me standing my ground.

I honestly am beginning to believe that people simply aren't accustomed to young women who refuse to be belittled, mocked or bullied into a corner yet who still treat others with kindness and consideration. I'm met with shock, confusion, rage and the occasional 'you're just insane' when the niceties DO stop and I'm still baffled about how to deal with it all. But I digress.

So do I wear a sign? Maybe tattoo a warning on my forehead? Or do I keep plugging away with the hope that someday it will just be common knowledge that I'm really, really nice until someone tries to fuck with me? Or that I'm actually not super scary; just behave and we'll all live through this?