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Word Choice and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Random people (i.e. my various relatives) often give me suggestions for blog posts. Something funny happens while we’re on vacation together — “you should write about this”. Some other fiasco occurs several seconds later — “add this to the story!” they squeal.

I recently received one such suggestion (though we were just out for dinner, not jet-setting around the world). I brushed it off, as I tend to — “please, I have plenty to write about without your help, thank you very much,” I thought. Then I got home and realized that while I do have plenty of ideas, I haven’t really gotten around to sharing them with you so much lately, dear people of the internet. And so, I bring to you to my dinner conversation from two weeks ago.

We were discussing a person whom I… dislike and want to avoid seeing. I believe these sentiments surfaced around the same time I was born — he is not a pleasant person to be around. (And no, not in a Mr.-Darcy-at-the-beginning-of-P&P kind of way, more in an weird-annoying-obnoxious-but-pretty-much-harmless-uncle kind of way. Anyways.)

“You’re still afraid of him?” my Post-Suggesting Relative asked.

“Well, it isn’t that I’m afraid of spiders” I said, “I just don’t like them.”

He was awed and shocked and impressed with my retort (as I hope you were) and suggested I write a post about this altercation. Cue eye roll and the rest.

Then I thought about it and realized the profundity of my retort. The post-worthiness of it.

All of life, it occurs to me, is just semantics. Our of understanding of the world, of ourselves and of others comes from the words we use and choose to think about them with. Effective communication depends on shared vocabulary, with words that have the same denotations and connotations to all parties. Unlike Newspeak in George Orwell’s 1984, modern English has a plethora of synonyms and sayings to choose from when we clothe our ideas in the words we think, say, and write.

The words with which you choose to express an idea give that idea different meaning than if you had expressed it in other words.

Thus, when I decide against something, I’ve been trying lately to express my decision (to myself and others) it in a way that it is just that — a conscious decision. It isn’t that I can’t clean my room — it’s that I choose not to. It isn’t that I can’t write at a given moment — I’m choosing not to. It isn’t that I can’t break school rules — I choose not to.

The effect is the same, but the cause becomes different. And by identifying and naming the true cause, I gain accountability and responsibility. It becomes a choice, because in the story I tell myself about my life, I am aware that it is a choice.

The same seems to hold true everywhere. My brother made a rude comment over the summer that I shouldn’t be afraid to go jet skiing. I tend to be one for irrational fears, and I was often teased for them in childhood. (Of course, it seems as though my siblings will never stop teasing me.)

But this time I had a rebuttal. I explained to my charming younger brother that I’m not afraid to jet ski. I’ve simply done it already and did not particularly enjoy it. Since it’s supposed to be for fun and I don’t find it to be such, why would I do it? So I choose not to.

Again, nothing actually changed, aside from the words through which I looked at the situation and therefore my entire perspective of the situation. And realizing this was so freeing. It took me from I can’t to I’m choosing not to. “And that,” as Robert Frost might say, “has made all the difference.”

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Thoughts on Time

In the style of The Waves by Virginia Woolf. Kind of.

Times plods on. It rushes, it streams onwards. An era, a year, a day that’s passed will never be again. Ever. Except for its shadowy vision that exists in the minds of its survivors, its victors. When they pass, when their memories are lost, it’s gone. Except for in the words that have attempted to capture it. But even it cannot fully live in those words as it lived in its time.

It is 6:03 pm on Tuesday March 5, 2013. It will never be this date and time again. Even as I write this, that moment disappears. Now it’s 6:05. And the hands of my watch move along, even as my fingers caress this keyboard. They’ll look the same in a mere twelve hours, but a different number will occupy the circle where the date resides. Everything — the rotation of the earth, the hue of the sky, my level of consciousness — will be changed. Except fo the position of the minute- and hour-hands on my dainty rose gold watch.

I will never have this moment in my head and hands and lungs again. There. It is gone. It has passed on to be hazed in the land of memory. It is replaced by a new moment, which will pass on in the next moment’s birth.

Every minute, every second a piece of my youth is buried without a eulogy. I am also reborn, each moment, older and wiser or younger and acting foolish. Just for the moment. And each moment is a choice. Often nothing changes between moments. They are fluid. They pass without informing me. But still, a piece of my life becomes the past, to make room for the present and future. If I learn from it, and release it, and let it.

And time slides on. It doesn’t notice this, any of this, because time cannot notice. It just slips and slides onwards, forwards, backwards. Into infinitude. Whatever that is.

And what about us. Me and you. Do we notice? We can, because we are not time. How do we spend these moments that we’ll never live through again? We choose how to spend each moment. And even when we do not choose, that is a choice. It is 6:28. 6:29. And now it’s dinnertime.

No One Else Cares About the Zit on My Chin

Today, like most days, one of my friend was freaking out about the way her face looked. She hadn’t put on makeup this morning and was pointing out an acne situation that was developing on her forehead.

“Oh good,” I said in response to her unmade-up face. “I also didn’t have time for makeup this morning.”

“Me neither,” lamented Friend Two.

“Yeah,” said Friend One, “but you look good without makeup.”

look good?” I asked.

I hadn’t even noticed Friend One’s lack of makeup or acne situation, because, if anything, I was too concerned with what was happening on my own face. I wasn’t looking at her forehead, because I was thinking about my own chin. I didn’t even realize that she had anything wrong with her face until she pointed it out — and she probably felt the same about my face.

Because, as I regularly realize, people are so focussed on their own flaws that they don’t tend to notice yours.

We notice and are quick to laud each other’s positive traits — a perfect shade of lipstick, matching minute accessories, a new pair of earrings — but unconsciously brush over each others flaws. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy fixating on our own flaws, but maybe it’s just because no one cares as deeply about your appearanceas you do. While I spend plenty of time in front of a mirror, over-analyzing each of my perceived flaws, it’s not as though that’s what my friends do that with my face.

That isn’t to say that you can just look like a slob and no one will notice, but I don’t think people notice as much as we think they do. And people, especially the girls you see everyday and are therefore pretty good friends with, aren’t judging you as harshly as you’re inclined to judge yourself.

A similar thing happened at my prom last June. Most of the girls had gotten their hair curled 0r the like and by the end of the (humid and then rainy) evening curls were falling, straightened hair was getting frizzy and girls were stressing. In the bathroom a girl I wasn’t even really friends with was flipping out about whatever was wrong with her hair.

I told her that it looked fine to me and that everyone else was concerned with their own hair-related-crises so no one was even looking at her hair. She thought about this for a few seconds and then quickly resumed her composure. Hmmm, her face said, that actually makes a lot of sense.

So sometimes I sit in class, wishing I’d either woken up early enough to deal with the distaster I call my face or at least brought some concealer to school. And then remember the prom incident and get over myself. Because most of the time I’m the only one one who’s judging me.

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