The Popularity Contest

Photo by MChe Lee on Unsplash

Sometimes becoming a writer feels like walking into the first day of junior high all over again. There are cliques and groups in all the spaces a writer exists; Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. You are constantly trying to enter these spaces, learn the ropes and gain a following. 

Are you popular enough for people to read your thoughts and creations? Can you be funny, original or outrageous? Are you relevant? You feel the need to be all things in all spaces. You feel guilty if you don’t want to partake in the newest social media platform. 

For me, the idea of doing video snippets, whether in the form of IG reels or TikTok is horrifying. One, I might have to do my makeup every time, and that isn’t happening. Two, I’m not that entertaining. Three, I have stage fright. 

TikTok is the club I really don’t have an interest in joining. I’ll leave that space to the cool kids.

You know that cliched dream of showing up to school naked? Putting your thoughts and ideas out for everyone and their mother to read isn’t too far off. You are exposing the deepest and most vulnerable parts of your soul. Of course, that’s if you even get people to see and read what you’ve created. 

It’s the great dilemma, wanting people to read and connect with your ideas but also feeling embarrassed and terrified of others reading your pieces. Will they judge you, make fun of you, dismiss you? Or worse, what if you write it and no one reads it? What if no one cares? 

It’s a popularity contest, the adult version, and I might just end up sitting alone at the lunch table.

I know I can’t possibly be the only one that feels that way, and that’s why I keep putting myself out there. No one ever created anything worthwhile by being afraid. Every great writer started somewhere. Even if what I create is considered mediocre, at least I will have tried. I got up everyday with intention and hope. I did what made me happy. 

Please know, if you are putting yourself out there you will always have a spot at my table.

Now, if I could just remember the combination to my locker.

You Can’t Judge a Ship By Its Sail

One of my favorite activities at the lake is watching the sailboats. Once the breeze picks up in the late morning or early afternoon they come out in droves. If conditions are right, races take place on the weekends.

I grew up in the middle of cornfields in Illinois. I don’t know how to sail and I’ve never been on a sailboat but the mix of color on the little sunfish boats jumbled in with the tall and regal MCs creates the perfect visual display to watch while seated in my Adirondack on the deck.

To my ignorant eyes, the race appears to be a free-for-all with no rhyme or reason to the course. Each boat seems to be traveling within arms reach of colliding into another. From the shore there is no way of knowing which boats are winning and which boats are losing. I have no knowledge of sailing, no knowledge of race etiquette and it makes no sense to me. 

From the shore it’s a beautiful disaster.

But to the sailors on the course everything is as it should be. They turn and weave to avoid danger. When the wind falls out of their sails they make the proper adjustments. They understand where they are in the race. They are familiar with the course and know the rules of  conduct. 

They steer their vessels with confidence and skill. 

And so it is for each of us in life. What may look like chaos and disfuncion to the stranger on the  outside may actually be perfectly under control. Where one may see danger others see freedom. What one sees as strange or foreign may be normal for others. 

Just as I don’t need to understand sailing to appreciate its beauty, I don’t need to understand the lives of others to appreciate them. I don’t need to understand something to see the beauty and value in it. I can never understand the whole picture from the shore. 

How many times have we judged another for the course they were charting. How many times have we questioned the direction someone was headed? How often have we scoffed at the results of someone’s journey? How many times have we dismissed others without knowing the details and nuances of their life?

Only those in the race can know how to best pilot their ship. We need to trust they know their way.

Stay Flexible

Photo by Jaric Swart on Unsplash

Fads come and go, social tastes wax and wane. We can clench our fists and rail against the tides of change, we can lament the way things used to be or we can be grateful for the continued march of progress. Instead of digging our heels in and holding tight to the past we can look forward and embrace a better humanity.

Stay flexible.

The world remains static for no one.

The most unique human quality is the ability to grow and learn. By our very nature we are meant to reassess and progress. Happiness will never be found in demanding others remain entrenched in the past with us chained to the way it has always been done. Freed to search for a better way we become lighter.

Stay flexible.

Flexibility and adaptation are the secrets to the fountain of youth.

Not all tradition needs to be forgotten, but when it no longer serves us we need to release ourselves from its grip. Doing something just because it’s the way it has always been done is not good enough.

Stay flexible.

Rigid dogma is not a recipe for a lifetime of living.

The opposite of flexible thinking is stuck thinking. Being stuck in our life, being stuck in our growth, being stuck in our anger is no way to live life. The only things we have full control of are our own thoughts and behaviors.

It is up to us to practice flexible thinking.

When someone doesn’t follow our expectations, can we understand where they are coming from?

Can we challenge our long held beliefs?

Can we learn to hold two competing thoughts and not see the world in only absolutes?

Open yourself to new experiences and new ideas. Reach out of your comfort zone. Welcome a life with less stress and greater optimism. You can be part of a better future or you can remain part of the fading past.

The choice is yours.

Take Your Time Growing Up

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Last night my youngest was upset that he still needed me in his room at night to tuck him in. He felt bad that he still worried about monsters under the bed, even though he knew such a thing did not exist. I asked him why he was upset, I didn’t mind being there for him. He told me he was the only fourth grader that still wanted to be tucked in, that he shouldn’t still need me.

My child is nine. 

At nine he was distraught because he still needed his mother. 

I don’t think anyone actually told him they don’t get tucked in, and I’m pretty sure no one made him feel bad about this. He is like his mother, he begins thinking about things and spirals down from there. 

What I do wonder is where he got the idea that by nine he should be able to handle all the things on his own. Where is he seeing the push to grow up as fast as possible? Why does he think it’s a bad thing to just be a child and receive the support he needs from his parents? 

What’s the hurry?

Let’s make sure we aren’t asking our kids to handle too much too soon. It’s a delicate balance, guiding them towards independence and maturity while still leaving space for childhood. 

Let’s make sure they know when things are more than they can handle, there is no shame in turning to us for help. You are never too old to turn to your parents for guidance and support.

Let’s make sure they can face the monsters under the bed before we leave them alone in the dark.

Silver Lining

I’ve been sidelined again from running on the path in our neighborhood forest preserve. It’s one of the things that helps keep my head clear and my anxiety in check. I’ve been forced to slow down, to walk instead of run. I’ve tried to be pragmatic about it, to be grateful for what I can still do instead of annoyed by what I can no longer do. It’s only for a short period after all.

There has been a silver lining to this slow down. I’ve encountered hidden treasures on the trail I would have normally missed in my faster paced runs normally focused solely on pace and distance. I’ve seen fantastical coral color fungi the size of a large cauliflower head. I’ve witnessed the first butterfly of the season and discovered a yellow drenched meadow of flowers. I’ve been within reach of a feeding deer, oblivious and uncaring of my presence.

In the end I’ve gained so much more than I’ve lost. To my surprise, walking has been almost as effective at elevating my mood as running used to be. I’ve enjoyed many podcasts on my walks that have expanded my world view. In the music my mind has wandered, grabbing snippets of inspiration. This post itself was inspired by the song Silver Lining by Mt. Joy. “Take that silver lining and wear it close to your skin,” they suggested. 

Often we envision a worse outcome than what actually materializes. We are so singularly focused on the outcome, on the push to drive ourselves faster and better that we lose the best parts of life along the way. Instead, with each setback let’s look towards the silver lining.

Mug Shot

My favorite coffee mug is a lesson in personification. It holds the ones I love. It is worn down and imperfect. Life has made its lasting impact on the surface. Despite it no longer being new and perfect, it functions just as well and is just as capable. Its value doesn’t come from perfection but from the love and memories it holds. 

It is irreplaceable.  

As I grow older I realize that like my favorite mug, I don’t need to be perfect to have value. My parenting doesn’t have to be perfect to be valuable. My writing doesn’t have to be perfect to be worthy of creating.

We can all be useful and capable despite being worn and imperfect. We can be loved and valued not in spite of our imperfections, but because our imperfections carry a lifetime of growth and knowledge. We are uniquely us because of all we have been through.

We are irreplaceable.

We are perfect, imperfections and all.

It’s OK, Make a Mess

Facebook memories get me every time.

I could get lost in photos of the past. Seeing random moments of my babies, captured and returned to me, sends me off down the rabbit hole of memories reaching out to bring anyone nearby down with me. 

The photo with this post is one of my favorites. It was one small mess in the millions of messes created in the home of a toddler and preschooler. I’m not known for my stellar memory, ask my husband, but this day I can relive again and again in 8K clarity.

Still early in the morning, I had been upstairs getting my little one ready for the day; diaper changed and dressed. As I came downstairs and turned the corner into the kitchen I was greeted by my happy big kid surrounded by half a box of spilled Cheerios, an open refrigerator with a chair in front, and a gallon of milk sitting open on the formerly clean floor. 

I’m not proud of my first thought, I didn’t need to start the day with this. I’m grateful that before my mouth could give voice to my brain my buddy spoke up, giddy with pride. “Mom, I made my own breakfast, all by myself!”

How could I crush his spirit? 

I sat my toddler in his highchair and tossed him a handful of the Cheerios that remained in the box to pacify him. I swallowed my anxiety over having to get everything cleaned up and smiled. I told my oldest how proud I was that he could make his own breakfast, that he was such a big kid and he did a great job. 

It was a small moment in time, but for my child it was his greatest achievement. In this moment he gained independence and confidence. This was his first attempt at self-reliance and he was successful. 

From that day forward, he continued to make his breakfast and I taught him how to do it with a bit less disaster. When my little one was older, my big kid would get him breakfast too. With that little bit of work, trust, and confidence, I eventually got to sleep in. Glorious, I know.

It has been eight years, and now, instead of a mess of crushed cereal on the floor, there is occasionally a plate of scrambled eggs with avocado and goat cheese delivered to me in bed with my coffee made just the way I like it, lots of sugar and cream. 

Don’t worry, I’m not perfect. Just this morning I lost my mind over the dishes laying around in my now tween’s room and the mess he left behind after making his own fruit smoothie. We won’t always turn disasters into learning experiences. Today I had to apologize and remind myself that growing up is messy. 

It is in the mess our kids learn to grow. 

Only in the mess can they practice the skills they need to become the independent people we want them to be. So, let them make the mess. Let them try on their own sometimes. I know it will mean more work, I know it will take more time.

I promise you though, the rewards will be great, because what parent doesn’t deserve breakfast in bed?

Last Words — Heartland Society of Women Writers

By Jill Robinson You’re so beautiful: The last words he ever spoke to her, not that he knew who she was anymore.  As his memories slowly dispersed, like dandelion seeds in a soft summer breeze, his love for her remained.  The young child she brought to visit, snow white hair and deep blue eyes, almost familiar, a vision in […]

Last Words — Heartland Society of Women Writers

Share Your Voice

Walking through the forest preserve last week I found this little nugget of wisdom and encouragement. While I don’t know the exact intent the creator had in mind, it seemed placed in just the right spot at just the right time.

I now belong to the community of writers. Most of us are unknown. You haven’t read our work, you don’t know our names, but we are writers just the same. 

We would love to find success and praise, but it’s not why we write. 

Some days our posts go unnoticed. Not everything we create goes viral. We submit and are rejected time and time again.

We would love to make a living off our creations, but it’s not why we write.

Often we are told by others what we are doing doesn’t matter. Some days we tell our own selves what we are doing doesn’t matter. If we don’t see the engagement we want we get discouraged.

We would love to be seen and encouraged, but it’s not why we write.

We have stories that need to be told and thoughts we long to share beyond our own noisy heads. We create art on the page and throw it out into the world hoping it connects with someone along the way. We share our voice, our experience, our hopes and our pain to make the world a better place.

This is why we write.

Share your voice.