Digression #49: Old Dog, New Tricks

This is my dog, Addie.

She’s too smart for her (and occasionally my) own good, sweet, a little neurotic, and obviously very cute — more than once strangers driving through the neighborhood where we are walking have pulled over and rolled down the window to ask what kind of dog she is (an Australian Shepherd-Labradoodle, thanks for checking.) Side note: unless absolutely necessary, please try to avoid slowing wayyyyy down to talk to a woman walking her dog alone.

And I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging, but this dog really likes me. She sleeps at my feet and occasionally across my stomach and chest making it impossible to do anything but pet her. She waits in the same spot for me to say goodbye every morning, and then watches me walk to my car through the window. When I come home her head appears at that same window where it stays until she has to run for the door so she can meet me there as I open it. My dog likes to be around me, and she expects very little.

This isn’t to say that I neglect my dog. I give her attention (really, so much attention), feed her, take her to the vet, and buy her many toys at deep discount from Marshalls. But it is uncomplicated and without performance.

I’m a people-pleaser, and I can be a perfectionist. This means I’ve historically spent a lot of time trying to earn people’s approval, and yes, love. It is a lot of trying to be the most, best everything so that people won’t leave me, and it can be a breathless, distrustful, high-stakes way to live.

The other day I was experiencing the fairly-regular burst of gratitude at how cool it is to have a dog, to have my dog, when it occurred to me that there are people who also love me that way, but obviously with human-levels of intelligence and ability to take care of themselves.

There will always be people in my life with whom my relationship is transactional, and that’s okay. It’s a bad idea to be be vulnerable with and trust every person, but I think it’s also a bad idea to be vulnerable with and trust none.

I don’t need to be adored by all, but there are people who have proven to me that I can trust them to actually love me: my parents, my siblings, the friends who are patient enough to reassure me that this is the case. That if I treat them well, if I am kind and thoughtful and maybe buy them the occasional toy at Marshall’s, we’re cool, and I don’t always have to be waiting for the slip-up that wrecks it all or trying to achieve new levels of entertainment. And I trust that they know me well enough to know that any comparisons to my dog are the highest compliment.

I am starting to trust that maybe love can be unconditional. Maybe there are people who don’t love me because of what I know or can make or can say. Maybe the moments when I stop performing are not mistakes. 

And I hope that in return I can loyally cheerlead and comfort and get all excited when they walk into the room.

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Digression #48: Reversolutions

It’s the end of the first week of a new year, which means I bet you’ve read and seen and maybe even made a lot of New Year’s Resolutions, and that’s cool; they can be really useful. Change is good, but I also like not-change. And as a stubborn, system-bucking, free spirit (quit laughing. I break the rules, I break the rules all the time. There was a comma splice in that last sentence.) Here are some things I’m definitely not going to do in this coming year.

Start waking up earlier
It’s just not going to happen. At least for the foreseeable future, I am firmly remaining a person who wakes up as late as humanly possible to get where I need to go. I kind of admire the friends who really proactively get up at 5:30 to get extra stuff done, or at least I know I should admire them (I’m looking at you, Katharine). But the things is, I love sleeping so much, and I like being awake at night so much better. So yes my mornings are often a little harried, but I’m so far maintaining the facade of a responsible adult, and I’m on time 98% of the time, and that last 2% is well within the margin of error and completely not connected to my snooze button familiarity.

Maintain one adorable hard-copy planner
This is a self-delusion of which I’m finally letting go. For a long time I wanted so badly to start using one of the darling planners that would make me feel happy when I looked at it while putting my whole life together forever. I’ve never lasted longer than two weeks. This isn’t to say that I’m not organized. I run my life on an intricate network of checklists, notepads, apps, calendars, a mousepad with a weekly breakdown. Is it simple? No. Is it effective? Probably more than a planner that I lose constantly because it’s just a little too big for my purse.

Keep my keys in the same place
Like every other day I lose my keys right before I’m going to leave — always for a few frantic minutes, and always in one of the three or four obvious locations they end up every time. This is a stupid thing I see myself continuing to do indefinitely.

Stop buying pail pink/purple/pearl nail polish
I love buying nail polish, but I really love a good deal, and these shades are on sale all of the time. I look forward to several more instances of having to actually read the names of shades to make sure that I didn’t accidentally buy one I already had.

What are you refusing to give up? I hope it’s carbs. Never let go of carbs.

Digression #47: Come in, and know me better man

My dad loves Charles Dickens. As a homeschooled eighth grader I was assigned all 900 pages of David Copperfield. (“But you don’t have to read the 45 page introduction!”)

As you can imagine, my family is very familiar with A Christmas Carol. Dad has read it to us basically every year, and I’ve seen many, many different versions.

The best is The Muppet Christmas Carol, which my family watches every Christmas Eve.

If you spend enough time with a story, it’s easy to start seeing things through the lens of that narrative, so I’ve been thinking about the ghosts that visit Scrooge.

This charming guy above is the ghost of Christmas yet to come. He is quiet and unyielding with an aura of absolute doom. Dickens says that “Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.” He is the teacher handing back a test you know you failed. The boss who called you ambiguously, but seriously, into the office. He won’t answer your questions, but he’ll make sure you have plenty. He shows Scrooge a dark future, and offers no comfort, even when begged. Honestly, he’s a huge bummer.  

Over time, as I listened to the self-critical, doom-pointing, shaming voice in my own head, and absorbed cultural messages about fruitlessly trying to earn our way to perfection, it shaped the way that I view God until he became the ghost of Christmas yet to come. A silent intimidating figure following me around, pointing me towards my own downfall as I stand there helplessly waiting for the other shoe to drop. If this is the case, I should spend my life cowering like Scrooge is doing in the picture above.  

Fear of the great unknown crowds out truths like: Psalm 34:8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Proverbs 10:22 – The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it. Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.

This is a God who gave his life to save us from death, rather than condemn us to it, and it feels far more appropriate to compare him to the ghost of Christmas present. He is the life of the party. He is honest but caring, and he pushes Scrooge to really see and feel for the people around him. Warm and welcoming, when Scrooge first enters the banquet room where the spirit sits, he calls out “Come in! and know me better, man!” And naturally Scrooge can’t help but want to.


Digression #46: All I want for Christmas is…

Even though it feels like it was August last Tuesday, Christmas is just over a week away.  

For the first time ever my shopping is completely done already. What will I do without a December 23, incredibly foolhardy mall run? Only time will tell.  

Since I have some leftover gift-related time on my hands, I’ve been building a Christmas list of yet-to-exist dream items that I would really like.

Genuinely transfer-proof, non-drying, comfortable, matte lipstick.    
(Yeah this is the kind of superficial stuff that’s going to be in here, but it’s my imaginary list, and you can just take as a given that an end to war and poverty would be first if I had some kind of genie at my disposal.)
A lot of lipsticks claim to be all these things, but uh, those lipsticks sit on a throne of lies. 

The visual representation of disappointment on a Monday morning.

A dog shampoo that keeps her clean for a long time (like 10-15 years)
My dog is great, but she’d be the best if I never had to give her a bath again. She’d be pretty happy with this arrangement as well. 

Calorie-less Christmas cookies
I am not talking about something akin to those chalky  “chocolate vitamins” that don’t really succeed at being chocolate or vitamins. I want soft in the middle, brown at the edges. I want full flavor, full butter, full sugar. I want a week of eating cookies like pieces of popcorn out of bowls set out in every room of the house. 

A scent-changing candle
I hate to commit to one scent for the length of time it takes to burn through one of those giant candles. Somedays I might want my apartment to smell like a cupcake, others I just want to feel like I’m reading in an air-conditioned meadow, and sometimes I want one of those scents marketed towards single women who want to feel like there’s a nice smelling guy around — you know, scents with names like “flannel woodchipper” and “bourbon, bourbon, bourbon.” If I could keep things olfactorily interesting without having to buy eleven different candles at once, it would really make my day. 

Bangs that stay the perfect length
I am forever cutting my bangs a little bit too short and letting them grow a little too long for the simple reason that it’s impossible not to. Bangs are exactly the right length for like a four-and-a-half-hour period. Plan your big events and selfie-taking accordingly. 

All right, your turn. What’s on your dream list? Bring me all the things you think are too much to ask, and I’ll enable you by affirming that they aren’t. 

Digression #45: Blanket Statements

I’m learning to crochet. I needed something to accompany a steady December-diet of Christmas movies, so I asked my mom, who always has a project in progress, to teach me over Thanksgiving weekend. It’s a simple pattern with minimal counting, which I extra-appreciate. The night we started I couldn’t get the rows even, and when I handed it to Mom she claimed that she could feel all the tightness in my body transferred into the scrap of yarn (“now you know what I feel like all the time!” I said), but after I moved my shoulders down from around my ears, I got the hang of it, and it’s been going pretty well. It’s starting to look like a blanket. 

Writing has been frustrating recently, not for the first or last time. I’m revising, which lacks the excitement of drafting. All the issues I care-freely left myself to fix are now demanding that I fix them. Having made the most obvious changes, I’m down to the point where I see the broken parts but haven’t figured out how to restore them. 

I’ve been balancing the creative uncertainty with double crochets. I like the order. I know what it’s supposed to look like, each block contributing to the overall blanket. The results are predictable. As I work on a row, I can see how long it’s going to be and where it will end. But even with a pattern and a plan, I still feel like I’m the one making something. 

Draft 2.5 Lorien really hates draft 1 Lorien. So I stare at a word document, spinning my wheels. I rewrite scenes, and I wonder in some places if I’m making things better or just making them different, and I hang on to the glimmers where it’s starting to look like a book. 

Someday there will be a blanket on my bed (I wouldn’t curse anyone by gifting them my first attempt). I will be able to look at it and say I made that, and it is finished. It isn’t perfect, but it is real, and I’m a little warmer with it than without. 

Someday there might be a book in the folder currently titled “Karaoke Grandpa.” Despite my plotting and planning, it will not be as orderly and expected as the blanket, understanding a process doesn’t mean perfect prediction of the product. But maybe I will be better for learning how to make things that start with a pattern and things that do not, and knowing that creativity lives in both. 

Digression #44: A Cup of Cheer

December is finally here! I know some people think that it’s still too early for Christmas, but those people are wrong.

 I know I’m right because Hallmark has already been at it a full month, and there is no time like the present to get in the holiday spirit by watching people with picture-frame-model good looks fall in love over mugs of hot chocolate while decorating Christmas ornaments/gingerbread houses/gala venues. 

I’ve already  shared my genuine love for Hallmark and other made for TV  Christmas movies. This year, Hallmark alone released 37 new movies, so it seems like they’re going to need some script-writing help in the future. So here are five potential synopses for next winter (or maybe, like, August when they start playing them).

Christmas with Ewe
Wildly successful, Christmas-loving knitter Stacy leaves her extremely popular artisanal knits store to travel to a small island where she’s hoping to meet the man who raises the sheep that make her favorite yarn and find some inspiration for fresh new patterns. While there a surprise storm sweeps in, trapping Stacy on the island over Christmas. She knits inventive decorations to cover the town in warm Christmas spirit, reminding the grumpy but handsome shepherd what the holidays are all about, and of course, falling in love with her number one yarn distributor. 

We Tissue a Merry Christmas
Sylvia’s an interior designer who’s crazy about Christmas but so allergic to pine she can’t even light a fir candle. Arthur runs his family’s Christmas tree farm, but he’s over the holidays and wants to become an investment banker. When the two are thrown together to decorate a charity fundraiser for some kids or cats or something, they rediscover that Christmas is more than the tree, and that modern medicine has evolved to include allergy shots. 

The Gif of the Magi
Down on his luck graphic designer Henry is paying the bills as an animated gif designer for corporations, even though what he really wants to do is work on the time-travel themed video game he’s been dreaming up for years. Despite how hard he’s working, Henry finds himself unable to finish paying off the engagement ring that is his girlfriend’s Christmas present. With his development computer the only thing he owns of value, will he be forced to choose between his dream and his chance at love? 

The Christmas Writer
(Is the title weak? Yeah, but one of the actually-made movies this year was called Christmas in Love. They can’t all be Gif of the Magi). 
Annie writes Christmas romance novels eleven months of the year. By the time Christmas rolls around, she wants to be as far away from eggnog and hall-decking as possible. When her publisher sends her on a Christmas-party themed reading tour to boost sales, professional Santa and Annie’s travel buddy, Mark, shows an initially resistant Annie that maybe honoring Christmas all year long isn’t so bad after all. 

A Gluten-Free Christmas
Sad single dad Walter goes through the motions every December for his young daughter, Maddie. Shortly before Christmas Walter finds out that Maddie has celiac disease, leading him to order gluten-free Christmas cookies from lonely, over-worked baker Lauren, during which they butt heads in a very charming way. Despite having never met before, Lauren and Walter start running into each other in seemingly every corner of their town. Somewhere between the white elephant party, the cookie decorating contest, and something called an ornament toss, they help each other discover the true joy of Christmas once again, all without wheat. 

Don’t be surprised if next year when you curl up next to a fire with a cup of hot chocolate, you see these stories play out across your screens.  

Digression #43: Taking your self(ie) seriously

Several years ago I realized that a rather important generational and cultural skill had completely evaded me, leaving me a social media pariah who didn’t know how to use a filter.  That’s right, I couldn’t take a good selfie to save my life.  Fortunately my embarrassing skill gap didn’t render my front-facing camera useless forever because my little sister is an expert. 

Here she is
And here I am 

As you can see, the situation was dire. I’m still learning, and will likely never achieve “I need a ring light for my phone”-levels of selfie proficiency, but having received high marks in selfie-taking 101 (okay, it was pass/fail and I barely squeaked through), I’m ready to share some of those tricks of the trade with you, dear people of the internet. Use these on their own or in combination however you see fit. 

Find your good side
Think you don’t have one? Wrong. You do. Think they’re equally good? Also wrong. One is better. Don’t be afraid to pull a Mariah Carey if you’re dragged into a group selfie. 

Exhibit A: I have committed so hard I am basically hiding the right side of my face entirely. 

Hats (see also: scarves, sunglasses, intricate fans)
They take some of the pressure off your ability to make a face that isn’t dumb. 

Case in point: dumb face, but I bet the first thing you saw was that ridiculous felt hat I put on in the middle of summer. 

Always use up angles 
I’m sure you’ve heard before that less is more, and this is especially true when it comes to chins. The higher you raise that arm, the smaller your head looks.

I basically don’t even have one chin the camera’s up so high. (Bonus dog sighting!) 

Get a hand in there 
It provides interest and probably makes your nose look smaller or something. Plus it proves that you don’t have to hold the phone with two hands. 

“Ah good, my collarbone hasn’t gone anywhere.” 

Don’t look right at the camera.
Create some mystery. Make it seem like you are fabulous and interesting and in the middle of a conversation, but also snapping a picture of your own face. 

Don’t you want to know what’s happening on my right?  

That’s all you get for free. But if you want to keep up with the youths on instagram, the full class is well worth the price.