"Oh, the fear I've known, that I might reap the praise of strangers and end up on my own. All I've sung was a song. Maybe I was wrong"
- Indigo Girls, "Language of the Kiss"
The nature of our interests, of a persona that comes with ease after stepping out into adventure, future goals, and even the opportunities our jobs present often make up the identity that everyone sees. My work entails making quick connections - there one week and gone another. We connect and let go, can start up a conversation with anyone, get dinner and drinks and those light conversations lead to meaningful ones, and the "road family" forms, but we still go back to our hotel rooms to pack our bags and take our flights. Onwards to the next city, the next event, the flurry of planning and frequent flyer miles, finding a ride, booking a hotel, connecting with that friend in town.
It feels vital to have a high motor and a heavy foot on the pedal. When a week of work ends, it is always followed by endless strings of yes'. Yes, I'll meet up with you. Yes, I'll go on that trip. Yes to dinner and lunch and coffee and a walk. Yes to that talk and catching up. Yes to drawing that logo and editing that video and taking those pictures. Yes to trying to get the books published and putting more photos out and to trying to take time for myself. Yes, to burning the candle at both ends.
I didn't used to be such a yes person. Sure, it was yes to volunteering or helping, sports and fraternities, adventures and jobs, but it was no to attention. No to meeting up. No to dates or new friends. Definitely no to conversations. I was called out on this by my brother who noticed I never talked about the things I did, specifically about adventures that people were curious about and I wanted to make an impact with. Frankly, I've never enjoyed a spotlight of any kind. I love the action; the life lived out in movement and purpose, but it bores me to death talking about it. More so what bothers me is the common theme of doing things to get attention. I see how it could be easy to get obsessed to solve other people's problems to look good, to write as an addict to blog comments and shares on Facebook, to take photos for the number next to the little heart instead of the beauty of the art itself and the process I love so much of creating.
Due to Instagram, a lot of people don't even know or remember my last name, and I can't say that I mind it. It's a degree of separation and also a degree of "I'm doing it!". It's easier, isn't it, to impress people in these little moments. So many of us, if we're honest, flock to this network of likes that trickle across social feeds into a lifestyle representation which becomes us. I struggle with this, with the attention, with putting out this post or sending books into editors because putting out work feels like connecting the world with a persona rather than a person. I'm not diving into full disclosure or creating some fictional character; I'm just saying I don't know or have forgotten how to navigate this.
The struggle especially comes from the moments where professional meets personal. Where the stage turns into the sidewalk, and you meet an old friend or a new stranger. It happens at home when I'm with anyone but my closest friends or when someone asks "So, what do you do?". Truthfully, I've lied before about what I do and how I live my life because, at that moment, I don't want them to see me for what I do but for who I am in front of them. In these same breath's I'm wondering if this is an injustice. Maybe they need the me who does do things. Maybe it'll help.
These product-meets-personal moments often come in the form of messages or conversations out of the blue from people who've been paying attention. They're wake up calls to what is going on in the world around me. Not all messages or conversations have been nice. I've been told I'm wasting my life, it's futile to try and help the homeless, it's dangerous to live life on the edge or even to kindly buck the authority of conventional life. They are, however, usually flattering, and sometimes extremely humbling.
She wrote me about being brave and inspiring and knowing what to say and when to say it. She said my adventurous life gave her hope. She told me how watching me made her feel empowered which helped her with leaving a physically abusive relationship. I was immediately happy because domestic abuse holds a close place in my heart and she has kids and knowing they were no longer in that situation relieved me. And then I was struck with guilt because I'm coming off a week where I didn't feel brave, I didn't feel tough, I didn't feel empowering or special or like I was giving hope.
A long time ago I started asking for more out of life, for adventure, for justice, for hope, and along the way it became normal. I moved, a lot, and people liked me everywhere, but I've usually moved on again before they have the chance not to like me. Giving off that glowing persona is easy. I'm good at the fast and quick life. Cancer catalyzed my "leave a quick impact" attitude where I roll through to create moments and become memorable. It is one of my attributes I'm proud of. Living life like this is special, leads to stories, and instigates people to suck the marrow out of life rather than only ask for the meat on the bone. Tattooed on my left ankle is an image of a lightening bolt, a reminder I got when going through cancer treatment that you need not be somewhere long to leave a memorable impact. Be kind to the stranger in the waiting room while you wait to get blood drawn. Talk with the campsite next to you and drive them up the road to the bakery where there are the best almond croissants, write the note, fly across the country to sit in the room with your friend going through chemo, bike across the state, give the money, take the trip... the yes' come fast and heavy.
I'm good at the fast pace, but what I struggle with is when life asks me to say yes to ONE person rather than the crowd, or how to be confident when a person isn't looking to be impressed, and when to stay and when to go. How to be intimate with yourself and how to sit across the table from someone without getting too worried about what they are thinking or being tempted to ask "Why don't you like me as much as everyone else likes me?", that's brave to me.
We have a hard time with the real. With braveness when it comes in the form of being looked at in the eye. I struggle to move on and let go. I struggle with the most with my history, and with the exhaustive and resentful traits about my personality. That's where I look up to those around me.
So, to the beautiful soul in the girl who walked out of that abuse and took her kids with her, to the wife who found out her husband has cancer, to the kid who has no family and is afraid to but wants to his hometown and asks for a better life, I look up to you. I look up to those who are brave right where they already are. I admire you who are strong when life isn't canyons and snow and lakes and mountains.
This life often leads to the wake-up calls I need, forcing me to go nose to nose with struggles it becomes easy to avoid and challenges me to move away from the pressure to entertain and towards the fight to live genuinely. This is a bear trap around the spoils of quick love, of being admired, of hugs and coffees, travel and art. In a world where it's easy to start a conversation, I want to learn how to stay in it, move through it, not have to always communicate lest I get uncomfortable. Life is better among a small tribe of people who truly know you. Fast love and art are for the masses. Heart and soul are for the intimate, slow going, and deeply connected but deeply complicated relationships that cut and weave their way through us like a river through canyons.
It's all right in front of us.