Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"The most exhausting thing is being insincere."

Who are we?

Based on all of the experiences and relationships we each have had and have, I believe that while we are all unique, we are puttied together by all of the people who surround us. This brings up two ideas I have often thought about: mimicry and disguise.

When I was in grade school, I had a friend who copied a lot of the things I said, wore, and did. I would get so frustrated and end up talking to people about how she didn't have a mind of her own. Then one day, as I complained directly to the girl at her own house, her mom said to me, "Jennifer, you should take it as a compliment. She copies you because she likes what you do."

As a second-grader I didn't initially have this positive outlook, so she was able to change my perspective for a bit. But I was still annoyed. 

I've always marveled at the sight of a group of girls at school or the mall who are dressed the same way and essentially look the same to me. I imagined them as brainless clones who were anything but individual. But when people act and dress alike, there is a sense of belonging and togetherness. Sometimes,it's not that they can't think for themselves, but that they share something and thus, "mimic" each other. I don't know that I will be completely accepting of girls who wear matching outfits to the mall, but I hope the synchronization is due to something other than a Queen Bee giving directives.


Next on my plate: disguise. As we are a product of our surroundings, it is hard to not try and camoflauge into them sometimes. I find myself accommodating to meet the needs and interest of other people, almost subconsciously. But when I change the way I act because of the person I am with, am I losing pieces of myself?

Recently, I had dinner with a friend who has certain rules she lives by and I caught myself trying to live by them too, but only for the moments that we were together. I arrived to the cafĂ© earlier than she did, but I didn’t want to order my dinner yet, so I figured I would start with a drink. As I was already highly-caffeinated from the workday, I voted against coffee. The obvious choice then was beer. I thought to myself, “Does she still drink beer? What will she think of me? Will she think I’m unhealthy?” Then, instead of doing what I might have in the past (ordered water or tea instead based on the idea she would judge me), I decided to go for the beer. To heck with it, I thought.

Then my friend showed up and saw that I had a yummy beer and said she too wanted a yummy beer. And there went all of my preconceived notions and anxieties. She was going to drink beer too. So then I felt glad that I didn’t sell myself short and try to impress her with water and hydration. But it was still in the back of my head that I even thought about it.

Have you ever done something or not done something because of the person and circumstance you were in? Do you think this is selling yourself short?

Part of me thinks yes, under every circumstance you should be yourself. Part of me thinks you can let certain parts of you show and let certain parts of you rest depending on the situation. Then I wonder, who am I? Maybe the part of me that filters my behavior and speech for specific situations is part of who I am. Or maybe it’s a front.

I'm curious to know other people's thoughts on this--they can have a hand in puttying me together.

Another thing about me is that it pleases me to please other people.


Monday, June 27, 2011

The grass is greener on the other side.

Sometimes I feel disgruntled about where I live. I want to live in either Minneapolis or St. Paul, right in the middle of the action. I would be closer to most of my friends. I would be closer to good restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and stores. I would be in a central location where any of the suburbs were only a short distance away.

I could bike on bike paths that span cities. I could run around big lakes. I could run across the Stone Arch Bridge like I used to when I was in college. I could stay out and not have to sleep at a friend's place, but in the comfort of my own bed.

But then, at my house in the Northern 'Burbs, I look out the window, and this is what I see:

Notice the cute bird.
Then my coordinates don't seem so bad after all. One day, I'll get to the city. Until then, I'm going to appreciate the beautiful colors of the sky; the grass is pretty green on my side.

Friday, June 24, 2011

"The better part of one's life consists of his friendships."

I’ve fallen in love again.

This time, it’s with everyone. I have always loved being around a lot of people and at the same time, have loved being alone. But at this stage in my life, I don’t want to be alone. Not because I’m afraid of me or of being bored, but because I can’t get enough of everyone. This might scare you; as a reader you are probably my friend, one whom I've just declared love for.

Friends are amazing because they support you when you are down. They support you when you are up. And they support you when you just are.

People are social creatures. We like to spend time with other people, belong to various groups and networks, find companions and live as families. I plan to research this but for this post's sake, will politely take a rain check.

This is a picture of friends.
I don't know any of them...but they seem fun.

Too often we find ourselves in the situation where we haven't seen someone we care about or would at least like to spend some time with, for months or even years. I am guilty of this and am officially declaring an end to the practice of letting that much time pass before reconnecting. It is an especially difficult reality to face (that you've neglected a relationship) when the person in mind is in physical proximity.

On reconnecting with those who are nearby
This idea came to light when I had dinner last night with my girlfriends from high school. I see them from time to time, some more than others, but when we're all together and having fun, it's just like the old times, but with more wine. I have a soft spot for nostalgia. I often want to be in junior high or high school or college or studying abroad for another day. Since that isn't entirely possible, I can focus on living in the moment, which often feels like much of the happiness I've experienced before. These girls and I have grown together-from wearing slap bracelets to wearing engagement rings.

On reconnecting with those who aren't so nearby
I decided today to go through my phone book and send a text to some people that I hadn't talked to in a while, just to see how they were doing. One friend responded that it was "so good to hear from you" and that made those 5 seconds of texting SO worth it. All of the people I text seemed pretty happy about it. This goes to show that a few seconds or minutes of your time can make a difference in a relationship. It definitely brightened my day.

On reconnecting with those whom you have hurt or who have hurt you
I recently reconnected with a college friend whom I had many disagreements with in the past. But as time passed and ill-feelings faded, I found that there were indeed things that I liked about her. I used to say, "If I don't have enough time for the friends I really want to see, then I shouldn't use the time I do have with her." I've remolded my outlook to first, not be so rude, and second, to decide that people are people and they usually have good intentions.

I also lost touch with another friend from college. We had a less-than-perfect ending and for the past year have text and facebook messaged each other to attempt a rendezvous. It finally happened a couple of months ago and it felt so great to catch up. I will make a conscious effort to keep it going and not have to use the phrase "catch up." We have had too many experiences and memories to not continue them.

My sister was struggling with whether or not she should befriend someone from her past that she felt she had wronged. I told her that the worst outcome would be that the girl would deny the friendship request (interesting how facebook has shaped our lives). The girl accepted the request and I have a feeling that this is only flowing to a better place than where they were before.

On what you can do
I challenge you to make a change in your social realm. Maybe you are a butterfly and you don't have any enemies. But I bet there are at least some people that you would talk to more, given the time and opportunity. Here is your time and here is your opportunity. Send a message. Make a phone call. Make a date. Do something, anything. 

There is a thing called the internet and a thing called a telephone and used separately or together, they have super powers.

I'm in the process of mending what I thought were broken bridges. Turns out, a lot of things can be repaired with an apology, an invitation to make things right again, and perhaps some Gorilla Glue.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one that led me to my campsite.

Sorry Robert Frost, I'm just not that poetic.

I went camping this past weekend for a day with some friends and family at Lake Maria State Park in Monticello, Minnesota. Even though the park wasn't far out of the cities, once we arrived, I felt like I was in a whole new world.

We hiked up to our camp site which a little less than a mile in. It was raining and we weren't sure what to do, but we sucked it up and set up camp. I have a hard time not doing a whole lot, which is what we started off doing. I like to be busy, writing, reading, watching, doing. So when I had to sit and not do anything, it was a little stressful. We had to make a second trip to the car and even though it entailed hiking through a mosquito-infested forest, I was relieved. I wonder what this says about me?

After all was good in the parking lot world, we headed back in and began to practice our skills on the slackline. There are some weird notions of slacklining (that it's pretentious, for hippies, etc.) but to me, it was just challenging and really fun. I started off being able to take a few steps, but as the night went on I progressively got worse. No, I do not attribute this to drinking wine.

We enjoyed some beer and wine, bagged macaroni and cheese and brats. I was intrigued by all of the camping gear I saw and I immediately wanted to own a 7075-T6 hard anodized fork too. The shopaholic in me (hey, at least I admit it) was excited to go to REI and procure some camping goods. Now I know I need a headlamp, sleeping pad, bowl and utensil, hammock...the list could go on and on. At least I'll be able to take advantage of my membership benefits that I got sucked into last year.

I was miserable for parts of the day. I wasn't excited about the mosquitoes. I thought it was too hot. Then it was too cold. Then I had to sleep on the hard ground. But the parts that made all of that worth it were: (Here she goes making a list again...)

Spending time with family and friends
Making s'mores around the fire
Sitting in a hammock
Attempting to balance on the slackline
Hiking in the woods
Spotting a firefly wonderland in the meadow

Nature truly is moving, especially when it is still. I saw one, lone yellow leaf in a vast arrangement of green and it struck me as beautiful. I tried to find where it came from, to see if there were other yellow leaves anywhere, but there were not. In a way, I felt like that yellow leaf: that I somehow belonged there, but didn't at the same time.

One of my favorite parts of the trip, and it happened in the very last hour we were there, was my brother-in-law singing, "There's a skeeter on my peter, whack it off." (Imagine it to the tune of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands" or "She'll be coming 'round the mountain when she comes").

As we trudged out of the camp site, batting mosquitoes, we were all humming that little tune in our heads.

"Any man can be a father, but it takes a special person to be a dad."

Father's Day brings up a lot of different thoughts and sentiments. We've been honoring our mothers with a national holiday for some time now, but it was only in 1972 that President Nixon made Father's Day an official, national holiday. With good reason.

The first thought person that comes to mind is my own dad. I don't mean to brag, but he truly is an extraordinary person. So extraordinary, that the Minnesota History Center has made him part of their Oral History Project where they've interviewed influential figures in Minnesota and published the stories to remain in their library for at least a century.

My dad was born and raised in Bac Lieu, Vietnam. After his dad passed away when my dad was only 14, he left the countryside and headed to Saigon to find work to support his family. He luckily met my mom there and says that they flirted here and there but since he traveled around to follow work opportunities, they didn't start a relationship. My mom wouldn't have any of that and kept her eye on him until they were finally together.

My parents left Vietnam around the time of the Vietnam War (or the American War as it's known in VN) to go to the U.S. They took a ridiculously small boat, packed full with other refugees and ended up in Palau Bidong, Malaysia, where my oldest sister was born. After over a year, they finally made it to the States and were sponsored by a family in Iowa. My dad, in an effort to get out of his construction job in the cold, headed to Minnesota to find work. (I don't think he read any weather reports...). He started out as a tool crib attendant in a machine shop, and eventually became more interested in the field so he took classes on machining, became a machinist, became a manager, started his own small branch of the company, and then became the owner years later. My dad is an extremely hard worker. He always keeps his promises, will do anything to get his work done (even sleep at work) and never complains about it.

I couldn't walk a mile in his shoes, but I sure would like to follow in his footsteps.

The other thought I have today is how fortunate I am to have my dad around. I know a lot of people (too many) whose dads have already passed away. It makes me so sad to think that they can't celebrate this day as most people can. But then I think, they can. It's a special day to excavate all of the great memories they have had with their dads and to honor them. I have a feeling they are still with us in some small and big ways. 

I saw a Father's Day facebook status that was a heartbreaker: "If Heaven wasn't so far away, I'd pack up the kids and go for the day."

My love goes out to all of these people and I wish their hearts peace.

Happy Father's Day, dads.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth...not going all the way, and not starting.”

I have been on a quest for happy for much of my life. It seems almost ridiculous that a 24-year-old has anything to say about "much of her life," but it's true. When I was little, I would answer the standard "what do you want to be when you grow up?" question with a non-standard answer, "happy."  I like to think I was beyond my years in answering this way, but part of me feels a little sad for the younger version of myself. How was I not happy? I didn't grow up in foster care, I didn't battle any chronic illness, I wasn't in a bad financial situation, and I had, for the most part, what I needed.

Yet, I knew there was something more. And I still do.

I've read some of the books about happiness, peaceful living, de-stressing, etc. but it wasn't until I recently read The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin that I felt real inspiration to make resolutions and change my life for the better.  

I spent many days of my past feeling that life wasn't fair and that I was missing something or missing out on something. These days, I feel happy a lot of the time. My aim is to increase the size of that particular slice of pie and feel happy most of the time.  I know that down time is inevitable, and some balance can be healthy, but I want to feel happy and I'm going to.

Part of the reason I am sharing my thoughts is to foster happiness since I really enjoy writing. I've been thinking about what I could blog about for a long time, and since I really have come up with nothing but can't resist the urge to write, this is what I have come up with.

Things that make me happy
Listening to music (Then, seeing it live)
Puppies (I'm human)
Traveling (Everywhere)
Reading (Mostly fiction, some business nonfiction...)
Watching baseball (Twins)
Drinking beer (Mostly Belgians and wheats)
Running (To get rid of the Belgians and wheats)
Making lists (How could you tell?)
Writing (Really, how could you tell?)
Shopping (Like it is my job)
Practicing yoga (It helps my mind)
Taking photos (Canon S95 gets it done)
Scrapbooking (I am a grandmother in training)
Watching television (I'm not ashamed)
Justifying things (By putting explanations in parentheses)

These are undoubtedly some of the things I will write about. Some more than others, and some in happy matrimony with each other.  For example, watching baseball and drinking beer are almost the same thing. However, I don't call it "drinking beer" if you're buying $8 Miller Lites.

Anyway, this is about the greater picture of happiness. It's also about the little things in life that make me happy. Robert Brault captured it perfectly - "Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."

Here is to the little things that make up the big things. (TWSS).