Sunday Reflection

Sunday Reflection – Success is a Spectrum

I’m not tech savvy enough to know exactly how computer algorithms work, but I do know my phone (and hence Google) pay a great deal of attention to every link I click. So I’ve started to see a number of recommended articles surrounding workplace culture and personal development. Which fits. I don’t love that I’m being stalked by a tech company, but in this case, they are at least somewhat accurate, and I do occasionally get some good recommendations out of it.

However, this past week the algorithm failed greatly when it suggested an article called “Why Most People Will Never Be Successful“. I’ve linked it here, because I try to be open about my sources, but I honestly don’t recommend it.

It essentially breaks down to, “I have a very narrow definition of success, everyone needs to be exactly this same way in their own lives, and if you waste time on anything not deemed hugely important by others, it’s your own fault for not having everything you want”.

I probably don’t have to specify the author’s demographics here. You already know.

At one point, I was tempted to write a line by line reason for why this article was so off the mark, but then I realized this gives it too much importance.

So some blowhard thinks he’s got special insight into success. So it just happens to fit with the way he lives his life. There’s a million more like him. Our society as a whole has a very narrow definition of what success is. It’s a extremely biased definition, that ignores real world challenges and difficulties for those not born at the pinnacle of privilege.

It’s frustrating, and yet it’s also tiresome to go ranting and raving about the obvious inanities of trying to define something as nebulous as success for the billions of humans in existence.

So for today, as one of those humans, who is trying, day by day, to dismantle all of the internal insecurities foisted on me by the culture in which I live, I just want to say this.

I believe that our success is up to us. I believe that you, and I, have inherent value that is completely separate from what we produce. I believe that a person being a good friend puts more value in the world than someone inventing an app that makes millions. I believe that others will always try to bring you down because they’re scared of their own inability to measure up. And I believe that there will come a day where we learn to drown out those voices and just enjoy being who we are, without tearing ourselves apart over who we one day could be.

What do you believe about success?

Sunday Reflection – Breaking the Illusion

I was scrolling on Twitter today (a bad habit, I know), and came across a few threads being written by artists. They were talking about how there tends to be this myth in art that using references (such as painting over photos, etc) is a form of “cheating”, and that “real” artists supposedly draw only from memory.

For more details on this myth, Arnie Fenner does a much better explanation of the issue and how it may have originated in his post Cheating.

These artists on Twitter were pointing out that reference use is actually really common, really helpful in creating art, and in fact, for some artists with disabilities, is a necessity.

And I suddenly felt incredibly sad. Because I remembered something.

When I was a teenager, I played around with drawing a little bit. I love all kinds of arts and crafts, and love learning to do new things. So I was practicing drawing, but doing it from reference – looking at other sketches, of flowers and plants, and trying to recreate them.

But somehow, without knowing it, I had internalized this idiotic message. I couldn’t even tell you where it came from or how I picked it up. But I completely dismissed what I did as “ok, but not real.” I didn’t keep doing it. I didn’t believe myself capable of the “real” thing, i.e. drawing from memory alone. Which I’m not, but turns out most people aren’t. It’s all an illusion.

I think what makes me sad is to realize that no matter how old I get, there’s always going to be more illusions I need to break through. More feelings of my own inadequacy that only come about because someone, somewhere, decided they needed to feel superior, and the way to do that was promote a false ideal.

Anyway, I’m going to go do some art now.

 

Sunday Reflection – What Makes Us Happy

There have been a lot of heavy moments recently. Well, to be honest, over the last few years. We all want to make an impact and fight for something better, and sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s still ok to play and laugh and find a way to focus on the small delights, to be in the moment.

And I think most of us know at this point that happiness isn’t a constant state or a feeling that can be forced into being, but rather occasional moments where we get to tap into something deeper and just feel…good.

So here are a few of my current small delights.

Nature

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year. There’s something about leaving the heat of summer, while still getting beautiful weather (mostly), seeing the flocks of migrating geese flying overhead, and most of all, watching the natural beauty of green fading into vibrant oranges and reds. This is the tree right outside my window, and in the shining sun, the leaves look like stained glass. Seeing this makes me happy.

A Community of Creativity

When you begin to embark on creative pursuits, you start to notice two kinds of people. Those who want to gatekeep, who think that writing or painting or dancing need to be done in a very strict and particular way to be legitimate. And then there are those who say, let’s throw these doors open, and welcome all who want to come in.

I want to be a door open kind of woman. And I like that I have friends who think the same way too. Today a friend posted the below online, and it was a reminder that I needed. Because it’s taken me time to get here, but I can call myself a writer. Because I write. It doesn’t matter if I get paid or not. It doesn’t matter how many views I get. I’m a writer.

Knowing that I can create, and that I have friends who support me unconditionally in doing so, makes me happy.

Other People’s Creativity

Confession – I’ve watched Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse three times in the last month. Partly because I’m a huge geek, and it’s a great superhero story with a great lead character, but in truth, it’s just such a beautiful movie. I just love looking at it. I love the thought that goes into each frame.

The below clip has over 9 million views on YouTube, and I’m not surprised. Each moment – Miles building himself up for the jump, the glass breaking due to his tension, and most of all, that breath-holding moment where the camera flips and you see him rise into his new life as he falls – it just blows me away.

It took hundreds of people working together to make this art. It’s amazing. And it makes me happy.

What moments make you happy? What are your small delights?

Sunday Reflection – Looking in the Mirror

Recently I had an epiphany about something in my personal life. It’s not something I’m ready to share, but it was a good reminder about how important it is to engage in self-reflection. I talk a lot about self-reflection in terms of leadership, and it is a vital component of any effective leader, but it’s also critical for all of us, in any dimension of our life.

We live in a very overwhelming world, and it’s often so easy to fall into the pattern of acting on impulse. And part of what can make self-reflection feel daunting is the idea that it takes a great deal of time and intention.

But the great thing about self-reflection is that it doesn’t actually take very much at all. Just a willingness to engage your own mind. A willingness to look at your own actions and behaviors, as well as the actions and behaviors of those around you. A willingness to let thoughts stream through your mind, without directing their flow.

And of course there are things that help. Solitude helps. Nature helps. Writing helps. Talking to trusted people helps. But none of these things are required. Just you, and the willingness to look in the mirror.

Sunday Reflection – Little Boxes

Recently, an actor promoting a TV show was asked about being in a Marvel movie, and he said he saw those films as being “for grown male nerd childs”. And when some Marvel fans got upset, he proceeded to double down and claim that is was just his “belief”.

Now, on one hand, this particular person is known for playing up the role of cynic for his career, and this is probably part of that.

On the other hand, I can’t help thinking about someone promoting the idea that it’s possible to believe that a certain kind of story or narrative is only “for” a certain group of people. Because to me that’s not really a belief.

You can believe that the stories in Marvel movies are underwritten, or juvenile, or silly. But can you really believe who an audience is?

This is something that’s a bit sensitive for me, as a woman who has long loved things that are considered to be in the male domain. And the truth is that women have always been interested in things like video games and action movies. But we were always told that it wasn’t “for” us.

I was catching up on Twitter and someone posted a fabulous story about introducing her 75 year old grandmother to playing Dungeons and Dragons. For those of you who are unfamiliar, DnD is a type of table-top role-playing game where a DM (Dungeon Master) plays the role of narrator and guides players through a collaborative make-believe scenario. It’s traditionally seen as part of the domain of the geeky and the young.

The granddaughter was marveling at how easily and quickly her traditional, non-English speaking grandmother took to role-playing, and how fully and happily she embodied her character of a forest-loving little gnome.

All of this is to say that I think anyone should be able to like anything that they want to like. That you can absolutely believe that something isn’t for you, but it’s a small-minded thing to believe that you can decipher who it is for. That you can see the inner workings of all people to know who is drawn to what.

It’s so easy to fall into stereotypes in this world, but we all should know better by now. A grandmother can like playing role-playing games, a Black woman can write comics, a gay man can direct an action movie, and a non-suffering artist can create a masterpiece.

Art is for whoever wants it. It’s not for the rest of us to decide.

Sunday Reflection – Gratitude Check-In

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude this week. Last weekend, I was struggling to tap into my feelings of gratitude, so it was interesting timing to see this interview between Anderson Cooper and Stephen Colbert. Both men have experienced a great deal of loss in their lives, and engage in a really fascinating discussion on suffering, faith, and humanity. I highly recommend watching the whole thing, but here’s a clip of what Colbert has to say about gratitude.

I can’t say that I completely agree with Colbert on the idea of being grateful for everything. In some ways that feels like a bit of a privileged position. However, I do really admire his perspective on finding the gift in what has been lost. It’s an objectively terrible thing to lose someone you love, and yet, it does enable us to tap into a deeper aspect of humanity. We can empathize and support one another if we understand that we are not the only one who suffers.

So today, I am grateful for conversations like this. I am grateful for people who are vulnerable and open. I am grateful for people who choose empathy and who use their empathy as a power for the greater good. And I am grateful for all of my experiences, good and bad, that have made me the person I am today.

Sunday Reflection – Finding the Balance

I haven’t done a gratitude post in a while, and I started to write one. But I got stuck.

Normally it’s a quick and easy post to write. I have so much to be grateful for in my life, and I do believe that gratitude is an important tool in dealing with the challenges of our current world.

And yet, today, I just couldn’t find the words.

A long time ago, I read a great book called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. It was around the same time that I first started experiencing serious anxiety, where the feelings would hit out of the blue. My natural inclination was to always push back at how I was feeling, to talk to myself about how ridiculous I was being. And it was this book where I first came across the idea that you didn’t have to fight your bad feelings. That pushing back just made the fight last longer. That you could acknowledge, accept, and just let them pass through. And it for me it works.

I do still forget, often, and need to remind myself to practice this. Even today, I was trying to force myself to write something about gratitude. I was telling myself to push through the hesitation. But like all feelings, I think having a day where I just don’t feel like being grateful is ok.

So often we minimize feelings to good and bad, but it’s really about degrees. About balance. All feelings have validity, and all feelings can be taken to extremes. But pretending they’re not there doesn’t help.

So today I got a gentle reminder that my feelings are ok. I’m accepting where I am, I’m letting the feelings pass through, and maybe next weekend, I’ll be ready for that gratitude.

Sunday Reflection – A Place for Kindness

“I wanted to show a projection of our own world that was kinder, show how much people can grow and the capacity with which people can love when they are not fearing for their lives.” 

  – Dan Levy, Interview with Entertainment Weekly, 6/9/19

 Last week, I was affected by watching a show I admired make an unfortunate storytelling choice. This week, I’ve been thinking about the antithesis to that.

So much of the media we consume has an obsession with “drama”. Tortured relationships, violent outbursts, people dying in horrible and unexpected ways.

I do believe there is room for all stories, and a wide variety of story types can have value. And yet, sometimes I wonder at why so few stories want to talk about kindness.

For sure, there is a great deal out there for children. The fact that Sesame Street is still on the air after fifty years shows that kindness still matters to people when it comes to what their kids consume.

But what about for us adults?

I quoted Dan Levy above, because when he created the TV show Schitt’s Creek (yes, that is the real name), he deliberately set out to tell a story where you would see LGTBQ people in a small town experiencing zero homophobia. In addition, his main characters, who started off in a fairly shallow place, have developed and grown to be better people just by learning to be a part of their family and loving each other.

From the success of shows like Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place, and Queer Eye, I think I’m not the only one starved for some representations of kindness and acceptance out there. Drama will always have a place, and shows like The Handmaid’s Tale still have something to say. But over time, I do hope that more creators and developers remember that there’s more than one way to tell a story. Not every couple needs to break up, not every child needs to be traumatized, not everyone needs a grim ending. Stories with the best of kindness, compassion, and love have value too.

What’s the best story you’ve read or watched about kindness?

Sunday Reflection – The Context of Stories

I’ve been thinking a lot about stories lately. For one, I want to get back to writing fiction (which I haven’t done since I was a teenager), and two, as I get older and consume more media, it’s hard to avoid noticing certain tropes, and the impact they can have.

Recently, I started watching the third season of one of my favorite currently airing shows. I enjoyed it because it had a strong female presence both behind the camera and on screen. It told women’s stories without feeling exploitative, and combined a realistic feel of drama with moments of empowerment for the characters.

And then in the most recent episode, the writers once again fell into the trope of “bury your gays”.

For those who are unfamiliar, the Bury Your Gays trope refers to the tendency for homosexual or bisexual characters to be killed off for the sake of “drama”. Although a character dying is not always inherently a problem, there is an issue when the majority of LGBTQ representation results in tragedy or death for members of that community. For a great many shows, there are very few gay characters, so when one is killed, it greatly diminishes representation. And in a real world where people are still killed for being gay, that kind of storytelling has an impact.

I’ve also seen multiple examples this year where women, particularly childfree single women, are killed in the service of men’s stories. They may be interesting and dynamic characters in their own right, but we don’t get to see how their story might continue, because a man needs to be reunited with his family, and that makes her expendable.

I think things like this are a good reminder that we often get so caught up in telling a story for its own sake, that we forget about the importance of context.

I saw an interesting talk by media critic Lindsay Ellis this weekend, where she discussed how language cannot be removed from the context of the culture from which it came. Just this week, people on Twitter had a fascinating conversation about the word “quite”, and how for Americans it means “very much so”, and for Brits it means “not so much”. The same word, different cultures, different contexts.

Stories are the same way. It would be lovely to think that you can just write whatever you want, and that it doesn’t matter. But it does. How you portray people matters. Who dies matters. Context matters.

Part of why I wanted to write this today is a reminder for myself. I have a lot of privilege. It would be easy for me to overlook that in wanting to tell an compelling story. But I think I’d rather give myself a much more creative challenge. To tell a story where I do think about context, I do think about impact, and I still manage to say something interesting.

Has a story ever lost you by relying on a trope? Do you think about context in the media you consume?

Sunday Reflection – What Makes a Leader?

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly what makes a leader. I think if you ask most people, they’ll say things like integrity, forthrightness, ability to inspire. And yet when we look at most of the people who are actually in positions of power, it seems like these kinds of qualities can be hard to find.

There’s a big disconnect between power and leadership. And I’m not entirely sure how we combat that, but I do think there is something deeply important about encouraging more people to see leadership qualities within themselves.

If you look at studies about leadership, most of us still picture the straight white man as the image of the leader. It’s not what we want to believe, but it’s still been reinforced in us our entire lives. Heck, just look at our current field of presidential candidates. White men have no lack of confidence in their abilities to be a leader. No experience? Doesn’t matter. No one knows who you are? Don’t care. No one wants you to join? Coming in anyway!

And yet somehow it’s the women candidates who are fielding the questions about likeability or “if the country is ready for them”.

I’m not saying to bring white men down (although some of them really should try a little self-reflection), but I do think we need to do more to bring everyone else up.

We need to embrace the image of a leader as so much more. Someone who is young, someone who is trans, someone who is plus sized, someone who speaks English as a second language.

And it’s not just seeing it in other people. We need to see leadership in ourselves. That our voice matters just as much, even when it feels like no one wants to listen. That our experience is valid, and can help make the path smoother for those behind us. That we know just as much, often more, than those who only care about power.

What leadership qualities do you have? What makes your voice special?

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