Today’s song is “Answer” by Phantogram on their album, Three.
It is what we owe each other. Not what you or I are owed: we are owed nothing.
Or at least that’s the way it should be.
I used to be bullied all of the time as a kid: I was called names, had garbage thrown at me, and had been threatened from time to time. In my adult relationships, I was verbally, emotionally, and physically abused. I used to absorb the hatred and blame myself. Now, I vow to take in hate and produce love like a tree takes in Carbon Dioxide and produces Oxygen. I give air for people to breathe to the best of my ability.
Gestalt theory states our whole perception is greater than the sum of its parts. If we apply this concept to society, shouldn’t we be greater than just the sum of individuals? Then, what the hell is wrong with us as a society? Why do we treat each other the way we do? Why are we so selfish?
I used to think in terms of what I did or didn’t “deserve.” It’s not about me anymore or any of us, specifically. Our world is too fragile to distribute “just desserts” all of the time.
I had an intense discussion with my college students yesterday about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Gun control aside, I asked them, as mental health advocates in training, what are we going to do to help prevent these tragedies? How do we identify those suffering and stop them before they cause destruction? How do we heal those who have survived? They discussed how they felt unsafe on our campus—a place I see so picturesquely serene and isolated from the world. I vowed to do something to protect it, to protect us, but I don’t know what it is yet.
It is each of our responsibilities to be a part of the solution. We need to stop focusing so much on ourselves to the point that we destroy the people we love or let them succumb to the evils of this world, like self-harm. We may feel as if we do not have control; however, we do. We can love the people we care about so much it hurts. We don’t have to love everyone, but we don’t have to hate either. Hate is a choice.
So, what are we going to do about it? We need an answer.
I broke my normal morning routine and decided to play music while I was in the shower. This is the first song I heard from the day: Migration by Bonobo on his album, Migration.
I often feel the universe gives us signs of direction and affirmation. Sometimes those signs are loud and blaring in our faces, yet other times are simple and discrete. We do not need to seek out these signs or make them happen—the signs will come to us. This song, Migration, is special to me, because of I have been applying for jobs across the country as of late. I care about the area, which I live, but opportunities are seemingly sparse, particularly in the field of education. We are going through a hideous transformation in our public-school system here and throughout the country as well. It can be disparaging to invest myself deeper and deeper into something I know can’t hold water much longer. Yet we can try our best to get ourselves out of the mire if we are willing to work together, somehow, someday to avoid drowning.
This ugly situation seems parallel to my own life: I am trying to take care of student loans, other bills, and attempting to be a bit more independent as I seek out some job that will enrich my life or simply help me live. I get the impression that education has become survival instead of a way of living. For my one job, I substitute teach as I mentioned in my previous article. I came to class today to find papers on the desk for the students, which in bold letters read, “MIGRATION.” As you can guess, it was a Social Studies class, which the article discussed how and why people migrate across the country. After you read the same article about migration five times to classes and questioned it, the idea of migrating truly sticks with you in some way.
After over 100 job applications, a couple of dead-end interviews, and a slew of incoming rejections, I started to wonder if this is the right move? I aspire to apply for my doctorate, but I have to study for the GREs. I have two masters degrees in two different, yet somewhat overlapping fields and years of experience in both. Consequently, does this make me under-qualified? Overqualified? Are employers confused about my intentions? I apply for jobs I think I would invest myself in (because you never know), but I pulled in many directions. Then, I thought, does migration have to mean “literally moving” instead of figuratively?
Then, I thought, do I even know where I want to go, literally or figuratively? I have some idea.
For the past month, I have been on what I call a “Headspace Journey.” I subscribed to the app, Headspace, which is an app that teaches you meditation and guides you through meditation exercises. There are exercises for different themes, such as “self-esteem,” “productivity,” and “depression.” Andy Puddicombe, who is one of the founders of Headspace and the narrator, says in the lessons that we may feel frustrated that our meditation is not going anywhere. In so many words, he says that we may feel a sense of unease that we are not making progress fast enough, that we want to make something happen. Perhaps, this is, in a sense is relatable to an urge to run away, to “migrate” to some place in the world or our minds that simply is not ready for us to catch up.
In the meantime, as Andy says, “to be aware in the moment,” gives us the ability to be present in our universe. Otherwise, we may miss out on the small details, like the feeling when a student tells me I am/my class his or her favorite part of the day or when a college student asks me, of all people, to write a letter of recommendation for graduate school. I can be present and see those moments I positively impact people. Though most days we can be blind to those moments, because we are inundated with our responsibilities and thoughts which carry us elsewhere. . If I were not “present,” I would have missed out on these signs that the universe is telling me to stay put, in some sense, literally or figuratively.
Until, I figure out where it is I am supposed to be, I will stay right here. And even if and when I do physically leave, a piece of me will always be here…and in the headspace where I imagine myself sitting in a field with a lone fox peacefully watching me find my place.
Today’s featured song is “If it Makes You Happy,” from Sheryl Crow on her album, Sheryl Crow.
Let’s all admit 2017 has been a shitshow in so many ways that it can be interpreted as a teen dystopian novel with elements of dark comedy (covfefe) meeting the traditional dystopian novel elements, like mind-numbing government thought control through the media (I slightly exaggerate, though Fox News adds elements of dark comedy as well). Furthermore, perverts in power ran rampant (seriously, Louis C.K., I’m not surprised at all—you aren’t that funny and to quote you, you are a “bag of dicks”). I am glad these creeps are finally getting the hypothetical kick in the balls they all deserve. At least we are driving away from the traditional narrative that middle class white boys are the only ones that can truly save the world (e.g. Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, the Giver, to name a few). They are beloved classics, but it’s time to move onward and not look back.
Overall, for the lot of us, I believe 2017 has been seemingly the year of some terrible life choices, difficult, decisions, sprinkled in with some bad luck, and grasping at straws for promises of good times. However, this year was a much-needed wake up call to make positive changes. I spent the first half the year living a picturesque lie that my relationship and career were going somewhere—clearly that was a disaster. I kept seeing my family, friends, and coworkers moving on with their lives—getting married or engaged, building new successful careers, buying houses, and generally getting their shit together, while I’ve been lucky to have work at all. It could be worse, yet three part-time jobs leave me a bit confused about my life and unfulfilled. It has been the longest December of my life, which I am being dramatic. You wonder why I didn’t choose “Long December” as my song of the day? I have my reasons not to dwell on the past.
I tried everything I could do make things right and I keep looking for answers, but it all lead to dead ends. All of my crossroads lead me to the same conclusion that people let you down, but life goes on. I would use the colloquial analogy that finding good people is like cracking pressurized coal to find the diamond in the rough, but I learned that that’s not how diamonds are naturally created. Diamonds came before coal existed. Then again, diamonds can be made from the toughest circumstances.
With the new year approaching, we set ourselves up for grandiose expectations. We make New Year’s resolutions. And ladies, I know some of you have dropped a few hundred bucks at least on buying a fancy dress, shoes, matching accessories, and make-up to fulfill our societal expectation of meeting beauty standards (I have been there). We have survived the pricey $100 ticket to get into hypothetically classy parties where separated guys in mid-life crisis offer to buy you drinks that are included in the price of your ticket and you eat dried out hors d’oeuvres to later throw them up. Or you have paid the $20 cover to have some brah-dude buy you watered down, over-priced well drinks that you accidentally spill because some woman in a too short tube skirt and 6-inch stilettos “accidentally bumps” into you, spilling your drink on your satin dress that doesn’t handle stains well. The situation makes you look like you peed your pants at recess in second grade and everyone in your head is pointing and laughing. Then, “Stilettos” runs off with the guy who just bought you a drink.
We have all been there, despondent and alone in a world surrounded by people we hopelessly try to connect with.
Better yet, let’s just bury ourselves in our favorite hoodies and say, “Fuck it, dude, let’s go bowling,” or watch Netflix, or whatever it is we want to do. The quest for happiness is a harrowing journey sometimes. We bury ourselves in staring at computer screens at work, making lunches for our kids, cutting the crusts of the bread just right, and paying bills, that we forget what happiness is. We think, “if I just had this one thing,” whether it’s a vacation, an engagement ring, or a dream job, we would be happy for life.
There is no happily ever after. Sometimes, there isn’t even a happy for now.
But there’s a way we could fix that. I may not be an expert on happiness, but after all of the mistakes I have made, I know what not to do.
1. Stop looking for outside validation
I have learned quickly that at work and in other aspects of my life, that no one is going to tell you are doing a good job. Most of the time people aren’t going to say anything, unless you are doing something wrong. Take it as a compliment. If people aren’t telling you anything, you’re probably okay. And if you’re looking for attention from people on social media, sit back and watch what people like if you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t look like you are a mystical fairy waif who doesn’t need to wear a bra, has a triangular tattoo in the shape of a fox, and wears clothing people left behind at Coachella, don’t bother. Although I think these things are ironically cool, I realize that it’s just a representation of someone I am not. If you think that men and transgender don’t go through body image issues, you are also sadly mistaken. We all occasionally look to be our best even if we tell ourselves we don’t care. Even “mystical fairies” have problems. Don’t judge and accept what you are given. Make the best of it. Lastly, stop looking for relationships to validate your existence. Having a significant other (SO) might be nice, but that person shouldn’t be your reason for living. If you don’t have a SO, stop looking for one. They aren’t going to make all of your problems go away. It’s great to get positive attention, but if you think of it as not worrying if the person cares about you, but worry more about if you care about them. What happens the day after and the day after that?
2. “Dreams Don’t Work Unless You Do”-John C. Maxwell
If you don’t like your life situation, whatever it is, get your shit together. Get it together, and put it in a backpack…(my favorite Rick and Morty rant). Stop whining and taking things so seriously. We all fall prey to being sad or angry when our needs aren’t met, but look at everyone else. There are people who have things worse and might need your help. You don’t have to save the world, but you give a little cheer or assistance in little ways. I think being a substitute teacher is like clawing nails on a chalkboard of life. Kids can be obnoxious, they don’t listen to you, act as if you are garbage at times, and try to make you feel like shit (it occasionally happens), but when you are persistent in being the person you are without cracking, it eventually dissipates. You even get a few of them to crack themselves and they stop acting like assholes for a little while, maybe even inspire them to spread their own kindness. I think this philosophy works not only in my job, but in life in general. Treat people with an open mind, but be firm with your boundaries. If you are afraid you are going to be a doormat, you may as well be a quirky inviting welcome mat that you can pull out from under people when they deserve it the most or when you need your space.
On a continuation of pursuing dreams, give up the stupid “New Year’s Resolution” bullshit. If you want to make goals, don’t tell anyone. The more you talk about it, you will feel like it’s already been accomplished, and you’ll never do it. And if you are going to tell someone, tell someone who is going to join you on your goal journey. Goals are best accomplished when you have others who are working with you, not against you. Some people feel worse when they are reminded of what others set out to do or accomplish. They are not your friends. Lastly, if you are making goals, make sure you can do them on a regular basis. Don’t set a goal to go to the gym everyday if you know your schedule is unpredictable. Make goals that you know you can achieve and want to. This month is when I decided I needed to move on, so I sent out hundreds of job applications across the country, which I plan on continuing. Let’s see what happens.
3. Realize when things don’t make you happy.
What stops us from being truly happy is not recognizing what makes us unhappy. This is often difficult, especially when concerning relationships with others. We sometimes get ourselves involved in relationships that are like slot machines. They dispense happy moments at random unexpected times that keep us wanting more. Rewards that are random and unexpected are often the most rewarding to our brains. We become addicted to people or things who act like assholes, because we had scraps of good times. Maybe those good times were the best times we had, but it’s all an illusion when we realize the relationship is based on wanting something more. You can apply the same principle to vices. You might think drinking alcohol and smoking pot excessively on a regular basis makes you happy, but you are probably masking sadness, or something else much worse. Think about my discussion above about New Year’s Eve partying rituals. We set an expectation that everything is going to be fun, and a lot of times it just goes to hell or nowhere at all.
Happiness can also be considered a place, which is literal and figurative. We can have all of the things we hoped for, but it snows 8 months out of the year and we hate being outside in the cold. Sometimes we could ignore our surroundings, but when the highest temperature is 20 degrees three months straight, it gets a little unnerving. Or even if you enjoy your surroundings, but you are not getting fulfillment from your place in life, your job, friends, family, or purpose. Happiness is not necessarily in what you get, but what you do.
4. Do the things that make you truly happy.
We are not doomed to be sad and hopeless. We can take control over our happiness to some extent. Think about the last time you were truly and consistently happy. Were there times that you spent with your friends, not worrying about having a good time, not worried about posting it on social media? Were there times that you accomplished goals you sought to accomplish? Were there times you felt truly relaxed and not worried about what the world thought of your happiness? Were there times you made someone else happy without thinking about what you got in return? Were there times you felt happy being in that moment, in that place in the universe where everything seemed right? Those are truly happy moments. Maybe a vacation or money can provide those things, but remember, those are just tools aiding in your journey to happiness. You can spend the New Year’s chillin with friends at a small house party with take-out pizza, karaoke, and corny paper crowns. Or you could spend time with your family talking about the good times and planning an exciting future? Or just be happy being by yourself, not caring about what everyone else is doing? I’m not saying partying will only lead to disappointment or that a $200 sexy dress you bought on sale won’t make you feel better, but be in the moment. And if you don’t like it, take that shit and put it in a backpack.
Best wishes to you and yours. Be safe. Happy 2018!
Today’s song is “Powa,” by the tUnE-yarDs on their album, WHOKILL, whom I had the pleasure of seeing in Charleston, South Carolina. Merrill has a powerful voice and presence.
Someone whom I cared deeply used to say I was like Doomsday, (if you don’t know who Doomsday is, he is a monstrous villain from DC Comics). Doomsday died painfully thousands of times, only to be cloned to repeat the same process over and over. He was an experiment to become the strongest creature in the universe. Eventually, he became a somewhat unstoppable force, leading to the death of Superman.
So, am I a murderous comic book character who suffered a thousand deaths? Not quite, though I am not a fan of Superman, either.
The point this person was ever-so-eloquently trying to make was I suffered needlessly by others’ cruelty, only to become stronger and stronger. After all the setbacks that I endured, I survived and emerged a new person—an older version with a new superpower of sorts. Ironic that this person would be a part of another figurative death, which he said, “If I told you the truth, it would destroy you.”
It easily could have, if I let it. I suffered the loss of long-term partner, friends, and lastly lost a job opportunity that I was hoping to be the last of glue to hold me together. On top of that, the world of hatred has been smacking us in the face more than ever. I wonder if I am hopeless? Promises broken again and again, I tortured myself with all the stages of grief in some cyclical order: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. There is still some residual anger with an acceptance chaser, though I am thankful for what I have left. I am Doomsday, remember? Also, it’s not all about me. We don’t always have to accept everything that happens to us: we can fight it!
My friend of many wise words had said that when sometimes when awful things occur, this allows the universe an opportunity for something better to come. This is difficult to process, but I believe it’s true. These past couple of days I had a deep moment of clarity: I am ready to be destroyed again, to become better. I can in turn help others survive the destruction around them, when their world crumbles to pieces like mine and lots of others did a thousand times over.
Now that I am living as a newly cloned version of myself, what do I do? Instead of destroying the world, I am slowly coming out of my healing cocoon. To make another DC character comparison (you can see where my free time goes), I feel like Killer Frost (villain from the Flash, who absorbs heat and projects cold and ice) regaining control of her powers and fighting the psychological demons within her or is that how that goes? Do I become a part of the evil in this world or do I try to make it better? Do I dwell on the negative past or work to create a positive future? Do I become Caitlin Snow again (Killer Frost before she became a villain) if that is even possible? How do we survive our dark sides?
We all have powers within us, waiting to be awakened. We have the strength within us to be these amazing forces for good, yet some of us waste our potential or use our strengths for evil. We mire ourselves in the daily grinds, worry too much what people think, and mostly, embody fear. What if we achieved every goal we wanted and it still was not enough? What if we never achieve anything? What if we do more harm than good? What if we have no control over what happens to us? Fear keeps us divided within ourselves and from the world, which turns to hatred. You know how the Yoda quote goes. On that note:
“Take your broken heart, make it into art.”—Carrie Fisher
The late and profound Carrie Fisher is an inspiration to us all. I heed her advice as if it were my path to healing, to regaining spiritual power. Art can be defined as any form of imaginative self-expression: painting, dancing, singing, writing. But I also take “art” a step further. It can represent a power within us to communicate, to teach, to understand deeply. Our “powers” can be an artform. We need to express our powers instead of hiding in the dark, fighting our darkness within.
How do we unleash our powers within ourselves for the greater good?
1. Find our “artistic expression” and share it with the world.
Artistic expression can be writing songs or painting like Bob Ross (I own the Joy of Painting by the way). I once stumbled upon my father painting a Bob Ross like painting, which he acted embarrassed as if I discovered his porn stash. You should not be ashamed of your talents, but embrace them, especially if they are impactful. Painting made him happy and it made me happy to know that my parents weren’t mindless robots. I embraced my artistic abilities and learned from his challenges with self-acceptance. I promised I would not be afraid to express myself, because I had nothing to lose giving to others, especially if it made people feel and think positively.
2. Give others a space to share their powers, too.
One of the major reasons why I created this site was to give others a space to express themselves, to share their powers with the world. I do not need to be the center of attention all the time. Give others praise, teach them with your powers to accept or find theirs, too. Sometimes we let the villain within us control how we feel about others sharing the spotlight or having a certain power we want and feel we cannot have. As a six-year-old might sing, Let it Go!
3. Start action: use your powers for the greater good.
You may have a gift of gab, you may be popular, or you may be able to influence people easily. Instead of blasting Trump in angry memes on Facebook every chance you get, stop feeding the hate machine. Do something about it. If you feel your powers won’t reach the White House, find a way to be a positive force. Create petitions, start a movement, use your voice to do something, except simply complain. If politics are not your thing, volunteer. Donate to women’s shelters (they are always in need of hygiene products) or adopt a puppy from a shelter (I plan on doing both very soon). Please, whatever you do, stop judging people for not saving the world in the exact way you do: this mindset isolates and diminishes everything you stand for. Everyone has their own power and they can use it how it works for them. They may share their powers to inspire people with music. Or they may be a grandmother taking care of her grandchildren while her daughter, a single mother, goes to work to provide for her family. They may buy a lot of sheetcakes from a local business. No one else can tell you who to be, but yourself. No one could tell you the exact right way to use your powers, but we need to take action somehow that is constructive. If we sit idly by, evil wins. Empathy may be one of our greatest strengths in our time of need right now.
Do not lose yourself to fear. People can get scared and lash out on the world, give into their dark sides. Remember, villains are not born, they are made. Even if people want to make you into a villain, you don’t have to become one. I can be Killer Frost/Caitlin snow, saving the world with my powers instead of destroying it. When I forget who I am, I look at my tattoo. The magpie is symbolic of myself, which my surname, Pica means “magpie” in Italian.
I designed this several years ago as I reminder to myself that I am in control of my life, that I write my own path. Write your own path as you are the only one who knows how to use your powers for good. If you don’t know how, be open to learn.
If you’d like to listen to our playlist, you can find it here and on Spotify: thirtythirdwheel