Saturday, September 4, 2010

Classified: Personal

Ever go people watching and make up an entire backstory for someone?  One random Friday night, my friend and I went to a restaurant in the city and had such fun watching the waitor and apparent manager of a restaurant, we created an entire story for them.


Loves fishing, making pottery, going to art galleries, playing checkers on weekends with grandpa.
Rides vintage clunkery Vespa.
Co-owns biz because he loves Theresa.
Afraid of color (wears black all the time).
French derivation; immigrated young, so he has a little bit of accent.
Secret talent: juggling.
Great laugh, self-deprecating.
Impatient but always running late.
Careless with money.
Quit smoking 2 yrs ago.
Horrible dancer.


Loves to read, jazz, old movies, bittersweet chocolate, hot pink roses.
Bicycles everywhere.
Hates pants.
Has eyebrows done every 2 weeks.
Hates the color green; used to be CPA.
Lets emotions get bottled up inside.
Looks forward to tutoring students every Monday afternoon.
Never wears sandals (child ballerina, has neglected feet since).
More than social drinker but has decreased frequency and quantity.
Secret talent: macarena.
Adores her cat, Charlie; she volunteers at humane society.

"The names have been changed to protect my fiction."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Question of Identity (Cardboard, Vol. 2)

If you do not tell the truth about yourself, you cannot tell it about other people. -Virginia Woolf

All too often, we try to pigeonhole someone we've just met based on first impressions or a handful of interactions.  Yet we feel we ourselves are more complex, that we deserve more credit than this.  Unconsciously, we propogate the simplicity though, saying "i'm an accountant" or "i'm a mother" or something else on a list.  We have aided and abetted the misnomer. . . .

Once upon a time, God was chillin' in a burning bush when Moses asked, "Who are You?"  God didn't toss out a job title or a family role; He didn't even really name Himself.  He gave Moses an answer far more complex:  "I am who I am. . . . I AM has sent you" (Exodus 3).

Perhaps I took the movie The Ten Commandments too much to heart.  When I was in elementary school, my teachers gave creative writing assignments with apparently simple questions like "who are you?"  With truly obnoxious glee I would turn to someone and say, "I am Valonna; I am me."  As far as I was concerned, that was answer enough, but I knew the teachers wanted more, so I provided paragraph upon paragraph of information.  Information that could have been applied to any other elementary-aged kid.  To read these juvenile descriptions was not to meet me.  They briefed someone on my hobbies, but didn't show them who I was.

In some cultures (some Native American ones for instance), parents don't name their children for days, months, even years.  Their reasoning is this:  when the baby is born, they do not know this new person, what they like/dislike, how they interact with the world, what feats they will accomplish.  The parents in these societies watch and wait to name the children, and when that name is revealed or earned, it means much more to answer the question, "who are you?" with a name.  The person has their history tied up inside the sounds of their name.  They give their name, and they give a portion of their identity.

But it's still not who they are.

Who are you that is not merely a name, a job title, a family role?  Who are you besides introvert or extravert, ethnicity or religion?  Who are you beyond your height, eye color, and other vital statistics?  Where are you coming from, and where does that have you headed?  What experiences have been so much built into you that they are you?

According to the Gestalt Theory, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Do you think maybe there is some essense that makes you you and no one else?  You are more than you think you are.  Are you so busy trying to tell people who you are that you forget that extra little piece?  Do your descriptions easily apply to any other person in your demographic set?

Or maybe you're waiting to know who you're dealing with before you reveal who you are.  Wearing a mask in the meantime.  It's comforting to wait in the wings until you know how the play is going, plotting out the perfect moment to make your entrance.  Once we know the players, we decide who we are.  Which begs the question:  if you decide who you are based on who you're with, how do you know who you are?

Evey Hammond: Who are you?
V: Who? Who is but the form following the function of what and what I am is a man in a mask.
Evey Hammond: Well I can see that.
V: Of course you can. I'm not questioning your powers of observation I'm merely remarking upon the paradox of asking a masked man who he is.
Evey Hammond: Oh. Right.
V: But on this most auspicious of nights, permit me then, in lieu of the more commonplace sobriquet, to suggest the character of this dramatis persona.

Monday, April 5, 2010

In Perfection

Perfectionism is the mother of all things unfinished.

George Lucas is quoted as saying that films are never finished, merely abandoned--an echo of Beethoven's thoughts on composing music.  I cannot speak for everyone, but I can speak for myself and a handful of beautiful people mired in their own plans when I say this:  failing to complete is the very devil in us.

Fear of completion
Fear of failure
Fear of success
Fear of imperfection
Fear of judgement

They all lead to the same thing:  the failure to act.  The goal is not just unmet; it is unmade.  As sure a sign of juvenility as an unmade bed.  But you see we still have to lie in that bed, whether we made it this morning or not.  Rather than always trying and sometimes failing, we have decided never to try and always succeed at failing.

Counterproductive.  Yet the cycle continues.

Perfection does not exist on Earth.  But do we really want it?  Greta Garbo's face is said to have been aesthetically perfect; all the measurements and symmetry were there.  She is seldom called one of the greatest faces of all time, however.  That is more often affixed to the likes of the enigmatic Mona Lisa, whose eyes are too close together and whose mouth is too small.  Her face fascinates us, draws us closer, until she's in danger of fading in the blitzing flashes of tourist cameras.

So, instead of trying to ward off horrible writing, fearing imperfection in my blog posts, I offer this one up.  Virtually slapdash, a literary crime of passion.  The passion for words is what drives me on when the perfectionistic fears swell.  Passion is what began this affair, and I can't let thoughts of failure squelch it.

Monday, March 15, 2010


It has been said that I only appreciate the intellectual side of life.  It is true that I luxuriate in the brainy parts of the universe around me, but I wanted to clear the air.  Yes, silliness and I are on friendly terms.

Exhibit A:  I like to text ridiculous slang to the person three feet from me when speaking is more expedient.  It is not unusual to find "wassup?" in my text history.

Exhibit B:  Especially when I know the person calling me, I will frequently answer with "yo!"  And yes, I still sometimes greet my mother with "yo, yo, Ma!"

Exhibit C:  I have a very good Tuscan Raider impression.  No one who is purely intellectual will pride themselves on an impersonation of a Star Wars character in Star Wars:  Episode IV:  A New Hope.  That is called geeking out.

Exhibit D:  Sometimes leaning against my friend is all I need.

Exhibit E:  I like to laugh convulsively with little to no provocation.  Sometimes I have an accomplice, but not always.  The word "asparagus" once set me off for 5 minutes.  There was a documented recording, but I believe that laptop has since been wiped clean.

Exhibit F:  Endless pleasure abounds from my own twist on 2 Timothy 4:20:  "I left Trophimus sick in my lettuce."  Something tells me my friends' laughter is borne of toleration rather than amusement.

Exhibit G:  The fact that I list movies like The Time of Their Lives (1946) and The Pink Panther (2006) as favorites should speak for itself.  By that same token, quotes like "buy you a soda after the game" hardly call for Mensa and yet are hilarious to me.

Exhibit H:  Roller coasters make me squeal with delight.

Exhibit I:  Nature takes my breath away.  The ocean, clouds, butterflies lighting on pansies, rainbows, and the storms that lead to them.  They're all more than the human mind can find words to encompass them.

Exhibit J:  It's a happy point of curiosity that when something falls between two people, that both bend to pick it up, and will frequently bump heads or hands in the process.  There's almost always an apology.  Why is that?

I hope these examples clarify the situation.  However, I reserve the right to revisit the subject should any rebuttals arise.  Until that time, you might say the defense rests.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eleanor and Cardboard

"Do one thing everyday that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

I was having dinner at a friend's house, and I saw the quote on a refrigerator magnet.  What would happen if you did do one thing everyday that scared you?  What would happen if you did something even once a week?  We both agreed that soon you would either be afraid of nothing . . . or dead.

So avoiding death, and consequently ruling out skydiving without a parachute, how do you pursue this?  What does it mean for you?  A million common fears probably come to mind.  Public speaking, flying, clowns, snakes, dancing when someone else is in the room.  Anyone cringing yet?  Eating alone in a restaurant, voicing an opinion, getting a tattoo, lacking a boyfriend/girlfriend, spiders, cutting/coloring your hair.  How about now?  Revealing a secret talent or skill, relinquishing control, heights, vanilla ice cream and peanut butter.  Getting the picture?

Where snakes are an unusual texture to one person, and peanut butter is a natural complement for vanilla ice cream to another, the same individuals face serious hurdles with dancing and solo-restaurant-going.  In those pursuits, the person suddenly suffers bouts of anxiety.  Maybe, just maybe, fear of failure is the prime motivator in what scares us, and the rest of the time our fears are rooted in the unknown.

Because as we're all aware, the known universe does not extend beyond ourselves, and when we don't meet our expectations of success, that universe self-destructs.--Oh, wait, that's just our misconceptions evaporating.

Imagine a documentary as narrated by an alien from the galaxy of Andromeda:

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Earth, where humans consciously and unconsciously place themselves and all others inside cardboard boxes.  They put the lid on the box but don't seal it with so much force as scotch tape, poke a few air holes in the top to provide some token ventilation, and call it good.  Never mind the fact that cardboard smells atrocious as soon as the rain comes.  Never mind the fact that they can break cardboard down easily enough.  No, they squat in their little cardboard boxes, afraid to step, crawl, jump out and do the little thing that scares them.  Because smelly as it is in there, it's home, and it's known.  'I know this universe,' they say to themselves, as they peek through the airholes at their fellow prisoners.

"Occasionally, they grow curious or jealous of others' cardboard prisons and abandon their original domicile in search of larger, more commodious confines.  Only to find the stench is only slightly altered by the higher quality corrugation. . . .  Back they trudge to their boxes, toting a sandwich board enscribed with their failure.  It reads, 'Attempted to break free of Box Theory.  Panic and fear administered in high dosage.  All systems equalizing.'

"Back they go.  Lid slides back into place.  They are home.  They are defined by closing themselves into what they will not do, will not try, and consequently will not fail.  They are not afraid because they are where they know they're known.  They are comfortable again, and others are theoretically comfortable with them here where they are known.  Others are not scared, and supposedly neither are they. . . ."

What then is this thrumming beat in our chests, this constricting sickness to our stomachs?  It is the curiosity that won't go away, no matter how much fear and panic is administered.  It is the desire to dance like nobody's watching, sing like nobody's listening, speak like nobody's judging.  It is the desire to be who we're meant to be, who we want to be.  In short, it is the desire to do the thing that scares us.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may step out of the box.  The lid was removed some time ago.  The damp boxes will collapse and self-destruct without you to support them from the inside.  Come on, you can do it.  Get the tattoo if it's what you really want it.  Cut your hair; 99% of the time it grows back.  Let go of the reins for a moment.  Don't be afraid to be alone.  Maybe enjoy a flavor you haven't tried yet.

Do the thing that scares you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Balancing Act

Life's not fair, and life's not easy.  And do you want to know why?  Because it's all a balancing act.

Standing on stable ground versus juggling on a highwire.
Ambition versus aggression.
Enjoying food versus overindulging.
Turning the other cheek versus being a doormat.
Frugal versus spendthrift.
Being a leader versus being a despot.

Where to fall on the extremist spectrum?  Or perhaps to settle in the extreme edges on a spectrum of mediocrity?  How do I achieve balance in myself as people around me strive to achieve their own?  How do we balance each other, equalize one another?

Tact versus little white lies.
Healthy confidence versus inflated ego.
Letting people live their own lives versus standing by while their lives derail.
Fundamentalist versus noncommittalist.
Cautious versus killjoy.

I took a theatre arts class once called simply "Movement."  One of the warm-up exercises we did at the beginning of each session was a deceptively simple one.  Stand with feet and legs pressed close together, arms down at your sides.  Now, rise up on your tiptoes, as high as you can go.  Don't waver; stay steady.  When Mark the professor walks through the ranks of his students and softly nudges the small of your back, don't lose your balance.  Don't step forward or raise your arms.  Make the most imperceptible shift in balance so that you can maintain the stance indefinitely.  We could never predict when we'd put our heels back on the floor.

Impetuous versus carpe diem.
Curiosity versus nosiness.
Assuaging curiosity versus TMI.
Living versus existing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

First Class Mail

Dear Self-Esteem,

It's been too long since we've had a long heart to heart.  Our chats lately have been relegated to something between "why, hello" and "buck up, will ya?"  You'll probably agree this is sadly deficient, and I confess the blame is all mine.  I've been ignoring your phone calls, not responding to your texts and emails, ditching plans with you whenever Pity Party dropped by unannounced.  I've been a really bad friend, and I couldn't fault you if you never wanted to talk to me again.

But I hope it doesn't come to that.

You see, one of the things that initially attracted me to you was how you made me feel good about myself, even when everybody else was razzing me, telling me how I didn't measure up.  When you and I were hanging out all the time, what Pity Party or Self-Loathing told me didn't count for much.  I knew my friend was there backing me up when those one-note sirens sang in my ear.  The discord they struck up inside me set my stomach roiling, but you always soothed me.

So where did things go wrong, you ask?

I wish I could tell you, Self-Esteem, I really do.  All of a sudden, it seemed like Pity Party and Self-Loathing were everywhere.  Commercials, conversations with other friends, the mirror.  And they had a new friend:  Not Good Enough.  They formed a triumverate like all high schools seem to have of the cool girls.  You know the ones.  A super-tight clique that is glossy and beautiful and impossible ever to be a part of.  But I wanted to be a part of it.  So badly.  And sometimes they'd pretend they wanted me.  They'd trick me into some stupid prank or dare, I'd go along because I wanted to be cool too, then they'd laugh at me when I fell flat on my face.

By then, you'd all but disappeared.  How could you do anything else?  I had no time for good friends when I was spending all my energy on those three.  Now when we pass each other, I still feel a little glow from your effervescence, but it quickly fades when I meet up with PP, SL, and NGE for coffee.  And I don't mean to talk bad about them, but they make me feel so guilty if I even look your way.  I really think they might be out to wreck more than just our friendship; I think they're out to wreck me.

So I guess that brings me to the point in writing this letter.  I don't want to be a stranger to you.  You're too great a friend, too faithful an ally, too fun a co-conspirator for me to give up without a fight.  We've got too many memories together not to make more of them, right?  Like I said earlier, I've made a real muck of things.  I'm truly sorry for not being a better friend to you, not listening more attentively to what you have to say.  I wonder if you could see yourself giving me another chance, maybe slowly building up to being best friends again.  I don't know what else to say, except, will you please hang out with me?

Any Woman

P.S.  I've enclosed a list of things I'd love to discuss with you over coffee.

(On Reverse)

These are topics you used to promote conversations on:
silly expressions
childish glee with food
social butterfly

Monday, January 18, 2010

Notes on a Rainbow


April - August 2009:  God makes a series of surprising promises to me, confirmed by multiple sources including the Bible and my discipler.

April 2009 - present:  I struggle with my impatience to receive these awesome prizes . . . er, promises at their appointed time.

(If you don't believe in God or promises from Him, don't feel excluded.  I hope that you read this and glean value from it.)

A thank-you note I've drafted to God any number of times since April:

Dear God,

Thank you very much for the lovely promise you sent me.  I look forward to using it daily, as I have gradually become aware of what a great idea it is You have for me.  I'm excited for the opportunities this holds and the adventures it implies.  Especially appreciated was the double rainbow (of course You know how much we both love rainbows) You sent me in November as a reminder You don't make offhanded offers.  My one request is that You speed this whole process up.  After all, this whole plan of Yours is brilliant; I just want to make sure I get to those promises soon so I can enjoy them do Your will.

Grace and Peace direct from You,

The response from God any time I stop to listen:

Dearest Valonna,

Beloved Daughter, I am pleased that you like My gift so much.  When I see your excitement and hear your anticipation, I am filled with pride to call you Mine.  Never for a moment doubt the pleasure I receive when you appreciate even the smallest gift.  Do not be impatient though, My love.  Think of this promise as a rainbow, and don't focus on the pot of gold at the end.  Stop for a moment and really look at the rainbow.  Drink in its beauty.  Luxuriate in its nuances as one color flows to the next.  The gold is a reward, but it is not the only thing of value, and I must caution you:  you won't receive it if you don't follow Me to the end (it's far too dangerous to go without Me).  So again, I ask you to savor this promise and be at peace.  I will not lead you astray, and I promise not to take too long.

Your Loving Father,
God (AKA Abba, YHWH, etc.)

Well, crap, He's gone and called me out with one of my favorite "objects" in nature.  And sure enough, I do like the look of rainbows more than a pot of gold, and He knows that.  But shh, don't tell the leprechauns; they show their foul tempers when you impugn their hoards.

So . . . look at the rainbow.  Stare at the pretty colors.  Watch the rainbow . . .  and basically ignore the pot of gold for now.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bob, Nora, and Ella

I know this may come as a shock to some, but I love to watch babies and little kids experience the world.  They are blatantly curious; they don't bother to hide when they're investigating--unless you've already told them not to investigate something.  I love their guilelessness (Wow, that word looks ugly; let's say lack of guile instead.).  Regardless of word choice though, children are such charming sleuths.

One day I was riding the bus home from running some errands, and there was a man sitting in the seat diagonally in front of me.  His ears were gauged and pierced, and he had a short mohawk.  The sunlight glinted on his blond armhair and accentuated his tatoo sleeves.  His expression could at best be termed neutral, though some might have dubbed it scary.  I'm going to name this man Bob . . . because I can.

A few stops later, a youngish mother boarded, carrying her daughter in one arm, cell phone held to her ear with the other.  The conversation didn't sound fun for the mother; she was venting to the person on the other end of the line.  Most everyone on the bus heard her words too, as she took her seat in front of me, across the aisle from Bob.  I'm going to name the mother Nora and the little girl Ella, just because I want to.

It didn't take long for Nora to make a negative impression on practically everyone present.  She was vocal about how jerky the ride was, how crowded it was, etc.  Ella, however, seemed pretty unphased.  She was busy checking out Bob.  Full-on staring.  Well, she was about 16 months old, and she hadn't caught on to the anti-staring policy yet.  While Nora seemed oblivious to everything except her phone, Ella was perfectly happy to go exploring while held in the confines of her mother's arms.  So she reached out and touched the hair on Bob's arm, big round eyes trained on his face to see his reaction.

Bob appeared pretty detached from the scene to this point.  He was a well-seasoned passenger, but when Mr. Neutral Expression turned to look at Ella, he was wearing the most beatific smile.  She didn't smile back though.  Instead, she retrieved her hand to her mother's supporting arm in preparation for her next mission.  This time, she reached out and rested the full length of her chubby hand on Bob's tattooed arm.  His expression was no different this time:  smile directed right into Ella's beautiful brown eyes.

Ella was delighted.

But Nora was still preoccupied with haranguing the bus driver and tossing out diatribes against everyone she knew.

Within a few more stops, it was time for Nora and Ella to disembark.  Ella was contentedly silent the entire ride, but Nora cursed the driver even as she marched off the bus.  And it made me sad.  Does she realize what her daughter sees and hears?  Does she spend time in the night planning her daughter's life?  How long before Ella adopts a similar attitude and aborts her current demeanor?  How long do we have with the guileless investigator before she potentially transforms into a fault-finder?