Songs

This is how I feel about a lot of people right now.

.

This is how I’m afraid I’ll feel one day. I don’t yet, but someday I may.

.

I like helping people, especially people I care about. It makes me feel better, for a variety of reasons: My friends’ happiness makes me happy; it reassures me that I’m a good person; I no longer feel like I’m trapped in my castle, unable to feel the rest of the world, unable to understand or sympathize or make a difference. Every time I’m able to make someone smile when they’re sad, it erases a little of the frustrated rage at never being able to protect anyone. Every time I help someone keep going, even if I only make the tiniest difference, the world becomes brighter. The future becomes brighter. My hope for my friends becomes brighter.

It wears me down. Of course it does; how could it not? Life wears you down, one way or another. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My life is filled with joy and ease and peace. I’m lucky. I have options for my future and love in my present. I have so much. I’ve had my issues, like everyone else, but I was lucky to have them all be inside my head. The world wasn’t actually attacking me; I just had to learn to deal with the harsh, dangerous, crazy thing we call living. I do recognize that my life is blessed – well near perfect – and I do know that I don’t have anything ‘real’ to complain about. I’m not trying to belittle myself, don’t worry. I’m just.. apologizing, sort of, for all the fuss I’ve made over little things. They felt big to me.

I’m grateful for all I have. Truly I am. And all my life, my parents have taught me that when you have something in any abundance, you have to give it to others. Good fortune isn’t meant to be jealously hoarded, but shared with as many people as you can reach. Finally I’m old enough to try, and I’m trying as hard as I can.

.

This song used to make me cry.

.

My mom doesn’t get it. Or maybe she does, but she can’t stand seeing me in pain any more than I can stand seeing it in my friends, and it makes it hard for her to see why I need to do what I’m trying to do. She doesn’t want me to give of myself so much that I don’t have enough left of me to live my own life. I agree with her, but I don’t want to stop giving of myself. I have to find the balance, yes, the lines I need to draw between my life and other people’s so that my life won’t drown; but I don’t want to draw lines that are too thick just because I don’t know yet what I’m doing. I’d rather draw lines that are too thin.

Pain is a lesson, if you let yourself learn it. It’s like falling down. When you’re little, you run around at top speed, tiny legs hurtling you forward as fast as you can go, until you fall down and skin your knee. Then you wail at the top of your lungs as if your whole world had ended, because you’re not used to the pain. Fast forward a few years: now when you fall and skin your knee, you get up and keep running. You’ve learned to cope with the pain.

Parents want to protect their children from every pain in the world. They all have different ideas on how to do that, but most of them are forced to recognize that sometimes you have to let your children fall down and get hurt. A lot of knowledge and wisdom can be passed on from parent to child, but some lessons need to be learned from falling down.

I’ve stopped telling my mom about my friends’ problems unless they’re so big that I need to get them out immediately. I’ve stopped telling my sister. I never told my dad much, but now I say even less. It’s an automatic response, I guess: if sharing what’s going through my head makes them and me more unhappy than happy, then stop.  It feels like a very teenage thing to do, though I don’t know if it is. It leaves me with fewer people than ever to talk to.

.

Sometimes it feels like this song takes what I’m feeling and wraps it up, like thread wrapped round a bobbin, so it’s no longer messy and confusing and impossible to deal with.

.

I don’t want to be rescued. I don’t want to be saved. I’m not in any danger, and I’m not trapped. I’m not suffering any more than I choose to. I just want someone – someone who knows, who understands – to give me a hug. To hold me while I shake with held-back sobs, just for a little bit. Not give any advice, not tell me what I need to do or how far I can go or that I have to stop. Just hold me. I just want someone I can go to who believes I can do this, that I’m strong enough and smart enough to do this right, and who will give me a hug. That’s all I need right now. A hug.

.

Sometimes this song calms me.

.

.

.

.

Advertisements

Being Badass

I wrote this months ago and never posted it, because I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or not. I still can’t tell – I’ll leave it up to you.

A while ago Midnight and I were joking around, and she asked me what my secret was – “How can you be so badass?” Needless to say, I cracked up immediately. But I did start thinking about it, and I realized that I actually do know the rules.

There are two Cardinal Laws of Badassery, and you only need to follow one. (If you are truly spectacular, you may even be able to pull off both.)
1) Be so frickin scary no one messes with you
2) Know how to laugh at yourself

Then there are two . . . sublaws, not quite as important but still useful:
3) No situation is awkward unless you say so
4) Be yourself – or at least be consistent

So. Here we go:

1) Be so frickin scary no one messes with you
This is definitely the easiest way to go for fictional characters, but in real life (and frequently in fiction), it is nigh impossible to pull this off properly. You end up just being a jerk, and no one likes a jerk. Part of being badass is that you are cool. People Brutalmay hate you a little, or even a lot, but they admire and respect you as well. No one respects a playground bully. However, if you adhere to a strict code of honor and are rigorously fair and all that jazz, it will often work, and you can be Shogun. The main problem is that you can always be outclassed by someone badder than you. There is no exception.

2) Know how to laugh at yourself
This one is much harder, because laughing at yourself is a hard skill to acquire. (Note that I do not mean laughing at your own jokes.) Once you’ve got it, though, and if you can maintain it, you are bulletproof for all time. Your detractors can mock you as much as they want; if you mock right along with them, they look stupid and you look like the bigger man. Everyone in the room can be laughing at you, but if you laugh with them the joke is suddenly on the mockers. This will often gain you respect, as people realize you are stronger – and cooler – than they expected. Bonus points if the mockers get all flustered and start shouting, because then all you have to do is keep grinning. Even more bonus points if you’re polite and sympathetic (and maybe just the tiniest bit patronizing – don’t overdo it) as they turn apoplectic and incoherent. (Make sure you actually are in a public place with some sort of authority to stop things if it gets physical, or else make sure you know karate.)

In other words, the main point is to keep your cool. Cutting wit is a definite advantage, but should be used carefully as it can make you just as much of a bully. This Cardinal Law is much more practical in everyday life, as it’s more conducive to actually having friends and such and doesn’t require Mad Ninja Skills. It’s also much harder to be outclassed by someone who’s badder than you, because you’ll probably just end up grinning at each other and going out for ice cream – especially if you follow the rule of Do Not Do Unto Others Until They Have Done Unto You, also known as Don’t Be the One Who Started It.

3) No situation is awkward unless you say so
Basically, refuse to be fazed by anything that should be embarrassing. This is easier if you haven’t actually done anything to be embarrassed about – if it looks worse than it actually is – but all it really requires is the confidence that anything can be fixed by a dazzling smile and/or that anyone who insists on misunderstanding the situation, especially after you’ve explained, is not worth getting worked up over. If you have done something to be embarrassed over, then just shrug, accept the consequences and move on. It is rarely that big a deal. This law also applies to awkward silences, where the rule is that if you don’t want the silence to be awkward, it’s not. End of story. Just turn on your Inner Contentedness and watch the clouds go by or something.

4) Be yourself – or at least be consistent
We’ve all heard this one before: just be yourself, and the world will fall madly in love with you. Birds will sing when you pass. Anything you want will be half-price. Traffic jams will never happen when you’re in a hurry. Flowers will blossom in your footsteps, sometimes through solid asphalt. Basically, Be Yourself and your life is one long happy Disney movie.

Obviously, that’s not the way real life works. But it is true that if you refuse to bend to social pressure in regards to what is the ‘correct’ way of acting, speaking or thinking, people will be impressed. (It may take time. It may also never happen, particularly if you don’t draw much attention to begin with. People are not all that observant.) Thing is, this doesn’t just apply to Being Yourself. It also applies to projecting an Image and sticking to it. Whether the Image you project to the world is the ‘real you’ or not, you ought to be consistent in projecting it.

This is where my own personal values come into conflict with my Laws of Badassery: I believe that you should do your best to Be the Person You Want To Be (by which I mean you should take care to acquire virtues and strengths that you consider important, such as patience or empathy, and make them part of yourself and not just a mask you wear). Being Badass, Badasshowever, is frequently subject to popular opinion of you, so you may wish to watch out with this one. It may be more useful to project an Image that fits you well enough that upholding it won’t be a trial. This can lead to its own problems, especially if you’re still in the process of growing as a person (teenagers, beware), but it’s a safer way to public acceptance, particularly because you can tailor your Image to suit the society you’re living in.

There are other rules, but they’re all circumstantial, depending on who you are and whom you’re trying to impress. For some people it’s things like appearance, wealth, lots of friends/followers and so on; for others it’s having a particular talent or skill at which they excel, often sports but really just anything; for others it’s standing up to authority, being a rebel, being outside of what’s mainstream. That can be important – how important depends on the society you’re in – but what really matters is how you deal with friends and acquaintances, face down challenges, and handle the world you live in.

A Slowly Kindled Light

An old diary entry, probably from April:

“You don’t have to be nice all of the time.”

I was Crash who said it. I don’t remember when; I dont’ remember what I said to prompt it. I just remember his voice saying it, and the force with which the answer rose from within me: Yes I do! Yes I do, or I might forget.”

I didn’t say it, though. I didn’t know him well enough at the time, and even now I don’t know if I would have. No point ruining a cheerful moment, and I suppose it would be a bit selfish – kind of making it all about me, and forcing everyone to deal with my issues without any warning. Not very fair.

I wanted to. It didn’t just rise up within me; it boiled up, scalding and bubbling and fluidly unstoppable. It’s been a part of me for so long, the knowledge that I have to be nice, that I don’t even notice it anymore. I’m not sure why it erupted just then, so violent and anguished. Perhaps because I’d started daring to believe that with them, I wouldn’t have to. Perhaps it was before I dared believe it. I don’t remember when it was, so it’s hard to say.

When seeking a name for my recent troubles, I once called them ‘a crisis of identity’. That’s not what they are, but it’s a decent name. In a way, what’s been happening has forced me to reevaluate the way I view myself. I don’t know if I’ve changed a lot, or if I’ve changed a little but only now noticed changes that have been happening for years; one way or another, I have to redefine the way I build my relationships and the way I protect myself.

A few weeks ago – maybe less – all this got me thinking about the last time I had what could be called a crisis of identity. At first it was just for comparison: “I haven’t been this confused and upset since I was twelve!” (Later, “I haven’t been this upset since I was twelve, and now I have even more in my head confusing me.”) But then (I should have seen it coming), I started worrying about the things that worried me then.

Or, well, not quite. Some of it really is settled and done. Back then I’d decided – or come to believe – or something like that – that all people are born with a certain amount of good and evil in their souls and, based on evidence, been forced to conclude that I was born more dark than light. By nature I am selfish, proud, vain, condescending, inconsiderate, egotistical, lazy, irresponsible, forgetful (even when it’s important), suspicious, bossy, unforgiving, arrogant, and apt to think that everyone should adapt to me, especially when I am having problems. This is not indicative of an abundance of goodness, and well I knew it (and still do). Indeed, a lot of the anguish and confusion I was feeling at the time left me when I finally admitted it to myself: I am not, by nature, a good person.

I don’t remember how I came to the next conclusion, the one that eventually saved me: I may not have been born bright, but I can strengthen the light within me. Nurture it gently, teach it to shine, hold back the darkness with all of my might. One thing I do remember clearly is a day on which I was walking a lap for P.E. and musing on this. I was disturbed by the realizations I was only just coming to. I was thinking on Septimus Heap – I don’t remember the connection exactly – and on how, if I hadn’t been raised by the family I have, I could easily have turned into a terrible person. I have the potential for good, which they have managed to bring out in me, but I have the predisposition to be very, very bad.

I distinctly remember the thought, curling through my mind, wrapped ’round a story as so many of my thoughts were (and sometimes still are).  I remember the frightening and inescapable weight of it. How hard it was to face.

I don’t remember any attempt to run away from it – I think once it had manifested itself so clearly in my conscious mind, I could never pretend it didn’t exist. I don’t remember it even being an option. I suppose the weight of its inevitability was so great that I knew it was true.  All evidence backed it, and so did my gut feeling. It hurt and it scared me, but it was true.

So I was born dark. Undeniably, irrefutably. Fine. I didn’t have to stay dark. If my family had changed me this much, then they would likely continue to do so, and I could further the process myself. I knew what I wanted to be: good. I had read enough books to know what that meant: compassionate, respectful, selfless, understanding, not a burden to others, and appreciative of the abilities of everyone. All I had to do, then, was work at it.

I did. It was hard. No surprise there, really.

I had to keep a tight clamp on any feelings of superiority, which half of my erstwhile classmates were making rather difficult. The real problem, though, was my mom, who had responded to all of their teasing by, basically, telling me I was awesome. When she realized how sarcastically I received this praise, or perhaps for some other reason that I just dont’ know, she started telling me in earnest that I am smarter than most people my age. More intelligent. A better brain, or at least more efficiently used. And all this while I was trying to be a better person and not look down on anyone.

I eventually realized/decided that I might be more intelligent than most, but that didn’t make me better because everyone had some talent or skill at which they excelled – everyone was better than me in some way, so it was okay for me to be better than them in this way. And besides, ‘most’ didn’t mean ‘everyone’. There were and are plenty of people at least as intelligent as I am and often more; if I kept that in mind, it kept me humble.

I learned to keep down my darker tendencies; to be constantly in control. Sometimes I would start feeling comfortable around someone and forget. Luckily, I only felt that comfortable around people I liked and respected, so I was never (as far as I know) accidentally nasty to someone; but sometimes I would catch myself being condescending, and sometimes I’d notice some deeply selfish thing I was doing or assuming or saying and not know how to stop myself.

Time is the greatest teacher. I eventually figured it out. I learned to think of others, to not say anything unless I was sure it was safe, and to not look down on people. I’m far from perfect, though. I still act selfishly, even if I’ve learned to think more kindly. I recently discovered that the reason I think so well of everyone is that I just don’t hold them to the same standards as I hold myself. That is hardly non-condescending, and it limits my pool of friends back to what it’s always been, because I can’t truly be friends with someone I hold to lower standards than myself.

This doesn’t actually bother me too much, even if it should, so I’ll deal with it when I’m not so preoccupied with so many other things. But it is proof positive that I’m not as good a person even as I thought I was. I have to keep at it.

So until I’ve become good, or until I’ve found another way I want to be, or maybe forever – God, I hope not forever – then yes, I do have to be nice all the time.

Belief

The Second World War was pretty hard on the British people. Alone on their islands, they suffered through rations and bombings. Their men were sent to war and their children to the countryside. NeverThere were no street lights at night – their cars barely had headlights. They had to make do with far less than they were used to eating, wearing, living with. Every day they lost more. Every day could be their last.

I’ve never heard of a riot in that time. I’ve never heard of public protests against the war. I’ve certainly never heard of people fleeing the country. I suppose this is due in part, perhaps in large part, to selective teaching. Yet it is impressive, isn’t it? A whole nation bearing such hardships for a cause they believed in.

I don’t know if it would have worked so well today. People don’t believe in things today, not like they used to. Not like that. I think that when the time comes to break under pressure or adapt and survive, most people surprise themselves. But still I wonder – if this happened today, if we had to fight Nazis today – if we had to open the newspaper every day dreading the names we would find there – how would we take it?

Sound SystemsIs that what’s happening with the war in Afghanistan? I know there are families out there that live in dread of a letter on their doorstep, or whatever it is the Army uses to deliver such news in these modern times. But we’re not living it as a nation. We don’t have to worry about blackout curtains and rationed meals. We don’t live in fear, every day, of hearing the awful sirens that mean we must abandon everything – and everyone – and run for shelter.

People used to believe in things. In the government, in justice. We used to believe that there was Good and there was Bad, and all you Rock Climbinghad to do was stay on the right side. They used to believe that the Nazis ate babies, too. When everything is black and white, propaganda can be as liberal as it likes with the truth.

I was listening to a song once – “Shades of Gray” by the Monkees – and my mom said she had always thought that song was about the Vietnam War. She said that that was when America lost that view of things, that perception of Good and Evil as easily defined things. That innocence.

Do Not QuestionNow we are jaded and cynical. Propaganda doesn’t fool us! We don’t fall for those old tricks. We don’t believe in the government. We don’t believe in authority. We don’t believe in justice, in honor. We don’t believe in kindness. We don’t believe in Good. We don’t believe in anything. We don’t believe in belief.

We don’t believe in ourselves. In humanity. In people. In strangers we see on the street. In children we screen for guns. In little old ladies who want to cross our borders. In charities who knock on our door, asking for our money.

How are we supposed to believe when the children carry guns, little old ladies carry drugs, and the people at our door want to take our life savings? What is there to believe in?

We have to believe in something. We’re human. Living without belief just doesn’t work. So what do we turn to? Anonymous hackers who claim to fight for freedom? A government that was made to stand for freedom? Organisations that promise to protect our freedom?

What is freedom, anyway?

Do any of us know? Do you?

If you know, do you have it? Are you fighting for it? Freedom is a privilege, you know. Anyone with power can take it away from you. Can you take it back? Can you do it and not lose yourself in the process?Stand Up

Can we – jaded, cynical, cautious and defensive – can we choose to believe in people? Can we decide that what we’ve been calling common sense is just paranoia and really believe in other people? In strangers we see on the street, in children we screen for guns, in little old ladies and people at our door? Do we want to? Can we afford to? Can we afford not to?

What do you believe?

Out of Control

I am such a wreck. It’s annoying me. I’m used to being in control of myself, or at least of having some amount of control over whether I’m happy. This doesn’t mean I can flip a switch and be engulfed by endorphins, it means that most of my truly serious problems – the ones that leave me depressed and doubtful for days at a time – come from within. This means that I can personally change the circumstance or situation that is depressing me. It may be hard, it may even feel impossible, but it’s within my power and no one else’s.

I’m not used to not having that power. I’m not used to depending on other people to change the circumstance or situation. Not that I’d get mad if they did – it’s just always been an internal problem, not external. I don’t let external problems affect me that deeply.

I do mean ‘don’t let’. I don’t allow people to get hold of my heart. It’s not some violent angsty business of pushing away anyone who tries to get close to me – it’s just that I’m a private and reasonably self-sufficient type of person to begin with, and every time someone important to me let me down, I carefully solidified my defenses a little more. By now they’re so strong and well-built that I can show all of myself to the world – all of myself, craziness and flaws and boring bits and all – and not care what they think, because no one can get past my defenses unless I want them to.

Or unless they, like these Mao-people, manage to sneak through without my noticing. I still don’t know how they did that. But now here they are, and though I do my best to still be myself around them, it matters a lot what they think. They each have a piece of my happiness, and they can each break my heart a little if they try. I just have to sit back and trust that they won’t, and it rankles. I don’t like other people having power over me like that.

Worst of all, though, is that I’m not doing anything about it. I’m just taking it. I’m not a person who takes things graciously. Especially because there is a solution: kick them out. Push them away. And I’m not going to, nor will I ever. I’m going to placidly stand by while other people have power over me, and instead of taking it back I’m probably going to give them more.

This is the true reason I’ve been so depressed lately: I don’t have control over my happiness anymore. Not as much as I’m used to, anyway. A couple weeks ago, when I told my friends I was leaving, I saw just how far past my defenses they’d gotten and I was surprised. I realized that leaving them would hurt more than I thought, and I thought I’d dealt with that – so why was I still so upset? On Monday Crash told us that he probably wouldn’t be coming to the school’s end-of-the-year party, and I’d been painting happy pictures in my mind of that party. I spent the rest of the day – the rest of the day – depressed, to the point where I nearly cried when I got home. I was even deeply unhappy throughout all of Tuesday. It was only spending a few hours with my friends after school that cheered me up.

I felt like such a wimp. Such a weakling. Such a frail, useless blob of jelly, totally incapable of getting a grip on herself. And I realized, eventually, that it’s because I can’t do anything about it. I can’t make Crash come to the party – he’s going to be in Sweden that weekend with his family, and I get the impression it’s not something he can change – which means that all my happy pictures have crumbled to dust, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s infuriating and it’s confusing, because I don’t know how to deal with it. I have to somehow convince myself to accept this loss of control, and I have to do it fast or I’m going to start getting really irritated with myself.

“Somehow” being my problem.

Stronger Than Fiction

According to my mom, I was a bit slow to start reading. My sister started when she was four, but I only learned after I’d left kindergarten. I caught on pretty fast, though – I started reading Harry Potter when I was six. Barely a year later, I read 172 pages in a single weekend. (I was very proud.) I devoured books like chocolate. I went on hundreds of quests with hundreds of adventurers. I learned important lessons about family, trust, loss, friendship, sorrow, love, betrayal, duty, and the importance of being true to yourself. I learned the value of magic and the strength of honor.

I learned to see the patterns. I saw the shape of magic and of stories, and the intricate workings of the fantasy worlds I traveled. I learned to understand the way enchantments were woven and curses were cast. I learned to recognize from a look when two characters would fall in love, and to grasp from one spell the rules of an entire system of magic.

In other words, I understood the world of fiction. I understood it as I had never understood my own world, because in fiction the author will explain things for you and the characters will follow the rules. And finally, after many, many years, I learned to understand the world I’m in. I saw the patterns in fiction, and once I knew them well enough I could see their reflections all around me.

Authors try to make their characters realistic; if they fail, the stories are no fun. So even though the people I read about were battling dragons and dealing with fairies, they were people. They reacted to the hardships and the joys they faced as real people would. I understood fictional people as well as I understood anything; and fictional people are modeled on real ones. It took a while, but I finally saw the shimmering patterns I knew so well echoed faintly in the people around me. Because I understand characters in books, I actually have a shot at understanding people in real life.

I know that authors exaggerate, and I know that going to school every day is not as conducive to dramatic emotions as discovering your sister killed your brother to get the throne. All things are relative, though. Friendship and love aren’t as dramatic as in the stories, but they’re not as clear-cut, either. Things are messy and confusing. Time passes in days, not in chapters. People don’t follow the rules.

So the echoes are faint. I can just barely detect the pattern. So what? The fact that I can see it at all – the fact that I actually understand people, even if just a bit – is more than enough for me. The fact that I am (very) slowly but surely getting better at this is just awesome.

I love that fantasy has taught me to understand reality. I love that flying to new worlds has taught me about the one I’m in. I love that I can still see the magic in the life I live and in the people I know well.

Hey Stoopid

I can’t believe how mature, intelligent, compassionate and sensible these lyrics are. This is Alice Cooper, for pity’s sakes! This is the guy who sings about stealing cars and S&M and cannibalistic clowns! He’s supposed to be tough and insane and one of those totally bad rockers who are way too cool for – well, for anything, really. But here he is advocating good sense and strength and going on with your life. I’m impressed.

It’s even a good song.

Update–

It was one in the morning when I wrote this. I get more enthusiastic about things like this at one in the morning. This song is not all that awesome. Still, I don’t think I was wrong to be pleased and even impressed that someone like Alice Cooper sang it. My mom, when she saw this, didn’t get my surprise, and maybe I’m really only surprised because I grew up in an age where the toughest ‘musicians’ around are angry rappers, who – stereotypically, at least, and I don’t like rap so stereotypes are just about all I know – would never have such lyrics in their songs.