Blogiversary #2

I love fall. The student in me thinks of September, not January, as the beginning of the year. As the weather gets cooler, I get an almost Pavlovian excitement for office supplies, pumpkin spice lattes, and new beginnings.

Photo credit: Jason A. Samfield

But what almost took me by surprise is that this approaching fall season also marks my second blogiversary. I went to write this week’s blog post and realized it’ll be two years on Sunday! Which prompts a bit of reflection.

It’s a little harder to track this year’s progress than it was last year. I do know that I’ve published a total of 95 posts and accumulated nearly 20,000 page views since starting this blog in 2011 (numbers which thrill, startle, and humble me by turns). Sometimes numbers help me step back and get some perspective on the small routines I perform regularly.

This year I have branched out to share a wider variety of art forms, including poetry, photography, and excerpts from my novel-in-progress.

Speaking of which, that novel is in its 4th (and hopefully final) draft! Sometimes not losing vision in the last stage is the hardest part. I’m both eager and nervous to set out on the road to publication.

I struck the words “recent college graduate” from my Blogger profile. Now that I’m 2+ years out of academia, I think I’m really beginning to consider myself a working adult.

Which is beginning to make sense, now that my weeks are full with 15 tutoring students, regular freelance editing projects, novel revisions, and some very dear relationships that make my life full and sweet. Sometimes living has been so sweet that I’ve clean forgotten about blogging (that’s why there’s no December under the 2012 tab).

I had a chance to share my life story with some peers a few weeks ago and it gave me a chance to realize what this blog has done for me. Not only has it kept my writing muscles limber in busy times when other writing projects have gone into hibernation, but it’s been cathartic for me as well. Sometimes it’s easier to blurt out the truth in a public forum (especially online) than it is to be honest with your close friends and family.

Here I’ve reached new levels of honesty as I’ve broached subjects like vulnerability, loss, and lament poetry. What’s even better is that some of you have come to me and shared that my halting admissions of hurt, confusion, and failure have made you feel freer to admit your own struggles. And that makes it worth it.

It’s also been joyful to celebrate new beginnings throughout the year, noticing small magic, overflowing like popcorn, and cooing over adorable hedgehogs. It’s wonderful to celebrate fullness and joy. I think honesty about the empty and the hard makes this part even sweeter.

And with that, I commence celebrating blogiversary #2. No pumpkin spice lattes in my local Starbucks yet, but I’m waiting. Oh yes, I’m waiting.

Photo credit: brina_head


In the meanwhile, let this changing season give you a chance to reflect. What milestones are you celebrating? What are you looking forward to this school year? 

Long Spoons Living

I once received an e-mail forward telling the story of a fictional tourist who wandered through heaven and hell. I typically don’t much care for forwarded e-mails, often finding them shallow and sappy. This one might be both, but for some reason it stuck with me and came around to mean something deeper.

So the story goes, our tourist arrives in hell and is surprised to see a large table around which is seated a group of people. A  large pot in the middle of the table contains plenty of food for all of them. But the only utensils the people have are spoons, as long as yardsticks, strapped to their arms. As the diners try to bring food back to their mouths, it slips off their long, clumsy utensils, leaving the people starving and emaciated.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and salsachica

To the tourist’s further surprise, heaven contains almost the same scenario: table, pot of stew, long spoons. But the people there are well-fed and happy, laughing and talking as they share the meal. Why? Because they are using their long spoons to feed each other, reaching across the table to supply one another’s needs, and in turn having other people meet theirs.

Giving is a two-way street. Growing up in a community-oriented family environment, I guess I never really questioned having my needs met by them or my responsibility to contribute to the family. The needs at stake weren’t only food, shelter, and clothing, but also love, community, and affirmation. When I went to college, I took this mentality with me: your roommates, friends, classmates, even professors, are human beings who deserve your respect and need your care. It works excellently when people in community with each other share this perspective.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and alexkalina

However, not all people do. In college especially, I met some people who were intent on using their spoons to feed only themselves, no matter how clumsy and inefficient the effort. Many were single, reasonably affluent, living on their own for the first time, and absorbed in their own education experiences. Their resources of time, money, energy, were completely consumed by activities they found fun, their own personal goals, or relationships that got them ahead. There was nothing left over to give to others. I, too, tried feeding only myself with my spoon for a while, and it left me feeling tough, yes, self-sufficient, yes, but still gnawingly hungry.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and mzacha

But constantly feeding other people with your spoon while they continue to feed only themselves is a recipe for straight-up starvation. Long-term, one-sided sacrifice and service lead to burnout and loneliness. Giving to your community is a good thing. In fact, in the short term, sometimes the best and most needed giving is to people who can’t give back. But if you’re constantly feeding others and no one reaches out to feed you back, you’ll end up malnourished, not to mention exhausted and probably disillusioned.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and LoganCale

Successful, mutual relationships are about people using their long spoons to feed each other–parents and children, husbands and wives, church communities, friends. When you look at your resources and, instead of using them all up on yourself, sacrifice some for someone else, you risk not having enough. But the most satisfying feeling in the world is when the math doesn’t add up. You give away something you want or need (affection, time, money, energy, etc.). But instead of being left hungry, someone else comes in and provides for your deficit, making up the difference.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng and juliaf

It’s called love, I think. It’s looking at this enormous, awkward spoon you’ve been given to eat with and, instead of seeing it as an ill-formed impediment because the goal is feeding yourself, seeing it as the perfect tool because the point is to feed someone else.

Zucchini Cake

I don’t know what’s up with the baking analogies. I don’t even like to bake. But I have this thought that people are like cake.

So, this is a hard admission: as you may have deduced by now, I’m a people-pleaser. I’ve always wanted to be a chocolate cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and nosheep

Since childhood, I’ve tried to be the “good kid”–pleasing parents, Sunday school teachers, kids I wanted to be friends with, kids I didn’t want to be friends with, college professors, people at church, random strangers at Starbucks. My code of conduct went something like, “Fly under the radar, don’t irritate people, do what you’re told, appease.” Because people only want chocolate cakes, right? Chocolate cake people make the best friends, students, children, right?

Chocolate cake people: plural noun. Punctual, humble, not only faithful in but excited about prayer, churchgoing, service activities. Don’t talk too much, don’t talk too much about themselves, modest, demure, good grades, walk the straight and narrow. Also hospitable, good conversationalists, and don’t go outside looking frumpy. Ever.

So if people only want chocolate cakes, I have to be one, right? To get approval (and what else could be worth getting?) I’ve aimed for perfection, or as close to it as possible. Other people’s displeasure was my fault, my failure.

Here’s the trouble. I’m not a chocolate cake. I think I might not even count as cake. I get this frequent, sneaking suspicion that I’m made of something else entirely–something green and lumpy that won’t stick together and certainly won’t fluff in the oven. Something like…zucchini.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and soultga

Zucchini person: singular noun. Lags just a few minutes late for every activity. Talks too much about self and sometimes snorts at own jokes. Sometimes doesn’t feel like praying. Wakes up without makeup and sometimes on the wrong side of the bed. Worries about job, friends, future.

Well, zucchini is obviously an unacceptable basis for the making of cakes, especially when all cakes are supposed to be chocolate. So my solution has been to slap some nice, thick frosting on top and smear it around. See? Picture-perfect cake.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and coachen

Then there’s the broiler.

A little summer heat is one thing; if your inch-thick coat of frosting starts to melt, you just patch the thin spots. You can still hide what’s underneath. But sitting under a 500-degree hot wire for long enough is more than any coat of frosting can bear. A hot wire like eleven months of caregiving, for instance.

Hard times have a way of stripping away your layers of fakeness. Insincerity soon melts under the flame. And what’s left for people to see is…zucchini. Embarrassing, un-chocolate, imperfect, vulnerable.

This is the point, in my imagination, where people scream and go, “Ew, gross! Someone get that unacceptable vegetable out of here!”

But, to my dumbfounded astonishment, that’s not what I’ve seen happen. The more I can’t hide my true substance, the more I show people that my cake is far from chocolate, the more I’m let in on a secret.

Other people’s cakes aren’t, either.

Vulnerability is like an amoeba. It multiplies itself. Numerous times in the last few months, I’ve had the shocking experience of hearing people–even people I regard as the gold standard of chocolate cake–reveal their failings, their doubts, their awkwardnesses, their fears. Almost no one sails through life in complete confidence (and those who do are ignoring some things). No one marches into battle without sweaty palms. No one looks in the mirror every morning, smiles a toothpaste-commercial smile, and whispers, “go get ’em, chocolate.”

Vulnerability also brings people together. I used to think, not very long ago, that I really had to be perfect for people to like me. What absolutely stuns me is the slow discovery that perfection intimidates–and honesty is true beauty. People don’t like you less when you show them your hurt, your awkwardness, your doubt. Honesty levels the playing field. It expresses trust, need, connection. The ugly green truth is what allows deep, real connection to bloom.

Free image courtesy of stock.xchng and kyra

So, here’s my confession. I’m not made of chocolate. Sometimes, with all my zucchini-greenness going on, I think I make a miserable excuse for cake at all. You don’t have to like it. But that’s what I’m made of. And now that that’s out in the open, I’m glad I no longer have to spend my life patching the frosting.

Ever felt like a zucchini cake in a chocolate-cake world? What have you discovered about revealing that to other people?