Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Sharks

We all know that kid who’s in a hurry to grow up, right? Maybe you were that kid. I was. 
And we all know that co-worker who never takes a break. Likewise, we probably know that friend who never seems to get anything done.
I am a busybody. I hate to be idle. I must always be doing something, like that old myth that said if sharks stopped moving they would die.
I never seemed to be doing enough, and I was plagued with the feeling that I was wasting my life.
At seventeen? Wasting my life? You’re kidding me, right? I know. I knew I was irrational, but I couldn’t shake it.
Finally, over dinner one evening I confided in my mom. She’s got a few decades on me, after all.
Her two cents?
Waiting isn’t idle.
Mini-lesson for today: Sometimes you just keep trucking. You have things you’re doing, not a lot goes on. That’s okay. Being in a rhythm doesn’t mean you’re idle, lazy, wasting your life.
Now, if you want something, you don’t wait. You go after it. That’s bad waiting. But sometimes you want something but you don’t quite know what yet. Of course as a Protestant I’d already taken the Jesus route, but I felt I had something I needed to do that I couldn’t define.
That’s okay. That begets a time of explore options. That’s good waiting. Otherwise you get into the mindset you’ve missed something, and you swim in circles trying to figure it out.
It’s okay not to know.
Don’t be a shark. Those freak me out anyway.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Short Story Experiment!

As an experiment, here's a personal favorite short story I've written recently. I feel it's in a different style than my blogs but still conveys a lot of the same applicable themes. Expect normal posts to return next week, but maybe now I'll throw in a story every now and then!
Enjoy this! -Meredith

Dear Alien Exchange Student,

The world is a complex place, my interstellar friend. I suppose you may have had things thoroughly explained to you by another party. However, I want to to take the liberty just in case.
I'm just a girl, a humble one at that. I pass rows of brick homes, leave I am educated, I come home. This is the bulk of humanity's existence. The ones that live (many don't and die at birth or as children) have a life of cycles. Many feel they live the same day, ad nauseam.

All humans are different. We are also the same. Unfortunately, many of us fail to recognize the latter point. It makes me sad, as if all the hope is being sucked out of me.

The world is a selfish place. Most humans are not only bored and queer things, but also terribly ignorant of other people. We act on emotions and whims. We push, we shove, we steal, we lie. Some are so consumed with their own problems that they rashly attack others of their kind.

I say this to prepare you for what the world is like. It's a scary place out there. I don't know how fearless you or your tribe are, but I know you came here for a reason.

My advice?: As much as I warn you, not everything on Earth is worthy of such a warning. Although I FEEL hope being sucked out of me, that's very different from hope actually all but disappearing.

There is always hope. Everywhere. Be wary not of us doing what makes us feel hopeless, but the feeling of hopelessness itself. Every day a child does die, many, but many healthy and laughing children are also born. Every day a house burns, but one is also built. We lose and we find. We cry and we laugh. We hate and we love.

This is the most important cycle of Earth. The cycle of hope. Because although millions of humans commit heinous and selfish acts with every rise and set of the sun, millions also fight against the selfishness inside. They fight so hard they wound it almost to death inside their hearts. It will never truly die, but it can be injured enough that it's hardly even noticed.
Please remember this about Earth. It's imperative you don't forget it.
From, Meredith (your human pen pal.)


Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Approach

Sometimes I think we lose faith in it being a good day and just throw in the towel.
I’ve had a string of days like that recently. My travel by necessity has meant I’ve been doing lots of walking.
Walking excessively makes me feel like a living puddle. There comes a point where I can barely think and stare blankly into space, moving on autopilot. As I’ve said to my mother in the past, it’s like a Kohl’s sale — It’s the summer holiday sale! Now with twenty percent more FatigueCash!
My recent holiday forced me to question my initial approach. I have a habit of resigning myself to a bad situation instead of looking at it from a different angle. If you start looking for reasons to be grateful, or ways to be a fixer and not maker of problems, your outlook changes almost instantly.
Give yourself some hope, Soldiers. There’s no reason to not change what you can. Change can be external, your situation. More often it’s internal. You become a sort of heart Macguiver — you make something of what you’ve got lying around.
Sometimes what you make, inside yourself or out, can be pretty awesome.
Might as well ring out the towel instead.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

TIPs From TIP: Grown Up

Paraphrasing my TA I mentioned earlier in the week, "Don't be so hard on yourself. You're a shining star."
I've always had a high bar for myself. But this post isn't about that. This post isn't about expectations for yourself being loftier than the ISS. It's not about perfectionism looming like a shadow that takes up the whole bedroom wall, though I struggled with those, too.

This post is about my personal definition of self-esteem, and how I began discovering it was terribly, terribly wrong.

A lot of Soldiers grow up in a fixed world, where they're called "smart," "kind," "amazing," or, my two least favorite words in the English language, "special" and "inspiring." Those words alone deserve posts all their own. I'm even considering a TEDx Talk about them.

But the question is this: When these words wash over you your whole life, what's the result? The result is that esteem is measured on what you always have been, and will be, at least in your mind. You see yourself as stiff as the Tin Man, and it's crushing. In psychology this is a fixed mindset -- believing that your skills are set in stone with no malleable qualities whatsoever.

The result of that fixed thinking, then, is comparison. There's no room for healthy comparison to past you. Growth is at best ignored like your middle school yearbook photo, at worst avoided like the one-sided middle school crush. They're so liable to be an embarrassment. Just don't associate. It's not growth, it's luck, or practice, or happenstance. Heaven forbid people call you a braggart. You're abysmal at art. You're excellent with words. You can't comprehend anything about sports. You're just okay at debate, and it will stay that way.

This was me at TIP. I compared myself relentlessly to everyone with either a sense of arrogance or inferiority. It wasn't just my self-described Chocolate-Chip Girl. Oh, no. Everyone in my path was a measuring stick.

Until, that is, my final speech.

I did it. I finally decided to own up to my accomplishments. Yes, I was a debater, an apologist, an encourager. I did it all. Because I went through some stuff, and I was doggedly determined.
It was like finally settling gold and white or blue and black. Well, unless The Dress is still up for debate. I felt a swell of pride and relief. I could finally stop arguing with myself.
It was that day I took a first step to realizing the true definition of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not trust in your accomplishments. It is trust in your current perseverance, faith, purpose, initiative, growth, strength. It is acknowledgement the current you is better. The current you changed and can do it again.

Tell yourself "good job" for your growth. Otherwise you'd still be in sixth grade. No one wants to be in sixth grade again.

Good thing, then, that we all grew up.

Friday, July 12, 2019

TIPs From TIP: Oatmeal Raisin

We've all had that person that seems to be one step ahead of us in life. Whatever you do, they turn around and do it leagues better. Maybe it's that one coworker, or kid in class, or our sibling. They get the better pay, better grade, better Christmas toy.

I had a classmate like that at TIP. We're both writers at heart, both wear glasses, both have auburn hair. Oh boy, she had changed in a year. Not in look, or personality. But she was an editor for one of the leading student literature mags in the country. And we wrote answers to a prompt one evening that were of the same main idea. But hers was just miles from mine. She had jumped eight buildings in a single bound, it seemed, in terms of her skill. Oh, and she was ALWAYS writing something. I can barely get my muse in the same state that I am, and her's shows up at her beck and call. No big deal.

You could say I felt like she was the chocolate chip to my oatmeal raisin. Basically the same cookie, right? But one is awesome, and the other is a stale copycat.

Here's the deal: I had to realize I'm not a copycat. Think about it. Oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip are just different cookies. Some crazy people probably prefer oatmeal raisin to chocolate chip, though I haven't found one of those people yet.

Over those three weeks, I realized we weren't the same person. I'm far more of an extrovert, a speaker, an encourager. Not that she wasn't those things entirely, but she was also an observer, a storyteller, a poet. I am those things too, but I had put those behind my blog, my relationship, my diary, my apologetics. I had my priorities in a different order, and so she thrived in what she loved and I found twelve different jars.

Once I figured that out, it was really no big deal. There's never a bakery with only one type of cookie. Sometimes they'll sell ones that are sort of similar, but they'll both sell out.
It's okay to be oatmeal raisin. Imagine a world where we ONLY had chocolate chip, or macadamia nut, or sugar cookies.
I hate sugar cookies. I'd be heartbroken.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Tips From TIP: Hospital Letters

One of the hallmarks of my particular nerd camp is the concept of Mandatory Fun. Simply put, it's an hour a day in which we are mandated to do some activity and socialize. Introverts must be forced into this if they are to have friends. The activities vary -- coloring, dodgeball, trivia -- but all have the same purpose.
One of these activities changed me for good. It created in me a commitment I am now determined to keep.
In Chicago there is a charity, Cards for Hospital Kids. Exactly what it says on the tin. We made letters for an evening activity.
You know what? That struck a chord. Having been in the hospital for extended periods to recover from surgery, I can tell you it's beyond boring. I watched Disney Channel, ate, drank, and wallowed. The most exciting thing that occurred was a visit from a service dog.
So I felt strongly about these letters. I worked with vigor, because I knew had I received one six years ago it would probably still be on my wall, a cherished artifact.
At the end of it all, I looked at our colored envelopes in a disparate pile. I almost cried. Because this was a cause that meant something.
I write a letter every week now. I urge Soldiers who feel useless to find a cause they really care about, and make a commitment. Service leads to purpose.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Tips From TIP: Floater

Let's face it: Loneliness sucks.
I was sometimes very lonely during camp. Two weeks in I'd gone through a breakup of a four year relationship, my first, and it hit me like a truck. Even before that, in my first week, I was at a new campus. The vast majority of attendees were repeat offenders to Duke, so they already had established friends.
But you know what? Sometimes it pays to be a floater. I got to be on friendly terms with a lot of people, even if they weren't my best friend. Groups happen everywhere, and sometimes breaking from them can open you up a bit.
That breakup still sucked. But I had floated around, so I had acquaintances to lean on. People don't like to see others in pain. The helpful spirit comes out that way.
It was the day before our anniversary. I know. Yikes. The day after was a field day. Literally. Actual field day. I was on blue team. You wouldn't think nerd camp would be the place for this, but I guess I was wrong.
I sat down on the curb, dejected. Plus, the hubbub of the crowd was so not helping.
A girl in a baseball cap with my same auburn locks and wry aura finds a spot next to me.
"Man, our team sucks," I say offhandedly. I'm still wallowing, so my gaze is somewhat averted.
"I'm on red," replies Baseball Cap Girl. "I'm Sydney."
I introduce myself, and suddenly the conversation is ten minutes, half an hour, and then a full two hours long, until field day is over. We both had the same single event (limbo, at which I was not the star.) It worked out in our favor, and at the end of it all I had an awesome partner in crime for the rest of camp. Plus, I got an extra contact in my phone.
Being a floater is fun, but sometimes it's good to not be one forever.