How Are You?

I remember piano lessons long ago. I remember my mom driving me to this fancy house a town or two over. I remember the immaculate lawns. I remember the two-story windows in the living room where my teacher’s grand piano sat.

I remember sitting head to shoulder to my teacher, looking up at her face. Her genuine smile greeting me each week.

“How are you?”

Like clockwork I’d dribble out the same meek “Fine.”

One week, exasperated, she exclaimed, “You can’t always be just fine!”

My mind exploded, but my mouth stayed shut. “Okay, all right, how am I? Well, that’s a tough question. Do you really want to know? Will you remain my piano teacher? Or are you prepared to become my savior? How about I just give you a quick rundown of my most recent suicidal thoughts…”

She clearly wasn’t able to see that fine was an aspirational goal for me at that point.

I wanted to be fine. For that hour, just let me be fine!

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Find Your Edges

At a shockingly early age we get pushed towards identity-defining metrics like good grades. High marks become the target for a successful life to children whose life experience measures in the single digits.

Unfortunately, this simplification of our identity leaves many bewildered graduates on the other end of the education system. Diploma clutched in one hand, head scratched by the other.

Hunting for good grades can muddy the vital process of self-discovery, which is arguably the best use of higher education.

College has added value if you can remain adaptive to your own interests. I changed my major three times before landing on what I loved, which required me to admit I was wrong, and then wrong again.

College provided me the time to take classes focused on the edges of my interest. Allowing me to discover at least as much about myself as the facts we were compelled to regurgitate on tests for grades that we’ve lived our entire lives to earn.

Running headlong toward my edges allowed me to find what I loved and what I didn’t, what I’m good at and what I’m not. It helped me understand how I might best fit in the world.

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Meat Bag Confronts Screen, More at 11

“Don’t sit so close! You’ll ruin your eyes!”

My worrisome mother often shouted from across the room, frustrated by her child’s growing infatuation with the images pouring out of our living-room tube TV.

Television was reviled on one side of our family. My grandparents only let me watch baseball and McGee & Me, a Christian home video series. Viewed as the source of all our misgivings, TV subverts a good Christian life. A sinful teacher. A device with unchecked access to my newly forming neural connections.

But I will forever defend the television, for its many faults, it still welcomes groups to sit together and focus attention. If not on each other, then at least on an agreed point. A movie, show, or nothing in particular. We focused together.

That’s not as viable with our pocket screens.

Our smartphones are highly personal and personalized; downright magical, you might say. But looking over someone’s shoulder as they scroll through their feed is met with a bristling self-consciousness.

I think this is a problem.

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…Not Much Else

Making stuff is my momentary antidote to the relentless focus of my annoying brain. 
This might be why I find a great deal of comfort in making things.

Having a project to complete is like a chew toy for my brain.

Going too long without a new project can lead me on a path to creeping thoughts, and an easier slide into the spiral.

It can be so easy to slip too. Most don’t see my brain nudging me towards the lip. Most don’t see me desperately clinging to that last bit of sane. That bit that prevents me from plummeting down, spiraling into dread.

It calls to me like a distant song on repeat. “You’re not good enough, You’re not capable. Your career is meaningless and your brain generates useless ideas. You’ve always been dead on arrival.”

Making things can often help momentarily mute that song.

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