And You’re Living For…?

The Dreamworks Animation movie The Croods has become one of my children’s favorites. We must have watched it at least three times now, and it’s grown on me a little more each time I’ve seen it. I’m not sure why I resisted it in the first place. Maybe it’s because I’m not big on caveman stuff. Or maybe I’m just not a big Emma Stone fan. Whatever the case may be, it had to win me over … and it did.

I’m struck a little more each time I watch this movie by how much I identify with the grugrole of the father, Grug. (Just a side note: Nicolas Cage totally knocks this voice-over out of the park. It’s a shame it took an animated caveman movie to remind me what a great actor this guy can be.) Here is a guy just trying to do the right thing, even though he doesn’t even really understand why he’s doing it. He just knows he’s supposed to keep the family alive, and that’s all he concentrates on. He’s so absorbed in performing that task, his own family even begins to tune him out. He winds up feeling like a failure, all because he did what he thought he was supposed to be doing.

There is a very poignant line spoken in the movie by Grug’s daughter, Eep (voiced by Stone), that so resonates with me every time I hear it: “That wasn’t living! That was just … not dying!” A counselor once told me it seemed as if instead of living life, life was just dragging me along. That’s what happens to me a lot. I don’t live; I just … not die.

As human beings, we seem to be hard-wired with a desire to stay alive. We cling to life under even the harshest of circumstances, even when there seems to be little promise waiting on the other side if we do. Those contemplating suicide are put under watch just to ensure they do not end their lives, meaning that even though they may have given up on holding on, the desire for them to live is so strong in someone else extreme measures will be taken by others to preserve a life that is not even their own.

Life is precious. We’re told that, over and over again. But no one ever says not dying is precious. Because it’s not.

See, holding onto to life is not quite enough. It’s like white-knuckling a ride on a roller coaster; you might make it to the end, but you didn’t have any fun getting there. You didn’t feel the freedom of letting out a primal scream or throwing your hands in the air and feeling the release of letting go. I believe there are so many of us stuck in this place. We keep doing things because we’re supposed to be doing them, but we really don’t take much enjoyment from them. They don’t leave us fulfilled, and they don’t increase our joy. They are billed as “living,” but they feel more like death.

In The Croods, the Crood family meet a young man named Guy (voiced by Ryan Guy-the-croods-34964097-480-379Reynolds). Guy is the opposite of Grug. He takes chances. He’s inventive. He’s not afraid. Most of all, though, he is hopeful. “Don’t hide. Live. Follow the sun. You’ll make it to tomorrow.” There was a tomorrow for Guy that held more promise than today. When we’re just punching clocks and meeting requirements and unsure of what in the world we’re doing, tomorrow looks like death. You don’t follow the sun because it’s not there.

I would very much like to live and not just not die. Like Grug, though, I have spent a long time banging my head against the wall, simply trying to do the things I thought were most important. Maybe it’s time I came out the cave. Maybe it’s time I followed the sun.

Maybe I should go looking for tomorrow.

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Oppressing Myself

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately about multiculturalism and how being a part of a race or ethnic group other than Caucasian can foster feelings of tremendous inadequacy. These feelings can lead to those in these groups seeking to dull the pain of their experiences through any number of means, including denial, assimilation, and even outright hatred toward their own heritages. Indeed, there is a desperation for some people to not only escape their situations, but also to escape who they are in general.

This is not light reading I have decided to pick up for myself on a whim. It is part of two college classes I am taking this summer. The prevailing opinion I seem to be picking up on so far is that white people – whether they realize it or not – are part of a privileged race. This privilege is not even necessarily evident; it simply exists because white people (white males, in particular) have traditionally been the dominant cultural group in America. As a result, many Caucasians have never experienced the type of prejudice and even hatred directed toward other ethnic and cultural groups. Therefore, they have less of a reason to loathe themselves because of their cultural station.

I’ve been turning this idea over and over in my mind, and I have come across a feeling of self-hatred for myself. It has not come from a sudden realization that I have acted in a racist way toward anyone, although I do not rule out the possibility that I have. I also do not mean that I necessarily feel as if I have been wronged by some other ethnic or social group, although specific incidents where this may have happened certainly spring to mind. If these two variables have been eliminated, then, where exactly does it come from?

Here’s what I have concluded: I have discriminated against myself.oppression-fists

How is this possible, you might ask? Well, it has to do with my depression and my lack of self-esteem. By result of my never believing I was very handsome, talented, skillful, or desirable, I denied myself many opportunities. It’s not that I didn’t want to succeed; it’s just that I didn’t particularly think I was worthy of it. Of course, external factors may have had a role in this as well, but the driving force in my desire to change myself came as much from inside myself as it did outside. Any barb or slight directed at me was not deflected by a sense of self-worth, but was rather taken to heart and assimilated into my personality.

I have reached a sort of crossroads in my life. I am starting to believe I am worth more, but I am concerned that I have spent so much of my life believing I was less that no one will give me a chance to prove otherwise. This is a hopeless feeling, to say the least. It almost describes the tree falling in the woods: If a person changes but no one takes notice, do they really change? Just as the answer to the question about the tree is affirmative, however, so is the one to this question concerning change. A member of an ethnic or cultural group who makes a lifestyle change does it as much for themselves as for the society around them. Perhaps that is the truth I need to focus on.

Exposed And Unconfident

I did something really stupid this weekend. I mean really, really dumb. Monumentally idiotic. Imbecile-level.

I shaved my beard off.

Now, there is an actual story behind this. My soon-to-be 11-year-old daughter, Emma, has been on me forever about 11535683_10155777623840217_2116900964301603517_nhow my beard scratched her face when I gave her kisses. She had actually started refusing to let me do it. As a sort of truce, I said I would shave it off for her birthday, which is in August. I decided to surprise her, though, by doing it a little bit early.

Well, actually, that’s not my entire reason for doing it when I did. I’m going to be starting college classes soon, and it was very important for me to have the beard when those began. Let me explain.

I’m pretty sure that before this past weekend, I had not been without a beard or at least a goatee for somewhere around the last 10 years. I distinctly remembered despising what I looked like the last time I shaved everything off before that. I had grown a beard in the first place, though, because I hated my face. I mean, I literally hated my face. It’s pasty and doughy looking. It has no real shape. It’s just this white mass of flesh, and my skin isn’t the best in the world either. A beard, as the old saying goes, covers a multitude of dislikes.

Okay, so I made that last saying up, but it really is true. I didn’t realize the level of confidence facial hair gave me. If you’re thinking I’m attempting to make a joke here, I assure you I am not. While most men (and women) are attempting to look younger, I actually wanted to look older. Nothing like a few white hairs in the beard to accomplish that. It not only made me look older, though, but it also made me feel older. The baby face was hidden away, and I finally liked what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t worry as much about what everyone else was seeing because I was so comfortable with what I was seeing.

vitabeardI can’t really put into words how traumatic this shaving experience has been for me. Several times, I have literally wanted to be sick when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror these past few days. I have actually looked up information on the internet about beard-growing supplements (Yes, Virginia, there is something called “Vitabeard.”) and ways to stimulate facial hair growth. Since I started noticed stubble again, I keep rubbing my face just to feel it there.

I am serious when I say this has messed me up a little.

Thankfully, even Emma has said I should grow back the whiskers, so I don’t have to fight with anyone about the decision to do so. As I creep toward rejoining the ranks of beardom, I am realizing I have learned a valuable lesson from all this. If you find something that makes you feel whole and confident and true to yourself, think very carefully before you go messing with it. Even if you do change it, though, and you don’t like it, you can always try to get it back. It may take a little time, but keep your eye on the prize.

Now, if you’ll excuse, I have to go count the hairs on my face. And measure them. Individually.

Who Are You Working For?

“Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?”

I had never really dwelt on the question before. I just knew I felt as if I wasn’t getting the job done. All my efforts felt scattershot, pecking away a little bit here and there. I could always look back at something I did and blame that for my not finishing something important. This was particularly true in instances where I had done something of no lasting consequence, such as playing a video game or lying down for a nap. I knew I was failing … but who, exactly, was I failing?

Quotation-Stephen-Hawking-blame-guilt-human-people-Meetville-Quotes-1595I’ve written here before about dichotomous thinking. This is when a person sees nearly everything in terms of black and white. There is no gray. Something is either right or it is wrong. How does this manifest in my life? Well, one area is work. Now, “work” for me can mean a great many things, which is actually part of the problem here. Going to my job every day is work, but I also somehow manage to turn writing this recreational blog into work as well. Therefore, I am very much driven by what I am supposed to be doing.

Here’s an example: I consider myself – correctly or incorrectly – a writer. What is the pinnacle for a writer’s work? Well, writing a book, of course. I have some ideas. Heck, I probably have enough material from this blog to get a pretty good jump on a book of essays. I just can’t seem to get anywhere on it. I have several theories for this – poor time management, lack of strong material, intimidated by the process of putting everything together, etc., etc. – but the bottom line is always this: I don’t get it done, and I squander the writing ability I have in the process, thereby making me a failure.

This brings the issue full circle, though. Who exactly am I letting down by not getting this done? I mean, is it potential readers? Is it my family? Is it myself? The only answer I could come with will sound a bit lofty: God. I have these abilities that were placed in me, and I do nothing with them. At least, I don’t use them to their full capabilities, and that absolutely fills me with guilt.

Another component of my guilt is a profound feeling of selfishness, and even though several people have tried to impress upon me the fact that I really don’t do many things strictly with myself in mind, I generally view myself as an extremely selfish person. In fact, I sort of view myself as a product of the society we live in today. Everyone is trying to get theirs, and even the people giving only seem to be doing it so they can be seen by others. Our hobbies are expensive, and our universes seem to be focused almost entirely on our own orbits.

What if, though, we’re all just trying to escape our own guilt? What if we’re all chasing these ridiculous dreams and kim-kardashian-kanye-westnotions around in the hopes that one of them will eventually allow us to look in the mirror and say, “Okay, that is the one that hit the mark!”? Could there be some kind of guilt hidden in the Kardashians of the world? Could the Kanye Wests be trying to meet some mark the rest of us don’t know about? Okay, I’m stretching now, but maybe you get the point. Is it possible that we’re all just trying to please someone?

So let me finish the way I started: Who exactly do you feel like you’re letting down?