Day 18: Everyone Dies; or, Why Not Try?

I have two songs in my main iTunes playlist that feature a singer I used to know. Used to, that is, because he died, very suddenly and far too young, a couple of years ago.

I keep the songs in there because every time they come up I am reminded: everyone dies.

This isn’t intended as a morbid expression or a solemn moment of silence. This is intended as a poignant reminder, an impassioned plea to myself to live. Now.

There are things we want to do, but we don’t do them because we’re afraid we’ll fail. We’ll look like a fool. We’ll get it wrong.

Who cares? Who cares??

For about 150,000 people around the world, today is their last day on this Earth. And again tomorrow. And again the next day.

In this hour alone, more than 6,000 people will die.

So maybe you try that new thing, and maybe you look like a fool, but maybe you have a good time. Maybe someone laughs at you, but maybe someone else is inspired by you.

You may even inspire yourself.

Everyone dies. None of us knows when our last day will be. If there’s something you’ve always wanted to try, why not try?

sunset
Sunset in eastern Washington. Photo: Pam Stucky

The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


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Day 14: The Benefit of the Doubt

When we mess up, it’s easy to want others to be a little forgiving of us. To give us the benefit of the doubt. To understand that we’re only human and we’re doing the best we can.

But when someone else messes up at our expense, it’s easy to forget all that. It’s easy to assume that if they hurt us deeply, they meant to. If they said the wrong thing, it was intentional. If they were unkind, it was personal. If they were less than sensitive, it’s because they don’t value us enough to try harder.

Assuming that everyone is doing their best can be hard sometimes. It is easier to feel hurt and get angry than it is to give others the benefit of the doubt and trust and be vulnerable and risk being hurt again.

But if we want to be happy, that’s the only way forward. When you know better, do better. When they know better, they do better. Everyone is learning. We’re all simply doing the best we can, and we all mess up, over and over again. Let’s give each other the benefit of the doubt.

maya


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


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Day 12: When Hard Work Pays Off

In June 2009, without really realizing what I was doing, I joined the ranks of independent artists.

In the years since then I’ve had the joy, honor, and delight to meet dozens of independent artists in all genres: writers, visual artists, jewelers, musicians, film producers, and more.

I was talking last night with a friend who creates jewelry. We were commiserating over the fact that though we work hard and create, and work hard and create, it sometimes feels like no one is paying attention. Getting traction, finding our audiences, making progress on our goals, sometimes feels impossible.

We love the work, we agreed, but it would be nice if a few more people noticed what we’re doing.

I passed on to her a quote I’d read just that day from writer Zadie Smith: “Don’t confuse honours with achievement.” (See link for Zadie’s 10 Rules of Writing.)

Of course, we aren’t doing the work for the honors. (Or, if you’re British, honours.) We’re doing it because we can’t not do it. That creative instinct is more than an urge; it’s a drive.

“Unused creativity isn’t benign. It metastasizes.” So says Brené Brown, and I think she’s right. We don’t create just for the fun of it; we create because we must create in order to thrive.

And yet.

And yet, the honors, when they come, are nice. Very nice indeed.

Which is why I’d like today to congratulate my dear friend Damian McGinty on the release of his gorgeous new CD This Christmas Time, and its debut at #2 on the Billboard World and Holiday charts. I hate the word “deserve” as it implies that those who don’t receive the honors didn’t deserve them. But I do know Damian has worked so hard to get where he is. He poured every bit of himself into this album, and I’m beyond delighted to see him getting such great recognition for his efforts.

Creators keep creating because we can’t not create.

But the awards, when they come, are very nice.

2-billboard-world-and-holiday-chart


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


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Day Nine: What if Laughter is the Canary in the Coal Mine?

This morning I’ve been listening to Radiolab’s fascinating Season Four opening podcast, Laughter, from February 2008.

About a quarter of the way through the episode, a point is made: “The most important thing to remember about laughter is that it’s social.” — Dr. Robert Provine, Neuroscientist.

“Wait,” you’re thinking. “I laugh all the time when I’m alone at home. I watch funny shows, I see a funny tweet, I get a funny text from a friend, I laugh. Out loud.”

Apparently that doesn’t count. “Those are vicarious social stimuli… You take away media, and laughter basically disappears,” says Provine.

Maybe you’ve heard the statistics. Numbers vary, but studies say children laugh anywhere from 300 to 400 times a day. Adults? Well, we’re in the 15 to 20 range.

I’ve heard these numbers many times, over many years, but I’ve never really thought about the reasons behind the disparity. It’s sort of obvious, right? We adults laugh less because adult life is less funny. Right?

But on hearing Provine’s statement, something else occurred to me.

I’ve long thought that loneliness and isolation are at the root of many of our current societal problems. In fact, loneliness and isolation and, as salve to these, compassion are among the themes of my MG/YA book, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse. When I was trying to decide on a villain, I thought, well, I can’t have Evil with a capital E as my villain, because Voldemort has been done. So what is just as bad? What is just as prevalent? What is just as scary and hurtful? And what did I come up with? Loneliness. In this novel, The Void, a vast, formless, but omnipresent entity, represents loneliness and isolation.

On listening to the podcast, a hypothesis started to build in my mind. If adults laugh less, and laughter is purely social, does that mean if we’re not laughing enough, that’s a warning sign? If we aren’t laughing enough, are we too isolated? Is lack of laughter the canary that tells us to get out of the coal mine and get back into the world with other people?

What if we’re not laughing, not because adulthood is too hard, but because we have lost our connections with each other?

laughter


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


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Day Five: There is No Such Thing as Fearless

fearless

Years ago, a friend gave me what felt at the time like an enormous compliment:

“You are absolutely fearless.”

At the time, I puffed up. Yeah! I am fearless! I am badass! Bring it on! I’m not afraid!

In the time since then, though, I’ve come to understand:

There is no such thing as fearless.

Correction: There are people with clinically defined mental disorders (psychopaths? sociopaths?) who are fearless. But that’s not normal.

What I’ve learned over the past seven years about fearlessness is that what looks like fearlessness is, in fact, a combination of other factors including:

  • Self-trust
  • Perspective
  • A healthy relationship with fear
  • Courage

I was going to put courage first, but actually I think it comes last, built out of the others.

Self trust

This is pretty simple, but yet huge. What it means is that you don’t have to trust that a situation or person or anything will turn out as you hope it will. If you’re going to take a risk, you don’t have to worry about whether it will work out. What you need to focus on is trusting that whatever happens, you can handle it. Trusting yourself enough to know that you’ve been through worse before, and you can get through this. If you trust your ability to cope with difficult or painful situations, then you can be more open to taking risks.

Perspective

And speaking of “whatever the worst is,” perspective has to do with knowing what the worst possible outcome could be. Often our fears are based on nebulous, undefined outcomes. When we sit down and think about what the real, worst possible outcome is, though, we’re then able to evaluate: Is that something I could deal with? How would I deal with that? Almost always, when we stop and think about it, the worst possible outcome doesn’t nearly match that loosely defined fear we’ve been letting get in our way.

A healthy relationship with fear

Fear is not some tunnel that you can get through and break out into the light on the other side. No, unless you’re a psychopath (see above), fear will never go away. What changes is your ability to cope with it—but not its existence. Part of our fear, sometimes, comes from the fear itself. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s true! Fear feeds on itself and grows exponentially—especially if we try to run from it. What works better is to acknowledge fear and then move on. See if it has something important to tell you, and if it doesn’t, give it a pat on the head and tell it to take a nap for now. “Yes, fear, I hear you. But I don’t think you’re making valid arguments, so I’m going to give this thing a try.”

Courage

And then, with and after all of these, comes courage. When you know what the worst is and trust that you can cope with it, when you understand that fear is not there to stop you but rather is simply there, then you can, as I like to say, courage up. What do you have to lose? (And I know you have the answer to that, because you already evaluated it when you thought about the worst that could happen.) They say we regret more the things we didn’t do, than the things we did. I say (again taking from my personal manifesto) “Don’t be afraid to try something new. You’ll either have a good time or a good story. If you’re lucky, you’ll have both.”

Don’t try to be fearless. Fearlessness is nothing more than bravado. Everyone feels fear. It never goes away. Instead, aim to be courageous, to be brave. Acknowledge your fear and let it become excitement. And then, jump in.

Side note: I do know that my personal manifesto says “Be fearless.” I wrote that a few years ago, before I started to really think about what it means to be fearless. I’ll get around to changing it one day! As Maya Angelou once said, “I realize I am a work in progress, as we are all in progress.”


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

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Day Four: Happiness is an Action

Yesterday morning as I drifted in that half-dream space between asleep and awake, my mind was playing around with the idea of happiness.

Then I had a thought that rang so true to me, it jolted me straight from half-asleep to fully awake:

Happiness is an action.

We’ve all heard that saying that “love is a verb,” right? That love isn’t just something we feel; it’s something we do.

I’ve been reading about and studying and chasing the ideas of happiness long enough that I instantly recognized the same is true of happiness. The intense, simple truth:

We are happy when we make the choice to do things that make us happy.

And, by contrast, we are unhappy when we choose to do the things that make us unhappy. (See, for example, yesterday’s post: Seeking Outrage vs. Seeking Peace.)

I need to think on this one a lot more but I wanted to share it here with you.

It’s a small (and almost obvious, once you think about it) shift, but yet a big one. We’ve heard the idea that happiness is a choice, but what does that mean?

Maybe it means that happiness is a choice in that we choose to do the things that make us happy, or we choose to do the things that make us unhappy.

We can choose to write in a gratitude journal (which studies show increases happiness), or we can choose to perseverate (one of my favorite words, by the way) on the things that are frustrating us.

We can choose to go on a walk, or we can choose to sit and watch a show we’re not really interested in.

We can take the time to make a delicious healthy meal, or we can go for the french fries. (Okay, sure, french fries are temporary happy, but you know that feeling of heavy, greasy regret in your gut comes way too soon.)

We can reach out to connect with friends or make the effort to meet new people or we can let ourselves become engulfed by loneliness.

We can work on our own life and dreams, or we can covet someone else’s.

We can choose to do the things that make us happy, or we can choose to do the things that make us unhappy.

Happiness is an action.

This is not, obviously, the end-all be-all one-stop solution on how to be happy, and what’s more I’m undoubtedly not the first person to think this. Happiness is complex and multilayered.

More on this as I think more about it. But for now, don’t try to be happy. Make the choice to do happy.

do-happy

 


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


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Day Three: Seeking Outrage vs Seeking Peace

There is no better time to be alive than right now, if what you thrive on is outrage.

You barely have to look for it.

In terms of the current election cycle, you almost don’t have to do more than turn on your computer or TV to find something infuriating these days. The news cycle is non-stop, and the stories get more outrageous every day.

But it goes beyond that.

You can find outrage easily on social media, as well. Twitter is the most obvious culprit; if you’re on Twitter, you know. For others, it’s Facebook: checking the posts of that person who always writes about having a perfect life, when your own is so far from imperfect. Or maybe it’s the Instagram page of the person who you just know is a complete fraud, pretending everything’s amazing.

There’s even a term for it: hate-stalking. Following someone because their posts annoy you so much.

We say we want to be happy. But too often, we spend our time seeking out the very things that will put us in bad moods.

Why do we do these things? If outrage is so … well, enraging, then why do we do it?

In my opinion it’s because we want to feel something, and what we’re really feeling is too hard:

Disappointment.

Fear.

Uncertainty.

The sinking feeling that everyone else’s lives are so much better than ours.

The fear we will never be enough or have enough or do enough.

We hate feeling those things. We will do anything to not feel those!

Including seeking out those things that make us unhappy—just so we can feel something. So we can mask the deeper, more painful feelings, or maybe so we can get proof that no matter how bad our own lives are, someone else has failed at life, too.

But it just ends up making us feel worse.

So here’s a challenge: For today, you and me, let’s consciously avoid those things that enrage us. Let’s not click on that Facebook page or Twitter account of the person who drives us crazy. Let’s not go to the news site that we know will have a story (or ten) that will send our blood pressure to the moon.

Instead, let’s think about what makes us happy, what brings us joy, and purposely seek out those stories, images, places, experiences.

For me, one thing that works—and which I’ve been turning to a lot lately—is timelapse videos.

4K Fjordlapse Norway from Fjordlapse on Vimeo.

Side note on a couple of great sources for timelapse videos: Vimeo has dozens, if not hundreds, of spectacular videos. Simply search on “timelapse” and you’ll instantly find some great ones. The above video is on Vimeo, but I actually found it at timelapse.org, which also has a ton of great videos. Click on the “Videos and Tutorials” tab, then scroll down to “Subjects,” then pick your favorite and start watching. If you find a spectacular timelapse video somewhere, let me know in the comments!

An interesting thing happens when I watch timelapse videos. For the first minute or so I’m fidgety, not focusing, thinking about other things, like, “Is this good enough to share?” I don’t get into the videos. I’m impatient, waiting to move on.

But then, after a short while, I settle into the peace. Cares float away as I sink into the soothing music, the sublime images. I want it to never end.

We’ve become so used to instant gratification that we may now have to work to get to that point, to get past the first part, where we’re just doing it because we know we should, and give ourselves enough time to really start to feel the gratitude and the appreciation and the joy.

For you maybe it’s not timelapse videos. Maybe it’s cat videos. Maybe it’s old episodes of Whose Line Is It Anyway. Pictures of national parks. Trip reports from people who have traveled to places you want to visit one day. Inspirational podcasts (right now, I’m soaking up Marie Forleo podcasts!).

Or maybe it’s something that gets you completely away from your computer and out the door into this gorgeous world: a walk in a neighborhood park. A trip to find the nearest waterfall. A quest to discover a local labyrinth. A visit to a garden nursery.

Don’t you feel calmer already, just thinking about it?

If we’re going to seek things out, we may as well start seeking out things that are life-affirming rather than soul-destroying.


The Universes Inside the Lighthouse by Pam StuckyP.S. Did you know you can read my entire first YA sci-fi adventure book, free, online? And if you’re a parent or educator, or just someone who enjoys activities, check out the free, thought-provoking, skill-building activities at the end of every chapter! The Universes Inside the Lighthouse (and subsequent books in the series) was inspired by my love of books like A Wrinkle In Time or shows like Doctor Who. It’s my own exploration and answer to the deep and sometimes unanswerable questions: what else is out there? What if we could meet aliens from other planets? What if everything were possible? What’s more, through the power of truth-through-fiction, The Universes Inside the Lighthouse addresses issues of loneliness and compassion and gives parents and educators an opening to discuss these challenging but important issues. I love this series so much and I hope you will too! Start reading chapter one here! And feel free to spread the word!


Check out Pam’s books!

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A road trip to the mountains: definitely life-affirming. Photo: Pam Stucky
A road trip to the mountains: definitely life-affirming. Photo: Pam Stucky

“It’s Just a Dance”: On Jodie Sweetin and Living a Fuller Life

success

Last Monday on Dancing with the StarsFull House (and now Fuller House) star Jodie Sweetin performed what judges said was her best dance ever—one week after one of her worst nights of the season. Host Tom Bergeron asked her, “You got so rattled last week. What did you do to not be rattled?”

“I had fun … it’s just a dance!” Jodie exclaimed with the full excitement of the moment. “It’s just a dance!”

I could imagine some of the producers and dancers and executives on the show thinking, “JUST A DANCE? Are you kidding? We have a multi-million-dollar brand built on JUST A DANCE. This is not JUST A DANCE!

But she was one hundred percent right. It’s not life and death. It’s a celebration. It’s fun. It’s release and joy. If she goes out and dances badly, who cares? It’s just a dance.

We’ve all been there. Whether something big or small, whether something important or relatively insignificant, there are things we attempt that rattle us. Maybe they rattle us so much that we don’t try again. Maybe just the thought of trying is so rattling that we don’t even start.

We—so many of us—have become so risk-averse in our lives. We have forgotten that mistakes and failure are nothing more than steps to success, data points on the journey to improvement, inextricable from progress. We cannot succeed without swimming through failure.

But we put so much pressure on ourselves to do things right that we end up not doing things.

We let fear drive our paths.

And our lives shrink.

And then we shrink, convincing ourselves that the small lives we have are the small lives we’re worthy of.

“It’s just a dance.”

This is a woman who has made her way through the horrible pain of addiction and the intense humiliation of public scrutiny.

This is a woman who knows how to survive.

I think her words are worth listening to.

We need to start a new conversation around the concept of “failure.” We need to take the stigma away, take the fear away.

There is no innovation, no creativity, no growth, without failure.

I remind myself of this every time I write a blog post, every time I’m about to publish a book. The fear wells up and I want to shrink and stay safe in my cocoon, not risking, not trying, and certainly not failing. But it’s just a blog post. It’s just a book. It’s just a dance.

The opposite of success is not failure. The opposite of success is not trying.

What are we not doing because we’re afraid we might fail?

What’s worth trying even if we don’t get it right the first time, or the tenth time, or ever?

Whether it’s a blog post or a book, a dance or a painting, going on a date or attending an event, joining a club or making a call, entering a competition or learning a new skill, all those things we want to try but which also terrify us—it’s just a dance.

And at the same time, it’s not just a dance: It’s living. It’s life.

Or, if I may bring the Sweetin conversation full circle, it’s about leading a Full Life. Or a Fuller Life, one might even say.

Let’s get out there and dance.

 

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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Why I Still Love The X-Files

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

Chances are, you’ve had this experience:

You loved something (or someone) deeply, intensely. It was a part of your world, a part of your heart, so much a part of your daily life that you sort of forgot how special it was. You forgot to appreciate it. You forgot to be grateful for it.

And then, one day, it was gone.

Maybe it was a loved one. Someone who was central to your life, gone forever, whom you wished so hard you could see just one more time. Or maybe it was a place. A town that grew and changed, a home you lived in that has since been destroyed.

You thought you’d never see the person, the place, the thing, ever again.

We don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

And usually, that’s how it remains. The loved one who has left — or worse, died — doesn’t come back. The home town is never the same.

The show that you loved came to an end. Over. For good.

The memories live on only in memory.

Thus it was destined to be with The X-Files, a show I loved deeply during its first airing.

At least, that was its destiny … until it returned.

A second chance.

January 24, 2016, was a red-letter date on my calendar. Marked with a giant X: for the return of The X-Files, of course.

Was I excited? Oh, yes. Giddy I was, downright giddy with anticipation. I posted so much on Facebook about the show’s return that friends started mocking me (with love, of course, always with love). “I had no idea you were excited about this,” said one. “Hey Pam, I hear they are airing new episodes of The X-Files starting tonight. I remember you kind of liked the show so I thought I’d let you know,” said another.

So January 24 came along, and at 7 p.m. Pacific I was snuggled up under my new favorite blanket, everything I could possibly need for the next hour within arm’s reach. Ready.

And then of course there was that football thing, some game, it ran over into The X-Files‘ start time. It was unbearable, but it finally ended. The iconic X-Files theme music kicked in, and my heart fluttered. The (more or less) original opening filled the screen, and my grin spread from ear to ear.

I grinned through the whole show, joy in my heart, elation in my soul. The X-Files was back.

When the first episode was over, I posted on Facebook: “That was perfect. So happy.”

There were, of course, the naysayers, the people who watched the show just waiting to hate it. “The first episode is awful,” they said, “the second not much better.”

I ignored them.

Ours is a critical society. We snark and we criticize because it’s easier to hate than to love. I am sure there were people waiting with bated breath, hands at keyboards, ready to pounce. To find the slightest imperfections, the smallest inconsistencies, the littlest confirmations of a pre-decided opinion: the reboot can’t possibly be as good as the original. Prove me wrong. Though of course I won’t let you.

But I don’t believe in living that way.

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.

When something you once loved, that you thought was gone forever, comes back, you have to savor every episode, every line, every look, every nod to the past, every moment.

Was it what I expected?

Here’s the thing: Anyone over the age of … well, let’s say twenty-five or thirty, raise your hand if who you are today is who you thought you would be ten years ago. If your life today is what you thought it would be.

I feel pretty confident there are no hands raised. (If you accurately predicted ten years ago what your life would be like today, then hat’s off to you.)

That’s how life goes.

When you’re twenty-five, the number of paths you could take to forty-five is infinite.

When you’re forty-five, the number of paths from twenty-five has been whittled down to one. Everything else you could have done, everything else you could have been, it’s nothing but the might-have-been.

Life takes us places we never expected.

Of all those infinite paths between the end of The X-Files Season 9 and the beginning of Season 10, of all the possible journeys the characters could have taken, the writers had to pick one. It’s not the same as living the journey. Living your path, each tiny choice leads to the next, moment to moment. It makes sense because we witness it as it unfolds.

But reviving a TV show means making all those choices at once. Do The X-Files‘ creators’ and writers’ choices make sense? To some they will, to some they won’t. Was the path they picked the one I would have picked? In the end, it doesn’t actually matter.

Fictional characters though they may be, I love that I can see in today’s Mulder and Scully the weight of their choices since we last saw them. They are not the people they were when we left them, and they shouldn’t be. But who they are is, nonetheless, believable. That tension of love and frustration, that deep commitment balanced by the need to protect their own boundaries, the walls they’ve built up because of or in spite of themselves and their lives. The struggles and the wondering: did I make the right decisions? Should I have taken another path? Everything I believed, everything I’ve fought for, everything I’ve devoted my life to, has it all been worth it? These are questions we all grapple with in our own (real) lives. Much to the credit of the creators, cast, and crew, these same questions feel real in the new X-Files universe.

And as to the fact that Mulder and Scully aren’t together anymore: just as with any of our own relationships, it’s complicated. As David Duchovny said in an interview, there’s not just chemistry between Mulder and Scully now; there’s history, too. Which makes it feel real.

Sure, there are the deviations from the original story, accompanied by unspoken requests from the creators that we play along.

But I saw Cigarette Smoking Man die. Like, not just sort of die, not just maybe die. He was decimated, eviscerated, destroyed in a fiery ball of very hot fiery fire.

You want to bring him back? You want me to ignore the fact that that’s basically impossible?

Okay. I want to believe. For you, Chris Carter, I will believe.

Is The X-Files exactly what it was before? Of course not.

Did Alice Walker not tell us that we can’t step in the same river twice?

Did Julie Andrews not remind us that nothing lasts forever; nothing ever could?

Critics can go on criticizing, tearing apart whatever there is to tear apart, judging mercilessly while occasionally deeming a moment or two worthy of praise.

Me, I’m going to savor.

You’re back. It’s been a long time. Are the things you remember the same things I remember? Are the things that were important to me the same things that were important to you? I know I’ve changed. How have you changed? Will I recognize you? Will you still love me? Will I still love you?

Nothing lasts forever; nothing ever could. The X-Files is back, but soon, too soon, it will be gone again. As I write this, there are only three episodes left; by the time it’s published there might be only two.

I loved it in its original day, and I love it now. Chris Carter, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, and all the others, too many to name, thank you.

Turns out the good shows stick with you, the characters (and the actors who played them, and the people who created it all) stay in your heart.

Even after all this time? 

Always.

 

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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The Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution: Brené Brown’s Rising Strong

Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending–to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how the story ends.
Brené Brown, Rising Strong

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

“No one could see the color blue until modern times.”

That’s the title of an article that came out in Business Insider earlier this year. I saw the headline when the story came out, and of course I was intrigued. No one could see blue? How could that be?

The article states, “…ancient languages didn’t have a word for blue–not Greek, not Chinese, not Japanese, not Hebrew. And without a word for the color, there is evidence that they may not have seen it at all.”

And then, the article poses a question: “Do you really see something if you don’t have a word for it?”

When I read Brené Brown’s books, watch her videos, and witness how the people around me react to what Brené has to say, in some ways it feels like Brené has done the equivalent of introducing our modern society to the color blue. Her research and work have given us a new vocabulary, a way to talk with each other about the ideas and feelings and fears we’ve all had but haven’t quite known how to articulate. It’s like we’ve all had a sense of the concepts Brené studies–specifically shame, vulnerability, and courage–but never before have we had the words to fully express what we’ve been feeling, or to share with each other our experiences.

I should back up and start by saying that I love Brené and am intensely grateful for her work. I think it’s telling that my autocorrect/autosuggest knows by now to offer up “Brené”–complete with that accent mark over the e–when I’m texting someone. It is not unusual for me to quote or reference her ideas. I’ve read all her books, watched most of her videos, listened to her The Power of Vulnerability CDs more times than I can remember (and passed them on to a large handful of people), and I took Brené’s eCourse offered on Oprah.com back in 2014. (Brené also now offers courses through her new online learning community, COURAGEworks). I’ve heard the terms “Brené Brown junkie,” or “the cult of Brené Brown,” and while I understand what people mean, I think the phrases are a bit unfair. The fact that something resonates with a lot of people doesn’t make it invalid. Brené’s research resonates deeply with me, and the work is work I still need to do. It may not be for everyone, but it’s definitely for me.

And so it was with eager anticipation that I awaited Rising Strong, Brené’s fourth book, released last week. (See the book’s beautiful video trailer at the end of this post.)

Rising Strong continues Brené’s research into the exploration of the wholehearted journey. As Brené says, her most recent three books can be summed up as:

“The thread that runs through all three of these books,” she says, “is our yearning to live a wholehearted life.”

Brené's past books.
Brené’s previous books.

“In the past two years [since the publication of Daring Greatly], my team and I have … received emails every week from people who write, ‘I dared greatly. I got my butt kicked and now I’m down for the count. How do I get back up?’ I knew when I was writing The Gifts and Daring Greatly that I would ultimately write a book about falling down. I’ve collected that data all along, and what I’ve learned about surviving hurt has saved me again and again. It saved me and, in the process, it changed me,” she says.

Thus comes Rising Strong, a road map for how to get back up when we fall.

The Rising Strong Process includes:

  • The Reckoning: walking into our story
  • The Rumble: owning our story
  • The Revolution: writing a new ending and changing how we engage with the world

To me, Rising Strong is largely a book about story.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.
Brené Brown

We are wired for story, says Brené. (That is, in fact, Rule #4 in her Rules of Engagement for Rising Strong.) I couldn’t agree more. (Personally, I think storytelling, rather than prostitution, is likely the world’s oldest profession.)

When you think about it, practically everything we do is in some way related to the stories we tell ourselves. Whether the story is small–say, a reaction to someone who cut us off in traffic (are they a jerk? In a hurry to get to the hospital?)–or grand–such as our narratives of who we are, who we want to be, who we think we have to be–stories rule our lives.

“We feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories–it’s in our biology,” says Brené.

One of the most powerful practices I learned from Rising Strong is the idea of incorporating into our lives and communications the phrase, “the story I’m making up is….” That is, recognizing and acknowledging that the interpretations of events we’ve created in our heads–the stories from which our fears flow–are maybe, just maybe, not one hundred percent accurate.

I often think of myself as a jack of all trades, master of none. But the fact is, my brain is pretty much an admiral when it comes to making up stories. I’m a writer–of too-long emails and texts, of the occasional blog, of books of both fiction and non-fiction–so being able to make up stories comes in handy. For example, in the book I’m working on right now, I’m making up whole worlds, whole universes. Without the ability to make up stories, I’d be lost in my chosen career.

But when it comes to real life, the ability to weave a hundred different stories from one event can be exhausting. Inside my brain, things can get messy.

Life does not consist mainly, or even largely, of facts or happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever flowing through one’s head.
Mark Twain

While the reckoning, the rumble, and the revolution are all critical to the rising strong process, Brené says it’s the rumble that is the messiest. It’s the space where “you’re too far in to turn around and not close enough to the end to see the light.” It’s the place of the greatest struggle, and, says Brené, it’s a nonnegotiable part of the process.

“The rumble begins with turning up our curiosity level and becoming aware of the story we’re telling ourselves about our hurt, anger, frustration, or pain.”

Brené calls the initial story we tell ourselves the “sh*tty first draft” or “SFD” (a phrase she borrows from writer Anne Lamott). Writing down the unedited, unfiltered, unpolished stories we are hearing in our heads about the situations that are causing us to feel fear, hurt, pain, anger, shame, etc., allows us to investigate the tough questions about what’s really happening, to evaluate what we’re thinking, and to ask whether our stories are true, or a way to disengage and self-protect.

Rising Strong is rich with anecdotes from Brené’s own life. This, to me, is part of the strength of the book. Over and over as I read Brené’s books, I recognize the truth in the title of her first book: I Thought It Was Just Me. Any shame we may feel in seeing ourselves in these stories is moderated by the knowledge that Brené is right there with us. Our fears and shames can feel suffocating when we believe we are alone in them. Brené’s work reminds us: we are not alone.

Brené Brown
Brené Brown

In Rising Strong, Brené also addresses the complex nature of failure. We “gold-plate” failure and grit, she says, skipping over or sugar-coating the process and the pain involved in falling and in deciding to rise again.

“Rather than gold-plating grit and trying to make failure look fashionable, we’d be better off learning how to recognize the beauty in truth and tenacity,” she says.

Brené notes, “In her book The Rise, Sarah Lewis writes, ‘The word failure is imperfect. Once we begin to transform it, it ceases to be that any longer. The term is always slipping off the edges of our vision, not simply because it’s hard to see without wincing, but because once we are ready to talk about it, we often call the event something else–a learning experience, a trial, a reinvention–no longer the static concept of failure.’ Failure can become nourishment if we are willing to get curious, show up vulnerable and human, and put rising strong into practice.”

Brené also talks about the challenging idea that everyone is simply doing they best they can in any given moment. It’s a difficult concept to embrace when we’re dealing with people whose actions so very thoroughly conflict with our own needs and values. But personally, I think if more of us could embrace that belief in our day-to-day dealings (especially on the internet), it could have a profound impact on our interactions and our world.

And, following what she has said is one of the most profound findings of her research, Brené discusses boundaries and the idea that the most boundaried people she’s ever met are also the most compassionate. That one takes a while to digest, but it makes tremendous sense. “Compassionate people ask for what they need,” she says. “They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it.”

There’s far too much good stuff in Rising Strong for me to cover it all. Of course by now it’s obvious that I recommend it, and all Brené’s other work. We are story-full beings, and miscommunications can contribute to our greatest woes. Learning how better to communicate with each other, and how better to understand and manage the (not completely accurate) stories we tell ourselves can, in my opinion, only lead to greater connection. And, as I learned in another book released this summer, Michelle Gielan’s Broadcasting Happiness, social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness. The work is hard, but the journey is worthwhile.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.
Winston Churchill

Of the ten Rules of Engagement for Rising Strong, I think one of the most powerful is Rule #9: Courage is contagious. Brené’s books are a tangible manifestation of this rule. Putting books out into the world, to be critiqued and criticized by potentially billions of people, is a vulnerable and courageous act. By sharing her own stories, sharing her own vulnerability with us, Brené empowers us each to be a little more courageous in our own lives. When reading Brené’s books, I always feel a little stronger, a little braver, a little more courageous. Not invincible; reading her books doesn’t make me suddenly feel like I will never fall. But definitely more resilient, like if I fall, I can pull myself back up again.

Says Brené, “In my work, I’ve found that moving out of powerlessness, and even despair, requires hope. Hope is not an emotion: It’s a cognitive process…. hope is learned.”

Rising Strong, like all Brené’s books, gives me hope.

We are the authors of our lives.
We write our own daring endings.

Brené Brown

Find Brené at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
Learn more about the COURAGEworks online learning community.

Rising Strong Trailer from Brené Brown on Vimeo.

Also published at my Huffington Post blog.


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