That’s Not Me

Two days ago, I was riding on a bus in downtown Indianapolis, and a woman a few seats away leaned toward me and asked, “Are you a model?”

I laughed in her face.

And then I realized how incredibly rude that was.

“I’m sorry. No, I’m not.”

“Oh,” She said. “Well, you could be.”

I paused a quick second, trying to regain my Ps and Qs. “Thank you, that’s very nice of you.”

See, here’s the problem. I genuinely think the idea of me being a model is hilarious. And it’s not because I’m insecure or think I’m ugly. I’m not ugly. I mean, I’m no Gal Gadot, but let’s be honest, if there were two of her the universe would probably implode, so that’s for the best. I clean up well, and I can make an empire-waisted evening dress look like it was made for me. I’m pretty cute.

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But the very image of me modeling, putting in the effort to look poster-worthy for my job, every single day, is laughable.

Let me give you an example.

Adult acne is my nemesis. Seriously, I’ve had acne since I was 12, and it really hasn’t gotten much better – it’s just moved down from my forehead and sort of spread down my neck like it’s getting tired and letting gravity slowly win. About every two months or so, I look in the mirror at the mountain range that is my skin and I get incredibly annoyed. It’s wildly unfair, really. Teenage acne is one thing – they’re awkward and funny-looking anyway. But as an adult? It’s really just salt in the wound that is an aging body.

But here’s the catch: I hardly ever care enough to do something about it. Every once in a while I get so annoyed that I talk to a doctor or buy a different soap or stop washing my face in the shower. But then after about two days,  I just can’t be bothered to put in the effort. I have too much to do, and I value my downtime more than my skincare regimen. So my acne continues.

And I now have confirmation that it is truly a matter of values:

IMG_2725.JPGMy team and I have been working on a short film, and I am the main character. Knowing that we were going to be filming this week, and that my face would be displayed on HD screens, and that the character I was playing might actually put in the effort to deal with her acne, I forced myself to actually take care of my skin for two whole weeks. And damn if it doesn’t look good.

But last night when I got home from the last day of filming, I washed my face in the shower and couldn’t be bothered to do a single other thing to my skin before crawling into bed.

It’s no longer a priority. Sleep is more valuable.

And honestly, at thirty years old, it’s good for me to just acknowledge this: I could look better, but I’m just not going to, because other things are more important to me. That acknowledgment keeps the comparison and insecurity monsters at bay, because I can recognize that where I differ from others is almost always a choice. I could be thinner, but then I wouldn’t be able to eat ice cream with my friends while we watch terrible movies. I could drive a nicer car, but I wouldn’t be able to afford to do CrossFit, which I love.

The options are out there, and I am choosing what I want. I am so okay with not being a model, and it has nothing to do with feeling insecure. It’s just not me. There is great freedom in just admitting that a certain thing is never going to be true of you. Like having a clean house, or getting that motorcycle. Those things will happen if you choose to value them, but that’s just unrealistic, why don’t you come on over here with me? We might have messy houses and adult acne, but we have ice cream and no regrets.

What are you not choosing to value in life that you can just acknowledge and move on from?

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When in Thailand

A lot of people recently have asked me, “How was Thailand?”

Here’s my standard answer: “Thailand is a really cool place, and I would love to go there again!” IMG_1604.JPG

The astute among you may notice that although I did technically answer the question, I didn’t really answer the heart of the question. Some people notice that in real time and inquire further, but most don’t and just move on. It’s an easy way to decipher who’s asking a quick, polite question, and who actually has time and emotional bandwidth to know more.

But since not all of you know me personally and can ask, I shall give you the long answer. If you didn’t want the long answer, then you already have the short one and you can go on your merry way! Blessings and health upon you, my friend.

 

So here’s the big picture. Five of us went to Thailand to lead worship for about 500 missionaries. That part of being in Thailand was fantastic: being with these super cool, dedicated, interesting people during their week of processing and chill time. But the actual trip (both there and back and some of being there) was ROUGH.

IMG_1452Our luggage didn’t leave the US when we did, so our 16-hour layover in China was just with carry-on luggage, which is not a huge deal (as anyone who’s done much traveling knows, this is a fairly common occurrence) but the language barrier meant that we spent at least 2 of those 16 hours in discussion with various airport personnel about our lost bags. And you haven’t really felt alone in the universe until you’ve tried to find transportation in a non-english speaking country at night, with nothing but your passport, laptop, and a clean pair of underwear.

We found our hotel, and due to a series of odd and sleep-deprived decisions, I ended up sharing a room with a total stranger that we met at the airport. So I can also tell you that you haven’t come to terms with your mortality until you’ve laid in bed thinking, “Wow, I hope my roommate isn’t a serial killer. I guess we’ll find out in the morning.”

Good news: she was not a serial killer.

We trekked onward to Thailand, settled into our hotel, and played for two days on rented instruments, waiting for our luggage to arrive. Day three, most of it arrived, and my acoustic guitar was among the happily accounted-for.

IMG_7200But when I took it out to play it the next morning, I discovered an 18 inch crack along the bottom of my guitar. I own an SKB flight case, which basically means in theory you could drop my guitar out of the plane at 30,000 feet and it would be fine. And since there was no damage to the case, clearly someone had removed the guitar from the case, somehow managed to crack it, then put it back and sent it along to Thailand. (I strongly suspect that they removed it to inspect it, stopped to take a smoke break, sat on the guitar, and then just put it back when their break was over. Either that or some sort of guitar-throwing competition went down.)

So that wasn’t great.

IMG_1623One of my teammates accompanied me back to the airport to report my luggage as “damaged,” which was another exercise in universal sign language. There was a point, actually, when a very polite but harried Thai gentleman told us we needed to speak to a Mr. Ping. My teammate leaned over to me and whispered, “Is he being serious or is he making a racist joke about the Chinese?”

“I have no idea. Just smile and nod,” I said, following my own advice.

We never found Mr. Ping, so maybe it was joke? Very difficult to say.

After we returned from the airport, I was getting ready to play for the evening session when I suddenly realized a terrible thing: I’d left my iPhone in the cab.

My roommate, who had lived in Asia for several years, was kind but straightforward: “I’m very sorry that happened. You’ll never see it again. Accept that and move on.”

Well, at this point you need to know that midway through the week I had learned that my grandmother passed away back in the states. Between that, the energy needed to lead the team, and my broken guitar, I was already emotionally on edge, and losing my phone, my tether to the familiar, put me over that edge.

I don’t cry often, but when I do, I tend to be in danger of popping out my eyeballs from sheer force. This was one of those times.

Thankfully, a coworker refused to accept this ending. He used Find My iPhone to see that my phone was still in the cab (back at the airport) and he put a message on the lock screen. Less than an hour later, we got a text in very broken English. Paraphrased, it said, “We found your phone. We are heading to such and such resort. We will leave your phone at the front desk.”

And there was much rejoicing!

My roommate’s immediate response was, “Wow. God must really love you!”

Theologically accurate? Not so much. Figuratively true? Yes.

You’ll be glad to know that the trip to the resort to retrieve my phone was an adventure in itself. We took a tuk-tuk, which is basically a giant tricycle with an engine, and when we showed the driver the spot on the map where we needed to go, he pulled out a one-inch thick monocle in order to see the map. And he still put his nose on the phone screen to use it! If I’d had a phone at the time, I would have taken a photo, and you could all share in the disbelief. Our driver was essentially blind.

IMG_0003.JPGBut apparently his distance vision was somewhat better, because he successfully got us to the resort and back, cheered with us about my phone (“You accomplish you mission!”) and even took our photo and consented to take a selfie with us afterwards.

The end of this story is as follows: I bought a pair of Thai pants with elephants on them and wore them on the plane home and they ripped right down the crotch halfway through the 14.5-hour plane ride. Which just confirms the fact that nothing is fair in this world. And that international travel is an adventure from start to finish.

There. Now you know how Thailand was. Want to go with me next time?

What Didn’t Happen

My last two months have held a series of adventures.

From getting stranded in an ice storm in Iowa to leaving my iPhone in a cab in Thailand, my recent experiences could easily be narrated by Lemony Snicket. Some of that just comes with traveling internationally, and some of it was completely unwarranted and just comes with Murphy’s Law. It’s basically been two months of solid blogging gold, and even other people have noticed. Some variation of, “This will be a great blog post,” has been said to me at least five times by different people.

But my blog has been quieter than the Western Front.

IMG_1670 2.jpgThis is not just because I’ve been traveling. I’m currently writing this on a plane, somewhere over Pennsylvania, because you can write anytime and anywhere, Sam I am. (I guess not in the dark, unless you have a charged electronic device, which tends to be elusive when traveling overseas. But unless you’re stuck in a closet with no electricity or technology, I feel like you don’t really have an excuse for not writing if you have something to write.)

And I am going to write about those things that happened. Because they’re dang crazy. Or at least worth sharing. I am going to tell you what happened when I ripped my pants on a 12 hour flight from China to LA. Just not right now.

Today I want to talk about what didn’t happen.

Let’s start with the age old question: if a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it still make a sound?

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My not at all old answer: yes, but it sounds different.

(There’s also the question, if a man hears a tree fall in the forest and there’s no woman to hear it, is he still wrong? The answer to that one is, of course, no comment.)

Here are a few things that didn’t happen:

When I couldn’t get the flat tire off my car while freezing rain soaked straight through my clothes, no one cussed the skies with me or lent their body weight to the effort. No one helped me tell the story when I got back, a day later than I had planned, from that spontaneous trip to Nebraska.

When I had an overnight layover in China, there was no female friend to share the hotel room with me, to laugh at my inappropriate jokes about the window between the shower and bedroom. There was only the young woman I met in the airport, and she was already asleep as I explored the foreign room, so I didn’t talk and laugh out loud about this stranger hopefully not being a serial killer.

When I saw a vague message from my mother and knew my grandmother had died, no one at that Israeli restaurant cut through the sounds of raucous laughter and busy nighttime traffic in Thailand to join me in telling stories about a woman who lived a long and amazing life. Whatever I needed in that moment didn’t happen, simply because no one present knew what that was, including me.

I could go on. But my point is not to depress you, or me for that matter.

My point is that over the last two months I’ve noticed the things that didn’t happen, the things that are missing.

And almost every time it’s actually a person that’s missing. Not one specific person. A kind of person in my life. The kind of person with me who could say, “I’m in this boat with you,” or, at the very least, “I see you and I understand you and what’s happening.” Those things didn’t happen because the people directly around me couldn’t say that, or because I was alone.

(A brief note: absolutely none of this is a complaint against the people I was with, or the people who helped and comforted and laughed with me from a distance. I am incredibly grateful for the way my friends, coworkers, and even strangers supported and cared for me. You did what you could in the moment, and I appreciate that more than I can say.)

I have had the good fortune to have at least one of those persons with me on many of my life adventures. But they’ve been noticeably absent in the last two months, and it’s made my adventures less fun, less funny, less light-hearted, harder to to accept as especially colorful pages in the coloring book that is my life.

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 9.11.14 PM.pngI have a notepad given to me by one of my favorite persons; we used it to log our travels on a particularly adventurous road trip. The cover says, “You be Thelma. I’ll be Louise.” The story of Thelma and Louise wouldn’t be a story without both of them together. They were in the boat together, right up to the end.

My thought for the future: whenever possible, take that person with you. The extra baggage fees are definitely worth it.

Good (Stuff) For You

It’s that time. Time for new things that Ashleyne likes. Now that the holidays are gone, we could all use some good stuff to help us recover and get through the winter months.

Due to my sleep restrictions over the past few months, I’ve had time to take up new hobbies, read lots of books, watch an unreasonable amount of TV, and stare out the window like I’m getting paid for it. The good news is that this extra time (which, thankfully, is dwindling as my sleep improves) allows me to find only the best things in the world, and share them with you. You can thank me however you wish, but Starbucks gift cards and winter-y candles are always a nice surprise.

Books: 

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. This is the first in a series of books chronicling the exploits of one Mary Russell, and starts with young Mary, a teenager during the first World War, encountering the now middle-aged Sherlock Holmes, and becoming his apprentice. It’s well-written, slightly faster paced than Sir Doyle’s originals, and presents a new, female perspective on the great detective’s life. It’s been out for years, long enough for there to be 19 more (!) but I’m finally jumping on the bandwagon. So if you’re 20+ years behind, like me, come along on the adventure!

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My favorite place to read

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. I haven’t even finished this book yet, and I can already recommend it as a must-read. It’s an open letter from a father to his teenage son about living in a black body in America. You can get through it in under three hours, which I know because I’ve been listening to the audio version (read by the author) but you might need to take time after each paragraph to digest and process. If I had a bookclub, I’d insist we discuss this book. So if you want to discuss it after you read it, you know where to find me.

Movies and TV: 

Screen Shot 2018-01-12 at 1.07.49 PMThe Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Streaming on Amazon Prime, this show won two Golden Globes for its first season, and I can’t say I disagree. To tell you much about it spoils the story, so I’ll simply tell you that it’s a period piece about a Jewish housewife who finds herself in the stand-up comedy business. It’s smart, funny, emotional, and stars a strong woman. Plus, Tony Shalhoub returns as close to his role in Monk as he probably ever will. What’s not to love?

Miss Sloane. Speaking of strong women, did anyone else completely miss this movie’s debut in 2016? I stumbled upon it on IMDb during one of my frequent research whirlpool experiences, and then watched it three times in a week. Also on Amazon Prime, this political thriller explores the life of a D.C. lobbyist in the midst of the gun-control battle. Brace yourself, the first 20 minutes of this movie move fast. I’d actually poured myself a glass of whiskey to enjoy while starting the movie, but about two minutes in, decided not to drink it because I needed all my wits to follow the fast-talking protagonist. Also, for those of you who like this sort of thing, the cinematography is fantastic.

Bonus- MoviePass: KB gave me a fantastic gift this year, which I hadn’t even heard of, so I thought I’d tell you about it in case you’re looking for a gift for your favorite movie-lover. MoviePass is a subscription service that allows you to go to up to one movie a day. Yes, you read that right. You can go to the theater EVERY DAY. If you want to. Which, of course, I do. It’s a great time to be alive.

Food: 

IMG_6151Cinnamon Rolls: January is just plain awful. Can we all acknowledge that? Unless you live in Eastern Europe, there’s really nothing great happening between now and my birthday in March. So if you, like me, need to reward yourself with random happiness to get through the winter, check out this recipe for cinnamon rolls. WARNING: This recipe is excruciatingly detailed. If you know me, you know that I feel about recipes like Gollum feels about cooking fish. Why would I do all these things to my food? I just want to eat! If you start telling me eggs need to be room temperature before I can crack them, I start cracking them on your face. However, this recipe is worth making, at least once. I actually had to be heavily supervised in order to ensure I didn’t skip anything or accidentally put in three pounds of butter instead of three ounces, but they turned out delicious. 


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Miscellaneous: 

Book Lovers’ Candles: I bought a couple of these as Christmas presents, and ended up keeping the one scented like “Christmas at the Burrow” because I couldn’t bear to part with it. I’ve burned it for a lot of hours, and it still smells like cookies, cinnamon, vanilla, and magic. Check out Frostbeard Studio for the rest of their scents, including “Through the Wardrobe” and “The Shire.” Your nose won’t regret it.

On Star Wars (No spoilers)

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I was incredibly privileged to be able to see The Last Jedi last night, and the leftover adrenaline kept me up rather late. I lay in bed, wondering how to explain this Force-related insomnia to my sleep counselor, while simultaneously rehashing the new movie and the eight others before it.

And it suddenly occurred to me that if, at any point, the Jedi had brought in Dr. Brené Brown for a few workshops, none of this nonsense would have happened.

 

Happy Friday. Go see Star Wars.

Making a Villain

Have you noticed that in popular culture it’s getting easier and easier to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys? I’m talking about everything from children’s stories to Marvel movies to the 5 o’clock news.

ThinkstockPhotos-610969214The delineation between right side and wrong song, heroes and villains, seems to be getting wider and more pronounced. A while ago I wrote a post on vigilanteism, and how our culture is moving toward subjective truth while simultaneously pushing to enforce justice. That’s not what this post is about.

Here, I want to talk about the bad guys. And since I believe that popular culture is a window into our perspectives and mindsets (although there is definitely a chicken and egg issue there) let’s talk about popular movie villains.

Recently, over coffee and cranberry bread, when we were supposed to be talking about app design, one of my coworkers and I got into a disagreement about the new Thor movie: he loved it, I disliked it. I knew I was going to have trouble making my case when my first argument was, “Hela’s hair should NOT have been black.”

Seems like a dumb thing to critique. But here, let me show you how Hela as she first appears in the movie:

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Even if you’ve seen the movie, just look at that photo with a clean slate and tell me what you think that character’s story arc is going to be? Is she going to cause trouble or be helpful? If she meets you in a dark alley, will you still be alive afterwards? If you had to guess, is she going to pursue power or relationship?

I can pretty much guarantee that you guessed it right. As the goddess of Death, Hela attempts a coup, kills thousands of soldiers, and shows no mercy even to her younger brothers. There is no opportunity for redemption, and no question of her loyalty.

Excluding the actual psychopaths and sociopaths of the world, when was the last time you interacted with someone that you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, had not one kind, merciful, or helpful bone in their body? Is there someone in your life who has never, not even with a pet, pursued relationship instead of power?

Screen Shot 2017-12-08 at 2.55.28 PMEven our famous historical bad guys had friends, family, loyalty, some positive characteristic. Most real-life villains, like Hitler, Tanya Harding, or the Unibomber, not only had some positive qualities, but they actually believed that what they were doing was right. Teenagers and psychopaths behave badly for the sake of behaving badly. The rest of us do what we think is right, based on our view of the world.

Stealing a stapler from your office? Come on, have you seen what this company makes in a year? They can afford another stapler.

Talking about someone behind their back? They do it all the time, and who does it hurt, anyway, if they never hear about it?

Lying to a friend about being too busy to hang out with them? They don’t need to know. I deserve a night at home, anyway.

We justify our decisions in order to make them right in our minds. 

The reason for this is actually quite simple: holding a “yes, and” philosophy is uncomfortable, at times even painful – not just emotionally, but even physically! There is physical discomfort involved when we recognize that a different point of view also has merit, or different behavior could also have been a positive choice. Holding two conflicting ideas, actions, or concepts in tandem is not pleasant.

And so we learn to justify one, while excluding the other, eliminating the discomfort. For most of us, it simply creates an “us versus them” atmosphere. But taken too far, it can lead to excluding an entire reality, allowing us to justify behavior that is harmful to others.

In other words, villains are the ones who have coped with their pain and discomfort by eliminating opposing points of view, allowing them to believe that their worst behaviors and ideas are right.

It isn’t until all opposing ideas and views are ignored that you get someone like Hela. Eliminating her pain by justifying her behavior, Hela has no remorse, empathy, or chance for redemption. She is just evil personified.

But I know that I have dismissed an opposing view because I wanted to believe that I was right. Haven’t you? Does that make us villains? Or does it mean that real villains are more complicated than simply being pure evil? And that by simplifying movie villains into only evil beings, we are perpetuating the norm of simplifying others into a good guys or bad guys category?

maxresdefaultBottom line, I really wanted Hela to have red hair. Because I think that then she’d be real, a human like you and me, with a complicated and painful set of “yes, ands,” and Thor and his brother would have to wrestle with the fact that not everyone is either with them or against them.

 

I’d love to hear who your favorite movie villain is, and why!

 

Sources: Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, and Ambivalence and Our Wounded Hearts, a podcast by Dr. Dan Allender

Let’s Call This What It Is

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I was meeting with two coworkers this week to explain what I would need from them in order to do something they were asking of me.

For context, I explained that I have had to put a lot of boundaries in place lately in order to continue functioning. I said that last week I was so depressed that on Friday morning I couldn’t get out of bed to go to work.

It was a simple statement, and they took it as it was and we moved on with the conversation.

But as we were leaving the meeting, one of the guys said, “Hey – I’m really sorry about your…” (long pause) “…situation. I’ll be praying about…” (another long pause)

I smiled and offered the words he was missing: “My mental illness?”

There was immediate and visible panic on his face.

“No, no!” He said. “That’s not what I’m saying!”

“Well,” I said, hopefully gently, “that’s what it is. But thank you.”

And I walked away.

Now, because I know this coworker and trust and respect him, I completely understand that he was trying to be kind and avoid making me feel judged or shamed.

But I also know that reserving the term “mental illness” for the certifiably insane is how we end up with stigmas and shame surrounding things like depression, anxiety, and personality disorders.

To some of you, this feels incredibly obvious. To others, not so much. And I get that – not judging. Let’s just talk about it.

ThinkstockPhotos-535911123When I say, “mental illness,” what do you picture?

If you picture straightjackets and padded walls, you might want to revisit your definition. According to the Mayo clinic, “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions – disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior.”

This includes, but is not limited to, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and addictive behavior. Which means that mental illness is everything from needing Xanax to needing a straightjacket.

And if you don’t call it an illness, if you call it a “situation,” or really anything other than an illness, you place the source of the situation back in the hands of the affected person.

ThinkstockPhotos-621146764Let’s say I come into work with a cold. I’m sneezing, blowing my nose, my throat is sore, and my head hurts.

You say, “I’m sorry about your…situation.”

To clarify, I say, “My being sick?”

And you don’t want me to feel ashamed of being sick, so you say, “No, no! You’re not sick! Sick is cancer or tuberculosis. You’re not sick!”

Absurd, right?

Because why would you be afraid that I would be ashamed of being kind of sick? The natural leap, even if you didn’t mean this, is that you believe there is something inherently shameful about being sick.

ThinkstockPhotos-627349976But if you think about it, you know that the fact that I am depressed is not inherently shameful. I’m not doing anything wrong. In fact, I am actively dealing with my depression, through multiple doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and medications.

But I’m still ill. There is something wrong with me, despite my best efforts. And I’m not ashamed of that or even all that angry about it. It’s simply my reality, and I’m dealing with it.

I’m mentally ill. And I’m fine with saying that.

Will you join me in calling it what it is?