Not Seeking Representation

I was listening to Glennon Doyle’s podcast this morning and something she said really struck me like a fly ball to the chin. It wasn’t even the main point of what she was talking about, or maybe it was since it’s what became lodged in my brain, but it rattled me in a way I couldn’t ignore.

I’m not really a podcast person. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them, I do quite a bit, but I don’t intentionally make the time to listen to them. When I’m on the subway going to the gym, I read a tangible book with pages that flip and bookmarks that mark. It’s my sacred solo reading time and no matter how many New Yorkers might crowd onto the train, I’m alone in my book and I’m revived within it for twenty minutes twice a day.

Having said that, I’m trying to make space for other voices in my day and this morning, I woke up forty five minutes before my alarm went off—truly awake with no hope of returning to sleep—so I figured I’d put it on as I got ready to be a person. I made eggs, sausage because I happen to have some and even though it’s not healthy it’s yummy and I wanted it, and iced coffee with maybe a bit too much pumpkin spice creamer but again it’s yummy so back off. I took the dog out. I put on my people clothes. And I did it all while listening to the We Can Do Hard Things podcast.

In the podcast, Glennon said something about not wanting to send her representation out into the world, i.e. a presentational version of herself and not her truest self. Though I’ve read that phrase in her books, it hit differently today. Fly ball to the chin. It reinforced something I’ve been working on the past few weeks (to varying results) and that’s my need to be more forthright with how I’m feeling on a given day rather than leading with the representation of who I think I’m supposed to be.

I’m supposed to be jovial and upbeat and optimistic and ready-for-adventure. I’m supposed to bring my smile and my ears and my perky demeanor to the table. I’m supposed to be grounded and centered and focused and busy with projects I love and in love with the fact that I love them. And some days, I am those things.

But not always.

*clears throat to allow for vulnerability*

My world right now feels like a wave that’s rearing up to crest and simply hasn’t yet. It’s a wave of the unknown and undecided and uncontrollable and below all of that is me, looking up, trying to make sense of it all. Sometimes there’s the added bonus of depression and greater still, there are times when my outlook is punctuated by cute little panic attacks which make my vision go blurry.

Many of my thoughts are connected to my impending return-to-office and though I like my job—I don’t grimace at the thought of doing the thing I do for the monies—the world has changed since we began working from home. In many ways, the world has taken steps forward in terms of how the whole “workday” thing has to look. It had to look a certain way for the longest time, mostly because no one at the tippy-top of the corporate pyramids were willing to look at it any other way. And some industries have to be in-person. Teachers and retailers and theme parks and doctors and park rangers—they have to be there for the kids and the clothes and the rollercoasters and cures and the baby bears. But my industry is not among those (and the many others too numerous to list) and it’s been more than a little frustrating to see things get “back to normal.” What if “normal” doesn’t work anymore? What if “normal” never really worked but we didn’t know any better?

Maya Angelou said something along the lines of, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” The quote has been coopted to intervene in various circumstances outside of how she probably intended it—much like scriptures or verses are deployed as totems to latch onto though the original context and intent was very different—but I’m gonna coopt it too. I’ve now seen how the “normal” I used to know wasn’t as positive or healthy or optimal as I once thought. So how do I now “do better” when so much is outside of my control?

And there’s the wave again. It’s there and it’s tall and I’m trying to see ocean for the wave but some days, I simply can’t. Even with it being my favorite time of the year, when pumpkins and yellow trees and fall candles make the world its best version of itself, there’s this damn wave in the way.

It’s not all the time, but there are moments when the wave is too big and the expectations of me—some of which I put on myself—are too great that I simply can’t do it anymore. I don’t mean in a give up/throw in the towel sort of way but rather I have to let the walls down for long enough to feel it all and be honest with myself that I’m sad or mad or frustrated or overwhelmed or E) all of the above.

I had dinner with a friend a few weeks ago and we hadn’t seen each other in a while. They said, “You look good,” and I responded with, “Thank you, I appreciate that, but I do not feel that way.” Why did I say that? Why did honesty just flop out of my mouth and thus beg the follow-up question of, “Oh, why?” Because I can’t lead with the representation of me anymore. The real me didn’t feel great that day. I had anxiety and felt bloated and had job stuff and travel stuff and dog stuff and writer’s block so, no. I didn’t feel good.

Understand, I’m a writer so my feelings end up on a page somewhere and that’s been my emotional ventilation since I was 16 years old. And it’s served me really well. But often that leads me to flip the page when I’m out in the world, to leave those feelings written down and therefore buried under casual conversations about movies and TV shows and Adele’s new song.

Rather than keeping it to myself and presenting an image of me as thriving and #blessed, I think I’d rather just be me. And me, right now, is tired and anxious and unsure of what the next month holds. Me is trying to lap up as much of October as he can and eat the pumpkin things and see the movies and be with my people. But right now, in order to be with those people, I have to be the honest me.

This weekend was Baylor Homecoming so I was so happy to be back in Waco, wearing my new green and gold hoodie and laughing with my friends. But the big takeaway from the weekend wasn’t the unexpected jolt of happy I got when the band marched down 5th Street playing the fight song (though there’s nothing in the world like it). The big takeaway was that I’m not alone in feeling this wave hovering over me.

My friends and I work in different industries and have different responsibilities in terms of our partners and kids and families and side hustles and main hustles but I felt the thread of the wave in nearly all of our conversations. The wave doesn’t look the same for all of us but it does, in fact, exist.

Everywhere right now, that wave seems to exist. Everyone I talk to seems to feel this oddly unsettled feeling of the tide pulling back as the wave gathers itself. So that’s why I’m writing this. Putting it to words. Being real me and not representation me. Because I have a feeling I’m not alone.

I’m saying this in solidarity with those who may feel the anxiety of re-entering a world where people are careless or eager or dismissive or overly engaged. Whose jobs aren’t quite the same anymore and the adjustments aren’t coming naturally. Who’ve realized new things about themselves in the past 18 months and are now grappling with how to vocalize or implement or self-advocate in this new version of our world.

Sometimes you’re not “doing great” and you need to say so and sometimes you need a bit too much pumpkin spice creamer in your coffee. Both are okay.

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