Treat Yourself the Way You Would Treat Others


evan-kirby-101570-unsplash.jpg

You all know I love all of Elizabeth Gilbert’s work, and there’s a part in Eat, Pray, Love where she talks about seeing herself in a mirror and mistaking her reflection for a friend. She talks about how profound it was in retrospect to acknowledge that even by accident, she’d seen a friend in herself.

I am the sort of person who would do anything for my friends, but I struggle to extend the same care, energy, and empathy to myself. If someone wrongs my friends, I will fight for them, but I often don’t feel justified fighting on my own behalf. And if my friends are struggling or facing challenges, that seems reasonable and understandable to me. I can extend sympathy and understanding to them, but when I face my own challenges, I get so mad at myself for not being perfect, for not fixing problems before they start, for not knowing exactly what I want from my life and how to get there.

I find that when I’m feeling particularly down on myself, he best way to get some perspective is to try to look at myself and imagine how I’d feel if the same thing were happening to one of my friends. How would I talk to a friend in my situation? How would I think of them? Nearly always, I’m kinder and more generous in that mindset than I was before. I understand setbacks more and empathize with struggle more. If I frame my problems or worries as something that could happen to a friend, it makes it easier for me to extend the same kindness and generosity to myself that I would extend to them. I have a tendency to allow vulnerability or fallibility in others but to hate it in myself. I have this idea that I have to be better and more perfect than all of the other people I know. But why? Why is it so easy for me to understand that my friends are human and are growing up and figuring things out, while I find it so difficult to forgive myself for my own human frailties and growing pains? Why is it so hard for me to be a friend to myself? There’s no good reason. I’m only human, just like the people I love and would fight for. And sometimes it takes a little reframing of perspective to understand that.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

Mary Hatch is the Actual Hero of "It's a Wonderful Life"


Its_A_Wonderful_Life_Movie_Poster.jpg

Every year, my family watches “It’s a Wonderful Life” during the Christmas season. For many years I watched this movie uncritically, accepting what Frank Capra presented to me, but then one year I played Mary Hatch in a stage adaptation of the film and came to a remarkable conclusion: George Bailey kind of sucks. Does he usually do the right thing eventually? Yeah, usually, but he also BITCHES AND MOANS about it ad infinitum and makes all his regrets and frustrations Mary’s fault. Mary Hatch didn’t ask for all this nonsense George. Fix your own problems for once in your whole life. MARY HATCH IS THE TRUE HERO OF “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.” You heard it here first.

Mary Hatch grows up with a crush on George Bailey, and look, I get it, Jimmy Stewart is a deeply charismatic man and Frank Capra writes for him like a dream. I understand the allure. But in every single scene we see them in together, George Bailey is being a low-key pain in the ass to Mary. The very first interaction we see George and Mary have together is at the soda shop where he tells her all about his subscription to National Geographic magazine and how he’s going to be an explorer someday. (Explorer is not a profession, George). Does he ask her anything about her life or her dreams or her important magazine subscriptions? NOT ONCE. He asks her what ice cream she wants and then BERATES HER FOR NOT WANTING COCONUT AS A TOPPING and then PUTS COCONUT ON HER ICE CREAM ANYWAY. Typical George Bailey, always prioritizing his own preferences. And Mary is right, coconut is gross on ice cream, it’s far too stringy.

The next interaction we see them have together is on the night of Mary’s high school graduation party, which ends with them falling into a swimming pool while dancing together. (Also, Mary’s brother Marty has to talk George into dancing with Mary because for some reason George doesn’t like Mary? But then he sees she is hot now so he agrees. Rude?) They end up walking home together in borrowed locker room garb, carrying their chlorine soaked clothes. Mary is wearing a bathrobe, which she loses, and then has to run and hide in a bush because she is NAKED AND VULNERABLE IN PUBLIC and George PICKS UP HER BATHROBE AND REFUSES TO RETURN IT TO HER. That is not cute and flirty, that is RUDE and EXPLOITATIVE OF MARY’S VULNERABILITY and if I were Mary it would give me immense anxiety. Can you imagine being nude in a bush in 1928, where there are branches poking into you and probably spiders on your butt and who knows what else? HORRIFYING. This flirting does not make me feel romantic. Don’t think you can cancel this out with cutesy singing and whimsical property damage, George. YOU DON’T DESERVE MARY AS YOUR BUFFALO GAL IF YOU’RE NOT GOING TO TREAT HER RIGHT.

When next we see him, it is four years later. Mary has just graduated college (which by the way is no small feat for a girl in 1932) and George’s mom thinks it would be nice if he were to stop in to visit her, given they have been relatively close since childhood and he clearly has a crush on her that he refuses to act on. George decides that instead of that, he’s going to wander the streets aimlessly. He runs into Violet, who is wearing a deeply fashionable satin dress with heels. George, seeing this, thinks “based on my observations and my understanding of Violet’s personality, which I ought to be familiar with, given that I have known her very well since we were both children, I bet Violet would like to go on a dirty late night hike with me in her heels and her satin dress.” Obviously Violet does not want to go on the hike. You could have deduced that with minimal observation, George; you really must start paying attention to other people. He finally decides to stop by Mary’s house. Mary look radiant, of course she does, she is played by Donna Reed, and she has made the most adorable and sweet cartoon of George lassoing the moon as a throwback to the last time they spent time together, because Mary is thoughtful and remembers things about other people, and George belittles her drawing! How dare he! He spends the rest of the visit being as unpleasant as he possibly can, contributing nothing to the conversation, and making snide comments about her home and everything she does, until Sam Wainwright calls and they end up sharing a telephone receiver to talk to him together. (And yes, I’ve been pretty snarky up to this point, but as a side note, this is the greatest scene in American cinema and you can quote me on that – George and Mary fell in love in the course of four minutes in a scene where they direct none of their dialogue to each other until the last twenty seconds. They fell in love through the strength of LIGHT CHEEK CONTACT and it’s honestly a masterclass. That’s all I have to say about it.) Anyway, obviously they fall deeply in love (after George spends some time shouting at Mary for no actual reason) and then they get married.

And then the sociopolitical problems begin! George and Mary are on their way to their honeymoon when ALL OF A SUDDEN, there is a run on the bank because it's the 1930s and that's what happens, and Mary is the one to decide they ought to use their honeymoon money to give people at the back, effectively keeping the bank open, investing in the community, and generating goodwill among the shareholders. Mary has good business sense AND is looking out for the good of the community. And then she arranges with Bert and Ernie to make them a cute little improvised honeymoon suite in their own house. And they grow up and go through their lives. George builds a lot of affordable housing for the community and Mary comes along to help people move and welcome the residents into their new homes. Meanwhile Mary’s raising children and renovating their whole house on her own, and RUNNING THE USO during WWII.

Then the war ends and Harry Bailey’s on his way home from the front, a decorated war hero. Everyone is thrilled! In all the hullaballoo though, Uncle Billy loses a big bank deposit. ($8,000 in 1945 money, which would be $109,694.07 in 2018 money according to the inflation calculator on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.) George is understandably furious, although frankly Uncle Billy has been absent minded for the last twenty years so this was a pretty foreseeable outcome; George really should have delegated that task to a different employee. Let Uncle Billy do what he is qualified to do – hang out with his crow, greet customers, and pass out butterscotch candy.

George, in despair, is on the verge of suicide but is saved by Clarence. Clarence takes George on his long dark journey of the soul, where he learns what would have happened if he’d never been born. You all know this plotline inside and out I’m sure, and all I really want to focus on is Mary’s fate in the Alternate George-less Universe. Everyone else has some weird awful dark fate: Ernie’s wife left him, Uncle Billy is in an asylum, Harry is dead. But after all these revelations, George is perhaps most horrified by what happens to Mary: she becomes a single librarian who wears glasses. Apparently, this is the worst thing George can possibly imagine for his wife although it sounds like a pretty rad life if you ask me. Books are cool and so are glasses George. Mary is thriving with or without a man.

But the really important thing is that while George is chilling with Clarence in the nightmare realm learning about himself, Mary quietly fixes the whole money problem by going around town and crowdfunding their debt. Everyone in town contributes and their old rich friend Sam Wainwright offers to cable them $25,000 ($342,793.96 in 2018 money, if you were curious). And so the problem is solved because Mary kept a clear head and asked her friends for help.

Mary’s strength is that she knows the strength and the value of community. She invests in them when they need help, and she isn’t afraid to draw support from them when she needs it. George is so focused on himself and his problems and his troubles that it rarely occurs to him to look to the people around him, people who value him and his work and want to help him out. He feels all alone because he thinks of himself as a singular, exceptional person – as a hero. He never wanted to stay in Bedford Falls; he wanted to get out of what he perceives to be a small and insignificant place, so it’s no surprise that he underestimates the power of the people there in his most trying time. Mary is able to solve the major problem of the movie (raising the money) because she can see the value and the strength in all kinds of places and people, because she knows all along that she’s a part of a larger whole. George’s journey in “It’s a Wonderful Life” is to learn what Mary has known and demonstrated the whole time – not merely that George himself matters, but that all the little and seemingly unremarkable people in their community matter, and that the work George and Mary and the Bailey Building and Loan did for those people matters.

Anyway, I really don’t mean to be too harsh on George Bailey, because in his heart he is a sweetie (even if he needs several firm nudges from Mary to set him in the right direction), and “It’s a Wonderful Life” is truly one of my favorite movies by my favorite filmmaker. (Frank Capra will assuage all your woes, you take it from me.) Would that all our holiday movies concerned themselves with affordable housing and the ethical failures of unregulated capitalism. A toast to George and Mary! But mostly to Mary.

Before You Monetize Your Hobby, Read This


lum3n-250309-unsplash.jpg

There’s a lot of hype these days about side hustles. When you get home from work, work some more! If you have a thing you love to do, whether it’s baking or collaging or knitting, chances are that someone has told you that you should be monetizing it.

Here’s the thing: side hustles are awesome for some people. They can be used to launch people into new careers or start new businesses, and they make a lot of people feel fulfilled and free in their work. But they are not a universally good thing. Hobbies are often fun because they aren’t work, because our livelihoods don’t depend on them. They are enjoyable in their own right, not because they’re lucrative or monetizable.

I think a lot of that push to monetize things comes from our collective fear of being, horror of horrors, unproductive. Why would someone take time and energy to craft or bake or write fanfiction if they aren’t going to get some kind of compensation? Shouldn’t they be using that energy on something they could be getting compensated for? No, no they shouldn’t. It is okay to keep some things for yourself and not sacrifice them at the altar of productiveness under capitalism. Because crafting is super fun, but you know what’s not? Marketing an etsy store or dealing with belligerent customers who think you charge too much for commissions. Or figuring out how to do taxes at the end of the year when part of your income comes from freelance projects. Or discovering that your fun hobby has become a decidedly stressful second job.

Hobbies are work that you do for yourself and your loved ones and no one else. And it’s okay to spend your time and your labor on just yourself. It can feel pretty good. So if you’re looking at a pile of knitting yarn and thinking “I need to find a way to justify this hobby,” I am here to tell you: no you don’t. You do you. Don’t feel like you need to monetize that passion.

Photo by LUM3N on Unsplash

Making Decisions Sucks (But You Have to Do It)


n-120570-unsplash.jpg

Every time I approach a major transition in my life, I have the distinct sense that I am about to die. I have an anxiety disorder, so this isn’t an entirely uncommon experience for me (I have the same experience every time I get on a plane). But when I’m in the middle of a big life change, I feel it very acutely for months on end. When I graduated college, I was convinced I was going to have a heart attack at any moment. When I got into law school, I convinced myself I had some kind of cancer. Not that I was particularly sick, I just felt like I was approaching my own death. When I left law school, I convinced myself I would die of starvation and unemployment, probably. And when I got a new job, I convinced myself that I had colon cancer or maybe an ulcer or maybe I was going to get some sort of blood clot situation because of my birth control. Because I have an anxiety disorder, it’s difficult for me to separate good instincts from just particularly loud anxiety impulses. Anxiety feels reasonable when you’re experiencing it, even if it looks ridiculous in retrospect.

Obviously, as time proved, I was not dying any of those times. But I think the reason I get this feeling every time I’m in a period of transition is when you’re going through a big change, you are experiencing a sort of death. If your life starts out as a factor tree of infinite possibilities, every time you pick a specific path or make a big decision, you’re going further down the factor tree. And all the potential versions of you that could have existed if you’d made a different decision have to die. They aren’t possible anymore. It’s getting to those places in your life where you realize you have to make decisions about the type of person you’re going to be. You’re not a nine-year-old anymore who can be a firefighter OR a pop star OR a world explorer OR a writer OR an actress OR an astronaut. You can only be a few of those things (at most). You are just one person, not infinite potential people.

Of course, those possibilities go away just the same if you refuse to make any decisions. Inaction is a decision just the same way action is, and it’ll narrow your possibilities as well. If you never leap at opportunities, eventually, opportunities are going to stop coming. Which is why you have to step forward and confidently make life decisions, no matter how much you hate it, and trust that it won’t kill you (even if it feels like it will).

Photo by N. on Unsplash

Love What You Do


zohre-nemati-512068-unsplash.jpg

“Love what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think we all got some version of this as kids, along with the usual “you can be anything you want to be!” Which, like, no you can’t. I would love to be a hobbit and spend my entire life frolicking the countryside munching on impossibly perfect and crunchy apples, but that’s just not going to happen. Not in this economy. It’s been so much harder for me to find a job that I enjoy than anyone led me to believe.

It’s funny because just a few years ago, I remember I was always complaining to my friends about going on terrible dates all the time and never meeting anyone I liked, and how I was probably doomed to spinsterhood because no boys liked me and I didn’t like any boys. I would have to resign myself to dying alone and unloved as a hermit witch. But even though I never really thought I’d get the boy, I was always pretty sure the job thing would work itself out, no sweat. I thought of myself like Bridget Jones. Even if my love life was lackluster, I would have a cool job in publishing, and if a boy managed to mess that up, I’d run out and get a job in television! It all seemed pretty doable. Romance is impossible to control, but career stuff was in my hands, so it would be fine.

Except that’s not how anything has turned out! As of the writing of this, I have an amazing boyfriend and super supportive parents and good friends (albeit long distance ones), and so much love in my life! But I am absolutely LOST in my search for the perfect job. And now it’s like the same old dating blues. Except worse, because when you meet a guy and go out for a few weeks and then he turns out not to be as cool as his online presence was, you can totally stop seeing him right away. But a job? Not so much. They have your health insurance. And your rent. And so now I’m finding myself always on the phone moaning to my friends about how I just want that one perfect job that’s supportive of my dreams and gives me attention but also gives me space and listens politely when I really need to talk about “The Crown” and how terrible all the royal men are. Is that so much to ask for?

I think it's just some sort of rule of human existence that happiness is fleeting. Once you get something you want really badly, it's only a matter of time before you find something else in your life that's lacking, some other imperfect area to work at. Homeostasis is the enemy of bliss. But there's something to be said as well, I think, for knowing that there's still something more to perfect, something more to do, some greater level to strive for. It must be horrendously boring to reach a level at which there's no goal left to reach for. So right now I don't always love what I do. But hopefully one day I will. And when that happens, I'll have to find a new goal to strive for. And that's sort of fun, if you think about it.

Photo by Zohre Nemati on Unsplash