Meaning In Every Day

I live a great portion of my life waiting. Waiting for class to end. Waiting to get home for the afternoon so I can relax. Waiting to go see friends. I miss most of what’s actually going on around me because I’m too busy dreaming about all the things I want to do later, sometimes several years down the road. I’m afraid that I’ll get old and grey without even knowing it, having missed eighty percent of my life wishing for the next thing. I need to be content with the moment, but how? How can I find pleasure in the moment when all I’m doing is sitting at a cramped desk with thirty other students, being asked to do mundane tasks for an hour and a half? Of course I’ll be waiting for class to end. Then I’ll want the day to end so I can go home and unwind. It’s just an endless stream of “and then.” Where is the present moment? Does it even exist in the first place? It’s merely a second, or a millisecond, or some other, even smaller measure. We’re either reflecting on the past or planning each little thing we’re about to do–even tiny things like taking a step or writing a word. Past or future. Future or past.

Where is the present, and how can I discover meaning in it?

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Dauntlessly Cautious: A Brief History

Towards the end of eighth grade, I had a resurgence in my love for writing. All in one day, I signed up for three writing community websites, subscribed to two free writing newsletters, nearly finished a short story I’d only begun the day before, and started this blog. I wasn’t sure what to call it, so I stuck with “thiscrazywriter.” There was no doubt that I was a writer, and I was definitely a bit of a kook, so the name fit. I really didn’t expect the blog to go anywhere; after all, I’d started and abandoned hundreds of projects in my thirteen (almost fourteen) years. But I guess something about blogging caught me before I could fly out the door in pursuit of another creative dead-end. Maybe it was the joy of being heard. The internet was the podium I’d always wanted, but without the anxiety of speaking to crowds. From the comfort of my own sofa, I could write and edit my own words as much as I wanted to before sending them out into the great big world.

The summer before ninth grade was an extremely introspective one. I spent hours of time uncovering my past, particularly the negative events. They began to consume my thoughts, so naturally I incorporated them into my blog posts. When ninth grade actually rolled around, I was seized by crippling perfectionism. The resulting self-criticism coupled with that brooding resentment for my past gradually turned thiscrazywriter into a much more revealing place of confession. Essentially, the focus shifted from my thoughts to my feelings. 

Early in November, my life went to complete shit. Because October’s stats had boomed, I’d felt obligated to continue putting out quality posts. I even admitted that my inspiration was shriveling. My posts became pretty miserable by December, documenting my daily, depressed life. (Here is a post that very accurately describes that month for me.) I think the quality of my writing decreased sharply, despite the fact that my output was remaining steady. This is partly due to the fact that I spent most of my time on the computer with absolutely nothing to do, eating chips and not really thinking at all.

January was a turning point in my life (a story in and of itself, really). My outlook on life changed significantly. It was then that I began to learn and advocate for self-care. All my posts–or most of them, at least–reflected that. It was in February that I changed my blog title to Dauntlessly Cautious. I decided that it better represented the person I’d grown into: an interesting web of contradictions, including the quiet and the gregarious, the relaxed and the neurotic, the compliant and opinionated, the dauntless and the cautious. Thiscrazywriter remained as my blog URL and secondary title. It seemed even more fitting than it had back in April (when I began the blog) because of my dealings with mental illness. I called myself crazy because of these mental health problems, while simultaneously raising awareness of them. Around April, May, and June of 2014, more stuff arose that affected my posting habits, and I don’t feel like going into them right now.

From then until now, things remained mostly the same. Dauntlessly Cautious is a place of both critical thinking, opinions, feelings, and rambling. It truly represents my authentic self more than it had when I started it, I think. Early this month, I made the decision to commit to blogging again. I’d really neglected it, and I wanted to bring it back. So here I am. I may have found my passion again. After all, I want to write for a living. Dauntlessly Cautious (thiscrazywriter) has changed me. It has kept me writing even when I didn’t have that much inspiration. It provides me with the window I need to examine my past in a more objective way. I have no idea what the future holds, but this blog is here to stay. 🙂

Who You Are

All my life, it’s been drummed into my head that I’m talented. I write good stories, create beautiful music, and get decent grades. The older I got, the more I attached myself to my big web of achievements. Chorus concerts, piano recitals, creative writing awards–I performed, received praise, and shone with self-assurance. My talents were the building blocks of my very existence. But at the beginning of freshman year, all those things stopped being enough. I became an irrational perfectionist. It was my personal goal to get 100 percent on everything I did. Whenever I failed–which, in my own eyes, I did constantly–I felt completely worthless. I’d built an entire identity on actions and performance. Whenever my talents “fell short,” those building blocks of existence began to crumble. I was losing myself.

Sometime in the middle of this season of harsh, self-criticism, I had a conversation with a few people about feeling useless. They all became very sad when they heard how I felt about myself. “Abigail, you make the best art! Abigail, you write such wonderful poetry!” I was flattered, but what really cut to my core was this one, simple sentence:

“Abigail, you’re loved not just for what you do–but for who you are.” 

Several miserable months later, I finally began to appreciate myself for what makes me Abigail. I’m kind, sensitive, and goodhearted. I realized that in this world, there’s so much value placed on actions. You make. You get. You do. You create. The focus is on what is put out rather than what lies within, so too many identities are constructed solely of talents and achievements, with self-esteems about as sturdy as a house of cards. But we are–you are–so much more than a report card or a trophy, so much deeper than a list of goals and successes. You are beautiful simply on your own.

You are. 

Here To Stay

A poem (originally untitled) written on December 16th, 2013 by a clinically depressed fourteen-year-old trying to convince herself to keep breathing.
She has kept breathing. She is two years older, recovered, and wondrously in love with life.

I taste the grass beneath the dew
the pictures that the morning drew
with paints of clear and shimmering hue
I taste the grass beneath the dew

I know the rain, I eat the fog
I fight to rule my murky bog
but wind can chill and mud can clog
I know the rain, I eat the fog

I try to grip a wet, smooth wall
yet struggle shocks and screams appall
The climb is higher than I recall
I try to grip a wet, smooth wall

Fall consoling, jump so sweet
shaking shoulders, naked feet
Daily all these thoughts I meet
Fall consoling, jump so sweet

But I promise you, I’m here to stay
I’ll fight to swallow every day
Weep I might and break I may
but I promise you, I’m here to stay

I promise you, I’m here to stay.

The Lifeblood of Your Story

A few months ago, I began the first draft of a short story. The more time I spent writing, the further in love I fell with my characters. At the very end, I cried. And no, I don’t mean a few small tears. I mean snotty, ugly, face-scrunching sobs. Because I’d spent so much time with my characters, I’d started to empathize with them just as if they were tangible beings.

Robert Frost once said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” It’s true–how can you evoke passion in someone else if you don’t have it yourself? Your characters are the lifeblood of your story. Become passionate about them first. Treat them like friends. Invest in who they are. Be a part of their story; live in it and breathe the very air you’re creating. I promise they’ll thank you for it.

Trust Me

Every fifth period, about twenty-five algebra students deposit their phones in hanging storage pockets at the front of the classroom. Despite being instructed to, I am not one of them.

Yes, I understand the meaning of this rule. The teacher doesn’t want us using our phones during class. So I make it a point not to; I silence it and keep it in my pocket or my backpack. It is during this class that I make the most effort to avoid my phone at all costs. Why? Because it’s obviously important to this teacher, and I want to honor that. But I want to be trusted. Putting my phone in a hanging rack of plastic pouches makes me feel like a child who’s immediately assumed to do the wrong thing. I want to prove that I can make the right choices and show integrity on my own.

Trust me.

A Human Imagination

The imagination is like a person in itself. It can cry, laugh, and sing. It can ache and bleed. So, just like any human, it is subject to the disappointments of life. Because they’re capable of creating so much in a light mood, they can do so just as well in more fatalistic conditions. Imaginations burst into flames, alighting an infinite number of awful possibilities and worst-case scenarios. Each possibility is as vivid as reality, inducing terror, despair, and fury. Sometimes, the only way to control the waking nightmares is to melt them into ink and pour them out through a pen. And from these tortured pens come passion and unparalleled eloquence.

The Personal Relevance of School

All these teachers tell us, “This class is relevant because it will teach you critical thinking skills.” But is it critical thinking to spit out equations on a worksheet of busywork just for an A? Is it critical thinking to memorize a list of words only to forget it after a quiz?

I want my education to be relevant to me personally. I’m never going to have to graph a cubic function, find significant figures, or balance an equation, but I’m forced to chew and swallow all of those lessons anyways, because they “will help me learn thinking and working skills for real life.” I don’t want to be lied to. I’d rather the teachers straight-up tell me that their class will never be relevant if I’m not going into that specific field. If I could go to school and spend the whole day taking classes that will leave a mark on my life, I would be excited to wake up every morning. Deep down, I love learning. You wouldn’t know it from most of the classes I’m taking, but I do. A love of learning isn’t necessarily indicated by good grades or the timeliness of homework completion. People want to learn different things. Students might even be excited for school every morning if they were allowed to take classes that would fascinate them. Of course, nothing can be fun all the time, and there are certain basic math and science concepts that must be grasped, but can’t there be some way of letting us thrive?

Everybody is curious about something. I believe that everyone really does want to learn. The problem is that we’re not being educated–we’re being schooled.

Bravery

I briefly touched upon this in my previous post on crying. Our culture is obsessed with strength and bravery. Everybody and their mother wants to be the valorous hero holding a sword, covered in sweat and glory. But there’s actually something to be said for surrendering. The surrender I am talking about is not letting yourself be a doormat, or sitting back and making excuses to be lazy. I mean that sometimes, it’s more honorable to be still and let things wash over you until they pass. Not everything has to be conquered. Not everything is an enemy. There is beauty in sitting quietly, closing your eyes, and waiting for the storm to blow by.

God & Physical Touch

Dear God,

You’ve been so open to me all my life. You make yourself available constantly. Even on my worst nights, on the nights when I curse the moon and stars, you don’t abandon me.

But Lord, I cannot keep pretending that I love you. When hugging and holding are so important to me, it’s hard to feel close to you. I need to feel your arm around me when I cry, your high-five when I finish a hard school day, your embrace whenever I feel empty. The physical divide between heaven and earth just breaks my heart. How can I show you my love when you’re not there to receive my hugs? How can I pretend that you satisfy me when you can’t give me the kind of attention I long for and require?

I look elsewhere because I can’t find that in you.