If you happen to follow along with my writing at all, you may know that my writing process can be, let's say... unpredictable at times. Most times. While part of the reason for that is because I can never seem to write characters who behave according to my outline (yes Mom, I know that makes me sound crazy), part of it is also because whatever is on my heart and mind inevitably seeps into my stories. Every book I've ever written has been a reflection of my life during the time period in which I wrote it. And as I have entered into the Beyond Beauty time period, I have reached a point in my life where the idea of rebelling against beauty standards and obsession is in the forefront of my mind.
Here's the thing: this particular wording feels a bit weird for me to use. I'm not typically a very loud person (in fact, as introverted as I am, I'm far more likely to hear comments about how I should speak up and make myself heard... which is a whole separate thing that we won't be getting into in this particular post). All through high school, I barely spoke at all. And even now, I tend to find myself thinking about if it's really necessary to talk in a lot of conversations. I don't prefer to be the "loud" one. But it seems like there is an unfortunate lack of people getting "loud" about moving beyond beauty, so now you have to hear about it from me. Aren't you lucky?
Welcome to the "Why Beyond Beauty?" blog series, where I explain further my need to write an entire series largely dedicated to taking the focus off of the value of external beauty. I know this is kind of a strong start, but, interestingly enough, anger is very much a driving force behind this thought process. It's kind of new territory for me, since I'm not someone who gets angry very easily. But, I can tell you with certainty that the fixation on outward appearance definitely does it.
I'm gonna just go ahead and say that I've made a scientific breakthrough. Do I have the qualifications to make that announcement? Sure. According to me, I have every bit of authority necessary to give my own personal discovery the title of "scientific breakthrough."
This is not the usual post for our Joy Experiment, so I'll keep it pretty brief. For the month of March, I have created a calendar with 31 days of small, quick activities that will hopefully bring joy to your life. I encourage you to join in and do as many of these as you like/are able to do! Most of my activity for this challenge will be on Instagram, so if you'd like to share what you are doing for the challenge, just tag me there (@sgbaconwriter). I hope you will use this calendar and challenge as an opportunity to incorporate more things that bring you joy!
So... things haven't exactly gone according to plan. You may have picked up on that, given the fact that we skipped a week in these posts. I had planned on posting for week two, even had my whole discussion on how that week had put this whole theory to the test planned... but then week two went straight into week three, which turned out to also be a challenge. So here we are. End of week three, heading into week four. Things are a little different than anticipated, but honestly, are you surprised? I'm not.
I'm not going to lie to you here and tell you that after just seven days of these new habits, my life is changed, I'm 100 times happier, and everything is perfect. That's just not how these kind of things work. And besides, I'm not trying to sell you on doing things exactly like me. That's not the point of this. The point of this "experiment" is to see what happens (and according the the research study I'm in the middle of conducting for grad school, it's best to remain as objective as possible). That being said, there are a couple of key pieces I have noticed so far.
I always like to start things on the first of the month, so I've waited not-so-patiently to dive into this new project for a few days now. This past weekend, I was able to attend an amazing conference all about establishing healthy rhythms of rest and work, how to engage in Christian meditation, and ways to truly keep the Sabbath holy. I was honestly pumped for this conference because I have gotten to the point of being so tired of living my life just waiting for my next break. I knew that I needed to learn to romanticize and find joy in every day. So here we are.
I have my grandfather's hazel eyes. I know this might seem like a fairly obvious statement to anyone who knows how genetics work. But it’s an interesting thing to me because, up until a couple of years ago, we didn’t know that my grandfather had hazel eyes. So it was always a bit of a mystery where my hazel eyes came from growing up, since we didn't know anyone else in our family with hazel eyes. And it’s also something that happens to be on my mind recently because both of my grandparents have passed away over the course of three months.
I’ve been lucky enough to not really experience much of this kind of loss in my family up until this point, and now I find that one of the main ways that I have been coping is thinking about the pieces of them that live on in me. It’s a truly beautiful thing that when you love someone, they’re never completely gone because you can’t truly love someone and be uninfluenced by them. So because my way of working through things is always to write about them, here is my celebration of all the pieces of my grandparents that are very much alive in me.
My grandmother was the most optimistic and cheerful person that most people have ever met, and one of the ways that cheerfulness manifested was through an eclectic assortment of earrings. Grandma had earrings for every holiday and occasion and outfit and color that you could imagine. I have now inherited many of those earrings, and let me tell you, they are a hit with fourth graders. I’ve also taken up crocheting, which was something that Grandma always did. She taught me how to when I was younger, but I never really got into it until now. I see why she did it so much. It’s very calming, almost meditative. Before she passed away, Grandma managed to crochet baby blankets for all of her grandchildren so that we at least have one blanket made for our children that will be from their great grandma. That giving nature and great love for her family was such a big part of her. Grandma also loved to cook. Loved to care for people and make sure everyone was fed and content and happy. That trait is definitely alive and well in me. In fact, I’m not sure if feeding people is an official love language, but it would for sure be top of my list if it was. And Grandma loved the holidays, which is also something that I carry with me today. She thought that the holidays should be a special time of year. A time to share with family and other people who you love. A time to give and to smother your house in decorations that make you happy. These didn’t have to be the decorations that everyone else appreciated. Like her coloring books, which were filled with any assortment and combination of colors that happened to speak to her at the moment, she believed decorations should be what bring joy into your house. And in my delight in my Christmas lights, that trait continues.
Grandpa was not very much like Grandma, and in some ways, I am a little more similar to him. Unlike Grandma, he was not the biggest people person. I get it. I get it a lot. After a full day of people I need to not see anyone for a good long while to recharge. Grandpa was also a super creative person. When I was little, we would sit at the kitchen table in their apartment, and grandpa and I would paint together. We always painted on paper plates. Were there canvases? Yes. Did we use them? Never. I don’t know why we always used the paper plates, but it worked for us. Today, I use actual canvases, but much of my love of art began on those cheap paper plates. I also remember him making these little buildings and structures for mini figurines. They didn’t really serve any purpose, except as a way to busy his hands. The stuffed dragon on my bookshelf speaks to a similar sort of creative personality. And grandpa was the greatest storyteller. At dinner, he would tell stories about playing baseball in the streets of Brooklyn. He would use the salt and pepper shakers to map out where everything was and manage to keep my attention, despite my complete lack of interest in baseball. I guess the storytelling trait could be genetic. I just happen to put mine in writing.
Both grandma and grandpa appreciated their music too, albeit in different ways. Grandma liked her worship CDs, while grandpa often listened to old Italian opera. One thing was the same, though. Both of them had a tendency to sing along in a way that didn’t match most of the words or the tune or anything else about the song. But they enjoyed it. And I enjoy music too, even if the music I make doesn’t always sound so perfect.
So I guess the point of this, other than being a bit of a therapeutic exercise for me, is to encourage anyone else who is grieving that whoever you’re missing has not lost all connection to you. I will say again that if you love someone, it is impossible to go untouched by their influence. So look for the ways to recognize the people you’re missing when you look in the mirror. Recognize their work in the things that you create. Find peace, knowing that they did not leave you completely without them. And know that there is so much beauty in a legacy of love.
I've never really had an issue with the whole "be yourself" thing. Part of the reason for that could be that I've always been blessed to have a family and support system who love and respect who I am. Part of it could be because I have issues with stubbornness. It happens. But while continuing to be myself even when others are not understanding or accepting has always just been what I've done, the accompanying mental state of actually liking myself has proven to be more complicated.
I feel like I need to clarify some things here because this sounds terrible and sad. I generally feel pretty good about myself. I think I'm at least a slightly cool person. But there are some things that other people comment on more frequently that have made it more difficult to be myself without worrying about what other people think. There's those little comments that get in your head and spoil the activities you enjoy doing. After all, it's hard to enjoy things when you're thinking about how many times it's been suggested that you should enjoy other things more.
I'm a very introverted person. I value my alone time. I like to stay home and relax because my apartment is adorable and cozy and comfortable. I'm creative, so being able to make things makes me happy. I find silence to be comforting and calming. As my mother says, I do a lot of "deep thinking." And if I'm being completely honest, I'm getting tired of those things being viewed as qualities I should fix or change or minimize to "come out of my shell."
Because it's not a shell. It's just my personality. And for quite a while, I've been letting those perceptions get to me and make me feel like there's something wrong with me every time I choose alone time over socializing. But I've come to realize that if I can teach my fourth graders that people are different and expect them to accept those differences, I can do the same for everyone else.
I've started doing the things I enjoy unapologetically, and I've loved every minute. For someone who has, at times, been hyper-fixated on others' opinions and expectations, it's freeing to push those thoughts out of my head. I am who God made me. And I'm not saying that there's no room for improvement, but there's certainly no need for a complete personality shift. I know what I enjoy and what helps me function best and it's way past time I stop letting people's opinions make me feel bad about it.
So I guess this is my open letter, if you will, to the promise of being myself and liking it. And hopefully along the way, other people learn to like me being myself too. In the meantime, I'll be home, creating new things, basking in the silence, and enjoying every moment.