What’s your job?

Yo, what a freak

I’m a tree

(No you’re not)

I’m a tree

(Stop lying)

–Imani Coppola/I’m A Tree

Driving home from work, stuck in traffic, I noticed three trees at the side of the freeway. All the same type. One was sort of squat–stubby and scarred. One was tall and robust–the only one that really seemed to be flourishing. The other was thin and scraggly. 

It made me wonder, the way things always do, if  trees notice differences between themselves. 

Does the spruce envy the weeping willow its pliable branches and soft leaves?

Does the willow envy the noble fir for being so tidy and green all year?

Does the fir envy the cherry for its flowers and fruit?

Does the cherry have a superior attitude because it doesn’t have scratchy needles like a pine tree?

Not likely. Given the lack of brains, trees probably aren’t big on labels. Classifying isn’t something they get called on to do in life like animals do. They reach for the sun as best as they can with their branches, and send their roots down for as much nourishment as they can find. 

Trees know their job and they do it. No worry. Probably no pleasure, either. 

Humans love to compare and label. We classify. We sort. 

We wish we were taller. Shorter. Thinner. Darker. Straighter. Slimmer. Better. Worse. We’re happy when we’re doing better than other humans. We’re sad or anxious when we feel like we’re not doing as well. 
We don’t spend a lot of time just being. 

It’s the thing that makes us build things, but also the thing that leads to excess. Avarice and war. Caring and compassion. Because we are so successful at adapting, the only thing that keeps us in check is…us. 

Mostly, we run rampant. At some level, I think most of us know that. We feel a need to rationalize it by claiming a higher purpose, or a better spot in the evolutionary chain. 
Ultimately, the Earth will win. 

The trees won’t care either way. 

I made it myself

We’re all broke down
We’re all well hid
We’re all just kids
Despite our age
–Nathaniel Rateliff/Nothing To Show For

Accepting a compliment can be tricky.

Somehow, I can take a compliment about something like my looks. Thank you suffices. I am not particularly graceful about it, but I manage. Compliments about my work are pretty normal.

When it comes to accepting a compliment about something I am responsible for, something I have created, it is a different thing entirely. Why is that?

If someone says “I loved your blog post yesterday” or “I love the hat you’re wearing, did you knit it?” it puts me right back into elementary school. That inflated sense of pride you get when you show your mom you made something all by yourself. Like a big girl.

It simultaneously makes a compliment more and less important than it really is.

The response is still “thank you,” but it feels weird somehow. It’s like I’m showing  someone a macaroni necklace instead of a cashmere shawl. A god’s eye made of acrylic yarn instead of a silver ring.

When you create something, you want any compliments received to be genuine. The opposite of the ones you might get for that stunning picture of your family you drew in the third grade. You don’t want that Mom-proud “that’s really nice, honey.”

So how do you shift out of that headspace?

Practice?

I can fake the thank you and force myself not to add a disclaimer, but my initial gut reaction is always to criticize my creations. Children in third world sweatshops know how to knit, after all. I point out all the spots where something is imperfect. Where I didn’t find a good word. I want to be sure everyone understands that it’s all macaroni necklaces and finger painting.

Yes, I can admit I am creative, but I don’t want anyone to think I think I am any good at any of it.

Which just sounds like a plea for more compliments, right?

I’ll keep practicing.

Things are always good

So, if this does end up being my last letter, please believe that things are good with me, and even when they’re not, they will be soon enough. And I will believe the same about you.

–S. Chbosky/The Perks of Being A Wallflower. 

I have brought this up before, but one thing about me that seems to surprise even people who know me pretty well is that I consider myself an optimist. The thing that seems to trip them up is that I am also very cynical. 

The thing is, although I think the world is falling apart and a lot of people are awful, I am really convinced that ultimately things will always be OK. 

Which doesn’t mean I don’t think anything bad will happen to me or the people I love. Bad things have happened and they will again. Cancer. Armed robbery.  Prison. Death. Really bad things. So how do I acknowledge all the bad and still think that everything will be good with me?

Well, it’s a bit of circular logic, I guess. I think things will work out OK because they always do. Even with the bad stuff. Do things work out OK because I think they will? If I didn’t think that way, would things suck more? Yes. That is pretty much how I think it tends to work. 

Things are good because I think they are. 

Conversely, if I thought those same things were bad, they would be. 

Or maybe it’s that there are always enough good things going on around me that it always manages to supercede the bad. Or maybe I am just so twisted that I laugh at things I shouldn’t. Like food poisoning. 

As I said to some friends at the beach last weekend: dunno, don’t care. 

Even in my worst moments, I know that good things will be coming along. Crappiness is not eternal. Even if it was, I suspect I might still tend to see more good than bad. Partly by temperament, but mostly by choice. 

We are all going to end up dead. Yep. True story. Dead. Every single one of us. The people we love, the ones we hate, the fundamentalists, the atheists. All of us. We can just say “fuck it” and be depressed knowing that life is always a temporary state, or we can say “fuck it” and be happy anyway. 

Given that the end result is the same, I’d just as soon go down laughing.