We’re All Beholders, And It’s All Beautiful

In a group chat I’m in, someone asked, “Where have you found beauty in your day?” It was only eleven a.m., but I already had a list. After I posted it, I realized I’d missed some. This was a regular sort of day; nothing out-of-the-ordinary had happened aside from laundry, a task I’d been putting off for a week and a half or more and don’t particularly like.

This made me think of something that has often crossed my mind when people talk about finding joy in the everyday or appreciating the small moments or what-have-you. I almost feel guilty mentioning it, because it sounds like a brag, but I really don’t mean it that way. I do find it interesting, though, from a sociological and psychological standpoint: what does it say about me that finding beauty in the mundane has never been a challenge, other than that I’m lucky?

I remember a time, several years ago, when I was riding in the car with my husband on a summer day. On the sidewalk was a woman, smiling, holding a radio to her ear and bouncing to the music as she walked. I thought she looked cute and fun and happy, and seeing the delight on her face made me happy, too. I admired her.

My husband’s reaction? Scorn. Not at her happiness, not directly; he scoffed that she was holding a radio to her ear instead of buying a newer, nicer one with headphones. I was stunned, and offended for both of us. Here was someone I thought would understand the kind of simplicity and in-the-moment joy on this woman’s face…yet he didn’t even seem to notice how beautiful that moment was. What does that say about him?

I think that was the first time I really pondered how different perception can be, even with things that seem to be completely, unmistakably positive. It was very telling, for both of us.

Don’t get me wrong–I have bad days. I have days where everything sucks so hard that I’m sure it’ll never stop. And sometimes it doesn’t stop, to be honest. There are circumstances in my life right now that make me feel helpless and hopeless and defeated, that I can’t do anything more about than I already am. I’m under a great deal of stress and am not always cheerful. But a long, hot bubble bath still feels the same. My cats’ toes are still perfect. All the wonder that surrounds me every second of every day is still there, waiting, even when I’m too distracted to appreciate it. To me, that’s just one more thing to be thankful for.

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Sometimes All My Spoons Are Dirty

I have a confession to make:  I don’t really like cooking.  This is despite the fact that I’m good at planning, good at executing the plan, and the results are consistently above average.  I do sometimes enjoy putting something together, particularly if it’s a new idea or something for an event or company, but, for the most part, I view cooking as a tedious chore that I perform only because it has to be done, and almost never because I actually WANT to.  And, believe me, I’ve tried really, really hard to want to.  It took me a long time to realize that I am under no obligation to enjoy the things I’m good at and stop feeling guilty about not “appreciating” my abilities.  I can’t make myself love something just because I have a skill for it, and continuing to force the issue isn’t helpful at all.

Even more tedious is having to clean up after I’ve used what little energy I can muster dragging my ass out there to cook something.  I often end up leaving dishes for the next day because I’m pretty much spent by then.  This isn’t so bad when it’s just me (as it almost always is, these days), but having just one other person for just one meal seems to multiply dirty dishes exponentially, and it can take me a day or two to catch up.

I suppose all of this is just the cost of being a grown-up.  All I can really hope for is that, eventually, the number of things I enjoy will equal or outnumber the things I don’t.  This has not always been the case, but I’ve had enough brief periods of it that I still have hope.  And, maybe someday, I will finally have the privilege of choosing when I cook.  Until then, I’ll probably be eating a lot of macaroni and cheese.

Pet Peeves Breed Like Rabbits

If peeves can be pets, I have a menagerie.  I don’t keep them in cages, though; I have a free-range peeve menagerie.  A peeve preserve, if you will (not to be confused with peeve preserves, which is delicious on wry toast).

That’s not to say I’m a negative or angry person.  On the contrary; I’m usually pretty positive, appreciative of the proverbial little things, and fairly hard to ruffle.  But, goddamn, I have a lot of pet peeves.

I love words, when they’re used correctly, so most of my pet peeves are related to grammar and spelling.  Now, my grammar isn’t perfect (though my spelling very nearly is).  I’m overly fond of parentheses, ellipses, and asides separated by dashes, for instance.  I also sometimes write sentence fragments (GASP).  But I see these more as stylistic things rather than actual grammar problems, and I’ve never been called on it by anyone who knew a damn thing about the rules, so I’m not too concerned about it. 

I’m actually a lot less annoyed by it than I used to be (in most cases)–and, therefore, less likely to correct people without being asked.  I attribute this partly to learning to prioritize as I’ve matured, and partly to the internet systematically wearing me down through repeated exposure.  It’s like immersion therapy.  Or maybe that numbing thing “they” like to say video games causes in kids. 

People I care about have a much higher irritation threshold when it comes to this stuff, too, I have to admit.  And it’s all a matter of context.  A good friend accidentally saying “your” instead of “you’re” in a private conversation is a lot more acceptable to me than someone who puts it on a sign.  Theoretically, that sign had to be approved–why did no one catch it?

What it comes down to, though, is just a general annoyance that so few people seem to have paid attention in school when this stuff was repeated year after year after year after year after ye…you get the idea.  I can understand not being very good at it–after all, I’m kind of terrible at math–but that’s why schools in the US go over it multiple times.  Barring disability, there’s no excuse for anyone with a high school diploma not to know that an apostrophe is meant to replace missing letters in contractions or show possession, not denote a plural. 

As communication gets more and more text-based, grammar and spelling become more important, not less.  You could be talking to anyone, from anywhere, at any given time.  Clarity of language is what binds us.  It’s your first impression to the world.  Why would you want it to be so terrible?

Honesty is Always the Best Policy (Except When it Isn’t)

Conventional wisdom tells us that we should be truthful, all the time, full disclosure, full stop–especially in relationships, romantic or otherwise.  Nothing good can come of lies (“white lies” notwithstanding), so it’s best to come clean about everything.  But I disagree.

Now, hear me out.  I’m absolutely in favor of straightforwardness and precise language.  I try to come as close as possible to saying what I mean in the most literal, denotative terms while still being tactful (and not saying what I don’t mean, which can sometimes be more difficult, though I recognize it afterwards and do my best to correct and explain myself).  I’m not big on hints, either giving or receiving, so I ask (and answer) seemingly obvious questions.  I’d rather be embarrassed for a few seconds than be completely wrong thereafter.

The trouble with full disclosure is, not all truth is created equal.

It wasn’t until recently that I was able to put into words the difference that I’ve innately grasped for as long as I can remember–or, at least as long as I’ve been committed to being as honest and forthright as possible, which is still as long as I can remember, but probably started around junior high or so.  It’s a matter of destructive vs. constructive honesty.

What I mean by that is best explained by describing what goes on in my mind when I’m deciding whether to tell someone something.  I ask myself some–or all–of the following questions:

  • Is this something that will help or comfort this person?
  • Does this provide valuable information for future behavior or planning?
  • Will not telling them be more hurtful in the long run?

What it comes down to is determining, on a case-by-case basis, whether being honest can have any long-term positive effect.  This means that even a painful truth can be constructive, because someone who is fully informed is better equipped to make the decisions that are best for them.  A good example is when a cheating spouse decides to come clean.  In the short term, it may seem kinder to keep that truth quiet, but, ultimately, telling them is the more compassionate and ethical decision.

When trying to decide whether a truth is destructive, you really only need to ask one question:

  • Does this serve any purpose other than hurting them?

Telling someone something bad another person said about them falls into this category.  The fact that Joe thinks Bob is an idiot may be true, but it helps no one.  It doesn’t teach a lesson–it only makes Bob feel bad.  It’s best to keep that sort of truth to yourself.  Now, on the other hand, if Joe doesn’t like how Bob keeps interrupting him when he’s talking, but is too shy to speak up, that’s another story.  It passes the three-question constructive honesty test.  Telling Bob may hurt or embarrass him, but, if he wants to keep Joe as a friend, he’ll be more mindful of his behavior, and everyone will be happy.  Yay!

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I’m not advocating lying.  If someone asks you something outright, it’s best to tell them as tactfully–but clearly–as you can, even if the truth is potentially destructive.  Prevarication rarely does anyone any good.  But there’s also no need to tell someone absolutely every fact that comes to mind.  Keeping a destructive truth from someone isn’t dishonesty:  it’s kindness.  And couldn’t we all use a little more kindness in our lives?