I’ve never known the exact meaning of “straw poll,” but I’m pretty sure I took one recently when I asked several of my friends this question. “Would you rather be ridiculed or unseen?” Before you answer for yourself, take a guess at what you think most of them said. If you guessed that 100% of them chose “unseen,” you are correct. Now guess what my answer is. I’ll give you a hint: people who prefer to be unseen don’t typically publish blogs. After about a 9 year hiatus, this is now my second attempt at documenting my life by way of a blog. I could only glance at a few posts from my first one. For one, I am very critical of my own writing, and while my stream-of-consciousness style usually feels right in the moment, rereading it makes me wish I could go back and clean it up. (Damn you, grad school, for acid-raining on my creativity parade.) It’s as if my goal for writing is to send these thoughts out into the universe, but then I want the wind to carry it away and hopefully the seeds get planted somewhere else. (Or get stuck to your pants and then you throw them in the garbage, which is fine too – survival of the metaphysically fittest.) The second reason I cannot reread my first blog is that it’s intensely embarrassing to go back inside the mind of 23-year-old Evan (he had a good heart, but he was an idiot). I can’t wait to chuckle at this paragraph a decade from now. So anyway, ten years after that original endeavor as I sit, well, not exactly in Taiwan, but inside four walls within Taiwan, here we are again. A few things are the same: I’m teaching abroad, I’m on the pursuit of happiness, and you’re reading my blog, but mostly everything is different: all of my friends have two kids, there is a global pandemic (what’s the difference, amirite?! jk love you all), and America is as un-great as it has ever been.
Back to the point. My reaction to everyone choosing “unseen” made me feel unsurprised, yet perplexed. How could anyone want to go through life like this? Is it fear? Self-consciousness? Social conditioning? Minnesota niceness? Or am I the crazy one? A Dove chocolate once told me (or was it a refrigerator magnet?) “I came to live out loud,” to which I thought solemnly to myself, “yes queen.” If you were still unsure of my answer to the original question, not only would I rather be ridiculed than unseen, but I have been, particularly post-28. I should be married by now. I probably should have boughten (That can’t be a word, can it? Can someone please clarify?) a house by now. I dated her for too long. I should have tried to make it work that one, everyone really liked her. I’ve learned the hard way that Minnesota (see also: passive af) teachers are supposed to keep quiet and do what you’re told, even if it’s not what’s best for kids. I’m supposed to want more money. I should probably move into admin, that’s where the money is. Cut your teeth in the inner-city and then move to the suburbs where the kids behave better and there’s nicer houses and little streams of apple juice come a-bubblin’ down the rocks. Aren’t you going to finish your PhD? You were so close! Aren’t you ever going to move back to Wisconsin and settle down?
And while each of these comments, hints, and reminders on their own are each benign, at some point they start to stack up and get a little harder to brush off. It’s great to be single… but less great when all of your friends are married and have to be home by 7:30. It’s awesome to travel… but it sure would be more fun with a partner. Societal norms, coupled with the fact that all the other people in my program are 25 and under, sometimes makes me feel like something went wrong in my life that caused me to end up here. But then again, as I was doing my daily calisthenics (thanks, Will, for the word), I heard an Atmosphere song that reminded me, “Gotta get yours like there ain’t no wrong way; the worm and the bird both worked a long day.” Shel Silverstein corroborates, “If you’re a bird, be an early bird, but if you’re a worm, sleep late.” Maybe I spent too much time comparing myself to the other birds when I’ve actually been a worm all along. Worms are nobody’s favorite animal, but without them, there would be no flowers, no fruit, and eventually, no life!
So when I can allow myself the grace to get past the comparisons, the “shoulds,” and the self-doubt; when I stop trying to be an early bird and accept my life as a worm, I realize that I’m actually happy. Or as Taylor Swift sings as if anybody asked, “I’m doing good I’m on some new shit.” (We didn’t ask, T, but thanks for checking in.) I’m doing things people are jealous of. I’ve done things most people never do. I’ve had some down years recently, but this chapter I’m entering feels like I’ve righted the ship, set the sails, and I’m ready to go where the wind takes me. (Full disclosure: I know nothing about sailing so this is an irresponsible guess of a metaphor.)
This is WAY deeper than I was planning on getting in my second post on my fifth day, but we all knew we’d get here eventually, so might as well dive in. The last thing I want to say to anyone still reading is that this post and it’s preceding revelation is inspired not only by Atmosphere, Shel Silverstein, T-Swift, and Brené Brown, who taught me to be vulnerable (Mount Rushmore of writers?), but also by all of the friends, and you know who you are, who have encouraged me to embrace my worminess over the last couple of years. Not only are worms better than birds, but birds aren’t even real.
So I now, in turn, and at the risk of sounding like an eighth grade girl’s graduation speech, encourage you. Don’t go unseen. Don’t live a life uninspired. Don’t settle. Don’t put limits on yourself. Don’t listen to the shoulds. Don’t have 2.3 children, because that poor .3 child is going to have a very, very tough life. And I know we hear these clichés all the time and they turn into white noise, but I encourage you to think of one specific area of your life where it might apply and see what you can do about it. Take a risk, put yourself out there, and when people ridicule you, tell them that you can’t hear them because you’re busy breaking down and enriching the soil and doing your little part to make the world a better place.