Why Friendship is Important – Even as an Introverted Loner

The Portuguese man-of-war is a very curious creature. It is not a man, it is not Portuguese, and probably has little respect for geopolitical boundaries anyway.

manofwarAlso, it is quite terrifying, and not just because it looks scary and stings 10,000 people in Australia every year according to Wikipedia, even though that in itself is properly horrible.

No, I find the man-of-war particularly disturbing because it ISN’T EVEN A REAL ANIMAL, GUYS. It’s like, four DIFFERENT teeny tiny animals that have been living in perfect harmony for so long that they can’t even function on their own anymore, like some twisted commune of dirty hippies who never left the seventies and rely on each other for everything in life.

There are the little derpety-derp animals on the top that form the gas bladder (ew), which bobs on the surface of the ocean and terrifies everyone. Underneath this are the 3 other types of animals that make up the lurky-and-also-poisonous tentacles that can grow UP TO 160 FEET LONG (this is so not okay, but no one asked me, so I’ll leave my opinions of these monsters to myself. But really. Horrific!).

On a more philosophical note, what if one of those little creatures, if they were to hypothetically possess free will, brainpower, and a range of emotion allowing for independent decision-making, decided he didn’t want to be part of this happy-murder club anymore? He’d die, instantly. He would starve, unable to fend for himself, because he is absolutely useless at acquiring food and making more copies of himself without his hippie brothers.

The science part of me thinks this is really cool. The human part of me thinks this is odd. The me part of me finds this ridiculous, because everyone should have the right to leave a team if they’re not interested in the game.

Despite my highly-conflicted feelings on the subject, in the man-of-war I see a strangely valuable allegory.

I am an introvert. I do have a fairly long list of people I deeply love and care about, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exhaust me in high doses. And those are the people I know well and enjoy being around! Can you imagine what it’s like with strangers or those I dislike? (just kidding. I like everyone, always. Yes. That’s it. . . )

But I digress. I am an introvert, and part of being an introvert (at least when you’re me!) is convincing yourself that you don’t really need social activity to lead a fulfilling life. I like to think that I’d be completely happy sitting in a quiet classroom, silently listening to a professor lecturing as I take notes. Then going to work, where I’d cut brownies in solitude and send myself home after four hours or so, to homework, netflix, and by-myself internet time where I’d write blog posts just for me to read.

And guess what? There are three fatal flaws in this life plan:

1) I love to talk, not small talk, nope, not at all, but big talk. Humorous talk. Political talk. Religious talk. Cultural talk. Current events talk. Cool life experiences talk. Throwing some serious shade talk. Complaining about life talk. I prefer to talk for at least a couple hours each day, which is hard to do by yourself.

2) I suck at being lonely. I get sad and start feeling worthless and that just isn’t healthy, right?

3) MY LIFE WOULD BE SO INSANELY BORING AND SAD IF I DIDN’T SHARE IT WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

Which brings me to my next thought: I need all sorts of people to keep me sane. It’s not just me, either. Humans under solitary confinement literally go insane without interaction with others. We’re not meant to be lonely hermits who hide in caves with our netflix all the time – that would not be conducive to our survival, since we kind of need each other for food and babies, which are only the bare minimum of what we must acquire to exist as a species.

Maybe we’re more like the Portuguese man-of-war than we might think. In a literal sense, without factory workers making my clothes, farmers and grocery store clerks producing my food, people who wrote books a long time ago, a place of employment tossing me a paycheck every couple weeks, and whoever built my apartment, I would be quite naked, starving, poor, bored, and homeless. I would probably die under these conditions, because I live in Utah, where the fierce weather and strict conservatism can indeed be quite deadly when you stroll about naked.

In this broad sense, I need other people. I, along with just about everyone else these days, lack all the skills necessary to live completely off the grid of modern humanity. I’d be a sad, dead little man-of-war bit without the rest of the human organism working in my favor (which I understand is a major first-world look at things, but excuse my naivety).

There’s another way of looking at this, too: I really, really need my friends to be happy, even if I have a hard time admitting it as a stubborn loner type.

I need intellectual friends to inspire new ideas and help me realize what I think, and why I think it.

I need nerd friends who judge me for not taking the time to appreciate Tolkien or Dr. Who, because maybe someday I’ll actually take the time to appreciate Tolkien and Dr. Who because of them, which should be great, really.

I need encouraging friends to tell me things will be okay when I can’t convince myself of it.

I need hilarious friends who will make me laugh when all I want to do is cry.

I need honest friends, who aren’t afraid to tell me when I’ve made a mistake.

I need grown-up friends who’ve been there and done that, so I can see that life does go on despite occasional wrong-beings and -doings. Also, hello free life advice.

Friends are there when you need a spontaneous ice cream run, or movie-watching weep-fest, or just a really, really long chat about your life and the many questions you have about it, because even if they don’t have an answer, you will feel better afterwards, probably.

And let’s not forget that we introverts owe it to our (who are we kidding?) fellow-introvert friends to be just as nurturing, loving, and listening in return, which is also a great feeling. St. Basil, who invented nuns and monks who help people (huge generalization, but google him if you want to know more), said it well when he asked, if one is living in solitude, “whose feet will you wash?” It’s a good question. Make sure you’re figuratively washing other people’s feet, because service is so, so important in a world so full of fellow humans with their own unique sets of problems.

It’s even worth noting that those who may be less-than-friends are also deserving of kindness. Which is hard. I still struggle with this. I’m not one to be fake nice, at all, because I really don’t see how insincerity is helpful to anyone in any way. I usually take the passive “don’t say anything and hope they don’t notice me” approach when I have a less-than-favorable encounter with another person, and that’s something I know I need work on. We could all be better at feeling sincere kindness toward everyone, even people we might not connect with or always appreciate.

In short, be that piece of tentacle, or that bit of floating gas bladder if that’s more your style. Whatever you do, remember that we’re all part of the bigger picture, this giant floating creature of humanity that relies on every one of its components to function successfully. Remember the importance of everyone, even the difficult ones, and especially the ones you love. We cannot survive alone.

I know it’s scary. It’s highly overwhelming, weirdly daunting, and definitely something not all introverted people want to be a part of all the time, but this is important. Leave the computer. Speak up in class. Have a cozy evening with your closest friends to chat it out. Help somebody.

Because without each other, without some sort of connection with the fellow humans around us, we’d just be these tiny pieces of life disconnected from a Portuguese man-of-war, useless and unable to feed ourselves.

Everybody’s a Freaking Confusing Critic

Classes have begun. Like, almost three weeks ago, but my lateness is beside the point. I’m slowly settling back into student mode, which hasn’t exactly been an easy adjustment, but life goes on, right?

I’ve actually been learning a lot since being thrust back into the world of reading and writing several hours a day in the name of higher education.

First off, I can totally do this.

My first few semesters of college, I didn’t understand that, at all. I carried with me this juvenile idea leftover from high school that I was unfairly forced into doing things in my education that I don’t particularly like. Every time I had to read a work of literary criticism or ancient Celtic text of weirdness, I felt sorry for myself, as if I were the only person who ever had to work hard in college.

I pitied myself for having a job while enrolled in classes. I pitied myself for having homework. I pitied myself for spending too much time on the internet. In short, I was a total loser, and didn’t get a whole lot of work done that I should have.

But guess what happened during the semester I spent abroad? I kind of got over my self-pity! Yay!

Because I realized that in college, every choice I make is my own. No one is forcing me to spend thousands of dollars a year to sit in a classroom. There isn’t a higher being telling me that I must have a job so I don’t rely on my parents for everything. Most importantly, not a single person is forcing me to live in Utah and deal with life here. It’s just me. I don’t think I’m allowed to complain about that.

By feeling sorry for myself for of all this stuff I’d signed up for on my own free will, I was implying to my subconscious that, “hey, I’m an idiot. I can’t make reasonable choices in my life, so let me just complain about that.” Not cool, past self.

So now I read my romantic literature and literary criticism like a good college student, and I’ve found that this lifestyle is much more fulfilling and substantially less stressful than only doing a portion of the required work and hoping for the best. Revolutionary, eh?

Lesson number two, which struck me particularly hard today, is that there is absolutely no way everyone you know will appreciate you or what you bring to the world to the same degree, or at all, and it will confuse the crap out of you. This is a pretty broad, maybe extremely obvious statement, so let me explain.

I’m thinking of adding a creative writing minor to my degree, because I’m interested in all the classes included in the program, and figured I might as well get real credit for taking them. In addition, I have this crazy dream of someday publishing creative things that other humans might actually want to read maybe for financial compensation, and this seemed like the logical first step. Also, why not spend at least six years in college?

This semester I’m taking a creative nonfiction class, which I love. It’s an interesting genre that forces you to get all introspective and self-reflecting and try to write personal essays that other people like and relate to, which I find super awesome. There’s also this weird vulnerability about it all that I think is really good for me as I try to figure out who I am and what I should do about it.

Today the class workshopped a memoir I wrote. I suck at judging the quality of my own work, but I poured myself into this essay. I talked about things I don’t like to talk about in real life, addressed weaknesses I’m still very much dealing with, and pretty much vomited my thoughts and feelings onto the page for all to read.

And I got SO MANY MIXED REACTIONS, guys. Which, speaking of things I signed myself up for, hello. This is the life of a creative writing student, constant criticism and revision. I know that. But the all-over-the-place-ness of it all really stood out to me this time and really shocked me.

One girl thought I added too much information about studying abroad. Another girl thought it was awesome I added information about studying abroad. One classmate thought some imagery I used about wanting to have children was deeply unsettling (which I found hilarious, but whatever), while another loved my contrasting ideas. Lots of people told me they loved the essay, while others said they just didn’t get it and I have to fix tons of stuff for it to make actual sense.

Which, yeah, I have to fix tons of stuff. Workshops are the refiner’s fire; a test audience meant to critique your work and whittle it down until only the “good stuff” remains. This is why I love workshops. They really, really improve my work. Plus, the egotistical wannabe-writer comes out of my introverted shell and is all like “Hey! They’re talking about me and this thing I wrote! Ha! So cool!”

But the process leads me to a problem. Who do I decide who to listen to? Do I listen to the students whose writing I like the most? Should I follow the advice of the people I find most intelligent, or those who seem to “get it” already without offering much criticism? Or do I just drop my classmates’ opinions entirely and only listen to what my already-published professor has to say? It’s not a matter of doing what everybody is asking of me, because that is literally impossible. There were way, way too many contradictions for that to be an option.

When it comes to the paper, I still have no clue what to do. Luckily, I still have some time to think about it, but this whole experience definitely has me thinking about the real adult world that seems to be looming closer and closer each day.

Who should I listen to in life, really? Is it my parents? My older siblings? My religious leaders? My professors? Gender-confused Tumblr? My inner self? The Man? William Wordsworth? Netflix? God? British people? Carly Fiorina? The New York Times? My facebook friends? My real life friends? My real life enemies? All of these things? None of these things? ARGHHHH it’s just so hard sometimes.

I mean, I do make it a point to listen to God, my parents, and my inner self, but all those other influences just sort of sneak in around the edges and demand my attention, offering contradictions and outside ideas that I find intriguing enough to devote a lot of time to. And they all offer potential for real-life human revision. I often feel like the sum of the things and people and places I choose to read, watch, explore, and that is freaking terrifying. Who am I, who do I want to be, and how do I go about realizing or changing that? Is it even a real choice I have?

Shakespeare’s Polonius tells us that to our own selves we should be true, while Emerson urges us to trust ourselves because every heart vibrates to that iron string, whatever that means. I like these ideas, but I’m finding that the task at hand is easier extrapolated-upon than done.

In the grand scheme of life, will I choose to freak people out with my disturbing imagery? Will I include way too many London references? Will I be at all okay knowing that there is absolutely no way I will ever, ever please everybody no matter what decisions I make?

All I have in response to these questions are those most disappointing and humbling three words: I don’t know.

I don’t really know anything. I mean, I have a pretty firm set of beliefs that don’t change much, but beyond that? It’s all a wash. As I further enter adulthood I realize that more and more. It’s not a bad thing exactly, but it can be discouraging at times. On the plus side, not knowing things opens me up to learning so many new ideas and ways of thinking about the world that I didn’t even know existed. I feel like a blank slate, ready to learn the stuff of life from every influence around me, be it helpful, destructive, or some confusing place in between.

In short, life lessons from me: be who you want to be, go to school and embrace it if that’s your thing, do or don’t listen to the critics (I still don’t know, man), and give yourself a pat on the back for reading all the way through this struggling wannabe-writer’s most ramblingly obscure blog post yet. Your time spent here is greatly appreciated, friend.

It’s OK to be Fat and Eat Chocolate: How I Approach Food and Body Image

potdecreme

Chocolate Pot de Creme makes life worth living.

As I begin writing this post, I’ve realized that Food is one of those intriguingly broad, paradoxical topics that can and will end up going in any direction you want it to. Food is social, creative, healthful, addictive, potentially harmful, necessary, comforting, costly, and beautiful, and if I had the time to write a whole book on food from every one of these perspectives, I probably would. It is just so immensely interesting to me.

But for the time being, I’m going to talk about my relationship, specifically, with food. It’s been quite an interesting lifelong development.

When I was six, I really liked watching Zoom! on PBS. For those unfamiliar, the show consisted of a large clan of barefoot children performing experiments, playing games, acting in little sketches, making crafts, and sharing recipes for delicious snacks. One day they whipped up some mini quiche. I decided I wanted to make mini quiche, too.

Instead of asking my mom like a good child (she was probably teaching a piano lesson or otherwise occupied), I remembered what I could about the recipe and got to cooking, unsupervised. I heated the oven to 400 degrees, beat some eggs, omitted the crust (because is that really necessary?), and added some torn up sliced ham and a little cheese I somehow figured out how to shred. I poured it all into a muffin tin and baked them until they were brown and delicious.

That’s it. I didn’t burn the house down. I didn’t get too many egg shells in the batter. I would imagine the finished product tasted somewhat all right. My mom showed up eventually, astounded that her first-grader just cooked herself a nutritious meal, using the oven, and probably also freaked out because even Zoom! reminded their viewers to always ask a grown-up for help before cooking anything.

I enthusiastically offered her a mini quiche. She responded by telling me to ask permission the next time I tried a recipe from Zoom!.

Luckily, by the time my age hit double digits, I could cook, safely, without a grown-up’s help, which I think is an important skill for a kid entering teenagerhood. I could scramble eggs, make grilled cheese sandwiches, and heat up leftovers in the microwave. My mom has always been a great example in the kitchen, teaching me that as long as I followed a recipe, things wouldn’t usually go wrong. Given, I once left out the flour in a batch of chocolate chip cookies to disastrous results, but how else was I supposed to learn the importance of gluten?

In that age of innocence, food meant family, home, celebration, and happiness. I could cook and be proud of the result, and maybe eat seven of the cookies I eventually learned to bake correctly without shame. Snacks were a way to wind down after school, mealtimes were a chance to catch up with my family, and cooking helped me channel my creative energy into delicious, edible, exciting things.

I’ve always loved food so much. Almost definitely too much. Growing up, food was often a way I coped with boredom. I was too young to have any serious emotional distress that begged for a bar of dark chocolate, but I’m quite certain that I snacked more often than necessary, simply because I could, and I enjoyed it.

And, of course, body issues lingered just below the surface.

From the beginning of elementary school, I was always the tallest kid in the class, usually one of the heftiest, and I only ever took pride in the former. Height meant superiority. Fat meant shame, and ugliness. Even back when I was six and making mini quiche with my healthy food attitudes, I knew that the average weight for a kid my age was 60 pounds, and that I weighed in at a horrific 80. I checked the scale often, and rejoiced when it went down to 78 that summer. Again, six years old and obsessing over weight. Fourteen years later, I’m horrified at the thought.

Even though I enviously watched my friends at school feasting on their jam-packed lunch bags filled with chocolates, cheetos, soda, and potato chips as I slowly ate my ham sandwich, apple, and juice, I started believing that my size strongly correlated with my diet. It didn’t make sense, because my junk-food-addict friends were skinny, and I most definitely was not, but the seed was planted. I simply thought there was something wrong with me, or my food, and I had no idea how to change it, so I ignored any indication of physical abnormality.

I knew I was a fat kid, but I certainly didn’t want to talk about it.

By the time I hit middle school, I was starting to have those emotional eating tendencies. I ate way too much out of stress and whatever crazy growth-spurt eat-everything hormones were taking over my life, and gained pretty much all the weight I still carry today. I never exercised, other than the occasional humiliating P.E. class and a spontaneous stint on the swim team, my body became larger than ever, and it essentially stayed that way. I regularly thank the Lord that it’s spread out into the right places by now, but I am still very, very much what department stores would call a “plus size woman.”

One of the hardest parts of my simultaneous transformation into obesity and womanhood was that I still saw my peers, even in middle and high school, eating less healthy foods than me, in larger quantities than I ever did, and they’d be of completely average weight, if not rail thin. I’m sure I could have eaten better – of course I could have eaten better, but my diet wasn’t unusual for a growing American kid. I never ate two candy bars at once, or feasted on entire pints of ice cream. I only ate fast food every few months, and I still remember my doctor telling me, at eleven years old, that I’d just have to be one of those kids eating corn flakes or Cheerios for breakfast when everyone else got Lucky Charms and pop-tarts.

That wasn’t what I wanted to hear; as a young person, you don’t want someone telling you that you’re different, that you need to make better lifestyle choices if you ever want to be “normal.” Also, I liked corn flakes and Cheerios sometimes. My doctor’s assumption that I only ever ate sugar for breakfast wasn’t necessarily correct, and I resented that, even back then. I couldn’t eat fun food because of the way I was born. That’s what she was telling me. What I heard was “you fat lazy idiot, eat an apple.” I ended up feeling more confused, and, yes, continued occasionally eating Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts, because Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts are delicious when you’re twelve.

When I started learning about positive body image and self-esteem, I realized that my weight severely effected the way I felt about myself. I felt less than because of my pant size. The problem, though, did not lie in the airbrushed photos in seventeen magazine, or half-starved Hollywood starlets. My feelings were not a media issue as much as a jealously issue – I saw my ideal all around me. Even the chubbiest of my friends weighed under 200 pounds. Every woman I saw, from my teachers to my size-6 classmates, had me wondering what it must be like to just look average. I didn’t want Marilyn Monroe curves or Angelina Jolie skeleton arms. I just wanted to be able to shop in normal stores, in their regular junior’s range, without worrying that their sizes wouldn’t accommodate my butt.

A history teacher of mine often mentioned the horrendously-awful obesity problem in America, and I wondered how I could stop being part of the problem. Middle school PE teachers informed me that my fitness level and body fat percentage were drastically low and high, respectively, and that making goals to change both of those numbers was imperative to my adult well-being. I couldn’t be happy or healthy at my weight. That is what they taught me, and that is what I believed.

Luckily beliefs can, and do, change over time. As I grew older, my empty pit of body-related confusion eventually became enriched with a new love of food and body-confidence, which was a true blessing. Instead of crash dieting or suffering from an eating disorder, I learned to follow the examples of big, confident ladies in my life and stop caring so freaking much.

I took a cooking class in high school, where I learned how to make delicious breads, cakes, soups, and pastas. I learned to appreciate food for the fresh, rich ingredients it came from, the method of its creation, and its thoughtful presentation. We learned about nutrition, macronutrients, fad diets, and foodborne illnesses, as well as how to cook with such exciting ingredients as butter, fresh veggies, and yeast. The food world no longer felt like an intimidating conglomeration of things I shouldn’t be eating, and I thrived in that environment.

I will admit to counting calories toward the end of that year, but more than anything else it helped me realize what kind of things I was putting into my body. I learned that I could avoid a lot of empty calories by avoiding snacks between meals, and keeping high-fat foods at a suitable, yet satisfying minimum. I also learned that if I ate a small breakfast, I could eat tons of cake later – a truly wonderful realization I still sometimes utilize to this day. I lost twelve pounds, which felt great. Sure, I plateaued at a weight most online metabolism calculators insisted I needed 3,200 calories per day to maintain (while on an 1,800 calorie diet), but it felt good to see some sort of progress.

My freshman year of college I relied on a lot of processed foods I definitely wouldn’t eat these days, but I still didn’t go crazy. I eventually got a job working for chefs, and saw directly how beautiful a passion for food can be – I saw the true artistry of the craft, and my respect for food continued to grow.

Preparing meals for sometimes-humongous groups of people taught me the value in sharing food with others. Prepping, cooking, and eating together is a true act of communion, a beautiful statement on the human condition and what we can do for each other to keep ourselves happy and alive.

When I lived in London for 4 months earlier this year, I became a total food snob. I ate things like mackerel taretare and wine-aged cheese. Citrus seared duck-breast with fried thyme leaves, white truffle oil, gourmet dark chocolates. I feasted on Sauteed scallops, smoky back bacon, artisan pizzas, even authentic Brazilian fare. Delightful Indian rogan josh, arab-influenced shawarma, and the best British fish and chips on the face of this earth made up a lot of my meals while abroad, and I. Was. So. Happy.

I also lost some weight from all the walking. It was a win-win. Eat amazing food. Walk a ton. Lose weight. An excellent life goal if you ask me.

Needless to say, I haven’t eaten a ding-dong or frozen pizza since returning to America, and I don’t really want to. American cheese grosses me out, Hershey’s chocolate makes me sad, and kale has become infinitely more appealing than it ever was before.

I still make a living in a kitchen, and I’ve learned to love even more what I do and the difference it’s made in my life.

And here’s the kicker – I’ve come to realize that being a “plus size woman,” a fat female, a broad broad, ultimately doesn’t effect my view on food all that much anymore, even though my views on food have matured in constructive ways over the years.

Maybe I should worry more about my weight; I know my body isn’t ideal, or anywhere near average. Anyone who has to go to a special extra-busty section of an already-plus-size store and shell out an additional $15-$20 just to buy a suitable, correctly-fitting bra in one of three colors – nude, black, or white – (I’m angrily looking at you, Lane Bryant), knows that there’s something a little odd about her body. I find those shopping trips INCREDIBLY frustrating, and society’s insistence on constant daytime bra-wearing (which I happen to agree with, but still) will probably lead me to bankruptcy someday.

There is an “X” somewhere in all my clothes sizes, and sometimes I hate that, but then I realize that it’s just a letter used to describe the fabric I use to cover my usually-awesome body, and it all starts to feel so trivial.

I’m an adult now and don’t really even like Lucky Charms anymore, but you can bet that if I did, I’d be eating them. I do, indeed, eat Chick-fil-a once a week, because it’s delicious. Sometimes I eat pizza, there’s usually ice cream in my freezer, and every woman has those days that she simply cannot go without chocolate. I have those days, and I embrace them, because nothing tastes better than a dark chocolate bar when you really need a dark chocolate bar.

I eat fresh veggies and whole grains, and I enjoy them immensely. There are few things in this world as amazing as a perfectly-ripened, juice-dripping-down-your-hand peach, and I consider vegetable roasting one of my favorite hobbies.

My body size and shape is more than the sum of what I choose to put into it. I know I need more exercise. I wish I had the courage and strength to give up refined sugars. But for now, I’m doing okay, and I choose to be happy with that. Fatness isn’t always a choice, but the way you view yourself and choose to take care of your body is, and I wish every person, especially every woman, could realize that.

Odds are, you’re beautiful. Even if your bra can double as a two-person hat. Even if your jean size too-closely resembles your age. Even if your pre-baby body sort of looks a lot like most women’s post-baby bodies. I don’t care, and you shouldn’t either. It’s a tired cliche, but it’s what’s on the inside that matters most, and it’s time we prove that to the masses. Don’t be ashamed. Eat delicious things. Love your body. Love yourself, and stop worrying so much! Your self-esteem will thank you.

fishnchips

Also, you should never feel guilty about Fish ‘n’ chips.