I don’t know if you heard, but the 2013 word of the year according to the OED is “Selfie.” This refers to a photo taken, generally with a phone, of oneself, by oneself, to be used on social media generally dedicated to oneself. Other people may occasionally appear in the selfie, but there is only so much room in the reach of one’s arm.
I became well acquainted with the selfie during my trip to Barcelona a couple of years ago. At the end of my work in Italy I had some time to kill, so I grabbed a 10€ flight to Spain, a hostel booking, and walked the city for 3 days. It was beautiful, romantic, and lonely. I loved it. It was the kind of trip that only an introvert could really enjoy. While there, I met several kind international solo travelers to share paella lunches and rooftop chats with, but generally I spent my days wandering through ancient walls and gorgeous architecture. I tried to capture some of it will my camera, and tried to show myself with in it, but again, I was limited by my arm span. It’s very true that selfies can come across looking vain and conceited, but I don’t think selfies are bad or wrong. Mostly, I think they are lonely.
I think it was coming home from Europe and losing the luxury of six months of excuses for being alone—i.e. I don’t know anyone, I don’t speak the language, can’t talk must eat pizza—that I began to ponder the selfieness of my life. Being a single adult is an inherently selfish existence. It’s not the really nasty selfishness that people in my age group and situation are often accused of—rather it is selfiness. The by-product of independent living.
Allow me to elaborate. I do things that my married friends, particular my parent friends, can only dream of. I can sleep soundly all night. No one needs me to get up to feed or help them. This is a luxury that I know many of my mommy friends can only vaguely remember. I can eat what I like, when I like. No one reminds me to go grocery shopping instead of eating another spicy bean and cheese burrito. And no one puts their sticky finger in my food because ‘Mommy’s tastes better.’ And when I do go to the store, no one gives me the stink eye when I put the Double Stuff Oreos in my cart. I can go where I want. Would I like to get in my car and drive to Ohio today? Maybe…no, but you just try and stop me. I could be in Nebraska before any one even noticed. I spend my money how I want. I bought a new car this year. I had barely a half hour conversation about what I should or shouldn’t buy with my brother about this choice. My time is my own. If I want to binge watch 2 seasons of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on Netflix instead of writing a paper—what are you going to do about it? You didn’t even know that happened, Sucka!
Over the last few years, one of my personal mantras has become something of a joke among my circle of friends. They have all heard my say, and generally in the face of sensible advice, “I do what I want!” But that doesn’t mean there are no consequences. Thank goodness for a sensible upbringing and strong ethical compass, and limited financial means, without which my life would be a ruin. As it is, the main consequence is loneliness.
My loneliness is the quiet kind. In fact most of the time it makes me smile. I go for a solo morning run and find a breathtaking sunrise. I smile at God’s gift just for me. I drift off to sleep in the quiet coziness of my room. I hug myself, and smile. I go to the store and buy one perfectly ripe persimmon as a treat. I smile and thank myself. It’s a comfortable kind of alone.
But other times I kneel alone in the silence of my room and cry out to a God who doesn’t seem to hear, and I am alone. Sometimes I walk alone through the grocery store making funny faces at other people’s kids, wishing I had one of my own. Someone who I could buy a perfect persimmon for. When I crashed my car (necessitating the buying of a new one) I sat in shock on the side of the freeway unsure who to call first. Who could help me? Who needed to know? It made me sad, so I just called the insurance company and cried to them. That’s the quiet kind of loneliness I live with.
It is an invulnerability. If you have time you should listen to this Ted Talk.
It is beautiful. It discusses the power of connection, shame, and vulnerability. In an effort to deconstruct the human need for connection this researcher did hundreds of interviews and found that happiest people “fully embraced vulnerability. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they talk about it being excruciating…They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees…their willingness to invest in a relationship that may or may not workout. They thought this was fundamental.”
Letting people in is not really that hard for me. When I love someone, I love fully. What is VERY hard for me is reaching out. Falling in love.
Working in theatre I spent many years being annoyed at the easy way everyone around me said “I love you” all the time. They said it to me, to each other, to their fellow workers. Didn’t they know that those were magic words? Powerful. Not to be used lightly. But eventually I realized something even more powerful: They meant it. Most of the people I worked with or met in the theatre were genuinely loving. They loved with their whole hearts. They loved easily and truly, if not always deeply. It was me who needed to change, not them.
I say I love you a lot more now. That doesn’t mean that I love the girl I sewed costumes with in the same way I love my beautiful mother, but I do still love her. So why not tell her! No one was every damaged by being told they were loved. Now, let me take this up a notch. There are people in the world who need friends. (Me. I need friends.) There are people in the world who are looking for deep and romantic love. (Me. I am looking for deep and romantic love.) To help these people I need to believe fully that I have something to offer and then I need to be willing to share it. I need to open myself to being hurt. I need to take off my layers of numbness and selfieness and expose my heart to the painful light of love.
Ouch. This is going to suck.
This is my theme for 2014. I have been thinking about it since late October, but I have been putting off saying it out loud much, because I know it is going to be the hardest yet. Over coming fear in 2012 was fun. Creating in 2013 was extremely gratifying. Being selfless in 2014 makes me want to hide my head in the sand and never speak again.
Things I am going to be unselfie about:
- Invite others to join me. Bike rides, road trips, movies, binge watching TLC shows, grocery runs. I want to share my life. So I need to invite you to share it with me. This. Is. So. Hard. Because a lot my friends are also single adults and they have their own selfieness going on. So I am going to need to toughen up and get used to people saying no, but it won’t hurt them to have me ask.
- Giving away more. Of course, my first thought is, “not that I have much to give.” But that’s absolutely not true. I have more than enough. I want to give more of my time, more of my money, and more of my things to those in need. I have a very strong tendency toward greed about things that make me happy. Time to actively fight that. So yes, I’m going to say the words that are sometimes the hardest for me: “Please, share this cookie with me.”
- Free myself from the things that I hide behind: Irony, cleverness, food, media, and generally being in “the thick of thin things.”
I love this quote:
“We become so caught up in the busyness of our lives. Were we to step back, however, and take a good look at what we’re doing, we may find that we have immersed ourselves in the “thick of thin things.” In other words, too often we spend most of our time taking care of the things which do not really matter much at all in the grand scheme of things, neglecting those more important causes.” –Thomas Monson
Here is something I learned from The Year of Creation. Creating doesn’t happen alone. It is inseparable from collaboration. Last year was partly about trying to walk the Road Less Traveled, and you know what, it was really lonely. Not bad, but quiet, and reflective, and HARD. (This is really a whole other post.) I tried to create on my own, and I found that whatever I did alone had pretty limited value. When I shared what I was creating with others, the work blossomed. Their love and my love came together to create something bigger than the both of us. How cool is that?!
So this is why unselfifying my life is scary and hard.
It requires participation from others. Ugh.
So to start this off right, come on in. Give your advice on how to unselfie my life. Give me courage, I need it.