Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nous sommes tous Parisiens

(Jean Jullien / Twitter)
We have been injured by November 13th, but we can't let it defeat us.

This morning, I took a look at the calendar and made a joke about Friday the 13th. "I'll just blame any misfortune I face on bad luck." I had no idea.

As the work day came to a close, I found myself lurking on social media and there was no denying something had struck the world hard and fast. My Twitter feed was a flowing river of retweeted news articles, concerned hashtags, claims of astonishment. "#PrayforParis." "Nous sommes tous Parisiens."

It is not my nature to get involved in political arguments or breaking news crazes online, but in a moment like this it felt almost callous to "Keep Calm and Carry On" as the phrase goes. I wanted to help, even if it was in the smallest of ways. By sharing positive thoughts or retweeting helpful information, I was able to assist in what little way I could from my remote location away from the scene of the chaos. My drive to act was instinctual and unplanned. It was an automatic impulse driven by a mix of fear and concern for the many strangers living thousands of miles away whom I don't know and may never get to know. I felt what I believe to be the true meaning of love despite not being acquainted with a single victim.

In these moments of tragedy, we are able to find and share our best selves. We discover our capacity for empathy, our attachment to our loved ones, our desire to help others -- even strangers. We forget the petty trials of day-to-day life and remember what it means to be human.

We can't let all of that be forgotten next week when the headlines have changed.

In the coming days, weeks, months, and even years, it is our responsibility not to forget what happened in Paris. Not to ignore it, and not to return to life as it was before today.

There was a sentiment I heard expressed in an interview with a Parisian a few hours after the attacks were first reported. Yesterday we had freedom, he said. But tomorrow everything will be different.

Paris is forever changed, and humanity is also forever changed.

That isn't to say every moment moving forward should be lived in fear of a potential repeat incident. Or that we must spend the rest of our days in mourning. A life lived in fear and sadness is not much of a life at all.

All the tragedy that has transpired should serve as a reminder that life is fleeting. We are responsible for spending as much of our time on this planet as we can doing good, pursuing happiness, and loving with all our hearts.

Don't waste a minute. Don't live in vain. Don't let those who wish to scare you win their sick game by complying to their desires.

Feel powerful in these moments of brotherhood/sisterhood with your fellow man and woman. Use them to connect with others in whatever ways you can.

And above all, be the champion of this battle. Just because we've fallen doesn't mean we've lost. It's up to us to get back up again and be the bigger and better persons. We can choose to thrive not from revenge and anger, but from mercy and hope.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How not to fix a problem

Lately I've become a bit of a podcast nerd. Spending hours in the car driving to and from work, I find few things as entertaining and miraculously distracting as episodes of The Nerdist Podcast, Gilmore Guys, Lore, and many many other terrific programs.

Today, during my commute travails, I spent half an hour listening to the newest episode of Dear Hank and John, a somewhat inaccurately labeled "comedy podcast" from YouTube's very own VlogBrothers.

In the natural flow of their conversation and in answering a listener's question, John mentioned something that struck a chord with me which -- upon reflection -- I believe to be one of the most important aspects to maintaining healthy and loving relationships. So I thought I'd share it here on The Songs of Spring.

The question read:
"Dear Hank and John,  
There must be a better way to express empathy than saying 'I'm sorry.' Saying 'I'm sorry' places blame on the person expressing empathy and normally causes the person receiving empathy to reply with something along the lines of ‘It's not your fault’ or even worse misplacing negative feelings towards someone who is genuinely trying to voice compassion to their situation. I've taken to saying 'Yo bro, I know that feel,' but in some situations it seems improper. What do you guys think? Is there better vocabulary that can be used to express empathy?"
To which John began explaining the concept of "empathic listening," which he learned about while working as a student chaplain at a children's hospital.
"So an example of empathic listening might be that someone tells you that they’re feeling very sad and you say 'I'm hearing that you're feeling very sad right now'...Obviously, in a perfect world you want to phrase it a little more subtly than that so that it doesn't feel awkward in conversation. But it is, at least in my experience, astonishingly effective. Just to acknowledge what someone else is feeling and to acknowledge that you hear what they’re feeling is really powerful."
This brought the brothers into a discussion on the inherent problem of offering solutions to problems when a solution is not requested.
Hank: "And don't do the thing that I do which is, 'Well here's how you can fix your problem.'"
John: "No, do not go to problem-fixing. Because A) it does not work B) when it is time for problem-fixing, people will start to bring up solutions instead of bringing up problems. And also, in most cases of pain there is no easy solution. The job is not to find a solution, the job is to find less aloneness within it."
This is an issue I've observed hundreds of times in my own life and in the lives of those around me. I've been on both sides of the situation, and I feel I can see the reality with some clarity.

Often in our relationships we offer our shoulders to cry on, but only for so long. We patiently listen, but after a while we resort to trying to fix the perceived problem. It always seems like the right thing to do at the time. We're satisfying the most beautiful human desire: to help.

But the most beneficial choice we can make as confidantes is to offer ourselves with no strings attached, to listen compassionately and without agenda. The very act of offering a solution can seem in itself dismissive. We risk alienating those we love the most by not hearing them out, but instead talking over them with what we believe is wisdom.

This all comes down to the root of all positive relationships, which is understanding and respect. When we love someone, whether it be as a friend, a romantic partner, a family member, or what have you -- we owe it to them to treat them with patience and consider their needs before acting. Often, just having someone to listen to a problem is enough to make the problem go away — or at least make it easier to contend with.

It's such an easy choice we can make, to listen. It's really the simplest solution of all.

If you're interested in listening to the entire podcast episode I'm referencing, find it below. The question quoted above is read at 20:15.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Evolution of a friendship

Take a moment to think about your best friend(s). Is there something you absolutely love about them? Do they bring out the best in you? Can you trust them with your innermost thoughts? Do you believe your friendship will stand the test of time?

A dandelion in Regent's Park. (Rachel Poletick)
These are not typical questions we ask ourselves about our friendships. As we float like seeds in the perpetual wind of life, we gather up relationships and are lucky if a few of them gives us "yes" answers to the aforementioned questions. If we do, those friendships will hopefully grow and bloom. If not, they may wilt.

But what are we supposed to do if we refuse to accept even the foregone conclusion?

That perhaps not all friendships are meant to last.

There was once a time when I could say I'd never lost a friend. I was young then, and unfortunately that time did not last very long.

Over the years, I've met a very many people and called a small number of them "best friends." Of those best friends, I've been somehow able to hold onto quite a few. On this day and counting, my closest friendships have lasted for around a decade. That's almost half of my life, and by my estimation quite an accomplishment.

In those 10 years I've observed the many twists and turns of a healthy friendship: the stages which they often enter and exit, regardless of how we may try to manipulate them.

As they begin, there is hesitation. We tell each other parts of ourselves, but not the whole. We don't even know where we'd begin with the whole. But as more and more pieces are shared, we feel closer and safer with our new confidantes.

Soon, we're able to talk with relative freedom. We have experienced enough reactions to know where to start and (hopefully) where to stop. We begin to trust our friends, and we don't fear their judgment like we may have before.

If we live close together, we see each other regularly and perhaps frequently. There is a closeness that is afforded by proximity, but also by companionship.

This has all been the upswing. Then there's the inevitable parting.

I've never stayed in the same place as any single friend of mine, and I doubt many of us have. Whether it's the break as we head off to college, the return home after our senior years, or the transition to adult life in some other distant place, the chances are we will separate at some point.

The cooling off period from a very close friendship is the moment when those earlier questions present themselves, whether or not we choose to answer them.

Some decide to put their distant friendships on temporary hold, channeling energy into their local friendships, but making themselves available to those old friends whenever they should call.

Others feel a growing detachment and allow themselves to separate from faraway friendships, pushing them to wilt peacefully and untouched.

Still some try very hard to keep their friendships alive no matter the distance. But as we know from the many horror stories told of long distance relationships gone sour, the more we push the harder it may be to maintain the closeness we desire.

Now if I knew what path was best, I would have said something by now. Unfortunately, I don't. What I do know is that after answering those questions, I'm usually better equipped to allow the wind to lead me where it may, even if that means letting go for a while.

If we are friends, or if we have been, thank you for being a part of my journey and letting me be a part of yours. One day, I hope we are together and that these questions occur to both of us. And that we know without a doubt that the universal answer is "yes."

A Happy Esther Day to all of my loved ones.

Monday, July 27, 2015

VidCon 2015: Nerdfighter Recap

A Creator panel at VidCon 2015. (Rachel Poletick / Instagram)
Take a three-story building and fill it with thousands of people for a weekend, and you can expect to see one of two sides of humanity:

1. An apocalyptic survival test in which only the most destructive, insane and sweaty competitors survive.


2. A circle of friends holding hands around a campfire and singing "Kumbaya."

At VidCon 2015, the figurative voices of thousands of nerdfighters resonated at once. Together, they united a community that has fought to decrease worldsuck, but in more recent years has struggled to decrease its own internal divisiveness.

VidCon is an annual conference asking and answering questions about the state of online video, but as of 2014 there were bigger questions surrounding the Con's very existence. With thousands of young YouTube enthusiasts gathering to storm the Anaheim Convention Center in search of their favorite creators, older viewers stepped back to observe and lament at the loss of their sanctuary. The very first VidCon had only around 1,400 attendees and was a place for the creator and the viewer to come together as friends. With over 18,000 in attendance in 2014, the event grew over-crowded and cut-throat. Coexistence seemed impossible.

From its inception in 2010 through to 2014, VidCon had two tracks: Community and Industry. The Community track focused on personality-based content for viewers while Industry gave access to more technical content for creators. As the years passed, the designations continued with few hitches. But by VidCon 2013, the tides were changing. The division between Community and Industry grew as entertainment industry professionals set their sights on YouTube as a viable media platform and snapped up the Industry passes while the Community track was flooded with viewers and creators.

This year, the creation of a third track at VidCon—the Creator pass—separated the community into its very separate constituents. This allowed a burgeoning group of content creators to have their own track focused on the art of crafting online video, while the viewers (as before) still got the fix they needed from the Community track and professionals stayed with the Industry track. The addition proved to be a step in the right direction.

VidCon in its new form is an organized and safe environment which caters directly to the attendees' needs. Depending on your desire—whether that is to meet your favorite YouTuber, learn how to make videos yourself, or begin using online video in your corporate strategy—there is a track for you.

On the Creator track, I was able to relive the fond memories of VidCons past. I took part in a breakout group to discuss gender and representation on YouTube, I sat in a story circle of my peers, I heard very niche and personal Q&A and panel sessions that I couldn't have even dreamed of getting into last year on the Community track. Rather than fight just to get into a panel (as I did last year), I could arrive 15 minutes prior and get a seat in the first five rows. There were places to lounge and opportunities to meet new people, to really feel that sense of community again.

My big "Kumbaya" moment, however, happened on the last day of the conference, away from the Creator track. As the VidCon concert ended and the setup began for VidCon Prom, a video played on the screen above the arena stage. It was a compilation video of the weirdest animal noises I'd ever heard, and perhaps the winner of the Best Non Sequitur of the Year award.

Surrounded by my fellow VidCon attendees, I laughed. I convulsed. I cried. And I felt like I was at summer camp, sitting amongst friends and telling funny stories. This was the community I joined, and this is the community to which I always want to belong. We are nerdfighteria, we decrease worldsuck through love and videos and VidCon is our home.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Who are we if not the people we have always been?

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day. (ceedub13 / Flickr)

Something occurred to me a few weeks ago. Driving around and feeling a simultaneous rush of adrenaline and rising indignation, I decided to turn my iPod to Green Day.

Firstly, yes I still have an iPod. Secondly, yes I still listen to Green Day. These are possibly very strange things for you, the reader, to read as they both seem vaguely anachronistic. But let's not get carried away with the petty details.

What I discovered was a piece of myself that, though squished into the recesses of my brain for years, was still vibrant as ever: my preteen spirit.

I like to think of those preteen years as the "black eyeliner stage." Between the ages of 12 and 14, as I began the search to find myself, I felt - as many young adults do - disenfranchised and misunderstood. As a show of rebellion and an attempt to hide myself from my peers, I wore dark everything - black clothing which blended in with my black hair and dark eyes, black eyeliner and black nail polish.

Frustrated by society's desire to pin me into given categories - ethnically, religiously, politically, socioeconomically - I wanted out. I felt alien and abnormal, as if I didn't belong to just one minority group within my community, but many. I soon became paranoid and distrustful, believing everyone was judging me harshly for being whatever it was that made me "different."

In desiring a place to fit in, I pinned myself into new categories. Isolation made me search for kindred spirits, but where I found true compassion was in the arts.

Without even being old enough to understand the meaning of the term "Green Day," I fell into a deeply dependent relationship with the band and their music. Drug references and tales of illegal activities went over my head, while the music gave me an outlet for the new emotions I was combatting.

Those preteen years were some of my loneliest - they saw me lose the most friends and encounter the most bullies. They also simultaneously motivated me to work harder than I ever had in my life. I was a machine - clocking in at 7 am and out between 5 and 6 pm. My days were tireless, and my music had to be as well.

The energy of Dookie, Insomniac and American Idiot were the antidote to my already hyper-intense reality. They were the substitute for screaming into a pillow and punching my hand through a wall. And I didn't realize it then, but they got me through the bleak moments and made me smarter and stronger.

Yet as the black eyeliner became more subdued and the black nail polish was replaced with blues and purples and pinks, the angst-ridden songs I listened to on a loop became my past. I replaced them with beautiful friendships and elevated goals, pretty songs and hopeful thinking.

But to those who defend this by saying one changes throughout life, you're missing one important and essential element.  We are the result of our past, present and future - in no particular order. Our timeline isn't strictly linear. Every time we start a new job or a new school year, we are the meek children walking into our first days of kindergarten, doe-eyed and frightened as hell. As we exit university, we fall back into old routines: living at home and hanging out with high school friends. Just because time has passed doesn't mean everything must change. Just because something has changed doesn't mean it is forever altered.
NBC / BuzzFeed

In so many ways, I bear no resemblance to my middle school persona. I am an adult who makes money and knows how to drive a car. I pay taxes, for goodness' sake. But in other - more personal - ways I'm still the exact same person using her hair as a curtain to hide her face and possessing a demeanor not unlike April Ludgate in Parks and Recreation.

Life is full of valleys and plateaus, and Green Day just happened to come to me twice during deep and defining valleys. To me, their music proves that what is lost once isn't necessarily lost forever. And when something touches your heart, there's a distinct possibility it will do so again.

We are all the sum of our parts, and I plan to never underestimate a single part of myself again. If I do, there's a good chance it'll come right back to surprise me.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A day for old news

Jackie / Flickr
Happy Valentine's Day.

If you're looking for a little humor and fun, read my "The ghosts of Valentine's past" post from 2012.

If you'd rather experience the revelation I had on this Valentine's Day (2015), stay tuned. You're in for a treat.

I have spent the last few years of my life making terrible choice after terrible choice, and it took a long time and a great deal of sadness to realize it. I dated the wrong people, I got caught up in relationships that meant little to me, I had trouble letting go. My heart dictated my actions, rather than my head. And as we know, the heart doesn't always have the firmest grasp of reality.

Today, I had the uniquely painful pleasure of encountering a photo that served as a blast from the past, despite being decidedly present. It was like a simultaneous blow to the gut and a punch in the old cranium. You may have guessed it, I saw a picture of my ex with his new girlfriend.

This ex is old news. He broke up with me months ago and it was hard for about a minute. The mourning period was short, but the self-esteem loss was penetrating. As anyone who has been broken up with knows all too well, the feeling of rejection is more powerful than logic. For some reason, when you lose someone, your heart decides to care about that person more than you ever thought possible. Suddenly you think "maybe I did love him?", even though when you were together, he made you feel like poking your eyeballs out with an ice pick.

Too many times in my few years of being a dating-girl, I've found myself falling for the wrong people, losing them, and never feeling the relief that I know I should. The loss of a significant other should be grieved, but then it should transition into positivity, freedom, even excitement.

Instead of embracing the promise of new opportunities, I've looked to the past as a shelter. I hid myself in memories and burrowed so deep into my cave of past relationships that I stopped seeing my follow-up relationships for what they were, good or bad.

When I found myself dating someone new, the relationship became clouded by previous experiences. Nothing measured up, nothing was satisfactory. My heart was always looking backwards.

Some of my longest relationships have been with people I didn't actually care very much about. While I hoped to eventually feel a burning passion for them, it simply wasn't there from the start. Jaded by previous breakups, I saw new relationships as numbing agents.

While a relationship should be a stimulant, they were suppressants.

This Valentine's Day is the first in a while that I've been fully single. Last year, I was seeing someone (sort of). The year before, I'd been broken up with a week and a half before the holiday and was deep into my mourning period. In 2012, the wounds were still fresh from another breakup. This year, I finally realize that being alone is better than being with someone who may not be the right person anyway.

The number one rule in dating should be to save your love and enthusiasm for the right people. I want to build up my love until it bursts from my heart and allows me to fully engulf the person on the receiving end of it. Why bother with someone who can only make me feel so-so, when I know I have the capacity to feel so much more?

To my mind, Valentine's Day is really about being with the people who accept you and believe in you unconditionally. The exes of my past did not offer me that, so who cares? They're old news.

Yet by being careful and pursuing quality, I'm promising myself to have only good news to tell next Valentine's Day, and every Valentine's Day after that.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Saving you

Seven years ago, I got a phone call from my mom. I missed it. It went to voicemail.

When I listened to it, she was asking to see me. There was sadness in her voice. She was lonely. We'd been apart for a long time. She had a stroke a few years earlier and could no longer take care of me. Our time together went from daily to weekly at most. 

She left me that voicemail, and the next day she died.

It stayed in my phone for a long time. I never deleted it. Eventually the phone stopped working and all of its content, including the message, was lost. The last time I'd ever hear the voice of my mother during her lifetime, disappeared into the void of a dead Sidekick.

Recently, I was listening to the NPR TED Radio Hour podcast, an episode called Keeping Secrets. In the first segment of the episode, Frank Warren spoke about his project PostSecret, an online community where people send their secrets written on artful postcards to Warren who then curates and publishes contributions to the website. During his TED Talks, Warren read the following secret:

"When people I love leave voicemails on my phone, I always save them in case they die tomorrow and I have no other way of hearing their voice ever again." (Frank Warren / PostSecret)

As I listened to this secret read aloud, I discovered something about myself. I then began to melt into a pool of my own tears.

My mom's passing came so suddenly that her voicemail felt like a mummified version of her final moments. I kept it like a warm blanket on a cold day - a protectant from the terrible road ahead. If it stayed on the phone, it was like nothing had happened.

But as we all must do with most things, I had to let go of the message.

Then today, the thought of that voicemail hit me like a ton of bricks. Not just because I'd lost it, but because I realized that like the person who wrote the secret, and like many others, I never delete my voicemails.

And it's not because I'm lazy, or because there are important notices held within.

A few months ago I noticed my phone's voicemail was about to reach capacity. As I looked at the list of saved messages, I first deleted the ones that were from businesses. Then I removed the ones from distant acquaintances. But I couldn't convince myself to dispose of some and it occurred to me today just why that is.

Because I don't want to lose the voicemail sarcophagi of the people I love.

But by doing this, I have rendered myself unable to properly live in the present.

My present is like a ticking clock, swallowed up by the past and future. Each tick is a reminder that another second has passed and that less time remains.

I don't want to live this way, to base my happiness on the things I cannot change. But the fear of loss is so all-consuming, that saving everything is like a child's pacifier, a temporary fix.

In the years since my mom passed, I've been able to let go of the lost voicemail. I've found her in other places - home movies, old greeting cards, little trinkets she gave me. And rather than remind me of my loss, they remind me of her life.

So maybe these final voicemails aren't the right way to go about things. Though we may find solace in their keeping, the important memories are held in the moments we lived with our loved ones, not the moments we spent worrying about them and trying desperately to save them.

These days, I take a lot of videos and photos of my family. I look back regularly through my iPhone camera roll and enjoy the memories, even if they happened just days before.

There really is no time like the present to appreciate the people you have around you. And that method of saving is, in my opinion, very worth doing.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie: In the wake of tragedy

rafaelmantesso / Instagram
It seems to me that when we as a society are at our most vulnerable, we are also at our best.

Yesterday, people all around the world gathered as one to commemorate the innocents who lost their lives to a terrifying act that would be far better off as a work of fiction. Those who died in the wake of the shooting at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, did not deserve the fate they met.

Many honored in their own fashion, and I'd like to share some thoughts as well. While I may not have the artistic talent to create such poignant and beautiful creations as the cartoonists and artists who paid tribute to the victims of January 7, 2015, I hope to do the topic some justice.

This has been a terrifying day not only for those directly affected or for the Parisian people, but for anyone who believes in the public's right to a free press and the personal right to free speech.

In America, these freedoms are points of immense pride. But this is an emotion held throughout the world as a principle of humanity. If we are to live fulfilled lives, we deserve certain rights - chief among them the right to expression.

Today, our universal right of free speech was challenged. Extremists have suggested that no matter what our laws or our civil society guarantee us, our safety is not guaranteed. It's a haunting thought.

Even those who take issue against the editorial choices of Charlie Hebdo cannot deny humanity's innate right to expression. As controversial as the publication may be, no one should be put in the literal line of fire for doing their job. These were not soldiers who died today, they were civilians. They never chose to sacrifice themselves. They made daring choices as writers and artists, but with no intention of becoming martyrs.

They had no choice to speak for themselves in the end, but we do.

As we all come together, in-person and in widespread digital communities, we should translate our mourning into something greater. This attack was one on both our fellow man and ourselves. It's a reminder that as safe as we may feel, we are never quite safe enough.

By saying "Je Suis Charlie" (or "I am Charlie"), we acknowledge that like the writers, editors and cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, we too maintain the right to freedom of expression. And no matter who threatens us, there is power in numbers, and we will not be silenced.