Have you ever spoken up when you saw something going on that was wrong? Were you scared? What ended up happening?

It isn’t the times that I’ve spoken up that I remember. It’s the times that I kept quiet.

Going to a public school in Idaho is a little like joining a school football team because your parents want you to. You’re stuck with a bunch of hyper-aggressive adolescents that are every bit as terrified as you are, and eager to prove otherwise.

Insecurity festers into cruelty. The girls trade barbed words and best friends every week. The guys make a game of hurting one another and pretending that they can’t be hurt. Everyone thrashes about, and the teachers lord over their petty kingdom by dispensing boons and curses on the unwashed masses.

Then there are the darker undercurrents. The drugs, booze, and cigarettes that promised to make you an adult in the eyes of your peers. The teenaged pregnancies that came with the “almost-but-not-quite” abstinence only education. The self-harm that no teacher dared to report on. The suicides that the school administration regretfully mourned in an assembly.

It isn’t easy being twelve.

We love to pretend that children are just children. They look like children. They act like children at home, for the most part. But just outside your view is a hell they trek through every day. You wonder why those teens make such stupid choices. You try to imagine what could compel you to do something similar, and you can’t, because you aren’t twelve anymore. You’ve forgotten what it feels like to suffer without any measuring sticks, to be miserable without any experiences to contrast what misery feels like.

You’ve forgotten what it is to be The Snitch. You spoke up once, and everyone hated you for it. The students for breaking their unspoken rule, the teachers for forcing them to deal with it, and the parents for shattering their illusions on what children are really like. It wasn’t like the TV shows and stories where the kid who speaks up is thanked for his courage. You were punished for it. A pariah that students and teachers alike were disgusted with.

So then you kept silent, and you watched god awful things happen. You saw those fistfights at the bus stop. You watched the gay kid’s scars multiply in nice orderly lines. You saw the world as a broken kaleidoscope of shitty circumstances.

Then you turned fourteen. Luck intervened and you found yourself in a better school, with better students and better teachers. You found yourself being better person. You remembered your voice, and you pieced that broken courage back together. People thanked you now when you used your words, although maybe it was because you used your words more wisely.

You had learned that the difference between a goody-two-shoes and a well-intentioned-student is finer than silk. They respected that knowledge. They respected you. And for the first time in a long time, the world started to seem like a fundamentally good place…

Then high school and college happened, and you’re still trying to wrap your head around that.


Lazy Day

What is your favorite way to spend a lazy day?

I have ever been a placid and solitary creature, prone to quiet days in small rooms.

There’s a comfort in knowing that no one is around to observe you. People and photons share a habit of changing their behavior when they know someone is watching. We put on masks that cover our less attractive aspects, and inhibitions spring up like so many levies before a storm.

Sociability builds a pressure in us. Some find the experience invigorating, letting the tide rise and rise until their bodies sing with energy. The rest of us can feel the rush erode our psyches. The ceaseless pressure of being around people starts to chip away at the spirit, and those levies we placed begin to sag under the weight.

A lazy day is a time to reset worn and breached walls. It’s an opportunity to recenter and recollect. We mend our frayed ropes by standing naked in our quiet places. There’s no need for social masks in the comfort of one’s own loneness.

But one’s own loneness can be a deep well in its own right. I prefer to escape into someone else’s loneness. Let the rest of the world wait; I have nations to build and stories to read. Give me your JRPGs, your podcasts, your cheap urban fantasy novels. I’ll take them and all their predictable tropes. They are my comfort food and my warm fuzzy blankets.

I can feel myself come back when I indulge in a little fantasy. It’s a reminder that I’m still the same person no matter what strange circumstances life creates. I get the chance to feel my bare face and remember what it’s like to walk without a mask. And from those calm moments, I find the strength to face another day’s challenges.

Worth It

Write about something presently in your life that is “worth it.”

Ah, would that I could.

It’s hard to judge what’s “worth it.” The grand plans we lay so often shake out to mild results, and the little things we’ve done unexpectedly shape pivotal moments. Will my college degree give rise to some sort of destiny? Or will it be one of my insignificant hobbies, or maybe a chance acquaintance with a classmate?

I wouldn’t call the universe contrarian; it has its governing laws and favorite habits. But my short sight has trouble distinguishing those from apathetic randomness. The complexity of the whole situation makes it seem like actions have little relation to their consequences. I’m trying to remember if there were any instances in my life that the phrase “worth it” seemed to click, and what they were like.

There was a moment when I saw my students become teachers. There was a time when I finally triumphed over a past shame with blood and sweat. There was a day spent in quiet happiness with a loved one, a night contentedly watching stars, and an afternoon sipping Peach Juleps in Arkansas. They were times when happiness was less a feeling and more a state of being.

I am reminded though, of a little excerpt I read years ago.

“We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life– those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration.

“We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life, and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.”

I don’t know which burdens I’m bearing will themselves bear fruit. That’s something only time will tell. What I choose to believe is that they are all “worth it” in some vague manner of self-improvement. I have no evidences, no carefully written proofs that might withstand harsh scrutiny. I can only point to others that have walked this path long before, and as any economist will gleefully tell you, past performance is not indicative of future results.

But still, no other path looks half so good.

Think Kit #8: Communal Circles

What new circles have you formed? Any unexpected ones? Did you start a book club or hang out in a tea yurt? Maybe you re-upped with existing friends. Explore your kumbaya moment from 2015.

I’m a solitary person by nature. A few close friends, and a thousand acquaintances.

I find it difficult to endure small talk for any extended period of time. I’m not interested in the latest sports game, or celebrity gossip, or the weather, or your niece, or that thing your roommate did. I will nod and smile and ask polite questions, but it chaffes and wears me down to have to fake interest.

There have been a few occasions when I was among a rare group that welcomed the odd personality I actually have, and the unusual topics I like to talk about. This year I had the pleasure of experiencing that again.

I went to an out-of-town weekend seminar. The others there were all strange in their own ways. They weren’t afraid to talk about their passions, nor were they prone to gossip. It was refreshing.

I opened up for the first time in a great while. They welcomed me, were interested in the kind of person that I was, and didn’t demand (however subtly) conformity. I found camaraderie amongst them.

Think Kit Prompt #7: Thicken the Plot

We’re all writing the story of our lives as we go. How can you make your story interesting in 2016? And if you can’t see around the bend, it’s okay to dream. Let’s make 2016 one of the most riveting parts of our tale, shall we?

I hope for a rebirth. I want to throw myself into rigorous work, to strain myself against all that has been set before me in hopes of earning well-deserved rest.

I want to be honed. Let me cut my teeth upon hard tasks. Grit on skin, blood in my mouth. Find struggle and welcome it. Be sundered and be grateful. I have lived in confusion for too long. I need something as straightforward as a cliffside.

I have dreams that are too far away. They can’t be fulfilled by who I am. I am in need of trials, and of difficulty.

Think Kit #6: Hear, Hear

Do you hear what I hear? Tell us about a sound. What do you hear in your house or at work?

Quiet. I feel the softness of silence like a warm blanket on an icy winter morning.

The world is full of noise and distraction. Everyone, everywhere, is vying for attention. The voices of passersby and rumbling of cars prick at my mind. Maybe they’re irrelevant, or maybe that tidbit of conversation will prove useful? Or that rumbling the sound of a car racing in your direction?

We are drowned in sound. So much so, that many find quiet uncomfortable, in the manner of one running without shoes for the first time in years. We are naturally sensory creatures, but our minds are awash in input. We are overloaded and strained to breaking. The quiet is a burning salve on our open wounds.

But it heals.

Slowly, the mind finds itself again. The deluge of thoughts so long suppressed becomes a placid stream, then a still pond. We begin to understand what monks mean by finding inner peace.