Everything All At Once

I’m not one to get overwhelmed. I know how to prioritize, how to make sense of the world swirling around me. I know how to take a step back, slow down, and formulate a plan so I can crush anything in my way.

I approach obstacles like a whack-a-mole arcade game, batting down each one as it arises. It’s like a fight scene in a cheesy superhero movie — the hero battles the villains one-by-one until all are incapacitated. But life isn’t like that. It’s not as clean and simplified as an arcade game or a choreographed melee. What happens when multiple moles begin popping up at the same time? Or when a bunch of enemies attack simultaneously?

What happens when everything — the good and the bad — seems to be happening all at once?


To continue reading, follow this link to the full story on Medium.

People With Less Have Done More

After completing Seth Godin’s Freelancer Course on Udemy, I was unsure I had come away with any important knowledge or understanding. Looking back on the various questions I’d answered in assignments, one specific assignment jumped out at me.

The very first piece of coursework forced me to ask myself:

Is it possible — has anyone with your resources ever pulled off anything like this*?

*This, of course, refers to whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish — a freelance career, a business venture, or any other goal within my sights. The question, though, wasn’t what jumped out at me. My answer was more of an eye-opener…

People with less have accomplished more.

The more I think about, the more these six words fuel me. If I took anything away from Seth Godin’s course, it’s that I can’t make excuses anymore. I have the passion, and I have the tools. If I want something, I need to work toward it and persist until that dream becomes reality.

What fuels you? Please comment below.


Ryan writes things and sometimes people read them. You can find his work in the Medium publications Human Parts and The Coffeelicious, as well as a publication he manages called The Bigger Picture. You can follow him on Twitter here or check out his website here. He’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Throw the Small Ones Back

Let me preface this post by saying it’s okay to have a plan. It’s okay to stick to that plan or to change that plan or to abandon that plan. It’s also okay not to have a plan at all.

Everybody is different, and there is no one path to love, happiness, or success. I’m not sitting here writing this pretending to know what I’m doingor what’s best for everyone else. I am a human who makes mistakes and tries his best to learn from them. I am a person who goes to bed every night wanting more and wakes up the next day with that same desire for betterment.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me share with you some things I’ve learned…


Check out the rest of this piece in The Coffeelicious on Medium.

“Replace the bad with good…”

Part IV: Catharsis and learning to thrive

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky


You are in your early fifties now. Emotional scars don’t fade like physical scars do. You get a new job at a law firm — a fresh start.

The first day, you notice the harsh sound the door makes when it shuts. It jars old memories loose, when your stepfather used to come home and you’d sit in your bed, trembling.

Not too long after, you notice the sound your boss makes when he walks up the stairs. The door slamming, the heavy footsteps of a grown man heading toward you — together, these should be enough to break you down into pieces.

You realize you must face the reality head-on, much like when you were five years old and it confronted you without warning. But one thing has changed since then.

You’re bigger now. Older, wiser. You’re stronger in every sense of the word. You’re prepared.

One weekend, you allow your niece to paint your fingernails. She lets you choose the color.

You recall the way teal blue makes you feel — that awful color. The color that represents your cell, the one that imprisoned you for nearly a decade and that’s held you captive ever since. The color that’s tattooed your memories, making you wish you saw only black and white. That diseased color, that monstrous, oppressive color that never fails to make you sick to your stomach. Teal is ugly.

You insist that your niece paint your nails teal blue.

Teal blue — that beautiful color. The color that matches the new blouse you bought for work. The color that brightens up any outfit or party or painting. That vibrant color — a work of art in itself — that now puts a smile on your face just as fast as it used to wipe one off.

Holding your arms out straight, you finally see what’s in front of you. Your hands, teal blue fingernails, your future.


For the rest of this piece, please head over to the full article in The Bigger Picture on Medium. You will not regret it.

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(Illustration/Kayla Spataro)

“The choices I made were my choices, and I owned them.”

Part III: Choices and consequences

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky


As you stand at your locker, you notice today is different. You feel heavier — not because you had a big breakfast or because you’re holding a bunch of textbooks, but because something else is weighing you down.

Like gravity’s force has tripled overnight. Like you are dragging an 18-wheeler through the halls. Like the weight of a thousand nightmares has suddenly collapsed on top of you, on the verge of forcing your feet through the ground.

You find the strength to walk away from your locker and past your homeroom. If you were playing hooky, you’d scan the area for teachers. Instead, your eyes remain focused on the door.

“Step out that door, young lady, and you’ll be suspended.” A nun sees what you’re doing and tries to stop you. Perhaps if she knew why, she’d rethink. Perhaps if youknew why, you’d turn around and go to class.

You can only pretend for so long.

Cheeks dampened and eyes straight ahead, you walk out of school without looking back. This is the second most important choice you’ll make today. You head for your aunt’s house.

***

The world you knew is no more. You feel branded, and though a weight should have been lifted from your shoulders, gravity remains unflinching like it’s holding a grudge.

As you pack up some clothes to stay at your aunt’s place, Mom says some things she will regret — or at least some things you hope she will.

You spend some nights under your parents’ roof and some under your aunt’s, bouncing back and forth for months at a time, over a span of years.

What began as physical has manifested itself as psychological abuse. Your stepfather has become a man you barely know, yet one you recognize all too well. He routinely follows you when you leave the house, a stalking habit that grows stranger, sadder, and scarier with age.

He sometimes punishes you for reasons he makes up on the spot, to prevent you from going out with friends. This becomes a running joke in your friend group, but it’s never funny. You seem more and more predictable each time you need to cancel plans. There are dishes to wash and laundry to fold. Your friends eventually stop calling.

It takes seven years for your mom to divorce him. You don’t go to college and that is your biggest regret, but not your only one.

***

One of the last times you speak to your stepfather is at your grandmother’s funeral. He tells you to take care of your mother.

The last chance you have to see him is at another funeral — his. You take the day off from work but decide not to go. It is then that you realize you’ll never get the one thing you want from him: a genuine apology.

You remember that feeling you had years back, the feeling that you are a magnet for abuse. You have a daughter of your own now, and as hereditary as sexual assault seems in your family, you vow to do everything in your power to make sure its lineage stops with you.


For the rest of this article, please head over to The Bigger Picture, my publication on Medium. (You’ll like it much better over there, I promise.)

“We are all survivors of something.”

A necessary conversation about rape, rape culture, and sexual abuse

Part I: Introduction and responsibility

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky


You are five years old. You have an aunt who is only nine years older — she’s your babysitter today. You wake up to a strange man raising his voice toward your aunt.

The first thing you hear is: “If you wake her up, I’ll kill her.” The first thing you see is her face, terrified.

The second thing you see is a gun. She tells you to stay asleep, or at least to pretend. He takes her to another room.

You can only pretend for so long.

Like any five-year-old, you’re curious. You hear commotion, but you don’t know exactly what’s going on out there. Slinking toward the door, you peek through the thin slit where light seeps in.

You see the man sitting in the kitchen, gun in hand. Your aunt pours him something to drink.

You pretend to sleep until sleep becomes reality.

When you wake up, the man is gone. Your aunt checks on you and gives you your favorite toy to play with. She calls the police and tells them about the break-in and what ensued after.

Still groggy from your nap, you wonder if it was all just a dream. You step into the kitchen and pause for a second. You can remember every detail about the man’s face and voice. Your Mr. Potato Head drops to the floor; its parts scatter.

Decades later, you’re still picking up the pieces.


For the rest of this piece, head over to my Medium publication, The Bigger Picture.

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(Illustration/Kayla Spataro)

The Meaning of Art, The Art of Meaning

art

noun \ˈärt\
something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

Source: Merriam-Webster

Everybody is an artist. According to the word’s most basic definition, an artist is simply a person who creates art. Art is subjective — e.g. “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” — and therefore, cannot be measured by its significance or the level of skill with which it is created. Its subjective nature makes art’s only measurable quality the fact of whether or not it exists.

So how can we judge art, really? Save for a piece’s existence, there is almost nothing definitive about it. To me, good art is transcendent — of both time and absolute meaning. It is inherently controversial. Good art can mean something different to everyone, eliciting a Debate to the Death or merely an Agreement to Disagree. I not only believe good art can cause problems; I believe it can solve them.

Good art has the ability to inspire and provoke. Good art is contagious. It also has the ability to distract and envelop. Whether we are creating it or appreciatively immersed in it, good art is there for whatever reason we need it to be.

Now, since I’ve outlined my beliefs about good art, one might expect that I also believe in bad art. But that is not the case. Like I said before, art’s innate subjectivity doesn’t allow us to declare whether it is “good” or “bad.” However, I do believe — and I think many would agree — that there’s just a certain feeling we experience when we experience good art, when we know it’s good.

I’m talking about that feeling you get when you watch a movie, hear a song, read a book, see a painting, smell a perfume, taste a dish, touch a sculpture, or even witness a moment. That feeling that everything in your world is sinking, and while your normal reaction should be to try to swim up, your instinct is telling you to drown in whatever it is. That feeling when you know your whole life just changed, even if it’s a minor change, even if nobody else will ever know about it, even if it’s just for a second.

That’s good art.

Not only do I believe we are all capable of creating art — I believe we are all capable of creating good art. And that’s the beauty of art. Art can be anything. As lame as it sounds, beauty is everywhere; and although everybody bears a unique perspective, this is exactly what makes art so bountiful.

But art’s abundance may sometimes act as a road block. While it does inspire and provoke thought, there exists an extraordinary challenge to be original. Because of this, art and the pressure to create good art can overwhelm and distract.

Recently, I’ve adopted the motto:

If you can’t think of something new to say, then at least find a new way to say it.

Many people I’ve met in my adult life seem to have an irrational fear of creating something new and truly being original. I believe this is a result of that pressure, that overwhelming challenge of digging deep and producing something nobody’s ever seen, heard, smelled, touched, or tasted before. Because what if it sucks?

photo-18

The EMP Museum in Seattle features a “tree” of instruments, including guitars and keyboards previously used by famous musicians.

When I experience art I appreciate, I wonder what it is that makes it valuable. Where does that value originate from? What makes this specific article or song or film resonate with me or any other person for that matter?

I ponder these same questions when I create art, but with a little more inward focus (because everything’s about me and you should know that much by reading this far). What makes something I create valuable to me? — and — Does that value increase if my art affects other people in the same way? Or is my lone appreciation enough to make it significant?

I wonder this because, while there is plenty of art around us, there is a lot of art that remains private — or in this social and digital age, unshared.

I like to “judge” my own creations based on two criteria: a.) How does this help me? and b.) How does this help others?

Art is often an outward expression of our emotions, but it’s not limited to that. Creating art allows us to express our thoughts, fears, and desires — to almost literally throw our personalities onto a canvas or into a guitar riff. So, in the most basic sense of my first criterion, that is how it helps me (or whoever is the creator). Art provides us an outlet for our inflated sadness, our temporary anger, our wishful thinking, our newfound happiness.

But good art eclipses whatever it means to the artist. Good art does a service for others, and while it may not mean the same thing or carry the same value for everyone, it not only serves as an outlet for the creator’s expression but for the audience’s as well. Good art provides us an outlet for our feelings and our genius. Good art resonates.

So, when an artist creates something important to him/herself and keeps it private, does it devalue that piece of art? I’ve created a lot of things over the years that are valuable to me, but I’ve hesitated to share some of them for whatever reason. Maybe it’s time I reconsider.


Originally published on Medium, in a collection called The Bigger Picture.

Why I Don’t Keep My Promises

Promises are interesting phenomena. We all make promises — to our children, to our parents, to our significant others, to our friends, even to ourselves — and sometimes (maybe more often for some of us), we break them. We can’t, realistically speaking, keep every single promise we make. The only surefire way to avoid breaking promises is to refrain from making them altogether.

So, why do so many of the promises make end up broken?

In her Huffington Post article mentions that some people continue to break their promises because “saying you are going to do something feels just as good as actually doing it.”

I consider myself a man of my word. I’d like to think most people know that when I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it. This is probably because of the conviction with which I assert things. If I declare with confidence that I’m going to do something and it sounds legitimate, why not believe it’s going to get done?

That being said, I can’t count how many times I’ve told myself I’m going to go for a run today and simply haven’t done it. A lot of times, I even mention to coworkers how I’m going to run later to try to solidify my plans, but I always end up looking like a lazy, Oreo-guzzling piece of shit when they ask me about my “run” the next day.

Now, going for a run is a small-scale example; it doesn’t affect anyone but me if I do or don’t exercise, and it really doesn’t even affect me that much. Come to think of it, most of the promises I break only affect me, small and large-scale.

This is why I want to focus on the promises I make to myself. These are the ones that affect only me by design — the ones that, if broken, disappoint me and only me because others hardly ever know I make them. These are the promises made on a bigger scale, or at least they seem that way. Perhaps I put more weight into them because they are that much more important to me than going for a run.

I’m talking about the promises I make to myself that truly challenge me as a person. I’m talking about the ones that are hard to keep not because they’re impossible but because I know myself too well.


 

Awhile back, I promised myself I would write more frequently. But, because I’m lazy, uninspired, and afraid of publishing anything less than “perfect” (in my eyes), I have been writing sporadically at best. To shed some light on this point, I started this post about promises over two months ago.

According to Robert Wicklund and Peter Gollwitzer’s Self-Completion Theory (1982), we engage in behaviors that reinforce specific identity goals to which we are committed. So, I want to write more frequently because I consider myself a “writer” and the only way to prove to myself and others that I am a writer is to write.

A few months ago, I made a “25 Before 25” list with some coworkers, detailing twenty-five goals I want to accomplish before I reach the quarter-century mark. I may have completed several of the things on that list already, but I don’t expect to accomplish much more. The worst part is that I knew I wouldn’t do some of these things when I made the list. In fact, I only added certain items to the list to pad my stats, so to speak. I essentially filled a bucket list with things I had already done to make it look like I’d accomplished something in my life. After all, I can’t break a promise I’ve already followed through with.

My best and most recent example of a broken promise is my vow to stay positive. Unlike my “25 Before 25” list, which I only shared with my coworkers, and my personal pledge to write more, I publicized this commitment to positivity to any close friends and family members willing to listen. (So, like three people total.)

It took me a lot longer to break this promise than I thought it would. I’m not sure if it had to do with the scope of the pledge, but for a few good weeks, I was committed to being positive. Or at least I thought I was.

See, what I mistook for positivity turned out to be a neutrality that was uncharacteristic in and of itself, but — when compared to my usual pessimism — seemed groundbreaking. So, rather than displaying true positivity for this span, I was fooling myself with my lack of negativity.

While vowing to stay positive sounds beneficial on the surface, I made the biggest mistake any of us can make when I made that promise. I did it for the wrong reasons.

I can try to explain why I break promises I make to myself and others through psychological terms and thirty-year-old theories, but the real reason is plain and simple. When I make a promise for the wrong reasons, I am extremely unlikely to keep it. And this is probably true for all of us.

I compiled that “25 Before 25” list to give myself something to reach for, and I self-sabotaged my chance for growth. I tried to write more often because I believed it was something I needed to do to maintain my identity, and I found myself with nothing to write about. And I decided to try on my positivity hat for a few weeks because I thought I could trick myself into being happy. Perhaps that was my worst mistake.

I viewed happiness as a goal rather than a state of being. This is dangerous because: 1. I classified my well-being as a temporary goal and 2. How can we measure the success of an objective that is completely intangible? What is the metric for happiness?

Earlier in this article, I mention that the only way not to break a promise is not to make it in the first place. But after analyzing all of the recent broken promises I’ve made to myself, I’ve realized that the best way to avoid breaking promises — and maybe the only way — is to make them for the right reasons.

Costumes, Candy & Another Existential Crisis

I keep an old picture of myself behind my bed. It’s there partially because I’m more vain than anyone who’s ever thought a subtweet was about them, and partially because I needed a photo to fill an empty frame. But mostly, it’s there because I need to remind myself who I am every so often.

The plain black frame came with a photograph in it, part of an eighteenth birthday gift from my then-girlfriend. The photograph featured the two of us in our Halloween costumes, as well as a handwritten note — only after removing it from its frame, I discovered — on the back. But that’s an entirely different story.

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Halloween 1992

I used to keep my ex-girlfriend’s photograph in the frame for similar reasons to why I chose its successor. However, I realized that instead of reminding me who I am, her photo was making me fixate on who I was. I couldn’t be that person anymore; I couldn’t afford to be. That version of me was, uh… extinct, so to speak.

Sometimes it’s not the picture itself, it’s what the image means to us that makes it meaningful. Or painful. Or counterproductive. Or inspirational. (Or downright adorable.)

I understand that it’s lame to call a picture of myself inspirational, but the photo means several different things to me. Sure, it’s humbling to look behind my bed before I go to sleep and see myself in a stupid little costume holding a lollipop. It’s things like this very photograph — along with plenty of other factors, like my upbringing and stuff — that keep me modest. Seeing the photo after a good day or even a really good day brings me back down to Earth.

But it also reminds me I can be anything I want in this world, whether it be a writer, a teacher, an astronaut, or a green fucking dinosaur. It reminds me that no matter how ugly and guilty I feel after a bad day, I was once cute and innocent. And I believe that same person still exists.

Regardless of how cool I think I am or how cool people tell me I’m not, regardless of how much pain I feel or how much pain I cause others, regardless of how great I become or how miserably I fail…

I’m still that green fucking dinosaur. But now, instead of grabbing for candy, I’m reaching for-

Actually, still probably candy.

The Things We Keep

I am in the midst of a (major?) change in my life. Now, I am not someone who believes our careers should define us as people, but I do believe that once our careers develop a stranglehold on our happiness, it’s time to make some moves. Without going too much into it, let’s just say I’ve decided to make some moves. Even though it’s something that’s been a long time coming, I’m not sure the gravity of the situation hit me until last night.

The Nostalgic Cleanse

I was in a weird mood, so I began browsing around my bedroom. I may have been looking for something specific when I started, but within minutes I was staring at a garbage bag full of old papers — college schoolwork, songs I could never quite finish, notes about ideas I was never proud of conceiving. After creating some much-needed space on my desk, I resolved to do the same with the rest of my room. Within an hour, I filled two bags with me.

I say me because that’s exactly what it felt like. Throwing away some of those papers and knick-knacks constituted a step forward. Filling those garbage bags was my way of letting go of a bunch of things I didn’t feel I should worry about anymore. I wasn’t giving up on the unfinished songs and incomplete ideas; I was just acknowledging that maybe they never panned out because they weren’t that good to begin with. I was accepting the fact that I need to churn out a lot of shit to get to the good stuff.

Well, now there’s room for the good stuff.

And I made sure of that. Basically anything I couldn’t find immediate use for (or predict near-future use for) went directly into a trash bag. Anything that represented the old me — anything that symbolized thoughts or feelings I no longer care to experience — is now in the past with those thoughts and feelings.

My thought process was as follows:

I’ve gotten all I can out of these items, these notes, these concepts. I’ve learned from these experiences and can now use any of this in the future, whenever I want. And if I’m unable to recall the lessons these items have taught me without physically holding them, then the lesson was never important to me in the first place.

But while I was unflinchingly disposing of items I would’ve never even considered trashing a year or two ago, I found myself saving certain items with the same decisiveness. There were some things I just wouldn’t throw away. Or couldn’t, perhaps. Without hesitation or remorse, I distinguished the worthy from the worthless.

The ‘Leftovers’

Like the HBO series The Leftovers, I’m less interested in discovering why certain people disappeared and more interested in exploring why the others were “chosen” (if that is the case) to stay. The things I threw out — or the people who vanished, in the show’s case — are not coming back. But whatever remains is tangible; it’s real. And I bet there’s a damn good reason I chose to hang onto particular items while consciously disposing of others.

So, allow me to pose the question: Why do we hold onto things of little or no practical value?

Is it because of a sentimental value we assign to specific items based on the fondness of the memories associated with them? What makes these “leftovers” different from all of the things we decide to part ways with?

When it comes to items that belonged to loved ones we’ve lost or gifts we’ve received from these important people in our lives, the answer is relatively simple. In an article featured in the alternative Seattle newspaper The Stranger, Rebecca Brown writes:

We keep these material things because they represent the people we no longer have. We keep them to remind us we can do or be or mean something and that the people we admire can inspire us.

[Source: “The Things We Keep: Why Do Relics of the Dead Mean So Much to Us?” by Rebecca Brown]

Brown’s notion of finding inspiration in these material possessions extends beyond “relics of the dead.” I believe this idea pertains to my situation as well. Maybe the items I purposefully trashed wound up in the garbage because I felt they could no longer inspire me. Perhaps I still find inspiration in whatever I decided to keep around.

While I originally viewed my decision to keep these things as a refusal to let go of the past, I am now beginning to consider this alternative explanation. Maybe the items that survived this “purge” of everything useless in my room aren’t just a fail-safe for when I want to return to my comfort zone — maybe they have some sort of unfinished business in my life (à la Casper the friendly ghost).