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.

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“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.

Rape4

(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.)

“Most people get money. I got sexual abuse.”

Part II: Acceptance and understanding

By Ryan Hussey

Edited by Jenna Rutsky

His transition from inappropriate to illegal is gradual. It starts with him in the bathtub, asking for you to fetch him a towel. It develops into something that will define you, if you let it.

Your stepfather is handsome — maybe not traditionally, but what do you know? You’re not even six years old yet. He is kind and financially stable enough for your mom — and you — to have fallen in love with him, and that’s what matters.

They are married, so you call him “dad” now. You and your mom have even taken his surname, which is something you will wear as a badge, then as a label, then as a cape.

When mom goes out, you get nervous. You hear dad’s voice in your head, remembering all of the things he’ll nitpick about — Have you done your chores? Your homework? Are you wearing your slippers? Slippers? — then you hear his voice for real.

Trembling, you make your way to the bathroom, or to the living room, or to wherever daddy needs you this time. He’s in his bedroom, with those four teal walls that drown you in feelings that make you want to vomit.

Teal is green and blue. Teal is the monster under your bed. Teal is even darker once the lights go off. Teal is a decade of sexual abuse. If nightmares had a color, they’d be teal blue. It’s everything you hate in this world.

You wonder, Do all of my friends’ daddies treat their daughters like this?

You know they don’t, but you also know it’s because you’re special. He tells you how special you are. Special is a status until it resembles something more of a prison sentence. You no longer want to be special.

You know nothing is wrong with your friends, and you’d never accuse your dad of anything because all he did was notice how special you are. If there is a problem, you think it must be with you.

By the time you’re a teenager, you wonder if you’re some kind of magnet for sexual abuse. Years later, you’ll find out every woman in your family — your great aunt, your aunt, even your mother, and now you — had been a victim of rape or sexual abuse, almost as if you’d inherited it like an eye color or a sum of money.


For the rest of this article, head over to my publication on Medium.

I Wear Tighter Pants Now

“Something’s different about you,” she says, breaking eye contact. She doesn’t think people change. I agree.

“I just got a haircut the other day.” I step up onto a bench we’re passing.

“No, that’s not it.”

I jump down and stick the landing. “I wear tighter pants now.”

“Why do you do that?” Her eyes roll.

“Because they’re comfortable and more stylish.”

“No. You focus on the physical.” We continue to walk, with each other but not together.

I used to wear baggier pants, the kind that would drag behind my sneakers and rip, the kind whose bottom hems would wear away like a memory. Or a scar. I used to wear jeans that would get wet halfway up the leg just from stepping in a tiny rain puddle. My old pants had crotches that hung down much lower than a proper inseam.

I can barely fit both of my balls into some of my new pants. They’re snug. They aren’t too tight, but some pairs toe the line of skinnies. I can’t fit into real skinny jeans because they’re not made for guys with any type of muscle on their calves or thighs. But “slims” I can do. Slims make my butt look good, and I like that.

“Has it ever occurred to you that maybe people don’t care what you’re wearing?”

It’s funny how things like this work. When I was younger, clothes always had to be loose. Tight was bad, tight was uncomfortable, tight was gay. Then suddenly I wanted everything tight. Not too tight, but fitted. I basically woke up one morning and knew that none of my clothes fit me right. I’d like to think it was the morning after I watched Daniel Craig as James Bond for the first time. The man wears his suits better than most people wear their skin.

“You were always obsessed with appearance,” she continues.

I’m not sure if it’s just one of those things that comes with age, like I’ll fall back into the Loose Pants Club again when I reach my forties, or if it’s something more. Or less. They say “beauty is pain” or “pain is beauty” or something like that. Now, I don’t know if I agree with all of it, but I do know that comfort is overrated.

She reasons, “Just because you’ve changed your clothes or because you look different doesn’t mean you’re a different person.”

Pain is temporary. It either goes away or you can deal with it long enough to make it seem like it has. You get used to it — you get accustomed to it — so you stop noticing it’s there. But the same thing happens with beauty.

“You’ve always been concerned with what’s on the surface, and maybe that’s all you are. A surface encounter.”

Depth is definitely an issue. With tighter pants come smaller pockets. Jeez, baggy jeans used to have such deep pockets. Now, I’m lucky if I can slip my wallet into my front pocket. And don’t even get me started on my phone. Phones are strange, too. First, they were huge and inconvenient to carry around. Then the trend was to make them as small as possible, so brands made them smaller. Now, the trend is larger screens and companies are following suit. I imagine my pant preference will follow this type of viciously circular path.

“You’ve always refused to acknowledge your true feelings and communicate with people. That’s how you alienate yourself.”

I look her in the eyes and say, “Funny how things like this work, huh?”

She shakes her head. “Nice pants,” she says, turning away.

“Do you think people choose not to change, or that they’re just not capable of it altogether?” I don’t say this out loud, of course. But I think it.


Originally published in The Bigger Picture on Medium.

 

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.

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).

When People Surprise Me

I always love a good story. I enjoy hearing anecdotes from friends, elders, and even strangers. I frequently watch movies and television shows, and I’ll occasionally read a book if its plot and characters sound promising. One aspect of a narrative that never fails to captivate me is an unexpected twist — a point in the story when I believe I have everything figured out, and the storyteller goes ahead and completely flips the script on me.

I live for these moments. The sudden rush and excitement I feel while attempting to grasp what’s just happened is something I can only explain as GAHGUHBOOEY. As I try to understand why a specific character would take a specific action and do my best to make sense of it all, I often find myself questioning: “Would that person actually do that?”

In real life, it’s a bit different. When I think I have somebody pinned as predictable and that person flips the script on everything I thought I knew, I can’t question it. I can’t ask, “Would s/he actually do that?” That person did do that, and I’ll admit — sometimes, being proven wrong is just as good of a feeling as knowing I’m right. Even for those of us who cower at the thought of the unknown, this unpredictability breathes life into the most (seemingly) boring of people, characters, stories. Similarly, while a narrative may not need a twist to intrigue, entertain, or provoke thought, this element of unpredictability can bring a story to life.

Unpredictability fascinates me. Not being able to forecast the way situations will pan out is the reason I get myself into said situations in the first place. Sure, I can try to plan out my course of action in certain circumstances, but the script almost always gets rewritten mid-scene. And since life is so unforeseeable, we must be able to improvise and adapt to whatever it throws at us.

I’ve mentioned before that my best moments are when I act completely “out of character.” Unpredictability is an attractive quality to me. For the most part, I surround myself with people who can surprise me — people of whose tendencies I am well aware yet from whom I never quite know what to expect. Of course, everybody has their Classic [Your Name Here] moments. For example:

Oh, here he goes, writing on his “blog” again. Classic Ryan.

But, whether we choose to believe it or not, people have a knack for surprising us. And when we experience these instances of unpredictability, when we are caught in the riptide of life — an ocean of obscurity with everything we anticipate crashing with each wave — we must take a second to appreciate the unexpected, the abrupt calm of the water around us.

I live for these moments.

The Lies — WHEN WILL THEY STOP???

A few of my coworkers laughed at me when I told them I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on before. They thought I was joking. It came as a shock to them that in a world inundated with infidelity and disloyalty, I’ve managed to avoid the drama that seems to plague a majority of my generation. In a time period when “hookup” culture appears to have completely replaced the classic idea of romance, I’ve realized that my inexperience with unfaithfulness might actually put me in the minority.

That’s a good thing, I guess… For me, at least.

But why does cheating seem so much more common today than it was back when my parents were growing up? The most obvious place to look is all of the technology we now enjoy that seemed like merely a pipe dream several decades ago. While all of these technological advancements help us stay in touch with one another, they can also be detrimental to the idea of romantic relationships all together. Modern technology makes it much easier to maintain a long-distance relationship, but it also makes it a hell of a lot easier to find that horny, newly-single chick within a five-mile radius who’s “down for anything.”

Like all things in life, technology has both its pros and cons. One of the major negatives just happens to be the temptation and ease it provides for people looking to make like a tree and branch out from their relationships. However, while technology makes it very easy to meet someone new or find someone else and sneak around, it also makes it extremely easy to get caught/catch our cheating partners in the act. Now, a lot of people are — for lack of a better term — pretty dumb. So, combine this general incompetence with a relentless sex drive and a smartphone, and we’ve got ourselves a cheater asking to be caught red-handed. This idea holds true for emotional cheating as well (especially if partners know each other’s cellphone and email passwords).

I’m not sure if this only became commonplace in the last decade or so, but I know that some individuals even use cheating to as a way out of their relationships. In other words, a person may physically cheat on his/her significant other to catalyze the end of their relationship — consciously or unconsciously causing the partner to break up with said individual, or at least leading to a talk resulting in a “mutual” breakup. I’m sure not everybody who cheats does it for this specific reason, but I have no respect for individuals who use infidelity to avoid having legitimate, honest conversations with people who care about them. (I have very little respect for people who cheat to begin with.)

But maybe I’m asking the wrong question here. Is cheating actually more common today? Perhaps cheating was just as common when my parents were growing up, and nowadays people just get caught more often.

This, again, can be attributed to the vast discrepancy in available technology between the two generations. Assuming people still found ways to cheat on their significant others back in the 70s and 80s, the absence of cellphones and social media made it a little more difficult to discover their unfaithfulness. And maybe a lot of these significant others didn’t even want to know about their partners’ misdeeds. After all, victims of infidelity in 2014 don’t always have the option of looking the other way — it’s sort of difficult not to catch a significant other who is cheating when people post everything they do onto Facebook and Twitter. So, maybe (and hopefully) my generation doesn’t lack the morals of my parents’ generation; maybe my parents’ generation simply lacked the technology we have today.

The aspect of this entire problem that worries me most is a matter of discretion. Does my generation care? Is the higher prominence of infidelity simply because of the technological revolution we’re living in, or is it a direct result of our lack of commitment to anything?

According to Forbes, sixty-percent of millennials change jobs every three years, and many Baby Boomers and Gen X-ers consider this statistic a major red flag when hiring. Similarly, if somebody has cheated on a significant other in the past, how can we be sure this person won’t do the same to us? (“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”) This is why I am so confused when Guy 1 cheats on Girl 1 for months with Girl 2 and then leaves Girl 1 for Girl 2, and Girl 2 is dumbfounded when it happens all over again and she catches him with Girl 3.

Though I don’t have any firsthand experience with any of this and consequently may not understand the concept of cheating all together, I can say with conviction that I care.

And when I say “I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on,” I mean I’ve never cheated on a girl and have never been cheated on to my knowledge. As far as I know — again, all we “know” is what we think we know — every girl I’ve dated has remained faithful. And as much as I’d love to contact each girl and confirm this presumption, I’d rather keep in tact this illusion that I’m immune to the same disease that’s been the ruination of so many of my peers’ relationships. I guess the fact that I’d rather not know with 100% certainty helps demonstrate the notion that cheating can be prevalent without being conspicuous, and therefore we can’t necessarily assume it is more common today than it was several decades ago.

Through The Looking-Glass Self

I will admit that, at times, I’ve gotten by based somewhat on my reputation. I may have earned “good” grades in elementary school, middle school, and high school, but I can’t shake the feeling that my teachers assessed me based on who they knew me to be — er, who they thought me to be — rather than who I actually was.

This is also true in other aspects of my life. For instance, I get away with plenty of things other people don’t normally get away with. Sometimes, an extremely mean or insulting sentence escapes my lips and my friends simply laugh it off. Other times, I act the way a good person wouldn’t usually act and people who are familiar with me look the other way because they consider me good (because I constantly remind them I’m a “good” person by telling them/writing about how I’m a “good” person). Whether this is because of my reputation, my above-average (8/10) appearance, or a reason I’m completely overlooking (my incredible modesty, perhaps?) I cannot say for sure. Though, these occurrences continually leave me wondering: Do I deserve this?

Do I deserve to be considered a “nice guy”? Do I deserve forgiveness when I make a mistake simply because I feel/feign remorse? Do I deserve to be judged based on who people assume I am? Do I deserve a pass on anything?

I ponder this because, at times, it feels as if I’m not even trying anymore. I wouldn’t say I’ve become a robot, but I feel like I’ve checked out mentally and emotionally — a feeling I experience much too often. So, maybe it’s time I wake up and start thinking again. And I think maybe it’s time I shift out of AUTOPILOT.

We live in a time period (and a country, for most of my readers) in which we feel entitled to various things. While I do believe we are all entitled to a number of basic human rights, I’ll argue that we are NOT entitled to special treatment just because we view ourselves in a certain light. I’ll contend that we are undeserving of this special treatment whether our opinions of ourselves are heavily influenced by those of others or simply because we’re self-righteous douchebags.

But maybe I’m being too harsh; we all deserve some slack. Everybody wants to excel in at least one thing and receive the credit they believe they are due. At some point when I was younger (probably middle school but possibly earlier), somebody somewhere planted the seed in my head that I was a talented writer. Of course, some teachers/parents have a gift when it comes to identifying talent, but how well can a 7th grader really write?

My best guess of how events transpired between then and now is the following: Several reputable teachers threw around the idea that I was “good at writing” and people — myself included — began to believe it. Without even knowing what “good” writing was, my parents, my friends, my classmates, and other teachers recognized this notion as the truth and moved on. I followed suit.

Similar to the concept of Charles Horton Cooley’s “looking-glass self,” it’s much easier to just accept the things we don’t fully understand. By acknowledging these hard-to-grasp ideas as facts, we can avoid the mountain of confusion and inevitable headache of attempting to figure them out. Once we get past the doubt sprouted by our lack of understanding, living this way makes it a whole lot simpler when forming our beliefs. Like a shortcut, I guess. (Note: I use the terms “easier” and “simpler.” Not “better.”)

So, do I actually believe I’m a “great writer”? I mean, I’ve been told it enough times to assume it’s true. But when I write something — an article, a story, a song, a tweet, or whatever it may be — and I’m not 100% proud of it or confident in it, how should I react if other people recognize it as some of my best work? I understand that each piece means something different to everyone, but I can’t help but question whether or not people are truly being honest. I also don’t know how to identify “good writing.” (The bad is a hell of a lot easier to pick out.)

Most people who know me and interact with me on even a semi-frequent basis judge me based on who they believe me to be — based on the “Ryan” they’ve constructed in their heads. My biggest question is: Do these people actually know me better than I know myself? Who am I really?

Cooley would say, to you, I am whoever you think I am; but to me, I am whoever I think you think I am.

I believe I am the aggregate of my words and actions. I am anything that comes out of my mouth and everything that goes into it. (So, today I am a bunch of dumb jokes and two cheeseburgers.) I am the sum of my experiences — the positives like wings and negatives like anchors. The weight of my past and boundlessness of my future pull with equal but opposite force, keeping me grounded for the time being. While one pulls me up and away from everything I think I know, the other serves as a reminder of what I can be sure about, scars and all.

What others see is the “Ryan” caught in the midst of this tug-of-war. I write, sure. But that doesn’t mean I should be classified as a “writer.” I’m more.*

 

*I didn’t exactly mean for this to rhyme, but it does. I guess I’m a writer then?