Love Better and You Will Be Better by the Act Alone

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

 

Humans are social creatures, and we need to feel connected, understood, cared about, and loved, and we need it like we need food, water, and air. We’ll do anything to get it, and when we get it, we’ll do amazing and ugly things to keep it. Sure, being loved makes you want to be better, it’ll make you want to do the right thing, be the hero, be the bigger person, but when you can’t, it only makes you better at hiding who you are.

When we love someone we want to give them our very best. It’s normal and completely understandable. We do it because they deserve it, and, if we’re being honest, we do it because we are afraid to lose them. We hide the truth of who we really are and give them a storybook version we long to believe in ourselves, but the truth is you are not made only of giving and grace. You are also selfish, needy, angry, frustrated, sad, scared, and stupid, but none of that is very loveable is it? So it has to go away. We cut it out and pack it away, and we believe it’s gone forever.

Love has made us better, right?

Sadly, no. What happens when we cut ourselves in two like that, banishing one half to the crawl space, is that all that ugly only festers. When there is no one to check its size and power it grows, and it learns there are other ways out. Emotional baggage, childhood trauma, and all that fucking fear twists itself up into unrecognizable shapes and re-emerges in strange, troubling, abusive, and suffocating ways and the more of you it takes over, the more of yourself you hide, and humans will tend to be the worst versions of themselves in secret.

When you care for someone, you have to face your truth and learn to be your whole self, and you have to do it continuously if you want to have any hope of being your best self for them.

The truth is you are not perfect, and your loved ones should know that. Not just because honesty is always the best policy, or even because by hiding so much of yourself in dark and damp corners you allow the worst parts of yourself to fester, but because you cannot really love someone if you are faking who you are. It is through wanting to love someone well, rather than wanting to be loved that we strive to become better versions of ourselves.

Here “striving” means failure and fucking up out in the open for all to see but learning from it and trying again and again to do the right thing and “better” means a more whole, healthy, and authentic you. Real, healthy, fulfilling and freeing love comes out of growth. It’s a process, and it can’t happen in the dark. Love can’t happen in the dark.

But we’ve been doing it all backward. We’re trying to be better for love rather than allowing the act of loving to make us better. We are trying to be worthy of receiving love rather than becoming the biggest and best source of love we can be. My God we are doing it all wrong.

I hate to say it so plainly, but getting someone to love you is among the easiest things to do in this life. It’s as easy as a few well-placed lies and a bit of clever manipulation. No human has ever proven themselves above using such tactics. Hell, I would go so far as to say such shady strategies have been encouraged. Society has turned love and friendship into games people play, and in our need and greed, we’ve forgotten the whole point.

Being loved is no confirmation of how good, beautiful, smart, funny, or valuable you are. The truth of who a person is always shown in how they love. And when we combine honesty with all that love we have to give, we give the kind of love that is real and right and finally become that person we have been pretending to be all along.

But you can only do that by being your whole self first. Bring all your ugliness into the light and love the best you can, with all you have, right now, then growing as you become wise, confident, secure, and happy.

Strive to love better, and you will become better by the act alone.

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Featured photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash

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Willa Cather on Telling The Truth

Writing, like any art or discipline, takes practice and dedication to learning about the craft from those who have come before you. In learning, I like to teach, so each week I will take a piece of advice from the greats, both living and dead, famous and not, and apply their lessons to my own work and share my thoughts and progress with you.

This week I have chosen a quote from the American writer Willa Cather.

Willa Sibert Cather, born December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia, achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, including O Pioneers! , The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, a novel set during World War I.

willa-catherCather grew up in Virginia and Nebraska, and graduated from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in English.

As a student at the University of Nebraska in the early 1890s, Cather sometimes used the masculine nickname “William” and wore masculine clothing. A photograph in the University of Nebraska archives depicts Cather dressed like a young man and with “her hair shingled, at a time when females wore their hair fashionably long.”

After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school English teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter, at the age of 33, moving to New York City for the remainder of her life, though she also traveled widely and spent considerable time at her summer residence in New Brunswick, Canada.

Throughout Cather’s adult life, her most significant friendships were with women. These included her college friend Louise Pound; the Pittsburgh socialite Isabelle McClung, with whom Cather traveled to Europe and at whose Toronto home she stayed for prolonged visits; the opera singer Olive Fremstad; the pianist Yaltah Menuhin;  and most notably, the editor Edith Lewis, with whom Cather lived the last 39 years of her life.

Cather’s sexual identity remains a point of contention among scholars. While many argue for Cather as a lesbian and interpret her work through a lens of queer theory, a highly vocal contingent of Cather scholars adamantly oppose such considerations. For example, scholar Janet Sharistanian has written, “Cather did not label herself a lesbian nor would she wish us to do so, and we do not know whether her relationships with women were sexual. In any case, it is anachronistic to assume that if Cather’s historical context had been different, she would have chosen to write overtly about homoerotic love.”

She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author’s total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage on April 24, 1947, at the age of 73 in New York City.

A resolutely private person, Cather had destroyed many old drafts, personal papers, and letters. Her will restricted the ability of scholars to quote from the personal papers that remain. However, in April 2013, The Selected Letters of Willa Cather—a collection of 566 letters Cather wrote to friends, family, and literary acquaintances such as Thornton Wilder and F. Scott Fitzgerald—was published, two years following the death of Cather’s nephew and second literary executor, Charles Cather. Willa Cather’s correspondence revealed complexity of her character and inner world. The letters do not disclose any intimate details about Cather’s personal life, but they do “make clear that [her] primary emotional attachments were to women.”

“The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.”

— Willa Cather

Being truthful is not the same thing as being honest. Being open is not the same as not telling a lie. One is to answer when asked. The other is to pour your soul out thoroughly and unprompted. One is hard to do, the other feels almost impossible.

Telling the truth is complicated, tiring, and terrifying and writers and artist do it every day.

Telling the truth means making yourself vulnerable to judgment and rejection but since no man or woman is an island telling the truth can mean exposing not just yourself, not even just your family and friends, but your hometown, your gender, your race, and even your age group. It means that what you say means something and you have to carry the full responsibility and ownership of what you reveal.

Being truthful is painful. I’ve read over and over that the best way to be a writer is to just write but what do I do on the days when I am too afraid and too hurt to welcome more eyes and acknowledgment? What about the days when I am already exhausted and have nothing left to help carry the weight of revelation? What about the days when I cannot look myself in the eye let alone allow strangers to see such deep parts of me? What about the days when the truth is too disturbing and scary to examine? How do I do on those days?

The ones who say “just write” I wonder if they understand how much the tears sting and how the real the old memories feel when they pour put of you.

There are so many times I sit down to write my truth, and I find I have built so many defenses against what I carry deep down that I see no truth worth telling. I am nothing, I feel nothing, and nothing has ever hurt or helped me.

Society tells me to be happy and grateful and ordinary and getting past that to all the ugly things we would rather look away from is like pulling teeth or climbing mountains. Telling the truth starts with a search, and the mazes of this world are complex on purpose. The truth is hard to find and what you find may be nothing but illusions. More lies. Tell those too until you learn, I suppose.

I wouldn’t go as far as Cather in calling anyone stupid, but I would say they are a whole lot of ignorant, uninspired, and non-introspective ones out there. I would say I am among them, and so are many other artist and writers aspiring to do better too. The truth never comes easy, and the need to hide and run for cover never leaves us. Writers tell other writers what writing ought to feel like, forgetting what is hard for them will be hard for others too.

It’s rare to find people who open so easily and unapologetically, but we cannot deny that the ones who do are the best among us. Most people live lives so closed up and cut of that such vulnerability is beyond comprehension. I have met husbands and wives, sisters, and best friends who reveal less to one another than a writer does to the world.

Being truthful is hard. There have been many times I have written something that left me in tears and utterly exposed. When I read back over pieces like that, I get embarrassed and afraid. They are just too truthful, too raw. I edit and chop away at the feeling until I am once again cloaked and covered. I know that in doing so I have turned my work into lies but being so open is something you have to build up the courage to do.

And that is what all this practice is for, I suppose. Not just to write better but to write a little more truthfully every time. To write what we are again and again. To write what has been forgotten and what is wished to stay that way. To write about right and wrong and reality, about broken dreams and broken hearts and about the way the world doesn’t care or owe us a damn thing, it is exhausting! And it is the most fulfilling thing we can do.

Write often. Open yourself often. Feel pain, feel joy, feel fear, hope and anger, as often as you can and write, write, write, but never deny to yourself or anyone else that it is the hardest thing to do. Never minimize the worth and the work of what you and other writers do every single day.

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Biographical information via Wikipedia and Goodreads

Featured image via Unsplash

Share Your Whole Self

Authenticity means everything to me.

It is at the core of why I write here, or anywhere. I write to share all sides of myself. I write to bring to light not just to what we wish we were but to get at who, and what, we really are. Authenticity to me means sharing what is inside of you, all the good and the bad, and not only recognizing where you wish to improve but why.

There is a very human tendency to only show the best sides of ourselves. It has been evolutionarily beneficial for obvious reasons. We separate the parts of us that are love—or at least are acceptable to society—and we make those parts of ourselves into a mask, pretending it is all there is. We use that mask to hide the parts of ourselves that we believe are unacceptable to our friends, and family, and society as a whole, and we pretend they do not exist.

This tendency is exacerbated by social networks like Facebook and Instagram. We are showing more and more of ourselves to more and more people, and we want to make sure all sides of ourselves polished and perfect. We work harder and harder to make that make the version of ourselves we wish we were strong and believable. We bury the ugly things deeper and deeper. Sometimes we bury it all. Sometimes so deep we even fool ourselves.

But what we forget is that the fragmented human is an unhappy human. We feel the most satisfied and fulfilled when we are allowed to be our whole selves. We are happiest when we feel seen and understood. So why then do we try so hard to be something else?

It is fear, only fear, that keeps us splintered and suffering in that way.

We are afraid because, as much as humans want to be genuine, open, and accepted, we are not very good at offering other humans a space to experience the same. We do not do it for others, and so we believe no one will do it for us.

We have to lead by example. Be yourself, the good, the bad and the ugly, allow others to be the same. Praise the ones you know are practicing radical authenticity and let those who don’t know that they can.

Post your worst selfies, your unfinished art, and promise never to delete them. Write when you are sad, when you are angry, when you are embarrassed. Tell us about the times when you have been cruel, when you have been wrong, and when you have been tricked. Don’t try to be funny, don’t try to sound smarter than everyone you know, don’t promote your work. Ask questions and offer no answers. Tell them why you are sorry, then tell them why you’re not. Tell them what you love, what you hate, and what you learned.

Tell me about the times your mom made you feel stupid and how your dad left you feeling confused and unloved. Tell me about and all the fights you have with your spouse that leave you in doubt. Tell me when you can’t sleep at night because your thoughts are too loud. Tell me when you hate yourself. Tell me about every time you’ve looked into the abyss and whether or not it winked back at you.

When you feel yourself hiding behind posts that don’t tell the full story or only show one side to your life and personality, work hard to correct it.

Don’t ever pretend to be perfect, don’t even try to be perfect, B

Do it because the splitting and the hiding only leads to shame and a life wasted on lies and deceptions. Do it because the greatest joys in life only come when we decide to be brave, be vulnerable, and find that all along everyone around us felt the same. That is how we find connection and community. That is what makes anything we do worth doing.

Promise yourself to live in truth and good faith.

I promise to do the same.

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Written in response to The Daily Post’s Discover prompt: Radical Authenticity

Featured image via Unsplash

A Manifesto for Self-Love

I will talk to myself like I would someone I love. I will remember that I am a human being, and as such I will make mistakes. I will remember that making mistakes does not mean I am a bad person or unworthy of love. I will remember to take time to recover from my mistakes and forgive myself.

I will not compare myself to others. I am unique and have many strengths. I will take pride in my accomplishments and character, they stand on their own without the need for comparison. I will stay positive and grateful for everything I have, everything I am, and everything I and have done. Failing to do so will only lead to bitterness and suffering and I love myself to much to do that to myself.

“The only person who can pull me down is myself, and I’m not going to let myself pull me down anymore.”

― C. JoyBell C.

I will love my mind. I will strive to always grow and learn. I am intelligent and that will not waste or take for granted. I will try new things and meet new people because that is the only way to grow and learn about the world around me. I will be my own cheerleader. I will encourage and push myself because I know I can be great.

I will accept myself for who I am. I will be authentic in everything I say and do. I will stay true to myself and remember that I am made up of many parts, all of which are to be loved and accepted. I will allow myself to feel my full range of emotion and never deny nor belittle any part of myself.

“As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

― Charles Chaplin

I will love my body even when society tells me I should hate it. I will never engage in negative self-talk about my body just because it is “what women do”. I will remember that this is the only body I will ever own, and I will honor and respect it. I will remember that the images I see on TV and in magazines are not true representations of what women should or do look like. I will not push myself to look like the women I see on TV and in magazines. I will remember that trying do so is unrealistic and sets me up for shame and failure.

I will love my body enough to take care of it. I will strive to be healthy and only put good, natural things into my body so that it can function and heal itself. I will remember that my health directly affects my mood and energy levels throughout the day. I will remember that my body cannot go on forever and I must maintain it in order to live a long, happy, and healthy life.

“The human body is the best work of art.”

― Jess C. Scott

I will surround myself with people who love me too. I will surround myself with people who are positive and encouraging. I will voice my feelings and needs to those around me so that they have a chance to make things right when our relationship has suffered. I will also be open to listening to other people’s feelings and needs so that I make efforts to preserve the relationships that I value.

I will not allow toxic people into my life. I will not allow others to put me down or put negative thoughts into my head. I will remember the saying “misery loves company” and I will not engage with people who’s only goal is to bring me down.

“Protect your space and circle. Invest in people who you know will feed you just as much goodness as you do them.”

― Alexandra Elle

Above all else I will remember that self love is always a work in progress. I know I will make mistakes and fall back into old habits. I know self-love requires constant effort and vigilance. I know that the way I feel about myself directly affect my relationship, my work, and my mental and physical self. I know that the way to find true happiness is through acceptance and love for myself. I will be present and ever aware of my thoughts and actions. Every morning when I wake up, I will look myself in the mirror and I will tell myself I am beautiful and perfect, even in my imperfection. I will then conduct myself accordingly throughout the day.

Weekly Writing Challenge – Manifesto