Tag: Identity

22Oct

Scriptwriting for Gremlins

I began keeping a daily journal the day I turned ten. My first entry includes a list of my birthday presents and the phrase, “I had been waiting for years to turn ten.” (Now that I have a ten-year-old of my own, I love that age even more if that’s possible.) In my teens, I had to add companion journals for all of the photographs, letters, and printed-off Jack Handey quotes that I wanted to preserve, and by the time I left for college, I was scribbling off several pages of my deepest thoughts each night before bed. After I got married, my journaling habits shifted somewhat, and I now write almost exclusively on the computer. I still have my old diaries though, a whole shelf of glittery or pop art or fur-bound books in various stages of disintegration. They are some of my most treasured possessions. They are also the most distressing objects in my life.

I cannot read far in any of my journals without face planting into sadness or shame. Between the difficult circumstances of my childhood and the misguided, often unlikable person that I could be, my past does not make for light reading. I usually only delve back into those handwritten accounts when I’m trying to fact-check. That’s exactly what I was doing several months ago, hunting for some info from my early teenage journals, when one particular page grew arms and jabbed a cattle prod into my neck. I’m still stunned and smoking slightly from what I read.

There on the page, in my own childhood cursive, is the nearly verbatim dialogue that I hear in my mind today when struggling to write, reconnect with someone, or just generally exist: 

People might think that you’re a great person, but you’re not; you’ve just conned them into thinking so.
Those who really know you know that you’re an ogre, black-hearted and evil.
You have no character.
You are ugly.
All of your achievements are based on lies; you are the dumbest person on earth.
You are lacking any softness or empathy. You cannot relate to human beings.
Your presence in others’ lives is slowly murdering them.
You are not capable of communicating properly.
You will never, ever have any real relationships.
You have no potential.
Any difficulties you are going through are exclusively your fault.
You are a disappointment.

All of my adult life, I’ve attributed these sentiments to creative gremlins or badly managed neuroses. When I haven’t had the strength to fight them off, I’ve accepted them as the voice of truth. What I learned from my journal, however, was that they used to have a real live human voice. Those sentences that I wrote down at age fifteen were spoken to me, repeatedly over the course of years, by someone I trusted.

I’d completely forgotten.

Recently, a friend (hi, Jeff!) shared the following quote by Mothering Magazine editor Peggy O’Mara: “The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” If I weren’t reeling from discovering that very fact in my journal pages, I might have dismissed the quote as fatalistic. I’m still not prepared to believe that every word from a parent figure gets internalized and rescripted as inner monologue, but I now know how deeply a recurring childhood message can be absorbed. The indictments I received growing up are as much a part of my mental landscape as are the resolutions I’ve made in adulthood.

While I don’t enjoy remembering those saw-toothed words being jabbed into my developing ears, I feel like my perspective has been outfitted with a whole new defensive strategy. It is much, much easier to fight back against inner voices that have a clear outside origin. Rather than swinging blindly at my own brain, I can stare down the source of the problem and remind it that it has no jurisdiction here. Not anymore.

I’m also grateful for the reminder to voice my fondness for my girls as intentionally as I go about the other day-to-days of parenting. When they run up against struggles in their adult lives, I want their minds to have ready access to the truth that they are capable, brave, and so valuable that their mom needed every day of their childhoods to tell them so. We’re not a deep-conversations-every-hour kind of family. However, I believe that the small encouragements I sprinkle into their days can add up to the kind of inner script that will blast shame back to last century:

People might think that you’re a great person, but those who really know you will be certain of the fact.
You are as human as they come, and your imperfections will help you relate all the better to the imperfect humans around you.
You are luminous and altogether lovely.
Your achievements do not define you, but each one is a testament to what you can do.
You are capable of deep love.
Your presence in the world is a gift to the rest of us.
Never stop cultivating the unique ways in which you express yourself.
You have the kindness and determination to sustain lasting relationships.
When you are going through difficulties, reach out. You are worthy of help.
You are a joy.

6Oct

A Field Guide to Unfurling

“No one ever influenced Tolkien—
you might as well try to influence a Bandersnatch.”
– C.S. Lewis

/ / /

Like most people who have grappled with their childhood faith, I’ve learned that I can’t base my understanding of God on what other Christians are like. Even the most pious of pulpit-pounders are still human, and the ones who claim the most loudly to speak for God are the ones who raise my highest defenses. My best strategy for avoiding spiritual disillusionment is to keep firm mental boundaries between who God is and how people portray him. However, I’ve also learned this: that when you see Jesus in someone, you don’t easily forget it.

Erika Morrison is one such person. To her, everyone from the homeschool mom to the homeless cross-dresser reflects one facet of an infinite God, and she lives like it. When I started getting to know her four years ago, her words somersaulted my perspective of Christianity onto its head. The way she defined freedom and art and identity and community made me want to exhale three decades of pent-up weariness and then invite everyone I knew to a dance party. This is a lady who believes down to her toenails that God wove our quirks and creative impulses into us not so we could spend our lives trying to overcome them in the interest of uniformity but so that we could fill the us-shaped voids in this world. You just try not busting a move as that realization sets in.

I wanted to introduce you all to Erika not just because she’s rad—though she absolutely is—but because her book Bandersnatch was released into the wild today, and this makes me glad for humanity. It’s her gift of sacred unconventionality put to paper (or, uh, Paperwhite), and I don’t imagine that many of us who pick it up are going to be the same when we put it back down. At the very least, we’ll be several pounds lighter in exhaled cynicism.

Now, without further ado, I’ll turn it over to Erika:

/ / /


Bandersnatch (Full Length Trailer) on Vimeo.

The cardinals make it look so easy. The honeybees make it look so easy. The catfish and the black crow, the dairy cow and the cactus plant, all make being created appear effortless. They arise from the earth, do their beautiful, exclusive thing and die having fulfilled their fate. None of nature seems to struggle to know who they are or what to do with themselves.

But humanity is the exception to nature’s rule because we’re individualized within our breed. We’re told by our mamas and mentors that—like snowflakes—no two of us are the same and that we each have a special purpose and part to play within the great Body of God. (If your mama never told you this, consider yourself informed: YOU—your original cells and skin-print, guts and ingenuity—will never ever incarnate again. Do you believe it?) So we struggle and seek and bald our knees asking variations of discovery-type questions (Who am I? Why am I here?), and if we’re semi-smart and moderately equipped, we pay attention just enough to wake up piecemeal over years to the knowledge of our vital, indigenous selves.

And yet… even for all our wrestling and wondering, there are certain, abundant factors stacked against our waking up. We feel and fight the low ceiling of man-made definitions, systems and institutions; we fight status quo, culture conformity, herd mentalities, and more often than not,

“The original shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out of all our other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” ~Frederick Buechner

So, let me ask you. Do you know something—anything—of your true, original, shimmering self?

Read More »

15Oct

“Me Too” Moments With Myself

Having minored in psychology back in the day, I’m no stranger to the personality test. Every week or so in class, I’d be handed a questionnaire, the answers to which would reveal my Jungian archetype or my Type A/B profile or the likelihood that I would curl up in a ball and cry if ever put in charge of a junior high field trip. (Answer: 1 zillion percent.) I took these questionnaires as seriously as if they were pop quizzes, and I could never get past the feeling that I was unprepared. True, it doesn’t get much more open-book than using your own brain as reference for how you operate.  The problem was that I could never confidently circle one choice and move on.

“You know how to put every minute of your time to good purpose: YES or NO?”

Yes. Well, sort of. I suppose it would be accurate to say that I TRY to put every minute of my time to good purpose, but whether I’m actually accomplishing that or not is up for debate. I mean, yesterday evening I spent an hour and a half sneaking around with my roommate pranking the student art exhibit with creations we made out of paper towels and Sharpies, and while fun, it was probably not the best use of an hour and a half. On the other hand, it was a great bonding experience for my roomie and I. On the other other hand, though, we could have bonded over preemptively studying for finals or something. But we made memories! But we also wasted paper towels. Also, come to think of it, we may have inadvertently offended some of our classmates who contributed real art to the exhibit, which wasn’t our intention. If anything, we were trying to make fun of Picasso who is both famous and dead enough to take a little ribbing. Oh crap, now I’m making fun of dead people and putting my soul in jeopardy when I should be finishing up this questionnaire, which clearly shows that I don’t know how to put every minute of my time to good purpose, and oh hell…

Innocent Bethany
“Capillary Attraction” on Quilted Bounty

I probably should have ended up as somebody’s case study.

Recently though, I learned why personality tests have always been such a struggle for me, and in a neat ode to irony, I learned this from a personality test itself. Dan was away on a business trip, and I had about twenty-five too many things to do before I picked up the girls from school… so naturally, I decided to ditch the list and give myself an impromptu crash course in Enneagram theory instead. (See earlier re: knowing how to put every moment of time to good purpose. Boy do I ever.) Have you heard of the Enneagram* before? It had been on my radar for a year or so, but I’d always regarded the topic more or less the way I do the essential oils trend: so preemptively exhausted by the idea that FOMO** doesn’t even put up a fight.

* Pronounced “ANY-a-gram” for those of you whose brains, like mine, begin to melt with anxiety when they can’t figure out how to pronounce a word.

** “Fear Of Missing Out” for those of you whose brains, like mine, huddle up in a dark corner to cry when they can’t figure out an acronym.

I can’t tell you why I suddenly decided that I needed to learn everything about the Enneagram over the course of one too-busy Thursday morning, but I’m glad that I did. And by “glad,” I mean wildly relieved with a side of regret for not having researched this sooner. The longer I read, the clearer it became that despite my psychology textbooks and decades-old journals and lifelong fascination with human nature, I had never seen myself fitting in among the spectrum of personhood. I had spent every minute of my life to date thinking of myself as an anomaly.

That, I learned within two seconds of completing the Enneagram test, is because I’m an Individualist. Seeing myself as fundamentally different from everyone else on earth is a trait that I share with approximately one out of nine people (including, I’m charmed to say, both Kat Von D. and Rumi). Uncertainty about our identities is a hallmark of our personality type, as is withdrawal into the solitary mazes of our emotions. I might be a weird and complicated human being, but anomaly I most certainly am not.

Don’t worry; I’m not about to put you through a crash course in the Enneagram system (though if you’re interested, I’ll link to some resources at the end), nor am I going to expound much further on what my personality type entails. To be honest, I cringe at the thought of anyone reading up on my type as it so exactly describes me and is so unflinchingly thorough. That’s the difference that this personality test made for me above all the others though: It showed me a complete portrait of myself, good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, advantages and pitfalls, ways that I make the world a better place and ways that I inflict damage on it.

Looking at myself that way—as a multi-dimensional member of a known group instead of as an incomprehensible loner—is good and hard at once. I think that part of me was attached to the idea that I was utterly unique and that my shortcomings could be explained away as idiosyncrasies. If I didn’t understand all of myself, then I didn’t need to face all of myself. Now, it’s as if someone has handed me a close-up picture of my face with blemishes and wrinkles and scars enhanced rather than Photoshopped away, and it doesn’t make for a feel-good viewing experience.

That said, the wild relief I mentioned earlier flows deeper than discomfort. Being known as myself by myself is a gift to my thirties, the self-discovery I never quite attained during the years traditionally earmarked for it. I’m seeing clearly at last how all my mannerisms trace paths back to the same emotional switchboard, how I make sense even when I don’t. I’ve become an observer of my own overthinking ways instead of their victim. I have the perspective now to strategize my own growth instead of floundering in despair. And what’s more, so very much more, I’m not alone. I’ve got Johnny Depp and Frida Kahlo and Tchaikovsky in this Type 4 camp with me after all.

I’m reminded of the scene in “The Matrix Reloaded” (bear with me here) in which the Oracle tells Neo that he’s already made a choice; now he just needs to understand why he made it. I didn’t get that line at the time, probably because they’re talking about Neo’s choice to eat a piece of candy, and what is there to figure out? Candy is delicious and should be eaten, the end. Eleven years after watching the film, though, I’m starting to find just how empowering it can be to understand your own motivations. Knowing what makes you tick is a powerful confidence-builder, and being able to offer a sympathetic “Me too!” to yourself when thoughts or feelings overwhelm is one of the most effective self-care techniques I’ve found.

It feels an awful lot like making a friend.

What do you think about self-analysis and personality tests? Is there one in particular that’s helped you to make sense of yourself? (If you answer “Which Twilight Character Are You?” I’m going to force you to watch this until your eyeballs bleed.)

Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, you can dive into the information online at the Enneagram Institute, read the founders’ Introduction to the Enneagram, check out Richard Rohr’s A Christian Perspective, or take advantage of my friend Leigh’s personal coaching services.

22Aug

Book Stories: The Escape Artist

If you’ve been following my blog for any time, then you know 1) that I identify as Christian, and 2) that “Christian” means something very different to me today than it did when I was growing up fundamentalist. The Christianity I experienced as a kid was a members-only club with lifestyle requirements and political loyalties, whereas the kind that I’m discovering and embracing in adulthood is more of an open-air party in which the only common denominator is Jesus. I am more grateful than I can say for the freedom to see God differently. Disengaging myself from the mindsets that formed me, though, has been about as easy as performing a total skeletal transplant on myself.

Take gender roles. The Christian subculture in which I grew up basically assigned one of two identities to everyone at birth. The first identity was “Leader” and came with secondary characteristics such as strength, outspokenness, superior reasoning skills, and money-making prowess. The second identity was “Follower” and brought with it expectations of docility, fertility, weakmindedness, and a knack for the domestic arts. The one and only basis for choosing which identity to bestow on a baby was which set of body parts he or she had.

I can’t speak much to the experience of growing up male in that system, but I do know what it was like to grow up under the “Follower” heading. Because I had been born female, my calling in life was to act as support staff to the males put in authority over me. Our family wasn’t nearly as rigid in this as many other patriarchal families; I was encouraged to get summer jobs and to go to university, experiences that many girls, seen only as homemakers-in-training, are denied. (In fact, one of my favorite posts to write this year was What Our Parents Did Right.)

Still though, I grew up under a list of gender-specific shoulds, some of them directly taught and some of them just implied:

A woman should defer to her father’s or husband’s judgment in all things as her own way of thinking is flawed.

A woman should always seek to diminish herself; her body, her voice, and her actions should never draw attention.

A woman should work tirelessly and selflessly in her home sphere, managing household tasks and child-raising so expertly that her husband never needs to be burdened with them.

A woman should understand that her purpose in life is to help her man fulfill his.

…for the Bible tells me so.

Actually, the Bible’s part in these gender prescriptions was always a little confusing to me. We didn’t follow Bible verses saying women needed to avoid jewelry or wear head coverings to pray, but we agreed most adamantly with verses saying women shouldn’t teach men (at least not from a pulpit), that they should obey their husbands, and that they should busy themselves at home. Despite the pick-and-choose nature of our theology, the message was the same: Men were God’s white-collar workers, and women were his field hands. And this message stuck with me, deeply.

Even after I had moved halfway across the world with a husband who considers me equal and the beginnings of a fulfilling profession, I felt my fundamentalist identity like a choke chain. In my mind, being a woman was so linked to inadequacy that I couldn’t look at a single aspect of my life without guilt. I wasn’t organized enough, diligent enough, submissive enough, successful enough, conventional enough, reproductive enough, energetic enough, religious enough. Plus, I could only manage something like .003% of what that damn Proverbs 31 woman did on any given day.

And then I read this:

Book Stories - A Year of Biblical Womanhood

“As I saw how powerful and affirming this ancient blessing could be, I decided it was time for Christian women to take back Proverbs 31. Somewhere along the way… we abandoned the meaning of the poem by focusing on the specifics, and it became just another impossible standard by which to measure our failures. We turned an anthem into an assignment, a poem into a job description.” – Rachel Held Evans

I had at least one friend (hi, A!) think that A Year of Biblical Womanhood was about how to be more fundamentalist based on its title and, you know, the whole woman-in-a-head-covering-banished-to-her-roof thing. What isn’t quite so obvious from the cover is the author’s tongue firmly in cheek and heart firmly for women like me caught in the chokehold of “Biblical Womanhood.” Really, those two words should always be in ironic quotes because, as Rachel shows in alternately hilarious and touching experiments, there is no such thing.

I read the book about a year and a half ago, and it was like an escape artist had personally come to spring me from the cramped confines of “Follower.” I do still struggle with feelings of guilt and not-enoughness; if Dan and I are in such a busy work period that we’re having trouble keeping up with household tasks, my first instinct is to berate myself for neglecting my responsibilities, for prioritizing my work over righteously clean floors. Or if I say something at a dinner party and everyone turns to listen, my inclination is to shrink back and turn the conversation over to someone with more a more valid viewpoint. The difference is that I can now recognize these wilting instincts as byproducts of an identity that was never meant to be mine. I can see cultural preference where once I only saw divine prejudice, and I can choose not to be ruled by it.

Rachel even got me to like Proverbs 31, which I consider a feat of staggering proportions. Or should I say… biblical?

“Could an ancient collection of sacred texts, spanning multiple genres and assembled over thousands of years in cultures very different from our own, really offer a single cohesive formula for how to be a woman?” she asks in her introduction. “Do all the women of Scripture fit into this same mold? Must I?” And in her answer, I found a way to keep both the Bible and myself. Pure gift.

In this series, I’m foregoing traditional book reviews and instead sharing Book Stories—why certain books have impacted me, how they’ve entwined themselves through my life, and what the long-term effects are. After all, what better way to talk about stories than through the medium of story?

(If you have your own close encounter of the literary kind you’d like to share here, just send it on over to hello{at}bethanybassett{dot}com.) 

2Jul

A New Original

[By Sophie, illustrating the emotional journey of being away from her parents for a week and then reunited with us. Please note Dan’s righteous beard.]

I’ve wanted to be a mom as long as I can remember, but at some point in my teens, the daydream changed. Its parameters shrank and sharpened until what was once an all-encompassing landscape of an identity became a hat in a bold-striped box—a beautiful accessory.

This was a healthy adjustment for me to make. I was coming from a background that told me all females were coded for the same job description, that our purpose on this earth was to gestate and birth and feed and raise our husbands’ children. I didn’t mind this view at all when I was a girl. I loved babies, and for our AWANA Club’s “What Do You Want To Be?” Night, I proudly dressed up as a Mother. (Let me tell you, my apron and spit-up cloths really gave me a fertile edge over my friends in their Supermodel and Actress garb.)

By the time I started college though, the patriarchal mindset was a jarring false note in my head. It didn’t ring true to anything I was learning about myself or the world, and I could no longer accept that God was in on it either. I felt in my bones—though they told me shyly, as voices long repressed—that I was not created on a paint-by-number assembly line. I was an original. I was a unique human being with a unique identity, and that identity could not be encapsulated in the word “Mommy.”

I confided in Dan during our newlywed days how terrified I was that our future babies would swallow me whole. I kept watching it happen to friends, bright and creative women who dropped off the earth the day their children were born and then emerged a year or two later with sleep deprival tattooed under their eyes and a new vocabulary revolving around the word “doodoo.” I felt like I was watching a horrible psychological experiment—total disillusion of identity in nine months or less.

Perhaps that’s why my pregnancy with Natalie was so hard for me to get used to. I wanted her, very much so, but I also wanted myself, and I wasn’t sure if the two were compatible. I picked out crib sheets and scowled at the weary-looking matron on my cover of What to Expect When Expecting and braced myself against the impending threat of motherhood.

And when it came? When she came?

Snuggling Baby Natalie

I changed. Of course I did. I was a different woman the moment I touched her curlicue of fingers in the delivery room, and I had no desire to go back to before, to a version of the world without my daughter in it and me her caregiver. I had expected motherhood to diminish me, but instead, I felt myself expanding in a dizzy rush.

“How wonderful life is,” I sang to Natalie in only a slight butchering of Elton John’s 1970 love ballad, “while you’re in the world.”

Now before things get too bejeweled-roses-and-glow-filters up in here, I should clarify that I have never, not for a single hour of a single day, found raising children to be easy. Meaningful, yes. Heartwarming, most certainly. Both of my girls have infused life with a richness and a hilarity level that I never could have arranged for myself, and we often have moments in which I feel that being related to them is the most obvious arrangement in the world.

Parenting, however, is not quite as easy a job as, say, choreographing chickens or running the complaints department at FIFA. It requires a constant state of high-alert creativity and intention that reduces Dan and I to warm-blooded sofa cushions many evenings. It is with utmost affection and gratitude for our girls that I tell you I have had to struggle, hard (and sometimes unsuccessfully) throughout these early years of child-raising to hold onto my senses of identity and purpose.

That’s why being able to drop our girls off at their grandparents’ and take off for a week of adult time (take that as you will… *wink wink, nudge nudge*) as we did this last week feels like a luxury worthy of the Forbes Most Ridiculous list. Dan and I went out at night, gallivanted around Venice, ate un-sensible breakfasts, and watched our Arrested Development reruns at a slightly higher volume than usual. It was awesome.

Parents gone wild

But it also felt incomplete. Even though I knew I wasn’t on-call for those seven days, my mother-signal wouldn’t stop scanning, wouldn’t quit pinging the atmosphere in search of my children’s wavelengths. It’s a strange sensation to pluck the strings connecting you to someone who’s not physically there. I felt my girls but not with any sense I knew how to operate. They were phantom limbs, all week long.

When Dan and I returned to his parents’ house and the girls ran into our arms, I can tell you what that moment was not: It was not the putting on of a lovely but inessential hat. Nor was it the dissolving of self into a role. Rather, it was the satisfying thump of puzzle pieces fitting together, of four separate, whole, and marvelous identities that together create a new original. Mine, theirs, ours.

How wonderful life is, while we’re in the world…

Snuggling no-longer-Baby Sophie

29May

A Summer Without Sequels

I want to blame it all on the allergies—the way my head rolls bowling-ball heavy atop my neck, the thick woolly fog obscuring my vision, the struggle to make myself see even journal entries through to the end. It would be a justified accusation too. May and June are my Kryptonite, a radiant green that sucks the energy right out of me. I could write a poem in the pollen swirled across the surface of our car.

Allergies alone, however, do not explain why I’ve spent this week clutching a to-do list like it’s a Get Out Of Writing Free card. They don’t explain my almost desperate search for distraction when I sit down at my computer (“Why hasn’t anyone shared a BuzzFeed article in the last three minutes??”) or my avoidance of quiet alone time. Allergies may have everything to do with the Visigoth rave going on in my sinuses right now, but they’re not to blame for this creative paralysis. Not solely, at least. Maybe not even at all.

Last summer, I lost myself. More accurately, I let go of my own hand, choosing soul-disconnect over the more painful parts of my reality. I didn’t know any other way to cope.

To be honest, I still don’t really know how to talk about that time. I barely wrote anything during those three months, and what I did scratch down in my journal is as jagged as broken glass. I skim the entries as lightly as I can before drawing back, cut to the quick. I’d like to blot it all out of my mind, let last summer accomplish what it started and erase me from its memory.

The fear of it is still fresh though, or rather, a fear of its sequel. We leave in less than two weeks for a vagabond-style summer, and this is enough to send my mind into a self-protective tizzy. What if time charges away from me again this year? What if I look around and can’t see a place for myself? What if I feel too much? What if the joys of ice cream and swimsuits and late starry walks aren’t enough to hold me in place?

If I lose myself again, will I be able to find my way back?

My head feels heavier than it should, over-packed with histamines and fears alike. I’ve been trying to distract myself the hell out of Dodge, but it’s not working… which, duh. In what universe is running away from heart, mind, and soul a safeguard against losing them? That’s why I’m writing this, by the way, out of a determination that this summer isn’t going to be a sequel. Shut-down isn’t an option I’m allowing myself this time around. I’m going to feel the things I feel—feel them head-on without rushing over to Facebook for a quick numbing fix. I’m going to inhabit my life, the hard parts as well as the good. I’ll do my damndest to lean into painful changes instead of resisting them (easier said than done by a power of three bajillion, but still) and to be a scientist of my own spiritual journey, and it’s just possible that I can end the summer more alive than when I started it. Allergies notwithstanding.

2May

On Self-Promotion and Measured Decisions

I have been on the fence about social media for a long time… and by on the fence, I mean impaled by uncertainty, stuck beyond all powers of unsticking between the forward-moving concourse of platform promotion and the chambers of my own backwards heart.

If you would, please read this post in a whisper because that is all I can bring to the discussion. I have already done my share of ranting, judged and envied until the two became indistinguishable, and questioned myself hoarse. This feels ridiculous to admit because we’re talking about Facebook here. But it’s not just Facebook, is it? For me, the question of how to promote myself online is ultimately a question of how I define validation, and un-impaling myself from that particular fence is not easily done.

Like a first-timer at IKEA, I wander the aisles of the Internet accumulating fistfuls of free measuring tape—one strip to measure Twitter followers, another to tally Facebook fans, one for comments and another for acceptance into certain circles, and every one of them labeled How Legitimate Are You Today? The thing about free measuring tape, however, is that it’s always too short. You can’t measure the stature of a human being any more than you can a Svärta bedroom set with that strip of pre-printed paper. I know this.

The temptation to measure is always there though, close on the heels of the good and life-giving impulse to share my words with you. It’s a scarily small step between loving feedback and needing it, and that’s where my dilemma lies. The question I’ve found myself circling back to time and time again is this: Can I actively promote myself online without losing myself in the process? And the answer is… no. Deeply, and with a certainty born of many restless nights, no.

I’m not saying that the social media experience is like this for everyone, but trying to clamor for the world’s already-fragmented attention feels about as natural to me as taking a job in the stock exchange would. I was not made to wave my hands and shout. Nor—and I say this with great affection toward those of you who have this gifting—was I made to narrate my day in 140-character zingers. Instead, I was made to sit down and chat over beverages some place where we can hear each other think and forget about the passing hours. I was made to write slowly and to do it as an extension of holistic living, not as a response to (or worse, a bid for) other’s opinions.

I’ve discovered that my soul has nothing of the marketer about her. This can make me crazy, especially knowing that marketing savvy can be the sole difference between a writing career and a writing hobby. This is also why I’ve dangled on the social media fence for so long. Do I try to jump into the game even though the pace overwhelms me and I can’t keep the rules straight and I am sure to be wheezing and disoriented within minutes? Or do I walk out of the stadium into the quiet evening air I so love, knowing that I may have just turned my back on the opportunity of my life?

I hope you’re still reading this in a whisper because all I have left of this debate is its still, small core: How do I define validation for myself? And friends, as much as I love you and welcome your company here, the answer to that is located behind the secret panel of identity, the place God and I go alone to sort out the whos and whys of me. No other person or group has a say in it. They shouldn’t have a say in it, at any rate, which is why I’m making a pledge to myself, a decision at last: to enjoy social media as an outlet and a meeting point… and to close my browser the second it begins to mean more.

In other words, I’m keeping Facebook but dropping the measuring tape.

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