Monthly Archives: January 2020

Be Yourself!

The first time anyone said to me, ‘Just be yourself!’ I was in grade nine at Sir Maurice Roche Catholic School. The sisters who taught there were not like other nun teachers who, I’ve heard, were often strict and mean. These ladies were kind, encouraging and hip. (Do people still say hip? I really don’t care.) In our religion classes we didn’t talk much about God. Instead, we listened to the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel, deciphering songs like ‘The Sounds of Silence’ or ‘I Just Gotta Get a Message to You,’ by the Bee Gees. I wasn’t much help in these instances. I’m a writer who doesn’t ever get the theme of a song or a story. I’m too literal. Remember those questions on English exams? “Compare and contrast the themes of the novel.” I’m having heart palpitations just writing this down.

Anyway. I remember having a rather confidential talk with Sister Jobin about feeling different from everyone else. I know now that every fifteen year old perceives their place in the universe in pretty much the same way I did. She gave me her time and attention and left me with these parting words: Just be yourself.

Now, I don’t know if you, dear reader, remember being that age, but the last thing you ever want to be is yourself. Yourself is the problem. Yourself, with the funny hair cut (mom, please…a better hairdresser!) Yourself with a complete inability to read the room and know who were the sheep, and who were the wolves. You found out the minute they grabbed you by the throat and wrestled you to the floor. Not literally, of course. But often, it could feel like your throat was being ripped out. It certainly left me feeling voiceless.

So, no. The last thing I wanted to be was myself. However. The great thing about growing older is that the more distance you put between the teenage you and your current self, the less you give a…let’s just use the word shit, here. I wonder how many of you actually noticed the gradual unwrapping of your true personhood. It’s like one of those reality shows where they give you a new wardrobe and a bit of plastic surgery, only you don’t even need that. You just need the perspective of time to discover who you really are in order to be yourself.

Even in your twenties, you buy into what other people think you should enjoy. Like long walks on the beach. I used to say, “Oh, I love a long walk on the beach!’ And I meant it, because I’d only gone for short walks, and I was young and spry. Now that I’m older, I like long walks on the beach as long as I’m right beside the water and the sand is hard. Otherwise, the sand makes me feel like I’m decrepit, even though I’m not.

Other illusions I used to have were the usual cheesy love song activities. Like in the Pina Colada song. ‘Do you like Pina Coladas?’ Well, yes. Doesn’t everybody? ”Getting caught in the rain?” No, not particularly. Not without an umbrella or a good raincoat. Then, I love it. Otherwise, rain, rain, go away. There’s the words, ‘I am not into health food, I am into champagne.’ Well, I love two organic eggs on a bed of kale, so that answers that. And champagne makes me fall down whenever I’m in England, so no.

Yet another part of the song says, ‘If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes of the cape, I’m the love that you’ve looked for, write to me and escape.’ People, if you’ve ever made love on a sandy beach, you already know the truth about that one. Because that sand gets everywhere. You find it days later in the strangest places. Clarence and I both agreed that we’d been fooled into thinking it was romantic when really, it was its own kind of awful. So, no.

I like being myself, now. And I’m at the age where I feel perfectly comfortable telling people what I like and don’t like. I’m not at the old lady stage where I’ve lost my filter and have started blurting things without thinking. (Well, only occasionally.) But for the most part, I like being me. I’m comfortable in my own company. I rarely get lonely, maybe because I’m a writer and have a whole cast of characters who keep me company all the time. And I mean ALL the time. But that’s a whole other blog.

The thing is, Sister Jobin was right. The people I know who were themselves as teenagers, like my husband, made everyone else feel comfortable. But even if I time traveled and had a quick conversation with that version of me, I know I wouldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that I was clueless about how teenagers behaved. It was my deep feelings of inadequacy that led me to those long talks with the nuns who probably worked to bury their yawns behind their weary hands. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that that is a part of the human story. At least, the story of teenagers.

Now, I am always myself. Sometimes I have to have a little self talk before I go out. I say things like, ‘Don’t be afraid to rein it in.’ Or, ‘Nobody else wants to talk about books all night. You’re not at book club.’ But these are just small courtesies. Otherwise, I’m just me.

In case you’re not convinced, and you need a better pep talk about just being yourself, here’s a little something from the movie, Just Friends.

I Want My Button to Pop

A few months ago I was taking my Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven and was overcome by an intense feeling of envy. The turkey’s button had popped. It was done. I sensed an air of congratulation between the oven and the bird. Perhaps a high five, maybe two thumbs up. And I couldn’t help thinking, I want that.

Imagine being in grade one again. Your teacher is going over the words on the white board, the iPad… whatever kids use these days. Sat, cat, mat, fat, rat. The child spits the words out and suddenly, a button pops right out of his neck. “You’ve got this!” the teacher says. “You’re all done. Go play in the gym with the others.”

Or, you’re out on a date. You’ve been a little nervous about the person you’ve chosen from the online dating site, “We’re Your Last Hope.” You walk into the restaurant, see your guy already seated. Your eyes meet, you walk over with a big smile and start talking. After a mere fifteen minutes, the button in your neck suddenly pops. And you can’t help noticing that his has popped, too. Your waiter also notices and brings you both free dessert to celebrate.

Without the button, you might have needed a lot more time to figure out if this person was right for you. But the button never fails. You can both relax into your new relationship knowing that your search is over.

The button would also be a game changer at the gym. You might have worked out for only twenty minutes when your coach, (let’s call her Tracy) walks over and says, ‘Put that kettle bell down. Your button just popped!’ A cheer goes up from a few friends, with some resentful looks from others as you leave class forty minutes early.

This would also be useful in a therapy session. You’ve talked until you’re blue in the face, and just when you’re starting to feel that you’ll never figure yourself out, your button pops. The therapist jumps to her feet, checks her watch and says, ‘Okay, beat it. You’re all better. Don’t bother coming back.” Perhaps this sounds harsh. But you should feel light hearted because you’ve straightened out your psyche and are filled with emotional well being.

You’d never have to take anyone at their word anymore. “I didn’t do it,” says a suspected thief/liar/future politician. But their button is still securely stuck in it’s holder. It is obvious to everyone that this person is not telling the truth. Every citizen could be compelled to attend a morals class and the ones whose buttons pop would get to wear a badge showing their ethical purity.

Others would watch with envy and possibly work harder on their own behavior, hoping to get the same result. Yes, it might end up being a bit of a contest. But imagine knowing that you’re done with everything. Love, emotional stability, math, and high moral standards.

If only we could figure this out. Maybe we could provide robotics engineers with buttons scavenged from the turkey factory. However we do it, I’m in. The only other thing is, once your button has popped for learning to read and being toilet trained, does the button get pushed in until the next event? And does that mean you’re never really done?

Perhaps the robotics engineers could arrange a series of buttons down your left arm (the creative one) that each have to pop in turn. The only downside is, what if you’re terrible at math? Or, what if all your friends are walking around with their love buttons popped and you alone have not met your match? Or, maybe you’re a decent enough person, but not perfect. Your moral code button may stay firmly stuck in its holder. And yet, you say to yourself, ‘I’m not a serial killer. I’m a bit rude but there are worse people out there than me.’ This could lead to a two tier society. Those who’ve popped every button, and those sullen, left out folk who are forced into anarchist behavior because they just can’t take it anymore.

So, maybe it won’t work. I guess some things that look very utopian to some, like the 2016 US election, or the Russian Revolution, can become dystopian when they don’t live up to their claims. Maybe even turkeys are feeling bad about their buttons. ‘Why can’t I decide when I’m done,” they complain as they huddle together in the grocery store freezer. On second thought, that’s too creepy to even contemplate. So never mind. I don’t need a button to tell me this blog post is done.