Living your best life

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

Over 18 months has elapsed since I’ve written to you in this blog. My time writing this blog has, at times, felt like a foolish and frivolous pursuit. I’ve had multiple bouts of imposter syndrome, doubting whether I had the qualifications, authority or even the ability to write anything that was engaging. In the intervening months I’ve worked up the energy to write half a dozen posts that are still languishing in draft status, but have not managed to hit that “Publish” button. As time has passed and the blog has became colder, it has become even more difficult to come back to it.

But new years are opportunities for new beginnings, right?

After the holiday it was time to put away the tree and the decorations. Every year, as I spend hours untangling a mass of wires, I curse the self I was in the previous year for deciding not to individually wrap each string. Every year when I am in a hurry to take the lights down I roll up the entire length in one ball for convenience, telling my future self to just deal with it. This year was no exception.

Part of the decorations we have is a a little Christmas Card tree where we can clip all of the different cards we get. As I was readying the trash bag, I went to reread some of them sitting in a pile. Many of them had photos of perfectly coiffed children with their family updates. Everyone made the honor roll! Everyone made the team! Everyone went on a big trip! Everyone’s best life was on display.

We of course send our own holiday card, full of pictures of our smiling family members and highlighting the travels and positive points of our year. I try to inject a little self-deprecating humor, but even that essentially serves as a little lubrication to put our best lives forward to the world.

There’s nothing malicious or even conscious about this. It’s as a end result of our natural inclination to dwell on our the positive and to minimize anything that’s considered negative. It’s the cultural equivalent of walking past someone and asking “How are you?” without really waiting for a real answer. I assume you’re going to say “Fine! And you?” and I’m going to reply “Great!” and I won’t have lost a step. I get a card saying you’re great and you get a card saying I’m great and we move on.

But I value the relationships that I have that are open and vulnerable enough to really share what’s going on with them. They feel open to tell me the unvarnished truth of what’s going on in their lives, and in turn they know ours. The heartbreaks, the disappointments, the challenges. Instead of putting on the best face, they share their anxieties and fears, the ones that are always simmering just below the surface.

It feels like even though we know our lives and the ones of our intimates are complicated, there’s a sense of surprise that other people’s lives have the same blemishes and wrinkles. We think our fears are unique, our family drama is unique, our financial concerns are just something we’re going through. That our Christmas Card friends, the people whose lives we see only through social media, the ever present “they” have a life better, more organized, simpler, and more thoughtful than ours.

Do we tend to define “normal life” as the life we see other people have, and not our own? We caution not to compare our insides with other people’s outsides. But since we only see most people’s outsides, that’s a pretty tall task.

Maybe next year we’ll send a different card. The photos will be out of focus, all of us scowling, bad hair and mid-squabble. We’ll talk about constipation and colonoscopy clean outs instead of vacations and accolades. That’ll normalize the messiness that’s real life, even if it is mortifying.