I am the person who is comfortable in melancholy and even seeks it out. My daydreams oftentimes are of me taking down (sometimes physically) those who oppress me or others. I find myself pulled towards the villain in stories. I relate with characters who find joy in revenge rather than a more pure version of joy. It was no surprise to me when Pottermore placed me in the Slytherin House. I have resting bitch face that I’ve learned to embrace. I will sheepishly admit that I enjoy the intimidation that is the “baggage” of my stature, RBF, quiet nature, and confidence (or that false image of confidence in some cases).
Yes, I have moments of bright joy in my life, but for the most part I live my life within the darker tones of life.
I have few memories of my early elementary school years, but one burns red hot in my memory. The lesson one afternoon in second grade was vocabulary. We were learning the words “optimist” and “pessimist” using the glass half full/empty lesson. After the teacher overviewed both terms she asked the class to make statements using the words to check for understanding.
A little redheaded girl shot her hand straight up in the air vibrating her desire to give an answer to the teacher. We’ll call her Melissa because frankly I don’t remember. I’m terrible with names.
Our teacher pointed to her, “Melissa?”
Melissa straightened her posture, grinning, and set her hands in her lap, “Nina is a pessimist.”
“That wasn’t very kind,” our teacher responded, “Can you use the word in a situation outside of the classroom?”
Melissa was shocked. She was too little to even understand that her statement was rude. With a pouty face she went on, “Well, she is! Just this morning she was crying and saying she couldn’t do the math ditto, but she still did. She’s always crying over stuff like that.”
I had indeed been crying and frustrated by the math ditto sheet (that’s a worksheet for those born after 1990). I had gotten so worked up about it that I couldn’t focus and instead pouted and cried. I was hurt by the opinion being placed in front of me like that, but I didn’t think she was wrong. Instead I started to cry again; not because I was mad at Melissa, but because I had cried in the first place.
I was a pessimist. I still am in many ways. This is the real me.
Most people who know me won’t be shocked by anything written above. Some will argue with me. Everyone sees a different piece of me. Some have seen them all. Most of them are the real me.
Some people see me as a person who is constantly striving for kindness, fairness and acceptance. The level headed one. The person who ends all her blogs posts with hope. Someone who tries to see and understand why people act the way they do. Someone who doesn’t understand how anyone can knowingly take advantage of someone else and be proud. This is the real me as well.
Truth be told, I’ve always been the one who daydreams about turning into the badass warrior woman who kicks the crap out of the shitty dude that underestimates me. So, how did I end up feeling I need to be the person to show positivity and light? How have I become the person who is the “voice of reason”? Why has it become my obligation to preach kindness?
Through high school and college I struggled pretty hard with depression. In many ways I still do. I have learned how to embrace that beast. Maybe you could say I have sort of domesticated her. I give her some space in my life. I take time to acknowledge her, give her some attention and spend time training her not to lash out. She’s still a wild beast at times, but for the most part we can live harmoniously.
Perhaps some of that training has given some space to allow kindness in. Perhaps the reason I survive in the darker tones of life is that there are still just enough moments of light. Taught me that, even in those darker tones, there can still be softness and warmth. You can be a badass warrior woman and still be kind.
As for many of us, the past few years of politics has been frustrating, disheartening and left me feeling I had no power to do anything. Screaming in anger only takes you so far. I have watched my friends lash out at other friends, scream into a void, despair at the injustices and burn themselves out with anger and worry. Much of this resembled a mother screaming at a toddler to be quiet. (Parenting 101: that doesn’t work.)
Now, before anyone starts thinking I’m am the Tone Police, there are times we need to scream and get ugly to be heard. I’m not discounting that this is sometimes the way things must be handled. I’m talking about the screaming that doesn’t do much more that allow us to believe we are releasing the pent up energy, but in fact is just wearing us out. I’m talking about the times when we are yelling at the dog to stop barking. I’m talking about the times it is just adding noise.
Watching this I realized this kind of reaction didn’t work for me. The anger and fear and screaming was just going to give the beast I had domesticated a boost of negative energy. It was going to make her more than I could control. I had to find another way to engage in the emotional and social justice work that needed to be done.
I decided to stand in my darker side of the world ready to show off what was positive. For a while I focused on calling to attention different people in my life who may not know how much I appreciated them. This faded out when I was confronted by those who felt “left out”. Then I made a point to only share on social media the good things. This resulted in accusations that I was diminishing the things that were bad by ignoring them.
I stopped trying to use social media to spread kindness, but I still felt I needed to do something. I realized that my message of kindness wasn’t one specific thing. It was the way I interacted with everything. The way I made decisions every day. The interactions I had with people in all my many facets of life. This blog in an example. Even on my most frustrated and disheartened moments I make sure each one ends in a message of hope. Sometimes that has meant waiting a week to write the ending.
Each time I help a friend, each time I support a cause, each time I take the time to be patient with a server I am acting purposely with kindness. My hope is that with each act I help make the world a little bit better for others and for myself. This does not mean I am soft, a push-over, weak or unrealistic. I am grounded and I am strong.
I took a workshop not too long ago called “Kindness as a Revolutionary Act” from a woman I feel blessed to call a friend, Blanche DeBris. She helped me to see that my kindness does not diminish my strength. It doesn’t take away my sharpness. In many ways it makes me stronger. Kindness can be revolutionary. Joy can be rock solid. Positivity can come from a darker place. The war needs soldiers and healers along with a long list of other people.
None of this has been easy, especially for me. Kindness, joy and positivity takes work.
I recently debuted a new act that was meant to be nothing but joyful and lighthearted. It was one of the most difficult acts I’ve created. Choosing what songs to use was the most difficult. Even seconds before I went on stage I was questioning if I could do it. I took the stage and willfully expressed that joyful character throughout the act. It was so much more than I could have hoped for. Embodying the joy I wish I could have made it mine. It is not in my nature to stay in that joyful state and I don’t wish that for myself, but it showed me that I CAN be that embodiment of joy. I can make people feel giddy and (dare I say?) optimistic.
I am far from perfect. I still get frustrated. I still have moments I act unkindly. I am still a pessimist at heart. I am a living contradiction; an intimidating, opinionated woman who has learned to share hope and kindness.
I still have to work hard to find joy. It still doesn’t come easily, but I am willing to put in the work and I can’t wait to see what comes of working to find joy in the darker tones of life.