The Inconspicuous Duckling

We’ve all heard the story of the ugly duckling, the awkward little guy who never seems to fit in, yet eventually develops into the most beautiful swan of them all. Wonderful story, isn’t it? And why is that? I think being treated like an outcast forces one to look inside, to discover who they truly are, to construct their character from the inside out. Thus, in the long run, the “weird” kids often end up being in a better position to tackle life than the cute little yellow ducklings who have never had to face adversity.

I never fell neatly into either of those categories and I believe that was a huge blessing. I was inconspicuous, white noise, a fly on the wall. I was extremely reserved and enjoyed sitting back and observing, I understood the ins and outs of avoiding criticism and risk. I didn’t have many friends nor very high self-esteem when I was younger, but I was never bullied nor ever in a place where I couldn’t love myself. It was a cesspool for detached observation and healthy introspection. I believe that being too far on either end of the spectrum would have served as a detriment and hindered my personal growth.

Although I’m still quiet and relatively shy, I’m far more confident and self-assured than I was five and ten years ago. When I run into individuals from my past, I have to laugh because it’s as if they’ve all been handed a variation of the same script: “You’re [cute, funny, hot, smart, sweet, talented, kind, pretty, clever, amazing]. I never noticed.”

The connotation is always there…they wish they had noticed. Whether it’s because they would have liked to know me better at the time or feel they could reap the benefits of that knowledge now, I’m not sure. I’ve never made the effort to be noticed, and I’ve actively put effort into avoiding the spotlight. Discretion has always been my specialty and I honestly don’t think that’s changed in recent times.

I just find it interesting that the same line has been played and replayed in my life over the past several months. It really makes me wonder what’s changed. Have I been transformed from some homely little bird to a beautiful swan? Have I reached a place where I understand myself well enough to confidently convey who I am in both an accurate and appealing way? Have people simply grown up and changed their mentality?

I walk into every social interaction hoping for two things: companionship and/or the acquisition of knowledge. Thankfully, many of my friends fall into the same category; however, it seems that most people are looking for one of the following: casual sex, settling down ASAP, or being set up with someone who can offer them one of the first two options. I am flattered that you think I’m [cute/smart/funny] and I admire (yet, do not appreciate) your persistence in begging me to make out with you, but I don’t think you realize just how transparent your intentions are or how off-putting that transparency is.

Sometimes I really miss being that inconspicuous little duckling.

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A Letter to My Younger Self

If I could go back in time and tell my younger self one thing it would be this: “Stop taking yourself so seriously!” I believe learning to laugh at yourself is one of life’s greatest lesson, falling just below treating others with kindness.

Laugh so hard you cry. Then when someone asks if you’re crying, laugh some more. Not that you can help it.

There are always opportunities to be silly; you should take advantage of them. Be a goofball; if someone is put-off by it, than they’re not the kind of person you want in your life anyways.

Jokes and wit are almost alway appropriate. Keep them to yourself and you’ll kick yourself later. You’ve inherited your father’s sense of humor – whether that’s good or bad, I’m not sure, but you’ve got it so you might as well tap into it.

Speak up! You’re shy, we get it. People are always going to give you are hard time about it, so learn to work with what you’ve got. “So you’re innocent, mysterious, and conspiring, eh?” Yep. You may not be quick on your feet in social situations, but you know exactly what people are going to say – prepare yourself and then just go with it. Don’t stress it.

Playing the rain doesn’t really make you sick. Get out there and enjoy it!

Buy neon food dye and bake a turquoise cake with purple frosting, just because. You never need a formal occasion to bake. Science experiments are always fun, especially ones that make a huge mess.

Novelty items are good, too. Stop saving them for a special occasion, make today a special occasion. You’re never too old for pink stick-on moustaches, wax lips, paper crowns, and fluffy socks. Embrace your inner child. Stop being in such a hurry to grow up and act like an adult. Take advantage of your youth.

You sing to yourself all the time, so why not do it when other people are around? Let loose, have fun, and be sure to preface with a disclaimer that you’re not liable for damage to anyone’s ear drums.

Go to the craft store and go crazy. Make stuff, do stuff, enjoy yourself. Being creative is not a prerequisite to pursuing creative endeavors. A one-dimensional elephant and his stick figure friend is a perfectly acceptable piece of art. A styrofoam block, spray paint, felt, a thin rod, and puffy paint make a superb sailboat.

If you want to do something, do it! Stop worrying that you’re not good enough, don’t know what you’re doing, or that others will judge you. No one’s opinion matters but your own, and most people aren’t paying attention to what you do anyways. (Except your parents – sorry kid, but they know what they’re talking about.)

Yes, homework and school are important, but stop using them as excuses not to go out and do other things. Playing The Sims isn’t any better. You’re shaping up to be a pretty lame kid. Listen to your parents and get out of the house!

Make funny faces. Dance just because. Laugh for no reason. Sing when no music is playing (remember the disclaimer). These things tend to break the tension and people find it to be pretty refreshing. A lot of situations are going to be awkward and uncomfortable for you – a big smile will generally ease that.

Take pictures and videos of your antics. They’ll serve as triggers of the past memories and inspiration for more. If nothing else, you can look back, laugh, and ask “What was I thinking?”

People can’t laugh at you if you’re laughing, too. Never stop laughing.

You’re absolutely right – eleven to eighteen year old boys are really immature. You’ll be happy you didn’t waste your time dating and wading through the endless teenage drama. Actually, at age 22, I’m convinced that 80% of adult males are tactless, arrogant, and immature. Just be patient and hopefully you’ll find a good guy. There’s no hurry to settle down and if things don’t pan out in that department, becoming a crazy cat lady is always a viable option. You have always liked cats.

You’re not too skinny and you don’t look anorexic. People are probably just jealous that you can eat an entire barrel of cheese puffs and a tub of frosting whenever you feel like it and still maintain your slight, boyish figure. (By the way, eating a barrel of cheese puffs and a tub of frosting is absolutely disgusting! What are you thinking?) You’ll put a little meat on your bones as you get older and actually kind of miss being a twig. Who would have thought?

So many people depend on different types of mind-altering substances to have fun, which I’ve never understood. An open mind and overactive imagination are more than sufficient for me, and they’re both free and relatively harmless. I’m so grateful you realized that at an early age.

I believe that imagination is the foundation of reality, that I have the ability to shape my life, that I have the power to inspire and influence others. Life isn’t some far-off destination – you’re on the train right now, so you might as well enjoy the view and go meet some of the other passengers. Age is arbitrary and you’re never too old to act like a kid. Friends come and go, but you should cherish each, and act under the assumption that they’ll never leave; however, you need to learn to let go because people will turn their backs on you.

Stop taking yourself so seriously. Don’t let what others say faze you and don’t pick apart every little interaction. Be true to yourself. Laugh whenever possible. Get out there and enjoy life. Stop thinking about “someday” and start living the life of your dreams today.

What advice would you give a younger version of yourself? Your children?

Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, and The Walkmen

“You are at a musical concert. Congratulations.” read the screen at Comerica Theater. After fighting through an hour of rush hour traffic where my average speed was literally 3.3 miles per hour, I finally made it to the venue and met up with my friend. As many of you may know by now, I suffer from directional dyslexia and neither I nor my GPS are fans of downtown Phoenix, however we made it to our destination with minimal detouring, one of those detours being the overpriced t-shirt stand.

I’ve been to several concerts over the past few years and this was easily one of the best performances I’ve seen. Although I was a fan of both Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes before the concert, neither were in my top ten; over the course of the four-hour event, I think that may have changed.

The Walkmen, a Washington DC-based indie-rock band opened. The venue was less than half full when the “early bird special” took the stage, but everyone there seemed to enjoy the 30-minute set. I was still recovering from my traffic-indused anxiety, so I wasn’t able to enjoy the band to their fullest. Although previously unfamiliar with the band, I did enjoyed their performance and will definitely be looking into their music.

Fleet Foxes, a folk group from Seattle took the stage next, performing a phenomenal 75-minute set. With seven well-coordinated, multi-instrument performers, the music was expansive and the performance impressive. Along with strong lead vocals, the harmonies were unbelievable; paired with the powerful percussion and the gentler sounds of the flute, mandolin, and violin, the music was both penetrating and overpowering. In addition to high quality sound, the band also had neat visuals projected on the back screen – a combination of animated geometric shapes and nature simulations. As the stage was being cleared, I told my friend, “If the show ended right now, I would be perfectly content.” I had no idea what was in still in store.

Bon Iver, a nine-member group led by Justin Vernon’s distinct falsetto, took the stage for another 75 minutes. The performance can only be described as an overwhelming of the senses; between the resounding euphony and ambient light show, it was impossible not to be deluged by the experience. Listening to their CDs, Bon Iver’s music sounds very cohesive and simple, so I was blown by the number of instruments involved (I’m guessing around 25) and how intricate the dynamic between the musicians was. I was also surprised, but not at all disappointed, to see the entire group rock out to their synth folk rock ballads. With some bands you’re bored and distracted, with some you’re entertained and maybe even singing along, and with a very select few you get lost in the music; Bon Iver falls in the later category.

This was an amazing show and I would highly recommend looking into any of these artists, especially if you’re interested in folk-rock or indie music. If you ever have the opportunity to see any of these artists live, it would be well worth your time and money.