Advanced Generalist

I am a know-it-all. This is not a confession I make likely, because being called a know-it-all when I was growing up was not a positive experience.

And yet, I couldn’t help myself. I liked knowing things. I still like knowing things. It goes deeper than needing something to feel superior about (I know something you don’t!). Knowing things was how I held on to an objective reality when my personal reality was constantly being challenged when I was growing up.

Feelings, I learned early on, lied. They did such a good job of lying they could rewrite the past, shape the present, and make the future seem like destiny. If things were good, they had always been good and would always be good. More often than not, if things were bad, they had always been bad and always would be bad. I needed something I could depend on to hold on to. And that’s when I discovered facts — things that were undeniably true. Things that surpassed emotions. Things that I could use as anchors so that my life could make some sort of sense.

My hunger to know things, really know things, also meant a huge reluctance to accept that the things I knew were wrong. My family had invested in a set of encyclopedias when I was a child, and I went to them on a regular basis. These days I use the Internet to verify that I do in fact know what I know (and that it is knowable), using skills garnered in my years as a journalist to test sources and information. Fact-checking, once a part of my job as a reporter, has become part of my daily life. To this day, I go into an emotional tail spin if a fact I have held on to is questioned — how could I get something wrong? What is actually knowable? Will life ever make sense?

It is with old-fashioned journalistic confidence — the confidence of someone who has done the fact checking — that I can say that when I know something, I know something. I have spent more time than is probably healthy looking it up and verifying its veracity, or else I will be light in my presentation of said fact, using “I think I read somewhere that…” instead of stating it as something actually true. Being a know-it-all is not something I take lightly — I try very hard to accurately share what I know.

I have also had a lot of different jobs. In my years attempting to be a freelance journalist (which I was never great at because selling my writing was always harder than doing the writing), I took a lot of day jobs, and in fact, spent a great deal of time being a temporary employee. Being a temp suited me since I have always been able to learn fairly quickly, and because I like being helpful. And since I was a temp, there was only so much filing I would have to do before getting (or asking for) a new assignment. Eventually, I became one of those people who knew at least a little bit about a lot of different things. I was a generalist, in the old terminology.

So it greatly amused me when I found out that one of the methods I could study in social work was “advanced generalist.” An advanced generalist social worker can work in multiple systems and at multiple levels, from direct services to policy. Advanced generalists are considered part of the mezzo or middle level of social workers (with strictly clinical social workers at the micro level, and those working on policy or high admin levels considered more macro level workers). As such they get training both in clinical work and in administrative work, learning how to diagnose individual clients as well as assess communities and organizations.

It matches my know-it-all spirit to be an advanced generalist. I have worked in various jobs in various fields, including journalism, public relations, marketing, administrative work, English and math tutoring, teaching, office management, case manager, social worker, and now, therapist. And I have learned a ton of different things both formally and informally (including that time I took a class called “acting for the nonprofessional” and that other time I learned how to waltz). In fact, lacking any other language to describe my particular brand of know-it-all-ness (I know at least a little bit about a really large number of subjects), I often refer to myself as an advanced generalist outside of the field of social work.

So I was very pleased to discover that my particular brand of know-it-all-ness is not something unique to me, and in fact has a (relatively) brand new name: multipotentialite. According to Wikipedia, In 1972, R.H. Frederickson described a multipotentialed person as people who:

“When provided with appropriate environments, can select and develop a number of competencies to a high level.”

Emilie Wapnick coined the term multipotentialite to help unite folks who fall under this general definition into a single community. Essentially, it’s a fancy term for generalist, which Wapnick talks about in a TED Talk about why not everyone has “one true calling.” Which would explain my multiple jobs, two distinct careers, and constant need to learn new things.

I have never been the best at anything, but I have managed to pull off “pretty darn good” in a lot of areas.

The only time I get use use all my know-it-all-ness — without penalty — is when I engage in writing, particularly creative writing. I suspect every author I know is in some way a multipotentialite, and certainly every one has done a ton of research on a variety of subjects (including various ways to kill people or cover up having killed someone). In a way, I think every creative writer is — or is forced to become — an advanced generalist.

Which puts a whole new spin on the old adage: “write what you know.” If you don’t know it, learn it, and then write about it.

Writers Need to Stretch

I’ve been hitting the keyboard hard lately, and even though I have adjusted  my set up with cushions and things like that, there is still no escaping the fact that extended time writing is hard on the body.

Healthy body movement is one of the things I struggle with most. I have a tendency to treat my body like a last minute project — I suddenly feel a pain or ache and then break out ALL the moves I should have been doing all along, as though one marathon session of stretching will undo months’ worth of damage.

So, this is as much about helping me take accountability as it is to help anyone else with their own stretching goals. My goal is not to do ALL the stretches, but to start by picking five I will attempt to integrate into my daily life.

Fortunately, there are a ton of articles and videos about the best kinds of stretches for people who spend too much time sitting in front of computers. For writers, of particular note are things to help  maintain hand health and back health, since both take a beating with lots of writing.

This article talks about carpal tunnel signs, symptoms, and prevention: https://thebodymechanic.com/active-release-technique-blog/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/

And this article has great stretches to do in a (sturdy) office chair, with gifs on how each one should look: https://www.healthline.com/health/deskercise#head-and-shoulders

To be a good writer is to be a whole person, and I have to regularly remind myself that means taking care of my body as much as my imagination.

Here’s to stretching for writer health!

Regression to the Mean

Two days before Christmas, I had to put my beloved cat Oscar down.

The holidays have been hard for me for a very long time. Grief is like a shadow that is always with you, but changes size and shape depending on what light is around. On the brightest moments of the brightest days, the shadow can shrink down so small you can’t even tell it’s there. Other times, it stretches out so far, it’s the only thing you can see.

The shadows that bother me the most are the ones that come after dark; cast by the light of streetlamps and headlights, they pile up two or three at a time, and are rarely still. There is no true dark where I live in Brooklyn, just as there is no actual silence, just various levels of noise you learn to live with. As such, my nights are filled with shadows.

Christmas lights throw their own particular shadows. The lights are my favorite part of the holiday, and I relish in the opportunity to throw them up on windows, and keep my (fake) tree up as long as possible to help ease the passing of dark-too-long days. I am struggling now with wanting to keep them up even longer, because there is already so much change in my small apartment with my cat gone. I am haunted by the shape of his absence: the lack of warmth against my legs when I sleep, the missing noise of him jumping up or down from things, the many places and things he is not laying on or in. His loss thickens the others that have come before: my grandparents, my brother, and my mother, not to mention other beloved pets. Every time I look for him and he’s not there, I think of the phone calls I can’t make, the people I can no longer hug, and the memories that are fixed and fading.

The passing of a new year is of course something worth celebrating, but it is also something that triggers my grief. Every new turn of the calendar adds to the time after someone I love passed. Every time I count down how long it’s been, I am newly shocked and thrown back into those early days of denial. No, really? It can’t have been that long already… And yet, it is.

Recently I heard someone talk about regression to the mean, a concept in statistics that states that if a variable is extreme on the first measurement, it will be closer to the average on the second (and vice versa). How I understand it from a clinical standpoint is that all things in life — the very big moments either good or bad — eventually return to a sort of baseline. The baseline itself may change over time, but the mean, the average, the day-to-day — we all come back to it eventually.

What I tell my clients is that if you want to see your overall progress toward something, you can’t look at a single data point — a single good day or bad day. You have to look at the trend over time to see if it’s moving in the right direction.

I am not sure what direction I want my life to move in, other than a vague urge to want to have a sense of progress. The loss of a pet is inevitable, if you live long enough, and I knew what I was getting into when I adopted my cat. In fact, I was more aware of the potential of his loss than pretty much any other loss in my life, and that in itself is a gift he gave me. Knowing our days together were naturally numbered, helped me better understand the nature of life and loss.

We love, anyway. And eventually I think I will likely seek out that particular kind of love again, when I’m ready.

In the meantime, what I want most from 2018 is a regression to the mean. It will come — the grief will be less acute, the days will stay lighter longer, and the shadows will feel less omnipresent. I’ll adjust to a new normal, and, as heartbreaking as it sounds, not having him in my life will feel as normal as having him in life did for over a decade.

My one and only New Year’s Resolution is to give myself time. Time to grieve, time to heal, time to write, time to breathe, time to sleep, time to create, time to just be. Next year will come (if I am lucky), and I won’t have to do anything except let the days go by as they are wont to do.

In the meantime, I may keep my tree up until at least the end of January. Some things I’m just not ready to let go of yet.

Frustration and Counting Your Spoons

I have had a very frustrating week, followed by a frustrating weekend. I suppose part of this is the nature of the holiday season — too many things squeezed into too little a space of time. Part of this is connected to my day-job and what feels like a never-ending and overwhelming work load. And part of this is just vicarious frustration as so many of my clients are also feeling their ire rise.

In simple terms, frustration is the feeling of being upset or annoyed, especially because of inability to change or achieve something. Frustration tolerance is the idea that we have a capacity for how much frustration we can tolerate without having some sort of emotional breakdown.

What I try to get my clients to understand is that everyone has limited daily energy. That energy is being used up by all sorts of things. I have people picture a battery — throughout the day, every task they do takes energy from that battery. The lower their battery level, the greater the percentage of what they have left each new task takes. In short, the more you have on your plate, the less energy you have for each thing, and that includes emotional energy. The end result is that your frustration tolerance goes down, and those little things that you might be able to brush off with a full battery — like traffic, rude people, or even dropping your keys — suddenly feel like really big deals because you have so little energy left to deal with them.

Other people use the spoon theory to describe what life is like with chronic illness (physical or mental) or chronic pain — the idea that your battery (or in this case, the number of spoons you have) is already lower than someone else not dealing with that condition:

The point of both analogies — batteries or spoons — is to recognize when your levels are low. Because when your levels are low, your irritability will be higher, your problem solving skills will be impaired, and your emotions in general will be closer to the surface.

So as we move forward into the holiday season, and the multitude of things that comes with it, please be sure to keep track of your battery levels. You will need to recharge them — with rest, with time for yourself, with delegating tasks to other people, with turning down obligations. And more importantly, you need to practice self kindness when you start to lost it — snap at your loved ones, get emotional over small things, or feel too drained to do as good a job as you want to. It just means your battery — and your frustration tolerance level — is low.

Spark

Sometimes, I feel stuck. Sometimes, all I have in me is a stream of consciousness dump…

I am fumbling for words, searching my memory for rich sensory details, imagery and metaphor, a perfect picture painted with perspicacity, brought forth from my fertile imagination.

I am new again, raw, an amateur who is just barely beginning to understand what creative writing is. I am spilling out consciousness on the page in rambling streams of poorly relayed emotion. Write what you know, but what do I know, anyway? What stories are mine to tell?

Oh, and I thought I was dark before, thought I had some sense of loss or grief, of the thousand natural shocks, but I am only a Horatio, battered witness of the twists and turns all around me. Transferred trauma, and they tell me to take care, but care has been taken to take such time away. I have no time. I have no energy to use what time I have.

I don’t take the time. I don’t spare the energy.

I sleep too much and not enough.

I fall back on the old words, the easy words. It was a dark and stormy night. Suddenly, a shot rings out. Once upon a time, in a land far far away. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Call me Ishmael.

In the room the women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo. And how should I presume?

All words are old, all words used so many times already. Should I dig up my vocabulary books, reacquaint myself with the archaic and obsolete, so that I may impress myself with my own prolix prose?

And the seven (less or more?) great plot lines continue to unfold, over and over, and as Aimee Mann sings, “But nobody wants to hear this tale, The plot is clichéd, the jokes are stale, And baby we’ve all heard it all before.”

The only thing that’s mine is my voice. The only thing that can be new, the only thing that could make a story I tell different than any other.

But my voice needs words.

Words words words.

Lost in page counts, lost in deadlines, lost in pressures and anxieties floating all around me like ash, so thick it coats you, so thick it chokes you.

But even in the ash, a spark may fly, a tiny flake of potential floating on eddies, looking for the right tinder to settle on, the right wind to blow, and kindle standing by, waiting to burn.

I am a pile of kindle, ready to burn. I am waiting for my spark to find me.

 

Essential Self-Care

The news isn’t good again. I can’t remember the last time I read the news and felt anything other than dread and sadness. I feel like a collective anxiety has taken over most everyone I know. In times like these, it is important to remember to take care of yourself — and easy to forget.

Everyone pushes the concept of self-care these days, but it too often feels like yet another thing people feel like they should do, and never get around to doing. First, self-care is not all yoga classes and bubble baths. Self-care of it is all those things you do to take care of yourself, your mental and physical health, and your environment. These things are essential, not just for your physical health, but for your mental health. Here are some ways you can focus on self-care when you are feeling tired and tapped out:

Body Maintenance: did you shower today? That counts! Eat food, drink water, brush your teeth? This is all literal self-care in that you are taking care of your body. Anything you do to take care of your body, from a haircut to trimming your nails, is all a part of self care. While you may not have energy for full blown exercising on your low days, try stretching for five minutes for both a sense of accomplishment and to relieve tension in your body. I personally love doing a forward bend that is supported by a sturdy chair (mostly because I have zero flexibility.) The chair helps me feel steady while the bend takes a lot of tension out of my back.

Space Maintenance: doing the dishes, the laundry, taking out the recycling (my own personal struggle) — all of this is actually about taking care of yourself. Not only is your life better when you have clean clothes, clean dishes, and room to walk in your kitchen (again, I struggle with recycling), it is a way of saying “I matter.” This stuff is not fun and is often the first to go when we’re stressed out. And then it piles up. And then we feel really bad about it. So do yourself a favor and pick one of these chores and work on it for five to ten minutes. Wash two dishes, sort your laundry, bag your recycling — you don’t have to do it all, and you will feel better after.
Social Maintenance: Reaching out to friends via text, email, or even social media is another way of taking care of yourself. Everyone needs a support network, and any time you spend maintaining yours will ultimately help you better take care of yourself. Feeling extra ambitious? Don’t just reach out — make plans! And even if you feel really tired and like you just can’t, I encourage you to keep those plans. Again, you’ll likely feel better after. It helps to make plans closer to your house or even at your house if you are feeling extra low energy.

Luxury Maintenance: Here is where all the usual self-care stuff happens — shopping, bubble baths, vacations, spas, resorts, etc. These definitely have a place in self-care, but they are not always as accessible as some folks need/want them to be. Self-care doesn’t have to look like a wine tasting or yoga retreat. But if that is the type of thing that helps you take time for yourself, go for it! But also spending extra money on time saving can be a great form of self-care. For example, I get my groceries delivered (yay NYC!). I know a lot of people who use laundry drop off services. Some folks use meal kit services to inspire them to eat more variety. Research has suggested that people feel better about spending money that saves them time more than other purchases.
Dream Maintenance: This one is harder to define, because everyone had different dreams when they were growing up, and a lot of people have had their “dream life” change as they got older. But we all want something. Finding a way to keep that dream alive, however small, is a huge part of taking care of ourselves. For me, it is constantly trying to make room for writing in my life when I have so many other things (like recycling) taking up my time. I also have been actively pursuing my professional dreams like starting my own private therapy practice, and while these goals are hard to focus on and sometimes seem impossible to accomplish, even sitting down and brainstorming steps helps me feel better. Doing research, planning to take a class, finding fellow hobby enthusiasts — these are all ways that people keep their dreams and interests alive. Dream maintenance is all about keeping hope going — imagining a future that is better than where you are right now. Even in these hard times — especially in these hard times — it is essential that we can picture a brighter tomorrow.

Try making and keeping a list of ways you like to take care of yourself to refer to when you feel sad, down, and stuck in your life.

The Power of “Me Too”

One of the most powerful feelings in the world is that moment when you realize that something you thought just happened to you, that only you understood or experienced (often with fear and/or shame), also happened to someone you know. Somehow sharing the experience changes how you feel about it. It shifts the burden from you to some universal truth — this is a thing that happens to people, not just me. 

It needs to not just be “me” in order to take away some of the shame. To that end I often self-disclose with my clients that I also suffer from depression. Me, too. So when I talk about how its the little things — the laundry, recycling, dishes, and trash piling up; the constant need for distraction and inability to focus on anything; the sleeping binges and insomniac binges; the appetite that refuses to stay consistent — they nod their heads. Oh yeah, that happens to me, too.

On social media, there is a trend happening right now of women saying “me too.” It is a way for them to share that they have also experienced sexual harassment and/or assault, to show how common the problem is (and is a throwback to #yesallwomen, popularized in 2014 as a response to #NotAllMen). But for me at least, it is having a secondary effect of showing me just how not alone I have been in my own experiences. It is showing me that whatever I have gone through, someone else has gone through something similar, and that means I can feel a little less ashamed about my own experiences, a little less convinced I somehow did something wrong, inadvertently “asked for it” in some way, or had something specifically wrong with me that invited other people’s bad behavior. Instead, I can see more directly how the culture at large is to blame, how systemic the issue is, how real rape culture (and the way it contributes to mass harassment) is.

For me, the power of “me too” in this instance is that it helps me continue to chip away at the shame I have had about my body since I was a little girl and was “made to feel funny” by adult men paying too much of the wrong kind of attention to me. My body was remarked on, my looks analyzed, my freedom curtailed because my very femaleness meant I would forever be a target. Pretty little girls don’t get to go play outside by themselves. I was taught that a healthy amount of fear would keep me safe. It didn’t. I was taught that a certain amount of modesty would keep me safe. It didn’t. I was taught that not wrestling with the boys would keep me safe. Not only did that not help, eventually learning self defense by “wrestling with the boys” was the only thing that did help me feel safer as an adult.

Every “me too” I saw on my timeline made me feel a combination of sad — and relieved. I wish the problem wasn’t so prevalent. But at the same time, I feel reassured that this was never just about me but about all girls and women. This was never just my problem — it was all of ours.

And I feel better still after reading wonderful messages of support from my male friends. A secondary trend of posting “yes I have” has popped up, with men sharing their own stories of giving in to rape culture and being complicit in the behavior of others, or participating in that behavior themselves. Their confessions and heartfelt apologies mean the world to me, because they come with a pledge to do better. It’s another version of “me too” that carries the same kind of power — we have all done things we are ashamed of. The first step is recognizing the problem. Together, we have a chance of changing things.

The Framing of Tragedy

The numbers keep going up. At this point, it’s 59 people killed, and over 500 injured after another American mass shooting

When I was a journalism student, I learned about the power of framing a story. The best way to understand it is to think of taking a picture — there is only so much that can be captured by the lens. The frame is how much you zoom in or out, and what part of any given view you focus on. You can achieve the same effect with the words you use to describe an event.

Words matter. Describe a mass shooter as a terrorist, and one kind of narrative is created. Describe a mass shooter as a “lone wolf” and another kind of narrative is created. Is this a story about the enemies of America, or about the way a single, misunderstood and troubled man chose to act out? 

In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in American history, different groups of people scrambled for a framing device for the story. In the immediate aftermath, before anything was known about the man who shot into a crowd of concert goers on the Las Vegas strip with high-powered automatic assault rifles, a group of alt-right followers were busy spreading fake news that the shooter was an anti-Trump democrat. Search engine algorithms picked up the story, and, as the saying goes, the lie got half-way around the world before the truth got its pants on. For those alt-right folks and the people who reposted them, this was a narrative that at least, to them, made sense.

As Monica Hesse writes in the Washington Post, every tragedy inevitably becomes a political tool, and no one is exempt from using it as thus: 

What “Don’t politicize this” often means is, Don’t politicize this if the shooter belongs to meAs personal details about the gunman begin to come out — old voting records, Facebook rants — “Don’t politicize this” is the placeholder statement we use while figuring out exactly which political knives need to be sharpened.

She goes on to describe the potential narratives that could come out and how different groups might respond to them. Facts, as they become available, help shape the narrative and frame the picture, but as always, how those facts are seen and used will vary dramatically from group to group: Hesse writes, “We waited, because knowing who [the shooter] was would cue Americans how to respond.”

Human beings are hard-wired to make tragedy make sense. The idea that a man would take 23 weapons into a hotel, break open the window, and open fire on a crowd, doesn’t make sense unless we name the hate we assume he must have felt. In the aftermath of horrible events like this, people look to blame something they feel safe blaming. People don’t actually want to change their world view after tragedy. Instead, they reframe the event so that it matches the views they already hold. 

There is a social work joke that I go back to on a regular basis: “how many social workers does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.”

As much as I’d like to think that yet another record-breaking mass shooting will change hearts and minds, I know that those hearts and minds have to want to be changed in order for these new facts to be seen in a new way. 

Things are not okay. They have not been okay. They will not be okay for likely a very long time. And no amount of thoughts and prayers will make them okay. There is no magic framing device that can erase the bullets that went into bodies, and the blood and tears that followed. People need to be willing to let those pictures change them in order for them to be willing to do something to prevent another mass shooting from happening.

Far too many people will zoom out, shift the frame, adjust the focus, and see what they want to see. They will chose a false narrative over a view-altering truth. They will insist that nothing has to change, that nothing can be changed. But the truth is that we have a mass shooting epidemic in America, and there is a solution to it (change gun laws, reevaluate safety standards, increase access to mental health care, and have a national conversation about how mass shootings could be avoided in the future)– if people are willing to see it.  

As satire site The Onion writes: “At press time, Americans nationwide agreed that years of taking no measures whatsoever to prevent mass shootings may finally be paying off.” 

We can keep our heads in the sand, and hope that somehow by doing nothing bullets will stop flying, and bodies will stop falling. Or we can look beyond the frame and see what is actually contributing to mass shootings — and finally, collectively, work to end them. 

Running on Empty

I have been trying to write this blog for several hours now. I wanted to write something about Charlottesville, VA, and about white nationalism (how it came to be, and why we can’t just abide it). I wanted to write about meeting anger with compassion, and the struggle to do that.

I also really want to write about Game of Thrones, because the last two episodes have been amazing, and it’s one of my favorite shows (in part because I also write fantasy). And it would be easier to write about that than pretty much anything else I could come up with.

And I also want to write about my struggle at work with clients who have little to no tolerance for the fallibility of others (including their therapist) and how hard that is to hold, again, with compassion.

But I just feel so bleh about it all. I am trying to hold on to the idea that what I write matters, both in this blog and in my fiction. I have been struggling to hold on to the idea that art matters, that novels matter, when I feel like I should be out marching instead of writing, or calling more senators and house representatives.

I am struggling to have enough energy to balance out all the things I want in my personal life with the national tragedy that is all around us. I am really struggling with dealing with the fact that so many people (again, including clients) don’t believe there is a national tragedy or fear the rise of white nationalism (and literal Nazis!) in our country.

I know that art matters. I know that it doesn’t have to be high and mighty, capital A Art to matter either. I know that distraction is not a bad thing when there is so much bad news happening all the time. And I know that for myself, I do best when I engage actively in creativity on a consistent basis.

And I also know that I am not the only one struggling right now, so I’m just going to put this here:

I’m going to go practice some art — even if I do it badly — so that I can refill my compassion well. It’s been on empty for a while.

Heroes Vs Villains

There is a saying that no villain really knows that they are a villain. We are all heroes in our own minds. But in fiction, it is also often true that heroes don’t know they are heroes. They resist the title. They push back against the events that would take them to heroic destiny. The good ones, the ones we relate to most, never really feel heroic so much as overwhelmed by the circumstances they face.

I have broken the main rule of the Internet: never read the comments. In reading the comments I find, over and over again, people so opposed to each other, they resort to insults, each side assuming the other is the biased one, the stupid one, the one who refuses to get it (or is incapable of getting it). Each side has painted theirs as the one full of heroes, the other the one full of villains.

How can this be?

It is enough to give me pause and wonder how I see myself, how I live my life, even how I write my characters. How have I decided what is heroic and what is villainous? What criteria was I using and why was I so sure I could tell the one from the other?

Maybe it was just circumstance — the heroes had the most bad things happening to them. Maybe it was just perspective. The heroes are the ones that get the most time spent on their thoughts, feelings, and motives. Heroes are the ones whose pain audiences are supposed to relate to, their reactions more justified, their mistakes made smaller with familiarity. They are allowed remorse, guilt, shame, and insecurity. They are the ones fighting for hope.

Or maybe it’s just about likability. Heroes are the ones we like — they have the charm, the talent, the special magical ability to make audiences want to find out more.

If I can’t say for sure which characters I have created are truly heroic, how can I say which people in life are truly villainous? Particularly when people on both sides are so determined that theirs is the side to be on?

After much thought and consideration, I finally came up with the only definition (and a working one at that) which could even start to help me make sense of the world: heroes are the ones that are willing to admit they are wrong, and they are the ones most likely to change and grow over time. Heroes are the ones looking to be redeemed, in whatever way they feel they need to be. Villains are the ones who aggressively refuse to change.

It’s not a perfect definition, and the distinction between heroes and villains, as much as there is one, is, I’m sure, much more nuanced than can be contained in one simple line (or three). But I need some measure, some way to determine if I actually really am on the right side, something that isn’t an appeal to authority or tradition. I need to know that flawed people can be heroic, and that not all villains have to stay that way.

Because the truth is that things in the world often feel very overwhelming. Life often feels full of obstacles I feel less than equipped to overcome. And I don’t feel like a hero. Yet I also know my thoughts and views have easily painted as me someone else’s villain. It gets murky, here the middle, in the real world, away from fiction (and non-fiction) organizing events to make one side seem better than the other. It’s hard to know what side I stand on, and I suppose throughout my life I will flit from the heroic to the villainous and back again, depending on circumstance, perspective, and context. Just because I think I’m right doesn’t necessarily mean that I am.

I’m prepared to be wrong though. And I think that is a good sign that maybe, just maybe, I lean toward the heroic. At least, that’s what I hope.