Best things. Good things.

Sometimes I think our obsession with superlatives actually hinders our enjoyment of things.

“BEST. DAY. EVER.”

“BEST. BOYFRIEND. EVER.”

“BEST. FOOD. EVER.”

I’ve encountered plenty such statements (and their negative counterparts) both in conversation and on social media. If I’m being honest, I haven’t been immune to expressing that sort of thing myself.

The trouble with making everything a superlative is that the “BEST ________ EVER” becomes the standard by which we measure all similar experiences. We’re judging whether this piece of chocolate is a god among confections, rather than simply enjoying the chocolate for what it is. And if this chocolate is not a god among chocolates, whether we realize it or not, our experience is tainted by some hint of disappointment, some sense that we did not get as much enjoyment as we could have.

Maybe it’s a quirk of Western culture, which thrives on competition, on striving for the best. Striving, of course, is not a fault in itself; it’s how we progress. But every virtue can become a vice without moderation, and especially in an era when individual happiness is the highest good, moderation often falls by the wayside. Temperance means self-denial, delayed gratification, neither of which are in vogue in a world that insists we must have the BEST, and we must have it NOW.

At the heart, the need for things to be the best is, most often, rooted in discontentment.

It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. And I wonder how often in our striving for the BEST, we completely miss out on what is good. We miss the worth of good things for our discontentment that they are not what we perceive as the best things.

What does it matter whether you are the most beautiful, or even whether you are more or less beautiful than someone else? You are beautiful.

What does it matter whether this is the most moving song you have ever heard? It moves you. Let it move you without comparing it to another song.

What does it matter whether this is the sweetest fruit you have ever tasted? It is sweet, and that is important enough regardless of whether another fruit is sweeter.

What does it matter whether this is the best day you have ever had? There will be other days that will be both worse and better; appreciate this day for what it is.

A meditation on pain

Normally I would prefer to do anything to distract myself, to remove my mind as far from my body as possible. Normally I would prefer not even to acknowledge these moments to the world, for the sake of maintaining normalcy (“prefer” is even a strong word, at this point; concealment comes so naturally now).

I have a chronic pain disorder. It has been part of me for nearly four years now, and only for the last 15 months has it had a name. By now, what was once a nightmare has become routine, and I think little of it when a worse bout strikes. You would never notice, and in a way, it’s almost as if I myself barely notice anymore, because my coping mechanisms kick in so automatically.

But there are nights like this one when I don’t cope so well. Perhaps it’s because of the time; everything tends to seem far more significant in the wee hours — good things and bad alike, but especially loneliness.

It is a lonely feeling to be the only one in your home who is awake, and sometimes this is nice, in its own way. The contrast, however, between a roommate soundly asleep just across the room as your body is wracked with pain is the greatest isolation I have ever felt, and this may be almost as bad as the pain itself.

And so I distract myself, most nights, to distance myself not only from the pain, but from the loneliness. But tonight, I choose to engage it, to contemplate it. It is a part of me, after all, so why should I not learn to understand it and know it better?

It begins suddenly, as it always does. Sometimes you may get the slightest warning twinge, but it is never long before the pain seizes you fully, abruptly. You breathe while you can, slowly, deeply, knowing that you may only have a precious minute before it hurts too much to breathe in more than the shallowest, quickest intervals.

Claws. That may be the best way to describe how it feels. Doctors ask whether it feels like stabbing, or aching, or burning. It’s none of the above, really. It’s like a dozen claws trying to fight their way out, scratching and gouging their way through your insides, some in rapid, frantic bursts; others more slowly, almost deliberately.

Pain is just the misfiring of electric signals between the nerves and the brain, speaking strictly scientifically. It’s funny, though, how alive this misfiring can feel. Science essentially describes pain as the malfunction of a telephone wire, but this feels less like a malfunctioning telephone wire and more like an angry creature living within you, fighting to escape.

Breathe. You have a moment.

And then an explosion. Your whole body curls into itself, completely involuntarily. Your face contorts so violently you give yourself a headache, your jaw clenches so tightly you know it will ache in the morning. A single tear burns at the corner of your eye, but you do not make a sound. It’s strange, isn’t it? How our bodies react to sensation? Could you relax if you wanted to, if you consciously chose to let yourself go limp? You exhale slowly, very slowly. Arms go slack, tension leaving from the shoulders first and traveling downward. Back next. Legs. Forehead. Hands.

Your jaw remains clenched and you cannot will it otherwise. Oh well, you tried.

In these moments, you paradoxically feel terror and calm. Terror at just how much it hurts, at the possibility that it could get worse, at not knowing how long it will last this time; calm because this has happened before, it will happen again, but it will fade, and when it does you’ll wonder again whether you made the whole thing up. No, you assure yourself, this is real. This may be the most real thing you have ever experienced. Don’t forget that when it dissipates. (You’ll forget it. You always do, always wonder if you’re crazy.)

Somehow your limbs have become rigid again, your back arched. The pain continues to claw at you, raking across your body with growing ferocity.

God feels, in these dark hours, so far away, because this pain is so unlike Him, so completely other. And yet He at once feels closer than ever, because He feels it, too, and has felt pain unfathomably, infinitely greater.

Sometimes you feel as though every part of you has ceased to exist besides the pain. It possesses your body first, then your mind, then your spirit.

And then you remember that God Himself has felt this. That He has felt more than you will ever know.

And you feel very small.

And you feel very loved.

And you breathe. Once, twice…

It all begins again. Only a few minutes have passed — eternal minutes, but minutes nonetheless — and the cycle may repeat for hours, even days, even weeks at its worst.

But it will end. And you will still be here.

And it will begin again.

And one day, by His mercy, it will end for good.

Perhaps all this seems dramatic. Perhaps in the morning, I’ll agree. Perhaps it seems, too, like a cry for attention, but I hope you will forgive me for this, because it is not the case. Really, what I have tried to do is to make something beautiful from amid the depths of my pain. Because that, I think, more than ignoring it or concealing it, makes me its victor.

God’s grace is sufficient.

Absence

All of my posts from this year to date fit onto one page. I’m not sure why I’ve disappeared, because it certainly wasn’t for lack of good intentions. It also wasn’t for lack of things to write about.

Life has changed this year, drastically, and I’ve meant to record it, but somehow never did.

I think I’ve become a lot more thoughtful since January, which is partly because of all the changes, but also because I spend most of my time alone, since my work schedule hasn’t really allowed me to forge any friendships. And when I’m alone, I tend to get contemplative.

Being contemplative is good, of course, but logically, it’s not worth much if I’m not in discussion with others or writing about it. I remember in early teen years, nothing could keep me from writing, and the less time I spent with friends, the more time I spent scribbling away in my journal. But these days I’m daunted by the thought of writing, and consequently I have more half-finished drafts than I’d care to count.

Maybe part of it is because I had a fairly traumatic final semester of college, as far as stress is concerned (and if I’m being honest, most of my other semesters weren’t much better), and my greatest sources of stress came from things I had to write. I do think I’d earned some recovery time, but I’m coming up on one year since graduation. This should have been enough time.

I feel like right now I’m writing a eulogy for writing (ironic?). Writing has lately felt like an item on a to-do list. But I miss feeling like I needed to write.

In part, I suppose my unintentional hiatus is that I’ve been self-conscious about becoming One Of Those Sad Bloggers. Truthfully, this year has been easily my hardest, and I don’t feel the need to proclaim my sorrows to the world; I’d rather just confront them and push through them. Writing can be the best of outlets, but it can also become an excuse to wallow, to sensationalize, to romanticize our pain.

The other part, though, is that for reasons I don’t understand, I’ve been battling self doubt about whether I have anything worth saying to the world, despite my becoming more contemplative lately. Maybe that’s because I haven’t had people to be in conversation with and to give me feedback on my thoughts. I always feel in the moment like I’m having some profound realization, but as soon as I sit down to write, my belief in myself becomes crippled.

Maybe this is a normal part of becoming an adult in the post-grad world, where there are no grades to track your progress and no classes designed specifically to provoke discussion.

Or maybe, plain and simple, I need to learn to stop abandoning projects, no matter whether I abandoned them because of apathy or insecurity or anything else. I should resume learning to play the ukulele I got for Christmas two years ago. I should learn how to purl so I can finish knitting that scarf I started months ago. I should turn my storehouse of drafts into posts. I should keep working on the two watercolor paintings collecting dust in the corner. I should stick more religiously to my plan for working out. I should pick up any one of the several books I’ve left partly read and resume the journey through them. I should keep writing, in the nice journal I bought for myself at the very least, if not online.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but suddenly I think I just might miss homework deadlines. By no stretch of the imagination do I miss the stress they imposed, but I do miss the feeling of accomplishment that came with completing something.

Even now, I feel much better for having written even this bit of rambling. I’m thankful for that. It reminds me that despite my inexplicable block, writing is still more natural for me than not writing.

On a whim, I signed up yesterday for NaNoWriMo. 17 hours in and I am still completely void of ideas, though I’m hoping that if I just sit myself down and try to write, inspiration will come to me like it did back when I was 13, back when I had to be grounded from writing so I could do chores and schoolwork.

(Sidebar: Holy moly, 13 was a decade ago. How did that happen?)

So with that… I suppose the time has come to stop writing about how I can’t write and just start writing.

Realizing

It’s only when I stop, in the space and in the silence, when I think intentionally and not just in passing, that I realize how much of my world is in shambles.

I have a mental picture of myself in a tower, and my tower is still standing, but the walls the tower was once a part of have crumbled to dust, and I don’t realize it until I remember to look out the window.

I’m not sure whether that means I’m coping very well, for the most part, or very poorly, for the most part.

I’m not sure whether that means I think too little or too much.

I’m a copy editor. Here’s why.

I’ve started a new blog that will be dedicated solely to all things copy editing — rants, tips, advice, you name it. Here’s my first post.

We copy editors have a strange job.

In most professions, you’re noticed when you’re successful. Your supervisors and coworkers can look at your work and congratulate you on a job well done.

A copy editor’s sign of success, however, is remaining invisible. We’re noticed when — and as a general rule, only when — we miss something, when we blow it, when a headline goes to print making a declaration about “Muslin Rage” in the Middle East rather than “Muslim Rage.”

Nobody can tell when we corrected a writer who mixed up “discrete” and “discreet.” Nobody can tell when we caught that a last name was spelled differently in the caption and the story. Nobody can tell when we attach that dangling modifier to the proper subject. And because, if we copy editors do our jobs well, we remain invisible, we’re often thought to be superfluous.

In a world going increasingly digital, print publications are struggling, and it only makes sense to cut back on those whose work seems inconsequential — like an unnecessary luxury. Naturally, then, copy editors are the first to be dismissed from newsrooms and publishing houses of every size and level of prestige.

It takes something of a masochist to survive and thrive as a copy editor. Sometimes we’re fortunate enough to have stories come across our desks that need little more than a polish — add a comma here, change a word there. But more often, working on a story is equal parts pleasure and pain.

“Why don’t people understand grammar?” we wail. “Where is this reporter getting her rules of capitalization? Why are there so many em-dashes? Has he never read a stylebook? What does this paragraph have to do with anything?”

Yet even as we lament and tear our hair and gnash our teeth, our hearts swell with pride. Every mangled sentence that we straighten out like a mess of Christmas lights after a year of storage is Botox to our senses of self worth (or, we admit, to our smugness). A story is filed by an infamously shoddy writer, and we both dread and can’t wait to take up our swords red pens.

For at least eight hours a day, we subject ourselves to the emotional paradox. When we most hate our work, that is also when we most love it.

For all this, a copy editor must be content to do without recognition. We’ll never win a Pulitzer or even so much be congratulated by someone on the street — “Hey, I read X article on Y subject in Z publication. Nice editing!”

Instead, we’ll watch from the sidelines as writers accumulate awards and accolades for pieces that were, in most cases, very much a team effort. This is not something we’re bitter about (well, usually). It’s just a fact, and we accept it. We don’t do this for the glory

So why do we do it? We can’t deny that in part, we enjoy the sense of superiority we gain from turning coal to diamonds on a daily basis. Superiority, though, is not enough to be worth the abundance of frustration and dearth of appreciation. What really drives us, at the root of things, is a pure, unquenchable love for words.

We love the way words can be woven into an innumerable variety of tapestries.

We love that the same words, arranged differently, can report a murder or speak poetry.

We love that words both shape and are shaped by our culture.

We love that the use of words can and must be subject to books of rules, but simultaneously can and must be fluid and unfettered.

We love that words can both harm and heal; that they can proclaim the truth or silence it or warp it; that a multitude of them or very few can be used to articulate the same idea.

Jokingly, we’ll call ourselves “grammar Nazis.” It’s a fitting nickname, because we do love to enforce the rules, and we can be unforgiving when we do so. But beneath that, we’re just dazzled, enraptured, intrigued, inspired by the power of words, and we feel, somehow, protective of them.

For us, editing is not just another step in the process of manufacturing a product. Instead, it’s more like guarding a precious treasure that we don’t want to see marred or taken for granted or misused. Or we see ourselves as curators of a beautiful art collection, one we want others to appreciate and love as much as we do.

This is what words are to us. And this is why we edit.

Nostalgia… sort of

I just took a tour through some of my posts from a couple years ago.

Yikes.

It is undeniably, excruciatingly obvious that I was trying to emulate someone else (goodness knows who), because the voice of most of my posts was definitely not my own. I think maybe I was trying to be a hipster or something by putting my words together in quirky, choppy, overly poetic sentences.

I’m not sure who I thought I was trying to impress, but it’s embarrassing. Humorous, in a way, but embarrassing.

At the same time, though, I suppose those posts give me a sense of relief — of “Hey, look, I really have grown up a little bit!” I don’t really write for anyone in particular now, which makes me more sincere, I think, in the way that I write. I can fairly confidently say that almost anything I post is just a slightly more-polished version of how I actually speak.

It’s perhaps a little ironic, because I seem to remember writing so pretentiously in hopes that I’d attract readers, whereas now, thanks to a simple re-post of something funny I found on another blog, I’ve accrued a decent following, and I no longer care. I’ve learned to write just for myself, and to consider readers simply a nice bonus.

I think I feel a post brewing on the necessity for everyone to constantly practice writing.

That would be a nice way to kick off my resolution from my previous post to write more often. I failed royally at that. But hey, it’s the first day of spring, which means it’s a time for starting over, right?

New Year’s resolutions

This is a bit belated, of course, and normally I don’t even think to make resolutions. But with 2012 came the closing of the academic chapter of my life, and the opening of the chapter titled Twentysomething Working Adult, and it seemed an appropriate time to give myself a brand new to-do list.

  • Get in shape. I no longer have homework, and since I’m a copy editor, work will never follow me out of the newsroom. Therefore, “I don’t have time” is no longer an excuse.
  • Read for fun. I’m already making very good progress on this one, thanks to the Hunger Games series reminding me of my love for reading after college burned me out.
  • Blog two or three times per week, so that my writing skills don’t get rusty and to keep my thinking sharp.
  • Be more European. The Sartorialist mentioned that a big reason why so many Europeans are so slender is because they eat small portions and they walk everywhere. Since I’m now living in Santa Barbara instead of L.A., walking is much more feasible, and while I do not have enough extra blubber to convince me to start full-on dieting, practicing more self-restraint would do me good. That will also save me a lot of money, since food is my greatest financial weakness after shoes.
  • Be more financially responsible. That is, actually budget and keep track of exactly what I spend. I suspect necessity will be a big help in this area, since my job pays enough for me to support myself, but without much left over for luxuries. It’s going to be very… character-building, though, because I have to drive past my four favorite stores literally every day on the way to work.
  • [Cue irony] Stop turning life into a to-do list. Be spontaneous and relearn, after six or so years of constant stress, how to just relax — or, as my friend Sarah put it, to enjoy having nowhere to go and all day to get there.

momspk #16

In addition to her usual poor/rushed texting skills, Mom is now getting some help from auto-correct. (Ignore the conversation itself — I was having a little freakout about my work load.)

“Hire eu doing now?” 

“What did u end hip doin…wee u able to buy what u needed”

“U wool finish but u have made this into a major thing in ur mind sri it its causing u too much stress aged that shuts u down”

“Can u suit songwriter quiet and relaxing for 10 or 15 min and just choose ur eyes and think abt a peaceful place u have been”

“U erik like it when u see it”

(Upon having seen this post, she wants me to inform you all that she has been correcting her mistakes after making them.)

>>Read more momspk here

A PS to my last post

Counseling is a very, very good and healthy thing and probably everyone should do it if you can. [Snark alert: Especially if you spend your days spilling endless streams of angst over your love life/family conflicts/friend drama on Tumblr or Facebook or Twitter.] What happens in the private room is very painful and helpful and hurting and healing all at once.

It’s just the waiting room that’s slightly insufferable.

But it’s worth it.

But it’s insufferable.

Hey, if it’s really a problem, though, at least you can go talk to someone about it right afterward!