This past week, our rambunctious not-quite-two-year-old tried on Mommy’s shoes (again). She successfully slipped her tiny twinkle toes inside the front flap and then began to teeter totter around the living room floor. She looked like a miniature retiree in over-sized slippers shuffling towards the kitchen for some chocolate pudding.
I looked at her, wide-eyed and mystified, and I asked, “Little moon, who’s shoes are those?”
She replied with the confidence of a honey badger, “They mine. My shoes!”
“Umm… Are you sure? They look a little big.”
“It not too big. It perfect!” She continued to wobble around like she was running a three-legged race with just herself.
“Sweetie, I think those are mommy’s shoes.”
“Nope. They not mommy’s shoes. They my shoes. They fit perfect. Perfect!” And then she giggled, clapped, jumped out of the shoes, and frolicked off towards more silly shenanigans.
Moments like these, I can’t help but be star-struck by the wisdom of children. They have a sort of knowledge about the world that is pure and simple—an innocent intuition and insight about reality. Here’s the thing: too many of us, too many times, are way too preoccupied with how well we “fit.” We want to fit in to society. We want to fit in with our jobs. We want to fit in with our families, friends, and even strangers. We often don’t even feel like we fit in with ourselves.
But who cares‽
Why does it matter so much what other people think (not to say that things don’t matter at all)? Don’t let others tell you who to be and how to be (not to say that other opinions or advice don’t matter at all). You do you. You are the only you after all, and no one can do you better than… well, you! Maybe if we all just spent a little more time being true to ourselves and truly good to others, then the world itself would fit just a little bit better. There’s so much about you that’s already perfect just the way it is. Maybe we just need to realize that we’re already a perfect fit.
Also, in general, you probably shouldn’t wear other peoples’ shoes. It’s only cute when a toddler does it. But again, don’t let me tell you how to live your life.
Or: How changing the system must begin with changing the self
Once upon a time…
There was this one little piggy. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking: “another story about swine?” I’m not exactly sure what it says about the human condition that we return to piggly wiggly allegories time and again. Perhaps, deep down, we’re all really anxious and insecure about our place in the cosmos—feeling like predestined bacon trapped in pens awaiting our fate. Either that, or we’re just not very creative.
Anyhow, this one little piggy went to the market. I’m assuming they went shopping, but maybe the “market” is a euphemism for the slaughterhouse. Wow, this nursery rhyme got rather dark rather quickly.
Now, there was another little piggy who opted to stay home. Good for him or her. Smart choice. You never know what the “market” means nowadays.
Then, this third little piggy had roast beef. OK, wait a second, what‽ Since when the heck do pigs eat beef? Look, I know that pigs are omnivores and all, but seriously, when’s the last time you saw a pack of wild hogs hunting cattle? That would certainly be something for National Geographic to document. Does this mean that pigs are at the top of the pecking order at farms? Like, do the cows live in terror that they may one day become roast beef for a ravenous little piggy just so that the porker can then, in turn, become part of a Grand Slam breakfast platter? Gives a whole new perspective to the whole Animal Farm scenario.
But, of course, the fourth little piggy had none. Because the other one ate it all? Or maybe it was a peaceful protest against eating other animals. Gandhi pig?
And, then, inevitable as the love-bugs stuck to your car’s front hood, the fifth littlest piggy went “Wee, wee, wee!” all the way home. Afraid for their life or bubbling with the joyous thrill of life? You decide. Choose your own pig-themed adventure.
Morals of the story:
Don’t trust the “market.”
Don’t mess with a hungry piggy.
Do be the change that you want to see in the world; unless your ideas about change are terrible and would just make the world worse. In that case, refer to morals one and two: don’t.
One bright, crisp morning I was sitting underneath a tree in a city park and reading. It was genuinely nice, dare I say, lovely? The air was surprisingly sweet and clean for the city. My mind drifted into the melodious pages before me. I was filled with a sense of peace and contentment.
But oh, how quickly things can change. From tranquility to terror.
As I sat and the moments passed, suddenly I heard something drop to the ground near me. I didn’t think too much of it. Acorn, I figured. But then I heard another, and then another. Then I felt something like rain hit my shoulder. I thought, “Oh bummer, it’s starting to rain, I better wrap this up and get moving.” Then a drop descended upon the top of my head and then my other shoulder and before I knew it, I was being bombarded by some strange shower.
And then, the horrifying realization: there were no rain clouds and the sun smiled with a naughty, villainous grin.
It was bird poop.
I dared to quickly glance up and receive confirmation. The tree I decided to sit under was the avian equivalent of a trucker’s interstate gas station. A migrating flock of birds had all decided to take rest on this particular tree and that particular moment to do their doody duty. I guess it’s like when you have the choice between a Wawa and a Citgo: the choice is obvious. And, tragically, I had sat under the Wawa.
I jumped up and ran for my life. And I was never the same again. Some life experiences change a person forever. After being caught in the rain of foul fowl feces… there’s no coming back from that. Today, I don’t sit underneath trees. I also don’t read.
Who knew reading could be so dangerous? Like a primitive version of Pokémon Go.
So, whenever you find yourself sitting at the park or the beach, or going for a stroll, or just living life in general (they could strike at any moment), remember to mind your surroundings. Watch out for falling poo.
Also, they should really put up signs for these things… Not that I would read them, but still…
My mother visited us this past Christmas. It’s great, I love it when she visits because she’s always so incredibly helpful at pointing out all the things that I can improve. It’s like having a permanent free life coach. You know, like one year I’m too skinny, another year I’m too fat; last year I needed to change my hairstyle, this year I need to shave. Like many, I would be totally lost without my mom’s constant advice and “constructive” criticism. Now I’m the perfect weight with flawless hair and skin, just ask my wife.
Besides her impeccable tastes, however, I love when my mom visits us because she is famous for bringing exotic gifts.
For example, a few Decembers ago, my mom brought a super useful set of items that I didn’t realize we so desperately needed. When I picked up her luggage I was taken aback and sarcastically asked, “Mom, what do you have in these bags, rocks‽” Well, I came home from work the next day to find the floor in our largest room completely covered with chestnuts. So, not rocks this time. It looked like some kind of weird Home Alone booby-trap scenario. My mom said that she was drying them out. Of course, how foolish of me to be confused. It makes perfect sense to fill an entire suitcase with 50 pounds worth of chestnuts, fly them across the country, and then lay them out to dry in your son’s sunroom.
Back to this last visit. This time…
It was rocks.
My mom brought a valise filled with rocks, ceramics, and bamboo. Because, as you know, we don’t have rocks here in Florida so it’s only natural that she would think it prudent to pack enough rocks for us to complete our interior home garden.
When I was a kid, I was sort of annoyed/embarrassed by these eccentric gifts. Shocking I know. But now: I love it. And I can hardly wait to see what she brings next.
So, thank you, mom. You’re the best, and I love you. I only hope that one day I can repay you in some small measure with equally pragmatic portmanteau products.
Also, remember children, never leave your mothers at home alone unless you want your entire living area turned into a makeshift hydroponics system.
Well, at least one of the best characters but that doesn’t make as good of a headline. Does anyone read anything online that doesn’t use extreme, absolute terms like “best,” “worst,” or “Trump?” Maybe I should title this blog post: “What Trump Really Thinks About the New Nebula-Russian Oil Hack Deal in North Korea.” Would that get more views?
Obviously, there’s a lot of great character work in Avengers Endgame. Each main hero has their shining moments. But by the end of the movie, Nebula was surprisingly the character that I found most compelling. About the only thing I could have asked is that Nebula should have been used more in the final battle. A video essayist who goes by the moniker Nando v Movies has done a fantastic job of exploring that concept so I’ll leave it him to tell you more about Nebula needing a closing confrontation with Thanos.
Nevertheless, I believe she has perhaps the most meaningful and powerful story arc of all the characters. And this is why:
Where is Nebula?
When we first meet Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy she appears to be a fairly simple villain as a henchperson of her adoptive and abusive father Thanos. She seems more machine than woman—cold, calculating, compassionless. But throughout the movies, we learn about the suffering she’s endured. Thanos would horrifically replace a part of Nebula with advanced biomachinery every time she failed in some way. All this, in his warped mind, to improve her—make her stronger, faster, better. In spite of all the trauma, Nebula, like most children, was willing to do anything to please her father, desperate for his approval. So this is where we first find Nebula, a person torn apart and reassembled, constantly reminded of how she’s not good enough.
Who is Nebula?
But: by the time Endgame rolls around we’ve seen tremendous growth from Nebula. We get to learn who she truly is. Like everyone else, she yearns for connection, belonging, and purpose; for a family. I loved all of the smaller, quieter character moments in Endgame like towards the beginning when Nebula is playing paper football with Tony Stark. As with all of Thanos’ children, we see how her life, childhood, and innocence were all stolen. She’s never really had fun. But she has grown and is growing past her past.
This newer Nebula taking shape is clearly juxtaposed in the movie against the former version of herself. Her past self, both literally and metaphorically, comes back to haunt her—tormenting her, torturing her, and even cannibalizing herself for parts. Reminding her of who she was: nobody. The two Nebula’s, old and new, struggle against each other. The stakes: her very identity.
I’ll do you one better, why is Nebula?
We see even more clearly how far Nebula has come when presented face to face with her old self. It’s like when I wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror: not a pretty sight, sometimes I frighten myself. The old Nebula is still a prisoner to an abusive cycle. The new Nebula, despite being captured and imprisoned by Thanos, is actually free. This is why Nebula is so great.
Her life was stolen, her body objectified, and her humanity stripped. But the whole time her limbs were being replaced, it seems, she was slowly replacing the parts of her that really matter: her heart and her soul. Through the friendships she’d make and the purpose she’d find, Nebula became far greater than Thanos’ intent. She became better—not a better machine or warrior—but a better person, eventually even a hero. An Avenger. It was the relationships she formed with others like her sister Gamora that helped bring healing and redemption.
And at the end, the endgame of Nebula’s arc, to complete her transformation, she must kill her past self (again, both figuratively and literally). Dead to the old self. Alive to the new. It’s a powerful image and an even more powerful concept. Just like an actual astronomical nebula—a beautiful, shining, colorful space cloud—Nebula becomes truly radiant. Like a gallant parade of unicorn flatulence stretching out across the vast expanse of reality after interstellar taco night.
Here’s the lesson we can learn from Nebula: we are not just our past pains or past mistakes; we are who we choose to be. Neither trauma nor failure have to define us, control us, enslave us. We can grow. We can be better. It is the voice of lies that tells us we’ll never be good enough as we are. But the truth is, who we are is breathtaking, and who we can be is even more. We need not be prisoners to the past any longer. We can become new. My, oh my, look at your fine nimbus and blush. Your light is brilliant, so shine. You too can be a massive, gorgeous unicorn fart floating among the heavens.
“…[she] is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
So, we saw the new Marvel movie this weekend: Avengers Endgame. And it got me thinking… Wow, what an accomplishment for all those involved—this whole interconnected, cinematic phenomenon all started elevenish years ago. What was I doing eleven years ago? What do I have to show for the past decade?
Well, I was in college. And I suppose that when I wasn’t goofing off, I was probably in a class or something. But more specifically, for some odd reason, superheroes punching aliens made me recall a particular incident from a particular adventure that I went on during my Freshman year.
A friend from my dorm and I decided to go on a road trip during a school break: up through the Midwest to Canada and then back down through New England. We were driving my car, and I didn’t own a GPS. This is also before the whole smartphone revolution. So we were doing old school MapQuest printouts and even older school actual road maps to navigate our way across the northeastern region of the United States.
One night, late—like approaching midnight—we were lost. Well, I won’t say lost. I’ll say we simply didn’t know where we were or where we were going. Anyways, somehow we ended up on this backroad in the middle of must have been nowhere, driving through the thick, dark mountain forest of a state that perhaps doesn’t always have the best reputation for being a safe place to get lost in. But so as not to offend anyone, let’s use an alias and call it the Back Woods of the Smaller Skintag Version of Virginia Located Westerly.
All of a sudden, a dim light appeared in the distance: a partially lit motel sign with forbidding dead branches hanging around the property like a cloud of spikes and splinters. Yes, whatever you’re imagining right now, that’s about right. This was the Bates Motel, the Hotel California, the opposite of the light at the end of the tunnel. Look, I cannot possibly express how eerie the atmosphere and just plain creepy the building was.
The parking lot was absent of cars, but the open sign was flickering on. I looked at my friend. He was known as a military, survivor-type on our hall. He wore an army-issued jacket, combat boots, and in his pockets were knives. Why someone needed to carry so many knives with them, I’ll never know (actually, in retrospect, perhaps the greater danger was sitting beside me the whole time). But as I parked, I looked at my friend with bewilderment and trepidation, and he spoke up first, “I’m not going in there.”
As I stood in front of the door, I weighed my options: is it better to die from exposure, lost in the woods, or to be murdered by some motel manager maniac? Before I could really think it through, I was turning the doorknob. The door creaked open, and inside I could see shadows crawling on the walls as just the vaguest sense of any light source penetrated through the bleak darkness. Seriously, no lights were turned on. Sitting by a bar counter, a gruff voice behind a burning cigarette asked if he could help me. I thought, “probably not, I’m just fine, thank you and good day sir, I’ll be going now…”
I could go on, but not to make things overly dramatic, I did eventually get some semblance of directions to navigate back to the highway. Obviously, I’m still alive. Anticlimactic much?
I guess the point of me telling this story is that sometimes the journey of life can take unexpected turns. Sometimes we lose our way. Sometimes we’re surrounded by what seems like infinite darkness. Sometimes, we come face to face with our nightmares.
But don’t let those realities stop you from taking the journey, from living life. We can never prevent all dangers and disasters. Trouble is inevitable. Safety is never guaranteed. But if we let fear consume and control us, then what’s the point of being alive at all? Don’t just exist. Live. And maybe carry a pocketknife or two.
The movie was pretty good by the way (especially for fans). You should go see it—and think about where the last eleven years have brought you.
Ok… just let me look it up. I shouldn’t have looked it up. There are several definitions here. Who has time for this? Just pick one definition for words people. What’s with all this confusing nonsense of some words having multiple meanings and some meanings having multiple words? First definition: to cheat someone out of something. Oh, I know another word for that: taxes. Second definition: to pass time aimlessly. I guess I’m diddling right now. Third definition: never mind, don’t look it up, you don’t want to know and neither do I.
Anyways, there was this cat with a fiddle who was a diddler. But that doesn’t make sense because a cat who fiddles is rather impressive. That would get all the hits on YouTube; even give Grumpy Cat a run for his money.
Then this cow jumped over the moon. That’s so cliché nowadays. Cows always be jumping over moons, don’t they? You want to impress me, try to kitty fiddle diddle over the kiddie muddle puddle three times fast. And then jump over the International Space Station.
Next, some little dog laughed to witness these sporting shenanigans (I guess the cow was training for the Chick-fil-A Hunger Games). Because why not have a dog giggling with hysteria in this tale about diddle, fiddling cats and Olympian high jump heifers?
And the dish ran away with the spoon. A tale as old as time. Forbidden love. A classic retelling of Romeo and Juliet. What’s in a name that which we call a dish by any other name would still be a plate that we eat off of be it plastic or fine china? For never was a story of more woe than this of Cuisinart and her Sango.
Morals of the story:
Words are confusing because they’re mostly descriptive rather than prescriptive. How are we supposed to communicate with anyone? One says a dish and spoon could never work out. Another says that the labels of dish and spoon are just social constructions imposed upon us by the cutlery-patriarchy. So, I guess, just say what you mean and mean what you say, or something… or if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say I told you so, or never mind, on to the next one.
Don’t just diddle your life away waiting for something amazing to happen like an athletic bovine show. Do something with your life. Now. Take up fiddling or pottery. Just be careful that all of your ceramics don’t fall in love, elope, and bankrupt your business.