Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Update Your Bookmarks!

I have moved my blog over to Wordpress - it can now be found at http://japarsons.wordpress.com/.

Please update your bookmarks, as I will not be posting at this URL anymore.

You can also subscribe to my blog and have my posts automatically e-mailed to you. When you visit the new site, the "subscribe" link is on the top right.

If you enjoy my blog, please share it on Facebook and Twitter. I would love to keep building my reader base and your support makes that happen.

Last but not least, I have a number of talented friends who also write wonderful blogs. I encourage you to check out their blogs - also linked on the right hand side under "Blogroll."

I hope to see you over at the new site!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Opposite of Loneliness

"I no longer think being in love is the polar opposite of being alone, however. I say that because I used to want to be in love again as I assumed this was the opposite of loneliness. I think being in love is an opposite of loneliness, but not the opposite. There are other things I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. I think our society puts too much pressure on romantic love, and that is why so many romances fail. Romance can't possibly carry all that we want it to ... When you live on your own for a long time, however, your personality changes because you go so much into yourself you lose the ability to be social, to understand what is and isn't normal behavior. There is an entire world inside yourself, and if you let yourself, you can get so deep inside it you will forget the way to the surface. Other people keep our souls alive, just like food and water does with our body."
- "Blue Like Jazz"
Donald Miller

I started reading this book a few weeks ago - it has an interesting tagline - "nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality." I am mostly through it and have both liked it at times and subsequently, been annoyed by it at times. I made the error of reading reviews online before I bought it and definitely can say that I agree with the major criticism of the book. That being the author sometimes comes across as too pretentious (or for a more scholarly term, too cool for school). I find myself nodding in agreement with half of what he says, marking paragraphs and truly been given food for thought. Other pages, I really just get bothered by the author, who seems to think that his constant references to pipe smoking make him soooo awesome. After all, everyone knows that Christians don't smoke pipes. Or ride motorcycles. /end sarcasm.

I digress.

The excerpt above is from the most recent chapter I finished, which is entitled "Alone." There was another paragraph before it that I did not quote - one in which he discussed being in that kind of all-encompassing love that everyone has experienced. The kind which is so wonderful because you realize that you forget your own problems and find someone else more important than you.

Therefore, in 1+1=2 mentality, not being in love should mean you are alone ... which really is never the case. Being alone becomes a choice, when you choose to push people away. I thought it was interesting how he made the point that society overemphasizes romantic love - as the answer to, or cause of, everyone's problems.

And that can't be the case.

I am one of those people who is okay doing things by myself. I can see a movie alone, take a vacation alone or go to a concert by myself. It's not to say that I wouldn't prefer doing things with other people ... BUT ... I will never sacrifice wanting to do something simply because no one else is interested that day.

I have also lived alone for a number of years. I have defended it by saying that I love my own space (which is true) and that I can always find someone to spend time with when I don't want to be alone. But it is just as easy, if not easier, to find yourself disappearing within and becoming a victim of your own thoughts and habits. The more you isolate yourself, you lose an appreciation for the company of others. I never thought this could be the case.

And I end this with one of my all-time favorite quotes:
"Jen lives alone. Give her a Wii and some cats and she'll never leave her apartment ... especially if there's any kind of marathon on the ABC Family Channel." - Kristen Pressler

(Maybe I should rethink the alone thing ...)

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Affair to Forget

Dan: I fell in love with her, Alice.
Alice: Oh, as if you had no choice? There's a moment, there's always a moment, "I can do this, I can give into this, or I can resist it", and I don't know when your moment was, but I bet you there was one.
- "Closer"

During my morning commute I often find myself reading over the person's shoulder who sits next to me. Nine times out of 10, my subway neighbor is reading AMNY or Metro, one of the ubiquitous free newspapers.

Last week, an ad on the back of one of the papers caught my eye - an ad for a company called Ashley Madison. The company, whose slogan is "Life is short. Have an affair," is an online personals site "aimed at facilitating extramarital affairs."

Needless to say, I was disgusted.

Yes, I know that Craiglist definitely delves into shady encounters. I know that plenty of people probably lie both online (and in real life) and that plenty of people surely have affairs. It just bothered me fundamentally that a company would exist for this sole purpose - to help married people cheat.

I remember years ago, seeing the movie "Closer" with my friend Brad. If my memory can be trusted, the movie trailer did not indicate that the film was about cheating. I simply remember that it looked like a unique relationship movie - and the fact that the trailer featured a favorite Damien Rice song didn't hurt, either.

Much like my reaction to the Ashley Madison ad/concept, "Closer" left me feeling not only sick to my stomach, but sad. It was too real.

I felt disenchanted, as if all of my hopes for the future were really futile. I was left thinking that fidelity is an illusion, that people lie to suit their own desires.

I never wanted to believe that this is what people are really about. Conversely, I wanted back my (possibly naive) belief that true, traditional love does exist - and that people work to keep relationships and families together.

And then on my morning commute, I was reminded of the dark side. That people give up. That people are selfish. That people don't consider the consequences of their actions.

The popular argument is that Ashley Madison isn't changing the playing field; it is merely giving people another avenue to find a way to cheat. Perhaps this is the case. But a back page ad advertising this ideology is never want I want to see.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Won't You Be Mine?

So Sunday is Valentine's Day ... and today is Lincoln's Birthday (and my friend Brian's birthday - happy birthday, Brian!).

Sometimes what you write on a particular topic just can't be trumped - so rather than trying to one-up myself ... I give you last year's tribute to The Olives of Holidays, Valentine's Day.

I'll be waiting for your clever e-card.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Missing Piece of Fulfillment

I remember when I was turning 30, that the consolation prize was "feeling secure in your skin." Countless people encouraged me to embrace this new decade, because unlike my 20s, I would feel secure with who and where I was in my life.

Not surprisingly, 30 doesn't feel any less confusing than 29 did ... or 21 did ... or 15 did. Yes, I feel like I have a better handle on my career - for the first time in quite awhile, I am energized by what I am doing and see where it can go. At 21, I had twenty different careers I wanted to pursue. At 15, I thought I could become a fashion designer - with zero eye for fashion and even fewer art skills, if that is possible.

But you realize that your career isn't everything. When I tell people that I work for a non-profit organization, their first reaction is often to ask, "Why?" And with all honesty, I can say that on my worst day of work, the families that I help can so easily remind me why I do what I do. On one side of the coin, working for people who face bigger challenges than you do reminds you how good you really have it. On the other hand, knowing that what you do directly benefits people makes it more than a paycheck. You know that answering that one last e-mail, late at night on your BlackBerry, could have helped a mother who thought she had no options to find help for her child.

Yet even knowing that you help people isn't infinitely fulfilling. When I lived in Charleston, I volunteered at the MUSC Children's Hospital. My responsibilities were simple - I played with the inpatients to give their parents a break inbetween visits and to keep their minds off of what was really happening. You can never underestimate the strength of terminally ill children and their families - it is the only place where what seems to be the worst thing imaginable, never is in their eyes. For every child I had the chance to meet, I wanted to fix his life.

And so we pray. I was raised like most kids of my generation in my neighborhood - a Christmas and Easter Catholic who attended religious education long enough to complete my sacraments. I grew up with Catholic and Jewish kids until I left New York for Georgia. My freshman year left me feeling out of place, surrounded by people who were not only of other faiths, but had been truly raised in the church. I was ripe for the pickings by the cults - you know, the ones who prey upon lonely out-of-state freshmen in the dorms. I remember going to see Phish perform in Atlanta and going home for dinner with a girl who lived on my hall. Her mother asked me what religion I was and replied, "You do know Catholicism is a made up religion, don't you?" And while I obviously knew that it wasn't, I hadn't the slightest clue how to reply.

My senior year, I volunteered at the Catholic Center to teach religious education classes. I was paired up with a girl who became one of my closest friends and together, we taught a small group of fourth graders. I was obviously learning with them. I remember a few key moments - accidentally telling the kids in one breath that I was 20 and then telling them that my Christmas tradition was "going out drinking on Christmas Eve." Another time, we were supposed to discuss a chapter on stewardship ... and it was about recycling. I had no idea how to reconcile the two. So I read it in my best "Jesus voice" and we moved on. I also may have been struck by lightning on the way home.

Either way, I was trying hard to find a place for religion in my life. I started attending church on Sundays at the Catholic Center and for the first time in my life, didn't have to look at the cheat sheet when I recited the Apostle's Creed. I lapsed when I returned to N.Y. (mostly because I really didn't like the particular church I grew up in) but kept the idea of faith in my mind. When I moved to Charleston, I found a Catholic church that I fell in love with. I thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday 5 p.m. masses and listened intently to the priest, whose messages were relevant and thought-provoking.

Again, being in the South I had more friends that considered religion an important, if not the most important part of their lives. I actively wanted to feel what they did - but wasn't sure what the missing piece was. And, unlike other faiths, the one thing I embraced most about Catholicism was forgiveness - I didn't want to practice a faith that involved being saved.

One of my good friends was extremely active in her church - her entire life pretty much revolved around it. I was curious - she seemed happy with a very structured life (due to her denomination) and I envied how "sure" she seemed about all of it. A few years later, she had a crisis of faith and began to question what it all stood for. I watched as she had to dissect her beliefs into minutae - to find out what she really believed in, as opposed to what she was simply told to believe in. She returned to her faith and found that at a particularly challenging time in her life, there is no way she could have lived without it.

I don't think I would be happy embracing a "very Christian life" - as I said, the concept of being saved is not what I believe in. I think at times, my life would feel more fulfilled if I actively included religion in it. Yet I never want it to feel forced. I want it to be something that I discover and impart in my own life.

So what gives you the answers? What makes your life make sense; what makes you feel both comfortable and content being YOU in your own skin? What makes you feel like you are making your mark on the world and really living your life - not just waking up and seeing the hours go by? How do you decide that most of the stuff you dwell on really doesn't matter and devote yourself to figuring out the things that do?

I want to be a better person.
I want to be happy in my career.
I want to find love and give love in return.
I want to have faith.
I want to be steadfast in what I stand for and believe in.
I want to be an example for other people.

How do I find the missing piece to feeling secure, complete and most of all, fulfilled?

"This is your life, are you who you want to be
This is your life, is it everything you dreamed it would be
When the world was younger and you had everything to lose"
- "This is Your Life"


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Face Value

Surprisingly, I didn't have a clue who Casey Johnson was when I found out that she died. I say surprisingly because I tend to read a lot of random things about celebrities - or should I say "celebrities." Between what I see on the internet and read over people's shoulders on the subway each morning, I am usually pretty up-to-date with the celebrity universe. But when I saw Casey Johnson on the cover of the NY Post after she passed away, I didn't have a clue.

While anyone's passing is a tragic story, all you could think while reading it was "trainwreck." Plain and simple - her celebrity was fabricated and her life was surely completely disastrous and empty. It reminded me of when I watched Britney Spears' documentary on MTV. I tuned in expecting to be entertained, but was left feeling sorry for her. Sorry that she felt she had to spend her life being someone she wasn't. Sorry that for someone who could have (and should have) had everything, she was left with almost nothing, in the grand scheme of things. Shortly after, I read this article in New York magazine.

Although the whole article is worth a read, this is the part that stood out the most to me - "As I knew her, Casey systematically seemed to enhance her already plentiful natural assets until she became almost an anime creature with exaggerated cheeks, lips, and breasts. As if she thought she would never be pretty enough. Or good enough. So she decided to become famous, like her idol, Marilyn Monroe. Because, after all, if you’re famous, everybody loves you, right? They all respect you and want to be you …"

Although this was really about the Britneys and Caseys of the world, it resonated with me for a different reason. It was the concept of thinking that there is always a fix. Always another version of you that is going to be better, another version of you that is going to make you happier within the universe.

There can always be a smarter you, so you can impress the people you strive to match intellectually.

There can always be a prettier you, one that doesn't have the flaws that only you notice.

And once you figure out what you think this version is, will you ever be pretty enough? Smart enough? Or simply put - enough.

Will you end up being one of the Britneys or Caseys - the person who believes that if you pretend to be someone else long enough, that you actually can become that person? Or can you learn to be happy with who you are at face value?

"Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are." - Kurt Cobain

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

I am superstitious about a number of strange things. I believe that bad things will happen if I hear "Black" by Pearl Jam (I finally smartened up and took it off my iPod, hoping to foil the karmic gods of grunge music). I hesitate when the 28th of each month rolls around ... and breathe a sigh of relief when I make it through unscathed. And when it comes to holiday superstitions, I believe that your New Year's Eve will be reflective of the year to come.

So evidently my heat broke in the middle of the night. My last apartment had two operating temperatures - 50 and 95. It was always super hot unless it was windy, in which case the draft through the windows would knock it down to "really freaking cold." Needless to say, I was super excited to live in an apartment with central heat and a thermostat ... until the furnace decided to break. And in the grand scheme of how things work in NYC apartments, my landlord (who speaks Albanian) sent in a "friend" who lives in my building (and speaks Yugoslavian) to fix the heat. It's nearly 3 p.m. and I still don't have working heat. I'm not entirely sure if or when I will.

The first question of superstitions is this: does that one about New Year's Eve apply to the whole day or just the romantic-at midnight part of it? In other words, is my 2010 already doomed or is there still time to salvage it?

Regardless, it brought something else to the front of my mind about resolutions. Year after year, I make a list of generic resolutions - often so many that it would be impossible to actually remember them, let alone make them happen. So this year, I am trying something different.

In 2010:
I am going to learn to take things as they come and try not to let details overwhelm me or stress me out.
I am going to focus on what is good and positive in my life, rather than thinking about what is missing or what would theoretically make it better.
I am going to recognize my own accomplishments for what they are, instead of thinking that I should always be doing more or better than I am.
I am going to set realistic goals for my own success - and realize that making it halfway there isn't a total loss or failure.

And most importantly, I am going to work harder on being present. I have a tendency to live my life either judging in retrospect or looking ahead without a plan. And much like today, I wonder how my life passes me by, where the year has gone.

I remember this day last year like it was yesterday. I remember thinking about everything that wasn't what it supposed to be, yet being too scared to move forward. I spent the next months looking back, rather than focusing on what was happening in real time, and repeated my mistakes. And if I wasn't looking back at something and trying to figure out what could have been different, I was blindly looking ahead - escapism - for the next great thing to happen.

Is this the perfect New Year's Eve? Not so much so far. But you know what, it could definitely be worse. Here comes the reality check: if I had heat yesterday, hopefully I should be able to have heat again. And while it could end up being a completely wicked inconvenience, it's not the end of the world.

I have a roof over my head. (And a pretty awesome place to live, when there is heat ...)

I have a job that allows me to help people who face much bigger challenges than I do and helps keep my pity parties in check.

I have great friends and a wonderful family who remind me what love really means.

And throughout all the mess of this day, someone is still managing to make me smile.

So when the clock strikes twelve, whether it was a good New Year's Eve or a not so good one, superstition be damned. I am going to have a good 2010.

"Wonder whose arms will hold you good and tight
When it's exactly twelve o'clock that night
Welcoming in the New Year, New Year's Eve
Maybe I'm crazy to suppose I'd ever be the one you chose
Out of the thousand invitations you receive
And though I know I'll never stand a chance
Here comes the jackpot question in advance
What are you doin' New Year's, New Year's Eve?"

- "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"