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The “Can’t Also” Crisis and Sorting Out Identity Issues at 35 Years Old: also known as A Great Many Things, Part 2


When I was fifteen years old, my then stepdad reprimanded me once for listening to Kenny G. My stepdad was a kind man and was only following the trends of our church, but even so, I was pissed.  “It’s too worldly” was his case, perhaps justified by the fact that Peabo Bryson had to pop in to the Breathless album and sin up a perfectly good instrumental song with the lusty lyrics “Let’s take a slow and easy ride, just lay back and let love take us over.”

But still—Kenny G, worldly?! He’s like Jesus with a saxophone—a wholesome alternative to the lasciviousness other kids my age were listening to. And yes, we casually used that word to describe Top 40 Hits.

The Kenny G Kibosh left me with Steve Green, Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir—my mom’s favorite—and Amy Grant, but only the El Shaddai years before she slid over to The Other Side.  The bottom line was Girls Who Love God can’t also love secular music. 

So begins the Can’t Also Crisis.
Also known as:  Why I Struggle with Identity Issues at 35.

It’s not just Faith vs. Sexy Tunes.  It’s Everything.  I often pigeonhole myself into categories, as if a woman who wants to change the world can’t also love cute shoes.  Or a mom who sings of the joys of holding a sleeping baby can’t also want to learn more about business.  Or an advocate for a cause of great importance can’t also advocate for a cause of little importance like wearing lipstick or buying art or making crafts.

This little crisis has followed me my entire life, so much that when the Spice Girls hit stardom, I actually stressed out about who I would want to be if I had to be a spice.  I loved Posh’s style, but some days you just need tennis shoes, you know?  Sporty Spice is fun.  And Baby Spice?  I love babies!  And then there’s the bold, can’t-mess-with-me badassness of Scary Spice.  I wanted to be them all.  Which probably explains why I love Allspice so much—Mmmm.  Hot wassail.  I digress.

Who said Posh can’t also be Sporty?  We intersect areas of interest in a million different ways all the time, and that’s fantastic.  We certainly don’t have to be everything (and trying to be is a whole ‘nother story), but if we want to explore a little bit of everything, that’s okay.

So why in my mind, even after thinking and writing about this so many times, do I still treat my loves and areas of interest like people who can’t let their food touch on a plate?  Motherhood and business and fashion and faith and family and world-changing and creativity and community awareness and activism and advocacy and home decorating and politics and having fun should all be able to be cooked up in a tasty casserole that isn’t nitpicked by my own need to compartmentalize all these passions that a woman might have.

I think a little bit of analysis is good—it makes us contemplate our beliefs and ascribe some accountability to our choices.  My sister and I recently got into a discussion about the ways we teach and model to our children what we believe about beauty.  “I teach my kids that what’s most important is inward beauty—that it doesn’t matter what they look like on the outside, and yet,” I argued, “I went to the MAC store twice this week because I’m hung up on the fact that the orange tones in the red lipstick I just bought make my teeth look yellow.”

Maybe it has nothing to do with what I think and more to do with what other people think because, listen—I care what other people think.  I just do, even though I’m learning not to so much.  Trained as a child in the religious world to analyze and reanalyze every action and thought to make sure every dot connected and lined up perfectly to God, I find myself still struggling to painstakingly find equilibrium with every choice I make today.  Make sure everything adds up, aligns, checks out with what you believe. It’s like I’m looking for errors and contradictions in my own life, and there’s a word for people who do that in other people’s lives:  Assholes.  I’m being an asshole to my own self, and I need to quit.

Do I live in a way that contradicts what I preach?  Maybe in some ways I do, and that’s okay.  Everything doesn’t have to line up perfectly.  Things will align eventually.

I started reading How to Live late last year (haven’t finished it; it’s a slow but good read), a biography on the essayist, Montaigne.  On page seven, I highlighted in yellow crayon (because I couldn’t find a marker) this paragraph about contradiction that resonated deeply with me:

“Mantaigne lets his material pour out, and never worries if he has said one thing on one page and the opposite overleaf, or even in the next sentence.  He could have taken as his motto Walt Whitman’s lines:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes)

…Even when his thoughts are most irrational and dreamlike, his writing follows them.  “I cannot keep my subject still,” he says.  “It goes along befuddled and staggering, with a natural drunkenness.”  Anyone is free to go with him as far as seems desirable, and let him meander off by himself if it doesn’t…(and here’s the clincher)…sooner or later, your paths will cross again.” (Sarah Bakewell)

I’ve come back to that phrase—“sooner or later, your paths will cross again”—so many times.  Shielding, defending, purposely preventing natural human contradictions just to make sure our identity lines up perfectly outwardly is exhausting and, frankly, a waste of energy that could be poured into our loves of life.  When we truly let go and love what we love, without worrying if all of those loves line up, the contradictions will eventually cancel each other out, and our paths will cross again.

Stop worrying about your identity and concern yourself with the people you care about, ideas that matter to you, beliefs you can stand by, tickets you can run on. Intelligent humans make those choices with their brain and hearts and they make them alone. The world does not deliver meaning to you. You have to make it meaningful…and decide what you want and need and must do. It’s a tough, unimaginably lonely and complicated way to be in the world. But that’s the deal: you have to live; you can’t live by slogans, dead ideas, clichés, or national flags. Finding an identity is easy. It’s the easy way out.” -Zadie Smith, On Beauty

If I’m normally inclined to keep the food on my plate separated, then this weekend I made one helluva casserole with all that I love.  Amid Googling “mint green loafers,” searching for a DJ for the Naples Buddy Walk this year and swaying my baby to sleep under the moon in a precious motherhood moment, I discovered, a collection of powerful women’s stories where female clothing designers, global activists, youth empowerment organizers, authors, CEOs, educators, entrepreneurs, architects, comedians, actresses, musicians, athletes and scientists are all recognized in one place for making an impact—for affecting the female human race.  Talk about Kenny G meeting Jesus.  All of these areas of interest that I normally exhaust myself in trying to connect the dots to dissolve contradictions?  They’re having an Empowerment Potluck together, and I’m only invited when I let go of my shit.

Here’s the thing:  when you stop trying so goddamn hard to make the dots connect, they’ll connect.

Be who you are.  Love what you love.

As my friend Wylie said just today: “When you’re not being who you really are because you’re trying to make sure you’re being real, then you’re denying who you are—that, in turn, is phony.”

Don’t try to be good; be good. Don’t try to impact the world; impact the world. Don’t try to connect the dots or dissolve the contradictions or explain what it is you love and why. Just do your thing. Be your good.  Love your loves.  The dots will connect, and a beautiful picture you’ll create.

As I started writing this post this morning, I checked into Instagram and landed upon this update from an international blogger I follow, @soynuriaperez–a redeeming confirmation that social media, when assembled appropriately and even when luring you away from what you need to be doing at the present, can hold truth and beauty and exactly what you need to hear:

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 “The simplicity that you obtain as a result of controlling your complexity is most satisfying.” Steve Jobs

How do we control that complexity?  All those loves, those interests, those contradictions?  We stop trying to control them.  We invite them all to a party and trust that they’ll get along with each other and find connections naturally, without our micromanaging.

Fashion, meet Faith.  I think you two might find something in common.  Motherhood, meet Wants to Change the World. You two are totally going to hit it off.”

Play Pharrell’s “Happy” because that will get everybody dancing.
Order a glass of wine–just one–and sip it slowly.
Stand back.  Quietly take it in.
Don’t freak out if not everyone is choosing to act crazy on the dance floor.
Let all those people, all those areas, all those loves, all those parts of you come alive on their own time, in their own way.

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A charismatic dancer can also sit quietly and watch from the sidelines.
A nurturing mother can also know all the words and moves to “Ice, Ice Baby.”
A humble thinker can also take silly selfies.
An analytical CPA can also dance barefoot in a puddle.
A world traveler can also burrow into the safe comforts of home.
A critical scientist can also write deep, reflective poems.
A woman can read and discuss Newsweek and also The New YorkerMarie Claire, Christianity Today and Scrapbooks, Etc.

Embrace it all.

My dad reminded me tonight, “Do you realize you just defended your right to use a swear word in a blog post in the same conversation that you told me you cried when you heard a preschool class sing Jesus Loves Me?”

You’re right, Dad.
I am a great many things, and I’m proud of it.

I cry when I stare at my sleeping kids–I can’t believe they belong to me, and the quiet moments when I get to watch them breathe and contemplate their every smile, how they need me, how they’ve changed our lives–it overwhelms me.
I swear like a sailor and censor it all for this blog.
I believe in God, and communicating with him and connecting myself to his purpose is an important part of my life.
Sometimes, I question if God exists.
I believe strongly in owning your voice and making a meaningful impact in the world with what you have to offer.
I often feel vulnerable and unworthy of making an impact.
I am passionate about changing people’s views on disabilities and making the world a more accepting place for marginalized individuals.
I read fashion magazines and stress out when my toe nail polish gets chippy.
I love classical music.
I love techno music.
I love ballet.
I love dirty dancing.
I care about the environment.
I use a lot of paper towel.
I respect Buddhist faith and Jewish faith and Muslim faith and Christianity.
I love my atheist friends.
I dream of living on a quiet prairie,watching my children run in fields of wildflowers,smiling in the hot sun.
I dream of living in the big city, hosting parties, visiting museums, hailing cabs to our next big adventure.
I want to help people, connect with people, make the sad feel loved.
I like to buy stuff.
I like to make stuff.
I like to give stuff away.
Sometimes I feel so pissed off, I could knock walls down with my anger.
Sometimes I feel so weak and weepy, I could crumble if you looked at me funny.
Sometimes I feel so strong, I’ll say whatever I think and not give a shit whether anyone agrees or not.

But all the time, I am complicated–maybe even contradictory.

Ladies–all the Ladies, let me hear you say:  We are a great many things.

Come back Wednesday when I’ll teach you how to turn a stiletto heel into a Bible cover that doubles as a diaper bag and a drink flask.