Another year is drawing to a close, and with it, another chance to reflect on past accomplishments. I’ve already written about my yearly goal-setting tradition, so this year’s ending post is something a bit different: What words does Alyssa live by?
I keep a few thoughts close at hand for their general decision-guiding utility. These heuristics provide general principles for moving through this world. I use them to keep myself from making familiar mistakes and to form the basis of understanding more complicated questions. If there are words to live by, these are among mine. Here, then, are Alyssa’s aphorisms.
- Shame is the most useless human emotion.
Shame is other people’s expectations coming to roost in one’s soul, where they have no home and can only crowd the heart’s rightful contents. It serves no purpose but compelling one to seek the approval of people whose opinions aren’t relevant, and to bury pieces of oneself in the vain hope that one’s autotomized remnants will finally be small enough for someone else’s world. Everything good about “shame” actually belongs to its far more useful cousins: discretion, astuteness, and a willingness to sit with guilt. In this distinction, a critical freedom lives.
- I am no one’s martyr.
My self-destruction is the price of nothing that is worth buying. No relationship that expects self-destruction from me is worth maintaining. I owe no one my burnout, or my exhaustion, or my reduction to some lower height of self-sufficiency. I am not required to suffer to show my worth to a person, a group, or a cause. I can prioritize my own well-being. Doing so is not selfish, and anyone who tells me it is would see me laid low to raise themselves up.
- Ands, not buts.
“But” is about opposition. “And” is about synthesis. Rephrase a sentence to use “and” instead of “but,” or to use neither, and insight follows. It is far less common for a thing to exist as the meeting place of opposites than for its seemingly opposed attributes to come from other, often shared origins. Recognizing this leads to greater understanding. Also, it makes for more elegant writing.
- It is our nature to defy nature.
“Natural” is a nebulous and often incoherent concept. Marking something as “unnatural” is rarely helpful or accurate. A thing’s status as “natural” or “unnatural,” in addition to being based on ever-shifting and therefore useless criteria, carries no moral weight. “Unnatural” is not a synonym for “bad” or “evil.” “Natural” is not a synonym for “good.” Reality is complicated. Humans and our activities are as natural as anything else is. Judging things on their own merits rather than their fit to one or the other of these concepts is much more effective.
- Fill your life with beauty.
Collect art. Grow flowers. Maintain aquaria. Visit parks. Read books. Get tattoos. See movies. Write stories. Go fishing. Date cuties. Eat deliciously. Drink exotically. If we are not here to fill our minds with beauty and experience the warmth and joy and light and wonder of this world, then we are not here for anything at all. I am filling my home with art, I am filling my heart with love, and I am filling my days with every kind of beauty I can find, make, or encounter. To be a writer, aquarist, home gardener, board-game enthusiast, polyamorist, reader, and collector is to come at beauty from many directions and find it everywhere, in endless profusion and variety. In a world that never seems to stop being literally or figuratively on fire, it is important to find beauty, know it, fill our lungs with it, and never let the world do without it.
With these words, perhaps my dear readers can understand their writer a bit better.