“It’s like apples and oranges.”
I’ve heard this saying throughout my life, but it was always applied to objects or concepts that had foundational differences from each other. But it can easily be applied to human beings. One human being to any another human being is like comparing an apple to an orange. Sure, there are fundamental similarities between all human beings, but how fair is it to compare oneself to someone else?
I have compared myself up (to someone “better” than me) and down (to someone I am “better” than) and I’m not sure it is ever beneficial to me in the long-run. But it’s instinct. Everybody does it, sometimes subconsciously. We do it to puff ourselves up or to beat ourselves down. But at the end of the day we are comparing our apple self to another orange self. It just isn’t practical.
There are too many variables that shape who we are and who we become: our biology and genetics, where we grew up, who raised us, who our teachers were, who we loved and who loved us. Take into account all these factors and throw in some feelings and emotions…it’s kind of a mess. Each one of us is such a mess of things. To attempt a fair comparison of two heaps of seemingly random things is enough to make one go insane.
So every time I do it to myself, compare myself to another…well, I gotta go back to this entry as a healthy reminder. I’m comparing my apple self to another orange self.
When I was in the fourth grade, my nose started bleeding and I had to go to the nurse’s office. It was wintertime in Chicago. The air was dry and I was prone to the occasional nose bleed.
In the nurse’s office, I was soaking up tissues upon tissues with bright, red blood. I was mildly alarmed, but I liked our nurse enough and was comforted by her presence. Her name was Paula. Her dry humor made me laugh. She was also the mother of the class clown.
We tried all the medical and personal home remedies Paula could think of: a small wad of tissue under my upper lip, an ice pack on the nape of my neck…even laying me on my back, which caused me to swallow more blood than I ever cared for. Eventually, we sat me back up with yet another fresh wad of tissue pressed against my gushing nose.
After almost an hour of sitting in her office, Paula held up a soda* can and, in her thick Chicago accent, said, “Look. The most you’re gonna bleed is about as much as this soda can.” Her reassurance was a bit alarming, but in a way, put me at ease. At least then I knew the bleeding was going to stop at some point, just not until I bled enough to fill a 12 ounce soda can. There was an end in sight. Knowing it helped me feel a little bit better.
My nose finally let up a half an hour later. Paula sat with me through it all.
*Note: I went back and forth on “pop” versus “soda”. I grew up in Chicago saying “pop” but since I’ve lived in different areas and have had the argument too many times to count, I decided to use the term I currently adopt in my everyday speech: soda.
Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks from the 1950s and 1960s bring me so much joy. The cookbooks I own are thin, hardcover books with titles such as Barbecue Book, Meat Cook Book and Salad Book. I’ve been collecting them on and off through the years when I come upon them at used book stores and garage sales. My requirement when I purchase these books is that the price tag be at a steal. I don’t want to be precious about these books; paying very little for them helps me accomplish that.
Each of these books contains recipes that are elevated by gloriously saturated photos. There’s something about the sharp, contrasting colors that give my eyes and brain such great pleasure. The colors in other areas of my life tend to be muted, very neutral. Maybe my old cookbooks are a kind of private rebellion that I can revel in the moment I open up the book and flip through the pages.
Baking is something I do when I 100 percent feel like doing it. I don’t want to commit to it out of obligation for a project or event. I want to bake a batch of cookies because the mood strikes me. I want to do it because I will get pleasure out of measuring each ingredient and mixing each one in, always in a particular sequence, as directed by the recipe instructions.
The process of baking is therapeutic. Because of its scientific nature, measurements have to be accurate. Directions must be followed. As long as I follow a recipe as directed, I am almost guaranteed to get results as pictured. If I decide I want the same comfort food cookies two months later, I can go back to the same recipe and rely on the same results.
There is a certainty to most baking activities that is absent in much of life: design projects, relationships, parenthood. When I am seeking out this certainty in the form of chocolate chip banana bread, I can rely on a tried and true recipe to take me there.
I opened my eyes, mostly awake. The bedroom window revealed a pink and orange sky, bleeding through the sheer curtain. I was confused on whether the sun was rising or setting. I thought if I just laid there long enough, staring out the window, the answer would reveal itself to me.
Minutes later, my alarm clock went off. Mystery solved.
During casual conversation, I’ve observed people peeling a mandarin orange in a way that results in one continuous strip of orange rind. After the stem of the orange is reached, the long strip is detached from the meat of the orange. It looks like the person, if even for a moment, reaches a passive state of flow in a short amount of time. There is also a sense of satisfaction that arises out of completing two tasks simultaneously. I liken it to knitting while engaging in conversation with other knitters or while listening to a podcast.
During my career in the creative fields, I came to believe that projects requiring great detail work were somehow less important than high-level, conceptual work. There was a time and a place for both types of work, but I started to gravitate towards the detail work. And then I became okay with it. I discovered that I needed to put the details under a microscope to better understand them.
Where I once wanted to brush it all aside, I began studying specific events that taught me to adopt my current belief systems. As for the belief systems that didn’t contribute to my personal growth, I began taking gradual steps to identify and unlearn them. The work that I’m still doing – and will continue doing for probably the rest of my life – helps me to find more value in all the little, tiny details that must be addressed in order to make significant changes in my life.
There is considerable value in small talk. Small talk helps break the tension with strangers in a short amount of time. I can start a conversation with someone I’ve met for the first time and graduate to meaningful dialog in minutes. It requires a certain amount of patience. There’s an ambiguity to it that might turn some people off. It excites me. Small talk may turn sour very quick, the other person responding with single word responses. But a majority of the time, I end up discovering so much more about the person’s interior life than I anticipate. All I have to do is start with a few warm-up questions, after which I’m on a sure path to an in-depth conversation.
The value of small talk is proven again and again during research, where I begin interviewing people with a couple simple questions. The questions might be about where they get their groceries or what their favorite restaurant may be. The answer is often more delightful and detailed than I could have hoped for. Interview subjects also tend to loosen up and become more open in responding to the more objective-oriented questions that follow. For meaningful dialogue to begin, all it takes is to start off with a little small talk.
For the longest time, I believed I needed to have a second self, a work self. It became apparent in the past few years that this was not sustainable. With two selves came the work of playing two separate characters, overlapping in ways, but still two separate roles. It was exhausting. It wasn’t real. What was real was the mental olympics that came with play acting two different people. So I began chipping away at my work self. I’m becoming just one me and I’m finding that “just one me” is much more liberating.
We were talking amongst ourselves in my fifth grade class when my friend said something hilarious, causing me to burst out laughing. I even startled myself with my sudden laughter. I stole a glance at Mrs. Mink and made eye contact with her for a split second.
It took Mrs. Mink a few minutes to get the classroom’s attention. When we all quieted down after a few minutes, she made her frustration quite clear. She then said to us, “You know, sometimes when people laugh loudest it’s because they are looking for attention.”
I was sure Mrs. Mink was directing her comment to me. Just me.
Today, I think about Mrs. Mink’s remark on occasion. It really left a mark on me. I get a tiny feeling of glee, though, when I laugh aloud. I delight in knowing I can enjoy playfulness and laughter. My fifth grade teacher, on the other hand, found ulterior motives in it. How sad for her.