Writing Prompt: In what way are you strong?

I am the type of person who regularly needs to be reminded of my strengths. I need nearly constant praise and I’m not ashamed to ask for it outright. One of the ways that my last therapist got to know me (and other patients) was by asking what my strengths were. I had to look at her list of words to find mine.

Recently, I’ve been filling out a lot of job applications and writing a lot of resumes. The part that I always struggle with is writing down what I’m good at. This feels strange for me, because I’m enthusiastic about finding other people’s strengths and telling them what they are. But for some reason, looking at my own strengths is harder.

Here’s my list from therapy:
Compassionate
Loyal
Enthusiastic
Hard worker
Smart
Resourceful
Passionate
Honest

That’s a pretty decent list, but it took a lot of prompting from her and a lot of hemming and hawing from me to come up with it. I’m really good at thinking of one instance where I wasn’t something and deciding that means I’m not ever that thing. Like, once I lied and told a guy that I didn’t have any more cigarettes so that I wouldn’t have to give him one, so obviously I’m not compassionate OR honest. But I’m also pretty good at looking at my negative thoughts about myself and pretending that one of my friends are saying them. I can look at that thought and say to myself, “If Tori Lynn said that about herself you’d slap her silly and tell her that that makes no sense and then you’d buy her coffee.” Whether that actually helps or not depends mostly on my mood.

The end-goal of this prompt for me was to look at the question “Why do so many people struggle to see their own strengths?” I’m not sure I can answer that, but I know I can talk about why I struggle with it.

When I look at myself, I can see the internal struggle happening every time I have the option to be one thing or another. When I see somebody having a hard time with their groceries, I have the option to help them and slightly inconvenience myself, or I can ignore them and go about my business. I have to think about it. I have to weight the pros and cons and make a decision. Most of the time, I decide to help them. Anybody on the outside would see that and say that “helpful” is one of my strengths. But if I’m looking at it, I know that I had to think about the situation before I made a choice. That doesn’t seem genuinely helpful to me, which, in my mind, translates into “not actually helpful.”

If my friend were to explain that to me, exactly the same way I just did, I’d nope at them. I’d say, “But you chose to be helpful. You made the conscious decision to be helpful. That’s probably a better definition of helpful than someone who does it out of instinct. Because you realized that you had the option of ignoring it and not making extra difficulty for yourself, but chose to do the kind thing instead.”

I can’t seem to make allowances like that for myself, unless I frame it as a hypothetical thing that someone else said. Which, while not ideal, seems to work pretty well as a self-care method.

Maybe that’s the secret to letting yourself off a little easier. Tell yourself that it’s okay, you love yourself anyway, then take yourself out for ice cream or coffee. Treat yourself like your best friend.

❤ Eli

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Adulting: What It Is and What It Should Never Be

I think about the awkward transitional phase between being a “young adult” and being a “real adult” a lot, mostly because I’m in it. Every time I pay a bill or cook my own dinner I feel like a real adult. Those are the types of things that real adults do, right? But even though I have a job and credit cards and a car payment, I’m still only considered a young adult because I’m in my early 20s.

It’s sort of akin to the feeling of being a pre-teen. You get the weird emotions of a teenager, and often times you get the responsibilities of one, too. But when you want to do something that a teenager would be able to do, you’re thrown back into your pre-teen status. I remember that phase, and it’s just as awkward as the one I’m in now.

The area of my life that it pops up the most in is money. People think, often, that because I’m a young adult that I’m not good at being financially responsible. When I’m dead broke and can’t afford to do things that other people want me to do, they frequently assume it’s because I’m not being smart with my money. Honestly, I’m better at paying bills than several real adults that I know. When I don’t have money, it’s usually because I spent it all on bills. Mostly the problem is that I have a very low paying job. I mean, I make more than minimum wage, but only about a dollar more. When you take into account phone bills, internet, rent, electric, car payments, food, gas, credit card bills and the other miscellaneous things you need to run a household (dish soap, cat food, tin foil, garbage bags) it’s sort of amazing that I can afford living at all. My wife works a part time job at minimum wage because of her health, so she contributes absolutely as much as she can, but we still struggle sometimes.

Our most recent big splurge was seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens. We decided to make a date night of it on New Years day, because we’d both worked the night before and hadn’t been able to celebrate. That’s it. The big splurge was $40 for a movie. I feel like that’s not something that most people would see as reckless as far as money goes.

The job part of my life is where I feel like I’m stuck in the young adult world. I’m still working towards what I want to be when I grow up. It’s not a fast-food worker, that’s for sure. But I don’t know what it is. After a physically demanding, emotionally draining, eight hour day at work, I often think I just want a quiet desk job somewhere, answering phones and taking messages. But even that sounds like something I would eventually loathe going to five days a week. I want to do something that doesn’t leave me feeling like I haven’t accomplished anything at the end of my day. To be more succinct, I want to do something that leaves me feeling fulfilled. I think that’s something that every young adult wants, maybe even most real adults.

Long story short here, being a young adult skews people’s view of you. I think that’s weird. Work is rough and most people hate what they do 5 out of 7 days. I think that’s weird, too. We should all just quit our day jobs, do what fulfills us, and stop being weird about young adults.

❤ Eli

“How to Be A Writer”

All my life, the most prevalent advice on this topic has been deceptively simple. Q: How do you become a writer? A: Write.

This seems so ridiculously easy that anyone should be able to be a writer. If you love writing, just write, right?

Well, I have a complicated relationship with writing. I’ve been writing stories since I leaned to write. I was telling stories before I learned to write. I’ve been questioning the world around me since I could speak. If you’ve ever know a precocious child, you know that their favorite question will always be “Why?” even after you’ve given the best explanation you can give. I was like that. Luckily, I grew up in an environment where it was not only accepted, but encouraged. If my mom didn’t know the answer to my question, she would send me to my papa. If he didn’t know the answer, he would make something up. He told me that the sky was blue because it was reflecting off of my grandmother’s eyes. He told me that light bulbs worked because flipping the on switch made little blue monkeys inside the filament run, which made them hot, which made them glow. He was, and still continues to be, my biggest fan and greatest collaborator. He played “imagination games” with me. We would look at a spot and try to name all the colors we could see. We would try to think of three new uses for everyday objects, bonus points if you could think of a really good scenario in which to use them. I would tell him ideas and he would turn them into entire worlds. His memory has never been great, but he could retell stories from memory like nobody I’ve met since.

What I’m trying to tell you, is that I’ve basically been conditioned from a young age to be a writer. When other kids were playing guns or dolls or tag, I was in the garage putting on book signings, with my stuffed animals in line, ready to love me and my work. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said “A best-selling author”. No lie. Until, somewhere in middle school, I realized how many people want to do that and fail. That’s when my relationship with writing became complicated.

I still wanted to write. I still had a need to express the way I saw the world and the people in it, but my confidence in myself started flagging. I tried to be like other writers I knew of. Even fictional ones. I remember trying to be like Jo March, from Little Women, and put my hair up like she did, had special “writing clothes”, even tried writing with fountain pens on unlined paper. In high school, I decided that I’d take after the beatniks. I would only write if I were high. Some of it was really good. Some of it wasn’t. I even had a brief stint at my dad’s when I tried to Hemingway my way through writing. Which meant locking myself in my room with a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes, willing myself to just put something, anything down on paper.

All of this because nobody told me the most important thing about writing: It is so hard. You can have endless worlds built, characters fully formed and fleshed out, a complete religion set up,  but pulling it from your mind is still hard. Putting it down, whether it’s electronically or on paper, is so damn difficult that sometimes it doesn’t even seem worth the effort.

But when I told my papa about those feelings, he told me the truth about writing. He taught me the real secret. He said, “Anyone can learn to write. But the people who must write are the ones who call themselves writers.”

I can quote that for you because I wrote it down.

That’s why I call myself a writer, even though I’ve never been payed to write, even though I don’t write every day, even though I haven’t finished any novels, and even though I have never actually participated in NaNoWrMo (National Novel Writing Month). I write meta about fandoms. I write thoughtful Facebook posts. I write articulate emails to my best friend when I have feelings about things. I write blog posts like this one. I must write. Sometimes I do it better on paper, sometimes I do it better online, sometimes I have to get drunk to get my thoughts out, often I have to have a cigarette in my hand, but I must do it.

To anyone struggling with the realities of writing, please remember this. If you feel the pull to write, you are a writer. Any writing that takes effort counts. And you don’t have to have writing credits to be a “real” writer. You just have to love doing it enough that you continue, even when it’s difficult.

❤ Eli

13 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Sooner

In a similar vein to my last post, these are things that I wish someone had told me about being in your 20s when I was, oh, say 15.

  1. Life will get in the way of your plans. Nearly every time. Don’t ever stop planning, but be ready for an unexpected turn.
  2. Always get a copy of your lease and a receipt for any money you give to your landlord. Seriously. Always.
  3. It’s sometimes really hard to go to work. Go anyway. Being someone they can depend on is a good thing.
  4. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to call out (with enough warning) if you need a mental day. You will be able to get through the shorter pay check. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
  5. Don’t let people walk all over you. When people are taking up the whole sidewalk, don’t walk in the street. When they see you walking resolutely toward them, they will move. If they don’t, say excuse me.
  6. Take up exactly as much space as you need. Being a person gives you the right to exist in the world. But don’t forget that other people need space to take up as well.
  7. Don’t you ever, ever, be afraid to tell people what you think. At work, at home, in the store. If someone says something offensive, tell them. This will get easier the more you do it.
  8. As tempting as it may be, don’t try to reinvent yourself as a “real adult”. There is no such thing. Be a person. Be true to your ideals and your beliefs. This is what marks you as an adult.
  9. Don’t smoke. It’s bad for you and it’s really hard to kick.
  10. Spending money on things you need is not frivolous.
  11. Keep in touch with your friends. Set up coffee dates.
  12. Expect people to leave. You can’t all stay in the same city, or even the same state. People will move away. You will move away. Suddenly you will be in a city where none of your friends live. That’s okay. Make new ones.
  13. Finally, and most importantly, be kind. To yourself, to others, to the planet. This will make living a much easier task.

❤ Eli

Dear Teen Me

Dear Teen Eli,

Do you go by Eli yet? You might not. That’s okay.

I’m close enough to you right now to remember how you feel and think for the most part. Even if I couldn’t actually remember, you left enough evidence everywhere. You left it on your body and in notebooks and on scraps of paper that sometimes randomly resurface, as if by design. I will never regret the scars or the half-filled journals or the notes that cry out for help. I don’t want to come back and tell you that everything will be okay. Mostly because I know you’ll hate me for it like you hated everyone else who said it to you, but also because I know you know that it’s inevitable anyway. You’ve long known that everything will right itself in the end. You live by the family motto, “This too shall pass.” You write it on your arms, your pants, foggy car windows, any surface you can find. But I know how often you replaced “this” with “life”. I know you’ve thought that dying might be what rights everything in the end.

But I also know you make it. I know that through the years you’ve probably made as many poor choices and you did good ones. They aren’t things to regret, though. These are the stories that connect you to other people. These are the strands of your life that inexorably twist together to make the strength you cover yourself in now.

I don’t have much of a message for you. I just want you to know that I understand. You’ve always been afraid that when you grew up, you’d forget.

Well, you haven’t.

Love,

You (Me)