I’m not good at not wondering.
I went on forest walks with some friends while I was recently on an absolutely superb trip to the island of Acadia in Maine. I had to stop and look at things and ask so many questions. How many beavers would live in this dam? What made that white line in the water? To what extent are trails created by nature versus being crafted by man? What killed these trees? How do you keep rot from killing more trees? Do you want to? Is rot useful the same way forest fires can be, or is it more detrimental than useful long term? Do you think the spider that spun this web within this log, catching sparkles in the sunlight, has already managed to find a tasty treat for her breakfast?
Even on dates, I can’t keep my mind from wandering.
I once went on a date with a very nice man who had an appreciation for Mr. Rogers which rivaled my own. He was playing a show at the local botanical gardens, so I was amusing myself with dancing and nature and wonderings. When he managed a break from performing, I eagerly showed him the spider web I’d been intently watching, as if I’d found the grail or a treasure chest or a giant crate of glitter. “LOOK! I found a spider spinning its web!” I cried, utterly enthused.
My enthusiasm quickly paled, leaving an embarrassment-fueled self-consciousness in its place. How silly I sounded! I’m twenty-four years old, not a small child. And this guy was singing nuanced, poetic songs, as I swayed on pathways and fixated on arachnids like a kid who’d just learned about them on a Kratt brothers’ tv show.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks. In the moment I was stricken with embarrassment, but weeks later, I’m actually more embarrassed that I was embarrassed.
There’s a part of me that’s akin to a small child. Frequently I convince myself that I have to keep that part of myself hidden away in order to impress people, as if it’s somehow counter-intuitive to be an educated, ambitious person who also has a sense of child-like wonder.
I feel I’ve pieced together a vision of myself, the way I want people to see me, that often overlooks the things I actually love most about myself. Yes, there’s something to be said for letting people get to know you over time, for slowly revealing your particular crazinesses and idiosyncracies. But there’s also something to be said for not being embarrassed to be our genuine selves.
Hiding who I am exhausts me. I can’t keep running tabs on my wonderings and my impulses. They are too plentiful. My cup runneth over, if you will.
I will always stick dandelions in my hair. I will insist on turning household chores into games. I will sing off-key while I cook. I will dive into piles of warm laundry. I will color with crayons should a restaurant provide them. I will make up songs about sea creatures, or pots and pans, or oral hygiene. I will doodle on napkins, flop onto hotel beds to see how bouncy they are, and insist you hold my hand during the scary parts of movies, including every wolf related scene of Beauty and the Beast. I will cry in art exhibitions when they speak to my soul (or if the exhibition labels are particularly well done, or if it’s clear they paid mind to issues of accessibility in the physical design). If you take me in a really nice book store or a library, I will run around like a kid in a candy store, and then insist on finding a book of my favorite poetry just to make sure someone else could buy it if they wanted it. That’s me. That’s what you get.
And it’s not something I want to hide. Not on my first date, second date, third date, or umpteenth date.
After all, we all have things like that. We have a zillion quirky little things that make us ourselves. That’s what makes us wonderful, not the carefully crafted facades designed to make us look good to strangers. We’ve all got spiders we’d love to point out, but we worry we’ll scare other people away if we do so. The act of acknowledging what interests us is a small but precious moment of saying this is who I am, and if you don’t like it, you can go away. It draws a line in the sand, but more importantly, it draws a line that rounds out our own picture of who we are and what we celebrate in ourselves. It is an act of bravery to like our own weirdness. It makes us vulnerable to the world, and to ourselves. It is hard, and it is messy, and I can’t help but believe it’s worth it.
The more I have moments like this, the more I realize my priorities. I want someone who can love me for me, but more importantly, who doesn’t just tolerate my weirdness but revels in it right alongside me. I want to be unabashedly myself.
The only way to do that is to practice: to be myself, to live earnestly, and to let myself prioritize these things without feeling ashamed or embarrassed. Because that’s far more important to me than impressing someone I’ve just met.
I have to love me more than I love the possibility of someone else loving me.
So why hide? Why not point out the spiders? Why not ask the questions that loom in the back of our minds? Why not be ourselves? Why keep those sweetest, most genuine parts of ourselves hidden?
Here’s to the spiders and to the little things that remind us who we are. Here’s to wondering and to not stopping.