who we used to be and who we can become

March 24, 2017

 
A couple friends of mine host an amazing podcast called "Who We Used to Be," and I was fortunate enough to be featured on an episode (click awesome pizza photo or HERE to listen!).  I initially wrote about my experience just after recording the episode, and since it was just released the other day, here I am again!

 

The entire experience was incredible, including the stuff edited out for time and flow.  I'm incredibly grateful to Dayna and Veronica for letting me come talk about boarding school, being from a small town, my parents, and even some allergy-related stories.  We were sharing stories about our lives in a really rewarding way, and I think we can all appreciate having those moments of connection with people.

 

It's interesting to me how vividly I can remember the conversations we had during our window of time in that little soundproofed room, especially after listening to it.  Memory is such a fascinating concept. The brain, in general, is pretty mind-blowing (pun intended).  I've had a pretty vivid memory for most of my life in terms of recalling important experiences.  It's been both a blessing and a curse sometimes, but overall, formation and recall of memories helps everyone learn from the past to navigate the present and the future. Reading about memory formation recently, it was interesting to me that a number of the various articles discussed how the most vivid memories formed are usually because the person can find a way to attribute emotional significance to a situation. That emotional attachment to an experience then sends a signal to the brain, encouraging it to create a stronger bond for later recall, cataloging it away as "important."  If you've never taken an acting class, I'll let you in on a little secret: there's often a lot of emphasis on sense-memory exercises, which can help actors draw out different emotions - who knew brain science was so applicable, right?!  

 

I remember one of the first sense-memory exercises I ever did. It brought me back to my Mom Mom's kitchen on Long Beach Island in New Jersey.  I could clearly see her round kitchen table with a light woodtop finish and white chairs, overlooking the back porch and smell a combination of the ocean's salt air, my Pop Pop's Marlboros, and her coffee brewing on the counter.  Her bony, comforting hands curled around her mug while an old episode of The X Files played on the TV in the other room.  She had her white hair pulled back in a low ponytail, wearing a black sweater with a white shirt under it - the white shirt just showing under the collar of the sweater.  Under her black-framed glasses, her eyes held stories of Elvis concerts and bobby-socksers and war, but her lips held a calm, subtle smile while she sat doing the New York Times Crossword in pen (talk about badass.. PEN?!).  She'll have been gone 14 years this coming June, which will reach the point where she's been gone over half my life, but exploring that memory was like I was right back with her.  I miss my Mom Mom all the time, but it's not a sad thing to me anymore - missing her.  Memories can be painful or they can be beautiful, depending on your perspective.

 

I had a really profound conversation with a friend of mine a week ago that I said I might save for a later post because it got pretty heady. This is not yet the dedicated post, but I will touch on something briefly because I think it relates nicely to the podcast and a couple things that got edited for time.  Do you ever find that a conversation with a friend starts out pretty casual at first, and then next thing you know, you're on a topic way deeper than you expected? My friend and I last week were talking about life's meaning and whether or not people actually had purpose. Talk about going deep! (For the record, I had to restrain myself from making a football joke here.) Now we didn't necessarily share the same view, but it was interesting that we could have similar feelings about something regardless of different viewpoints.  In the post I wrote immediately after recording the podcast, entitled "take up space and make noise," I had mentioned a difference of view about the world needing art and a passage of a novel I'd recently reread that instilled in me the belief that people actually need art more than they might ever realize. The passage (from A Midnight Clear by William Wharton, a novel I've written about before) deals with a soldier in the thick of war and his experience with art.  It reads:
 

I'll never know all the reasons, but these intimate presentations of another world, another time, through a mind not my own, had an unbelievably profound effect on my deepest psyche. It changed my life. There, murmuring with Wilkins in the voice of lovers, after love, I knew an aesthetic experience. I dimly perceived what it was all about. I'd never be the same again.


This passage is so profound in so many ways and ties into what the experience of being on a podcast was truly all about, even hitting some of the points my friend and I discussed last week.  On the podcast, in talking about whether or not art is something people intrinsically need, I agreed with the idea that people could not eat or drink art and that art was not a physical manifestation of shelter.  I disagreed, however, that art was not something people needed.  I stand by this idea and firmly believe that art is something people need more than most other things they think they need. There's a reason a specific photograph or song can get you through a hard day or help you convey whatever emotion you're feeling at a certain time. If you've never heard "Sleepwalk" by Santo & Johnny, give it a listen and see if it doesn't transport you back to the first time you kissed someone you really liked - maybe even thought you loved. As I write this, I kid you not - my neighbor (who is high all the time) is singing (nay! shouting) "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" at the top of his lungs. Now whether or not you like Tears for Fears, we all have that song we love to sing with reckless abandon. You may not be high singing it and you may not be in public, but we all have those times in the shower or in the car where we're singing like someone's going to hit that button, turn that chair around, and change our lives (because this is The Voice!).  There's a reason the character in the above passage's life was changed because he saw a certain work of art at such a specific time.  And there's a reason that passage, though I cannot relate to being a nineteen-year-old man in World War II, moved me.  I've written before that human beings crave connection and community, and we touch on it in the podcast in regards to our culture and eating out at restaurants.  The character in the novel saw something in that piece of art that helped him connect with a basic human need and awaken his humanity.  And during the podcast the reason upon which we did eventually agree about art being a need is because art does matter for connection, hence why we need to take up space and make noise.

 

A word that gets tossed around on the podcast is the idea of destiny.  I admit in the audio that I don't necessarily think about things in the framework or understanding of "destiny" all the time, but it seems to be a recurring theme in the most rewarding conversations I've had lately. Destiny, fate, purpose, meaning - they're all topics that have come up recently in various conversations I've had, and I've been extremely lucky to get such differing opinions across the board on it. I love when people disagree or don't see eye-to-eye; the world would be so boring if everyone thought, believed, or prescribed to the same things.  There is something fascinating in every human being that you meet if you take the time to look hard enough.  Even relating back to the above passage for a moment, the thing that changed the character was seeing the world through "a mind not [his] own.

 

I'm still saving my full thoughts on the idea of purpose for another post because, in part, I'm still reflecting and unpacking everything amazing about the conversation I had last week.  Listening to the podcast will actually be a good way for me to reflect and get in touch with some parts of the conversation I had with my friend on St. Patrick's Day as my core beliefs are not easily shaken (as no one's should be; they're core beliefs for a reason).   I always have viewed life as a series of high and low tides, and although I've given a lot of thought to the idea of "purpose," it wasn't until recently - when the podcast conversation verbally framed it as an idea of "destiny" - that I truly started to understand how I feel about life.

 

I'm hoping to unpack and dig further into these ideas in another post, but what it comes down to is this: regardless of your system of beliefs, we all have a purpose. That's what I believe. I know plenty of people who believe that there is no purpose or meaning to life, especially in dealing with any sort of idea of mysticism. What is funny to me, though, is that some people are surprised that I'm not saddened by a contradicting idea of there being no purpose. And my lack of sadness does not actually come from a place of total disagreement. A topic that was briefly discussed in the podcast was the idea of going in for an audition and being great but not getting the part because of external factors outside of one's control, i.e. reminding a casting director of someone s/he dated so you don't get the part or being too tall (or too short or another physical characteristic outside of one's control). There was a lot of deliberation on the topic, which probably got edited out for time (ya girl can talk), but it ties into this greater conversation of destiny. Some people can view not getting a part (or interview or job) because of those external factors as frustrating or disheartening or unfair, and their feelings are justified, but I don't share those feelings. To me it's actually liberating. And it ties into the idea of my friend being surprised that I wasn't depressed by the idea of life having no purpose. I don't agree with that view, but it doesn't knock the wind out of my sails to think about it. 

 

Life has a purpose but it's only when reflecting inward on our past experiences that things make the most sense. Byrd Baggett was once quoted, saying, "Look at life through the windshield, not the rear-view mirror." I love that quote for a multitude of reasons, and it holds way more meaning now than when I first read it (probably 10 or so years ago). It is important to sit in your own driver's seat and look forward through the windshield. The symbolism of driving is nice because the car is a physical vessel for the idea that we are all constantly evolving, growing, and changing in order to keep moving forward.  We are in the driver's seat of our life and in control of steering our own car, specifically.  That rear-view mirror, however, does exist and for good reason, but there's a reason a rear-view mirror is so much smaller than a windshield.  I believe it's because when you stay present in yourself, dealing with only the things you can control and only fight your own battles, your past - and the good and bad baggage that comes along with it - becomes smaller the farther you get away from it. As the things in the rear-view mirror get smaller and you stay present in yourself and only deal with things you can control, the road ahead - your future - opens up in the windshield in front of you. The most important part of the entire car metaphor, however, is the idea of staying present. You can't control external factors, but you can prepare yourself for them as best as you can. You can't control another car coming and running you off the road, but if you remain present in your thoughts with hope for the future, that presence will give your attention to whatever obstacle is thrown your way, helping you adapt for survival.  

 

As I tried to explain to my friend last week as best I could (and this is why there might need to be a separate, dedicated post because I'm already feeling pretty "heady"), I believe that we are all constantly - in the moment - at point B with everything preceding the current moment becoming point A. Every experience you have in life leads you to exactly where you are at any given current moment. Nothing is guaranteed to you, and nothing is owed to you - especially not time. (What's the joke? Oh yeah.. death and taxes.) I can only control my own actions. I can't control anyone else's actions or feelings, but I can control my reactions to their actions or feelings. Taking personal responsibility for yourself and fighting your own battles is what I believe drives the idea of "purpose" or "destiny." Actions have consequences, so use all the previous knowledge you've gained from those Point As in life to help you make the best, most informed choice you can make at your current Point B.  That's why not getting a part I thought I'd be perfect for doesn't bother me as long as I gave it everything I had - because there are so many things out of my control. All anyone can do on a daily basis is use all her previous experiences and memories to better herself so that her current Point B becomes a Point A and her next Point B is just a better, more elevated version of herself.

 

And you know what? Maybe I'll make a choice at Point B based on everything I've learned from all the previous Point As and decide that maybe there's a Point C or maybe there's a different point for every letter of the alphabet. But that's what I think our purpose is. It's to constantly evolve, grow, change, learn, and try to discover if there is a purpose. That's not anything new; it's what a lot of philosophers have grappled with for years and years and years. What's the meaning of life? Maybe the whole meaning of life is just to be the hero of your own story and find the specific meaning of your life. And to not let external factors hold you back. I've learned a lot about who I used to be, and it's only through that self-reflection and those memories that I can really even catch a glimpse of who I want to be or who I can be in my future.  And that woman is someone who only worries about things she can control and who doesn't let other people's problems or issues with themselves become her own. We all have battles to fight; make sure they're your own battles. Stay present, stay hopeful, and keep learning.

 

 

**follow me on all social media platforms: @JohnyTheGirl
**follow my friends' podcast on instagram: @whoweusedtobepodcast

**for my episode of "who we used to be" and for more episodes, click HERE 

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Johny Walsh  |  Los Angeles, CA  |  Johny@JohnyTheGirl.com

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