Resolve: Compliments

I spent most of New Year’s Eve in grungy, decadent pits, depraved places. Half full liquor bottles sailed through crowds, smashing glass shards around our feet. Blow was offered (not accepted) readily. Punk kids tried to be tough enough to fit the scene, but were not truly violent. They all rushed to pull up each other up after being pushed down. I was there, looking innocent and out of place with never-been-dyed shiny blonde hair, the curiously wary expression of a pre-pubescent, and at one point (yes, really) bath tissue sticking to my shoe. Later, the punks were replaced with suits in a place where the smoke hung heavy, wrapping around the falling curls in my hair. Posturing men drunk on power (because the alcohol was forbidden) bought the attention of topless women with leers and fifty-dollar bills.

Hours before venturing into the city’s less savory venues, I was at a fancy party. Adults who had graduated from their ivy leagues years ago and now own their own private practices held crystal glasses full of champagne, debating the structural integrity of walls formed from plaster and drywall while their poshly-named progeny pronounced charming phrases in foreign languages. Here, mentions of legal recreational drugs were met with blushes and I-would-nevers. I fit in here more. There’s the sense that, give it a decade, and my life will look similar. But something feels less real, less honest. Or maybe it’s just that this kind of posturing makes me more uncomfortable, because I can see it in myself more readily.

It’s the first of January and everyone is resolving to change their lives in 2014. I don’t know how to change my life because I hardly know how to define my life. I’m 22 (happy free confused and lonely at the same time) and there are so many things I don’t know about my own identity. I often feel that in my own life, I’m along for the ride rather than steering the ship.  I think that’s okay. I think we have to experience the world around us before we can form convictions. I also have the sense that I’m reaching a turning point in my life.

As the end of school and life-beyond-semesters approaches, I have the feeling that I want to direct my course more ardently. I haven’t drafted a list of resolutions. I don’t have a checklist of goals to make myself Better. But I’m always learning things from the world around me. In grungy bars and in classy homes, I learn about the world and about myself. From those experiences I’m able to make decisions about what I value and who I want to be. As important moments crystallize in my life, I’ll try to share them here. Here’s the first:

At the fancy New Year’s Eve party, I noticed a room full of highly educated folks cushion nearly every comment to a young girl with praise about her appearance. While the child was undoubtedly cute/pretty/precious/adorable, I was discomfited by the constant reference to her beauty, which I doubt would have happened had she been a young boy. It’s nice to tell and be told that we look great, but beauty is inconsequential. What we look like has little bearing on and is nothing in comparison to the substance of our character.

I am going to give better compliments. Instead of telling the people I love what I think of their appearance, I want to say meaningful things that value their worth. I don’t want to perpetuate the idea that what we’re worth is related to how we look. I already have a habit of only spending time with people who are meaningful to me. I don’t engage in relationships that are harmful or make me feel judged and unsupported. I want to make a point to let the people in my life know why they are dear to me—not because they look pretty in the pictures that fill my home (although that is true) but because they are vibrant people who enrich my life.

What’s the best compliment you ever received? What made it special to you?

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2 thoughts on “Resolve: Compliments

  1. Lydia, you are one of the most grounded, self-aware women ive ever met and I’d love to write the way you do: making whats complex, clear and interesting.

    When we were walking to Lucille’s after my defense this past month, you said that from where you stand my life looks really good. That was a compliment that meant a lot to me because it came from someone I like and respect. I think that’s important. I also think my life is what I want it to be because I am surrounded by (via chance and choice) people who value and compliment me on things that matter to me: athletics, intelligence, humor. Thank you for being one of those people.

    • Sarah, I feel wicked lucky to know you! Your life really does look good to me, because it’s so clear that you’re a passionate and talented person. I admire the way you approach things– with determination and commitment, and with a healthy dose of skepticism and humor that never belies your sincerity. You can identify how ludicrous a situation is without losing your cool or complaining. I think you are a truly incredible human!

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