I remember it like it was yesterday.
I was in my mid-twenties, warring with a Masters thesis that hurtled barriers against my every attempt to get the thing done, spiraling into in an increasingly depressive state. I had become feverishly obsessed with my thesis topic on colour theory in cinema, which had me asking: why were black-and-white films so successful when we don’t see the “real” world as shades of grey, while colour films had a more shaky entrance into the world of film?
I devoured more books than one little thesis could hope to assimilate, and mostly avoided the phone (and often, the shower). I spent days on end doing things like rewinding The Wizard of Oz for the thousandth time (these were the days of VHS), pinning down to the second how much screen time was devoted to displaying the yellow brick road, compared to the movie’s sepia segments.
This was all fascinating stuff, but it began to overrun me. Studying had become a compulsion, propelling me toward some vague “something” that an unconscious part of me decided was worth the sacrifice. But my psyche wasn’t taking all that well to this martyrdom my mind was encouraging.
My journal from those days were filled, in turn, with wonder, bewilderment, self-loathing, existential and overwrought treatises on the meaningless of it all, and also, a “read-between-the-lines-esque” impression that I must be destined for absolute, unequivocal greatness, even though I was equally sure that I had never produced an idea of any value and likely never would.
It seems these often go hand in hand—low self-esteem with an overly grand, superhero sense of self, belittlement and aggrandizement; the feeling that one is at once smaller than a grain of sand on the shore and also larger than the vastest ocean.
Being less-than and more-than must fit so comfortably together because of what they have in common: they are both ultimately ego-driven, and miles away from our ideal destination of equilibrium, of being just who we are. It’s so hard to unveil our true nature, to accept the flawed, floundering, and also magical qualities of our unique being without taking them on a ride into extreme-land now and then.
But we have to start somewhere, if equilibrium is our goal. For me, it was a ton of bricks slamming into me—via my journal—one day. The realization seems silly to write down, but it was so profound to me that it almost knocked me off my well-used and under-tidied bed.
I’m just an ordinary person.
I am not less than a person, and there is absolutely no one asking or demanding that I be more than one. Ordinary is not bad. Ordinary is sublime, and the necessary starting point containing the vast sea of possibility that is us.
If we let it.
I scribbled furiously. I wondered how I arrived at the belief that my sense of worth needed to come from accomplishing some unforeseen act of spectacular genius, and that who I was today could be validated by some mysterious future action I couldn’t name for the life of me.
I wrote about how I was self-imposing so much pressure to distinguish myself that I actually forgot live my present truth, and what kind of future can come from a non-existent and saddened present? This was the future that was supposed to retroactively save me, even though it was as obtuse as life on Mars?
It had never occurred to me before that the only one creating this mass drama of my identity was me—another human on a planet brimming with them—and that I was not only enough, but perfect, and just as I was supposed to be.
Just like I felt everyone else was.
In allowing myself to be “just” a person, I could start to put my adopted (if accidental) persona of glamorous doom aside and do things people tend to do in the course of an ordinary day. I could shower, call my friends back, and read difficult books without having a heart episode every time a question was left unresolved. I could maybe enjoy a meal in a venue other than my bed.
Of course, none of this happened overnight.
In the end, I continued to struggle with the thesis as I landed my first post-school job, and then my boyfriend at the time and I moved to Bangkok for a year. It was only when I came back that I had enough distance to realize this one thesis didn’t have to change the world—and I got it done.
It was a longer road still until I found myself at another impasse that led me back East, now more sure than ever that I’d love for my chaotic mind to not dominate my life, the key to fulfillment lying in healing the wounds of the heart. The journey is a long and meandering one, to say the least!
Looking back, though, I’m sure that the seed for all that was to come was planted on that day—in that journal entry—as I wrote in amazement that my only real job was to fulfill my legacy of being human; to be the best possible and kindest person I could be, just like everyone else.
This will always be enough.
“Ordinary” is not a pejorative term; it never means that we are limiting ourselves. Rather, it entails coming to own our shared existence, and laying foundations for blooming into the expansive vistas of all we can be, in the light of what we are in connection.
- This article was originally published in The Tattooed Buddha.
My heart is spilling over with joy to find me contributing to The Tattooed Buddha, a site dedicated to a kind of writing that is near and dear to my heart, featuring poems, short stories and articles about us humans as we seek to grow, learn and evolve. There’s a lot of great and valuable stuff here – check it out!
Thank you Dana Gornall and Ty H Phillips, for starting this new home for human connection!
The quote in the image above is from my article, I Take My Emotions for a Walk, here.
It’s Thanksgiving. It’s cold, and only getting colder, at least where I am.
I can’t think of a situation where I’ve ever had to be forced to watch a movie, but this is a particularly fun time of year to take to the couch (ideally in good-ish posture), wrap myself up in a blanket, sip ginger tea and watch movie (after movie) to my heart’s content.
Sometimes there’s nothing like a great film to give you a window into the stories of others, and the visionary minds that bring them to life. For that I am thankful!
Here are just a very few movies that directly or indirectly take us on a gratitude journey, that you might enjoy watching this Thanksgiving season. Enjoy!
(P.S. This list is far from comprehensive. There are so, so many films from all over the world that are not represented here—I’d need dozens more Thanksgivings to scratch the surface—and I’d love to hear your ideas!)
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939, Victor Fleming)
This movie hardly needs an introduction. A girl with a heart of voice of gold venture to new and wondrous lands, experiences a whole lot, and realizes that “There’s No Place Like Home.” I’m not making light of this storyline. This is far and away my favourite film, and I feel that Dorothy’s enormous gratitude for her life and ragtag family back home is only amplified by her gratitude over having met with such incredible adventures on the other side of the rainbow. We can be grateful for here, there and everywhere!
2. Pay it Forward (2000, Mimi Leder)
As the “pay it forward” movement and gift economy culture gain momentum, it’s worth taking a look at this beautiful little film about a boy (The Sixth Sense’s Haley Joel Osment) who, for a school assignment given by a somewhat taciturn teacher, (Kevin Spacey), does what he can to make a better world. It’s hard not to be very moved by this film.
3. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006, Gabriele Mucchino)
Based on the real-life story of Chris Gardner’s one-year struggle with homelessness, this film stars Will Smith and his son Jaden, as they navigate their way through hardship in this incredibly uplifting and inspiring film. Gratitude as an M.O. for good living is firing on all cylinders here.
5. Dancer in the Dark (2000, Lars von Trier)
This might sound like a strange choice for a Thanksgiving films, since tragedy oozes out of every pore of this collaboration between the very unique-minded Lars von Trier and none other than Bjork. Rarely, however, have I experienced such exquisite grace in a female lead performance, or felt as acutely as I do here that the human spirit has an edge over any obstacles that dare to stand in the way of magic and positivity.
6. My Neighbor Totoro (1988, Hayao Miyazaki)
I’d have to recommend any film by this genius filmmaker, who officially announced his retirement from feature filmmaking this year (cue tears over here). My Neighbor Totoro delights in its sheer simplicity: two girls move to the countryside, and encounter some of the forest’s delightful spirits. This movie leads by example, telling us to slow down, enjoy the moment, and let the magic and awe in.
7. Like Father, Like Son (2013, Hirokazu Koreeda)
Koreeda has such a gift for lyrical storytelling. Two couples’ babies were switched at birth in hospital, and six years later, they are informed of the accident. What to do? The director uses this very painful situation as an opportunity to explore the infinite nuances of love, what it means to be a parent, to be connected to someone through blood or shared experiences…and it will wrench at your heart as it moves to its redemptive conclusion. Pure heart.
8. Boyhood (2014, Richard Linklater)
One of the best films of the year. Linklater paints a cinematic portrait of a childhood, using the same actors over a 12 year period to stunning and powerful effect. We can be very grateful here for the sheer ingenuity of a director who had the vision to present a movie of this kind, where we can glimpse into the growth, change, transition and the ephemeral nature of life through the medium of the moving image.
9. Love Story (1970, Arthur Hiller)
Classic tear jerker teaching us that love knows no bounds. Enough said.
10. Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton)
Another classic, where the lucky viewer gets to watch Johnny Deep do his glorious thing, and spend a couple of hours rejoicing in all that is special and different in this world, through the eyes of Tim Burton’s mad genius. The celebration of diversity has never been this poignant or mesmerizing.
For elephant journal published version, and video clips, see here! And I’d love to hear more suggestions!