Butterflies and Glass Houses
I wrote a book, or I started to write a book, rather. I thought I was writing a love story, a story I wanted to live for myself. Now, a few years later, I see it very differently. A story that I thought was describing a love that I wanted so badly, was actually describing the love I already had. Two characters who I believed to be my own perfect, romantic dream, were actually counterparts of a whole. They were counterparts of me. One embodied the facets of myself that I buried and hid, the other, created an image of the person I wanted to be. I had written a story of me, falling back in love with myself.
I hold myself to a standard, a very high one, contrary to what some may believe. I can’t take criticism. I absolutely hate the thought of anyone critiquing anything I am doing, or that I’ve done. Funny the passion I’ve developed, considering criticism is an essential part to the profession.
I know I’m too hard on myself. I think we all are, speaking in terms of self confidence, but I’m referring to writing, and depth. When I start to write, for some reason, I have to complicate it. I have to tweak it to sound like some genius, someone so wise and all knowing. It is SO condescending. Even upon reading something I myself wrote, I feel like someone is reaching their hand out of the page and smacking me with a book. “Are you a psychologist? Are you 50 years older? Do better!” It’s saying.
Kind of an interesting paragraph. If you read that again, I just criticized myself for being too critical, as a written voice, who is criticizing myself. Is your head spinning yet?
As a whole, we’ve grown up in the era of the ego boost. The era of 40 instagram comments to supplement 600 instagram likes. The era of wear these pants because it lifts your butt, or wear this shirt because it compliments your chest. Your hair looks better blonde in the summer, but better darker in the winter. Your skin has such a pretty olive tone, if you take care of it. Your eyelashes are long enough, any longer and they’ll look fake. You look better in green, here switch that out. Stop biting your nails. Brush your hair. Wash your face, tuck in your shirt. Clean up your room and delete that picture. Call your grandmother and tell her about your trip. Call your dad and tell him you made Dean’s List (haha). Weird when you read it back, right? Even weirder, who are you hearing this from? Our parents? Our friends? Read it again, one more time. For over half of you, I bet you didn’t read that in your parents’ voices. Nine out of ten of you, I bet read it in your own.
I fell out of love with myself far too early, and far too recklessly. Reckless is a funny word, isn’t it. To be reckless is to be “without thinking or caring about the consequences of an action”. It sounds so criminal. I guess I’m sitting here, spilling this jumbled mess onto paper for one reason. That reason is that at least now I can hear myself saying it. At least here, I am consciously telling you that I know I was wrong to forget those parts of myself that I too carefully picked and prodded until they disappeared altogether.
People fail to see what is right in front of them, what is right in front of us, almost every. single. time. We all have that one person in our lives, that one person who just has it all. Whether we are in love with the way they carry themselves, or the way that every word that leaves their lips seems to dance in expensive breath. It might be their charisma. The way they are able to walk into a room of 45 strangers and leave the crowd wondering where they came from, only hoping to meet them again. Maybe it is their kindness. We watch the way that others love them, the way they command attention with their ideas and the way they manage to stick out in a room of people who all look the same. We all think the same damn thing, how do they do it. Right? Regardless of the aspect of them that you are fixating on, it’s more than likely stemming from envy. And I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the part of them that you love so much, is the antonym of your own scar or blemish that you have tried to heal time and time again.
I do not have the credentials nor the expertise to advise anyone on how to live their life, and I absolutely do not have it all figured out. I do, however, know who I am. I know when to apologize, I know when to back down, and most importantly I know when to speak up. I know how to build my walls, but I also know how to plant my gardens. A few years ago, I stumbled upon a quote by Jacqueline Woodson, “But on paper, things can live forever. On paper, a butterfly never dies.” Instinctively, this became my mantra. Nothing in my life could die, or burn out, if I wrote about it. Especially if I protected them, from any criticism or comment. If I kept my own personal butterflies in a glass house, they were untouchable. There’s pieces of ourselves that we deserve to be reminded of, there’s pieces that deserve to live forever, no matter how hard they’re criticized.
Butterflies are cute lil things, aren’t they? Even the way we talk about them, “getting butterflies in your stomach”, “you’re a social butterfly”. They’re admirable. There is a special fragility to a butterfly, and it’s important to remember that fragility is not a weakness, but a fineness. They’re delicate. Delicate like confidence, delicate like patience, delicate like trust.
Even as quickly as they fly away, they’re memorable, they’re beautiful. Real butterflies can live as little as a day, or two weeks, but never more than a year. They can travel thousands of miles, mainly migrating, but I like to think of it as sightseeing. They’re fleeting creatures, truly. At some point or another we’ve all tried to catch one, only for it to land on your finger for a split second, and be gone the next. But that’s important, and we can learn a thing or two from them. Another quote I have fallen in love with is this, “Sometimes you don’t feel the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.”
There’s parts of ourselves that are important to keep in our glass houses. But there’s also parts that are okay to let free. We all have facets to ourselves that we hold hostage. We grip on to them so tightly, because we think we can't live without them. I’ll start. In seventh grade, I was utterly TERRIFIED to get a B in geometry. I cried and cried and finally told my mom, “If I’m not smart, who am I?”. As most of you already know, I clearly let that butterfly free...according to my transcripts and my fully stocked elective section containing “Greek Mythology” and “Self Defense”.
I got a B in geometry, and the next year I got a B in Algebra 2. Then I got to college, I got a B in statistics, and then I almost even took Calculus. Let’s leave that invisible grade up to our imaginations, shall we? Even as a seventh grader, I was under enough stress to crack, just because of a little grade. But when I let that butterfly out, I made room for more. I made room for a butterfly who knew she could bounce back from what seemed like the end of the world. I made room for one who prioritized her own well being over a small mark on her report card.
Some butterflies linger much longer than we should allow, and some aren’t butterflies at all. Moths can be mistaken as butterflies, but there are careful differences. Butterflies are typically more colorful, with a few exceptions. Butterflies tend to rest with their wings closed, while moths rest with their wings open.
I urge everyone to do a figurative spring cleaning, a head count of butterflies. What is still serving us, and what deadweight are we still carrying? I’ve got some in there that I can’t seem to let go of, and that’s okay. For example, my butterfly of an ego boost from winning the spelling bee. Gonna let that bad boy flutter around a few more years.
There are people who expect us to act a certain way, or feel a certain feeling, other than what we see for ourselves. Some people rush to burn bridges. Others carry grudges. But to them, that lesson served a purpose, and sometimes simply forgiving and forgetting is difficult. Everyone has their own methods. Some people make their bed before they brush their teeth. And some people pour their ice before their drink. Some people call it over spending on unnecessary items. And some call it boosting the economy. My dad calls it “changing the amazon password”. I call it living with the enemy.
There’s standards, and there’s comments about nearly everything and anything, because everyone's a critic. But it’s important to remember your own butterflies, your own feelings and thoughts that you’ve kept for yourself.
What I am hoping you can take away from everything is this: regardless of the moth that flies in, or the butterfly who flies out, remember who and what you keep alive on paper. Remember why you wrote them, and why you’ve caught them, because they’re yours. Our thoughts are fragile, just like wings. Too much weight, and they can collapse. Too much poking, and they'll rip. We have to be careful with ourselves, we have to be gentle.
They float around our glass houses as purposeful reminders. My spelling bee butterfly will never let me forget how to spell incredulous. The strength butterfly picks me up every time I hit rock bottom, though my report card butterfly is still nowhere to be found. If you find her, tell her I have a final paper due next Thursday.