Forgotten Buildings, Forgotten People

I wrote a bit in a previous post about my brief spontaneous stop-off in Havre de Grace, Maryland while I was on a road trip up to my latest internship. I had always wanted to go to Havre de Grace because, well, what a kick-butt name for a town! It just makes you want to stop and see what’s there. Also, after interning at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum one summer, I developed a special place in my heart for towns on the Bay and their unique culture.

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Havre de Grace turned out to be worth stopping at; sumptuous Victorian homes line the neighborhood streets. A mural celebrating the town’s maritime heritage coats the inside of a bridge underpass entering town (I’m a sucker for murals.) The main street borders the water and also features one big line of fun, eclectic, mostly nineteenth and early twentieth-century architecture, which I will drool over any day of the week.

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I parked my car and walked down a block and a half of the Main Street, snapping photos of interesting buildings, strolled down a pier to look at the water, and then headed back to my car. I’m normally a speedwalker, but when my camera is in tow, I take forever to make it a few yards. Plus it was hot and I wanted to get back on the road.

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As I was making my way back to my car, I made eye contact with an older African American gentleman seated outside a storefront on one of those cool walkers with the fold-down seats that I always wish I have when I’m on museum tours. The man had been there when I arrived, talking to a lady who had since left. He asked me how I was and, being the soul that I am, I felt I had to stop and talked with him a bit.

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He asked me if I was a photography student and I said no, that I just studied history and liked old buildings. So he asked me if I had taken a photo of the building next to him. No, I hadn’t, actually. I had taken one of the store with the turret at the end of the street, but the building he was indicating was simple, even shabby, and hadn’t caught my eye.

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The fancy building I did take a photo of.

He told me I should take a photo of it and explained that it was where he lived. He explained the floor plan to me and told me about how he liked living there and it was paid for for him. Then he talked about an event the town has from time to time where bands play live jazz music and shops set up tables to sell things in the streets. I’m not necessarily gifted at connecting with people, and I’m especially bad at initiating conversation, so I enjoy when someone crosses those walls we put up and talks to you even though they don’t know you. It’s humbling and it makes me feel more connected to the world.

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The bigger picture….I believe the building on the very right that’s cut off was the one the man lived in.

After I said my good-byes and got back in my car, I was struck by the realization that historic preservation isn’t just about the beautiful exteriors, it’s about the stories that have been lived out inside a place. We tend to gravitate to the beautiful, the magnificent, even the bizarre, but sometimes the humble, the plain, and even the ramshackle buildings are the ones whose walls hold the key to stories that need to live on. The building the man had pointed out to be has no doubt seen dozens, if not more, of lives lived out, probably more relatable to most people than the lavish lifestyles of the Vanderbilts & company of the world whose unobtainable mansions tend to be the ones we save. Those lives may not be famous, but they represent a snapshot of a subset of people.

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I remember once my public history professor, an avid building-lover and historic preservation advocate, told us about two buildings in downtown Baltimore that were in danger of being destroyed. One of them was a sparkling example of Art Deco architecture that my professor has been fighting to preserve as an incredible example of that era’s aesthetics. The other was a plain storefront that had been recycled many times and, if I recall correctly, was sitting vacant at the time, but that had been the site of one of the first civil rights-era sit-ins in Baltimore. It was a striking lesson in how maybe the “ugly” building was the one that should be saved even if the pretty one at first glance seemed like the one “worth saving.”

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I realized my own bias when it comes to telling visual stories through photography and through history. I like pretty things. I like interesting things. I like things that I can relate to and that fit with my preferred style and taste. But those aren’t always the things that need to be photographed or the stories that need to be uncovered and told. Sometimes we have to put our own biases aside and paint the whole picture. Sometimes we need to listen more than we talk. Sometimes we need to talk to the random person on the street about what they want to be preserved or what story they want to read in a museum.

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I’m sometimes struck after I spend lots of time with other museum professionals how insular we can accidentally become; we develop ideas of what we think the public ought to know and form opinions on what is worthy of being exhibited in a museum space. Some of us even scoff at things we think aren’t worthy of that space. Generally – and I am guilty of this too – as much as we at heart want to educate the public, we also develop a disdain for them as well and can come to view ourselves as the purveyors of taste and the experts struggling to get through to the unwashed masses.

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I don’t mean to be unkind as I know it’s easy to get burnt out in the museum field and many workers are doing the best they can to tell new stories and reach the public. And I speak as much to myself as to anyone else. But occasionally – not often enough, probably – I’m reminded that it’s the public we’re meant to serve and tell the story of, and sometimes even with, not dictate information to. If we get too lost in our own interests and tastes, we can sometimes lose sight of some of the stories of average people and average places that need to be given consideration as well.

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Blast from the Past (in Concord, Mass.!)

Today I took a road trip up to Concord, Massachusetts for the day. It felt like a pilgrimage of sorts…Concord has a special place in my heart because a decade ago, I went there with my family after falling in love with the works of Louisa May Alcott and Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. 

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Visiting LMA’s home, Orchard House, was one of the things that got me really excited about history. I ended up writing a monologue for National History Day as LMA, discussing the abolition movement in Massachusetts. I ended up going all the way to the National level of the competition (I probably peaked then. It’s been all downhill since.) As a depressed loner nerd in eighth grade, it was empowering to find I could speak in public, research, and succeed and get noticed for something. I think that project probably figured into my eventually deciding to study history in undergrad.

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Orchard House, Concord, Mass. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Orchard House was magical to me when I first visited. I loved how it felt so personal and vibrant with family history. It remains one of my favorite historic houses. The walls and mantel pieces are drawn and painted on by the Alcott’s youngest daughter, May, who went on to exhibit at the Paris salon in the late 1800s. The Alcotts believed it was important for each daughter to explore her talents and to develop a career for herself, so they allowed May to basically draw on the walls. I noticed this visit that the furniture and decor is very vernacular and, ahem, well-loved, but that to me gives the house a lived-in feel and communicates their thriftiness and struggles with poverty prior to the success of Little Women. Anyways, the point is that this house helped further convince me of the beauty of historic house museums in a new way. (I just wish they would have let me take photos, but I know that would endanger the antiques.)

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Interior of the recreation of Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

And Walden Pond…visiting there as a young idealistic 8th grader who loved the idea of living out in the wild and communing with nature for two years was equally thrilling. Today I love communing with nature in small doses but I love being able to cook dinner in the microwave more. But remembering my excitable younger self was encouraging to my current pessimistic, semi-jaded self. In particular, Walden always makes me recall how it was dream at one point in high school to get married standing in the water of Walden Pond. I could laugh until I cried thinking about that. I have now shared that with the Internet, so I have little else to hide.

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To complete my public humiliation….Cheesin’ shamelessly with my bae, Henry David ❤

I went to Concord hoping to have an epiphany of some sort – to have my future become clear as I reconnected with significant places in my past. The reality was I still faced the same issues I always have; I wanted to talk to the staff at Orchard House about museum work and their collections, but I was too shy. Throughout the day, I constantly battled my anxiety as I made choices on my own. I am as hopelessly single as I was in eighth grade, and probably almost as lonely. But I did haul my ass out there on my own to do all those things. And I had a few small realizations along the trip, some sacred, some less so:

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Sunset begins over Walden Pond (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • If you can’t figure out how to “live in the moment,” that’s okay. People are constantly telling me to live in the present moment, and I am trying to draw the line of obsessing over the future or the past more, but I find myself beating myself up for not enjoying my life more. It makes me wonder if sometimes we can’t appreciate something until it’s over. Maybe anticipating the future and reminiscing about the past are just as valid as taking hold of the present moment. Maybe all three can be used to enjoy life. Sometimes we appreciate things more when we are looking at them in the rearview mirror. Sometimes dreaming about the possibilities of the future are all that get us through the present.
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Downtown Concord…this one had my name written all over it and I can’t complain. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • YouTubers are essentially creating a cult of personality around themselves with loyal followers you will do anything to support them. My lack of success on YouTube can be traced to my inability to develop a cult of personality, and probably it’s a good thing that I can’t do that.
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Juicy architectural details in Downtown Concord (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • Everyone is in a life cycle. I was one of a few people sitting by Walden Pond alone. A couple passed me by, laughing together as they swam through the rippling water. Other couples walked hand in hand on the other side of the shore. Another took a picture of their young daughter doing handstands on the sandy bank. At first I felt jealous and resentful, but then I realized they were just in a different place. Maybe one day I would be them. Who knows. But these years I have been a lone wolf and that has had its benefits. We want other people to be where we are or we want to be where other people are so we try and set people up or get set up, but everything has its time. Taking road trips alone…Right now, that’s just where I am.
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Concord cemetery. Graveyards used to creep me out, but I finally understand what my mom told me that you’re honoring people by giving them thought long after they’ve left this earth. 

  • I’m not cut out to be a 19th-century farm woman. I wonder if there were 19th-century farm women who felt they weren’t cut out to be 19th-century farm women.
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Wayside, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s home next door to Orchard House, though apparently he disliked Amos Bronson Alcott and the other Transcendenalists. 

  • Sometimes you need to get away so you can find the strength to keep pressing on. Some days, you hurt so bad. The bad news keeps piling on. The reminders of what you lost, of how he doesn’t want you, of how you aren’t good enough for him, of how he wants her and her and her more than you and will actually put effort into continuing a relationship with them. Sometimes you have to force yourself to get out to distract yourself. Reminisce a little, but not too much. Let your mind be a little empty. Spend a little too much money. Who gives a shit. As long as you’re alive tomorrow. As long as you make it through this. As long as you know that you are a woman who is worth having and who is as strong as she is broken.
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Concord, Mass. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • As someone whose heart warms and sings the Hallelujah chorus as much as it does at the sight of chain clothing stores, it’s probably wrong that I have such a strong emotional attachment to the book Walden.
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Drool. Especially the turret. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

  • It’s good to get back in touch with your dreams and to recognize how far you’ve come. On my drive up to Concord, I passed near where my sister went to college. I immediately thought of the night I stayed in her dorm room before graduation. I was not far from starting undergrad myself, and I remember listening to the song “Independence” by The Band Perry and almost crying (typical) because I was so nervous about the thought of living on my own. Flash forward seven or eight years and here I am driving on my own on a spontaneous road trip, living ten hours from home. I often get on myself for not being a more adventurous person, but the reality is I’ve come a long way.

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“Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.” – Louisa May Alcott

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Feeling Stupid.

I’ve experienced quite a lot of feeling dumb these past few months. It’s a pretty awful way to feel and has a tendency to make us shut down and not want to try any more for fear we’ll look more stupid.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Yesterday, I was working in the historic house that I am volunteering in as an intern this fall. It was my sixth day in the house and unfortunately the nature of working at such a busy museum is that most of your training is on-the-job, and it can be hard to get proper training even then because the house can be so busy that other staff members are talking to visitors most of the day so you don’t get a chance to ask questions or receive instruction.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Well, yesterday was busy, but I found myself being told over and over, “No, we don’t do that. This is the right way.” I was already tired out from having worked in the house two days before that and was going into the day with a “just make it till closing time” attitude because of the physical and mental fatigue. Being told I was wrong over and over did not help my emotional state improve too much, as you might imagine.

This summer, I participated in a program where I and five other undergrads learned about antiques in New England. While I love history and museums, I quickly found out that I knew relatively little about the subjects we were covering, namely furniture, art, and New England, especially in comparison with some of my esteemed colleagues. I frequently felt dumb, inferior, belittled, and less valued in comparison to my peers because I didn’t know all the answers.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I often found myself giving a wrong answer in a seminar session or biting my tongue on saying something because I was afraid of being wrong again and finding out I did have the right answers. Both situations made me feel equally stupid. When I found out some people questioned why I was in the program because of my ignorance, I was enraged but also insecure because they’re critique had hit on the inferiority I had been nursing over the course of the program.

 

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

 

Now, in both cases – this summer and yesterday – nothing was my fault. I just hadn’t received the training or come in contact with the knowledge I needed to do those things. And why should I know which cutting board is meant for pastry or what era a slat back chair falls into? Those are both pieces of very specialized knowledge that few people have the chance to be taught. Plus, both instances were supposed to be learning experiences, not examinations where I proved what I learned. All of life is a learning experience, yet we expect people to know how to do everything and live life right from the get go.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Knowledge and experience are happy accidents the majority of the time; what some people might call a blessing and others a privilege. Don’t get too down on yourself about not knowing things, and don’t be so hard on others. Maybe we all need to extend more grace to each other for our mistakes.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Lastly, I feel stupid because I keep developing romantic feelings for men who turn out not be be equally interested in me. I feel stupid that I’ve done this again. I feel inferior that people have come to just assume and expect that I’m single. I feel disappointed that the same scenario keeps playing out over and over and that I keep being duped. It seems like I should know better by now. But we can’t be so hard on ourselves. I feel like a failure, but none of this is my fault. And better to fail because you love than because of hate or neglect.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Maybe I need to stop framing my life in terms of mistakes and focus on accomplishments and growth. We are so much more than our mistakes. We should learn from them, yes, but we shouldn’t look at other people or ourselves just in the shadow of the things we don’t know or have done wrong. We label people constantly with the ways we’ve perceived they have lapsed – addict, crazy, failure, stupid, needy, slut. We turn adjectives into nouns and use them to write people off and box them into that mistake they’ve made.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

You are not stupid. You are not a screw up. You have persevered. You have made it this far. You have accomplished. You do not have to be defined by your past or your mistakes or what you don’t know or haven’t done. You can find help. You can learn. You can grow. You can rise from the ashes of whatever haunts you in your past.

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Glen Echo Park, Maryland (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Song of the day

When friendships fade

Something I’ve struggled to learn over the past two or three years is that relationships have life cycles. Sometimes they thrive, sometimes they die. Sometimes that death is a violent murder, but most of the time it is a slow fade from existence, brought on by neglect. When you move somewhere new, people often forget to keep in touch, which can really hurt. Even if you are able to keep up, the relationship really isn’t the same.

This can especially be a struggle after graduating and leaving college and going from living with your friends every day to living across the country from all of them. Some people may continue to call you up, but many will fade out of your life, not even answering texts or letting you do all the work of a friendship. This can be really difficult to deal with, and sometimes it means the end of friendship, though sometimes a relationship can unexpectedly spring back to life again.

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Reproduction tea bowl and saucer, Small House, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I used to get really upset about relationships fading out because the other person got too busy or seemed to lose interest and wasn’t investing the same amount of effort into communicating as I was. I took that personally, thinking that the other person didn’t like me or want to be with me. I spent a lot of time in therapy processing through the hurt I felt because people didn’t seem interested in keeping up a relationship with me, especially after I transferred out of the first college I attended.

During that time, I struggled with a lot of frustration over my own needs and expectations for relationships not being met. Why didn’t people care enough to check in on me? Why did people pretend like nothing had happened when we did talk, when they knew full well I had left in large part because I was struggling with depression? Couldn’t they say they were sorry I was struggling or express some kind of sympathy instead of just joking around?

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Small House, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Eventually, I stopped attempting to continue having a relationship with many people who didn’t seem invested, cutting back to only a couple people who would ask how I was and be real about their own lives, making for a meaningful, two-sided friendship. At first, my cutting other people off was because I was angry, but then it evolved more to be about protecting myself emotionally. It’s pretty emotionally depleting to keep contacting a person and have them be apathetic about talking to you. I especially felt frustrated when I would share something personal about my own life and the person would say nothing or would just respond with something superficial.

I feel like vulnerability is sort of a currency; when you are open with someone, it helps them to feel more comfortable being open with you. But if you keep being open and they never reciprocate, you just feel embarrassed and almost disrespected because that person 1) is forcing you to do all the work of building the friendship, 2) doesn’t trust you enough to open up, and 3) isn’t invested enough in the relationship to open up more to deepen the relationship. I know that may not be entirely true and that some people struggle to be open or to vocalize their feelings, but I’m just saying that it can feel that way if you’re the one being open.

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Center Meetinghouse, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m still working on it, but in the past few months, I’ve started accepting more and more that relationships have their own cycles, just like anything else in life. Sometimes you’re really close, other times you’re not…it depends on life circumstances – whether you’re together or apart geographically, whether you’re busy, whether you are both going through similar events in life, how people’s emotional and physical health is, etc. It can be really hard to have a friendship that brings you a lot of joy and that you really cherish fade, but relationships change form and nature throughout their lifetime.

Sometimes you may have to be the one who carries a relationship, initiating all the conversations, checking in on the person, scheduling face-to-face meetings, etc. I know that can get tiring and frustrating and emotionally draining – it can even make you feel like people don’t want you. But ask yourself if the relationship is still meaningful and enriching to you. Notice I didn’t say that it still benefits you, because I don’t think relationships should be all about getting something out of it; sometimes you stick with people through difficult things because you love them, even though it’s draining to you.

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Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

But I think we all know deep down which relationships are ones where part of us would die if it died and which are ones where we know it’s just been one-sided all along. Sometimes it might be worth it to just let go of the relationship for a time; stop initiating communication, though respond if they reach out. If you’ve repeatedly reached out to a person and not had them respond, it’s time to take a break, for your own sake.

In these situations, I think it’s good to be mindful of whether that person is just going through something where they don’t have the capacity to reach out to you, but you can usually tell that they’re happy and grateful when you reach out to them at least. If that’s not the case, maybe it’s time to let go for a while. Or if the two of you aren’t even close enough that you know what’s going on that’s making it hard for them to keep in touch, maybe that’s another good indicator that it’s not worth continuing to empty yourself out to keep the relationship going.

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Asa Knight store, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

There are times when relationships end; someone cuts you off or you have a fight or communication just isn’t reciprocated. This can be unspeakably tough. You might even go through a process of grieving the relationship, even if we don’t typically associate grief with friendships ending. But it can be extremely helpful just to acknowledge that, yes, you did lose something – and someone – you valued and, yes, there are hard feelings that come with that. Those feelings need to be acknowledged and processed through in order to heal and let go. It might even be worth seeing a counselor about or using a hobby – exercise, writing, painting, etc. – to work through your emotions and give yourself time alone to process things.

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Bellows in the Asa Knight store, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Oftentimes we deny ourselves the chance to acknowledge that something is difficult or we push negative feelings to the back of our heads, telling ourselves to remain positive or that it’s not a big deal. This can just perpetuate the hurt they cause. Even just acknowledging something hurt or is hard can help though. If you’re going through a friendship ending or even being not as close as you’d like, take this as your permission to hurt a little over that. Take time to reflect on the good times you had with that person, but also give yourself the dignity you deserve by refusing to blame yourself, spend hours wondering what went wrong, being bitter, or continuing to pursue the relationship if the other person isn’t interested.

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Bullard Tavern, Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Better times will come (hopefully.) And you always have the company of the best person in the world – yourself 😉

Get what you deserve

The other day, I read an article about how the lead singer of The Killers, Brandon Flowers, was inspired by his wife’s struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as he wrote many of the songs for the band’s new album. I was struck by how invested he was in his wife’s well-being and touched that he cared enough about her to take time off of touring to support her when she was doing especially poorly.

Even though I know that people who love each other should be willing to go out of their way to take care of their partner, I was still taken aback to hear the lengths he went to to be there for her. Whether in friendships or with romantic interests, it’s easy to get used to not being loved back in equal measure, to feel like you invest in others more than they give back to you. You at some point accept that that’s the way things work and just expect to drop everything for people who might just say “Oh, sorry” when you’re struggling. You work out a balance of recognizing that people can only offer so much and it’s not worth being upset over something that a person will never be able to give you.

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Deerfield, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I have to pour out compassion to others, but I’ve learned to temper that down over the years and not get too invested, but it’s a little sad to realize that I’ve inadvertently been conditioned to expect that nobody outside of my family will go out of their way to help when I’m struggling. I bookmarked that article and have left it up in my Internet browser to remind me to have faith that I can find that find of life one day – or better yet that that kind of love will find me.

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Deerfield, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I jokingly call myself the queen of unrequited love sometimes. I have gotten so used to being obsessed with people who are ambivalent about me over the years, that I’ve lowered my standards for how much affection I should expect from a man. I’ve lost faith that I can ever find someone who would take off time because I was having a dark day. I’m trying to tell myself to let go of people who don’t love me the way I love them.

The truth is I deserve better. Maybe you do too. We all deserve to love and be loved.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve someone who will stick around to get know and love your quirks and best and worst parts, who doesn’t walk away at the first sign of trouble or the first revelation of your imperfection.

You deserve someone who listens to you talk about what makes you excited, who comes to see your concert, who pours over your art, who asks about your job.

You deserve unconditional love that sees you at your lowest and still forgives and supports and understands.

You deserve somebody who is on your team and who cheers you on.

You deserve someone who knows you’re sexy, who gazes at you with That Look, who can’t take their eyes off of you.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve someone who keeps their promises.

You deserve someone who lets you know they care and appreciate your unique self, whether through words or actions or physical affection or gifts.

You deserve someone who hangs on your words and listens to your thoughts.

You deserve someone who drives to be by your side when you don’t know how to make it through another day. Or who just drives to see you just because they miss you and it’s been too long.

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Deerfield, Mass. (Rebecca Gale)

You deserve somebody who thinks about you when they can’t sleep at night.

You deserve somebody who can’t sleep at night because they’re thinking of you.

You deserve someone who does more than the bare minimum for you.

If he or she isn’t that someone, I hope one of these days you and I both will be able to move on.

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Song of the day

Crying in the Cafe

It’s 2pm and I am in a coffee shop. My day off was supposed to be tomorrow but I woke up this morning after a restless night turning over anxious, angsty thoughts in my head and I just couldn’t face going to work where I’m not even needed. I arranged to switch my day off to today and didn’t put a bra on for hours, idling in bed wishing I could fall asleep again to relieve the sleep deficit-induced ache in my head.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

It’s one of those days where I cry at the title page of a book on archaeology. It’s beautiful but not that beautiful. I teared up again when the author incorporated the title into the text so beautifully. I straight up cried because one of my favorite Sara Bareilles songs came on the radio. I teared up again because a man walked past and I looked at his shoulders and remembered the way the shoulders of another man I know alternate between sloping endearingly and standing straight with poise and confidence I can only dream of.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I want to run away and be home and find a job I actually enjoy. But I would still feel broken and lonely and I would still remember his shoulders but not be able to lean on them when I hurt. I want to stay here in this coffee shop forever where I feel safe and cosy and emotional but it’s kind of okay. Singer-songwriters croon through the speakers and it makes me feel like maybe my own angsty music is worth writing. It reminds me I’m not the only one with too many feelings.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

Sometimes life isn’t easy. And for some people life is never easy. But sometimes we find little safe havens to take shelter in while the storms rage in life. People. Embraces. Conversations. Coffee shops. Shoes. Songs. Shows.

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Basically my life today. (photo by Rebecca Gale)

My therapist keeps telling me to live in the present moment. I’m not entirely sure what the hell that means, but I guess I’m in this moment and it hurts but it also has its beauty.

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Even beautiful things get filled with ants. (Sturbridge, Mass.; Rebecca Gale)

Song of the day

Chapter Two

Today was better than other days. It’s good to get out, even if it’s hard to get yourself out there. I’ve been exhausted, struggling to adjust to my new sleep schedule, but I’ve been trying to force myself to go out and have mini-trips when I can.

Recently has featured Slater Mill, MA; Hartford, CT; Wellesley, MA; Brimfield, MA, and Sturbridge, MA, along with all the places along the way where I inevitably take a wrong tour and end up accidentally enjoying the scenic New England countryside. But I digress. Let me get to my “thank you” of today:

Today I’m thankful for people.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts (photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m honestly not usually thankful for people…They’re alternately annoying, frustrating, disappointing, and hurtful. Sometimes they’re all of those at once. I have trouble connecting with most people – I very rarely feel like I fit in anywhere. I’m an introvert and I definitely love my alone time, pondering life. Yet I long for meaningful friendships and relationships where I can be myself and know I’m supported.

The past couple weeks I’ve had some small moments where people I met warmed my heart, which gave me some joy to keep enduring. I started my second week of work yesterday and I had to spend about an hour helping shepherd some first graders around a museum. If there’s anything I’ve learned in the past week and a half, it’s that kindergarteners and first graders are strange creatures. I sometimes question if they’re really even human.

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But as frustrating as the kids were at times (why won’t you listen to me when I tell you not to pick up fistfuls of the dirt on the road that animals regularly walk and poop in?), there was one little girl who, from the moment I joined the group, kept looking up at me like I was really cool (I’m not) and telling me random crap about her life in the most endearing way. She was quirky, and I like quirky people. I felt a little sad for her because I could tell even at 6 she was a bit of an outsider. Another little girl asked the person next to her if she could switch seats with them so she could sit next to me. This warmed my heart too. It’s nice to have a moment where you feel kind of cool.

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I found a frog in the marsh! Sometimes you have to kiss a few to find a prince.

To dust off our knees and stand back up to adult level, here’s a more comical misadventure of mine. A week ago, I was at Guitar Center looking for a new guitar with a pickup. I struck up a conversation with the staff member waiting on me, an attractive guy who seemed to be a few years older than me…and what can I say – I like older guys. I stayed probably over half an hour and he kept coming back and checking on me. The cynic in me said he just wanted the sale but the hopeless romantic in me wondered if he appreciated the unexpected visit of a young, fairly attractive woman who could talk acoustic guitars.

In the end, I had to leave before I could make a decision, so he gave me a card with his contact info on it before I left. Over the course of the hour-long ride home, I grew increasingly excited about the possibilities I began to imagine. I started to psych myself up, deciding I was going to ask this guy out. It was time I went on a proper date and he seemed normal and the other relationship I had pinned my hopes on seems to not be working out. I don’t mind asking a guy out. I know my girl friends tell me men don’t like to be pursued, but I know the kind of person I want so why not try and at least drop hints about your interest if not straight up initiate.

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My imagination runs away when it comes to relationships. I should probably move into this tiny fairy house and sequester myself from the world while I’m still ahead. (Sturbridge, Mass.)

When I got home, I decided to Google the guy before I got in touch. Lo and behold, I search the phone number he gave me, and it was the store telephone. I realized it was probably a business transaction. I laughed at my own silliness and inability to read whether men are interested in me. I felt a bit let down but a bit relieved. I don’t know if I could go on a date with someone who I didn’t know well. But people I don’t know well don’t seem interested in going on dates with me. All the same, the story is funny and I was humbled and I’m still glad to have met the guy.

But to balance out that slightly embarrassing interaction, two days ago I went to a CVS and as I was taking my bag from the cashier he told me as politely as possible, “You know, you’re really cute.” I was so surprised, I was flustered, but mostly extremely flattered and, honestly, a bit touched. I don’t think a guy has ever told me I’m cute before. I appreciate that guy’s bravery in complimenting me…I wouldn’t have had the guts to compliment a stranger, but it made my day.

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A single, unexpected, small gesture can leave you smiling with wonder. (Sturbridge, Mass.; Rebecca Gale)

People can hurt you and they can bring you unexpected joy that is like nothing else you’ll experience in life. Oftentimes the same person can bring you both. We can laugh with friends one week and complain about how they never call the next. Relationships ebb and flow and cycle; I’ve noticed people will get wrapped up in certain relationships and let their friendship with me fall to the wayside and then one day they will pick things back up with me again because their life situation or perspective changes. It used to irritate me to no end – I felt disrespected and neglected.

But with time I’ve come to accept that to some extent that’s just human nature. And when people need me, I’ll be here to listen and to try my best to empathize. I sometimes wish I had more people to do that for me, but at least I have been blessed with an incredible mother who consistently does that for me and has modeled what it is to be a compassionate, self-sacrificing, accepting human being. I value that above all else.

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The man who consumes my thoughts and heart these days…He has brought me so much joy over the past months. But also some pain. Disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, hurt – then a reconciliation that deepened our relationship beyond what I could have ever anticipated, shifting things from us being acquaintances to friends. Those conversations were invariably previous to me, as difficult as they were, because they were real and honest and I felt like he trusted and regarded me well enough that he was willing to open up. I didn’t take that lightly. It meant the world to me.

But it’s hard when you then feel like subsequently the person has shut you back out of your life after they let you be privy to their hurts and struggles. Because you’re then invested and you care and you are concerned, sometimes even worried. But you don’t want to press them for answers, yet you wonder what’s going on in their life. You want to be an encouragement but don’t know how to bridge the gap. You’re willing to pour yourself out, but you want to have at least a little indication that the person is receptive to your pursuits of a relationship.

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I’m sure lots of good memories were made here and it meant a lot to the family who once used it. Now it just looks like a dump to whoever comes by and peeks in. But it can always be fixed up again. Renewal of a relationship can be even sweeter.

Relationships are messy. And confusing. I’ve expended a lot of emotional energy and angst worrying over them the past several years. Sometimes it’s tempting to wish someone had never even been a part of your life because the hurt is so deep, the loneliness without them such a gaping hole that aches and yawns like an empty cave, making life appear that it will merely stretch into darkness from here on without them.

But I wouldn’t trade most of my relationships even if it meant I wouldn’t have some of the scars on my heart and body that I do. I learned, I grew. I keep learning. And even though you have to let go of people sometimes for your own emotional well-being, sometimes they come back.

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Sturbridge, Massachusetts – Sturbridge Treks trail (Rebecca Gale)

It’s easy to rewrite history to make a relationship all good or all bad to help yourself move towards whatever goal you have in mind – convincing yourself the person was all awful so you can break up or telling yourself that he’s perfect so you can push down those red flags that keep coming up when you daydream about finally kissing. I’m guilty of both. Maybe that’s part of the process of, well, processing a relationship. But I think the goal of a healthy acceptance of a relationship in your past is appreciation of the beautiful and acknowledgement of the ugly.

Sometimes people surprise me, even when I’m reeling from the ways other people have disappointed me.

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Still walking. Step by step. I don’t know how I’m going to make it sometimes, but I’ve felt that way many times before and I’m still here.

Chapter One

Today sucks. So did yesterday. I don’t know how to keep on going with my life. In moments like these, you wait for some big thing to come and rescue you from the unbearable pain – a declaration of love, a dream job offer, a letter of appreciation – but rarely do those things come.

I’ve found that a lot of times when you’re struggling, you have to save yourself by holding onto the little things. Look for one little thing to look forward to or to love and let it carry you. Inch by inch you drag yourself. I’m going to keep giving life one more shot. And another and another. I don’t have faith right now it will get better, but if I give up, I forfeit any chance to see.

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Today my small measure of happiness is that I love these ankle boots. I got them on clearance for $25 at DSW last fall. I tried them on and loved how European and 1970s musician-y they made me feel (plus anything Fergalicious brand has to make you feel extra confident) but I got shopping anxiety and left without them. The moment I drove out of the mall parking lot, I regretted walking away from them. I prayed they would be there the next day when I went back. They were and have made my feet happy ever since.

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Different set of boots, but they click when I walk and also make me happy #fallfashion

My friend told me he’s excited for the fall weather. I am too because I love my fall clothes – how long my legs look, how hip and singer-songwriterish I can dress. I wish he was here to see. I wish that he felt about me the way I felt about those boots…When I was out of his life, he realized how much he needed me. I know that after the last conversation we had, I felt so hollow, knowing we would be separated in less than 10 hours. I needed to pack but I felt like my soul and energy had drained out of me into the floor. I draped myself across my bed and just lay there, letting the emptiness of being alone – of being without him – wash over me. I texted him I would miss him.

He never replied.

Maybe I should have known then that he didn’t feel the same.

Now I’m just finding little things to help me survive being stranded alone away from home.

I like my boots. I like my jeans. I like my long legs. I like putting my feet up so I feel cool for once in my life. I like light flooding in windows. I like the comforting canopy of leaves on a tree. I like a good cry every once in a while.

I like that even though nobody ever loves me back, at least I love.

Maybe if I hold onto those things, I can get through today.

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Song of the Day

I wish I were pretty (I think.)

Like most people, sometimes I have moments – usually while Facebook stalking a woman who just commented on the status of a guy I’m interested in – where I sigh inwardly and say to myself, “I wish I were pretty.”

Over the years, there have been different women who I’ve secretly (or sometimes not-so-secretly) kind of hated because they are gorgeous, put-together, well-dressed, have a perfect smile, are well-accoladed on social media, turn men’s heads, and are always peppy, friendly and outgoing. I would look at these sorts of women and think to myself, “I wish I were pretty (and well-liked and outgoing and confident and positive) like her.” Before I got in bed tonight, I was on Instagram doing this exact thing.

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This flower just garnered more likes than your job announcement on Facebook. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

But I think if I were honest with myself, I don’t think I really even want to look like them. I freely admit that I’m a rather wonky-looking person, but that kind of fits my personality. Most of the time, for the most part, I like the skin I’m in. There are a couple things I would (and might) change…Straight teeth would be nice. Though part of me respects middle school-aged me for deciding not to finish orthodontics and just embrace my wonky smile. But I also realize I probably look like a hillbilly vampire. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to have voluptuous breasts like Victoria’s Secret models. Or really just most any normal woman who has passed through puberty. But I have come to accept my flat chest, even to like it.

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The point is, I think what I really envy about these women is not their appearance, but their attractiveness, the way they naturally draw people to like them and pursue their companionship. Women want to be their friends, know how they did their hair, like their artsy selfies on Facebook. And men, men flock to them in an odd daze of fearful infatuation. Frequently men who I’ve had a connection with and pinned my romantic hopes on end up getting hung up on one of these hot, peppy women who they feel like they can’t obtain but still hang around, drawn to their beauty and radiance. They might not ever even make a move, but they can’t seem to let go of the girl.

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Duke Gardens, NC (photo by Rebecca Gale)

As someone who has written enough songs about unrequited love to make Fearless-era Taylor Swift proud, and who frankly is still waiting to even experience a requited romantic relationship (there…I admitted it to the world), this really pisses me off and preys on my own insecurity about not being attractive enough to interest anyone because, well, historically that’s been pretty true.

I’m not sure what makes people attractive. It’s more than just their physical features, it’s their clothes, their voice, their energy, their personality, their mannerisms. I don’t know what the right combination of these things is that makes you attractive or how to obtain it. I suppose we all have different traits we find attractive in other people too. The people who will really value us will love us for who we are.

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A pensive moment. 

The one time I have come close to falling in love was with someone who was quite different from my ideal man or physical type that I tend to fall for. But I was quickly won over by who he was, and the traits that were especially quirky and different are the ones I found the most endearing. But overall, while I can point out certain physical and personality traits I especially love about this person, it’s his entirety overall that captured my heart – his presence that can’t be recreated or replaced or made up for. Someone could look just like him or have similar interests to him, but they still wouldn’t be him.

I guess it’s good to keep in mind that people who love and care for us love our entirety. When we compare ourselves to others, we tend to fall into a mindset of picking out parts of ourselves we would change, but the reality is we each are individuals that people love or hate for who we are, if that makes sense. It’s not worth trying to be different or wishing we were different. I think at the end of the day, most of us just want to be myself and be loved and appreciated for the unique conglomeration of traits that make us who we are more than we actually want to look a certain way.

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Even utilitarian things have their own beauty. (Duke Gardens, NC)

 

I’ve had a million pieces of advice given to me over the years on how to magically make yourself attractive to people. Be confident. Wear spanx. Let your body run free and burn your bra. Don’t wear makeup. Wear more makeup. Put on heels. Wear sweats. Focus on yourself. Focus on other people. Go after the men you want. Never, ever pursue a man. Concentrate on the energy you put out. Get involved in what makes you passionate.

My favorite that I constantly get is some variation of “Once you stop pursuing a relationship and focus on yourself, the right person just appears.” This sounds like a fantastic idea, only every time I attempt it, the thought in the back of my mind is constantly, “Awesome. Once I do this, whatever it is, I’ll finally find love!” So that kind of undermines the exercise.

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We forget the light that our unique personality brings to the world and the joy that our happiness brings to the ones we love. Word. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

I’m not sure why I’m sharing all this personal information with you, except that I think most people, men and women, probably can relate on some level. And I think the more we admit and are vulnerable about the things we struggle with, the more we get out of our own head and can move on, and the more we help one another deal with the things that keep us up at night and keep us from being our best selves and living a happy life.

Jealousy resulting from personal insecurity can really eat you up inside. It can destroy relationships with friends and significant others. It distracts us. It preoccupies us. It’s not easy to get rid of…I’ve been in therapy long enough to know that. But admitting our insecurities, considering whether we really want to be that person we envy and why it might not solve our problems, naming our own strengths and realizing that our attractiveness lies not in individual features we pick apart but in a collective essence of a person – their appearance yes, but their quirks, their unique physical and personality traits, their voice and walk, their talents, their conversation, their interests and passions…It’s about so much more. Which I guess means we should be ourselves and embrace who we are. Because that’s who and what people will love when they love us.

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For example, I like big ducks and I cannot lie. They’re goofy and ridiculous but bring such joy to people, myself included. (Duke Gardens, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

And unfortunately we can’t always find people who appreciate our uniqueness, whether platonically or romantically. I’m sorry if that’s true for you right now. And even though it might not seem like it, you’re not alone in experiencing that. But I hope you can start to embrace yourself, your loneliness, and turn it into independence.

I’m not about to prescribe to anyone a treatment plan to magically fix insecurity. I’m not even going to condemn you for envying someone else. I’m tired of those didactic, condescending pep talks in articles and during conversations from friends, telling you to embrace yourself and go on a fast from men (usually given by people in happy, committed relationships, may I add.) I believe there’s a process to everything that you have to feel out for yourself. Rules and regimes work for some but not others.

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Maybe we should stop forcing ourselves to try and either 1) fit into a mold of attractiveness or 2) force ourselves to stop caring about being attractive. I’d rather just accept myself – clingy, desperate, coming on too strong sometimes and being way too shy at others – and start from there. Maybe first with finding kinder ways to describe myself.

You do you. And enjoy it.

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Be your own free koi spirit. (Duke Gardens, Durham, NC; photo by Rebecca Gale)

 

Well, that just sounds dumb…

Hi. My name is Rebecca Gale and I like to study old scrapbooks.

I’m pretty embarrassed about that…I feel self-conscious every time I have to bring it up. But I can’t seem to let go of my desire to look at these musty collections of random crap that I once described as “compressed trash bins.” They’re so strange and personal and cryptic and beautiful. They tell stories of people who didn’t get to invent gunpowder or write a best-selling novel or marry someone famous.

I love untangling those stories from the web of junk pasted onto crumbling paper and literally letting them see the light of day again. I love the sense of fulfillment that comes from giving voice to someone who has been overlooked. I love the fun discoveries that come when you open an envelope and find a love affair or a half-eaten cookie, the layers and layers of meaning, the little mysteries that will never be solved.

Beyond that, I think a little part of me is afraid that I’ll never make it into the history textbooks either, so I like to think maybe one day someone will open up the acid free archival boxes containing my own carefully constructed creations and give them a second glance. I like the thought of giving forgotten people a second life, a chance for their stories and secrets to see the light of day. Because I, too, one day will probably just be a box collecting dust on the shelf of some historical society shelf (if I’m lucky enough to even end up there.)

I know my reasons for loving scrapbooks are legitimate. I firmly believe deep down that they are treasure troves of historical knowledge worthy of attention and study. But I’m still embarrassed to admit I like researching something as girly, messy, silly and sentimental as scrapbooks, something associated with $7.99/pack Martha Stewart stickers, middle-aged moms, and glitter. Even using the term “research” to refer to them seems like a stretch. When I try to describe why I think they’re important to other people, I just get bashful and tongue-tied.

I was talking recently with my professor about how easy it is to feel insecure as a student. This summer, I participated in a fellowship program, learning about material culture studies, something I’m passionate about, but quickly realized I knew much less about than I thought. I spent a lot of the summer grappling with self-doubt, feeling dumb because I gave a wrong answer in a seminar or frustrated because I didn’t speak up when I did know the answer. I felt inferior to my colleagues who had a much more extensive knowledge of decorative arts and art history. I even occasionally felt angry, perceiving that I was belittled or underappreciated. (As a side note, I also think my teeth got even more crooked this summer, and I’d like someone to please contact my middle school orthodontist and demand a complete refund at this point.)

As I shared all this with my professor, I tried to counter-balance some of my ranting with the lessons I had learned along the way, in spite of how frustrated I had sometimes been. Mostly I was thankful for the clarity that the program brought to some of my goals for future study and my career. But at one point I also mentioned to her that maybe it was good for me to realize that I need to start finding value of my own academic abilities and scholarly worth within myself, rather than relying on external affirmation or letting myself be swayed by situations not going as I hoped or people criticizing my efforts.

My professor responded to this by telling about how she herself up until recently had constantly questioned her ability as an academic, all through the process of getting her PhD and even afterwards as she worked on writing a book. Then suddenly she realized that if she was passionate about her topic, others would see its value too. It was amazing to me that someone so obviously intelligent and capable, working in a legitimate, established, respected field of research could feel so insecure. But the more I get to know people, the more I realize that something most humans have in common is insecurity.

I’ve come across a lot of cocky people, especially in academics, who are constantly trying to name drop or network or make clear that they know just what or who it is you’re talking about. As annoyed as I get with these people, on a certain level, I feel bad for them, because I think that they’re the most insecure of us all. I could be wrong, but I think the constant efforts to prove themselves to people, even when nobody has asked them to, stem from some some need deep down to impress, which in turn comes from a fear that they are not enough.

I’ve been guilty of bragging and trying to prove myself too though most of the time my insecurity manifests itself as timidity or silent self-doubt. Either way it isn’t healthy. Insecurity in any form, about anything, eats away at us and distracts us from dedicating ourselves to whatever work or cause is our purpose in life. We drop classes, don’t turn in applications, put projects away in drawers, keep quiet instead of engaging in exploration of a topic, play it safe when we should take risks, don’t ask questions for fear of seeming ignorant, and don’t speak up for our cause or passion for fear of judgment, thus minimizing the impact we could have on the world.

Own your cause. Pursue your passion. Talk back to your doubt. Let go – bit by bit – of your insecurity. Move forward in spite of your anxiety. Speak out in spite of the fear of judgment. Continue to speak even when judgment – or perhaps worse, silence – comes. You were given certain interests and loves for a reason, so you could bring awareness to them. Unfortunately, not everyone will see the importance of your passion because not everyone is passionate about the same thing.

And sadly some people, because of their insecurity, feel the need to put down others’ passions in an attempt to validate their own. This is awful behavior, but also probably the sign that they are, deep down, a broken human being with their own self-doubt. But look for the people who are what Anne of Green Gables (another love of mine I’m always ashamed to admit) called “kindred spirits” – those who share your love. Or those who are allies, who can appreciate and support you and your love, even if it’s not theirs personally.

Cultivate relationships with those people. Take a risk and open up to them when you experience doubt about your work or even your value and ability as an academic. This is an act of strength that any good friend will respect you for and be happy to tell you not to be ridiculous, you are one of the smartest people they know, etc. And do the world a favor by being an ally, even to those who love something you just can’t get excited about, listening to their point of view, giving their work your time and attention, and letting them know that you respect their work and encouraging them to continue to pursue their passion.

Whoever you are, wherever you study, whatever you love, go for it. Do the best work that you can do. Practice articulating why what you love is worth studying. Write or speak about it for a non-academic audience to gain experience communicating your topic’s importance to the layman (no offense to non-academics – you are normal and wonderful.)

Love what you love and your passion will shine through as you speak and write about it. Others will be convinced and made to appreciate it too. Maybe not everyone, but some people. There is great power in doing work well and in doing what it is you were meant to do. Someone was meant to bring light to your topic, and that person may very well be you.

My name is Rebecca Gale, and I really love scrapbooks. (And, yes, I do make them too, okay.)