What’s the Story, Morning Glory?

Over and over, day after day, we tell ourselves our life story. Rereading sentences paragraphs, chapters. Repeating words that were written years ago. Retelling it from the beginning, time and time again, until we become our story.

We become the story we have been telling ourselves for so long. But the story may not be true.

Sure, there is some truth to it, but is it completely accurate? How old were you when you wrote those pages? What did you even know then? Was it a story someone else told you about yourself?  How has it been colored over time?  Why do you still believe it? How can you trust that it is true?  Are you really a reliable narrator?

What if you just stop telling that story?  Who would you be, if you stopped telling yourself the story over and over?    Who could you become if you started living in the moment and stopped living in your story?
If you stop telling yourself to hold on to the past, could you release it?
If you stop telling yourself that you were wronged, could you forgive?
If you stop telling yourself that you’re neurotic could you relax?
If you stop telling yourself you’re afraid of heights, could you climb that mountain?
If you stop telling yourself you’re an insomniac, could you sleep through the night?
If you stop telling yourself you are ostracized, could you be embraced?
If you stop telling yourself you are addicted could you give it up?
If you stop telling yourself you were victimized could you be victorious?
If you stop telling yourself you can’t live without it, could you do without?
If you stop telling yourself you’re a pessimist, could you see the bright side?
If you stop telling yourself you’re an introvert could you blossom?
If you stop telling yourself you always lose, could you finally win?
If you stop telling yourself you don’t like exercise could you start to move?
If you stop telling yourself you have no willpower could you succeed this time?
If you stop telling yourself you’re hungry, could you be full?
If you stop telling yourself you have to do it, could you stop?
If you stop telling yourself you’re unlovable could you be loved?
If you stop telling yourself you can’t do it, could you find a way?
If you stop telling yourself you’re unworthy, could you find worth?
If you stop telling yourself you’re short-tempered, could you react calmly?
If you stop telling yourself you’re alone, could you find community?
If you stop telling yourself things never go your way, could you turn it around?
If you stop telling yourself you are stubborn, could you let go?
If you stop telling yourself you make bad choices, could you choose wisely?
If you stop telling yourself you’re broken, could you be repaired?
If you stop telling yourself you’re ugly, could you see the beauty?
If you stop telling yourself you’ve been wronged, could you make things right?
If you stop telling yourself you’re damaged, could you find peace?Try it.  Just stop.

Start living in this moment.  Stop living in your stories.

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Fill in the blanks. If I stopped telling myself __________, I could ______________.

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Play Dead, Save a Prayer

When I was very young, some obviously sadistic member of my family taught me a bedtime prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Tell me. Please. What the hell kind of prayer is this to teach to a small child?

Later on I learned that there were other much nicer versions of this prayer. Versions without the dying and the soul taking.  By then it was too late, though. The damage had been done.

I said this prayer every night before bed.  After just a few days I started to think… Die before I wake?!  And then I would actually lie awake wondering if I was going to die. It became a tangible fear. Will it be tonight?  Am I going to die tonight? Oh, God I hope it’s not tonight.

I should have given up on that damned prayer.  But I was three!  What did I know?   Instead of giving up on it I started to us it as a magic spell.   I thought that if I said it I would be protected.  I would be good for another day of life.  If I forgot, then surely that would be the night I died.

This ritual stayed with me for a very long time.  On mornings when I woke up and realized I hadn’t prayed the night before, I would consider that as a gift. A miracle! Whew.  I made it.  He must’ve been busy listening to other kids last night.  

I became obsessed with the idea that either I or someone I knew would definitely be dying in their sleep. It must happen all of the time, right?  Or else why would I have to say a prayer to keep it from happening? So my prayer grew to include everyone I knew. A long list of people that should not be taken in their sleep.

When my grandfather would nap on the couch I would watch his chest rising and falling to make sure he wasn’t dead.  When I woke up in the middle of the night to go to bathroom I would check to make sure my parents were still alive.  When I was eight years old my great-grandmother died while I was away at church camp.  I wondered if I had remembered to say my prayers that night.

Ten years later, nighttime got really scary for me.   My dad was battling cancer.  I would spend my nights lying awake, trying to tune my ears in to his breathing in the other room, to make sure he hadn’t died.  During the day when he slept in the reclining chair I was back to my old pastime of watching the rise and fall of someone else’s chest.   And if I couldn’t see him moving I would make sudden noises to startle him awake.
“What?” he would say as he rolled his eyes open and looked my way.
“Nothing. Sorry. Go back to sleep.” I’d reply.

There was a good six month chunk of time when I only slept an hour or two a night.  I was exhausted. I was prone to crying jags and panic attacks when I wasn’t writing morose poems or drinking beer.

I was in a lecture hall one morning and the professor had gone off on a tangent about near death experiences, walking toward the light, that sort of thing.  I was about to get up and leave because I felt the panic rising up from my center. But I forced myself to sit in the giant lecture hall, shaking my leg nervously and chewing my cuticles as the walls closed in around me.  The professor then said “Why do we have to be so concerned with death? It’s gonna be just like it was before we were born. And that couldn’t have been too bad. Or we’d remember it, wouldn’t we?”

I went home that night, and I slept soundly. Ahhhh.

I wasn’t completely cured, though. Through the years I would still have occasional moments of sheer terror when I would think about dying. Especially immediately after my girls were born. Maybe some of that was hormone induced, but some of that fear is still living deep in my brain.  It has been there for too long to move out completely.

Needless to say, my girls were co-sleepers, because I would have been standing at their cribs with a mirror under their noses every fifteen minutes.

There was a time when writing this would have sent me into a cold sweat and heart palpitations. But I have noticed that lately, I can have actual conversations about death without panicking. Sure I might cry, but I won’t panic. I will get sad for the people I love that have died. I will also get sad if I think of the things I might miss, but I don’t panic any more.

Maybe it was just a matter of time before I learned to deal with my anxiety? Maybe it’s because of a healthier lifestyle and less sleep deprivation.

Maybe it’s because of yoga?

Every time we take a yoga class we act out the drama of human existence on our mats. There are moments of yin and moments of yang. We sweat and we breathe.  We come to terms with what our bodies can and cannot do. We come to terms with the control or lack of control we have over our thoughts. All the while, our subconscious is aware of that final resting pose. Savasana. Corpse Pose.

As we move and breathe and flow, something waits for us at the end. Playing dead. My yoga mat becomes a casket.  I am a corpse. And I haven’t been dreading this pose. Not at all.  I have actually been looking forward to it.

I practice being dead a few times a week, and somehow this has been sinking into my subconscious. There is a new groove being carved into the record that is my brain.   I have been teaching myself a new prayer.

Now I lie me down to rest.
This is the pose that I like best.
Nothing but breath flowing in and out.
This is what life is all about.

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Play Dead by Bjork

Save a Prayer by Duran Duran

 

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Crystal Blue Persuasion

I have a vivid memory of a beautiful spring day when I was 6 or 7 years old.  I was lying on the grass in my back yard looking up.   It was a warm day.  My dad was washing the car in the driveway and music was playing from a transistor radio.  The grass beneath me was thick and full.  It was dry, but the ground underneath was just damp enough to be cool on my back.   The sky was perfectly clear.  Not a cloud.  A few moments of crystal blue emptiness as far as I could see.

Then all of a sudden I saw something moving across the sky. It was small.  Tiny. And round. It was very very high up in the sky.  Maybe it was a balloon that someone had let go?  Or a spaceship?    I followed it for as long as I could without blinking.  And then when I did blink, it moved back to where I had originally seen it. I followed it again.

And again, when I blinked, it moved back to its original spot.  Each time I followed it, and each time, it kept moving back.  What was it?  Up there in the sky? Dancing around?  I had to find out.

I got up and walked over to my dad.   I told him that there was something up in the sky. He looked up and didn’t see it. “Where? I don’t see anything.”
“There it is!” I said as I pointed, ‘”and it keeps moving back and forth,” I motioned with my fingers.
“Ohhh,” he said knowingly, “It’s a floater”.
“A floater?”
I imagined people sitting on a giant beach raft, way up high in the sky. Laughing and floating through the air. But that couldn’t be what it was? Could it?
“What’s a floater?” I asked.
“It’s inside of your eye.”
“Inside my eye!?”  I was a little bit scared. “Can you get it out?”  I asked him, as I tilted my head toward him and opened my eyes as wide as I could.
“No, it doesn’t come out.  It’s fine. Everyone has them.  It’s nothing to worry about. You’ll learn to ignore them,” he said, as he returned to drawing his Turtle Wax circles on the car.

For the next few days I was obsessed with my floater.  My little round dot that I saw everywhere. I followed it around until I got a headache.  But after a week or so, I didn’t notice it as much.  There would be long periods of time when I was busy and I didn’t even think about the floater.    But if I looked at a blank surface it popped back up and then I couldn’t see any thing else. Then I could not stop seeing it. So I followed it again, spending my time playing a game of Catch The Floater.

Of course, in time I almost completely forgot about that floater.  Until a new one showed up a bunch of years later.  For a few weeks I bounced the two of them around on blank walls like a game of Pong.

We all have our floaters.  If we look past them into the open space in front of us, if we look out beyond our selves, we don’t see them.  But if we narrow our focus, they will get in the way of the other things we are trying to see.

So we live our lives looking out past the floaters.  And when we come face to face with a blank page or an open sky, we see them again.

Similarly, as soon as we try to stop thinking, as soon as we try to make our minds a clear blank space, our thoughts come floating in.  We try to sit quietly, to meditate, and we get frustrated and distracted by the floating thoughts.

Those thoughts are playing in our head all of the time, like music coming from other rooms.  We don’t hear them when we’re busy with things.  But as soon as we settle down, the volume gets turned up.  And just like the floaters in our eyes, they don’t pass by one at a time, they come all at once, and from every different direction.

But, just like the floaters, we don’t have to worry about them.  Everyone has them.  We just have to learn to ignore them.  Eventually, we won’t hear them.  We will be able to see out beyond them.  We will be able to clear our minds.  Crystal blue emptiness.  If only for a few moments at a time.

 

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Crystal Blue Persuasion  Tommy James and the Shondells

 

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Nothing Compares

I don’t usually spend time standing naked in front of a full length mirror.   But earlier this week, I found myself stepping out of a shower into the harsh fluorescent lighting of a hotel bathroom.  And coming face to face with me.  All of me.

One moment I was singing in the shower, the warm water gently falling over me, happily looking forward to the day with my family, and the next I was visually assaulted by the pale, middle-aged woman looking straight at me.  Who the hell is that?

As I averted my eyes and reached for the towels I could feel the monkey stirring in my brain.  And I decided right then to intercept him.   I redirected my thoughts to something that I say to people near the end of every yoga class I teach: “Take a moment now to be grateful.  For your body and your breath.” And that is exactly what I did. I looked that pale old lady right in the eyes and took a moment to be grateful.

Go on, monkey,  I thought. Gimme all you got.  Tell me about the cellulite. The wrinkles. The spider veins. Tell me all about the effects of time and gravity and complex carbohydrates.  I don’t care what you have to say today.   Today I am coming strictly from a place of gratitude. I am grateful for this body that gets me through this life. That is all.  You can’t bother me today.

If I stay in this moment, this present moment of gratitude, I know I can be satisfied with things just they way they are.   But if I slip out of the present moment I will lose my happiness. Because as soon as I slip out of this moment, comparison will creep in.  And as Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

I can stand here and simply be grateful for this amazing machine that allows me to travel through this world, or I can allow my joy to be stolen.  As soon as I compare my body to the bodies I see on all sorts of screens, mine won’t be so amazing any more.   And if I start to compare this current body to the one I had twenty years ago, or ten, or even three, this one won’t be as good.   I will find one flaw after another.

Sure, I can compare myself to someone whose body is much older, much more wrinkled, much less fit, but then I am silently stealing their joy.  This life is not a competition.  The one who dies with the best thighs doesn’t win a single thing.

I recently read the book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr. It is about, among other things,  competitive yoga.   From the beginning I thought that I would be aggravated by the book.  In my mind, “competitive yoga” is an oxymoron.   The mat is not a place for ego or competition. The mat is a place where I can be present in the moment and let go of all judgment because judgment causes suffering.

Competition requires comparison, and comparison is always followed by judgment.

My mat is no place for comparison.  I can be on the mat in a pose, connected to my breath, feeling absolutely amazing.  Then I look up and catch a glimpse of that gorgeous thin ex-dancer.  Her pose is all twisty and bendy and beautiful. And all of a sudden I no longer feel amazing. I feel awkward, extra-curvy and lumpy.  Joy stolen.

So, I can look around the room and find someone else. Someone less flexible than I am. Someone who looks like they are struggling.  I can compare myself to them so that I can feel better about my pose. And I can steal their joy.

I don’t want to steal anyone’s joy.

I teach yoga to all sorts of people; kindergarteners who have no idea what personal space is, seniors who have never been on a mat before in their lives and have a hard time balancing, yoga teachers who can bust out handstands anytime anyplace.  I never judge their practices as good or bad, but I always hope they can find some joy on their mats.

I am just happy that they come to class.  I am just happy that I have the chance to share something I love with them.   And it is this pale, lumpy, middle-aged body that allows me to share my joy.

And that is beyond compare.

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Nothing Compares 2U

Joy to the World

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…Or Try Again Tomorrow

Every day of my life, at least twice a day, I brush my teeth. I open the medicine cabinet and take out the toothpaste. Then I take my toothbrush out of the holder, and I begin the process.

About three months ago, we started buying a new kind of toothpaste. The tube stands up on its own. So it’s not in the medicine cabinet any more. It’s out on the vanity, standing there, in plain view.

For the first few days with the new toothpaste, I opened the cabinet, looked for the tube, and then I remembered it wasn’t there any more.

“Oh, right.” I said to myself.

Now it’s three months later and every day, at least twice a day, I still open the cabinet door. And just as I open it, I stop myself.

“Oh, right.” I say as I close the cabinet.

Every day. Twice a day. Sometimes three. Every single day.

Each time, just after I open the door, just before I reach in for it, I remember that it’s not there. Sometimes I laugh out loud. Sometimes I curse myself. Sometimes I sigh.

And each time, while I brush my teeth, I wonder how long it will take until I unlearn this routine? How long will it take before my brain realizes that I don’t have to do this any more? How long before I let go of this habit that isn’t serving me? And if I can’t easily let go of this simple thing, how can I let go of bigger, more significant habits?

Letting go of habits for the month of February brings with it a heightened awareness of all sorts of things.

I’m not eating bread. And the other day when I was making sandwiches for the girls’ lunches I instinctively scooped out the insides of the hard rolls to make room for the sandwich stuff. I was about to roll that handful of bread into a ball and pop it into my mouth.

I am a mindless bread eater!

Since I have forbid myself from bread this month, I didn’t eat it. I am hoping that I can break this habit altogether, and not do it ever again after February.

But one month may not be long enough. I’m still opening the freakin’ medicine cabinet after three months.

Our habits, our routines, the things we do every single day, make pathways in our brains. These pathways are like marked trails in the woods. If we keep walking on them day after day the traveling is easy. If we stop walking on them for a while, things will slowly start to grow there, making the travel more difficult. If we don’t go back to them at all for a while, they will become so overgrown that we can’t possibly walk on them again.

But how long does it take before the trail is so overgrown that it becomes a part of the woods again?

Sometimes when I’m in the kitchen and I’m in a groove, frying, stirring, chopping, moving around the room, I open up the drawer next to the stove to get a knife.  Then I remember that we don’t keep knives in that drawer any more. The knives have been in the other drawer for about five years now. When I first moved them, I still opened this drawer every single day. But now it only happens on a rare occasion and when it does, I am completely surprised by it.

I’m surprised that after five years the movement is still there in my muscle memory. The trail is still there under the growth.

I know that if I were to move the knives back there right now, it would only be a matter of days before I was walking down that old familiar trail again. I know this, because I have reopened overgrown trails before.

For years I was addicted to cigarettes. I quit many times, and each time it was a trigger that brought me back. One of my triggers was the telephone. I wouldn’t even pick up the phone until I knew where the cigarettes and matches were. I couldn’t have a phone conversation without a cigarette.

After I quit smoking, the pathway was still there. Every time the phone rang I craved a cigarette. Pavlov would be very pleased with himself. This went on for a very long time. But it doesn’t happen any more. Not ever. Phone and cigarette are no longer connected in my brain. That trail is covered over.

Oh, believe me, the trail markers are still there somewhere. I know that I could chop down the growth with a machete some day if I really felt the need to. Because I have done that before. Several times. I really hope I don’t do that again. It took a long time, and a few tries to successfully grow brush on that trail. It wasn’t easy.

And then there are trails that slowly, easily cover themselves over while we aren’t looking.

We bought our house 20 years ago. Any time that anything in the house broke I would always call my dad before I did anything else. I’d seek out his advice or ask him to come over and take a look at it.  For many years after he died I still wanted to call him each time something happened.

The other day when it was 12 degrees outside and we had no heat in the house I didn’t think about calling him.

Later in the day I realized that I hadn’t immediately thought of him. I was a little sad to admit that after ten years this particular trail had been covered over. A broken boiler and a call to my dad are no longer connected in my brain.  But I can look back lovingly, knowing a trail used to be there.  I can turn down another trail that will still get me to fond memories of him.  That took ten years.

Tonight before I go to bed, I hope I can stop in my tracks before brushing my teeth so I don’t open the cabinet door.

But if I forget, if I slip up, I’ll try again tomorrow.

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Jane Says.  Try again tomorrow

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The Space Between

“It is the silence between the notes that makes the music”. This might be a Zen proverb. Or Claude Debussy may have said it. Or both.

In any event, the point is, the bits of silence are what allow us to hear the rhythm and the melody. It is the space between the notes that enables us to hear the notes’ relationship with one another. Without that space, without the slivers of silence, there would be no song. Without the stillness there would just be a droning jumbled mess of noise.

Similarly, without moments of stillness and silence, one’s entire life can become a droning jumbled mess. It is the silence that enables us to create a healthy rhythm in our lives.

There are times when we just have to get away from all of the movement and noise and stimulation that we are bombarded with day in and day out. We all need moments of quiet contemplation.

I’m not talking about the moments when we turn off the world and turn on our headphones to listen to great music. I’m not talking about the moments when we ignore life and dive into a good book. I’m not talking about zoning out with the TV or the internet. I’m talking about complete and total stillness and silence; the absence of all stimulation.

It is in these moments of absence that we can truly appreciate our presence.

Just as the absence of a loved one makes us appreciate them more, faults and all, the moments of silence allow us to discover the rhythm our lives. They allow us time to understand our relationship with the people and things in our lives, and between the people and things in our lives.

We have to take away the stimulation to fully realize our relationship with it.

If you’ve ever been on vacation with no WiFi, or internet, or cell service, you have had the chance to understand your relationship with technology. During a power outage, or after a storm like Hurricane Sandy, perhaps you had the chance to better understand your relationship with electricity and gasoline.

Similarly, taking any time away from your usual routine of people, places and things, will allow you to realize your relationship with each of them.  Once you understand the relationship you can better decide if you want to continue in that way or release some attachments.

Completely disconnecting, unplugging from all stimuli is not easy for us to do. So many of us are addicted to activity. I know I am.

I began this year with the intention of cultivating space and silence in my life. Since January, I have been faithfully finding more moments of complete stillness in my life.

Like last year, some friends and I are using February as a month of extra mindfulness. I chose to give up bread and booze again. The booze part is easy, because that’s mostly a social thing. But the lack of bread is so hard for me.

Last year I realized that in order to stay off the bread, I compensated with chocolate and coffee. This year some of the other people gave up chocolate so I decided to make a conscious effort not to do that again. I am still overdoing it with coffee, and I did have a couple of unhealthy run-ins with Kettle Chips.

So a few days ago I decided I would limit the coffee and not snack at all.  I can do this, I thought. I’m good. I’m good as gold. Mmmm. Beer is gold. And toast is golden brown.
Nope. I don’t need that stuff. All good.

And just when I thought I had it all figured out, I felt an old familiar pang. I wanted a cigarette. What the hell?! Where did that one come from? I never have cigarette cravings any more. I thought we had that one beat.

But I realized after a moment or two, that it wasn’t real. I didn’t want an actual cigarette. I just wanted something. Something to feed the craving. It was just the monkey looking for an old friend. Any port in a storm.

My body thinks it is in crisis mode and it starts to go through the old Rolodex.  Who have we called in the past when we felt like this. Bread? Beer? Chocolate? They’re not home. Let’s see, let’s see…. Who can we call? Cigarette! Yeah, we used to love spending time with Cigarette. Call him! See if he’s home?

Bread. Beer. Chocolate. Cigarette. They’re all the same. All the objects of one behavior. So it’s not the bread or the beer or the cigarettes that have to be better understood, it’s the underlying behavior.

If a month of giving up two things allows me space to examine my relationship with so many other things, then perhaps moments of giving up everything can allow me the time to examine my relationship with everything.

And so I will continue to cultivate stillness and silence.  In these moments of absence I can learn to be more fully present. It’s the silence that lets me hear the sounds.

The music of our lives is being written in the quiet spaces.

 

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So the song for this one was either the Sounds of Silence or The Space Between, or this one by Depeche Mode.

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A World of Neither

My daughter doesn’t want to be a girl.
But she doesn’t want to be a boy either.
She wants to live somewhere in between.
She wants to move into a world of neither.

So I’m standing there holding up a dress.
“Look honey, I think this one is cute”.
And she says, “No mom, I’m not wearing that.
I think I really want to wear a suit.

A suit and tie. That’s what I want to wear.
I really want to be androgynous.“
What can I do? I turn my head and sigh.
“A suit?” I say “Well , okay then, I guess.”

When she said she didn’t want to shave her legs
I said “I think you should just give it a try”.
She looked at me and said “Okay, I will
If you give me just ONE good reason why?”

We debated several reasons. None were valid.
So I said “Because that’s just what we do”.
And I sighed because I knew that she was right.
It was much better for her to remain true

to the ideals that she herself holds dear.
She marches to the beat of her own drum.
And I have to envy her strong young conviction,
because society is sometimes pretty dumb.

My daughter doesn’t want to be a boy
Nor does my child want to be a girl
She wants to exist somewhere in between
She wants us to create a neither world.

She doesn’t really want her boobs to keep
growing,
but she doesn’t want to have them taken off.
She just might want to bind them up and wear a shirt and tie
and not have to listen to anyone scoff

when she walks by “Is that a girl or a boy?“
speculating about her gender and her choices.
Her short hair doesn’t cover up her ears,
so she can clearly hear the judgment in their voices.

She will not accept: But that’s just the way it is.
“Why do I have to do what people say?
Do I have to fit into someone else’s box?
Do hairy armpits mean that I am gay?

And if I am who cares? It’s not their place
to tell me how to live, to act, to dress.
They all spend so much time judging others
they don’t see that their own lives are a mess.”

My brilliant child doesn’t want to be a girl.
Nor does she want to be a boy instead.
She wants to live somewhere in between.
She has a perfect world inside her head,

a world where nothing has to be defined
as black or white. It’s just a shade of gray
where no one is expected to come out,
and no one cares if you are straight or gay.

Where looking “like a boy” is not a thing,
and acting “like a girl” just makes no sense.
Where being who you are is all that counts,
and carrying yourself with confidence.

Not conforming to societal demands
or feeling somehow different, somehow strange.
Just letting your outside match your insides ,
and not expecting anyone else to change

to fit into a box or on a glossy page,
to wear a dress or shave their armpit hair.
Because none of that matters anyway.
Because deep down, do we even care

about the way someone chooses to look?
No, none of those things are real.
We don’t love people because of their appearance,
we love them because of how they make us feel.

My amazing girl makes me feel proud.
Sure, she’d be lovely in a dress of pink,
but she’s coming to that party in a suit.
And we don’t care what anyone might think.

My daughter doesn’t want to be a boy.
My daughter doesn’t want to be a girl.
She’s happy to live somewhere in between.
I’m moving with her to neither world.

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Panic! At the Disco—   Girls/Girls/Boys

The Killers—   Somebody Told Me

Posted in Greasy Kid Stuff, Poetic License | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments