On paper.

Everyone knows it’s easy to look good online.

On the proverbial paper of this digital age, everyone has it good: family photos glowing, updates shining. It doesn’t take much to be funny, it takes even less to be present. Even bad news somehow orders itself neatly in status boxes, promising only compartmentalized drama.

In reality, the screen in the bedroom window is torn; it flaps in the breeze against the blinds like an errant moth caught underneath a paper cup. Our furniture isn’t new. The sofa in the den is a 1980s throwback roughly the size of a blue whale. In the backyard, the dogs have made mud of most of the yard, and Sam has even found a way through the fence; we barricade his escape with plywood squares we’ve been meaning to replace since January.

Our bathrooms could use a remodel. In the kitchen, the fluorescent light cover cracked years ago (the result of an errant basketball bounced a tad too high); we can’t find the right sized panel, so it remains bare. We’ve gotten used to it. Nate could use a new desk and I’ve been wanting a full-sized dining room set for our family of five for years, but we recently pulled up all the carpeting and laid down hardwood (ourselves, under backbreaking labor), and anything else will have to wait (at least until we’ve replaced the dryer).

We have jobs, but we don’t make as much money as some of you. We have a savings account, but it’s not going to pay three kids’ college tuition any time soon. We have things, some that we love and some that we need and many that we don’t. We pare down the stockpile of material possessions every once in a while, cleaning out the garage and boxing things up and carting them to the car, but inevitably, when we walk back in, we notice the stain on the rug again and we sigh.

Never mind what I said before: on paper, we’re kind of a mess.

You know what though? We shouldn’t care. We worry about the wrong things, and for a moment or two a day, if we’re lucky, we realize this (perhaps while chopping vegetables or searching for soccer cleats or typing this blog post). We finally see the blue sky framed by the neat bay window and hear the birds chirping and ah-hah! We shake our heads to clear them, and we try to hang onto that feeling. The one that reminds us that at least we have a house demanding upkeep. We have two bouncy dogs who make us laugh. We have clothes to dry and lights to turn on and food to set on the (too small) table.

We have a family of five.

And we’re happy. Legitimately, truly, hand-to-God happy. And it’s as simple as that.

Or at least it can be, if we let it.

22 thoughts on “On paper.

  1. I love this – it is exactly how I feel. Wouldn’t trade the mud and mess and craziness for anything. Okay, would trade the old furniture for new, but really, it’s just a “thing”.

    And yet, it’s so easy to look at everyone else’s “things” and feel what we have isn’t quite enough. As I reminded a friend in my book club who was feeling this way the other month, it’s easy to compare your inner life to other people’s outer lives, but it is neither a fair comparison or realistic, or helpful to do so. On the surface, we can all glitter. Even the “compartmentalized drama” (as you put it) can seem engaging.

  2. Love this. It’s true – social networking has made it easy to mask the real truth of our every day lives. We let the world know what we want it to know…most of us edit out the outdated furniture and weed-laden lawn and fussy kids and bills and broken down cars. Wouldn’t it be great, though, if everyone felt okay enough to tell the truth? I think it would bring us closer together.

    • Agreed. Social networking brings people together, sure, but in an often falsified way. Even when I’m trying to be transparent, the truth sometimes comes out gilded.

  3. The point that struck me is the line about compartmentalized drama. It seems whether on paper or in person people just don’t want to hear the bad truths. And so people stop talking about it or put it in a “nice” way.

    • Yes, and when we have bad news or something we need help with, we feel the need to make apologies for it or excuse it (at least I do). It’s a sad commentary on our society.

    • Thank you. The ones in which I’m brutally honest are always the ones that resonate with others. I shouldn’t be surprised…they’re the ones I love to read best, too.

  4. What a wonderful post! I agree with the commenter above who said it’s easy to compare to other people’s outer lives…without any awareness of what their real, inner lives are like. Even the people who know us don’t really KNOW us, oftentimes. We are so scared to share the reality with others. I’m not sure we even acknowledge it to ourselves a lot of the time. Truth, it turns out, is hard.

    • Very true. And yes, I’m going to remember that ‘inner lives vs. outer lives’ insight for a long time. Very profound. Glad you stopped by!

  5. This is really resonating with me today as I sit next to a pile of birthday presents I can’t find the energy to put away and scan the images on my camera’s memory card only to realize I only took 2 pictures of the birthday party … how does one convert that into social media currency?

    But you’ve pointed to the truth. What we make out of these lives is what’s important, not how we package it for others.

    • It’s so easy for me to see only the package. It occurs to me that this is very shallow of me. Because you’re right: we need to value LIFE, not what aspect of life we can download from a memory card (though aptly named).

  6. My heart resonated with this. Life is chaotic. Relationships are messy. Things get broken. There is beauty in the imperfections. Sometimes it takes my kids to teach me this, as they remind me about some of the best and simple joys. Sometimes it’s my patients and their lives that jolts me awake from my ingratitude. Sometimes it’s as simple as learning to breathe again and stop running after things that don’t matter. Thanks for writing this, and expressing it so beautifully too. What a great reminder.

    • Thank you for your thought-provoking comment, Yolanda. Life IS messy, and at the end of the day, I’d be bored if it were always picture perfect.

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