What keeps you up at night?
Most people don’t expect this question to come from a complete stranger but my capacity for pleasantries and casual conversation is limited so I go deep with people I barely know.
What drives you? What puts the fire in your bones? Do you have fire in your bones? Why not? What’s missing? You look pretty, do you feel pretty? Why not?
This is where my conversations start. In the deep end.
I seek them out, your stories, you. Context, layers, what makes you who you are. I can’t pretend I didn’t notice your soul peeking through its blue or brown or green or hazel windows. I see it. I witness. I want to know everything. I want you to know, I want everyone to know, that I see you, them. Especially the souls who act like they’ve never been seen before.
There are a lot of them.
Facts bore me. If you’re saying things that are absolute and not subject to perception or creative license then I struggle to find significance. Wait, that’s not true. I do care about one aspect of facts and that is how they make people feel.
I’ll come back to that.
If you could see into my brain, you’d find me always paying attention to the emotional currents in my environment like who was offended by a comment, who feels uncomfortable speaking but wants to be heard, who is being overbearing and needs to be buffered. Sometimes I’m so busy noticing the energy and the body language around me that I totally tune out the conversations. As a result, I often feel like I’m floating in a different world than everyone else.
This is really all quite self-centred, isn’t it? I don’t feel obliged to partake in conversations and activities that don’t inspire me, so I don’t. I fly away inside my head. When you live in a world of your own creation where facts don’t matter and souls are more obvious to you than bodies, you can become a bit of a snob. A messy snob with unpaid bills and missed deadlines because you can’t seem to come down out of the clouds long enough to pay attention to practical, technical things. Things most people care about, deeply, and that are necessary for the world to function.
But wait. How did I get lost in the climes of my own mind in the first place?
This brings me back down to the boring facts.
For a long time, I attached everything to categorical, tangible things. Everything was good or bad or black or white. Goodness brought heaven and sinfulness brought hell. To be rich meant to be financially wealthy. To be poor meant that you were irresponsible and had no money. These strict definitions suddenly became insensible when my life became too complicated for absolutes and everything went from black-and-white to grey, grey, grey. My life became a litany of trials and tribulations that burdened and branded me like a scarlet letter on my forehead.
Schizophrenic mother. Poor grades in college. Pot head. Unplanned pregnancies. Debt. Bad credit. Grad school dropout. Unmarried. UnChristian. Unacceptable. Unlovable. Victim. Pushover. Loser. Underachiever. Oh wait, the last few aren’t facts at all, are they? They’re the feelings I attach to the facts.
And that’s what puts the fire in my bones. That’s what drives me.
We aren’t defined by where we grew up or where we went to school or what our parents did or didn’t do or anything else that happens to us or because of us. The facts we allow to empower us or diminish us are really only the beginning not the end of our stories. The facts aren’t even our stories, just plot points in the real tales we need to tell.
Our real life stories happen in the less obvious, hidden places in our self-conscious where we are processing everything, deciding how we feel about it all and eventually creating an authentic response to it.
My facts, when regarded without perspective, made me feel like a penny with a hole in it — until I started telling myself a different story about my life, my gifts and what I once thought were my weaknesses. You know, the things that keep me up at night.
So I ask people about what keeps them up at night and what drives them and what makes them feel pretty because I want to know what stories they are telling themselves and on what facts or non-facts those stories are based. Only then can I really get a glimpse of who you are in the world.
And that’s all I really want to know. I want to know who you are when no one is looking. I want to know what you think you have to hide but don’t, just this once. I want to know the contrary part of you that doesn’t want to be seen but craves attention, all at the same time.
So I can smile and say, I see you.