For years, I have reserved this blog for writing poetry and essays that reflect random images, thoughts and emotions that I either experienced in the moment of the day on which they were written, or as reflections of previous times. The objective of the blog has been to capture those thoughts that threaten to fall, like crumbs, to the floor of my mind rather than allowing them to fall and be forgotten. Today, I would like to break my pattern to write about a television show—a piece of art—that has moved me as an artist, a writer, a woman and a human being: Mad Men.


Over the years various people have told me I remind them of Leslie Knope, from the series Parks and Rec. I understood the comparison as I, too, was a driven, personable and passionate woman, as well as emotionally connected to everything in which I was involved. While I still possess those qualities, I am not sure I possess them with as much fervor as we see in Ms. Knope.  Even so, I think that was a good comparison at the time the show was airing.  Then, something happened. A few of my dreams were extinguished, the vision I had for my life began to blur and I walked through a series of trials that, perhaps, left me with more wisdom but seemed to shift my perspective on life.


Today, I think I am more like the character of Peggy from Mad Men.


Peggy, the secretary turned Copy Chief, says in season 2, episode 13, “Well, one day you’re there and then all of a sudden there’s less of you. And you wonder where that part went, if it’s living somewhere outside of you, and you keep thinking maybe you’ll get it back. And then you realize, it’s just gone.


Thank you, writers of the show, for this simple yet profound sentiment. As the character of CS Lewis says in the film Shadowlands, “We read to know we’re not alone.” In this case, as I watched and listened to this episode of Mad Men, I suddenly felt not alone. The fact that a team of writers, producers and a director found the line worthy of giving to Elizabeth Moss to interpret, means the idea is universal enough to share with a large audience. And I, sitting in my living room in a small town in the Midwest did, indeed, receive it as truth.


The past year, or so, I have been struggling with the realization that I have changed. While I don’t think the changes are necessarily negative, I can see that I have lost a certain innocence, idealism and naiveté. What seems to be shaking me more acutely is that as I have changed, so has my self-awareness is any given situation. In other words, I have changed and so has world around me . . . but which came first? As we step into situations we have the ability to choose whether we will be a thermostat or a thermometer; what we choose depends on our will, as well as those intangible parts of ourselves such as confidence, certainty and security. For years, I was a thermostat. More recently in life, I feel like a thermometer . . . perhaps because as my life has been shaken, so have those intangibles I have listed above.


Recently, I had a conversation with a man who told me that the world is black and white. At first, I agreed with him. The world is, indeed, black and white inasmuch as there are rights and wrongs, an up and a down, good and evil, and dark and light. My whole life I have agreed with this sentiment. However, immediately following our conversation I began to wonder whether that is actually true. A side note about me: in the midst of any given conversation I may appear to be casually listening and discussing the topic at hand, but I assure you, I don’t take anything lightly, especially if the topic turns to something substantial that potentially connects to something meaningful to me. But I digress . . .


Life is black and white, until it is grey.


One does not need to set down her morals to write such a thing. What she does need to do is conduct an analysis in which she compares the way life “should” be with the way it often is. The older I get and the more I see and experience the world, the more vivid the juxtaposition between the ideal and reality. For example, it is an ideal that a young woman grow up in a household with her biological mother and father, that she follows her time at home with a journey to university where she chooses the career she wishes to pursue, finds a sturdy young man to marry, and then leaves university to begin meaningful work, have children and maintain that lifestyle until she leaves this earth at a reasonably old age. Within this scenario, at least a million small choices are represented that also reflect the ideals of integrity, consistency, loyalty, and . . . good fortune.


People are not pillars. We are not erected one day to stand the test of time and torrid weather for the sake of keeping the building of our lives sturdy and straight. People are more like brick houses, laid one brick at a time. If a few of the bricks are not properly set in terms of placement and/or insufficiently mortared, the house may stand but it may also crumble in places.


I think that is what I have been learning about myself, as well as others whose stories I have had the privilege to discover: we change. We grow and we shrink. We meet the goals get before us and we fail to meet them. We are kind and loving, and we are selfish and cruel: sometimes, all in the same day.


Parts of me seem to have crumbled to the ground. But parts of me still stand. And I am beginning to think that just as there are people who enjoy exploring buildings whose peeling plaster and creaky wood floors exhibit beautiful imperfections and the marks of time, there are those who don’t mind engaging with people like me who have lost interest in aesthetics alone. What I desire is true connection, which can only come through transparency, vulnerability and the willingness to be present with another human being, however flawed.


Perhaps it is time for me to stop considering the parts of myself that fell to the ground along the way. Perhaps there was a time to grieve those things and now is the time to reconcile what I thought might be with what is. I think the secret to moving forward is being willing to reassess yourself as you are today so you can move ahead with your whole heart instead of walking through life half-heartedly carrying the weight of yesterday’s goals, dreams and self.


Copyright: Jill Szoo Wilson