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take two

Updated: Jan 23, 2020

Hi there.

It’s nice to see you again.

Yeah...guess it has been awhile. But, here we are. No need for catch up, because those conversations are never a barrel of fun. Better to just lead with a story about something that’s fresh on your mind and maybe at least mildly interesting. Better to just say, “So, I was listening to this podcast…”

Speaking of which, I was listening to this podcast called Terrible, Thanks for Asking. I’m a big fan of the host, Nora McInerney, who somehow manages to be hilariously gut-wrenching. From the iTunes description:

Hosted by author and notable widow (her words) Nora McInerny, this is a funny/sad/uncomfortable podcast about talking honestly about our pain, our awkwardness, and our humanness, which is not an actual word.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to listen to that?! Okay, not everybody. But hers is a marvelous brand of self-help: not too woo, not too “Rah rah health and self-growth!! Yeah!!!”! It’s entertaining, but you don’t feel like you’re killing precious brain cells. Plus, it’s important to get a little uncomfortable, even if it’s horrible.

As a semi-Type A control freak, being uncomfortable usually stresses me out. It’s only in the reflective aftermath that I understand why it was probably good for me, but by then, it’s too late to “make the best of it”. And that beautiful self-awareness never appears in the next uncomfortable moment.

Things they don’t tell you in the self-help world...

Anyway, the podcast episode I was listening to was a live interview with Esther Perel (pronounced es-TAIR, but with a Belgiumy, un-Americabutchered accent), one of my #1 idols. Esther is a relationship expert, author, speaker, and all-around bad-ass of a woman with a voice you want to listen to over a bold glass of wine after a rough day. Or really, anytime. Her voice makes everything better, even when she’s talking about topics like infidelity. I wish I could change my Siri to her voice – not that my current Australian male version of Siri is ever a letdown.

I’m not going to attempt to sum up this episode, because it’s impossible. Esther is one of those people you can’t really take notes on. Most people fill about 75% of their airtime with extraneous words and stale ideas, but any one of Esther’s talks is about 75% one-liners strung together like mother-of-pearl beads on a string made of mermaid hair. I don’t even know if her ideas are new to me, or if they just sound new because of how she says them.

So, no, I’m not going to sum up Esther’s wisdom. In fact, the reason I brought her up – before I got momentarily blinded by her hypnotic halo – relates to one of her "side note" moments. In this episode with Nora, she talks about the value of handwritten words. I’ll leave the eloquence to her:

“...[Y]our emotions come through your hand, through your fingers...It’s about sensing – it’s not just about feeling. When you write with your hand, in the pen lies all the emotions. The way you hold it, the way you tighten it, the way you push on it. And I also think that it’s not just that you write by hand, but you throw away the first version. The first version is just a purge. The second version is the one that you’re going to do something with.”

In a mere 25 seconds sit two gold-leafed ideas: write by hand, and toss the purge version.

But, truth be told, even though I love the romantic notion of it, I don’t usually write by hand. And I usually go with some semi-edited state of the purge version.

So why, in this “return post”, did I choose to share wise advice that I don’t really follow? I guess because doing so illustrates one of my core beliefs: you do you (but maybe stop trying so hard).

Now, this is a belief that I currently fight against. I’ve jumped on the mighty Self-Growth Wagon more times than I care to admit. Whether spending so much time mapping out the “life-changing” book idea that I barely even got around to writing the book, or spending weeks on end brand-strategizing this website only to struggle over every single post because I couldn’t quite get it “on brand” enough, I’ve found that trying to shape ideas based on “best advice” is like trying to shove too much Play-Doh into a tiny container: no matter how much you try to force conforming, it just ends up squishing out the edges.

Yes, I spend a lot of time trying too hard. In fact, I often try so hard that I end up with nothing to show for it. I start off doing something for me, but I end up setting the bar too high, organizing too much (yes, that’s absolutely a thing), and losing the heart of what I was going for in the process.

So, here we are. I’m doing me, and I’m going to try to stop trying so hard.

Daniel Jones, Editor-in-Chief of the Modern Love column in the New York Times, says that personal essays should demonstrate some kind of realization by the writer – some kind of shift in mindset from start to finish. Or something like that.

I will try to keep that in mind, but I can’t promise that it will always happen. Sometimes it will simply be a purge. I do promise that it will make some kind of sense. I also promise that you might be able to relate to at least some of it. Because one thing I’ve learned is that people love to hear other people’s stories and ideas – as long as they’re not too long-winded. So, I also promise to keep it brief enough that you won’t scroll through it quickly and think, “Nope. Not happening right now.”

You might be thinking, "What exactly is the point of this post?"

I'm kind of wondering that myself, to be honest. Starting strong with the awkward element!

In short, it's nice to be back, even if it's not handwritten. And, you know, even if there might be some shared purges along the way, I guess you could consider this new evolution of j.e.wolff a "second version" altogether. There you go, Daniel Jones. Does that count?

All this is to say: thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them.

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