26 November 2014

How well can you REALLY know someone?

People say I’m intimidating. A good friend recently told me she doesn’t feel like she knows me very well despite having traveled together to another country and knowing each other for years.
I’ve heard this for much of my life actually. “You’re intimidating.” In high school I was on our Speech and Debate Team. I know what you’re thinking – of course debate competitors would find me intimidating: I love to argue and always have to be right! But, you see, I didn’t compete on the debate team. I performed in the Humorous Oral Interpretation and DUO Interp divisions – both Speech categories – in situations where I was meant to be funny. And I was funny. I got seventh in HOI at State, and my DUO partner Danny and I won the grand prize at our high school talent show. 

See? Not scary.

Me and my band/drama buddy James in high school.

Yet something about ME was unapproachable to my competitors (and some members of my own team). I wore a black suit and pull my hair back into a tight bun, but then again, so did everyone. What was so different about me?
As I got older, I had to let this “criticism” go a little bit. I'm short and have strong opinions and a big personality and maybe that's intimidating. Instead I choose to look at myself like this: when I look in the proverbial mirror, I see myself as welcoming and approachable and fun and an ambassador-of-ridiculous. It makes me really happy when I can connect people to each other. I like to be the one who organizes and makes decisions, and who others see as a source of information and support. Just last week I had three friends call me to be a job or housing reference – I love that sort of thing!
I strive to always be true to myself and lead my life in an authentic way. I’m always incredibly touched (and often surprised) whenever someone says they’ve been inspired by something I’ve said or done. I’m so grateful when people take time to read my little blog and tell me what they think. I’m open to new ways to be silly and welcome others to embrace their own crazy sides knowing I won’t judge them for it.
I feel like all of these things are incredibly obvious, but maybe not. I often wonder, “other than my bitchy resting face, what about me is hard to get to know?”
But I suppose I’m like anyone. I have a very private side. There are things I just don’t want to talk about, or things I rarely talk about. I can be sensitive. I’m picky about who I get to know at a deeper level. I like to make new friends, but only if it doesn’t disrupt the normal flow of my life. If you wanna go climbing or running or skiing I’d love to get to know you better, but if you’re looking for a movie buddy or want to grab happy hour after work or invite me to your mid-afternoon party on a Saturday I’m afraid you’re out of luck. 
I’m highly critical of ignorance. Be informed. Know what you’re talking about if you’re going to have a strong opinion. Don't just spout something you've heard or read - regardless of source. I’m unforgiving when it comes to language and grammar. Learn the difference between Your and You’re and we’re going to get along just fine.
Which is my way of saying I’ve decided I'm like an avocado - a little tough and rugged on the outside, but full of good delicious substance once you get through the skin. Be careful with skin though, because even if you can’t break through, I do bruise easily - something you as an outsider might never see. Then even under all the mushy stuff, there's still this really, really tough core few will take the time to bore into. I’m not even sure I know yet all of the things in the core – but isn’t that the excitement about getting older? Unearthing new and unforeseen quirks and passions which make you uniquely you?

What would you be?

As we grow up we learn evermore about ourselves: our motivations, aspirations, what makes us happy, and ultimately, why we get out of bed every morning. As we learn about ourselves we learn about the types of people we want in our lives – those who reflect back something we see, or want to see, in ourselves. Some are friends for a reason, some are friends for a season, and some are friends for a lifetime. You won’t always know why you knew someone until long after you don’t talk anymore, but that doesn’t make them any less valuable to your life. You may have only gotten to know that ONE part of them, but it's the part that sticks with you that matters.
One final story – my best female friend Allison and I have known each other for going on 13-years (sheesh!). That’s the entirety of our adult lives. She’s seen me go from this angry, cynical tight-wad with a chip on her shoulder to someone who smiles more than she frowns and understands the value of being generous. I’ve watched Allison transform from a quiet-wallflower unsure of herself or her direction into a gregarious, magnetic-personality making her own way in the male-dominate profession of scientific research.
Allison and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. We haven’t always been super close. Like any relationship, our friendship has ebbed and flowed. And even though she's my best friend, I have often wondered what I would do for her – what would she really need – in a time of crisis. It's my barometer for all friendships actually. I wonder things like: What would make her feel better? Should I go over there? Bring ice cream? Order pizza? Tell her a funny story? Should I make her talk about what happened to distract her from what's going on? Should I just leave her alone entirely? Try not to be one. more. thing she has to worry about?

I don't have those answers. I don’t think she’d be able to answer those questions for me. But at the end of the day I know she, and all of my other friends, would be there for me. And I for her. That's what friendship is all about.
And really, what more do you need to know?


13 November 2014

75 Steps to Becoming a True Seattlelite

Awesome poster from Ork Photos
Ahh Seattle. The land of perpetual rain and grey skies where sunshine dare not enter. Home to tech giants Amazon and Microsoft and the awkward tech-nerds who come with them. A city of hipsters wearing socks with sandals and talking about how much growing their own organic tomatoes makes them feel more connected to mother earth or some such bullshit. Oh, and traffic. Seattle has really, really terrible traffic.

Despite all of these negative associations, out-of-towners are discovering and moving to Seattle at an alarming rate. With only a few 'local's left, Seattle is becoming a city of transplants - I know folks from Wisconsin, Idaho, California, Massachusetts, and all of the other states I can't remember right now. I must confess that even I am a transplant (Montana). But having lived here for the entirety of my post-high school, adult life, I feel I have 12+ years of qualifications making me fit to identify what it means to be a true Seattlelite.

One of Seattle's most recent "acquisitions" is my friend Lisa, who moved here in February from Schaumburg, Illinois (for those of you without Google Maps, it's a far-out suburb of Chicago). She's now the proud owner of a Washington State driver's license (and license plates!) and is well on her way to becoming a Seattle native. Sure, she still owns an umbrella and doesn't know how to parallel park, but she's WORKING ON IT! Okay!?

Prior to her arrival I started sending her a list of things she needed to do when she got here. Visit the market, walk through the arboretum....you know the drill. This list eventually morphed into a gift idea (I like doing nice things for people sometimes) and thus became the 75 Steps to Becoming a True Seattlelite. Like any great list, I had help and asked my friends for their own ideas of things that are uniquely Seattle. They delivered, and this list wouldn't have been possible without the brain-grapes from Allen, Allison, Hexar, Jason, and Q, who gave me fantastically creative and funny suggestions. Thank you.

Then I took all of the ideas and sorted them into five categories of ascending 'Seattleness':
  1. Total Noob
  2. Greenlake Power Walker
  3. Hipster In Training
  4. Chicken Coop Owner
  5. True Seattlelite
I found some sweet photos on the internet, did some inDesign-ing, and voila! The official list was created. I bought the neighborhood map (pictured above), printed my own creation, had both framed, and presented it to Lisa as a birthday gift approximately 2-months after her birthday because life is hard and I can't do everything on time all the time. But now, in celebration of my own-half birthday today I share with you this amazing list.

You're welcome internet.

Click to enlarge and zoom in
©Kristina Ciari, 2014

03 November 2014

How to Be Happier

We're busy. Things move fast. A problem only compounded with increased age and added responsibilities. Our online lives are supposedly helping us in this new-world. We're always connected, making it easy to feel like we're efficiently staying in touch with the people we care about. But all we're really doing is blindly scrolling through social media updates, consuming information, and not adding anything to the conversation.

Don't get me wrong, I love me some social media. It's the primary way I communicate, and is a large part of my job. But I'm also a bit of an old soul. I like to read real books and write with a pen and paper and unplug for hours or days at a time in the mountains. These things make me feel happy - more like me - and I can tell when I've gone too long without taking time to detox from technology and just ... be.

Even though I know what I personally need to be happy, I still always read those How To articles about increasing your happiness. You know the ones: Do THIS For 10 Minutes a Day and Be Happier, Eat More of THESE for a Happier Mind, Why You Should Meditate/Practice Yoga/Go for a Walk for a Happier Life. 

One common theme in these articles is the concept of doing something nice for someone else. Until recently, I just wasn't fully sold on this idea. I don't do a lot of gift giving - I haven't celebrated Christmas in nearly a decade - and I don't typically get people birthday gifts (although I do love to celebrate birthdays).

There is one thing I really love though: sending and receiving cards in the mail. It's a dying practice, but some of my very favorite people are those who still send cards to say thank you, happy birthday, or hey, I was thinking about you and just wanted to send this card to let you know.

Recently my friend Jason made another trip around the sun. He wasn't overly excited about this particular milestone, and instead of celebrating he chose to quietly remove his birthday from Facebook, and had planned to spend his "special day" ignoring the fact that he was now one year older. 

I had other plans.

Like me, Jason is a bit of an "old-soul". He listens to jazz and appreciates time in the mountains and cooks things from scratch and, most importantly, takes the time to truly connect with people in a meaningful, authentic way. We've recently experienced a huge amount of loss in our friend group. Through it all, Jason was steadfast in his support of everyone, making sure we all knew he was there for us, but also how he felt about us and WHY he appreciated us in his own life. 

Jason and I, all dressed up.

If anyone earned the right to not celebrate a birthday, it was Jason. And I wasn't about to drag him out to one of my ridiculous surprise theme parties. Instead, I wanted to honor the person he is by helping him realize just how much he means to our community here. So using social media (I know, I know) I set up a private FB event about a week before his birthday and invited 100 of our mutual friends to participate.

The ask was simple: send Jason a birthday card and write a personal note about what he means to you. That's it.

I had no idea what to expect, and of course Jason had no idea what was coming. But what happened next truly was remarkable. First, he got 4 cards. Then 7. Then 13. Then 13 more. And they just kept on coming. By his birthday he had received more than 40 cards. All from people in his life who care about him. And each one with its own personal flair. 

Equally remarkable was the sense of community it built for many of us participating. Without my prompting, someone posted a photo of their card on the event page. Lots of folks 'liked' that post. Then more people posted their cards. And I shared my card. The Michael who was in Wisconsin shared his card and the sentiment that he hoped it made it from the boonies in time. And so on and so forth. The cards...the cards were great.

Some of the cards. One of them is mine.

Of course Jason was very confused by the sudden influx to his mail box. He sent me many text messages trying to get to the bottom of the "Birthday Card Fairy" mystery. He sent photos of the cards, which I turned around and shared on our event page for everyone to see. Then I had folks asking me every day how many he had received. "Did Jason check his mail yet?", they would ask. "What's the total up to now?". "Did he get mine?!?". The excitement for all of us "behind the scenes" was pretty fantastic.

All of this had a profound and unexpected affect on me personally. I knew what was coming, yet being a part of the surprise for Jason made me incredibly happy. I found myself walking through the dog park reading updates with a huge, shit-eating grin on my face. I mean, I was THAT GUY at the park, and I didn't care. Not one bit. All I wanted to do was grab everyone and tell them about this amazing gift that doing a simple kindness had given to me. Knowing what it meant to Jason, being a part of making his unwelcome birthday a cause for celebration, was incredibly powerful.

Cards cards everywhere.

After the big secret was revealed, Jason and I talked a lot about what the Card Mob meant to him, and in turn how it affected all of us involved. I invited him to the secret event page, and after reading all of our funny updates to each other, this was his reaction:

What you did changed my world and I am so grateful. This is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me. Besides being the best birthday present EVER the personal notes have meant so much to me. Thank you so much for sharing such nice and wonderful things. I could hear and see each one of you as I opened the card. To say I am touched does not even do it justice. I can't even being to describe the love and respect I have felt. Thank you all for the best birthday ever. 

Ultimately, this shows how much a random act of kindness CAN change the world (even if it's just your small, immediate world), and more importantly can change YOU. It's a wonderful feeling to truly touch someone's heart. Jason likes to say the heart is an emotional muscle and becomes stronger with exercise. I have to agree with him. And we all will benefit from being better at telling the people in our lives just how much they mean to us.

Which is my way of saying all those studies are true. You really SHOULD go do something nice for someone, whether you know them well or not. Hold the door open for a stranger. Tip an extra buck at lunch. Buy dinner for your friend when you normally go halfsies. Call someone you care about but haven't talked to in a long time and tell them what they mean to you. Buy a book of stamps and use them all by the end of the year sending cards to people you care about.

It will change you. I promise.

Happy Birthday Jason.