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An Exercise in Gratitude

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It was a Friday, and I was in a bad mood. I had just been yelled at for a mistake I had made, and felt the anger behind the attack had gone too far. Desperate to be alone, I took a walk. My anger kept me from noticing the warmth in the air, or the perfect fluffy clouds above, or the deep blue of the sky- the kind of blue one usually only tends to see in October. I was angry, and that was all that mattered. “Calm down”, I muttered to myself every few minutes. “Calm down”. Broken glass glittered in the street gutter as cars zipped by, rolling along to various destinations. Tree branches swayed as a soft breeze picked up every few minutes, bringing with it the scent of freshly cut grass. And as I walked by a building for sale, a tiny yellow flower waved excitedly at me.

I stopped. Up until then I had only been paying attention to the angry sound my heels were making as they slapped against the pavement. This was different. I bent down and touched the flower. There was nothing especially remarkable about this flower- just a tiny deep yellow five petaled flower of a weed with a pink center, the whole of which was no bigger than my thumbnail. But I liked it. I was happy to see it. “Thank you,” I said, without really understanding why.

Nearby I could hear the sound of a drainage ditch. It was no creek or  river, but it was running water, and I could not resist its sound. Casting a shadow over it was some sort of willow, and it still had a few petals of blossoms stubbornly clinging to the tips of its branches- a bit late in season, I thought. At the time it had managed to scatter the majority of its petals to the ground all around it, and several were drifting like tiny boats downstream and under the street, on to parts unknown. I laughed. Tiny petals, and this beautiful tree, the sound of flowing water. “Thank you,” I said again to each in turn.

By this point I was looking. It was a beautiful day. Comfortable temperature, bright sunny sky, the odd cloud to make things interesting. The zip and energy of cars, the thump of small city life, the ageless calm of trees. And the green grass grows all around, evidenced by the scent that had now begun to tickle my nose. I smiled. “Thank you. Thank you, smell of cut grass. Thank you, bright sun. Thank you, blue sky. Thank you, fluffy clouds. Thank you, zippy cars. Thank you, warm air. Thank you, beautiful trees. Thank you, sound of running water. Thank you, broken glass that glitters in the light. Thank you, soft petals that fall from the trees. Thank you, tiny flower that caught my attention.” I’m walking, and looking, and thankful. Thank you, beautiful color on that woman’s shirt. Thank you, deep red soil. Thank you, tiny row of petunias the bank just planted. Thank you, smell of soil. Thank you, tiny acorns that the oak has scattered. I’m looking to thank, looking to love. It’s addicting. Thank you eyes, thank you nose, thank you feet, thank you hands, thank you heart, thank you life…

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7 rules for picking the perfect password

Rule 1: 12345 and letmein are not passwords. Those are welcome mats. Cute animal motif optional.

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Welcome hackers!

Rule 2: Birthdays, anniversaries, and things like that are banners that read “Welcome, friends, family, and all who know me well”. (Translation: “Here, kids, run up my bill on Google Play.”)

Rule 3: A neverending wellspring of inspiration for passwords are your favorite things. (If you began imagining Julie Andrews whirling around and singing while reading that, then it is *entirely* your fault. But I love you anyway.) Don’t pick obvious favorites, like your favorite food or your favorite hobby. Pick favorites that you might not have even thought of, like your favorite day of the week, favorite word, or favorite color, using a word that’s not red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, white, brown, or pink. Oh, so you had your car colored your favorite color? Well, look up what the manufacturer calls that color, and use that as a password.

(Side tip on picking favorites: don’t pick just any random favorite thing. Yes, you may like the beef sandwiches at your local cafe, but if you only go there because your girlfriend is always dragging you to that place, and it’s the only dish there that you can stomach, it’s not exactly a passionate favorite. Try picking your favorite Jolly Rancher name, or that NPC in your favorite game- you know, the one that you wish they’d let you attack?)

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Rule 4: Spice up your password a little. For now, let’s say you’ve decided to go with your favorite word, puffin, as a password. It’s not common, and most people probably wouldn’t know your favorite word, but it feels a little…unsafe, all alone and small like that. Let’s throw some numbers on the end, and make it harder for you to remember- I mean, harder for others to guess. No, no, no- NO BIRTHDAYS OR ANNIVERSARIES! Then how are you to remember? Favorites! String up your favorite numbers in a row, and you’ve added length and a little security to your password. So now your tiny “puffin” password  has become “puffin538611”. (Hmm. I just realized I don’t like the number 8. Might change that on the edit.)

Rule 5: Don’t forget caps on the first letter! It can be a little bit of a pain to remember it all the time, but if you make that standard across all your passwords, then it’s less of an issue, and something most people trying to access your account are likely to forget. You can also randomly capitalize, though that’s harder to remember.

Rule 6: Lazy way to come up with passwords, without reusing them- pick 10 favorite, hard-to-guess words with a minimum length of 6 letters. Pick two sets of favorite 3 to 4 digit numbers. Mix and match.
Example

puffin                                            538                                            611
oleoresin                                      3662                                          418
quilty                                            1976                                           200

(Yes, I like the word “oleoresin”. It’s exotic and weird and keeps the oils I buy from becoming rancid.)

Rule 7: Make a master hard copy list for yourself. Yes, using ink and paper. Crayon will do nicely too. But if you don’t live alone, or are the paranoid type, encrypt it so that only you can understand what’s on it. So “Puffin538611” might look like “⬆Favorite bird/favorite 3 digit number/2nd favorite 3 digit number”. Or you can write out the numbers if you prefer. This may actually be necessary if you chose to go with random capitalization, like “pUfFIn538611”. (Wow. Why is it that looking at that makes me feel like my finger was randomly glued to the SHIFT key? Ouch!)

Okay, who am I kidding? You might still get hacked. But make ’em work for it, okay?

How do you come up with passwords? Leave a message in the comments!

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The words aren’t coming easily

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Words lost in a storm

The words aren’t coming easily
Even though they mean so much to me
Fly away, fly away
Does flying far away feel better
Than staying here, staying together?
It’s a torch, boots, strong coat I need
Find words in a storm, be able to read
Read them aloud, and somehow then
They’ll return to me and I’ll use them again

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And here come the meteors

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Free write

My intentions weren’t so simple. Or were they? Something changed after the colors were poured into a plate and said hello to each other. Brush said she was interested in making something moving, but I told her I wasn’t in the mood. Besides, it was too much pressure. By that point, the scent of the paint had caught my nose, which always triggers the same feelings, albeit in different strengths. Desire. Worry. Uncertainty. Excitement. Happiness. Curiosity. Brush, who by that point I’d been rolling between my thumb and forefinger and dusting about my nose and chin, asked me if I was ready, as she was starting to get dizzy.

“Whee!” Brush laughed as I dipped her bristles into the colors. I’d always imagined she’d find the cold paint bracing, but she doesn’t complain, so she doesn’t seem to mind. Then it was time for left brain to sit back, like I often have to do when I write. It protested. “I understand the mechanics of the world better than right brain does,” it pointed out. “Yes,” I replied, “but you also get in the way. So stuck on the outer, and no faith in the inner. Besides, this isn’t about logic. I just don’t need you right now”. Left brain relented, making Brush laugh again. “So what are we doing?” Brush asked me, more to stir things up than actually wanting an answer.

“Play. We’re just playing.”

“Playing?”

“That’s right. Play, with you, me, right brain, and time.” I breathed in as left brain complained for having been left out. Brush and I reached out to the page, whispering hello as the paper came alive with color. And an idea came. “Let’s play with meteors.” And so we did.

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Fully me

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These things usually get named after I do them. But yes, here are the fingers that ask me to say something- and for once, it’s not about obligation. Doing this, keeping this blog, has scared the life out of me, as it’s forced me to realize exactly how much my perception of self inadequacy has affected how I look at things and what I do or won’t do. When I started this, I wanted to pretend that it was just a random issue and that I could eliminate it by forcing myself to act in spite of it. But it didn’t help, and now I’m thinking the reason why is because I refused to allow myself to see the full scope of the issue, and how it affects me in even little ways. “Well, it’s weird of me to say that, so I’ll change the subject.” “Well, who thinks like that? Maybe it’s best left unsaid.” And on. But looking at my sense of inadequacy squarely forced me to ask, “Why am I diluting myself?” If I were a bucket of intense blue paint, would I turn myself into a pale sky? If I were full fat milk, would I make myself 2%? Why am I turning my dark chocolate self into milk chocolate, watering down my full powered detergent?

That line of thinking made me realize how much I was diluting myself even on the inside. You know, those little thoughts and feelings you don’t like to admit to because they might mean you’re not as kind or smart or put together as you want to believe. Realizing how much of myself I wasn’t admitting to made me sad. “Do I dislike myself that much?” It didn’t feel like that was the case, because there was a lot about myself I really do like. But I became curious. If I wanted to see what my inadequacy looked like, maybe I had to know what I’d been avoiding. So I learned to do something I’d never liked doing before: writing honestly to myself.

At first, it was a little easier than I thought. Some topics, anyway. I’m the type where when a “small” infraction happens between me and someone else, I won’t say anything but it’ll nag at me inside until I remind myself how pointless it is and how stupid I am for mulling over it. So getting to write about it felt pretty good, at first. Then I had to come face to face with the fact that yes, I do have anger- pretty strong anger, no matter how much I wanted to pretend otherwise. And pettiness. And jealousy. Selfishness. Caring. Thoughtfulness. Hope. Happiness. Love. I went into this, keeping a barely hidden fear that doing this would make me realize what a horrible person I am for having so many negative things inside. But it had a different effect. I stood back and stared. I’m huge, complex. We are huge, and complex. How can I feel like I’m inadequate, when at the time I take a real look, there is more to me than I can even measure? This giant creature we make up when we come together is made up of small pieces, sure, but none of them are missing anything. Me included.

That’s not to say I don’t have my battles with owning up to everything I am inside. There are times when I literally ask my diary: “Do I really have to talk about this?” I get embarrassed or ashamed, even when I know no one is reading. But once I get through and finish handling what’s going on at the moment, I get to have that feeling of observing myself, and there’s no shame there. There’s no embarrassment there. There’s just me, undiluted and complete.

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My grounding wire

I have a little habit that goes everywhere with me, and what could be the use of it is more than I can see…

The other day I was at the computer, thinking over an email, when I realized a paintbrush had found its way into my hands while I was thinking. As I had been painting earlier, its presence wasn’t altogether surprising, but I was wondering how I’d managed to sneak it into my hands without realizing it. As my fingertips fluffed the camel hair tip over and over again, I was lulled into a bit of a trance, and began to think back to where this habit first began.

Ever since I was a very little girl I’ve been drawn to soft, velvety textures. When I was about 3 I had been given a 20″ pink bear with velvety paws and a velvety muzzle. I took that bear everywhere, and I loved rubbing my face into her soft fur. Eventually I spilled juice on the bear in an attempt to share, and after her trip through the washing machine, she was never the same. But as it happened, my grandmother, who had given me the bear, happened to have another bear just like it, in tan. So whenever I went to her house, I would ask for the bear and would bury my cheek in its furry head as I watched TV or during naptime (but making sure not to feed any juice to this bear).

In pre-K our teacher once treated the class to a guessing game with real (albeit small) prizes. Once all the questions had been asked and the game was over, we were allowed to pick from among some small toys our teacher kept in a box. Being a little shy, I decided to go last, and when my turn came my teacher gave me a small sad smile and said, “Sorry, but it looks like all the good prizes were taken”. But when I looked, I found a tiny white bear wearing a wee red bow. Truth be told, it was one of those bears used for craft projects- it was the size of my (current) thumb, and a little dusty, but when I picked him up and felt the brushy texture of his fur, I immediately wanted him. I spent the rest of the day putting him up to my cheek and nuzzling him. Later that day, when my parents saw the bear, as well as my pride over having won the little guy, they were confused. “What are you so happy about? It’s a cheap little plastic bear; you could buy a pack of those for less than a dollar,” my father said as I showed it off to him. But he was soft and velvety and all mine. Eventually I lost him, and would collect many of these tiny fuzzy friends in different sizes, colors, and styles.

Fuzzy me! Squee!

And that’s how it’s been for a lot of my life. There’s something hypnotic about feeling velvet or brushes between my fingertips or on my hair, and I can remember more than one instance where I completely tuned out to what what happening around me or what was being said to me simply because of the sensations on my fingertips. The touch pulls me in, and I become aware of every little section and crevice being triggered as the fibers pull past them, over and over. It’s definitely a self soothing technique, though I’m also prone to doing it if I’m excited or pensive. I suppose you could say it helps keep me from feeling too overwhelmed by any emotion, good or bad, though I’m unlikely to do it if I’m already there.

That isn’t to say I’m not picky about it. I try to avoid wearing velvet clothing, not only because frankly it’s too darn hot, but also because all I’d want to do is feel the thing the whole darn day. There are certain brush textures I don’t like or have no reaction to, like synthetic brushes. Nylon brushes don’t trigger my skin at all, and plastic brushes are awful. It can make putting makeup on a challenge, which is why I only use synthetic brushes. Having someone apply makeup on my face using natural fiber brushes is almost dizzying, and actually somewhat unpleasant.

But there is no brush better than my own hair. Often people will comment on seeing me play with the ends of my hair, which essentially involves me lining up my ends into a makeshift brush and running my fingertips over them. With freshly cut ends the feeling is best, and often when I’ve just cut my hair I can’t keep my hands off it. Perhaps it’s for the best, or I might be walking about with tiny bears or sable brushes in my pockets, which are harder to explain away!

Any quirks to share? Feel free to comment below!

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Using the word “disrespect” in close relationships

The words “respect” and “disrespect” have a rather strict connotation for me. To respect someone, in my mind, goes beyond the dictionary’s “holding someone in high esteem or honor”. It also implies a set of behaviors born out of obligation. Think of a child’s first interactions with the word. “Respect your parents. Respect your elders. Stop whistling loudly and playing with your nose; it’s disrespectful”. To act rudely is to act disrespectfully. And to stray into behaviors most comfortable to you is often so as well. “Well, I respect so and so, so I won’t talk about politics around him, or ask her about her dinged up car.” Yet those are the kind of things we can do when we’re around someone we trust, someone we are close with. We may do so gently and slowly at first, but when we get close to someone, we engage in behaviors we wouldn’t otherwise.

And while the phrase “Respect is earned” is so often tossed around, this isn’t usually the case when trying to forge a close relationship. Who starts out a relationship treating a possible mate like garbage, until the day it is decided that the chosen “SO material” is worthy of better treatment? That only happens in cases where there is an initial belief that a given person isn’t worthy of respect. And, let’s be real- that’s usually a person most of us don’t want to date, or even spend time with. Respect is commanded, when, say, a woman won’t put up with unwanted comments about her appearance, or a man won’t tolerate incessant teasing. In those instances, neither is asking for the chance to earn better treatment. The message is, “Give me respect, or I walk.”

But using that word once intimacy is established trips me up. If, say, my husband decided to have a laugh at my expense in front of others, and I were to talk with him about it afterwards, I wouldn’t tell him he “disrespected” me, even if it is the case. I’d tell him I didn’t like it, that it bothered me, but to use “disrespect” on him changes the state of the offense. It implies a distance, a lack of trust and acceptance that our relationship isn’t based on. Frankly, for me to say, “I respect (someone)” is to say I don’t have a close relationship with them.

Yet I know of and have observed several instances where girlfriends/boyfriends and husbands/wives use it to talk about the transgressions of their significant other. “It’s so disrespectful when he goes out every week without telling me.” “She is so disrespectful of my space and my interests.” From where I’m standing, it doesn’t imply equal footing. To use the same term on a loved one as you would with someone who is, on some level, “better” than you (your boss, elders, someone powerful, etc), someone who forces your best behavior out of you- it’s confusing. It’s not the idea of respect that bothers me. It’s the use of the term, a term so often used to imply the relationship between a superior and a subordinate. Respect is consideration without love.

 

I’d love feedback on this one! Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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Pain makes me a better person

Have you ever struggled with belief: belief that life truly is good, that good things are in store for you, and that one day you’ll see the work you put towards the things you want pay off?

Truly, I never struggled much with most of these thoughts. At times I’d think the things I wanted in life might be compromised by one life event or another, but deep down I knew, if I pressed and pushed and kept going, I’d see the flash of light as reality dawned on my dreams.

But there’s one belief that’s lurked in the background, with regards to what I’ve wanted most in life. The belief that somehow, it was written in my destiny not to have it, and my life would be defined by my longing for it, and the subsequent suffering my longing would cause.

Eventually I had to ask. Why is it that I can see myself easily with anything I’ve ever wanted in life, but not this, my deepest desire? And I realized- it’s because I don’t believe I should have it. More specifically, I believe the pain of not having it is better suited to me than the joy of having it.

Why?

Life started in a strange place for me. Early on I learned from my parents that I couldn’t rely on lasting impressions of good times. Things had to eventually turn bad. Pain and sorrow had to come. Eventually I believed it was what my parents wanted for me. And so I internalized the belief that pain makes me a better person. Life is stable, and things are the way they ought to be, when my soul is filled with it.

Now, this is something most people are surprised to learn about me, as I was to learn about myself. Generally speaking I have an upbeat attitude and tend towards optimism. So when I tried to rationalize the two, I then realized why, contrary to expectations for people like me, I didn’t repeat patterns of pain when it came to my relationships and my marriage.

Because that kind of suffering wouldn’t be enough. Even though time did finally show me I expected pain from my husband too.

What kind of pain would be worse than the pain of a lifetime longing unfulfilled?

Truly, when I finally had to come to grips with the truth of the beliefs I had internalized about myself over the years, and forced myself to admit them out loud to my husband, a sick pleasure came over me, as my subconscious mind said, “That’s the pathetic creature you are. The way you’re supposed to be.”

 

Not anymore.

I’ve seen what can happen when I let that go, and follow the things I want. When I help others, and don’t worry about not being enough. I’ve seen the good and the bad I can do, and believing things like this only holds me back. No one benefits from my suffering. But everyone can benefit from my blessing, if I allow myself to realize how blessed I am. I am sitting down with my book of life’s rules in my lap, and it is time to undo all the lessons scrawled in there meant to keep me bound and predictable. And the first new lesson that must be entered is:

I am blessed.

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What I’ve been up to

I know usually Wednesday is an audio, and Thursday is a free write, but I was a little…well, unwell for doing a voice memo entry yesterday. I had my wisdom teeth removed a few days ago. I know, it’s something usually done in the teen years, but I was ready now, so that’s how it happened.

All things considered it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I was awake during the procedure, though I did opt for Valium to help calm my nerves. In the past, I had been given Valium I.V. for other procedures and it never made me anywhere near as sleepy as other benzodiazepines, so I decided it might be just the thing to take the edge off. In hindsight, I likely would have had the same effect if I had just taken the water sans pill. ‘sigh’

My main source of nervousness came from the administration of anesthetic. In the past, my dentist had used prilocaine, a local anesthetic with a relatively short duration, which had worked well for the small amount of work I needed. But for a procedure like an extraction, he opted for lidocaine, which in the past had left me numb for up to 8 hours. And there are few feelings I hate more than the sensation of being numb. But there was nothing I could do, so to the best of my ability I sat still and tried not to think of the next 8 hours of nothingness my mouth would be subjected to.

You might be thinking, “What? Are you mad? Would you rather the pain of having four teeth yanked out of your mouth?” Well, not while it’s being done, no. But I can’t adjust to a pain I can’t feel, and the sooner I can feel it, the sooner that process can begin, even if adjusting does initially involve a few hours of me clutching a pillow, pinching the tiny space between my eyes and saying, “Oh my gosh, this hurts,” in a hushed breath over and over. ‘shrug’ Just the way I prefer it.

But lucky me! After my initial freak out (when as they were going to start I flung myself upright, realizing that cracking and crunching sounds were soon to follow), I decided to let it happen, telling myself, “Your only responsibility is to focus on your nose, breathing in and out”. And that’s what I did. And even when they reached my bottom teeth (which were not completely numb- the inner back quadrants still had sensation), I decided I was not going to say a thing and have to get shot again. My only responsibility was focusing on my nose, breathing in and out.

(Okay, yes, it did occur to me that I might hit the ceiling if the sensation was too much, but I just knew I could handle the pain, so I did. It actually wasn’t that bad, but the crunching and twisting was very funky.)

And lucky me again! Instead of having to endure 8 hours of numbness, I only had to put up with about 3, which left me to get in touch with that new feeling in my mouth. But boy, was I surprised. For whatever reason, the feeling was nothing like what I was expecting (achy, tight, pounding jaws and cheeks). It almost felt like I’d had braces put on. The shifting soreness from molar to incisor, the “gappy” feeling between my cheek and gums (caused, in this case, by swelling). This was easy! This, I could put up with. Even if it does make me grumpy. Just a little. A touch. A tick.

It’s been a couple days and I’m not doing too bad. Talking a lot hurts, as does being too active. Frankly, my body almost feels like it’s battling a cold or something like that. The swollen lymph nodes in my neck were actually the most painful part of it all; so much so that for the first night, I could barely move my neck without pain, and had to resort to tiny finger massages to help relieve the feeling (and that in and of itself was very painful). But I got along well enough without needing painkillers, and I am soo grateful all those teeth are gone and I don’t have any more to remove! Thanks for everything, wizzies. It was…I dunno, it just WAS! I’m off for a delightful sundae cup. Yum.

But I miss my nice hot teas.

Q to you: have you ever been so unwilling to get re-numbed for a procedure that you simply kept still and dealt with whatever pain came your way? Let me know in the comments!

 

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No more Ms. Mousian

Aaaand…I wasn’t satisfied with the free write, so here I am again. What can I say? When my writer side is awakened, not even a horse dose of Ambien can put it back to bed. I gotta wear this sucker out.

Doing this blog has, like I’ve mentioned repeatedly in my “voice memo thingies”, simply been an exercise in pushing the boundaries of what makes me comfortable. Adopting the title of “writer” is not something that has come easily. I rejected it for so very long because it seemed like it came with a lifestyle that wasn’t “naturally” mine, and one I was completely unwilling to take. Not to mention, it was something that was pushed on me at a very early age, and all my life I have resisted easy classification. I’d see my peers happily take on such limiting titles as “The Brain”, “The Jock”, “The Artist”, and I wanted absolutely no part of it. To me, it felt like taking one on would have a serious impact on what I would likely focus my attention on. If I was to take on a title, it was going to be one of my own choosing.

If you’re wondering, “What is this ‘writer lifestyle’ she was so scared of?” It was the lifestyle of a writer who was a compulsive composer, a slave to the written word, and mostly, one who shares his or her thoughts and passions easily- which I believed was the only writer to be. For a time it was very easy to hide my inner self behind pretty words or flowery sentences. But passion? That odd magnetism that drew pencils to my fingers and blank pages to my lap? I didn’t have what it took to reveal mine. Mine had to be protected from those invested in changing me into their ideal person. I was a mouse, overly concerned for my survival, when all the while I was safe in a cage, and everything I needed was in reach. I couldn’t risk anything, or at least, would only make the smallest risks, the only things my tiny mouse heart could bear.

And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of acting like a mouse, consumed by passion on the inside, but devoid of all signs of it on the outside. I’m tired of going with the thoughts that say, essentially, that there is no point in my expression. It’s like saying, “There’s no point to crying, because you’ve shed tears before”. “There’s no point to laughter, because you’ve filled a room with laughter before.” Or, “Others have wept and laughed better than you”. I want the “wow, I did that”. The one that only comes after the “wow, I can’t believe I did that”. This is part of that step.