I came across an article on Upworthy that featured a short video from a series called “I Am What’s Underneath” in which participants talk about themselves while removing their clothing to “honor how style is not the clothes you wear.” As soon as I saw 87 year old photojournalist Lisl Steiner in her floppy hat with a short, curly bob exploding underneath it, green eyeshadow and red lipstick, draped in flowing browns, oranges and greens, cane, one suede boot adorned with jewels at the toe, and multitude of bracelets that jangled with every gesture she made, I was smitten with her. She called her style “no style” and referred to her makeup as the “look of a madam in a whorehouse.” 45 seconds into the video she talks about the accolades she receives when people find out her photographs were featured in Life Magazine and her response is, “And that’s all bullshit!” dropping her bag loudly on the floor (*mic drop). At this point I’m in love. She talked about her friends trying to get her on “fucking Facebook” and referred to Mark Zuckerberg as “creepy.”—the “fucking Facebook” comment did me in. When she said, “The first thing I do in the morning is put my war paint on. … But who cares at this point? It’s what I am and not what I look like. And, excuse me, but go fuck yourself if that’s a consideration.” That did it; she was my hero.
She had much to say, and gave me a lot to think about. I’ll more than likely be writing about her again, as well as the video series. I couldn’t watch any of the other videos yet because I was already getting distracted from what I was sitting down to write right now! As it is, I’ve already spent more time talking about her than planned. I’m off-topic, and I haven’t even started yet.
Ms. Steiner spoke about her age and the fact that she has to be careful of her frail bones because “her next fall could be her last.” She talked about having to walk like a duck for balance, and then mentioned one thing that has helped her considerably:
“When I was 16, I had dramatic art lessons. The first thing you learn is how to fall down.”
I know what she was talking about, but it was the way she said it that jogged a thought in my head:
How to fall down.
And I thought, wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was taught how to fall down. Not in the physical sense, but in the psychological sense. In sports and in other various activities, athletes and participants are taught a correct way to fall; it is not to prevent it, but to allow it to happen while at the same time minimizing the chance of any serious injury. Could there be a way to learn something like that about the life-falls? We learn early that we will have troubles, get hurt, be disappointed, fall down. And then we are taught to get back up. My own father told me many times, “no matter how many times you get knocked down, you keep getting back up.” This was for both an actual fighting situation and for life.
But what about when you are falling? Is there a way to “learn how to fall down” that would lessen the potential for serious hurt and make it easier to get back up? To accept the fall and go with the momentum of it? Wouldn’t it be nicer to not have to feel really deep pain, and just get by with a short-lived sample of it?
I realize we have to fall sometimes. Without those experiences we would never fully know the good. One can’t happen without the other. There is perceived good and bad in everyone, everything. Without the bad, we would never see the good for being good and never have anything to enjoy.
Is it possible to teach something like that? I’m not talking about preventative measures; we can’t prevent the falls. Many try, though. They close themselves off from people, avoid new experiences, and write prenuptual agreements. They take few chances, unless they feel they have some type of guarantee or measure of protection. They live life almost in a flat line; no real lows, but no real joys either. In the end, they may have been safer, but they’ve definitely missed out on having a full life.
And then I realize my own contradiction in what I was just saying. I basically just said we need the lows to appreciate the highs right after I said I wanted to be able to learn how not to have such lows in life. The lower we go, the higher our potential is. I’m not talking about everyone’s idea of the strength we learn by going through hardships; I’m talking about the appreciation and enjoyment we enable ourselves to receive when good things happen. The lower we’ve sunk, the greater our enjoyment during the higher moments. We increase our capacity for feeling the appreciation of good things happening which makes us happier. The good moments are better, the better moments are wonderful. We feel more.
I’m aware of both sides of the coin. Life is not about this or that; it is this and that. There is nothing we perceive to be negative without there being a measure of the positive. And there is no good without bad. How could there be? If it weren’t for the contrast of each side we would not be able to see either side. I guess I’m being reminded that not only is the contrast necessary, but the measure of contrast as well. If I stare at my mental image of the flat line I can see that there is balance; the high points are as far away from the baseline as the low points. I enjoy those high points, and I wouldn’t be able to reach those heights if I didn’t go the same distance in the other direction.
With regard to attempting to teach anything about falling, I guess we just need to teach (and learn) what we see that we have been struggling with for generations: a sense of self, and the appreciation of our own wonderful uniqueness. Let them know they will fall, let them know to get up afterwards, but teach them the reason to. When we suffer pain, we are not learning strength to be able to withstand more pain. That whole philosophy paints a grim picture of life in general, and only encourages people to avoid taking chances, trying new things, living a full life. The pain we experience reveals the depth of the joy we can have in everything else; it increases the pleasure we receive from the good things that happen. We would never know how good something is unless we are aware of how bad something can be. This and that. The contrast is necessary. We have to bless the contrast, all of it, and be thankful for the awareness of happiness.
When I’m 87, I want to be just as colorful and content (and as badass) as Lisl Steiner. I’ll learn to walk like a duck and let my troubles roll off me like water off that duck’s back. I have 40 years to work on my appreciation of both this and that. I can only be as happy as I choose to be, and I’m grateful for more awareness of the choices I have.