Kalamazoo Jaycees Blog

Down the Rabbit Hole: Self Awareness 101

by HEATHER L STEWART

I’ve lost track. I can no longer tell you if it is four or five times that I’ve read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. When I was in elementary school, I read all kinds of fairy tales, including the original stories. These were not the Disney versions with which our society is so familiar. It is not so strange that it was the Brothers Grimm who compiled these stories, I say.

I digested all manner of story, including Greek and Roman mythology, Celtic fairy tales and the King Arthur cycle. My literary indulgences also included the works of Edgar Allan Poe and C. S. Lewis. I had a very large printing of Tolkien’s  The Hobbit, with illustrations from the 1977 cartoon. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read that one as well. As a side note, my favorite character from The Hobbit was Elrond.

All of that to explain the first four letters of this post’s title. Of all the books I have read and fallen in love with, Alice and her adventures will always hold a dear place in my heart. I often feel like Alice. A small girl in a place full of things she can’t quite understand or follow. Ultimately she discovers she isn’t so lost or powerless as she once believed. And that has always been my favorite lesson from that book.

Depending on the day you ask, or the minute, I will vary between which character I say is my favorite. I think I have equal portions of Alice and the Cheshire Cat in me. I tend to be mercurial.

That said, I have made plans to write a semi-regular blog with the main title of “Down the Rabbit Hole” and I’m officially inviting you all to come with me and tour the Wonderland of my mind – if you wish and if you dare. Or if you’re exceptionally bored one day. I’ll tag each post with DTRH so you can find them all if you need to binge. The wonderful thing about binging on words is that there isn’t the unfortunate weight gain or regurgitation you get with food.

And now on to the second part of the title: Self Awareness 101.

Have you ever been faced with the question, “What can you tell me about yourself” or “Why would you be an asset to the team” or some other variation? It is self awareness which allows you to answer that question. But you must be willing to endure your own scrutiny to find the best answer. Side note: not all animals are capable of being “self aware”. It’s what allows human beings to recognize themselves in the mirror. Elephants are one of the other animals capable of being able to self-recognize in this fashion.

People asking the previous questions aren’t interested in the fact that you know the reflection in the glass door is you and not someone stuck on the other side. They’re looking for internal reflection. This sort of personal honesty can be uncomfortable, but it’s worth the effort.

“Honesty is following your demons
to the place that they reside.
Banging pots and pans outside their windows
til they let you come inside.
Finding that they’ve tunneled
into all you thought was good about yourself.
Look them in the eye and tell them:
goodbye, I wish you well.”
–“Good” by Erin Zindle, The Ragbirds

The purpose of this exercise isn’t to make you feel uncomfortable or create self-esteem issues. In fact, its goal is to do precisely the opposite.

Looking back on my childhood, I once realized that I was truly blessed to have an amazing family. Without them, I would not be the person I am today. Even unfortunate incidents or trying times have their benefit. I encourage you to consider your past in this first step of self awareness. I’ll demonstrate by giving you a tour of my past.

I was born because of laughter.

My father was working in the garage, using a circular saw. My mother was there with him. My father finished with his current cut and set the saw down, right on top of the power cord. It was severed nicely. My mother, eight months and a couple weeks pregnant, laughed so hard she had tears on her face. She was doubled over. Within half an hour, her water broke. Labor had to be induced, and there I was. I still like the sound of laughter.

Families create their own traditions and I’ve been amused, more than once, to share our traditions and see how they compare with others. One tradition of the Harris Household was the Blue Torture Mobile. Whether the family was piling into the car for one of our Random Roadtrips (You never know where you’re going ’til you get there) or clambering into the van at 3am for the trip to “Convention”, we spent a lot of hours together.

The longest trips were usually to the annual Pyrotechnics Guild International convention, held at a different location each year. We drove from Syracuse, NY to Jamestown, ND one year. And because that hadn’t ended in disaster, later drove from Syracuse, NY to Idaho Falls, ID.

Some of you might be surprised by this news. Some of you might be thinking: I happen to know that Heather gets motion sick. You’re correct. I learned to adapt. I can fall asleep in a car, even on a fifteen minute ride.

I have fallen asleep, warm in a sleeping bag, listening to “the adults” talk around a campfire. I’ve sat around a campfire with the “fireworks glasses” they tried to tell us would make the show that much better and decided that waving your hand in front of your face in front of the fire was way more interesting than the glasses’ intended purpose.

I met George Plimpton. I helped build a castle in a desert. I talked to a gentleman who did special effects on the first of Tim Burton’s Batman films. I met the owner of Black Cat fireworks, from China. I met a man who used to tour with Metallica, doing their special effects.

This is not normal, per se. But it was normal for me – to go to these places and meet interesting people. The day I turned 18, the fireworks company parents and I worked for created special shells just for me. I got to light my first show-quality shells. Fireworks mean family to me.

I also didn’t realize how odd it was for my mother to be part of the fireworks crew, before I was old enough to be legally around “the product”. The fireman regarded her as strange, I think. One of them approached her, concerned. He asked her, “Do they make you do this, honey?” My mom, who does wear combat boots, responded that they did not. He told her she was crazy. My mom laughed and told him he was the one that ran into burning buildings.

My mother loves science-fiction. Years before my birth, she played Dungeons & Dragons. She was a member of her school’s glee club. I didn’t think it was strange at all when, as a ten-year-old, I wrote an essay about Star Trek and Captain Kirk. Specifically, the episode Trouble With Tribbles.

And while I always thought I was very much my mother’s daughter, with very little in common with my father – he and I argued a lot during my late teens and early twenties – I eventually realized that part of our trouble was that we were so very much alike.

Spend five minutes with my parents and you will understand why I am the way I am. Add the presence of my brother, and things usually degrade into laughter fairly quickly. At the last two Thanksgiving dinners, someone at the table has almost spit out a mouthful of milk.

I’ve told you quite a bit about myself, just by relating stories of my past. At the very least, you should know that I love literature, laughter and fireworks. I’m sure you can consider your own childhood and pick out a few “touchstones” of your own.

How does this help with the questions I mentioned earlier? This is just Step One. Stay tuned for the next installment. Until then, keep your fuses dry and your head firmly attached to your shoulders.

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