Plastic Lives

6:56 AM

We sat at the top of a winding staircase. The staircase wore old carpet and plastic -- we wore matching polka-dot nightgowns and nightcaps. (We looked like clowns.) We waited, listening to the silence, listening to the narrator and the schoolchildren beneath us, staring at the black plastic bags stuffed in the old elevator and trying not to think of cadavers. I was Sybil, and Bethany was Mary Jo, and we were playing real-life, now-dead girls who honest-to-goodness ran through these old halls in the 19th century. The lady downstairs read a story (we waited, waited, waited) and then rang a bell, whispering about us as we tiptoed down the plastic-covered stairs and peeked into our stockings.

Nothing.

We the actresses were jipped, too, because the schoolchildren got cookies in the next room while we got back to wandering through eery upstairs bedrooms until the next bus load of kids crowded in.

There were no people up there, obviously, since we were supposed to be hidden away like lost girls in a Nancy Drew mystery, and the home's occupants were long since dead. The house was dedicated to preserving life back then, to making it real and alive, but it was dead. It was very dead. No matchbox cars underfoot, no tantrums floating in from the next room, no wrinkles in the bedspread (which was roped off from twenty-first century hands). The season was Christmas but the house felt like Halloween, and the weird, filmy light didn't help.

Neither did getting locked inside that weird old fashioned house.

That's the downside of being shy -- people forget you, sitting upstairs like a lost girl in a Nancy Drew mystery next to an old elevator stuffed with plastic bags almost surely full of cadavers. The storyteller turned off the lights, locked the door and left.

If Mrs. Claus hadn't been decorating cookies in another (lighted) room, we might have become two more cadavers bagged in the old elevator. I kid, but it wasn't funny back then -- even if we were wearing clownish nightgowns.

I've always been afraid of the fake. Once, a whole dinosaur exhibit sprouted up in a previously unknown museum with a duck pond and geese next to it. Or was it the children's museum with the little shopping carts and grocery store and plastic chicken legs? I don't remember. In any case, the dinosaurs filled the room, and everywhere you turned there was a dinosaur, and their fakeness terrified me, and I bolted and got tangled up in the forest green netting draped over the base of the triceratops's exhibit. I sprawled at the triceratops's feet and thought I was literally going to die.

I didn't, but I burned my knee on the carpet.

I'm a very raw person, very out there, very human. I like life in 3D, with no blinders: I like human emotion (and my family knows it), and I like sincerity, and I like confession and truth and gutsyness because it's real. No masks, no plastic, no dead recreating of life. You cannot fool me into thinking that an empty house roped off and plasticized and filled with two frightened actors in clown gowns resembles real nineteenth century life. Life is messy and noisy and there is no plastic involved (except Rubbermaid bins and Tupperware, which are essential to human existence).

Realness drives me to like and dislike certain things. Realness is why I don't play video games, enjoy small talk or pantomime religion. It's why I talk one-on-one and listen as hard as I can and write. It's why I read Ann Voskamp and not Nancy Drew. It's why I don't like formal debates and pomp and improv. It's why I get along with the gutsy, the vulnerable, the imperfect and the talkative. Realness drove me to God, who defined my reality, and drove me away from plastic life and perfect paradigms and pretend piety.

I think everybody, to a certain extent, puts on masks and plasticity, and relationships seem to be about tearing them off, digging deeper, exposing the authentic in all its horror and beauty. It never ceases to amaze me and yet I've stopped being amazed that perfect people hide crippling flaws and those who have it all together have fallen apart at the seams and the too-shy have vibrant lives and the ugly and broken weave beauty from the strangest things. We can't see it at first glance, because we paint ourselves in all the colors of stereotypes and pride.

Authenticity is within everybody's grasp; it just takes unconventionality to figure that out -- that we don't have to write thank you letters like society dictates or obsess over the things society dictates or live the way society dictates. We don't have to deal with the issues we're told are important: we can deal with the issues that are important. We don't have to pretend that life is all about gloom and doom: we can invite the clover fields and baby kisses to shape our reality too. We don't have to take a prepackaged Christianity trimmed with man-made dogma and devoid of truth: we can dig into the Word ourselves and experience God ourselves and live for Jesus ourselves.

I see a resurgence of reality in my own group, in a group of girls who aren't playing Christian but instead are seeking, hard, and talking about it, deep, like it's as normal as discussing favorite colors over a plate of green fluff at the church potluck. This is what we talk about: Jesus, missions, bloody cross, sin, grace. We pray out loud, and we pray long, and we pray in situations where others would have cried or got mad or just talked. Our thoughts run along with God's thoughts, trying to keep up, trying to take it all in, trying to share it with others.

It starts with one girl, one day, one conversation, where she says, "Let me tell you what God's doing" instead of, "My weekend was great!" Just one girl. It opens up a floodgate.

Because authenticity is a ripple effect -- when you pray sincerity in front of everybody, the next girl feels affirmed to pray what's really on her heart; when you talk about things that really matter to you, your friend feels empowered to engage you on that level; when you make life instead of ride out existence, you challenge the whole world to do the same.

And that's what life is about, after all -- Life. Without the plastic. And most certainly without the dinosaurs.

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7 impressions

  1. Hi Bailey!

    These are how my thoughts went as I read:

    Mmmm...wow...

    Intriguing. You did that!

    I could write a good story using this situation (if I may. hehe).

    And look at that - it was the perfect illustration.

    True. True.

    Hmm...I want that, too.

    You know what, I want to meet this Bailey girl and have a good (real) conversation.

    I'd learn a thing or two.

    :-)

    There. Those are my thoughts.

    (thanks for the post. it was good. as always.)

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  2. Oh the nightmares I had from such a miserable experience. And the carriage house and the hot apple cider was enough to make my eight-year-old brain go insane. Frightening.

    This sounds a lot of what we talked about last night!!

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  3. I had this long really heart felt real vulnerable comment written in which I mostly was thinking out loud just to figure things out and then I accidentally closed it. Rats. Thanks for the reminder that one is all it takes. I've been craving that kind of fellowship, and I've just been scared(and too busy) to go out on a limb and be the first to reach out. I think it's time to start praying that God would give me a group of like-minded girl-friends...and that I would have the courage to find them. Tya

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  4. Your writing just keeps improving! I love it.

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  5. Thank you Bailey. I love that your writing makes me think deeply.
    "Relationships seem to be about tearing them off, digging deeper, exposing the authentic in all its horror and beauty."

    Wow. You capture the intangible in a beautiful way. Please don't stop.
    ~Bekah

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  6. So true! Thank you for reminding us about being transparent and authentic. It never has bothered me to be 'different', but God has been showing me how I can use the 'differentness' to reach out to girls all around me, and has blessed me greatly in return. Like the conversation I had Sunday. I noticed one of my friends looking kind of down. I asked how she was. And she answered "Today's been pretty rough, I'm so glad I can really talk with you and not just say 'fine.'" I smiled and said I was honored that she considered me a good enough friend to share her burdens and pray alongside her. It is such a blessing to have friends that are not plastic.

    And I agree 100% on Rubbermaid and Tupperware. And possibly legos in limited amounts.

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  7. This post resonated with me as this idea of being authentic without fear has been brought to my attention through several different blog posts I have read this week around the web.

    Authenticity is hard for me because I'm always so worried about what other people think of me, but I'm trying to let that go.

    Our youth group started a summer Bible study on C. J. Mahaney's "Living the Cross-Centered Life" on Thursday and our leaders told us that they wanted us to talk and be open. So, I did. My heart was pounding in my chest every time I thought I should say something, but I asked God, "Please, don't let me not say anything because of fear."

    Last night, we were in Wal-Mart at the pharmacy and I thought the girl who was running the checkout had a beautiful name. Somebody like me doesn't blurt that out to a random person they don't even know. But, I thought to myself: "I don't want to not do this because of fear." So, I told her that I thought her name was beautiful.

    I'm trying to get up the bravery to do little things like this. I'm not naturally brave because I'm very messy inside, but I want to live authentically. I want the atmosphere I live in and my friends to be authentic, but like you said it has to start "with one girl." If I can be that girl, I don't want to back away from that because of my fear of others.

    So, long comment, but thanks for encouraging me and prodding me in this direction.

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