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Wood and Gold

29 February 2024

Tonight I watched a six minute short film called "Self" by Pixar. My brother recommended it to me and told me I would like it. The animated film opened with a wooden doll with thick curly brown hair, riding up the escalators exiting what appeared to be an airport. Once she entered the city she was surrounded by gold dolls. The gold dolls communicated with each other by tapping on their skin which would make this high, airy, light-bell sound. When she saw them she looked excited to meet and talk with them but when she attempted to do the same by tapping to communicate, her sound was a hallow "thud." Each time she attempted to talk or mingle with the different gold dolls she was never acknowledged, was ignored, and was treated as if she was completely invisible to them. She started to become anxious at her inability to connect to the point where she panicked, fell down, and very loudly and accidentally broke her wrist.

That night, as she attempted to unsuccessfully, repair her wrist, a gold item fell from the sky. To her discovery it was a gold hand. She rips out her natural wooden hand from the damaged wrist socket and forcefully replaces it with the gold hand and becomes enamored with it. The gold hand gives her a new confidence. Each day she continues to try to connect with the Gold dolls and is continually ignored. And each day, Gold body parts randomly fall from the sky which sets her on this quest to replace her own body. With each exchange she discards her former body parts off of buildings, onto sidewalks, anywhere without care. One night, when a Gold face falls from the sky, she leaps off of a building, falling to the ground to catch it.

When morning comes, she replaces her wooden face with the Gold one and once her Gold face is intact, being the final body part to exchange, she is noticed by three of the Gold dolls. As she rushed to talk to them she stepped on her wooden face and it broke. She notices her broken face, then all of her discarded wooden body parts layed out on the cement. She puts her now broken wooden face back on and despite her past experiences, she still manages to connect with one of the Gold people.

I watched this short twice. It brought me back to elementary school how I struggled to connect with the other kids which resulted in me spending many recesses and lunches in solitude. These experiences inspired me to work egregiously hard to figure out how to make friends and connect with others at school. I worked so hard to earn a commission in the Air Force, to be an obedient God fearing Christian, a daughter who wasn't a burden on her parents and could make them proud, a good role model, a servant leader, to be a woman who could be chosen as a girlfriend-as a wife, a positive influence on others, representative of my race who is not a negative stereotype, smart enough for my job, so many things I'm losing count. I watched that film and saw my body parts all over the ground. I thought to myself, "Kristin, is there anything left in you? Did you ever know the real you? The one who stopped changing herself in order to connect or please or be accepted by other people and institutions?

I don't know. The reality of this deeply upset me.

Yesterday, Michael and I finished watching the show, "Ted Lasso" which is about an American Football Coach who moves to England to coach a mediocre professional Football (soccer) team, without having any experience or knowledge of the sport. In one of the episodes in the final season, one of the characters (who went through a tumultuous divorce after her husband cheats on her, marries a younger woman and seizes every opportunity to gloat around her), has a romantic/chance encounter with a stranger. The stranger, unaware of her experiences, shares a similar story of his wife being unfaithful, them getting divorced and the entire thing nearly destroying him. He says something that has stayed with me each day since we watched that episode. He mentioned something similar to needing to change his mindset from "what happened TO him to what happened FOR him." That comment, unleashed a stream of memories. The hurt and confusion I felt from my dad's infidelity. The anger and betrayal I felt from past leaders comments and decisions involving me. Hurtful comments and mistreatment others did to me in my grade school days that are still showing up in my nightmares. The anxiety and shame I feel from failure or disappointing things I've done. I saw, heard and felt so much of it in a flash then asked myself, what did all of this do FOR me?

This morning as I walked to my car to head to work, I listened to the birds chirping and thought how beautiful and nice it is to live here. To get to travel. I never would have prioritized this assignment and this kind of experience had I not had that negative experience from my leadership. What that experience did for me was free me from a singular "career track." It gave me the courage to lead unmasked. Speak up and out about things I may not have felt "safe" or "knowledgeable" enough to do before. And it inspired me to explore what success means for me. What happiness means for me. And not what I am told to pursue or value from someone else; to include an institution. There was a valuable time for these things but that time has run out.

And then there's the situation with my dad. What did this do for me? This is something I am still processing. My dad's actions made me question if I ever knew the "wooden" version of myself. Or was I always exchanging pieces of myself for Gold? Maybe... or better yet, admittedly, I'm still scared to fully explore what this means. But as I look at the pieces of the doll's body parts on the ground and see my own, I may have been given the opportunity to start a new life. One that isn't the dream of my mom or dad or other family members. One that doesn't carry the pressure of performance or require burnout levels of exhaustion to sustain high achievement. One that doesn't demand for me to be a positive representative or role model to others to have any sense of self-worth. I can't even get mad at the younger versions of myself that did these things because in her heart, she was doing the best she could; the best she knew how to do, to survive. Survival may seem like an extreme word, but as a child and even more deeply as a human being, I needed and still need connection to survive. But, maybe I am finally getting the chance to explore the real me. The me before I started exchanging wooden body parts for Gold ones in order to connect with other people. To please. Be liked. Be accepted. Be chosen. To give. To not be a burden. To be seen. Maybe I'm getting the chance to continue creating space for, and intrinsically giving all of these things I gave away, back to myself, in order to connect with me.

Photo: Some homemade Gelato I made in a cooking class while visiting Sicily in Italy


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