In ALL, DRUNKEN BLOGGING by Stephanie Klein41 Comments

My refrigerator is nearly empty, aside from the Sarabeth jams, the Land O Lakes sweet butter, and the baking soda.  2 eggs.  Blackberry sodas, and I don’t even drink soda unless I’m at the movies or a Jewish Deli where they sell Dr. Brown’s Black Cherry.  I ate bagel crisps for breakfast, smeared with goat cheese and topped with tangy strips of roasted red peppers.  But they’re all gone.  Tonight, I chose to stay home and make a grocery shopping list.  Afterward, I’d write the final two chapters of my book.  I still haven’t begun the list.  I have consumed black champagne… or rather, Australian red sparkling wine!!!  I did the whole shower thing, too.  The Wicked Soundtrack is on repeat.  Lotion.  Hair conditioner.  Socks.  Popular.

I thought of you as I was cleaning, how you ate cucumbers and cheese for breakfast, at 6am.  We watched It’s A Wonderful Life when I couldn’t sleep.  You told me bedtime stories when I still couldn’t sleep.  You loved doing things for me, being such a force in my life, and the thing I don’t get is, well, why?  I worry I didn’t see past me with you.  I worry I do it now, every day, still.  Mostly because I’m reminded.  Loudly.

Today I mentioned a list of moments.  THINK back to the happiest MOMENTS in your life.  Close your eyes, and feel your face smile.  Some people remember their wedding day, the faces of loved ones around them.  The birth of their children.  My list was a series of moments that recognized what I thought to be accomplishments.  I squealed when thick college acceptance envelopes began to arrive under my parent’s door, when I saw my name on a bulletin board announcing I landed the lead in the school play, when I got the promotion.  When I shared my list aloud with a friend, I was told, yelled at, actually, that I was self-centered and should add "looking at my red hair in the mirror" to the list.  WTF is that?

But this is what made me happy! These were things I’d striven for, things that meant something to me.  Those were honestly my happy moments.  Things I’d achieved.  Things, yes, where I was given some small validation.  Is that so horrible?  "Yeah, but all you care about is the gold star!" 

I thought it over as I cleaned my counter tops, after I’d heated the last of the Italian Wedding soup.  I thought of you as I rubbed out a ring stain my wine glass had made near the stove.  I blew my soup cool in short Lamaze breaths and wondered what was so horrible about enjoying validation.  I enjoy writing, on its own, without validation.  Just as I enjoyed learning, school, working hard, practicing my solo, swimming laps.  But my happiest MOMENT isn’t the struggle of it.  It’s arriving.  It’s validation for doing what you love.  Would I stop if I didn’t get the validation?  If I loved it enough, as I do with writing, NO CHANCE.  Why does that make me so self-everything?  Yes, peppered throughout my achievement list, there were other loves… Linus mostly.  That’s not the point. 

The point is being made to feel small for wanting, for hoping, for enjoying validation.  That’s one of my least favorite moments.

I still don’t see what’s wrong with reveling and enjoying the moments where I’ve been praised or validated for my accomplishments.   "You’re like The Bad Seed," I was told.  "All you care about is getting the medal."  No.  I care about doing something worthy of a medal, but yes, what I remember is the medal.  Why is that so wrong?  I really want to know… because this is my wiring.  Growing up, achievement was praised.  Hard work.  Good grades. 

In psychology class, I learned when children love to color, they do it.  As soon as you begin to give them stars or medals for it, they stop doing it unless the medal is given as a reward… rendering their joy into a reward system.  I’m not living that life… I’m not motivated by reward.  I do what I love, and the moments I love are those which validate my efforts.


  1. sounds to me like you've got it figured out… Steph, I think maybe your "friend" is either jealous or perhaps just having a bad day. I have lists like that too and I don't think it's being self centered. Stuff that made me happy? throwing lavish and creative parties where everyone is laughing and hugging, slurping down raspberry parfaits and crinkling their noses in joy… it's not about gold stars, it's about love and life… nothing wrong with that.

  2. I'll never forget the time I struggled with my son's school. Desperately trying to get him help for a disability he has. The school didn't want to spend money to give him the education he deserved, the extra assistance he needed to succeed. I fought for him. And eventually won. But it was a long hard road, taking more than two years. What does this have to do with your blog entry or your love of validation? Well, several years later, I was recounting this story to my son's new doctor, in a matter-of-fact tone, because I had told the story so many times before. The doctor suddenly reached out and touched my arm. I stopped speaking, raised my eyebrows, and looked at him. He looked directly into my eyes and said quietly, "You have had a tough time. And you have done a wonderful job advocating for your child." I burst into tears. I was so moved that my hard work was noticed and appreciated. Even though I knew I was doing the right thing, it feels good to be validated. Then you know you're not in it all alone. (Also, one of the reasons your blog is such a success! We like knowing, no matter how different we all are, that we're in this thing together.)

  3. I appreciate how you are honest in your blog, even though you have already experienced some rough feedback about your list that might have caused a small clench in your belly, a quick swipe of–geez what if I really am that self-centered? I am sure in your comments there will be more.

    When the hot wash of that shock wears off, however, you hopefully realize you are not self-centered, you are real. I am sure there are many things you loved and that made you happy without the gold medal at the end, but once your list began with the trophies, your head kept pulling out more examples. It's okay, we don't see this as the be-all, end-all of Stephanie, but like in any blog (and geez I hope to god mine) we realize that one set of ideas in an entry is really just one small piece of a whole person. Today, it was about an empty refrigerator and a self-satisfying diet of "thank god I've succeeded at a few things that mattered to me."

    Tomorrow it will be something entirely new. That's why we read it.

  4. Woman, you are damn good at what you do. Don't you ever stop…You write because you love to write. We read because we love to read what you have to say! Linus, lists, love-life, etc. We love you Stephanie because you are real. Keep on writing…You are a breath of fresh air every day of our lives!

  5. the only problem with giving medals and validation to everything is that it makes a lot of what we do a competition. I say if you like competition then there's nothing wrong with being happy about the validation. Be happy with the things that you've earned, because most likely you deserve them. And if you didn't deserve it, well, just pretend to prevent people from turning into jealous asses. Isn't that called "infatuhatetion"?

  6. Ah, my case is quite differnet. I don't get praised for my good grades, it's just something tha I'm responsible for. I've never depended on praise. I depend on my own satisfaction.

  7. being happy because of your accomplishments isn't necessarily self-centered. but life is about the journey as well as the destination. in my experience sometimes the journey is far better than the destination.

  8. troppo tardi per leggere l'inglese, ma se si parla di frigo vuoti e di frigo pieni il linguaggio è lo stesso

  9. Imposing criticism towards a person's means (or ultimate definition) of happiness is the real act of egotism. It is awfully self-righteous to suggest what, in another person's life, should make them happy.

    As well, whatever a person derives as happiness ends up being verification of some point. A beautiful wedding often elicits great happiness because every family member and friend you've ever known and loved is in one room. Good food, good company, great party. But the element of acheivement still exists. A wedding verifies that you have acheived life-long love (one would hope), financial stability and, in some cases, relative popularity. Happy.

    This all reminds me of the oft-cited "Happiness is not a destination, but a journey." If times of achievement, in the classic sense – medals, certificates or mentions – mark your journey, then one often arrives at the destination with a long path of hard work, discipline and practice behind them. Since when were these traits abhored? What a wonderful thing if hard work makes you happy!

    So long as nobody gets hurt in the quest, it is unbelievably presumptuous to assign the route or the end to one's happiness.

  10. You (and your friend) have raised a big question or two, of the type that might well inspire deep reflection, reflection that is difficult inside the blog-and-comments mechanism, but I hope you will humor me if I try a little despite that…

    "Is that so horrible?" No. But is it admirable? Also no. Are you stuck with it, or can it be altered? As wonderful as it is that you are not a person who is made happy by hurting others, can what-makes-you-happy be improved, made better, more admirable? What is the extent to which each person is responsible for what-makes-them-happy? That is, is it something which is discovered and everyone just has to live with it, or is it something which is created by each person for themselves? (If it something innate and unchangeable for each of us, what do we do about those for whom the only source of happiness is hurting others? Do we say that they are never allowed to be happy?)

    If we choose what-makes-us-happy, then we can choose to change it. I think we do choose it, usually not in a conscious way, usually long before we can articulate the principles we think we would like to live by. Your friend was harsh to you, which was unkind, but that does not mean that they were not, even inadvertently, giving you something good and useful to think about: In this world, there is very little which is completely black or white, good or evil. Almost everything exists on a continuum, somewhere between the extremes. You are surely not an altogether wicked person, and self-knowledge and self-acceptance are important, but there is a danger of complacency when one forgets that, while none of us is perfect now, *that should remain our goal* and the only way to get there is to be better tomorrow than we were today. Whether you think of it as a psychological or a spiritual issue, there is a value to striving for self-improvement, to knowing that, as fine as we are now, we can–and should–always try to be better. The desire for happiness is a great motivator of the human being and there is a lot at stake on what turns out to make us happy; whatever it is now, however good, it can be better, more noble, tomorrow. That, at any rate, is the way I see it, and what I would choose to take from your friend.

    I have tried not to be prescriptive and preachy here, and I am not, in any way, a particularly good writer. If, however, you would appreciate a comment from a truly great writer…

    "Joy can be real only if people look upon their life as a service, and have a definite object in life outside themselves and their own personal happiness."

    —Leo Tolstoy

  11. I don't think you're being self centered at all. It's human nature to want validation, it connects us to our fellow man. Maybe your accomplishments make your friend question her own, or maybe s/he is threatened by your confidence. I'm sure your friend would feel validated if someone agreed with the theory that all you care about is a gold star, right?

    Here's some validation for you – your ability to be introspective always inspires me. Keep up the good work!

  12. Is it just me, or is everyone annoyed with veiled and not-so-veiled pettiness of industrywhore? I hate to even mention it because people like that usually thrive from the negative attention I'm about to dish. They're the knock-you-down-to-make-myself-bigger type of folks. Mostly I just shake my head at the insidious negativism and wonder about his/his small, dark life. But every once in a while, I just get angry because I'm sick and tired of the attack on Stephanie — my dear stranger-friend –and wish it would just freaking stop. The older I get — am I really almost 43? — the more those Norman Rockwellian sentiments apply. If you can't say something nice, shut the fukc up.

  13. I certainly wouldn't say you were self-centred. You're too introspective for that. You're write in a way that shows you are very aware of who you are. I think if you were really self centred, you wouldn't have the time for that.

    You're so fortunate to be doing something that you love to do everyday of your life. If I was in that position and was as good as it as you are, I'd say that a little ego-stroking is well and truly deserved!


  14. I think that when we move beyond competition, when we realize that external praise and recognition (or criticism and neglect) do not define us, we become, finally, content. We realize we are perfect just as we are; nothing to prove. When neither glowing reviews nor scathing critiques rocks you from your calm center, that's when you will have truly succeeded.

    That's what everything I read tells me, anyway. Hasn't quite sunk in for me yet, but I'm working on it ; )

  15. Some wise person, (I do not remember who) said, when asked for the definition of "Happiness", that 'Happiness is the absence of pain'. I agree. So, whatever makes you happy is right for you; no one else can know that because they are not in your heart. And anyone who criticizes you on this score…well, I feel sorry for them. No one can really know, but you.

    I really am enjoying your blog. Thanks for your wonderful honesty.

  16. I think you do just fine. Myself, I tend to be more ambivalant about rewards and recognition. So many times I have performed to my utmost and received only condemnation for it (we call this the "Tall poppy syndrome" here in Australia). Nowadays achievement is fraught with a quality of social danger for me. I tend to feel that non-recognition is both 1. socially safer and 2. perhaps a sign of genuine quality transcending social limits.

    Recognisable achievements, on the other hand (and I have had a couple) causes my heart to flutter, all queasy.

  17. The reason you're self centered is because you only focus on others making you happy. You never focus on making others happy.

    Look, I've got a boatload of accomplishments so impressive you'd accuse me of making them up if I told you. But the happiest moments in my life are those when I made someone else happy. Example:

    My youngest brother was born during my freshman year of college. When he was 5 months old, I came home for the summer. I went upstairs one morning to get him out of his crib (Mom usually did that). He pushed himself up on his hands, lifted his head, saw me…and got so excited to see me that he threw his arms out (forgetting they were holding him up) and planted his face in the mattress.

    My point is, you see the world only in terms of how others can gratify you. It's cold and selfish. But it's your life; you can learn lessons the easy way or the hard way.

  18. I had to read that study you were talking about — intrinsic v. extrinsic motivation — in a psych class. I'm a teacher now and the problem with that study is that kids love stickers. You can't take the stickers away, they're too much fun.

  19. Who cares what anybody else thinks? Live your life the way you want to. Make lists. Be happy.

    We all want to be validated somehow… At least you can say you've accomplished things in your life. What about your friend? Perhaps she IS a little jealous because she hasn't accomplished anything :)

    ~~Maria Palma

  20. Did you ever watch the show, "Northern Exposure?" One episode had Ed — the sweet and naive 20-something who wanted to be a movie director — experiencing different emotions in the form of actual people. One of those people was "External Validation." I think it is a rare person who doesn't seek validation. However, that show convinced me that, despite the occasional need to be recognized for accomplishments, life is far better without NEEDING people to approve of me.

    Seriously, this was a watershed moment. Other people's opinions have more to do with them than with you. While it's nice to have people say good things about you and/or your work, it's important to recognize that they are simply voicing their own personal preference… something that would happen no matter who was in front of them at the time.

    As Maya Angelou says, "I'm not in it." That may diminish the potency of praise, but more importantly, it dimishes the importance of criticism.

    Blog on, Ms. Klein. Blog on.

  21. th14- you have it down pat. i too have discovered that happiness is only really achieved when you stop focusing on yourself. i was a desperately unhappy corporate lawyer until i changed focus and made the switch to international human rights law. i now don't waste time engaging in unproductive circular self-obsessed dialogue relating to my own happiness- by focusing on others you realise self-worth…. which leads to happiness.

  22. That psychology thing is called the Overjustification Effect… when children are rewarded just for doing something that should have been rewarding in and of itelf (like coloring) they look back on the experience and conclude that the only reason they did it or enjoyed it was for the reward. This is typically only true when the children EXPECTED the reward. When they were rewarded unexpectedly, it didn't decrease their intrinsic liking of the activity. Also, in some cases, if the reward is only given for good performance, rather than just given to anybody and everybody, it actually increases intrinsic motivation. So you don't have to take away the stickers from the kids, you just have to make the awarding of stickers something unexpected, and something you get when you tried really hard or did a really good job.
    Anyway, this concept only applies to you, Stephanie, if you would not enjoy the things you do if there were no reward attached to them. For example, would you ENJOY writing so much if you knew no one else would ever read it – ever – making no extrinsic reward possible? If the answer is yes, then it's not the validation you love, it's the writing. If the answer is "honestly, not as much" then maybe the validation is what you love, at least in part. How much "in part" is the important part to understand about yourself.
    I agree, though, with some previous comments that we should consider whether our list of happiest moments includes moments when the achievement happened to someone else, not just ourselves. I think, if it's possible, it's important to direct our focus in that direction as often as we can. Not that it has to mean that our own achievements shouldn't make us happy. Duh. Hopefully, our achievements are included on someone else's list of happy moments, too.

  23. I don't think anyone goes into a writing career just for the "gold star" – there's so much rejection and ego bruising, especially at the beginning, that you really have to love the craft.
    I hope you've since found better friends who support your dreams.

  24. Sundry-

    * As someone mentioned, it is okay to reward children for a good effort. I want my kids to enjoy school and sports and arts. And if, in the beginning, a little ice cream comes with the adventure, it simply makes them enjoy the activity just a little more.

    * It is BOTH a journey and a destination. A pat on the back is always appreciated but the work to get there should also be enjoyable.

    * I think the list of enjoyable moments should be equally divided between your own accomplishments and those of others, since others are 50% of your life. You should certainly enjoy your own accomplishments, but you have to enjoy a parent's 75th birthday party, a best friend's wedding, the retirement party for a co-worker that you admire. If your enjoyment is centered solely around yourself, you're missing half a life.

  25. I think in order to be healthy, you have to be self-centered. And then children are born, and suddenly, the paradigm shifts and they become the focus of the universe. As they age (and in my case…become teenagers), the paradigm starts to shift back to ones self – as they become their own selves and not so needy of every speck of you. That's where I am – standing amidst a shifting paradigm and looking for the happy self-centered person I was, and strive to be again. Most days I see the light at the end of the tunnel – and that gives me the courage and strength to continue the struggle to find total contentment within self again.

  26. I think the point of your friend's criticism was that your happiest moments were all about you. In other words, they were not about moments you had shared with others, or about your happiness at being with others, or at the accomplisments of others. Perhaps if some of your moments had been about others, and some about your own accomplishments your friend might have been less critical.

  27. There's a big difference between "all you care about is the medal" and simply "remembering the medal". The end result of the work is always easier to recall than the hours spent working/creating/studying/practicing to get to that point. Besides, there's a follow-up question here: did you hang up that medal and then never, ever use that skill again? Close up the piano and never play another note? Never sing where others could hear you? Never write again after getting an "A" on a book report?

    Those who compete just for the medals are a different breed from those who achieve them along the way. You're still writing; I'd venture that you are of the second sort. ~barb

  28. i've thought about it, and i've decided your friend is jealous, passive-aggressive and bitchy. what kind of a friend points out that she thinks you're being self-centered, even if it is true? also, i'm reiterating that i don't think you should drink alone. you are already prone to moody pensiveness. it can't help.

  29. By all means make achievement the focus of your existence, but it would sure help to have some actual accomplishments under your belt first.

    (NB: A badly-written blog and 'the lead in a school play' don't *quite* cut it. FYI.)

    Whoah, I nearly forgot, you were accepted into college. Hats off! All hail Queen Stephanie! I evidently wasted my time in obtaining *two* PhD's if being accepted into college is the pinnacle of intellectual achievement.

    P.S. Good writers do not recycle imagery. If I hear you use the phrase 'short lamaze breaths' again I am seriously going to eat my own head.

    Man, I need to stop reading this blog just to put off preparing lectures. But I'm somehow fascinated by the sheer banality.

  30. If you have the time, which you may not….I suggest that you read "No Death, No Fear" by Thich Nhat Hahn. It speaks about what you discuss…the concept of arriving.


  31. who cares why you do it, so long as you do it. there are 10,000 ways to feel crappy but feeling crappy bc you're proud of your accomplishments is a kickable offense. yes, we "are who we are when we're alone", and it is possible to "do" without reward, but it doesn't mean that we should always be alone or be ashamed of taking pride in our accomplishments. you made them, you earned them, and you have a right to your pride. i know worse seeds than that.

  32. I'm pretty new to this blog, but I can't help but point out the obvious: you open your life to complete strangers for validation. So yeah, you seem to need it more than is maybe good for you. You also seem to be trying to find your way to a more authentic self. I'm not sure if this is the way, but maybe this feedback will help.

    Two pieces of advice: Do volunteer work. Seriously. It'll interrupt the self-obsessing cycle. It helps me. Second, read Joan Didion's new book. It's something to aspire to, for any writer, especially memoirists.

  33. Anna, why do you assume Stephanie doesn't do volunteer work? because she doesn't gloat about it?

  34. I don't understand why this blog is so popular, or got NYT coverage. No personal offense to the author, who is probably nice enough, but it's really boring and kind of vapid.

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