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🧜♀️ From Fins to Feet: Belonging in a Sea of Uncertainty
Letter 160: My reflection on The Little Mermaid
Hi, my name is Jen. Welcome aboard my weekly reflection on life and its lessons that I call Letters from a learn-it-all. Among my ranging curiosities, lately, my walnut is obsessing over how to use creative constraints in poetry and learning from life adventures. If you are new here or missed last week's edition, you can catch up on the past letters here. If you are reading this for the first time, I’d love you to sign up below to join the other learn-it-alls:
Aloha fellow learn-it-all 👋
Greetings from a happy camper in a hammock in Honolulu, Hawaii
The views looking up are brilliant!
Anywho, getting back to ground level here, I meant to write this week about my think weekend with sixty hours in solitude without screens, but instead, I'm writing (and singing) to you about one of my favorite Disney movies: the Little Mermaid. It’s what resonated with me and I felt moved, so this is me trusting my instinct. (Note to self: inspiration sometimes doesn’t make sense but listen to it anyway.)
The live-action version came out on my brother’s 30th birthday, so I had to celebrate in my own way a couple of nights ago after nefariously sneaking my family-sized Twix bar into the theater.
If you've never seen the movie or aren’t familiar with the story, there will be many spoilers ahead. Be aware. And also I'm envious of you being able to experience this film for the first time soon enough. :)
Now, let’s dive into letter 160 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!
❓Question to think about
What is belonging?
🔍Words to define
Belonging: a feeling deep in relatedness and acceptance; a feeling of “I would rather be here than anywhere else”
This is the definition from Raha Agrawal author of the book Belong: Find Your People, Create Community & Live a More Connected Life
With saltwater streaming down my cheeks, I watched King Triton say “Thank you, Ariel, let's get you back to where you belong [with the merpeople in the sea, not with the humans].”
Ariel just rescued her dad, King Triton, from the sea witch Ursula and he immediately assumes that his place of safety is the same as his daughter’s.
This makes me question: how can they both have such different definitions of belonging?
After King Triton finally slaps some sense into himself from a wise chat with a red-clawed crab, he stops imposing his own expectations on his daughter and with his ruler of Atlantica powers transforms her from a mermaid into a human to be able to explore life on land.
Then, after Ariel marries the human she fancies named Eric, she looks out to her old home in the sea and says goodbye to her aforementioned friends like the crab Sebastian, Flounder, the fish, and Scuttle the seabird. Tears begin to puddle in her eyes out of fear about going into the unknown without a support network. That was all she knew for her whole life.
Eric asked her if she was ready. Ariel pulls back tears and allows the clouds of doubt to evaporate as she takes his hand into the human world where she hopes she'll find belonging since she left the past one behind. Ariel is volunteering to be a literal fish out of water. It seems crazy to take a bet like that without any certainty.
What a gamble!
Let’s hold the phone and back up a bit on belonging to make sense of this more.
If blessed enough to experience childhood as I did, we each inherit a sense of safety, security, and comfort by having our needs met and being brought up in a place that nurtures us. This is what belonging first means for us. It is being in a place that becomes a home that plants values, behaviors, and norms in us. They’re subconsciously grandfathered into the programming without much choice in the matter.
I resonate with Ariel because it really doesn't make much logical sense to make such a drastic life change based on limited knowledge apart from the fleeting feeling where heart, body, and mind are in alignment “This is right”. She entered a whole new world without gills and feet instead.
I see my own reflection in the story where I moved to Hawaii without certainty at all.
Unlike Ariel, I’m grateful I could do just a two-month experiment to see how it went. I used to think belonging meant memorizing the street names, running into people that knew me, and having countless friends from different circles as I did in Chicago. But in hindsight, I now realize that belonging somewhere means so much more and is much more challenging to answer.
You can't think your way into feeling like you belong. I look at my phone screen, tap a finger, and instantaneously feel connected to a whole slew of people on social media but is that actually a meaningful connection? Sure I can find belonging digitally but isn’t it more important for my health and well-being to find it in person?
As of January of this year, after a couple of lovely adventures to the DMV, I became a resident of Hawaii, also known as “kamaʻāina”. But I will never technically be “Kanaka Maoli” as a Native Hawaiian, since I did not come out from this land. I never will.
When I visit relatives in the Netherlands, I am American. But when I'm in America and speak my limited and elementary Dutch, I feel Dutch. When I am in the house I grew up in Michigan, I feel like my 18-year-old self. How does one find where they belong? It’s like everywhere I go, it’s easy to feel like a fish out of water. (But unlike Ariel, at least I get to cry about it above seawater).
Babies cry and want to be coddled to feel safe after being separated from the womb where they were miraculously created. And every breath after their departure from that sense of safe belonging feels chaotic. I don’t blame them for crying in confusion.
I get it. I want to feel safe too.
And yet, I feel compelled to find my edge by doing scary things. The type of things that feel unfamiliar like filming this video singing to one of my favorite Disney songs.
Looking at Ariel keeps making me ponder, where do I belong? Every day it feels like it changes. It's like I'm a butterfly flippantly flapping out of my chrysalis trying to figure out where I'm trying to go even though no destination is my truth right away. With each exertion of energy, I need to check in and feel that I'm flying in a direction that is in alignment with my head, heart, and body. I don’t have the answers here. I’m still trying to figure this out. Belonging is confusing because I want to feel safe as I am, yet I live in a changing world that challenges me to transform alongside it.
The confines of comfort like being a boat in a harbor feel safe, but that's not what ships are made for.
Finding belonging is scary, especially when I know there are many parts of myself that feel at odds with each other like I am an enigma, but they cannot be drowned out. I am done denying parts of myself or of who I am. I am Jen. I am many things. I belong in many circles of people I love. I belong to many places on the sea and on land.
Thank you to Ariel for prompting me to linger in this ponderance about belonging. I yearn to figure out what belonging is. I’d love to hear from you and if this has prompted any reflections from you on what belonging means for you.
What would I give if I could live out of these waters?
What would I pay to spend a day warm on the sand?
Bet'cha on land they understand
Bet they don't reprimand their daughters
Bright young women sick of swimmin'
Ready to stand
I'm ready to know what the people know
Ask 'em my questions and get some answers
What's a fire and why does it—
What's the word? Burn?
When's it my turn?
Wouldn't I love, love to explore that shore up above?
Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world
🎤 Recording and Singing Part of Your World
I found the karaoke version of this song in honor of the talent show song I chose when I was 12 years old in 7th grade. Inspired by my recent reading from Brené Brown, I’ve been wanting to channel more courage so here we are. A beginner again :-)
📜🖋 Poetry Corner
Belonging: Still to be Found
Longing to belong
Seeking a space to embrace
Yearning for lifelong.
🌟Quotes to inspire
“But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore she suffers so much more.”
— Hans Christian Andersen, Danish author of The Little Mermaid
“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
— T.S. Eliot, poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic, and editor (1988- 1966)
📸 Photo of the Week
I watched this fella meditate with his patient and calm Airedale Terrier. It made me feel meditative too. Never doubt how your actions can rub off on people to make them feel at peace as well.
To Hans Christian Anderson for writing this story and to the Little Mermaid for inspiring this piece and to Disney for producing it beautifully
To Sahil Bloom for prompting my 60-hour think-weekend offline this past Thursday evening through Sunday morning
To Jon Bo for inviting me to his little seven-day writing game :) Let’s see what I can come up with!
To a steward of the Foster online writing community Minnow Park this past week for our call that brought me so much joy
I appreciate you reading this!
Never stop learning 😁
PS - in case you missed last week’s letter, after burning the candles at both ends, I’m entering a season of rest
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