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The Eternal Sunshine Of The Daily Choice

February 2, 2012

My parents almost named me Sunshine.

Hippies the way only East Coasters who moved to San Francisco in the early ’70s could be, my parents meditated on roofs, toured the country in a renovated bread truck, ate tofu pudding, grew a lot of hair, did things with crystals that I still don’t understand, adopted a stray mutt and named it Freedom, and eventually pondered naming their first child after the stuff that comes off the star around which our entire solar system revolves.

Which, come to think of it, might have worked for me. HI, I AM THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. THANKS FOR NOTICING.

As you may have cleverly surmised from my header, they didn’t. Because what if I…wasn’t? As cheerful as the name implies, that is. I know they worried about this. Few other names come with such specific expectations of good nature. What if I was ornery? Angry? Tinged with ennui? Draped in a blanket of deep melancholy? What if I asked for smelling salts and a fainting couch for my fourteenth birthday? There’s a lot of misfire potential in christening a child Sunshine.

As it happens, calling me Sunshine wouldn’t have been as much of a lie as, say, Grace or Chastity. But this is not something a parent can know until long after the birth certificate needs signing.

I consider myself a happy person. Except when I’m not. Because I’ve been all those things: angry, ornery, marinated in ennui and melancholy. It wouldn’t be a huge exaggeration to say that I’ve lost years of my life to depression. To save my mother the worried phone call, it may or may not have been true depression, but I certainly didn’t do what I was capable of for years, simply because I was trying to get through them. To untangle myself from that blanket of melancholy. (They sell them at Ikea. Don’t buy one.) But I decided I wanted to get through those years in my own way and so I did. And that was exactly what I needed to get where I am – a place that, on most days, I’m pretty darn happy with.

My Point

You get to choose who you are. Your parents name you something, your family develops a certain expectation of you, your friends know you as one thing or another – but none of that matters. You get to choose. You choose who you are and who you become. By choosing what you pay attention to and where you put your focus. By focusing on your life and no one else’s. Focusing on what you want that life to be. On what makes you happy.

I have a lot of joy in me. In large part because that’s what I’ve chosen to cultivate. I was born with a lot of potential for happiness, but I was also born with a lot of potential for the other thing. I choose what I want to lean into. I have to keep choosing it every day. We all do.

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  • Reply Sarah February 2, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    I love the idea that your name changes to fit you – not the other way around.
    As a kid, I read the Anne of Green Gables series, and I remember a scene where Anne says something like, “my name just smacks of farm work and calico.” Anne’s best friend tells her that, after knowing Anne for years, she thinks the name “Anne” sounds stately, like a queen.

    • Reply Amber February 2, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      Anne with an e.

      Anne of Green Gables was my favorite. Still is, come to think of it.

  • Reply Rae February 2, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    This post (and the many others like it) is exactly why I e-mailed Drea saying “Invite Amber to our little meet-up for I MUST MEET HER”.

    Thank you for reinforcing what I only just realised in the last month or so: I get to choose what I want my life to look like, I get to choose who I want to be. Somebody will always disagree with my views on what my life should look like and who I should become, but that doesn’t matter. It’s my life, and I’m the one who knows best what would make me happy.

    So, thanks.

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

      Aw. I was so happy to meet you too!

      And you do know what’s best for you – always. Plus, you’re the only one who has to live your life. So it should look the way -you- want.

  • Reply Drea February 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I like this. Relatedly, this:

  • Reply Robin February 3, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Yay – love! On a side note, I don’t think my parents were concerned that I would or would not grow up to be a migratory bird with a red breast. But, my parents were definitely NOT hippies [see: my grandfather had a poster of Nixon], so I don’t think name meaning carried as much weight with them. But, back to the central point of choosing happiness: YES. I think I might have mistakenly purchased an Ikea blanket of melancholy back in the day. Letting the sunshine in is definitely a daily task, but Oh. So worth it.

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      If you -had- turned into a migratory bird with a red breast, your parents could have claimed Superpowers o’ Naming. And renamed everything. “I name the house…clean.” “I name the Corolla a porsche.” “I name this thin, insufficient sweater a puffy down jacket.” You see how this works.


  • Reply nicole February 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    Thank you for this – I definitely needed to read it today. And yes: it’s always a choice.

  • Reply Tori February 3, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    We might have the same parents. Mine were also New Yorker hippies who moved to SF in the ’70s. I wasn’t born until 1985, though, which is lucky – had I been born a decade earlier, they would have named me “Moonshine.”

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Moonshine. Oh man. That’s just one step above Moon Unit. We got so lucky.

  • Reply Marieka February 3, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    You’re so right–it is a choice. I think that I need to put “I choose what I want to lean into” on my bathroom mirror or something.

    My parents were heavily into seventies folk music, and named me after a Judy Collins cover of a Jacques Brel song: it’s a Flemish name. They “Americanized” the spelling a bit, in hopes of keeping people from mispronouncing it, but it kinda didn’t work. Mary-ekkk-uh, Mar-eye-kuh, Mar-ick-uh: I’ve heard it all. For some odd reason, the other girl names on the list leaned toward the Russian: Natasha and Tatiana. Nope, no Russian ancestors–my mom just liked the names. I’m definitely not a Natasha or a Tatiana, that’s for sure!

  • Reply Amanda February 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    In love with this post. Thank you, Amber. (A very lovely name, might I add.)

  • Reply Donna February 4, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Really well said, Amber. And something we all need to be reminded of from time to time. Actually, some people need more than a reminder. Thanks.

  • Reply Pandamawnium February 5, 2012 at 9:05 am

    In case you haven’t heard this story:

    A Cherokee Legend

    An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

    “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

    The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

    The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:47 pm

      Pretty sure I’m feeding the right wolf. Most of the time.

      Thanks, Mom. :)

  • Reply brandy February 5, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    Love this, genius- AS PER USUAL. I think once you reach a point that nothing controls who you are- your name, your financial status, your location etc- it is both freeing and- if you aren’t ready to jump in, I suppose it can be terrifying. “I choose what I want to lean into”, is a brilliant line and one that will stick with me.

    In related news, my parents argued over my name. My mom wanted to name me after her favourite horse- Cheyenne. My father vetoed. Thank baby Jesus.

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      Oh, I love this. You know I have to call you Cheyenne from now on. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it has to be.

  • Reply terra February 6, 2012 at 4:15 am

    Brilliant, lady. You’re exactly right.

  • Reply Nora February 6, 2012 at 10:51 am

    Thanks Amber, Today is the exact day I needed to read this. Need to stop feeding the wrong wolf.

  • Reply Camels & Chocolate February 6, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    My parents wanted to name me “Grass…or Tree…or Something.” Grass and Sunshine would have made quite the pair, taking on San Francisco one brunch spots or happy hour or yoga class at a time.

    • Reply Amber February 6, 2012 at 4:50 pm

      I think we all need hippie names. To be used at appropriate times. Like cutting a wide swath through the yoga studios and green juice purveyors of San Francisco. GRASS AND SUNSHINE FOREVER.

  • Reply katelin February 6, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    it took me a long time to really embrace my name because as a kid it was just SO DIFFERENT. now it’s not all that unique (except the spelling) but i love that when people meet me they sometimes say “yes! that name fits you so well, you are so Katelin.” i’ve made the name my own and i can’t imagine anything else.

  • Reply KB April 10, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    My parents almost named me “Nona Jane”. :|

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