It Is What It Is

A friend of mine recently told me that he and his spouse are getting a divorce. I guess this shouldn’t have shocked me given that the divorce rate is like 50%, but you always want to believe that you and your friends will beat the odds and they are both such delightful people, I was sure they would figure it out. I was searching for the right thing to say and I just kept coming back to “it is what it is.”

I’ve always hated that expression – it always seemed so defeatist to me, like why even try?! – but as I’ve gotten older, I understand why it’s become such a popular expression. Sometimes things just suck and that’s all there is to it (and I know a little bit about sucky situations).

What if that phrase wasn’t defeatist but just necessary. When I was younger, I thought everything could be fixed. So, what did that mean? It meant it was my job to fix it. But maybe there are things that can’t be fixed. Maybe they are just broken, and trying to fix them leaves us like Sisyphus, pushing that heavy boulder up a hill.

By accepting that there are some things that can’t be fixed, I don’t think we’re saying a thing isn’t SAD, I think it’s saying that there’s no real way to make it UNsad. We can take all of that energy we expend pushing that boulder up the hill and apply it to something that actually makes us happy.

Because sometimes, it just is what it is.

Intention

“DRIVE WITH INTENTION!!!” is something I used to scream a lot at Seattle drivers (within the confines of the car, I become the meanest person – we all do this, right?). Seattle/Washington drivers don’t seem to care if they get where they’re going. And I’m not talking about driving style like aggression or passivity. I’m talking like basic driving stuff, like not noticing that a light has turned green or taking so long to take a turn that it causes me to miss the light. It used to make me BANANAS (and probably still would, I just don’t drive anymore).

It’s funny because for all this talk about driving with intention, I sure don’t LIVE with it always.I tend to just let things happen and react as I see fit.

In a lot of ways, this makes sense. To someone who got cancer in her 20s, plans can seem pretty stupid. Some plans ARE stupid and God. IS laughing, but a little planning gets us going. It can be motivating.

I was just at home in Arlington Heights and then we went to Will’s childhood home in Massachusetts, where his parents still live. My parents are selling their home, all of my closest friends from childhood/high school live in the Chicago area and 3 of them just bought houses, Will’s parents have done a TON of work on the house and it looks nicer than it has in years (I think Will would agree with me on that, so I can say it), and we hung out with one of Will’s high school buddies and his AWESOME wife and adorable son at their cute home. It’s hard not to fantasize about living in the Chicago area or Massachusetts but would I like that? I don’t know.

I think that’s part of the problem – we are at a threshold where we have to choose – be intentional about – what’s next for us. I think that is made even more difficult by the choice constraints that we face – my health, career, family. There is no obvious place for us to settle down. We’ll just have to be really a INTENTIONAL about where we go next.

Quality vs. quantity

When I was in college, I really wanted a pair of tall boots (riding boots were really the rage). I went through a few cheap pairs, mostly from Target, usually getting rid of them because they became uncomfortable or wore out. After college, I saved up big money and purchased a pair of Frye Boots. It is ten years later and I still have those Frye boots AND I still wear them. Not to get all mathy on you, but say I got lucky and found some boots that were $20. Over ten years, I would have spent $200 if I had gone at the rate I was going at. Sure, I had to pay some money here and there to get the boots re-soled or re-heeled, but I think, overall, I spent the same amount of money – and probably less – by forking over a lot at once to buy the Fryes. Plus, I created a lot less waste!

What’s the lesson here? It’s not just that I’m a financial wizard (though, obviously I am). It’s that, often, quality over quantity pays.

You could work all of the time, but hate your life. Sure, you might be rich, but are you happy? That’s all quantity but little quality. Maybe every time you see your family, you do something really special but you hardly ever see each other? A lot of quality but limited quantity.

I guess we all need to learn to balance these things in our lives, because sometimes the scarcity of something is exactly what gives it its quality.

And then there are some things that, no matter how high the quantity is, you just can’t get enough. Like potato chips. And other, more meaningful, things.

For your enjoyment/entertainment: https://youtu.be/PgpDN-bARwc

Fustrated

My freshman year of college, one of my roommates (I was in a triple) used to say the word frustrated with the emphasis on the ATED part, instead of the way Americans typically say that word. Being college freshmen, my other roommate and I found this hilarious, and we got into a debate about the proper way to say frustrated. After that argument, my then boyfriend sent me some songs where the singer says “frustrated” in the way that my roommate did. One of those songs was, notably, by Avril Lavigne, and called “Complicated.” I think Avril Lavigne is Canadian. Just saying. There are plenty of lessons in that story – right and wrong is subjective, there isn’t always just one way to say something, college freshmen are shits – but my main take away was that some people said frustrated differently than I did.

Anyway, as lovely as that was for me, I’m not just using this as an opportunity to reminisce. I do want to talk about the feeling of frustration, because I think it’s at the heart of most of the things I’m feeling lately.

Frustration can lead to anger or sadness. It’s usually temporary and we can see a way out of it, like being stuck in traffic (you aren’t stuck in traffic, you ARE traffic). Traffic can be frustrating but there’s an end, somewhere. Either traffic clears up or you arrive (often late) to wherever you were going. I guess you could just give up all together and get out of your car and walk, but barring an apocalyptic situation, I would really hope that traffic is never THAT bad.

A small story. It includes more reminiscing, but not really of the sweet kind. I don’t remember much from my childhood, and it’s hard to know which memories are real and which are based on photos or stories. I do know that I had a very caring childhood, filled with love. Ask most people and they’ll use words like “carefree” and “joyful” to describe how they remember childhood, but not me. I definitely felt those things as a kid, but the strongest emotion I remember from my childhood is frustration.

For start, I lived in a house with a brother who was 9 years older than I and a mother who gave birth to me when she was nearly 43. I always wanted to hang with the big kids. Plus, I was pretty smart, so I always wanted my ideas to be taken seriously. But I was a kid and sometimes my ideas were a kid’s ideas and sometimes (probably most of the time) they were just bad. So I ended up feeling frustrated, because I just wanted to be taken seriously and in charge!

Now, this says a lot about my own control issues, but if we fast forward to my life today, it’s eerily similar to the life of my childhood: I’m in my mind a lot which can make me feel left out of the conversation, I have lots of things to say without a good way to say them, and when it comes to decisions about where to go or what to do, I’m completely limited in those decisions.

When you’re stuck in traffic, you can see an end. When you’re a kid, you grow up. There is not really a “this will all go away” for me to look forward to.

So yeah. Sometimes I feel frustrated.

I’m working on finding productive outlets to channel that frustration so I don’t just feel sad and angry all of the time, but this is a warning that if you find yourself on the receiving end of that sadness or anger, I’m likely not frustrated with you.

Unless you say “fustration.” Then it’s definitely you.

Toolbox

Recently, I wasn’t on top of it and let my prescription for Ritalin lapse. It’s considered addictive and you have to get a new prescription every month so you really have to be on top of it. And I wasn’t. This meant that my mood was pretty low. I don’t have ADD, I take Ritalin to give me an energy boost and a mood boost, because anyone who knows me at all knows that my life is pretty hard.

I’m not a stranger to anti-depressants and I don’t think anyone should be ashamed of taking them, poor physical health or not, because life is hard and sometimes our chemistry isn’t exactly right to deal with it. That said, I don’t like to be on a pill to not feel depressed. I said to Will today “if you need a pill to feel okay about your life, that’s not a good sign.” When I took anti-depressants before, I wanted to get off of them as quickly as I could, because it felt like a false sense of happiness. I wanted to build up my own toolbox to fight off my demons.

So I did. I wrote in a journal. I exercised a lot. I did yoga. I ate well. I read and did things that nourished me. And it worked. Sure, we all have our ups and downs, but overall, when I was unnaturally down, I could turn to my toolbox.

Nowadays, not only is my life a lot harder, but my toolbox is pretty empty. I’m trying to fill it up with new hobbies and new exercise and new ways to elevate me when I feel deflated, but the tools I have don’t always work.

In regards to my Ritalin need, Will said “you know, some of us just need a little extra help.” and I thought that was sweet. I thought about it in terms of the toolbox. The medicine is just another tool since some of the other tools aren’t in there right now. It’s kinda like being handed a Phillips-head screw, turning to your toolbox and seeing you only have a Flathead screwdriver.

Ritalin is my Phillips-head screwdriver.

The Little Things

The little things

We’ve all heard that expression “it’s about the little things” but it truly is. When I think about some of the things I miss the most, they are so small. Sure, I miss many of the big things – driving, my hair, a career – but in many ways, those things seem obvious. It is the smaller things that we don’t think about that we long to do again. For me, it is taking my favorite pair of boots to the cobbler to be re-soled or re-heeled. Or picking out the perfect mug for my hot coffee. Or standing in the shampoo aisle at the drugstore for far too long, just smelling all of the bottles of shampoo. So silly. So trivial. Yet so important.

I often don’t realize I miss a little thing until I hear someone else talking about it like it’s no big thing. And it’s NOT. That’s the point. I once heard that when the country is in a recession, sales of expensive nail polish go up because people need a way to treat themselves without spending TOO much money. This, to me, is paying attention to the little things: spending more money than you would normally but still only spending like $8, because it brings you joy, if even for a moment.

Big stuff doesn’t come around that much so we need the little things to keep us going, because sometimes, the little things are all we have.

I care, therefore I am.

The idea that empathy and imagination are related has been swimming around my brain for some time. Empathy requires that you put yourself in someone else’s shoes and how can you do that without imagining what it must be like to be them? This weekend, empathy and imagination came together for me in a way that said “you HAVE to write about this.”

The way they came together was through two things: a fundraiser for a local nonprofit where a friend of mine works and the documentary “The Way I See It”, which chronicles the life of the photographer, Pete Souza, who was the White House photographer through the Reagan Years and the Obama Years (warning: if you hate Barack Obama, you will likely not enjoy this film, or me.)

BFI (The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, formerly 826 Seattle) is an organization that partners with schools and community organizations to give kids the opportunity to express their voices and expand their imaginations, largely through writing. Part of their (virtual) fundraiser included a “watch kit” that included BFIs “Idea Book”, which in addition to being the brain child of my friend, Bryan, has lots of cool ideas for how to get your imagination going.

I recently watched Anne With an E on Netflix, because I’ve always been a fan of Anne of Green Gables, and I copied down this quote: “That’s the thing about imagining. Sometimes you have to stop and that hurts.” In case you didn’t know, Anne is a very imaginative girl. It’s largely how she gets through her tough life and much of the series is filled with her musings.

A theme of “The Way I See It” is empathy and the photographer, Pete Souza, makes no secret of the kind of empathy he witnessed in both the Reagan and Obama White Houses. A quote from a father of one of the Sandy Hook victims was, “There’s no substitute for empathy. It is a foundational relationship between human beings.” and Souza himself talks about empathy being at the heart of what makes us human. I think I agree.

I worry about our empathy these days. So much of our lives is spent consuming or looking up answers to things we don’t know on the internet. When was the last time you sat with an unknown fact or had a conversation with a friend about what the answer could be? I’m as guilty as the next person of saying “let’s just Google it” and moving on. In some ways, this is good – why argue over facts and avoiding an argument with a friend is always worth its while – but sitting and talking and questioning takes real imagination. You have to think of a plausible idea and then defend it. Even screens dull our imaginations. We’re not forced to imagine what a character looks like, it is shown to us. As soon as the films came out, I imagined Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe and Hermione Granger as Emma Watson. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE those movies, I just could not remember what I had imagined any of the characters to look like before I saw the movies.

This is one reason I think we need to infuse the tech world with empathetic people. For so long, tech has been seen as this world of robots and awkward people. There’s no room for human behavior. There’s no room for emotions. For empathy. But, let’s face it, our future is tech and screens and internet, and I don’t want a future full of unfeeling robots who can’t relate to the pain of stubbing your toe on the leg of the bed for the thousandth time.

So, if you ever feel annoyed with me for not wanting to look something up when we could just Google it or for pushing you to do something without technology it’s not because I think IT’S stupid or that I’m trying to be stubborn for the sake of it, it’s because I think we should all get better at using our imaginations.

The Strength in the Sad

“I wish I could do [x]” or “Man, it sucks that I can’t do [y].” If I had a dime for every time I said or thought one of those things…well, I wouldn’t be rich, but I’d have a lot of dimes. I think it’s very human to want what we can’t have, but I think it’s also very human to act like we are happy all of the time.

I definitely fall into this trap, because I want to be perceived as “strong” at every turn. Instead of looking at all of the things I CAN’T do because of cancer, I try to look at what I CAN d0. I’m so afraid of becoming a downer or of being that “sad cancer patient” that everyone pities. It’s easier to just tell everyone, including myself, that I’m happy.

But guess what? I’m over it. I’m sad and things are hard, and I hate that having cancer has meant that there are so many things I won’t get to do. And I’m working on believing it myself, but I also want to acknowledge that there is strength in admitting that you’re sad. Especially in our culture which puts such an emphasis on being happy.

Admitting that you’re sad requires a certain amount of vulnerability and authenticity that is scary. Admitting to your true feelings may feel a bit like admitting to your weaknesses, and we want to pretend like no one sees our flaws and we tend to think that no one will relate to our sadness, but I think that’s very false. I think the hard things are very much what make us human and relatable. I think, or at least I hope, that heroes can get sad sometimes, too.

I have to remind myself of this, because I can get so caught up in being “inspirational,” like if this shitty thing is going to happen, I might as well prove how unaffected I am by it all! But, recently, I have felt less like finding the blessings and the lessons in it all. Trying to find meaning in it makes it feel kind of like it was “supposed” to happen or something.

I think it’s okay, and even strong, to admit that yes, this sucks, and sometimes (all of the time) life’s not fair. Authenticity takes vulnerability and vulnerability takes strength. I can see why expressions like “it is what it is” are so popular: sometimes things just suck and there’s nothing we can do about it. The only thing, I’ve thought to do about it is not to let myself get stuck in the sad. It’s okay to be sad sometimes and to feel sad about things that are sad! But we can’t always be sad. For the number of things that make me sad each week, there’s as many, if not more, that inspire me.

So yeah, I’m sad that I’ll never be pregnant and that I won’t have my own classroom and that I’ll never climb Mt. Kilimanjaro (it was one of my life goals). That IS sad! Admitting that doesn’t make me weaker, it makes me real.

Kanye

I know I’m supposed to write things that are positive or inspiring or whatever, but real talk: lately I haven’t been feeling real positive or inspiring. I’ve actually been feeling pretty bad. About myself, my life, and the world.

The other night, I couldn’t sleep so, like all awesome brains, mine decided to do a self-evaluation of my flaws and why they are what they are. As you know from my post “Enough”, this feeling of being fundamentally flawed has been a common feeling these days: that I’m not good enough or that no one wants to be around me.

I was thinking about that today and what I could do to combat that feeling. Normally, I’d go to a yoga class, or volunteer, or try really hard at my job, but I can’t really DO any of those things. I’ll have to change the way I think. So it got me thinking about Kanye West and how, sometimes, I just need to Kanye.

I think Kanye is such a jerkface and I do not think that he and I would be friends, but I saw a quote attributed to him once that said “love me or hate me, I’m just gunna be me” and I thought that was really great. I think Kanye, unfortunately, often uses it as an excuse to do stupid things or say something mean, but that kind of authenticity is what many of us need.

I know I do. I’m working on the “love me or hate me” part, because I always want it to be “love me or love me”, but I realized recently that a downfall of mine is that I base my happiness so much on if other people want me in the room, and I often think that people don’t want me in the room. That’s especially true today.

I don’t think Kanye ever thinks that anyone in the room doesn’t want him there, and if they don’t, that’s their problem.

So, yeah, an ego unchecked can be a bad thing, but a little ego every now and then is probably not a bad thing. With that in mind, I plan to Kanye more often and I think you should, too.

P.S. I think (hope) this goes without saying, but I do not have access to Kanye’s inner dialogue. I imagine that, like most humans, he has insecurities and self-doubts (maybe even more so given his bravado), but I can only assume based on what he presents to the public.

Enough

I’m part of a young adult cancer support group, and this past weekend, we had a yoga teacher lead us in a yoga nidra session, and one thing she asked was “what’s that mean thing you say to yourself all of the time?” For me, it was that I’m not enough.

Enough what? Enough of an activist? A baker? A friend? A wife? We all want to be everything, but we can’t. At least most of us can’t.

I’m not trying to suggest that we can’t do whatever we put our minds to or that we don’t do a lot – many of us do more than we give ourselves credit for – but I am saying that something’s gotta give, and that maybe “enough” is what you’re already doing.

Or maybe that’s just what I’m telling myself so I can feel like I’m trying. Either way, I don’t think we are really, truly aware of our efforts.

We also can’t know what we are to other people. In the same way that I see other people and think to myself, “how do they do it?”, maybe there are people out there who see me and think the same thing. We can never know how complete we seem to other people or how much other people need us to feel complete.

This is definitely something I want to work on, this feeling of not being enough. It’s funny, because when it comes to health things, I’m definitely like “ok, enough.”