Checking in on Reality

When you are chronically single, it is good to have at least one other chronically single friend. This increases the odds that, at any given time, one of you will be sane.

I was speaking with one such friend recently, and it was her turn to be sane. Both of us would like to have kids, and both of us are ever more rapidly approaching the age of ain’t gonna happen. The subject came up and my friend said in a hushed, semi-awed voice, “I think I’m OK with that.”

The “OK with it” option had occurred to me but was a little too scary to contemplate closely, like the ingredients list of a Twinkie. I have this idea that thinking will make it so, but here’s the thing: it is already so—I neither have kids nor do I currently find myself in a situation that leads to the rapid production of children.

When do we continue to believe in the possibility of something that isn’t yet and when do we accept life in its current state? On the never ending list of things I don’t understand, the balance between those two is near the top.

My friend’s sanity lay in shifting the emphasis: while she may not have this one thing she wants, she recognizes that her life is incredible. The question is not so much am I giving up on something as am I remembering that right now, my life is incalculably rich. Right now, I have an enjoyable job; I live in a beautiful place; all the parts of my body work well; I have wonderful friends and family; I no longer need to worry about the ingredients list of a Twinkie.

Louis CK does a great comedy routine called “Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy.” (On being impatient with smartphones: “Give it a second, it’s going to space.”) There’s always something available with which to play the if only game—marriage, kids, publication, four-foot-high chocolate fountain. It’s just so much more fun to play the everything’s amazing game.

Giving In

Have you ever had a day when every attempt at productivity forced you to the bottom of an ocean of frozen molasses? My mom and I call that a 20% day. Don’t fight the 20% days. They are Muhammed Ali or Mike Tyson, and you are a featherweight.

The term 20% days comes from Anne Lamott’s book Plan B. In one of her essays, she tells the story of David Roche, who leads the Church of 80% Sincerity. He preaches that eighty percent of the time, we can strive to improve ourselves or attempt other noble actions, but 20% of the time, nobility will likely escape us. And that is OK.

Telltale signs of a 20% day:

  • Approximately nothing can inspire you to get out of bed, and you are not sick.
  • After you manage to get up and have breakfast (serious bonus points for anything beyond cold cereal or toast), putting your dirty dishes in the dishwasher requires herculean effort.
  • When you try to convince yourself you can achieve any of the tasks on your list, your head threatens to explode.

Solution:

  • As soon as you feel your head reaching exothermic potential, desist all thoughts of productivity. It is really, really helpful when 20% days arrive on the weekend.

As you may have guessed by now, I had a 20% day recently. It took me half an hour of lying in bed to recognize it and another 15 minutes to remember the bit about Mike Tyson. Fighting is tempting because it feels as if you will never find the motivation to get out of bed, but if you wait, the time will arrive.

I got up and made breakfast (bonus points for me!) and forgot again that resistance is futile. So I sat in my chair after breakfast feeling as if I should do something. Then I remembered to concede to the inevitable and spent more time in my chair not feeling as if I should do something.

That was my breakthrough moment: 20% days do not have to suck. If you don’t try to produce Nobel Prize winning research or clean behind the stove, they can be remarkably pleasant, somewhat foggy and definitely not productive, but pleasant.

And remember, 20% is one in every five days. If you’re basically functional for a week straight, you’re an overachiever.

As We Are

I seem to be retreat/relaxation challenged. I spent a long weekend at a cabin in Yosemite, and the first two days were reminiscent of my monastery experience.

I worried that I would break some complicated apparatus, such as the stove, or that I would need to ask the neighbors to help me fill the water tank and they would hate me, which as everyone knows is how most rational human beings react when someone asks for help. Mind you, I hadn’t even checked the tank.

wildflowerAt this point I did the only sensible thing and went for a walk. (For those of you who are plot-driven, the tank was full and the neighbors brought me chocolate chip cookies—the best of all possible endings.) On one hillside, I saw a wildflower that starts life curled up like a fern. A few of the blossoms had just begun to poke out into white spikes.

The flowers reminded me of one of my least favorite phrases in the whole world: Let all things be exactly as they are. Unfortunately, they argued in favor of it.

Some reasons to hate this saying: war, poverty, mass species extinction, etc. But wildflowers have no control over whether they happen to spring up on the posh hillside or on some less desirable slope, and what good will it do them to try for spiky, white petals before springtime?

Did the other half of Half Dome want to remain in place, or did it strive to break off before the ice age? Either way, hard to argue with a glacier or lack thereof.

Part of me still resists things as they are, but part of me says, trust the glaciers. The water tank may be full. The neighbors may bring cookies. We will bloom or break when it’s time, and either result may be unexpectedly beautiful.