I recently turned forty seven, and while celebrating with my parents, my dad asked me, “Well Joanie Bug,” (because he ALWAYS calls me Joanie Bug) “What do you know?” And I said, “I don’t know if I know what I know.” so I’ve been thinking these last three weeks about what I know. I kind of thought I’d go for 47 lessons for 47 years, but then I remembered some years I actually refused to learn anything. AND some years I forgot the things I had already learned and had to go back five spaces, and lose a turn until I remembered or relearned what I had forgotten, or someone else rolled a six or eight. No one ever rolls a six or an eight. But my kids did throw the dice at me six or eight times, which is kind of like rolling, only with more forward thrust. Consequently, I have spent a lot of time waiting somewhere in the middle of a LIFE game board to move forward. But I’ve learned a few things while stuck in cardboard purgatory. Like, if you are going to get stuck in a game, make the game Candy Land. And lose a turn somewhere near a river of chocolate or a gumdrop forest.
I learned a few other things along the way too; like if life closes a door, open it. It’s a door. Read on for other tips and tricks, if you know, you want to know, what I know, that I know, you know?
There is a time and place for reading, and walking is not actually the time or the place to do that. I mean, yes, you can walk and read billboards, or the logo on your friends sweatshirt, or skywriting. But reading emails on your cellphone at night while walking through a dark neighborhood rendering you temporarily blinded just means you are going to walk into a mailbox. And the mailbox is not going to yield.
The world will not implode if you say no to things you don’t actually want to do, or don’t have time to do. Or at least that’s what my friends tell me. I told them that it might not implode, but it might still catch on fire and burn to the ground, especially if you say no to using a fire extinguisher. However, fire extinguisher use aside, it turns out my friends are right. You can say NO, even without a plausible explanation. Or you can do something mind blowing like, be honest, and say, “Man I wish I could help watch your dog while you were out of town, but I already have plans.” When your neighbor asks you for help. If you are like me, you might be tempted to say something like, “I would love to watch your dog, but I’m donating a kidney that week.” But then the neighbor is going to say something in response like, “I thought you already donated a kidney last time I asked you to watch my dog. And don’t you need at least ONE functioning kidney to survive?” Which can get awkward, and then you will have to say something like, “Oh, that’s right. I meant to say I was donating part of my liver.” AND then you just might have to end up donating a kidney AND part of your liver to save face. Trust me. Telling the truth takes less stitches.
A woman can say more with a sigh than a man can with a sermon. And a frustrated autistic child can say more than a woman or man without saying anything at all.
I have learned that for the most part, people really ARE doing the best they can. And even if they are NOT doing the best they can, I am a happier person when I assume positive intent. When I believe that like me, people are doing the best they can WITH WHAT they have, IN the moment. That statement is in fact my mantra. I repeat it to myself when I look back at some of the cringe worthy choices I’ve made over the years. And I’m not just talking about my fashion sense or bang height. I try to give the girl I was a break. The girl who learned by failing. Over and OVER again. The girl who became a mother at 23, before my brain was fully developed. I TRY (key word try) to show myself kindness when I look back and see the way I stacked the dominoes, rewind the time when I lined things up with the unkempt joy of an artist, without having experienced the catastrophic way things can fall down; when I built before I full understood the way gravity works.
But. I do believe, despite the pile of dusty dominoes I keep shoving back under the couch, that for the most part, I DID do the best I could, (because there were times when I was utterly overwhelmed, as opposed to now when I have it all together), with what I had (the knowledge, experience, insight, tools), in the moment (the moment sometimes being while an autistic child is melting down on aisle 6 because they changed the box logo on Gogurts and I forgot to tell him). Additionally, I have amended my mantra to include, “When you know better, do better.” We are all learning as we go. We are all toppled dominoes slumped against each other. Which is why we need to be kind. It’s too hard otherwise. It’s too brutal to try to live without compassion; to try to get back up after you’ve fallen down, especially when you’ve been knocked down by the domino effect, a chain reaction, a linked sequence.
You can borrow my mantra if you like. But I’m keeping the fire extinguisher.
I know I don’t make the same mistake twice, I usually make it five or six times just to make sure I really know what I did wrong.
I know that if plan A doesn’t work, the alphabet still has 25 other letters. And I have used every single one of those letters, all the way down to plan Z. I also know that if you speak Chinese, their alphabet has over 50,000 characters. Fifty freaking thousand characters, which is a LOT of plan B’s. Also, I may need to learn Chinese.
I know it’s more important to build bridges than walls. I also know I am no architect. My bridge usually turns out to be a shaky rope structure that barely looks fit for a mountain goat to cross, let alone a pleasantly plump 47 year old. But, 47 years has softened me, soften/defeated? Tomato tomato? I have be tenderized, pounded by a cleaver. I am too tired to worry about appearances anymore. And so, I have (mostly) stopped worrying that my bridge looks like something an armless kindergarten built from marshmallows and pretzels, held together with still wet pools of Elmer’s glue that have barely started to scab over.
My bridges are functional, and have allowed me to cross some very large chasms of space. And so I am done apologizing for my non-pinterest worthy bridge. AND instead of hiding my Tarzan inspired structures because they aren’t something that would be featured in the parade of bridges, I’ve started to show them to others anyway, and let them know they are free to cross over on something I already built.
I mean after signing a release document of course.
I know that some things are better left unsaid, which I usually realize right after I have said them.
I know it’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it. And that it’s only when you stop struggling and overthinking that you finally start to float.
I know you can only drive on auto pilot for so long, at some point you have to engage, you have to take your car off of cruise control. You have to watch for unanticipated speedbumps, which may sometimes actually be bodies. Hitting those at full force may give the passenger in the back seat of your vehicle a concussion from hitting their heads on the roof. Plus then you have to replace your shocks every 2,000 miles. Slowing down isn’t as overrated as I thought it was. Unless of course you want to give the passenger in the back of the car a concussion, then by all means. Auto pilot for the win!
I know that some beautiful paths can’t be discovered without getting lost. Consequently, I have found a LOT of beautiful paths. A plethora of winding trails, and wildflower covered fields. It’s also worth noting that some beautiful paths have a lot of poison Ivy crowding the edge of the trail, and these spots are NOT the place to (cough, cough) relieve yourself. No matter how bad you have to pee.
I know that discontentment for what we want springs from want of thankfulness for what we have. Say that three times fast.
I’ve learned that fiction has it’s base in fact, and that we are all made of layers; stories wrapped as tightly as the papery newsprint of wasp nests. We are layers of violence and tenderness waiting to be unwound. I’ve learned, I, we, all of us stack ourselves like nesting dolls, surround ourselves with preponderant shells, build bigger and bigger and bigger houses brick by brick around us, to protect us from being seen, and make us feel big, when what we feel is small.
I’ve learned that at the center of everything, we are each of us whole. Each a seed, compact, intact. Each a solid nesting doll that doesn’t break in two. We are hiding in the middle of all the layers, just waiting to be found.
I know people fall apart quietly, crumble like unfired clay. That when someone finally cracks, splits apart like a blown shell, it’s quiet while the yolk and the whites separate; spill across the floor. Surrender is mute. When all fight has drained, when the music and dancing, and rodeo clown barrel bouncing has stopped. When the stadium lights are dimmed, defeat is deafening, the aching echo of emptiness. I always thought falling apart would be bedlam, symbols clashing, a vegas skyscraper imploding.
But the day in day out erosion of routine is what maciates our dreams, whittles us down from bravado to nothing but sinew and frame.
Keep an eye out for the quiet ones. Especially the ones who aren’t normally quiet. Try kicking them to see if they scream, so you don’t have to worry.Or you could do something nice, like sit quietly beside them, just so they know you are near; Companionship doesn’t have a script. Connection is felt without sound. I mean if kicking them doesn’t work.
I know that you need tension to move a story forward. Dammit!
I know what you do matters. What you do today matters. What you do every day matters. What you do with what you have, matters. It all matters. YOU matter. No matter what.
I know the way we first learn about our own beauty and start to get a sense of our worth happens when it is reflected back to us in the mirror of another loving and caring human being. Which is why you have to be careful what you reflect back. Some people distort the image they reflect back because their mirrors are broken, and so you have to learn who to look to for truth. I know I want to be someone who reflects joy and love and hope back to another person. Or, occasionally, I might want to taunt them with a reflected piece of chocolate cake that they can see, but not eat. I’m not a saint!
I know not to judge. Not a book by its cover, or a book covered by the smudged fingerprints of melted chocolate, or a book dropped in the toilet by a toddler. The ink is the same on all the pages, the inside doesn’t run.
I know we have become deaf to things that matter most in the process of listening to all the things that don’t. Also, the things that don’t matter are a lot louder and DEMAND more attention that the important things that do matter. These are the decoy things, the relentlessness of mom mom mom mom mom you can’t escape. The important things are whispered, they are hushed, they are almost inaudible. You have shut out the chaos and concentrate like you are taking the SAT to hear their beating wings.
I know I am not afraid anymore of the responsibility that comes with caring for other people. What we do for those we love: those things endure. Even if the people you do them for don’t endure, the good you do goes with them. Love is liquid; when it pours out, it seeps into others’ lives. Love changes form and shape. Love gets into everything.
I know you are the only creator of your life. You. Which is easy to say out loud, but when you type the words key stroke by key stroke, one letter following another until you form a sentence. It’s another thing entirely. When you look back at your life and see all the stuttering starts and stops. It’s hard to shoulder the weight of responsibility alone. You are the only creator of your life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask a friend to borrow a different color crayon, or if they will show you the way they drew the branches on a tree.
Borrowing is not the same as stealing. Also, a good friend doesn’t only take; but offers to share too.
I’ve learned that courage is a narcissist because it’s nourished by pain, fueled by heartache. You sometimes have to fail, fall, trip, scrape your knees and bloody your lip in order to rise, to get back up, to practice being brave. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.
I know you will always find what you are looking for, if you are looking for the bad, you will find it, if you are looking for the good, you will find it. Pollyanna was onto something. I’ve also learned that my children don’t know who Pollyanna is. Google it.
Also, most of the time, the thing you’re looking for comes to you when you stop looking. The IRONY right?
You don’t drown by falling in the water. You drown by staying there. Or if you have children, you drown because they WILL NOT stop clinging to you, climbing your body like a ladder to higher ground while yelling in your ear, “Save me! I”m drowning.” Hint, travel with a lifejacket. Teach your children to swim. Buy a boat.
There is power in pausing. This one took me a long, long, LOOOOOOONG time to learn. Because I am a girl who likes to rush full speed ahead towards everything; even burn out. Rushing, racing, sprinting is a good way to miss your life as you pass it by. Also if you need some tips on the best route to take on one way tickets to burn out, I know some scenic byways. Speed doesn’t matter. Forward is forward.
I know you don’t need everyone to agree with our or even like you (gasp!) Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside you. Dammit.
The things we cling to out of fear prevent us from growing. Except when we do emotional eating out of fear, then we are able to grow exponentially, just not always in the places we want. Do things out of love instead.
I know that there is the most delicious freedom in learning to allow yourself to be where you are instead of where you think you should be. I mean this is the most delicious freedom, next to the freedom to eat a freshly fried and delicately glazed donut. That freedom is slightly more decadent, and leaves a trace of sugar in the pocket of lips for your tounge to find later.
When you stop focusing on the problem, the problem tends to go away. Unless they are your children or your husband, or a coworker who might actually be a stalker. Then the problem might stay. Maybe consider a restraining order?
Feeling like you don’t have a choice is a choice.
Just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t mean either of you are wrong. Contrast brings clarity and compassion. And sometimes a checker board thrown at your head.
Insight is worthless unless you take action. Stupid worthless insight. Stupid action.
I know how you do anything, is how you do everything.
I know that awful events are often followed by an outpouring of good deeds. It’s not that misery loves company, exactly; rather, it’s that suffering, if we allow it to, ignites something in others, a fire, a warmth they want to bring to you to share. Most people are good people, who can’t stand to see another person shivering in the cold. The trick is, awareness. The trick is, being still enough and brave enough to look suffering in the eye. It’s having the courage to act, especially when taking action brings it’s own kind of pain. Its our response to tragedy, and heart ache in all its forms, that binds us together, that helps us remember we belong to each other.
I know Human teeth are the only part of the body that cannot heal themselves. Teeth are coated in enamel which is not a living tissue. Which is why I also know it’s important to find a dentist you like.
I know our hearts are not made of stone, even when we wish they were. They might feel hard sometimes, impenetrable, rock solid, but I think that’s just because being soft, being vulnerable is so freaking exhausting right? I know that feeling things sucks. But you and I. We, our hearts are made of precious metal, they are as malleable as gold, and loving each other is the way we polish them; help them to gleam like the sun.
I know that yesterday has already let go of you, why do you keep reaching back for it? Let it go. Take a note from the Frozen Disney Princess, and let it go. Because neither of you can hold it back anymore. Also, you can’t get tomorrow back either. So stop trying. The only thing you have is now.
I know a good friend will stab you in the front, not the back, because truth is a knife. But then, like any good surgeon wanna be friend, they will help stitch you back together again. A friend in need, is a friend in deed.
And finally, after 47 years on earth, I know the most important thing of all is that the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland. Chosen because of its connection with dominance and chivalry as well as purity and innocence in Celtic mythology.
I also know, you always save the best for last. #yourewelcome
Also, I need to go to Scotland. Whose in?