This isn’t rocket science

I was listening to a podcast in the car on the way to work today, and I heard something that got me thinking.

“This isn’t rocket science…”

How many times have we heard people say that (have we said it ourselves) and then launch into some comparison with something they think should be simple. I heard it today and it struck me that we have things a little backwards. We say, “This isn’t rocket science” implying rocket science is the most difficult, complex, challenging thing that exists in our world.

Don’t misunderstand, I’m not here to say rocket science is easy. No way. I’m not even going to pretend I know anything about it. But I would like to point out that we have actually figured it out. We’ve launched rockets, lots of rockets, many of them successfully. We’ve put men on the moon, sent people to explore space, put satellites in orbit, sent rovers to Mars. At this rate, I’d say we actually have a pretty great grasp on rocket science.

“This isn’t rocket science…” I’d like to take this moment to officially challenge that statement.

Hang with me for a minute folks.

I think there’s something much more difficult we’re all grappling with here, something we’re failing miserably at, something even the best and brightest minds shy away from because they just can’t even get close to solving the damn problem.

You know what we don’t have a great grasp on? Dealing with each other.

Let that thought just sink in for a second.

We have literally launched humans into space, mapped damn near every inch of this planet we’re living on, built machines and handheld devices that are all linked and talking to each other on this invisible network called the internet and somehow we can’t figure out how to have a civil conversation with someone we disagree with without resorting to yelling and name calling and spouting ridiculous vitriol toward another human simply because their opinions, ideas, or experiences don’t match up with our own.

We’ve all gone fucking mad.

Indulge me for a moment while I quote Gilmore Girls. (I know, it seems like my train of thought is taking a hard left turn right off the tracks here, but I promise there’s a point. Hang with me.) In Season 1, Lorelei says:

“I’m afraid once the heart is involved, it all comes out in moron.”

In the context of the show, Lorelei is giving some witty motherly advice to her daughter Rory who has just had one of those awkward early teenager moments where she totally embarrassed herself in front of the guy she’s crushing on. But I’ve always loved this quote because I think it carries much more weight than that. I love this quote because I thunk it speaks to the way we humans are ruled by our emotions, whether we really want to admit that or not.

We’re hearing so much lately about this colossal divide in our country, how we’ve managed to politic ourselves into what, to an alien observer, might resemble a good old-fashioned elementary school playground brawl. You know, the kind that tend to erupt after several long days of misunderstandings and snide comments and furtively whispered gossip set tempers boiling. Then, all at once, the rage and frustration and posturing spills over and spreads like wildfire.

See, we humans have this very natural sense of self-preservation. We instinctually want to protect ourselves, our families, the things that are important to us. And some of the things that are important to us are our beliefs, our passions, our individual experiences and ideas. If you think about it–those things are our whole world, our very existence. All of those things are what make you “you“.

So when someone or something comes along that disrupts our experience or questions our ideas or challenges our beliefs, it’s the most natural thing in the world to hear the alarm bells sound.

That’s what happens when there’s a glitch in our Matrix. Our flight or flight kicks in and we feel this gut-wrenching need to preserve ourselves and our reality. It’s all of us. It’s all we know.

And sometimes that fear of losing ourselves takes over. And that’s when we start blaming and labeling and fearing and hating those who are different. That’s when we lose what’s most important–our humanity–because we no longer see our fellow humans as humans. We see only the “other.”

So no, this isn’t rocket science. It’s a whole lot fucking harder than that, because we’ve got to admit that all of us are part of the problem, and all of us are also part of the solution. It takes work to change our patterns of thinking, to recognize those automatic fear responses. It takes courage to turn that scrutinizing lens on ourselves. And it takes a helluva lot of strength to admit we have been wrong.

But guess what? We’ve all been wrong. And we will continue to make mistakes and misjudgments until the day we die–that’s part of life. And I think the real reason any of us is here at all is to learn as much as we can, grow as much as we can, and spread around as much love and light as we can before it’s our time to go.

Walk into every situation and interaction with these two goals, and I think you’ve got a good chance of living a damn good life:

  1. Learn something new every day.
  2. Leave every situation (and any person involved) better than you found them.

Last month, in honor of MLK Day, I had the honor of attending a brunch at work and listening to a speech by Ruby Bridges who, at just 6-years-old, was the first black child to integrate an elementary school in her hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana. It was an incredible speech, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Compulsive note-taker that I am, I had more than four pages by the time Ruby finished, but my favorite was this:

“Evil doesn’t care what you look like, what you have, where you live. It just wants a chance to work through you. Evil just needs a place to be. The good news is–so does Good. The Good need to stand up and do something, say something. Let the Good work through you. Doesn’t matter what you look like; if you’re good, I want you on my team.”

There’s always going to be Good and Evil. It’s just the nature of things. But I truly believe there is far more Good than Evil in this world. The problem is, we’ve just allowed the Evil to take over and become the loudest voice in the room. And we’ve allowed ourselves to lose control and start shouting along. That’s what happens when we lose sight of our humanity, when we lose sight of each other. It happens when we fear and slander and name call and hate each other, focusing on the differences, forgetting that deep down at the very core, we’re actually all the same.

To look at an other and recognize them as human is to see our own humanity. To look at an other and celebrate their differences is to celebrate ourselves.

Maybe I’m a hopeless optimist, but I believe if we look long enough and try hard enough and reach out to each other with open minds and humble hearts, what we’ll find will be beautiful. Hell, I bet if we take a moment to stop, take a deep breath, and look around, we’ll see it already is.

Dear 2020

Dear 2020,

We welcomed you quietly–one kid in bed, the other at a sleepover, watching a late night movie on the couch at home. It’s too quiet in this house without Electra. Losing her right before the crush of the holidays and the long vacation from work somehow hurts more. I found myself caught between moments of melancholy and just needing to keep busy so I could stop missing her so much, so I could stop walking into the living room or looking out in the yard and expecting to see her there.

I spent several days grief-cleaning. I vacuumed, dusted, and rearranged Henry’s room. I moved Cadence’s room to the old spare bedroom/office, and then decided to redecorate a new spare bedroom/office/writing space complete with fresh paint and new furniture (which is due to be delivered next week).

And I gathered all Electra’s leftover food, dog treats, blankets, dog bed, kennels, unused medications–anything that could be needed and used–to donate to the local Humane Society. I didn’t want all of Electra’s things to be gone, but I sort of needed them to be. It made the pain a little more manageable. And I’m thankful that Stevie has been so sweet and patient as I fumble through the grief.

The calendar page turns, and a new year always brings excitement. You double down on all the things you’ve been wanting to do, meaning to do, procrastinating. You start out hopeful, start fresh. I’ve never been one to go overboard with a fancy New Year’s Eve party or a detailed list of resolutions, yet it’s hard not to buy into the magic and promise of a fresh start. The excitement this year has been tempered by loss and the introspection it always brings. It has made me think a little harder about my priorities, about the balance lack of balance in my life lately.

I need to be better–a better wife, a better mother, a better friend. I need to be a better leader at work. I need to be a better human in general.

And I need–really need–to make time to write again.

I made the mistake of telling one of my colleagues (who is also a writer) about the 365 Project I completed a few (ahem, like 9) years ago, and he threw down the challenge that maybe it’s time to get serious about another one if it will help me shake off the dust (and we’re talking about a real one, not the bullshit I tried to limp along last year by just finding random photos and quotes and lying to myself that it somehow counted). I’m swimming in ideas and unfinished projects–it’s starting to drive me insane. And since I just spent half my holiday break setting up a brand new home office, he kinda has a point. It might be time to get serious and actually get some shit done.

I mean, if I really want to continue to call myself a “writer,” I need to be writing. Right? That’s sorta how it works.

But I gotta be realistic–there’s no way I can do a 365 Project blog again. Not now.

A blog a week? Now that I can probably do. But to be completely honest, the pressure of trying to write something I actually feel like putting out there in the universe for actual people (other than me) to read is a whole lot of pressure and anxiety I don’t need in my life. I always want what I put out there to be good (or at least a couple levels above shit) so if someone does read it, they don’t feel like they’ve completely wasted their time and burned off precious brain cells.

What I am committing to–seriously committing to–is writing every day. Just writing. A journal entry, a letter, a chapter, a scene. Hell, even a poem if the mood strikes. And who knows, maybe some of it will end up here, but a lot of it won’t. And I’m okay with that. What matters is I’m making space for it, and I’m holding that space sacred. That’s my gift to myself this year.

So here we go, 2020. I’m walking in with no expectations and no specific plans (because dammit that somehow seems to be what always works out the best for me). I’m just going to be here, doing the best I can and then getting up and trying to do even better the next day. And in this new decade, I promise I’m going to have more meaningful conversations. I’m going to connect with old friends and make a few new ones. I’m going to read more books, taste (and cook) new foods. I’m going to travel to a few new (and visit a few favorite) places. I going to live and learn and love, and I’m going to try like hell to fall into bed each night knowing that I’ve squeezed as much joy as I possibly can out of every day.

Sounds like a pretty tall order, but I’ve always sort of enjoyed a challenge. And lucky for me, I’ve got some pretty rad people along for the ride.

Day 152 – What darkness did you conquer?

So true.

What darkness did you conquer?

Day 148 – Your kind of crazy

So glad I’ve been able to find a few.

You know who you are. 😉

Day 144 – The little things

You know, Dolly is one brilliant lady…

Day 139 – The meaning in the chaos

I suppose you could view being human as both a blessing and curse. We’re here on this earth experiencing all the challenges and wonder and uncertainties alongside all the other living creatures, yet we’re different. We were given this extraordinary ability to ask “Why?” We search for meaning in the chaos. It’s an ability that has the potential to both inspire and destroy us. It’s a heavy load to lift–to question one’s existence and search for greater meaning. And it’s an immense responsibility to do something about it, to follow a path of purpose once we recognize it stretching out in front of us.

I think we spend a lot of time not trusting ourselves, second-guessing our choices, worrying over the what-if’s instead of appreciating the journey. There’s a lot to learn from our bad decisions, from the detours we’re forced to take in pursuit of our goals. And there are times when what we thought was the “right” path doesn’t even scratch the surface of our potential.

I think a lot of people get tripped up thinking there is only value in setting and achieving lofty, long-term goals. We end up measuring our value as humans and the quality of our lives by our ability to compete with others–to do bigger, better things than someone else. The side effect of this is that we miss out on the wonderful experiences and the small victories right in front of us. We start living for the future, focusing our time and energy on things that may never happen, while the very real and fleeting present moment passes us by. We start measuring ourselves and our self-worth by someone else’s standards.

It’s hard to live in the now because, frankly, the now isn’t always a great place to be. Maybe you’re stuck in an abusive relationship. Maybe you’re struggling to pay your bills. Maybe you’re battling an illness. Maybe you just lost someone you love. Maybe you’re stuck in a job you hate with a tyrant of a boss who takes credit when things go right, shifts blame when things go wrong, and thinks repeatedly telling rape jokes is funny.

Yeah, the present can fucking suck sometimes.

But it’s all we’ve really got, isn’t it? Life gives no guarantees. Life doesn’t even promise the next moment, so how do we keep deluding ourselves that it’s going to promise us next week, next year, or even the next item on our endless To-Do lists?

Maybe some people feel like that’s a pretty grim worldview. I don’t. I think it’s the most powerful move a person can make–to learn how to live in the present moment, to learn how to navigate and appreciate moments as they come instead of ignoring them to obsess over a future that doesn’t even really exist (and may never come).

So, it’s our burden and our blessing to be here now and to make the very best of it. And yes, it can be hard, but it can be beautiful too. And what I’ve discovered is that the good moments, the really magical moments, far outnumber the bad ones. We live in a world and on a planet built for growth. The default design is for us to continuously evolve, to move and grow along a positive trajectory in such a way that even the challenges and setbacks we face serve to propel us forward.

All we have to do is hold on and learn to appreciate the ride.

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