We got back a few days ago from Mexico. Reentry is always jarring, especially after a week of lolling on beaches, swimming in 95-degree infinity pools, surfing the right break at La Lancha, whacking tennis balls on an artificial turf-and-sand court, and gorging on fresh mango and just-reeled-in red snapper. Waking this morning to stiff spring winds, grey skies, and an unexpected coating of overnight snow didn’t exactly ease the transition.
One evening after dinner on the porch as the biggest, fattest orange moon rose over Banderas Bay, we got to talking about the saying “it is what it is.” My stepmother, our good friend Philip, and his 26-year-old son, Zander, immediately and unequivocally declared it the most annoying line ever to be uttered. Apparently it’s the new favorite in their neck of the woods, and everyone and anyone in the mid-Atlantic is tossing it off like some super chilled-out wannabe Buddhist. They were clearly agitated just thinking about it.
“It’s like you go to the 7-11 and the fountain machine runs out of Mountain Dew and the guy behind the counter shrugs and says, ‘It is what it is’!” Zander sneered. “But it isn’t!” It’s a cop-out, my stepmom agreed, a lame excuse. It never just is what it is. You can always do something.
I’m a habitual optimist and an incurable go-getter, but I didn’t share their outrage. Back when I was working my first job in Manhattan, arranging elaborate book tours for high-maintenance writers, my uber-perfectionist boss Beth used to say, “The things that are in your control better be under control. The things that are beyond your control, don’t worry about.” This came in handy on a myriad of occasions, including escorting a bestselling author to a reading at Barnes & Noble where no one shows up. In other words, bust your ass to do a good job, but then let it go and take them out for a fancy expense-account lunch at Elaine’s instead.
I’ve had to re-learn this lesson a million times since then. A decade later, when I was trying to figure out how to leave a job I used to love at a magazine I would always love, I adopted a more Santa Fe/New Age variation on the same theme: “passionate detachment.” If I knew I’d done my best and had left no stone un-turned, I could let go and wait for what was going to happen, what was meant to happen, happen. Eventually, I got this concept through my thick, stubborn head, and I quit my job. And because I’d stressed out about it for, oh, about 18 months, when I finally left I never looked back.
|village fruit man|
These days, I’m partial to the more pared-down version: It is what it is. I like the fact that it’s not blithely optimistic like the other one-liner of late, “it’s all good” (groan). I like the Zen simplicity, the plain-vanilla matter-of-factness. I don’t see it as a license to give up or cop out or flake out, but as a reminder that life can be kind of crazy, there are plenty of things I can’t change, and that rather than drive myself nuts micromanaging every detail, I’m better off, and happier, accepting the situation as it is and moving on. It actually helps me be more intentional and motivated, not less, by freeing me up for whatever’s waiting around the corner.
|full moon over El Anclote|
But acceptance is hard work. It takes practice. Most days it’s all I can do not to get gripped by the assorted little train wrecks that threaten to derail me. Most days I want to cling to the tracks with a stranglehold until I figure out how to fix the problem right there and then, instantly and perfectly. It is what it is becomes it is what I want. And now.
Last week was a good reminder that I have a ways to go. I was crabby for four days before I remembered that beach vacations with tiny chilluns aren’t exactly relaxing. I barely got through the first 50 pages of my book, lounged solo in the sun for a total of 47 minutes, didn’t go for a single run, and hardly cracked my journal. But I did watch as our two-year-old flung herself off the side of the pool, bobbed up with blonde hair slick as a mink’s, and started to swim for the first time. I did sit on the porch each evening watching the mountains turn peachy in the setting sun, and I saw breaking waves glitter silver in the moonlight, like iridescent trout.
It was what it was, and it was pretty great.