The other day, I was driving down one of Portland’s busy thoroughfares that divides the town between the part full of excellent graphic design, helicopter parents and artisanal ice cream (bone marrow, lavender and lychee fruit, anyone?), and, you know, the part of the city that doesn’t make the travel brochures.
This particular street is dappled with ominous parlors, and cheap hotels, with half open windows and dirty curtains blowing around. They have “cable” and “weekly rates.”
So as I’m driving past, I see this couple walking into one of these hotels called The Unicorn. Swear to god that is the name of this place. It’s right down the street from that Chinese restaurant, Hung Far Low.
Obviously, I didn’t test their urine or anything, so I’m making A GIGANTIC AND WHOLLY UNFOUNDED ASSUMPTION, based solely on the way they looked — ready for a mug-shot close up! What might have once been shiny, and full of potential had turned to tooth-liberated living at The Unicorn — that they were meth heads. Sue me. I only had three seconds before I had to get my eyes back on the road. Or maybe I started texting or something. Anyway, the story only makes sense if they were meth heads.
By the way, you guys, does “tooth-liberated” sounds as politically correct and redeeming as it does in my head? Yeah. Don’t answer that.
Anyway, the first thought that comes to my mind isn’t gratitude for my shiny little life (you know, by the grace of god go I etcetera), my first thought was…
wait for it…
Didn’t see that coming did you?
From the driver’s seat of my darling new car, I thought, Wow. That looks really good right now.
Not the meth. Or the rotten teeth, or the jail hair.
I was jealous because what I saw, were people that know exactly what comes next.
Obviously it is all way more complicated, but I had this totally legit moment where the idea of living at The Unicorn, with a burner phone, a couple tubes of Wet and Wild lipstick, and having exactly one singular responsibility – the next hit – seemed dreamy.
It seemed like certainty. Freedom. Control. The opposite of ambiguity.
I am a single mother, I run a business, I commit to things, I pay rent, am going back to school, I generally try to learn from stuff and be a better person. I exercise and help other people be healthy and fulfilled. I do all of this, to the best of my ability, so I can stay free of illness, abuse, and getting incarcerated. Um, again.
Basically, I work really hard to be free. You probably do too.
Also, I work really hard to feel like I can control the outcome somehow. You too?
Yeah. That last thing adds a ton of work. Like an infinite amount SINCE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO CONTROL ANYTHING. So, damn. That’s when tossing in the proverbial towel and adopting a hard drug habit starts to look appealing.
Trying to meet unrealistic expectations is going to knock you the fuck out.
Let’s be realistic, you guys There isn’t enough money or yoga or green juice in the entire world to alleviate all of the pain, the inevitability of loss or death.
Life is as sad and stressful as it is achingly beautiful. It is complicated, interesting, rich and full.
And there is no bypassing the fact that we have to spend a lot of time in uncertainty and ambiguity. We have to make important choices and leaps of faith, sometimes when the lives and livelihoods of other people are involved. As a parent, or a business owner, or even a pet or plant owner, these choices are inseparable from uncertainty, and often, guilt. The more you achieve, the more you own, literally or metaphorically, the higher the stakes. It is stressful. But it is also amazing.
Freedom isn’t being a drug addict at The Unicorn with no commitments.
Freedom isn’t having enough money to travel the world, or work from anywhere. (though this is way closer to freedom than the previous drug addict thing.)
Freedom isn’t being childless or being a parent. It isn’t having a car, or a jet or a yacht.
Real freedom is knowing in your bones that emotions are temporary. You won’t stay angry, sad, or even satisfied forever, but you will be all of these things at different times.
Real freedom is the recognition and acceptance that ambiguity, uncertainty and unpredictability exist and learning to weather them like a champ.
Get good at that and you are in like Flynn. Getting good at that is, maybe, the best we can do and that’s a lot. Because it’s an inability to withstand that excruciating uncertainty that keeps us in unhealthy patterns. Improve that and you change everything.
Random fact: The phrase In like Flynn refers to Errol Flynn and his rep as a dating baller. So basically, I’m pretty sure I said something kind of dirty just then.
Anyhow, the good news is, you can kind of control how good you are at weathering the uncertainty and wayward feelings. Or at least, there are things you can do that have relatively predictable outcomes, that make you stronger, more flexible, way more up to the task.
Here are a few:
You can take care of yourself, you can do the exercise, the yoga, eat your vegetables, participate in community and global health with your choices. You can love each other fairly and honestly. You can take deep breaths and stay hydrated (please do this often or you will literally drop dead on your lap top), and not only will it keep you strong, you will have better ideas and be more interesting at parties if you consume more art than news, if you read.
There is no map for life, no formulas or finite solutions. But there is the next right thing. And there is love. You can do that.
As a special present for you, because I’m feeling generous and I’m working from a schmancy café in sunny Los Angeles today, feeling all free and happy and cared for, and because I am not living at The Unicorn — here are a few of the best articles from this week’s internet that are kind of related to this whole withstanding ambiguity stuff.
You should read them and tell me what you think. In fact, tell me what you think about anything at all. Tell me what you had for breakfast or what you are doing later on, or what you did when you were pissed off the other day. Just say hi. Write a comment. Send an email. I absolutely love hearing from you.
*For the record, I don’t really text while I drive. I am a responsible driver and only text at stoplights.
Photo credit: me