Many mornings I send a long text to my sister to let her know I’m thinking of her. I usually end those texts with #GNF (“Give No Fucks” for those of you who don’t speak acronym or hipster slang.)
At the venerable age of 46, you’d think I’d be a world champion #GNF-er. I mean, I’m an artist, for goodness’ sake. Aren’t we all rule-breaking free spirits who wouldn’t know a boundary or a stricture if it slapped us in the face? And isn’t part of being a woman of a certain age being so confident and wise that the little things like what others think of one’s appearance just don’t matter?
And it’s true that today I’ve been wandering around—outside of the apartment even!—wearing paint-covered shorts and a black tank top, which is not scandalous at all until I disclose that I’m also braless and my armpits haven’t seen a razor in at least a year. I mean I’m all about the #GNF today, at least sartorially. And mortified at the way I’m dressed the whole time.
I had a friend once who said she admired me greatly for my impulsiveness, my free spiritedness. We’re no longer close friends, probably cause she never knew me well enough to see how deeply structured and rule-bound my life actually is. That it’s taken me years to be able to accept a change of plans gracefully. That though I was excited to have two weeks vacation, I felt too unmoored to enjoy it for the first few days because I didn’t have the regularity of getting up every day to go to work. That it took me years to feel comfortable wearing bright red lipstick and to wear tank tops without a sweater over them—even on the hottest days—to cover up my arm flab because of that rule of people whose sizes run to the double digits not drawing attention to themselves.
Being a #GNF person requires a certain lack of insecurity, which I sometimes lack. I’m certainly more confident about the way I look and who I am now as I inch toward 50 than I was when I couldn’t imagine all the way to 50, but my #GNFness can be pretty hard to come by as I sit at a party with my younger cousins—who are all thinner, taller, and prettier than I am—trying not to feel like the fat frumpy spinster cousin who doesn’t actually need cats to be a crazy cat lady. My red lipstick and vintage yellow earrings and all-black ensemble looked #GNF af* but my inner monologue was something like, “Why are you so fat right now? No, you look fine. You look pretty. It’s not your fault you didn’t get the tall genes. OMG–you’re one of the old people now! Why don’t you have any cool shoes?” In other words I was racking up fucks like they were the only things between me and POTUS Trump.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to see Sonny my barber to get a trim. Somehow while I was sitting there waiting for him to get through the five other customers who were waiting for him (seriously, though, ladies first should be a thing in the barber shop!), I decided he should cut my ponytail off. Which he did. And I walked out of said barbershop happy to have a curly-ish mohawk-ish chop that didn’t require much combing of hair, always a win in my book.
I loved my new look! Until the euphoria wore off. And I looked in the mirror. And realized how butch I looked. How unfeminine. Which spiraled into a long litany of, “Oh, if only I could wear heels, I could make this work! If only I were thinner! If only I had perkier boobs! I can’t leave the house without eyeshadow and blush and lipstick until this grows out!” In other words, again, I was giving A LOT of fucks.
Which seems ridiculous to me now as I sit here in my favorite chair, with the fan sending the perfect breeze my way, and the sun shining, and enough money in my bank account to pay for a steak tonight, and the realization that I can probably afford to buy myself a pair of light pink Converse especially as I have a DSW coupon, and the deep contentment that comes from GNF-ing about the laundry you haven’t done and the poems you haven’t edited and the list of things you were supposed to do over vacation that you haven’t consulted once because you decided it was more important to just “be” and not worry about “do. ”
Practicing #GNF-ing is exactly why I’ve taken out the trash and handed in my pool pass application braless today. And why I made myself a martini at 2:30 instead of waiting for dinner. And why I’ve been writing ridiculous things on Facebook all day and reading romance novels. I’m practicing my #GNF-ness because I’ve figured out that it’s not something that magically shows up with age (though the wisdom that can come with age can show us how important it is). GNF-ness is a habit. GNF-ness is a choice. GNF-ness is something I need to do a lot more of.
* as fuck: another thing the kids say to mean—as we would have said in the 80s—“to the max!”
…(Hmmm, have you ever made a list of what you need to be happy?)
Today I was re-reading an interview with the late actor Taylor Negron in which he said, “By letting go of what you thought was going to happen in your life, you can enjoy what is actually happening.” It made me realize my happiness list needs a #11: To be able to let go.
No one likes to give up, to feel like they’ve been defeated, but I don’t think that’s what letting go is. Letting go is more like shedding a skin (a situation/a goal/a desire) that just doesn’t fit anymore. Letting go is a phrase ripe with possibility; if you let go your hands are free to be refilled. My Pastor says (and you can see it throughout the Bible) that God never asks you to sacrifice anything without giving you something better in its place and I truly believe that, even if the “better” is simply a new perspective on a situation.
I’m working on letting go of having natural children, of getting married, of having a big publishing career with a huge readership. I realize this is the kind of thing that causes people to start patting your arm and telling cheery stories about their friend who didn’t get X until they were 50 or 60 or one foot in the grave. But letting go isn’t to me the same as giving up. For one, it’s an acknowledgement that there are just many things that are out of my hands. Letting go is also a bone-deep acceptance that not having those things–marriage, kids, whatever your thing is–may be disappointing and even, sometimes, heartbreaking, but there’s no checklist for a happy life that says you have to have all or any of those thing. I mean, as far as I can see, I don’t actually need any of those things to be happy and, quite honestly, I’ve been doing pretty well without them. Maybe tomorrow I’ll write a better list of what I need to let go of… maybe… cause who doesn’t love a letter that suddenly turns into a listicle?
To be continued…
… I’ve stopped looking at disappointment as an inevitable downswing triggered by happiness and have come to understand that sometimes disappointment follows happiness not because I don’t deserve happiness but because life is ups and downs, and we have limited control of when those ups and downs fall. The relationship between happiness and disappointment is not one of causality; they merely throw each other into relief.
My friend sent me this link to a teaching her church did on happiness. It includes a list Pope Francis made of ten things that we need for happiness. So I thought I’d share my own list of what I think I need to be happy. I am, of course, a little terrified. What if I list the wrong things and appear shallow? What if I forget the most important things? But I’m going to go with the theory that this isn’t an exhaustive list nor is it written in stone. It’s just the 10 things I can think of right now at 8:29 pm Eastern time on Tuesday, January 13.
What I Need to Be Happy
Time by myself on a regular basis. While I’m a particularly social introvert, I’m an introvert nonetheless. And I need alone time to recharge.
Time by myself without an agenda. See reason #1. Also, so much of my life is about output and schedules and what I have to do, that it starts to feel oppressive. I think it’s part of my hidden perfectionism. (I say hidden cause I continually tell everyone I’m a slacker, and far too many people are like, uhm, you’re actually a perfectionist. Sigh…) And I can make myself crazy trying to hit all the deadlines and follow all the rules and arrive places on time because my natural state is chaos. So I guess actually #2 should be I need time by myself to just be chaotic.
A room of my own. Are you sensing a trend? I’m a nester. Always have been, always will be. I’m grateful to have a whole big apartment to myself filled with books and “my treasures,” but even if I really only did have a bedroom, I’d need to feather that one-bedroom into my own safe little nest.
To be able to put things in perspective. It’s not about being a Pollyanna or always seeing the silver lining. It’s just about right-sizing things. It’s easier to be happy when you’re not letting yourself be overwhelmed by all of the overwhelming stuff.
To feel connected to people. Not in a barnacle on a boat kind of way, though some times that’s nice though eventually that comes into conflict with #1. But just having a general sense that I’m loved and cared for. That there are people in my life with whom I share a love of Benedict Cumberbatch, for example, or emotional and physical DNA, or a deep understanding of what it was like to attend a soccer party at BU between 1987 and 1991. I’m being a little flip with my examples but the point is that I need to affirm that the pitch lake doesn’t exist inside me, that I am someone people want to hang out with and on those days when I can’t find anyone to hang out with it’s about circumstance and not about who I am as a person.
To laugh every day. There’s nothing like laughter to put things in perspective and/or to help you feel connected.
To write. In my journal. Poems. Lists. Texts to my sister. Just to somehow put language around whatever I’m experiencing. And as a corollary, to read.
A relationship with God. This list is not in priority order but if it were, this would be at the top. I know, I know, religion is the opiate of the masses. But really, if you’re looking to be anesthesized through a relationship with God, then you’re not doing it right. Because it’s about relationship not religion. It’s about having that one friend who never ever ever EVER lets you down. And that’s something.
Money. I don’t need to be a millionaire, but anyone who says money isn’t important is lying. It’s not just about buying stuff for myself, though I do enjoy that—at the most basic level (rent and groceries) and at the indulgent level (a million different types of mascara till I find one I love, more art to hang on the wall). But it’s about being able to support my local theater company, to treat a friend to dinner, to buy people I love gifts that will delight them, to help out my mom.
To make a difference in someone’s life. I don’t think I’ll cure cancer, and I may never have a wide readership as a poet. But if one person gets something out of something I’ve written, or if I make a stranger smile because I compliment her outfit, or if I help a friend get an interview for a job or if I make someone laugh or as the poet Karen Craigo put it on her blog today, if I practice “focused kindness,” then what’s better than that?