Don't Postpone Joy
Before Christmas, I did a thing.
But before I show you that thing, I need to explain a few other things:
The last few years have been, at best, rough.
It hasn’t just been the pandemic.Instead, 2018 and onward has been a confluence of kid stuff and aging parent stuff and work stuff and money stuff and what-am-I-doing-with-my-one-precious-life stuff. I’m usually good about navigating all of the stuff and maintaining some base level of equanimity, even if my version of same has a lot in common with Russian literature.
By the middle of 2022, my well of black humor had been completely replaced by a constant push to just grind through the next obstacle, because there has continuously been a next obstacle. This is where being a runner helps. Covering long distances on foot teaches you to focus only on the moment you are in. Run this mile. There is no past; there is no future. There is only relentless forward motion. Grind it out.
This is also true for writing, btw. But that is a different post.
That works really wellwhen there is a finish line. When you have a concrete end to the work, you can push everything else aside until you get there. It’s a shit way to go through an actual life, however. There’s no definable end to most interpersonal relationships. Even the dead have a way of screwing with the living.
The grind keeps you from noticing you are failing to appreciate every other part of your life, especially those indefinable and haphazard moments where you are in awe of all that you don’t know or haven’t yet experienced or hadn’t before seen.
Which is what I realized when the husband and I went to Iceland.
To be honest, I think that realization could have happened just about anywhere that isn’t here.Having said that, in Iceland, it’s a lot easier to have your mind blown by how strange the world can be because the natural world is really doing some freakish and fantastic work that close to the Arctic Circle.
When I got back in the car after hiking around Gullfoss, I could see how consumed I’d been by the grind. It shook me.
When we got back home, all of the things were still there. They will continue to be there. What changed that day near Gullfoss was my attitude. Rather than squeezing ever harder on the parts of living I can’t control, I chose to let go a little bit to make more space for joy.
A couple of weeks later, I saw a photo on Instagram.
That image — the goofy puffin in its goofy sweater with its goofy balloon in front of miles of slow-moving death — reminded me of that moment. Of holding on loosely to all of your worries even when you know how fraught it is to be a person and how quickly everything can change.
So last week, I did a thing:
Before you ask: yes, it hurt. The worst was when Traviswould go back in and shade the same areas that had already been inked. Those were the only points when I had to focus hard on not bolting for the doors.
One facet of getting a tattoo at a more advanced ageis that you are a little bit better at noticing the experience the people around you are having. Or, at least, you do if you are me. Tattoo parlors are a lot like airports, but with more buzzing and crying and, in this case, Japanese pop music from the '80s.
The other facet is how little I care about folks who have negative reactions about what I choose to do with my body. For every person who is all like “you, go, lady,” there is someone sitting in silent judgement. That used to bother me more than I care to admit — and still does every now and again because I’m a human being with a human brain.But we all evolve, if we're lucky. I'll get there.
So why a puffin in Icelandic sweater holding a balloon? Because it’s absurd and makes me smile. It also is a reminder to focus on joy and how temporary everything is and that, to quote Lin Manuel-Miranda, we’re all lucky to be alive right now.
And also because I love what happens when I pull my sleeve up:
actually, I did lots of things. This thing will be the Thing that sticks around the longest, I suspect. But who knows how permanent anything ever is? It’s all just grist for the mill that slowly grinds us to our ultimate … fine powder? I lost control of that analogy somewhere. I’ll circle back, much like that mill that grinds us … nope.
And that’s putting it mildly. “Harrowing” would also work? “Disheartening,” certainly. “Soul-crushing.” “Full of blows to the head?” Sure, why not.
It certainly didn’t help, mind. But is not the root cause.
No, it hasn’t just been the younger teen revealing her authentic self. That’s just the plot twist we failed to see coming. There have been many more that aren’t my story to tell.
Also not my story to tell, other than to say: being in this sandwich generation sucks donkey balls, as does aging in general.
in that I know that the winter or the aristocracy or the Cossacks will soon come to kill us all so we might as well appreciate the dang cherry orchard before they burn it down.
seriously. Big fan.
unless you are the one who is dead, in which case, yes. There is a definable end for you.
The reality of being several time zones away from all of the things about which we could do very little if they imploded while we were elsewhere likely would have led to the same result.
Oddly, I never search IG tags for places I’m going to go to, only for places I want to go again.
Unless the changes come glacially, which is especially irritating when you want instant results.
Travis Manly works out of Oculo Visitant, which is on Main Street in Oneonta. In one of those wild coincidences (that I’ve decided to read as the universe letting me know I was where I needed to be (not that I’m a firm believer in omens (but not that I’m not a believer in that))), Travis’ mom also worked at the Farmers’ Museum doing the exact same thing I’m now doing at the Farmers’ Museum. She retired shortly before Covid — and I did not know any of that until Travis had been drawing on my arm with needles for 30 minutes.
for the record, the oldest people Travis tattooed were in their 80s.
Short version: it’s a mixed bag. One dude was having his entire upper arm done and boy howdy did that look intense. The apprentice, who I think was maybe 12?, was earnest and almost puppy-like. It turned out that the receptionist went to high school with one of my best friend’s kids and I know her Dad. And no one seemed outwardly judge-y about a middle aged woman getting some ink.
I keep it in a jar by the door
Adrienne - this was just great! I Loved every bit of it, including the awesome tattoo! As someone who is basically of the same middle age (SIGH), I swear when I read your newsletter I feel like we are having the same life. (In all the ways that matter anyway.) It's one thing and then another and then another and dammit.
I don't need to tell you this.
Thanks so much for this wonderful letter that brightened my day. And thanks for sharing the tattoo!
My many trips to Iceland have taught me one thing: We all are living our own sagas.
Make it epic.