Skip to main content

Happy Screw

 2015 is here! I thought about choosing the word SERENITY as a mantra for my new year, but I have a preschooler, so screw that--happily!

Last year, in lieu of resolutions, I chose the word SHAMELESS to focus my energies for the year 2014. I feel satisfied with how that word loosened up the worst of my psychic shame baggage with a little irreverent humor. The symptoms of my anxiety disorder have been drastically reduced, and I feel calmer and more resilient. I feel like a less anxious, more affectionate, more effectively loving mother.

So now I'm ready to move on to the next level of self-improvement (which is not a step toward a final, ultimate goal--I hope to never run out of the will to improve myself as long as I live!). I thought of the word SERENITY first because I thought of my shame as a mucky cloud that fogged my emotions and reasoning. Reducing those shame feelings gave me a sense of clarity, of peaceful emptiness. I felt the space to breathe, to move, to be free of self-censorship, to see with unclouded vision my values, purpose, and goals in every area of my life.

SERENITY sounds pretty awesome. I haven't given up on it. But at this time of life, with a boisterous little girl turning four this winter, I'm not so sure serenity is in the cards for me just yet.

But Mama, it's a HAPPY mess.

And I'm not ashamed to, as my daughter's Elsa doll--a very merry Christmas gift from Nonna--keeps blasting out in her battery-powered screech, "Let it go" for now.

Speaking of machine-made joys, a commercially-generated "art installation" advertising a product is what, I am not ashamed to say, inspired my choice for a 2015 mantra: HAPPY SCREW.

36445+1screw:) from Yuma Kano on Vimeo.

This piece delighted me because so many people took pleasure in the game of finding the smiley face screw and expressed joy upon finding it. There was no prize, no useful purpose in it. The finding of the happy screw did not evoke joy in spite of the difficulty but because of the challenge.

Winston Churchill supposedly said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Sometimes that "opportunity" is simply the chance to experience a whimsical moment of joy. 

A smiley face screw is not a very practical object. A regular screw would be much more helpful for building or fixing something. But frankly, I am weary of the "fix it or f***k it" attitude that sucks all the joy out of parenting, romantic relationships, and working for peace and justice--and just living life in general. 

Al Gore has lamented that when educating the public about the apocalyptic issue of global climate change, people tend to jump straight from denial to despair. For many people, there is no joy in the challenge of climate change--the task is too big, the consequences of failing too dire to process without hysterics. I have found this to be true over the years I have worked with environmental justice activists--There are some very strong people who love the work and celebrate important successes along the way, but the privileged folks that I usually work with--middle class or wealthy, educated white people--tend to have more perfectionist mindsets that crumble with a quickness beneath the heavy issue of environmental harm. These high-minded, wannabe leaders tend to disintegrate into despair and angry whining, choosing to share their own misery rather than accept their small part in working toward solutions. 

I never want my daughter to see me become that person.

And I think, ironically, that one key to finding joy in life is to accept that WE ARE ALL SCREWED. Not a single one of us, no matter how privileged or special or smart or talented, can swoop in with our Fix-It Felix hammer and undo climate change. Or create world peace. Or end global poverty. 

And even if we could--even if we all prayed the rosary and sang Kumbaya and fed all the starving children organic vegetables and stopped using fossil fuels and cleaned up all the oceans and recycled all the plastic and saved all the whales--even then, we know that one day a giant asteroid will cross our path, or a volcano will set off a deadly ice age, and eventually the sun itself will explode and vaporize the earth and everything on it, and EVERYTHING WILL DIE. 

Is environmental justice a waste of time then? NO! If we aren't doing it for some highfalutin' goal of pristine, eternal salvation (impossible) and instead focus on the real children and families and human beings and fuzzy creatures who benefit from our loving attentions right now and in the near future, then the value of our work is clear. Each life is worth it--but some people can't see it that way. Some people can't appreciate precious, individual trees within the forests they are trying to save. Hubris can blind us to the little things that aren't so little, the real things that truly matter.

Even if humans settle on other planets--successfully--and populate the orbits around many stars, younger stars, one day the whole universe will implode--or fly to pieces--or fall down a black hole--or the Ragnarok will come--and EVERYTHING WILL DIE.

Permanence is an illusion. Eternal salvation is an escape fantasy for those who cannot accept mortality.

Or maybe it isn't, and we will all be saved in the end by an ever-loving God no matter what.

Either way, there is no use in whining and moaning during our unknown span of time in this life.

Until we die, each one of us has an unknown number of chances to find the happy screw.

Years ago, I spent some time learning some amazing things about life while providing slave labor for a graduate school laboratory at UC Berkeley. The different outlooks on life expressed by students from various cultures around the world gave me some insight about the culture in which I have grown up. I believe that our American-dream perfectionism and idealism are as poisonous as processed sugar. A little is fun--a little can brighten your day--but using it as a staple will get us in the end.

One day, I met a dour, gloomy young woman from a former Soviet country who, though never cheerful, never seemed to get her knickers in a bunch either. We walked to lunch with a group of students, and someone started fussing and fretting that if we crossed a (totally pedestrian-friendly, not busy) street, we could all be run over and killed by a car. The dour European shrugged and said, "If you die it is no problem. Is only problem if you get hit by car and live."

Perversely, this nugget of clarity shook up my expectations and worries and made me think about life from a different perspective. What is the point of all the good things we experience if they only serve to torment us with worries about losing them? What would be so bad about the loss of worry, the loss of pain, the loss of struggle?

And, more importantly, what's good? Death? The absence of all suffering?

That, too, feels wrong and sad. Relief and thrill can be found in extremes--the finishing touch on a flawless project, a near-death experience. But lasting contentment is never found in the attainment of perfection (so devastatingly empty for anyone who has been unlucky enough to experience it) or in giving up on everything. Happiness is not a static condition like permanent enlightenment or death. Searching for that kind of happiness will never provide fulfillment.

Joy is found in micro-happinesses, over and over again, surprising us each day with a little something new. It is discovered by learning to see the world with eyes of wonder, the eyes of a child.

This new year, I want to re-train my brain to only focus on fixing the things that are worth lifting up--things that will bring joy or pleasure to a real, living being.

That doesn't always mean fixing all of someone's problems. As my father-in-law used to say, "You can do without many necessities if you have the right luxuries."

I want to let go of the idea of alleviating every pain and fixing every problem. Eliminating all the world's pain is a sad, hopeless goal, one I do not wish to pass along, subconsciously or otherwise, to my child. Instead, I want to teach my gentle fingertips to find the little opportunity for joy in each field of screws.

Instead of letting the enormity of a problem flatten us with despair, I want that enormity to lift up our smallest efforts as heroic and beautiful. I want to raise a daughter who, as Sister Simone Campbell (of Nuns on the Bus fame) says, is not afraid to "walk toward trouble." I want to be a family that rises to challenge instead of bowing down beneath it. I want to work smarter, not harder, to enjoy life while we have it, and to share that joy with anyone who is receptive to it.

Life itself is movement, struggle, transformation. We can choose to either wallow in what isn't or take pleasure in what is. We can lose ourselves in unattainable, snowy white pipe dreams, or we can imagine all the colors of what truly could be.

In the end we are all screwed... So let's make it a happy screw.



Popular posts from this blog

35 Great Things About Turning 35

The prime of life starts at 35! It's the best-kept secret from younger people, but your 35th birthday is a major cause for celebration. For mine, I have made my own listicle of 35 reasons why experts agree that 35 is the best age to be:
You get to say, "I'm 35." The number 35 carries so much more gravitas than 30, but you're only a few years older. At 34, I've started fudging my age--by adding a year. People automatically take me seriously, and if they don't, at least they tell me I look young for my age. (Eye roll, hair toss, "whatever.")  35-year-olds DGAF. Inner chill reaches new heights at 35. Despite its #2 status on this list, it's the #1 response I hear about what's best about hitting 35. My gorgeous friend Nerlie was beautiful and resilient and wise beyond her years in high school, but now, at age 35, she gets to fully enjoy being herself on her own terms. She writes,  "I've survived so much that I don't waste time o…

Ich Liebe Rammstein: Richard

Richard Z. Kruspe
Richard Zven Kruspe is Rammstein's founding father, lead guitarist, and natural frontman.

***IMPORTANT UPDATE, 2018***: Richard has immortalized his lifelong bromance with Till in a tender duet about their friendship, "Let's Go" by Richard's side band Emigrate. Till sings words such as "Zwei Herzen in mir schlagen" with sincerity and I think I am now deceased.

He's gregarious, well-spoken in both German and English, a professional showman, and an enthusiastic promoter for the band. In German, his name is pronounced "REE-kard," and in Germanglish, "Reeshard," or "Reesh" for short. Richard is sexy, and he knows it. To many Rammstein fans, he is the cuuuuuuute one. His Facebook page would have you believe it.

Legend has it that Richard has a lovechild with lead singer Till Lindeman. The myth is based in complicated facts and figures, including one unconventional love triangle. Circa 1990, Richard and Till …

A Bad Romance Starring Till Lindemann, Sophia Thomalla, Gavin Rossdale, Simone Thomalla, Sven Martinek, Andy LaPlegua, and Leila Lowfire

November 2018 Update: Sophia is settled in with Gavin a young soccer player (like mother like daughter) now, I guess, and Till is spending time with 36-year-old (hell yeah, thank you, sir) Ukrainian singer Svetlana Loboda. He is either her latest babydaddy or doing her the favor of bearding as such (not that he's great with beards, but we don't mind--we know how much he loves pregnant and lactating ladies) to help her keep some distance from her crazy ex who cuts his wrists over her. The juice continues...

To misquote Gaga, "I don't speak German, but I can look at foreign tabloids and guess what's going on if you like."

I guess it would be more professional and ladylike for me to be above this sordid celebrity gossip, but I'm not. I'm so not.

So let's see if I've got this straight. From what I gather...

Metalgod Till Lindemann, 54, and model Sophia Thomalla, 27 (upper left) recently exited a five-year, on-off, opennish relationship, which bega…