Try a Little Tenderness

Once you've failed at something big--something really big, not "forgot to pay the power bill," or "didn't show up at the party," or "didn't make the podium at that race” big, but Big big, life or death big--a weird sort of new reality sets in.

Part enlightenment and part punishment, a bit of absolution mixed with a smidge of apprehension, it’s kind of equal parts healthy perspective and nihilism. And, quite frankly, it has the potential to completely fuck a girl up. Because after you face that kind of failure, you realize that in the grand scheme of the universe, most things don't really matter.

On a good day, this world view manifests as a kindness. One sees that finishing the laundry on Monday rather than Sunday will not knock the world off balance. One can let unhealthy friendships go with a genuine gratitude for what they once were, but with a recognition that what it is now isn't useful to you. One can recognize one's aches and pains and give oneself a day off to rest and heal. And if this new lack of urgency means doing laundry in the dark no matter what day it is, because the light hasn't worked in three years, well that's okay, too.

But on bad days, the ennui takes on the gravitational pull of a giant dying star. One's ambition collapses into a tiny spot with virtually no volume at all, and any passing goals get sucked into the darkness to simply disappear. Because the flip side of assigning everyday pressures minimal importance is deciding that nothing at all has any urgency. Why cook dinner when one will just get hungry again? Why set up the deck when the season of comfort when it is neither too cold nor too hot is too short? Why take the trip if it requires the effort of planning, and packing, and the sticky clamor of airports, and too soft pillows on a strange bed far far away?

I recognize the sucking sound of the pointlessness when it's coming. I see the endless to-do lists, rolled over from day to day to week to month before ending up in the trash can. I eat the spoonfuls of almond butter straight off the spoon and call it dinner. I barely even see the pots filled with the corpses of last year's flowers any more. There are half read and mostly forgotten novels and magazines strewn all over the house. I took the smoke alarm down eight months ago to replace the battery, and now I actually use it as a coaster for my morning coffee on the dresser in my bedroom. I hear my own voice saying, "Way to go, Christman," "you're an idiot, Anastasia," and "Piper, your mom is a moron." Exercising a healthy newfound perspective only works if one forgoes the unimportant things in order to do more vital and affirming ones, otherwise it's just entropy. "Well done, Petal, you're a black hole."

So maybe my to do list needs to have just one thing on it for a while: "Forgive." Perhaps its time to clean the slate, to acknowledge that being an imperfect adult is okay (and maybe even desirable, I mean, can you name anybody who is really good at adulting that you truly want to emulate?). I can make a new, manageable, joyful to do list that has less "pull weeds" and more "plant flowers" on it. I can decide that getting a pedicure is every bit as important as fixing the outdoor faucet; arguably more so, since I need to stand on my two feet every day and wash outdoor tools only on occasion. If painting the window frame won't bring me happiness, it can at least bring somebody else a paycheck and we'll both come out ahead.

It's time to try a little tenderness, because that is really the one "to do" that is worth working to be successful at.