It is what it is – apologies to Rumi.

it is what it is

(and it ain’t what it ain’t)

Forgive me while I rant:  “It is what it is”. I can’t bear to hear that statement. It’s loathsome, trivial, trite, vacuous and incredibly enfeebling.  There is no come-back from that remark.  I don’t even think that people have any idea of what they mean by it, they’re simply mouthing a statement that’s being bandied about by all and sundry.

I have two problems with this.  Firstly: It’s vacuous because it’s a tautology.  It’s like saying: a tree is a tree.  Duh.  It’s not deep and meaningful, it’s just facile. It’s not a new-age 21st century reworking of Zen, because it crops up in the weirdest contexts that have nothing to do with spiritualism or philosophy. The phrase not only puts my teeth on edge but I also have to refrain from emitting a low growl at the same time.  Idiots! If you asked the person who made the statement to explain what they meant, they would no doubt say:  “exactly what I said”  and repeat “it is what it is”.  Trust me, I have heard this.

The first time I heard people use this phrase I was perplexed:  what did they mean?  But when I asked they couldn’t answer or clarify.  The closest they came was  “its just the way it is”. Hm.

Secondly, and perhaps more worrisome is that “It is what it is” ”abdicates responsibility, shuts down creative problem solving, and concedes defeat. At its best it’s used as a means of inferring that it was an obstacle that couldn’t be overcome; that it was a force of nature, inevitable and unavoidable and beyond the scope and capability of the individual.  In short: defeat.  At worst, it is used to frame a response, setting up a situation where there is no point in addressing the problem because nothing can be done:  “Don’t worry about figuring out a Plan B or Plan C, because ‘it is what it is’.”  It’s not only an admission that the problem is too hard but also impedes any creative solutions.  Is this really where we’re heading?  Is this the new zeitgeist?

And then one day I came across this same phrase in a book I was reading about a group of displaced Iranian refugees who find solace in weekly poetry meetings. The words they share inspire each to turn inward and discover beauty long buried. A very different interpretation of the phrase, which I discovered, was attributed to that great Persian poet and Sufi mystic, Rumi.  The term in Farsi, “Fihi Ma Fihi”,  is literally translated to “In it what is in it” but  Rumi scholars concur that the meaning  is more aptly translated to “It is what it is”. Rumi asks, “What more is there to say”? Rumi is trying to move us beyond the need for explanations. He describes that moment when truth reveals itself directly to us like an open book. His tales and metaphors are luminous, beckoning us to new states of consciousness. “These words are for the sake of those who need words to understand. As for those who understand without words, what use do they have for speech? The heavens and earth are words to them. . . . Whoever hears a whisper, what need do they have for shouting?”[1]

A far cry from the  trite, overused and infuriatingly meaningless cliche adopted by people who think they are adding some deep, meaningful insight. Poor Rumi; for his insights to have come to this.


Signs & omens

Some people believe in signs, that when bad things happen they signify something: that random acts are actually meaningful – you just have to figure out what the meaning is. I’m not one of those people; I’m not superstitious (yet, oddly, I don’t like to walk underneath ladders), I don’t really believe in anything and certainly not ‘signs’.

I’ve been painting in a friend’s studio, taking the opportunity to put together a body of work for a show.  Its been an incredibly rewarding process.  Being able to work on a number of canvases at the one time, my painting has developed and whenever I’m stuck over one I can move on to another and keep working and push through to see where things go.

I’d been really pleased with a number of the paintings I’d finished and perhaps this was hubristic.  There were two in particular that I really liked.  As a painter I often get caught up in painting as a means of expressing something innate and unnameable – unknown. It’s an act of creation that I sometimes need to immerse myself in. I’m never sure how good my paintings are – or whether  they are good at all – but that’s not why I paint.  This session has been remarkable because I have actively sought to paint in order to have people see and hopefully like/buy my work. And so the two paintings that I particularly thought were good also did my ego good.

And then disaster struck.  Yesterday I went in and found myself unsure of where I was going with a number of paintings – didn’t have the right yellow for one and didn’t want to touch a couple of others for fear of ruining them.  I really should have just sat there with them, but I couldn’t resist those paints and brushes.  So I was working away on one and needed to hang it up to see it from afar.  I hung it precariously on some hanging wires (having first taken down the ‘favourite’ painting and placed it on the floor leaning against the wall).  I stood back to look – and CRASH – the hanging painting fell. Picking it up, I realised that it had fallen onto the other painting.  A hole in the canvas.  I held my breath hoping it wasn’t true.  But it was.  Suddenly, I felt bereft.  The one painting I had really liked – and was proud of – was ruined.  I knew I could never reproduce it.  It was gone, yet it is there as a reminder.  None of the other paintings I had been working on were going well.  I even ended up over-painting one of the ones that I wasn’t going to touch.  And so I wondered:  was this a sign? I thought it was. I thought it was a sign to tell me that I was just kidding myself, being a dilettante and that my paintings weren’t really very good at all. Why was I kidding myself?  I should be happy just to be involved in the creative act and not fool myself into thinking it was anything but that.

Signs & signifiers.

Yesterday in my yoga class I forgot to take away a block that was behind me and when I went to lie down on my mat my head crashed into the corner of the block (is there something here about corners perhaps?).  And then I felt joy depart. It was a gradual realisation which culminated in a feeling of deep sadness.  A feeling of being lost.  Of course, yoga can do that – back bends are heart openers and all kinds of emotional stuff comes up – but today I suddenly thought maybe that was a sign too.  Signs from above and signs from below.  What was the universe trying to tell me?

When I think about it I have to come back to the realisation that its all Greek to me:  nemesis always follows hubris, and I should just be more careful.

Hubris=a great and unreasonable pride, often bringing misfortune to the person who shows it in the form of Nemesis.  Nemesis was the goddess of indignation against, and retribution for, evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.

Mother’s Day Madness

Mother’s Day:  a day when florists, shops and restaurants make a killing.

I know that many eschew the crassness and commercialisation of celebrations such as Mother’s Day.  I certainly do.  Why should we fall prey to the big business of consumerism that targets our guilt and sends us madly rushing to the florist and forces us to purchase all manner of dross as a means of saying “I love you”?  Our letter boxes are crammed full of catalogues with gift ideas for mum – slippers and pyjamas still feature strongly –  and all manner of websites take this opportunity to offer specials and discounts and encourage you to buy – even if not for your mum, then just for yourself. We’re brought up from a very early age to pay tribute to these occasions but at least as young children we’re making things rather than buying them (burnt toast anyone?). I find Valentine’s Day particularly heinous – cards, roses and restaurants offering special set menus (read: pre-prepared, no choice) which hardly spells romance. Run a mile from any romance poseur who lacks the imagination to think of a romantic gesture and opts instead for a schmaltzy token by way of a single red rose.  Ugh!  (However, should he bring you a tiny rosebud and either place it behind your ear or pin it to your dress, you’ve got a winner).

And yet. There is something to be said for the gesture. Sometimes you just need a bit of kindness.  A token of appreciation.

This year I missed being remembered on Mother’s Day. I didn’t necessarily want a gift but I did want a message of love  – alas my children were too busy planning their overseas trips. Secretly I was hoping that there would be a tiny little present left for me to find but I would have equally been happy with a message.  To be fair, my daughter was in transit to New York and my son was in Toronto and then on his way to meet his sister and Toronto is a day behind, so I can’t really complain, and in the past they have thought of some wonderful surprise gifts/expeiriences for me.

I’m having a “woe is me” moment. I was really surprised at how I felt.  I’ve never been a fan of  Mother’s Day (although I always send my mother a card and flowers because I know she appreciates it) but I do like to be treated to a glass of champagne (actually I like to be  treated to a glass of champagne on any day – it doesn’t have to be an occasion). My husband says that I am not his mother so therefore he doesn’t feel obliged to do anything on this day. But on Father’s Day I ensure that I make something of it  – perhaps lunch out or a picnic, or even just champagne and nice nibbles at home as a way of acknowledging and  celebrating him in his role as father to our children.  Perhaps its just getting older that makes me want this token of love. Or perhaps I just miss my children.

So today, I intend to  luxuriate in a bath full of scents and bubbles, light a candle, put on some music, read my book and drink champagne to celebrate my being a mum. After all, every day is Mother’s Day. 156404420-bubble-bath-water-tap-bath-tub-sparkling-wine