We often rely on the bedrock cliché “It is what it is” to armor ourselves against IEDs – Idiotic Earthly Dilemmas. We need its unerring guidance to help us navigate through the mental minefield of wondering just what in tarnation is going on around here (italicized phrase should be read with a thick southern accent). To maintain some semblance of an equilibrium we humans need to be very accepting of our predicament and resorting to that age old explainer-awayer “It is what it is,” goes a long way to maintaining our stability in an uncertain world. In times of stress a quick visit to the mental medicine cabinet for a handy dose of “It is what it is” often provides immediate temporary relief for minor existential pain. So what if it’s just a placebo masking the anxiety-producing effects of gnawing, insoluble challenges. This brings to mind the unlaunched man-child who finally realizes: “Jesus, I’ve got to move out of this basement for so many reasons. The first one is because the people living upstairs don’t even know I’m down here. Oh well, it is what it is.”
And as much as I belittle “It is what it is” I wouldn’t want to exclude it from our coping repertoire. It’s important to make some kind of informed decision and then act upon it. I mean we don’t want a lot of quibbling philosopher-Kings running around spouting-off, “Yes, but why does my toast burn when the universe knows I’d prefer it otherwise.” We don’t need that level of self-absorption. We need people to keep their noses to the grindstone so the rest of us can enjoy the freedom of going to a 7-11 at 3 a.m. for a Slurpee fix. Let us all stay engaged and directed. We know life is at its best when it’s uncomplicated, and saying “It is what it is” helps to keep it that way.
The Universe may have my back, but what about my front.
Well, just what in tarnation is going on around here? Is it what it is? We tramp around Earth glued to the surface by some unseen force called gravity. Much of our society is powered by another unseen force called electricity. All the while our planet careens through the universe at thousands of miles per hour, not one of which we can feel. To maintain our energy levels, we must fuel the fleshy vessels we occupy by regularly shoveling plant and animal material through a little chew hole located at the top. There are even some of us who think Cheez Whiz and Cool Whip are foods you should eat. This is normal? We’ve developed psycho-sustenance needs so specialized it’s led to the marketing of free range chickens so that chicken-eaters can devour their fowl without any of the nasty carnivore’s remorse associated with eating something with a face. We poultry diners can now happily chew away, secure in the knowledge that the leisurely 6 months the bird spent freely-ranging in their roomy environment provided them a rich and rewarding life – chicken-wise that is. So what if the poor chicken’s maturation was really an accelerated process of forced hormone feeding and chemical plumpification taking place in a space the size of a postage stamp. I was told it was otherwise, so in my book “It is what it is;” and bring me another order of wings.
Is all this Earthly zaniness part of God’s plan or was there some kind of accidental explosion at the lab before it was all worked out? Some kind of Big Bang that blew the whole thing up before it was ready to go public. I bet even God would agree (if we could ever get a hold of him) that some of his best work was left on the cutting room floor. I mean is this world an accident (like me) or was it planned (like my brother and sister)? I don’t know. The ground is shifting again. Now I’m getting scared. Is it what it is? At what point do you know you know something for sure? Now I’m sounding more like one of those quibbling philosopher-Kings I warned us about not 2 paragraphs ago – the kind of monarch who regally proclaims, “It is what it is”, but views things so psycho-dynamically he’s shaking in his crown.
Unsettling insights like these are why I never smoke pot or take drugs. I don’t want to be so aware of a predicament I’m powerless to control. I need heaping servings of ignorance to cope with uncertainty. I need to shield myself from the insoluble vagaries of this world until a new world comes along where there is no sh*t end of the stick. Where all the stick ends have things like marshmallows, gift certificates or Egg McMuffins at the tip. My panic attack might evolve like this: I’ll be blithely cruising along in my Hyundai Santé Fe sucking down a Blue Raspberry Slurpee while smiling at all the wondrous simplicity around me and then suddenly I’m attacked by meddling demons who plant a seed in my head, “Hey Dave. What if gravity shuts down?” My chest tightens as I involuntarily project myself into a hopeless scenario whereby I’m floating around in space, gasping for air while my 401k is reduced to a 0k. I then realize my Netflix cue is now completely irrelevant and I wonder if I’ll ever have an opportunity to explain all this to my cat. Oh the anxiety. Of course on the bright side in my gravity-less environment I now can drop my iPhone without having to worry about the god-damned glass breaking.
Life is Not Normal, We’re Just Used to It.
In any event it is what it is. Or is it? When things are seen at deeper levels, “what it is” becomes uncomfortably more than “what it is.” It’s all a matter of orientation. For this example let’s turn to the world of party politics. To Republicans, the world “is what it is” – God-given circumstances, easily improved if only people would behave. To Democrats the world is uncomfortably more than what it is – a psycho drama of competing needs, easily satisfied if only there was enough legislation. Irrespective of these two distinct views (brushed broadly for illustrative purposes), the world just operates as it does – paying no mind to how we think about it or classify it. The same holds true with religion. God or forces of nature or whatever it is you want to call that demanding awareness that pervades the universe, also pays no mind to how we fallible humans choose to categorize, worship or otherwise market it (however well-intentioned that may be). What do we know? We Homo sapiens only showed up to the party in the last 50,000 years (6,000 for my creationist friends) while the world’s been partying for 15 billion years – and yet we seem to think we somehow control the narrative now. Like the universe was waiting for us to show up so we could define it rather than live it. I don’t really know what I’m talking about here, but I sure am inspired to write about it. I’m onto something and, admit it, we can both feel it. Then again it’s untamed passions like these that can lead to intolerance, wars and righteousness. My advice to me? – screw that zealous part of me that keeps trying to solve or categorize things to the exclusion of real experience which, thankfully, can’t be expressed with words.
Do you realize that virtually everything we hear or think about God is in English? Except for that Latin stuff we don’t understand anyway. Modern English has been around for only a few centuries, but God energy has been around for an eternity. Me thinks, the English language perchance inadequate to encompass it. My flawless logic ain’t exactly water tight, but combine an inadequacy of language with our piddling 5 senses and our penchant for wanting to say, “It is what it is” when faced with any daunting situation, and it all suggests to me that we are hearing only a small part of the multi-dimensional story.
My Inspiration. Your “Alright, I’ll Give it 2 More Paragraphs.”
Our interpretation of identical events (family, political, religious, even movies) depends on the lens through which we choose to, or are able to, perceive them. In other words, it’s not “just” what it is. It’s just what it is, plus a whole lot more and probably a whole lot less too. It’s like a matter vs. anti-matter balance kind of thing. As philosopher-King I might say with bracing ambiguity, “Anti-matter Matters.” That’s the nature of duality and I like to hold a mirror up to it. Mind-boggling; and yet I know, just because I say it, doesn’t make it true. Love this kind of thing and, at this juncture, I’m glad once again I don’t do drugs. Although if you’re listening universe, I am willing to have drug-like experiences – just without the chemicals.
So yeah, there’s plenty of good stuff to celebrate. And I’m not a “good-stuff-celebration-denier.” I’ll leave the repudiation of things that are perfectly obvious to conspiracy theorists and other profit-driven, self-serving media cretins. So while there is plenty to celebrate, there’s also plenty to deprecate that nobody can deny. That nobody can deny. For he’s a jolly good fellow. For he’s a jolly good fellow. For he’s a jolly good fellow – that nobody can deny.
Sorry. I got a little carried away there. That’s on me. Let me try more nobly and less frivolously to storm the fortress of hidden truths again in an attempt to liberate the wisdom that will set you free: or falling short of that, at least make you understand the magic of Mary Tyler Moore, who could “turn the world on with a smile.” And I don’t have to tell you what she could do with “a nothing day.” Was she incredible or what with those nothing days?
Once again I got carried away and I ain’t apologizing. I mean if this is a medical emergency, stop reading and dial 911. And if you’re dialing 911 it means you’ve still got a rotary phone – loser. If that’s true don’t dial 911. Just die and make room for the next generation of techno-savvy people who know the difference between Facegram and Instabook. But now I’m back on track and ready to navigate today’s minefield. I’ve got my GPS set to enlightenment (voiced by Morgan Freeman – who else?) and I’m ready to go. Let’s begin our journey. Here goes. Our world is wrought with problems. And I chose the word “wrought” because it’s Biblical-sounding and gives the illusion that there’s more happening here than meets the eye. What I hope to “wring” (which I think is the past tense of “wrought”) from this endeavor is to produce the same result Alfred Nobel did when he first invented dynamite. He felt so guilty about its wartime lethality, he left his fortune in a trust to establish the Nobel prizes for excellence, and service to mankind. And since my essays possess an equivalent destructive power I pledge to leave my fortune (my 401k or 0k depending on the whim of gravity) to promote and encourage cool-ass experiences for those that can’t take drugs. Maybe I’ll skip that and start a religion instead. After all, “It’s kinda the same thing,” he said with great elucidative precision.
Now that I’ve lowered my expectations, I’m fully prepared to meet them. (cut to 3 hours later) Well I finally met my expectations in a virtual chat room where we exchanged pleasantries. I greeted them with a hearty, “How do you do expectations. So glad to meet you. I didn’t think you’d be so low.” With that meet & greet out of the way, I’d now like to explicate (I suppose I could’ve used the word “explain” but explicate sounds so much more important) a common and detrimental human trait – oversimplification. And I chose the word “oversimplification” because I enjoy the irony of using a 7-syllable word to express a simple, 2-syllable idea. Anyways. My point is this: When faced with an insoluble dilemma we humans tend to throw up our hands and say, “Oh well it is what it is.” Really? – It is what it is. That’s the best we can do? Well sometimes it is.
Our mental hard drives often crash in attempting to process the galling perplexity of a particular situation. In these unsolvable cases we frequently resort to our trusty safe words: “Oh well, it is what it is.” By reducing an imponderable situation to a soothing catch phrase, we surrender to its unknowability (that may be a word – I’m not sure). In adopting this very human coping mechanism, we’re just fooling ourselves with a little verbal tranquilizer, because in truth, it isn’t what it is. Things aren’t merely what they seem, though we’d like them to be.
I mean, it is what it is, but it’s infinitely more than what it is – anything is: aging, joy, religion, even a flat tire. No matter what it “is” it still possesses elements one can’t fully comprehend. Allow me to illustrate. My beautiful sister currently lies mostly unresponsive in ICU. I understand that. But is it just that? Or is it more complex? That is, my reactions are many (emotional, anger, caring, practical, let alone my futile attachment to wanting to reverse the suffering). To her the situation means something completely different. If her affliction “is what it is” and therefore only meant one thing, then why do I manifest such a variety of reactions? Because it’s not what it is. It’s so much more, but I can’t always deal with such an open-ended, gnawing anxiety, so like many of you do with your problems, I anesthetize myself with the tranquilizing placebo of saying, “Oh well, it is what it is.” In more spiritual circles this phrase is repurposed as; “And that too.” This is just a more gracious way of processing the suffering.
It’s disingenuous (also known as “stupid”) to oversimplify just so you can feel the illusion of “moving on.” Some prefer settling for unexamined ignorance in order to feel the narcotizing surety of living in, if not a welcoming world, then at least a benign one. Of course if the alternative to being stupid (aka: disingenuous) is to get bogged down in a quagmire of equivocations (aka: analysis paralysis), maybe your best option is to oversimplify. Often it’s very necessary to take a course of action and then move on for Christ’s sake. I mean sometimes you just have to choose a god-damned paint color for the interior of your house rather than leaving it all white. Who besides the KKK would want to leave everything all white? Right? And if you discover later you don’t like the color you chose, you can survey your “hot pink” dining room and shrug, “Oh well, it is what it is.” It works every time.
Run Silent, Run Deep
Similarly, but in a different vein, I once observed a caravel of canoeists kayaking on a lake upside down in scuba gear (take a moment to process that). The capsized fleet glided in silent maneuvers, navigating about the lake like a pod of underwater synchronized swimmers. You could tell by the number of oars flicking the surface which kayaks were tandem and which were single-shells. From the shore I surveyed these kayakers in astonishment – their convex hulls pointed skywards, the tips of their syncopated oars occasionally breaching the water’s surface from underneath. This is bizarre at so many levels, one of them being the level just below the lake’s surface. I watched in a sort of “this does not compute” disbelief as the kayaks silently propelled themselves forward (I assume they were moving forward, but I suppose they could’ve been moving backwards). I reflected on upside down kayaking as a metaphor for our submerged subconscious; with our human bodies playing the part of the capsized hulls, continuously exposed to the surface, while our psyches’ deeper designs lie submerged, unseen beneath the waves.
This collision of the superficial and the latent, the overt and the covert, the obvious and the unrevealed caused me to experience the weight of the world. As I tried to navigate this mental chaos, my hard drive crashed under the weight of heavy thinking. Then a mixed metaphors began to menace me. For as I stood there on the firm ground of the shore I began to develop a sinking feeling. Now I could understand it if I was in the water and began to get a sinking feeling, but to be on terra firma and develop a sinking feeling gave me heart palpitations and caused my inner dialogue to adopt a Southern accent as I thought: What in tarnation is happening to me. It was all I could do to break out the old safe words and defibrillate myself: “Oh well, it is what it is.” I felt so much better.
Consider the example of a single-engine airplane flying at 50 knots into a 60 knot head wind. Under these conditions the plane will actually fly backwards. The pilot would look down and see the ground moving forward. Is that, “what it is?” Are these examples (the upside down kayaks and the backward airplane) just outlier illustrations of things not being what they are? – Maybe. A better example of something not being what it is, can perhaps be more readily understood from Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity whereby as one approaches the speed of light (not an easy thing to do – unless you’re in a Tesla), time slows down (dilates). It doesn’t appear to slow down for the person who is speeded up, but it is slowed down significantly in their inertial framework relative to others who are more or less fixed in space – like say relative to a guy standing on the shore watching upside down kayakers. OK. Now if NASA or Elon Musk could build a space ship able to fly fast enough, one could leave the earth at speeds approaching the speed of light and return to it in say 3 of their years (as timed in the space ship) to discover it’s actually 2117; and that thanks to global-warming deniers, the entire East Coast is now a protected marine sanctuary. You can’t tell me that “is what it is.”
This is the quickest and dirtiest example of time-space warping and however unfathomable it may be, it’s not science fiction. People with cerebra twice as dense as mine have faultlessly determined that the forces of our universe actually operate this way. In my intuitive estimation, the meaning of all “things” is malleable even though at one level they may be entirely predictable and immutable. And while all this thought-provoking gobbledygook may have little to do with the price of tea in China (i.e. – not very practical), it’s important to recognize we are not just slaves to our circumstances. That we are just temporarily clothed in this construct, only to move onto a new set of circumstances through death or by some other means of expanding our awareness (meditation, lucid dreams or, for some, Netflix). These examples of things not being what they appear to be does not just apply to scientific experiments, but also to mundane things like human behavior, understanding external cues and how you hope to get your security deposit back despite the fact you sold your landlord’s refrigerator for cash.
We are a hearty and confused lot so willing to plant our flag in the surety of a sane universe and yet we are oblivious to its unknowability (there’s that word again). When overwhelmed by the interlocking enormity of our circumstances we often shrink at the prospect of understanding it and are content to exasperatingly shrug and say, “Oh, well, it is what it is.” And it works! Thank you pithy nostrum of reliable clarity.
I May Have Met My Expectations and Now We’re Facebook Friends
Maybe it is what it is, but it’s not what I expected it to be. And while it’s true, it is what it is – just what is it, that it is. Now I’m not here to be some prickly pundit, some smug commentator, some semantical prestidigitator, some suave killjoy who keeps saying, “some….” and then gives an overly elaborate description of it afterwards. No that’s not me. I may not realize who I am, but I’m not all about spreading complicating verbal chaff into a world with enough misinformation already to choke a cable network.
Our journey together on this Spaceship Earth (possible sarcasm font) has been marked mostly by amnesia in that I don’t remember buying a ticket, agreeing to board or checking baggage – and believe me I’ve got baggage. There was no clue given as to its purpose or destination. It’s seems to be just a process. Maybe that’s what they mean when they say “Life is about the journey.” Of course they also say, “Live fast, die young and leave a good-looking corpse.” Clearly the Earth Tourism Board needs to do a better job with their slogans. Such dissonance is why I am prone, like so many others, to simplify things. To sit on my spaceship, eat my little bag of peanuts and resignedly say, “Oh well, it is what it is.” And while I’ve enjoyed much of my time hurtling with y’all through the known universe, I’d now like to do some hurtling through the unknown universe or should I say, the unseen universe where everyone flies 1st class and has all the halo room they could ever need.
One more final example exposing the fallacy of “it is what it is” and then we’ll move on to something else. I’m not about to stay stuck in some mental dance loop – I also like to have fun and get out of my head. We all agree that the earth moves in a relatively circular motion around the sun – well, most of us do. And that’s true if we consider the sun a fixed point. But it’s not. The sun does its own revolving around a supposed fixed point, as does our Milky Way galaxy in which the sun resides. Everything is rotating, revolving and gravitationally attracted to one another so that the actual pathway our earth takes looks more like this:
Now if you viewed the precise movement of the Earth relative to the center of the universe (if there is one) it would be a nonsensical random-looking doodle with kinks and bends and not just the relatively circular path we experience it as with the sun as our frame of reference. Who says the earth isn’t kinky? Unfortunately (if you’re fearful) or fortunately (if you’re more a spiritual adventurer) the Earth’s movements possess alternate meanings depending on your perspective. All things operate this way – it’s overwhelming in one sense, but it’s also quite ordinary since this is the way it’s operated for billions of years, well before man started cataloguing astronomical events: “Oh look at that big planet I’ve just discovered. I shall call it Jupiter and notify the King.” And Jupiter is thinking: “Discovered me? I’ve been the Mac Daddy planet around here for eons. I’ve been pulling my considerable weight in this rinky-dink Solar System for 12 billion years and this self-congratulatory astronomer shows up in the 1600s with his Junior Scientist Telescope kit and thinks he discovered me – pathetic.”
When seen from the sun the earth moves in an unhurried elegant ellipse. However when viewed from the Andromeda Galaxy its movements look like a butterfly with hiccups. So our quaint little notion of a simply understood eccentric earth orbit isn’t what it is. We’ve seen that time isn’t what it is, and that perceptions are only part of what it is. In other words, it ain’t what it is.
Moving On…Sort of
And please, poke all the holes you’d like in this little essay. I’m not championing anything. There is no agenda other than to refocus the lens on our predicament and perhaps forge a détente with the shifting ground beneath our feet – the tremulous ground that can give us such anxiety. In the end maybe we should come to understand that while it’s uncomfortable to be conflicted, it’s inherent and natural in this realm. That it is supposed to be this way. Imagine that. Therefore (perhaps) it seems foolhardy to make the attainment of peace, love and serenity the sine qua non of our existence. Rather it is better to make that lofty troika of peace, love and serenity more of a goal than a prerequisite.
I’m not even saying any of this stuff is true. I’m just saying it’s true for me right now in my frame of reference. That is: It is what it is right now, relative to my experience. I expect to have a great cosmic giggle at all this carefully crafted descriptiveness when my perspective changes – probably when I leave my body permanently, but occasionally when I have my earthbound epiphanies. So enjoy the flux. Flux us all. Flux each and every one of us and Tiny Tim too.
We’re All Just Humanauts on the Spaceship Earth
Not that I’m hoping you agree with me in any of this essay. That’s just a preening trap of wanting to be liked or praised or regarded as “knowledgeable.” That’s not where it’s at. Awareness – heightened awareness – is where it’s at. But for now let’s not bother with the distinction between “it is what it is” and “awareness being where it’s at.” My head hurts enough and I’m sure yours does too. Maybe that’s a good sign since St. Augustine reported his head hurting before experiencing the rapture. In any event this essay is really just a personal statement in which I call out the universe and proclaim: “I’m onto you, cosmos, and I won’t get fooled again.” The antidote (if there is one) may lie in a Beatles song. As John Lennon quoted the Tibetan Book of the Dead in the song Tomorrow Never Knows: “Turn off your mind, relax and float downstream.”
It is what it is…except when it’s not
Maybe I should rephrase my entire thesis thusly: It is what it is…Accept when it’s not