The Yes, And… Mentality
My dad is pretty much always wearing two types of glasses: shades and readers, one above the other. It’s his signature look, which makes so much sense given his expansive way of seeing. He’s a true individualist with the capacity to engage all perspectives and a crystal clear visionary full of contradictions — he’s business and pleasure, head and heart, a mad scientist on a motorcycle who can hack your computer, your brain, and the composition of the perfect meatball. He’s Mexican and Jewish, teddy bear and tiger, a creative unafraid of destruction, and a calculated risk taker. As evidenced by his sunglass game he’s not big on compromises and he doesn’t need to be. He’s all things, all at once.
It’s no coincidence that when I was asked to present on my spirit animal in fifth grade, I chose the platypus. With the bill and webbed feet of a duck, the tail of a beaver and the body of an otter, the platypus is perhaps one of the most ridiculous animals — a walking contradiction caught between land and sea. Of all beautiful creatures, choosing the platypus as a representation of my identity was partly a joke, but mostly a sly way of not having to choose an identity at all. I saw myself in its mismatched parts, just like my dad. It can be so isolating and it’s one of the most rewarding parts of being me.
Almost two decades later… I’m sitting in the car driving home from Vegas next to my dad, wearing his shades and readers. I spent a whole 24 hours crying and hopped on his work trip to Las Vegas Sunday night just to be in the presence of someone I didn’t feel a burden to, who sees me in all my glory and knows how to make me laugh. “One day you’ll find someone who worships you the way I worship your mom,” he told me after a full hour of making fun of her. He’s always said that the secret to marriage is to be able to find the humor in your partner’s “flaws” and approach them as eccentricities that can be funny and endearing. Beyond relationship insights and reflections, we had the music in full blast, bobbing our heads the whole way there. Every once in a while I’d get a wave of sadness and then I’d find my way back to music and sheer joy of getting time together, just the two of us.
As heavy as this week felt, it was ironically so full of festivities. An unusual amount of celebrations with close friends and conversations that all started with “how are you?” At some point grief feels like an emotional hangover, physically painful and oddly satisfying in its surrender and floaty sensation that almost makes it easier to connect, be vulnerable and move my body. I haven’t had the energy to keep it together and from that place I can just be.
I’m typically more solitary in these weird funks, which thankfully don’t come around too often, and I can’t deny the rewards of allowing myself to be seen by all my friends in this state. The evolution of our vocabulary for empathy has come such a long way. Instead of the usual “fuck him” mentality which never resonated with me, I was asked how I could be best supported, how I felt inspired to channel it all creatively, what I was learning and what I want to create more of on the other side. The conversations I had were sobering in the way they didn’t feed into the minutia of the experience. Less commiseration, blaming, and wallowing in the details, more empowerment and vision boarding for the future.
And then there were all the strangers I encountered with my puffy eyes. I got so many subtle nods of acknowledgement. A sweet older woman stopped to rub my back as I cried on the phone on the sidewalk and she left before we could even exchange a word. A barista gave me my coffee for free and a sales associate returned my dress that was final sale. It was impossible to hide my humanity in that state, which made me realize how often we do, especially in public.
From this place, I feel my whole being calling out in contradiction against itself. There are moments I don’t feel capable of enduring and really just want to give up. At the same time, my ability to see is clearer, my love runs deeper, and music hits harder. I feel like shit, and honestly don’t like Vegas and I really am enjoying this time with my dad. I feel lonely and held, empty and overflowing. My capacity to feel is expanding beyond belief, pushing harder and harder in all directions. It’s terrifying and I’m recognizing how rare and valuable these moments can be. If we allow ourselves to feel, we can tap in creatively and access places we don’t always get to go.
Kathryn Shulz dedicated an entire chapter to the word “and” in her book Lost and Found.
Until the late nineteenth century, the final character of the English alphabet was not the letter Z but a word: “and.” It’s not clear exactly when [it] migrated out, yet there is something apt about its former status as part of the alphabet — a covert acknowledgement of how early we learn it and how much we need it, how elemental it is to the ways we think and speak. Dozens of other words also serve that purpose, including “but”, “yet”, “because”, “although”… Almost all of these other conjunctions [judge] something about the relationship between the things that are being joined. “And” does none of these things. It’s a connection made of nothing but connection, and the semantic versatility reflects an existential truth. Our chronic condition involves experiencing many things all at once — some of them intrinsically related, some of them compatible, some of them contradictory, and some of them having nothing to do with one another at all… Even if we try, we can hardly ever experience something all by itself. This endless clamor sometimes produces difficult juxtapositions, because life, like “and,” is indifferent to what it connects.
According to Fitzgerald “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” I don’t know if I’m fully functioning at the moment, at least enough to be writing in the passenger seat of a moving car. And while I usually write to discover the answers when I’m utterly confused, I feel a sense of relief abandoning all other conjunctions and stepping into a world of “and.” Of beauty and suffering, presence and distraction, inspiration and dread, shades and readers.