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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Editor’s Note: The following contains Existential Thoughts that would otherwise have been considered and reconsidered and also highly edited before publishing. However, in the spirit of writing every day and not “when things sound perfect”, the pontification that follows is somewhat disjointed and perhaps contradictory but very in-the-moment, warts and all.

It’s my brother Eric’s birthday today. Since I am not usually there in person, I either get video-d in for the birthday singing, or, like today, I get the photos after the fact.

One photo in particular struck me. It was a candid group shot of the Excellent Singing Event. My father had on his very serious “I’m singing the Excellent Birthday Song” face. Most everyone else wore the unfortunate expressions that get captured at the moment the flash goes off, eyes half shut or wearing some moderately scowly-looking demeanor.

But it was my nine year old nephew Andrew’s face that caught my attention. In the photo, he is sitting on his hero’s lap, my brother Uncle Dave. He is smiling with such pure joy that you’d think it was his birthday.

This is mirrored in the way my mother is smiling at him smiling, his joy reflected in hers.

I could feel exactly what it would have been like in that room tonight and it made me bone-deep happy.

It also made me sad.

Not because I wasn’t there, though I would have liked to be. But because I suddenly started wondering, wouldn’t it be great if everyone could bring that same sense of joy to everything? What would the world be if we could all smile – just now and then – like my nephew was smiling?

I thought how nice that he is so happy. And why isn’t everyone?

And simultaneously in that five minutes or one minute or ten seconds or whatever it was that I had to process those pictures, what the actual flying monkeys is wrong with us?

I mean “us” in the existential sense, not in the literal “what is wrong with my family” sense. I mean it in a general sort of human way.

I also do mean it in a literal sense, because – not to sound cliché as I sound cliché – we are so absurdly blessed that I can’t believe we are anything but overjoyed every single day of our lives.

And yet.

As it so often happens with the universe, I received those photos mere moments after I had concluded a temper tantrum about how my evening was going.

I worked REALLY HARD today to get things done and plan things out so I’d have time to work, exercise, cook, clean and collect my whirling dervish thoughts by the time Ralph’s Friday evening Destiny game started so I could SIT DOWN with nothing to do or think about, with maybe a little space in my brain to breathe.

I look forward to our Friday evenings. He plays, I write, all is well with the world. Lately I’ve been rushed and less relaxed than I want to be, which is why I was so thrilled tonight to be done early and have extra time before the game started to sit down with Ralph and our cocktails and have a few minutes of peace.

Then one of the guys he was playing with texted and asked everyone to start early.


So instead of getting time to decompress, we were off to the races again.

Does it matter?

Not really.

But yes, it does, because I wanted that hour and a half to put myself together and THEN sit down and chill, not be rushed into it like usual.

I was irritable. And then the pictures came.

The pictures, and my nephew’s smile, and the joy of something as simple as a birthday.

So maybe we don’t get the perfect evenings we want. Maybe we don’t get the simple days we want. Maybe we don’t get the easy existence we want.

We don’t have all the money we want. Or the perfect relationships we want. Or the ideal family reunions we want or the job or the organized closet or the waist size or whatever.

Maybe, if we’re feeling particularly morose, we conclude that we don’t have anything we want. But could we maybe, possibly, appreciate and find joy in what we HAVE?

For whatever reason, when it comes to being happy or content or appreciating anything at all, it’s always “later” or when I’m calm or when I’m not busy or [when this thing happens that is anything other than what is happening right now].

There is always a yeah-but.

Yeah but my job is unfulfilling. Yeah but my app isn’t launched. Yeah but the noise drives me crazy. Yeah but I’m stuck with this responsibility. Yeah but I’m sick of this thing. Yeah but I’m tired/stressed/annoyed/bored.

I just bitched for fifteen minutes because I had to sit on the couch an hour earlier than I expected to.

I have yeah-buts out the yeah-butt. A not inconsequential amount of my blog is devoted to things I’m either complaining about or wish to change/fix/eradicate.

The noise or the dream house.

The clients or the winning lottery ticket.

The bread or the jeans size.

I could, if I wanted to, appreciate an evening to sit on the couch and write. Yeah but I still have to wash the dishes.

I could, if I wanted to, wake up tomorrow and look at the beautiful trees outside my window. Yeah but the noise drives me nuts.

It annoys the crap out of me that everything annoys the crap out of me, that I’m in a constant state of wanting things to be different or better.

Which of course I then contradict by saying yeah but if I don’t strive for things to be better, they never will be. Why wouldn’t I want to fix things that are less-than? Why wouldn’t I aim higher?

At this point it’s a Conversation With Self, which is typically circular in nature, requires many words, and results in nothing.

How do I let things be what they are and stop wanting them to be different while at the same time trying to improve the things that I want to be different?

I have no answers or secrets.

But here’s an option: I could wake up tomorrow and think ugh, that noise is annoying. Yeah but look at those beautiful trees.


I did a whole thing yesterday about how the end matters more than the beginning or the middle. So why is there such a human persistence to end on the most negative note? Why is the yeah-but always on the down side?

I would much much rather see the joy in things than the dark. Sometimes I do. Too often I do not.

Usual thought: I had a great key lime pie yesterday. Yeah but it’s going to take a month to work off the calories.

Thought, revised: I have to burn a million calories… yeah but that was an awesome key lime pie!

I’m not saying just have a dumb blonde Pollyanna attitude toward life.

I’m not saying this is going to make the annoying things go away. But, I mean, why not tell a better story?

I can’t do it for anyone else but sometimes I’d like to. I’d like to take the person who says “I don’t want a birthday party” and say “yeah but you’ll get green balloons.”

And then that person might say yeah but I don’t like green balloons.

And then I could say yeah but someone cares about you enough to hang them.

And they might say yeah but if they cared about me they’d get me blue ones.

And then I would say…

Nothing. Because you could do that all day, couldn’t you? A determined person could yeah-but you every time. Trust me, I know. I have lots of practice doing it.

I have no right to yeah but anyone into a happy ending when I’m perpetually yeah butting myself out of one.

All of this because I saw my nephew’s delighted smile and thought, wouldn’t it be nice to feel that way?

And more importantly, why don’t we feel that way?

Because of all the yeah-buts.

I want to try something different. I want to end with a better yeah but. If the end is what I’m going to remember and the thing that is going to affect my memories of any given situation the most, then the least I can do is set myself up for better memories.

O travesty, I had to sit down on the couch and hour earlier than I wanted to tonight!

Yeah but I got to explore this idea that I might not have otherwise.

I’m still going to be cranked out about my stupid electric stove and I’m going to get annoyed at the next customer service person who reads to me from a script and I’m going to have much more significant existential baggage to deal with, but if I can give myself a concluding yeah-but that is more positive than negative, maybe I’ll get somewhere.

I also realize that anyone can reverse a relatively inconsequential narrative. It’s not the same to say, well, I lost my job and got evicted and I’m living in my car… yeah but… the trees are pretty…

I’m not talking about being braindead. But somewhere, somehow, there is a balance. There is a way to look at life that is not about the grarrr and the hrrrrmmmm and the pffffftt.

And yeah, I do think that even in the worst moments there can be a better yeah but.

It’s not about gratitude. I mean, it is, but it’s more than that.

It’s not about seeing the bright side. Sometimes there is no bright side. But it’s possible there are other sides.

I feel like what I’m saying isn’t “look on the bright side” so much as it is “don’t always look on the dark side.”

A friend comes to mind as I ponder this. She has what the medical profession calls “chronic pain” because they don’t know why or what to do about it.

Most people would never know this about her. I know it, because she shares her down moments with me, but it is never from a place of despair.

I just know she is having a tough time, and sometimes it’s really tough. But that is never her end. Her end is always yeah but I’m going out to walk in the garden today or I’m going to see my family today or I’m happy to be talking to you today.

The rest of the world outside of those of us in-the-know would have no clue whatsoever that she is anything but a-ok. As commendable as that is, I’m not even talking about that.

I’m talking about the fact that even when she is at her lowest moment, that is never the end. Her yeah-but is always of the uplifting nature.

If she can do that, why can’t I?

I mean, I am not suggesting we should never complain again. I, for one, would be very boring if I suddenly stopped complaining.

But the next time something disagreeable or troublesome happens, how about I say yeah but this will pass and I’ll be ok?


But I could just as easily pick any given nice day when I’m content and having cocktails and think WELL HERE WE ARE AGAIN, JUST HAVING A GOOD TIME!

I think this is called a negativity bias.

I want to change it.

I will practice changing it. I put that photo of my nephew’s smile on my desktop background so I can remind myself every day of the underlying joy instead of the underlying misery of life.

Here is what I’m concluding. I’m not talking about turning everything into a positive. I’m just saying that I get caught in a negative loop sometimes, and it is time to practice the alternative yeah-but. I’m not trying to talk myself out of having goals or aspirations or desires. I’m not merely accepting the status quo and giving up on making things better or reaching for positive change. I’m not saying I really wish I had a gas stove, but an electric stove still cooks food! This is not the point.

The point is to have the Andrew Smile more often than not. Because there really are joys in life and they don’t need to be negated.

That is all.

Photo: please enjoy this random photo of some Happy Eggs. My nephew’s parents don’t wish his photos to be published publicly online so I found something else that made me smile. I think Andrew would like it.