“The secret to life is clean underpants.”
So said Ms. A, a wise woman I interviewed recently for the book, and I swear to you, in context, it made a lot of sense. She’s in her mid-60s, and has been there, done a lot of that. A LOT of that. We were, as you might have guessed, talking about how overwhelming life’s big decisions can be, especially when there are so many options. Here’s a little more of what she said:
Just keep going forward. One of my theories of life has always been do sweat the small stuff. When life is overwhelming you, wash your underpants. Make sure you have clean undies in the drawer, clean dishes to eat off of. Start paying attention to those tiny things that are within your control. And before you know it, something will happen, and it will become easy for you to resolve.
True? Who knows. Counterintuitive? Sho ’nuff. I bring it up because, today, I’m preoccupied with big things: A dear friend’s mom is terribly ill, and there’s nothing I can do about it, except offer words from afar. Additionally, I was just in New Orleans, a city I love passionately and have in many ways made my home away from home, which I’ve watched (and done a little to help) recover, slowly, in the years since Katrina. But the oil spill (ahem, FU, BP) may well devastate the entire region far more than Katrina ever did. It’s heartbreaking. Overwhelming. Infuriating. There’s a sense of impending disaster–and all anyone can do is wait. But I have faith in ‘my city.’ It’s come through a lot of darkness, with shining colors.
Because I was gone, I just got around to watching the latest episode of “Treme” last night, and one (of the many) scene that stuck with me involved John Goodman’s character (as is par for the course: his is one of the best characters on ANY show, EVER). If you don’t watch, the show takes place in New Orleans, the first year after Katrina, and in that particular scene, he is reacting to the news that city officials are considering canceling Mardi Gras. He’s an extremely intelligent man–a professor–and yet, over this bit of news, he loses his shit. Why? After all, in the face of such chaos and devastation, what are a couple of parades and some beads going to solve?
I think it’s a bit like what Ms. A was saying: there’s comfort in the small stuff. For a New Orleanian dealing with post-Katrina life, small stuff might well be one of the world’s biggest parties. For me, when I’m freaked out, I cook. The more chopping and stirring involved, the better. (Hello, risotto.)
We’ve all been told not to sweat the small stuff. But sometimes, it’s all we’re capable of sweating. Sometimes, the shit hits the fan, through no fault of our own, and we’re left–if you’ll pardon the metaphor–in a shit-filled room, with nothing to do but adapt. Sometimes we’re in a place where something big has to change–and we’re the only one who can change it. Sometimes having undies to wash or a meal to cook or a parade to plan–something, anything to focus on–is distraction enough to soothe. And, after a little soothing, we’re generally in a better place when it comes to tackling the big, nasty stuff.
And so, today, in between reading the horrific predictions about what might become of the habitat and industry that are reliant on a healthy Gulf and shooting rapid-fire words of love and support to my friend, I went for a run. I went to the grocery store. And I’m about to cook an epic meal that involves one hell of a lot of chopping.
(I did the laundry yesterday.)