Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Acceptance? Tell THAT to Inigo Montoya!

I am not religious.  I think we have covered that, right?  But I hear this Serenity prayer a lot:
"God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference."
Acceptance.  It stares up at me from the engraved stone paperweight upon the desk from which I type.  It is not my desk, but the live-in, non-lesbian gal-pal, "Monica’s."  She’s very zen and gets a lot of satisfaction from life-affirming mottos.  I, do not.  I rather want to take that paper weight and lob it into Lake Scranton. 
Why should we accept things we can’t change? 
Why should we give up?
Inigo Montoya never accepted that he would fail to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. The odds were against him, but he never stopped trying, and is, for that reason, one of my most beloved film characters. Let's have a gratuitous clip! 

I don’t think it’s serene to be a quitter and throw in the towel.  I mean, most writers didn’t accept the fact that the majority of agents rejected them; most inventors don’t just throw their prototype away; so how do we know what to strive to save, and what we should watch tornado down the U-bend?
There are several times in my life where I have given up.  I’m not saying I’m proud of them, I'm not.  I am also pretty sure there are more examples than these, but these are the ones that race to the finish line first:

1)     Sports Day 400 m sprint.

2)     Relationship #2 #10 #14
Now, I was never all that athletic.  Sure, I’d cheer—being vocal was never a problem—but actually moving my body with the speed, strength and skill that my brain had so purely conceived, was never my forte. 

School Sports Day and Swimming Sports Day were, therefore, always a wee bit of a trial.  Okay, so we got an afternoon off class, but Sod’s Law was that it was always a class I enjoyed, and would much rather have been doing, than Humiliation 1-0-1.   But there it came around again, Sports Day.  *Grrr! Gnash teeth*.  And there was I, in scratchy, synthetic green athletics pants and second-hand air-tex, proving once again to all my class mates that I was, in fact, the only 15 year old who was so flat-chested she was practically concave.  (Oh, the cache of having boobs then would have made life so much easier!)  I digress.  

Seriously, these were mean-ugly uniforms that were, frankly, emotionally scarring.  Girls aged 11 to 18 should not be made to wear ugly green granny pants.  Full-stop.  I mean, really?  What is the pube-skimming point?  Oh, because an inch more fabric that might make the less-than-hot pants more luke-warm shorts, and would cut down on aerodynamism?  Please.  They were ugly, they were scratchy, they were wrong.  Never do this to your children, Parents.  Never do this to the World, Fashion People.

I was lucky to go to this girls school, because it was far more than my parents could really afford. Most of my items of uniform were from my 5ft 8 neighbour--I was struggling to make 5ft at the time--so I always looked somewhat comical. I even had my brother’s old hand-me-down Dunlop Green Flash trainers. Nike Air they were not. I can still picture their chewing gum white canvas uppers, the thick white rubber sole, the linguine-like laces, the tattoos of my brothers initials, covered over with my own in black marker. Far from ghetto, it just looked like I couldn't spell my own name, so not only was I gawky, unfashionable and sport-spastic, but apparently I also suffered from severe dyslexia.
Ah! Probably the cheapest shoe you can buy for your first child, then give to your second, stained and tangy.  Ta, Mum!
It is one thing sporting such a look, paired with uncoordinated inability, but it’s quite another proving your spasticality in front of the entire school and their parents, siblings and family friends, most hoisting camcorders just to make sure that your complete humiliation is captured forever more.
And so it was that my teacher decided, in the absence of anyone else volunteering, that I--Ennie-Oh-14-minute-mile--should take on the reigning county athletics runner in the 400m.  If I had the bolshy nerve my friends had, I would have nonchalantly proffered the monthly excuse they seemed—poor wretches—to be tormented by EVERY WEEK—Jesus, I must have been in the most menstrual class known to man—but I didn’t.  She had picked me and so, call to arms, I must do my class duty. 
*Sound the bugles!*

When the fateful day arrived, I actually imagined I might win—amazing the tricks your psyche can play on you! I envisaged that white ticker tape snapping as I ran through it, the cheers, the sound of  Chariots of Fire ringing in my ears, the trophy and maybe even the school record! Where I imagined I had conjured this sudden ability is beyond me, but I could see it on the backs of my eyelids, and I could smell victory in the fresh cut grass and the cloying stench of the latest highly perfumed deodorant my friends deemed it “cool” to be using.  (Something begining with a 'K' that smelled of toilet cleaner and Christmas trees.)

I took my marks, as directed, in the inner lane.  My opponent, templed her fingers to the ground, haunches skywards, focused for the pistol.  Oh, thought I, we are doing this proper Olympian-stylee--what a hoot--and I took some seconds to arrange self in what I suppose I would now refer to as, downward dog.  I probably spent far too much time getting comfy and not summoning my running muscles, because the expected “bang!” of the starter’s pistol caught me quite unaware.  What?   Fuck!  Ah!  Where?  Oh shit, she’s running! Goooooo legs, go! And as the Nike Air of my opponent ripped into the turf and away, my Dunlop Green flash squeaked retardedly into action.
I wish I could give you a good account of myself.  That, as I had envisioned, I had suddenly become possessed by Flo Jo; that the banana I had secretly wolfed down, because Linford Christie had a campaign on the telly about banana-gy, had fired my muscles with its potassium and magnesium goodness.  Alas, I can only report this: I was crap.

For the first lap I tried.  I beat my non-running limbs like little whisks; I thumped my arms as if I were having a sparring match with the Invisible Man; she only got further and further away. 
I remember the cheers from my class.  Oxymoronic encouragement—we were quite the snide achievers—“Come on Smell-eanor!”  “Run, Boobless! Run!”  Their enthusiasm only made me want to cry.  I gritted my teeth and pounded hard, but my legs were burning, the lactic acid gnawing at every sinew. 
I turned into the home straight and she was there, flying into the white ticker tape, feeling it snap against her impressive chest.  The cheers were for her.  The applause, for her.  The trophy that would be engraved, for her.

And I stopped running.

I gave up.
I believe—although this bit is a tad foggy—I pretended I’d pulled a muscle.  I yelped, limped, felt somewhere on my leg and stumbled off the track, without ever crossing the finish line.
That was seventeen years ago, and something that has never sat comfortably with me.  I accepted that I was beaten and I just gave up! 

Did I ever stand a hope of winning?  Hell No!  I was crap!  I think I've made this clear.  But I wish I had carried on, even though there was not a darn thing I could do to change the outcome.  Especially, since for me, this pathetic ending reeked of dishonor.  Shit, I don't think it was even a very convincing injury performance!
I am not saying that one incident taught me a life lesson, but I tasted the bitterness of giving up, and I didn’t like it.
Life has thrown a few sHituations since, mainly relationship-orientated ones, where I have shrugged my shoulders and let go, even though every fibre of my being has yelled “Come back!”  Mum had schooled me in the merits of retaining one’s dignity over actually exposing Self to hurt and saying what you really feel.  I thought this “acceptance” the classier thing to do.  Acceptance and denial that it was ever of any importance or worth anyway.  But, you know what?  That's bullshit.  The classier thing, surely, is not to pretend, but to fight for what you really want, or at least tell someone how you feel, rather than pretending.

I was never going to win that race, but I should have trotted on and taken a bow, proud of my true-blue-crap-at-sport-Brit heritage.  
If you are staring at defeat, what have you got to lose?  Pride isn’t so important when you’ve been unemployed for six months; when you feel a lump or see a mole that wasn’t there yesterday; when you are watching the love of your life slip away. 

Would you remain stiff and inert, paralyzed by pride; would you put up your dukes, but pretend to pull a muscle and limp out to lick your wounds when the going got too tough; or, if this is it, really and truly, what the fuck!  Wouldn’t you run?  Fuck the pretence, blow the stiff-lip, but with thighs burning and arms boxing, looking like a fool, wouldn't you at least bloody well give it a try?

So, I suppose what I am saying is, who is to say that a situation is hopeless or impossible?  If you don’t fight to change it, you’ll never know.  And even if it is irredeemable, wouldn’t you rather be the person who can say, “I gave it my all,” rather than, “Oh, I just half-arsed it, saw I couldn’t win, so gave up”? 

Whether fighting to win for fun, for sport, for work, for survival, for love, don’t be a Half-Arse.  Royally fuck it up with both cheeks exposed, because that will give real serenity.  You can rest your little over-thinking brain, because, props to you Lovey, you gave it your best!

I love this scene from Love Actually.  Andrew Lincoln's character has fallen in love with his best friend's fiance.  He is tortured.  Whilst he would not act dishonourably to his friend, for his own sanity and serenity, he has to tell the fiance he loves her, "without hope or agenda" and once he has, finally, told her then, then, he can let go.

Like Lincoln's character, only when I know I have done or said everything I can; when I have swallowed the lump of fear amassing in my throat--cunningly lodged to smother what I really want to say; when I have ignored the attack in my colon; spoken through the shallow snatches of breath and the yelling in my head that MAYDAY!  MAYDAY!  THIS COULD HURT!  BRACE YOURSELF!  INCOMING!; only then, when I have stripped Self of every defence mechanism I've hidden behind, can I be serene.  So I have rewritten the serenity prayer.  Blasphemous, probably, but …

Grant me the courage to fight for what I want,
Never to accept mediocre, half-arsedness,

(Even when others tell me I should give up and limp off)
But to give my all and know that opening Self to vulnerability and loss,
Takes more courage than hiding behind any protective façade.
Oh, yeah, and grant me wisdom too.  That's never a bad thing.


  1. I agree--to an extent. We must never give up on ourselves. We are powerful--not quitters--and we are capable of incredible things, including amazing transformations--but that happen from within. We must not quit on ourselves.

    I diverge (in the yellow woods) when it comes to quitting in regard to other people. Caviat: I am a teacher who believes in her students and wants to help them achieve incredible things. I never give up on a student who's willing to work to achieve more. Another Caviat: I am a mother who loves her child and will not give up hope for his momentary, daily, yearly, and lifetime achievements.

    But here is the (sometimes painful but necessary) revelation: I CANNOT control the behavior of anyone else. There. I said it. It is one of he most frustrating things in life, and this is where the serenity prayer offers hope--in the acceptance. In the wisdom. I can't prevent a Fucknut from behaving like a Fucknut. I wish I could. I've tried over the years, and I have grey hairs to prove it.

    So I will not give up on myself. Your revelation in this respect is HUGE. But sometimes we have to clean house, accept people for who thy are and what they are (or are not) in our lives, and move forward with wisdom, grace, and courage. That's not quitting. It's not giving up. It's thriving. It's a choice to get beyond struggling for survival. Thrive on!

  2. This makes a lot of sense. I hope I can hold fast to my hopes and ideals, but cast adrift the fucknuts. Yes, I do have a few of those, who seem to, inexplicibly, revel in hurting me. I don't understand it. I think I've been holding fast in the hope that positivity will somehow melt the negativity. But it isn't working.
    I read a book recently, Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, a memoir by Rhonda Janzen. A successful academic, Rhonda's life implodes at 42, when her brilliant, but bi-polar husband leaves her for a man named Bob from Gay.com and she is involved in a debilitating car accident. She goes home to recover and rediscovers her Mennonite roots.
    Her sister shares this with her:
    "He SHOULD have made you miserable. I don't think middle age is about learning to live with ambiguity; it is just the opposite. It's about finally developing the resolve to reject ambiguity and embrace simplicity. What could be simpler than saying 'no matter how I feel about him, I will not expose myself to his damage'? I'm not saying it isn't painful. But it is simple."
    It is simple, isn't it?

  3. I have so many things I could say, but I will keep it short and sweet.

    1) I agree with Anonymous.

    2) I think the quote from Mennonite in a little Black dress is DEAD on, as is your interpretation of it

    3) Monica sounds awesome and wise. I bet she is hot too. ;)

    4) And lastly, I will leave you wise a quote from my mom: "Acceptance is not surrender. It is an amazing act of will"