Thursday, June 13, 2013

It's Not What It Ain't: The Barista Who Accidentally Told Me the Truth.

I never drink coffee after two pm anymore. That is, unless it’s Saturday. On Saturdays, I drink coffee all day long. Not because I need it, not because Saturdays are more exhausting than any other day, but because I enjoy the taste of coffee, and I enjoy Saturdays.

So it wasn’t particularly unusual for me to swing into a coffee shop in the middle of the Mission District in the late afternoon after watching Star Trek Into Darkness. It wasn’t unusual for me to be drinking coffee that late, nor was it unusual for me to have just finished watching Star Trek, seeing as this was the fourth time I had viewed a screening. I kept my headphones in as I stood in line, but removed both earbuds once I entered the on deck circle, not wanting to miss my cue. After ordering a large iced coffee, with room for milk - no not that much room- just a little. Well, less than that. You know what, don’t give me any room, just fill it up to the brim and I’ll drink down the black coffee and add my own milk – a barista made a comment about the bag I had slung over my left shoulder.

In black, sans serif lettering, the bag reads “IT IS WHAT IT IS.”

He read it out loud.

And then continued to say, “the other side should read, “AND IT’S NOT WHAT IT AIN’T.”

I laughed, because it is polite to laugh when someone makes a joke, and despite my remarkably bad attitude, I am a polite person. I suggested to him that maybe I’d sharpie that on the opposing side. He smiled as he handed over ‘the largest, fullest iced coffee he could manage.’ I doctored my beloved Saturday no-regrets coffee, and left.

IT IS WHAT IT IS. I adore that phrase. It’s so clean; it’s compliance riddled with disgruntled defeat. It’s precisely my style. It’s a shrug, a laugh, and a ‘whacha gonna do?’ all wrapped up in a simple, symmetrical sentence. For my inherently pessimistic perspective, it embodies a half-hearted attempt at optimism. As if to say, I’m not happy about it, but I accept that this is a thing.

On the train ride home, I thought about the converse sentiment. If it is what it is, then the barista’s statement must also stand true: it’s not what it ain’t. Less symmetrical, less fluid, and yet, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Somewhere underneath the waters of the San Francisco bay, it made sense to me like finally grasping math as it applies in real life when you’re five years old. I moved two hair scrunchies to the pre-existing four hair scrunchies, and I was staring right at six hair scrunchies on a linoleum, kitchen table.

“Oh my God,” I thought. “It’s not what it ain’t.”

It has been seven arduous months since my last relationship, and in that time I’ve been peeling back layers of myself in search of answers. Why are these relationships failing so badly? Why am I choosing to date men that end up to be practically nothing I’m looking for in a partner? And dear God why won’t they ever just go away?

In five simple words, the answer was in the math: Date after date, boyfriend after miserable boyfriend – I was latching myself on to fateful runaway trains overloaded with potential. Ignoring the present as if it were just a means to kill time until the future grabbed hold, I was trying to make “it is” out of “it could be.” I was thinking sure, he doesn’t have a steady job now, but he will. Yes, he drinks excessively at the moment, but he’ll stop. Okay, he’s a borderline sociopath, but people grow out of that all the time, right? I was entering relationships in the present, under the presumption they would become the relationships I wanted in the future. I was assuming, albeit incorrectly, that both he and I were sauntering along a linear path headed in the same direction at the same pace.

That was exactly the problem. I wasn’t following my own mantra. It wasn’t what it was in my head. The reason these relationships had bombed horrifically was plainly because I wasn’t dating them for who they were, I was dating them for who I thought they could eventually be.

It had been months of wracking my brain to figure out why I was dating immature, idling men, all coming down to a single conclusion: I was attracted to the incomplete.

I was attracted to the incomplete because I thought of myself as incomplete.

The majority of my early twenties has been playing dress up with my life. I have tried on different jobs, different friends, hundreds of different shoes, on a neverending quest to figure out what version of myself shines brightest. The most I have managed to figure out so far is that I do NOT make a cute bar rat. That’s a lie, I make an adorable bar rat – I just find her incredibly depressing. I’ve uncovered interests and hobbies that make my time feel well spent, but I don’t have the clear mirror image of the ideal Eleanor yet. I have a very smudgy mirror image; a mirror caked in dust piled up over decades that even running a swiffer over the thing would just manage to make it worse. I have a mirror image of myself that is better left undusted. Truthfully I’m still searching., I’m searching for a less disgusting mirror.

So, if someone were to come up to me tomorrow and say, “Here. Here is everything you have ever wanted. You can have it, but you have to take it right now,” what would I say?

As difficult as it is to admit, I’d tell them no. I’d tell them I’m simply not ready.

Oftentimes my ambition gets the better of me, and I waste days making plans to accomplish massive undertakings without actually moving a single toe in the direction of the effort required to actualize any of them. The seduction of someday misdirects my positive intentions into a flurry of anxiety, impatience, and the all consuming and paralyzing fear of probable failure.

See, apparently, getting everything you want and being happy are not one and the same. Being happy isn’t a thing someone can just give you. Being happy isn’t a thing you stumble upon in a store or a park or a person – it’s a hard-fought choice. The reality of my situation is that I had been choosing to be with people who were unhappy because I wasn’t choosing to be happy.

Somewhere in between the moment I lost the ground beneath me, and that underground train ride back home, I made a choice. I wanted to take seriously the goals and plans I had for myself, and that choice required me to stop wasting time with ambling relationships. Potentially more significant than that, it begged me to stop wasting their time as well. Relationships of any caliber are investments; it proves difficult to invest anything in someone when you have little to no personal wealth of your own. My life accounts had been dwindling for years, I was dating solely on credit.

It’s not what it ain’t, I laughed to myself on the walk home from the station. It was all so tragically obvious when you said it out loud that way. I had been the girl asking six hair scrunchies to just be eight hair scrunchies, and to not hook up with his ex-girlfriend when I was out of town. Six isn’t eight. It’s just six. 

And for someone else, six is a perfectly good number.

I guess I'm just an eight kind of girl. 

And I'm pretty sure the Tenth Doctor  is an eight. About 77% sure.


  1. Maybe your best work yet. You're dead-on, and great things are coming because you are.

    Also, the Eleventh Doctor is an eleven. And so am I.

    Love you,

    1. Eleven is totally an Eleven.
      Ten is an eight, because Rose stole two of his hair scrunchies.

  2. You are an amazing writer! So impressed. Great piece!

  3. As far as self-analysis and honesty goes this essay is right on the mark, as usual. This one had something special though. I wish there was a literary version of the mythical Roman vomitorium so that I might throw up what I just read so that I might reread it and enjoy it all over again as if for the first time.
    I love your writing!

    1. You always manage to slip constructive criticism in.
      Here's your reply.
      Vomitoriums are vile, and somehow you've managed to make me think of them fondly. Now I'm all kinds of connotatively confused. THANKS.

  4. "Being happy isn’t a thing you stumble upon in a store or a park or a person – it’s a hard-fought choice."

    I love you and I think you're wonderful.