My mom told me once that when I was a baby I’d be doing something categorically “unhelpful” like taking all the books off the shelf one-by-one, and she’d try to turn me around or put me in another area to distract me.
Apparently, this tactic always worked really well for my older brother.
I, however, would react with huffy, impatient irritation to these attempts to curtail my important work, crawling back determinedly to the shelf to continue doing the annoying thing I was previously doing with a haughty air of “Excuse me, CYNTHIA, but you shall not deter me from my very vital research, THANKYOUVERYMUCH.”
If there’s one thing I believe about humanity, it’s that there’s a flip side to every coin of our personalities. My laser-focus has made me determined and successful in some areas of my life, continuing past the point of frustration and disappointment like a dog digging for a prized bone.
This aspect of my personality also sometimes makes me rigid, unbending in what I think “the way” is, and more resistant to going with the flow on a different current than I was expecting to sail.
These past 12 months? They’ve been a trans-Atlantic training ground for riding the waves of stormy weather.
Does anyone else feel this way, a bowing and bending of your being?
In some aspects, my life is more rigid than ever before. I can’t do this, I can’t do that, I need to avoid ______ and watch out for _______. Yet somehow in the past year, I’ve developed a deeper ability to move into acceptance of what is, respond with more stall-wart resilience, and give up the fucks for the things I cannot control.
I like to call this flexibility being a Coping Chameleon. Being playful, giving your mind the space and encouragement to change, taking a different view, adopting a different way of blending the colors of being in your life, looking for another way to feel at home in your environment.
Now let’s all take a minute to please enjoy this song, which is what I sing (with creative liberties) in my mind when I am trying to be a Coping Chameleon.
Being a coping coping coping coping Coping Chameleon sometimes looks like spilling all of my dried pasta noodles on the floor on accident and just laughing about it, picking them up, and preceding to make my dinner.
It looks like holding plans and expectations loosely. Having contingencies (many of them) for mental health, work, support, encouragement, fun, adventure, and joy options.
It looks like re-working the aspects of life that are taking from your energy bucket, even if previously they were giving to it.
It looks like responding with humor instead of fear and trying very, very, very hard to not compare your current days to your OTHER days (in the before times)...or your current days to the days of people who are still LIVING like it’s the before times.
Politically lambasting and accountability aside, it’s best to just let go of what other people are doing with their lives and blend with your own being. But while they say comparison is the thief of joy, comparison with a healthy dose of Coping Chameleon can be pretty damn entertaining.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I got my Alma Mater’s winter magazine issue (word up to my Tritons!) and checked the “Class Notes” section for my graduating year.
If you don’t already know what the “Class Notes” section is, it’s basically a spot to highlight all the world-changing accomplishments that people from your college have completed while you’ve been working odd jobs and attempting a failed music career or whatever.
For someone currently sleeping on a futon at my parent’s house, a part of me knew this exploration could possibly take me into the disastrous existential crisis zone. Alarm bells started going off in my head as I thumbed through the pages in search of the graduating class of 2002.
“How bad could it be?” I thought, as flashing lights and “ABORT! ABORT! ABORT! DO NOT PROCEED!” ran through my subconscious. I finally found the class of 2002, expecting to see something about a classmate starting a business, getting a law degree, or receiving a prestigious research grant.
Here’s what I saw:
I DIED. I wheeze-laughed so hard that my stomach hurt and tears fell from my un-astronaut eyeballs.
There I was, an almost 40-year old woman with no partner, no offspring, and a 1-month temp job. A pajama-wearing alumnus with her degree in a box who days before had finished lunch with the thought: “I’m so proud of myself! I ate a whole back of chips without them going stale!” while members of her esteemed college were not just participating in but PILOTING missions to SPACE.
God, I laughed so hard.
I think a few years ago I would not have found this so amusing. I would have felt shame, and a deep sense of failure. I would have gone down a comparison rabbit-hole of low self-worth and victimhood.
And, sure, I’m making some playful jabs at the differences between my life and the one belonging to esteemed NASA Pilot Megan McArthur, but at the end of the day, I know that my life is my life, and my days are my days, and there’s nothing for it but to find joy and purpose where I can and let go of the rest.
I’ve done things I’m really proud of, I’ve been disappointed how some things have turned out, I’ve tried to continue on the best way I know how—and I bet astronauts do the same thing, too.
Being a Coping Chameleon is to have this flexibility, being shifty with the nature of subtext and meaning, looking for the right colors to blend into your being instead of disappearing into despair.
So, for now, you can find me in the sun—basking in whatever rays I can find and celebrating the bag of chips I finished.
THREE GOOD THINGS
Want to support an independent creator and get a cool game in the process? My friend Ami Baio of Pink Tiger Games is Kickstarting her new project “Rabbit, Rabbit,” a card trivia game about superstitions, folklore, and fun.
Portland got a Gucci store! And this article about it made me laugh sob.