Have I been an a*@hole?
A young girlfriend emailed me last summer asking for advice about what she should do with her life, whether she should stop doing “random, crazy things and settle down and start a career and take a desk job.” I had just landed in Portland, having spent the previous weeks in Hawaii writing and surfing, when I received her text message. I dashed off a quick “NEVER” and told her I’d write more later. I pondered the question for a week, during which I experienced the complete breadth of human emotion having met a man who would change the course of my life and spending time with my father from whom I’d been estranged for nine years, and during which I imagined the possibility of my imminent death and planned my funeral with playlists and poetry, before I responded with a lengthy, rambling email urging her to stop wasting time worrying about what anyone thinks she should be doing with her life and go do the things that make her happy. I concluded with this:
You don’t need me to tell you what to do. There is no one answer anyway. Trust your heart, love fiercely, hug harder, and don’t be an asshole (to yourself included), and be kind and generous (to yourself included), and be in love with the world. And let the world love you back. (I have a hard time with that last one.)
I wrote that bit of advice during a time when my own life was in drastic flux and in the midst of yet another self-reinvention fueled by a desire to pursue my own creative aspirations. One month later, a breast cancer diagnosis left no room for confusion about the path forward.
Now that treatment and the reconstruction process are almost done, I have been wondering how well I fared in following the advice I had imparted to my young friend. Though cancer has allowed me to excuse myself from many social and business obligations over the past year, soon I won’t have that crutch to fall back on. I have drastically downsized my business, which has given me more time to write, and I have been securing more and more freelance writing and speaking gigs, and slogging my way through writing a book. In those regards, I have fared well.
Have I, however, loved fiercely and hugged harder and been kind and generous and in love with the world? I have tried my best and I learned most of whatever I know from all the love and kindness and generosity that has been heaped on me.
Have I been an asshole? Yes. I have cancelled dates with girlfriends in favor of a guy who asked me out at the last minute, I have talked about people behind their backs, and I have fought dirty with loved ones by using the weapon of silence. I am reluctant, however, to confess the truly epic asshole things I have perpetrated. Too embarrassed! Let’s just say that I finally figured out that I don’t have time or mental space to be an asshole, which requires filling up limited emotional capacity with anger, resentment, and a certain amount of conniving and which leaves little room for love, kindness, generosity and ultimately joy, and makes everyone feel bad in the process. I’d rather spend the time paddle boarding or reading a good book or walking with a friend or having lunch with my niece and nephew or a thousand other things that make me happy.