I wish I may, I wish I might, have the mantra I wish tonight

“What’s my mantra?”

T looked up briefly from his dog-eared film festival program with a quizzical expression.  In a delayed reaction—as if trying to process if I had, in fact, asked him what my mantra was—he finally asked, “What?”

“My mantra.  What’s my mantra?”

His mouth opened and then snapped shut again—his jaw clearly thinking better of whatever it was his brain had considered saying.  We remained in silence for a few moments, engaged in some weird staring contest, me waiting expectantly for an answer.  Him, considering responses and discarding them based on an his astute risk analysis.

“Mantra?  I don’t know.  Does anyone have a mantra?” he mused aloud.

I had to admire his deflection.  It was a classic, safe move.  But I was undeterred.  “I should have one.  Well.  Actually, Izzie’s asked me what mine is.  She’s doing something mysterious and needs to know.”

T snorted.  ‘Mysterious?  You make it sound like some weird voodoo ritual.”

“Okay, Mr Funny Man, it’s not voodoo.  It’s a sincere question and I’m giving it sincere thought.  You know me.”

“Yeah, that I do,” T muttered.  He paused and scratched his head.  His eyes flicked longingly to the film program.  He closed it with a sigh and turned to me fully.  “Okay.  A mantra.  Your mantra.  Well … what about—” and then he stopped.  “Hang on.  Isn’t this supposed to be your mantra?”

“:Yes.”

“Well … I mean … it’s yours.  Don’t you think it’s—I mean—shouldn’t YOU be figuring it out?”

“Well, yes, but I thought you might be able to point me in the right direction.”

“For figuring out what you should be meditating on? How about, ‘Universe, help me be decisive,’” he said with a chuckle that, admittedly, got me chuckling too.

“It’s hard!” I said through the tittering.  “I mean, picking one phrase that sums up the essence of your being and is the kernel of truth that defines and guides your path?”

“Are you serious?  You’re serious.  Not everything has to be so serious, you know.  Oh!  There’s your mantra.  ‘Stop taking life so seriously!’”

And with that, T went back to studying the film festival program to see if he could squeeze in one more film to round out his list to 35.

The problem was, “Don’t take life so seriously” could have been my mantra.  T was right about that.  A dozen other phrases would have been good choices, too.  Ones like, “Take risks, but be prepared.”  Or, “Life is what you make it.” Or, in a nod to Sally Field, “They like me.  They really like me.”  So it was less of an issue of finding one, as it was picking among the many, many, many good choices.

That’s the thing about being profoundly neurotic.  You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to mantra shopping.

But I was serious when I said I was taking this task seriously (which—as T so pointedly said—is no shock to anyone who knows or has met me).  So, I approached the task as I would any new, confounding topic.  Research.

In a past life, I’m quite sure I was a research librarian.  For a long time, I wore librarian glasses.  I continue to have a penchant for wool skirts and twinsets.  I’m generally regarded as harmless, and while lively, never one to cause a stir.  And I love exploring new topics and figuring things out.  I was probably the only person in law school who wished it had been four years instead of three.

I began my research with my trusty friend, Google.  Google lead me to a number of interesting topics on mantras: what mantras are, what they’re meant to be, what you should be aiming for in a mantra.  Armed with the basics, I started consulting learned sources for ideas on what a good mantra should be.   Sources like “quotegarden.com” and “inspirationalquotes.com”.  It’s amazing the things people say.

About two weeks into this process, T came home one evening and asked what I was doing.

“Looking for a mantra.”

“On the Internet?”

“It could happen.  I found the world’s most perfect pair of shoes on the Internet.”

“But shouldn’t this be something that YOU think?  Not what someone else thinks?”

“Yes, but my mantra will be stronger if someone else said it first.  It gives it validity.  It’s like stare decisis.  You know, precedent.”

T rolled his eyes and muttered something under his breath about bloody lawyers and bloody Latin and bloody mantras before turning on the sports news and going into a rugby-induced stupor.

I did eventually settle on a mantra, and yes, it did come from the Internet, and yes, someone else said it first.  But it really summed up so much in my life, and so much about the choices that I’ve made at times.  The guilt I’ve felt at putting myself first or the resentment when I didn’t.

So, my mantra is “Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”  Some French guy said it in 15somethingorother.  Precedent, indeed.

As for giving myself to myself, I almost never do that.  And I should.  I’m not comfortable saying, “This is what I want.”  I’m much more comfortable asking, “What do you want?  How can I give that to you?”

There’s a real freedom in deciding to put yourself first.  I’m not advocating that on a full-time basis, because then you tip dangerously toward becoming a self-absorbed narcissist.  But for people whose default is “What can I do for you?” it’s not a bad idea to occasionally ask (even of yourself), “What can you do for me?”

It almost feels naughty to ask that.  Shameful.  And I wonder how many of my girlfriends feel the same way.  Is it a gender issue?  A social issue?  A generational issue?  Or maybe, it’s just a Jenn issue.  I haven’t figured that part out yet, but I’m pleased to have at least solved the mantra puzzle.

Now.  To figure out why I have a profound but irrational dislike of eggplant….

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In Defence of February 14 (Otherwise known as Valentine’s Day)

I admit it. I love Valentine’s Day.

I love the combinations of red and pink and purple and the conversation hearts with ridiculous sayings, like “I Dig U”. Mostly, though, I love the sentiment behind Valentine’s Day.

I feel as though I have to say that quietly, in a darkened room, with no witnesses. It’s as if it’s anti-intellectual or immature to love a day created to celebrate love. In saying that, I recognise that Valentine’s Day’s origins (St Valentine marrying Christians in secret, no less!) have been obscured by the marketer’s holy trinity of bribery, guilt, and shame.

This is what most people object to, I think. Marketers would have us believe that you have one shot at telling someone that you love her, and you’d better do it with diamonds, champagne, sonnets, calligraphy, and white unicorns. Or else. There can be immense pressure to “get it right” and to say “I love you” in the most extravagant way possible. Bigger is always better, right?

And then there’s the reality of having an empty mailbox on Valentine’s Day. Been there. Done that. I even have the tee-shirt. It says: Valentine’s Day Sucks Monkey Balls. When you feel alone in the world, there’s nothing like a holiday to make you feel even more miserable. I once had to attend an event on Valentine’s Day—alone—where I had to interact with my ex-partner and his new partner. Yep. Monkey’s Balls.

And finally, there’s the argument—circulated while swilling red wine and eating canapés—that somehow Valentine’s Day is a day for fools, for the less enlightened, for those incapable of expressing love on a daily basis. Why should there be day in which we are required to say “I love you?” Isn’t it better to say it freely and often?

This is an attractive argument. Every day should be a celebration of the goodness and love in our lives. If that were so, then there would never be a need for a sanctioned day of love. I agree that we should tell our friends and lovers that we love them all of the time. In that sense, every day should (and can) be Valentine’s Day.

The reality, though, is that we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day every day. Or even most days. Instead, our days get caught in minutia’s nets of unfolded laundry and broken dishwashers and car repairs. We maintain. We rarely celebrate.

It’s like having the good china that you only use when company comes over. That’s the way we sometimes treat love. Only when company is coming do we say, “You know what? I really love you and here’s how I’m going to express that in a tangible way.” It can be as simple as the words themselves, or a card, a favourite meal, a bauble, or even a white unicorn. The medium of expression is far less important than the actual expression.

This is not limited to lovers and partners. When is the last time we collectively told our friends that we love them and that their support and love mean the world to us?

And then there are the loves that lurk in the shadows. There’s the trite saying that only fools rush in, but maybe like a tall glass (or three) of beer, Valentine’s Day is a big dose of liquid courage. I have a very good friend who sent the girl he’d mooned over for two years the biggest, gaudiest Valentine’s Day card ever possibly conceived. Valentine’s Day was the catalyst that got him to finally say to her, “I really dig you. I hope you dig me, too.”

You know what happened? She didn’t dig him back.

Major. Monkey’s. Balls.

“A ha!” I hear the Valentine’s Day naysayers proclaiming. “This is proof of the evilness of Valentine’s Day!”

Quite the reverse, I think. Yeah, he took a chance and he crashed and burned big time, but the simple act of taking that step made him realise he could take it again. And again. And again. He wouldn’t have taken the step except for the fact that there was a day in which all romantic foolishness, sentiment, and risk were licensed, encouraged, and forgiven.

I like a day that helps me remember what I love most about my partner, my friends, my family. I like a day that reminds me to stop, listen, and love, and most importantly, to share that with the people in my life.