“It is what it is”. (Aarghhhhh….)

This phrase makes me wince, screw my mouth up in disgust and want to throw a hissy-fit. I decided to think about this phrase in order to figure out why it causes such a violent action in me.

Taking the phrase simply as it states, it becomes redundant, stating the obvious and a waste of breath.

Lets see how this plays out: Here is a rock. It is a rock and not a pizza. Here is a pizza. It is a pizza not a rock. Therefore a rock is a rock, and a pizza is a pizza. So when use the term / word: rock (or pizza) we already know what it is. That is why we learn vocabulary – in order to know what it is that it is! Simple.

However, the above words identify a whole family of words linked to “rock” or”pizza”. Therefore, as an umbrella term these words work well. But sometimes we need more description to answer queries we may have that provide greater levels of detail.

We have a rock. We have an igneous rock (how is it formed?); We have a meteorite rock (Where is it from?) We have a precious stone (what is it’s appearance and value?) We have a standing stone. (What was / is it used for?)

A rock!!
How was it formed? How is it categorized? Volcano – Igneous – Basalt
Where is it from? Outer Space – Meteorite
What is it’s appearance? Uncut, rough emerald from Zambia
What is it’s value?
A beautiful oval cut 2.78 carat Zambian Emerald (£741 in 2005)
What is the rock’s Spiritual / Religious / Historical function?
Standing Stones – Ring of Brodgar, Orkney. It dates from 2000 – 2500 BC, probably used for religious rituals (maybe astronomy). This is the stone that was struck by lightning and split it in two, on 5th June (1970) – the day and month of my birthday!

In spite of all the possible combinations of type, the naming of categories and descriptions; at the end of the day they are all “what they are”, It is an Emerald. It is not basalt. It is a meteorite from space. It is not a 5000 year old standing stone. But they all fall under the umbrella of “rock”.

Similarly we can categorise and give descriptions and names that fall under the umbrella “Pizza”. (Where from? What does it consist of? Is it savoury or sweet? and so on.)

Traditional Italian Pizza.
Weird Pizza No 1. (Yuck!)
A Vegan pizza.
Weird Pizza No 2 (Yuck, yuck!)

Once again, a Vegan Pizza is not one with meat. An Italian Pizza is traditional and not from the USA. And I certainly do not imagine my pizza having a hamburger on top!! And I would know it would have that on top because according to the name and description – (Yup…..wait for it….) – “It is what it is”

I tried to think of something that stands alone, and has only one version of itself. This seems to be virtually impossible. The closest I have found is this object:

Any Idea??? (Only oldies will have a chance at guessing!)

It is a Typewriter Eraser!! It seems to have no variations of its shape and design. I can only find two colours and two makers (Faber-Castell and Eberhard). There is a renowned American sculptor – Claes Oldenburg who created large, soft sculptures of everyday objects. One of his earlier and very successful creation was of a Typewriter Eraser. It was sold in 1977 for $1,085,000 by Christies.

Claes Oldenburg – “Typewriter Eraser” Sculpture

In spite of its peculiarity, guess what? It is what it is!

I am aware that this is all very practical and worldly. So I need to look at it in other ways to fathom my discontent with the phrase.

Where did it originate from? And in what context?

According to the New York Times, the phrase it is what it is appeared as early as an 1949 article by J.E. Lawrence in The Nebraska State Journal. Lawrence used the phrase when describing the difficulty faced during frontier-era life in Nebraska:

“New land is harsh, and vigorous, and sturdy. It scorns evidence of weakness. There is nothing of sham or hypocrisy in it. It is what it is, without apology.”

However, it was not used much until 2004 (USA Today article by Gary Mihoces), mostly in relation to sport and losing. I suppose that this is a means of deflecting the anguish of losing – and sports is extremely competitive. It just “isn’t on to lose. Nowadays, with the advent of video tapes, TV, and now the 3rd” referee to provide slow motion, vital decisions that the human eye cannot detect (especially with a cricket ball travelling at over 100 km per hour); it enables deep critique of the match and highlights of areas to improve. Therefore, whilst there may have been some room in the past for designating the loss of an important match somewhat to fate, or the referee; nowadays there is ample opportunity to study the errors made in order to avoid them in the next match.

And here comes my conflict:

The situation, circumstance, or outcome has already happened or  been decided or established, so it must be accepted even if it is  undesirable. Look, we lost the game, but it is what it is. All we can do is work  even harder for the next one.

Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

I cannot get away from my emotion that this diverts and sidetracks attention away from reality, and more importantly, from accepting the truth of the event. To me, it is like a shrug “Nothing to do with me”; “So what”; “why bother – it is already finished”; “it can’t be changed, so forget it”; etc…

Whilst in many situations this may not be significant (but in my eyes it still is), it can become deadly – mentally, physically and politically. I found the following conversation on https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/the-stupidity-of-it-is-what-it-is.html:

Major Steadman to offer his perspective on leadership and the phrase “It is what it is.” The words that follow are all his.

In 2007, I arrived in Baghdad as the commander of an Army Infantry company totaling 300 Soldiers. As I spent time with the unit we were replacing, I noticed they were quite fond of a phrase I hadn’t heard yet.

“This Iraqi Army unit can’t show up to an operation on time, but it is what it is.”

“We’ve got a small outpost here, so parking will be tight. It is what it is.”

“We took a lot of casualties in this area, so you should be prepared for that. It is what it is.”

The unit used the phrase to explain (or excuse) action and inaction, misfortune and blessing, success and failure. It is what it is had evolved from words to mindset and had permeated the unit’s culture.

I am sure that the “lot of casualties” would not feel any better knowing that they are insignificantly “it is what it is”. Their lives are in tatters, they may have severe physical and mental disabilities (definitly some mental like PTSD); it will affect their future – jobs, family, relationships. And I am being told to prpeare for lots of casualties????????? Shoudn’t we “prepare” a strategy whereby we reduce casulties???? Shouldnt we question why there are casulties? How can we prevent them? Should we try negotian? Why are we figthing? It is that important that we invade a country? Is it important enough to reisk death? And what about the civilians caught in the cross fire – maimed, forced to flee their homes, poverty stricken and many dead. I saw a horrendous story on the news last night whereby a Syrian refugee mother had lost SIX sons, and now had to single handedly raise SIXTEEN grandchildren. No money, little food, and the 12 year old working 12 hour shifts as a mechanic’s apprentice; all for the equivalent of £3.

Is this “What it is”? Should the 12 year old abandon all his dreams of going to school in order to learn to read and write? How long can he manage to help the family? Will his brother (who has lost a leg, sight, hearing and is mute) survive with no medical care? Will his grandmother cope?

Is this “What it is”? Why should anyone bother to try when they can get aaway with easly absolving the situation (like the catholics provide in confession)/ by saying “it is what it is”? The phrase allows people to ignore their responsibilities; to pretend all is OK; to evade facing the truth; to gloss over incidents whereby the person/s cannot manage to come up with a solution or be creative. And many more examples could be listed.

It is defeatist. It is vague. It allows for failure to provide solutions. It can be a reply to a question that the person/s do not have the answer, or the willingness to work on an answer. It suggests apathy and lack of empathy. It can be disdainful and hurtful.

We could say:

It is what you accept!

But I do not accept the phrase into my language. It is not. I shall carry on cringing when I hear it. And if my loved ones use it on me, I shall be tempted to use the other alternative to “It is what it is”:

Fuck It! (apologies for the swear word)

Thunder and Chimes of Freedom

I love thunder storms (those that are not too dangerous.) Unusually for Scotland, on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning, I lay cozily wrapped up in bed listening to the rumble, tumble and echoes rolling around the skies. Not claps, or crashes, or booms; and especially not “roaring like a lion”. Anyone who has heard a lion roar, will realize that it is more of grunting leading up to roar sound – which is absolutely nothing like thunder. This thunder was like sound-waves bouncing off clouds, hillsides and other obstacles . The sound was dulled and distorted by distance. Brontide.

The rain was not a downpour or pelting. It was also not drizzle. It was steady and comforting. The kind of rain, that if it were during a weekend, I would cuddle up with my daughters under a warm duvet. Popcorn and chocolate. Hot mugs of tea. Watching movies – land of the Dinosaurs; then Disney princesses (Ariel, Pocahontas, Yasmin); then High School musical (Aarghhhhhh), Lindsay Lohan and Hannah Montana; Glee (I must admit to being a fan) and then Step up dancing. All these (videos and then DVD – before streaming etc.) watched many times over and over and over!

I lay there listening, content (for a few minutes at least), and my mind drifted towards memories of past thunder storms I had witnessed. In Africa the storms normally mushroom in the late afternoon, when the heat has worn you down and the earth shimmers into mirages. I can always feel the escalation of the storm brew as a tension in my upper body and a growing headache. But when the storm breaks I am instantly pain free, refreshed, wallowing in that amazing smell that erupts from the red soil telling you that I am happy – I am nourished – now I can grow. I believe there is a word for this – petrichor.

I found some more wonderful words pertaining to thunder

Definitely me!!
Also me!!

Each Cumulonimbus cloud creates its own storm that lashes down rain in a path. It is even possible to see the edge of the rain. I remember running into the rain, through it and out into the sun on the other side (as a child in Zambia).

Another time I was Luangwa Valley (my most favourite place in the world) sitting on the bank of the river in hot sunshine. We were glued to the sight of black clouds with shards of electric energy striking furiously at the ground. The thunder was frequent and the sound intense. It was better than any firework display that I have seen. It was on the other side of the river maybe 1 km away. As kids say – “How cool is that!”

Luangwa River, Zambia

Much later on, in South Africa, was another memorable storm. The girls and I had been camping up the coast, but there had been so much rain that turned everything into mud – we had to take our shoes off to walk through the mud to the toilet. After a few days of this we gave up, packed up and headed for home in my little red car which even had things packed into the spare wheel. It was eerie and very very still. Oppressively silent – no birds or insects. The air felt thick, like walking through butternut squash soup. It was extremely weird and unpleasant. I sat down outside and observed in the distance a wall of black cloud. Then flashes of gold. Then crashes of thunder. The time difference between the two was not much, but it kept on getting less and less. By this time I started to realise how quickly the storm was moving. A few stray clouds that had remained in front of the mass sped by above so quickly I could hardly register it. A strange sound – hard to describe as it was the sort of sound you would not have noticed had the world not been so silent.

Then – chaos, the wind hit, no slammed, thumped, hurled me off my chair, threw the doors shut – or against the wall. I swear the whole house rattled. There was suddenly so much air that it was too much to breathe. And noisy – a wind noise – a whirl wind noise – an ominous noise.

It felt like ages, but was probably only a couple of minutes. Then we were covered by the cloud mass, rain and lightning. But this seemed calm and quiet after the previous pandemonium. So I carried on sitting outside (under shelter) and enjoyed the rest of the performance. And then we had a lovely braai.

For fun:

Rain – Imvula (Xhosa): Mvula (Nyanga – Zambian): reen (Afrikaans): Regen (German); uisge (Scots Celtic)

Thunder – indudumo (Xhosa): bingu (Nyanga): donderweer (Afrikaans): Donner (German): tairneanach (Scots Celtic)

Whilst thinking about thunder, I came across the following song by Bob Dylan:

Chimes Of Freedom

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden as the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the poet an the painter far behind his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Even though a clouds’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed
An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An’ for each unharmfull, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.

Isn’t that absolutely wonderful. I think that it is extremely relevant to today’s mess of a world. I think I shall come back to look at this in more detail.

But I think that is enough of thundering for now!

Memento Mori (Remember you must die) Part I

Memento Mori” : it sounds scary, doesn’t it? It sounds morbid, doesn’t it?

But it is not. It is a cornerstone of the Stoics, and one that I feel is appropriate today whilst death has been forced into the daily consciousness due to Covid-19. It is no longer this abstract concept that no one wants to mention, or even think about. If a grandparent wishes to make plans for their death and their estate, it is seen as “unseemly”, “rude”, a “jinx”. It belongs to the realm of “we don’t speak of these (nasty) things”.

In the films, TV shows and books, death is portrayed in many ways. Very often the family or lover stands next to the bed as the last words are spoken (of course very profound), the last gasp of breath and the head lolls to the side – peaceful and content. Or there are scenes of angels hovering to lead the dearly departed to the heavens above (in Christian Countries that is). Or there are bright lights and tunnels. Harry Potter even had Kings Cross Underground station all gleaming white!

People suddenly seem to become all knowing, wise, compassionate and kind when they die; regardless of their true character. I do not wish to offend, or seem callous – but I am tired of the same characteristics that are used to eulogise the just departed – whether they have been killed in an accident, murdered, die of awful diseases (like cancer), die of problems arising from illness (especially sepsis and septic shock – I will explore these further at some point), die of deadly viral infections (Covid, Flu, etc.) and those who die by suicide. The suicide squad tend to be the anomaly in the descriptions of those that have “passed” (when did that word appear?)- another way in which to negate the idea of death. If you think about it, passed implies the person has moved on – which requires a place to start and a place to go to. It implies that we are just travelling through our life in order to go somewhere. If you are religious this could be seen as appropriate in your faith. However, it is inappropriate for those that do not have beliefs in heaven (Valhalla and others).

I got side tracked there. Suicide confounds, distresses, and confuses. It seems to automatically turn on the guilt (or at least pretence of guilt). It forces, sharply and annoyingly, one to face the reality of death. It cannot be disguised under names of illness or disease; tragic accident (always someone else’s fault of course); “act of God” such as hurricanes and tsunamis; corruption (e.g. Beirut); human rights murders and genocide.

It is what it is! (to turn the orange man overseas into a positive phrase). Death is death. That is it. You live, and one day you die. There are many ways we can die. Many reasons why. The “poor souls” who killed themselves illuminate this reality. Whilst it goes against the moral grain to do this (depending what you believe – you either go to hell or to heaven plus; and even agnostically), suicide shows that their life is in so much pain that they can no longer bear it. They do not commit this act to die, but to escape their emotions. They do not do this to anger anyone or make them “feel sorry” or regret their actions. It is because of this unbelievable anguish and despair. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of those left behind (not all) could have helped. Could have cared. Could have taken the time? Could have tried? In fact, could at least have tried. Unfortunately so many don’t – regardless if it is their colleague, friend or family. I think there quite a number of reasons why they don’t (this topic can be for another time). But there is always some level of responsibility they must acknowledge.

Back to the character speeches when someone has died. These are the standard phrases that I have heard in nearly every case. He was a wonderful father / son/ colleague … She always had time for others. He always put others first. She was so kind and thoughtful. There was nothing he wouldn’t do. She was always cheerful. Everybody loved him. She was a friend to so many people and touched so many lives in so many different ways. A reliable, hard-working, kind and considerate man. But despite his worsening illness, he never grumbled or complained about his sometimes obvious discomfort, a rare virtue in any man. She was a friend to so many people and touched so many lives in so many different ways. He had a great sense of humour,  privileged to know him. A genuine, sincere, friendly fun loving lady. She was a warm, loving, generous, compassionate, understanding mother and dear friend to you all. Etc…. Etc…. Etc…. Etc…

I think that I must be living on a parallel universe. My world does not exist of all these most amazing human beings. Just listening to these makes me feel totally inadequate. I might want to, and try to be a perfect person – but don’t think I will achieve this saintly state of being. In fact, although I know quite a lot of wonderful people that I admire and love – they do not qualify for the phrases above. I know many more people who are decent, even more who can be decent. Some who are very questionable and some whom I would use the word “evil” to describe.

I am sure there are ways to state imperfections as a realisation of the person’s character in a non belittling manner. I can easily imagine a description of me including “she was not good at communication” (I am terrible); “she had Bipolar disorder and as such became depressed which could be hard to cope with.”; “Although she was awful at remembering birthdays, she cared deeply about her friends”.

Watch the news press conferences and you can see what I mean.

It feeds into this fear of death. We must say nice things – even if they are not true. We must carry on the pretence that “they” can hear us from their ethereal abode. We must leave an excellent perception of them in everyone’s lives. This is amusing as we can presume that people who will have known the deceased, actually knew that person, knew their pros and cons and foibles. So why make it up??

I had a near death experience. I think that I only knew about it because I lived. If I had died I would have “passed (haha)” with no knowledge at all. I would quite simply have ceased to exist. I cannot remember anything for about 2 weeks (I don’t know exactly). Last thing I recall was feel unwell in bed in my flat and hearing someone knocking. I think I slid across the floor on a pillow (my watch face is totally scratched., but no idea if I ever reached it. Next thing I weaved in and out of consciousness for another 10 days or so. But, I was aware of a sensation – when I was at my worst (not expected to survive).

My conclusions are: If you are in hospital it doesn’t hurt to die, you just do. There are no bells and whistles, angels or demons. It makes no distinction between people. You cannot “bribe” death to leave you alone.

Above all else it was this soft, silky, light, supportive cocoon of a warm light yellow. I have looked on the web, in my art books, my mums gardening magazines – everywhere. But I cannot find that exact shade of yellow. If that is death – I don’t mind it.