Back in my college days, I was a barista at ye olde Starbucks, pulling shots and, more often than not, punches (more on this later). All in all, it was a pretty decent job. Pretty decent job is high praise from me, since I abhor working for anyone but myself, especially major corporations (I say this fully acknowledging that my publishers are, in fact, major corporations, but since I write books with kissing and magic in them and I do so in the comfort of homes of my choosing–and in pajamas, no less–I feel we’ve reached an accord).
Aside from the opening shift and people who wanted extra, extra, extra caramel on their caramel frappucchinos, the thing I hated most about working at Starbucks was their “Just Say Yes” policy. From a lazy Internet search, it appears they still have it and I am going here on record to say that it freaking BLOWS. In short, the impression I was given in training and while working there was that no matter what a customer requested, we were to just say yes. Thank the stars above no one was skeezy enough to take this to the next level and #MeToo moment me, but what this policy did was two major things: 1. It gave customers an excuse to be wankers (hence, pulling punches) and 2. It made employees feel like doormat cogs-in-a-wheel (which is too bad, because, all in all, Starbucks generally treats its employees far better than most corporations do).
The Just Say Yes policy reinforced one of the things in our culture that I think is most dangerous to our creativity (aha! she is coming to the point!): it makes us too comfortable. See, when you live in a Just Say Yes world, everything is Just So. It’s how you want it. How many times do we see advertising for bespoke this and that, products and services that are insanely customizable, everything catered to fit your exact needs? In the wealthy West, we are living in a world that is turning us all into Goldilocks.
And Goldilocks is annoying AF, amirite? This porridge is too hot, this one’s too cold, this chair’s too big…Never mind that she is a home invader who is spreading her germs all over what is undoubtedly a perfectly good breakfast.
If you’re not familiar with the story of the Buddha, this is what his life was like, before he got woke. His family created a Just Say Yes policy for everyone in the palace (he was a prince, re: check out Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha). They didn’t want him to have the slightest inkling of suffering, so there was no discomfort allowed whatsoever. Everything was just as he wanted it.
And the Buddha got hella bored.
Because, the truth is, the thorns in our sides are what keeps things interesting. They keep us awake and in the game. But the Buddha had this endless parade of perfection lulling him into this hazy gluttony that led to a niggling feeling inside him: everything was supposedly perfect, but something wasn’t quite right.
Cut to him sneaking off to see what was up in the real world. Instead of being repulsed by the suffering and hardship he saw, by death and sickness and poverty, he leaned into it. He actually rejected his cosy life and sought out discomfort and this choice is what ultimately led to his awakening.
Here’s the kicker: his enlightenment came from saying yes. Yes to discomfort. Yes to whatever the present moment is offering up. Yes to things not being just so. It’s a paradox: we get what we want–clarity, fulfillment, purpose–when we don’t get what we want.
How I’m Learning To Just Say Yes
As many of you know, I’ve embarked on what is to be at least a year-long adventure of housesitting abroad. This means that I will be living in other people’s houses, other people’s countries, for the foreseeable future, with only a few pieces of luggage to hold my worldly belongings.
Gone is my office, with it’s perfect ergonomic set-up, inspiring artwork on the walls, and bookshelf stuffed full of my creativity books. Gone is my French press and my beloved Pampered Chef vegetable steamer and my smoothie-making Bullet. Gone is my closet and all the shoes and accessories and this and that to create the exact outfit I want. Gone is my bed and my favorite coffeehouses and my NYC subway system and knowing the language of the country I’m in and cell phone plan and my reliable Internet and my health insurance and my car that I just paid off and my friends who live a subway ride away and Amazon Prime Free 2-Day Shipping and Whole Foods and those particular sparkling waters I like and, horror of horrors, GONE IS MEXICAN FOOD.
And it’s okay.
I’m two weeks out of NYC. It’s been a combo of road-tripping and visiting family and now we’re ensconced in a borrowed condo for a month as we prepare to go to our first housesitting stop in France. I’m already learning to do without certain creature comforts–some silly, some not so silly. For instance: beginning in August, we will no longer have decent health insurance. This has resulted in me hoarding my migraine medication and several trips to my neurologist (for those curious, we’re starting a separate blog soon about this housesitting adventure and I’ll go into all these details there – check out our Insta for updates and pics). A silly thing: there are various kitchen items we’re without, which makes it interesting when you’re halfway through cooking a soup, only to realize the place you’re cooking said soup in does not have any ladels. Or soup pots.
What the discomfort–silly and not silly–and uncertainty and out of my usual-ness does is that it takes me out of this culture I’ve grown accustomed to, where I can have what I want, exactly as I want it, when I want it. It’s teaching me patience–something we writers can never have enough of–and it’s teaching me to pivot as needed (something always necessary as a novelist because PLOT TWISTS! and wily characters who don’t listen to their authors). It’s teaching me to be okay when things don’t go the way I planned and it forces me to be in the present a lot more. I have to be more aware–you can’t slip into the coma of your everyday life when your everyday life is getting switched up on the regular.
So I’m saying YES. Oui! Ja, dahling. To all of it. The great, the not-so-great. The weird, the frustrating, the wonderful. The uncomfortable. The not-ideal. The astounding. I’m saying yes to not having my own little writing nook, but instead gaining a great view. I’m saying yes to not having all the clothes and books and things I love at hand, and also yes to the lightness in me that brings. I’m saying yes to goodbyes. And to hellos. To new projects and ideas and ways of thinking and being and doing.
I’m really, in the end, saying yes to my own life. To discovering a new way to be an artist. To see how to make living my life as a full-time creative work, however difficult and strange that might sometimes be.
Yes, yes, yes.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
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