Having My Cake…and Being Stressed Out, Too?

I feel sad, angry, and helpless about so much: fires blazing across Northern California, coronavirus raging on, friends who are going through tough times, ongoing fights for black lives…

I sit at my kitchen table each day and try to focus on work but it feels increasingly trivial. I take meetings in between reading articles about the latest fire destruction and the updated coronavirus death toll, I toggle between my work email where I respond to colleagues and my iMessage where I respond to worried friends, and I tinker with presentations while my mind wanders to the world outside of my computer screen.

Amidst all of this, Thomas and I celebrated our third anniversary. It felt both selfish and necessary. Taking the time to celebrate our love sent me into a spiral of self-critical thoughts: You’re so selfish, It’s unfair that you have so much and others have so little, How can you justify spending time to cook a nice dinner together when the world is burning and workers are sacrificing their health to put this food on your plate? But it also filled me with love and gratitude for everything I have, and with continued strength to be there for others who don’t have as much.

As I’m typing this and trying to explain the paradox of feelings I’ve encountered over the past weeks and months, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote comes to mind: “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”

I had always assumed he was referring to academic or philosophical intelligence but in the process of googling his exact words I finally read the context in which they were written:

Before I go on with this short history let me make a general observation—the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise. This philosophy fitted on to my early adult life, when I saw the improbable, the implausible, often the “impossible” come true.

I had never read that following sentence: “One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

Huh. Maybe the kind of intelligence he was referring to has more to do with emotion than I originally thought. While I used to interpret the quote as “make sure to think critically and continuously challenge your beliefs,” his subsequent example of simultaneous hopelessness and determination feels much more relevant to my current emotional state.

(Does being in constant possession of conflicting emotions make me…emotionally intelligent? Ha????)

Either way, as I read his message today, sitting in the kitchen as clouds of smoke hover outside our window, it provides me with a much-needed dose of optimism and determination. Maybe I can make more of a difference than I thought even when things seem contradictory or wrong. Maybe feeling many things at once is a strength – or, if nothing else, the reality of human nature. But how can I hold everything at once without feeling overwhelmed, confused, or paralyzed? (It’s too bad F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t answer that question in his next paragraph.)

Anyway, here are some pictures of the dinner I made to celebrate our anniversary on Wednesday (what’s the point of having a blog if not to brag about a meal you cooked?):

“When in doubt, eat strawberry cake.” -F. Scott Fitzgerald, probably, at some point.

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