It's coming.



I miss Memphis in November. 

When my ancestors came over from England and Ireland they all seemed to somehow target Memphis, TN.   It’s odd but true.  I like to think it has something to do with the music and food but who can know what drew them all there.  What I do know is they all did seem to wind up there and throughout the rest of Tennessee.  So as a child, every Thanksgiving we’d go up to Memphis for our annual family reunion.  I remember the family, sure.  I mean somewhat.  I was quite young so only certain aspects stand out to me.  One person in particular stands out the most. 

When my mother’s cousin Gerald was 19 yrs old he was sunbathing on the roof of the Methodist Wesleyan building in downtown Memphis and somehow managed to fall off.  Thus he spent the rest of his life paralyzed from the waist down.  This didn’t limit his musical abilities though as he simply played that incredible Memphis swing piano while sitting in his wheelchair. 

Bless Gerald’s heart, at the family reunions I made it my mission to keep him at the piano.  Being that these were family reunions – key being to reunite and catch up with family - I’m sure he wanted to enjoy a time of conversation.  I didn’t want that though - I wanted him to play the piano.  I was a sweet child – to the core I was sweet.  But I was undoubtedly strong willed.  On several occasions I would get behind his wheelchair and try to push him over to the piano by myself.  He just wasn’t going fast enough.  Needless to say I ultimately resigned to simply asking again but this time in a more persistently polite manner. 

You don’t understand the way Gerald sang and played the piano.  There was something about it.  You couldn’t witness him make music without smiling and wanting to make music too, that or dance.  He was so boisterous.  Music emanated from his entire chest cavity.  I remember being fascinated by the way his fingers would slap the keys sideways at lightning speeds.  I would lean over the piano and be mesmerized by the fact that my eyes couldn’t keep up with which keys his fingers were hitting and when.  But I’d try.  If I wasn’t dancing, I’d either be standing beside that upright piano hypnotized by his playing or I’d be sitting on his lap.  I much preferred sitting on his lap though as it was a great deal more fun.  His broad chest would vibrate against my back as he’d belt out whatever song he happened to sing next.  Everything was always exciting with Gerald. 

Other than Gerald, these reunions were somewhat odd in their own right.  But I suppose, what family reunion isn’t.  There was no bickering or fighting that I can ever remember.  The majority of these relatives were from British stock.  So yeah, very even-keeled.  Even-keeled while being extremely kind and loving.  Again, odd though, as the reunions were held in the same place every year – at The Somerville Bank & Trust Company.  As a child this never seemed odd to me.  But looking back, we had our family reunion in a bank every year?  Okay.  Sure.  It never seemed like a bank to me.  It seemed like an unending area of which I could investigate.  Every year I would climb up on a counter in the kitchen area and insert one lone dinner roll into the air duct above the sink.  It was my hope that when I came back to check on it the following year, my little science experiment would somehow have yielded mind blowing results of what happens to a dinner roll when left alone for roughly 365 days.  Each year I had big hopes for this discovery, though upon my return the following year, the decaying dinner roll was never there waiting on me.  That didn’t stop me though, maybe this would be the year that the cleaning crew would leave my experiments alone.  It was that or finding creative ways to dodge the onslaught of familial cheek pinches.  Yes, yes, I was a remarkably cute child.  I know.  I mean can you blame them.  Though this side of seven yrs old, I can’t blame them, at the age of seven I had no desire to re-meet the same relatives that I had met countless times before.  Children age rapidly, I get it.  I didn’t so much mind them not remembering me.  I minded them getting so excited upon that moment of epiphany when they never failed to unleash an “OH!  You’re Janice’s baby!  You look just like your mama!  Well aren’t you just!... Look at her honey!  Look at who this little one is!”  Yes, I looked just like my mama and truth be told I still do.  But even now just thinking about the way their voices would go up an octave or two into that high-pitched area of excitement, still makes my legs kinda go numb.  It would make me incredibly uncomfortable as a child.  I mean what do you say to someone who is getting so excited by how much your face looks like someone else’s face?  It’s an odd social trainwreck.  You might not think so but to my young literal brain it always made me very uncomfortable.  But we’re talking about why I miss Memphis in November, not facial examinations.  Stay on track Laura Katherine.

Memphis has a very distinct color in the winter.  Once winter rolls in, everything in the area immediately becomes more muted and the sky gets a white-gray haze to it.  It’s something that the Instagrams of the world continually attempt to fabricate.  But for Memphis it’s a very real thing, and I lived it.  Things begin to look more industrial and there’s a feel of apathetic drear in certain areas of town.  But not in downtown Memphis. True the filter was still that white-gray film but the Christmas lights strung from tree to tree lining the boulevards were quite the sight.  I don’t know if it’s just my childhood memory being candy-coated but as I recall, jazz music seemed to always be playing no matter where we went.   And it wasn’t just the dank nightclub jazz, there was that too.  The jazz I remember being so prevalent was the high stakes jazz.  The regal jazz – elite even – the kind of jazz that doesn’t need your approval because true class can’t be quantified.  But as a child visiting Memphis, everything seemed regal to me.  Even the dreary parts.

I always loved the day after Thanksgiving most.  We’d be driving back to Mississippi and from the backseat I’d ask my mother if it was really now officially Christmas time.  I remember as a young child hearing them announce on the radio that it was now the Christmas season and being fascinated by how the passing of one single day into another somehow magically initiated the Christmas season all over the world.  That people everywhere, all at the same time, knew that we were now all in the official counting down to Christmas.  I loved nothing but my family more than Christmas time… well maybe the Christmas carols blaring through radios and televisions.  Coca-Cola commercials?  Oh yes and some Campbell Soup commercials too, anything to herald in the Christmas season even a bit more was a good, good thing to me.  There was and still is something that I find deeply moving about Christmas time.  It being a time to celebrate the birth of our Messiah might have a good bit to do with it… combine that with family and nostalgic music?  Yeah, I’m everywhere and inside that one.  And as a child I was too… pure Americana I tell you.

Autumn meant something to me.  Autumn meant seasons changing and holidays coming.  And I sense that now.  It’s the end of July.  Next comes August and before you know it we’ll be through September.  Then it will be fall.  Then the cozy feeling will start to set in.  I’ve learned now to not fight it.  Just accept it as the beautiful thing that it is.  It’s this same beautiful thing that enchanted me as a child visiting Memphis.  The feeling that something big was around the corner.  Something big and something filled with an all encompassing comfort.  And it’s that comfort I expectantly look for now.
It's no secret that I'm rather intrigued by the universe.  And no I don't mean "the universe" as in the new PC term for God.  I mean the universe, you know stars and bangs and what not.  Well today that affinity managed to somewhat backfire on me.  

I love outer space for several reasons.  I enjoy reading about galaxy formations, wild phenomena that everyone loves to attempt to explain yet everyone knows they truly have no real concrete understanding of, and I really like learning about dark matter.  Oddly enough, I've found that for me,  by understanding what little I can understand about both the theoretical formation of our universe and all the little parts in between, I've found that somehow that makes what's going on down here make more sense to me,  metaphorical mirrors if you will.  I love it.  And because I love it, I spend a large amount of time reading astronomy material and playing with the little star gazing apps on my phone that can surely do far more than I require of them.  Oh they chart stars and give precise numerical data on things I don’t quite understand yet.  But that doesn’t stop me from spinning the night sky and reading all about Neptune’s moons.  And these lovely little apps make this possible for me.  

Well I downloaded a new app that, if I’m honest has left a little to be desired.  Though everyone raved about how great it was (everyone being the faceless App Store users who for some reason at 11:00 at night I thought it wise to trust).  The app is solely dedicated to the moon.  Right off I knew this was likely to be a problem.  The moon has always seemed rather boring to me.  It’s a small rock out there dependent upon us… like our little boring friend in the sky that’s just waiting for us to do something exciting because nothing ever happens on the moon.  The moon doesn’t do anything.  It only pretends to give off light yet it doesn’t even do that well - we all know it’s really the sun’s light that it’s reflecting.  It has no atmosphere and the moon dirt, if it gets on you it basically smothers you.  It’s a shitty little rock.  Well maybe “shitty little rock” is a tad harsh.  It’s the moon.  Nothing more, nothing less.  It’s the moon.  

All that being said, I should have probably not downloaded the moon app.  But I did.  I figured, hey, I’ll branch out a bit.  It wouldn’t hurt me to learn more about our nearest neighbor.  So I downloaded it and found that quite similarly to the moon, the app’s interface was both boring and uneventful.  However, I spotted one cool feature: it allows you to set timer notifications for all the new and full moon phases – now here’s something halfway practical.  It might be nice to pay more attention to the phases of the moon with regards to earthly activities.  Nothing big just something to mildly entertain myself with.  So I set a couple of timers and thought nothing of it.  This was last week sometime.

Well at about 6:00 this morning that timer went off and boy did it go off.  It didn’t just chime a harmonious little “good morning, there’s a full moon” notification.  I awoke to Armstrong gargling about one small step for man and a giant leap for mankind being blasted through my computer speakers.  Now you tell me how you would feel if you woke up to this blasting into your eardrums:

One small step for man....(click)

I’d like to tell you that I handled the situation with grace, merely shrugging off the disturbance and rolling over to turn it off.  But no, no of course that’s not what I did.  I might as well have sprouted wings and flown right off of my bed.  His voice was so loud, and so out of nowhere that for a split second I honestly thought something remarkable had happened and I was getting some sort of miraculous late breaking solar system news update.  It’s amazing how the mind works.  My brain immediately associated the famous clip as being related to outer space, yet I was still halfway in dreamland to the point that I truly thought “this is big…. They’ve found something new and big in outer space and it’s going to be wonderful!  It’s the 1950’s all over again!”   I swear it was like Neil Armstrong was landing on my bed.  I’m sure between that and me doing all but throw my phone in protest, poor Phitty Kitty and Shugahboo were scared half to death – mommy’s gone and lost her mind.  But I hadn’t lost my mind.  I had simply opted to download a moon app.  A moon app that since this morning’s boisterous wake up call, has sent me not one but two more full moon notifications.  For some reason the makers of this app really, really want me to know that there’s a full moon tomorrow.  I could have easily settled for them adding it to my google calendar or something.  I mean there’s no need to go overboard.  It’s just the moon.

No Title


Things get distorted sometimes.
They start one way and end up another.  We all have measuring sticks we use throughout our lives.
This is one of those.
One of those times that I pretty much keep my stick out in an attempt to somewhat keep my bearings.  Not much is quite as it appears.  It never is.  
But when you get still, there is always a constant hum.  And try as you might that beast never silences.  It’s always right behind your eyelids, waiting for the moment you close your eyes so it can flash its piercing reminder.  A truth no matter how hard you strive.  It’s neither good nor bad.  I’ve settled comfortably on that.  It is what it is.  But constant is something that it could never stop being.  

Assumptions are always made.  Every time.  We all do it.  Misplaced concepts and constructs specifically formulated to flow optimally through our chosen frame of consciousness.  Deception is rarely considered until it’s too late.  Not too late to rotate but too late to undo.  It’s futile to attempt to undo.  One must simply do different. 

I remember.



It’s thundering in San Francisco.
It never thunders in San Francisco.  
It thunders in Mississippi.  A lot.
I’ve always loved thunder.  The rain I could do without; but thunder and lightning, I always loved that.  Before moving out here, I guess I took for granted that other parts of the country don’t have thunder.  As strange as it sounds, I’d never known a time where months would go by without hearing or seeing it.  So I didn’t know what a gaping hole it would leave when months and years did go by.

I wouldn't consider myself to be the outdoorsy type.  
As my friend Amy would say, “I’m an indoor kitty.”  Thus, I’m not typically known for going out into nature and becoming one with it.  That being said, I think I might want to reconsider.  Tonight, as I laid on my bed, my entire apartment filled with light followed by a long lasting boom.  The kind of boom that rattled my chest.  Other than the rattling, everything got still.  I’d forgotten what it felt like, how electrically charging and grounding it feels.  It’s like the sky gets a voice and spontaneously decides to use it in the most garish of ways.  I’d forgotten.

I’d forgotten, honestly, that’s there’s really even any nature left at all.  I see concrete.  I see cement.  I see bricks.  And all of these things are beautiful, you understand.  I love them.  But they aren’t alive.  They never were.

So as granola as it sounds, when the heavens opened up and gushed water down my nasty sidewalk.  And that sky started yelling and the light demanded my attention, for just a brief moment something quickened in me.  As if some nostalgic memory vibrated its way back to the forefront of my mind… there was a time when it felt real.  When life was real, when the earth was real.  When there was something bigger than myself and everything my eyes can see.  I remember what life felt like.  Nothing made sense yet everything did.  There wasn’t much to know really.  Not much to plan for because not much was understood.

I think I know too much now.
I know what to look for, plan for and avoid.  I know what I think I want and what I think I don’t want because that one time I saw that one thing, that made me think that particular thing, that I instinctively knew I wanted to avoid.  So I assimilated that and carried on about my way.  Multiply that occurrence times our lifetime and you’ll get why we are the way we are today.  That’s typically how we evolve.  That or the desired reciprocal occurs and we see what we hope for and decide that’s in fact what we want to pursue.  Either way I think I know too much.  And I don’t make near enough room for mystery.

There once was a time in my life when I proclaimed to be the chief investigative spy and established the other neighborhood kids to be my support troops.  They were instructed to systematically report back to me their findings.  They never found much.  The thing is that was a long time ago.  I guess now, I find myself to have adapted to a life where everything makes sense.  Where everything is aligned as it should be.  I have the insight.  I have the power.  I am ultimately the only one responsible for my destiny.  So back the fuck up.  But that thunder did something to me.  It reminded me that no matter how hard I yell, my voice will never boom throughout the earth.  No matter how hard I stomp my feet the world will not stop being more powerful.  Egocentric as I may be, there’s a force so much bigger, and so much greater than me and my narrow worldview.  And if I’m totally honest, bigger than my own desires.  It’s not just about me - it sucks.  Because a part of me thinks it should be.  I swear there’s a cubby hole in my mind where I roam about certain parts of the earth ruling as Queen.  I’d be lying if I told you this wasn’t true.  

But I’m not a Queen.  I’m Laura Katherine.  And I remember when life made sense.  When everything made sense because everything wasn’t on me.   The weight of the world wasn’t all my responsibility.  It was on something bigger than me.  Something looking out for me.  Someone I could trust.  Because I guess I hadn’t been alive long enough to believe all the lies.

I’m not sure when I acclimated to the idea of turning 30.  It was likely just an hour or so after the official turning of my birthday, when Amy stared blankly at me and asked me if [doing this or that] was what I had in mind.  In that moment I knew, yes.  Yes, this is exactly how I wanted to ring in the trading out of the “2” and adopting a “3” in its place.  I can’t remember what I was doing when I tossed out the “1” and added the “2”.  But I guarantee it wasn’t nearly as fulfilling.

It’s amazing what seeing that “3” followed by a “0” did to my psyche.  I thought I would hate it.  To be honest, I’ve dreaded turning 30 for as long as I can remember.  As a child I would imagine the timeline of my life.  Age 15 appeared to be where I would peak, you know, obtain some sort of teenage coolness that I really only appreciated as a child.  Then somehow, as the timeline progressed, the colors seemed to fade and somewhere around 30 the visuals all appeared to go black.  Like somehow, at 30, I might as well be dead because I would no longer have any lasting influence or appreciation.  That was a long time ago you understand, but somehow that thought and impending doom of 30 stuck with me.  That and one could likely assume it has something to do with my southern roots and belles never desiring to age in any form or fashion.  Dignity comes with gray but who the hell opts for gray when you’re surrounded by a sea of box blonde?  Anyway, that’s off topic.  The true point is that I almost wet my airplane seat when the flight attendant carded me for my in-flight cocktail.

You must understand, when I’m traveling, I’m one who doesn’t typically appreciate standing out in a crowd, if you get my meaning.  I don’t want my suitcase searched; I don’t want to see pictures of your kids; and I don’t want to have to be the one that helps walk you through an asthma attack at 30,000 ft.  I will of course, because I’m a sweetheart.  But really, I just want to be left alone to fly in peace, pretending that I’m really not being corralled like a goat surrounded by other goats who smell funny, touch the same things I touch, and occupy the same air space for hours at a time.  That being said, when the flight attendant carded me, all that went out the window.  I’m not sure why this satisfied me so much but it did.  Of course I beamed and explained that “I turn 30 tomorrow!”  She stared at me because really, no one cares.  But I opted to ignore her despondence.  All I knew was that in order to get my drink I had to provide proof of my age.  Normally this would have been an easy task as my wallet might as well be alphabetized.  But for some reason my ID (that I just used) was nowhere to be found.  So of course I keep rambling on about my birthday and eventually she just gave me the drink “on the captain”, likely just so she could finish pushing her cart down the aisle.  But I didn’t care.  I was about to turn 30 and was just carded. 

I was carded two more times that weekend and each time, my excitement grew and discounts followed (well at least 2/3 times).  But screw the discounts.  What mattered was that my southern roots were being satisfied.  I realized that turning 30 doesn’t dictate beauty or my involvement in AARP.  I’ve come to accept that by abandoning my 20’s, I’m really getting what feels to be a blank slate.  All that shit I did in my 20’s?  Yeah, I don’t have to do that again.  I still get to do whatever I want, but this time I have the luxury of knowing that x + y = shit and I don’t want that shit again. 

I magically feel older and wiser and I was informed by someone I respect that, I am now a woman.  This somewhat confused me as I’ve never struggled with this label.  I mean, if I was to ever forget all I would need do..

The point is that looking back at my 20’s and picking through it for insight has led me to this:  nothing is ever that serious.  And if it is, simply don’t do it again.  Yes, this is vague and not applicable across the board.  But for me, it doesn’t have to be.  Because really, it’s not that serious.


Disappointments are an inevitable part of life.  It’s unfortunate but true.  Though, the cure for disappointments is much more evasive, the cause remains the same: there was an expectation of something that was not fulfilled.  And not only was it not fulfilled, I’ve found that depending upon the weighted value of the expectation, the disappointment can range from feeling like a minor let down to that of having a steam engine driven into your abdomen.  

 But no matter how you slice it, disappointments suck and are definitely not one of the major selling points for the whole living on planet earth experience.  Or maybe it’s just me.  Either way, I’m not a fan.  During just about any time of the day, one could ask me what I want and I could give them a detailed list of everything I’m longing for; just pick the category and I’ll follow suit. 

I know what I want. 
I know what I want it to look like, feel like and even sound like. 
And quite frankly, I want it now. 
Not tomorrow.
Not in a few minutes. 
This very moment. 

It’s a personal problem I’ve been working through, you understand.  That being the case, when a disappointment presents itself, boldly proclaiming that my expectation for said desire will not be coming to pass, I take it rather hard.  And due to my ingrained tenacity, there’s usually a window from which I’ll fight to the death to see that my desires make it to full fruition. 

But then, often times what happens next is a breaking of molds – my molds.  My own ideas of how my life experience should go down, what it should look like both to me and to others.  And then I really begin to see.  Often times we see the end result of intrinsic satisfaction and think we know exactly how to attain it.  I mean shit, we see the finish line, why not just blaze our own trail and come in first.  But that’s where things get tricky.  We don’t know everything - this came as a painful shock to me and still does if I’m honest.  You see, despite all the random bullshit that clogs my brain on a relentless basis, I still feel that somehow I can manage it all.  I can sort through it.  I mean the data is all there.  If nothing else, by God I will understand every last bit of how and why.  And in the end, my goals and my way will be the highlight of my planned trajectory. 


I mean sure, though planning and executing wise goals for reaching the desired end result are both encouraged and considered good practices, there are always variables we cannot possibly account for.  We can’t see a detailed map of the future.  Our filter of the past is typically clouded by our own murky interpretations of it.  And our present?  Well what is the present anyway other than a longing for something else?  Sure it shouldn’t be that way.  But for me, it usually is.  Again, I’m working on this.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that there is so much we don’t know.  So when we put our preconceived ideas of how we want something to turn out at the forefront, it’s hard to not try and control the manner in which they transpire in our lives.  Some people might disagree with the line of thought that says forcing our own ambitions at maximum speed is a bad idea.  But I tend to believe that the moment we feel we have to control something is the moment we should take a step back.  Because if I’m gripping something so tight, how in the world could there ever be any room for it to evolve in healthy increments?  

I believe that if we could see an aerial shot of our lives, we’d see disappointment after disappointment that turned out to be some of the greatest blessings we’ve ever experienced.  We just can’t give up before the unveiling of the culmination of our efforts actually occurs.  I know this sounds like a leap from the tone in which I started this rant but really, for me it’s part of the master plan of all of this.  We all have needs and expectations.  But never doubt, there are people in all of our lives that are key players in the realization of our destinies.  They are who they are and we are who we are.  And like it or not, we interact with one another.   And quite often, because other human variables are involved, we get let down.  Despite our death grip of control over our own circumstances, we still didn’t see all that needed to be seen in order to accommodate for this tailspin.  From that place, many undesirable emotions flourish if care is not taken to avoid them: resentment, bitterness and sometimes even hopelessness.  But I’m finding that the quicker I am to forgive both myself and the offending parties who played a role in said disappointment, the faster I am to make it to the other side.  And what I’m finding is that usually my desires weren’t so bad after all, my expectations not so off base.  There just happened to be variables that I couldn’t account for… things virtually out of my control though by my own hand. 

But hope isn’t absent.  Hope tinkers with my expectations.  It reviews my heartache and redirects my focus.  You see, my expectations may have been off a bit but all is not lost.  In fact, all is not ever lost if it ever truly was.  Often I find that mixed in with my failed expectations, the issue wasn’t the end result but rather my means of getting there.   And quite frankly, the variables weren’t wrong but rather the execution of them.  When I operate in wisdom, I find that throwing the baby out with the bath water is not always the best option.  Sometimes, it’s best to push away my disappointments and review my desires.  When I do?  I find that my heart’s pursuit of satisfaction was not in vain at all.  Quite the contrary really.  I just had to get out of the way and let the pieces fall into place.  Because unfortunately, it’s not until we’re either at the end of our rope or at the end of our struggle that we see how beautiful our dreams really were.  Because really, the disappointment wouldn’t have been so great had the reality of the expectation not been so beautiful.

The tricky thing about deception is that when you have been deceived, you don’t know your reality is faulty.  Therefore, we must never underestimate deception’s power.  On the contrary, I’ll go so far as to say that I make fairly consistent attempts to investigate my belief systems, I’ll be it spiritually, relationally, etc, to ensure that what I’m believing is actually correct.  That it’s not just some self-seeking drive within me to believe something that puts itself against my determination to be healthy and whole, freely giving love to other people. 

But even with my conscious attention towards the propensity for deception, I still find myself having moments of “Oh shit, really?  Really?  How did I not see this? All this time I was (fill in the blank).”  Deception can come in many forms.  But the one that frequently gets my attention is the one that says, “It’s not my fault.”  We’ve all been there.  Something we did/didn’t do gets exposed and we freeze, cross our arms and the internal/external excuses flow:

“If only they had  ( _____ ), then I wouldn’t have ( _____ ).” 
“If you only knew what I’ve been through…”
“I didn’t really have a responsibility to that other person.”  
“It’s not really that bad.”

But the truth is that at the core of these excuses is the undeniable urge to protect our own, as they say, best interests.  And this is where we tend to become blindingly human.  Me. Me, me.  Me me me me me.  And then some more me.  Rarely stopping to accept responsibility for our own actions and intentions.
How does it make me feel?  What do I want?  Not pausing for a moment to assess the actual damage caused to another human being but rather brushing over it in an attempt to yet again get myself off the hook.  Because how could I ever do something so wrong?

Though, I’d be remiss if I didn’t flip the coin.  You see, whenever I find myself in a place of stunned revelation: I can’t believe I didn’t see this coming, I immediately turn my attention backwards.  This is when I sweep my memory of all content related to the said person and call to question everything I know about them in light of this new discovery.  But more importantly than that, I look at myself.  What is it about me that allowed room for this type of behavior?  And sometimes I find it necessary to review why this person had the place in my life from which to cause me harm in the first place.  You see, not only do I have a responsibility to respect people enough to be forthright and honest with them, I have the same responsibility to myself: I must seek and accept truth, no matter how painful the realization may be.  Was there something I could have done, some boundary that I should have had that could have prevented this from happening?  And though I do not intend to speak from a place of expertise, I can say that for myself, usually there is something I could have done.  There was something staring me blindly in the face, of which I refused to see.  But as they say hindsight is….

Though, for all practical purposes, the act of deceiving someone else is a form of perpetration, one must be careful to not assume the position of victim.  It’s perfectly natural and healthy to question how someone could betray or whatever the offense may have been, but it’s not okay to play the blame game.  What happened, happened.  It cannot be undone or erased.  It is what it is.  So when deception is called into the light, I choose to grasp hold of the truth it gives me in whatever way possible.  Because, what I really want is truth.  I can deal with most anything as long as it’s the truth- the truth about myself and the truth about other people.  Sure sometimes not knowing might be more comfortable and definitely aids in a desire to stay in a perpetual state of emotional inertia but that will never bring me the health I truly desire.  You see truth has the power to break us out of places of blind defeat, cycling in and out of the behavior patterns that are knowingly or unknowingly killing us.  And it’s revelation that says, “Though this happened, it never has to happen again.  And in my opportunity of choice, I choose to both do right by others and to do right by myself.  And if someone else doesn’t share the same principles and respect that I do, then they should likely find other more suitable company to keep.” 


David Foster Wallace, who died last week, was the most brilliant American writer of his generation. In a speech, published here for the first time, he reflects on the difficulties of daily life and 'making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head'

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

If you're worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise old fish explaining what water is, please don't be. I am not the wise old fish. The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude - but the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance. That may sound like hyperbole, or abstract nonsense. So let's get concrete ...

A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. Here's one example of the utter wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely talk about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness, because it's so socially repulsive, but it's pretty much the same for all of us, deep down. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you've had that you were not at the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is right there in front of you, or behind you, to the left or right of you, on your TV, or your monitor, or whatever. Other people's thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real - you get the idea. But please don't worry that I'm getting ready to preach to you about compassion or other-directedness or the so-called "virtues". This is not a matter of virtue - it's a matter of my choosing to do the work of somehow altering or getting free of my natural, hard-wired default setting, which is to be deeply and literally self-centred, and to see and interpret everything through this lens of self.

By way of example, let's say it's an average day, and you get up in the morning, go to your challenging job, and you work hard for nine or ten hours, and at the end of the day you're tired, and you're stressed out, and all you want is to go home and have a good supper and maybe unwind for a couple of hours and then hit the rack early because you have to get up the next day and do it all again. But then you remember there's no food at home - you haven't had time to shop this week, because of your challenging job - and so now, after work, you have to get in your car and drive to the supermarket. It's the end of the workday, and the traffic's very bad, so getting to the store takes way longer than it should, and when you finally get there the supermarket is very crowded, because of course it's the time of day when all the other people with jobs also try to squeeze in some grocery shopping, and the store's hideously, fluorescently lit, and infused with soul-killing Muzak or corporate pop, and it's pretty much the last place you want to be, but you can't just get in and quickly out: you have to wander all over the huge, overlit store's crowded aisles to find the stuff you want, and you have to manoeuvre your junky cart through all these other tired, hurried people with carts, and of course there are also the glacially slow old people and the spacey people and the kids who all block the aisle and you have to grit your teeth and try to be polite as you ask them to let you by, and eventually, finally, you get all your supper supplies, except now it turns out there aren't enough checkout lanes open even though it's the end-of-the-day rush, so the checkout line is incredibly long, which is stupid and infuriating, but you can't take your fury out on the frantic lady working the register.

Anyway, you finally get to the checkout line's front, and pay for your food, and wait to get your cheque or card authenticated by a machine, and then get told to "Have a nice day" in a voice that is the absolute voice of death, and then you have to take your creepy flimsy plastic bags of groceries in your cart through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot, and try to load the bags in your car in such a way that everything doesn't fall out of the bags and roll around in the trunk on the way home, and then you have to drive all the way home through slow, heavy, SUV-intensive rush-hour traffic, etc, etc.

The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don't make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I'm going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food-shop, because my natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me, about my hungriness and my fatigue and my desire to just get home, and it's going to seem, for all the world, like everybody else is just in my way, and who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem here in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line, and look at how deeply unfair this is: I've worked really hard all day and I'm starved and tired and I can't even get home to eat and unwind because of all these stupid goddamn people.

Or if I'm in a more socially conscious form of my default setting, I can spend time in the end-of-the-day traffic jam being angry and disgusted at all the huge, stupid, lane-blocking SUVs and Hummers and V12 pickup trucks burning their wasteful, selfish, 40-gallon tanks of gas, and I can dwell on the fact that the patriotic or religious bumper stickers always seem to be on the biggest, most disgustingly selfish vehicles driven by the ugliest, most inconsiderate and aggressive drivers, who are usually talking on cell phones as they cut people off in order to get just 20 stupid feet ahead in a traffic jam, and I can think about how our children's children will despise us for wasting all the future's fuel and probably screwing up the climate, and how spoiled and stupid and disgusting we all are, and how it all just sucks ...

If I choose to think this way, fine, lots of us do - except that thinking this way tends to be so easy and automatic it doesn't have to be a choice. Thinking this way is my natural default setting. It's the automatic, unconscious way that I experience the boring, frustrating, crowded parts of adult life when I'm operating on the automatic, unconscious belief that I am the centre of the world and that my immediate needs and feelings are what should determine the world's priorities. The thing is that there are obviously different ways to think about these kinds of situations. In this traffic, all these vehicles stuck and idling in my way: it's not impossible that some of these people in SUVs have been in horrible car accidents in the past and now find driving so traumatic that their therapist has all but ordered them to get a huge, heavy SUV so they can feel safe enough to drive; or that the Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next to him, and he's trying to rush to the hospital, and he's in a much bigger, more legitimate hurry than I am - it is actually I who am in his way.

Again, please don't think that I'm giving you moral advice, or that I'm saying you're "supposed to" think this way, or that anyone expects you to just automatically do it, because it's hard, it takes will and mental effort, and if you're like me, some days you won't be able to do it, or you just flat-out won't want to. But most days, if you're aware enough to give yourself a choice, you can choose to look differently at this fat, dead-eyed, over-made-up lady who just screamed at her little child in the checkout line - maybe she's not usually like this; maybe she's been up three straight nights holding the hand of her husband who's dying of bone cancer, or maybe this very lady is the low-wage clerk at the Motor Vehicles Dept who just yesterday helped your spouse resolve a nightmarish red-tape problem through some small act of bureaucratic kindness. Of course, none of this is likely, but it's also not impossible - it just depends on what you want to consider. If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is and who and what is really important - if you want to operate on your default setting - then you, like me, will not consider possibilities that aren't pointless and annoying. But if you've really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options. It will be within your power to experience a crowded, loud, slow, consumer-hell-type situation as not only meaningful but sacred, on fire with the same force that lit the stars - compassion, love, the sub-surface unity of all things. Not that that mystical stuff's necessarily true: the only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're going to try to see it. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't. You get to decide what to worship.

Because here's something else that's true. In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And an outstanding reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship - be it JC or Allah, be it Yahweh or the Wiccan mother-goddess or the Four Noble Truths or some infrangible set of ethical principles - is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things - if they are where you tap real meaning in life - then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It's the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already - it's been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness. Worship power - you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart - you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.

The insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful; it is that they are unconscious. They are default settings. They're the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that's what you're doing. And the world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying. The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the "rat race" - the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

I know that this stuff probably doesn't sound fun and breezy or grandly inspirational. What it is, so far as I can see, is the truth with a whole lot of rhetorical bullshit pared away. Obviously, you can think of it whatever you wish. But please don't dismiss it as some finger-wagging Dr Laura sermon. None of this is about morality, or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions of life after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death. It is about making it to 30, or maybe 50, without wanting to shoot yourself in the head. It is about simple awareness - awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: "This is water, this is water."

· Adapted from the commencement speech the author gave to a graduating class at Kenyon College, Ohio