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“Open Up” to Life’s Lessons: An Activist’s Attempt at Sorting It Out a Little

By Jasmin Singer — October 10, 2013

Dear Chickens,

I’ve been thinking about therapy lately. I imagine it’s because I always react very strongly to the change of season, and with the whole Grandma-thing weighing me down — and the grim reality of what happens to animals behind closed doors acting as a permanent backdrop — I’ve been desperately trying to remember those life lessons I learned back when I paid oodles of money to get my head screwed on straight (so much for that).

Screen Shot 2013-10-09 at 2.28.33 PMWith that on my mind, the last thing I expected when I saw Louis CK talk about why his kids would not be using a cell phone anytime soon was to feel powerfully moved, and to distinctly recall that sense of “AH, YES!” that I used to feel when everything rattling around in the back of my brain started to gel.

“The thing is,” said Louis, “you need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away.”

There’s something to be said about a comedian who can simultaneously make you laugh to the point of tears, and make you question your worldview. As you probably know, since the video went beyond viral, recently, on The Conan Show, Louis recalled an incident where he used his phone to distract himself from his darker emotions: “OK, I’m getting sad,” he said. “I gotta get the phone and write ‘hi’ to like 50 people. […] I was reaching for the phone and I said, ‘You know what? Don’t. Just, be sad. Just let it hit you like a truck.’”

Maybe it’s true that cell phones and the other gadgets that rule our lives have become the modern day replacements for real emotions, but what I’m really wondering is whether watching YouTube videos of Louis CK has become the replacement for therapy? The irrationally powerful reaction I (and a gazillion others) had to watching him explain why he won’t let his kids have cell phones, and why life is about feeling abundant sadness sometimes, made me wonder if I should consider Louis my guru. (Not that I believe in gurus.)

In New York City, where I live, people talk about their therapists just about as readily as they talk about their cats. Most of us have (or have recently had) a shrink. As for me, I’ve been out of therapy for several years now. When I was a patient, however – of the same psychologist for a decade – I honestly could not have imagined my life without it. Now that I’m long gone from its comforting grasp, I am not sure I can imagine going back. (Not with Louis CK so easily Googleable, anyhow.)

Recently, I have found myself pondering whether the countless thousands of dollars that my insurance (lucky me!) paid for me to get my head screwed on tighter – not to mention the hefty copays I forked over each week after I was through complaining about my somewhat suppressed sexual orientation – was worth it? Basically, what I want to know is, am I at the point that I can try to make therapy a DIY project? If Louis CK can wax poetic about cell phones and have it ring true (get it?) for the over five million viewers who watched his YouTube video (at least some of whom were certainly as moved as I was, and left questioning whether something as seemingly benign as their gadgets were standing in the way of their ability to really experience all the wonders of being alive), then maybe I should try my hand at spelling out some seemingly obvious life lessons. As an activist especially, I think that reconnecting with these lessons can allow me to press “reboot” when I need to. Maybe consciously and regularly standing by these introspections, along with fastidiously following the “comedy” of Louis CK, will be my apple-a-day.

Aside from putting down my cell phone every now and then (it’s literally balanced on my chest as I type this), these are my five reminders of how to navigate life:

  1. Your “issues,” which once held you back, might just be your key to success. I tend to be obsessive about projects, plans, and sometimes people. I’ve overwhelmed and scared away more folks than I’m willing to admit here. But after lots of regrets, I think I have finally figured out how to channel my monomaniacal tendencies into productivity. As a result, I work hard, I play hard, I study hard, and I love hard. I try my best to focus my unwieldy passion on reducing the suffering of innocent beings, rather than focusing solely on me and my own needs. Admittedly, this is still an ongoing process for me (my intensity still scares people away sometimes, despite my best intentions). But the point is that sometimes it’s the very character traits that can hold us back that, when turned on their head, can work in our favor. So rather than bashing those parts of you that make you feel shame, re-delegate them to another life assignment.
  2. It’s normal to feel like you came from another planet. In my youth, my feeling that I was perpetually on the outside saddened me to the tune of anti-depressants and other magic pills (I was a theatre student, so meds were par for the course). Now, in my mid-thirties, my life is more or less together-ish. And yet I still feel like an alien, most of the time. But sometimes feeling like an outsider gives us the capability of connecting with a few truly important people who matter.
  3. Your impact can go far beyond just your own small life. Our lives feel small because they are small, but the role we can play while we’re here on earth can be a hefty one. Rather than feeling depleted by the bigness of the world, use it to remind yourself that there is indeed a beautiful synergy that can be created between your existence and the existence of those around you – humans and non. Extending compassion and empathy to others can go far beyond just your closest kin; it is a mindset that can become a part of your worldview if you allow it to.
  4. Don’t ignore the bullies. A lot of my early days in therapy were spent attempting to get over being a bullied kid. Whenever I’d come home from school sobbing my eyes out because of the truly gruesome ways my peers would treat me (this was many moons before anyone said anything about how “it gets better”), my well-intentioned and in-over-her-head mother would tell me that the kids were just jealous, and that I should ignore them. So I did. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t. I think it effectively perpetuated the abuse and caused me to turn the anguish and fury onto myself. It wasn’t until well into my twenties – after writing my share of terrible poems, over-exploring “method acting,” and drowning my adolescent sorrow in frivolous sex – that I finally got over it (ish). Since hindsight is 20/20, and I really wish I had stuck up for myself as a kid, I try very hard to live my adult life in a way that leaves little room for bullies of any kind. This goes far beyond outright abusers. Those who oppress others (including those who oppress animals) just because they’re following the status quo are just as guilty as the mean kids on the playground. Fight against injustice of any kind, even if the first battle is with yourself.
  5. Take up tap-dancing. About 6 months ago, I did just that. When I enrolled, I had no idea that this rediscovered hobby (I had tapped as a kid) would wind up providing me with reason to get up in the morning, and possibly save me from a trajectory to burnout. The rhythm of my routines permeates my brain like a backdrop to my life. This tiny but profound distraction from the rest of my life adds a depth that I didn’t even know I was missing until I found it, and so I cannot recommend enough that you take up tap. Or decoupage. Or Tai Chi. Or vegan baking. Shake up your life a bit. Add something to it that would make a 7-year-old smile. And if it’s tap, make very sure you remember to shift your weight whenever you’re about to do a new step; otherwise, you might fall on your face.

 

And so, here I am. Being a little too honest-for-comfort in my column today, and mentally planning on looking up Louis CK videos just after publishing this.

Louis aside, when I re-focus on the animals, things seem clearer to me. I feel motivated and hopeful, understanding and understood. Even in the depths of despair over anticipating personal loss beyond what I can fathom, I feel less alone.

A song recently wound up in my inbox, by the band Br’er Rabbit. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting the female singer, Miranda Zickler, when I was a judge in NYC’s Vegan Talent Show. Miranda, who is wildly talented, and a passionate animal rights activist, reached out to me to share the band’s song, “Open Up.” I am so touched by this song — both the hopefulness and raw honesty of it. It seems fitting to share with you the lyrics (which I’m doing with Br’er Rabbit’s permission, of course), followed by the music video for it. I hope it gives you hope. If it doesn’t, be sure to catch Louis CK chat about cell phones — and then, consult a therapist.

xo jasmin

Open Up

by Br’er Rabbit

Hear my cries, my lungs and eyes
Grow weary in the cold
And all I’ve known is dust and bone
And so I’ll be, I’m told

Hear the sound that moves the ground
The pulsing in the dark
A deafening pound that crashes ’round
The chambers of my heart

Open up, open wide
Let me see what’s been hiding
In your mouth, in your dreams,
In the dark, let me crawl in and see
What’s in your heart

‘Cause I’ve heard you say
You want the best for everyone
But your actions day to day
Leave much to be said,
Much to be done

Here it goes, here it is:
When it comes down to it,
We all want to live
In our homes, in our beds,
With a love on which we can
Rest our heads and hearts

But I know it’s been hard
And you can’t help
Put your guard up to the things,
In the end, you know might be right
You can’t help but fight

And I’ve heard you say
You want the best for everyone,
But your actions day to day
Leave much to be said,
Much to be done

Open up, open wide
Let me see what’s been hiding
In your mouth, in your dreams
In the dark, let me crawl in and see
What’s in your heart
What’s in your heart?






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