It’s the middle of January and I’m already three weeks behind in this new grateful series. There was a time when that would bother me. I’d be staying up well past my bedtime trying to fit it, and everything else in. No more.
When I was at home over Christmas, I heard the same phrase from numerous people, numerous times: it is what it is. Good old Wikipedia tells me that it’s the title of three albums and six songs, the latest of which was released in 2016. That can’t account for the sudden popularity of the phrase. It’s also the title of a 2001 film, a 2007 autobiography, and a radio show. Again, none of them is a newcomer. It’s an old phrase – the thirteenth-century Persian writer Rumi used it (in Farsi) for a collection of his prose. And that’s not today or yesterday.
Urban Dictionary tells me that it’s just another way of saying fuck it. But Liane Gabora, writing for Psychology Today in 2014, has more to say about it:
[…] the phrase “it is what it is” is itself in a state of potentiality. In some contexts, it can indicate acceptance of complexity and ambiguity. In other contexts, it can indicate acceptance of limitations. It’s a phrase that may well have yet other shades or meaning, or be evolving new shades of meaning as I write this. It’s not one static thing. It is what it is.
I wondered briefly if it had any connection to the Spanish phrase Que será, será, what will be, will be. But that smacks a little too much of resignation for my liking.
Kirk Pynchon, writing for Guff back in 2016 takes a different approach to what was voted USA Today’s No. 1 cliché in 2004:
Here’s what you are really saying when you use this horrid phrase: “This situation sucks and I wish things were different but I just don’t have it in me to try and fix things, so eff it.” It’s the super cool way of avoiding certain problems. It’s apathy wrapped in feigned casualness.
He rants on:
Once you start using that phrase ad nauseam it runs the risk of becoming a mindset you can never get out of. Let’s face it, “it is what it is” is a super fun thing to say. It rolls off the tongue with the utmost of grace and ease. Throw in a little shrug and a half smile and pretty soon you’ve got a nice little character trait going there. The problem is that it can be really addicting to use “it is what it is” for everything in your life. Bad relationship? It is what it is. Poor health? It is what it is. Crappy job? It is what it is. Cocaine wishes it had such a strong power of addiction.
This past Christmas wasn’t the first time I’d heard it but it was the first time I was conscious of so many people using it. So many different people. Different people in different situations. Apparently, I’m a little behind. I googled it – it was this or iron – and I found a hilarious comment thread on a blog about its origins. Seems like lots of other people didn’t fancy ironing that day, either.
In Zanzibar recently, I had a conversation with a monkey. She was in a tree, with her baby, looking down at the flock of tourists closing in on her, phones held high in the air, Go-Pros at the ready, cameras clicking. I was busy commenting to myself on the madness of it all. The signs had clearly told us all to keep our distance (this what the zoom lens is for, people). And so many people tramping around in the one place at the one time can’t be good for the flora or the fauna. But as always, money wins out. The tourist dollar is the gold at the end of the rainbow.
I swear she looked straight at me as if to say, relax – it is what it is.
If the rest of the year teaches lessons like this, it’ll be a good one. 2020 is the year when what gets done, gets done, when it gets done. And if I’m a little behind schedule, so what…
I won’t miss client deadlines, of course, or be late to meetings, or skip my dental appointments, but I will revisit my time and how I spend it. And if ironing loses out to a Google search of a mindless cliché – sure it is what it is.