For me, the ’90s were all about No. No, I’m not sleeping with you, No I’m not putting up with that, No I’m not going there, or wearing that outfit, or doing my hair like that, or finishing that stupid book.
Yes was dumb. Yes was what you did to be good, or stay out of trouble, or not rock the boat. No was great! It was, dare I say, empowering.
I did pretty much what I damn well pleased. Life was all right. The world was once again the open road implied by that teacher who told you that you could grow up to anything our parents were not allowed to be. On an afternoon in early ’92 I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. We talked for awhile, then went to have coffee and talk some more, and ended up talking about (yeah, of course) relationships.
She’d just gotten out of one, and I was in the midst of a doozy – by no means a get-out-now kind of situation, but one that – if it was going to be good – would have to be worked at, and fought for. The stakes were high; we were state-sanctioned (as in married). I told her I’d thought about it and decided to stick it out and try to make things work. She surprised me.
What I thought would be a (by-then) typical rolling of eyes was instead a smile and a touch on my hand. “You’re so brave,” she said, “to stay.” There are plenty of times in life when it’s great and wonderful and brave to say No. We get stuck in so many wrong places for so many wrong reasons.
No is hard. No feels good. No might make us lonely, but it puts us square with ourselves, square with who we want to be, or even become. No can eliminate a lot of crap, but when the smoke clears or the clouds part or the day breaks or whatever, what’s left is you, and a bunch of unmade choices. Because sometimes it’s too easy to say No. Sometimes saying No puts us – for whatever convoluted reason – exactly where we don’t want to be.
Because you can say No to assert who you are. But you can also say No to hide who you are – you might say No to sleeping with someone because you don’t want to, but you also might say No when the flower lady comes through the restaurant and someone asks if you want one and you do, you really do, but you said No anyway because you didn’t want to give the wrong impression – the impression that you are who you are, and not always who you say.
Then after this chorus of No’s – a lull. A slight panic. So many years of saying what you don’t want meant all that time not spent thinking about what you do. And all that time getting used to No being your motto, your shield, and sometimes just the thing you say by default when you don’t want to think something through, or take a risk, or change your life, or look like a fool.
So welcome to the power of Yes. Not just No, I don’t want to go out with you, No, I don’t want to live here anymore, No, I don’t want to do [fill in your choice of odious, soul-sucking occupation] for the rest of my life – not No, but Yes I want that one over there because s/he’s my heart’s desire, Yes I’m going to travel around the world, Yes I’m quitting my job and moving someplace cheap and writing books or painting paintings or doing whatever it is I want, because I want it.
The kingdom of Yes is at hand! After the long dark night of No (which really wasn’t all that dark, and was at times intrepid and badass and profoundly cool), take a deep breath and do something hard: Think about what you want and say it, and do it, and make it happen. Because you’re never too old to be a doctor or a firefighter or a school teacher, or – just like they told you – maybe even a politician.
All you have to say is Yes.