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eff it
by ken mohnkern
8.21.06
general


I was thinking today that I need to have more fuck-it moments. I've only had a few. My first one, from some thirty or thirty-five years ago, is most memorable. It happened as my toes gripped the rounded tile edge of the school swimming pool. My mother had signed me up for swimming lessons for the umpteenth summer in a row. She was determined that I would pass the beginner's class, but I had no desire to swim. I just wanted to stop taking swimming lessons. I had been through the beginners class so often that I was now taller than the other kids. I was even taller than the instructor, the pretty new girls swimming coach named— Oh, let's call her Miss Fish.

While Miss Fish introduced herself and took attendance I shrunk myself as small as I could, trying to hide among the little boys and girls on the bench with me. (I was only a few years older, but those were growth years.) Every year there was a new batch of kids, as last year's batch went on to intermediate and advanced classes and on to the middle-school swim team. But me? I was still afraid to let go of the side, still sputtering when I dared put my face in the water, still climbing off the diving board the way I got up on it.

After taking attendance Miss Fish told us to jump in the water. The others plowed right in as I hung back out of habit. This was what I did in swimming lessons. It was comfortable in a perverted way. But this time, with my toes curled around the edge of the pool and all attention on me, I felt that something was missing. Years later I like to think that I faced down my fears in that moment and jabbed my middle finger in the air with a battle cry of "Fuck it!" before executing a perfect, splashless dive into the deep end, but we know better.

The moment was characterized by what it lacked more than what it held. Instead of a rush of confidence, a victory over the powers of fear and death, there was simply a lack of anxiety. My only reaction, if I had one, was a mildly surprised "huh." Then I jumped in and tread water with the others. I held the kickboard at arms' length in front of me as I kicked the length of the pool. I crawl-stroked, turning my head to breathe at the right times. I dove off the board. I nabbed the hockey puck from the bottom of the deep end. I did it all and it was easy.

So what happened? If I want more fuck-it moments I need to figure out what caused that one.

Maybe it was beyond my control. It felt at the time like I had simply outgrown the fear, that I had grown big enough to shed it like a shell. It seemed to have come about naturally, after years of gestation. So maybe they can't be rushed or forced. Maybe one must simply wait for one's fuck-it moments like waiting for the end of a drought, hoping that not much dies before it arrives.

Or maybe, standing on the edge of that pool, my embarrassment at being the oldest kid in class simply grew to eclipse my fear of water. Maybe I just replaced one fear with another. If that is the case then I need to pick my biggest fear—is it still fear of embarrassment?—and turn it loose on all of my smaller ones. Something about that plan seems psychologically dangerous.

But this morning I woke with that same sick stomach I had on those swimming-lesson mornings. I was anxious about some things I had to do today, and even had stress dreams about them. I needed a fuck it this morning and I worked on one and got it. The stress lessened. I did one of my unpleasant tasks, then another, and soon none of them seemed like such a big deal.

So I think this is what I need to do: carry that first fuck-it moment around with me and hold it in my hands when I need it. I need to rub it between my fingers and maybe repeat it as a (silent) mantra—"Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it."—as a reminder that, if a change in attitude made the impossible possible once, it could do it again.


ABOUT KEN MOHNKERN

There's a fifty-fifty chance that Ken is wearing a shirt with a stain on it.

more about ken mohnkern

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COMMENTS

tracey kelley
8.22.06 @ 12:38p

Why a silent mantra? I think the vocalizing would serve a grand purpose.

Using your greatest fear to attack the little ones is brilliant.

I think I got over my fear of embarrassment a long time ago, as those moments happened quite often. Which is why I laugh a lot and quite loudly.

But I'm certain more fuck-it moments would do well to supress the freak-out moments I have once a week or so.

ken mohnkern
8.22.06 @ 12:54p

I can't edit the story to fix those fugly unreadable characters, huh? Aw, fuck it.

jael mchenry
8.22.06 @ 5:00p

I see nothing fugly/unreadable... maybe it's your browser?

Anyway, as you say: fuck it! Love the idea of this.

patrick clapp
8.22.06 @ 6:53p

Thank you. I have been procrastinating on a cluster of small annoying tasks. I think I am going to tackle one or two, and then perhaps one or two more. And tonight when I go to sleep I am going to feel like I got something done.

alex b
8.23.06 @ 5:10a

Fuck-It moments can be pretty darn liberating. I usually forget that during my Oh-Fuck moments, but it'll be pretty handy to invoke. Fun topic!

[edited]

ken mohnkern
8.23.06 @ 9:45a

Thanks, Alex - That's a good point. It might be worth thinking about the differences between "fuck it" and "oh fuck" and "fuck this."

robert melos
8.28.06 @ 5:44a

Fantastic column, Ken. That's how I've done most of the major things in my life. I don't want to think about the results as much as I do about the good feeling going into it. That's the positive part, and the most enjoyable.



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