I’ve never been to therapy, but I know what a therapist would say about me blaming myself: I shouldn’t do it. I know I was too young. I was a small child. I know it’s OK that I didn’t tell anyone. And I know I don’t have to own anyone else’s pain. Not my mother’s, certainly. I know I’m not her. I know my daughter’s not me. These maxims have leeched into the air of modern life the way hormones from birth control pills have seeped into the water, so why would I pay for them to be laid out like tarot cards?

I’ve never read a self-help book or new age tract, but I know I should be grateful. I know I should live in the present. I know I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I know that life’s not fair, that it’s not a meritocracy. I know I should work harder. I know how lucky I am, and sometimes I feel the luck deeply; it’s a luminous polished stone that fits perfectly in my palm. I gaze on it with wonder, rhythmically rub the cool smooth belly of it with my thumb. But often as it evokes gratitude this fortuitous possession inspires in me fear and guilt, which I know is not helpful. Gratitude. Practice gratitude. Also, breathing is very important. I know if I put the mortgage on autopay it’d be one less chore but frankly, I can’t always be sure there will be enough money in the account on any given day. I know we should be saving more. Five hundred dollars a month per kid for college, one chart said. Bah ha. I know the kids should be read to or reading twenty minutes or more a day. But most days works, right? And ten will do, in a pinch?

I never read health magazines, but I know I should drink eight glasses of water and that the vast majority of us actually do need eight hours of sleep and that I should get my kids in bed in time to get ten and I shouldn’t smoke a single cigarette and no way should I have that second beer when already there are only seven hours left to sleep if I can fall there fast enough. I know I shouldn’t worry about falling asleep, that’s only going to make it worse. I know sleep is aided by a cool, dark environment, that alcohol disturbs it, that there should be no technology in the bedroom. That one’s easy for me, but some sources say I shouldn’t even bring a book to bed. Just one more chapter. I know I should close it right now. I never read women’s magazines, but I know to keep the love alive I should shake things up sexually with my husband, we should take up activities that are new and exciting for both of us, we should speak in I statements when discussing our relationship, I feel, not you make me feel. I don’t know if the I-statements rule applies to sexual matters, I can see there might be some gray area there, but I know I should take responsibility for myself, be proactive, be the change I want to see in the world. I know plastic shopping bags cause damage six ways from Sunday. I should have brought those reusable shopping bags. I usually do! My husband should do it, too. Why does he always forget? I know I should run out after him with the shopping bags in hand. Or actually, I shouldn’t do that. I should let more go. I should let go more. We all should. I know, right? We need to lighten up.

I know I should have told that Walgreens checkout person to take the sunscreen and Trident out of the plastic bag. I intended to put them in my backpack, but I didn’t tell her fast enough, and Jesus, maybe in this case saving the bag is less important than not annoying her with another request. She’s had a rougher day than me. I sense it. I know I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what I need, I know that as a woman I don’t ask for raises often enough (although it didn’t work out so great that one time; I should have read some tips first). I know most sunscreens are shit for you and that I should put some more on my kids right now because they’ve been in the water for over an hour and they’re about to fry. It’s the childhood burns that really set you up for cancer and premature aging, I know that. I know Olay ProX products are supposed to be really very good. I know it wasn’t my fault. I never said it was. I never thought it was. These issues have never bothered me much except insofar as a culture that makes the counterclaims so insistently and declaratively suggests that perhaps they should. That at least I should consider them.

I don’t watch TV or read celebrity magazines but I do look at the internet a lot and for the longest time I didn’t understand how Fergie so often found herself photographed nude. If the British Duchess was really running that far off the rails, surely I would have gleaned it from the supermarket checkout aisle, as I had her involvement with a weight loss plan. But now I know the names of the individual Black Eyed Peas and I saw them in the Superbowl halftime show, and it all makes sense. Sometimes it’s just the one missing piece that makes the whole come together. Ah-ha! That’s it! I get it! I can rest easy now.

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ZOE ZOLBROD's first novel, Currency, won a 2010 Nobbie Award. She was born in Meadville, Pennsylvania; went to college in Oberlin, Ohio; and got a MA from University of Illinois at Chicago. She works in educational publishing and lives in Evanston, IL, with her husband, the artist Mark DeBernardi, and their son and daughter. She's currently at work on a memoir.

19 responses to “I Know, Right?”

  1. Art Edwards says:

    Nice insights, Zoe. This one hit me squarely on two or three occasions.

    The grocery bag thing gets me a lot. I’m fairly religious about it, but I can’t work it into the after-lunch runs for some reason.

    But then again, with a dog, those bags come in handy.

    Art

  2. Matt says:

    Wait.

    It’s physically possible for a human body to get eight hour’s worth of sleep?

    Not according to my body! I’m lucky if it allows me to get six. And I’m unmarried and childless.

    • zoe zolbrod says:

      Well, Matt, maybe you’re one of the rare breed, but I think the experts would say that in all likelihood your body needs 8 hours of sleep even if it doesn’t get it. Maybe you’re going to bed too early or late or not hitting your correct rem cycle or something–at least that’s what I’ve picked up from WebMD teasers.

  3. The act of reusing the grocery bags seems to calm my conscious, especially when I scoop lovely bunches of sage from my garden into them, or when I use them to suffocate those who choose plastic over paper. Thanks for the great piece, Zoe!

    • zoe zolbrod says:

      Oh, I like the suffocation idea. Instead of letting the bags suffocate birds, suffocate the bird-killers. Good one. Except my whole family would soon be gone.

  4. Greg Olear says:

    I’ve always thought the British Fergie is hotter than the one we have over here.

    We moved recently, and in the process surrendered the cubic yard of crumpled up plastic bags we’d accumulated. And you know what? I need those bags all the time, now that we don’t have any.

    Finally: tarot is the best therapy. ; )

  5. Nathaniel Missildine says:

    I know most of these things too, but I cover my failing to do many of them with stubborn contrarianism. The more someone tells me not to have that second beer before bed, the closer I get to a third.

    Meanwhile, I love the idea of luck as “a luminous polished stone that fits perfectly in my palm.” Lovely.

  6. Yes, exactly. My entire body of environmental ethics is based on how I hate to be annoying (the value of an extra request) vs. the effort of actually rinsing the mayo jar before recycling, divided by the likelihood of any of it mattering an iota.

  7. Brad Listi says:

    I love the title of this post. It reminds me that I use this turn of phrase pretty regularly, and seeing it onscreen made me consider how odd and contradictory it is.

    A statement of blunt assertion, followed by uncertainty and the immediate desire for confirmation.

    It’s a good title. I’m jealous it.

    And I’m exhausted by how much I relate to all of this. This constant assessment of behavior. This constant evaluation process.

    Just the other day I was writing a postcard to a friend, and I closed by saying: Is there anything more annoying than an effective human being?

    I think it had something to do with this kind of thing. And with “efficiency in the digital age,” and so on. It’s a lot to think about. Too much, probably.

  8. It’s like being inside my own head, reading your words. Even putting the sunscreen (CARCINOGENIC POISON) on my son before he plays outside to protect him (SKIN CANCER) will send me swirling into a cognitive dissonance spiral. Sometimes all of the conflicting knowledge and useful/useless information shrieking around in my head makes me want to freeze in place so I don’t do anything wrong (FAILURE). There’s gotta be an easier way to exist.

    I also do the beer versus sleep dance. I’ve actually had to make an “alcohol only on the weekends” rule for myself because I sleep so terribly after even just one or two beers. How did I used to drink and sleep so well? I’ve grown soft with age, I tell you!

    Thanks for sharing, Zoe. I really liked and related to this.

  9. Richard Cox says:

    I liked this a lot, how you acknowledge the differences between our desires and intentions and actions. It would be nice if more folks looked at the world with subtlety and and a keen eye, but then what would we have to write about?

  10. I believe at the very heart of it all each of us has the desire to never use a plastic bag again, or at the very least re-use the damn thing a thousand times. Along with the desire to never smoke, or at least not inhale, to use sunscreen, to bathe our small children every single day, to get them to bed on time and provide clean clothing washed in an environmentally friendly detergent while learning the alphabet or shapes or colors or complex algebraic equations.

    But since desire and reality never quite meet, I will enjoy my vodka on ice while reading a People Magazine. Judgement day will just have to fucking wait. Great piece, Zoe.

  11. This is just plain, ‘ol great!!!
    I know.

    Jessica

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