Today I attended a webinar all about “turning lemons into lemonade.” That is a familiar proverbial phrase, often attributed to Dale Carnegie, but commonly understood to mean something like (in my own words), “When something sucky happens, stop whining about it and look for the opportunity.”
Yes, I know – a scientific definition, but apt nonetheless.
After the webinar, I stopped to think a bit more about the visual image of lemons and just how this proverbial concept might apply to me today. As often happens to me, once I grab ahold of a concept my mind goes on and on and on. The metaphor may become strained, but here are some of my thoughts about this concept and what I needed to learn about it today.
Lemons are lovely to see – that bright yellow color. When you try to eat one, however, you discover that the surface is bitter and acidic. Once you remove that, going one layer deeper, you see something white that looks innocuous and safe. If you taste that, however, it’s even more bitter and disgusting than the surface and lacks the benefit of looking pretty. So, remove that and you get to the core of the lemon. Here you have juice, but also a minefield of pits and pith. Ultimately, when you finally squeeze the lemon, the juice is all that is left. Tart, almost painfully tart, but not bitter or disgusting. It is the raw material awaiting your touch to transform it into something new. Alchemy.
So after that extended metaphor, I thought I would apply it to something specific going on in my life today. I will equate the lemon with this sparkling isolation. So here’s how that plays out in my unusual brain.
Lemon = sparkling isolation. In general, it looks good on the surface. I mean, here I am at home being paid by my employer to work from home, but mostly on my own schedule. On the surface, some things look great. No commute, saving money on gas, sleeping in late, etc.
Tasting the peel. Yuck. So I’m home, but I begin to realize that I am stuck here with little or no chance to interact with other people. My first attempts at shopping are horrible with empty shelves and people acting like idiots.I have fear about toilet paper supplies and fresh produce and just about everything.
Digging deeper to the white pith. Deep breath and release the initial fears. They are just me overreacting. Now I have moments of feeling ok, but as time progresses I being to find the bitter/nasty taste returning as I deal with fear of going outside, horrible news reports, anxiety about potential furloughs, feeling trapped in my house.
Getting to the core. Once I make peace with all of the above, I settle into a sort of routine. There are still pits and pith to avoid – those momentary bouts of anxiety and hopelessness. I have bad days and good days with work (nothing new there). I become ok with the new concept of grocery delivery, hand washing clothes, freezing food for later consumption, wearing a mask when I go outside.
Juice! So now I come to the whole point of this rambling discourse. The lemon juice. All of the above have finally led me to the point where I am ready to figure out what to do with this lemon juice that I have been given. I have peeled away the outer layers and cleared out the inedible parts. Now I have the raw material to create something.
With lemon juice you can create salad dressing, lemonade, limoncello. It can be a prime ingredient in sauces. Mixed with salt you can use it to clean the bottom of copper bottomed pans. You can add it to water to just give water a lift and help with detox. Mix it with sugar to ice pastries and baked goods. Seemingly endless uses.
So with this sparkling isolation (lemon) I can now choose to create positive things (lemonade). I am not assuming I will instantly become Super Productive Man – writing ten novels and becoming fluent in five languages while becoming a master baker and learning how to knit my own sweaters. What I do assume is that I can find ways to use this enforced isolation in ways that make me feel better about myself and my life.
I am slowly working on my novel again. I am deep cleaning the apartment a bit at a time. I am practicing my Spanish. I am trying out new recipes.
More importantly, I have discovered a new passion or reaching out to friends via email, text, phone, and video more than I have ever reached out before. I am learning just how much I don’t need in my life, where I have been sucked into the myth of “more is better”. My eating habits are getting more functional, particularly with portion control.
Best of all – I am discovering just how good it feels to be kind to myself.
So now, with this sense of “lemons into lemonade” I am ready to do this same kind of metaphorical exercise with some of the other things that – on the surface – appear to suck catastrophically. Things like “what to do about live performances if we can’t have large gatherings” and “what if I get laid off or furloughed” or “what if we are told to work from home for another month” or any number of other things that appear crappy and/or insoluble on the surface.
Time to dig underneath and find the juice in these other situations and begin to create some alchemy with it.
Oh, and by the way, if I am making a beverage out of lemons it won’t be lemonade.
It’s only Quarantine if it comes from the Quarante province of France. Otherwise, it’s just Sparkling Isolation.