Sunday, December 1, 2013

Oh, The Places You'll Go. Maybe.

You know the famous Dr. Seuss book "Oh, The Places You'll Go?" Every time you have ever completed a phase of life, someone surely read this to you or quoted parts of it or kicked you out of the house and told you to get a job.

And it's supposed to be this really inspirational and motivational explanation about how wonderful your life is going to be. At least, that's how I remember it.

"You're off to great places! You're off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose!"

I remember the book going on and on and on about all of the amazing opportunities and experiences that await you in life and how fulfilling and wonderful it will all be.

Then, on Thanksgiving, my five-year-old niece Kate walked over to me, book in hand, and commanded me to read it to her.

Kate is sort of like a horrifying monster so we all just do exactly what she says. Because we don't want to wake up the next morning with a horse head in our sheets.

I started reading it. All of that stuff about "you're off to great places! You're off and away!" All of that stuff about flying high and soaring with the eagles, etc. etc. etc.

And I was reading all of that fluff and thinking about how there was this whole other side of the story that wasn't being represented very well. A side of the story that doesn't involve ending up in the most amazing places and doing incredible things. A side of the story where people you love die or leave you. A side of the story where you fail at something that really matters. A side of the story where you sometimes end up alone on a Saturday night feeling a little friendless and sad.

And then the book took a turn that I swear must have just been added because I do NOT remember this from my childhood.

After pages and pages of emphatically exclaimed literary optimism, I flipped one more page and it was all, "oh, but, actually, a lot of crap will probably go down too. And you'll probably end up feeling like you're doing nothing with your life while all of your friends are having babies and running for mayor. And on Thanksgiving, you'll show up alone. AGAIN. And your friends and younger siblings will start buying houses and that's when you'll look up 'equity' for the first time in your life because the most significant item you've ever purchased is a blanket with sleeves."

I'm paraphrasing. But that's basically what it says. It just has a lot more words like "whozits" and "trigamoroo." Also it rhymes in the book.

And as I read this and Dr. Seuss continued on about how your hot air balloon will get popped by a tree and all of your friends' hot air balloons will soar on and you'll feel like the only person in the world who has fallen into a ditch, I was like, "YES! YOU GET ME DR. SEUSS! YOU REALLY GET ME!"

I trusted Dr. Seuss in that moment. And I immediately wanted him to take a look at my ringworm, foot disease, and throat chlamydia. And I don't even know if he takes my insurance!

At this point Kate's attention span ran out and she threw another book at me and yelled "READ." And I was like, "SHHHH! I'm trying to finish this story!"

So I went off alone and read the rest of the book. And eventually it turned positive again. It explained that you can get out of that slump. And that you will. And that ultimately you'll get on track to see and do great things. And "you're off to great places! You're off and away!"

And then I flipped the page.

And as if the book was concerned it hadn't made itself clear the first time, it was all like, "except maybe that WON'T happen for you. And your life might royally suck sometimes. And you'll probably be alone forever. Here. Have some cheesecake."

Again, paraphrasing, slightly.

I was reading and reading. And this silly little book I've had quoted at me all of my life suddenly started to tell a lot of my story. And the story of so many people I know. Probably, the story of every person I know. And I wanted to keep reading. Keep reading and find out how it all ends. Find out what the heck I'm supposed to do when my balloon is deflated in a tree and I fall into that ditch. And find out how I'm supposed to handle life's biggest disappointments.

But on you will go
though the weather be foul.
On you will go
though your enemies prowl.
On you will go
though the Hakken-Kraks howl.
Onward up many
a frightening creek,
though your arms may get sore 
and your sneakers leak.

On and on you will hike,
And I know you'll hike far
and face up to your problems
whatever they are.

You'll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You'll get mixed up
with many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life's
a Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)


I finished the last couple of pages. When I put the book down I had that look on my face like the world's mysteries had just been presented to me.

And I've been thinking about that a lot in the last few days. About how that crash and burn feeling is apparently normal. About how Dr. Seuss never actually promised us that we were all going to be president of the United States and they would one day name a sandwich after us. And how all he really promised us is that we have control of our general trajectory. But not all the crap that hits us on the way.

And that's ok.

Because you know what? The crap along the way--the tree that deflates the balloon, the ditch, the being alone on Thanksgiving and not knowing what equity is--none of that stuff makes us who we are. Neither do the "great places" or having babies or being mayor, by the way.

What makes us who we are is how we respond to it all. The good and the bad. The pleasant and the frustrating. The normal and the strange.

What makes us who we are is whether we can force ourselves to keep going when the one thing we want most is taken from us. What makes us who we are is whether we can keep being kind to others when the world isn't being kind to us. What makes us who we are is whether we can maintain a sense of humility when treasures pour down upon us, and a sense of self-worth when they are taken away.

Getting cut down hurts.

Being cut down is demoralizing.

But sometimes it's impossible to get to your great places without a snip snip along the way.

So, yeah. You may not get to pick all the places you'll end up. But "you can go any direction you choose." And I have to think that a life of positive perseverance on that point must take you to some pretty amazing places. Eventually.

Whozits and trigamoroo. And all that jazz.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. the story of my life and is exactly how I've been feeling for quite some time now. Thank you for putting it so eloquently in writing!

  2. Thanks, Eli. That was fantastic. I had a similar realization driving home in all this Thanksgiving craziness today. I'd be driving down the road, smooth sailing, when all of the sudden there would be traffic for no apparent reason. And it kept crawling on and on and on. Until it suddenly picked up again and was all clear. Sometimes we get stuck and we don't know why, and we don't know when it will end, but eventually, we'll make it home.

  3. This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen you write. I just ... Thank you. Thank you.

  4. Once again you have managed to say all the words I wish I could say. Thank you.

  5. Oh Eli... This post was spot on, both in its content and timing. I appreciate your words so much.

  6. I feel so alone so often. I guess I have friends, but asking if people want to hang out gives me legitimate anxiety, so I really only do stuff if I am directly asked, by the person who is in charge of what ever sort of function is happening. I am brave. I can pack up all my belongings and move to Eastern Europe (have done) but I cannot walk into a house party that the host didn't invite me specifically to. I can't tell you Eli, how many insanely lonely nights you and your blog have gotten me through. Sorry for an unheeded emotional unloading. Marry me?

  7. I think you just saved me. Thank you!

  8. My husband is in the military and is gone quite often. When he's gone over the holidays (like this past Thanksgiving), it's really difficult for me. Even though I'm surrounded by those I love, I still feel very lonely. I may not understand exactly how you feel, but I do have some empathy. My brother is going through a similary situation, as well. I've been reading your blog for almost 2 years now, and you are always so inspirational. I never comment on posts, but this one hit a little closer to home. Keep doing what you're doing, and everything will be fine.

  9. I've always had to have my husband read this book to my kids because to me, it's just SO TRUE and makes SO MUCH SENSE and I get all choked up reading it. Ridiculous. And I got choked up reading your blog today. Equally ridiculous but it seems to be happening more and more these days Eli! Guess that's not such a bad thing.

  10. Ya, showing up to holidays as the ONLY single person in the family is a downer. Next time let's go together!

  11. And on that note, I dash off to to purchase the book. Dr. Seuss was a genius who knew how to realistically address life to children & adults. "My Many Colored Days" is another great read for learning how to comprehend & express emotion.

  12. This is seriously one of the most amazing things I've ever read. I have already printed out copies and made several people in my office read it this morning. Thank you so much for giving us this.

  13. And the thing is, Eli, those highs and crashes and burns will happen all throughout your life. At least that has been the case for me. It's so important to keep that perspective you talked about. And it's nice to get this reminder every once in a while.

  14. Excellent post.

    "sometimes it's impossible to get to your great places without a snip snip along the way."
    Wouldn't it be the most boring story ever if you did? Can you imagine: the protagonist of this story faced no trials (and was consequently never better or stronger for them), he got everything he ever wanted and life was perfect and easy. Blech.

    You may have leaky sneakers, but you are marching on by golly. Going somewhere and being someone wonderful along the way. Hurrah!

  15. Who was it that penned, "If you want a sandwich named after you, you're likely to have to start with your own bread?"

  16. Eli! You made me cry!

  17. This. Is. Fantastic. You are seriously among the best writers Eli. Thank you for this one.

  18. Oh, no. You've gotten me started on the genius that is Dr. Seuss. Gosh, he's maybe my second favorite author of all time, and I'm not just talking of children's literature. The part about the deflated balloons was always there in "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" He always includes a glimpse of some of the bad stuff that can happen. I mean, look at "The Lorax" or "Sneetches and Other Stories." (Please, please tell me you've heard of Sneetches! Because I dressed up as a Sneetch 5 years ago for Halloween, and basically the entire population of south-east Idaho doesn't know what the hell a Sneetch is, and it was depressing unto me; not only because I put time and effort into that dang costume, but because it's a Seuss classic! I was thinking, "Did your parents not love you growing up?!" The entire population of Idaho Falls and surrounding areas, minus 5 people.)

    Anyway. Dr. Seuss is a genius. I know he's dead, but his genius lives on.

    I'm glad your niece brought this book to your attention again. It's wonderful stuff.

    1. Thank you, Kathryn! Me, too! I think it's one of his best stories :)

  19. I got demoted at work this morning. I worked hard to get here (grad school, working my way up the ladder) and I'm just crushed to learn that I haven't been doing as well as I thought. I came home so upset and happened to check your blog and read this. Thank you. There's something comforting about knowing that even when we're at our lowest, we're not alone. Others have been there, and they've made it out, and I most likely will too. (98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed!) And I'm sending you a virtual hug, too - hang in there! (<-- insert picture of kitten hanging from tree)

  20. I needed this today - so thanks for summing it up so well. And apparently I also need to reread that book!

  21. I love this book! It's my favorite thing to give kids when they graduate high school.

    Also, you made me cry.

  22. I have nothing to add to this post. It's pretty much the most relatable thing I've read in awhile.

  23. Well put. It's been funny for me coming to the realization of "the grass is always greener" syndrome. A couple years ago I was on the phone with a good friend of mine from high school. I envied his life accomplishments - his two degrees, his sweet job working for a company that raised funds for diabetes research, his apartment in Capitol Hill in Seattle, his month-long vacation to France. So I was a little stunned when he expressed envy about MY life situation, specifically my family. I am guilty of overlooking how good I have got it in that department and hyperfocusing on the things that aren't going the way I wish they would have.
    It has been kind of a rough year for me, mostly career-wise, and I've been doing a lot of this kind of thinking over the last several months trying to figure out what places I will go, if any. I've never met you, but your blog has been a good companion for my own life-pondering. Thanks for sharing.


  25. it weird that this was so totally what I needed to hear? YOU'VE GOT ME PUMPED ELI! Pumped and ready to get things done! Thank you you're fabulous!

  26. This just made me cry big tears. I have had such a hard time lately feeling like things just aren't going right. This is such a great reminder to focus on the things that matter--the things I can control--who I am and who I'm becoming. I seriously feel like I can move mountains right now and those mountains are looking different to me than they did before. Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to share these thoughts. They are so beautiful. I seriously cannot believe how beautiful this post is. I haven't read anything in a long time that has had such a profound effect on me.

  27. Your post today reminded me of this sweet story:
    Watch this:
    Then when you have time, read/study this:

    1. Thanks for sharing the Mormon message and the article.

  28. I broke off an engagement a few months ago, and for the last couple weeks I've been dreading the holidays because I was already tired of my friends all getting married and having babies and awesome careers, and I thought that I was about to get a move on with my life and was supposed to spend this Christmas at my fiancé's planning our wedding. I've been beating myself up a lot lately about all sorts of things going wrong in my life that were actually out of my control (losing my job, finding out my fiancé was cheating on me, having to move back in with my parents), but I wanted to know what was wrong with me that everything wasn't working out for me like it was for so many of my friends and relatives my own age. Thank you for this. I just...I have no words for how much I needed to see this today.

  29. Aww, Eli. We missed you. Thanks for coming back a little wiser and spreading that wisdom around. Life is just packed with ups and downs. Loneliness is a toughie, for sure. As Elder Holland put it, “Don't you quit. You keep walking, you keep trying, there is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon. Some come late. Some don't come until heaven." "It will be alright in the end. Trust God and believe in Good Things to Come.”

  30. Thank you so much for this post. And thank you everyone else who has commented. It's nice to know that even though I sometimes feel like I'm going through hard times alone, there are people all around in a similar situation, feeling similar things. It's a little less lonely. So thank you wonderful people.

  31. He's not as dumb as he looks, folks! (Just kidding, I can't actually say that without putting in a disclaimer that I think you are actually quite attractive. Just in case your feelings were actually hurt, or something. Anywho...) Yeah, sometimes life isn't so great, but it gets better. It always does. Enjoy these:

  32. Wow, wow, wow. I know everyone has been saying they needed this today & I wish I could express how very much I needed this in this very moment. This is super personal but I hope you read this & know you were an answer to prayers. I have been having crippling anxiety & panic attacks the last few days where my whole body shakes & negative thoughts won't stop racing through my head no matter how I try to stop them because of some stuff that happened this weekend. I've been trying to do everything possible to prevent myself from taking a pill for it. Deep breathing, prayer, dancing, meditation, essential oils in a bath, singing, you name it but I still have caved to taking just a little bit of something to calm me down the last few days after doing all of those things. (I'm not in any way criticizing people who do take something to get through anxiety, I just know for myself that I don't want to go down that road of getting addicted to pills like I have in the past at the same time I felt like had to just to get through the day.) I've felt like I can't finish school because a final project is stressing me out so much even though I'm only a couple of weeks away until the end. Today I called my husband panicking and crying at only 10:00 AM not knowing how I was going to get through the rest of the day. He told me to dance, read or do something engaging to get my mind off of it. I basically told God this morning that if He didn't help me soon that I would have to take something just to cope.

    Another thing to note is that my illness has held me back so much over the years. I've been struck in the last few weeks that I'm 30 & don't have a real career, barely went to college, have never traveled & can't have children right now. I know I have grown as a person but haven't done much on paper. I'm tired of people saying, "Well, you're still young" because I know that but it invalidates how I feel right now. I think it slowly started hitting me when I read my high school yearbook from 12 years ago for the first time in years & reading all of the messages of people telling me how far I will go in life. My one accomplishment is I did get married to a great guy,

    Anyway, I decided to come to your blog because I knew that humor could get me out of my anxiety not expecting such a poignant & thoughtful post. Thank you so much for helping me get through my day; I feel a warmth & calm coming over me. This was divinely inspired & I feel no need for pills today.

    1. Just wanted to let you know that I did read this (and I always read all the comments--even the crazy ones . . .). Thank you so much for sharing what you did.

    2. Oh great...make the girl with anxiety wonder if she is one of the "crazy ones." ;-) Oh my goodness!! I went back to see if anyone commented on my post only to find that the only comment was from you. I did check every other comment to indeed confirm that my comment was the only one you commented on. According to an assessment from my therapists', one of my top negative/destructive core beliefs is that I have to have validation in order to feel good about myself. I bet you didn't know when you were making this comment that you were actually fueling one of my negative core beliefs did you? ;-) I have to admit that I am having those fluttery feelings in my stomach from a boy paying attention to me that I shouldn't have because I am happily married. ;-) I'm not normally a sarcastic person but I guess you're bringing that out in me. I think all of the winkey smileys make my sarcasm okay. I see a winkey smiley as a shortened version of "bless your heart" in that you can say whatever you want as long as you follow it up with a winkey smiley. In all seriousness, your choice to comment on my comment also made my day. :-) :-) :-)

  33. In the movie "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" the old Indian saying is repeated throughout: "Everything will be all right in the end. If things are not all right, then it is not The End."

    I lost a great job that I loved two months ago. I knew going in that it would not be my "forever" job (because my forever job is in a completely-unrelated field) but that it would be my "while I'm out of my element" job and would last for as long as I am "out of my element"... I was mistaken; it lasted only ten months. And I was FIRED from it, rather unceremoniously. So in the two months since, I've been overwhelmed and depressed and bored and lonely and have hated being "out of my element." But ALSO in that two months, my husband and I have buckled down into planning our return to our element, and the state department that determines whether your loss of a job is actually a WRONGFUL termination (and whether you are owed unemployment benefits) has ruled IN MY FAVOR. So now I have something to look forward to (returning to my element) and a plan of attack. The past year has sucked in so many ways, but had I not had to survive it, I would not have the mental clarity I now have.

    I will now try to get a copy of this and other Dr. Seuss' works, because I hadn't known heretofore that he wrote for adults. Thank you for this post, Eli. You're a beautiful man, and I'm only saying that because it's true.

  34. Thank you. Sometimes it's just nice to be reminded that I'm not the only one. Bless the internets!

  35. This post is unbelievably wonderful. Thank you so much for it.