SCREAMING FOR ICE IN MY VEINS
By: Lauren Anderson
There’s this line in Paul Simon’s song “You Can Call Me Al” that has always really resonated with me. The iconic 80’s pop classic starts out with Paul Simon almost pleading to the universe:
“Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?”
Not only do I love the song and what it talks about, but I also think about this line a lot. Especially when I’m working out. Sometimes I feel like I’m really strong, and I like to work out because I can show on the outside what I feel like on the inside.
But if I’m being honest, most of the time I feel so so so SOFT. Both physically and emotionally. And I get mad at my softness. I don’t want to feel like that. I want to be a Citadel of Strength dammit! But most of the time I feel more like a bouncy castle filled with air and pudding.
When the song comes on the radio or on my Spotify shuffle, I really sing out, because I too plead with the universe to not make me so freaking sensitive.
The idea of “being hard” to face a hard world is something that initially has a lot of appeal I think. The world will throw it’s worst at you, no doubt. And the ability to get up, dust off, and keep rolling is something that we really glorify in this culture.
That indefatigable spirit and strong in the face of all odds mentality is a lot of what America is built on. It’s got that romantic cowboy at dusk kinda feel to it. Strong and stoic. The whole, “I don’t need to talk about it, cause there’s work to do.” kinda thing. That’s the kind of attitude that gets shit done.
And it’s an idea that appeals because it’s built FORD TOUGH.
I’m not above admitting that I have a Rocky quote on my phone, to pull out when I need to keep going.
But I’m also not the same Lauren I used to be.
I used to try and hide my softness. I used to power through. I used to fake the strength that I sought out and admired in others. Now I know from many hard-won lessons that there is incredible strength in vulnerability. And owning your feelings. ALL OF THEM.
I know now that I am rewarded more for my ability to share my fears and my worries/weakness than I am for showing strength for strength’s sake.
It’s kinda like this: My greatest teachers didn’t have all the answers. My greatest teachers were willing to say, “I don’t know. Let’s explore that idea a little more.” And we’d work on it together. Real leaders listen and delegate. Real wisdom recognizes how much it doesn’t know. Et cetera, etc.
And the more I try and own my sensitivity, the more powerful/manageable it becomes. I am no longer ruled by it, it has become a tool I use to connect me to others more deeply and more quickly than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s the tool I use to read a room, help a friend, write a story etc. And it is most definitely at the very center of my entire comedy career.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m suddenly 100% comfortable with it. I still resent my softness on almost a daily basis. Because at the risk of sounding “complainy”– softness makes life harder.
Deeper? Yes. More fulfilling? Also Yes. More aware? I’d say so. But also HARDER.
Cause that softness is also where my depression lives sometimes. That softness is where my anxiety grows and cultivates like the mother yeast in a pot of stinky kombucha. That softness makes me cry at the beauty of a song lyric and not be able to watch the news. And on really hard days– it makes me stay in bed all day.
In fact, I was having a moment just like that last weekend. I was finding it really hard to get up and get going. So I found an excuse to stay in bed and watch hour after hour of “American Ninja Warrior”. These incredible athletes work all year at the chance to run an obstacle course.
And for what? Money? Okay sure, duh. Glory? Yeah maybe.
But mostly these athletes were running and training to prove something to themselves. Like one guy almost drowned, and he trained the course to get over his PTSD. One other guy trained to keep the memory of his father alive, who died by suicide.
And another trained to prove that if you keep fighting and keep going you can live knowing your wife has MS. The obstacle course became this symbol of getting up, dusting off, and keeping going. No matter how many hard knocks life throws at you. Or in this case, giant spinning foam balls.
I found myself incredibly moved while watching this show. I couldn’t stop watching these athletes prove huge things to themselves on that course. I was moved when they were defeated. And they would say great sportsman-like things as, “There is no such thing as failure. Cause every time I fall it teaches me something.” I mean, Incredible.
Because lying in bed having fully given into the “softness” of my feelings that day, I was yearning to feel that toughness of the Ninja Warriors. I was yearning to feel like I often do at my own gym, in my own small way.
And then one athlete completed the course. Right after he hit the buzzer he screamed in a primal call to the gods “THERE’S ICE IN MY VEINS!!!” And I started to cry. Like full out, unplug the damn, big wet sobs.
And the guy on TV was crying too. And I was sobbing. After a minute, I wiped my face, and started to think about why that moment made me weep so much. Sure it was exciting watching him complete the challenge. But it was his ridiculous battle cry about ICE in his veins to the universe that got me.
Why did he say that? Why was that the thing that popped out of his mouth? Having “Ice in the veins” means you’re cool. You’re collected. You’re tough because nothing can rattle you. Not the obstacle course on national tv, and not any obstacle in your life either.
But people with real “ice in their veins” don’t need to shout it out. Because it’s just a fact. Just like truly powerful people don’t walk around going, “I’m so powerful.” I mean, you don’t hear Oprah talking about how influential she is. She quite simply IS INFLUENTIAL.
So that guy yelled that out, because in that moment he was trying to show power. He was trying to remind himself that he can be powerful. That he can accomplish great tasks. That he can be cool in the face of a challenge.
Not because that’s the way he IS. But he yelled it out because that’s the way he wants to be.
And that’s why I cried too. I know the power that comes from being your whole self. The soft and the hard. The light and the dark. On my best days, that is where I want to live.
But I’d be a liar if I said I still didn’t yearn for the that old familiar ICE IN MY VEINS. I’d be lying if I didn’t want to scream that same phrase out to the universe to convince myself that I was as strong as I want to be. Especially on days when I’m lying in bed, too warm and soft to be of much use to anything. Especially myself.
I still find myself “fronting” from time to time to get through. Trying to be cooler than I really am. Tougher, more put-together, more polished. Begging for someone, somewhere to pour a little more ice in my veins. Ya know?
And I think that’s okay. Because sometimes I gotta scream about what I want to convince myself that I deserve it. Sometimes I gotta rally cry to get my troops in order, even if I’m unsure of the battle ahead. Sometimes I gotta pretend there’s ice in my veins to get me from point A to B.
But the difference is, I also now know how isolating it is to try and be a cowboy all the time. And a Ford truck is too big to drive or park anywhere in uptown.
I guess there is a time and a place for that kind of power-through spirit. And there is a time to let yourself be as soft as a shellfish without the shell.
Both have power. Both have worth.
I know I can channel Ice in my veins… fire in my spirit. When I need to.
Like the best kind of cookie, even if life can be hard it’s okay to stay, “Soft in the middle”.