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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Off the Grid: The importance of being real

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

Not too long ago, I found myself at the checkout of the grocery store, swearing at the clerk. She asked naively, perhaps a little too sweetly, “How’s your day going?”

I looked outside at the low-slung gray clouds and bitter wind, shoved my card into that blasted machine I always argue with and glared out of my black soul into her blue eyes.

“How do you think it’s going? It’s … February in North Idaho.”

Now, I try to be sparse with my swearing at people, but sometimes the words blurt out in a kind of Turret’s waterfall gush, particularly near the end of winter. I apologized profusely and then she said something like, “We just moved here from the Bay Area and we’re loving the snow!”

At that point, it was all I could do to not launch over the counter and leech the vitamin D rich blood directly out of her veins. I thought, “Give it a year or two, honey. You’ll be miserable like the rest of us by March.”

I’ve never been good at faking it, which isn’t to say I don’t have a measure of diplomacy when needed. My inability to whitewash my experience, my mood, my history, my opinion of rom-coms, lands me in some precarious positions in life. My mother’s threatened lawsuits, my father is currently stewing about my latest faux pas and I am no stranger to the essential art of authentic apology.

I would argue that keeping the peace and faking it are overrated, if not outright dangerous. The most rewarding and meaningful relationships in life are those in which we can process conflict. Hence the running habit – where I process much conflict all on my own, then emerge with all my swear words spent and a fresh perspective.

I was out looking for that fresh perspective this morning, trotting along the paved streets of my small town, desperately seeking something to lift the internal clouds. The skies were a seamless blue, but everything else was colorless as if Werner Herzog ordered the season. The easiest solution is just to accept that some days are like that. And if we’re really evolved or spend a lot of time meditating, we might even learn that it doesn’t mean something is wrong. It just is.

But I was only a few miles in yet and perspective shift requires a build up of endorphins I had not yet reached, thus my pity party continued. But I was still trying to fake it, despite my clear understanding that this never really works.

There is a propensity in our culture to show up with our representative persona. This version of me has her mascara on straight, is aptly caffeinated and doesn’t have panty lines. She’s gracious about her dysfunctional-as-hell family of origin, smiles in her selfies and jokes about her failures.

But are we, like our social media accounts would suggest, distorting reality in a way that implies others ought to send out their representative as well? We may be that put-together version sometimes, but not all the time.

My representative tried to show up and fake it as I rounded a corner past a building site. I was tired and wanted to walk, but instead, because there were like 30 blokes in tool belts working much harder, I sucked it up and hit my stride. Or I was going to, but I hit the pavement instead. Hard.

When I crash in public, I like to do it in front of onlookers for maximum humility. There were no less than two old ladies fetching their mail (they didn’t even look up), four work crews, two plumbers, and a pair of men unloading appliances. There may have been a car driving by. And of course, one very guilty-looking brown dog.

It happened so fast, I had no time to shriek or stumble. I just smacked flat down, palms first – WHAM! – onto the cold road in a cloud of gross salt and gravel and flailing limbs.

Instantly, Freya was on top of me fussing about because my stumble-crash-roll looked a lot like a seizure, and she’d already forgotten she tripped me. My watch was blinking, “SOS: Do you need emergency dispatch?”

I lay on the ground for a moment, dog tongue cleaning my eyeballs, and contemplated what I did actually need. I stared up at the blue sky between lappings, waiting for someone to holler or clap. If my watch dispatches 911, can I ask them to bring me a latte and an attitude adjustment?

I cannot imagine Mother Nature offering a more blunt wake-up call (perhaps in the form of a light concussion) than this. Trying to be anything other than who we are in any given moment is tempting fate to knock on the doors of our reality with the gentle nudge of a battering ram.

In my reality, lessons in self-compassion often come with the tweezer removal of gravel. (On the bright side, I’m going to weasel my way out of dish duty for at least a week!)

I peeled myself off the ground and brushed the dust from my legs, then waved at the crews who seemed wholly unbothered by my debacle. Which is probably how society feels in general about our debacles – a reminder that we really don’t need to filter or fake anyway. The real me trotted off at a slower pace, bleeding and filthy, but laughing now, and assuring myself there was nothing to prove today, or any other day for that matter.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at