It is what it is — but it always is

Column by Craig Marshall Smith


Or maybe it's “It is what it isn't,” but around here it is definitely not “It is what it is.” We are not pro-slogan, phrase, or cliché in this tract house.

We don't do “One day at a time” or “Let go and let God.” We also don't do “do.” So don't be asking me to “do lunch.” We eat lunch. I avoid clichés like there is no tomorrow. Like the plague.

I am not interested in gimme-expressions. I prefer to reach a little further than a “calm before the storm.” “Katie bar the door” is better. And “A hearty man eat a toad” is better still.

Clichés enable us to all-purpose a thought or reaction without really thinking or reacting. Trying to really say something meaningful puts us between a rock and a hard place, and who wants that? You would have to have bats in the belfry.

You've heard me say over and over that we no longer care about what we say over and over.

I just returned from New York City, barely, just ahead of Sandy, and everyone everywhere was tapping away like fat little pigeons — on their cell phones, and each of them was sending this identical message.

“It is what it is.”

It's a phrase that means absolutely nothing but implies that it covers everything. It is empty. The language cupboard is bare. It's garbage in and garbage out. I will bet you a squeaky wheel that you will hear “It is what it is” more than once today. Chances are you will say it your own self.

It gets worse. Americans have turned their refrigerators into bulletin boards. It's been reported that 88 percent of us have some kind of malarkey on our refrigerators: appalling magnets (birdies, kitties, piggies, Broncos crap, cars, cookies, bookies, and Snookies), childish drawings by children, childish drawings by grown-ups, business cards, reminders, photos of grandma holding a fish, a soccer schedule from last season, and a picture of Ann Coulter with horns on her head, something I approve of. It's not exactly Aesthetics 101.

You can buy magnetic letters and create a spell out: “Housework is evil! It must be stopped.” Or even, “It is what it is.” OMG!

When someone says, “It is what it is,” I feel like I have been handed a Wish Sandwich: two slices of bread and wish you had some meat in between.

I ate a lot of those when I was a kid. It goes without saying that we were as poor as a church mouse. I think that's what made my father reach for the hair of the dog.

Around here life imitates art. It has to because I am an artist. For me, art is the only game in town. When I was a kid I was caught red-handed, painting on the walls. Now I paint on canvases. I have a horse of a different color in the permanent collection of the Museum of Outdoor Arts. You'll have to hold your horses when you see it for the first time. I think it will make your day. It might even be a wake-up call for you. I know I created it when I was back in the saddle, artistically. Enjoy.

My therapist likes to tell me, “What goes around comes around.” I know exactly what she means. She also tells me, “Craig, it's three strikes and you're out.”

No way! I know I have two strikes on me and I have fouled off a dozen pitches. But I am hanging in there, because back in the day I had it all going on. Then I barked up the wrong tree. It was monkey see monkey do, and I made a few mistakes. I started to count my chickens before they were hatched.

It wasn't what it is. It isn't what it was.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at


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