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November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th and then just some blabbering

As superstitious as I am, I'm not really that interested in Friday the 13th. Though I won't fly on a Friday the 13th, so I guess I do still have my little trepidations. Not that I am flying anywhere.

Many months ago I posted a link to this video:

The first time I saw it, it made me go into the ugly cry. You know that part where everyone suddenly starts to come down the stairs and sing? I just started sobbing like a weirdo.

At first I couldn't figure out why that was my reaction. And I got a lot of email from people telling me the same thing happened to them. It took a while, but finally it dawned on me that most of the time we're so disconnected from pure joy that it's a shock to the system to feel a rush of it. Pure joy makes us leak at the eyeballs.

I've learned a lot from the email I get, it's been by far the most interesting and thought-provoking part of all this. I get emails all day every day. Most of them are lovely, happy, goofy, funny. Informative. It's through email that I've found cool patterns and funny videos and all sorts of things, people sharing them with me, I love that. Then there is a whole other category of correspondence, the concerned emails. It took me a while to get accustomed to it. All these strangers, all their fears. We're so alike in that we all carry secret fears but it took me a while -- a very long while -- to understand that some folks feel a deep need to warn others, help them avoid sure tragedy. It's not even a thought process, they just do it instantly. I think perhaps it's their way of reaching out, relating to others, showing connection.

That first year I was so soft, every fear I had was so transparent. People would comment or email me with their fears and I felt overcome, like I had to take on each of these new, strange, unforeseen worries.

"That thing you wrote about today? You shouldn't do that, maybe you didn't know, but... it could end horribly, tragically, it's unhealthy, causes cancer, explodes on impact, will cause food poisoning, is bad for cats, contains toxins, is bad for the environment, leads to getting fired, traveling alone is dangerous, hotel safes are not safe, your passport will get stolen, you will get lost, watch out, beware, it's harmful, you drink too much, peanut butter is fattening, the garden soil is probably toxic, I knew this friend who ate that and got so sick...."

And I would worry, fret, overwhelming anxiety crept in. I am human and fallible with my own personalized bag of crap and fear. But I couldn't anticipate or even dream up other people's fears until I started getting emails. I would write some hasty, chatty little thing and suddenly people -- people I did not know -- would scold me, school me, tell me all the ways I was ignorant, astray, about to maim, addicted, lost, tragic, pathetic, about to kill my cats, surely going to cause an accident. I was caught totally off guard.

That first year I took it all to heart because I had never experienced anything like it, and I was tightly wound all the time anyway. Soft.

The second year I was divorcing and broke and just tired. I took it less to heart. I began to suspect that complete strangers read my online diary and surmised one thing: this woman is a total idiot. She makes bad decisions and is stupid. Nothing about the email had changed, mind you, but all the sudden I was making it about my shortcomings, seeing it as an assault on my intellect. Irritated. Offended! Lord, that ought to tell you where I was those days.

The third year I just over-thought it and finally snapped, culminating in a breakdown in the Nashville airport. Awesome. I cried into the basket of chicken fingers at some overpriced restaurant with bad barbecue sauce.

After the meltdown, I loosened up. It helped that I was more comfortable with myself and that I had not actually come to some tragic end as predicted. I threw caution to the wind and I did not get eaten by a monster. I laughed a little more, at myself and at other people and our collective insanity. I started feeling grateful for notes from strangers. Happy. Interested -- not assaulted. I started looking forward to the new and goofy stuff I would see in my inbox each day. I can't wait to see what people are saying today! How does that person have email in prison? I had no idea that yarn could be funky because of YARN PLY. Isn't that interesting how this woman interpreted that sentence and got something totally opposite of what I intended? That is so fascinating! I should aim to be more succinct next time. Also, I should spell check. I use a LOT of commas. They make yarn from what kind of animal? Wacky!

These days I love getting email and seeing where people are at, what they're reading, what they hear, what they knit. I even appreciate the people who tell me I need 12 steps and a prayer because I finally understand that it isn't about me, it's about them and their fears and that's fine. But it's theirs to carry, not mine. People tell you things all the time that have nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. You don't have to take it on personally. That is a relief and it frees you up to just live your life instead of constantly being on the defensive. I do feel a connection to folks whose hearts beat in rhythm with compassion even if it's misplaced concern. That sort of care is hard to come by and I appreciate it all. But I am not a handyman's special, I am not a fixer-upper for someone else, I am not an art project. Once I got that into my thick head everything came easier, I relaxed, it's been good with an occasional ugly cry thrown in for balance.

I am a little taken aback that we seem to live in so much fear. It doesn't seem healthy, folks immediately feeling the need to warn others about surely impending doom. I can't tell if it's forever been this way or if something in our society has shifted, moving us into a place where we instantly think of the worst-case scenario, feel the need to warn people, feel scared of outcomes. Scared of peanuts. I'm not built that way so it still feels foreign to me and I haven't quite wrapped my mind around it. But maybe it's always been this way? Or maybe the pervasive news of fear has forever altered the way folks see the world. What do you think? I'm not sure, myself.

With all our stress and anxiety and concerns it's no surprise we fall into the ugly cry seeing a group of people dance in a train station. We're a whole world so constantly vigilant against tragedy (or addicted to it?) that a moment of pure joy makes us fall to pieces.

Like everyone, I want to choose happy over tragic and like most people I have my days. I'm not a Pollyanna. I absolutely hate it when someone tries to paste a happy face sticker over every last thing, it's trite and annoying and it feels fake. But I also work daily not to immediately default to the worst-case fear, either. It's so exhausting to always be on guard against unforeseen trauma and it never really changes the outcome anyway. It's easier to make jokes about stuff, loosen up, let your freak flag fly, use the damn hotel safe if you want to and eat peanuts with wild abandon.

And now and then it feels good to do a little ugly cry. It's cleansing.

Posted by laurie at November 13, 2009 9:58 AM