My beloved Jen, The Trephinist’s, ingenious meme. (Our friendship was born out of a meme, so of course I had to take her up on it.)
WHEN SOMEONE I LOVE DIES
God, I don’t know. One foot in front of the other until one day you’ll find you’ve walked far enough that you’re no longer standing at the precipice of that great chasm of grief. That and, simply: cry. I somehow went completely numb at both my grandma and my grandpa’s funerals and just…didn’t cry. So now I give myself permission to feel it. Let it out. Cry. It helps you to get those feet moving on that long walk ahead of you.
WHEN I HATE MY JOB
Sigh. Yeah. Despite how much I like my job, this happens every weekday around 3:00 in the afternoon. It’s because I’m at the end of my attention span, I’m terminally bored, and my blood sugar is crashing. I.e., I’m DONE for the day. Only there’s two and half more hours to go. Editing for eight hours — staring at the page, trying to keep the big picture while sifting through the minutiae of commas, semi-colons, em dashes — it’s just this slow burn until WHAM! 3:00 burnout. So:
When it’s mild: I get up, lurch out of my office (which has terrible ventilation and air that deadens in this escalating, stifling way), make myself an herbal tea, stare out the window while the kettle is boiling, then wander back to the Publishing department and strike up a conversation with an amenable-looking co-worker. Once my tea is at a drinkable temperature, I retreat to my office, stare at something on the computer screen that looks officious and important, but really just drink the tea and think my thoughts. Generally, this takes about 20 minutes to half an hour all told, which I’m sure is less than awesome in the eyes of my employer, but WHATEVER, eyes of my employer, THAT is why I don’t take a morning coffee break. (This accounts for 90% of the 3:00 crashes.)
When it’s moderate: See above, but replace herbal tea with green tea. Add an apple. Maybe some surreptitious surfing of the Internet wherein I indulge in one juicy blog post. (This accounts for 5% of the 3:00 crashes.)
When it’s moderate to high: See above, but instead add in a fruitless passage wherein I TRY to work but find myself staring out the window after re-reading the same sentence eleventy times. In this case, I invent a five-minute errand that will take me outside where I can breathe AIR, actual AIR (often just buying a lottery ticket [natch] or some nuts from the newsstand downstairs). If, upon my return from breathing actual air, I’m still unable to get past re-reading that same fracking sentence, I switch to doing something administrative and mindless. (This accounts for 4% of the 3:00 crashes.)
When it’s really, really, really bad: Full honesty? I give up. And, like, stare at the wall for two hours until it’s time to go home. Oh, it’s ridiculous, alright. And I don’t exactly feel good about it. But on the other hand, trying to be productive as an editor for eight straight hours is equally ridiculous. The human mind is simply not built like that, so I don’t exactly feel bad about it either. (This accounts for 1% of the 3:00 crashes.)
WHEN I WANT TO STAB MY HUSBAND IN THE FACE
In the beginning, we used to fight balls out. Now, I think we’re getting to a point where we’re realizing that, somehow, time makes a marriage stronger, yet more fragile. Like, we can really hurt each other now, if we’re not careful. So:
When I want to stab my husband in the face because **I** am in a snit for some reason, usually to do with low blood sugar: A silent mantra of “Be nice, be nice, be nice, be nice, be nice, benicebenicebenicebenicebenice,” whilst trying to extricate myself from the room before saying the tantalizing mean thing dancing on my tongue with “hanger” glee.
When I want to stab my husband in the face because **he** is in a snit for some reason, usually to do with low blood sugar: I quite simply say “Please don’t take it out on me that [the Canucks are losing] [you're hungry] [Ikea on a Sunday is hell on Earth]” and, if it continues, “Um, you’re hurting my feelings.” You know, just saying out loud the plain, simple truth of it. Go figure.
WHEN I AM AFRAID TO DIE
Yes. This happens when I’ve forgotten to live. Which is to say, when I’ve neglected to go out, see my friends, do those things I do that make me happy (yoga, ballet, using my limbs to transport me to areas of the planet that don’t involve my couch). And, there’s a quiet little undercurrent at the very heart of me that swells and gushes when I’m nourished on living, and withers when I’m starved for some viva: writing. So, when I find myself afraid to die, it usually begins with an internal horror at how I’ve not been writing. I am afraid to die before I’ve done this for myself, before I’ve been a capital “w” Writer to my own satisfaction. Failing to do this is the most disappointing thing I can think of: squandering my life and neglecting to do the one thing I’ve always wanted to do.
However, I’m increasingly finding that my own satisfaction is in the doing, the trying. So these fears tend to be a reaction to the fact that I’m not trying — to live or to write. So, if you’re afraid to die, silly self, it means you need to get out and live a little. And then write about it.
WHEN I AM TERRIFIED THAT MY BOOK WON’T APPEAL TO VERY MANY PEOPLE
Ah, yes. I am scared of this. And it’s incredible that I can worry about this — a testament to just how much I can live inside my own head, flinging myself on the hamster wheel of anxiety and worry, racing myself to nowhere while listening to the frantic squeaks of my circular thoughts. Incredible because … I haven’t written a book. I think we can all safely agree that wanting to write a book is not nearly the same thing as sitting down every day for, oh, a year or two and writing a book. As I’ve…matured a little, as a person and as a (sometimes) writer, I worry about this far less than I used to. It’s kind of a place I wander to when thinking about writing in general, an old haunt that I return to when I’m on autopilot, the way I sometimes start walking to my old apartment when I’m distracted and tired and going somewhere else that happens to be in the general area. I have an excellent cure, though, for this fear: WRITE THE BOOK FIRST, YOU POMPOUS, DELUSIONAL ASSHOLE. YOU HAVE NOT EARNED THE RIGHT TO WORRY ABOUT THIS.
WHEN I HIT A DRY SPELL MUCH LIKE THE ONE I JUST WENT THROUGH AND STOP WRITING ALTOGETHER (AND WE’RE TALKING ABOUT MORE THAN JUST THIS BLOG, BUT, LIKE, ALTOGETHER, ALTOGETHER, EVEN E-MAIL)
You know how sometimes you hear about a marriage that breaks up and then someone in the know will maybe have a few too many drinks one night and will lean in and say in a low, conspiratorial voice “But s/he told me they hadn’t had sex in years” and you say “Really? Years? How does that…even…?” And then you fall silent and think about how stiflingly terrifying it would be to be in that situation. Like, there must be a point where you both want to have sex, but somehow enough time has passed that suddenly it’s really awkward to be the one to initiate it, so you hope the other person will initiate, while s/he is frantically hoping that you’ll be the one to initiate. [Aside: Yes, hello, Mom and Dad. We're suddenly talking about sex. It'll be over soon.] The only way I can see out of that kind of Catch 22, is to a) SACK UP and admit that you want a divorce because you are no longer attracted to your spouse (or you just really don’t want to, and can’t, wear the latex body suit while oinking like a pig or whatever it is) because, while unpleasant and disappointing, admitting the truth is surely less humiliating than PRETENDING for several years, or b) SACK UP and get really drunk and wear the latex body suit while oinking like a pig because, while certainly unpleasant and disappointing, at least you get to have sex and THAT is surely less humiliating than the whole PRETENDING that’s it’s OK to just not have sex. So to bring this whole awkward analogy back to writing, I think what I’m trying to say is that you (I) need to SACK UP and either admit that you no longer want to be a writer. Or, if that doesn’t ring true, you (I) need to SACK UP and write something, anything (a meme even!), so that you can, uh, break the seal, ignore how awkward and unnatural it feels at first, and start over.
Of course, if I’m choosing to go with Option B, I need to scratch the surface a little about the why of it all. Generally speaking, one feels like writing when one has things to write about. No one in their right mind pens a novel about their daily commune with the sofa, or the nuances of flicking through celebrity gossip sites with a bag of Kettle Chips nestled on their chest. So it comes back to remembering to live, pursuing a life, like I said before. (That, and NEVER RENOVATING AGAIN.)
WHEN I AM WORRIED I MIGHT BE MAKING THE WRONG LIFE DECISION
There are very few life decisions that can actually be classified as wrong and, objectively, you will know what they are from miles away. Drinking and driving, consuming escalating amounts of cocaine, getting in the car with the creepy-eyed man in a trench coat who you saw lurking behind some trees earlier — those are bad life decisions. Moving to a new city, quitting your job to go back to school, accepting that job offer or turning down that job offer — these are decisions that could be a mistake if you tally up certain markers. Decisions like these might turn out differently than you thought, disappoint you, cost you money or pride, or just, simply, not work out. But, if you’re in the position to make these decisions, you’re capable of dealing with whatever is going to happen. And how you deal with these things when they go lurching sideways is precisely what makes you who you are: an interesting, capable person, who’s not afraid to take risks.
WHEN I AM UNJUSTIFIABLY HESITANT
Why? Because you might look foolish? You know who really looks foolish? Who people really do roll their eyes at? The prigs who are so self-focused they come up with lame excuses and never take any risks for fear of looking foolish. People love seeing other people go for it, even if it ends in failure. They’re not looking for the win, they’re looking for the game. So be game!
WHEN I AM BAD AT SOMETHING
See above. Way to be brave enough to try!
WHEN I DECIDE THAT I AM FAT AND UGLY
Reality check: You are a size eight. Sometimes 10 (although then the waist will definitely be too big). This means that you’re neither skinny nor fat, which means…you’re normal. And normal means healthy. And healthy means you take care of yourself, which is pretty damn attractive in itself, isn’t it? As for your pores: Well…yeah. They’re big. But at what point did you become so fascinating and beguiling that people are staring at your face? Surely people do notice at some point, but there’s no way they spend any amount of time actually doing more than just noticing.
WHEN I AM HURT OR ANGRY
Ah, the healing power of sarcasm. Call a friend and say scathing, witty things. Laugh your ass off. Feel better.
WHEN I AM AFRAID
WHEN I AM SAD
There are things in my life that are certainly worthy of being sad about. If this wasn’t the case, I don’t think I would know how blessed I am to have the friends that I have, that I’ve always had. You can dwell on the fact that you’ve fallen down, or you can marvel at how many people rushed forward to help you up.
WHEN I BECOME CONVINCED THAT NO ONE REALLY CARES ABOUT ME
…Wait. When’s the last time you spoke to the people you care about and need to care about you? Call. E-mail. Instant message. Voila. You’re laughing in, what, half a minute?
WHEN I AM STRICKEN BY THE NOTION THAT I WILL BECOME LONELY AND DEPRESSED WHEN I AM ELDERLY BECAUSE EVERYONE HAS BABIES AND FAMILIES AND I DON’T
Having kids is no guarantee that you’re going to be looked after when you’re old. If it was, there wouldn’t be all those lonely old people out there. Kids die, or they move away, or they’re maybe just assholes. Your best bet is to save enough money to get into a nice home when the time comes. Something you’ll be able to do easily on account of not having kids. Heh.
WHEN I WORRY THAT ONE OR BOTH OF US IS GOING TO FUCK UP OUR MARRIAGE AND IT WILL END IN DIVORCE
You’re happy right now, aren’t you? So…you’re worried about something that…isn’t happening? And might never happen? What an excellent use of your time. This is exactly what you should be doing instead of spending time with your husband, whom you enjoy.
WHEN I WORRY ABOUT OTHER THINGS THAT HAVEN’T HAPPENED YET AND MIGHT NEVER HAPPEN
These thoughts are preceded by “What will I do if [something only marginally in my control goes sideways]?” Answer: There’s no way to throw the right pitch until you know what the count is…or who’s at bat, or who’s on base. A good game isn’t just throwing the ball across the plate; a good game is a series of strategic plays, some perfect, some just inside, some walked on purpose. And those kinds of plays, the good plays, are decisions you can’t make until you know the score. In the meantime, why don’t you stop worrying and instead enjoy the things you’re afraid of losing?
WHEN I AM FIGHTING MY TENDENCY TO PROCRASTINATE, IF SOMETHING THAT FLARES UP EVERY TEN MINUTES CAN BE CALLED A TENDENCY INSTEAD OF, SAY, A DEEP AND SEARING CHARACTER FLAW
“Vegetables before dessert.” Sure dessert is fun and it’s the best part. But when you eat nothing but dessert, you feel slimy and gross and you don’t have any energy, and eventually you just hate yourself. It’s turns out the enjoyable things in life are only enjoyable once you’ve put your time in on the less enjoyable bits. Earn that indulgence and it will actually feel like an indulgence, instead of just a hollow failure.
WHEN I AM WISHING I HAD A PONY OR A BOAT OR A MACBOOK AIR WITH A SOLID-STATE HARD DRIVE
Remember how last week you took that big bag of clothes to the Sally Ann? And how you have that box of old electronics in your closet, just sitting there waiting to go to the recycling depot? These are a sign that you already have more stuff than you need. You need food. You don’t need stuff. You don’t need more crap in your closets that you will tire of long before the end of their life cycle. There is no grace in taking more than you need.
WHEN MY FLESH IS TRYING TO CRAWL OFF MY BODY AND I AM AFRAID OF SOMETHING BUT I DON’T KNOW WHAT IT IS
You are an extrovert. You need to interact with other humans, or your brain will try to run screaming out of your left ear. BACK AWAY FROM THE LAPTOP. Call your friends. Go somewhere.
WHEN IT’S GOOD, WHICH IS AT LEAST LIKE NINETY PERCENT OF THE TIME
Don’t forget to be thankful. You may have earned this, but you’re not entitled to happiness. In fact, other than basic human dignity, you’re not entitled to anything. So this is a gift, a blessing, this moment, this life.
WHEN IT’S BAD
Don’t forget to be thankful. You may not have earned this, but you’re not entitled to happiness. Unlike many people in this world, you have not been robbed of your right to basic human dignity. This is a gift, a blessing, this moment, this life.
WHEN IT’S REALLY, REALLY BAD
One foot in front of the other. Again. And Again. And again. Crawl if you have to. Get going on that walk, the one that moves you away from the chasm.