Tag Archives: perspective

When You Don’t Know What to Say

“The friend that holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.” –Barbara Kingsolver

This quote has always spoken to me, and I was reminded of it recently when a friend going through a rough time said I “always know the right thing to say.”

I laughed to myself, as that sounded ridiculous to me. While I might be good at offering a perspective I fail to absorb in my own daily life—denial is truly a gift, my friends—most of the time I just ramble and hope that something might stick, that I might be able to help ease just a smidgen of pain.

My problem is that I’m a “fixer.”

Unfortunately, there seems to be a string of pretty crappy things happening lately that proves we all have “something” that we’re dealing with that’s out of our control.

There’s no greater feeling of helplessness than to know that someone you care about is sick, financially strapped, in pain—physically or emotionally—or, let’s be honest, dealing with death—the reality of their own or that of a parent, a friend, or the horror of the loss of a child.

There are no “right” words, and at some point you realize that things happen to you and happen around you that can’t be fixed.

And it’s not your job to fix them.

I think a lot of people unintentionally ignore these things at times, not because they don’t care, but simply because they can’t “fix” them and have no clue how to react. Those who are sick or aging aren’t necessarily the same people we’ve known them to be, and selfishly, we want them to be the people they were before they got sick, before they got old, before they became so… mortal.

The realization that things will never be the same—and that you can’t fix it as such—is enough to make you stress yourself out in an attempt to save the world or conversely stay at home curled up in a ball, not dealing with it at all.

But just as much as you don’t want to deal with it, I can guarantee that the person who is sick or struggling doesn’t want to deal with it a million times more—but they do, often with courage and grace.

I think that in and of itself can be intimidating, the fact that you are lucky enough to be in a comparatively better position. The strength of those who aren’t can be inspiring beyond belief, but it can also make us question how we would be if faced with such a challenge.

It takes courage to face the unknown, but it’s much easier to do so when you’re on the right side of the coin, to be the one who has a choice.

But the fact is that as strong as they are or appear to be, they’re probably still scared. So we put the guilt aside for wanting them to be the people they were before they got sick, before they got old, before they became so…mortal. Because at their core, they are the same people.

And you know what?

They know that you can’t fix things, and most don’t expect you to. They have no choice but to deal the hand they were dealt, and sometimes they just want you to hold that hand.

They don’t want to do it alone.

That’s one thing I—and you—can fix.

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Detour Ahead

My commute to work is a rather straight shot and usually takes around 25 minutes. Considering that I leave early, I tend to miss the morning rush and  make pretty good time.

The other morning I was cruising along and saw flashers lighting up the dark. It turns out there was a bad accident and emergency crews were directing traffic down a side road I had never been down before, much less in the dark.

My first thought was one of panic, as my ability to directionally navigate is on par to Helen Keller’s in a maze.

If it’s not my normal route, there are no detour signs and it’s not light outside, you can pretty much expect me to end up four counties over, huddled in the backseat in the fetal position eating everything in my lunchbox for survival in the span on 20 minutes.

But I followed the cars in front of me and long story short, I realized where I was and made it to work with my mental faculties no more damaged than after accidentally hearing a snippet of a Nickelback song.

This would be a really boring story if I didn’t try and squeeze some deeper meaning out of it though, right? Let’s try, because while my first thought was one of panic, my second thought was a wee bit more centered.

“At least it wasn’t me in the accident.”

I was inconvenienced, yes, but I wasn’t a victim of some personal misfortune. There were people having a much worse morning than me—namely those in the accident—and the fact that I was stressing over finding an alternate route was actually quite absurd.

But don’t we do that more often than we’d like to admit? The screaming child in the grocery store, the traffic jam on our way home, bad weather—a lot of the stress and anxiety we feel comes from the internalization of external events and the feeling that they’re happening directly to us instead of around us.

The way we react to that misinformation is what actually intensifies the discomfort, not the events in and of themselves.

Now don’t get me wrong–crap happens, often directly to us. But we’re often victims of our old way of thinking and not some universal plot to destroy our inner peace (although I would argue that Comcast and people who drive slow in the fast lane are truly in on that plan.)

If we adjust our reaction to one of acceptance instead of resistance and adopt a new way of thinking about them—an emotional detour of sorts—we’re at least giving ourselves a chance to get where we need to go.

So much like my drive to work, I’m trying to stop my brain from operating on autopilot, aware that I can’t really practice contentment while continuing to identify with whatever darkness I’ve let cloud up my mind. I’m trying to remember that my internal reality doesn’t have to be dictated by external events.

Easier said than done—and I have five million half-posts written about this that will never see the light of blog—but the occasional detour can show us there’s more than one way to move on through the world. We can adjust or we can resist, and some days I do both in the span of 3.4 seconds. But progress not perfection and all those other used clichés.

I’ll get there one way or another.

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Control Is (just a) Key

Sometimes the universe reminds you (or me) that control is nothing more than a key on a laptop that somehow gets a virus and will require $150 to fix only to be returned to you completely “renewed,” as in, all of your settings, downloads, documents, drafts of blog posts and some pictures are no longer part of the deal.

cntrlky

The mixture of this event and several others might leave you (or me) lying on the floor in the fetal position next to the cat, cursing Comcast while sobbing and apologizing for being a horrible cat mom.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

But then once you get those sobs out, you (or I) might realize that people in third world countries would kick your ass if they knew you were upset over losing half-written blog posts, having your credit card hacked (a different story) or cleaning up cat puke.

It could always be worse, but sometimes that’s hard to remember. Things add up and the straw that broke the camel’s back can often break you down. The realization that things are out of your control and less than ideal is annoying and frustrating.

It’s also pointless to fight.

A lot of my stress (and maybe yours) isn’t because I honestly feel like physical chaos will ensue when things go wrong, but rather that a situation won’t be (my version) of ideal and mental chaos will ensue.

So I plan things like having a post ready, make sure I can workout or that a meal won’t be rushed, eaten later than preferred or (gasp!) a disappointment. I like knowing that I can do “A” at time “B” and the result will be a predictable “C.”

Hello? Laptops getting sick, credit cards getting hacked and Snooki getting a spin-off show fit nowhere in that plan!

Anyway, after finding myself lying on the floor in the fetal position next to the cat, cursing Comcast while sobbing and apologizing for being a horrible cat mom—hypothetically speaking, of course—I had a thought. Well, two of them actually.

1) Wow, there’s a lot of catnip in this carpet.

2) How’s “predictable C” working out for me?

Of course at this point it wasn’t only about the laptop—although I was (and am) still kind of freaking out about that. No, it was the general realization—again—that sometimes you (or I) have to let go and just go with the flow.

Learning to accept the world as it is rather than being annoyed with it, stressed by it, mad at it or trying to change it into what we want it to be is really all we can do.

And I have to admit that my computer is running much faster. While this stinks, I can turn that around and say now I have an uncluttered canvas that can be filled with whatever might suit me right now. And we can continue the cheesy metaphor and say doing  a different “A” at time “B” can result in a new and improved “C.”

Exclamation point!

Of course at this point it’s still not only about the laptop and I’m still lying on the (now freshly vacuumed) floor. However, it’s not because I’m sobbing and losing my shit, but simply because I stood up and a piece of broccoli fell out of my shirt.

I can’t find it.

I’ve learned to accept this will happen. Not being annoyed with it, stressed by it, mad at it or trying to change it into what I want it to be is really all I can do until someone sends me a bib that can double as a superhero cape.

You pick your battles, people.

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A Perfect Storm

Friday was a good day.

After work I went with my mom to buy her flowers and hanging baskets for Mother’s Day, per our tradition. I got my petunias in the ground, went for a walk and simply enjoyed the sunshine and the fact that I could finally work outside.

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Ooh! Pretty!

Saturday wasn’t so great. I hate everything that I write as of late, so I’ll just share that I ended up wallowing in an emotionally dark place for a variety of (seemingly inexplicable and unrelated) reasons.

And we all know how wallowing is an extremely productive use of time.

At any rate, in the middle of one of my “moments,” I decided to go for a walk. Now, I’m the queen of preventative measures in that I plan for just about any contingency that may arise. Umbrellas, flashlights, extra napkins —you never know when you’re going to need them.

But seeing as there was only a 10 percent chance of showers that afternoon, I just laced up my shoes and took off. All was well until dark clouds rolled across the previously sunny sky. I ignored, as I’m prone to do when impending unpleasantness may occur.

However, it was hard to ignore the sprinkles and then outright downpour that followed a few minutes later. I had no umbrella. I had no towel. I had no ark in which to load pairs of animals and seek shelter. I kept walking — as I obviously had no other choice — but I was wet and cranky.

Then I started to wonder why. I wasn’t dressed up and ready to go to a wedding — unless a T-shirt, workout pants and unwashed hair were the nuptial attire — and I wasn’t carrying the Olympic torch with me. Why did it matter if I got a little wet, if I got a little uncomfortable?

It didn’t.

I couldn’t control it and wasn’t prepared, so I simply kept walking along. But while I didn’t melt, I instead melted down, and a mixture of raindrops and teardrops were streaming down my face by the time I got back home. The rain stopped, but without an emotional umbrella to bust out and use, the tears just kept raining on down.

And I kid you not, a pile of bird shit landed two inches from where I was sitting on my deck, so be thankful for small miracles.

At any rate, in the interest of wrapping things up with a nice tidy bow, I’ll pull a metaphor from bird shit and me being creatively/emotionally constipated to walking in the rain and sitting with discomfort over a variety of things.

Storms — emotional or otherwise — eventually clear up with time, and umbrella or not, I have to keep walking each day.

After all, Sunday the sun shone again.

P.S. I could also twist a metaphor about always being ready for a shit storm, but I’m trying to be positive here. Work with me people, work with me…

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Paper, Plastic, Perspective

She was ahead of me in the checkout line on her phone and snapping her gum and orders at the cashier, all while looking as if standing there for five minutes was the end of the world. The cashier tried to make small talk, but was dismissed with a brush of this customer’s hand as she swiped her credit card through the reader.

I was annoyed just watching her.

When it was finally my turn to move up, the cashier began with the normal pleasantries as she started to scan up my order. I told her I was good and smiled, but made that little “eyebrows raised while looking at the back of the bitchy lady” face to let her know I felt her pain.

It was lost on her. She continued on with, “I’m great! How can you not be happy? It’s just always nice to talk to nice people.”

Now granted, I know for a fact from past experience that this cashier is a little bit “special,” and I mean no disrespect in that way. But seeing as she also tried to put canned goods on top of my bread, it’s possible she didn’t notice that woman’s rudeness. Maybe she did and she just didn’t care.

It was all a matter of perspective.

The bitchy woman was bitchy regardless, and while the cashier could have taken it personally or let it affect her mood, instead she just kept smiling and doing her job. 

As she continued to clumsily bag up my stuff, we continued our conversation about how it doesn’t take much to be nice, how just taking the time to smile can make all the difference in the world. 

This stuck with me.

There are moments when I focus on the bitchy woman instead of the smiling cashier, when the one negative thing out of my day will serve as the catalyst for a downward spiral.

I’m getting better with that externally, but I admit that I often see things that happen to other people through some sort of filter that inexplicably doesn’t apply to me. Anything positive is deflected when directed my way, but anything negative—real or perceived—is often absorbed and dwelled on in moments of doubt.

When I’m stuck in my head for whatever reason, I become blind to the simple things that could help pull me out, or at the very least, make me smile. 

Not cool, Abby, not cool.

So I suppose it’s a matter of realizing—no, not just realizing, but accepting the fact that (sometimes) I am a good friend, a good writer, etc. and that I do have great friends that care about me, even in those moments when I might not care about myself as much as I should.

Yes, that’s kind of cheesy and I’ll always be more sarcastic and snarky than sappy, but it’s all about those little reminders and perspective. If they can see the good in me with all my quirks and issues, then I want to try and see the good in almost everyone/every situation I face.

Except that bitchy lady. She was seriously rude and gave me the stink eye when she incorrectly assumed I was encroaching on her allotted grocery space. She can go fly a kite.

Anyway, everyone but her and those like her. The point is that kindness can go a long way—not to just other people, but also to yourself. I’m good at the former, and working on the latter.

Each day is a new chance to try.

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Comfort and Joy

A good story has a beginning, an interesting middle and hopefully some sort of satisfying ending. When you read that last page, you’re sad that the story is over, but happy with being able to experience the plot twists, to know the characters and to have some sort of finality at the end.

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When you think about it, life is the same way.

Everyone is the author of their own life story, and whether we realize it or not, we have no control as to how or when it will end. Oh, we write outlines and make plans, rehearsing the dialogue and shaping the plot as we go, but in the end, it’s not up to us to place a period where that question mark is at the end.

While this used to freak me out, that reality has since become a driving force behind  a lot of my actions as of late.

Maybe it’s that I’m tired of a bunch of crappy chapters of my life I would rather crumple up and throw in the trash, maybe it’s maturity, maybe it’s something else that eludes me as I write this post, but the fact that I have control of that “interesting middle” to some extent has become much more liberating than suffocating.

These past couple of months I’ve taken control of a few different things—some I’ve shared here and some I never will—writing new chapters physically and metaphorically and closing the book on some others.

Changes in dialogue, strengthening of character development, the elimination of certain relationships and the invaluable  inclusion of others —I have some sense of control over these things.

But no matter what I do, I will never be able to write out the plot twists that often get thrown in the way, the most recent of which is what prompted this (slightly too introspective for a holiday week when everyone’s merry and bright) post.

On Dec. 23., “crazy neighbor lady” that I’ve blogged about before passed away unexpectedly.

As much as I joked about her, she was also a very close friend of the family, and her death came as quite a shock. 

None of you knew her and I don’t share this information to be depressing—I promise lighter fare next time. But I share this information because we’ve all dealt with death. Being around the old people as much as I am, it never comes as much of a shock when a senior friend passes on, something that has been happening with alarming regularity this month.

But when it hits close to home—literally next door—it’s a slightly different situation for me.

That night in my pajamas and snow boots I traipsed over to her house to meet my mom so we could wrangle up her dogs and secure the house. They greeted us with a mix of excitement and confusion, Christmas music still playing in the background and gifts waiting to be given on the counter.

It was eerie.

It was surreal.

It still hasn’t quite sunk in, and because I know myself entirely too well, I know it won’t hit me until some random day in the summer when I realize she’ll no longer be sneaking into my garden to steal the good tomatoes.

Because make no mistake—she was a pain in the ass.

She was contradictorily selfish as hell and giving. She would smoke like a chimney and complain about her cough. Yell at her dogs to go “poo poo” in the middle of the night and forget to let them in, but buy them designer sweaters for the snow. If she didn’t have a cocktail in one hand, it was only because she was too busy flipping you off with it.

But that was the character she chose to be, and no one could edit that down, nor should anyone try.

I think the hardest part of this whole thing—of any loss of life—is that there was no time to write those last lines, to craft the perfect dialogue that will leave you satisfied when that final period is placed at the end of a chapter. It just kind of happens and the book slams shut, leaving those behind wondering what the hell just happened and why.

Maybe it’s best that way.

Maybe it forces all of us to realize that the conversations we haven’t had are the ones that need to be said, that certain relationships need to be erased with others added back in, that strength of character can be written in at any time, if we dare to mix up the plot.

I take comfort in knowing that I am the character I choose to be—a constant work in progress—and that no one can edit that down, nor should anyone try.

I hope that Joy—that was her name—left feeling the same way. 

I’ve had this post written since Saturday, but it fell in line nicely with this week’s Studio30 Plus prompt:

Transparency

We are who we show ourselves to be.

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