Archive for the ‘Feelings’ Category

And . . . Holidays

Monday, December 19th, 2016

The tumble to our annual holiday sojourn east hasn’t been particularly fast this year, but it has been a tumble. I feel tempest-tossed not merely by terrifying political events (though plenty by those) but also work deadlines, health issues (I’m fine), technical hiccups (NO THANKS, Comcast), random one-offs (Hey, carbon monoxide alarm: Maybe don’t go off falsely, okay?), and the usual hullabaloo around getting everything tied up and bagged before we board the flight. We leave on Christmas Day, and I’m already beat.

That said:

  1. I took comfort (and sorrow) in this book.
  2. We’ve been watching this show. (I recommend it for the Mediterranean light alone.)
  3. Counting blessings remains an important and useful and gratifying practice.
  4. I’m trying to be intentional about ways to participate in our democracy such that I will be helping to preserve it.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Here’s hoping that we experience light in the dark hours and love in the season of fear.

Kitchen Emergency

Saturday, August 27th, 2016

We had our first emergency ever, and I’m relieved to report that it was not a terrible one. But it was unsettling.

Background: Our kitchen has something I call a “pasta spout” but which Google thinks is a pot filler. Our house was built in 1910, so this spout is not original. A previous owner had it installed and, as with everything they did by way of renovation, bad choices were made. More on that in a moment.

A week ago Friday morning, I was heating water in a kettle on the stove. While standing there, I noticed that the pasta spout was hanging at a non-normal angle. Unaware of the potential consequences, I tried to tap the spout back into position. It fell from the wall, and hot water started shooting out.

I don’t mean pouring, or even gushing. I mean shooting, horizontally, from an open pipe in the wall. The force was so powerful that I couldn’t get the spout back on, even to hold it in place. Frantically, I began trying to stop up the flow with my hands, but I knew I was in trouble, so I yelled for help.

John came running, but by the time he made it to the kitchen, water had already reached the floor by the door. As he flew into the kitchen, his legs went out from under him, and he fell, hard. When he sprang back up from the floor, there was blood coming from his shin.

“I hurt myself,” he said, racing to the spout.


“I think not great.”

“Ugh, sorry,” I said. “What do you need?”

“Get me a pot. No—a bucket.”

“We have to shut off the water, though, right?”

“Yeah. Bucket first.”

I got him a bucket, and he handed me two oven mitts.

“Hold these against the spout.”

I did, though the force was so intense that it was challenging, and plenty of water (which was getting uncomfortably hot) was spurting through my fingers. By this point, both of us were drenched, and blood was flowing from John’s leg, mixing with the water on the floor. He grabbed a garage door opener, ran out of the house and down the front steps, opened the garage, and turned off the water. Later, I would see that he had left a trail of bloody footprints behind him.

Once the water was off and John was back in the kitchen, we had some time to think. (“So,” he asked. “What happened?”) I grabbed every towel in the house, and we sopped up the water; there was a lot of it. We emptied all the cabinets on that side of the kitchen. Then it was time to a) get John to Kaiser and b) get a plumber. Complicating all of this: John had to be in Philo (4-5 hours away, given traffic) to lead a weekend InterPlay workshop at 5 PM, and he was not yet packed. And I had a jammed workday with immediate deadlines.

All things considered, we did well. John got into Kaiser shortly after 9:00. I had a plumber (Fernando! Love you!) here by 11:00, and we had worked through much of the problem by the time John got home at 11:15. John and I made decisions about what to do and learned that the mechanism connecting the spout to the wall had been poorly designed. (Previous owners! Argh!) Then John packed and went to Philo. I worked a nerve-shredding day (running towel laundry all the while) and, from 5:00 – 9:00 P.M., cleaned the kitchen.

Throughout the ordeal, John and I bickered only once. We had different opinions about which tape should be used to attach the “Do not touch” sign to the spout’s shut-off valve—a conflict I believed had been resolved in The Great Tape Debate of 2015*. At one point John said, “Sweetie, I can’t hear what you’re saying; I can only see that you’re upset,” and I burst out laughing. “Good job,” I said. “You got the gist.”

*Which I won.

What was toughest for John (in addition to being injured) was that he had to leave so quickly after everything had happened—and not just leave but launch himself into the energy it takes to lead a group for an entire weekend. I, on the other hand, had the luxury of a weekend at home alone to clean up and sink back into myself. But both of us were a little shaken. It was one of those reminders that surprising and dangerous things happen in life, at 7:49 A.M. on what you thought was a regular Friday.

Quick gratitude check:

1) John was not seriously injured. (He did need stitches.)

2) I was not alone when it happened. (I didn’t know how to shut the water off! I do now.)

3) Our house was not damaged (unless the kitchen floor starts to buckle in the next couple of weeks).

4) Our marriage is a cooperative and not a blaming one.

5) Our first emergency a) occurred nearly 15 years into our relationship and b) was a minor one.

Happiness as a Choice

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

It’s been over a month since I jumped on my high horse (that long? why, yes), so I figured it was time to get back in the saddle. Although actually I’m a little loathe to tackle this particular bugaboo, because it involves a link that’s currently enjoying a bunch of Facebook play by people I respect and admire. So I’ll try to tread lightly.

(Chances that I will succeed: 17%. Nellies, I am not a light treader. More like a giant-footed floor-thumper.)

Here’s the story: 22 Things Happy People Do Differently.

I suppose the first sign of errancy is the website/blog itself, which is called SUCCESSIFY! (Yes, caps and an exclamation point.) “Success” as a concept sounds so appealing and is so over-hyped in our culture that I think it’s easy to miss how problematic it is. But if your intentions in life are to be present for your experience and to connect, both with yourself and others (Hint: those are my intentions), it’s not a word you’re generally going to endorse. Or use. Or like. It’s not compassionate, the idea of “success.” It sets up a good and a bad. It puts some people above other people, or at least some outcomes above other outcomes. And in a world where we’re not in control of most of what happens to us, that seems unfair at best. Why do we have to be successful? Can’t we simply be here for what is?

Then there’s the idea of “happy people.” This one is a little more slippery. I identify as a happy person, so it’s a concept that makes some sense to me. But I’m committed to experiencing all of my feelings as they come, and that means that at any given moment, you’re likely to find me excited, relieved, pissed off, joyful, in a state of wonder, deeply sad, anxious, enraged, delighted, curious, content, etc. I’m certainly not happy all the time, or even close to it. I know a lot of well adjusted people with great life skills, and neither are they. In fact, full-time happiness seems like a pathological state to me. So I worry about what the concept of “happy person” means to the writer of “22 Things,” particularly given what comes next. Wouldn’t it be more useful to look at the idea of essential emotional well-being, where you have plentiful and robust tools to deal with the chaos that life inevitably brings?

Then there’s the opening paragraph:

There are two types of people in the world: those who choose to be happy, and those who choose to be unhappy. Contrary to popular belief, happiness doesn’t come from fame, fortune, other people, or material possessions. Rather, it comes from within. The richest person in the world could be miserable while a homeless person could be right outside, smiling and content with their life. Happy people are happy because they make themselves happy. They maintain a positive outlook on life and remain at peace with themselves.

Let’s start with the tone, which is fairly unkind, no? It’s like, first of all, you’re either happy or you aren’t. (Sorry, anyone who feels happy sometimes and not others! You don’t exist. Apologies, people who feel numb! Neither do you. And if you feel mostly happy but also kind of consumed by one giant issue you’re afraid to deal with and which is really dogging you . . . yeah, we can’t categorize you, so you must not exist, either!) And then, if you’re unhappy (God forbid), it’s your own fault. In fact, it goes farther than that. It says that you’re actually choosing to make yourself unhappy. As in, you’re engaging in an active and perhaps even intentional process to make yourself miserable.


Let’s consider a few of the possibilities for why people might be having a hard time in life:

  1. They were born into a war zone and have experienced repeated, ongoing emotional trauma—without enough time between events to fully process their feelings.
  2. They were born into poverty and have experienced repeated, ongoing trauma—without access to the emotional and spiritual tools that would help them work through their feelings or the people who could help them do so.
  3. They were born into an abusive family and . . . same as above.
  4. They’ve been bullied for years and . . . ditto.
  5. They have a mood disorder.
  6. They have a physically painful disability or disease.

To name just a few. Here’s the thing: Life hands a lot of people a lot of shit. And while it’s entirely true that we can acquire plenty of great tools for working with the shit that life hands us—and while I absolutely believe in seeking out, learning, and using those tools, as I have done and continue to do—I would prefer not to blame anyone for not having access to those tools or for not being able to use them even if they do.

Healing takes time, which some people don’t have. It takes safety, which, ditto. It usually also takes at least one person who can help witness and hold your suffering. Again, a lot of people don’t have that.

To me, the situation (which involves a great deal of luck and a smidgen of choice*) is more this: Have you been given access to emotional and spiritual tools to help you process your trauma, and are you in a place where you are able to take advantage of those tools? Because if the answer is no to either of those questions, it might be awfully hard to do any single one of the “22 Things” the article lists.

*Then there’s the biological/genetic component of personality, which I’m not going to enter into here.

Let’s set aside the very real and frustrating absence of awareness about non-privileged people in the article and take a white, middle-class person as our example. Let’s say that this person is in her early twenties and had a rough time both in high school and in college, including feeling objectified by boys, having a group of friends suddenly turn on her and reject her, and being pressured by her parents to perform academically while they ignored the increasingly visible signs of her emotional distress. How might she experience the directives in this article?

  • Don’t hold grudges. It’s a lovely concept, but she’s in a lot of pain ever since her entire friend group suddenly dumped her. She’s hurt and angry. She doesn’t understand what happened. And if she believes that she should just “let it go,” what happens to those feelings of pain and anger? Very likely, they get shoved down, and she loses an important and tender part of herself, a wound that needs addressing and healing.
  • Treat everyone with kindness. Again, it sounds great. But how does this play out for her? Does she treat the guy who says a lewd thing to her in the hall as though he’s a friend? Does she call up her ex-buddies and try to get them to hang out with her, even as they laugh in her face?
  • Never make excuses. Ow. That feels harsh. Quite often in life, we have good excuses for why we do certain things and not others. For instance, if the young woman we’ve taken as our example doesn’t get her homework finished one night because she’s been crying into her pillow, missing her former friends and feeling ashamed that they rejected her while not being able to turn to her parents for support, that sounds not only like a good “excuse” but like an appropriate and emotionally sound way to spend her evening.

No matter who you are in this world, you’re going to have trauma. Everybody does. And until you have the tools to work through and heal from that trauma, dark feelings may dominate. And as long as those feelings are dominating, it’ll likely be extremely tough to assume the behavior of people whose wounds are already healed. From what I can tell, ”22 Things” is taking the behaviors of (so-called) happy people and telling everyone else to emulate them, with no regard for how the happy people got that way—or for what might be standing in the way of people who are unhappy.

Success, as I pointed out, is a problematic concept. And when you apply it to the realm of the feelings—i.e., that some feelings are the “right” or “good” feelings to have, and you’re failing if you have the others—you end up not merely being unkind (and, um, causing unhappiness) but cutting out a large and important swath of human experience. Bad shit happens. Dark feelings are real. You’re making yourself smaller, and you’re trying to get other people to be smaller, too, if you seek to deny them.

I would prefer to live in a world where we open to the reality of whatever feelings arise, where we learn how to befriend them and let them happen in ways that are healing for us and safe for others, and where we move through them as best we can. I would prefer that we all acknowledge how hard life can be, share in the difficulty, support each other through the dark places, and not pressure anyone to be happy. Ever.