A strange thing happened. It’s left me a bit flummoxed.
Yesterday, I had company over — family, not friends. And we ordered Chinese/Thai takeout. It’s the same place I always order from, and they make excellent food.
First, it took about two hours for the food to arrive. When I placed the order, I was given a 45-60 minute time frame. So far, so good. I ended up placing a call to check on the food and was told it was on its way.
No big deal. Shit happens.
Then, the delivery guy arrives with the food. It’s not the usual guy, but whatever. He brings the food. I have to sign the credit card receipt, and it was a little odd that he mentioned that I needed to leave a tip. I went to get a pen, and added a three dollar tip. Honestly, for a delivery, I don’t usually give a lot. It’s not the same thing as in-restaurant service. He read the receipt and looked at me.
Delivery Man (incredulous): Three dollars? For a tip? That’s it?
Me: I…okay, sorry about that. [I ended up giving a ten dollar tip. He still stared the receipt as he was leaving and then asked for directions on how to get back to the road he needed. Never mind the fact that his GPS was in the box of food, and I had to give it to him. He was leaving without it.]
Here’s the thing: I felt ashamed. I don’t know this guy. I’d never seen him before, but the tone he used got under my skin, somehow. I realize, of course, that it was on purpose. I was too flustered to properly assess the situation. I mean, really? Where does he get off? Now, I’m kind of pissed off.
When I go to a restaurant, if the service is good, I always leave an excellent tip. I never stiff a waitress or waiter. But for deliveries that take 15 minutes tops? A couple of bucks should do it.
I’m not angry enough to call and complain. If I wasn’t so embarrassed about it, I probably would’ve called earlier. But what was I going to say? “Your delivery man guilted me into giving him a bigger tip?” That sounds a little bit ridiculous.
I can be an easy mark. I never set out to cheat or hurt people. Did this stranger know that? Probably not. But it still stands as fact. Now, maybe, if it wasn’t a hectic day — and I didn’t have company — I would’ve reacted differently. I do know that if that happens again, I will.
But I wonder. What makes it okay to try and shame someone for, or into, something? Why is that proper and ok?
Shame and guilt. Some people use them as tools, as leverage (not the kind with Timothy Hutton, though. He’s lovely). This man did. And I let him. It is as much my fault (for being so silly) as it is his (for being an ass). Honestly, I’m sitting here mulling this scene over — and I still can’t believe it. I might as well have said, “Thank you, Sir — may I have another?”
It can’t be changed, I know. Next time, that won’t happen. Sometimes, that’s all we can hope for in life — that next time, we’re smarter. That next time, we aren’t caught off guard. That next time, our emotions don’t get in the way.
Those things, they happen often. Mostly, I’m okay with that. It’s part of making mistakes, being human, and being fallible. But this incident of minor proportions has made me wonder what else I’m carrying around. Mostly, I harbor guilt and shame over silly things. Like the time my psychology professor remarked about the fact that I walked to class with my lit professor: Why are you walking with him? People are going to think you don’t have any friends. Er, thanks.
There are things that I, perhaps, should felt guilty about — but don’t. Imperfect decisions, silly transgressions, and a terrible penchant for men with tattoos. But I don’t.
So why did I feel badly when this man shamed me? I don’t know. I don’t know the answer. There might not be a solid one. It could’ve just been a perfect storm of craziness and vulnerability. But I’m curious. Has something like this happened to you? Has someone made you feel inexplicably bad about something, someone who really shouldn’t affect you at all?
When’s the last time you uttered, “Did that REALLY just happen?”
It appears that I have done something unthinkable. Oh, it started off innocent enough. A passing curiosity. Or so I thought. Then, it developed into a habit. A three-day-a-week habit.
I’ve started running.
I know this is shocking, because my philosophy has always been, “I run – if something or someone is chasing me.” For one thing, I have asthma that flares up when I run. For another, RUNNING SUCKS.
But after a month of doing this, I can do several things I couldn’t do before. One, run a mile straight through. I’ve never done that before my entire life. In high school gym class, I was ALWAYS the kid with the dr’s note, excusing her from the mile. I’ve written more gym reports than anyone else I’ve ever met. (Dude, that might’ve been the best punishment ever. You freakin’ sent me to the library for the ENTIRE period. That’s like sending Augustus to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Minus the accidental chocolate swim. Moving on…)
Anything but running. I horseback rode as a kid. I played soccer for a very short time. (I was a kickass goalie, despite the bloody noses and that time I threw up on the field. I told you I was sick, Dad. *shakes fist*) I was on the school swim team for a while in middle school. But running? PSHAW. I bit my thumb at you, you beef – you acorn! You queen of filth! Of garbage! Of putrescence! (Shakespeare, meet The Princess Bride. You’re welcome. Also, it took me three tries to spell putrescence.)
So, now I can run a mile straight through. On Tuesday, I cut 30 seconds off of my time. I run three days a week, doing two miles total. That might not seem like a big deal, but every time I get off the treadmill, I feel like a rock star. A golden god, if you will. Of course, I also feel like passing out on the floor, but manage to avoid it.
Here’s the crux: I also, due to a series of events, have scar tissue on my lungs. I was a very, very early baby. I really should have a lot more problems than I do. My avoidance of running wasn’t solely born of supreme laziness, but of Holy Shit – I Cannot Breathe.
But the truth is limits don’t matter. Not really. You never know what you can do, until you try it. Until you do it. Otherwise, it’s all just guesswork. Conjecture. And, probably, a large amount of What-ifs and Fear. (Those motherfrakkers. Gods, I miss Battlestar Galactica. And by that, I mean remember the towel scene with Jamie Bamber? *sigh*)
Sure, I have to convince myself to get on the treadmill each time. But I do it. There was a time I thought I couldn’t – just like there was a time when I couldn’t carry a tune. (That’s a story for another time, and it involves Newsies! And now I’ll be singing music from that movie ALL DAY. Damn it.)
The truth is that I don’t believe in can’t. It’s just another fancy way of saying ‘won’t’ and letting fear eat you from the inside out. It’s being too scared to try, which is paralyzing and soul-sucking. How often do we say what-if and if only I…
If only you what? Go. Do. Try. LEARN. Be brave. Be bold. Do you want to write a novel? Do it. Carve out the time. Do you want to learn to paint? Try it. You only have something to gain. Want to go rock climbing? Find a gym that offers it.
I think that, especially as we get older, we’re afraid of looking silly or stupid. We’re afraid of not being good at something. We’re afraid to be fools. But isn’t that part of life? Doing something completely daunting, and seeing what happens? Being a fool is a learning experience. God knows, I’ve been more foolish than not. Surprisingly, I’m okay with that. Are you?
One of my favorite quotes is something that Ted Hughes wrote in a letter to his son, Nicholas.
The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.
Follow your heart. Invest it people and pursuits. It isn’t something that’s meant to be hidden away. Your heart, your courage, your will – those are your greatest assets. And don’t worry – you can thank me later.
Imagine that you are sitting at your computer. (Not difficult, right?) You are typing something important. You are happily plodding along, making good progress, tapping out word after word.
Then, IT happens. Your mind decides to spontaneously implode. The reasons are varied. Perhaps you’ve been writing for too long. Perhaps you haven’t gotten enough sleep. Maybe you ran out of coffee and are drinking TEA. (Cardinal sin, people.) It could be a combination of all three, which equals BRAIN DOOM. That should not be confused with brain freeze, which is the affliction of Icee-drinking people everywhere. It is an epidemic that at least proves you have a brain. You’re welcome.
Suddenly, you can’t think of a word you want to use. You knew what it was, just a minute ago. It’s vanished from your long term memory, and you are floundering. You start to panic, and your internal monologue goes like this:
Parakeet? No, that’s not right. I don’t want to say, “The man in the coffee shop was looking at a parakeet.” That doesn’t even make sense. Punctuation? No. Penelope? No. Pineapple? NO! What is WRONG with you? You can’t even remember a simple would you’ve used a bajillion, trillion, practically infinite number of times?
It’s like your brain has been eaten by a Zombie Plague of Stupid. Mmmm, medulla oblongata…
When you eventually remember the word, it seems to mock you. You can almost hear it whisper, “Ohhhh, look how difficult I was to FIND. Your memory recall is shit! Shit, I say!” At which point, stop and assess. If you’re turning into the guy from the Shining, stop writing. Take yourself out of the house. Stay away from axes and all other sharp objects.
A short while later, you will be unable to remember how to correctly wield an apostrophe. Your grammatical genius has been sucked away by some literary kryptonite. A simple sentence that should read, “The monkey’s on the branch,” turns into composition-based HELL. Again, your inner monologue becomes a jumbled mess of insanity. (Inconceivable, I know.) Your thought pattern goes something like:
The monkeys’ on the branch. No, that doesn’t look right. Is that supposed to plural possessive? That’s not right. Monkies? No, that’s not even a word. What if I rewrite the sentence: The monkeys sitting on the branch. Damn it, that makes monkey plural. Do I want there to be more than one monkey on that damned branch? (If this is for work, your boss saunters in, munching on a banana, and asks you if you have that report done yet. You resist the urge to go all Office Space on him. After all, you’re JUST finishing it up now.) GOOD GOD. Think. Think QUICKLY. “Monkey’s on the bronchitis.” BRONCHITIS? Why the hell did you just type bronchitis? Have you gone daft? Clearly.
That will go on until your cerebral cortex takes pity on you and fixes your rather pitiful mistake. Do not, at that point, become cocky or complacent. The Evil Grammar can spring itself on you, like a mountain lion, at any time. You will be powerless to remember how to spell something like ‘caffeine.’ Inevitably, it will look wrong. You’ll try to spell it ‘caffiene,’ and then (like a vicious grammatical ninja monster) you will realize your foolish mistake – as your own idiocy pounces on your head. I before e, except after c. CURSE YOU GRAMMAR.
At which point, feel free to shake your fist. Find coffee SOMEWHERE, even if you have to steal it from your neighbor. For the rest of the day, attempt to avoid others. Your grammatical battles, which you LOST, have filled you with such all-consuming, frothy rage that you really aren’t fit to be around the general public.
*This is a repost from an old blog, but it’s one of my favorites.
“All you are required to do is tell what you know.”
A friend said that, this morning. So, here is a random sampling of what I know.
- Coffee makes everything better.
- You will never know all the words in the world, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to learn them.
- There are few things more disappointing that not being understood. It’s worse when that person is supposed to get you.
- Risks are generally worth it. Even if things turn out spectacularly wrong, you’ll learn something.
- There isn’t enough singing in the world. Sing every chance you get. Even if you can’t carry a tune.
- When in doubt, dance. Turn the music up to a ridiculous decibel, and DANCE. It might not be wise to do this when cooking dinner, but it makes cooking more fun.
- Love makes everyone some degree of stupid. Accept this. No one falls in love and becomes more cautious.
- Hearts break. Hearts mend. Sometimes, shrapnel gets left behind.
- Running away is never the answer.
- When you are too scared to say yes, that’s the moment you need to say it the most.
- Answers don’t fall out of the sky. You have to look for them.
- You cannot change what you refuse to see.
- Laughter helps even the heaviest heart. Failing that, coffee and cheesecake work wonders. Failing THAT, wine.
- Acceptance solves a multitude of ills.
- Being quirky is okay. This makes you unique. Just don’t eat the paste.
- When your world gets small, you stop growing. When you stop growing, you stop being. This is never a good thing.
- You cannot be all things to everyone. It’s okay to say ‘no’ sometimes.
- You can never have too many hugs, cupcakes, or friends.
- Sometimes, ‘goodbye’ is the only answer.
- Friends should never make you feel insecure or bad about yourself. If they do, they aren’t your friend.
- Taking the easy way out is never a good idea.
- Always say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, I love you, and I miss you. When you do, mean them.
- Jumping in mud puddles is still fun.
- You’re never too old to believe in faeries.
- Be present in the moment. Don’t simply take up space.
There are days where it is easy to forget what it is like to be afraid. It’s not that there’s no anxiety or trepidation. That is normal and customary, like the kind of shocking, trilling panic that accompanies an almost-accident.
No, I am talking about real fear, that kind that rallies your pulse and brings tears to life in your eyes. The kind of emotion that sings without clothing or pretense. It does not offer; it simply takes.
Sometimes, we (as people) pretend in order to get through the day. We practice a willful forgetfulness, as if not-remembering is a tonic, a panacea. A miracle of mists and shrouds. It is not a long-term solution, but a temporary, all-too-fleeting patch. An emotional sandbag.
But it comes at a price. Almost all things do. Eventually, perhaps when least expected or prepared, the memory and reality return, a violent and unforgiving tidal wave of terrible truth, a silent monster of reality breathing hot behind your neck. The dam does not merely break; in bursts like blood from a severed carotid vein.
Fear like that is not a tepid thing. It is almost a siren’s call, encouraging you forward toward the rocks you’ve been so careful to avoid. But passive fear does not mean absent fear. This is a hungry, consuming creature. A sleeping dragon.
It waits everywhere you might be at your weakest: a hospital room, standing on someone’s doorstep, a waiting room, the soft plush of a carpet after your boyfriend or husband has just left you. The fear brings doubt to your lips, almost gentle like a kiss. When you least expect it, the kiss burns.
These are the moments that go unseen. Fear, ripe and merciless, at the possibility or promise of loss, real loss. When always becomes never, and nearness fills with an absence that sings a sing you could swear you once knew by heart. Now, you cannot remember the words at all. It’s half a memory, half a promise.
That is true fear. It waits wherever you are vulnerable, whenever you are aching with the effort to hold it together. It has teeth and a presence that consumes like flames fueled by gasoline and dry tinder.
That is a fear I’d nearly forgotten, but like all good nightmares, it doesn’t vanish when I close my eyes.
“But I fear
I have nothing to give
I have so much to loose here in this lonely place
Tangled up in our embrace
There’s nothing I’d like better than to fall
But I fear I have nothing to give.
I have so much to loose.
I have nothing to give.
We have so much to lose…”
~Sarah McLachlan, Fear
Note: I wrote this a while back, but never posted it.
- Find the river Lethe. Drink an entire cup. Don’t vomit it back up, even if it tastes of poison.
- Drink gin. If there is no gin, drink vodka. If there is no vodka, open the tequila. Do not drink the worm.
- Smile at everyone. They will forget your pain. Eventually, that will convince you it’s gone.
- Never say ‘I miss you.’ Don’t write it down, either.
- Remove all contacts from your cell phone.
- Burn all photographs. Yes, even the one you hid under the mattress.
- Pretend to be someone else. Use an accent. Make up a backstory. Lose yourself in that other life.
- Don’t look in the mirror. Failing that, don’t ask the mirror questions. Don’t ask any questions at all, ever.
- Take up running. Try to outrun yourself.
- Laugh at everything, loudly. Sometimes, too loudly.
- Avoid every wolf that comes to your door. They are not meant to be friendly, no matter what is promised.
- When all else fails (and it will), there is only one thing left to do: forgive.
No one is perfect. Not the woman teaching your children math. Not the person who delivers your mail. Not the best friend you’ve had since the second grade. Not your husband. Not your wife. Not your child.
Perfect is a fool’s errand, a myth propagated by those looking for an easy way or a chance to condemn. There is no satisfaction in the pursuit of perfection; it will always leave you frustrated and wanting.
You cannot see the sin in someone’s smile. You cannot easily discover the pain in someone’s step. The truth is that you can know a person without really knowing them – not to the ending depths of their being. Some people are bottomless, and if we are always growing and changing (as we should be), perhaps there really is no end to self-discovery. I’d like to think that. I’d like to grow forever, never stopping to dwell in stagnation. To always dwell in possibility.
Funny, that I’d say that, considering I loathe change. Loathe it with a passion that might rival the bowels of hell. I loathe it, but I endure it. I handle it. I try to roll with whatever punches spring up out of nowhere like evil ninja fists. It’s not always easy. The small stuff, sometimes, is sweated. The large stuff occasionally results in a bad mood or misplaced anger. Or eating food of questionable caloric content.
Like I said, no one is perfect. I’m human. But that does not mean I don’t try my best.
Too often, we judge what we don’t understand. It’s easy to dismiss the things that don’t make sense to us, personally. Someone quits their job to become a missionary in Belize, and we scoff. We mention things like malaria and having to speak a foreign language. And it’s a point of our own failure.
Another example: a friend marries a man she’s only known a month, and we raise an eyebrow. We begin to wonder how long it will last and why they got married. We fail to realize the truth: it’s none of our business.
A last example: someone falls in love with a person of questionable character, and we give The Look. It’s the This-Will-End-Badly look. The kind of look that makes a person feel ashamed. The kind that is full of judgment, crouching and snarling with rabidity, where acceptance should be. It is a look that calls names, without them ever being spoken. It is not a look of support. It is not something that says genuinely “I hope you are happy.” That, in itself, is a kind of betrayal.
I’d like to say that I don’t know why this has been on my mind. I won’t say that, though, because it would be a lie. It doesn’t matter what the impetus is, or the genesis of thoughts. Here they are, as unvarnished as I can bear to make them. (For the record, that was nearly ‘bare.’)
Generally speaking, I give people too many chances. I am a miracle worker of sympathy/empathy and understanding. If something happens or goes wrong, I put myself in the other person’s shoes and try to see things from a perspective that is not mine. Sometimes, this results in a headache and forgiveness that should never have happened. I am, at my core, a soft touch. A heart a little too wide open. This is, I’ve been told, my biggest asset and greatest flaw. So be it.
Our mistakes and imperfections don’t make us less worthy people. Our shortcomings don’t mean we aren’t kind or good. What we’ve done, or not done, isn’t the sum of our whole. It is a snippet, like how a minute is part of an hour. Yes, some minutes matter more than others. Some things cause our hearts to seize and sputter. Occasionally, it is too much caffeine.
There are few things that are more disappointing than opening a door to find a brick wall behind it. One of those things is not opening that door at all. Not knowing, not trying, not believing, not daring, not hoping, not loving, not asking, not questioning, not speaking –
Notice what all those things have in common. NOT. N-o-t. Three letters that can ruin a moment. Three letters that can spoil a lifetime.
No one is perfect. No one is uncomplicated. But no matter what you do, no matter what you want, no matter what impossible pursuit is begging for your attention – do yourself a favor. Do the only worthy thing you can. Don’t let ‘not’ rule your life. Don’t let your fear and insecurity make your decisions for you.
If we all only pursued what was labeled ‘possible,’ no one would’ve landed on the moon. No one would’ve found that the world was not flat and filled with horrible sea monsters. And god knows, Miracle Max would be out of a job quicker than you can say ‘as you wish.’
Until next time, loves – Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.