I try to be a nice person. I really do.
But sometimes, the person I strive to be and the one in my head couldn’t be more different.
O.K. – not some of the time. Most of the time.
In fact, I’ve often wondered if the first verse of “Cell Block Tango” in the musical Chicago was written with me in mind. In it, a young woman explains how the habits of other people can “get you down.” She complains about Bernie, who popped his gum when she was having a bad day. Her bad day turned into his bad day when she shot and killed him.
I can’t say I’ve ever come close to killing another person, but my mind is often plotting revenge. I just don’t act on these thoughts.
But when I’m in a funk, like I was last week, people or situations that are normally just irritating suddenly proliferate as though purposefully torturing me.
The moms who have known each other for years and don’t make an effort to include me in their conversations, even when I try to insert myself, morph into that pack of mean girls from high school.
The people who talk about updating the living room paint to “this year’s color” make me feel completely incompetent and out of touch. (Up until this year, I never even knew that some shades of beige are “in” and some are “out.” I generally feel accomplished when the old, faded living room carpet at my house gets vacuumed a couple of times each month.)
The grocery store clerks who make comments about the food I’m buying completely annoy me. Even though I tend to be a chatty person with almost everyone, I don’t need complete strangers talking to me about my eating habits.
Parents who make sure that they drop a list of their children’s accomplishments into every conversation seem to taunt me for my less accomplished (in their eyes) kids.
And those are just the people who irritate me. I haven’t even mentioned the ones who make me really angry:
- Individuals who don’t take pride in their job. I just don’t get that. If you are being paid to do something, you should never, ever expect other people to compensate and clean up your messes.
- People who compensate and clean up the messes for individuals who don’t take pride in their job. When that happens, the lazy people never learn.
- People who post derogatory comments in social media about low-income people who receive government benefits. No one in this world goes without the help of others. Some people are just fortunate to have family, friends, intellectual gifts and opportunities that helped them overcome difficult situations.
- Individuals who don’t take time to listen to others who may be less educated, less beautiful, less wealthy, less accomplished or less socially connected. We are all on this planet together, and I’m fairly confident that God doesn’t care more about some than others.
- Those same people who flaunt all they have by dropping snide comments or making off-hand remarks that are actually intended to put down others.
- Anyone who makes decisions that hurt my children and cause them to question their abilities or their dreams.
Generally, my antidote for this anger is to make up and play out entire scenes in my head. In them, I say just the right words or take just the right actions to cut down the offenders and put them in their place.
And then I pray to be a kind person and pretend to be the nice person I wish I were.
Usually, that’s enough, and the anger and irritation subside.
But when the irritation and anger continue to linger and the notes from “Cell Block Tango” become an ear worm, I have to do something a littler more dramatic and employ a stronger antidote.
That’s when I write about the people I annoy me. And sometimes, I even make those written words public.
I was mad that cancer had taken the life of a good friend. I was mad at a self-serving state legislature that is pandering to special, extreme interests rather than improving the lives of Mountain State residents. I was mad that years of previous hard work had been torn apart by people who care more about touting their own importance than about doing the right thing. I was even mad that I had spent the day fighting with my work computer, which was eventually diagnosed with having either a bad virus or a bad hard drive.
Most of all, I was mad that not one of those situations was within my control.
And so, I lay awake thinking that, since I couldn’t change the random nature of life or the priorities of other people, I could at expose the selfish nature and behavior of others.
But no matter what scenario I imagined, I was never satisfied.
My friend would still be dead. Constituents would still vote against their own self interest and politicians would still prey upon emotional rather than rational voters. All of my hard work would still lie in ruins at the hands of people who never really tried to understand my efforts, and my computer would still be on a shelf waiting for repair.
And I would still be angry.
My mood hadn’t improved by the time I arrived at work the next morning.
Knowing that I had to put my anger aside, I spent the first few minutes in my office repeating one of my favorite quotes, “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Saying those words to myself wasn’t sufficient, so I started sharing them with others.
Then something miraculous happened.
The people with whom I shared that quote not only empathized with me, they also shared their own anger.
In doing so, we talked about our values and about not feeling valued. We talked about how difficult people are often doing their best and just don’t know or have the skills to do better. We talked about our own successes and all that we hope to achieve in the future.
And when we spoke, we didn’t use flowery language that made us sound noble. We spoke from the heart with words that are best left behind closed doors (they were) but are sometimes the best way to describe our feelings.
I hadn’t had a complete attitude adjustment by the end of the day, but I did gain something important: perspective.
No one goes through life untouched by anger, and pretending we are above it is ridiculous. Instead, if we share it in the right way with the right people, we can learn more from anger than we ever could from happiness.
With that said, I’m hoping to be much less studious in the next few weeks.
They embraced danger.
After hiking almost to the top, I told my kids not to walk along the ridge or the narrow trails others were carefully navigating. I imagined how a mere slip could result in disaster, and the signs warning about the number of people who had died on Seneca Rocks didn’t help. They simply fed my fear.
Later, as we were driving home, I thought about my fear.
And I realize that one word “my” said it all.
To me, fear is all about the risk of physical or emotional harm to me or someone I love. I identify that risk and then I do everything I can to avoid it.
That’s how I operate.
Apparently, others operate differently.
My friends tell me that some people don’t analyze their behavior as much as I do.They say most people don’t even know when they are afraid. Instead, they just think they are angry.
Lately, I’ve been debating whether I agree. I never used to think my anger stemmed from fear.
I get angry at injustice when people aren’t treated fairly. Am I afraid that I too can be a victim of injustice?
I get angry when incompetent people are allowed to continue in their jobs despite their ineffectiveness. Am I afraid that my hard work is pointless?
I get angry when people blame me for their inability to be effective. Am I afraid that others will believe them?
My answers to all these questions is”maybe.” But I’ve begun to realize the question shouldn’t be if my anger is rooted in fear. The real question is: “If I am afraid, how do I deal with that fear?”
I can either face it, like the rock climbers do.
I can avoid it, like I did when sitting on the cliffs.
Or I can learn to turn it into something meaningful.
And that choice is the real fear factor.
I try very hard not to let my emotions get the better of me, particularly at work.
Yesterday I failed horribly when I reacted poorly to a situation in which I felt as though I was being portrayed in an unfavorable way.
Then someone else reminded me that my emotional reaction was stooping to the same level as the person bothering me and I just needed to let it go and let it be.
The advise was just what I needed to hear.
We can never control what other people think about us or what they say about us. We can only control how we react. I need to remember that, and one of the best reminders is the Beatles song “Let It Be.”
Not only is it a great message, it always makes me smile.
Day 272: “Let It Be” by the Beatles Day 271: Sharing Meals with Great Friends Day 270: Daffodils Day 269: April Fool’s Day Day 268: Acoustic Music Day 267: Country Roads Day 266: Sunsets on Pamlico Sound Day 265: The Sound and Smell of the Ocean Day 264: Crossing the Bonner Bridge Day 263: Mark Twain Quotes Day 262: Old-fashion Fun Day 261: The Far Side Cartoons by Gary Larson Day 260: Nostalgic Theme Songs Day 259: Appreciating Life’s Rewards Day 258: Awkward Conversations With Strangers Day 257: The arrival of Spring Day 256: Being Saved by Buffy the Vampire Slayer Day 255: Thoughtful Husbands Day 254: The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow Day 253: When Kids Want to Clean Day 252: Conversations in Cars Day 251: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day Day 250: Bonnie Bell Over-sized LipSmackers versus Egg-Shaped Eos Lip Balm Day 249: Watching Those I Cherish Sleep Day 248: Getting Back on My Bike after the Longest Winter ay 247: “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” Day 246: Multiple Reminders of Beauty Day 245: Being Nice to Total Strangers Day 244: The Perfect Phrase Day 243: Little Girls With AttitudeDay 242: The Soup Nazi Day 241: Contagious Smiles Day 240: Oklahoma Day 239: Dr. Seuss’ Persistence Day 238: Over-Dependence on Spell Check Day 237: Only 28 days in February Day 236: Genuine Signatures Day 235: Television Personalities Who Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously Day 234: The Words “Happy Birthday” Day 233: Teenagers Who Care about Their Grandparents Day 232: “Morning Has Broken”Day 231: Avoiding Jury Duty Day 230: Melting Snow after a Long Winter Day 229: Hungry Teenage Boys Day 228: Having a DreamDay 227: Mispronunciations Day 226: Awkward Animal MomentsDay 225: Shaking Hands With Scott HamiltonDay 224: Having an Office With Windows Day 223: Watching Our Children Mature Day 222: Getting the Upper Hand Over Life’s Challenges Day 221: St. Teresa’s Prayer Day 220: Children Who Are True to Self Day 219: Frosted Sugar Cookies Day 218: Children with a Global Perspective Day 217: Enchanted Day 216: Having a “secret weapon” Day 215: Jack and Diane Day 214: The Volkswagen Beetle Day 213: Moments that Can’t Be Recreated Day 212: “The Soul” Quote Day 211: Rubber Ducky Day 210: Tracks in the Snow Day 209: Finding a Penny on the Ground Day 208: Kids who Use Their Manners Day 207: Reminders of Warm Sunny Days Day 206: Dogs Playing in the Snow Day 205: Descriptive Phrases Day 204: Arsenic and Old Lace Day 203: Reminders of Resiliency Day 102: Stephanie’s Ponytail Day 201: Being Asked to Help Day 200: Boys and Their Toys Day 199: The Most Important Person Day 198: People With Courage to Do What is Right Day 197: Being Pleasantly Surprised by My Children Day 196: Being Told I’m Young Day 195: Good News Day 194: Meaningful Eye Contact Day 193: A Sense of Accomplishment Day 192: Growing Into the Person I’ll Someday Be Day 191: Matt Groening Day 190: Tuning Out Bad News and Tuning In to What We Enjoy Day 189: Parents Who Encourage Independence Day 188: Watching Young Minds at Work Day 187: Funny Phone Calls Day 186: Healthy Lungs Day 185: Reality Checks Day 184: Coincidence Day 183: Lame Attempts to Go Retro Day 182: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 181: Goofy Childhood Memories Day 180: A soak in a bathtub Day 179: Optimism Day 178: The Year’s Top Baby Names Day 177: Reading on a Rainy Day Day 176: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey Day 175: Watching the Torch Pass Day 174: Converse Tennis Shoes Day 173: Family Acceptance Day 172: Christmas Day 171: The Mr. Grinch Song Day 170: Positive People Day 169: Watching Movies From my Childhood With My Kids Day 168: Jealous Pets Day 167: Family Christmas Recipes Day 166: Church BellsDay 165: School Holiday 164: Unexpected Grace Day 163: Letting Go of Things We Can’t Control Day 162: Anticipating a good story Day 161: Hope Day 160: When Dogs Try to Avoid Embarrassment Day 159: Surprises in the Mail Day 158: Kids who aren’t superficial Day 157: A Garage on Winter Days Day 156: Real Christmas Trees Day 155: Being a Parent Day 154: Selfless People Day 153: Nelson Mandela Day 152: Memorable Road Trips Day 151: Great Neighbors Day 150: Oscar Wilde’s quote about being yourself Day 149: Love Letters Day 148: The first day of Advent Day 147: The Breakfast Club Day 146: Marriage and Shared Anniversaries 145: JFK’s quote about gratitude Day 144: Watching My Dog Play Day 143: Having my Family’s Basic Needs Met Day 142: When Our Children Become Role Models Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness Day 140; People Watching Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage Day 136: Postcards from Heaven Day 135: Mickey Mouse Day 134: Generous Souls Day 133: I’m Moving On Day 132: A Family That is Really Family Day 131: A Personal Motto Day 130: Mork and Mindy Day 129: The Bears’ House Day 128: Veterans Day 127: Doppelgangers Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky Day 124: When History Repeats Itself Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122: Helen Keller Day 121: The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
As a write this, I’m a little angry.
Actually, I’m really angry.
And even though my neighbor is laughing at my outrage and my husband is telling me not to embarrass him, I feel the need to share my anger.
Every day, I take my dog for a walk through the park by my house. The PUBLIC (as in partly paid for by taxpayer dollars) park by my house. Sometimes, we even go there twice a day and enjoy a leisurely stroll.
When I arrived at the park, there was caution tape haphazardly strewn up around a large section of the park. It had obviously been put there by amateurs, and I stepped over it.
I continued up a hill as a shrill voice called after me.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I ignored the voice, partly because I just don’t like being called ma’am.
The voice got closer.
“Ma’am, you can’t walk here.”
I turned around.
A security risk? Really? I gave her a look that said as much, but my words were “This is a public park. I walk here every day.”
“We rented it.” she said.
“I have a hard time believing that,” I said. “You can rent a shelter, but you can’t rent a section of the park.”
The woman, who wasn’t in the best of shape and had obviously exerted herself chasing after me, tried to puff out her chest and exude her importance in her orange day-glow vest, “We did. ” she said. “And you can’t be here.”
I didn’t want to get in a fight. I just wanted to walk up the hill, but I turned around muttering under my breath.
Apparently, I’m loud even when I mutter under my breath.
Three young people, who had also been chased off, smiled at me and pumped their fists. “Power to the people,” one of the young men said. We walked together along the outside the park fence, and when we approached the “open” section of the park, we said goodbye.
But I wasn’t done.
As I watched more “security guards” (i.e. parents in orange vests) walking the perimeter of the taped-off section of the park, three more young people, one of whom was carrying a basketball, walked down the hill from the PUBLIC basketball court.
“Were you chased out too?” I asked.
“Yes ma’am,” said one of the young men said, and I didn’t mind that he called me ma’am because he said it with respect.
“Don’t worry.” I said. “I’m going to complain on behalf of all of us.”
They nodded and walked off with their shoulders slumped while the Cub Scouts (all 15 or so of them) cheered behind them.
I walked the perimeter taking pictures with my phone.
One of the parents in an orange vest, this time a man, asked if he could help me.
“I’m just taking pictures,” I said. Then I clarified, “but not of the few boys you are protecting. I’m not a security risk. I’m just taking pictures of how you aren’t letting me use a public park.”
There was no answer.
Maybe I AM blowing this out of proportion, and I DO understand the need to protect young children.
But I have issues with how this whole situation was handled.
Every day, there are dozens of children playing on the playground that was blocked off, and no one has ever before prevented me from walking my dog there. If the parents were that concerned about security, there are plenty of other more private and secure locations where they could have held their event. Even if the group had rented the park, and not just a shelter, they could have actually put up polite signs rather than tape that signaled anyone who crossed it was a criminal.
Most of all, there just weren’t enough boys attending the event to outweigh the members of the public who were prevented from using the PUBLIC facilities.
And all of that means I’m angry. I am angry not only about the arrogance with which I was confronted but also about the self-righteousness with which I was told I was a security threat.
And because of that, this is one battle I am willing to pick.
Today, I am stepping out of my comfort zone and attempting a different type of blog.
Since I recently saw Maya Angelou, I’m writing poetry for the first time since adolescence (for the record, that’s about 30 years ago).
This challenge requires taking a deep breath and jumping in.
Here… I… go…
There Is No Fear in My Anger
The workshop leader told us
That anger is always rooted in fear.
That helping people address their anger
Always requires helping them confront their fears.
I, the student, told myself
That my anger is never rooted in fear.
That dealing with my anger
Always requires confronting the source.
There is no fear in my anger.
My anger is rooted in a sense of fairness.
When people are treated differently because of the way they look or because of their perceived social status
Then I am red, hot angry.
But I am not fearful.
My anger is rooted in a desire for benevolence.
When a person with money or connections is regarded more highly than a knowledgeable person
Then I am rebelliously angry.
But I am not fearful.
My anger is rooted in a hard-earned sense of self-worth.
When I am ignored because someone wants to build his own ego on a false sense of self-importance
Then I am howling with anger.
But I am not fearful.
My anger is rooted in a cry for compassion.
When I hear people ridicule those who have less
Then I am sadly angry.
But I am not fearful.
My anger is rooted in respect.
When people spend years building a strong foundation and it is destroyed by those who want to build an empire
Then I am frustrated with anger.
But I am not fearful.
And when I am told that I am fearful rather than angry
I am full of fighting words and the need to persevere and speak the truth.
But I am not fearful.
For there is simply no fear in my anger.
(Wow.. that WAS like jumping into a cold pool and enjoying a great swim… invigorating. I had forgotten why I wrote poetry as a teen. I may now write more!)
I wish I always came to the keyboard with the honorable intention of making people really think.
But more often than not, I write when people disappoint, frustrate or simply anger me.
Fortunately for others, I don’t usually share those thoughts publicly in writing. I do, however, write about them. I’ve always just been compelled to transfer most of my emotions and all of my opinions into the written word.
I scribble them in the margins of meeting agendas when the person speaking is a blowhard. I jot them on notepads when I’m on the phone with someone who is obviously making excuses. And I type pages and pages when I’m forced to sit on the sidelines while someone blatantly lies, manipulates and abuses his position.
I admit there are times when I’m able to quietly call out these people by surreptitiously weaving them into my blog. But, for the most part, I simply let my written words and the space they occupy clutter my desk, my computer, my brain and my life.
And if that clutter weren’t enough, the time I spend writing far exceeds the time I spend cleaning up those or any other messes.
For the record, I do clean. I simply do just enough to ensure my house will never be featured on an episode of Hoarders or that my family isn’t forced to wear dirty and stained clothes.
To me, the task of cleaning is comparable to cooking. While some people take pride in their spotless homes and fabulous meals (as they should), I only see a lot of time spent doing something that won’t last. Clean houses always require more cleaning, and meals that take hours to prepare can be gone in minutes.
Writing can last forever…or at least as long as someone is willing to read what you wrote (even when the reader and the writer are one in the same.)
I know my life would be less messy if I spent more time cleaning and less time writing. It just wouldn’t be as memorable.
I have a box full of diaries dating back to second grade. The spelling is sometimes amusing, but the narrative is always entertaining. The diaries chronicle my life from the first entry (a meeting with Senator Bob Packwood that ended with a reprimand from my mother for offering him my left hand to shake) to the angst of adolescence and the wonder of emerging adulthood.
I have drawers full of cards and letters sent in a time before emails.
And I have bags of notes that were passed between friends and classes in high school. These notes could be an exhibit about an art form that was lost forever with the advent of text messaging.
These items take up space.
Writing takes up time.
And life takes up emotional and physical energy.
We are all defined by how we spend those resources.
Recently, a friend was recalling an obituary published in the Washington Post several years ago. The name in the obituary had been forgotten, but a description of the deceased was seared in my friend’s memory: “She loved to vacuum.”
This statement and the obituary struck a chord in my friend. “Will people remember me because I vacuum or will people remember me for being passionate about something?” she asked.
For me, I hope the answer is easy. I’d rather be remembered for my passions – and even all the emotions they elicited – than to be remembered for whether or note there were dust bunnies under the beds.
Writing, after all, can be a very dirty habit.