Courage and Compassion: You Don’t Have to Do it All at Once #1000Speak

It was a hell of a Monday.

For context, let me mention that I moved to Seattle to work for a woman who turned out to be the Boss from Hell, she whom I fondly refer to as the Horrendous Homunculus. As far as I’m concerned she is evil, possibly a narcissist and definitely an abuser, who, as abusers pick faults to focus on, picked my lack of knowledge about Microsoft Word to bash me over the head with (among other things). I left that job needing thousands of dollars in counseling and with a deep and abiding hatred for both the Homunculus (I have written about abuse in the workplace here and here with rather less cohesion here) and for Microsoft Word (which is less apt to be a trigger and you can read about here).

Fast forward three years and 100 therapy sessions, give or take. On this particular day the summer college quarter starts, and with it the class I am taking in Word, because “face your demons, ” “knowledge is power, ” “the best defense is a good offense, ” and all that happy stuff. Yes, I know three years is a long time. Did you know that exposure to what we’re scared of before we’re ready doesn’t accomplish anything and may well make things worse?  It’s true. Don’t try force exposure onto people with debilitating fears, please and thank you.

Let’s be clear. It took more courage than you can imagine for me to sign up for this Word class. Stupid as it may sound, I have awakened from nightmares in which Word is doing its evil self-aware Hal thing,  the word processing equivalent of refusing to open the pod bay doors, and I screwed up one indentation by one space and that bitch is shouting at me like I have literally just killed the whole world, and that really happened, by the way, and I never get back to sleep because of the panic attack that has surged from my overprotective amygdala. Hey, I won’t laugh at your unreasonable fears if you won’t laugh at mine, and that’s all we really need to be friends.

Anyway. Monday. Midmorning, I step out of my office and head to the lobby to check the mail. I glance into the parking lot and there she is, my nightmare, walking straight toward the glass doors and me, right on the other side of them. But no, this is not a nightmare. This is a storm freshened. I’m wide awake, at work, about to step down onto the landing of the stairs, walking straight toward someone I’d just as soon never see again. She’s there, for real. Her husband is with her.

Oh, God. This is a big city. Of all the (gin joints in all the towns in all the — no, wait, totally wrong) places to conduct any kind of business in this million-plus-population metropolitan area, what the hell is this bitch doing that requires she has to walk right into my territory?

My therapist told me later that my reaction to seeing the Horrific Homunculus was perfectly valid: “Run away! Run away! ” (It’s entirely possible I’ve been watching too much Monty Python lately.) Yes, I could have coolly said “Hello” as I walked on past like I didn’t even remember her, but I didn’t trust myself. I’d spent the previous weekend moving house, had just barely unearthed my underwear  in time to dress for Monday, and was feeling thrown-together and generally mussed. As these things always go, she was dressed to the nines and had every hair in place. My two-dollar stare would have failed me and deer-in-the-headlights would have taken over. I most likely would have tripped over an air pocket or something – those air pockets always show up when I really need to be graceful – and then probably would have ripped my pants as I fell.

So I went with a perfectly valid alternative – I retreated. I high-tailed it back up the stairs, face turned away so she couldn’t recognize me, back to my office, behind the safety of the door, praying she wasn’t on her way to consult building management about renting space in my building.  (She wasn’t.)

pocket_door_handle_verticle
Cityside 189/CC Share-Alike 4.0 License

I was faced with a test, and I bolted. And I’m fine with that.

Courage takes time, sometimes. Sometimes you can plug your nose and jump off the high rock into the cold water and have faith in your ability to swim and in those who are waiting to help you into the boat. (I did that once to face my fear of heights. I’m still terrified of heights, but it was hella fun, jumping off that rock.) Other times you need room for consideration and research and self-care and reassurance and prayer. Lots of time. I’m all about hiding behind the door when it comes to some things, but I’m all about empowerment, in my own good time, when it comes to other things. Whatever timetable is the one that suits you is the one you should use.

Besides, even without lingering fear and resentment, she was simply a disagreeable woman with a character flaw I despise. I have no desire to exchange pleasantries, or unpleasantries, with her. Maybe someday, if our paths cross again. Or not.

I still consider it a victory. A twofold victory. First, with the insults of Microsoft Word and the Horrid Homunculus showing back up in my life on the same day, and who believes that is a coincidence, certainly not I, the fact that I had managed to find my way out of a new neighborhood in a new city to arrive at work, on time, via new Metro routes, took on that much more personal significance. Second, I saw her before she saw me! The gods were smiling on me. Third – I guess it’s a threefold victory – halfway through the Word class, which I’m taking mainly to prove that I wasn’t the problem, even with assignments that get bolluxed up because Word is buggy as hell, which is the main reason I hate it, and Horrifying Homunculus never did explain to me why, if Word is so simple and everybody else in the world is smart enough to use it flawlessly so it’s obvious that I’m just an idiot, the template she gave me to work with was completely fucked up, in spite of that, I have a 4.0 right now. I don’t think I’m the problem.

Sit on that and spin, Homunculus. I’m winning this.

Read other posts on courage and compassion at the #1000Speak link-up here.

#1000Speak: When Less is More

The theme for this month’s #1000Speak is nuturing. Once again, I was having trouble thinking of something to write. There is so much out there about nurturing others. We spend a great deal of time nurturing others, from our children, to our spouses, to our aging parents, to others in our churches, groups of friends, support groups, students, online communities, even co-workers at times. What we often don’t get enough of is self-nurturing, taking the time to care for ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. For me, this would be an evening out with The Tominator, or a favorite album with some wine and a home pedicure, or tending the little container garden on my apartment deck.

Gardeners have known for a long time that digging in the dirt replenishes the soul, and a recent study has shown that there are antidepressant microbes in soil. The science behind the magic. But sometimes it’s even simpler than that. Where I spend a lot of my time studying or researching and writing papers or blogging, there is a beautifully simple view out of my window. It’s a tree, a maple tree, four stories high and full, with spreading branches and myriad leaves. The tree spreads over the entirety of my window, with the corner rail of the deck visible at the bottom. My view is filled with leaves made shimmering by the breeze, with flashes of azure in between, birds flitting in an out, and a few flowers accenting the lower corner, petunias and pansies and snapdragons looking sleepy in the sun. I don’t need to see anything else. This is what fills my vision right now as I write this, and it is lovely, although the snapdragons need water. It reminds me of sitting inside a full and lush weeping willow as a child, hidden in a verdant cave that whispered to me while it sheltered me from the world. Secret and safe.

We live in a world of bytes, millions and billions of them floating through the aether and the cybersphere most of us are connected to these days. Not too long ago I created my own Twitter account, admittedly with some misgivings. I have enough problems with my Facebook news feed, post after post of other people’s crocheting projects and political memes (some of them quite bigoted, but that’s another post) and game invitations and endless adorable baby animals and teenagers’ vague angst and photos of other people’s dinner and uplifting quote after uplifting quote, which are admittedly better than hateful ones, but one after the other, they stop meaning anything. Studies have shown that when we see endless posts about the wonderfulness of other people’s lives and children, we start to feel depressed, like we can never live up to those standards and we simply aren’t good enough. When I first opened my Twitter account, the few times I looked at my home page I saw an endless stream of cleverness, hyperbole, political ranting, pop culture one-liners, all in 140 characters or less, from people I don’t even know. I felt bombarded and I haven’t looked at it since. I’m particular about who I follow. The Dalai Lama says little, but what he says, matters.
Even the news gets to me. I can’t remember the last time I read a newspaper that wasn’t free; like so many other people, I get my news from the Internet. The difference is that I still end up feeling inundated with negativity, the scope has increased from the local newspaper to the entire country, and I don’t even get the crossword puzzle as a consolation prize. A newborn baby found in the trash in New Jersey, four people dead in a car crash in Las Vegas, a house fire in Chicago, another police officer and excessive force in Milwaukee, yet another bombing in Afghanistan, a gas pipeline explosion in Los Angeles, the snatching and murder of a little girl in Poland, not to mention the endless stream of ads for things to help me lose weight, erase my wrinkles, cover my gray, dress like a hot young thing, and not least an advertisement claiming I can “stop worrying about poor self image” by using their product instead of just not trying to live up to these assclown standards in the first place. Yes, I care about what goes on this world and I consider myself an activist for a couple of causes I care very much about, but the truth is, the deluge of bad news I can do nothing about is downright depressing and, in the end, bad for my health.
Stop it already.
Sometimes you have to shut it off. Unplug. Withdraw. Nurturing does not always have to be an activity. Frequently, nurturing is a passivity. It is not being connected, it is not being involved, it is not responding to the world’s constant pressure to do and act and have our awareness raised and achieve and accomplish and above all to be as good as all these things make us think everybody else is. It is finding the weeping willow tree in my mind and crawling inside and doing nothing else but sitting against its strong trunk, fingers pressed into the dirt and bare toes curling into the grass, and not coming out until I can feel that secret cool greenness in my very soul.
I’m not saying that Facebook and Twitter and the Internet are bad. Facebook is a great way to stay connected with the people I love who are far away. Twitter has proven very useful for keeping up with my beloved 49ers. Used correctly and judiciously, the Internet is a world of information at my fingertips for research papers and just random things I want to know about, like what are the little plastic tabs on bread packages called, or the syncronicity of stumbling upon the unfamiliar word sophrosyne and using my phone to learn that, in a way, it’s the whole point of 1000 Voices for Compassion.
Nurture yourself. Turn off the TV and power down your computer and your tablet and your phone. Step back. Disengage.
Breathe in the quiet. Breathe in the you.
(P.S. If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @99_Monkees. I promise I won’t pepper you with silly stuff.)
(P.P.S. The little plastic tabs on bread packages are called bread tabs, bread tags, bread clips, or bread climps, and they were invented in 1952 by Fred Paxton of Selah, Washington. They are also color-coded by day of the week, so if you buy by color, you can get the freshest loaf. However, different brands use different colors for different days, so you’re still best off to check the date printed on the plastic thingie. You’re welcome.)

Photo credit:
Willow tree, Geaugagrrl, Public Domain
Meadow, publicdomainpictures.net