Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
It seems like times are terrible these days. I mean, people seem so mean-spirited, so unkind, so thoughtless. When I think about the political environment in the US these days, I feel sad—we (as a culture) are putting the needs of the country, the state, the business, over the needs of individuals. Doesn’t that define communism? Aren’t we, as a country, supposed to be against that?
Did you hear all the folderol about who didn’t pay taxes? Big corporations made the list. People on unemployment, they had to pay, moms and pops, retired people, people who are struggling to pay the lighting bills, sick people who can’t get health insurance. For that matter, look at the health insurance debate. Look at all the redefining of abortion, marriage, which drugs should be legal, how animals should be kept before slaughter, all of that. Everything is about the majority not just controlling things but denying those same privileges, securities, and comforts to others only because they differ or can’t fight for themselves.
It gives me the blues. So I turned on the radio, thinking I’d get to hear some nice socially interesting piece on NPR, but instead, I got the ramifications of Chernobyl, the tsunami, tornados, earthquakes, flooding, everything but pestilence. No wait. The bees are dying, sharks have been overhunted, and they are finding evidence of DDT in the fetuses of pregnant women who weren’t even born when DDT was still being used. Hmm.
I was feeling bleak about the state of the world, barely recovering from an unpleasant experience with a choral group where people seem to enjoy being unkind to one another and I went to a social event. There I learned that a woman who I find particularly unkind (the first time I met her, she told me how much she hated all the stupid people she worked with and how she was looking forward to firing one of them), told me that she was getting a degree in psychology in order to heal the world of “assholeness.” Hmm.
That day at work, it was revealed that the whole company was getting a significant raise, except my group because, after all, as the Big Shot explained, the market valued the roles of those people getting the raises. Hmm. The “market” does. Yes, that’s what it feels like: the “market” not valuing me or my coworkers.
So I drove home trying to repeat to myself that the only thing I truly have control over is my attitude. I tried to concentrate “lovingkindness,” as they say, on the world, on the people in my life, on the people who control my world in the smaller sense and in the larger, on the earth, as it struggles to recover from disaster after disaster and all the torments we inflict upon it and ourselves.
I tried to think about the people I love, the people who make me a better person than I am otherwise inclined to be, the people who ask me be part of their lives, despite all my faults. I tried to think of the things that went well today, the short trip to the grocery store, the recipe that turned out well, the moment of insight on a complex project at work, the lack of traffic on my way to that social event, the thoughtful gift from a friend who went on a trip I’d planned to go on but couldn’t.
I thought about the friend I hadn’t talked to in a few months, who called out of nowhere last weekend for no particular reason, and we ended up talking about things that were deeply important to both of us, a sort of accidental parity. What a gift, unexpected, rare, and without strings or boundaries.
I thought about another friend, the epitome of kindness, with whom I’d had a strange synchronicity of reconnection with old friends last week. I thought again, for the gazillionth time, of her kindness and attentiveness when I was so ill last year, of her patience through all my whining about it. How thinking about her makes me wish I could express my joy at knowing her in some way that would make it a more joyous experience to know ME. I wished that I had a tail to wag or something that would send a clear signal.
I thought about the softness of the ears of the lovely dogs I’d petted tonight, of the sunshine glistening on the drying puddle this morning, of the bird singing so enthusiastically along my path. I thought about how unreasonably long daffodils were staying in season this year, my favorite flower. I thought about how that woman who wants to become a psychotherapist really appreciates a good pun and all but barks with laughter, which made me think of my mother, the Queen of Shaggy Dog stories. And that made me think of a fellow I work with (sort of), who is the perpetrator of many a dreadful Shaggy Dog story, and who wants to read my novel as a critical reader and wants my advice on his own, an unexpected symmetry.
I thought about my father defining intelligence to me on the telephone this week and how a few years ago, he would have defined it so differently, less kindly. And I thought about how open he has become, how much more like my mother now that she is not here to be herself anymore.
Yes, there are nice people in the world, there are beautiful things in nature, and I’m sure if I look hard enough, I can find something about politics or government that is going well.
It’s possible to find peace in a world that isn’t always very nice. Usually I find it in the smaller things, the silences, the “somebody let me change lanes” kindnesses, the familiar greeting of a grocery clerk, the welcoming handshake of a stranger. And some days, like today, I have to enumerate these things, counting blessings, if you like, to get myself out of the doldrums.