Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Living Well Is the Best Revenge

It was all going reasonably well yesterday. I led a challenging meeting with some clients which, when I put it that way, sounds really awesome and grown-up. I was feeling pretty good, driving home from the HQ, put on my happiness playlist, was grooving out to a gospel song called "The Storm Is Over Now," ruminating again on this time last year.

This time last year, unbeknownst to me, I was about to get kick in the crotch from my reasonably well-intentioned but damagingly scatterbrained boss at the Rich People Foundation. I had been hired as a temp to be her assistant, and also apparently the assistant to the anal-to-the-point-of-psychosis events manager, and oh, by the way, could I please run around and get everything ready for these two crazy people without leaving the front desk because while I was at it could I be the receptionist and answer and direct fifty calls a day and distribute a bin full of mail every day because we just laid of the person who used to do that.

Nevertheless, plucky little worker that I was, I did my best, because the words temp-to-hire (and by association, salary and benefits and vacation days) had been bandied about... of course, there were hiring protocols to be followed, so would I mind calling the numbers on all these resumes and setting up interviews (and then re-re-scheduling once Flighty McBosslady changed plans at the last minute)... for the very position that I was hoping to get which I had been busting my patootie at for four months.

Until one day as I was distributing Flighty McBosslady's interoffice mail, and distributed a girl's resume to the President, with a post-it on it that said "I'd like to make her an offer." And then later, while filing in the little file room next to her office, I heard her actually make the offer (MY job) to the girl, on speakerphone, office door wide open.

I don't think I can (or at least want to) put into words what that felt like, but I suppose the words betrayal and murderous rage are a start. And pain, and deep injustice.

The next day I scheduled myself into her calendar for ten minutes between meetings, attempted to give her the quietly indignant yet sublimely classy speech I'd been crafting in my head all night, which never come out quite like you imagine them, do they? But, I hope I said enough to preserve a small, stained shred of personal dignity.

Flighty McAssface's response was basically "ooooopppssssssssss". Then she changed the subject to asking me what I "really" want to do in life, you know like in my heart of hearts blah blah chatty now-that-I've-driven-a-garbage-truck-through-your-self-worth-I'll-spend-five-minutes-getting-to-know-you-as-a-person-after-spending-four-months-taking-you-completely-for-granted spread my wings and fly. I sort of wish I'd told her to eat shit and die. But, I kept it civil for better or worse, gave her notice that my last day would be after two big events we were planning were over which frankly was more than they deserved but I feared the wrath of the unstable Events Planner.

On my last day a bouquet of flowers in a glass vase appeared on my desk with a note in Bossy's handwriting "thanking" me for my good work. (Yet another opportunity to invite her to eat shit and die that I passed up.) I remember walking home down Broad Street with the vase in my hands, and it slipped but I caught it, and I was seized with the urge to slam it down onto the sidewalk, hopefully shattering it, and walk on without looking back. I reigned myself in though, and the empty glass vase sits to this day on top of my kitchen cupboards in case I need it one day, like a bag of office supplies a disgruntled worker might steal and hoard, as if a stapler and some cheap pens would somehow make it all the bitter heartache come out equal.

Never mind. It was a year ago, and I'm in a better place now, having more or less worked through the feelings of inadequacy and chumpyness and the homicidal urges the experience engendered, and I have accepted the fact that it wasn't me, it was them.

The point was, I said to myself as I hit the button in the car to repeat "The Storm Is Over Now", that the whole thing is behind me. As Whitney Houston's song goes, I fell down, and I stumbled, but I did not crumble. The point is to keep on moving forward.

Maybe it was the day spent with the clients, who happen to be nuns, but somehow the idea of forgiveness floated into my head. A sign outside of a church said in bold letters "Healing".

I have loved self-help and personal growth type books ever since I was a teenager. I remember being fifteen, maybe sixteen, and reading on subjects like forgiveness and healing, and not really being able to grasp them. The concepts were too abstract, I couldn't really wrap my brain around them. I realize now that at fifteen and sixteen, mercifully, I didn't have anything much to forgive, or to heal. September 11 wouldn't happen until the following year; the various illnesses that would spring up in my family hadn't yet sprung; I was still under the safe awning of my childhood home, blissfully unaware that just beyond the edge of the awning enormous seagulls of bad luck circled, waiting to take gigantic dumps on passersby unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now, as I reflect on, among other things, MamaBear's surgery-versary, as we call her one year milestone on the other end of illness, and other crappy stuff that happened a year ago, I am better able to understand an idea like forgiveness. Not necessarily practice it, mind you, but understand it.

In the case of MamaBear, there is nobody tangible to forgive. I have to direct my efforts toward forgiving, I don't know, the universe or something. Whatever unknowable forces led to that frightening, painful experience. The fates, or life in general.

In the case of my idiot former boss, and all of the clueless windbags that made my life miserable while I was at the Rich People Foundation, it's harder. Why would I want to give them anything, much less a deep philosophical gift?

Of course, I realize that forgiveness is not for other people, it's for me. It's so that I don't keep accidentally expending energy feeling wounded on account of the actions of someone who, it's pretty evident, is not, nor really ever was, doing any thinking about me.

I know it's about letting go and releasing the past and stepping into the future and taking the next step forward. I know, in my head at least, that life is short and you can't spend it lugging around people who dicked you over, intentionally or not - for one thing, they're not worth it.

Part of me doesn't want to let go. Righteous indignation has it's own special pleasure to it, to feel wronged, to feel like a victim. It hurts so good, the way binging on cheese fries or picking a scab or talking smack on somebody does. It feels fiendishly, secretly, mean-spiritedly under-the-trenchcoat good, like "Ha ha, see world, I know this is bad and WATCH ME do it!"

I guess ultimately it's just a choice you make, or have to keep making. You just have to decide that you don't want to be that kind of person, mired in the past, unable to move forward. It's the decision to count your blessings, for what they're worth, rather than the many diverse and creative ways you've been humped by the dog of injustice over the years.

Why? I don't know why. Maybe clinging to crappy stuff in your past is a shield, in way, an excuse not to turn toward wide open and scary future. I guess what non-forgiving does is prevent you from seeing the present with clear eyes, keeps you from living life as you imagine, as the best version of yourself and so on. Keeps you from being clear and happy and peaceful.

...These were the profound and spiritual thoughts I was having when I noticed flashing lights in the rearview. I got pulled over and ticketed for running a red light (by the way it was a YELLOW, which turned red as I was driving under it, in a section of road where the two poorly timed traffic lights are about a hundred feet apart, by the way, but that's beside the point. Actually I think it was some kind of ticket trap, because I saw three other police cars on the same block, one of which had pulled over a car traveling the opposite direction. The borough trying to line its coffers, perhaps, with the proceeds from questionable tickets. Anyway...)

My first instinct was to be like "WHY! Every time I try to enter some kind of zen-like, life-affirming mental space something happens to completely take the spit out of me. AS SOON as I have a little money in place something drastic and car-related and tripled digit comes up to wreck it all." This was followed by blind, shaking rage at the officer who had pulled me over but couldn't explain what I was supposed to do with the ticket once I got it other than "read the back," while I watched another car run through the exact same yellow-to-red light without being pulled over. Followed by the urge to throw things, which lasted all the way to Spangles' house, where I experienced the urge to take it all out on him.

In a Herculean effort not to hurt his feelings with my misplaced anger, I took myself back out for a teary-eyed, rage-filled walk around the block. It turned into several blocks, while I frantically flipped through the mental rolodex of my hodgepodge accumulation of tips and techniques for dealing with all my feeeeeeeeelings.

There was the technique of just allowing the feeling to inhabit my body, not to fight but let it be "a guest in the house" as Rumi puts it. To really focus in on it, "listen" to it, describe how it feels. (Blackness in the lungs and a flaming scowl-mask, if you're wondering.) The phrase "the only way out is through" floated through my head. Then I thought of Anne Lammott, who has written that "Help me help me help me" and "Thank you thank you thank you" are the two best prayers she knows. I don't know how I feel about prayer, but I figured I would send out a big mental "Help!" to whatever benevolent forces might be out there, just to cover my bases.

The pythons started to deconstrict, and my frantic pace slowed a little. Then I tried examining these thoughts about how EVERY time I do this or that something bad happens, to see if they held water. They didn't really, as I'm sure you're shocked to hear.

By the final block, I realized that giving me the stupid ticket almost definitely was not ruining Officer Assface's evening, so why should it ruin mine. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction.

Then I realized that in all that psychologizing myself I had really worked up an appetite, so I went to go get Spangles. A plate of Ethiopian food and a glass of red wine later, I was like "what ticket?"

So there it stands. And I have the following message for the world at large:

Listen, bad stuff that happens, I don't like your methods, and if that was your idea of a joke I think your sense of humor is a pile of steaming doody. I just want you to know that I refuse to consider this some kind of test. The only test I give an eyelash about it my own evaluation of myself.

So bad luck in the world, and any and every person or force that would conspire to bring me down: you can suck it. I will swing back. I will write long angry updates to my blog. I will find a way to make meaning out of you and weave you into my rich tapestry of human effin' experience, and I will win. I will be happy. I will be content. I will live a good life, I will love people, I will enjoy the snot out of everything that I can, I will continue to grow incensed about injustice, and I will fight, and if I go down, I will go down with my arms swinging. I will not stand by and be a passenger in my own life. I will not let circumstances dictate my frame of mind, I will suck the ever-living bright side and silver lining out of every batch of mouldering lemons that I can, and I will survive, and I will live to tell the tale.

Also, neener neener neener, you're a poopoohead and a buttface, go fly a kite, and I hope you choke. Amen.


schoolmarmalade said...

::chortle!:: weave you into my rich tapestry of huma effin experience... best threat EVER!I'ma open up my literary LOOM on yo' ass!

and also the part about blahdyblahdyblah, spread your wings and fly! So true! People are really like that! People are terrible.

But now that I am reading Anne Lamott I think you write like her because you both make curses and scat jokes sound beautiful and poetic. And funny. So take that universe, cause now I'm laughing at you, too.

Ann said...

Oh, you both made me laugh so hard! Thank you for the privilege of sharing your lives.

Oscar said...

Seconding both of the above, I have to say that "humped by the dog of injustice" is my personal favorite!

Laughing, with tears in my eyes.

Ann said...

I vote for "I sort of wish I'd told her to eat shit and die."