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Current popular wisdom on "how to be happy" suggests that we list, on a daily basis, the things for which we are grateful. By focusing on what we have rather than on what we don't, we'll better appreciate the richness of our lives and discover what truly matters to us -- or reacquaint ourselves with it.
I've asked my patients to come to each session prepared to offer one "gratitude". Just one -- so they don't feel burdened or frustrated. Knowing them, someone will say, "I'm grateful for grapes!" And for that I'll have to nod my head in agreement.
"Sometimes I don't even want the people on the bus to see me," she once confided to me in email. "True, I don't want to see anyone, either, but that's not nearly as loathsome as having them see me."
She thought I wouldn't understand her need for invisibility, to go about her day without anyone seeing her do something as innocuous as buying a Metrocard or waiting at the bus stop.
"Sometimes I feel like I even have to script answers to simple 'yes' or 'no' questions," she wrote. "I know that's ridiculous."
, I responded.
It sounds ridiculously familiar
"I'm grateful I don't have webbed feet," says Allison. Her struggle to pull off her scuffed-up boot, despite my suggestion/plea to refrain, is rewarded: both boot and holey-toed sock are freed from her foot.
Day One of my patients' "gratitude" exercise, and already I know I'm in for some treats.
"See?" She wiggles five of the ugliest toes I've ever witnessed, attached to one of the puffiest, flattest feet ever.
"I'm grateful all my toes are not the same size and shape and that I have an actual arch," I want to say in response. "I'm also grateful for soap."
"It looks like something a housewife would think is really sexy," he says when I show him what I ordered online. When I'd sent him a link for feedback, he'd approved with enthusiasm.
So now I'm supposed to ever wear it? He already knows how self-conscious I can be, how insecure, even though I have "no reason" to be. Yes, I work out like a lunatic, and yes, I'm in better shape than girls half my age, but still.
I release fishnet from scissor-blades. It's not its fault. I cram it in my lingerie drawer, where it gasps in relief.
He's been out of sorts the last few days, attributing it to worry about work and the cretins that populate his office. I hate the idea of his boss chastising him within earshot of people who have no business knowing his. The idea of someone who I'm sure has half his talent and skill treating him like he has none. The notion of someone making him "look stupid".
I want to bolt to Brooklyn, grab this fucker by the collar of what I'm sure is a cheap button-down, and scrub his smarmy face into stucco.
Nobody fucks with my boy.
Puppies. French fries. Flannel pajamas. Fluffy socks. Eggplant parmigiana -- veganism be fucking damned, I want mozzarella, and full-fat at that. Lifetime movies by the truckload -- babysitters seducing attractive homicidal dads, cheerleaders becoming prostitutes, anorexics a-gogo -- the more implausible and poorly acted the better. Anything to anesthesize. Anything. Everything. This, because I cannot pry open my head and scoop out my brain with a grapefruit spoon.
That, or tearing through the desert in a straightjacket (white linen, please), bellowing a la cousin Gundarva and his primal scream therapy. Running so fast I leave no prints in the sand.
"Sometimes, during business meetings," EK says, "the only way I can keep from screaming is by imagining I'm banging one of the people's faces into the side of the conference table."
She pauses, waiting, I know, for me to say that's "bad" and that she really shouldn't say something like that, let alone think it. Instead, I have to try with all my might not to grin broadly and confess that I do the same thing.
What kind of therapist would I be if I admitted to having the same impulses as many of my patients? A poor one, probably.
Oh, how I love lookin' at the ladies. I'm "in love" with my best friend in this city. I've faux-fondled her amazing "rack", kissed her once or twice, and we get along like -- oh, like gangbusters! So when am I ever going to just come right out and come out already? Never. Because, you see, when you get right down to it -- the part between the legs doesn't grab me.
So I straight-girlishly ogle my friend M's beautiful Broadway-star friend at Easter dinner and hope she can't see the Davy Jones hearts and stars pulsing from my eyesockets.
"I'm grateful for pliers!" Amanda says on Tuesday, her first experience with the "gratitude" exercise. A grin consumes her face. This is a major feat, given that she's never smiled in the five months she's been my patient. (Not even when I showed her puppy photos. Then she grimaced and said, "Cute, but so what?")
Now, however, with the grin, I see why she'd never done it: her right "fang" is missing.
"Isn't it great?" she says. "I pulled it last night! I'm grateful I didn't have to waste money on a dentist!"
Two for the price of one. Fabulous.
More people get more pleasure from my "crazy" behavior than I do. They get off when I go off about this, that, or the other, other, AND other thing that irks or infuriates me. They applaud my ability not only to get angry but to express it -- often and without abandon. "You never have to punch pillows, do you?"
("I'd never even want to punch a pillow," I want to say, in deference to my extreme anthropomorphism.)
My anger is their sport. But it's a game I'm not so eager to play or a tournament I want to win.
I'm glad today's laundry load included flannel sheets and lots of fluffy socks, because they really made the 84-minute dryer tumble a lot easier on my body. This is why, when you peered through the porthole-type window because, oh my god, you thought you saw a
in there, you saw that person laughing like mad. What you thought was just a squeaky mechanism within the machine was really her joyful "Weeeee!" as her arms and legs scrambled around her like one of those jointed paper skeleton Hallowe'en decorations.
Don't fret, though. I am permanent press and do not shrink.
Leeza and her look-alike face each other in the back booth of a diner, way after hours. This, they've found, is the only way they can eat in peace. Even so, there's always bound to be some stray fan or insomniac paparazzi.
"I should be happy for the fame, but frankly I'm fucking sick of it," Leeza says.
"Why does it bother YOU so much?" the look-alike, Leesa (nee Ruth) says, sticking her fork into Leeza's meat loaf even though the waitress had plunked an identical dish down in front of her without asking. "They only want me anymore, anyway."
"Puppy belly! Oh, puppy belly! Belly belly belly! Puppy!"
My purse and other bags are plopped down willy-nilly near where I've flopped down silly-silly, yet again, to play with and be in near-tears over a paw-flailing, tongue-lolling, tail-wagging dog. Breed, size, age, condition of fur all irrelevant. This, more othan anything else, comes naturally to me. It's like a reflex.
Invariably, the dogs' people are amused. Most are downright delighted with my getting right down with their dogs. And quite a few thank me for taking the time to do what I do.
Thank me? No no no. Thank YOU.
Laundry that I lugged 90-some miles from New York has just finished tumbling in my parents' basement dryer.
"I remember you," the dryer says when I open its creaky door and reach inside for delicious hot fluffiness. (I half expect a freshly-baked soft pretzel.) "You're that drunken little slut who used to sneak in through that window over there 20 years ago, after being out all night doing who knows what with a halfwit or two or four. Remember when your dad boarded up the window after he found out? Jesus!"
I had no idea the dryer had even noticed.
Someone's grandmother's costume jewelry, once fancied quite elegant, waits on the flea market table to be claimed for the $20 "lot price". This is not the fate the fake-jewel-encrusted brooch envisioned for itself when it was dumped into a box earlier this morning.
A little brass bell, its "clanger" long gone, yearns to let the brooch know that it doesn't belong in this jangled heap, either. It wants to protest, but can only scream in clangerless silence as a snotty-fingered brat snaps the brooch's pin-back off. The bell does not feel better knowing that now the brooch could truly commiserate.
I'd rather sit cross-legged on a park bench on a sunny, warm-breezed day, nibbling on crumbs from the bottom of my purse, meeting dog after dog and the people accompanying them, tracking squirrels' spirally paths, smiling at puffed-chested pigeons, than do almost anything else. I'd bring a book, sure, thinking I'd want to lose myself in it, but that venture is never successful.
How can I possibly focus on static black letters on a white page, when inches away, the enterprising industry of ants (themselves the size and color of the type), carrying away missed crumbs, is mine to witness?
I am merely two-dimensional, as flat as a cardboard cut-out, rolling through my days on small casters. I take up very little room and am stored with almost no effort: just turn me sideways and slide me into a slot beside the refrigerator or behind the ironing board. In those small spaces I fit quite neatly.
My surface is smooth, not corrugated. Mine is a slight, buffed shine that reflects only softened, dulled light. You cannot and will not see yourself in me.
My movement creates no breeze, no wind. My casters are squeal- and squeek-free. I make no impact.
Every time I wake up and see him in my bed, I get this strange little thrill, like it's the first time and I can't believe I have someone next to me whom I want there. In the past when a guy would say, "Can't stay, I've gotta get up early" (yeah, they actually say that), I'd think, "Who asked you to stay? I can't get you out of here fast enough!"
But this one? This one is the only one for me anymore, and because of that, I want him here, I invite him here, I cherish him here.
The Asian laundry attendant is telling me that if I split my large load of wet laundry between two dryers, I can use the same amount of quarters and my stuff will be dry in half the time.
I wish I could instantly come up with an algebraic equation for this, like my math-lovin' boyfriend can. Although I love algebra, forming equations isn't my strong suit.
I laugh as I realize she's right. I laugh even when I can't decipher what she's saying. She's probably calling me a moron, and I'm laughing at it.
Oh well. She's kinda right, yes?
It's okay to wallow. Okay to indulge your overwhelming need to whine, wheedle, moan, groan, and basically wallow like a big fat googoo-gaga crybaby, if it helps. If this is what it takes to get your so-called "yayas" out, then by all means, please have at it. But with one condition: Allow yourself only 15 minutes, tops.
A quarter of an hour, 1/96 of your day, is all you need and all it takes. Add it all up for a year, and you get 91.25 hours -- or about 3.8 DAYS -- of prime whine time. Not too shabby, eh?
Hate to break it to you, not-so-kind sir, but you really cannot take yourself even slightly seriously if you're riding a fucking unicycle in Central Park. Especially if the unicycle is a tall one that places your perilously perched ass at my eye-level. So don't go pedaling around, your chunky legs chug-chug-chugging to steady the wobble, with that nonchalant, pursed-lipped expression indicating world-weary ennui if you don't want me to want to poke big twigs between the spokes of your weenie wheelie woowoo-cycle. Some of us aren't so lucky, and have to share our Volkswagen Beetles with a dozen clowns.
I vacillate between thinking, "When you're dead, hoo boy, you're DEAD" and thinking that the dead are trying to communicate with me. Is Poppop really making the caps pop off of bottles in my kitchen? Is the large fly on my computer screen, dancing conspicuously all morning, really Poppop being the goofball he always was, just saying "Hey!"?
I like to think so. I like to think he's still around in some form, even though, deep deep down, I really don't believe it and know he's just deep down beneath the ground, where we buried him almost 14 years ago.
When creating your self portrait, please refrain, under penalty of death (by my hand or foot, with or without accompanying implement to enhance the damage), from using your feet as the subject. Picture this: in the foreground, your feet -- either Converse-sneakered and crossed, or bare and turned slightly out as if you're in comfortable repose -- propped up on your Urban Outfitters beanbag chair; in the background, the TV, blurred, but not blurred enough to obscure the identifying yellowness of SpongeBob. Now picture this: Me bludgeoning you with a mace (old-fashioned spiky ball type, not the modern spray variety).
This morning at 7:36, like every other, the same stone-faced lady's shoes clack-click on the pavement in front of the condo building that Luis is hosing down as part of his morning maintenance routine. The 15 minutes he spends on this task costs the company $2.50, an amount it takes the lady 30 seconds to earn.
As usual, he stops the water flow when she is several feet away. He doesn't want mist to reach her. As usual, he braves a smile, but it is not returned.
Starting tomorrow morning, he'll keep the water running. And also keep the smile.
My father has a tin "mess kit" that's been sealed for at least 60 years. I used to sit in the den and stare at it, where it rested on the bookcase, envisioning myself rushing over, lifting up the hinged clasp, releasing the pressure, and flipping the attached lid back to allow the trapped air to escape.
But what if it wasn't just air, I wondered. What if, inside, spores or atoms or beads or bubbles of old-time but long-cured diseases were swarming or colliding or rolling or bouncing? Did I really want to contract polio?
The kit stayed sealed.
"I'm grateful for the number 22," Stephen says.
Most of my patients explain their "gratitude" in some way, even though it's not a requirement of the exercise. Most explanations offered are obvious. ("I'm so grateful for my umbrella!" Zzzzzzz.) Of course, leave it to Stephen not to offer one. My silence, thankfully, prompts him to tell me without my having to ask. I don't like indulging his need to be "mysterious".
"See, if it wasn't for 22, how would we count from 21 from 23?" he says. "We'd be stuck at 21."
"Forever 21!" I want to yell. But don't.
It is the day of Kevin's grandfather's burial. It is raining what his grandfather used to call "kittens and puppies -- not quite hard enough to be cats and dogs!"
At least six people have said something like this: "Ahhh, the skies are crying for the loss of a good man!" or "There are indeed tears in heaven!"
Six months ago, when they buried his grandmother, the sun shone. Then, people from this same group said stuff like this: "Ohhh, the skies are smiling for Helen!" or "There is indeed laughter in heaven!"
Kevin wishes they'd all stop talking shit.
I want to see a man walking down (not up - I'm picky that way) Broadway (somewhere in the low 90s) on really tall wooden stilts. He should be dressed in an old-fashioned grey flannel suit with chalk pinstripes -- the pants extra-extra-long, so no part of the stilts shows. Tophat. Spats. He should sport a monocle and pocket-watch with fob, and peer at the watch with a purposeful expression as he hurries through the crowd, en route to a horse and carriage waiting beneath a gas-lit streetlight to take him somewhere to sign a historical document with a quill.
"I put back the ice cream I'd had in my cart," he said after he introduced himself, "when I saw all the healthy stuff in yours." Ahh, so the Villanova philosophy professor wanted to impress!
His eye was on more than my ass as he tailed me through the supermarket. I didn't know whether I should be relieved that he wasn't just a pervert or insulted that he didn't find my ass riveting enough.
Not only did I not reciprocate, but I didn't pretend to be "intellectual". I made "Fonzie" references on one of our dates. ("Who's that?" he said.)
She bursts into the room, all spirally hair, smooth skin, and slick clothes. Instantly I feel devoid of texture and substance. In less than two minutes, however, my initial impression of "stunning" takes a startling turn.
The hair? Obvious extensions. The skin? Rough beneath the thick foundation. The clothes? Oh please, the fabric is cheap and shiny! She's more savvy than smart, more informed than truly intelligent.
"She's pretty -- but so am I!" my ex-friend "A" used to try to tell herself when she felt "less than". It never really worked for her. And it doesn't for me, either.
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