One of the many activities that COVID has curtailed for me is picking up litter. It’s just felt too risky and fraught, so for the most part, I’ve re-learned how to tune it out and keep walking even though I know it diminishes me a tiny bit each time. Frankly, this is one of the reasons I hate you. As your communication threat-detectors know, I’ve tried mightily for the past 3.56 years to not burden myself with such a reaction to you, but recently I’ve decided to acknowledge to myself, and now you, that I hate you. I still try not to let myself rage at your image or when I have to listen to your voice, but I’ve gotten really good at simultaneous right- and left-hand bird-flipping and more and more frequently I find myself involuntarily muttering “I hate you” to you. And, I really have earnestly worked the psychobabble deal about how no one can ‘make’ someone else feel anything, but I’m coming to think this idea is seriously limited and probably needs to be retired.
I’ll come back and unpack this some more in a minute, but first I’ll tell what triggered the thoughts about COVID having quashed litter pick-up. On the way back from our morning dog walk we drove up the main arterial towards home and Laura said something like “what a mess” – I was turned towards her so had missed much of the blocks-long stretch of broken up Styrofoam littering the street and sidewalk. Scads of it. We agreed that we couldn’t just let it disperse further since it’s pretty much the worst (aside from methane, oil spills, lead in water – you know, all those things you get giddy about), so Laura headed out with the broom and asked me to meet her with the dustpan and a huge plastic bag in a few minutes.
The wind was gusting and it was clear that the practically lighter-than-air smaller Styrofoam bits were going to escape if I went down where Laura was so I started stuffing as much as I could into the bag as I made my way towards her. When I finally got down to her, a minor miracle happened. A young-ish man crossed the street and came over to help with a rake and a bucket. He pitched right in and between the three of us we got all but a few scattered single Styrofoam pellets (you know how the damn stuff breaks up into the tiniest, elusive, staticky, devilish bits). I don’t know how much he had in his bucket when he left, but by the end, our very large (seriously, very large) plastic bag was jammed full. It’s now safely tied up and in our garbage can, our hands and faces and necks are freshly washed, and things are a bit more right with the world than they were before.
Ok, back to the idea that we can (and should) control how we feel about others and situations and basically, everything. It’s not a completely meritless idea. For example, if I refuse to be hooked by someone being rude or disrespectful or provocative (etc.) and don’t get angry or resentful, that can give me a sense of control and perhaps the upper hand in a situation. There’s also feeling angry/resentful but not taking the bait behaviorally.
But the idea that we should somehow always be able to rise above whatever bullshit is being perpetrated and that we’re responsible for our emotional reactions is just not realistic. Moreover, it’s sadistic in that it bludgeons the feeler with a boatload of shaming shoulds – ‘you shouldn’t get so riled,’ ‘you shouldn’t let him get to you,’ ‘you should be bigger than that’ and so on. Plus, it let’s the assholes off the damn hook as in ‘what, you can’t take a little ribbing?’ ‘what’s the big deal? I said I was sorry,’ and ‘oh, you’re just over-reacting – you know I didn’t mean anything by it.’ Basically, it’s a tried and true tool of the gaslighter and it needs to be permanently parked so that we no longer use it against ourselves or others.
Some of us feel big, some of us feel small, some of us vacillate between the two depending on the situation and how much pain we’re in or how tired or how maxed out we are, but our feelings are our feelings and they are non-negotiable. And at this point, my feelings of hate for you are mine – I own them – and yes, I have to choose what to do with them, but they are mine, they are non-negotiable, and they are not irrational.
May we be safe to own our feelings.
May we be willing to be clear-eyed about our reactions and not be should-ed out of them.
May we stop putting up with bullshit to be polite.
May we accept that emotions are often messy but that it doesn’t mean they need to be tamed.