She most likely turned out like this on the account of the fact Lisa (this lovely 16 year old's mom) has a nice, laid back outlook on life. For instance, after each visit, Lisa always leaves me some awesome little nugget of wisdom from her brain I can easily incorporate into my own life outlook. Nuggets like: “She's only 2. Those people will just have to get over it.” (Said after I worried out loud Melissa was bugging other people at a restaurant we were at). And: “People can be such buttheads!” (Shared over a glass of wine, talking about the psychologically traumatizing Tiger Mom approach and why are people so judge-y and psychotic in general anyway?)
Last week during after dinner drinks, she gave me this one: “Some people just need to let go of the nut.” She was telling me about this experiment some behavioral scientists once conducted with some monkeys. They put a piece of candy, banana, nut, or whatever monkeys find very tasty, in a cage. So the monkey comes up, puts its hand in the cage to get the nut. As soon as its hand is around the nut, the monkey is suddenly trapped in the cage and can’t move. But the behavioral scientists (who are just infamously devious about these kinds of things) set up the cage so that if the monkey would just let go of the nut, it would instantly be able to free itself. Freedom or a nut? A nut or freedom? What’s a trapped monkey to DO, everybody??
You can probably guess: not too many monkeys ever tried just letting go. They just hung out there, stuck to a cage, tightly clutching this nut they couldn't even get to their mouths, trapped for hours or at least until one of the kinder scientists played God and released them.
This was a deeply educational anecdote for me, because it’s exactly how I feel about my world so many days out of any given week: At various moments throughout each day, I am little more than a monkey with her hand stuck in a cage, clinging desperately to a nut I can't even get into my mouth. I need to tape this to the wall next to my desk at work, onto my bathroom mirror: Amy, just let go of the nut.
In her last post, Patresa talked about moving on to some other COFFEE projects she’s been eyeing, and I’m so grateful she did this, because she unknowingly gave me permission to let go of a nut (thanks, P-licious!). I think I’m ready to call it a day with one of my projects and branch out into another scary area (or 3).
I'm going to continue my first COFFEE project of training for my scary April D-Day 5K (which I am announcing here that I have officially registered for—woo! me...plus, and, also: there is no turning back now).
But my other project (which originally started as health nut/vegan eating and somehow casually evolved into a “How About I Just Focus on Cooking in Ways No One Gets Food Poisoning & I Don’t Burn Down My House?” project) has been feeling kind of done. Unless Jamie Oliver personally calls me to invite me to his house for a one-on-one cooking lesson, I think I’ve gotten about as far as I can possibly go on my own with the cooking project. I still don’t really enjoy the act of cooking, except on occasional weekend nights when I’m in the mood and there’s a nice bottle of Chianti next to me (I don’t really drink Chianti; I just like sticking that word into conversation whenever possible because of that one line in that one Hannibal Lecter movie). But I have a handle on it now, and some good solid recipes to turn to when in doubt. And nobody's choked or vomited on any of my cooking...yet. And my oven can't even believe how much use it's been getting since, say, November. Ish.
So I’ll continue training for a 5K, and channeling less sofa slug, more gym rat. But I'm saying adios to Cooking School 101.
Onto something new: All through this COFFEE project, I’ve been thinking, "What REALLY scares me?" Wendy called someone she hadn’t talked to in a really long time, and risked weird feelings and rejection. Patresa got up and sang in front of a bunch of strangers, and risked warbling like a goat and having people throw drinks at her. They both did these things, and they made it out alive. Totally, totally alive. Nobody hung up on anyone, sang like a goat, or threw drinks. Which made me ask myself: what have you REALLY been risking with this safe little cooking/run a 5K health nut project you gave yourself? Not much, is what I say.
So here’s the thing: I write. I write essays of a personal nature, a few short stories once in awhile, and the occasional incredibly ridiculous poem (with sappy rhymes and bad iambic pentameter and everything). I have a couple of finished (as finished as they'll ever be, because I could still pick over them like a dog gnawing on a bone) stories I wrote about 4 years ago I could send somewhere (except that these are currently floating around on a flash drive in my house somewhere and it’s been so long I really don’t even know if I can even find them). And occasionally I’ll be somewhere and find myself suddenly consumed to jot down the first page or two to a story that never gets to go anywhere because I never finish it. And even if I did finish it, it still wouldn’t get to go anywhere because I’m too afraid to send it to anyone.
I think I sit on these things because rejection is difficult for me. (Like it's so easy for everyone else, right? Patience, people, patience. I'm totally absorbed in my own egoic psychoses right now--we'll have to deal with yours later.) I’m the type of person who likes to build little walls of protection around myself so that no one makes my already fragile ego even more fragile. If I even smell the possibility of rejection, I run the other way. Writing is full of this, particularly when you send your stuff to a stranger (who has no reason to be nice to you) and ask them to deem it worthy. It feels like begging to me, like I’m 7 years old and we’ve just lined up in PE class to be picked for volleyball teams. And I know, I know: such is the Writing Life—it’s like World War II battle wounds or rites of passage tattoos, these collections of rejection letters. But I have thin skin, skin so thin it’s bizarrely transparent. Writing and sending pieces of my ego out for judgment would be an immensely risky and scary thing for me. So I decided this needs to be the next COFFEE project: Not only writing, but actually SENDING it to places to be eye rolled over or picked at or just spit upon, and learning to not take any of that personally. Building thicker skin is something I’ve been aware of needing to work on for years (and years and years) (seriously, since I was about 5).
Another project I’m still hashing out the specifics to in my head is a social project. The riskiness of this project is three-fold:
(1) Please be aware that I suck at the following: being in charge of stuff, paying attention to all the details, looking at the Big Picture, generally being organized, patience with people over the age of 8, dealing with a lot of different personalities all in one space.
(2) I wouldn’t call myself highly introverted, but I’m definitely not the most gregarious in some social situations, particularly when large-ish numbers of people in a group are involved and/or small talk must be made with veritable strangers. Sometimes I'm actually gripped with this tiny little insistent hand around my throat, squeezing and squeezing, going: Ask this person a question to get a small conversation started, you idiot. Ask a question. What? I don't know! ANY question, just pick one! ....You're not asking! There's too much silence!!!! Why are we just standing here, twiddling our thumbs?! Ask a question! Say something!! SAY something!!!!! And then I basically just paralyze myself and people may think I'm being unfriendly or, hopefully, impersonating a deaf mute.
Have I ever mentioned how I really admire people who naturally know how to talk to strangers, and are always ready with questions that make the other person feel valued and keep getting-to-know-you/small talk going?
(3) In addition to all the above, I like to recharge by doing solitary activities. I get pretty annoyed when I have to recharge my batteries in a group. For example, once I tried getting in shape by joining this program called "Team Fitness" at my gym and promptly became disgruntled and furious every time I had to show up. I paid about $500 to join the group, and I was grouchy and resentful the whole time, and basically the opposite of motivated. The entire 12 weeks. Like, people in the group would go (nicely but sort of also accusingly because we were to keep each other accountable and well-motivated): "So where were YOU on Tuesday, Ms. Always 10 Minutes Late??" And I’d be all snarly, “Get away from me, suckface.” Except I would only be snarly like that in my head, because in reality I'm psychotically non-confrontational; what actually happened was I just refused to make eye contact and mumbled something unintelligible about a headache, and then did a half-assed workout with them, angry the whole 90 minutes, not even trying to hide the fact I was looking at the wall clock every 10 minutes.
But now, even though I work out fairly inconsistently and don’t have a trained professional mapping my progress or making sure I’m doing the exercises right, I’m so much happier when I'm at the gym. I may not be really pushing myself, or even working out as long as I could, but I'm by myself and I don't have to make a bunch of brain draining small talk with people I only see 3 times a week under sweaty conditions. Ditto that on shopping, walking, reading, napping, going to the movies, and driving.
Here's the twist behind why I told you all that: You know what I really wish I had? A good social group. I do already have one of these—well, two, actually if I can count COFFEE. And I have a group of really nice women I get together with for dinner every so often and once a year there is some type of travel package involved. It’s a great group, and very diverse (I’m the crunchy liberal/wacky spiritualist of the bunch in case you were wondering). But the problem is they all live up in North Georgia which is about a 45 minute drive from me, and so I’ve had this idea in my head to start a more local kind of social group, one that does all kinds of things in the area I live in: from coffee outings to dinners to book clubs to walks in the parks to play dates to artsy outings to concerts.
Aren’t I odd? That I prefer solitude so much yet feel a deep need to connect? It’s the same when it comes to Melissa—she goes along with me to a lot of things, which is fine because I really enjoy being around her, and I often tell her how much I can’t wait for her to be old enough so I can take her to all kinds of cool places besides our usual errand-running outings. But man! I cannot even begin to describe the kind of sheer, unmitigated joy I get when I'm given a chance to do something (shopping, reading, napping, etc) by myself every now and then. Which is why I feel like such an odd bird when I think about this push-pull/go, no, stay, no, go! aspect of my personality. I’m fairly certain my friend Carol would tell me this is solely due to my being a Pisces.
Another aspect of risk with creating this social group thing involves my deep-seated fear of rejection: What if nobody signs up for my fun group? What if people sign up for my fun group and then decide it, and me, aren’t that fun? What if there’s drama in my fun group? I'll have to end it; I can't stand drama. What if somebody psycho joins us? Psychos are such killjoys. What if everybody loves me and my fun group a lot, but then I get disorganized and it kind of falls by the wayside and then people send me disapproving, judgmental emails? What if I end up with a lot of clingy, emotionally high maintenance types? I think I would rather stick my head into a barrel of agitated scorpions.
So, so many what ifs, so, so many risks.
So this is where I'm at currently:
1. Keep on keepin' on with the 5k/workout project stuff.
2. New project: put my brain on a 12.0 incline/6.0 treadmill pace and start writing again and actually sending what I produce to someone human…for skin thickening experience, and
3. New project: start fleshing out my social group idea.