Check Your Attitude

I’m not going to lie. This started out as a very different post about gratitude and how I’ve been getting more and more in touch with how I feel about my life, what I’m grateful for and what I never knew I needed to appreciate. I had it all planned out, which should have been my first clue it wasn’t going to go quite the way I envisioned; the universe has a wonderful sense of humor and its absolutely favorite way to show it is to see exactly what I have planned and see how it can turn it all around. Alas, my abundant gratitude is not today’s story.

Today is about perception.

Mine, to be more clear, since I lack the psychic ability to look into anyone else’s head and tell you how the world looks to them.

I could tell you that I see rainbows and roses everywhere, but I promised not to lie, even if telling the truth makes me look a little like an ass. I’m more of a skull and crossbones kind of girl with more sarcasm than sunshine in my head. It suites me. Unfortunately, I’m also the girl that tends to see things that aren’t really there.

We could call this a hold over from my childhood; I was bullied by family and classmates alike and I tend to be good at picking out nasty smirks, these days.

Well. I say I’m good at it. So good at it that, sometimes, I see that smirk when it isn’t really there.

Or hear it.

This is where I tell you that part of what I’m about to relate might make you uneasy or might make you think differently about me. Someone once told me they were surprised that I could get so caught up in the thoughts of others because their first impression of me was of a woman who does not give one crap about anyone else’s opinion of me. At my strongest, this is true. I have told even the people I love best where to stuff their version of me.

Today was not one of those days.

I believe that part of growing is being able to admit your faults. Now, I have been bullied. I have heard people laughing at me behind my back. I’ve been betrayed, lied to, lied about, and let told that I’m weird. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. In fact, a lot of people find me too strange to allow and make it their mission to try and change me. These days I let them go ahead and make fun of me because it says far more about them than it does about me. In fact, I’ve found that the way others see you tend to reflect the way they see themselves and has nothing at all to do with you in the first place.

This, of course, can be reversed. How you see others says something about how you see the world. Most days, I see other people as generally decent, but also need a little kindness and, on occasion, a good kick in the pants for being buttheads. We are all stumbling around in the dark wood of life and not a damn one of us really knows what is going on. However, today was one of those (now) rare days when I found myself irritated simply because other people exist.

Someone cut me off in traffic on my way to the bookstore – I needed their wifi to deal with the mess that has become my WordPress blog. “I hate people,” I growled. The car next to me hit a squirrel. I watched the poor thing get tossed into the ditch and there is no way in hell it landed still breathing. “What a jerk,” I growled a little louder, glaring at a man who was driving one of those pickups that always make you question if they even know what a hay bale looks like (Judgy? Oh hell yes). Yet another person was tailgating me and others were beeping their horns impatiently (at me or at someone else, I didn’t know) and all of this was further cranking the wheel of my irritation with the human race.

By the time I actually reached the bookstore, I already had that tingle which says ‘hey, you, better be looking closer at something going on inside.’

This tingle, call it my emotional spidey sense, is a familiar prickle at this point. I’ve always been self aware, but the the first surprise of getting to know myself was seeing just how little I actually knew about the person in the mirror. I decided, at some point, that I needed to develop a relationship with me the same way I would with another person. The first rule is respect and this was surprisingly difficult. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and they are certainly not wrong. I’ve made it a priority to listen to myself as much as possible, lately, but, sometimes, I forget about my promise and it rarely ends well.

Into the bookstore I went. The planner I use to track my writing activities is approaching it’s final month and I’ve been eyeing one that is of the same design – while refusing to pay twenty dollars for something that I’m only going to throw away. Black Friday may be over, but Barnes & Noble is turning it into a weekend event; my planner was half off. I could have looked at that and let it be the thing that turned my stormy attitude around.

Funny thing about a bad mood. If you nurture it long enough, it gets big enough you can’t see around it. The planner was half off, but so was my temper. If I get around to that gratitude post, I may bring this back to the table; learning to embrace those small things is key to releasing the older version of me so I can be happy. I did not focus on my luck that the planner, which is beautiful, was both half off and still in stock. I was determined to be grouchy.

I went to the cafe, ordered something small and sat down to work on my blog space. I was half growling, annoyed further to discover the theme I’d originally used for my blog was no longer available. I was working on the banner for the home page, glaring because I couldn’t remember how to make the black box in the middle transparent, fussing over fonts and colors and just being in an outright muggle mood.

And that is when I heard a half stifled, snarky little giggle.

I could take you back to high school right about now. I could remind you what it feels like when a group of someone’s is laughing at you, trying to make it look like they aren’t, and fully hoping you realize they are, in fact, laughing at you. I could bring you back to that sweaty, hot moment of shame that seemed to accompany those moments, even when you’d done nothing wrong and didn’t know why the jackals were giggling. But I’m going to suggest you stay right here with me. Because, for a minute, a very un-evolved version of me was alive and ready to bite someone’s head off right then and offer it up as a blood sacrifice to that nice little corporation sign that has come to universally mean over priced coffee that tastes like sadness, charred beans, and pumpkin spice.

That version of me was born somewhere in between the point of graduating high school and discovering the man that I married was always running me down behind my back. Built of anger and betrayal, it is both oversensitive and aggressive and it is my least favorite mask. That version of me loves dogs and horses and kids and is absolutely not someone you want to laugh at if you are a grown adult because she will leave you hysterically sobbing in a corner somewhere, possibly suffering from PTSD, and unsure if you will ever feel safe out in public again. It is a version of me that I’ve been working to send back into the void; people do stupid, hurtful things because stupid, hurtful things were done to them. They are cruel because that is the only way they can feel better about themselves. Somewhere inside of them, they harbor a seed of self loathing that has sprouted a dark and poisoned tree. And a group of college students is always so ripe with self doubt and fear that it sometimes amazes me they can manage to get out of bed in the mornings.

That’s what this was, by the way. A group of college students in their mid twenties. But, before we visit this group of sleek, perfectly dressed little children convinced that their life would never turn around and bitch slap them (ah, sweet innocence), let’s talk about the emotional alarm tingle of doom.

You see, that tingle was pretty much a full on fire dance at this point. ‘Pay attention, pay attention,’ it said. ‘Take a look at you. Look in, not out.’

Now, there was a time not all that long ago, when I’d have listened… eventually. But, first, I’d have gone full death glare, possibly even unhinged hell angel of ‘you decided to try it, now I’m going to verbally tear your spine out.’ Hell, I was dressed for the occasion; I’d walked in wearing my long black coat and, I’m sure, looking like an escapee from Wednesday (Go. Watch. Now.) because I really was feeling my inner grim reaper earlier.

I’ve spent two years working with this explosive and vengeful side of me. Two years. I still make mistakes; everyone does. But I knew the consequences of letting my mouth speak before my brain was asked for the best course of action. So I did not jump up from my seat to go incinerate anyone’s ego with my fury. Instead, I took a breath. This is still a new thing for me; I have to consciously choose to stop. There is something odd about being bullied. Some people never seem to come out of that dark room where they are regulated to being unpopular and unwanted. Others, like me, decide to take over the room, put on the crown, and declare themselves the queen so that nobody mistakes them for weak ever again.

I got really good, at one point, picking out what people didn’t like about themselves. I never became that woman who puts others down to make herself feel better, thank god. But. If you crossed me, if you pushed me to my limit – which usually involved one of my kids (my little band of outcasts gathered from every corner of the world), dogs, or anything helpless – I would use my extensive vocabulary to flay you alive. Some would not see the problem with this; most of the people who have seen me in this mode stomped across a clearly marked line and right up to the end of my loaded canon. They got what they were asking for.

Just one problem with that. I didn’t get away without a little hurt of my own. Once the fire died down, I had plenty of burns of my own to tend. Once you’ve been bullied, you don’t forget that feeling. It is not one you want others to have to feel. Even if you might think they do deserve it a little. Everyone has a story and a tragedy. Everyone deserves at least a little kindness.

It is not up to me to decide who gets chewed out and who doesn’t. Most people, if they are truly worthy of it, will get that karma at some point or another. Whether they learn from it or not is also not my call. That is why it is called free will and no matter what our government may think, nobody gets to step on that. I have no desire to be the one doing the teaching these days. I’m on a different trajectory. One that includes listening to that tingle and figuring out where I’m coming from instead of worrying about what other people are thinking about me.

So I listened to my inner cricket. I started thinking about the guy who cut me off. I’m not going to make that okay; always check your blind spots and don’t assume the other driver is paying enough attention to avoid an accident. You will be at fault. But. Had he hit me, I wouldn’t have been hurt as we were going too slow and I pay my insurance for a reason. The driver that hit the squirrel couldn’t have stopped; it ran under his tires, not out in front of him and, had he seen and hit the brakes, the car behind him would have hit him going fast enough to make the accident ugly. The tailgater sniffing my tailpipe wasn’t trying to piss me off, they just weren’t paying enough attention. The people honking weren’t honking at me. They were honking at each other for some reason that had nothing to do with me.

My sour mood was not about other people. I didn’t want to leave the house this morning. My bills are pressing on me a little, causing me to worry. I was having a nice little snuggle with my dogs, but, because I’d set myself to getting the blog cleaned up and ready for a newer, better version of my writing, I made myself go out.

Sometimes, you need to let go of ideas of how the day should go. You can (and should) say ‘hey, don’t actually feel like doing that right now’ and let your plans change. This is part of honoring who you are.

I’m not telling you to ignore what’s important. Kids need fed. Bills need paid. But blogs can wait. My irritation was born of my need to spend a day curled up on the couch watching youtube with a good dog. Strange as it may sound, it is sometimes important to rest, even if it means putting something else off. In not listening to that voice, I was disrespecting myself and, just like an overstimulated child, it was bent on being unhappy with every little thing. I was looking for a reason to be angry and I found plenty of them.

Now. About those college students.

I looked up, aware that, whatever they were trying to do for themselves by snickering at me, it was their issue to deal with. Only, they weren’t looking at me. Pretty much the only time any of them looked at me was when I walked past and there was nothing malicious in it. The girl was looking at my hair. It is extremely long at this point and gets a lot of girl attention. You know the kind I’m talking about. Remember those three little girls in Rapunzel that get to braid her hair? That look.

The rest of the kids barely knew I was in the room with them. They certainly weren’t laughing at me. They were having a good time, enjoying their coffee and their conversation and it wasn’t about me.

Let me say that again. It wasn’t about me.

That, my darlings, is what perception is. It is the story you tell yourself and it is wholly within you. It has nothing to do with the people around you, what they are thinking about you, what they are saying, even if they ARE looking at you. Some people would have heard that laugh and taken it as happiness instead of snark. Others would have snapped right up and demanded to know who they thought they were laughing at, causing all sorts of drama to ensue.

Your life mirrors your perception. You see what you want to see. Your perception is born of two things. Today, yes, but also all of your yesterdays. How you behave is directly wired into who you have decided you want to be. This is what the buddhists call the ego; it is how you identify and, good or bad, it is a lens through which you see the world. The beautiful part of this is that you get to decide every single day who you want to be.

Sometimes you get up, realize it is a day for puppy cuddles and mindless youtube. You listen to that little voice and you have a good – if not quite productive – day. Or you don’t listen and get all the way to a coffee shop and nearly traumatize a pack of college students because you thought an abandoned blog was more important than your own needs. Change isn’t easy for me; I resist it on every front and when I get something into my head I often cling to it. Even if it means steamrolling my personal needs.

Perception is directly related to how well we are listening to ourselves. Our ability to deal with the little uglies in the world, like honking horns, traffic drama, and snarky laughter is very much linked to the attitude we decided to put on. It can and will change on a daily basis, if you let it. Hell, sometimes, it changes by the hour. You do have control over it, though. You can listen to what it is telling you and know that, whatever it is you need or need to avoid is part of becoming better balanced in a world that is always trying to push your buttons. Don’t listen and the unheard, unseen voice will choose your attitude for you. It rarely chooses a happy one.

The buddha said ‘you cannot control the world, but you can control your reaction to it’. I think that, if we taught our children to decide, first thing in the morning, what they are and aren’t up to for the day, we’d understand that this phrase isn’t about shaming yourself into better behavior or letting others walk all over us. It is about knowing where you are for the day. Learning to watch and listen to ourselves is a vital part of change; the unconscious get up and rely on who they were yesterday to tell them how to be today. They are on autopilot and this is an empty life lived as a sleepwalker. The person who observes themselves has the ability to choose who they are and what they want out of life.

Today was not a day for me to be out in public. Today was a day to be at home, writing you a little note about gratitude. I wanted to tell you how I made toast lathered with butter and fresh strawberry jam. One of my customers made the jam from her own strawberries and gave me a jar of it after I delivered her husband’s medicine; they were about to leave for Florida for the winter and needed the medicine to show up before they could leave.

Had I been listening to myself, I could have written that story for you today, then camped on the couch in my pajamas watching Dead Like Me and loving the little things. However. I’m living by a new philosophy that is very much based on the Native American belief in using every part of the animals they hunt. Maybe I shouldn’t have left the house. But, in a way, I’m glad that I did; I got a good lesson out of it. In the end, I can’t change the past. I did leave the house. I did have a few little moments in there where I let myself slide backward just a bit. But I can still use that. I still had a story to tell.

Tomorrow maybe I’ll tell you all about those strawberry preserves and how I toasted my bread in a pan on the stove because my toaster vanished somewhere between the house I rented when I first came home, my sad, one room caregiver life in my mother’s basement, and this house, which has become a far happier place than either of the others. Or maybe I’ll take you with me into the forest for a hike. Or maybe I won’t write at all outside my usual three pages. I don’t know because that is tomorrow and, like I said before, tomorrow is going to have to take care of itself; I’m busy with today.

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