Somedays I feel like the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…” Guy can go ahead and kiss my ass. Okay, technically I haven’t even read this book. I’m just getting grumpy at the title and pretending I know what the book is about. I’m like the first person ever to do that. Heck I’ll probably get my share of this from people that get grumpy at the title of the book I'm writing, without even reading it. I probably even agree with stuff that’s in the book that I haven’t read called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Oh, “it’s all small stuff” he says. I get it. I completely get it, but here’s the thing - Sometimes the small stuff is freaking aggravating and totally sweat-able.
And I know that it’s all just in my head. But sometimes, it’s wrapped around my feet. Sometimes it’s bed sheets and it’s wrapped around and it’s trapping my feet and how the fuck, and oh my god, and are you fucking kidding me right now?! Because, I thought somehow that bedsheets would get easier the older I got. And I’m getting older, as sure as I wake up in the morning with trapped feet, I’m getting older. But the sheets aren’t necessarily getting easier. I bet there’s even something special about sheets. I don’t really even move when I sleep, but the sheets move, I swear. I bet there’s a physics-y explanation for the movement of sheets, something about friction or sheet inertia or the earth’s rotation that could explain this stuff. I bet Christine McKinley would know. I mean I do things, but she’s just knows stuff about things.
And while we’re at it, aren’t most of us paid for the small stuff? No really. Raise your hand if paying attention to the small stuff is why you get to do whatever it is you do, for a living, for fun, for the sake of other people... for the love of god, it’s all small stuff. Small stuff is important, isn’t it?! I’ve actually trained my brain to pay attention to a fuck ton of all kinds of the small stuff because it makes a difference. (Specifically a fuck ton. Not a shit ton or a crap ton, more than both combined = a fuck ton. I’ll make a chart some day.)
So the small stuff. There’s a good chance that I’m more sensitive than other people, especially the imaginary people I can easily conjure and compare myself to in my head that never have any of the troubles that I have. You know, “those” people. There’s an even better chance that I’ve found ways to utilize my sensitivities and honed them into parts of my vocation. I don’t know, pick a thing I do; music, acting, coaching, athleticing, writing, thing-ing, all of these are improved by my ability to pay attention to small changes or make rapid and small adjustments. Paying attention to the small stuff is totally useful. Yet, some days all of my sensitivities wake up on high alert and I find that even though I’m packing for what should be a relaxing week long trip to the beach I’m suddenly yelling at my luggage. Not my metaphorical luggage/baggage, my actual suitcase on the loveseat. Yup ironic, that - loveseat…
Okay, perhaps there were a bunch of little events that led to that bigger event of yelling at my luggage. And perhaps you’re wondering, “yelling at inanimate objects, don’t you have a technique for that?!” Yup. I do. I actually have several techniques for all kinds of things including all of the things that could lead up to yelling at luggage. And, it turns out, yelling at my luggage is one of my techniques. It’s not one of my most useful techniques. It’s a really really old technique. It’s something I learned a really long time ago before I had language, from people that probably had better techniques but weren’t able to get to them quickly enough either. I remember my mother effectively used the yell and throw something technique to keep me from choking and dying on an orange when I was five. These old techniques can work, kinda.
I will admit there was a moment just before I lost the top of my head and yelled “fucker” at my luggage where I knew I had choices. I had the choice to leave the room and not lose my head. I had the choice to not only lose my entire head, but to pick up the luggage and shake the shit out of it all over the room screaming a bunch of whatever stream-of-conscious cursing wanted to come out and then flop and kick and collapse to the floor. Instead, I stopped whatever I was doing and I crouched down and I clenched my fists and half yelled “fucker.” And then I felt not really all that much better. I felt slightly better, mostly a little ridiculous, and then I joked with myself, “don’t you have techniques for this?!”
It’s true that I have some brilliant ninja tricks and techniques for letting go of decades of anger, sadness, fear, guilt, shame, frustration, etc. I have techniques for all kinds of triggers and habits. I can totally utilize these sledgehammer Jedi techniques anytime I want to, but there are also smaller easier techniques available to everyone, yes, even non ninja Jedi’s, for instance, and I’m going out on the edge here; pay attention to the small stuff.
Yup, it turns out that one of my techniques for handling stress is to take care of small things when I think of them. To prepare for them and to maintain systems that keep my world mostly manageable. This includes making my bed each day so that there are fewer mornings when I’m beeing foot strangled by sheet monsters. This also includes eating well, drinking water, stretching and maintaining my health. This includes going to the doctor when stuff goes awry so that I’m not anemic and adrenally fatigued and yelling at inanimate objects. Another one of my techniques is to be incredibly nice to myself and forgiving when I’m not behaving or responding to things as beautifully as I’d like. It happens to the best and worst of us. Usually we’re doing what we can with the resources we have at the time. Another of my techniques is to call upon my humor whenever possible. If I’m laughing I’m probably on my way to breathing and relaxing.
Relaxing and breathing is something I actually have to remind myself to do. Can you relate? I remember many years ago I had a therapist ask me what I did to relax. I remember that it took me a while to come up with something and I’m pretty sure my response was,
“Sometimes I find myself zoning out staring at the wall or off in the distance and I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it. That feels kind of nice. Occasionally I get completely done, just...so done with however things are going that I just lie down on the floor and give up for a while until I can feel that something has shifted and I get the sense that I can kind of maybe at least a little bit continue living and pushing against gravity.”
I don’t think that’s what my therapist was looking for, but it was surely an indication at the time that I could use a few more strategies for relaxing. I still zone out and lie on the floor sometimes. But I also have a bunch of other strategies for relaxing. Like going for a walk. Walks are nice. Sometimes I sit and do a relaxing technique that starts with tensing every one of my muscles as tight as I can and then letting go of that tension so that I can tell the difference between tense and relaxed. Because some days, I’m not really sure what relaxed feels like without getting more tense first.
And then there’s music. You know the saying about savage beasts and music. I can do that with my own savage beasts. Heck, I write songs. I play the guitar. I sing. That’s totally one of the things that I could do to relax or change my state of mind. Except if I’m already yelling at things I should probably just leave my guitar at a safe distance from my crazy. More frequently I find that it’s best to change my mood by listening to something that always gets me feeling better. It is in this vein that I leave you with Journey’s video for “After the Fall.” It’s just not possible for me to stay grumpy while watching this video. In fact, when I think of all the small choices Journey made to create this delightful masterpiece I realize that sometimes sweating the small stuff isn’t just necessary, it’s just good for the soul.
Sex is like cake. Except when it’s like cobbler.
The other day, a friend asked me via text, Do you think it’s possible to still find someone you really like when you are sleeping with someone else?
I considered a number of snarky potential responses, but I decided to assume that my friend was being earnest and really wanted my opinion on this. It’s actually kind of an honor to have someone ask for my opinion rather than assuming everybody wants to hear my opinion and sending it out into the social ether. E’hem...
So, this was my response:
Me: “It’s funny the way you’re asking, because beliefs are important. You would have to believe that you can in order for it to be true.”
She: mmm. that is very true. thank you. and that is my missing element.
I went on as I’m inclined to do.
Me: “If you are able to expand your beliefs about what is possible you would intuitively know how and who to be.” (This is the part where I’m being all wise and crap as I’m wont to do cuz I’m way totally a personal development professional and such, mmm hmm.)
And then out of nowhere or, you know, out of the place inspiration and metaphor always comes from, this popped out of me.
Me: “You could allow yourself to fully enjoy cake on any particular day and never once decide that you are a cake eater.”
Me: “You can eat cake all you want and still be a cobbler person. Because cobbler is fucking amazing.”
She: OMG. That is an amazing analogy!!!
Me: “But if you are eating cake and choosing not to enjoy it because you’d rather have cobbler, then the cake will probably not sit well in your stomach. And you may find that you’re too ill for cobbler if someone were to offer it to you.”
She: Shit that’s awesome. Yes.
See. You want to text me now. Or maybe you want cake. You’re a cake eater, I can tell. That’s cool. I prefer cobbler.
You may have heard that language doesn't describe your reality, it creates it. One way I know this is true is from my experience with acting. I think most people would be incredibly surprised if they were to read a script or screenplay by how little is actually in a script or screenplay. The first time I read a script I was shocked to find just how little of what I'd seen on stage or film is actually in the script. I'll tell you what is in a script, dialog. And that's pretty much it. Really. Just people saying words.
I found this fact incredibly difficult and frustrating the first time I endeavored to write a script myself almost a decade ago. I couldn't understand how someone could tell an entire story, a riveting story of an event with dialog and only dialog. I had heard plenty in passing and cliche about the power of words, but it was when I began to study acting that I learned just how much information and power is in the words that people choose to use.
As an actor it is our job to pay attention to what language stirs in us as we say it. From words, a feeling, a picture, a walk, a way of being begins to form inside us. Our craft is to nurture those internal things forward into a character that then plays in relationship to the other characters in the scene. All these things driven initially by words on a page, take on a life of their own. It was from looking at this picture backwards that I began to understand just how powerful words can be. I then began to wonder how my own script informs me physically and emotionally. Who have I become because of the words I choose to use? Who have I attracted to me with my language?
I recall reading an academic essay over a decade ago that suggested that an ever narrowing vocabulary has trapped communities in poverty, violence, and depression. I’m not entirely sure, but I believe this concept was called something fancy like linguistic dispossession. I remember thinking that the concept was a little radical and yet I knew intuitively from my own struggles expressing myself through words, that there was some truth there. I think many of us crave a more expansive vocabulary to express who we are and what we’re capable of.
So what then? Maybe you've reached this point and you are beginning to have some ideas about what you’ll do with my words as I've offered them. Maybe you have questions. More likely at this point you’re curious about my particular point of view, my conclusion of this topic I've chosen to briefly explore - this is where that sort of thing would go, would it not?
In the interest of honoring our mutual need for linguistic climax, I offer these three final thoughts without further explanation: If you don’t like the way your life feels, try using new words to describe your life. If you think someone else’s life is better than yours, try on their words and see how they feel for you. Finally and less intuitively, in order for the first two suggestions to actually work, you will need to change the way you express your opinions of others. Certainly some of us have shitty self talk, but I promise that what we say about others has an even greater impact on who we’re able to be than what we say about ourselves. Frankly, and I won’t get into why this is true, our brains will always assume our fingers are pointed inward and the words we use against others only hurt ourselves. Our words really are that powerful.
(Catalyst, Breakthrough Specialist, Baggage Assassin, Quit Smoking Specialist, Idea Consultant, Force of Nature)