Have you ever felt like your brain was too unoccupied? I do not mean that you are bored, or inert, or even too scattered to formulate a coherent thought. I mean that your brain clears itself, and then it suddently collects sediment and you mentally start trying to clear out what is settling. For me, it happens on long drives.
I am currently going on several long drives per week, which is why this is coming up now.
For some reason, no matter how awesome our lives are, it only takes a few of these periods of brain-clearing to get into a bad mental place. Perhaps it is an out-and-out depression, or something less severe, such as a darker version of pensive. Either way, it only takes a bit to get there. It is a sign that we are not settled, not relaxed. Something is keeping us off-center and we have a nagging fear we will not be able to right the ship, and we will always be pulling the mast with force to keep going both upright and forward.
I found myself reflecting over the past few years, and then the period of time increased to ten years, and then fifteen, and then all the way back to college, and finally, childhood. Something has changed in me over the most recent period of my life.
My brain started using every negative life event as a time marker in my head. Moving to my teeny condo, taking a $50,000 pay cut at Planet Walmart, selling my house, getting divorced, buying the Money Pit, losing the animals, enduring three years of misery and banging my head against the wall, moving to Texas, losing CJ, losing my dad, moving to Portland, moving to Phoenix, buying a car for the job at Kare, closing the coffee shop, leaving Nordstrom so abruptly, getting sick a second time, getting sick the first time...
Why in the world would I do that?
Perhaps the tragedies were more profound than the victories. Maybe there were just more of them. Maybe, just maybe, in some weird way this was my way of remembering all of the times where I learned something and came out of the other end of the tunnel stronger than when I had entered it. But I doubt it.
I was sitting on the front porch of the Money Pit yesterday, making my last sales calls of the day and waiting for a prospective tenant so I could tell them that, in fact, I was unable to show them the unit. I have a tenant who is leaving because she thinks I do not do enough to keep her safe. Here is what I know for sure: if you (as a building) do not keep the bolts locked on the door, and then your husband thinks someone is breaking in, and he calls you at work, and then you call me at work, I simply cannot help you. Twenty minutes have gone by, nobody has called the police, and I am thirty miles away and unwilling to stick my body in front of a bad guy like Captain America's shield.
She is currently not speaking to me, not taking my calls, and not allowing me access to my own unit to show it to prospective tenants. I filed and injunction and emergency motion to get access, and then I asked the judge to deny it. If I have gotten to the point where I am using this period of my life as a time marker, "the time where I could not show my unit because I was getting played by my tenant," then I have hit the bottom. I refuse to call this The Bottom. It's not cancer, it's not cancer a second time, it's not losing a parent, it's not losing a fiance, it's not losing your identity in a miserable marriage. It is my brain and big heart against somebody else's anger. Neither of us wins.
I was approached by a photojournalist, who wanted to talk city diversity. She saw a bunch of neighborhood kids, plus the tenant's three children, on the porch with me. I must have looked like the best foster mom in the history of the world. She asked me what drew me to Chicago, and I thought about it for a few seconds before answering. "Community," I said. "People who welcome with open arms, people who come from different places."
When I spoke to her off the record, I told her about the tenant. My demeanor, and therefore my outlook, changed in a moment. "I feel bad for her," I said. "Here she is, obese, a smoker, and incredibly angry. She is going to die before she turns fifty and those three kids will be orphans." I do not want this woman to die. I do not want anyone to die, really...I do not have that streak in me at all.
I want her to realize that this petty crap is not worth it. Dwelling on the negative, conscious or unconscious, is not worth it. Look around you: there is so much taken-for-granted good that all you can see in the forest is the couple of dead trees that stick out and cloud the view.
Ironically, the last time I saw this tenant, she was cheery and bubbly, friendly, and interested in my knitting. "I could never do that," she told me. I offered to teach her, and told her it was a great way to quit smoking.
I guess I do not ultimately care if she knits or not. But I know one thing is certain: whatever vessel has brought her to this insanely angry place - even if the catalyst was me - that vessel can be broken down just as it was built. It was yet another moment when I realized that anger is just not worth it, and that seeking out the positive if you cannot readily see it will trump swimming in the negative any day of the week.
Maybe after she moves, she will have a similar moment of clarity. I will provide the worsted-weight yarn, a pair of US8 (5.0mm) needles, and the patience of a saint if it would help her get out of the mindset that will ultimately kill her. Because then I can look back and say, "Remember that time I mentally helped someone off the ledge and saved her life by teaching them a way to relax and help let the bad crap go?"
All markers of time should look more like that.