Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Day One! By Kara Buller

So this morning I was sitting in a café really angry that I don’t write. I was writing about being angry about not writing. (And now I am writing about writing about being angry about not being able to write!) Before this gets out of hand, let’s just present to you what I ended up writing, which is this little not-ready-for O magazine treatise on changed thinking. I entitle it “Day One.”

“Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” This is the provocative and somewhat odd statement made by a Jesuit priest which served as the premise for the landmark documentary series Seven Up! (I wonder if this statement also served as the premise for a series of a whole other kind, as the priest is sort of saying boys are just like men, but I’m going to have to give the old priest the benefit of the doubt and just thank him for prompting what is a basically delightful series about dreadfully boring British people. Really quiet a feat.) Less well known is my bold declaration, “Show me the employee on Day One, and I will tell you how she gets fired.” Day One, whether it starts a kindergarten year, a college class or a corporate career, contains within it the seeds of its own destruction--or success, if we are talking about lucky people. Like a federal investigator, or a steely-eyed and clench-jawed Jody Foster in an action flick, I like to look back upon all of my Day Ones and sort through the tiny actions to look for clues to the latest debacle. If you are well-situated, a yoga mat or bottle of Zoloft by your side, I encourage you to do the same. A review of my Day Ones, from pre-school to my first day on my last job, reveals a striking pattern.

1. We see a refusal to talk to others while simultaneously noting how terriby unfriendly everybody is. This is followed by a laborious comparison between me and everyone else present. Clothes, posture, speaking ability, complexion, hair care and style…all is carefully reviewed until I have determined who surpasses me on the attractiveness scale, and who trails behind. It’s important that this be continuously monitored, as ranking may change as the day passes.

2. Next we determine how exactly everyone in the room has it better than me, including the blind and mute burn victim in the wheelchair (usually these people are in remarkably good spirits given all things considered, and therefore, since we are weighing human happiness, they clearly have it far, far better. I don’t care if I can itch my eye, we’re talking about happiness, and last time I check, happiness is not itching your eye.)

3. Next I embark on my search for a loyal comrade, usually targeting the most unattractive and unstylish of the lot, in order to avoid any awkward refusals from the superiors of the group. Any unpleasantness or unpleasantries are to be avoided at all costs. I was raised Lutheran in a cold climate and not in the Mediterranean, Middle East or Long Island or wherever else it is that loud personalities come from, so this is how it is.

4. And finally, if you are like me and a sex and love addict, which honestly, I hope you are not, despite this thing we have in the programs where we say “Thank you God for making me a sex addict for it shows me a world I would have otherwise not known!”…but please. There comes with this addiction recovery thing a whole host of rituals, exercises, white-knuckling resistings and frantic running to phones to call sponsors whenever a trigger crosses your path, which is about as common as a pedestrian crossing the street, and which, come to think of it, in some cases is in fact a literal pedestrian crossing the street, and so you can see you are probably better off without this kind of to do list. But if you are a sex and love addict, you know that Day One also entails (or used to entail) a thorough assessing of the scene in order to ascertain who you would like to have sex with, who you might be able to have sex with and who you could definitely have sex with. What happens after that is very interesting, yes, but belongs in another personal essay, perhaps entitled, if I am at the top of my game, “Day Two.”

Day One involves such a tireless and anxious application of reviews, rankings, and re-rankings that it is entirely possible for the whole day to pass with me not actually attending Day One in any meaningful way at all. Day One is like the dropping of the frog into the boiling pot of water. Ask the frog about the cleanliness of the pot, the depth of the water, the view from inside, and he will look at you in wide frog-eyed wonder, if he is still alive. He was not in any condition to be taking notes. The wonderful difference between us human beings and the frog in this analogy is that while we can’t control the temperature of the water we are dropped into, we can control the temperature inside us. As I child, in my head there was a roaring, sweaty boil, a lid-shaking, boiling-over mess. Of course, now that I look back on it, it looks like I wasn’t dropped into boiling water at all, but rather a classroom full of nose-pickers and tattletales, pant-poopers and bed-wetters. And I’m talking about college. (Oh folks, that type of joke never grows old. I smile every time.) I’m able to look back and see that Day One was rendered a nightmare because of my hideously disfigured ideas about myself and the world. They include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. I am inherently deeply inferior to all people. Except of course those who I am deeply superior to.

2. People will not like me unless I am just like them. This is why it’s so important to lie.

3. Everyone got together before today to discuss all they needed to know about the day, and to agree to exclude me.

4. There is nothing I have to offer here. I’m real lucky they’re even letting me stay here. I should probably go home.

Dear reader, I have to say that this is, yes, a comical exaggeration of my world view. However, my beliefs have not been held up to a fun-house mirror but rather it’s as if they have been broadcast on television and have merely gained ten pounds. I have essentially gone through life feeling the above, and knew it to be somewhat irrational, but was nevertheless unable to shake it. It has by and large made for an unpleasant experience on those first days and has created speedbumps, hurdles and in some cases, it closed entire wings of the museum, if you will. And yes, I have been fired, thanks to my misshapen notions. While managing an independent bookstore, a job that should have a stress level equal to that of a Vermont yarn shop owner, I approached it with the tenacity and desperation of a reality show contestent. I was crushed when a co-worker did not like me. He was French Canadian and I did not know then that French Canadians don’t like anybody. So I set out to destroy him, a mission I was alone on, much to my disappointment this was a tactic entirely overlooked by the One-Minute Manager books. The owners of the bookstore eventually caught on to my abuse of my underling and saw fit to fire me. I know that on my first day on the job, along with my carefully selected outfit and lucky pen, I also showed up with a desperation and a need to be loved, that years later would hijack my brain and cause me to act in less than rational and compassionate ways. I’m happy to say that with work, in the form of almost incessant (yes…addict-like) reading of self-help books and books on Buddhism, therapy and 12 step programs, my beliefs have changed. On a good day, after meditation, a deep breath and, as we say in my many programs, a little conscious contact with my higher power, I now approach Day One knowing in my heart the following to be unalterably, unshakably true:

1. I am. I just kind am. I am not worse and no better than anyone here. Even the hot guy in the corner with the tight-fitting Yale Crew Team shirt. Maybe he stole the shirt from someone and feels guilty about it and finds it creepy that he still wears it. And on Day One! How insecure am I?! he thinks to himself. Or maybe he was on the crew team. Point is: we just don’t know.

2. People will like me. Or they won’t. Either way, best just to be honest. I’m tired of saying I like David Byrne or French literature. Actually, I’m not really too familiar with David Byrne or French literature and I should just say that.

3. Nobody got together beforehand. And as for the discussion they had regarding me: I wish.

4. I do have something to offer here. It may be the experience and knowledge I have gained during my 30 years on this planet or it may be my new-found ability to sit, be open and listen. Either way, I am here, I deserve to be here and I should not go home.

My Day Ones can still be a source of anxiety, but now I am able to see that anxiety, smile at it, and let it go. I know I will not die (well, it’s not likely, and if I do, well little I can do really). I know that whatever happens, it will eventually pass. If I start a terrible job I can leave. If a therapist seems unhelpful I can stop seeing her. If I accidentally offend someone I can apologize. There is a myriad of things that could happen, and a number of ways they can be fixed. The only certain thing is that I will learn, and that I will have to do all of this good stuff all over again on Day Two.

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Blogger Billychic said...

Oh my GOD
One thing, on this Day One of Ornery Woman, know this: You Are Totally Freaking Hilarious...and your post was brilliant.

What you described, is essentially everything that I practically go through on so many of those Day Ones...down to the microfibre of my being...but the way you articulated it makes me stand up and applaud.

Rock on. I, and all of my neurosis, salute you.

9:32 AM  

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