I’ve been trying to tell myself a story.
See, I just had this trip. It was a long trip, getting the rest of my stuff and a lot of a friend’s stuff out here to Seattle. I had hoped this would be a fun trip…but it wasn’t. For various reasons, the truck was in my friend’s name, and while I was technically ok to drive it, she discovered that the act of my driving was causing her to have a lot of stress. The result is that she chose to drive the whole way, from Madison to Seattle, with me simply as the passenger. She also chose to drive pretty much straight through – a couple of stops for one or two-hour naps, but basically we left Madison at 9am on Monday morning and pulled into the Home Nest in Seattle at 11pm on Tuesday.
Tough girl, that one. The problem is, I had a lot of trouble with that role of passive passenger. As the miles rolled on, I started feeling more and more hurt and angry and upset. I’ve driven ambulances with accident victims through ice and snow. I once was in charge of shuttling dancers and lighting equipment through Manhattan in a fifteen-foot passenger van for a week. I’ve driven millions of dollars worth of anti-tank missile systems through the mountains of southern California hunting for Russian tanks.*
In short, my ability to drive, and drive well, is something I’m very attached to in terms of my self image. And to have that taken away like that ate away at me for the hours upon hours. It felt disrespectful and dismissive at first. Then it began to feel enclosing, imprisoning, and finally a bit dangerous, because while I had every confidence in my friend’s ability to drive usually, knowing that the person navigating the curves of the Cascades in the dark has been going without sleep for the past thirty hours can be a bit harrowing and nerve wracking in itself.
It was not a good feeling. It has been hard to let go of, because for that long my brain kept spinning and spinning this story about how my friend really had no confidence, no trust, and basically considered me a worthless parasite with a bit of junk in the back of the truck.
Instant Plot! Just Add Drama!
The question is, what story should I be telling myself? That’s what I’ve been struggling with all day, trying to work my head around what is fatigue and self-imposed doubt monsters and what is actually true.
You know, following my own theories (well, to be fair, other people have them too, and had them first) about how cognitive behavior can be shaped by the stories we tell ourselves. Sometimes this is not a good thing – in fact, I think often it’s not, because we go from just a story into a long-running sitcom (or worse, a telenovela) about the way our lives are. That becomes a very comfortable place to be, or even an exciting place (think about how awful and compelling some of the shows on TV can be) and so we return to it, again and again. It may be living in a world where you can’t trust anyone. Or a world where there’s never enough love or money or bacon to go around.
See, that’s the thing: there never actually is enough bacon to go around. I know this, having made many a breakfast. You can make enough pancakes, you can make almost enough eggs, but you can never make enough bacon. And in the same way, sometimes the stories we tell ourselves are, in fact, the way things are.
The problem is, it’s damn hard to tell the difference. Just telling yourself a story isn’t enough – you have to also tell yourself a believable story. However, it’s so easy to twist facts so that they fit what you’re comfortable believing that you might as well just flip a coin. Politicos have nothing on the logical gymnastics your mind will put you through to arrive at the conclusion you want to believe, consciously or subconsciously.
Drrama Llama Says: STOP!
So that’s my problem: I’m having trouble finding any believable story at all. Does my friend really think of me as a worthless parasite? No, probably not. But that doesn’t cure any of the feelings of hurt and dismissal that were engendered. I sit with the feelings, and try to get past them, and yet that in itself lends energy to the story: If I wasn’t actually insulted, why would I be this upset?
Perhaps there’s a better way.
A while ago, in a small Japanese village, a young woman discovered she was pregnant by her secret paramour, a young man who didn’t dare show his face around her family. When her parents discovered her imminent maternalcy, they were furious and demanded to know who the father was. Fearing the worst for her lover, the girl stammered out “It was the monk!“, referring to a Zen monk who lived in a small house on the outskirts of town.
When the baby was born, the outraged grandparents marched the daughter and her baby huffily to the monk’s door, pounding on it. When he answered, they thrust the baby at him, saying “This is your child! You will have to take care of it!”
The monk gave them all a curious glance, saying “Is that so?” as he took the baby and closed the door.
A few months later, the true father finally mustered his courage and presented himself to the young woman’s parents, declaring both his love and dedication for her. Much to everyone’s surprise, the grandparents were impressed with his forthrightness, and agreed to have him marry the young woman.
After the marriage, a very apologetic family made their way to the outskirts of town. They knocked on the door of the monk, and when he opened it, everyone started talking at once. “We didn’t know/I was so scared/He couldn’t have said it/We are so sorry…” all blended into a cacophony that resolved into the one plaintive voice of the daughter, saying “Please, you have to give my child back to me.“
The monk gave them all a curious glance and said “Is that so?” as he handed back the baby – fat and healthy and cooing happily – and closed the door.
Life really is just life. It doesn’t have to be about stories at all. Sometimes it can just be stuff that happens.
*The fact that, to this very day,
the Russians have not successfully invaded southern California
is a testament to the fortitude and fierceness
of my beloved Corps.