On Tuesday afternoon, I pranced around Manhattan like an actress who had aced an audition.
I felt, literally, elated–charmed by elements of the New York landscape that, on normal days, turn me enraged: the hordes of over-layered NYU students peeling past on West 4th; the aggressively chatty man in the excruciatingly slow elevator; even my wildly overpriced tea latte, I paid for with a grin.
It was hard to imagine, I told A–meeting her to work at a crowded coffee shop on Mercer (“This place is so claustrophobic!” I beamed)–that less than twenty-four hours earlier, I had been, to not overstate things at all, in despair.
So extensive had my list of grievances been during my Monday therapy appointment that Therapist and I made the simultaneous (silly, but seasonally appropriate) suggestion that we burst into a chorus of “Dayenu:” if only one of these things had been going on, it would have been enough:
- Leaving town, in four days, for five weeks.
- Putting pressure on myself, during that time, to write an entire book.
- Having had a total meltdown the previous night with my parents, in which I had, fourteen-year-old-style, run up a flight of stairs, slammed a door, crumpled, bawling, into a pile of dirty clothes.
- Not having heard back from Ari in a full day. (Therapist and I narrowed the possibilities down to three: Hit By a Bus, Commitment Freakout, or, as turned out to be the case, Working.)
- Not sleeping.
- Having, that morning, as I, apparently, do, when feeling vulnerable, made myself feel more so. (Me: “I do that!” Therapist: “I noticed.” Me: “Why!?” “Therapist: “We need a few more sessions.”)
I tried to recall this list on Tuesday, while also mentally collecting another one–the reasons, I supposed, that, so soon after, I felt Fucking Fabulous.
- It was sunny.
- Therapy had actually (imagine!) helped.
- Ari was not dead.
- I had spent much of the day listening to this beautiful thing.
- I’d been unusually productive, work-wise.
- For breakfast, I’d eaten a large, spicy coconut curry that tasted as rich and satisfying as any breakfast ever has.
I was trying to turn the exercise–my mental list-making–into a (self-) Teachable Moment.
“I feel like I’m good at reminding myself to enumerate what’s making me sad when I feel down,” I explained. “But I don’t always do that when I feel good!”
A nodded. “Right,” she said. “I just try not to give it too much energy.”
A few hours later I careened into an airy Ditmas Park apartment for book club (yes, we call ourselves Ladies Who Lit)–the eager anticipation of which surely factored into my swinging spirits.
(These gals, I must take the chance to say, are as bright, delightful, and easygoing as they come–and it struck me last night that our collective appreciation is not unrelated to the clarity and smallness of our collective expectation: that once, every 4-6 weeks, we will spend a decadent evening drinking, eating, and catching up–and a few minutes discussing some, alternately gendered, work of contemporary fiction. It’s remarkable how much easier it is to enjoy people when all you ask of them is a few occasional hours of fun.)
“I have got to tell you guys,” I gushed, tossing my things on the floor as I unloaded beer and grapes. “Yesterday I was so down, and today I feel so awesome!”
“Ugh,” one replied, shaking her head. “I feel like that happens to me from hour to hour!”
“I know,” another chimed in. “I think most people have really erratic moods.”
“Oh,” I said, tossing my coat into the bedroom. “I guess just not everyone needs to burst into apartments and tell everyone about it.”
(What can I say–some people love math and hockey, I love basketball and dogs and telling everyone everything, all the time.)
But back to my lists: because I do like the idea that–regardless of how common those dramatic internal shifts– I can arm myself with tools, that I can walk around with a set of strategies for turning myself around: listen to Kurt Vile! Be productive! Eat Thai curry!
But I also know that A is right: that largely, our moods are outside our control. Had I run into that guy in the elevator or been swarmed by students on Monday, they would have only soured me further. Too, had I not indulged a complete adolescent meltdown, I probably wouldn’t have been able to feel good later on.
It’s basically the same idea I wrote about earlier this week, and last week too: things shift. We can’t control our emotional tides, we can only sit with them, surrender to them, know they will, soon, pass.
But it’s nice to remember, too, that small things–curry, music, perspective–can be a big help.