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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
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Tuesday
Mar162010

In the locker room

The other day, at the Y, a lady got mad at me.

Her locker was directly next to mine, and she had her stuff kind of laid out all over, because she was doing her post-shower change. I live a few blocks away, so I never change in the locker room; I just take my stuff and get the hell out, because it’s hot and stuffy in there. I had no problem with this lady arranging her clothing and moisturizers wherever she needed to. Anyway, all I said was, “Excuse me.” In my mind, I was saying, “I’m just going to grab my stuff and get out of your way, because after all I’m not changing but you are, haha! So no need to move, pardon me, I’m running away now.” So I was trying to be quick, so I could get out of her way. But while I was grabbing my stuff she was huffing and sighing and whmmmphing. I couldn’t figure how why she was so mad, so I sort of assumed she was an angry person and I shouldn’t even address it. I took my coat and moved to the next aisle to get my stuff in order.

But as soon as I walked away she immediately started bitching about me to another woman, about how I hadn’t giving her a chance to move her stuff, how I was in such a rush and how impatient I was, how people are so thoughtless nowadays, no one thinks, no one cares, grumble grumble grumble. I was going to let it go and just leave, but I didn’t, I walked back and asked her what I’d done, because I didn’t see it. She immediately softened—as people often do when they’re forced to look into the faces of the people they’ve labeled as the enemy—and she explained her perspective, and we actually had a nice chat, and all was forgiven, and it was fine.

Except I felt bad. And I still feel bad about it. Not because of her, she turned out to be a genuinely sweet person who was having a crummy day, but it startled me, as it always does, how quick people are to assume the worst of each other.

It sort of astounded me that someone would read me as being insensitive—ME! The most Sensitive Person Alive!—but then I realized that people don’t know me, they project whatever the hell they want, just as I do to them, and I probably encountered the other most Sensitive Person Alive that day, but I was just as willing to pretend she was an old meanie who wanted to spread her unhappiness across the land. And it upset me to think that I could ruin someone’s day by just saying “Excuse me,” and how often had I blown past someone or accidentally bumped into them, and did that make them feel bad? I realize I’m taking on quite a bit of responsibility for everyone's feelings, but it’s true, those things can have an effect on you, those little jabs and bumps that are part of living in the city.

I’ve been feeling ever since like I should wear a shirt that reads, “CONTENTS ARE FRAGILE,” and actually that we should all wear that shirt, so that we can all remember to be kind to each other, because life can be so hard, and we’re only here for a little while.

If you’re a parenting blogger or avid blog-reader, you probably read the New York Times piece on “Bloggy Boot Camp,” and read the responses to it. I won’t add to them yet, but I did write a letter to the Times, and if it doesn’t get published, I’ll put it up here. If anyone questions whether there’s really that much hostility to moms and moms who blog, they should read the comments in the Motherlode blog at the Times. Or don’t read them. There is so much anger and derision directed at mothers, it’s truly staggering. We’re all narcissistic and neglectful and our children are awful. But how do they conclude all these things without actually reading a single blog, because after all they wouldn’t read us because we’re so disgusting?

Yesterday I received a bunch of emails from people who had seen my latest Redbook column on the MSN homepage. I didn’t know it was there, so I visited the site, where I made the mistake of reading the comments. And I learned that apparently I am the reason civilization is going down the toilet, and my child will grow up to be a serial killer. Ah.

You know, in both of these cases the comments themselves don’t bother me—I happen to know nothing they’re saying is in the least bit accurate—but it’s so sad to me that people fail to realize that they’re attacking actual human beings. Human beings whose lives they couldn’t begin to know. Or maybe they do realize that, and they don’t care, they feel so bad about themselves they want to make other people feel just as terrible. I’m not sure which is worse. I don’t think it’s my job to figure it out.

I was rooting around for comfort this morning, and I came upon a poem by Mary Oliver, one of my favorites of all time, so I thought I’d share. This is especially for Kate, beautiful Kate, one of the kindest people out there, who just lost her grandmother.

Dogfish

Some kind of relaxed and beautiful thing

kept flickering in with the tide

and looking around.

Black as a fisherman's boot,

with a white belly.

If you asked for a picture I would have to draw a smile

under the perfectly round eyes and above the chin,

which was rough

as a thousand sharpened nails.

And you know

what a smile means,

don't you?

*

I wanted the past to go away, I wanted

to leave it, like another country; I wanted

my life to close, and open

like a hinge, like a wing, like the part of the song

where it falls

down over the rocks: an explosion, a discovery;

I wanted

to hurry into the work of my life; I wanted to know,

whoever I was, I was

alive

for a little while.

*

It was evening, and no longer summer.

Three small fish, I don't know what they were,

huddled in the highest ripples

as it came swimming in again, effortless, the whole body

one gesture, one black sleeve

that could fit easily around

the bodies of three small fish.

*

Also I wanted

to be able to love. And we all know

how that one goes,

don't we?

Slowly

*

the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water.

*

You don't want to hear the story

of my life, and anyway

I don't want to tell it, I want to listen

to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.

And anyway it's the same old story - - -

a few people just trying,

one way or another,

to survive.

Mostly, I want to be kind.

And nobody, of course, is kind,

or mean,

for a simple reason.

And nobody gets out of it, having to

swim through the fires to stay in

this world.

*

And look! look! look! I think those little fish

better wake up and dash themselves away

from the hopeless future that is

bulging toward them.

*

And probably,

if they don't waste time

looking for an easier world,

they can do it.

Reader Comments (103)

i think the last line of the poem above shoved it's way into my heart the most in this conversation:

"if they don't waste time looking for an easier world, they can do it."

to me, the people who comment blindly are looking for an easier world. they forget that, as you so boldly stated, we are ALL mere bundles of nerves. we each need care. we each need love. some days a simple "excuse me" is enough to set me off. and when it is, i am more ashamed of myself than ever. if i have truly reached the point where i can't give my fellow man or woman grace, then i am in a bad bad place.

thank you for the reminder that loving my fellow man is not an "easy world".
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterprettysparrow
Yes to what Christine said. Your post made me think of the book "The Four Agreements" by Don Migue Ruiz. One of the four is to Never Take Anything Personally, bascially, because everyone's experience is their own and we filter everything through the glasses of our own personal experience. What hit me most about this "agreement" is when he said never take ANYTHING personally and then goes into saying that includes anything perceived as POSITIVE as well. Even if someone says, "Wow! You look great today!" or "Your blog is brilliant!" Ulitmately, they're just speaking from behind the lens of their experience. Something to think about.

AND, I am now ridiculously curious about the Times article. When I'm not sneaking around at work reading my favorite blogs, I'll have to look it up! Power to the Mommas!!! (and the almost-mommas, which is the category I'm in)
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLiza
This post made me recall a recent post you had which was a momversation about "Do you trust your friends or doctors?" I was appalled at the comments, not directed at you, but at Jenny McCarthy. People were even using foul language and calling her names. I was so disheartened. Isn't Jenny McCarthy just a mom like all of us who is trying to love her child and to help other moms? Even if you don't agree with what she is doing, then express THAT, in an intelligent way, with some generosity of spirit. But the name-calling and personal attacks that I saw? A SHAME.

I hope commenters will remember your locker room lesson: You can change a mind if you change your heart.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLynn
Alice, this is a great poem, thanks for sharing. It is also nice to know that I'm not the only person in the world who thinks about incidents like the one you had at the Y for "too long"...who can't let them go. When things like that happen to me I get that flip-floppy feeling in my stomach every time I think of the incident until it somehow works its way out.

It was interesting to read the poem, knowing the background story of your run-in at the Y. It brought a meaning to the poem I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Thanks.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKate
Putting myself out there online has made me not just thick-skinned when it comes to dealing with all the negative comments slung against me, but also to help me from being so quick to judge other people---even in real life situations.

I'm sure you're kids are going to turn out just fine lol.

-adriennehttp://wearegoodkin.com/
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAdrienne Breaux
Oh, Alice: I love you.

Love you up and down, and right and left. You are incredibly beautiful.

What a fantastic post.

I had to read it twice, it was so delicious.

You, are mighty with the pen.

So glad I found you, so long ago. You make me stop and think.

Awesome Alice.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra
I always thought I was The Most Sensitive Person Alive, but it's nice to see that there are others. Like you I find people being mean to each other quite disheartening, but you did a really wonderful thing by going back and talking to that woman and getting it straightened out. If you hadn't, she would have kept on griping and having a bad day and you might have felt even worse because you didn't know why she was griping about you. Communication is the key to understanding.

I love the poem you posted, and I love this one by DH Lawrence too:

It is only immoralto be dead-alive,sun-extinctand busy putting out the sunin other people.



March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth
So I'm a blogger, a Mommy who sometimes writes about being one, and I live in New Orleans... which sometimes seems like a sort of trifecta of misery to others. The first is suspicious (you have a blog, eh?) the second hateful (oh, you're one of THOSE people) and the third, well, then they just KNOW I'm crazy (you live... there? WHY?)

And yes, I think you've nailed it. People don't know shit.

Thankfully, I've found people can also hum a different tune once they learn a few notes. Only a small percentage among us is actually tone-deaf. Which is, ultimately, why I blog. Just trying to teach a few notes.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly
I want to give you a hug. Everything that you said is so true and just so sad. I used to think that people were so rude over the phone, when they couldn't see your face...but on the internet it's 100 times worse. :(
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
Go Alice for standing up for yourself!
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterfinslippy fan
I was reading an article in the current "Psychology Today" magazine and an article within the mag indirectly relates to what you are discussing. The article discusses intimate relationships, but I think it applies here. Basically, the article blames our culture for constantly feeding our desire for perfection. People are not perfect, yet we expect everyone we deal with to be perfect, to act perfect, to perform with perfection. There is nothing wrong with you asking that woman what you did wrong. You seemed polite, with good cause - you would most likely have seen her again and again at the gym, no need to be snippy, right? She was having a crappy day and instead of saying she was having a crappy day, she immediately transferred all of her crap onto the interaction with you. Maybe next time, she'll consider being honest with herself and give herself a break for not anticipating your every move.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie
I needed that poem today.Thank you.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy
I just found your blog thanks to another wonderful blogger I know. She sent me the link to this post because she thought I might enjoy it. It's sad how easily we misunderstand each other and leap to unfortunate conclusions in this world. But it is also wonderful that you went back and talked to her. That is so corageous and wonderful of you! If only we could all do that in our daily lives. Face what we fear or what we don't understand rather than bottling up the negative feelings inside. You are an amazing person!! Glad to have found your blog.
I wrote an article for Babble a while back about the neighbor girl and my issues with personal boundaries, and boy, howdy, reading those comments made me want to bury myself neck-deep in Calgon. Clearly, I am why children get trophies for showing up! I have no backbone! They are all going to send their children to my house, because I am a BIG FAT PUSHOVER!

I freaked out about it for about a week, actually. Comments, man. You nailed it -- who do they THINK wrote these articles?
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRita Arens
The comments following most blogs/opinion pieces can be appalling. For what it's worth, I think you rock.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJessica
yes. all the blah. but all the good too lives around us and we can hoist each other up...We can stand above the shit. xoand what a lovely thought to Kate. I have been thinking of her the last two days.

March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenteramy
I was going to skip your blog today because I had a list of other things to read. So, so very glad I did not. What a wonderful entry.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterD
I am a teacher and was shocked at how my students were so one-minded, categorizing everyone different as one thing. I found this talk and showed it to my class hoping to broaden their horizons culturally, but after listening to it for the 2nd or 3rd time I realize she is not just talking about race, but about all of us taking the time to understand each other better--and I think that goes along a lot with what you're saying--especially about the mommy blogger article and comments. Anyway, just thought I would share:http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.html
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNicole
Hokay, I'll address only the locker situation, not in a poetry mood today.

Alice, I think you're wrong for thinking that you "ruined [this woman's] day". Far from it! I think she was just spoilin' for a fight, or at least a bitching session, and was looking for a trigger, and you provided it. I bet she was HAPPY to complain and grumble (this being the Y, "kvetch" would seem more appropriate). You know, there are some people who are just genuinely happy to complain about anything, it's a way of life for them. And they tend to be older, and they are often female, and dare I say it? Elderly New York Jewish ladies are masters of the game! And the fact that they kvetch and complain and grumble doesn't mean that they are unhappy, or that they hate the world, or the people in it. They often are genuinely sweet, and they are enjoying themselves! They just like to complain! Some of the time I wonder if the complaining is just a bait... talk to me! Make me feel like I matter!

Of course I wasn't there but I can think of so, so many times when what seemed like an utterly hostile comment by just such a person eventually turned into a pleasant, even funny conversation just because I was willing to engage.

I miss New York just thinking about it.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaterina
OK, now I've gone back and read the poem. Thank you.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaterina
Katerina, that is a *great* way to think of it, and you know, you just may be right! 
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley
Great insights, but didn't someone around here just publicly tell some other lady to go f*** herself the other day? I love you, Alice, but you're better than that. My apologies for publicly correcting you.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjs
Btw there's another response to the NYT story on Huff Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/joanne-bamberger/an-open-letter-to-the-emn_b_499087.html

You should definitely post your letter, as well.

And just wanted to echo what everyone is saying - at least the comments on EVERYTHING are nasty? It's not just you? I dunno, I got nothing.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLSS
I didn't read through all the comments, but knowing your readers, I am going to guess that what I am about to say is a big repeat of "what they said". So, I'm sorry. I think? But then, I'm not, because I want to say that I think you are one of the most down to earth bloggers on the web, completely relate-able. You as a person simply shines through everything you write, which is why it blows my mind that anyone could think bad things about you. You come off as simply delightful and your writing is so honest, that there is no doubt in my mind that the way you come off is the way you ARE. My family is in Brooklyn and I feel like I know you. Well, know *of* you, like I could run into you on the street and wave and not feel like a stalker, and that is a quality that not many people can manage to convey over a computer screen.In short, fuck the haters, especially the ones who read a column and have now deemed you Satan. What do they know and why should you care.Also, you probably didn't ruin that lady's day. In fact you probably MADE her day by hearing her out and having a conversation with her.I dunno. I'm babbling. We like you!
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAJ
js, I did say that, frankly thinking there was no way in hell it was going to make it into the video, but there it was. Not one of my proudest moments, to be sure.
March 16, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlice Bradley

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