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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 have to say, you have great commenters, nice to see in a world where anyone with a computer puts some mindless BS in the comments section, looking for a fight or attention. I rarely read comments because I find too often then not, that people take the post off of it's original intent and all I get is depressed about mean some people can be. Bravo for this post and the following discussion.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris
I find a lot of people get mad when I say "excuse me", because what they hear is "excuuuuuuu-uuuuuse me!", and what I'm saying is "excuse me". That's it! We're all tense, maybe, and not hearing things the way they are being delivered.

That Times article was ridic, and I didn't read the comments but I can only imagine. People are crazy and they hate women, is my only thought. Women are the ones who are making money on blogging, and people hate it. They hate our success. EsPECIally if we're just supposed to be mommies.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne
Perfect. PERFECT. Beautiful. Need I go on? I coo. I coo in your ear. Love you.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbreedemandweep
Thank you for this post. You are so right on with all of it. Love the poem too.

People are all too willing to throw hatred and judgment toward any and all, not even knowing one thing about them. I suppose part of it is human nature, but really, do we not have brains??

Whenever someone treats me badly, I try my best to remember that they are probably good people, but are just having a bad day, and just trying the best that they can to get through it.

Going to read the NYT article now.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Holy Mackerel
I was part of that Motherlode discussion too. Very ugly. I finally got out of there. The whole thing's a bit jarring for this new blogger who has taken 40 years to work up a voice, and then 4 to dare put it in a blog in cyberspace. But you know what - the discussions on Motherlode actually strengthened my belief that I won't be silenced. Kudos to you for sending civilization down the toilet - we mom bloggers are going in the right direction.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCecilia
What a beautiful post. I don't have anything to add to the mommy-blogger NYT discussion, except to say that I fear the resentment of moms you mention is not always confined to the internet. I also wanted to thank you for the M.O poem and to say that your story about the lady at the Y makes me feel like trying harder to be communicative, gentle, and kind when dealing with other people. I wish I had time to explain why it struck such a chord with me, but for now, I will just say thank you for always writing with such an honest spirit.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCS
You are awesomeness personified. Keep on, keeping on woman.
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin
Anyone who has taught high school knows (or tries really, really hard) how to separate what spews out of people's mouths into that which is hateful, that which is amusing, and that which holds a grain or more of truth.

Any writers who "put themselves out there" - whether electronically or bound - are absolutely saying that they have something to say and think it should be heard. Some people will respond; that's part of the package. Personally, I'd rather have obnoxious and ignorant responses over the dozens of "Hey, what you've said is really great! I say something similar on my website: www.mywordsareontheinternets.com."

In the case of high school students, the truth (whether it's their truth or THE truth) is raw and uncensored because they are hormone-laden aliens. In the case of internet commenters it's because they can hide in the shadows of anonymity without fear of a Lego (or a Duplo! or a really, really heavy "recycled material" helicopter!) bashing them on the head in retaliation.



March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristin
I was a reporter for years at The San Francisco Chronicle and I thought that I'd gotten the gamut of nasty emails -- until I wrote an article about mommybloggers starting to make money about 18 months ago. I didn't -- woudln't want to -- read the comments on the NYT piece because I already saw what type of venom my piece brought up on the Chronicle's Web site.

I was really pretty surprised.

As a reporter, whenever I would get a nasty email, I always typed back a brief, polite reply. Many times, I immediately got back a MUCH nicer email. People said they were surprised that I actually read their note, and personally I think they were surprised to realize that the newspaper article came from an actual human being, not just from "the media."
March 17, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie
Thank you, thank you. I'm going to share this today, too.
March 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndi
A great post, Alice. I love that Mary Oliver poem so much.

The "mommy blogger" vitriol is just the latest in a long legacy of strategies to keep women properly in their places. Moms who blog? Bad mothers. Moms who wield cameras professionally? Fakes. SAHM v. WAHM? Breast-feed v. Bottle-feed? God we love to hate our mothers in this country, don't we? And the worst is that it's often women who are each other's worst critics, as though your choices as a mother somehow threaten or demean my own choices as mother (now, how would that actually work?).

But, we continue to claw and hiss at and about one another, which, fortunately works out great for the status quo, alive and kicking and male-dominated as it is.

Sarah (from Neerguard's :) )
March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarahtk
One of my favorite quotes ever is: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." - Plato

And that includes you - you need to remember that you are also fighting a hard battle and to be kind to yourself.
March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCora D
Yes, people, including ourselves, often perceive something said or done totally different than what was intended. My sister and I have talked about this often. The poem is beautiful.
March 19, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjoan
It's soooo hard for me to take the high road, but whenever I do I feel better. Often, the high road is just not snapping back, but once I had a carful of real live thugs driving up my tail pipe and leaning on their horn as we went down a steep hill with no way for me to pull over. So I braked sharply, pulled the emergency brake, went over to their car, motioned for them to roll down their window and said, very sweetly, "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Uh, no, nothin'. Sorry."

Victory. It was either that or I got shot in the head, though, so it's not a technique to try often.
March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Tonight I was complaining to a friend on my hockey team about another teammate who, over the last several weeks, has been disgruntled and overly sensitive towards some other women on our team who like to loudly and boisterously critique our games. She gets irritated and leaves in a huff, and, to me, is just being petulant. Turns out the woman had a miscarriage a couple weeks back - in her 12th week. And it was a DNC. And now... well, you know. I get what you're saying.
March 19, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMignon
I have to agree with Kristen that in working with high schoolers, I get the same kind of "truth-spewing", except that it's less truth and more instantaneous reaction--they don't have a great filter or THINK about what they say BEFORE they say it. I think a lot of the vitriol out there is similar: immediate reacting before considering 1) the source, 2) the circumstances, and 3) the consequences of the response.

I try very, very hard to consider others--I didn't even know that Plato quote, but it makes a lot of sense to me. When the a**hole is riding my butt on the highway, I do TRY to think, "Perhaps that person's late. Or lost and frustrated. Or in labor." Mind you, I also add, "...or an a**hole"--I'm not perfect.

So thanks for reminding me to consider all the facts and possibilities before snapping at a person and making both of our days less pleasant.

P.S. Leslie, your psych class comment makes a lot of sense, the idea of circumstances and being good. Thanks for posting it.
March 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdie Frau
This comment is sort of related, but sort of not.

As a writer, it is your job to, uh, write stuff down. It gets put out there. People read it, and some may react and respond to it. In the process, everyone learns a little. And we all inch forward, in our understanding of ourselves and others.

Your job as writer is important. Keep up the good work.
March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSusan
I love "mommy blogs" and the internet in general, 99% of the time. It's such an easy, convenient way to connect with the world and with people I wouldn't otherwise be able to communicate with. But I often think it's like a parking lot. You know when you're in a hurry and you thoughtlessly take away someone's parking space, or you look like you're going to hit a pedestrian, only you were about to stop because you saw them, but they didn't realize that so they stopped walking and now you each think the other one is a thoughtless jerk. And a couple of seconds later, you may encounter one another, both on foot, and have to confront the fact that you're both people with feelings who may or may not have made a mistake but are probably not terrible people.

I just wish the people on the internet would get out of their cars once in a while and encounter one another as human beings.
March 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKendra
Oh, sigh. That's just so beautiful. Just coming out of memorial hibernation now and so I'd missed this... I'm in our little cabin to write and feeling so scattered and not particularly kind and so I can't tell you how timely and amazing it was to read this. Your thoughts, the poem, all of it.

Made me so thinky and blissy that I'm just sitting here staring at it and smiling. And also totally pulling the trigger that you think I'm kind. Mooaaa-ha-ha-haaa! My evil plan is working. xo
March 21, 2010 | Unregistered Commentersweetsalty kate
Alice, you are a joy, and wise. Thanks for the beautiful poem. and for posting a picture of Melissa on your blog...can't wait to show Stella....



March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren
Alice, thank you for this post, and for including that amazing poem. It was just what I needed to read tonight.
March 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMiss M
Alice, I simply adore you and your words and the way they come out of your brain.
March 23, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTasha H
One: You are a great mom, from what I can see, and a source of happiness for me.

Two: I just want you to know that, a few days ago, I was reading your article on overcoming clumsiness in Redbook and could not put it down long enough to walk into the kitchen, so I decided to take it with me and keep reading, at which time I promptly walked into a wall.
March 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Yaeger
Alice, I love Mary Oliver, and that poem (my favorite of hers) and you.
March 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJtango
This reminds me of a quote I try to live by "be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle." I don't remember who said it...
March 30, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkatie

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