Saturday, August 14, 2010

Laughter is the only medicine

What cheers you up the most when life gets you down?

Any number of things. I have great friends who know me well enough to say just the right thing to make me smile and laugh out loud. I have a brother who never fails to make me laugh because he's such an idiot. That's the Mushroom. Passages in books cheer me up and certain movies bring me right out of the horse latitudes in no time flat, especially if there dancing and singing are involved. And then there are times like last night that something that was meant to be serious makes me laugh.

Last night someone told me that he was sorry things didn't work out and that what we hoped didn't happen, but it was because we couldn't seem to communicate. I couldn't help myself. I had to laugh, really laugh, laugh so hard I nearly wet myself. Couldn't seem to communicate. When I shared it with a really good friend, she made me laugh even harder.

"Communicate? When did he TRY to communicate with you? Was he attempting telepathy? Because he wasn't writing and he wasn't calling and he wasn't visiting."

I guess that was the couldn't seem part of the communication. I didn't have my receiver turned on when he was transmitting Morse code or telepathy. I was too busy getting on with my life. Working, reading, eating, sleeping, you know, the usual things that take up the hours I wasn't sitting by the phone or the computer or the door in case he popped up. Definitely laughable.

That's the thing about communication. When someone wants an excuse why things don't work out or how you could be angry with them, they use lack of communication. That is the second time this week someone has pulled the communication card on me, and Mercury doesn't go retrograde until next Friday, on August 20th. She asked why I was angry with her and had cut her out of my life like a malignant cancer, so I told her. Not all of it, just enough to let her know there were reasons I wanted nothing more to do with her. I hit the big points, the highlights, and she came back with, "But what did I do?"

Uh, weren't you paying attention? I listed a few more and she came back with, "That doesn't have anything to do with me. What did I do?" I realized at that moment, that even though I was communicating she wasn't paying attention. She was trying to suck me back in. I ended the conversation at that point. I was done. And when I'm done, that's it. There's no going back.

Communication isn't difficult. You open your mouth and speak, clearly and plainly. You carefully type out an email using simple words and ideas. You pick up a phone and speak without shouting or letting the emotions take over, keeping to the subject and stating the case simply.

I'm a writer. I communicate for a living and yet there are some people who cannot seem to tune in and pay attention, like one of my supervisors. I flagged an operative report and used the work number, job number, doctor's name and date of dictation. She emailed back and asked me which dictation it was. I responded with the same information again and added the patient's name. She emailed again. "Oh, that one has already gone back to the hospital. If you had just let me know a few minutes earlier." Now that was laughable. We'd been emailing for over 30 minutes. Well, it took her 30 minutes to figure out which report I had flagged, even though I had added flagged the report electronically as well as manually.

There are times when nothing seems to go right and the anger boils up like lava, and then something completely incongruous will happen and make me laugh and I can't hold onto the anger. Usually, it's someone farting in a serious situation, like while they're saying their wedding vows or tooting while walking down the aisle or shaking hands with the mayor. Let's face it. Farts during any occasion are funny and everyone laughs no matter how hard they try to hold it in, except if the farter is female and mortified beyond words. The red face is a dead giveaway.

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Old-fashioned manners

One thing I find continually fascinating is how people view someone who is polite, even when they are irritated or angry.

I was brought up to be unfailingly polite and it has served me well in some very sticky situations. Being polite has also made some circumstances a bit weird.

When I worked in New Orleans as one of the attractions in a haunted house on Conti about a half-block from Bourbon Street -- I was the gypsy fortuneteller -- people often came through drunk. With all the daiquiris and Hurricanes floating around, it wasn't a surprise. Add cheap and plentiful beer in 32-ounce, or larger, cups and you have a sloshing mix of vomit, slurred speech, passing out and belligerence that makes everything else seem pedestrian. All that alcohol, especially in most men, super fuels their worst traits. One inebriated tourist who was scared when he found out I wasn't a wax figure, like Madame Tussuad's on Bourbon, tried to impress his friends with his knowledge of animal anatomy.

There was a small skull on my black velvet covered table next to the crystal ball on an ornate golden stand. "What's that?" he asked as he lurched over the short railing that surrounded my enclosure. "The jawbone of an ass," I responded, smiling sweetly behind my black lace veil. "Don't you recognize it?" He nearly broke his neck attempting to jump the railing to get to me as he shouted curses and spilled beer over his friends, the drapes and the walls. He wanted to kill me for killing his punch line. The roaming specter caught him just in time and hauled him off to the relief of his wife and friends.

Most of the people who have flung their disdain and pique and foulness in my direction have been similarly met with a cool and calm demeanor and some very cutting and quick retorts, but most of the time I prefer to rely on what I was taught: always be polite. Sometimes it's the best defense.

Recently, someone I know pretty well but who just didn't get the message that we were through until a couple of days ago, had contacted me on Monday morning after six months of silence to ask a favor. I didn't have what he required, but I did point him in the direction where he could find what he wanted. He thanked me and I responded with, "You're very welcome." It was a short and to the point exchange. No frills and no conversation. Just the facts.

When he later finally paid attention and found out that I was done waiting around for him to show up or carry on any kind of normal communication expected in a relationship, he was devastated. He could not understand how I could be so polite and obliging and not give him a sign that I was angry at him. It's because I'm not angry. There is a point where someone has ignored you and caused so much pain and so many tears that you reach a point where there are no more tears and no more pain. Emotional resources are exhausted, at least where they are concerned, and all that remains is cool politeness, common civility of the kind reserved for casual acquaintances and strangers. It's always best to save the anger, rancor, bile and venom for people close to you so you can hurt them as much as they hurt you. After all, we only hurt the ones we can reach. Don't you find that so?

He keeps searching for an answer. Why was I polite if I was so hurt and angry? The answer is simple. I am no longer hurt and angry. The emotional trash has been taken out and we continue now as common and indifferent acquaintances, as Jane Bennett observed. It never hurts to be polite to people, even the ones you can reach, and I've found that common civility and politeness usually leave a deeper impression than screaming tantrums and tearful scenes. I certainly left a lasting impression on the pickled and beer-soaked tourist who found himself likened to an ass. That was one polite retort I doubt he'll ever forget, no matter how drunk he gets, or at least that is the impression his wife left when she showed up at the box office the next day to deliver a message for the gypsy fortuneteller who put her overweening and pompous husband in his place.

A kind word, a smile and a polite manner always leaves them guessing. Old-fashioned manners are best.