Sunday, September 11, 2011

We're Going to the Promised Land

I'm guessing most everyone's familiar with some variation on this phenomenon, but let's define a term real quick before I get down to business:

"Black Eye Season" is the nebulous off-season of businesses (or for that matter cities or states) that operate year-round but are largely seasonal.

During the long, dark, cold winter when things get a little sleepy people have a lot of time on their hands, a portion of which inevitably ends up devoted to grousing about working conditions in the long, dark, cold winter, and concocting grievances (both reasonable and un-) against co-workers, management and the cruel, cruel universe at large.

Those of you don't work in an industry like this can just picture Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Well-adjusted people don't live here anymore, Mrs. Torrance.

Good then. Let's go.

Last April, as we wrapped up Black Eye Season '10-'11, I hadn't yet conceded to altering my brain chemistry to center myself, but I did make a joy-related decision:  This summer would be one of camaraderie and positivity in my workplace if I had to bust heads to make it happen.

I jest, of course, but I put my employees on notice in the friendliest way possible.  I announced that I was committed to maintaining a positive environment for both customers and employees.  Tourism makes everyone stupid, but for the most part in really predictable ways. I was the first person to commiserate when an employee had a truly frustrating exchange, but I also spent a lot of time reminding people that tourists aren't familiar with the operation and that not every question is ridiculous. Changing institutional culture takes longer than a summer, but I noticed and appreciated a trend toward a friendlier, more positive demeanor.

Personally, I reaped dividends.  One of the reasons that I pushed this agenda was because I recognized the need for a  personal attitude adjustment.  I was tired of being grouchy, of feeling at best put out and at worst desperately lonely, angry and sad by turns.  I was serious enough about it to lift my sixteen-year embargo on taking antidepressants.  As it turns out, when you turn the dial from a carefully-curated, neutrally pleasant to actively positive and engaged, people notice.  And they like it.  And it's contagious.

I have to admit that the part of me that's used to being a little edgy and sensitive and guilty about it felt like a fraud every time someone commented on my habitual happiness.  And for balance, I also have to admit that it felt as amazing as bewildering not just to hear it, but to feel it.  I hope there will be a time when I'm able to drop my pharmaceutical crutch and still maintain perspective but I will never again allow myself to put up roadblocks between myself and the possibility of being happy. 

I'm thinking about it because I'm noticing a whole lot of people who've been living a personal Black Eye Season for months, or maybe years, or maybe forever.  I see it in my real life and among the people I follow in various internet forums.  In nearly every case there's some half-hearted acknowledgement of overwhelming negativity, but in nearly every case at least some portion of it gets written off as iconoclasm and/or sassiness.  For the record, sarcasm and/or irony are funny/cute/anything-except-poisonous when used sparingly or with genuine lightheartedness, and let me assure you it's apparent when the latter quality is legit. Subtlety is difficult to communicate in writing on the internet, but somehow bitterness comes through clear as day, even when the author tries to disguise it as a joke.

I'm a dark humor kind of gal.  I like irony, sarcasm and the driest of dry jokes, so long as they're actually jokes, intended to be funny, and not just a pretend-happy way to vent one's spleen.  I feel a Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr/anywhere-else-miserable-poison-people-spew-shit purge coming on.

I have bad days, I grouse.  But if I see more than one complain-y social media entry in a row out of myself, I know it's time to stop, center myself, and yes, silence myself until I've decided whether it's intention and  passion speaking or just frustration and misery.

So yes, the irony here is that this is a great big bitch about people bitching, but it's not an idle complaint.  Part of my conscious decision to be positive involves a slightly cold, calculating approach to the attitudes I accept into my life.  I've taken great pains to keep my eyes on the joyful-existence prize but I know myself well enough to know that I'm just too susceptible to external influences.

Years ago when I lived in New York, I went to screening of Exodus at the Museum of Modern Art with my then-boyfriend.

As we left the museum through the revolving door, the elderly woman just ahead of us stopped walking a little too early and the door gave her a good bump.  We were horrified and began apologizing profusely, but she cut us off to unleash a heaping helping of tiny-old-lady fury, letting us know in no uncertain terms that we were the very worst kind of people and finishing with, “I do NOT accept your apology!” before she finally stalked away.

A woman nearby who’d watched the whole scene shook her head at me and said, “It’s that movie…makes EHHHHHverybody want a fight.”

I loved that lady for her perfect, abstract, rational, and ultimately forgiving take on the situation. I was totally ready to gnash my teeth and tear my hair over the old woman for the rest of the evening, at least, until she came along.

When I went vegan I became mindful of the fuel I give my physical body and as we approach another Black Eye Season, I'm becoming mindful of the fuel I provide for my emotional and intellectual life. I've got a lot plans for this winter (which I'll likely be sharing soon-ish),  and I have zero time for pessimism.

Of course at this point I can't really fault anyone for being pessimistic.  I may have have given myself over to being a weird recluse, but I do understand that it's hard to hang on to optimism when you live in the real world, so I'll just offer this: When I start getting overwhelmed by the sheer volume of nastiness and misery (macro and micro) in the world, I like to pretend that everyone’s just been watching Exodus, because at least then it’ll pass.

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