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Proportional Toothpaste

January 2, 2017

Last week, I saw Chris Gethard’s off-broadway show Career Suicide, and it was funny and touching in the way that drew me in to his show, and knowing the topic (and seeing an excerpt on Stephen Colbert’s show late last year, if I remember to go back and look for it, I’ll add the link here) and a bit of Gethard’s history, it was about as dark as I expected (which was largely tempered by being self-deprecating). It ends its run soon, and I’m not sure if something else will come of it (a recording, etc.), but I’d recommend it nonetheless. 

One of the off-handed insights Gethard shared from his decade plus in therapy was that he has a proclivity for responding to negative things disproportionately. I think we all do this to a degree by nature of being emotional beings, but I’ve been thinking about how I do this as well, or rather when I do this. I’ve realized that in more difficult times (when I’m stressed, or tired, or other things weigh down, etc.), it’s harder to shake the small stuff. This isn’t surprising, but to put such a fine point on it felt good, and hopefully something that will help me recognize the bigger picture quicker through these small irritants. 

This probably stuck with me more now because so many people are laying out ambitions for 2017 and self-help social media seems more conspicuous this time of year. With the caveat that I realize that it’s an oversimplification (i.e. “don’t @ me”), but the idea that happiness is a choice bothers me at least in the sense that it discounts legitimate reasons for why people may not be happy in specific moments (or, perhaps to put a finer point on it, puts the blame on unhappiness squarely on ourselves). Sure, there are times when there’s good and bad available in significant portions, but happiness is not a switch to flick on and off and can take more time (and more work) than a single point. I guess I’m opposed to blind optimism as a salve, and these types of messages seem to advocate for blindness.

This is why the line from Gethard’s show stuck with me – there are things (personal and public) worth anger, frustration, and tears, and to ignore these things is unfair and unnatural. That said, there are things that bother me more when I’m already bothered, and maybe the way to get back on track isn’t to deal with the minor thing but to think about the bigger things that pushed my patience (in whatever form it manifests itself) to the edge. (Again, I’d imagine that this is part of “choosing happiness” as well that doesn’t come across in a meme, but I’m not sure that everyone regurgitating the meme intends that. Again, don’t @ me.)

I thought of this again this afternoon when I was about to leave the house for a walk. While getting ready to brush my teeth, I angled the head of my toothbrush a little too sharply against the opening of the tube of toothpaste and did something I don’t ever remember doing before: the bristles flicked a spec of toothpaste upward into my left eye. My immediate reaction once I realized the cause for my temporary blindness was “that’s a new one” and a giggle. I wiped my eye clean, brushed my teeth, and then went out for a walk before the sun set. I hope that the next time I do something like this, I respond similarly, but if I take it as a harbinger of certain doom, I hope I realize that it isn’t the toothpaste that’s stinging me. 

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