Quinn calls her fiancé “Scrubs.” Marie Christine calls her husband “Not Tom Brady.” The Boeskool calls his wife “my wife.” A runner/blogger I sometimes read named Sam calls his wife “Mrs. Sam.” In my blog, I call my wife “Susan,” which may or may not be her real name.
My favorite author is the wildly successful memoirist, David Sedaris. Many of his stories, drawn from his life, include anecdotes about his family. His siblings, his parents, and even his boyfriend are, God help them, open-game as his “material.” Sedaris writes humor—dark, sarcastic, edgy humor—so his family members are often skewered in his stories.
Because they are real people, I hesitate to refer to them as “characters.” But over the years, that’s what they’ve become to me and a gazillion other readers. Reliable, predictable characters. Just like recurring characters in a fiction series, Sedaris’ has created two-dimensional portraits of his family members. Their predetermined nature helps drive the narrative of his stories.
His sister Lisa is bossy. His father, overbearing and clueless. His mother, before she died, was jaded. His brother “the Rooster” is shallow and profane. His boyfriend, Hugh, rational and dull. And whenever one of them shows up in a story, it’s how they behave.
A few days ago, I posted Messy. This was a harsh self-assessment of my own Tourette Syndrome and mental illnesses. Messy popped out at a moment when I was feeling particularly down. Susan, who is not only my wife, but also one of my followers, sent me an email in response to my post. And in case you’re wondering, yes, we were both home at the time. She knows that the way to make a lasting impression on me is to write something down.
Her email: hi babe, please offer your mental health kindness and care… anger towards yourself just continues the suffering. all of your tics, obsessive thoughts, depression…they are waiting for you to give them a place to rest and heal.
Over the past few years, I’ve worried that like Sedaris, I’ve created a character out of Susan. When I read about her on my blog and in my book, she’s as predictable as the Rooster. Instead of shallow, she’s cautious and mindful. Instead of profane, she’s all Namaste. I write about her sport (yoga); her profession (massage therapy); and her passion (meditation). Based on what I’ve written, Susan comes across as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dali Lama and Elizabeth Gilbert all rolled into one.
Yet there’s some truth to this portrayal. Nightly, she reads and rereads passages from Thích Nhất Hạnh and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. She doesn’t gossip. She sends love to her enemies. And responses like her email to me are second nature, a reflex.
Lately a pattern has formed. Several times over the past month, I’ve brought up a lesson that I learned from an outside source. From an article I’ve read. Or Molly, my life coach will share some insight that resonates with me. I’ll mention it to Susan, tell her that I’ve found some peace from an unlikely source, and she’ll point out that she’s told me the same thing seventeen times over the past week.
Today, it was an article I read about televangelist Joel Osteen. He cautioned Hurricane Harvey survivors to avoid adopting a victim’s mentality. Over the past month, I’ve been struggling with some seemingly reckless decisions I made. And as a result. I’ve been wallowing in a murky soup of self-pity. I’ve seen myself as a victim, incapable of doing anything but get slapped around roughly by life. Televangelist Joel Osteen helped me see that I gain nothing from this attitude. I need to give myself a break.
I told Susan about my revelation, and as I spoke, I watched as her eyes steeled over. Here I was, one more time, taking her words of wisdom, the same message she’s sent me more than a dozen times, (and even in an email) and attributed it to someone else… this time the televangelist Joel Osteen.
After her initial frustration with me, we had a nice conversation about how I can avoid feeling like a victim when things aren’t going my way. We also talked about the importance of me actually listening to what she has to say. Susan knows me better than anyone (even myself), I’m thinking her wise advice can save me a lot of time and anguish.
Catchy mindfulness saying of the week: You can’t stop the waves, so you might as well surf.