Say Something Nice

I always get so discouraged when I scroll through the internet-world and see nothing but people complaining and bemoaning. Doesn’t anyone have anything pleasant to say? Invariably, I find myself working through this cycle:

1. Discuss things frankly.

2. Hit a rough spot and vent furiously.

3. Look back over my Facebook wall and feel ashamed that I’m just one more person spewing bile into the ether.

4. Look for something good to say and fail.

5. Fall silent under the premise that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

6. Tentatively give up on my vow of silence, but only start posting one-sided happy-rainbow-sunshine-pretty-gloss.

7. Forget I’m “being good,” and go back to discussing things frankly.

8. Hit a rough spot, and knock everyone’s socks off with how vehement Little Miss Happy-Rainbow-Sunshine-Pretty-Gloss can be.

9. Yes, we’re cycling now. No, I don’t think it really has anything to do with that cycle.

What’s interesting to me is that, while I first observed and analyzed this behavior of mine on Facebook, I realize it’s everywhere. It’s in my day to day life and the face I put on when I walk out the door. It’s here, too, as I begin to feel guilty for how negative and down my posts have been lately, and I find myself struggling and searching for something nice I can say–not wanting to fall silent, but unable to say something that isn’t the lengthier equivalent of (*#%^@!!!

But what’s also interesting to me is how my moments of multisyllabic fire and brimstone has an apparently very polarizing effect. Some people say “Scary! Run away, run away!” (Okay, maybe not quite, but they find it distasteful or at least uncomfortable.) And some people laugh hysterically and say, “I love when you show your fire!”

I like the second response. It means they’ve recognized that I needed to (literally) let off some steam, and that they found my presentation, rather than a dismal display of the ingratitude and selfishness of humanity, to be a fine piece of performance art. All is right with the world. I have expunged myself without descending into the utter depths of self-absorption.

The first response, on the other hand, is the one that makes me shut up. I really am horrible, aren’t I? I have a thousand treasures that millions of people would dream of having, and this is what I offer up? And I quietly creep back into my hole, and promise to do better.

The thing is, the people who laugh are the people who know or understand me better. And yet that’s the response I’m more inclined to brush aside, favoring instead the strangers who say I’m doing it all wrong.

Maybe that’s the wrong moral to take. Maybe I should just be recognizing that people who like me are going to take the rough patches right along side the shining face, and that, actually, even, if you could possibly believe it–they prefer my unbridled truth to my varnished sweet talk.

I still believe that we have to be in the habit of monitoring what we’re repeatedly saying. 10, 15, 30 years of complaining does turn from a habit into your character. We do set patterns by what we do every day. I still believe that the goal is looking to find the beauty, not looking to see what else you can turn into a snazzy rant or a pitiful out-cry.

But I am also toying with this idea that we don’t have to “go to our room until we can be in a better mood.” Maybe part of what makes me valuable and unique is what I do with my rough spots–and I don’t mean hiding them. Maybe people need to see my multisyllabic fire and brimstone to realize just how deep my emotions run–to wails of distress, yes, but also to some very deep and strong currents of caring and empathy and protection. Maybe they need to see my rough spots to realize how genuine I am–that the ready smile is not a facade, and that it can fade with pain–but that it will be back, because it is real. It has been tested and tried and smashed and strained, and it is still there.

Maybe I don’t need to shut up and go away until I have something worthwhile to say; maybe what I have to say right now is already worthwhile.

***

{Cue pointless addendum, because I’m not done talking yet and I’m too lazy to start another post. Part I and Part II are not necessarily related, and that doesn’t bother me.}

 

***

Physics has taken a very surprising turn for me. I started off scared, because it had been a year since I’d taken Physics I, and here I was sitting in the classroom of Physics II. I couldn’t remember how to think in physics; my brain wasn’t up to gear. I was sure everyone else in the class had just taken Physics I and totally got what was going on. The physics professor had me 4 years previous for an even lower level physics course, which I had totally aced. He kept looking at me like, “C’mon, where’s your brilliance? I know you’re smarter than that!”

Well, I wasn’t. Frustrated and, yes, ashamed, I showed up in office hours. He was delighted to see me. I’d forgotten that, because I’d only went to his office hours once in the lower level, and I’m not even sure why. But his face had lit up then, and it lit up now, too.

Well, I was in his office hours nearly every week. I was mildly horrified. No topic has ever driven me to office hours like that, ever. I mean, ever. I’m the crazy girl who gets 103’s on her Anatomy and Physiology exams, sans assistance, not the girl who camps outside the professors office. I’m the know-it-all who helps all of her classmates and tutors and teaches, not the one who comes begging for help. I didn’t come one week, because I actually got the the material. I sent him a brief little email, basically saying, “yay, aren’t you glad I didn’t come begging this week? I got smarter!”

I was honestly surprised that he was honestly disappointed. Subconsciously, I declared to myself that I would never miss office hours again. Luckily (unluckily?), I didn’t need much help with that resolve. Physics II continues to drive me to office hours. The fun thing is that he’s a different person in office hours than he is in lecture. In lecture, I very nearly do not exist. I don’t mean that he ignores me. I mean that we are all Students, and as such, The Same Entity. We’re not really recognized as individuals, and having been in a class where the teacher could not differentiate between students and friends in her classroom, I am glad.

But it in office hours, we get to be individuals. He gets to look proud of me when he hands me my exam with a 90 on it, and he picks on me for my failure of basic arithmetic, and now I know that in I don’t have to be A Student. I can be Me. The Me that a lot of students would take to be symptoms of mental illness: the nerdy part of me that wants to know, and asks the teacher all sorts of random, barely related questions. The striving-for-perfection Me: we both mourned a little when, right on the very last part of the exam, I lost 4 points, dropping me down to 96. I almost nailed that 1-0-0! I had a bio teacher once who told me and my over-achieving cluster of friends that if we didn’t keep quiet our grousing about our high 90’s scores, the rest of the class was going to lynch us. His point was well taken, but still. So close! At least somebody gets that.

We share a sense of humor, but more than that, I get his personality and his quirks. The things that other people find to be demanding or curt or intimidating simply don’t phase me. I’ve seen demanding, I’ve seen curt, I’ve seen intimidating; he doesn’t rate. He’s an introverted, precise, eccentric physicist. I don’t have problems with any of that.

Office hours has gone from a duty-bound expression of failure to nearly the only haven I have for this semester. Don’t get me wrong; office hours are filled with physics. I have stumped him on occasion, and sometimes my solutions are right and his are wrong. He has been getting the painful satisfaction of having his entire set of homework solutions thoroughly checked–mostly because he has been using the same set, sometimes for years. It’s satisfying that they’re now corrected, but painful that they’ve been incorrect for so long without anyone calling him out. How many students, then, have never bothered to do the homework? But more often than not, I am staring at scribbled equations in my atrocious handwriting, trying to figure out the language being used to describe the world.

But in it and around it, betwixt and between it, there is conversation (of the English variety, not the mathematical one. Well, a bit of both, then, not everyoe has conversations about the specific heat needed to melt their laptop). What makes it doubly enjoyable is that it’s not just a haven for me, but it appears to be a haven for him as well. He is not at all disappointed when I run out of physics questions a few minutes before we have to run off to our respective classes.

This week, he’d asked me if I’d had a chance to visit one of my former teachers and a friend of his. I said that I had, several weeks previous. He responded that it was a good thing that I did. Immediately, I could feel my face fill with horror, thinking only of how I’d just found out about my former classmate dying. Why, what had happened? I asked. Nothing. He apologetically explained that he knows some people have difficulty with the manner of physicists, but he really did just mean only and exactly what he said: it was a good thing that I did.

Sometimes I feel like I get these sudden flashes of insight, and here was one of them. In those 7 words, straight-forward physicist or not, he was saying how meaningful it was to him to have me weekly in his office, or he wouldn’t be wishing me on his friend. And with his apologies on his physicist manner, I realized that most people probably do not understand their physics teachers. Most people have trouble understanding the physics, yes, but also the physicist.

I do not have a strong love of physics, and I doubt very much I shall ever be a physicist. But I have to admit that I will very much miss being his student. Or at the very least, sitting in his office hours saying smart-aleck things that make him reflexively reach for something to write them down. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be quoting “Algebra is very reliable, if you do it right,” for classes to come.

 

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