Thursday, July 15, 2010
I went into a Post Office this afternoon, and waited in line, watching a solo woman clerk interact with numerous international students, most of whom had a limited grasp of English and couldn't understand her directions quite clearly. 2 or 3 had to come back a third time, only to be corrected and start again. Key words were missing, key ideas, and I felt the loss, felt for the international students, wondered at how privileged I am to "get it" - especially reading Other People's Children, recommended to me by Birdfarm, as of last night.
Then it was my turn. I took up a few packages - copies of my new chapbook destined to friends, a mix cd (comment on the last blog entry and you can get one, too!). One package I hadn't gotten the address for yet, and I sheepishly grabbed that one without making eye contact - Oops!, I uttered, and slipped it into my bag.
"This is wrong" she stated, and sighed, looking over her glasses at me. I felt a deep gulp arise, just from her stare. "It's written on here wrong." She paused and looked at me, and it took until she asked me if I knew how to correctly address an envelope, which I had just seen her do - for the third time - to a young Taiwanese woman - to realize she thought I wasn't from the US. I blushed, felt angry, how much mail have I sent in my life?! - then chilled down a bit - sure, I did do it wrong, turned the wrong way, only good for parcel post, not for an envelope. She carefully explained how to do it, and I asked if we couldn't just send them parcel post? Yes, but we had to move the return address around, etc. This whole time I was burning shame, burning away a feeling of having done wrong, and not because I did wrong, but because of the way she had addressed me; like a child.
In getting some space, some curiosity about the situation, which usually helps, I took a deep breath and looked around as she scanned the items and added up my total. It was then I saw a sign directly in front of me, almost impossible to miss, now that I was looking, that told me my clerk is very hard of hearing, and reads lips, so make sure to face her straight on. It also said, with a small smiley face, that sign language is spoken there.
Wow. Did I ever miss that. The power of the situation suddenly shifted, and I looked back at the clerk, re-considering our whole conversation, the way she had repeated everything very carefully to all the folks who'd come before me, always using the same phrasing.
"Will that be all for today?" she asked me, and suddenly I heard her voice another way- vulnerable, unsure, and slightly dampened, as speech from folks with hearing impediments can sometimes be - soft on the consonants.
"No, thank you," I said, sure to make eye contact with her, enunciate clearly without overexaggerating, and shaking my head. She smiled - actually smiled! - I don't think I'd looked at her face once the whole transaction, so absorbed in my own experience.
I had another blog post planned before this happened. It turns out it's still relevant. I left my psychiatrist's office with renewed prescription for meds, and a conversation she and I had had buzzing in my head. She had talked about Temple Grandin, and her latest book, which includes a concept "that I believe is as fitting for humans as animals" as she said. Grandin talks about how the "seek" part of an animal's mind - the sniffer, the explorer - manages to suppress anxiety as it is in action. So animals use it for not just the purpose of sussing out the situation, but also to alleviate anxiety about the situation. But it works the other way, too, I think. I think that sometimes we seek in order to stave off anxiety - compulsive shopping, anyone? myself included! - and that seeking can actually become drug-like - always wanting something new, for instance, instead of the "same old same old."
And yet, when we attune ourselves and become curious about the moment - like I did at the post office, like meditation trains us to do, or Miksang, or writing, or just deciding to pay attention (go Reem!), we do realize that the world is always different, always changing.
Meditation teachers say it all the time - hell, *I* say it all the time - "get curious, it'll help, help the panic, help the sadness, open things up." But now I have another understanding of this.
That the story is just that - a story - and as it turns out, the story I had in my head at the post office was just that, a story, missing a ton of the nuance in favor of a familiar situation, as gross as it was. The anxiety I had in interacting with this woman was old business, old news. It wasn't relevant - it was triggered. When I made the choice to seek out, not anything in particular, but just to sniff around a bit, I found better data, more relevant, that could help alleviate my anxiety and give perspective. For humans, I think, the "seek tampers anxiety" could be true, but of course, we can even take it a step further, have cognition about that new information. From disconnect to connect in a few short seconds.