Monday, March 2, 2015

The Attack of the Yes, But People

Want to make a depressive want to strangle you? Tell him how good he’s got it compared to many other people. It feels so dismissive, so unempathetic — and, on the other hand, is of course exactly what he needs to hear. I realized this during my best year of the present decade, 2010, when I managed to live gratefully more consistently than during any other in recent memory.

The world is full of inexplicable horror and heartbreak. I see now that the only way to get through it is to pretend that you see only the good stuff, the beauty and love. God knows it’s true that in every life, some rain must fall. But it’s no less true that there’s some lovely gentle warm buttery sunshine in everyone’s life too. As I said in the best song I ever wrote, the one to console myself at the beginning of my and my daughter’s ongoing estrangement, you can torture yourself for what’s lacking, or revel in what you possess. The former is a mug’s game.

As too, of course, is being a Yes, but person, one who, reminded of all he has to be grateful for, reflexively says, “Yes, but…,” and then tells you in detail why the glass is in fact half empty. To my own incalculable detriment, I have always been that person. As an alcoholic has to struggle every day not to drink, I have to struggle not to look for reasons to stay miserable.

Why would one want to stay miserable? Well, I, with the help of some of the more on-the-ball psychotherapists I’ve consulted, have developed a theory or two over the decades.  There’s a weird, dysfunctional sort of comfort in the familiar. Misery might, by definition, not be much fun, but at least it’s not terrifying. It’s the devil one knows. And we damaged types feel threatened by the prospect of happiness. If it were to be snatched away, wouldn’t that be worse than never having had it? Would one who’s never tasted caviar pine for it?

I “spoke” on line the other day with a friend who was miserable about having had to move recently from an apparently gorgeous neck of the woods. I pointed out that he’d very much landed on his feet romantically, beginning an apparently fulfilling relationship almost immediately. "Yes, but…," said he. I observed that, even while he bemoaned the lack of his former home’s natural beauty, he was regularly glimpsing something of comparable magnificence — a woman who loves him looking delighted at the sight of him.

I can be rich or destitute. The choice is my own to make. While living in Ramsgate, Kent, England, a couple of years ago, I was about to strike out on my afternoon traipse one day, after I’d reconciled myself to the BBC not calling to say they wanted to produce one of the several radio comedies I’d submitted to them, and no magazine editor calling to commission a piece, no literary agent calling to say he or she wanted to market my fiction, and no video or graphic design client calling when I realized I didn’t know the whereabouts of my wallet. A person doesn’t very much like that feeling. When I found it, and began walking, I composed a little song of praise in my head. Oh, I found my wallet, and I can walk.  There were people with hotsy-totsy literay agents who couldn’t have made that claim.

I choose today to be rich, to revel in the fact that I’m in pretty terrific health, and am loved, and admired. I know where my wallet is, and my keys, and even my sunglasses, and I can still walk.

I’m going to try to make 2015 2010 Jr.


  1. I embrace this, John. Say yes. We are the fortunate ones.

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