Gray Skies

Annie found an apt term for what I was in this week: a “grump funk.” I can’t determine its cause but can describe its symptoms:

*General feeling of grayness, like the rainy sky above me. Normally the spring’s burst of blooms sprouting from the trees would get me smiling, but this week they’ve been like tiny worlds I don’t have the passport to. It’s not that I don’t see them (maybe I’d almost prefer that); it’s that I can only shrug at their beauty: nature’s twinkling offerings met only with an indifferent eye.

*Substantial time and energy spent in constructing myths about those around me.  I’ve been flitting between extremes, either romanticizing people so that I can envy them or judging them so I can feel better about myself. It’s a pretty lonely spot.

*Hypercriticism toward works of art, my own or otherwise.  I went to a movie the other night and hated it, despite the fact that it was me solo in an artsy theater taking in the heartbreak of a foreign film. The recipe didn’t work: I almost left halfway through, my inner art critic loudly condemning the film’s every move. Wisely I stayed away from my own writing during this period.

*Isolation. Yesterday I saw one of my favorite acquaintances at a restaurant and gave him only a cursory wave from the safety of my table.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to offer him, or him me. My world is gray and I like it that way, the voice inside me said.

In spite of my grump funk, I put on a good show. My high-school football coach used to admonish us to keep an “even keel” on the field no matter what was happening around us. I try to remain calm, knowing my short-lived malaise is hardly a tragedy. But I still can’t hide it from Annie, nor did I wish to. What good is a relationship if it’s not a safe place to shake out our dusty shadows? Let them fly free for a while. This weekend: nonstop rain both days. I told Annie that if I didn’t have a kid I’d just hole up with her in bed all day, rising only for food and coffee, watching movies and intermittently napping over the hours, unfazed by the changeover from light to dark. I wanted to disengage from life for a good long while, to have a good dose of “I give up” so that I could try again. (Sometimes I flip it and think the singer John Popper had it right when he said, “I think a need a prison in order to dream of being free.”) But then there was Rio wanting to play and explore together, unaware of my motives and offering a real way out of the blues if only I could see the portal he was holding up.

Then Annie stepped in and said, “Why don’t you just curl up for a few hours with the door closed and watch Friday Night Lights? Take the break you need.” And I did, Rio watching his own movie out in the living room for a bit and then he and Annie cooking together, or so best I could discern from my sweet sad nest.

And it was downright medicinal to float in that bubble of jack squat for a while; I smiled and laughed through the show and found myself in a small town in Texas. The respite gave me the wherewithal to stay on the saddle. The psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has written that pleasurable emotions come and go. No matter how we court it, we are at the mercy of joy’s vicissitudes. I know I can’t turn on happiness like it’s a switch, but it still sucks to be in a dark empty room. But I know I’m also lucky: for me the situation is temporary, and even then I see sunlight coming in through the slats.

In the meantime, according to Fredrickson, there is one positive emotion I can actively cultivate: gratitude. While I wait for joy to return from her sojourn down the road I can do more than just curse from the bus stop; I can run through the blessings in my life, say them aloud, even express them to those who bring them.

It may be strange to watch a cranky gringo suddenly telling the people around him what he’s grateful for, but it’s not an act; I’m trying to thank my way out of it. I hope I don’t take those blessings for granted when I find myself again on the coveted perch.

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