Schadenfreude: The Cure For What Ails You

While putting this post together, I discovered a new word. A BIG word. It was a big, multi-syllabic word. And I absolutely love learning new and big, multi-syllabic words! I love it so much, in fact, that I had to use it in the title. So here goes… The dictionary defines the German word “schadenfreude” as: satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

Last Tuesday night I was in a bit of a mood. I came home, wandered around the house like a lost puppy and plopped, sullenly, onto the floor. I wondered if perhaps changing out of my work clothes would make me feel better. I selected a warm sweatshirt, about two sizes too big, a pair of soft, velour pants and my coziest, fuzziest socks.

“Yes, I think this will help.” I told myself. But as I tried to remove the clothes I WAS wearing… I threw a miniature hissy fit when my blouse got stuck around my shoulders. “GET OFF OF ME!!” I screamed at the stubborn garment while tugging wildly and jumping around. It’s a miracle I didn’t rip it apart at the seams. When I was finally free from it’s death-grip, I flung it on the bed and stomped my feet with extra fervor like some form of bodily punctuation.

All evening I could not shake free of the funk’s torment as successfully as I had the blouse. Wherever I went—fuzzy socks and all—“the mood” went with me. What in the world was the matter with me? Nothing negative of note had happened during the course of the day. So why then, was I so… frazzled? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it gets DARK an hour after I get home? That’s it! Maybe I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder)! Ah-Ha!… finally a scapegoat for which to blame the day’s general malaise.

Both Lee and Stan looked at me quizzically as I slogged through the motions of the end of the day. I’m sure they figured it had something to do with being female and wanted no part of it. Finally, around nine o’clock, I decided that “the mood” wasn’t going to lift anytime soon and perhaps it was best just to surrender. There would be no cheering up on this day. Or so I thought when I went to bed and flipped on the TV… And discovered the beginning of a brand new season of Hoarders!

Think what you will. Judge if you must. But I believe that this program (and so many like it) was created for the very purpose of helping US feel better about ourselves. You know, all the reality shows centered around such crippling addictions, strange behaviors, eccentricities and odd proclivities that they make us feel like we’ve truly got it all together?

I am convinced that there is nothing that quite lifts a person’s spirits as much as witnessing the suffering, insanity and lunacy of countless, anonymous others willing to put their “crazy” on display for the world to see. Schadenfreude in it’s purest, money-making form. Why else would these programs be such a huge hit if it weren’t so therapeutic to watch the personal, intimate struggles of others?

And if you think I am a horrible person for making this hideous (but true) public admission or you already knew the meaning of the word schadenfreude, then by all means you definitely ought to come away from this reading experience feeling better about yourself… for you are more intelligent and sensitive and not NEARLY as shallow and insane as me. And doesn’t that brighten YOUR day?

Harvest of the Senses

Like kamikazes sacrificially plummeting from the sky, I watched some of the first leaves fall to earth yesterday. Which always makes me sad. Though I cannot blame them… It’s been a long, hot, thirsty summer and frankly I am amazed at their capacity to have held on this long with little to no liquid nourishment from above.

Autumn is without a doubt my favorite season as it unwaveringly causes me to become reflective. For some, reflection comes with the arrival of the New Year… 365 pre-packaged days bursting with possibility. Or perhaps it is spring that stirs within others dreams of opportunity and renewal. But for me, there is no time of year where change is as palpable as in the fall.

If you will, consider how all five of our senses are engaged during the transition that accompanies fall…

The wind feels cooler against our skin that—not long ago bare—is now covered with softer, warmer fabrics.

The air smells crisper, edged with the saccharine scent of our biological world as it breaks down around us.

Our palette changes to accommodate warmer things, tasting both spicy and sweet.

Our sight is continually stimulated by the brilliant colors and shifting shades of the leaves, grasses and the fields of the harvest.

Our surroundings grow quieter and still as the cool weather begins to slow us down. And all that can be heard is the distant falling, rustling and crunching of the leaves as they give themselves over to Time.

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Honk If You’ve Had Enough

There is a certain commercial on TV these days that I have fallen in love with. It’s for an interesting new feature on the Nissan Altima. When filling the tires with air, the car will honk its horn at you once optimum pressure has been reached so that you don’t overfill.

What’s so entertaining about the commercial is that it depicts a sort of goofy-looking but average guy going through his life and hearing a horn honk every time he has done “enough” of something. When he’s trying out a new handshake, putting on cologne, making a move on a girl and betting too much at the blackjack table… he hears a honk and knows when it’s time to stop.

But the actual reason I love the commercial so much is that I can’t help but imagine how great that feature would be in REAL life! Here are just a few of the areas where I thought that concept would be ideal…

  1. When I’ve said / shared enough
  2. When I’ve eaten enough
  3. When I’ve put on enough perfume (or self-tanning cream or hairspray or make-up or coats of nail polish)
  4. When I’ve worried enough
  5. When I’ve stared long enough
  6. When I’ve baked / boiled / microwaved <insert any type of food here> enough
  7. When I’ve called / emailed / messaged enough
  8. When I’ve spent enough
  9. When I’ve trimmed my bangs enough (Ladies, can I get an AMEN on this one?)
  10. When I’ve stayed long enough

Of course, I made the number 1 mistake of over-sharing and telling my thoughts to Lee about the whole thing and now he “honks” at me before I ever even open my mouth. See… where was that horn when I needed it?

Monsters In the Ivy

Over the weekend I developed an incredibly strong (albeit strange and unexpected) respect for weeds. Yes, I said weeds. I would LOVE to have the same quiet strength, robust courage, iron resolve and hearty resilience as say, a towering weed — something that can just sprout up anywhere and thrive no matter the circumstance. But I fear that I am a bit more like a fussy houseplant — high-maintenance with a tendency to wither and wilt when my environment does not quite suit me. The following account is a testimony to this fact…

It has long been established that I am not a fan of yard work or of getting my hands dirty. However, I could not—in good conscience—sit inside the house reading a novel on Sunday while Lee was outside toiling in the yard. I figured that the least I could do was pull a few weeds.

Now, I feel I should mention here that I am incredibly fearful and loathsome of insects. Regular visitors to this site will not find that to be new information. However, before proceeding, I felt it was necessary to establish… just in case in you’re new or had forgotten.

Anyway, after clearing out a few of the flower beds and remaining relatively free from debris and insects, Lee said that there was something in particular that I could do that would be of great help to him. And while I was pleased to be of some service — I was apprehensive as to why he did not wish to do this particular yard-job-thing himself.

It was then that I watched with great horror as he took my garden clippers from me and trudged waaaay into the mid-calf-deep ivy patch that runs along a stone walkway over to the side of the house. He fearlessly crouched down in the dark green tangle to demonstrate for me how to cut the ivy off of and away from the brick on the house, all the while explaining how detrimental the growth was to the continued integrity of the mortar.

“UGH.” I thought, “That ivy patch has GOT to be LOADED with spiders and their impenetrable webs and ants and centipedes and earwigs and mosquitoes and God only knows what other hellish creatures!”

But I knew deep down that I needed to suck it up, put on my game face, and just do it. He needed me to do this. I offered and he had ASKED me to do this incredibly scary thing and so I knew I must. After all, it wasn’t going to kill me. And that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, right?

I smiled as he walked away, trying to appear as resilient and strong as the weeds that I’d just removed from the edges of the aforementioned ivy patch. But on the inside I was terrified. With the clippers in my trembling hand, I stood at the edge of the verdant, living, breathing monster trying to summon the courage to go IN.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked myself while imagining a giant, black hairy spider making it’s way up my bare leg. I might get bitten or stung or maaaaaybe come down with an itsy-bitsy case of West Nile, but other than that I will be fine. JUST DO IT.

So I did. I stepped cautiously into the teeming, wicked, leafy mess and cut that ivy back as fast as humanly possible. I did NOT think about what types of demonic incarnations might be feasting on my ankles whilst I did so and I got the job done in record time.

I am relieved to report that I escaped relatively unscathed with only 11 insect bites (at last count) on my ankles, shins and calves and am thus far NOT experiencing any of the symptoms of West Nile or the Plague. A little Benedryl cream and the promise to myself that NEXT time I will dress like a bee keeper when I venture into the ivy patch, I am feeling a bit stronger today. Perhaps I have some weed-like strength within me after all.

Remembering…

Admittedly, I had another post all set to publish this morning. And I suppose you could attribute that to the fact that September 11, 2001 is drifting further and further away from us as the calendar pages fly. Increasingly, today feels like any other day. I’m not sure if that is a sign of healing or complacency… a good thing or a bad one. But as I woke and listened to the news and was reminded of the gruesome reality and continued significance of this day — I could not help but feel the need to pay homage to those lost on that Tuesday morning that was “just like every other morning.”

This photo was taken in February at the 9/11 memorial when we visited this year. The morning we wandered these sacred grounds was one of mixed emotion. On the one hand, I felt so fortunate to be able to take in this site with Lee… To have personally come full-circle by standing so near the void of those towers and taking in, with amazement, the wonder of how such a place of horror can be restored. Yet on the other hand, to wish—as I ran my gloved fingers over the names forever etched into history on the sobering black stone that surrounded each tower’s footprint—that this memorial need not to have been created in the first place.

No Fat, No Carbs… No Thanks.

Like a desperate hunter setting out into the wild in search of food, I left the office desperately starving and in search of something tasty and filling. I WANTED a cheddar-roast beef sandwich from Arby’s… greasy and dripping with red ranch sauce. But there was a big deadline on Friday’s horizon and a Smoothie King just across the street from the office, so I decided to give that a try instead.

When I walked in the door I was immediately assaulted by an overwhelmingly giant and colorful menu boasting all kinds of things I could not pronounce, let alone grasp what dietary need they would fulfill. A bright-faced boy looking like he couldn’t possibly be a day over 13 leaned across the counter—beaming at me—and enthusiastically asked what I wanted. I cringed. I had no freaking idea what I wanted.

I suppose I wanted something that tasted good above ALL else and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce. But I couldn’t tell Mr. 12-year old, fresh-faced-health-food peddler that. So instead I asked for his recommendation… Which was, indeed, a colossal mistake.

Here is what he SAID: “Well, the ‘Lean One’ is great because it has protein so it helps keep you full, trims the waistline and contains no fat or carbs.”

But here is what I HEARD: “You are fat.”

Here is what I SAID: “Is it going to taste like a diet drink or like an actual fruit smoothie?”

But here is what I THOUGHT about saying as I envisioned myself wagging my index finger in his face and then proceeding to draw an imaginary circle in the air around my mid-section: “You think I am FAT!?! Listen here, String Bean, I may weigh more than you do on your heaviest day, and I certainly won’t be doing any runway modeling, ever… but I am a HEALTHY weight! You don’t know what’s under here. This is a baggy top. I might have a six-pack under here for all you know!”  (I don’t. But he doesn’t KNOW that.)

So now I am stuck. I’ve asked this zygote’s opinion and he’s pointed out that I am fat and in need of some nutritional intervention so out of sheer shame and compliance I ordered the stupid “Lean One” and hoped for the best.

When he triumphantly handed over the cup, certain that he had done a tremendous service in saving me from myself that day, I noticed that the CUP read: “The Lean One enhances fat loss, promotes lean muscle, helps suppress appetite and promotes a healthy heart.”

Now, I’m sure these features and benefits are important to many, many people. But as earlier stated in this entry… I wanted something that tasted good ABOVE ALL ELSE—nutritional value be damned—and something that would make me STOP wanting the greasy Arby’s cheddar-roast beef sandwich dripping with red ranch sauce.

So here is what I THOUGHT as I shuffled out of the store in my baggy top, bitterly sipping my sad little smoothie that definitely seemed like it cut ALL of the culinary corners when it came to taste: “If this doesn’t satisfy me, I’m scarfing down a bag of Doritos. I knew I should have gone to Arby’s.”

A Productive Revelation

Although I find the 6 a.m. alarm to be extremely unsettling — it doesn’t take long to remember why it is so rudely and obnoxiously invading my dreams. I have somewhere to be. My day has structure and meaning again. And it is a good feeling. I am employed… at least for now.

As a freelance graphic designer, the position is a contracted one. Meaning that it will come to an end when the workflow shifts and the company no longer needs me. But it is employment nonetheless and a paycheck and experience and a source for networking as well as a means to generate additional items to place in the portfolio.

However, after seven months of NOT working, it is a stark change when compared to my typical non-structured day of snoozing until I feel like it, noontime bagel eating, bad TV watching and mind-numbing internet surfing. So far (albeit surprisingly) my nostalgia for all things lazy has not overshadowed the joy I find in being productive. I know. No one is MORE shocked than I am at this startling revelation.

It seems I expend vast amounts of mental energy imagining and writing about what it might be like to NEVER have to work. To live a life of leisure and of privilege. To NEVER interact with others… that is, unless I want to. But thou shalt never underestimate the positive power of productivity. Here are just a few things no one ever tells you about going BACK to work…

  • That coffee tastes and smells so much better in your work mug than in your cups at home.
  • That the idle chatter of co-workers can be much more entertaining than Lifetime television.
  • That slipping into a great pair of heels boosts more than your overall height.
  • That too much time spent alone with bagels, bad TV and one’s own thoughts is a dangerous thing. (See previous post)
  • That leaving the house miraculously helps you to pinpoint precisely where you are.

Understanding that my time in this new role is most likely limited… I’ve got to follow the advice of 38 Special and Hold on Loosely. Yes, I know that reference dates me a bit. Please stop doing the math, I’m trying to make a point. Like willing oneself not to fall too deeply in love with a warm, squiggly puppy you realize you cannot keep — I must hold my affection for my new (temporary) lot at arm’s length.

And hopefully—when all is said and done—I will have been reminded of where I am, where I’m going, all I have to offer and how great it feels to be a participant again. Even if that means getting up at the unnatural, ungodly hour of 6 a.m.