When I’m sad, I tend to make lists, with titles, but often only in my mental notebook. Ways to Improve Myself. Lose ten pounds, get my roots colored, get back to regular stretching, meditate, smile more. People To Whom I Need to Apologize. The server at the coffee shop in Waldo, my secretary, whoever it is that keeps calling from the number that I ignore, my neighbor with whom I share a driveway and the parking strip out back. Bills to Pay. Water, gas, electric, rent, payroll. People I Need to Call. Water company, gas company, electric company, my dentist, the department at Stanford responsible for getting pre-approval for my treatment out there.
I ruminate over these lists while I make hot tea and rummage in the refrigerator. Feeling sad often motivates me to clean house. I pull all the leftovers out of the fridge and open the cupboards looking for stale crackers and out-dated cans. I used to cook all the time but in the last few years, I’ve become adept at rationalizing going out to eat. When sorrow overtakes me, I make a special list of all the times that I’ve gone out to eat and then I compare that with the list I keep of everything I want to do with the disposable income that I think I would have, if only I could convince myself to eat at home.
Another list that I make when I’m sad is a list of everything that I am grateful that I don’t have to handle. Cancer, AIDS, MS, a kid with an arrest record, acne, rheumatoid arthritis, Lupes, muscular dystrophy. Then I make another list, even longer, of all the problems that I’ve overcome in my life, in no particular order. The first one that comes to mind goes at the top of my mental account of My Good Fortune. By the time I finish that one, the tea has grown cold and the dog has been pacing in the kitchen for quite some time. She’s probably long since peed in the living room by the front door that she never uses and now wants to go out and drink water from the buried French drain.
When I get sad, I sometimes get on the internet and look for old friends on social media, LinkedIn and Facebook, or in the archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. One old friend, Martha Rankin, disappeared while hitch-hiking to Madison in 1974. I have searched for Martha so many times that if she were alive, I would have certainly found some evidence of her. I vividly recall Dave Frain telling me about her promise to call home every time she came to or left a new city. She called from a phone booth on campus shortly after arriving. No one ever heard from her again, as far as I know. Somewhere in one of my jewelry boxes, I have a little turquoise-colored bead that she gave me.
Another thing that I do when I’m sad is sort my jewelry. I have a few nice pieces and a lot of sentimental stuff. I put earrings together, push rings in the little velvet slots, and dangle necklaces from the metal brackets. I take each one out and turn it over in my hand, thinking about where I got it, who gave it to me, where we were when we discovered it or I opened the pretty little package. Then I tuck the pieces into their corners and crevices, close the lids, and go start the kettle for more tea that will grow cold while I’m busy distracting myself from feeling sad.
It’s the twenty-fourth day of the thirty-seventh month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.