I recently finished Oliver Burkeman’s lovely “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking” and feel newly liberated. I’ve embraced anti-positivity for a while, but it became doctrine when I realized that my 2016 Vision Board contained a picture of Hillary Clinton, Prince and me and my ex. I guess my Vision Board did not appreciate my slapdash glue-stick handling of my visions. Or maybe it felt mistreated, like I was just saying, “Bitch, I made you, Vision Board!…now go come true.” So when Hillary Clinton lost in the most horrible way, Prince died, and my ex-boyfriend and I stayed broken up, I laid to rest positive affirmations. If my Vision Board mocked me anymore it would need a stage and mic.
According to Barbara Ehrenreich blanket positivity brought about the financial crisis of 08 because finance people could not fathom failure. To be fair, nobody digs failure — real failure — not the kind that J.T. Rowling talks about, that ultimately ends in million dollar book deals. I mean the kind that feels like a bird flying into a window, and you’re the bird AND the window.
But failure shmailure, been there, done that. Failure is intrinsic to the software program of life. It’s the other stuff that can take me down.
A few weeks before my birthday I felt something near my armpit. I thought maybe my underwire had stabbed me, but it turned out to be a marble lump on the side of my breast. Oh that…probably just some estrogen that got lodged in a cyst. It took me a week to have the necessary meltdown, call the Kaiser advice nurse fourteen times and have an existential panic attack in the Trader Joe’s parking lot. Why is that lady sitting there with her hand on her boob? When I did see the doctor, a beautiful Indian woman, felt me up (aka, examined me) and then ordered a mammogram and an ultrasound. The mammogram, a medieval torture device shaped like a panini maker that hasn’t been updated in 30 years (why update something that tortures women?) cost me $10, but the Ultrasound is $250 per boob — what is panic and fear without a bargain basement price tag of $500?
You can’t therapy talk your way out of a possible cancer diagnosis. Detection to appointment was a few weeks away so I had plenty of time to contemplate my mortality. And contemplate I did. What if I never danced again? Or wrote another play?
I had yet to read “The Antidote,” yet, but I must have intuited it because I went to worse case scenario. Berkeman writes, “The Stoics recommended “the premeditation of evils,” or deliberately visualizing the worst-case scenario. This tends to reduce anxiety about the future: when you soberly picture how badly things could go in reality, you usually conclude that you could cope.” No, I didn’t think I could cope. But at least I realized how good my failed life has been thus far.
On the day of the ultrasound I found out that I had a large cyst. The relief was palpable and euphoric. I felt more than OK; I felt genuinely grateful for my life. The whole experience shifted my paradigm like a high-powered antidepressant. I felt great for days.
About a month later, I drove to Pasadena one traffic-drenched Wednesday night for a comedy show. It had been a long day of driving from audition to audition. Los Angeles: one big rush to an appointment. I just wanted to do my set and leave. Moments after I entered, I was given the, “you’re next” cue. I jotted down my set in a notebook and ordered a Diet Coke at the long old fashioned oak bar, the kind you might find in Mad Men. When I glanced to my right, I saw a guy who looked like Jon Hamm. Later, he introduced himself and even bought me a Diet Coke. (So, we’re basically engaged, right?). I am not easily star-struck, but meeting (one of the) most handsome men isn’t a bad thing. Good thing I never put him on my Vision Board.