How to Lighten Up


I missed the memo about  how to lighten up.

My mom likes to say I was “born 30” and I think that’s code for the fact that I am congenitally uptight.  I’m “Type A”, judgmental,  a rule follower, a worrier, a planner…so it’s no surprise that I’m often told to lighten up. 

I submit to you Exhibit A, an inscription in my senior year book:

(“Blockhead”…I had forgotten about that…this guy didn’t appreciate my strong jaw and truly exquisite bone structure, but check it out…back in high school, my face was nearly a perfect square…this was my serious debate team face…)

I used to bristle at the suggestion that I ought  to lighten up.   Telling someone to relax when they’re obviously having a hard time relaxing usually has the effect of making them even less relaxed.  Isn’t it funny how that works? 

But these days, I try to take the suggestion to heart.  I’m starting to understand that when I start to get rigid, it’s usually because I’m scared, anxious, or just really, really annoyed.  The world of rules and structure is my safe zone, and I retreat to it when I’m having a hard time coping with anxiety and uncertainty.  As an attorney, this is awesome.  When I’m stressed out about a case, I can go look up a statute and figure out what the rules are, and the rules make me feel a little more grounded. 

In real life, however, there isn’t a universally applicable rule book.  Some might say go look in a Bible, and that’s of some comfort, but the Bible unfortunately did not contemplate a rule for how I should conduct myself when my husband forgets to push down that little doohickey that makes the water come out of the faucet instead of the shower head and I get doused with cold water…again.  I suppose there’s something in The Good Book about husbands and wives honoring each other, but that’s not a complete prescription for how irritated I’m allowed to be in this situation. 

The thing I’m trying to learn is that when I’m asked to lighten up, it doesn’t mean that I’m not right, as I am  just about always right, just ask me.  Rather, it means that I need to keep some perspective.  Right at what cost?  When I tense up, dig in, and fight about something inconsequential, what good is served?  I talked before about my hair and the trouble it causes me, so in the aforementioned shower scenario, it kinda is a big deal as getting my hair unintentionally wet can seriously ruin my day.  OK…there I go again…”ruin my day”?  Really?  A little perspective, please. 

I still hope my husband gets the memo about pushing down that  doohickey, but if he doesn’t…memo received. 

 © 2011 Jamie Walker Ball

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Dessert & Upward Mobility


I missed the memo about dessert and upward mobility.

When I was in college, the young woman who lived in the adjoining room, let’s call her M, was a real sweetheart.  She came from a good family, and they were a little protective, so they came to visit often.  When her folks came to town, M could round up her friends and M’s parents would treat the gaggle of us to a nice dinner at a restaurant near campus.  This was wonderfully generous in and of itself, but it gets better. 

I had the good fortune of being invited along on one of these dinners and as the extensive dessert menu was presented, M’s father took a quick look and decisively said, “Just bring us one of everything and we’ll pass them around.”  As a great lover of desserts, I was absolutely delighted by the largesse of this gesture. 

I grew up in a working class-ish family and when I went to college, I started catching glimpses of how more “privileged” kids had grown up.  Part of me recoiled at the idea of having a housekeeper or spending money on a luxury car or a designer purse…these kind of things were a little offensive to my slightly socialistic sensibilities.  I convinced myself  that people with money were soft and self-indulgent….whereas people without money were sharp and resourceful.  At the time, this was probably a healthy bit of defensive thinking, I think, but it threw up some roadblocks in the way I connected with some of my more well-off peers and it limited my imagination of how my life might ultimately be different from my parents’. 

But when M’s dad ordered all those desserts for a giggling gaggle of co-eds, I thought, “OK, wow, this is why it’s good to have some money.”  Money can buy stuff, but it also buys experiences, and I think that was the real lesson for me.  M’s dad wasn’t trying to be a big shot, he just wanted his daughter’s friends to have some fun and enjoy a fantastic end to their meal.  And he didn’t seem to worry about how much it cost. 

Until I finish paying off law school, I really won’t have a pot to piss in, so for now I’m holding pretty tenaciously to most of my frugal, working class sensibilities.  But theoretically, I’ll be ascending the socio-economic ladder a bit in the coming years.  I’m no longer so afraid that having a bit of money will make me soft or self-indulgent.   Even if I have some money, I can still be liberal.  I can still be low-key.  I can still be me.  No one is going to force me to buy a  Bentley or a Prada handbag.  But maybe I will buy all the desserts.  And pass them around.  Memo received. 

© 2011 Jamie Walker Ball