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Investing in the Positive


Our dogs were happy to see us when we returned from our long vacation this summer and I had to laugh when Tairiq brought me every one of his toys, as if I’d never seen them. Then both dogs just stared at me as if I were the greatest human they’d ever met. It reminded me of the simple joy I feel when I focus on something silly but sweet, like them. But I also realized in that moment that I am much more invested in the things that bug me, worry me, scare me, and repel me than I am in those that bring me such pure pleasure.

It’s not that I look for things to annoy me; it’s just that I have kind of made a hobby out of not liking certain events, occasions, and even people. It doesn’t matter how much time has elapsed since I saw a sci-fi movie, read a romance novel, or set off fireworks on the Fourth of July. I don’t like them. I hold to these opinions as tightly as a kid with a snow cone on a hot day. If someone irritated me a lot when I first knew them 30 or 40 years ago, the chances of me changing my opinion are rare. My fear of lizards and other reptiles, formed when I was a young kid and based on absolutely nothing but how they looked, is as active today as it was when I was 7.

That I can sometimes list what I don’t like in the world almost more easily than I can itemize what I love is sad.

I don’t sit around thinking about these things I detest or dread as much as I just know clearly what they are. If you asked me if I wanted to meet your gecko, for example, I would not stop to consider if I did or not, or that maybe your gecko is as great as you are. I would simply say “No.” If you invited me to a dinner party with a person who exasperated me 20 years ago, I would probably go because I’m also really bad at saying no, but I would clench my irritation in my fist all the way there.

What is interesting about my approach to the elements of life that I consider negative is that if, for some reason, I don’t have time to put up my dukes or I don’t know that I might have to, I’m fine. The resistance lives in my head even when I forget about it in real life. Like most people, I enjoy life much more in the moment than I do when I’m slogging through it in my thought process, the one with the outdated filters. But even thinking about this makes me realize how silly and inefficient, and frankly how ridiculous, this way of being is becoming. That I can sometimes list what I don’t like in the world almost more easily than I can itemize what I love is sad.

I know that long ago, when I was a much more scared person without the experience to be bold and experimental, my brain and heart just naturally began cataloguing the items that seemed emotionally unsafe. This movie scares me, that person makes me feel stupid, this kind of party makes me feel shy. My primitive defense system did its best to keep me in my little protected world where I could pretend to be in control. But when I meet people in the world who seem able to let down their guards and embrace each new moment, I feel jealous. These days I think it's possible to become just a little bit more like that and a little less defended against all of that scary stuff out there. It’s been almost a disservice to myself to have believed for so long that I had to keep hating what I hated.

Those dogs staring at me, sometimes with sagging chew toys and skinless tennis balls in their mouths, have made me think about how lovely it would be to let myself feel open and new like that more often. It’s all an experiment anyway, you know? Why not see if I can keep my eye a bit more on the positives and a little less on the negatives? Having held on to the latter so long makes me know that I have absolutely nothing to lose by letting go of it. And honestly, I’m kind of excited about all there is to gain.

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