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There’s a big difference between taking a stand for yourself, and playing hard ball. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I can’t stop thinking about it. One is a fight. One isn’t. They both originate from someone wanting something of you that crosses a line. And it’s usually something hard to face. For me, it all arrives in my email inbox.
I try hard not to look at my email inbox first thing in the morning. Or Facebook. I try to wake slowly, to let the morning give itself to me. Then tea, back in bed. Some reading. Usually poetry. Nothing too close to the way life behaves in a typical day, unless its Sunday. I want my early mornings to feel like all of Sunday feels. Reflective. Paused. Soft. And then…the assault.
I go down to my office for it. I sit at my mothership computer. I often feel the urge to fasten a seatbelt across my lap. A few times, I’ve reached for one. I wiggle the mouse. The screen light glares at me. I try not to prepare for battle. Maybe there’ll be something nice in there. Someone will want to come on my writing retreat. Someone else might have read something I’ve written and taken the time to thank me. Those are always nice. I answer every single one of them, just to honor gratitude. Or maybe there’s a note from an editor who wants to publish something I’ve written. Those are the best ones. Well, except for the ones from my kids when they just want to say that they love me and there’s no mention of money.
But every day…there’s always something in there that scares me. At the very least, triggers cause for concern. A late bill, a compromised account, a wasband ordeal, a rejection from an editor, another octogenarian from my hometown passed, funding for the arts denied—that stuff. And let’s not even bring up the news. I’ve stopped watching. But I don’t have to solve those problems. The ones in my email inbox: yes.
I feel myself bracing. Conjuring steely reserve. I think of what I’ve learned from therapists along the way: Use “I” statements. Write the angry note first. Then delete it. I take my own advice: No need to fight. Simply say what you need to say—the rest is not your problem. Or consider the source. Take responsibility where necessary. Don’t over-apologize. Be clear, succinct, to the point. Tangents or too much explaining are not your friends right now. You’re not writing a novel. And please, calm your inner persuader. She’s so exhausting for everyone, yourself included.
And there it all is, the good, the bad, and the ugly, along with Flash Sales for things I’d never buy and eblasts from people I’ve never heard of, and reminders to attend cultural events in cities hundreds of miles away. Delete delete delete…answer all the goodies…until what’s left is a honed stack of bad bones. Second cup of tea. Maybe a smoothie, though heat feels more helpful. I get the basic bad done first. And then it’s time for the mean ones. For those, I think of Gandalf raising his sword. Don’t you have at least one or two meanies in your life? I try not to, but some of them are unavoidable. Sometimes I’m there for hours, composing those short little to-the-point emails just so. Stakes are high. Pushing Send too soon could cost me in more ways than one.
My goal: to take a stand. I tried playing hard ball a few times. It was the most inauthentic thing I’ve ever done. And I suck at it. Truth is, hard ball isn’t necessary. Hard ball hurts the pitcher and the batter. I’ve watched a lot of baseball games. But here’s the thing: in most of those mean emails…the author wants me to take a good swing. And miss. I’ve learned not to swing. Yet in most cases, some sort of answer is required. You owe them none of your emotional supply…and still, the emotions are high and sometimes as unruly as they are untethered.
So here’s my new way, and it works:
I write it like it could be published in the local newspaper. Facts only. Journalistic, not Op-Ed. I take a stand for what needs to be supported. And then I leave the game. I know I did it right if I don’t hear back. I know I did it right if it doesn’t wake me up at 4:00 a.m. feeling like I have to save a burning orphanage full of children—a reoccurring dream of mine. No thanks. Taking a stand is holding up a hand and saying, “Enough. Solution: ______. Here’s what I know to be the bottom line.” And yes, sometimes, you have to ramp that stand up. Stand really tall and draw that line in concrete. You have to dust off that sword and say, “You shall not pass!” But it doesn’t have to take you down with it. Thanks, Gandalf for being willing to fall into the fiery pit. We don’t have to follow you. I’d rather have another cup of tea. And go for a walk in the snow.