I think my inner voice is a downer. Oh wait, it's Life Affirming.

As part of a forum I just joined, {W}rite-of-Passage, I’m taking these wise women (and men?) up on the challenge of writing well. This week’s challenge:

Anne Lamott tells us, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.”  She’s referring to that inner voice that we hardly ever hear anymore.    Today, take a few minutes to be still and quiet. Listen to your inner voice and write what she/he says. That’s it. Whatever it is that’s in there, let it out. 

Whatever’s in there, let it out?  Don’t know how coherent or pretty it will be….

When I was a child — and actually, still today — my mother’s first action when opening the newspaper was to turn to the obituaries. I didn’t understand this back then: what were the odds that she *really* knew someone, enough that she’d need to make plans to attend a wake or funeral in the immediate future?

But I guess some things are genetic, because although it’s not the *first* thing I turn to, obituaries are in the top 3 things that I make a point to read every day. The major difference between my mother and me, however, is that my paper is the NY Times, and the likelihood of an obituary in the Gray Lady propelling me to a wake or funeral is just about nil. Yes, often the deceased have affected me personally (the creator of Pez died a week or so ago! Love Story author Erich Segal died yesterday!), but I have no need to don my black dress and head to the funeral home.

My husband believes the obituary-reading is a sign of something wrong with me — why would strangers’ death notices be something that I make a point to read? He believes it’s evidence of a defect of my personality (although for sure he is smarter than to actually *say* that out loud): sort of like “looking for trouble.” I don’t think I’m asking for trouble; I think I am reassuring myself that I’m still at the kitchen table with my coffee cup, waiting for the dryer to beep and the dog to signal he wants to come back in from outside. I think it’s life-affirming. (How’s that for “spin”?)

So wow, if my husband spent any time in my late-night head he’d be tracking down some kind of anti-depressant for me for sure. The noise in my head is best sifted through when I’m *supposed* to be sleeping. Like the obituaries, my overnight narrator speaks a lot about trauma, chaos and tragedy (I was going to make a reference to The Tonight Show  here, but never mind).  To ensure that I don’t fall asleep to its dulcet tones, my inner voice is always running a dialog about what *could* go wrong, who *could* get sick/hurt/dead/run over by a dump truck, etc. ( This assumes I’m able to get the tinnitus to quiet down long enough to clear up the reception in my brain.) It never contemplates “what would we do if we won Powerball this week?” Husband will argue for a defect of personality, but I’m more inclined to believe that obsessing about the horrid “what if’s” is an added feature of motherhood — change enough diapers or clean enough moldy sippy cups and you earn the right to obsess over the *potential* ridiculous traumas that *may,* *possibly,* afflict the ones you love the most. It’s a trait that can’t be avoided, so why not embrace it? Why not do that “spin” thing where I call it “life-affirming”? There *is* an upside.

So in the quiet, I think about all kinds of awful things: what if the stomach problems of child #3 turn out to be something really serious (and not the result of a kid who doesn’t want to take time to poop)? What if my teenager decides she’s had enough and runs away? How would I find her? What if the youngest of the bunch doesn’t find a way to channel his sore-loser-ness better: what jail will I have to go to in order to visit him? How often will the visiting days be? Will he have to wear a jumpsuit? He *does* look good in orange, but if he has to wear gray he’ll just look washed out.

Sometimes the awful isn’t about family, and really it’s not awful — just the miscellanea of life that require attention (or, more likely, don’t). Sometimes I consider: what if the hot water tank is leaking right now as I lie here?  I wouldn’t know — I’m two floors away in bed.  (Never mind it’s only 3 years old.) What if the garage was left open and right this minute we’ve got raccoons/bears/rats chomping away at a garbage buffet? There was a serious gas leak under the ground in nearby Edison, NJ the other day that resulted in the buckling of a street and a massive explosion: how can I be sure that there’s not a leak somewhere in our yard? Do the children have “dress uniform” days tomorrow — and do they have clean dress uniform clothes? Am I going to have to get up early to iron a white shirt for someone?

The upside, I’m convinced, is that I’m not devoting any critical “waking” energy to this “what if” exercise. Sleep? Who needs sleep? I can spare a couple of dark, quiet hours talking myself down from figurative ledges. My days are then freed up to leave that garbage behind: the child simply doesn’t like to use the bathroom, the teenager will get over herself (and me), the boy will learn to lose gracefully one of these days (please, God, sooner rather than later). Oh, and the water heater seems fine, the garage doors got closed, a gas leak would smell like eggs (and luckily, my yard smells like mud and the thaw of winter), and no one was ever sent to detention for a wrinkled shirt.

Go read more! Others are participating in the challenges at {W}rite-of-Passage

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