I recently learned a valuable lesson in how to talk to yourself. Rather, how not to talk to yourself. I turn 30 in September, which doesn't seem to alarm me as much as it alarms other people. (Why is it that at any mention of your age, people older than you--not everyone, but some of them--roll their eyes and attempt to make amends with the inevitable. "Thirty, already, wow, do you know how old that makes me?") Sorry, I got distracted. Age isn't the point of this post.
I was thinking about age because I like to think of myself as the kind of person who knowingly enters into whatever occasion, or phase of existence, or movie theater, or what have you. And I learned recently that, even now, even at thirty--which is old enough to know some things, and not old enough to know much--that I still don't do very well at talking to myself.
I'm good at freaking out. I'm the person you want to have around in a crisis--say, if you chop your fingers off, or the plane is maybe about to burst into flame, or the dog's ear medication dripped out onto your signed first edition of an early Didion novel. (True story, that last one.) Those "outer" crises I can handle. The smaller, internal things I have trouble with.
Take this, for example. I had two wisdom teeth extracted about three months ago. The dentist told me that it's not uncommon for tiny shards of tooth or bone, which are broken during the extraction process, to become embedded in the gums and, over time, work their way out naturally. "Sorry, I know it's painful," he said. It was indeed painful. A piece of bone about the size of a flea was enough to send the entire right side of my face into dull, painful tension, which worsened throughout the day. Don't get this, I kept telling everyone.
By the third day of pain, the night before the appointment to get this checked out, I had gone mad. I began considering that perhaps, since the tiny bit of bone was in such a strange place, nearly impossible to feel with your finger, and completely impossible to see in the mirror, I had convinced myself that the dentist would need to cut through the outside of my face to get to the jawbone inside. I really believed this was something I should worry about.
Then a friend called me this week and asked me to talk him down. He'd done something he regretted, and needed me to tell him it was okay. Or, perhaps more correctly, needed someone to tell him that what he'd done was indeed worth regretting. (It was.) Essentially he was dealing with a set of unknowns, and had inflated them to disastrous proportions. Here we are again, I kept thinking. Our inability to deal with the situation leads us to complicate and mountainize--is that a word?--something actually quite simple, particularly when the data is few, vague, or inexistent. We begin to doubt everything.
That's what I'm trying to get to here: how to talk to yourself in times of crisis. The thing is, I don't have any wisdom to impart. I don't know any techniques for curbing the insanity. I just had the opportunity to work myself up into a ridiculous lather only to learn that it was, well, ridiculous. I wrote a line once: "I don't know what I want, I only know what I don't want." I think it's true. I don't know how to fix it, I only know I don't want to do it again.