Thanks to climate change, we’ve gone from light snow to heavy shvitzing in the space of a couple of weeks. For some of you, this shift comes as a relief: you missed the opportunity for a thorough spring cleaning (unless you managed to do it during spring, which this year fell between the hours of 9 am and noon last Tuesday). The more organized and efficient among us, however, are now scrambling to clean up the messes the endless winter has left behind. Some of this work is relatively easy: you swap out the space heaters for the window fans; you stack the winter coats in plastic bins and set them on top of the bins of Barbies and Legos; you pull out the flip-flops from beneath the boots and set them on top of them again, in a footwear version of that slap-hands game that nobody ever really wins.
But some messes defy easy fixes, like your son’s six trillion Magic cards that blow lightly about his room when the AC is running, or all the hurt and resentment you collected over the various winter gift-giving occasions and holiday parties that is still drifting about your heart and making it difficult to dust.
While I don’t have the perfect solution to the Magic card problem (oh, you think it’s easy? Remember: they’re Magic cards, which means that as soon as you put them in a box, they multiply, until the box groans with the effort to contain them and they start slithering out from the seams), I am happy to pass along some of my Professional Know-It-All wisdom about how to tackle the problem of gathering all your psychic injuries and storing them in accessible containers so that they don’t interfere with your daily life, yet are effortlessly recovered the moment you need them for your next stewing session, festive pity party, nervous breakdown, or any other activity that is best fueled by a piece or two of dried angst.
As with any storage project, of course, the best way to begin is by Sorting:
First, let’s crawl into your heart and take a good hard look around the pain room (it’s that cavernous place just to the left of the love closet). Open your eyes wide, to let in as much light as you can. Once you do, you’ll probably notice that there’s a lot of pain just below the stuff you accumulated over the winter; in fact, unless you are extremely emotionally tidy, there are going to be layers and layers of lumpy, caked-on injury just below the surface. Why not seize the opportunity to organize all of it?
It’s easier than you think!
First, drag out all the hurt in your heart and set it into piles. You can organize the piles by Date (Childhood Pain; Teenaged Wounds; Shitty Boyfriends; Performance Reviews; Literary Rejections; Marriage [various]; and so on), by Size (Ouch; NoNoNoNoNO; Oh My God, OUCH; The Anguished Screams of Farm Boy/Dread Pirate Roberts when Prince Humperdink Cranks the Torture Device to “Death”; etc.) or by Type (Rejection; Exclusion; Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth; Accidental infliction; Deliberate Infliction of Emotional Distress; Fallout From a Previous Relationship; et al.).
Once you’ve assembled all your piles of pain, you can more easily determine which injuries you’d like to hang on to and which ones you’re probably better off jettisoning, either by 1) Donating them or 2) Tossing them out. Let’s start with the latter two, since getting rid of your hurt entirely is not only the swiftest step toward achieving a fresh, sparkling heart, but it creates tons of space for all the future psychic injuries you’ll be acquiring before you even register the next twist of the knife!
In times of plenty, it is almost never a bad idea to share the wealth, particularly with those in need. Perhaps you know someone who could really use a good slap in the face, or maybe a fine comeuppance; is it too much to ask that you throw a couple of mortal insults from someone you once loved into a Hefty bag and drop them (anonymously, of course) on his or her doorstep?
Or say that you have so much self-loathing that you can barely pass a mirror without flipping yourself off, while others are unable to post on Facebook without adding the words “Yay me!” to the end of every sentence. Quit being so selfish! Clearly, those Facebook friends have as yet to receive the sort of treatment that triggered your own low self-esteem. Consider reaching deeply into your pile of Literary Rejections, freshening one or two of them up, and posting them as replies! (Example: “Due to the extreme volume of posts about completing a two-mile run in one and a half hours, we regret that we cannot individually respond to your status at this time.”)
Whatever you do, though, try not to hand your pain down to your children. If they’re anything like you, they probably have more than enough of their own already, and they’re never going to fully appreciate what your pain meant to you when you first took it on. If you’re hell-bent on preserving your pain for the next generation, then do everyone a favor and put it in a memoir, because no one ever really reads that shit, even if they say they did.
(Note: go ahead and take all your residual pain about your writing and put it back in the storage pile. Apparently, you still need to hang on to it.)
Sadly, some of your emotional injuries are so old or worn or specific to your circumstance that they’re of little use to others, no matter how needy those others might be. For example, look in your Childhood Pain pile at that time in middle school when you wore a maxi-skirt, floppy hat, and platform shoes, and that mean girl asked you who you thought you were, Miss America or something? Do you remember thinking: but wait, Miss America contestants don’t dress like this, do they? Of course you do. So you knew, even back then, that this was a lame and possibly misguided insult, and yet here you are remembering it, nearly forty years later. It’s the sort of psychic injury that, while pervasive, is never really going to fit anybody else, and so if you try to pass it along it will just get bundled with a bunch of misspelled t-shirts and sent off to Africa, where they don’t even have a Miss America contest, because it’s Africa. This is the sort of hurt you can safely throw out, without worrying that you’re wasting something of value.
Equally important to toss are the emotional wounds that no one ever intended you to have. Look in that pile of Accidentally Inflicted angst: were you supposed to get upset about the fact that your husband wore a stained shirt to your birthday dinner? Of course not! It meant absolutely nothing! Even though you do the laundry every fucking fifteen minutes or so, which makes it incredibly hard to even find a stained shirt to put on, this was, clearly, an honest mistake. You just take that particular injury and toss it straight into—
Wait, what? Your husband should have known that stain was on the shirt, since it was right there, in the front, where everybody could see it?
Now, now, remember that not everyone could see it. Like the people at the back of the restaurant, by the bathroom, or people who forgot their glasses. Or the people who weren’t even at the restaurant that night, which was, like, maybe seven or twelve.
Also: blind people. So, truly, it was no big deal. He probably didn’t even know it was there!
Although, theoretically, it is possible that he knew about the stain and wore the shirt anyway. I mean, it’s possible that he wore the stained shirt because he hates going to expensive chain restaurants, and this was his little protest, or something. But so what? Big whoop! You protested Apartheid in the 80’s, remember?
Of course, it’s always possible that he wore it because he didn’t think your birthday was that big of a deal or something, if that’s the way he dressed to celebrate it.
Ha ha, just kidding! But this reminds me of an important sorting point: sometimes, you have to move your injuries from one pile (“Accidental”) to another (“Deliberate Infliction of Emotional Distress”), once they’ve been closely examined.
Once you’ve tossed, donated, or relabeled as much of your old heartache as you can, it’s time to figure out where to put the stuff that remains. Which brings, us, finally, to the question of Storage.
But first, a word of caution: the thing about pain is that it has a liquid state as well as a gaseous one, and, depending upon the climate of the storage area, can even manifest as a solid (if you store it in your throat, for example, it often becomes a lump). In fact, really powerful psychic injuries can occasionally even come to life, and make you appear to be a petty little swearing person who keeps bringing up the same old injury, over and over and over again, even though you are actually just some sad little skin suit your pain is wearing.
In other words, the really perfect container for every single pain simply doesn’t exist: if you poke holes in the box for the living, breathing form your hurt might take, the pain will turn into tears, and soak all the Barbies and Legos you’ve stored below.
Thus, it’s important to remember that most of the following suggestions will only work for some of the forms your hurt might take. The trick is to try to anticipate which injury will become what, and select a vessel that is most likely to control for that variable. You may even want to combine some of the storage devices for the really rough stuff (example: for marital pain, you should probably create a sort of nesting doll of containers, because that shit often morphs, and always leaks).
Useful Storage Devices for Your Pain:
- A Sturdy Mental Filing Cabinet. Make sure you label your files by perpetrator as well as pain, so in the unlikely event that you hurt someone else, you can quickly flip to the harm that person has done to you, and pull it out and wave it, triumphantly, around.
- Shopping Bags from Expensive Stores. In order to get these, of course, you will need to go shopping, first. And buy things, preferably on someone else’s dime. Probably a lot of things, if you want to get big enough bags. Be sure to buy things you don’t really need, but that look so incredibly cute on you that you can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to hurt you again.
- Your Computer. This device not only allows you to store your pain so you don’t have to carry it with you, but it creates excellent opportunities for you to transform it (for example, you could write a short story about it, and turn your pain into “fiction,” or maybe a blog post, in which you disguise your pain as “advice”). Caveat: remember, though, that mostly no one will read this stuff, and so you might be creating new pain even as you store the old. See “Sorting,” above.
- Bottles of alcohol. Perfect for storing now and sharing later, though it’s true that pain, like hope, floats. Thus, you’ll need to drink a lot of that alcohol down before you can put anything else in the bottle. Vodka is preferable, but sometimes you need something hard and nasty, like cooking sherry, or maybe some of that Slivovitz from Passover, to really let the pain sink in before you bottle it up.
- Your iPod. As with alcohol, storing your pain in this requires you to first empty some of the contents out, but this can be a win/win. Does your spine ache from hunching over your computer, sobbing while you write that “This is why you suck” email? Get up and do an angry dance while you release some of your songs! Good choices: Lily Allen’s “Fuck You” (Look inside/Look inside your tiny mind), or Florence & the Machine’s “Shake it Out” (and I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind/I can never leave the past behind).
- Bottles of Cleaning Solution. Again, you will have to contract in order to expand, but here the payoff is immediate and obvious, and sometimes you even release some of your hurt while you’re spritzing the 409 around.
- Make Yourself Bigger. This allows you to more easily contain the hurt if you can’t find anywhere else to store it. You can do this literally, via gummy bears or chocolate, or maybe pizza. Or you can do this metaphorically, by becoming an emotionally bigger person. This, in turn, will allow you to fill up with other, more useful emotions, like empathy and forgiveness, which are naturally so expansive that they tend to squish the nastier ones out.
- A Low, Flat Box. Ultimately, this can be the best storage device for pain, because, when you find yourself hunting down your winter coat in mid-June and you stumble upon it, you can, as they say, get over it. And move on.