That’s Gonna Leave a Mark

I run into stuff. Doorframes, mostly, but sometimes walls, the corners of my bedframe, counters, car mirrors.

Last night, I ran into the sliding glass exit door at Walmart. The door was open, mind you—just not quite open enough for me and my lost-in-thought-ness to make it through. And I didn’t just bump the door, either. I hit it hard enough to knock it off its track. I didn’t register what I’d done until I was halfway to my car, and there was no way I was going back in, because, well, that would’ve been an awkward conversation:

Hi ‘scuse me. Hey, ummm, your door’s broken. No, don’t thank me for telling you. Why? Well, because I’m the one who broke it. You see, I didn’t quite clear it. Yes, I know it’s six feet wide. No, I’m not kidding. Yes, you’re understanding correctly: I broke your door with my right shoulder. Yes, yes you’re right: That’s pro’ly gonna leave a mark.

I find a new bruise somewhere on my person at least once each week, and often in the most unlikely of places: the back of my left knee, the top of my left foot, the inside of my right forearm. I’m not aware of the new mark  until it hurts, at which point I look down to discover a rorschach-ish bloom of purple or yellow-green: “Huh. I wonder where the heck that came from.”

It’s not just physical bruises I discover. I often—more often than I care to admit—respond with horrifying immaturity to the slightest of slights, and then once I’ve settled down, I think, “Whoa. Where the heck did that come from?”

A counselor-friend and I used to joke about how much easier relationships would be if we all wore Yuck Tags:



Maybe we’d be more gentle with one another if we had a clue where one another’s pressure points are. Maybe we’d be more gentle with ourselves.

Of course, there’s a difference between gentleness and excuse-making.

Before I go on, please remember that I have empathy oozing from my pores. I can explain away anyone’s lousy attitude and actions with a quick exploration of their situation—current or past. I am not prone to tell people, “Just get over it.” In fact, I’m of the opinion that “Get over it,” is one of the most hurtful, disrespectful, dismissive combinations of words in the English language.

However, if I lose my mind in a situation that can be traced back to whatever’s written on my Yuck Tag(s), it’s not your responsibility to apologize to me, anymore than it’s Walmart’s responsibility to apologize for that sliding glass door. (Unless you’re one of those people who intentionally push buttons, in which case, you do get to apologize–on your way to therapy, please. But I digress.)

Okay, I’m circling the airport here, so let me land the plane:

  1. We all have Yuck. (If you don’t think you have Yuck, that’s your Yuck.)
  2. It’s our responsibility to know our own Yuck and how it manifests in our daily life.
  3. It’s helpful if we’re honest about our Yuck and make sure the people around us know our pressure points. We have to be willing to be known.
  4. We get to apologize when we lose our mind in a Yuck-related situation.

But wait . . . there’s more:

  1. Other people have Yuck, too.
  2. When they lose their minds, we do not get to just write them off as as . . . jerks. Instead, we get to ask, gently and without attack, “Whoa! Where’d that come from?”
  3. And then we get to listen.
  4. And then we get to say, “Well, that sucks” or maybe even, “Me too.”
  5. We do not get to say, “Get over it.”
  6. Some people, because of their Yuck, behave like tantrumy four-year-olds. They are not our responsibility. We can work hard not to intentionally push their buttons. We can care about them—even love them—but we do not have to fix them. Nor do we get to try.

So, wanna know my Yuck Tags? I have a lot, and I’m aware of most of them (I hope). Here’s one that’s on my mind today:

When my eldest daughter (now a freshman in college) was 14 years old, she wanted to die. That’s really her story to tell, so I won’t go into details, but here’s what that means in terms of my Yuck: I do not respond well to the finger gun or to phrases like, “Shoot me now” and “Just kill me.” I will not be courageous enough to confront you about it, because I have a deep fear of being thought of as a self-righteous know-it-all. I’ll still love you; I’ll just be less-inclined to want to be around you.

Normally, I’d end a post like this with a simple, “So? How ’bout you? What’s on your Yuck Tag?” That seems too terribly personal, though. Just know that when we’re in the same room together and you lose your mind, I won’t be judging you. I’ll just be wondering what’s on your tag.

Inspiration and Anger


I remember the first time I saw Wicked. My girls were out of town, and I was sitting at home on a Friday afternoon trying to put together some sort of Wonderful Night Out for Jack and me. At that time, I didn’t fully comprehend his lack of interest in all things performing arts (or maybe I did, and I was feeling selfish), so I dropped $120 on last-minute tickets, and off we went.

Long story short: At some point during Act One, I realized Jack was sleeping. I, on the other hand, was sitting rigid in my chair and had tears streaming down my face—and not from happiness. No, I was pissed. Not at Jack for falling asleep and certainly not because of the story line. Nope. I was absolutely livid at the performers for having the audacity to be so ridiculously talented. It’s not fair, I thought. Over and over again.

It’s okay: It doesn’t make any sense to me, either. But sensical or not, it happens every time I see a live theater performance: West Side Story at The Muny, Movin’ Out at The Fox, Assassins at the Ivory Theater, the Modern American Dance Company at The Touhill, the freaking St. Louis Symphony at Powell Hall. I get so angry.

I have this theory that anger is only a manifestation of a deeper, underlying emotion. It doesn’t take three, $120 sessions on a couch to figure out what my deal is: It’s envy. Of course it is. It’s Obsessive Comparison Disorder (I stole that; I’m not that clever), and it goes something like this:

“I’ll never be able to do that. I could’ve, if I’d been disciplined, but now it’s too late. And I probably wouldn’t have actually made it anyway, because I really wasn’t all that great. Certainly not as good as those jerks on stage. And even if I had made it, I would’ve ended up in opera, anyway, not Stomp, so it doesn’t matter, but it matters so much and it’s just not fair that some people have all this talent and they get to do that for a living. Not me, though. Nope, I’m just watching someone do something I’ve always wanted to do. And oh my gosh her voice is so crystal clear and controlled I just want to choke her.”

(The part about choking goes away quickly because violence is wrong.)

And you know what’s absurd? (Because up to this point, it hasn’t been?) I didn’t really even want to go into the performing arts. I don’t regret not going off to New York to try to make it. I really can’t fathom performing the same show over and over and over again. But it doesn’t matter if I want to. The point is I can’t, and I don’t like that word even a little bit.

Oh, but it gets better, friends. It extends beyond performing arts and into things like, ooooh, biomedical engineering. I watched this video this morning and cried because of its wonderfulness, yes, but mostly cried because I’m so mad at that kid for being so smart and so generous and grrr he’s using more than his fair share of intelligence and creativity and it’s just.not.right.

Yes, you guys, I realize this is the dumbest thing ever, ever, ever. 

It may make more sense that this happens to me when I’m reading. John Irving infuriates me. Those Canadian women? Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood?  Hate them. (Love them.) Hate them. Ann Patchett. Jhumpha Lahiri. Dave Eggers. Anne Lammott. Nearly anyone who’s ever been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories. And, for the love of all that’s good and right, don’t come within 100 yards of me if I’m just finished reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Light is Like Water” (the most beautiful short fiction piece I’ve ever experienced), or you will see angst like you never knew existed.

Talent should inspire me, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t I have unicorns leaping over rainbows in my right hemisphere, pooping out turns of phrase and brilliant metaphors? Well, that’s not what happens. Instead, gargoyles emerge from my amygdala, flatten the unicorns, and grab me by the elbow: “Run, Kelley. You’ll never be that good. There’s no point fighting for it.”

Stupid talented people. I can’t stand them.

I love them.

Me Too

CS Lewis said a lot of beautiful things, but this is one of my favorites:

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another:
‘What! You too! I thought I was the only one.'”

I don’t have many friends. Now, don’t go feeling sorry for me; it’s by choice, really. (I think, anyway. Maybe I’m just in denial.) I’ve moved around a lot (until my recent entombment in suburbia), and it’s exhausting to start all over again in a new place. I’m also horrible at small talk and more than a little shy—characteristics which land me squarely in Camp Socially Awkward.

While I have few friendships, the ones I have are fierce. And they all began with one of us making some sort of quirky confession and the other of us saying, with enthusiasm just this side of teenage-girl-at-a-One-Direction-concert, “OH MY GOSH ME TOO!”

Now, combine that CS Lewis quote with another I’ve seen floating around the interwebs:

“The reason we’re insecure is that we compare our behind-the-scenes
with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

I recently confessed to my favorite friend that my master bathroom is often a disaster. I mean disaster. I’ll put it this way: On most days, if you were a guest in my home and the only available bathroom were that one, I’d drive you to Quiktrip. “Me too!” she responded.

Since I work for a church and do some public speaking, people seem to think I have my stuff together. Well, I don’t. And because I’m an authenticity junkie, I figure you should see some of the mess. And so, I present to you 10 un-highlight-reel-ish things about me:

  1. I don’t pluck my unibrow. I shave it. (What? It’s faster.)
  2. I cuss. Not a whole, whole lot. Not even just one whole lot. But I do.
  3. Entire weeks can go by without me having eaten a single vegetable.
  4. My public, outward appearance is manufactured to a certain degree: I straighten my hair every day, and I won’t leave the house without my eyes on.
  5. I divorced a pastor.
  6. I’m taking an anti-depressant.
  7. I’m addicted to books. Not reading them: Owning them. I’ve spent an absurd amount of money on books I could’ve—should’ve—borrowed. Need numbers? Okay: At the moment, I own 56 books I’ve not yet read. I bought six of them in the last week.
  8. I’m in a little debt. And by “a little,” I mean, “lots of.”
  9. If I see someone in public whom I know, I’ll often avoid them. It’s (usually) not because I don’t like the person; it’s because I have an agenda, and that person isn’t on it. (Wow, that sounds mean. I’m just task-oriented.)
  10. I still like Alanis Morissette’s music.

Double-dog dare you to make your own list in the comments.