Thursday, September 22, 2016

Giving Safe Spaces the Middle Finger, Therapeutically

I've had a hard time getting my head around the 'safe spaces' concept. I consider myself a ladylike person, which is a kind of safe space that you keep in your mind and radiate, and a person with respect for manners and politeness, so the advice I'm about to offer may seem out of character. And I offer this just as something to consider, while you're in your safe space, if you feel like considering someday facing a world teeming with dangerous fellow creatures who are actually alive in front of you and not on digital screens which will disappear with the flick of a finger.

I think this advice might be useful, because in the bad old days of my youth, we were not able to do most of the things we enjoyed doing without encountering many people who triggered all kinds of scary feelings, making the timid among us long to go home and shut the door. But, you see, that was the problem. In order to escape those feelings, we had to go home and be alone with our sofa, a book and a cat. After a very short while, say five or ten years, this got very dull. It then became necessary to venture out amongst 'em again. Eventually, by watching others of our species interact, we developed strategies to quell those butterflies in the stomach caused by large, hairy, sweaty men pushing against one on a crowded bus. We also figured out ways to lessen that awful 'please let me melt into the ground' feeling we got when someone walking by us on the street stared at us with unconcealed hostility. This type of fixed, hostile glare made us search our minds trying to figure out what horrible crime we'd committed to cause such a blistering reception. Was it our outfit, mode of dress, hair style, facial expression, eye shadow or our whole being and entire person that was unforgivably REPULSIVE AND HIDEOUS? It takes time, but these feelings can be overcome. Read on.

Think about this punishing existence from the safety of your big screen TV room. Merely seeing a popular movie required more intestinal fortitude than going to the dentist does today. Try to put yourself in the shoes of my generation as we waited in line to see some film, say LAST TANGO IN PARIS with Marlon Brando. First of all, you had to appear as if you were seeing this film for purely intellectual satisfaction alone. Whatever Brando did to that naked girl in the bathtub was artistic and profoundly shocking for a noble purpose. But, you did want to see it, just like everybody else, and so you had to line up because once it had left the theater, it was gone forever. No DVD's and LAST TANGO certainly would NEVER EVER be on TV. Hell would freeze over first. Oh, how very wrong we were about so much back then.

So, anyway, we had to go out into a public space to see a movie in a theater. You could go alone and feel like a total reject on any given night, but especially date nights. You could dress for the solo date in something nondescript and sloppy, let your shoulders slump, wear no make up, and not wash your hair.  This look would evoke pity and make people look the other way. But, you'd be surrounded by happy couples, and let me tell you nothing triggers a person's worst feelings of rejection like happy couples, laughing too loudly, smiling, cooing at each other and all that kissy face. Oh man, basically, I either felt like crawling into a hole or shoving a bag of popcorn in their faces. But the worst was running into a happy couple you knew. That was the end. No safe space could save you except some dark coffin. Your life was and ever would be hopeless from then on. Of course, you could try to find someone to go with who wasn't going to be an embarrassment. Or a girlfriend. But all the other girls who didn't have dates would never admit it. Not in my day.

And this all happened before you entered the theater. The inside of a movie theater was a positive cacophony of triggers. Loud talking, louder shushing, ensuing arguments and then the trading of insulting phrases, possibly involving the audience taking sides and MORE LOUD AND ANGRIER SHUSHING. Yeah, count your blessings that you can see a popular movie today in splendid comfort at home with the cell phone turned off. If we took our home phones off the hook so as not to be disturbed at home while watching something halfway decent on TV, the receiver buzzed louder and louder till it went dead. Ma Bell, as we referred to our fantastically expensive phone service back then, was very strict. It was her way or the highway.

But you cannot imagine how distracting it is to watch a movie sitting beside some stranger whose digestive functions had been triggered by their dinner with resulting sound effects and odors. Then there were the popcorn munchers chewing with their mouths open, the non stop candy wrappers crackling just at the emotionally powerful but very quiet moment, the smoochers whose endless lip smacking never failed to cause someone to suggest that they rent a room, and little old ladies who were a bit hard of hearing and just loved loudly commenting to each other about on every shocking detail. PLEASE STOP TALKING!! Well, I never, young woman.

Don't forget children. At most movie theaters, you'd like to forget children, but movies were cheap in those days, cool in the summer when air conditioning was a luxury only the rich could afford, and a great way to entertain the kids while taking a load off the feet. Ah, children and movie theaters. Think of the gum, the dropped toy that had to be found in the dark, the talking and the questions asked in loud voices. And when it comes to triggers, OMG, no one triggers so relentlessly as children. And they never say those terribly hurtful things in a QUIET voice. Oh no. When some unfortunately tall and slow moving man gets up to go to the men's room, Johnny shrieks making the funniest joke his six year mind can conceive of. "Look, Mom, there goes Frankenstein! Watch out for Frankenstein, everybody," followed by loud laughter from all your small guests to annoy the entire audience. Or, some poor woman trying to step over your seats on the way to the ladies room,  "Mom! That woman stuck her butt in my face. Watch out! Your butt's too big." It takes many years for a child to fully grasp the line between self expression and things that might hurt someone's feelings. Good manners, we used to call it.

The sad fact of life in my day was that very few pleasures were attainable without risking being offended, hurt, triggered and emotionally destroyed. But, that being the case, we developed ways to cope with this unfortunate fact of life called other people. Ignoring was always a reliable method, especially if you could look very haughty. An icy, uninterrupted glance often worked wonders. Many seemingly invincible bores and insufferable big mouths are surprising cowards when faced with the icy stare.

But the most satisfying practice in the self preservation kit is the loudly voiced insult embellished by a deeply felt gesture. This I learned when I became a true New Yorker, a city where nothing and no one passes without scathing comment. In New York it is not possible to obtain a coffee without encountering at least fifty people on the sidewalk. They will be freely expressing their opinions on everything without regard for anyone's feelings. There is no escape. You must learn to stand your ground or brew your own and spend a lifetime with your cat.

Having grown up in New Jersey, where half the fun of going somewhere by car is constantly honking at everyone in front of you, I discovered how thrilling the middle finger accompanied by the standard F U could be, so I was not unfamiliar with standing my ground. But the old F U said from the safety of your car is only a preparation for the true joy of the person to person shouting match.

New York taught me the joys and human necessity of occasionally sounding off at someone who seemed to need it. This was not a common occurrence, say, not more than once a month. Usually the icy stare, haughty look or ignoring was sufficient to shut the fool up. BUT. THERE. ARE. TIMES. For instance, when it is rush hour and you must get a cab to make it to your next job. You manage to spot a free cab, hail his attention to get him to pull over to your curb. But just as you open the door to get in, someone races from across the street and jumps in the other side. At this point, if you appeal to the driver as referee, and he shrugs, you are free to begin, without shouting. "Excuse me this is my cab. I hailed it, so please get out." If that doesn't work, size up the nature of the intruder. Some are humble and polite, pleading a sick grandmother. Women generally tried this ploy. Men were more easily intimidated in my day because chivalry still lurked somewhere in the back of their minds and they felt that taking a cab from the weaker of the species was beneath their dignity. That kind of manly behavior has gone the way of the Dodo bird. But there were sometimes fresh, nasty men. These were fair game and once again, like all cowards, surprisingly easy to rout.

I always began by swearing like a sailor, as loudly as possible with all the insulting gestures I knew. This was done to shock them and let them know that there was side of womanhood they'd always suspected, but had never before encountered that was so fiendishly evil that well, you leave the rest to their imaginations. A well heeled, intelligent woman who can unleash a stream of profanity at a man is so unnerving that he will be convinced he's in the presence of a lunatic. And it just isn't worth it. Even the cab driver will pale if you know enough swear words and hurl enough wild insults. "Lady, please, I've got a wife and kids.' Usually the taxi thief will say something like, 'Boy, you are really crazy. You should see as psychiatrist." This is the loser's line and they will retreat, usually rather quickly.

It's my experience that the F word said many times as loudly as possible with random other words and descriptions of their attire, their mother etc, thrown in for effect, while defending your right to possession of the cab, and executing the under chin FU gesture of fingers flicking outward with a big sneer is very effective. If you're a person who is easily triggered, you actually have an added advantage because you are highly emotional. Throwing a big wallop of emotion into almost anything you say doubles or even triples its effectiveness. Ride the emotional wave, it will swamp all boats.

The most fun part of the exchange is what spontaneously comes out of your mouth as you in a state of high dudgeon confront the offender. "Get out of my way, you blubberpuss and take your pretty little purple shoes with you before I spit on them." Yeah. It's such fun. And I've never been able to spit worth a Sh** in my life. But it sounds so good and feels so good to say that kind stuff in the heat of the moment. 

I believe the person to person shouting match of insults to be one of the finest experiences a person can have. It's part of what make life livable in crowded places, and I love crowded places as much as I love solitude. The louder and more insulting the better, and, in my experience, the less likely to lead to violence. Perhaps it's like those gorillas beating their chests. But I can tell you nothing feels better than just letting it all out, even if you lose the cab or whatever, at least you've had your say and that is such a delicious feeling that it makes up for everything. It actually makes the possibility of encountering triggers when you leave your safe space and your cat an experience you will look forward to with relish. Yes, you will feel the adrenaline rush and might get a bit shaky about the knees, but the sweet sensation of yelling swear words at someone who so richly deserves them makes it all worthwhile and is so gratifying. You yourself have meted out a just punishment that will give someone something to think about.

There are some things in life that are unpleasant to learn how to do and this is one of them. It's like learning to play the cello, for instance. Just ask my son who now says my making him stick with his cello was the best thing I ever did for him. The moutho a moutho shouting match is another such experience. Hard to do well, tiresome to practice, upsetting when you hit so many wrong notes in the beginning, but a truly rare pleasure once you've mastered it. I live in a very quiet town now, where no one ever honks at me, even when I deserve it. How sweetly I remember my days in the thick of it trading insults with the best of them.

How tempting and easy it is today to stay in your safe space, but take my advice; shake yourself up a bit, learn to yell and shoot the middle finger, it's just like playing the cello, loud, throbbing, tremulous and very satisfying. Once you let fly face to face with an F U and up your ass tight stupid pants, you will be a new person and able to venture out into the face of the most withering trigger situations sporting a new élan that will positively astonish you and all your acquaintances.


  1. So true!
    A smile is free and beautiful, giving the finger is free and sincere.

  2. You're right about the smile, which I should have thought of. Interaction works both ways. A smile from a stranger as you share the sidewalk or subway is an awfully nice reward. Thanks for the great comment