On the Value of Histrionics

Y’know what drives me nuts about peaceful people?

All that peace, that’s what.

Look, I love peaceful people as much as the next guy. I love being around peaceful people, love being peaceful with peaceful people, love trying to become a peaceful person as much as I can. I love it when people tell me that I’m a peaceful person, or that talking with me or reading my blog has made them a more peaceful person.

But here’s the thing: there’s no light without a little darkness. Yes, I truly believe that there are people who are truly placid and calm all the time, who are unruffled by the little things that pop up during the day, who can stare down the face of unadulterated chaos and say “Aww, who’s a feisty widdle windstorm?”. There are folks for whom a good cup of tea and some time spent in contemplation and centering is all they need to get their day back on track. To those folks, I say “You rock”.

I am not one of those folks.

While it is frequently the case that I too can sit down with a warm beverage and some thoughts about light and peace and love, and thereby bring myself back into a place of acceptance and gentle courage, it is also frequently true that I need to let off a little steam.

And for that, I use the Five-Minute Full-Tilt Freakout.

It’s interesting to me to note that modern society seems to have a bizarre hypocrisy about hysterical tantrums: as far as I can tell, it’s totally acceptable–expected, almost–for Other People to have meltdowns. Celebrities are supposed to lose their minds occasionally; and under the cover of anonymity, Other People are supposed to be startlingly uncivil online. But we as individuals–I personally, you personally, that guy over there personally–are supposed to stay totally chill at all times. We’re not supposed to raise our voices. We’re not supposed to lose our minds. Even when the entire world has stacked all its decks against you and is standing there with a smug, “Now what, har-de-har?” look on its face, even then we’re supposed to do cliched things with our bootstraps and soldier on, undaunted and with infinite poise.

To that, I say “phooey”. (Unrelated side note: my spellcheck just flipped out at the word “Ptooey”, which I had originally written, but is apparently totally fine with “phooey”. It also doesn’t recognize “spellcheck”, which I think we can all agree is a little ironic.)

Own your histrionics, by gosh! Give yourself permission to meet the onrushing storm with less than perfect calm! Be graceless and entirely flappable and frankly unpleasant!

Just do it in a controlled sort of way. Hence the Five-Minute Full-Tilt Freakout, which works as follows:

  • 1. Set a timer. I recommend using the alarm clock feature on your phone, because that way you can hit “snooze” and keep going if you need to.
  • 2. Control your space. “In your bedroom, door closed, pillow firmly over the face” is usually a good one–it minimizes the chance that the neighbors will think you’re being brutally murdered or that your kids will accidentally think you’re yelling at them.
  • 3. Scream, shriek, wail, drum your heels, pound your fists, and say everything–and I mean everything–that’s on your mind. Do not self-censor! This is not the time to be polite. This is not the time to be clear and concise. This is the time to let out everything that is in your brain, regardless of whether it’s reasonable, actionable, sane, or even recognizable human speech. Use as many Inappropriate for Tea With the Queen words as you can fit in there, too–those words exist because sometimes we need something a little stronger than “I am feeling disappointed by your choices right now”, so by golly, use ’em! Sample script: “OH MY GOD IT IS ALL SO BAD AND I AM HATE IT FOREVER BECAUSE OF ALL THE BAD AND THE AWFUL AND WHY GOD WHY MUST BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO ME ALL THE TIME AND IT IS ALL FULL OF SUCK AND AWFUL AND TERRIBLE AND GAAAAAAAAAAAAAH”.
  • 4. When the timer goes off, let out one final banshee wail and be done with it. Go clean yourself up–I find the patting-the-hair-back-into-place part is especially enjoyable if done with an ironic smirk–and straighten your clothes and fluff the pillow and put it back into place, then fling open the bedroom door with your best “Oh, hello, Mr. President, I had no idea you’d be stopping by. May I offer you some tea?” expression.

I usually find that somewhere around the third minute of this process, the dogs and cats are looking at me strangely and I am running out of things to say. I mean, somewhere around the thought, “Hmm, what’s another word for ‘hate this so much’?”, it starts getting pretty funny. And I can’t usually make it the full five minutes–I just run out of steam.

But the point of the exercise is that you are actively choosing to give yourself permission to be radically imperfect, and a safe space in which to do so. Ain’t nobody gonna judge you in Pillowland, honeychild, and ain’t nobody gonna come behind you with a red pen, checking your grammar. And in Pillowland there are no consequences–you can’t hurt anyone’s feelings if they can’t hear you saying the things you don’t really mean anyway, and nobody’s going to track you down for making completely impossible threats against other human beings (“IF I HAD AN ALIEN DEATH RAY OH MY GOD I WOULD ZAP YOU SO HARD YOU HAVE NO IDEA!”). In Pillowland it’s ok to be ridiculous. It’s ok to be utterly, utterly flawed. Technically speaking it’s ok to be ridiculous and utterly flawed in real life, too, but really, who can remember that when we’re feeling all pent-up and tense and this close to snapping?

So the next time you’re having One of Those Days, maybe give the Five-Minute Full-Tilt Freakout a try. It’s ok–we’ll all still love you when you come back. I promise.

Sometimes you just need to register your complaints with the Cosmic Complaints Department. In full caps. With boldface.

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