The book I am reading about mindfulness says that when I have a bad feeling I should say, “I see you bad feeling, I hear you, and I send you away.” It works, for about twelve seconds. It works, because for twelve seconds I am imagining myself as a hot librarian, telling a gray demon to be quiet; it works because I imagine myself, hands on my hips, sending it spinning away through a dark alley. I am wearing high heels and it is knocking the metal lid off a trash can as it scrambles away. Then I am back at my desk and the sour knot in my stomach has returned. It takes more than twelve seconds to become a hot librarian, and it will probably take more than one book on mindfulness to eliminate my anxiety. In the meantime, I am collecting these tips and developing some of my own.
Last night we were watching a totally horrible television show about vampires. One of the vampires, who is evil, chained up a human man so that he could drink his blood. The guy is shaking and shivering and begging for his life in a pair of white underpants. His abs ripple and quiver as the vampire drags him by his neck to the torture device he has rigged for the purpose of drinking blood. The camera zooms in on the actor’s face as he prepares to die. The actor turns a pale shade of gray. Amy, who especially does not like torture, shrieked, and covered her eyes. The scene could have been gruesome but I had little sympathy for the character, since I had not been paying attention to the plot. To me, this man was just another ambitious young actor calling his mother at the end of a long week. “Mom, I got a part,” he’d say, breathlessly. “Sweetheart, that’s great!” She’d say, asking too many questions about the hours, the pay, the possibility of more work. Then it is finally Sunday night and she waits patiently for the commercials to end. “Get back in here,” she yells, calling for the father to return to the den with the popcorn bowl. “Here he comes,” she says, leaning forward to watch her only son writhe and beg in in his white underpants. “Isn’t he wonderful?”
There you have one type of imagination, helpfully replaced by another. I often forget that my imagination is a tool, waiting at the ready. Usually it takes off on its own, shading over reality with dark markers, staging dramatic scenes of unrest, building never-ending hallways that I crawl through in my dreams. But then in the morning, at my desk, it’s easy enough to make a new scene if I remember. I get up for a glass of water and decide to walk toe-heel to the kitchen. Suddenly I am a modern dancer, serious in my own step, ridiculous in my own kitchen, and then I can laugh even though I am in here all alone.