January has been a real test. I’m settling into a new job and I won’t lie—the learning curve momentarily took my moxie away. A new operating system, new software, a new type of business, and a tiny keyboard had me wondering if there was something wrong with my brain. But I rallied and have recovered my stride.
So far there is no drama associated with my new gig and I aim to keep it that way. When I mentioned this at the Country Farm and Home counter the other day, paying for bird seed and wheat straw, a customer behind me snickered. I turned and we both laughed. “As if!” she said. “Yeah, right?!” I blurted, enjoying the moment, and then in my signature off-the-cuff way I said, “Drama happens everywhere if you stick around long enough. It builds up like plaque!”
It occurs to me I’m not even sure what the word drama means so I start asking around. One bright young woman defines it as “Things that make you suck in your breath real quick.” The dictionary defines drama as: Any situation or series of events having vivid, emotional, conflicting, or striking interest or results.” Armed with two workable, albeit broad interpretations, I got to work categorizing situations that fit the mold.
First off, there is my own personal drama. Although this type of drama might seem unavoidable, I actually do have control over how much drama I solicit and how heartily I react. One woman told me she was much more into drama when she was younger and I realized this was also true for me. We have both learned to keep ourselves out of trouble and to temper our responses to the unavoidable.
I’m no longer a catastrophizer, my own word that means someone who takes a little bit of drama and cooks it up into something big. My mother used to call this “Making mountains out of molehills.”
Next, there’s the type of drama we experience vicariously. You can’t build intimate friendships without sharing a little of your own inner workings but it’s essential to know how much to share, and when to turn it off—how to toe the line between venting and obsessing.
Our outer circle of friends is where I need to watch my step. Here I’m learning to strike a balance between interest and involvement. Sometimes it’s alright to dismiss a situation with, “Well, it’s their life, their marriage, their children…” and other times I have to reach out and weigh in. Especially when I can see that whatever just happened is horribly unjust or unfair. Either way, it’s a good idea not to do too much thinking about what’s going on in the lives of people I don’t know terribly well.
And then there is the drama of unmet actors on the world stage. For me, this is the safest kind of drama, a cathartic exercise that helps me calibrate my moral compass. This kind of drama is the story of how human minds work. News stories evoke responses like, Don’t that beat all?” and “How does something like this happen?” Voyeuristic drama feeds the creative juices my writing head requires without risking contamination.
A few days after my Country Farm and Home encounter, I marched into Chatham Marketplace for Brussels sprouts and was stopped short by a bank of yawning shelves. Craig, busy as ever, twinkle in his eye, quipped over his shoulder, “Drama!” Hmm, I thought, I guess non-human breakdowns can be classified as drama, too.
Like salt, drama spices up my life. And like salt, a pinch brings out the flavor, while too much renders food inedible. Unlike salt, I don’t have to add drama to my life. Drama happens when things break down, when I receive a letter from a friend, when the car leaves me stranded, when politics goes my way, when the heat pump fails, or when deer eat our broccoli. Drama is joy and loss, birth and death—unavoidable, and essential to a full and interesting life.
Stuff happens all the time to rock our little worlds. All the planning in the world won’t prevent software changes from messing up my mojo, or grocery stores from running out of Brussels sprouts. Be cautious about adding outside drama. One day you may be blindsided by an indigestible tsunami of grief: a loved one snatched by death, a cancer diagnosis, a slip and a fall. Err on the side of boring. Savor those stretches of bland. Add a pinch of drama when necessary. Season to taste.