Monday, February 8

deterioration, rot, rejection, heartbreak and other creature comforts

I do fine with failure, tragedy, general deterioration and rot, but when things go well I get tense. I've tried to talk to people about my fears of success and the conversation always dies an awkward death. I think I'm not alone, yet no one will talk about this. Things are going really well for me over here, people, and I need some help! Okay, that does sound a bit pathetic.

So I was relieved to come across a Joshua Wolf Shenk article in The Atlantic, about a man who studied happiness, that puts words to what I've been trying to say:
But why, he asked, do people tell psychologists they’d cross the street to avoid someone who had given them a compliment the previous day?

In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.

Was that so hard to admit? Success makes us feel vulnerable. Am I not allowed to say this out loud?

Last month I made some clothes for Rosie O'Donnell. She almost wore something of mine on Oprah. She did wear one of my sweaters on Good Morning America.

I'll spare you the details of the freak-out I put myself through getting things made and delivered to her, then stalking whorish news-faux-tainment sites trying to get a glimpse of her. "Lift your arm! I can't see the sleeves! Lift your damn arm!"

But here's what came of it. First, even a brief stalking of one person online to see what they are or are not wearing gave me a lot of empathy for famous people. I wouldn't wish that much success on anyone.

And it gave me a fresh appreciation, as if I needed one, for how many times we can gawk at something to confirm that it did not happen. That is not my sweater on Oprah *clicks play* that is not my sweater on Oprah *clicks play* that is not my sweater on Oprah *clicks play* ... oh the sweet comfort of having dodged success ... by the time someone told me they saw her on Good Morning America, in my sweater, I didn't even flinch.

So really the biggest change in my life is that people have squealed at me more than my comfort level will allow.  And hopefully I have one more happy customer who feels better moving through the world dressed in my clothes. That's really all I want for anyone who chooses my work.