1. I’ll just put this here, so I don’t lose it.
Some people may do just fine with this, but I’m fairly certain that this is universal. You have something – an important document, a gift purchased in advance of a birthday, or tickets to an event. You know that in order to proceed with a plan these things must be either accessible or clean, or both. So you do what (I think) everyone does. Find a safe place to tuck the item away until you need it.
If you’re like me, you might actually say out loud, “I better put this here, so I can find it when…” But these words are a spell, opening a portal to “here,” which is a mystical place out of reach of children, pets, my husband and…myself. It is inevitable – whenever I say that, or even think it, it’s all over but the panic.
In the last several weeks I’ve done this with three things: some paperwork for an attorney, tickets to the first Pixies concert ever to hit Maine and the deadlined paperwork guaranteeing my continued insurance coverage. And how many things can I not find? Yeah, three. Can I tell you without blinking where the title is, for the car that is no longer drivable? Yup. Ditto on the pie crust recipe I haven’t used in over a year. Same for nearly every thing in my house you could name. And lest you think I am an uber organized file freak, let me assure you these things are in really stupid locations. The title? That is in the folder related to my Dad’s funeral. That car and my father’s death are 100% mutually exclusive events. The recipe is currently being used as a book mark in a Noam Chomsky book I put down last Christmas. These things are never lost. But those things I take great care to place out of reach become lost in a black hole. Someday, I’ll find my way “here” and when I do I’ll find everything else that I put there. The $100 gift certificate I bought my parents on the 45th anniversary 15 years ago. The disc with all of Quinn’s baby pictures on it. Ditto on the flash drive back up plan for that. My first drivers license, the spectacular letter of recommendation from a now deceased professor. They are all still “here.”
2. Things can’t get any worse.
Oh, yes. They can. Never doubt this.
Sometimes I’m pretty sure the powers that be take great pleasure in seeing just how crazy one can go before they begin to carry an axe to the grocery store. I posted an update to a writing challenge that you can read here, detailing a two-day span of ridiculous over this past weekend. I was saying this before the cat got caught in the chimney and the German vacuum lady told me I needed to love my vacuum. No matter how tempting it is, no matter how deep in it you are, never say this. Just don’t.
3. What’s the worst that could happen?
This is the sister to number 2. Saying this is beyond tempting fate. Deities are touchy – they read this like you are saying come and get me bitches. And these three need to be viewed as three bipolar psychopaths who routinely dip into your life with a bit of mayhem or a bit of grace. But when they are taunted, they take up stalking you, into going after you with a personal vendetta.
You are giving them a mission that could result in you stepping out for a smoke and getting locked out of an airport 19 minutes before your connection flight, having to run back through security, forgetting that you changed your shoes on the first plane and are now wearing the pair with only one metal arch support which will trigger that damn buzzer to flare like you’re packing a weapon or a metal barrette. This will result in an explanation that is not believed, until your left shoe is dismantled and rendered unwearable. You will then have to run across the Atlanta airport, barefoot, until the guy driving the baggage trolley feels bad enough for you to let you ride atop the luggage headed for your plane. And when you finally sit down, all out of breath from the mad dash, the woman next you will sigh contentedly and say, “I’m so glad Atlanta has a smoking lounge. I’m so afraid the plane will go down that I just smoked like a chimney in there.” Yes. This happened.
4. I would never. . .
I don’t care what the rest of the sentence is, stop before you finish it. . . . cheat on my spouse, eat that, let my kid do X (the variable, not the drug), kill someone, steal. It doesn’t matter. We all, for the most part, live pretty easy lives. So it is easy to say this, to judge or condemn. But you never, ever know how your world will really turn out. And you never know when you will have to eat those words. I said I’d never get another credit card. The convection oven on my counter, and these awesome boots don’t believe me.
5. I never lie.
Even if you don’t lie, never say this. It makes you look suspect. I mostly don’t lie. I have a very terrible problem with my edit button that compels me, when asked for my opinion, to voice it, unedited. This has made me say things like, “Well, it’s because you spend money like remedial math student,” to a (yes, former) boss. Or “Well, your kid’s kind of an asshole,” when a mom asks why I never have her kid to our house anymore. (C’mon, he took an aluminum bat and broke every picture frame in the piano room and peed on Quinn’s bookshelf. The kid was six. There is no way he didn’t know better.) Diplomacy and tact seem never to have been developed skills for me.
And even I lie. I lie when Mom asks if she is going to die from her disease. It’s a technicality, the disease itself won’t kill her, but the symptoms it produces place her at extreme risk. Still, a lie. And I lie to Quinn about lots of stuff, like the standard how does Santa get into the house things, but also about how long events are from now. Next week is a nice vague answer, and to a kid for whom the continuum of time is still an ungraspable concept, I figure there’s no harm.
So I lie, but I do it rarely and not in those circumstances that many people resort to it. So when someone tells me they are never lie, I assume that the next thing out of their mouth is about as likely as the Great Pumpkin showing up.
6. I’ll do whatever you need.
This one comes in a number of word layouts, but it’s always an expression of unrestricted access. For some people, there will never be an abuse of this either. But for many, this is giving them carte blanche to call on you incessantly, or to extreme degrees.
This may result in people calling you from Boston in the middle of a snow storm starting the conversation with, “You know how you said you’d always be there to help me? I’m stuck at a truck stop, got pulled over and they won’t let me drive the rest of the way home because I don’t have a license, but I have a court date tomorrow morning and if I don’t show up, I’ll go to jail for breaking probation.”
There are so many things wrong with this scenario that it isn’t funny. But it is a good example of how “anything” can be interpreted by people. This can come in many flavors – an overnight on the couch turning into a 3 month interlude where your kids creep around cautiously in an attempt not to see your “guest” in his underpants, lending or spending copious amount of money for rent or groceries, or my favorite, the free babysitter for life.
Wait, I didn’t sign up for this. Oh yeah, I did.
7. I can’t do this alone.
Oh yes, you can. No matter what it is. This is an emotional caving, nothing more. Maybe you can’t do it alone, with your bare hands, but almost anything that can be done, can be done alone.
“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” ~ Archimedes
You might have to get a Seuss-like contraption to get the job done, but it can be, and knowing that is half the battle. Is help better? Absolutely. But being on your own, doing it one your own is achievable. And when you’re done, it’s a greater accomplishment for it.
8. It’s up to you.
This has two parts – the “up to you” because you haven’t thought things through enough to form an opinion, and the “up to you” because you have an opinion but are trying to be accommodating.
The first one is just irritating. You knew we were going to the movies and you didn’t even consider what to see? Ditto on the restaurant, or any other plans. Um…do you even want to do this?
The second one tends to run in families, which can, on occasion, end in a discussion of restaurant options for a birthday dinner that takes so long the only remaining option is the Denny’s up the road. Which works out well, ’cause that way everyone is disappointed. You have eaten in all of these places…PICK ONE!
Only three words are necessary here. I’ll even give you a hint – the first two are, “I like” and the third word is like Mad Libs – throw something in to complete the sentence.
Sushi? Ok. But wait, you there, you hate sushi, speak up! Make a counter offer. Thai? Too spicy for Grandpa. Throw another dog into the fight. This is how group decision-making works. Your attempts to make things easier actually makes things harder. Please say something. Even if you legitimately don’t care, throw something out there to start the party. Unless this is your first day in town and you drove in from the airport in a blindfold, you have an opinion.
9. It will be ok.
Also know as “things will work out” “you’ll get over it” and a few others. This is almost always laid out as a first response to something terrible – a death, a divorce, a job loss, a bankruptcy. And it is true…I totally subscribe to the belief that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger – sometimes you have to just suck up the awful and your only control is over how you react.
Because before you can get over it, you have to get through it. And telling people that it will be easier, later, is often not even close to helpful. Sometimes your listener can view this as a dismissal of their pain, not the comfort you surly intended.
Some problems don’t have immediate solutions, but you can help in other ways. You can’t give them a new job, but you can take care of their kids for a day so they can pound pavement. You can’t cure cancer, but you can cook so they don’t have to after a long day at a hospital. You can’t eliminate the fallout from a divorce, but you can have a night out to give them a diversion.
Help, empathize, don’t offer up platitudes.
10. That’s stupid.
This one is tricky. You might think you are making commentary on an idea, or an action, not a person. But the listener, well they may well view that as a statement against them, personally. That former boss I described as having spending habits as being akin to those of a remedial math student – stupid was a weapon for him. Conversations would go something like this:
“That was stupid.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
Well, do you know who does stupid things?”
“Stupid people do stupid things. Are you stupid?”
Inner monologue might say, well, I’m still working here, but your mouth will mumble, “No.” as you slink back to your desk.
His version of this was lethal on his staff morale, but there are lots of varieties to this. A friend of mine had a different boss with a similar view, but she took hers as a personal affront – their conversations were a bit different:
“That was stupid.”
“Be very careful. It sounds like you might be calling me stupid?”
“No no! It’s just…nevermind.”
Different sides of the same coin. So dig deeper. There’s a more effective way to say this – conversation only works if both people have the same understanding of the words in play. “Stupid” is only one option. Bite your tongue for a moment and try harder.