the smack

I’m watching the Academy Awards, answering emails and cleaning my desk. That’s when I see Jada Pinkett Smith, sitting in the swanky front row with her husband Will Smith. The next presenter, Chris Rock, lays into her with a lame joke about her hair. She’s rolling her eyes and looking very pissed-off. Hubby is laughing, kind of fakey-like. Until he isn’t. That’s when he bounds on stage, all huffy-puffy, and smacks Chris Rock in the noggin. My computer screen goes blank. OMG was that a comedy bit or was it for real? A few seconds later I see Chris Rock cradling his face and making a joke. Because he is a COMEDIAN.

This is what I’m thinking:
I hope Will Smith has his therapist on speed dial.

What a Rorschach Test moment for humanity, huh. I am so devastated by Ukraine, overwrought about Covid and global warming. Add to that toxic politics, racism and a litany of other troubles. So I appreciate a news story that doesn’t include annihilation or leaves me feeling utterly powerless. But as I watch that smack, something inside of me crackles. I think a lot of people are triggered. For a lot of different reasons.

Suddenly old memories wash over me, starting with this one: I’m in my early twenties, already working in piano bars and here I am, auditioning as a contestant on a new game show. One of the guest celebrities, a middle-aged comedienne, rags on me, making jokes about my appearance, especially my unruly red hair. All for laughs, of course, but I am mortified and her verbal volleys register quickly on my face. And not in a good OR entertaining way. In fact, after the show, she apologizes profusely and explains her process of making funny. At someone else’s expense.

Lesson #1: Don’t take it personally.
Lesson #2: It’s not personal.
Lesson #3: It’s probably about them and not you.

Unfortunately I am taking this whole thing too personally to process any of these lessons.

Fast forward. I am a middle-aged woman attending a five-day meditation retreat where everyone is supposed to be silent and follow the rules. Let me tell you about these retreats… The work is to lean inward. To watch the tangle of stories we tell ourselves. To notice how our emotions can go from calm to cuckoo and back again in one thirty-minute sit. To get cozy with the silence we desperately run from in our everyday life.

Not so easy…

But sometimes the clouds of our messy lives part, the sun shines through and butterflies circle overhead.

Until they don’t.

That’s when the walls close in and the personal stuff gets really big, menacing even, and blown out of proportion.

But at least the food is good….

Well no butterflies for me. Early into the retreat I overhear a couple participants saying something disparaging. About me. Never mind there is no talking here, you jerks. A match has been struck and suddenly my body is on freaking fire. It feels like I can ignite a hundred barbeques by just pointing my fingers.

The storytelling has begun! My mother has arrived in my head along with a cast of others from my past. Many of us know how it feels to be the butt of a joke or worse, the victim of someone’s loathsome behavior. It feels awful and these awful feelings can go unresolved, unprocessed and stuffed deep into our bodies. For maybe a lifetime. Or until there is a really big fire.

I’ve gotten angry in my life, but nothing like this. I am almost delirious with rage and my body is throbbing with a kind of energy that both terrifies and enlivens me. One thing for sure, the original verbal indiscretion, whatever it was, does not warrant this kind of feverish response.

It makes me wonder if I’m tapping into something bigger than myself. A collective fury that is about this moment and a billion other moments that stretch back in time. Sounds a little woo-woo, huh. But I also know this power surge is not good for my health, that I’m furious enough to smack someone and have to DO something to dissipate the energy.

I put on my sneakers and slam around the grounds. Up and down hills. Between buildings. Across parking lots. It takes all afternoon of bam-bamming over cement and through dirt for the anger to finally burn through and out of my body. I topple into my little retreat bed, a limp, exhausted mess.

Many years later, I am still processing what happened to me that day. I am very grateful for this experience and what I learned.  I also hope it never happens again and can say the same thing about that smack.

Lesson #1: Don’t take it personally.
Lesson #2: It’s not personal.
Lesson #3: It’s probably about them and not you.
Lesson #4: I don’t have to believe everything I think.

So let’s enjoy our topsy-turvy lives and rejoice that a microphone isn’t set up in our heads for everyone to hear!


Ever wonder “How To Stop Taking Things Personally”? Read all about it in this short article from Forbes Magazine. CLICK HERE

8 Responses

  1. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Thank you, dear Cali for your wonderful lessons and for
    the wonderful YOU. Your words remind us what’s really
    important. With a wrong stupid reaction we can escalate
    and magnify something that’s not worth it. C.

  2. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Good one, Cali! I think what you did turning The Slap into a personal memory of trauma is helpful – I think too people got into it with such gusto because it’s the rare “manageable” story out there that we can have an opinion on – as opposed to, what do we DO with Trumpism, racism, war, nuclear weapons, climate change and other basic end of the world scenarios??

    I am so sorry about the retreat meltdown. I had an experience like that on a Goenka retreat. It was around the 3rd one I’d been on. Around the 7th day, I think. So basically three years and over 30 days for this particular feeling to work its way into daylight. The day before I’d been walking about the grounds feeling I could be a Buddhist nun, I was so happy, so peaceful… I should have known. Next day, out of nowhere, after a sit, came this overwhelming feeling of frustration, of being in prison and being unable to get out. It was a very physical thing, made me sweat, made me furious, I wanted to hit walls… Because just the day before I’d been so blissfully content, I had enough sanity to realize this is not real, this is not happening now. And eventually realized this was the feeling I’d experienced at 11 at boarding school where I would be for twelve weeks at a time, for the next 6 years. That overwhelming “I CAN’T STAND THIS!!!” – and then shutting that whole feeling down, burying it for years and years and years so completely that I believed that I was very happy at school, that it taught me so much (well, yeah). I was shocked that it took so much time to surface, I guess for me to feel safe enough for it to surface. So this is a long response, but I just wanted to tell you that I get it, I understand that retreat rage, and good for you for putting it out there. Likely others will get it too. C.

  3. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    I would think if you ever over heard anyone talking about you that you would hear them saying how wonderful you are
    I enjoy your emails and always get a lot to think about after reading them. My older sister lost her hair many years ago and wears great wigs. I guess they went from “we don’t talk about Bruno to we don’t talk about Jada.” If someone is self conscious and going to be sitting in front of a comedian I think they should wear a wig. Otherwise, just take a joke for goodness sakes.
    Physical violence is not the answer. N.

  4. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    So well said. Thanks. I was silently cheering Will Smith for acting for the victims of bullying (“all in fun of course”) until I wasn’t. A complex and important conversation for all of us about violence, though that’s a strong a word for a corrective slap. D.

    • Cali Rose
      | Reply

      I guess stuff in life happens in degrees. The slap, followed by the foul language and body language, resonated as an expression of of violence to me. It really pushed my buttons and ruined the rest of the show. Just like I remember when a streaker ran in front of David Niven (decades ago), I’ll remember this, but not in a goofy streaker kind of way.

  5. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    Loved your outlook. That smack really infuriated me and just put a downer into such an exciting occasion for all the nominees. It really bothered me that someone could do that to another person and then get up and accept an award for himself. T.

  6. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Thank you Cali! Obviously this was/is a painful remembrance, but it’s also a wonderful lesson for us all to always remember there’s a higher road which may not be comfortable or “convenient” to get to, but it’s always worth it. At least that’s been my life lesson that I continue to embrace. S.

  7. Cali Rose
    | Reply

    From Anonymous:

    Excellent, as always. I’m telling you, Cali, your book is long overdue! S.

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