Thursday, June 26, 2008

Confessions of a Catastrophic Thinker, by Jess Lourey

I am a catastrophic thinker. I have known this about myself for the past twenty years, but stumbling across Harley Jane Kozak's Lipstick Chronicles post, Blog of Fear, convinced me to come out of the closet. When I admit to being a catastrophic thinker, I'm not saying I'm a worrier, or that I have an overactive imagination. I'm saying I'm crazy. Here's a perfect example, and it happened about three months ago:

I returned from Tae Kwon Do with my kids. We go every Tuesday and Thursday, and every Tuesday and Thursday, we return to our little house in St. Cloud at 8:30 pm. One Thursday in early April, we got home, and there was a potted begonia on our back step. The temperature was hovering around 12 degrees above zero, but that begonia was green and fresh in its brown paper bag. Somebody knew exactly when we were returning home and had timed their flower-leaving accordingly. Five more minutes, and it would have been frozen solid.

My kids thought it was a nice gesture, and I encouraged that. In my head, though, I was thinking: We've recently moved to town. We don't know anyone here. All my friends and family live at least 30 minutes away. No one I know would leave a flower on my back step without a note. Clearly, a serial killer has been tracking me and my babies for weeks, he has learned when we come and go, and he's leaving his calling card--the orange begonia--right before he murders us in our sleep.

That night, I slept on the couch with a knife. It was my chef's knife without the tip, which I had broken off a couple years ago in a pound of frozen ground turkey that wasn't thawing fast enough. It was the sharpest one I had, but that's hardly the point, is it? SOMEBODY LEFT ME A FLOWER AND IT MADE ME SLEEP WITH A KNIFE.

And there's something about having kids that super-revs the powers of catastrophic thinking. I have to travel to conferences and out-of-state signings about five times a year, and I leave my kids, ages 6 and 9, with my parents. Every time I go, I say the same thing to my mom: "Don't forget you're watching them."

And she always says the same thing back. "Don't worry. I raised you, remember?"

I might not be her best reference. I remember how many times she let me walk to the store alone when I was five, or how she encouraged me to miss two weeks of 5th grade because we didn't like the politics of the long-term sub. But I get her point. I survived, and my kids will too.

Still, when my plane leaves the ground or my wheels cross the state line, my catastrophic thinking kicks in. What if one of my children was kidnapped? Would I be able to find them? Could I go on living if I didn't find them? Or if they were in the hospital, how long would it take me to get back to them? What do you even thinking about when you're waiting to get a flight back to your children in a hospital? Should I call and make sure they're okay? Or should I wait until I've been gone five minutes?

Agh. And don't even get me started on public speaking. You know how people say, "It was an honor just to be nominated?" I mean it. I like staying in the audience. I'm pretty sure that if I ever had to stand and speak in front of of a crowd of people I respected, I'd start bleating like a sheep right before my bowels relaxed.

So there you have it. The true confessions of a catastrophic thinker. I imagine there is a medication for it, but I think the same part of my brain that takes these wicked spirals is the part that allows me to love reading and spinning stories. All it takes is a spark, and I can run with it. Also, the superstitious part of me is sure that thinking about all this stuff is protection AGAINST it happening. Sorry, author of the The Secret.

p.s. An old college friend who lived 35 miles away and had heard I'd moved back to town was the one who left the begonia. She was dropping it off on a whim and didn't leave a note because she didn't have a pen. See? All my worrying scared off the serial killer. So what do you worry about?


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Sheesh, I'm glad I don't have kids. I'm a basket case enough without them.

I'm more of a wouldda, couldda, shouldda worrier. Seriously, my biggest fears arise after dumb-ass mistakes I've made. I keep revisiting them like a stuck video until I'm insane. I seldom worry about what MIGHT happen, more like what DID happen, as if I can turn back time and change everything.

But if I ever leave a begonia on your doorstep, I'll make sure I also leave a note.

Mark Combes said...

There is a Ray LaMontagne song "Empty" that has a couple lines that sum it up for me:

"I never learned to count my blessings
I choose instead to dwell in my disasters"

Nina Wright said...

Jess, don't be so hard on yourself.

Orange begonias are very scary plants.

Jess Lourey said...

Hahah! You made me laugh out loud, Nina. :) And I also have the post-dumbass mistakes disorder, Sue Ann. I worry coming and going.

Anonymous said...

That has *got* to be one of the funniest blog posts I've ever read. And you're right. You are nuts!

Julia Buckley said...

Isn't it funny that this article is about your TERROR and yet it made me laugh so hard? Can you hear me laughing?

I don't think this is some flaw in you--I think it's wired into our DNA, and the minute we give birth, something fires in the brain and there it is. Permanent fear, which is another word for protection.

THis blog made me realize I'd like to meet your mom. But I could never let my kids walk to the store alone--too many fears of kidnappers, who I actually make myself PICTURE as they drive around trolling for cute children.

Also, when my children are on bridges, my brain makes me picture them falling off, which is why my sons never get to have ANY fun when I'm around.

Jess Lourey said...

We are wired the same, Julia. Too bad for our kids. And my mom is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world.

Felicia Donovan said...

Jess, thanks for your honest post.

I hear you on worrying about the kids, but that's what a nice big bottle of wine was made for. In fact, that's what I'd like someone to leave on my doorstep. That and chocolate...

On the other hand, I watch people get through some pretty serious catastrophes at the day job all the time and am always amazed at our resilience in the face of those catastrophes.

A broken knife with the tip busted off? I'd go with a baseball bat instead. More distance and more damage...

Paul Lamb said...

You and my wife!

Honestly, I don't think a person can write decent fiction (or nonfiction for that matter) if they think the same way as everyone else. Being a functional weirdo is a job requirement in this craft.

zhadi said...

*SNORT!* YOu never mentioned this on our road trip, Louise :-)

I will always leave notes when I send you flowers, I swear... they'll just say 'frea-ky dream' and you'll know who they're from.