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Caspar David Friedrich: Frau am Fenster [Woman at a Window] (1822)
"The past weighs more that any future can counterbalance …"

I consider Coping to be the great under-appreciated superpower and the skill underlying most of my success, such as it was. Most of what has happened to me just happened. I didn't ask for very much and yet usually received more than I imagined receiving, both good and bad. Once whatever happened, I found myself basically powerless to undo it, since the experience resided in the past by then. I used to try and inevitably fail to fix my past and never once succeeded, though the attraction to try to undo my past continues. I figure that it's an innate urge, probably a standard stupid human trick, one which almost always aches for attention but which no-one ever masters. Not for lack of trying, though. Throughout history so far, much human folly as well as tragedy seems to have been the direct result of failing to fix the past, with Getting Even and Settling Scores ranking near the top of the list of perennial failures, to the point where they fully qualify for the long list of Things That Just Do Not Work, However Dedicated The Attempt.

Coping comes in both useful and useless forms, healthy as well as self-destructive kinds.
I won't even attempt to list the many varieties other than to suggest that Coping tends to manifest as a reaction rather than as a fresh initiation. It appears as the response to some perturbation, not from unprovoked intention. When I hit my thumb with a hammer—accidentally, not on purpose—I'm faced with an insidious choice point. I might sue the manufacturer for failing to foresee and prevent this event from happening. I might curse a blue streak. I might meekly whimper and proceed. Each reaction serves as Coping, none of which undoes what just happened. I might not even notice myself choosing a reaction, but slip right into my usual response, one which seems even less of a choice. Which ever tactic I select, I'm responding rather than simply initiating, and thereby Coping. Under this definition, Coping seems at best a questionable basis for any super powering.

I suspect that successful Coping relies upon mindful selection of the Coping mechanism. Automatic responses tend to make chancy selections, since one size hardly fits all and every circumstance might well prove different. But few of us seem capable of making completely mindful choices because emotions tend to deeply influence these situations. Angry tends to make hasty and short-sighted selections, but sometimes works beautifully. Forgiving, sometimes more long-lived ones, but might also render me feeling like a victim. Nobody ever successfully detaches themselves from their emotional content, though this, too, remains a popular method of Coping called ShuttingDown. I consider the choice of Coping mechanism to be a window into the one selecting, though this might be a vanity on my part. I might aspire to become more mindful when Coping, but it's probably delusional and unhelpful to believe that I might ever become completely mindful when I'm reacting or responding.

My strategy for successfully Coping relies upon my nascent but growing ability to choose again. I'm just as capable as anybody of seeking out the most obvious eye-for-an-eye reaction, but I've been working on catching myself before I commence to poking because I've noticed that eye-poking contests tend to result in blind contestants. I might well first feel murder in my heart before I wind my watch or something equally innocuous and manage to slow down time a little and blunt that initial compelling urgency. Then I might choose more wisely. Coping strategies tend to anchor long term behavior patterns. Philistines never found Jesus because their whole culture seemed rooted in simply lobbing off heads in response to any slight or indignance. They thereby tended to make matters worse when attempting to make them better and couldn't seem to catch themselves being a little too much themselves to make any other selection. They apparently could not save themselves.

I could have started this story by declaring that I consider the skill of catching myself being myself the soul of my Coping superpower. I remain perfectly capable of choosing poorly when reacting in any emotion-drenched moment, to even the most common insults of living, but I've been culturing an ability to catch myself in the act of so doing and to sometimes choose again. I believe that I hold access to an undiminishable number of alternate choices if I can only find reason to access them. Nothing's forever irrecoverable. Of course, The Muse, ever watchful, remains capable and more than willing to point out even my less obvious Coping shortcomings, and I her's. The result has produced an ever-improving ability to make up stories, to reframe what I should have already learned cannot ever be undone by any other method. I can change the meaning of the past without laying a finger on it. Since I cannot lay a finger on my past anyway, if I render those experiences toothless by reframing them, I guess that works. The past weighs more that any future can counterbalance, but in a story, future and past can exist as coequals. My story about whacking myself with that hammer won't heal my thumb, but it might heal my pride going forward.


It's Friday again and time to take stock of my recent past. This writing week included the conclusion of my HeadingHomeward Series and the start of this SettlingInto Series, neither of which ever actually managed to achieve their aspiration. I'm still HeadingHomeward, perhaps better informed than I was before writing about the experience, but still not home. Likewise, I've yet to SettleInto anything other than writing about the prospect of someday SettlingInto something. Both of these examples might be my superpower Coping skills in action. If I cannot change my past, except through stories, I might not touch my future by any other means, either.

I began my writing week with an ending, finishing HeadingHomeward by
SettlingOut. "By the time we're finished, this house will contain two flustered house cats aching to become feral again, two former homeowners still not quite HeadingHomeward, a guitar rarely touched, and a king's ransom in dust."

I started this new season with this new series and by considering the spirit of what I'd decided to get into with SettlingInto. "Few human acts manage to feel as unsettling as settling."

I attempted to describe the lived experience of changing house in
Unsettling. "Silent oaths never intended to cross anyone's lips are mumbled into the ether in humbled acknowledgement."

My most popular posting of the week amounted to a final reflection on leaving with
Lasting. "I know from the outset that my effort's futility incarnate. I will forget and I acknowledge that I've never successfully captured any fleeting moment."

I next considered how much of living seems an
Imposition, not manifesting acts of human will but more the opposite. "We'd imagined that we might impose our will upon the future and thereby achieve our SettlingInto, but wills, free or not, seem to always come with caveats."

Then, I felt the need to explain how The Muse and I had yet to make good on our many promises to leave in
DisappearingAct. "Change remains a mythical beast until after it's over. Likewise, aspiration remains at best believable fiction until later. Both only become real after they're over, only here when they've gone."

I ended this writing week confident that we'd finally managed to leave in
Converging, only to learn a little later that The Muse was experiencing a strong reaction to her second Covid vaccination, so we'd be staying until her fever broke. My predicting proved to be a joke again, and probably not for the last time. "Must be real because it couldn't quite qualify as believable fiction."

Thank you for continuing to follow my foibles. The road to anywhere seems mostly paved with mistaken impression which outlive their author. It's one of those occupational hazards, essentially unavoidable but not beyond Coping with. Coping seems like a booby prize, a Participant trophy unworthy of any effort. Its power comes subtly and seems more savory than sweet, and often initially carries a distinctly bitter flavor. Its sweetness only emerges in reflection. Appreciation might follow. Thanks again for following along.

I think we might actually be leaving this morning.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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