What, me worry?

Long before Bill W. and AA, the Serenity Prayer hung on a wall in my Aunt
Myrt’s kitchen. On the windowsill in the same room, she also placed a small, sky-
blue clay figurine, a squatty cross between a vulture and a pelican with a furrowed
brow, droopy eyes, and a tuft of feathers atop its pointy head. She called it her
Worry Bird, and it stood vigil to ward off the cares and concerns of her day, the
real, and especially, the imagined. Even though my aunt was a wise, adaptable,
and accepting woman, she obviously felt the need to hedge her bets.

Perhaps the Bald Eagle should be replaced with that ugly little creature, for Worry
has become our national pastime. Whether it’s finances, health, relationships,
security, or the threat of nuclear annihilation at the push of a send button, the
populace spends morning, noon, and particularly night, lost in What Ifs. Years
ago, I heard the term Stinking Thinking, a fitting label for getting caught up in
downward spiraling thoughts that lead nowhere good. Generalizations, all or none
options, blame games, and worst case scenarios. It took years of therapy to realize
that focusing on doubt, dread, and despair isn’t a particularly helpful strategy.

Worry loves to interfere with REM sleep via insomnia—the up-all-night marathon
fueled by stress, overactive bladders, and the aches and pains of aging. As I toss
and turn with eyes wide open, I often wile away the hours with Rinky-Dink
Thinking—rifling through the memory files in search of useless information. The
first and last names of all the Friends characters. The city and mascot of all 32
NFL teams. The names of all my teachers, 1st through 12th grade. I think of it as
exercise for my trivia brain, and it beats staring at the ceiling.

However, since I began writing, I’ve discovered another way to pass the time with
what I call Blinking Thinking. This is when light bulbs of ideas twinkle on and off
and lead to solutions, not problems. My mind and heart still race as I lie awake,
but instead of floating in freeform anxiety, a freeform poem pops up. Instead of a
litany of my shortcomings, a list of topics for blogs or essays unfolds. And rather
than a steady stream of questions, there is a procession of answers—perfect words
to open a chapter, brilliant lines of dialogue, or innovative plot twists that get me
from here to there. Many times, I jot down these bon mots, though too often I lie
there, trying to commit my creativity to memory with varying results. This blog
was one of my midnight ramblings.

Of course I still fret about useless and uncontrollable stuff. I think it’s in my
genes. Once I hoped my aunt would pass on her Worry Bird to me, but she gave it
to a friend instead. Probably better that I learn to change what I can, accept what I
can’t, and hopefully know the difference. In the meantime, if sleep proves
elusive, I’m ready for some Blinking Thinking.

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