©2011 Odilia Rivera Santos
Odilia Rivera Santos is a writer, performer, editor, creative writing teacher and translator.
I have never fancied myself as any kind of therapist or counselor -- just an observer of human interactions and motivation. Observation, interaction, meditation, solitude and reflection are all necessary in my experience as a writer. In order to write well, you have to pay attention to details, but you have to know what to do with the details you've collected.
One of the most interesting kind of humans to observe is the chaos maker; everyone knows one and my advice is be careful who you let in your life. Facebook provides a good opportunity to meditate on this idea: some people should be on the fan page, not the friend page if you get my drift.
I wrote an essay entitled Chaos Makers, for my e-book Latinalogue, Puerto Rican Nonfiction Part I ,about people who lack clarity and fear being alone. Chaos makers create drama from the simplest incident, and in paranoiac conversations, they obsess about how others view them.
They tend to lack focus and ramble on at a rapid pace, mainly about trivial things.
I've observed that the chaos maker doesn't edit or filter and sees their perceptions as fact even if he/she has no evidence to bolster said perception. Chaos makers spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing other people's behavior or their interactions with other people instead of just asking a question. They often say I think she thinks. Instead of asking a person what he or she thinks, the chaos maker will spend days speculating about a sentence someone uttered.
And if you ask How was your day?, you will get a list of everything the cm did: I got up at 6, drank coffee, talked to my uncle about his liver surgery, took a shower with this new strawberry bodywash I got at the 99 cent store -- it's really good though!, I walked from Brooklyn to the East Village, I. . .
The chaos maker pays attention to details but becomes completely lost in the details, unable to use them toward a coherent purpose. I recently dealt with a chaos maker who considered himself a kind of Sherlock Holmes; he did compile details but lacked the logic necessary to come to a reasonable conclusion. His impressive collection of details led to a paranoiac conclusion.
A little disorder in life or work in the manufacturing of disorder
While every one of us has a area of life in which there is a little disorder, the chaos maker is a disorder and disorganization factory, creating complications from the simplest elements.
I think CMs are popular at parties and get-togethers because they can flit from one group to another, dropping a strange amusing anecdote, and in small doses, they are entertaining. Trying to have in-depth conversations is impossible because they lack focus; their speech is more a series of bullet points.
Goodbye to all that
I made a conscious decision to distance myself from CMs because their shenanigans take time from my peaceful reading and writing time. If we read about our favorite authors' lives, we find dysfunctional tumultuous periods, but they were still able to produce magnificent work worthy of discussion due to a sharpened clear focus, and the wonderful thing is their work sits quietly on a bookshelf -- slivers of brilliance, perhaps garnered through horrific desperate experiences, without burdening the reader with a phone call at 3am.
I spent many years as the person people called in an emergency, and one day, I was on the phone with a friend who was repeating her problem over and over again, and I found myself rolling my eyes. This was a person who never asked me how I was or if everything was okay with me.
I realized on that day I no longer gleaned anything from this kind of exchange. A friend of mine said it is the difference between having someone in your life who is a 'client' and someone who is an 'equal.'
This particular friend was not an equal; she was a client who wasn't paying me, nor did she even offer to treat me to dinner after six years of my being her go-to person for every issue in her life. When I called her and needed her support, she was unavailable. I stopped talking to her, realizing in her mind, it was akin to her psychologist calling her to state a problem. A breach of professionalism. Client.
Being a caretaker was part of my training as a Puerto Rican girl growing up in a very traditional Puerto Rican family from Puerto Rico, which is very different from the hipsters born and raised on the mainland. A good Puerto Rican woman was one who took care of others and made herself invisible and continued to excise her dreams and desires from her own life to prove her fealty to the 'correct' model of womanhood.
I finally decided to refer troubled souls to 'professionals.'
It was a liberating decision.
I liberated myself from the last remnant of Puerto Rican Woman training.
I can tell people I don't have time to listen to the same problem ten times, because it isn't a good use of my time, I'm not getting paid to do this, and focusing on problems instead of solutions is a waste of time.
People raised to be caretakers often need to be reminded to take care of themselves.
Work and Life
When I worked with victims of domestic violence and homeless people, I noticed they had a thousand details for each story. As they told their stories, I could see the pain and anxiety rise and realized it was not only unhealthy to focus so much on one's problems, without reflection, but dangerous. Many had suffered multiple breakdowns and the clients kept bringing themselves to the edge by retelling their story to as many people as possible.
I taught the clients at the agency to state the problem in one sentence without providing a life history. I then had them write their autobiographies in seven year intervals as well as everything that was bothering them on a piece of paper, and I would ask which details they needed to share and with whom. Their lives had been full of tragedy and I asked them to reflect on each with one question in mind: What did you learn from this experience at seven, at fourteen, at twenty-one?
I noticed their anxiety level went down and they became more rational in their exchanges with me and others. I enjoyed my work and when it was time to move on from that line of work, I did. Now, it's time for me to be very careful with the persons I allow into my life.
Self-destructive people want to take you with them
Self-destructive people make for great theater, but in life, they are very time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. They threaten to destroy your sanctuary and rob you of the little bit of sanity you have left. I have dated chaos makers and had them as 'friends,' so I have dedicated enough time to chaos makers in my life; now, I decide how and when to interact with CMs.
If you know how to be well and you choose to do things to make yourself sick, I don't need you in my life.
Writing is my homeboy
I am happiest when working at my own pace, which leads me back to the wonderful solitary activity of writing. I don't need to go to meetings or confer with anyone or wait until someone else resolves fifty problems before they can meet a deadline. I write regardless of my circumstances, with or without a computer, with or without tranquil surroundings, and make no excuses. If I don't do something within a particular timeframe for myself, it affects only me.
Today is a perfect day. I am reading, writing, listening to the news and minding my own business and leaving others to theirs.
If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.