Diary of Happy Party Face

I once saw an episode of Intervention where an alcoholic former beauty queen was heading over to her mother’s house for a family barbeque or some such. Before grabbing the door handle to leave, she stopped and said aloud, “I’m beautiful and happy, I’m beautiful and happy.”

She’d probably been doing it for years. Stopping by the door to put on her happy face and then coming home later to get wasted on Smirnoff and shove down any unpleasant feelings she might have. The sadness of that one moment burned a hole in my brain. How sad, to have to pretend to be okay when you actually drunkenly fell down in your side yard earlier.

The other day, I realized that I’d become her.

No, I didn’t get wasted on Smirnoff. I didn’t fall down in the side yard. I didn’t lose custody of my kids. I got tipsy on wine, bumped into the treadmill, and my cat gave me a very disapproving look. Half credit?

For the last few months, I’ve done a lot more “happy party face” than I’d like to admit. It started innocently enough, the gateway drug being “show up at goth night and don’t let anyone know he hurt you.” Show up and act like nothing’s wrong. Like “I’m Jackie Fucking Kennedy and you can’t hurt me.” Show up, because if you don’t, people think you’re hiding in your house, being all hurt and squishy and writing terrible poetry. No, no. If we’re drawing battle lines, you will not make me shy away from doing what I want to do. I will show up, look cute and dance my ass off.

Then, it snowballs.

If happy party face has to exist in the real world, where people are vicious dogs, what do you do on the internet? If people will take you down in flesh, they’ll really take you down in text. The internet was practically invented so people could flame each other from the safe distance of hundreds of miles.

“Usually, when something bothers me, I write about it…but I can’t do that now.”

“Why?”

“Because of rule #1, Jen. You don’t put your drama on Facebook. It is not done.”

I mean, nobody wants to read weeks’ worth of muddled, passive-aggressive bullshit that only means something to its owner. No one wants to read status updates of you cryptically whining about your now ex-best friend. It makes you look like a drama llama. We all know at least one of those. We all secretly wish they’d just go away.

What, then? Are you not allowed to have a rough week without people thinking you’re a drama queen? Are we all doomed to be expected to never have problems? Has the entire internet become one giant party where everybody has to pretend that everything is awesome all the time? Are we all doomed to spend our entire digital lives at some kind of hellish work mixer where there’s karaoke, a cash bar and your boss dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld?

“How are you?”
“Fine. You?”

Sorry, no. If that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing, somebody just come over and shoot me right now. I am not living there. I’m not going to show up at your wedding and cry because my roof has been given one year to live and I really, seriously need a vacation. It’s your day and I can pretend my life is awesome for two hours. But, by God, I get to sort out my bullshit in my own blog. If you don’t want to hear the drama llama go “mehhhh!” in your face for a few paragraphs, you know where the back button is.

See, the thing I forgot when I was talking to Jen is that Happy Party Face is not what I DO in this blog. It never has been. I show up, tell you the fucking truth, and most of you can handle it. Some of you are just dying for someone to finally tell the truth because everybody else is so busy pretending their lives kick ass all the time. That’s my purpose and that’s what I do.

So, there.

I may have to occasionally be Happy Party Face in real life. We all have to do that. But this is my outlet and I’ll do as I please. As we say on the internet, “kthxbai.”

A&E: Making Monday Suck Less

Once upon a time, Mondays were thing to be dreaded. They marked a return to work (or school), put an end to the fun of the weekend and, for most people, meant that drunken fun was over for another five days. Then, A&E gave us Intervention, Obsessed and (starting August 17th) Hoarders. Monday changed completely.

For those of you unfamiliar, Intervention is pretty much what the name implies: forty minutes of “documenting the addiction,” also known as “showing someone doing crazy shit,” followed by an intervention. The last five minutes always tell what happened after the intervention while some annoying song performed by “public domain Jayhawks” plays.

Obsessed chronicles people who have OCD, trichotillomania and panic anxiety; people usually exhibit a trick-or-treat bag of crazy. Anxiety disorders usually travel in packs, so it’s not unusual for one person to start off with anxiety, move on to hoarding things, and then develop agoraphobia and depression caused by their shame of said hoarding. The people on the show volunteer for cognitive behavioral therapy, which involves exposing people to the very things they fear in order for them to build up a tolerance. Inevitably, the people freak out, and “good tv” is made.

So, what’s another circus sideshow? This isn’t all about people getting drunk on mouthwash or pulling their hairs out one by one. These days, sideshows are a dime a dozen and A&E’s lineup would really have to amp up the crazy to compete with…well, just about anything on Vh1. (Sidebar: when did Vh-1 become Vh1? Did the hyphen contain all of the music videos?)

The real draws behind A&E’s lineup are the people behind the stories. “Lady is an alcoholic” isn’t nearly as interesting as “lady is the perfect PTA mom who snaps, can’t handle it, and becomes an alcoholic.” It’s interesting because, on some level, we can see ourselves or our friends. We see the impact that unattainable expectations of perfection have on women. The aforementioned alcoholic lady says “I’m beautiful and happy, I’m beautiful and happy!” everytime she leaves the house. The drunk guy next door drinks because he watched his father figure die in Afghanistan. The anorexic girl at school is punishing herself because she’s reliving guilt she feels about being molested. I’m not saying that having “issues” makes it OK to sell your kid for crack. I’m saying that the story of addiction is much more interesting when you can look at a crackhead and see somebody’s sister. Intervention makes the addicts human rather than just a sideshow.

Most of the people on Obsessed are portraits of what can happen to any of us if blindsided by the unforeseen. The sky over all of our heads is filled with pianos. Every second of every day, your phone could ring and you could be notified of someone’s death. You could be permanently disabled every time you get in a car. North Korea could finally decide to nuke us.

What happens when one of those sky-pianos falls on someone who is blindsided or a little short on coping mechanisms? They develop little habits. They check locks. They tap things three times. While they know in their rational minds that tapping things isn’t going to stop the sky-pianos, something in them says “you’d better tap this, just in case.” While most of us can avoid becoming a crackhead by just not doing crack, the “oh my God, I can’t control life and that scares the crap out of me” misfire in your brain could happen any time. We watch Obsessed because we can see our past selves, our possible future selves. If nothing else, we can understand why the people on the show do what they do. As hard as it is to feel empathy for someone who could sell her own kid for crack, it’s that easy to feel empathy for the lady who is psychotic about baby-proofing her house after losing a child to SIDS.

By paying attention to people we don’t know, people on tv, we can better understand the people we DO know. Watching other people is a huge part of how we learn, even if it’s usually along the lines of “do we pay at the table, or go to the cash register?” Watching people around us connects us. It makes us more empathetic. It keeps us human.