A Compliment in a Car Leading Me into the New Year
FADE IN: 1 - EXT. PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE, EXIT 189, WILLOW HILL - DAY
It is Sunday afternoon. BEN and JESSA, a married couple of four years, are traveling home in red Mazda. BEN is driving. OPAL, Collie/German Shepard mix, fighting sleep in the back seat, and losing. There is a light rain and the autumn colors are vibrant from the mist.
INT. CAR - DAY
"Hurricane" by Bob Dylan plays in the background. Windshield wipers go up and down slowly.
JESSA: You go out of your comfort zone all the time. BEN: (confidently) I am able to go out of my comfort zone because I have my comfort zone right here.
BEN places index finger on Jessa's thigh in line with his words. JESSA, out of flattery and embarrassment, cries and laughs simultaneously.
Who knew the Pennsylvania Turnpike could produce such a scene-worthy moment. Ben and I have been traveling lately due to the holidays, and the car without fail provides a nice bunker of intimacy. Phones tend to be nonexistent. Car sickness sets in if I read so much as a text message, and Ben's normally the one behind the wheel. Though forced, it is a welcomed break from the constant connection. During a recent trip, a discussion was provoked by multiple hours in the car with nothing but Cheetos, conversation and Bob Dylan to keep us company. We began discussing comfort zones; a very original topic. These buzzwords could hold attention across the entire Turnpike (and back again). Memories of stepping outside self-defined bubbles were listed like a reading exercise from fourth grade:
"Leaving my job in sports. Popcorn Ben."
"Moving to Philadelphia without a job to live with my girlfriend [that's me!]. Popcorn wife."
"Wearing a dress above my knees. Popcorn Ben."
"Buying our first house without ever seeing it, attending a runway show, standing in front of a camera..."
Ben kept listing. There was no competitive motivation, but Ben's list was certainly more robust. Is it a product of my comfort zone being larger? Or, does Ben extend beyond his familiar more often? While pondering and commenting (I was doing most of the commenting) on these questions, Ben slipped a compliment. It was direct using the same tone as if he were stating we were out of milk. I almost missed it.
I didn't miss it, though.
"I am able to go out of my comfort zone because I have my comfort zone right here." Almost immediately, I placed my right hand on my heart as if to catch the comment and hold it tight. I blushed. Flattery spoken by our loved ones is not always fully received, especially compared to unfavorable comments. Compliments are a puff of wind we often blow past, never letting them penetrate our bubble. Negativity, on the other hand, has an HOV lane to our heart. When a negative remark comes knocking, we let it marinate; repeating and dissecting over and over. It is not brushed off as easily. What if we absorb love from others with the same intensity we devour disapproval?
Research tells us this is difficult. A 2012 New York Times article, Praise Is Fleeting, Brickbats We Recall, by Alina Tugend, dives into the recollection of negative stories versus positive ones. "'Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones,' he [Clifford Nass, Communication Professor at Stanford University] said. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones." The psychology behind processing negative versus positive makes for an uphill battle. It makes receiving and remembering flattery an intentional act (a hard one at that). It is all the more reason to cling to praise when it is recognized.
The seclusion of the car allowed for a more focused attention during our conversation. Instead of halfheartedly acknowledging Ben's words with a subconscious "that's nice," I fully received them. Trickles of tears, snot and a nervous laugh proof of my absorption. His words were written (in ink) in my pocket journal and now live here to encapsulate them even further.
It must be said, our script is built on an abundance of scenes, not all dripping with tear-jerking moments or #relationshipgoals. This day, though, Ben won "best one-liner." It is this line leading me into the new year, a year where I am hell-bent on seeking out and absorbing the positive.