“‘Things close in,’ said Walter Mitty vaguely,” wrote James Thurber of his fictional character’s response to his life’s demands. “Yes, they do,” I agreed in my mind. Except, unlike Mitty, who became unplugged from his stress with internal fantasy chatter, I multi-task to the tunes in my mind.

On my way to Saturday morning coffee, the song in my mind was Daniel Powter’s Bad Day:

You had a bad day
You’re taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around…

It played over and over. I remembered Carl Rogers’ insight, “a workshop group helped me to realize how harried and driven I felt by outside demands—’nibbled to death by ducks’.. .captured my feelings exactly.” (Rogers, 1980). On the way to coffee, I was holding the ducks at bay with the song.

Nibbling ducks accumulate, as, in the moving river of mid-life, atherosclerotic plaque continuously builds. Demands from multiple generations, work, friends, community and civic life are ever formidable. The current Saturday, before 10 a.m., the following “ducks” had struck. My elderly mother in assisted living wrote $6,000 worth of checks on a bank account that was closed seven years ago. My immediate post-surgery sister, who lives near my mother, was not managing the check situation with aplomb. My twelve-year-old daughter wanted a fact checking conversation about abortion, having been told the previous day by her civics teacher, a cognitively loose woman, “They kill babies by sucking them out in pieces.” My husband was oppressed and depressed by the volume of bureaucratic production he was required to make for the looming tax deadline. The house was pregnant with conflict. Between 9 and 10 a.m. I had already negotiated a reality check for the family of a client who thought that the request for intensive treatment money was akin to requesting a spa vacation. I was still musing about the ten-year-old boy I had seen the previous day. Another boy had kicked him in the genitals, my client rose up swinging and was suspended from school on the logic that immediately following the kick, he should have “told the teacher.” The ducks of modern life are strange, sometimes macabre, flying quickly forth.

The barista at Starbucks greeted me personally for my latte, the greeting being a Starbucks “green book” requirement. She placed my order and motioned me over. As I approach her, I am aware that there is no “incognito” in our small town; I am no longer surprised by spontaneous requests for consultation in produce departments or bank lobbies. “Today’s an important day,” she said, “Keri wrote me that she is getting her tattoo today.” The barista’s daughter, Keri, is the same age as my elder son. A song from their era, Pretty Fly (for a White Guy) by the Offspring, began to play in my head:

He is getting a tattoo,
He is getting ink done,
He asked for a thirteen
But they drew a thirty-one.

The song reflected my fear about her tattoo. Tattoos, after all, are a part of life in Daytona Beach, where I live, but they are definitely not my favorite part of life here.

Keri, her daughter, had been my patient seven or eight years ago. She was a teen at the time, depressed, with a history in early childhood of non-familial sexual abuse. She was strong, insightful, I saw her a few times.

The barista had been hoping I would stop in for coffee. She caught me up, while retrieving Keri’s note from an apron pocket. Keri lives in California with a “nice” boyfriend. She finished college, has a good job, and is producing music on the side. Keri wrote:

“…so about the tattoo. I’m getting the word ‘equanimity’ tattooed on the underside of my left arm. It’s something that references my therapy way back with Penny. So you might want to share it with her. She gave me a button that said this on it on my last day of therapy. I thought it referenced ‘equality’ because of the root-word, but it’s more akin to equilibrium. It means even-tempered, or calm under pressure, composure. I think that’s a quality and mantra that’s important in my life and a trait I use a lot at my job….”

As she handed me my latte, I blinked back moist eyes. The song in my head was changing; I was humming Perry Como:

Catch a falling star and Put it in your pocket, Save it for a rainy day…

Rogers, Carl. (1980) “Growing old, or older and growing.” In Kirschenbaum, H. and Henderson, V The Carl Rogers Reader. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin Company (1989). p. 45.

Penelope Norton practices in Ormond Beach, Florida.