Edition #81: The Worst That Could Happen

Plus, how to thank your significant other, a quiz to predict your fashion sense and smelling Rihanna

A Note From the Editor

The year was 2007, the end of freshman year of high school. It was time that would feel significant in any circumstance, but was even more emotionally charged because of a decision I made. I would leave the small, insular arts school I had been attending since sixth grade and transfer to a regular high school. I didn’t make this decision on my own, it was prompted by my best friend’s older sister who made the move the year prior. On the nights I slept over their house, she would come home from her regular school and share stories that made our eyes glaze over with angsty teenage desire—Friday night football games and pep rallies, droves of sweaty bodies packed into a darkened convention center during the homecoming dance, jocks and cheerleaders and everything in between. Students would get together to take photos at the lakefront before the major school dances. They would ride to the venues in carefully curated friend groups, everyone sitting shoulder to shoulder in stretch Hummer limos. She had pictures to prove it.

There were some good things about going to a school as tiny as our arts school. Everyone knew each other on a personal level, from sixth graders up to seniors, so people were at least marginally invested in one another. When someone decided to leave it was a big deal, akin to being the last unmarried friend in adulthood. You felt simultaneously happy for the person but also abandoned, left behind. My best friend and I knew this. We’d been in class with the same 30 kids since we were 12 years old, learning from the same small handful of teachers. Leaving was our most major life milestone up to that point and we figured an event so significant needed to be memorialized. We would have a party.

We went straight into planning mode. It would be at her house, which was big and perfect for entertaining. Her parents were strict so there would be no drinking, but maybe people would sneak a few sips in beforehand. We spent hours agonizing over the invite list: if we invite this person, we have invite that person. Was it inappropriate to invite our favorite teachers, the English teacher who had been a mentor and confidant to me, the history teacher who favored her? The list became long. Most of the school would be invited, we decided. We were feeling generous; we would likely never see most of these people again so might as well invite them all to our party. We decided it would have to happen mostly outside around her pool deck, as having that many people in the house would be chaos. We printed invitations and sealed them in envelopes, burnt CDs for the night’s soundtrack, talked up our event like it was the Oscars after-party. I can’t remember whether we picked out our outfits but I’m certain we did—flared lowrise jeans and long, clingy tank tops. We would look like the cool, regular school girls we would soon become. We hadn’t considered that the night would be anything but a smashing success. People at the arts school would talk about it for years as they scrolled through our MySpace profile pictures, digitally keeping tabs on our New Lives.

The night of the party, the chicken wings and bowls of chips and coolers of water and cans of Coke went untouched because nobody showed up. We waited and waited. The start time passed, 7pm. Then it was 7:30pm, 8pm. A few of our closest friends trickled in and we could hardly act happy to see them. Embarrassment mounted. The decorated space was comically large for our insignificant turnout, ten people tops. At one point, my best friend and I hid in her bedroom and tried to strategize. Could we stay up here all night until our guests left? What the hell went wrong? 

The best part about this story is that we never asked ourselves the question that plagues me in adulthood: what’s the worst that could happen? Had we taken a moment to consider this, we would have acknowledged that we planned our party for the exact same night as the drama student showcase—which, at arts school, was an event as significant as the prom. We were aware of this overlap from the get-go, but our confidence (or our egos) got the better of us. Of course, people would still show up. We were leaving! So what about the drama showcase, it happened every year. We would only leave once. To this day it genuinely baffles me that we never considered the near-inevitable outcome: that no one would come to our party.

This past weekend I was met with a similar fear, albeit with much higher stakes. I had co-organized a mutual aid event with two of my best friends. We were raising money for a single mother in Brooklyn and we had invited several vendors to set up shop alongside a lineup of impressive performers. The weeks leading up to the event were non-stop; endless reaching out and asking people to donate time and money, endless coordination and trying to navigate the event planning sphere of which none of us had any knowledge or experience. By the time the weekend finally arrived we were all very tired—and then we checked the weather. Rain. And then we made a list of the people we’d invited who had confirmed their attendance. We realized it might not be very many people at all. Not enough to justify all of the vendors, the performers. Not enough to raise the money we wanted to raise. Panic ensued.

I should clarify that I’m the only one who panicked. I thought of that fateful party in the ninth grade, of the quiet disappointment that would plague us if this event ended up a bust. My co-organizer talked me off of the ledge. What’s the worst that could happen? she asked. We made a list of the worst things: no one showed up, it rained, we got in trouble trouble for not having a permit to host this event. She reminded me that none of these scenarios were in our control and that all we could do was calmly show up and hope for the best.

The funny thing about the worst-that-could-happen game is that the fictitious scenarios we drum up with are never really the worst things that could happen. The worst things are inconceivable and so are the best things. That is the true beauty of life; the improbability of it. The party that never was, or the event where two of the three worst-things-that-could-happen, happened—it rained, and the park rangers showed up—but that still managed to be a remarkable day.

Cheers, my dears, and as always thank you for reading. If you have any worst that could happen tales of your own, I’d love to hear them!

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A brief programming note: I’ll be away for the next two weeks, tucked up in the mountains of Pennsylvania working as a counselor at an (electronics-free) writing camp for kids. I’m looking forward to disconnecting with the digital world, helping the campers strengthen their voice and their craft, and getting some writing done of my own. Next week’s newsletter will be a throwback edition and the following week I won’t be sending one out. I’ll be back with a fresh edition on Thursday, 9/2, right in time for my birthday! Until then, wear sunscreen on the backs of your hands.

Three Pieces of Content Worth Consuming

  1. Altruism Is Not a Deliverable. If you click one link today, make it this one. With no long term spouse and no children to speak of, there is no reason I spent so much time thinking about how I’ll raise children if I ever have them, but that doesn't stop me from thinking about it. This essay, about a monthly subscription box intended to make volunteering / raising conscious kids easier, brings up many worthy points. Most people want to do better, to raise children who care about others, but we are busy and we want quick solutions. Despite our one-click mindset, this piece reminds us that life’s most important lessons and values will never show up at our doorstep in the form of a $50 volunteer project box.

  2. The Most Effective Way to Thank Your Significant Other. A simple, useful reminder of why giving thanks is necessary for a relationship. The best part of this was the explanation that relationships often spiral: someone does something mean, the other person retaliates, and so on. When you give gratitude to your partner  it creates a similar spiraling, but this time the cycle is virtuous. If you feel appreciated for doing nice things, you'll want to do more nice things. Another interesting point is to thank your partner not only for what they do but for what they are.

  3. How My Bad Acid Trip Taught Me Nothing and Everything. An essay that will probably resonate with many readers. I remember speaking to my therapist about how sad I was earlier this year, and she read me a passage from a book that essentially said I needed to stop guilting myself for these emotions, as they are simply states of being. The knowledge that states of being are temporary is scary and thrilling, but true. I liked this spin on the transient nature of who we "are”, penned by a writer I deeply admire. 

Perhaps You Should…
Let a Personality Quiz Predict Your Fashion Sense

If you’ve been reading this newsletter for a while you already know I’m a sucker for a personality quiz. And while this one—a quiz intended to first categorize your personality, and then use the categorization to encourage you to buy a $3,000 pair of shoes—feels like capitalism incarnate, I must admit it was quite fun.

**Bonus Content** (I Want to Sniff Rihanna)

Not only is she a newly minted billionaire, but she also, allegedly, smells like heaven. Also, I should have guessed when I saw this the first time that she would be releasing an (already sold out) perfume shortly thereafter.

A Quote From A Book You Should Read:

“That night when I went to the bathroom I only pretended to brush my teeth, for I feared that I would somehow rinse the prayer out as well. I wet the brush and rearranged the tube of paste to prevent my parents from asking any questions, and feel asleep with sugar on my tongue.

-Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

This newsletter is best served with a side of conversation, so drop your opinions, reflections, and thoughts in the comments below and let’s get to talking.

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Or, share the most thought-provoking piece from today’s edition with someone you love, then call them up to discuss, debate, and percolate. As a wise woman once said, “Great minds discuss ideas.”