The Power of Negative Thinking

Don't get me wrong: I like to be positive, have "an attitude of gratitude", and practice compassion. But when it's time to defend myself, I love bursting with righteous anger.  My temper has saved me from more than a few scary situations.

For example, one day when I was twenty years old I was lying in the sun on a beach in Chile.  It was October, which means it was early spring in the southern hemisphere and still a little chilly for the locals.  But for the girl from Alaska, a cool day at the beach was no deterrent to sunbathing. The sun was out, and my bathing suit was on.

An old man sidled up to me and began to tell me, in Spanish, that I was lovely.  He was probably saying more than that, but I couldn't understand his slurred speech or thick Chilean accent. Taking a hint, I pulled my shirt on and began packing up to move elsewhere. 

He offered me a banana, the phallic symbolism of which was not lost on me.  However, I was hungry and loved free food, so I took it and packed it in my bag.  Apparently that was the wrong move.  By accepting his banana, I'd given him the idea that we were friends. When I stood up to walk away, the old man said something about "mi casa" and grabbed my forearm. Hard.

Feeling his grip encircle my arm instantly enraged me. What an asshole! Baring my teeth, I drove my forearm into his chest and used my elbow to shove him backwards with as much force as I could.  To my surprise, he released his grip and fell on his butt in the sand. For a split second, our eyes met.  I could tell he was as shocked as I was. I'd never taken a self-defense class in my life, but my move had been so confident and powerful, I walked away feeling like a black-belt hero.

Getting mad can make us strong.  And not just against fellow humans. Making some noise to claim our boundaries is an ancient language spoken by all creatures. It works on snakes, too, I learned.

One night on my cross-country bicycle tour, while sitting in my tent at a lake-side campsite in Eastern Kansas, I heard a rustling sound approaching.  It was dark outside, and the sound was unnerving.  I'd never heard anything like it: soft and constant, as if something was being dragged through the dry leaves. And it was getting closer.

I turned on the flashlight of my phone and pointed it through the mesh wall of my tent, just in time to see a small shiny, black head slip beneath the vestibule.  I let out a gasp, realizing that the black snake was heading straight for me.  The only thing separating us was a gauzy layer of mosquito netting. 


"NO!!!" I bellowed, suddenly furious. "NOT TONIGHT, NOT RIGHT NOW, AB-SO-LUTE-LY NO!!!" I pounded the ground with my feet and fists, screaming at the intruder with a vengeance I hadn't felt since my brother hid my stuffed rabbit from me in the third grade. "GO AWAY, GO AWAY, GO AWAY!!!" I chanted at the top of my lungs. There was no one else in the campsite that night, just me and the black snake who immediately made a u-turn with his slick body, exited stage right, and was never seen again.

Afterwords, I drew the sketch above to commemorate the event.  There's nothing like an angry tantrum to keep yourself safe when traveling alone.