I have this unique gift. I know what’s best for everybody except, perhaps, myself. At least, that’s the reality I choose to live in much of the time. It’s really easy to look at people’s lives from the outside and come up with quick and easy solutions for them, isn’t it?
The real challenge is keeping one’s opinions to oneself. Usually that comes with age and experience. I must admit I still struggle with this sometimes.
For example, I know an amazing young lady who is talented and charismatic and creative and intelligent and thin and beautiful. She should be the queen of the world. But she drinks. A lot. I mean… a lot. As far as I know, she doesn’t let this impact her work, but it looms large the rest of the time. It breaks my heart. I want to shake her until her teeth rattle. “You have so much going for you! Don’t do this!”
I know another guy who hates his job and is constantly hunting for another one. He looks good on paper. He’s extremely intelligent and capable. He gets lots of interviews, but he never gets hired. He can’t understand why. I can. His personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. He looks and smells like he has been living in a cave his whole life. He’s actually kind of scary, if you don’t know him. From an employer’s point of view, this has to be a bit off-putting. If you can’t be bothered to take care of yourself, how can I assume you’ll take care of your job? I’m all for self-expression, but it can sometimes be self-destructive.
And then there’s this guy I have a crush on, who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in me. I mean, Hello! I’m amazing! I’m fun to be around, interesting to talk to, nurturing, non-smoking, fiscally responsible, great in bed… I’m a freaking catch! In other words, perfect for him. Why can’t he see that?
The bottom line is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If someone wants to be an alcoholic, look like a Neanderthal, or overlook true love, there’s nothing I can do about it. People have the right to walk their own paths. I don’t have to like it.
I get the “can’t make it drink” part. That’s obvious. But I often still try to lead those horses to the water. I really have to work on that. It’s a waste of time for them, and frankly, it makes me look like a pompous ass. Sometimes horses just prefer to roam free.
It’s always rather disconcerting when someone else has a different version of a memory that I’ve been invested in my whole life long. Which version is correct? And if my version is wrong, how did it change over time?
This is particularly unsettling when I’ve told a story time and time again to explain why it is that I’ve come to be the way I am. Have I been molding myself out of pure fantasy? But it feels so real…
Memories, it seems, can take on lives of their own. That kind of makes me feel as though I have nothing on which to hang my hat. The solid foundation I thought I had, as poorly constructed as it may have been, now seems to be built on quicksand. Scary.
And here’s the kicker: the older you get, the more memories you have. And the more they tend to fade. And yet you’re still you. Aren’t you?
I can’t remember where I read about this concept, but it appeals to me greatly. Just be. Live in the now. Don’t dwell on the past or worry about the future. Pure bliss.
It’s not as easy as it looks, though. For example, I’m in the midst of planning my vacations for the year. Obviously, that’s future stuff. And I came across my diary from high school, and have been reading it. Past stuff.
Much of this blog is about past experience or future dreams. And I’m a little stressed because I’ve been sick as a dog for the past few days, so I don’t have as many future blog entries waiting in the queue as I usually do.
Past, Future…see how many times I’ve bounced from one to the other in just the PAST few paragraphs? Why is it so hard to stay in the present? Do we not value it as much?
In truth, the present is the only thing that is real. The way we remember the past changes over time, and we view it through our own biased lens. As for the future, it may not come about. You could be hit by a bus tomorrow.
Heaven knows that the way I had my life plotted out in my high school diary certainly never came to be. Sometimes I look in the mirror and say to myself, “How the hell did you get here?” Sometimes that’s an angry question. Other times it’s infused with gratitude and awe.
But there I go again, reflecting on the past. I’ll have to work on that. Sometime in the future…
It’s very easy to feel put upon when your best-laid plans go astray, but why bother? Stuff happens. And not just to you. Every one of us gets blindsided every once in a while.
If you think about it, concluding that things are going “wrong” is really the height of arrogance. Things might not be going according to your plan, but what makes you think that your plan is the plan? What makes you think that there even is a plan in the broader scheme of things?
As my dear friend Caly once said, it is natural to make your own reality from the chaos of life. Otherwise you’d go nuts. But I think we then have a tendency to veer off course and assume than our reality is, or should be, cast in stone. That’s when things get messy, because the world isn’t always going to cooperate with your view thereof.
Instead of thinking that things are going wrong, perhaps it would be better to think, “I made a plan, and then something else happened.” And maybe with luck and the beauty of hindsight you’ll discover that that “something else” wasn’t so bad after all.
Here are a few examples from my life:
I planned to live happily ever after with the love of my life, and then something else happened. He died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. And because of that I’m now in Seattle, and while I miss him so much it’s physically painful sometimes, I do love it here.
I planned to take my degree in Dental Laboratory Technology and Management and start my own dental lab in the mountains of North Carolina, and then something else happened. After graduating with honors, I couldn’t get a job with anyone else to get the requisite training, which turned out to be a good thing because I then had to have wrist surgery and wouldn’t have been able to do the work anyway. (And North Carolina has turned into a place where you aren’t free to pee in public bathrooms without having your gender questioned, and I’d have found that intolerable.)
I planned to grow old with someone, and then something else happened. Someone forgot to tell me that it’s nearly impossible to find love after 50. I haven’t given up entirely, but another “something else” has happened, too: I’ve discovered I quite like my life as it is, so if someone comes along, that’s great, but if not, it’s all good. Most of the time.
I think the true definition of happiness is not becoming so wedded to your itinerary that you overlook the alternate routes. There are many paths you can take. Relax. You’ll get to where you’re supposed to be one way or another, even if it’s not where you expected to go.
I was looking at my blog categories, and I just realized that I categorize every blog entry, over 1300 now, as an observation. That makes me wonder if I should do away with that category entirely.
When you get down to it, everything in the world is an observation, isn’t it? To form an opinion about something, we have to have first seen it, either firsthand or through the media. To know how to behave ethically in this world, we first have to see what is considered ethical. Facts are facts because they have been observed to be true.
It is so important to set a good example for our children because they watch what we do and pattern their behavior after us. When we are trained to do a job, we are shown what that job entails. Learning is based almost entirely on observation. The fact that we tend to believe what we see in print puts extra pressure on the writers of this world.
What complicates things is that we all look at things differently. We each have a slightly different focus, which means our priorities tend to vary. If ten people view a scene and then are asked to describe it, their descriptions will be different.
So, if everything is an observation, and every observer sees things differently, what does that say about reality?
Something to think about during your morning commute.
I don’t think I’ll respond well to my first serious earthquake. Of course I won’t. But it will hit me on a variety of levels because I take great comfort in thinking that things are unyielding. I like things that I can touch– things right before my eyes, and I like to be able to count on the fact that they are going to stay put.
The first time I feel the earth truly move and things begin to fall, it’s going to alter my sense of reality completely. Even though I can anticipate that in advance, it’s still going to happen. I can’t seem to help but rely on the solid.
I feel the same way about human beings. I like to believe that they’re not going to simply disappear on me. I suppose that’s because I can’t imagine disappearing on someone else. At least not without fair warning.
But people have definitely gone poof in my life, like that last flash of light you used to see when you’d turn off an old-style television set. My last boyfriend died so unexpectedly that I really don’t think I’ve properly processed it. One minute he was there, and the next he was gone. My life changed forever, in the space of that minute. That does not do good things to one’s sense of security and stability. Life is as fragile as a soap bubble. Pop.
And one of the things I hate most about changing jobs is saying good-bye to old work friends, friends who have been in the career foxhole with me, people that I think I’ve bonded with. Many of them say they’ll keep in touch, but it’s been my experience that the vast majority of them do not.
But by far the worst (yes, even worse than death, because death is inevitable and usually not intentional), is when people disappear for no known reason. My best friend in junior high school was in foster care, and one day, after many years, right in the middle of the school year, she was no longer there, and nobody could or would tell me what had happened. And I’ve had many friends in the virtual world of Second Life who have abruptly disappeared without saying good-bye. It feels like a death, and for all I know it could be, so it’s extremely upsetting.
My best friend for 14 years broke all ties with me based on a misunderstood sentence fragment as far as I can tell. It still causes me a great deal of pain. More horrible than the fact that I miss his presence in my life is that I’m now having to reconcile my sense of reality with the actual truth that our friendship must have been much more frail than I realized. That makes me wonder what that says about me and how I perceive the world.
Things fall apart. The center does not hold. I don’t like that. Not even a little bit.
When I was seven years old, I was walking into school with my best friend when a boy grabbed her arm and started dragging her down the sidewalk. I didn’t know this boy (I didn’t know any boys, really), so it scared me quite a bit. Loyal friend that I am, I started beating him in the head with my Scooby Doo lunchbox (complete with full thermos), while screaming, “LET HER GO!!!!”
Needless to say, he let her go and ran away. What I didn’t expect was my friend’s angry reaction to my rescue. Apparently I had interrupted some sort of prepubescent mating ritual. I hadn’t gotten the memo. My lunch was crushed and so was I.
This wouldn’t be the last time I misinterpreted the subtle nuances of life. Just the other day I was at a party with a friend, and she said something to me and I responded. We carried on that conversation for the rest of the event. It wasn’t until we were walking to my car afterward that I discovered we had been having two entirely different conversations the whole time!
I always find it to be quite disconcerting when I find out that my reality is completely distinct from the reality of those around me. It’s as if the universal translator in my head is set to the wrong frequency and I’m speaking a different language. I’m out of tune, out of touch. That’s an awful feeling, because my entire ego is built firmly upon a foundation of intelligence. When I realize I’m on a different page than the rest of the readers of the world, I feel kind of dumb.
It also doesn’t help that I’m prone to daydreaming quite a bit. I enjoy the garden of my mind. There is just so much to see and do there. But that doesn’t serve me well when interacting with others. Lack of focus is putting it mildly.
Let’s just say that I am forever grateful to my loved ones for their abiding patience. Thanks everybody!
I had been in this strange little relationship for 15 years. It wasn’t bad. No passion, per se, but it beat a sharp stick in the eye. We were just cruising along on automatic pilot, probably because we were both afraid of being alone.
And then we were at this backyard bar-b-cue and he decided to tell everyone the story of how we met. It was so romantic, he said. We’d met at church and she slid over on the pew to be closer to me, he said. We looked at each other, and the rest is history, he said.
That kind of made me blink. I mean, yes, the facts were true, but the conclusions drawn from them? Not so much. I slid over on the pew because as usual he was mumbling through his untrimmed mustache, and I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. And once I slid over, I simply couldn’t be bothered to slide back.
Could this be his version of our relationship? Did he think it started off romantically, was love at first sight, and was still romantic? That made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. We hadn’t even touched each other in any intimate way in well over a year. Was he happy? Seriously? Can you really survive when you’re deeply buried in such a steaming mound of pure fantasy?
He always had funny ideas about women. He thought his mother, one of the most flawed individuals I’ve ever met, was a saint. When he’d write stories, the female characters always seemed to need rescuing, and they often wore pillbox hats with veils, and would bite their nails through their gloves when they were afraid, which was often. They giggled a lot. They liked lace. They were easily shocked. To me they always seemed kind of like ideal mannequins stuffed with artificial emotions.
Suddenly I felt very sorry for him. And I felt even more sorry for myself, because he didn’t know me at all, and had no idea what I was feeling. It’s hard to be passionate about someone you pity. With hindsight, I realize that that was the beginning of the end. I wanted to live with someone in the real world. I wanted to be understood.
Recently I wrote a blog entry called How Soon We Forget, about a unique encounter I had with a fisherman on the job, and how I reacted when he passed away. That was a story that has weighed heavily on my mind for years, and it was good to get it out.
There have been further developments since that posting. I had mentioned that StoryCorps wanted to include the story in their upcoming anthology, but their fact checkers couldn’t seem to corroborate it.
Well, just the other day one of the fact checkers contacted me with a link to a brief article in the Jacksonville paper. Yay! Vindication!
Well, sort of. The Florida Times-Union isn’t exactly known for getting their facts straight, but still, it’s unsettling see how different their version of events was.
First of all, my old fisherman was only 51, a year older than I am now. Either the man didn’t age well or it was a different guy. But I never saw my old fisherman again, so that would be a strange coincidence.
Also, he wasn’t found in the boat. They found the boat on the shore, the engine still running, and they found his body a mile further down, about 12 hours later. That must have been horrible for his family.
In addition, he did have a job, so he wasn’t the content retiree I imagined him to be. I had this whole story about him in my head that was based on nothing. And that got me thinking about truth and my version thereof, and reality, and the way we perceive one another, and the way we fill in the blanks without even acknowledging that there are blanks.
But most importantly, they claimed that he went out at 3 pm on this particular fishing trip, so maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the last person to see him alive after all. So I think it’s time for me to lay this burden down. Maybe now we can both rest in peace.
I decided it would be good for me to lay it to rest by telling the whole story at Fresh Ground Stories, a fantastic storytelling group that I sporadically attend here in Seattle. You can hear a recording of it here. At the end of the story it automatically starts playing two other stories I’ve told, so just stop it if you don’t want to hear them all. But let me know what you think!
When a heavy cloak of depression settles down upon my shoulders, I tend to feel as if life has passed me by. I start to ask myself what the point could possibly be, and when I’m unable to answer that question I give up hope, and start resigning myself to my fate. Why even try? When I’m in that awful mind-space I genuinely believe that nothing good or new or exciting will ever happen to me again. Ever. And I’ll spend the rest of my life alone. Forever.
And then I proceed to catch up on my sleep.
What usually snaps me out of this mindset is either planning something that I can look forward to, or a heaping helping of reality. That reality usually takes on the form of an event that shows me how erroneous my thought process is. In other words, I get embarrassed out of my depression.
First of all, relatively speaking, my life is pretty darned good. It takes but a minute to read stories of how nasty, brutish and short the average human life can be. For example, how can I possibly feel sorry for myself after looking at photos of the Syrian refugee camps?
But the greatest balm is when I’m inspired by someone who hasn’t given up. In this instance it was all the more stunning because it came in the form of a friend. I love being in awe of friends.
From deep beneath my heavy cloak of gloom I happened to peek out at Facebook the other day and saw that my friend Carole, on the brink of her 73rd birthday, had posted footage of herself jumping out of an airplane. A perfectly good airplane. On purpose. Whoa.
You may not be able to control how people feel about you, but you can do unexpected and exciting things at any age. You can skydive. The sky isn’t the limit. The sky is the starting point. You can be amazing. And that sounds a lot more appealing to me than lying in bed with the sheets pulled up over my head.