Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Not Take (Know It) All Of Me?

Hello and happy holidays.  This time of year makes me cranky for any number of reasons, but that’s another blog entirely.  Instead of focusing on mistletoe and wassailing and other stuff I don’t understand, I thought I’d try to purge my brain of some of the thoughts that are stuck in my head like that damn Chumbawamba song.

I have been fortunate enough to go to Rancho La Puerta, a spa in Tecate, Mexico on a handful of occasions, all of which have been nothing short of life changing.  The first few times I went alone and I was drawn to all the activities billed as “silent” or “meditative”, as they were opportunities to participate in cool stuff sans small talk with people I didn’t know.  I’m generally all for meeting new folks and chatting it up, but a whole week of answering the same questions (Where are you from? Did you meet the other lady from Chicago?  You’re here ALL ALONE? Have you been here before?) can use a break or two.  I signed up for the silent meditation dinner and looked forward to having a meal in peace and quiet, but in the company of others.
We were instructed to chew our food very carefully and try to really taste it and think about what we were eating and make a note of where those thoughts took us as we would have a group discussion after.  If you’ve never been to anything like this, I’m here to tell you IT WAS A TRIP.  First of all, as someone who mostly eats whatever isn’t nailed down as quickly as I can over a garbage can at work to avoid listening to passengers’ commentary about it (Ooh, that looks good!  Did you bring enough for everyone?  Seriously, people?  It’s canned tuna.  Remain calm….) I could not believe how long that dinner seemed to take.  In a good way, but it really seemed like hours of chewing and thinking and chewing and thinking.  I thought about what the food really tasted like, the subtle nuances of flavors, about the labor it took to grow it and put it together and serve it and I wondered about what all the other silent chewers were thinking about.  When it was over, the thoughts shared aloud were mostly in line with mine, about the food and its taste and origins and preparation and such until one older man cleared his throat and said, 

“I’d like to say something.”

We all stared at him as he looked alternately at the other diners and down at the table and said, 

“I am here at this dinner because my wife thought it would be a good idea.  My brother recently made some seriously bad decisions regarding our family’s finances and it cost us a ton of money.  I’m really, really, REALLY angry about it and I can’t think about anything else besides that, especially not about how lettuce tastes or about farmers I don’t know or whatever else is being discussed here…..I just keep thinking about how much I hate my brother.  Sorry to bring you down, but I’m here because my wife thinks this experience will help me get over it, but I can’t let it go.  What do you say to that?”

I can still remember vividly the looks on the faces of the dozen or so middle aged, affluent, spa going, meditation dinner eating, road to self actualization trudging types just staring at this guy with the same “Holy crap, we just got blindsided with buzz kill at a SILENT dinner” expression.

We all turned our bewildered faces towards the dinner’s moderator, a young pretty gal with hippie sensibilities, whose face seemed to indicate that although she was a bit taken aback, we should relax because she would handle it.  She spoke in a soft but authoritative tone and replied,

“I’m glad you shared your true feelings with us.  Your wife seems to have your best interests at heart and for that, you should be grateful.  It sounds like your family situation is complicated and that your brother has made some mistakes that you find hard to reconcile.  But I’d like to get you to start thinking differently with the simple concept that it’s often better to be kind than to be right.”  

The man nodded and looked back down at the table.  Not wanting to process any more uncomfortable silence, everyone broke free of the table, assumedly to pursue aromatherapy foot massages.

Five years later, that simple concept still echoes in my head.  I may not be the hottest girl with the smoothest moves, but I’m pretty confident that I am a smart cookie.  I realized early on that my intellect was my most valuable asset, for supporting myself, for attracting companions, for weathering life’s storms, and for stringing together lists complete with Oxford commas.  Chances are if we are friends that you may wear smarty pants as well.  I’m here to tell you as a smart gal I WANT TO BE RIGHT ALL THE EM EFFING TIME.  It’s part of my nature, it’s ingrained in every fiber of my being, and I don’t appear to be alone with this credo.  However, I’m attempting to soften this side of myself for a few reasons.  More lists, naturally.

Most importantly, NO ONE LIKES A KNOW IT ALL.  You know it, I know it, everyone listening to Cliff on Cheers knows it.  So why do we forget this when we open our mouths?  Why, why, Nancy Kerrigan lead pipe to the knees, WHY?  Why must we think our two cents is worth a dollar eighty five?

As I get older, I’ve gotten smarter about certain topics but my memory for factoids is starting to swirl the bowl, leading me to forget things or (shudder) remember them incorrectly.  And there’s nothing worse than thinking you’re right and being wrong….. Am I right?
The state of the world has caused me to tune out of “important” topics like politics and finance and who’s trying to dominate the world as we know it this week.  I mean, I vote and I’m a decent manager of my own money and I attempt to read a newspaper of note on a regular basis, not just the celebrity gossip.  But the stuff I really know is mostly music trivia and pop culture bullshit, which I know in the big scheme of things is just pure cocktail party fluff.

Humbled by all this, I continue to practice being kind over being right.  Before I go twenty rounds over there vs their and the like, I ask myself, does it really matter?  I get seriously annoyed over petty bullshit like that all the time and then I have to remember that I don’t get all those moments in my life back and there isn’t a special place in heaven for nitpickers.  Even in the realm of dispensing advice, where someone else is merely asking my opinion, lately I find myself doing more listening and asking questions like, “How would you like things to be different?” instead of trying to smother them with my thoughts on how things should be.  I was recently told that making people feel good is my super power, so perhaps while I’m being kind I’m also doing something right.  Two great tastes that taste great together……

I am trying to overcome an overwhelming case of writer’s block…..looking for avenues to continue to share my work at the onset of Chicago winter.  Being between writing projects makes you feel like you should at the very least be actively living a life worth writing about.  I’m off to drink a whiskey drink, a vodka drink, a lager drink, a cider drink, and sing the songs that remind me of the good times…..more Oxford commas soon.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Phonely No More

Recognizing that no story of any interest ever started with “I recently bought a new phone”, here goes.
I recently bought a new phone.  My trusty two year old iPhone 3G had been sputtering along, not reacting quickly to my every request and needing to be charged at every turn.  I was truly surprised it had held up as long as it did as that phone was constantly in use for our entire relationship.  I used it for emailing, texting, research, writing, rewriting, and until I was recently given an iPod Shuffle, I used the iPod function while I was running or just killing time on the El train.  Okay, sure, this sounds like what everyone does with their phone….precisely when does this become interesting?

As soon as iPhone 3 started to show signs of biting the dust, I focused on getting the latest and greatest iPhone.  My phone limped along through the summer as everyone said the iPhone 5 would be announced in October….no iPhone 5, but what about the iPhone 4S?  It was touted to be a jillion times faster and featured Siri, some sort of voice operated assistant function that might actually live my life for me when I’m not interested.  Sounds great.  Of course getting a new iPhone 4S, at least in Chicago, proved to be a challenge, especially since I put very little effort into jumping through hoops to get it.  I figured I’d waited this long for a new phone….I’d wait for the hype to die down and get one when everyone was done clamoring over it.  Who cares if I was the asshole plugging my phone in at random coffee shops just to get through the day?  I would have the new phone, some day, some way.

I was on the El last week, catching up with online blather, when I came across my friend Colleen’s blog.  She had written a story about a chance encounter with someone she met at the Double Down Saloon in Las Vegas.  Colleen had gone in to kill some time and try a bacon martini when she was approached by a young woman out of the blue; they struck up a conversation and had a compelling connection.  As I read the story, I recognized that it was of special interest to me as I am immensely attracted to tales of alliances between strangers, to the point that is a thematic obsession.  Some of my most cherished songs, movies, and books revolve around this; when I started writing, it became a recurring motif.  Perhaps because there are no strangers, there are only people you haven’t met yet, and those people can change the way you think in important and meaningful ways, even if your relationship is very short.  While this was sinking in, I looked around and took in the faces of those surrounding me, people I hadn’t taken any time to notice because I was completely consumed with my phone, which is a pretty typical scenario for me.

It wasn’t always this way.  I thought about the first cell phone I had when I started my job back in 2001….it was slightly smaller than a brick and it MADE AND RECEIVED PHONE CALLS.  That’s it.  I would fire it up at the end of my work day, check my messages, return calls, and turn it off.  Every new phone came with more features whether I wanted them or not (I still remember telling the salesman at the Sprint store, “I don’t need a camera!” to which he replied, “You can’t get a phone without one!”), and I’ll admit that texting and emailing on a handheld device has made simple communication more convenient.  As someone who is away from home for work, I have come to rely on the phone to keep me in contact with life in Chicago while I’m working and with others who I don’t see often for a variety of reasons, distance, work schedules, etc.  But at some point, I started using it not only to stay connected to my important people, but to dissociate myself with the here and now.  My job (just like yours, possibly) involves people saying and doing things I’d rather not see or witness or absorb, and sometimes I prefer to climb into a comfortable internet rabbit hole instead of acknowledging what’s going on around me.  But when I do this, I’m denying myself two very important opportunities….opening my eyes to the people around me and accepting whatever magical, offensive, or truly banal events may occur, or if I need to check out of reality, I really should be day dreaming.  It’s completely acceptable to be lost in one’s thoughts in the middle of it all, in fact, it is probably when we are our most creative.  With that in mind, I went to the AT&T store and bought a basic iPhone with a quarter the storage of my old one.  It makes and receives calls and texts and emails and holds 1,000ish songs, which is more than I need to revert to my old philosophy of checking in with the electronic world on occasion, responding, and returning my focus back to the present. When I make a decision that involves choosing relationships and experiences over shiny material stuff, it brings me happiness, another recurring theme here in the blogosphere.

I could have come to this realization sooner if I’d listened to a scruffy, Hawaiian shirt clad, heavily medicated, quite possibly crazy guy on the El a few months back.  I was texting a friend and listening to music while taking the orange line home after going out for dinner.  When we arrived at the end of the line, he yelled in my face, “I don’t know who you’ve been texting this whole ride, but I’ve been trying to get your attention.  I’M A REAL PERSON WHO’S RIGHT HERE!”  I laughed and agreed with him, but he continued to cuss me out.   He definitely gets points off for his technique, but I’ll be damned if that loony dude wasn’t on to something.  Sometimes people are telling you everything you really need to know, you just need to make sure you’re able to listen.

NaNoWriMo idea scrapped, but there are some new writing developments in the works.  And it's snowing here in Chicago!  And thus begins the season of hunkering down at the keyboard....