I’ve always loved drinking, so it was hard to give up my scotch on the rocks in the evening. No more beer with dinner. Now, it’s tea with honey and water water water. As the decades go by and death’s become more like a relative than a cartoon character, I’ve come to treasure consciousness more than anything else in the world, even more than a good buzz or a long, luscious nap.
The older we get, the sharper our senses in finding and living in these moments of consciousness. I see my dad living in them almost minute to minute, savoring each bite of dinner, looking at my daughter plugged into her iPhone, blinking less and holding gazes longer, saying things like “Here we are,” with a big silly smile on his face. I’m understanding it more and more each day. That kind of wisdom isn’t in the books. It’s an ancient elixir you’ll only find deep in the mountains, on the other side of the ocean, across a large expanse of desert.
It’s the gift of aging: an ever-deepening and well-earned appreciation for life, the unlocking of an alchemy that allows you to squeeze juice from the smallest of fruits, to rest comfortably and consciously in tiny units of time.
Here we are.
I work alone. That is, I have a talented team of editors and administrative staff but they work remotely which means it’s just me sitting here, at this desk, in this office.
I can wear boxer shorts, go barefoot, even have a little scotch on Friday afternoon while I tackle technical issues. No one’s watching. Carte blanche, baby!
So why do I sometimes wear a tie to work?
It’s not what you think…
It started with my daughter. She saw a tie in my closet so I threw it on to show her how it works. Then, I forgot to take it off and all of a sudden… I’m wearing a tie at work.
It’s not so bad. There are benefits.
Ties are great to fidget with while talking with clients and they get me respect points at lunch hour. But the best thing about ties as far as I’m concerned is back at the office, that moment after coming out of the work trance, when my eyes adjust from staring at the screen and I start to see what’s around me and I begin to remember I’m sitting in a little room in Oakland that no one knows about working on a resume that will be completely unnecessary in 6 months… It’s at that moment that I look down and see my tie flat on my chest, perfect and ridiculous, impressing the hell out of absolutely no one.
It never fails me. No matter what came before, I laugh every time.
One thing we can learn from The Great Partisan Divide is that we are all easily manipulated. But the puppeteers, we must realize, are not the media, rather our own emotions.
It’s gotten to the point that when we see a new headline or image, we try to figure out the perspective of the writer first and foremost, instead of focusing on what’s being written. We value the lens over the specimen.
This is why we often consume content from the same source: because we eliminate the need to deconstruct the angle. We already know the angle, and agree with the angle, so we can focus on that scrumptious absorption of the familiar.
Ironically, as we gobble up information, we’re not necessarily opening our minds, but instead closing them in, wrapping our sculls with another hardening layer of the same plaster so our sacred facts remain intact, no pieces lost, our map to our tried and true values always safe and never challenged.
It feels good to know we’re right, so good, indeed, that the feeling becomes more important than our own growth.
My wife’s favorite story about me, the one where she can’t help but laugh as she tells the punchline, is that day I was getting a pedicure in the salon. In noticing all the empty chairs around me, I innocently asked my esthetician:
“Why is it so dead in here?
To which she replied, “It’s Superbowl Sunday.” And then went back to my cuticles.
Don’t get me wrong. I like watching sports, including football. In spite of the evidence revealed in Molly’s favorite story, I rarely miss a Superbowl. It’s practically a holiday in the states. We all have our reasons for watching: rooting for our favorite team, rooting against the Patriots, drinking beer, eating nachos, celebrating the best teams (or advertisements) of the year…
My reason for watching and attending is the same reason I paint my toenails, the same reason I became a recruiter, a career counselor, a dad, and an activist (in that order). The reason I get up at 5 am and write my thoughts down and then send them away in a bottle.
It’s for the PEOPLE, man.
The nacho dippers and beer drinkers, the jersey wearers, and play-by-players, the ad-watchers and the TV haters… I love ’em all. Every chance I get. Every interaction I have.
Superbowls, like protests and pedicures, get me pumped. But when I cheer, it’s not only for the athletes and advertisers; it’s for fans and the people on the same side of the screen as me.
Novelists get to choose their plot points, to weave efficient storylines without excess. At least that’s how it appears…
In reality, novelists know writing is mostly a reductive process: rounds and rounds of trimming out everything unnecessary. It’s these strategic cuts that put wonder and feeling into a story, that determine how wild the ride is for the characters and the reader. A nip here and a tuck there can change the color of a sunset and the depth of a dimple.
We are much the same, editing our stories as we remember them, inevitably turning history into fiction at the dinner table and in our diaries, simply by what we omit and include.
The mistake we make is that we refer to these edited, incomplete passages as truth rather than fiction. Holding tight to our beloved narratives, we no longer see the crumpled-up drafts at our feet, tattooed with redlines and cross-outs, rich with discarded endings.
These scraps and scrawlings can save you!
When your story is no longer working, bend down and flatten out one of those forgotten pages. If you look hard enough you will see through your cross-outs to the words underneath, words that become landmarks forming paragraphs plump with plot points, showing you things that really happened, offering a new angle and a new ending. What was of no use to you before may be just what you need right now.
Bring it back in.
Be comforted by the infallible notion that, just like a Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist, you always produce more than you publish. And you own all the rights.
Recognize the power of visualization.
It’s not just a woo-woo thing. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s out there and what’s inside, and with enough blasts of the same image, your brain will actually change, physically, which means your perspective will change. You’ll see your problems in a different light and you’ll notice nascent, curled-up possibilities hiding in the shadows.
But there’s a catch. The key is not to visualize the SOLUTION. The SOLUTION, by definition, is wrapped inextricably with the PROBLEM, and whatever you do, you don’t want to focus on the PROBLEM. You already know where that leads.
The key is to visualize the IMPACT of the SOLUTION. IMPACT is further down the road and around the corner from the PROBLEM. IMPACT is the spinning girl in the tutu. It is the discotheque, thumping and glowing in rhythm.
If you want to finish that painting you’ve been stuck on, don’t picture yourself painting; see yourself sipping tea and watching people contemplate your message. Hear their thoughts, experience the emotions of living in that future.
If you’re building a product, don’t imagine the amazing features that will blow people away. Instead, look for the faces of the people who are improving their lives because of what you created. You know they’re out there!
The metaphysical, woo-woo part of all this is that, with a forced shift in focus in submission to sleight-of-hand street magic, your problem(s) will begin to fade.
The hardest part for us is to allow our brains and our hearts to realize that the past doesn’t have a monopoly on our well-being. The future shapes the present just the same.
I love the kindness of strangers. I seek it out, as an observer and a participant. It’s my religion: when the security guard calls me “boss,” the headlight flicker from the car behind me, the man who gave up his seat so I could be next to my daughter, the free cookie at the toy store, an unexpected graffiti affirmation above the urinal.
Isn’t love at it’s greatest when the giver gets nothing in return? And how many great things in the world do we have in such abundance, that will really truly never run out?
There are churches in the streets. Mass is in session. Miracles and magic are among us, we the creators and the gifted.
I’m embarrassed to admit, I let my dog’s hygiene get out of control. His hair got matted, he had a runaway cyst on his back, his eyes were all goopy and crusty. The days just got away from me and I’d go to bed thinking I’ll book a grooming appointment tomorrow.
But after so many days, he needed more than grooming. These things had to be handled by a vet, which cost us triple that of a groomer. Not to mention the shame…
Fortunately, Ziggy has forgiven me, though I struggle to forgive myself, just as I did when the deck needed sanding because I didn’t stain it and the lawn needed weed-whacking because I didn’t mow it.
MAINTENANCE is a series of little things, so easy to do that they often get skipped or, more to the point, repeatedly pushed down on our priority lists. But without MAINTENANCE, you’re headed for REPAIR, which is usually one or two big things (e.g. a vet visit or 2 hours of back-breaking lawn care).
Lawns, dogs, and decks aren’t alone in their need for maintenance. Relationships and careers need tending to as well, or else they become overgrown and splintered.
The very best time to do some soul searching is when you don’t feel like you need to. Things aren’t too far gone, your head’s in a good place, and, more than likely, the remedy won’t take too long to conjure and implement.
Take it from the career counselor with the big fat vet bill and the (thankfully) forgiving dog. Don’t wait. Make time to groom what you love.
Repetition is the origin of habit. So, in some ways, our jobs – inevitably repetitious to some degree – are formulas for the habits we see in our lives. The patterns we run at work migrate into our personal pursuits. The metaphors we use, the way we approach relationships, the methods of pursuing our goals, and our dreams at night are all influenced, indeed dictated, by the things we do over and over again during the day. We take our job titles home.
This is both the good news and the bad. Our workdays often feel like they are assigned to us as if we have no say in the matter. Jobs and tasks are obligations. Therefore the habits that come with them, they’re not ours because we didn’t choose them.
Not entirely true. An important axis is being overlooked. There is latitude in how we do our jobs, both in behavior and in thought. A teacher is required to hit certain milestones for her students (no choice) but she can run the class in a near-limitless amount of ways (choice). A custodian must sweep and mop the floors every day (no choice) but gets to determine the order, speed, posture, and pattern he uses and, perhaps most importantly, the song he whistles while pushing the broom (choice).
All jobs have parameters, rigid steps to follow, but there is airy space between those rungs. There is always a place to play a little bit, to leave your mark and make some patterns of your own.
One of my clients compared herself to a Hostess Cupcake. “I’m good and chocolatey on the outside but soft and gooey in the middle.” She was referring to the fact that she presents well but has insecurities people can’t see.
“That’s okay,” I said. “That’s how we all are.”
I’ve talked with thousands of people about their lives and careers and one truth about us is that we all have insecurities, soft spots other people don’t know about.
We are all cupcakes.
So, next time you’re looking to make a connection with someone important, let them enjoy your chocolatey goodness and invite them to have a little taste of your gooey center. It’s familiar territory, a common ingredient, the part that brings us closer together.