Saturday, June 25, 2011

A regular guy

Looks like I fell off the #Trust30 commitment. The post I'm responding to today asks me to "pick up my ordinary," it is written by Patti Digh. How would I do this, choking myself with perfectionism like the weed wraps its tendrils around the hosta (until I yanked its root this morning, not so easy with my habits of thinking and acting.)

A man a little older than me who tried to help me when I was young remarked that I had a lot of self-importance and that I needed to become " a regular guy." "You think you're the only one who struggles," he told me, pointing out the person working multiple jobs just to keep a roof over the head and food on the table. And I didn't know what I didn't know. It's not that I want to be just like everybody but rather admitting that I don't deserve special treatment. So what are the ways I'd be "a regular guy" today?

Patience. Especially on the road, allowing myself as much time as I can to get from one place to another so that I don't have to drive urgently and/or with desperation. I try to anticipate where the light will change or there will be a crosswalk or another driver will cross my path and adjust, slow down a little, make room. As I've said in this venue before, "I don't own the road, I'm not the turnpike authority, nobody owes me anything." And not be resentful when I am not given the same consideration or someone drives behind me with desperation; as David Foster Wallace pointed out in a widely circulated graduation speech, maybe I'm in his way; and likewise, as a blog post I read makes clear, " I don't know what's going on." Maybe the other one is in a real emergency or just late and feeling desperate. I don't have to feed into it and I don't have to judge or feel superior because I have felt like that, that was the norm for me and it is taking lots of practice to change that. Through breathing and being in my body as I sit in the car seat, with acceptance, I can do it.

Generosity. I have an older friend named Carol who expressed a wish to buy a computer, that the one she had was outdated and that while her needs were simple, she would be interested in discovering material on the internet and online music. We saw each other fairly regularly while I was unemployed, but I didn't make a date to take her to the store and she has no car. When I knew I had a free Friday afternoon coming up, I made arrangements with Carol and picked her up yesterday. I saw her frustration with newer computers and the interfaces and components, but took the time to explain the choices simply, waited for her to make a decision, offered suggestions and worked with the salesperson to arrange the simplest solution possible. (Still have to pick up the unit and set it up.) She thanked me and yet this kind of giving is its own reward, combined with the satisfaction of doing what I said I would, in contrast to how many times I've made empty promises in my life.

Compassion for those around me, and this is new for me, having spent most of my life living in my head and really lacking empathy and having no idea what it would be like for another person, inside her or his skin, looking through those eyes, breathing that breath, experiencing that duration. My wife and I are living in an apartment while our house is being repaired. She had something of a melt down last night, working in an enclosed kitchen space in contrast to what she's used to, not having a salad spinner or a steamer, and then the smoke from the frying meat sets off the smoke alarm. While I would have preferred more emotional balance and the situation made me uncomfortable, upon further review of the play, I realized that this is the way she is feeling, she is expressing her feelings, maybe I didn't feel the same way but I wasn't the one trying to cook a meal in the kitchen while the smoke alarm was blaring and the obdurate smoke was not responding to the fan. (Add to that the general disruption and uncertainty of the housing situation.) I cannot expect someone to respond or feel like me and yet, no matter how many times I've been taught this in my life, in the moment, in the acid test, it is hard to remember and act accordingly. Asking questions too becomes easier with practice and trains the mind to respond and show interest and remember details from others' lives, even that the woman I work with went to visit her son, to be able to ask, how was that, even if it seems like chit chat, another person appreciates when someone shows interest. I know I do and am surprised when others remember details about me or ask about my children, probably because unlike me they are paying attention.

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, a fellow I was friendly with, we hung around quite a bit, wrote in my yearbook upon his graduation something about the ensuing years being hard on the soul, " so keep your feet on the ground," he told me. I had no idea what he meant by those words. I have a sense today, feeling myself held up by the earth or whatever is holding my body, a chair, a sofa. This was totally foreign to me then and for such a long time. Today, maybe the best I can ask of this moment, which is good, is to have my feet on the ground and be on this earth. I didn't know what I didn't know.


  1. Hi Garrett! I am not sure I ever found your blog before -- I don't think so. Anyway, I am so happy to be here and get more of your wisdom out of list form and into prose! Hooray!

  2. I enjoyed this writing Garrett-- thank you for sharing and for being "on the ground" with us...You are a gift.