Saturday, December 8, 2007

Formational Event #44

After reading my blog from yesterday, it amazes me how pompous I can sound sometimes, without meaning to. And honestly, I didn’t mean to. Sometimes writing the blogs is in itself an ego boost. But when the boost goes over the edge into ego-tism, it’s time to reign back, and change perspectives.

The key element of the previous formational event that I casually overlook is the fact that someone intervened on my behalf. Without my Uncle having spoken up for me, I could’ve cried ‘til the cows came home, making the others around me angrier and more upset, and setting myself up for a long and unpleasant cross country trip, I have no doubt. I inherited a stubborn streak from my mother. But the simple act of someone outside of that dynamic, made the difference.

And in fact, almost every significant achievement made “on my own” was, in careful reflection, aided by an outside party. I got my first job through a teacher setting me up with an internship, and my second major career change was initiated through my sisters actions. I went to school through my parent’s funding. And before that, I got a quality education through their actions to get me as one of the first students inducted into the Metco program, a fledgling program through which kids in urban areas were bussed out to suburban schools. Without that base, I would not have had the AP classes that enabled me to start college a year early, when the Regan administration was cutting funding. Without the funding, I would not have been able to afford art school. And so on and so on. I did the work, sure. But I got the start on someone else’s shoulders. So I wanted to take a moment to appreciate that, here.

I get by with a little help from my friends.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Formational Event #8

I’m writing something that is forcing me to analyze what I call formulating events in my character. These are key and significant junctures I can identify in my past which, for good or ill, have helped formulate my world view. Thought I’d start to share some of them, here.

I’m six or seven years old, and my mother and I are making her semi-annual pilgrimage from Massachusetts to Indiana, for a visit with her sister and her father, my aunt and my grandfather. It’s a long trip by car, hours of staring, bored, at the open road while she tried to engage her sullen son in conversation. Often I’d just curl up in the back seat and sleep.

The moment in question is at the end of the trip. We’re packing up to go, and the luggage which fit into the trunk on the way won’t fit there anymore, with the addition of presents and other various odds and ends collected from family. She, my aunt, and my uncle have all tried various configurations. With each successive persons attempts, I’ve watched silently, sure of the solution to the puzzle. Finally my mother gives up, ready to be on the road. Her solution is that we’ll fit the odd bag in the back seat, rather than take up any more of everyone else’s energy. But I want my turn to try. Aside from the fact that I’m sure I know the solution to the puzzle, the back seat of her little Toyota is my domain, my respite from the road, and I’m unwilling to share it with a bulky hardtop suitcase. Besides, again, I know how to make it fit.

My mother is tired by that point, and has already given up. She’s found a solution, and is ready to go. I’m being difficult, in her eyes, wanting to play a grown up game that will waste more time. She says no, moving the bag toward the back seat.

I burst into tears, last resort for a boy too big to do so, out of frustration at not being taken seriously. I had waited for my turn. And I was certain I could solve the problem. I could make it work. But I am being refused the opportunity. After a few anguished moments, my mother is finally talked into letting me try as the lesser of two evils.

I move the bags around, like the pieces of a puzzle, and slide the last bag into place,. The lid of the trunk closes quickly, to, as I recall, the astonishment of the adults surrounding me, in less than three minutes.

It’s a formational event because it taught me some things that I carry to this day:

First, no one will ever believe you have an answer unless and until you show them. One has to prove themselves every day, even to those you assume should know better.

Second, that waiting your turn will not cut you any slack, nor gain you respect. It’s fair, but as many parents teach pretty early, the world doesn’t often reward fairness. You have to make a choice sometimes between being rude and being right. I think the corresponding axiom goes something like, “better to ask forgiveness than permission.

Third, that squeaky wheels get greased. But as one gets older, I think how much one is willing to squeak goes down proportionally. It’s embarrassing, attention drawing, and potentially mortifying, to squeak too loudly. But when the alternative is silent frustration and turmoil, better to make some noise.

And finally, (while it’s not always the case) most often, I can do that which I believe I can do. That is to say, I will most often achieve what I set out to achieve, when such an achievement is a conscious effort, a goal. Whether anyone else believes in me, I believe in myself.

Hope to share a few more in the coming weeks. Invite others to do the same.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The End (5 of 5)

Beer greases the wheels of conversation, and helps us get to truth. But too much grease makes those wheels skid all over the road. It’s like the Dirty Harry line: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” At least I think it was Dirty Harry. I kind of squint when I say it.

I was aware of what a crutch and potential hazard alcohol can be at these kind of events. At a previous reunion, I watch with fascinated horror as a few people drank too much, and a recently divorced classmate and her still-married ex-boyfriend reconnected on the dance floor, and later in the back of the room. It was a bit cringeworthy. I don’t think I saw them this time. I wasn’t anxious to duplicate that kind of performance.

I spent the first 20 minutes saying hello to people with a joy tinged with desperation as I tried to move toward the bar to get a beer. Having something in my hand just makes me more comfortable. I know what I’m doing with the hand, then, and can focus better on what I’m saying. Stupid as that sounds, I’m a keen believer in, and student of. body language. I know how to identify and project the signals that project the image I want. I didn’t need a glass for that. But also I needed the beer to give me a feeling of comfort, which in itself is a guilty admission. But I needed that familiar taste in my mouth to help me through the split second box sorting that I knew needed to occur. Which box to pull out? Which to put down? With that first glass in hand, I immediately started to feel better. I nursed that for the next hour and a half, but the immediate sensation of the glass in hand was what did the trick.

I rather thought I would have a point to this, when I arbitrarily decided there were five things I wanted to write about. But like the thoughts nearer the end are getting more random and disjointed. I think that’s because I fear getting to the point; the “what did this, or does this mean?” part. So, maybe I won't, here.

The wrap-up is this: I had a good time. It was an occasion to pause for a few seconds and see where I've been, maybe take a look at where I am, maybe get a handle on where I'm going. But mostly elements of the first. And that, I think, is the real point; to stop and look and say to all those people "Maybe you're not with me anymore, maybe we've moved well past each other, but still you should know, you are part of who I am."For all of you whom I have known in my life, all of you whom I’ve known, and yes, loved, and allowed to slip away, my apologies, my appreciation, and my continued good wishes. I do miss you. You are important to me.

Thank you for being a friend.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The flirt (4 of 5)

I’m a flirt. I think I'm what I call harmlessly flirty. And, for the most part, that’s one of those things that has gone into a box. In the context of a reunion, it seemed appropriate to open that box, and take it out for a while. But it also made me nervous.

To tell you the truth, I wasn’t really afraid of my own actions, or afraid to overstep boundaries, as much as I was relieved to have the opportunity. I’ve always had found harmless flirting a friendly release. I think it goes back to the influence of comics when I was growing up. To me, the cute banter between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, and more, the cute (and harmless) innuendo between Peter and Mary Jane while Gwen was alive, was a model of friendly intimacy. And calling the bad guys things like “Cuddles” as he was taking them down proved the banter was meaningless, just a way of communication. That was my model of ‘cool.’

But at the same time, what’s cute and appropriate for a high school or college age guy becomes lecherous and inappropriate for a middle-aged guy, and just plain sad for an older guy. I worked at an architectural firm in Baltimore for a year, where one of the principles was a fifty-ish guy with white hair in a pony tail, whose attitude toward women and style of flirtation I found offensive. I mean, I’m a guy, and I wanted to take a shower after hearing some of his comments. It made me want to smack the back of his head and make that dork-knob fly, and yell “Grow the f*#k up!”

So, opening that box also meant being open to the fear of being inappropriate, or losing that thin edge of cool flirtation, and moving into the realm of just a little sad. I didn’t want the back of my head slapped. And awareness of that risk is what makes one nervous about being oneself.

But I’ve had this internal conversation with myself before. I think that flirting is okay, if it stays appropriate. The rules for appropriateness have changed as I’ve gotten older. But the same basic ones apply:
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the person you’re with.
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the person they’re with.
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts the other person (if there’s possibility they could misinterpret, or respond other than as intended).
• You shouldn’t flirt if it hurts yourself (if you have strong feelings that are unrequited, or unresolved, and simply masked by the flirtation).
• You shouldn’t say anything after two beers that you wouldn’t have said with no beers. That’s the hardest one to judge. And one of the most important.
• You shouldn’t flirt where you work.

Those things being addressed, I’ve always believed that harmless flirtation is a healthy expression of intimacy and friendship.

Again, these are the thoughts that went through my head in the moments between leaving my car and walking into the room full of friends I knew from High School. The box was ready. And so was I.