An Eavesdropper’s Guide to Compassion

Acquire more compassion. That is one of my top personal goals: to appreciate what another person is going through without the weight of pity or guilt. Or discomfort. Or disdain. I’d like to think I’m making progress but mostly I’m just aware of all the other reactions that sully the compassion. I want compassion unencumbered by other emotions. But perhaps single, pure reactions are not the way humans respond.

The other morning outside Starbuck’s, a youngish man was talking to himself. There is something distinctive about self-talk, you hear it and you know he’s not talking to a person or into a device. He walked rapidly without purpose, ricocheting from spot to spot. He had shoes cradled in his arms, but only socks on his feet. When he entered Starbucks, most everybody acted like he wasn’t there, but stiffened and you knew they knew. Fresh back from a week in Manhattan, I was skilled at ignoring him. He stood behind me in line for a while, muttering and rapping. He came up with some spectacular rhymes, and sounded surprised when his words fell into place. He was impossibly high, on what I dunno. I couldn’t tell whether he was having a good trip.

After he left, a woman in line had a mom moment and expressed concern about his heading toward traffic. I looked out at him and for the first time saw somebody’s son. Suddenly I felt like a crumb for not reaching out to him, maybe getting him to sit down for a spell. Without provocation, he sprinted up the street and away. The woman kept talking about him to all the workers and now it seemed like there was gossip in her caring, which disappointed me. The workers told her that cops had earlier been out to chat with him. I had happened into one short piece of a recurring cycle.

The other night on the subway I sat next to a pair who must have been friends, maybe mid-20s in age. The guy said to the gal, “Have you seen Brian lately? I really don’t like him anymore, he has turned into such a loser. All he wants to do is sit around at home.” (GIrl murmurs unconvinced noises.) “Shelly saw him in New York. He flew out there for an interview with a director about a big part.” (Tone of voice conveys jealousy and frustration – apparently Brian blew the opportunity.) “Shelly thought the same thing. He’s acting like a loser. You know his dad tried to kill himself last year.” (Not clear whether this is offered as an attempt to understand, or further proof of what a loser Brian is.)

By now I hate this guy and wish Brian had better friends. Later I bring myself around to thinking about the life experiences that shaped this guy and prevent him from perceiving that Brian’s behavior could reflect emotional devastation. I remember my 20s as a time of cavalier disregard for so many others. Maybe he’ll grow out of it. I’m pretty sure that I finally have, although disdain still comes way too easily to me.

What’s Black and White and All Gray Area?

When it comes to lasting life lessons, the most important class I ever took was a journalism class back in high school. The teacher, Mr. Kim, divided the class into four groups and each group monitored the (then-current*) Vietnam War by reading a single news magazine: Newsweek, Time, Christian Science Monitor and I forget the fourth. After a few months, each group reported on the war from our magazine’s perspective —- and it was as though there were four different wars going on. The differences were not subtle. A battle lost according to one magazine was won according to another! That experience carved deep and healthy skepticism toward the news.

Below is today’s example of the same lesson, currently pinging around Facebook (I shared from a friend who shared a Twitter snapshot that originated on the timeline of George Takei).

BTW and P.S. THANK YOU MR. KIM!

It's all in the adjectives.

It’s all in the adjectives.

* yes, that’s how exceedingly old I am.

Ten Questions I’ve Never Considered

This Word Press Daily Post was fun to consider. It said On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

What are your own responses? Post them in comments here, or write your own post and comment me the link!

Always good for a laugh.

Always good for a laugh.

What is your favorite word?

Clam. It’s always good for a laugh.

What is your least favorite word?

Teh. Which is how the comes out whenever I type it.

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Live music.

What turns you off?

Fragmentation – demands, deadlines, chores, requirements, expectations pulling me in multiple directions.

What is your favorite curse word?

Hands-down winner: the F word.

What sound or noise do you love?

I love hearing my twins (son and daughter) talking and working together without bickering or oneupsmanship. I typically hear this once or twice a year, when they make me breakfast in bed for mother’s day and/or my birthday.

What sound or noise do you hate?

1970s arena rock. GMWAS.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Professional surfer. Well. I would love to be one. I would not bother to attempt it. I can barely negotiate a boogie board.

What profession would you not like to do?

Waiter. I would be a terrible one and I would find it so stressful to be polite and calm in the face of customer demands.

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Your friends, family and critters await you in room 12C.

My Most Potent Energy Source

The ocean is my place. It’s where I go to revive, invigorate, find peace. At the shore I feel connected to all that underlies our everyday lives.

I love the way the shorebirds run out as the surf recedes, run back as it returns. They are so in tune with the pattern of the waves and the movements of the other birds. And it often feels like they are playing as well as eating.

Ventura Beach, California, 2008

Ventura Beach, California, 2008

(In response to this Weekly Photo Challenge.)

Picking at the Bedspread

Today’s Daily Prompt asked what bores me…

I hate knowing what happens next. I used to evaluate screenplays for movie studios, and at a rate of 10 per week, it got so that no plot twist could surprise me. That was a long time ago, but even now, gratitude wells up whenever a book or movie surprises me, even if I otherwise loathe the piece. One reason I loved the Harry Potter series was that in all those thousands of pages and hundreds of plot turns, there were only a scant few that I saw coming.

Curiously, although I prefer surprises and novelty, I have spent most of my life as a control freak. (Working on it! Working on it!) Perhaps as my aging memory worsens I will be able to have it all:  exert control, forget I exerted control, enjoy surprise at the events I caused to unfold.

Am I kidding? Control freaks never unfold events. Control freaks have only an illusion of control.

The predictable bores me, and I detest being bored. Being bored. Saying it that way suggests that an outside force imposes the boredom. In fact, whether I get bored or not depends on me. To cop a phrase from a recent movie trailer, boredom is a choice. If I’m bored, I should be able to redirect my attention or reconstruct my attitude and eliminate the boredom.

Which all sounds fine in theory. Routine repetition is the deal-breaker.

Typically I avoid that kind of boredom by tuning out and looking inward. This has some good consequences. For example, I tune out the mind-numbing repetition of brushing my teeth – day after frigging day – and while brushing my teeth I have excellent writing ideas. Moral of that story:  if your writing stalls out, brush your teeth.

I tune out while driving. I’ve lived and worked in the same places for several years so I long ago exhausted all the new ways to commute.  But the space-out can be too complete.  On my way to work and suddenly I come to and I don’t recognize where I am.  The adrenaline jolt certainly fights boredom, but the backtracking and rewinding do not start my day well.

I still remember the first time I experienced boredom. I was a kid, it was the dregs of summer, my friends were elsewhere. I lay on the floor of my room, picking at the bedspread, overwhelmed by there being absolutely nothing I felt like doing.  I don’t remember all that much about my childhood but that moment is indelible.

Do you remember the first time you were bored?

Como Se Dice “Better Late Than Never”

What the hey-ho, let’s start with a gratuitous video.

 

I have always loved school. Except for high school, of course – as an adult, I discovered that nobody I respected had fared well in high school, so over the years high school distress became one measure of simpatico. In fact, during my kids’ freshman year I feared – wrongly – that one of my twins might enjoy high school.  (Don’t get me wrong: I expected good grades, attendance, attitude; I just didn’t want them to limit their futures by enjoying the experience.)

But I digress. When I was a kid, I liked to play school but my friends wouldn’t say the same. When I played  teacher, I wanted them to do homework. Really. Assignments due. For some reason none of them agreed and soon my play classroom was empty. Slackers.

But I digress. After I graduated from college, I took many stray classes over the years to pursue subjects that interested me. I eventually and belatedly got hooked again and went back to earn a master’s degree.  That proved to be enough school for me. Bastante!

And yet. I always wanted to be fluent in Spanish. I love the way Spanish flows and zooms; the way you don’t say “I broke a dish” but instead “the dish broke itself.”

I wonder how close I could get to fluency? Language classes take so long to get moving, over so many terms – that has daunted me from starting anew. But if you can recommend an on-line Spanish class – drop me a comment with the details!

(The Daily Prompt wanted to know what subject could get me back to school.)