Olderhood…. it’s a word

27 04 2010

I have, some of you may know, several white hairs in my otherwise red-brown beard.  I like them very much—I have a gathering of them on my lower left chin, and a less substantial group directly opposite them.  Symmetry is key, I think, in having a smooth transition from color to grey in hair.  I hope you’ll forgive me for my quiet desire to have style in aging thrust upon me.  I may get over it in time, anyway.

Today I found a bona fide grey hair in my actual coiffure, which was a bit of a surprise.  A person claimed to have seen one once, but couldn’t produce it for verification a second time, so I count this as my first real grey hair.  I was surprised because it was sitting up in the very middle of the part of my hair, and it wasn’t like the rest of the hairs.  Obviously it wasn’t the same color, but I mean to say that its character was quite different.  I’d combed my hair straight, and it was wiry, defiant, twisting this way and that, gnarled and stark out of the grain of the conformers.  It is nothing like the rest of them.  I wonder if that’s what I have to look forward to—thousands of rogue never-be-tamed misfits sprouting from my head and doing as they damn well please.  Time will tell.

I stared at it in the mirror as I brushed my teeth this evening, realizing at some point that I wasn’t paying attention to my teeth at all, and then realizing that I was annoyed at myself for it.  I suddenly remembered a time, not so long ago, when I detested brushing my teeth.  I hated to do anything that I considered “maintenance work,” particularly when the maintenance was solely to fulfill a societal norm, like, oh, I don’t know, having my hair cut.  I always thought of these duties as stealing my time away, leaving me less opportunity to complete all of the things that I wanted to do.  A couple of hours of maintenance work every week, I reasoned, robbed me of a huge amount of time for learning and improving.

Sometime between then and now, however, I learned to find real value in many of these tasks.  I particularly enjoy brushing my teeth.  It’s time I get to spend paying attention to myself, being sure that every tooth is properly cared for, that they feel clean and strong.  I don’t know how it started to matter to me so much, but I think that investing that energy in myself is beneficial in more ways than a clean dental record.  I may not have the words to describe the positivity of the act or the affirmation contained therein, but I’ve found something nice in the deliberate, thoughtful attention one can give to one’s maintenance.  Of course, I’m still not very big on grooming in general, but I’m finding my way to appreciation.

For those of you unconvinced that finding a grey hair and realizing that attentive teethbrushing can be therapeutic makes for a very interesting blog post, I’m with you.  I’m not sure I’m going to convince you, but I do have one further observation to make.  This has been a nice coincidental evening for me because it’s reminded me that we’re all still capable of change; that our minds aren’t as locked up as we can convince ourselves they are.  Sometime between my youthful head of vibrantly colored poo-brown hair and the nascent moments of olderhood, a firmly held belief of mine changed.  Every thought you think has the power to send you down a new road, even if you don’t realize you’re on the way until much later.  Every shift in habit is its own nudge toward your growing into a different person, so it makes sense that if you make the right nudges now (and avoid the wrong ones), all you can do is get better every day.  I used to scoff at my own halfhearted attempts at approaching vegetarianism, but the more I learn about the meat industry, the less I want to let myself support it, and what started as my trying to have one meatless day per week has sprouted a little to the point that I have many fewer meat-meals, and could very likely continue to improve my record in time.

I’ll keep you posted on whether I’m a fastidiously groomed, prim, and proper salad eater by the time I’m losing my last brown hair.

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observer

17 04 2009

i am a better person than i was ten years ago.  by far, speaking relativistically.  by relativistically, i mean to say that if you looked at a pair of dung beetles and knew that one was by far a superior dung beetle to the next, would it seem like such a big deal to you?  that’s how the universe looks at people, i’m sure.  still, if i look at myself ten years ago, and then consider myself now, i like me better.  i would hope that’s how everyone feels each time they offer themselves a moment to look over their shoulder.

i rooted through old photographs last night, and in doing so, i came to a realization.  i didn’t dislike the young gentleman in the photos at all; he was a good kid.  a few minor character flaws and confused ideas were his primary problems.  he’s gained a little hard-earned wisdom and learned to handle certain situations a little better, and that’s good news.  still, what’s also obvious are the ways in which we are still similar but which i probably consider to be less gratifying.

again, it’s not that i don’t like myself or have timeline-guided expectations of growth and understanding (anymore).  i guess, in the end, the “problem” is that i am a natural observer, thinker, weigher of sides.  i am a libra, if that helps to make any sense of it.  it doesn’t to me.  one of the things that bothered me about the 21-year old kid in the pictures is one of the things which we have in common still today:  i think far more than i act.

even in obvious ACT situations.  my nature prefers that i try to take a detached view, to act as though i’m not even there.  to simply map out the best course of action and… i don’t know… be satisfied at that?

it has its advantages, and i do not regret my nature in the least.  i tend to understand people’s problems well, and am generally well-trusted by others to be thoughtful and non-judgmental when they present me with problems.  i tend to understand both sides of an issue well, and i like to hope that i give good advice, but i have to admit that i can be impatient in doing so.  people aren’t always emotionally prepared to understand a situation in a way beyond their personal understanding of it, and even when i know they can resent a viewpoint not entirely sympathetic to theirs, i tend to give it to them anyway.  whatever, that’s another topic altogether.

so that’s it?  is it my role simply to be 80% observer, 20% other in my life?  it suits me, i know, and it functions for others as well, but i’ll admit that i think sometimes about being more proactive, which sometimes means being less afraid.  that’s a change i can get behind.  to be a little more daring and participatory in making the mix at which i have become so adept at deconstructing during and after the fact.  i have to say, this is a big reason i’m making myself do this solo drive across the country with so many stops along the way.  if i force myself to be the lone actor in my narrative, i shouldn’t get to lounge in the comfort of my observation pants very much.

maybe in ten years, i’ll go through some old, old bloggings and see what a different person i was back then, and be glad to have progressed as i have.





idealist/counselor

12 03 2009

a friend today mentioned that she really thought i should go back to school and become a therapist, counselor, psychologist, whatever.  my natural listening and understanding skills, she said, coupled with my non-judgment made my advice, in her estimation, excellent.  well, to that i say: terrific!  hey, what’s that over there?!!  and then you hear the scurry of my footsteps in the opposite direction.

i am, for some reason, an idealist.  i didn’t choose to be as such.  i don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing to be, even.  i often wish that i was better skilled in the art of dealing effectively in the imperfect world.  as i am, i see the imperfect world, don’t understand why it can’t be perfect, and cannot fathom how to play in it.  i don’t understand why people think it’s okay to deal with some things they despise in order to do some things they don’t.  i appreciate it, i really do, and i wish often that i could just drop my qualms and participate as others do, but i can’t.  i just don’t get it.  i can’t do something i don’t think is right, because the pangs are frequent and heavy that remind me that i’m faking it, that i’m willfully being insincere, and there is no situation in which i’ve found myself wherein the end justifies the means to the extent of shutting off the little voice in my head that won’t stop repeating what a phony i am.  does anyone else have this problem?

i can’t sit in a meeting with boss-types and tell them what they want to hear, even though it’s just that simple.  even when they know i disagree, don’t care that i disagree, know that i know they don’t care that i disagree, and are only hoping that i’ll say the “right thing” so that we can all get on with living our lies.  “it’s standard procedure,” i can hear them thinking.  “we tell you we think you do this great and hope that you can start doing that for us, and you say ‘sounds great’ and we all go back to work.”  except i know i could do “this” even better and will never be able to do “that” without more intelligent support, and i can’t just say yes when it’s just not true.

i can’t even stand it when people ask me how i am and it happens that i’m not “fine,” because if i don’t want to lie, i have to break one of our society’s time-honored traditions of polite, empty, mindless jabber.  if i do lie, thereby satisfying the pleasantry police, i have myself to contend with–a phony, caught red-handed.  how can one expect to have meaningful connections to others when one won’t even commit to a short, relatively uncomfortable exchange on one’s momentary well-being?

so what about going to school for counseling, a profession for which my friend thinks i’m a natural?  well, i don’t disagree with her.  i’ve thought about it often.  can i help that it bothers me that one requires certifications and degrees in order to be considered a salable professional?  i instantly think about how, in the days of smaller communities, everyone knew who those who could be trusted in their professions were, because people knew each other, and one couldn’t get away with being a phony, fraud, or shyster.  a good mechanic was a good mechanic, a good cook a good cook, and a rotten farmer a rotten farmer.  people were drawn to do what they were good at, and people were more or less accepting of that fact until it was shown otherwise.

dishonest people need certifications and false testimonies to ingratiate themselves with others when they come to town.  with such a large and mobile society, there are so many new people in places, and so many phonies who could be whomever they said they were regardless of ability or respectable intent, our system of stale qualifications pervades and annoys (me).  now you don’t have to be good at something in order to do it.  you just have to jump through the hoops established, many of them in good faith, to be certified to do it.  so now there are tons of people who are positively horrible at what they do, but they have the papers to say it’s okay to do it, so they are accepted.  what a stupid reason to accept someone.  i once had a girlfriend with emotional disturbances who saw a therapist twice a week and never seemed to get anywhere at all.  one day i met someone who happened to work in his clinic, and when i asked her about the therapist, she told me to never let anyone i knew go to him.  her stories were painful to hear.

i’m not saying there’s no credence to having qualifications in most fields.  i get it.  it’s just not a remotely perfect system.  and i can’t find myself in it.  not to mention how much i can’t stand the racket of today’s essentially corporate education or the indentured servitude graduates so eagerly enter immediately following.  i mean, at unc, my alma mater, they just built a global education center… the fedex global education center.  for all the good that people find in that building, it’s built on a foundation of our corporate commerce, and i have to say that that’s not the place i think education should be.

am i wrong?  i know you have to play the game to win the prizes.  i guess it’s lucky that i think most of the prizes are empty, evil, or at best, full of fecal matter, too.  i guess i’ll just continue being a good friend to those who find me useful.