Throw Out 50 Thoughts #18 – There are no do-overs

ApplauseThe show must go on. Especially when it’s already going. It’s one of the tenets of performance. Things blow up? Keep going. When it’s over, flush it and move on.

I played in a chamber music concert yesterday. One of the pieces was the premiere of a wind quintet by a local composer. It was contemporary–not atonal, but not like Mozart where you know exactly where it’s going. If you get lost playing Mozart, you can regroup pretty quickly. This composition was more fluid, with meter and tempo changes that made it unpredictable.

A couple of minutes into the first movement, the work began to sound a little more contemporary than it was supposed to. When I looked at the oboe player’s face, it confirmed that the train had jumped the track.  They had no idea where they were, and none of them were in the same location. After they finished, rather than leaving the stage, they asked the audience if they might play it again, so we could hear the work as it was meant to be.

It was a ballsy move. It would have been a lot easier to pretend all was well and leave the stage. The audience wouldn’t have known the difference. They’d never heard it before.

The group played it again, and the audience applauded. They lauded the composer and the musicians felt proud of their performance. I didn’t see it as a failure, but a success. The fact that they struggled made the performance that much more poignant.

Sometimes I treat life like a performance. I made a mistake? Just keep moving. That decision is done, the  moment is over, and I can’t go back and ask for a second shot.

Or can I?

I won’t know if I don’t try. Perhaps the world is a more forgiving and accepting place than I believe. Maybe I can ask for patience and try again–to play my part the way it was intended to be.

My career as a writer has had many stops and starts. Sometimes I feel like the world is saying “Haven’t you been here before?” But maybe the world isn’t. Maybe it’s only me. So I begin again, and hope to find applause at the finish line, even if it’s only my own. To amend the saying, it’s not over until the diva sings, and I’m not close to done, so get some popcorn and settle in.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Applause” by Svenwerk ©2007 Creative Commons


Throw out 50 Thoughts #17 – I’m going to screw up my kid

worryIt’s easy to second-guess one’s decisions as a parent. We make so many of them, sometimes under the least optimal circumstances–under duress, pressure, scrutiny and being just plain busy.

I’ve come to think that most parents feel judged in some respect–that our mistakes will cost our child a happy life, or that we’ll overlook some tiny detail that will keep them out of Harvard and ruin their lives forever.

I realize these worries are more about my personal insecurities than The Dude.  He’s an awesome human being. So I’ll do us both a favor and focus my energy on nurturing that rather than worry about my parental image.

I will not worry about looking like an authority figure to anyone other than The Dude. We are friend-like, but the Dude is not my friend. He is my son, and the distinction is abundantly clear to both of us. It’s like the first down marker at a live football game. Just because you can’t see the yellow line from TV, it doesn’t mean we don’t where it is.

I will not worry about appearing too permissive. I’m willing to give The Dude some space to make his own decisions, and yes, his own mistakes.  The Dude shows better judgment than most adults I know.  We only punish for acts of intentional stupidity and willful disrespect, and create rules only where freedoms have been abused.  Interestingly, we rarely have need to. Life tends to provide suitable consequences of its own.

I will not worry that I don’t push The Dude enough. Our job is to give him the resources he needs, but it is up to him to make use of them. He will have to decide what is important and will need to develop the fortitude to move a boulders on his own. When he succeeds, he does so because it was his choice. It’s the best reward we can give him, although I bake a mean celebratory brownie.

The Dude is who his is, and will be who he will be. His path is not going to look like mine or my husband’s, and that is scary. He’s hurtling into the dark at warp speed, and I don’t know what the terrain looks like. He wants me to tell him what to expect and I can’t. I can’t tell him which turns to take or what obstacles he might encounter. All I can do is tell him that I know that he is capable of handling what comes at him because he already has, and that no one will cheer harder for him than his Dad and I will.

So while I will worry about what the world will throw at him, I don’t worry about him at all. The Dude is not perfect, but I wouldn’t change a thing about him. Okay, that’s not true. His bedroom is a disaster area, and I won’t even discuss that bathroom, but I won’t worry about that, either. There is only so much that a parent can control.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Worry” by Matt Gibson © 2012 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 Thoughts #16 – I can’t watch this

roller coasterIt was game two, and the Sox were behind 2-0. I had mixed emotions about it. After all, I’m from Detroit, and have spent far more years as a Tigers fan than I have as a Red Sox fan. All the same, my love for the Sox is stronger for having chosen it, rather than inheriting it.

Miguel Cabrera sent the ball sailing over the green monster, and I decided it was time to go to bed. I was tired. It had been a long weekend. My husband was already asleep. I had a lot of good reasons. The bad reason, however, overrode them all. I was afraid of the outcome and I didn’t want to see it. My lack of observance wouldn’t change it, nor would it decrease my disappointment. I simply didn’t want to feel bad right at that moment.

This is how I ride roller coasters. Eyes mostly shut, breathing deeply, and counting the seconds until it’s over. I don’t ride roller coasters often, and only under duress. I hear they are fun. I will take your word for it.

But should I?

Sometimes life is volatile. Not everything moves at a mostly constant pace, with smooth transitions between the rare upticks and slowdowns.  I’ve worked very hard, however, to keep the calm. I’m beginning to think I’m doing it all wrong.

Calm is not in how one avoids complications. Calm is in how one faces them.

I’m a writer. It’s not a stress free life. I have a novel that is 70% there, meaning it’s written, but not polished. The goal is to get an agent and pitch it. The idea absolutely terrifies me. I start to feel the car go up the incline, and I know the plunge is coming. Instead of throwing my hands up in the air and screaming with exhilaration, I close my eyes until the feeling goes away.

Have you ever noticed that exhilaration and fear often have the same symptoms?

The Dude woke me up from a deep sleep. He sounded panicked. “You have to come downstairs, RIGHT NOW!” And he took off.

I threw my bathrobe on and ran downstairs, expecting to find a dead cat or a hole in the ceiling or sewage pouring from the downstairs toilet.

Instead I heard the cheers of Red Sox Nation after Papi hit a grand slam, tying the game that I was sure was a lost cause.  The Dude and I hugged and danced and cheered and didn’t stop until the Sox won. It was awesome. What was I so afraid of?

Good question. Time to open my eyes and find out.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Wooden Roller Coaster” by JoshNV © 2007 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 thoughts #15 – I know

quietI know.

It’s something The Dude says a lot. When he says it, it has the tone of blah, blah, blah, whatever, Mom. My usual response is “No, you don’t know.”

I’ve realized, however, that it’s a phrase I say a lot myself. When I say it, the intention is to connect. “Yes, I agree with what you are saying. We have a shared experience, a commonality.” I’ve begun to believe, however, that my “I know” has the opposite effect.

Knowing things has always been my stock in trade. I landed on the “I’m smart” square, and camped out for the long haul. To keep my place, I read and study and explore. I’m only human, however. I cannot read, study and explore everything. The scope of what I do not know is enormous. For a smart woman I’m pretty stupid.

The truth is, no, I don’t know, and not embracing that idea is probably one of the greater sources of my disconnection.

I used to interview people for a living. I’d sit down with them, and get them to talk to me about shampoo, or their car, or what’s hiding in the back of their closet. They told me so much more, however. They told me about their fears, and their secret wishes, and stuff they are both proud and ashamed of. My clients would ask me how I did it. How did I get them to tell me such personal information? Especially since I said so little.

Because I said so little.

People told me things because I was listening. Sure I’d share some details about myself along the way to honor the reciprocity of conversation, but mostly, I offered commentary to show that I was hearing and registering what they’d said. I can tell you for sure, I never would have said “I know.”

Ironically, the best way to be part of the conversation might just be to shut the eff up. You know what I mean?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph, “Quiet” by elycefeliz © 2010 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 Thoughts #14 – I don’t want to be a bitch about this, but…

angry dollI may like to think of myself as a bad-ass, but I know the sad truth. I’m a nice person. Even when I think I’m not being nice, I usually am. I’ll apologize to my husband for being a bitch, and he’ll scour the last few hours of conversation to figure out exactly what I’m talking about. What I’m thinking, and what I’m saying don’t often match. If I actually said half of what I’d like to say, I’d be living alone in a van down by the river.

That is not to say I can’t be a real bitch. Often, it comes out when I don’t mean for it to–a joke that falls flat, or a sarcastic quip that seems innocuous to me, but hits too close to home for someone else. I kick myself for days after those muck ups. I want to be liked. Who doesn’t? My bitchiness is generally inadvertent and falls on the undeserving, and for that, I am sorry.

A friend of mine lectured me last week about being a pushover. She suggested that I was an enabler, allowing my family to take advantage of me because I collapse like a fold-up chair whenever they need something. “You have a life,” she said. “You don’t have to do something just because someone asked you to. You need to say no.” Point well taken.

Then she suggested that I do something she wanted me to and I told her that I had to consider it.  I came back to her and said that, no, I didn’t have the time that the task required. We were with a group of others, and she brought it up again–that we all should do this (the “we” being “me”). Again, I said that I didn’t have the time to commit to it, but I’d be happy to come up with an alternative. When she brought it up a third time, I said a straight and simple “no.”

And she said I didn’t have to be a bitch about it.

The good girl voice kicked in, and got ready to apologize, and I remembered her lecture. I decided not to cave, and pointed out the first two times she asked, I was really nice about it, but she didn’t seem to hear me, so the third time I had to say it in a way that cut through the noise. I thought about the original conversation and it occurred to me that I wasn’t really behaving badly, it just wasn’t how she expected me to behave. I thought about all of the qualifiers and hedges and maybes I put on my statement and decided that it really does come back to me.

So today, I embrace the bitch. If I’m less afraid of her, perhaps she’ll learn a more tempered approach. She may not be my better self, but she is a part of who I am. She exists for a reason, sort of like anti-lock brakes. You don’t want to have to use them, but when you do, they’re really handy. Only instead of stopping me, they stop someone else. And that’s nothing to bitch about.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Angry Director” by jbrowneuk © 2013 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 Thoughts – I deserve this

gelatoI had  just finished five hours of editing. Five hours of anything is difficult. I think even after five hours sitting on a beach and reading, I’d at least need a bathroom break. Slogging through my own prose for the 1,000th time is considerably less pleasurable.

When I came up for air, I needed something to mark the effort. I chose chocolate chip gelato. It was delicious. Did I mention that I’ve been doing a two-week edit-a-thon? That’s a lot of gelato.

Gelato was also my choice two weeks ago when I fell down the stairs and was whining about my bruised hip.  I deserved it then too. That time it was salted caramel.

I deserved a break from running since I had my flu shot and a YouTube viewing session since I finished assembling the first violin folders. I only have another forty to go.

Clearly, I’m a really deserving person. I wonder why it doesn’t feel that way. After I’ve had my well-deserved “treat” I feel like I’ve failed somehow, and wrapped my failure up in a pretty package and called it a reward. I’ve eaten food that isn’t good for me, avoided exercise that I need to be healthy, and I’ve spent time doing something other than what I should be doing.

I’ve killed the joy of the moment by requiring some sort of justification for doing it other than I’m choosing what I actually want.

Gelato is tasty. Sometimes the body needs a break. There are some awesome videos on YouTube. Right now, I love that wackdoodle Norwegian video about what the fox says.

I’m giving up on the idea that I am deserving of something, because I don’t have to earn it. I’m either going to have it, or I’m not. I will not taint the experience by attaching the idea that I have to decide if I’m worthy. Just as I don’t have to justify my “no” other than it is what I need to do, I don’t have to justify my “yes” either.

If I can let go of the idea of evaluating what I’ve done in the past to validate the present, I might actually experience the present for what it is. I can break the chain of time, and just be in the moment, enjoying that gelato, that lazy afternoon, or the fox saying ringdingdingdingading. After all, isn’t that what we all deserve?

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Gelato” by Su-Lin © 2008 Creative Commons

Throw out 50 Thoughts #12 – This situation won’t take care of itself

pendulumI don’t like ambiguity. Loose ends make me anxious. Leave things to fester, and  by the time you open that innocent-looking can, it’s ready to unleash a bevy of pop up snakes.

I bring situations to a conclusion if I have to drag the other participants kicking and screaming. They don’t understand how hard it is–that uncertainty.  They can ignore it and still sleep at night. I will worry, cajole, fret and badger until the outcome is set in stone. It doesn’t matter if I don’t like it. At least I know what it is. It’s called being proactive.

I was part of a group that was planning an outing. It was an event I was looking forward to. It was rather informal, apart from a few logistical issues, it shouldn’t have required much energy to pull it off. One of the members, however, began sending long missives about all of the things we needed to do, what order they needed to be done in and why they needed to be done RIGHT NOW.

The next thing I knew, my mailbox was filled with responses, replies to the responses, and another string of suggested dates, responses to those responses, etc.  I kept thinking that if this individual would just wait, instead of push, the pieces would have fallen into place. It’s called being a pain in the ass.

I complained to a friend, who said, “Delete the emails. That’s what I do.”

Then I had that moment where I realized, crap, I am exactly the same. Not so fun on the other end of the cattle prod.

I thought about how many times I’ve pushed a point, only to regret it later, realizing that some things happen in their own time.  I cannot make the music delivery come faster, or the coaches decide the All Star lineup any sooner, any more than I can make the rain stop falling. It’s called being patient.

My wise friend then asked if this was really my problem to solve. The answer was no.

It’s like a pendulum. You move the ball at one end and the momentum transfers through the stationary balls to the one at the other end. If I’m one of those middle balls, my independent movement is wasted at best, and at worst, creates one of those snarls where you can’t figure out how to get the balls free to move again.

So I will make myself some tea and wait. Oh look, there’s another email. delete.

Words by J. B. Everett

Photograph “Balance” by Evonne © 2007 Creative Commons