Say What? (On Curiosity & Connection)

 

I’m one of those people who tends to apologize.

A few years back, I crashed my car–a 1967 Ford Falcon in near-mint condition–through no fault of my own. Thrilled to be in one piece and hopeful the other driver was, too, I leapt out and exclaimed, “I’m soooo sorry!”

I said this, despite a lifetime of warnings I’d received about the danger of taking responsibility at the scene of a car accident. Why? …because in my vocabulary, “sorry” is often not an apology at all. It’s a show of empathy. In this case, I was worried about the other driver.

In its complex coding, “I’m sorry” is akin “bless your heart”. When I say it, I’m often sending goodwill and sometimes even pity–not subservience. You either get this, or you don’t.

This is a problem of interpretation–a matter I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and not just for this reason. Our globalized society melds languages, dialects, slangs, and jargons. Amid that mishmash, we seem more likely to misunderstand and offend one another. What to do?

I believe we must show more curiosity toward one another.

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Spanish Shock Therapy

 

 

“She wants to hear
wine pouring.
She wants to taste
change.”

Rita Dove

For all the value I’d placed on travel in earlier posts, I confess that prior to this excursion to Spain, I’d failed to see the true power of a good trip. Sure, I understood that travel afforded loads of perspective, adventure, and relaxation. But I didn’t know how vital and transformative that could all be—because I’d never needed it as desperately as when I boarded the plane last week.

I had never been depressed before, which I suppose is pretty damned lucky after 32 years. But 3 months in the ‘burbs of Atlanta—with its14-lane highways and looming McMansions—slowed me down to an utter standstill. Every cell in my body huddled drearily in my skin, organs, teeth and bones until my body felt like some kind of shelter for the weak and weary. Believe it or not, I was hesitant to even take the trip at all. I was certain I’d lost any trace of a sharp, agile mind (which every traveller needs) to the seemingly endless logistics of my recent relocation.

But as the plane sped up and lifted off last Tuesday, I was physically shocked into a whole new mindset.

“Look, honey,” my partner pointed to the gargantuan strip mall where we’d inevitably been doing our shopping. He knew I hated the place, but was trying to raise my ire. “Camp Creek Parkway!”

I did not look back. Instead, I vowed that I would never set foot on that patch of asphalt again. In fact, I didn’t (and still don’t) know what I’d do when I landed again, but there would be no more life as usual. If I go back to Atlanta, it won’t be for long.

Landing in Barcelona, even my walk through the airport was electrifying. I was jolted into light, sound, and motion. God, I love motion. When we came upon the medieval streets of Barri Gotic, we stopped to sip our first café con leche—the first coffee drink I’d purchased in months that did not come from a corporate chain, thanks to Atlanta’s severe lack of independent coffeehouses. Hours later we were cocking our heads up at the wild spires of the famous cathedral, then feasting on cuttlefish and jamon, then sipping cava (with free refills, mind you) at a dark bar.

But it wasn’t the hedonistic indulgences that rocked me out of paralysis and back into my own true self. Lord knows I enjoyed our sunny day on the ancient ruins on La Costa Brava, and crashing at the quaint farmhouse in the Catalonian countryside. But it was simply the experience of that flight—the dramatic separation from the humdrum of everyday life—that made me feel the power of travel, the shift in perspective that I so needed. The rest has been gravy (… or should I say salsa).

That I’d harboured such deep doubts about this trip reminded me that sometimes closing my eyes and leaping is not such a bad idea. I suppose that sometimes that can lead to disaster—it certainly has before—but more often than not, it leads to new eschalons of opportunity and wonder.

On the surface, travel is a temporary escape that can squander loads of moolah and jack up your carbon output. But luckily, there’s more to life than what’s on the surface.

Out Into the World

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Please click to watch this awareness-raising video.

 

 

Sometimes, I think I obey all the wrong rules.

When I packed for my excursion downtown yesterday to hear His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I double-checked the directives on the Emory University website, and did not bring any bags or recording devices. Turns out I could have brought a camera. Sitting 75 feet from the stage, I was perfectly situated to photograph the Dance of the Snow Lion, traditional throat-singers, and folk musicians who performed. And if I’d been like so many of the people around me, I would have just broken out the video camera, too. Then I really could have caught the sights and sounds of the event, which definitely reminded me that I was in Atlanta (as opposed to say, San Francisco).

“Have you been to the merch tent? They have hand sanitizer.”

“What is this, like, a Woodstock sort of thing?”

“Oh my god, y’all, he’s so cuuute!!”

Then there was the comment of my lawn neighbor, who pish-poshed six nearby protesters who who briefly chanted “Free Tibet!” Astonishingly, these people garnered absolutely no support—other than my own, of course—from a crowd of thousands.

“That’s inappropriate,” the woman behind me commented. “This is a religious event, not a political one.”

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Attitude

Garden of Earthly Delights

“Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.”

–The Buddha

My high school art teacher was a worldly, well-heeled woman who hailed (ironically) from a North Carolina tobacco farm. She wore flashy Fifth Avenue fashions through the halls of our gritty public high school and brought us fine chocolates to sample, just for inspiration. Pinned to her bulletin board—crowded between faded reprints of Bosch, Botticelli, and Van Gogh—was a simple sign in hand-blocked letters: “It’s not what you do; it’s how you do it.” In all her flamboyance, Mrs. P. herself was a living example of this credo.

I remember asking her about this saying one day. I can still see her perfectly outlined, orangey-red lips forming the response: “I don’t care if you paint your toenails or a picture of the Taj Mahal,” she said. “Do it with style. Put yourself into it.”

Mrs. P. marked me forever by letting me know that what mattered most in my work was me. But in my warped little teenage brain, the writing on her wall also became seed of a certain neurosis, one that I still have trouble shaking. It goes like this: I should be able to summon my inner resources and be happy doing anything, anywhere. If I can’t, then I’m a failure.

Hmmm … so maybe that was a little harsh. And bad juju to carry into the working world.

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