Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Question

The road to health and contentment is paved with questions. (That's a pretty good opening line, huh? Alright, Hemingway don't get cocky. It's one line.) Anyway, I suppose life is about questions, really. I think a common misconception is that we only ask questions when we're seeking answers. I've discovered that the questions on my road have often functioned more as pot holes and road blocks than informative signposts.

The question I'm writing about today is one that has nagged at me whenever I have considered turning my life in a healthier, happier and more content direction. When I allowed myself to think about the specifics of anything I might want to have, or be, or do, the same question popped to the fore...

“Do I really want this or do I only WANT to want this?”

It seems such a simple thing to decide whether we truly want something or not, particularly when we're talking about a question like “Do you want a full, happy, productive life?” Do you want to step up, take the wheel and experience all that life has to offer or slink down and allow decades of twisted emotional baggage to push you around through life?

It's not exactly Sophie's choice. So what's the problem here. Why did I spend years struggling with this question?

I think the answer lies in the fact that there are certain questions that my emotional issues simply won't let me ask because they flat out don't have a good answer. The whole question of whether I merely want to want a better life is a way of silencing or minimizing my intrinsic self. The question adds an extra layer, something to muffle or strangle out any answer that might lead me away from the pain, confusion and withdrawal my issues provide. But underneath the layers there remains an echo of a voice that knows the answer to the real question, the question I'm not allowed to ask.

So my issues have a problem. That intrinsic self is never going away, and that echo is getting louder. The extra layer is melting away and I'm more and more able to actively think about the real question. The useful question. You see, I've discovered that clarity comes when we not only ask the right questions, but refrain from allowing our emotional issues to whisper insidious and inaccurate answers.

These days I'm in charge. I'm asking the questions, and enjoying discovering the answers. The road's less bumpy and all signs point to go. Now I just need a bigger gas tank.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

On the Rules of Society, and Being Made to Break Them.

What recourse do we have when we are compelled by authority to break one of the little rules of society?

Like any highly sensitive, vaguely neurotic, emotional man-child, whose fears and anxieties about being judged slam around inside their head at a million miles per hour, I value the rules of society. Frankly, I like knowing that my social behavior is backed up by rules, both written and unwritten. For me the value in social rules is not that they create a more ordered or fair society, but that they help keep me from standing out, being noticed (and therefore) judged by my fellow humans. I do what is expected. I do what we as a society have decided is normal. And in exchange I don't have to constantly worry about every person I interact with on a daily basis thinking I'm an asshole.

Of course I've considered how this method of quieting my internal social anxieties might have played out in 1930's Germany and it's a rather dark portrait.

“You know, I really do like my Jewish neighbors... and I could go either way on getting the Rhineland back... but if I don't goosestep on my way down to get a carton of milk, Klaus is going to think I'm a dick!”

So clearly I'm going to have to watch out for that.

My dilemma today concerned one of the most fundamental laws of the supermarket: the 12 items or less in the express lane rule. As someone who rarely does high volume grocery shopping I'm a big fan of this rule and am personally VERY vigilant about never going over the limit.

Today was a big shop for me and I was well over the 12 item limit. So I was chilling out at the end of a long line at one of the regular check-outs when an assistant store manager approached and told me to switch over to the express lane.

I froze, and hesitantly motioned towards my shopping cart. I had at least 20 items in there. The manager was having none of it.

“It's fine. Don't worry about it!” she smiled.

I wasn't smiling though. This was a massive breach of supermarket etiquette. Was she even allowed to supersede the 12 item limit on her singular authority? She was only an assistant manager.

She motioned me towards the express lane again and I acquiesced. This was bad. She was sending me into deep waters, sharks circling, ready to frenzy on the chum of this blatant social faux pas. I was doomed.

I slid into place in the express lane, sheepishly placing my groceries on the conveyor belt. I tried to stack them in a manner that made them appear to be less than 12 items, but it was no good.

A man appeared in line behind me. He had one item, a can of stewed tomatoes. I could feel his eyes scanning my items on the belt, his silent counting, and then his eyes shifting in my direction. The judging had commenced.

I desperately wanted to turn to him and explain. To make it clear to him and all within earshot that this was not my call. That I was entirely willing to wait my turn in the long line and play by the rules. To tell them that I'm not an asshole. I looked around for the assistant manager who had ordered me into the line of fire, but she was nowhere to be seen. She was probably out in the parking lot smiling and telling people it's totally fine to not return their shopping carts to the designated area.

So I stayed silent. I took the bullet like another hapless foot soldier in the war of social approval and acceptance.

From now on I'm going to order my groceries on the internet. No one ever gets judged on the internet.