Lessons of the Road

Keep walking, though there’s no place to get to. 
Don’t try to see through the distances. 
That’s not for human beings. 
Move within, but don’t move the way fear makes you move. 

[The Spin: What better time than April, the month of Earth Day, to recycle a post from another April—with several spiffy additions applied like a new coat of (non-toxic) paint?

The Truth: Major time-crunch this past month—final revisions, agent searches, query letters. Every writer knows the drill. I promise to be back next month with a scintillating brand new post. Until then, rejoice. We have survived another winter.]

When I was in my twenties, I imagined that by 40 or so (when I imagined such an advanced age at all), I would have acquired a certain grace at living. Grace implied to me a kind of sanguine wisdom, the possession of which would enable me to transcend all things petty, leaving me unshakably calm. 


More recently, combing through birthday cards for a friend, I came across this gem: “With age comes wisdom.” (Inside) “But sometimes age comes alone.”

We’re getting closer to the truth here.

It’s something of a universal practice to pause on our birthday and consider what (if anything) the years have taught us. To reflect on the hand dealt us, how we’ve played it, and what we might do with the cards we still hold.

 So, with another orbit of the sun completed since my arrival on the planet, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned—and some of the things I still hope to learn but haven’t quite yet got the hang of. It’s not Rumi. It may not even be Kung Fu Panda, but it’s mine own. 

What I’ve Learned

1. When riled to record heights of anger by the insensitive, the stupid, and the just plain nasty, do NOT under any circumstances tell the annoying person what you REALLY think of them.  However eloquent anger may make you, however deeply satisfying it is to take down the offender with your verbal arrows, beware: The gods enjoy messing with us. At some unforeseeable moment in the future, in a setting you cannot now imagine, this person is bound to reappear in your life—as the interviewer for a job you really want, as a member of the critique group you just joined, as your child’s teacher. On that day you will be extremely happy that you kept your mouth shut.

2. When you are the dufus in the room, own it straight out and laugh at yourself. The reality of life is this: People spill drinks. They trip on stairs. Call someone by the wrong name. Trail toilet paper on their shoe. A few even fart.  Look at it this way: Everyone else gets a kick out of your embarrassing moments, so why shouldn’t you?    

3. Trust your intuition. That still, small voice you hear at critical junctures in your life? It’s not just some telemarketer from deep space. It’s the real you telling yourself what you already know at gut level. People put their faith in the stock market, in lottery tickets, in Vegas. How much crazier is it to trust your gut? On the brink of college graduation, utterly broke and armed with only a degree in English, my intuition spoke up one night as I sat listening to a musician friend in a local pizza pub. Right in the middle of “City of New Orleans,” it said: “You’ve got a vagabond heart. Do what you’ve always loved doing. Go be a writer.” I’m grateful everyday that I listened.

4. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a false comfort and a temporary one at best. There are public examples of this: Climate-change denial in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the recent floods that have drowned a host of Midwestern states. Everyone who looked the other way as Hitler rose to power and built the death camps. And personal examples: Ignoring the symptoms of cancer, or the signs that a relationship is becoming abusive. Things ignored do not disappear. More often, they incubate until you have a really nasty mess to deal with. In my experience, it’s best to travel with your eyes wide open.

5. You must play your cards from the hand you hold. Not the hand you wish you’d been dealt. Not the hand you feel life unfairly stole from you. But the cards you actually have. I call this the Yahtzee dilemma. Okay, I’m mixing my games in this metaphor, but stay with me. I know what I’m talking about.

I play a fair amount of online Yahtzee when the long day’s work is over (and sometimes even when it’s not). I play against a character named Bill. Bill likes sixes—Yahtzee’s highest number, for the uninitiated. If he gets three 1s, a 4, and a 6 on his first roll, rather than build on his 1s, he ditches everything but the 6 and tries to get more of those in the remaining two rolls. This often results in Bill getting zippo and losing the 35 bonus points for the top half. I hate to say this, Bill, but that kind of “thinking” is NOT thinking. It’s insisting on a roll of the dice you didn’t get. It’s a stubborn refusal to recognize the 1s as your strength in this case. Okay, maybe not so much glory in 1s, but I beat Bill most of the time. The hand you hold/your roll of the dice is what you have. Use it to your best advantage.

6. Never sell your soul for money. My parents spent their lives accruing money, thinking about money, worrying about money. In exchange, they got the dream house, the country club membership, two luxury cars in the garage. But it never seemed to make them particularly happy. We all need food, shelter, a little fun, but I think the luckiest people are those who grasp the concept of “enough.” They enjoy a freedom that all the money in the world can’t buy. I’ll bet my dodgy 2001 Ford Focus on that. 

7. If you possess the true, abiding love of at least one other person in this world, you can survive anything.

What I’ve Yet to Learn But Hope To

1. Don’t put your life on post-its, at least not the dinky 2” x 2” ones. At any one time, I have 100 or so of these colorful little squares floating over the surface of my desk. A random sampling of their deathless reminders to me include:

The human capacity for deception

A spy? See Condell perfs in Jonson’s play

Given QED

The really important ones are actually taped to the front of my desk where the sun fades them to obscurity over time.

2. When settling in to binge-watch a favorite series, resist the urge to grab a bag of M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cheetohs (or anything else packing a month’s worth of calories) with the promise that you’ll stop after “a few.” You won’t.  

3. Never shop for clothing when you are at the bottom of your weight range. For the record, I’m not much of a shopper, but the one thing that will propel me to the nearest mall is losing 4-5 pounds. Giddy (from lack of food), I plop down my Visa card and before you know it, I have a couple new pairs of jeans and two or three sleek little tops that look great . . . until I eat my next slice of pizza.  

4. Stop counting the minutes, hours, days. Forty’s in the rearview mirror, and grace, that slippery imp, continues to evade my grasp.  Like the Rumi quote that opened this post, I’m still discovering what it means. Perhaps in another decade or two, I’ll get there and learn to take everything as it comes. 

Given QED