Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hidden Significance: A Personal Account

A collection of books with peculiar names, a cup with “pokey puppy” imprinted on it, a deck of cards from a smoky 1970s era casino, and a portrait of our world from a 3rd person point of view. How could these seemingly unrelated objects tell you something about a particular person? Well, let me try to show you. 

I try to get up most mornings at 4AM. The alarm on my phone wakes me; emanating from the nightstand on which it sits. The phone is the first thing I see, the second is the earth. No, not my general surroundings, like the shoddy oak-wood desk that sits near my decade old bed frame, or the lamp that is missing its shade though I keep telling myself I’ll buy a new one. Instead, it’s a literal image of the earth, from a third person point of view. Probably taken by a voyaging space craft as it ventured out towards the stars, looking back on the terrestrial ball on it which it owed its existence. The earth appears to be surrounded by complete darkness. This offers me something. A reminder, if nothing else, that I’m a very, very small speck, briefly lingering on a tiny dot in a increasingly vast universe. It helps to start my day with the realization and mindset that while this life, this year, this day, may be my one chance, and my actions matter; it also keeps it in perspective, that no one really cares about the mistakes I make as much as I do. The small mistakes I make today are opportunities to learn from, not dwell on for the sake of 7 billion others. If this resonates with you, I suggest you find a picture of the earth and dwell on it for awhile, and the significant insignificance of the simple mistakes you make on a daily basis. 

I’m walking in loneliness. 

A small black book. Engraved into its spine with gold lettering, the words “Bad Hair”. A very relatable title. I’ve spent twenty three years trying to figure out how to style my fine, wispy hair; always envious of those with thicker locks, and an easier experience. I’ve bought more gels, pomades and waxes than I ever could have used, but most I’ve thrown out within a few weeks because they never work out. Within the book itself are endless pictures of how not to style ones hair. I’m sure many of my styles over the years are somewhere to be found. My dad had the same issues, though he gave up trying to style his hair, he just let it be. At some point I asked myself why I do it, and for who? Especially since I hate the struggles with my hair, it’s important to know. If I’m honest, I was doing it for others, especially in my teens. To fit in? Now, It’s less important, though I still have to maintain a mane for work. Again, doing it for others. Maybe I should follow in my dad’s footsteps, let it sit. Would anyone actually care? 

I want you to look at this deck of cards and let me gloat, that’s the only reason they’re in this tiny cabinet. One evening my girlfriend brought them home from one of her thrifting journeys and flashed the case at me. I told her I could do a parlor trick and predict what year they were printed. I had no clue, but guessed “1974”. When she flipped up the top lip…. “1974”. I’m currently exploring my psychic abilities. 

Underneath “bad hair”, lays a thick pink volume, published in the early 20th century entitled “Vogue’s Book of Etiquette”. I found it for 10 cents one morning at a Goodwill. It instructs the reader how to act in public and private, it gives examples of proper handshakes, goodbyes, dinner-dates, even how to (and when) to invite your boss to dinner. All important lessons, at least in the 20th century. During the last decade of that century, I began attending a private Lutheran school. From preschool to eighth grade the kind, seemingly God-fearing teachers taught me the fundamentals of schooling. I also had the opportunity to develop rapport with my teachers with one-on-one interactions. Though, there was a downside. There was one other student in my grade, and he wasn’t what one might call “socialized” either. I hadn’t developed the “etiquette” (or lack thereof) that was expected when I entered the public school system in 9th grade. There were rules I didn’t have the chance to learn. Suffice to say, my high school years were filled with my own insecurities and the development of my social capabilities. If only i’d had a book that could teach me these things. 

The Pokey Little Puppy. If someone in your life read you children’s books growing up in the Midwestern United States, this was probably one of them. I know it was for me. So, as a six year old with a serious love for Sunny-D, I obviously needed a cup that could resemble two of my favorite things. A sugar fueled, tooth rotting liquid, and a playful pup. This cup has seen all the stages of Calvin. It’s held more than just Sunny-D over the years; cough syrup, chocolate milk, etc. These days though, it serves as more of a symbol than a functional glass. We all need our relics right? 

An integral part of my career is the effective de-escalation of people in difficult situations. Sometimes they’re agitated, sometimes they’re livid and acting out. Many times all I need to do is give them some support. Others, only a rigid edge and clear direction can contain. Not all situations end happily, but I firmly believe that 100% of confrontations can be ended amiably with a whole lot of verbal de-escalation and a certain amount of emotional defense. The physical should never be something you want. This book is a reminds me that the “gentle” can be just as important as the “harsh” or “firm” in these situations. I carry this out of my career, and into my personal life. It might serve you well too. 

My trekking pack was lost by United Airlines somewhere in between Phoenix - Minneapolis - Amsterdam. When I arrived in Europe for what was supposed to be a month long backpacking expedition, taking trains from the Nordic to the Mediterranean, I didn’t have anything but my passport, euros, and a North Face jacket. I bought a few things to start out once the airline told me they’d work on getting it to me in a couple days. Then, a couple days turned into a few weeks, and eventually the entirety of my journey. I bought a temporary backpack, a few shirts and some underwear, and the essentials such as deodorant and soaps; and what I found was, as long as I ended my day at a hostel, that was enough. I shared a universal electric converter with fellow travelers, I didn’t ever find myself needing a straw that would allow me to drink dirty water, I didn’t even miss my laptop. The longer I went without the safety nets I’d packed for myself, the more pleasurable the experience became. I spent more time truly enjoying others and the moments or places I found myself in. I didn’t become sidetracked as I might have with a laptop in my bunk. Though, I really could have used the puke bags I packed; and on that note, excuse my cliche, but sometimes less really is more. 

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