The Virtues of Being a Quitter

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2008, NOT snowboarding

I grew up in the era of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” This is pretty sage advice, especially for children like me, who shied away from doing anything at which I wasn’t instantly perfect. The problem with me, the pitfall, is that when I take something to heart, I am all in. The reason I talk about balance and middle ground all the time is because I have trouble finding it. I give you exhibit A, snowboarding:

In my early 20’s I went skiing with some friends and decided to learn to snowboard. It was all the rage, and I thought I looked pretty cute with a board tucked under my arm. I took lessons for two days and stuck with this new-fangled sport for four days. For four days, I repeatedly tumbled down the mountain, cracking my head on ice, bruising my knees and cracking my tailbone. I could be found huddled on the side of the run, practically crying my head hurt so bad from being bashed on packed snow, sniffling and fishing ibuprofen out of my pocket. I listened to my instructor, I practiced, but it just wasn’t in me. To top it off, I was doing this by myself, since my friends were all already badasses at boarding, and I couldn’t keep up with them.

Finally, halfway through the fourth day, I fell shortly after stumbling off the lift. I lay there in the snow and thought, “That’s it. I am f&^%ing done.” I clipped out, stood up, tucked the board under my arm and walked down the mountain. And it was beautiful. I was enjoying myself for the first time that trip. The snow made things so silent. I could look up at the towering firs, with their dusting of snow, and it was so peaceful – quite the contrast from sliding down a mountain mostly on my head.

Several people stopped and asked if I was okay. I just smiled and said, “yes.” For the first time on that vacation, I was actually okay. It was time…well, past time, to give up snowboarding, and I finally realized it. It was a relief to admit I had failed at this thing, and I was over it.

Sometimes, giving up isn’t really failure. Sometimes, knowing when to cash in your chips is your success. There is a satisfaction in knowing you’ve done your absolute best at a task and failed anyway. You can move on, knowing you suck at that, and you never have to do it again.

A 2am Conversation with Jim Morrison

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Me, at Jim Morrison’s grave, Pére-Lachaise Cemetery, 1997

I am awake. Suddenly, two hours into a night’s sleep. I was sleeping soundly, and then I am just awake. And can’t go back to sleep. Perhaps it’s that subtle yet persistent ache in my right shoulder that comes and goes at random – the mark of being 40. Maybe it’s too much coffee or too little dinner.

My brain starts its usual buzz. It used to frustrate me the way it would tune up with all manner of thoughts at inopportune times like this. Now, I just let it do its thing and find myself amused and occasionally enlightened by its antics.

My brain is full of movie quotes and song lyrics, prompted by remembered bits of conversation or thoughts of my own. One train of thought leads me to think, “people are so strange…” which, in turn, leads into the old Doors song, which will now pop up in my head at random for the next 48 hours, peppered in with thoughts of grocery lists and Donald Trump. “You know, Jim, people are strange even when you’re not a stranger.”

I start to make up stories in my head – one about two people stranded on a deserted island. I imagine the perilous relationship they’ll have, how they’ll survive, what will happen between them. They’ll have a child, maybe two, but they don’t really like each other. In fact, there is hate. He is cruel. In the end, she kills him, but I can’t figure out how. Then, I realize this is a cobbled together idea based on Swiss Family Robinson, Big Little Lies, and Dolores Claiborne – not at all original. I sigh and scrap it.

A thought comes through, unbidden (as if any of these musings are bidden.) What are you distracting yourself from? I attempt to clear my head. I breathe in and out slowly, feeling my chest and abdomen expand, counting the breaths. There is an anxiety I feel in my heart and when I notice it, my heartbeat begin to quicken and intensify. I am worried. Life is so complex. There is money that needs to be made, health to be attended to, passions to respect, other people to consider. How does this all work together?

People are strange. I am strange. (Funny, I just accidentally typed “strange” as “strong.”) Why is this all so complicated? Maybe you are missing the big picture. What do you mean? With all your frustrations with how media and choices and other people make your life complicated, have you ever stopped to consider how YOU make your life complicated? Oh.

I read articles, I listen to other people, I take everything so seriously. What if I just decided not to? What if I just spent all day on the internet if I felt like it and lost the guilt that I’m ruining my eyes and my attention span? What if I spent all day walking the dog and not working or spent all day working and ignoring my children? What if I spent all day playing with my children and ignoring work and my phone? If I REALLY tapped into my intuition, not what everything else is telling me, would I actually end up doing any of those things all day?

So, I am sitting on the couch at 2am on a Wednesday morning. I am not frustrated, because I am supposed to get eight hours of sleep to be my most productive. I am grateful for this quiet time, when everyone else is asleep, to write and think. I am happy that I have time to nap later. I am chucking my silly schedules out the window, at least for now, until I feel I need them again, and I am going with my gut. Even though it scares me, makes that anxiety start my heart fluttering again. Not everything that scares you is worth doing, but this feels right. I’m going to post this most random and intimate of posts from the randomness that is my brain and not worry (too much) if people will like it. Yes, my heart is hammering at the thought.

Thanks, Jim. You’ve been a big help.