I Got No Game

“Living well” means finding that passion that is bigger than you, that lures you and seduces you, that blinds you (or distracts you) from what a serious folly it would be to spend any significant amount of time with it, and then going ahead and investing it with every hope, every dream, every ideal that ever meant anything to you – and say “yes.”

Is this an unreasonable stance, especially for someone who is far too “sensitive” (another word for “weak” in humanity’s jungle)?  No – such a stance is not nearly intense enough.  The world seems to regard “sensitivity” as a failing, not a virtue.  And that pisses me off to no end.

Following another miserable relationship failure, I was referred to a social worker at a local hospital.  I only remember her as too pretty to talk to, too rich, too much out of my league.  After one particularly useless session, I joked (wink) that all I really needed was to work up the nerve to jump off the platform in front of the train at the el stop.  The rich and pretty social worker did not have a sense of humor about this sort of thing; I was coerced to “voluntarily” commit myself to the hospital psych ward.

After the week at the institution, city public services hooked me up with another social worker.  She started off our first session by reading me the riot act – “pull your weight, or I’ll ship you back to the psych ward myself.”  The threat was of secondary influence; the greater persuasion was her promise that she wouldn’t bail after twelve weeks, that as long as I worked at it, she would stay around for as long as it would take.

One of my therapy goals was to understand what I was doing to give women a “just friends” message, the opposite of the message I wanted to give.  My self-esteem and self-confidence were pretty much non-existent, so I relied on a lot of humorous self-deprecation.  I didn’t think I had much to offer, that women were far more interested in my mind than in my body.

The therapist felt I misjudged the power of the connection between the mind and the body.  She claimed that the power of mind, of language, of words, was much more intimately intertwined with the body than I might think, and that this was probably truer of women’s experience than of men’s.  “Never underestimate the power of words,” is the paraphrase I remember.  I was glad to hear it:  maybe I could charm my way into a beloved’s thoughts, past the body no one fantasizes about.

Thirty plus years later, I wonder whether “the power of words” is only a crutch of an idea that keeps me going.  Words will get you noticed – but will they close the deal?  There is another whole level to this game – and I have no idea how to play it.

What All Human Beings Want

Some years ago I enrolled in a comedy sketch writing program.  I had long suspected (and, of course, everyone else already knew) that comedy was intimately, intrinsically connected with some sort of “higher” way of living.  Like court jesters and Zen masters, comedians saw things the rest of us didn’t – and they wanted to let us in on the joke.  The writing program confirmed that suspicion.

The program instructors reminded me of those Zen masters.  One of them told us that, at bottom, there are four things all human beings want:  to be seen (acknowledged, recognized); to be heard (making one’s “voice” or point of view known); to be touched (that emotional connection); and to be loved (what children look for from their parents, why we have friends, spouses, that sort of thing).

I’m not sure anyone saw me or heard me until seminary high school.  In my sophomore year I got my first indication that I might be good at writing.  I wrote some essay for an English class, maybe five hundred words about how alone I felt, how angry and frustrated I would get, how I never felt like I mattered anything to anyone.  My teacher was a teacher in the best sense – he taught me how to write, but he also cared enough about the person writing it.  He made me feel like I was worth a damn.

About six years ago, a few months shy of his 70th birthday, this wonderful teacher passed away.  I cried when I got the news; I hadn’t spoken with him for at least twenty plus years.  But I’ll never forget the kindness and generosity he gave to a kid who, back then, didn’t think he had a friend in the world.

I’ve wanted to do for curious minds what Fr. Hawk did for me so many years ago:  bringing what I love to the classroom and helping people learn how to think (NOT “what” to think).  With any luck, my students might come to see in themselves a passion they can’t live without, something that shows them they matter, as well as know that they are more than good enough to enjoy everything this world has to offer.

A Bee and a Bus – Conclusion

So of course I embark on an internal conversation, with no one in particular, asking what I ever did to deserve such a harrowing brush with mortality.  No answer.  Well, there’s a shock—it would be somewhat disturbing, wouldn’t it, if there was a response?  Probably better for all concerned that things remain silent, at least on this particular question.  I decided not to worry about the matter any further, but for some reason, I was genuinely annoyed that I had had such a run-in, and, what’s more, that no one much seemed to care.

This didn’t last.  One of the more pleasing aspects of riding the bus for fifty minutes in the morning is to look at the pretty women on board.  Chicago is a very big city, with many attractive women.  And on this particular occasion, I noticed one woman in particular.  I did not get her name; I did not talk with her.  But I made a very explicit, very conscious decision to look her in the eye, with the express idea in my head to let her know that I see her, that I wanted her to see me seeing her, and that I wanted her to see me.  And, what is most important, is the idea that I wanted to connect with someone, however fleeting, for at least that one moment—to let her know, to let the universe know, that this moment mattered, that this connection, however momentary, mattered.  That we mattered, she mattered, I mattered—that all of this makes a difference.

She smiled, and I smiled.  And I like to think that she knew what I wanted her to know, knew what I wanted the universe know.  With quiet satisfaction, I turned my attention again to the grassy park rushing by.  I noticed Elvis singing again, and I thought, to no one in particular:  “Okay, that makes up for the bee.”