Sunday, December 8, 2019

Love Actually

Ok, warning right off the top. This essay started off as one thing and then kind of became another. It’s also sort of a Christmas story.

But let me back up.

A few weeks back I had to give a speech. It had to be funny, and charming, and smart, and kind of ted talky without seeming like I was trying too hard. It was sort of a tall order. 

So, like any good plagiarist in the 21st century, I turned to the place any sensible person would go.


While browsing various videos, I came across a wonderful graduation speech by David Foster Wallace called “This is Water.” Here’s a quote.

“It is extremely difficult to stay alert & attentive instead of getting hypnotized by the constant monologue inside your head.” 

The entire speech is a reflection on how we get so wrapped in our own heads, and what we might chose to do about it. If we can somehow remember that the “idiot” in traffic, or the “moron” holding up the line at the store might just be having as bad of a day as we are, we might even chose to be compassionate instead of irritated. To get out of our monologue of near constant complaint and rumination and back into the world with the others.

It’s a wonderful idea. Easy to understand, much harder to actually implement.

Because much of our irritation with the world, is actually irritation with ourselves. When I snap at someone in a store, I really am saying, “Can’t you see I’m having a bad day?” “Don’t you know how many things are going on in my life right now?”

But of course they don’t know. And we don’t know what’s going on with them either.

But you can bet they are fighting some kind of battle (not my quote by the way.)

Deep down we all want to be seen. To be understood. But life intervenes. Gets busy. Gets messy.

But someone needs to make the first move sometimes, and that someone can be us.

Which leads us to my Christmas story.

I was away for a weekend recently, and had two very fun days. Without getting into the details, on the third day, my head was less than stellar, my back hurt from a lumpy hotel bed, and I was quite irritated with the world.

And then I remembered. That relentless monologue of complaints!! Don’t feed that damn thing today.

As luck would have it, Love Actually was on that morning, and I sat and watched the whole thing before I went out for the day. It was gong to be a very busy day of Christmas shopping out there, and I wanted to see if Love actually was all around. But more importantly I wanted to see what I could do to contribute to this.

So I went around the city, and got to know everyone who served me. The barista at the coffee shop. The man selling me the underwear I ran out of the day before. The guy at the brewpub who patiently walked me through all those amazing beers.

And then I simply took a second, went online, and wrote them the most glorious reviews. Katie was a true artist with a coffee machine. Derrick is an amazing ambassador for your beer. Bob sells a hell of a pair of underwear. 

You get the idea.

And then I went and showed them what I had written. I tried to be as specific as possible with my compliments while also being sincere.

What I got in return were some of the happiest smiles I had seen in a long time. It reminded me of this experiment I saw one time where a cameraperson went around and told everyone something about them that was beautiful. Here is a picture of the before and after.

See the difference?

I do not share this story to simply pat myself on the back. Nine times out of ten, I would have proceeded through a day like this being irritable with people. Fed the monologue. Then I would have felt guilty. 

It’s no way to spend a day.

The lesson is something we need to practice. All the time. Every day.

When you change your perspective, everything really does change. Like you are literally turning one of those old kaleidoscopes and rearranging the things you see.

We can rearrange the world like this anytime we want.

But fuck is it hard to remember that.

As for me, I am embarking on a long trip home for Christmas. There will undoubtedly be pressures, squabbles, hangovers, and silly family arguments.

That’s the holidays. That’s why guys like me are so busy this time of year.

But I’m going to remind myself that Love Actually IS all around.

But someone has gotta make the first move.  

This year, I’ll give it a shot.

Merry Christmas!!!

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