My friends at The Dihedral put up another thought-provoking post this week. The jumping-off point was the TV show “House”. They used it to talk about making excuses and not having enough time to do what you want. “If you want to do something, you do it”, they quote House as saying.
I put in my two cents as a comment, then realized I had more like two bits to say, so took it over here. Since we’re using pop culture as a jumping off point, I’m going with Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
In that film (I hope I’m not giving away any 73 year old spoilers), the protagonist, George Bailey, has big dreams. He repeatedly puts those dreams aside to fulfill his obligations. When he calls the antagonist, Mr Potter, “a warped, frustrated old man”, Potter asks what he is other than a “warped, frustrated young one.” On the verge of suicide, George gets to see what the world would have been if he’d never been born and has an epiphany.
I am going to assert that we are already getting what we want. Exactly what we want. But we lie to ourselves about it.
Let’s take a small example. I want to watch TV. I have to take out the garbage. I skip my TV show, take out the garbage, and feel resentful. Let’s reframe that. I want to take out the garbage. Why? Maybe I have a partner/roommate/parent who told/asked me to, or it’s my agreed-upon job. Maybe I have thought ahead and realize I don’t want to live in a pig sty. Maybe I realize that garbage attracts vermin, I don’t want vermin, and vermin are harder to get ride of than garbage. Maybe I like feeling resentful.
Whoa! What was that? Maybe assigning blame is more satisfying than taking responsibility. Maybe, if I can blame someone else for missing my TV show, and blame someone else for a lot of other small things, I can escape responsibility for my generalized unhappiness. Maybe it’s all someone else’s fault!
What if all the things I’m doing because I have to are actually things I’m doing because I want to? What if I’ve done a bunch of mental calculations (mostly unconscious) and they have led me to the choices I’ve made? Maybe none of this is true about you but it is about someone you know…;) What if I want to take out the garbage and want to feel resentful about it and want to blame someone else for my feelings?
Does that look like George Bailey? Did he skip his trip to Europe and put his father’s estate in order because he really wanted to? Did he skip college and run the Building and Loan because he wanted to? Did he skip his honeymoon and bail out that family business because he wanted to? Did he consider the alternatives and decide that was the best one under the circumstances?
What would it look like to want what I have instead of what I don’t have? Have you ever noticed that, when there is something you really want, you feel some sort of real aliveness during the pursuit? Maybe you just absently want it, maybe you actively seek it, or save up for it. Maybe you get it and it makes you happy for a while and then you go back to your humdrum existence. What was that about? How long do you hang out with that feeling before you find something else to pursue?
I touched on this once before. I’m even going to bring back the same cartoon for another round. In the first panel, Mr Natural starts to do the dishes. He’s resentful. He doesn’t “want” to do them, he “has to“. By the third panel he is just doing the dishes. In the fifth panel he is invested in doing the dishes. In the sixth panel he wants to do the dishes. In the final panel, he is pleased with having done the dishes. Question: Does he go on to want whatever he’s doing next, or does he continue to want the feeling he had while doing the dishes, try to recapture that feeling, and fail to do so? Just because you’ve learned something once doesn’t mean you have learned it for all time. My teacher Peter Ralston calls that “the lava syndrome”. The very breakthrough you have made hardens over and becomes something you have to break through in order to learn anything new again.
I haven’t talked about bikes for this whole post – not even about the weather. How many times can I talk about riding in freezing rain, sleet, snow, subzero (F) temperatures…? But I’ll leave you with one last image. I’ve talked before of hoarfrost – the stuff that forms when it is foggy and cold. Instead of mere water droplets, ice crystals form in the air; or fog forms and the water droplets freeze as soon as they land. From a distance, hoarfrost is white. The ice crystals reflect all light. Just like snowflakes, up close the crystals are clear. As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” We had another morning of hoarfrost this week. Visibility suddenly dropped and I wondered if my glasses had fogged up. I looked to my right and saw fog in the lights of a parking lot. I realized the world was foggy, not just me. I rode out of the fog bank and my glasses continued to ice over. Imagine sticking a glass in the freezer and getting it nice and cold. Take it out and spritz it with water and stick it back in the freezer. When you take it out, there are tiny droplets of ice, giving the glass a pebbled texture. That’s what my glasses were like. I stopped, removed a mitten, and scraped the ice off the lenses, then continued on my way. The picture is hoarfrost, up close and personal.