The​ Pulling of One’s Own Weight

Oarweb

See a need and fill it. Intuitive enough in a vacuum. Wants and needs form a never-ending parade in our minds, a Mardi gras atmosphere of self-serving, self-indulgent possibilities. When we leave the vacuum of self, entering the stream of shared needs the question becomes, will we rise up and put our all toward the task at hand?

Being social creatures, we find ourselves surrounded by communally shared challenges and opportunities. We function in teams, as families, communities, and colleagues. Looking back, most of us remember standing in a line on the playground as two designated captains selected teammates for schoolyard kickball. Getting picked first meant one thing, getting picked last meant something entirely different.  Friendships and cliques aside the factor determining one’s rank in the choosing ultimately came down to ‘value.’ That value was understood to be ‘what can a player contribute to the goal of winning!’

As we age, we leave the playground behind to find ourselves facing new games with higher stakes. Whether we were kickball all-stars, or deemed liabilities and relegated to the status of reluctantly chosen last round draft picks (your’s truly) becomes irrelevant as the games we play now are rarely decided by athletic ability alone. In adulthood, teams rise and fall on far more nuanced criteria.  

Some people seem to be born with an abundance of talent in one or more areas. Others of us seem to have been absent on the day that stuff was handed out. What to do if we find ourselves in the latter category? Watch “Rudy” for starters. Being of ‘value’ to those with whom we toil is no longer a simple matter of how the cards were dealt. Instead, it is a combination of what we have and what we choose to do with it.  

Picture four people in a metaphorical rowboat. It could instead be a tech startup, an operating room, a family or a fast food restaurant; but for visual simplicity let’s stay with the rowboat. Each team member has an oar in hand, two rowers on the left, two on the right. The scene could be a white water river challenge, a collegiate competition rowing final or a desperate escape from a sinking ship. In any of these cases, the best outcome would be achieved via equal focus and effort. Such mutual intention allows for the fastest movement in the direction of the goal at hand, defined by the craft traveling in a swift, straight line toward its objective. Our teammates rely on us to give our all, as we, in turn, rely on them for the same. If the boat veers from this course, turning or spinning to one side or the other, dashing the hope for team success; most often the missing ingredient is fortitude, ‘the pulling of one’s own weight.’

It Is Not All Good

its all good sticker 2

Warning: uncensored agitated grumbling to follow.

It’s not all good. If you think it’s “All Good “ kindly remove your blindfold, even if you only do you so long enough to scrape that historically inaccurate bumper sticker from your late model car, or perhaps fully outfitted, though not likely to ever leave the pavement jeep.

Life is suffering, and/or pretending that it is not. Life is amazing, peppered with awful, and sometimes the outright denial of the misery next-door, across the tracks, or within.  Life is a balance of the good and the bad.  Acceptance is the key to walking the line between the two, but it does not change the nature of either.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for positivity, but a dash of reality makes for a far more interesting if bittersweet life cocktail.  Drink up!

Personal Documentaries

Personal Documentaries_John B Hussey

I’ve heard it said that “life imitates art.” Times being what they are, with cinematic tools in the pockets of nearly every breathing soul, it appears that art or at least the cultural obsession with captured visual representations of some form of it now shape life. The advent of the personal documentary, whether we acquire imagery while looking through the lens or turn it on ourselves does not allow for life to unfold as it would in the absence of the distraction, or opportunity, or perhaps most importantly self-consciousness.

Personal marketing is ubiquitous. Social media and crowdsourced opinion are the new forms of connection, interpretation, and validation. This validity is assumed based on ‘homegrown’ legitimacy in contrast to traditional marketing and advertising which is widely presumed to be manipulative in nature. Are they really so different? We now package ourselves, consciously or unconsciously as products. To the best of our ability, we remove blemishes and imperfections before posting. Flaws and imperfection that exist, endure, and with time increase in scope.

I don’t post the nine unflattering shots of my family, the ones where someone made a face or blinked. I especially don’t post the pix that highlight that one crooked front tooth that’s always trying to get in the shot. I post the tenth pic where I don’t look like I need emergency adult orthodontia and my sons don’t look like they are recovering from blunt force trauma to the head. Am I posting a lie, or am I simply a savvy marketing wiz?

Our flaws can be perceived as components of character, unwelcome sidekicks or both. All the botox and plastic surgery in the world won’t fix the ones that truly define us. Our enduring flaws are the ones that we reveal, or that force their way into the limelight once the honeymoon has ended. Can those we’ve lured in with our polished documentary stylings live with them? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Documentary films are sometimes interesting, sometimes not. Some are important, some life-changing, some difficult to watch for the brutal truths they reveal about human nature. Some are fluff, some sweet, and many fall short of their intended effect. These outcomes are of course in no small way co-created by the viewer. So it is with our individual forays into self-serving cinema. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, so it goes.

Personal Documentaries are here to stay. A scroll session through Facebook, Instagram, etc. can light up the brain neurons like eating a quart of Death By Chocolate ice cream, minus the calories. These shared stories are sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes provocative. Personally, I enjoy the voyeuristic distraction of it all and participate regularly. However, as I upload virtual interpretations of my life and/or witness the lives of others across the ether, I often wonder if the real art of looking another human being in the eye and making a connection in the moment may be the horse-drawn carriage faced with the imminent rise of the motorcar.

Four Days of Sunshine

Four Days of Sunshine Wildflower sm_John B Hussey

It may be simple chemistry, biology and physics strung together in an invisible helix that weaves its way into my soul. Four days of sunshine came and brought with them a rising tide of “yes.”

The science behind this is not new of course. Still, every time winter relents, even for a few days, a fresh year’s crop of optimism takes root and begins the process of lifting the world.

To everything, there is a season, and now in the northern hemisphere, we gratefully enter a season of aspiration. Happy spring!

Truth & Dare

Truth and Dare

Approval vampire, spinning compass, part-time lost soul; I might start an awkward t-shirt biz.  

My aim is true, but is my target? “What target?” I ask myself.  This is a new and unwelcome question.

Goals, I’ve had plenty, many of them achieved, others had to be set free. Motives? I shudder to think that at times they’ve manifested in the service of being accepted, appreciated, loved, etc., though I fear that may be the unflattering truth. Not in every case of course, but often enough that I owe it to myself to do a little psychological archeology.  Seeking the birthplace of motivation seems like a good place to start.

Weakness, victimhood, neediness, I have worn these mantles from time to time. Donned such untoward raiments, for all the world to witness. All the world that is, but for myself.  The mirror shows us only that which we agree to see. For many years I was blind to the presence of these less becoming personal “qualities” I’ll call them because to paraphrase Jack Nicholson “I couldn’t handle the truth.”

“The Truth” is, of course, a multifaceted moving target. It is, like a mirror, difficult to trust (ironically) because of the human ability to unwittingly (or otherwise) contaminate it with personal prejudice. Our capacity to inflate or diminish our relationship to, respect for, or understanding of the truth is Homeric in magnitude. I feel heartsick just thinking about all the lies I’ve inadvertently told myself.

Wisdom, like Montezuma’s gold, is easy to talk about, harder to lay one’s hands on. This psychological digging, or flailing, or whatever it is that I’ve undertaken started when a tear appeared in the fabric of my personal universe.  Suddenly, after surviving adolescence (barely), building a career and raising two wonderful sons, I awoke one morning to the feeling that I no longer knew what was propelling my life forward.  I found myself wondering, then wondering some more; a passenger and prisoner of inertia.  The continuum of clear goals I had used all these years as ladder rungs, as definitions of purpose, as “meaning,” had suddenly splintered and blown away like the seeds of a late summer dandelion. Thanks Middle Age…Bastard!

It’s a phase. Everything’s a phase. Its a “waiting place” I suppose. Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for normalizing and putting a name to that part of living that can be so vexing and seem so individually and solitarily suffered.  It is easy to feel uniquely alone when muddling through a challenging experience, so easy, yet so profoundly incorrect.  Can I get an amen?

“The Obstacle is the Way” according to Ryan Holiday, and from where I sit it better be. The usual shit isn’t working. I can’t exercise, socialize or anesthetize away the nagging feeling that I no longer have the answer to the question “why?” There it is, the obstacle, and the disquieting truth.  As many of us sang at camp while going on a bear hunt, “can’t go around it. Can’t go under it. Gotta go through it!”  So it appears.

The “truth” may be that “the waiting place” is as good as it gets right now. The place where I sit with this puzzle, patiently pulling tea leaves and reading for clues. That is assuming I can resist the temptation to distract, numb, or otherwise give myself an easy way out of confronting the uncertainty surrounding my current master purpose here and now on this spinning orb.  The “dare” then must be to find the fortitude to forsake these myriad options for escape and stare down the barrel of the void until it blinks.

Mindfulness​ Practice

Yin Yang Cell Phone

Contentment is a bore. Our precious human drama finds no safe harbor in the realm of enlightenment.  Not surprisingly its mindfulness that somehow slips our minds.

Imagine the tedium of mindfully avoiding the endless stream of dross that greets us daily, masquerading as meaningful. Delicious, sensational, insidiously addictive Drama! Social media supported, and family approved. Oh, how I love to pretend I don’t crave its corrosive company. I disavow it with my words then hold it close when I think no one is looking.

“Mindfulness practice,” two words that won’t mean much until I stop checking my damn phone every ninety seconds.  Ugh!

The Work of Living

The Work of Living_by John Hussey

The rains came at the end of December and have since called this place home.  It is not the countryside, rather a despondency that blooms in the midst of this cold winter downpour. Those in the parts of the world where such weather is commonplace probably bare it away silently, knowing year after year that such is their fate. Here in southern North America, this bleak, relentless drenching has transformed myriad normal men and women into so many agitated, forlorn creatures.

The wearing down of the spirit by natural means such as continuous dark, damp days is in no way sinister.  In that light, this indifferent water torture shows a modicum of kindness. The spirit breaking inventions used by one human on another cut more profoundly, with much greater precision. Cruelty is intentional, and therefore personal. Such malevolent behavior, like the weather, is sometimes predictable, sometimes not.

Confronting darkness in any form, be it natural or man-made presents each of us with the opportunity to choose a response. With rare exception, we can decide whether to reflect or reject the shadows cast upon us. Reacting on impulse is natural, but void of the benefit of circumspection. Stepping back, taking stock, digging deep and choosing a way forward that lies outside readily ostensible options, a path that leads us back to the light, that is the work of living.