How To Pick Up Skills To Make Life Better And Feel Less Anxiety

What the hell is dancing?

Really? What is it?

Now, I’m not talking about ballet or one of the more choreographed styles of dance. I totally get that. As a matter of fact, I’m a kind of a ballerina fanboy.

I know how much training and discipline it takes to reach the level of professional ballerina.

I’m in awe of the power they wield over their environment, and the physical strength and endurance it takes to make it through a performance while executing flawless technique.

I’m talking about what happens at wedding receptions.

That stuff.

That stuff that your date might try to make you do. That stuff that makes me decline the offer of being someone’s date to a wedding. I wouldn’t want to ruin her time by being the guy that won’t dance, or worse, the guy that dances awfully.

And all of her friends would be like, “Who is that derp that Jen brought with her?”

Because most women my age are named “Jen.” I think I know 15 of them. Which is okay, because I’ve always liked that name.

Anyway, I wouldn’t want to put Jen through that. Or myself, for that matter.

Ugh.

If I ever get married, I would take dance lessons with my fiancé. That way, we could look really awesome.

And instead of everyone thinking about how uncomfortable I look, which is exactly what people are thinking at that time in most men’s lives, they could instead think about what a beautiful moment it is. And everyone could really enjoy it.

Even me.

Because If something scares us or makes us uncomfortable, sometimes learning more about it takes the edge off.

If someone is afraid of snakes, maybe learning more about them could help. Learn which ones are venomous and which ones are not. Learn which ones you’re likely to encounter where you live.

If a person is afraid of public speaking, perhaps taking an acting class at the local college could help one become more comfortable in front of an audience and also give them tools to help them seem more relaxed onstage.

Or maybe someone who is afraid of getting mugged could take a self defense class from a reputable instructor and feel more comfortable going out in the evening to spend time with friends.

There are lots of options and work-arounds.

Think about what you’d like to change and what skills or information you’d need to do it. Then think about who might possess that skill or a similar one and go and get it. It might be a person. It might be a book. Check it out.

As far as me, I’m not engaged so I don’t really have to worry about dancing anytime soon.

Sorry, Jens.

The most important thing to remember, ever.

Today I woke up with Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”stuck in my head. I’m not sure why. Last week I mostly woke up to Whitesnake.

Whitesnake.

Where the hell did that come from?

Not that there’s anything wrong with Whitesnake, it’s just been ages since I’ve listened to them. I can’t imagine why they’d be stuck in my head.

And for those of you wondering which song, it was “Slide It in”.

I’ll just go ahead and leave that there.

Anyway, back to Kenny Rogers. My mom used to play one of his greatest hits albums every weekend when I was a kid. It was sort of her soundtrack while doing housework.

The nice thing about Kenny is most of his songs tell a story. That’s a good way to engage a kid. And, it would seem, to making dusting shelves less painful.

I decided to give “The Gambler” a listen while eating breakfast. And you know what? I think it’s a great song that stands the test of time. It also occurred to me that Kenny Rogers could be considered one of my first spiritual teachers.

Just think about it. The first four lines of the chorus pretty much give a workable formula for living.

“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em.
Know when to fold ‘em.
Know when to walk away.
And know when to run.”

And with a new year fast approaching, I’m taking an inventory of my life to see what’s working and what’s not.

When should I hold’ em and when should I fold’ em?

Is it time to walk away from some things in order to make room for new opportunities?

Are there people I need to run the hell away from?

What about you?

No one gets out of life alive.

What are you going to do with the time you have left?

I’ll be pondering that question too.

Like Kenny said:

“Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser.
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

That might be the most important thing to remember, ever.

Being Compassionate Is Good For Me

Being compassionate is better than being a jerk face.

It’s true.

And I know it can be challenging. It is for me.

Being compassionate is especially tough when it’s just so easy for me to think that everything is against me or the whole universe is out to make my life more difficult, that everyone’s an idiot, or everyone is mean.

The truth, though it’s easy to forget, is that everyone is dealing with their own challenges, and is doing the absolute best they can to manage their suffering.

Like Henry the rescue dog.

Henry, like many humans, has issues. He was abused and kicked around and suffered things that I don’t even know about. The most dangerous thing he does is growl, bark, and try to bite if I touch him while he’s sleeping.

In any case, instead of being mad at him, or punishing him in some way, I feel like the best thing I can do is just call his name to make sure he’s awake before I start interacting with him.

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m being compassionate and aware of his challenges, mindful of his space, and creating an environment where we can live peacefully so he doesn’t have to go to a shelter.

That’s a nice lesson.

And that lesson makes it easier to be compassionate when the person I’m on a date with can’t put her Smartphone down and give me her full attention. She just can’t.

Getting frustrated with her isn’t going to fix things or make her into the person I want her to be. It’s not going to get me the sort of attention or connection that I’m looking for.

Feeling inadequate or feeling less interesting than her phone isn’t helpful to either of us.

What is helpful is to realize that we’re all suffering, and that suffering manifests itself in different ways. Perhaps her compulsive use of her phone is a way of managing hers.

It’s too late now. Though I liked her, we’ve drifted apart after not really hitting it off so I’ll never know.

What I do know is that I can’t change other people and I’m not in control of their stuff.

The dog can stay or not. Training may help, but it can’t change who he is.

I can date a Smartphone Girl or not. But I can’t change who she is or her relationship with electronic devices. But I guess I could decide to only meet her where phones don’t work.

Like the apocalypse.

A time when everything shuts down and our only choices are to pay attention to each other, work together, and be more compassionate.

You Don’t Know What Other People Are Thinking

So yeah, my life is a bit dull right now.

I don’t even have anything to complain about.

This may explain why I’m writing a second grocery store piece in less than a year.

Do you ever wonder if the cashier judges you by what you have in your cart?

I do.

For instance, there was the time I took my iguana to the veterinarian because she had a weird bump on her face. The vet informed me that it was an abscess and I should just put some hemorrhoid cream on it.

So, off I went to the grocery store to make the purchase. Everything was going well until I get up to the checkout counter and the Preparation H didn’t have a price on it.

Bear with me here. It was 1995, before computers took over everything and automatically knew all of the prices.

In any case, the really cute college girl behind the register picked up my hemorrhoid cream and tried to scan it but it wouldn’t scan. She grabbed that microphone, the one that registers used to have, to ask for a price check.

Cute Cashier over the microphone: I need a price check on the Preparation H.

Me: It’s for my lizard.

A voice yelling from somewhere in the store: What kind?

Cashier over the microphone: Maximum Strength.

Me: There’s a sore on it.

(Awkward silence.)

They did get eventually get the price figured out. I paid for the cream and left.

As I walked out to my truck, I felt sort of embarrassed that the the cashier probably thought I had hemorrhoids.

Not that there’s anything shameful about having them. It’s a medical condition that happens to lots of people. We treat it and move on.

But, it is a sensitive area.

And she was very attractive. Certainly someone I would’ve wanted to find me attractive.

And visualizing me applying the cream to myself probably wasn’t going to score me any points with her.

But here’s the thing: I don’t really know what she was thinking.

Our whole interaction could have been irrelevant to her because she was engrossed in the details of her own life. Maybe she was looking forward to her plans for that night, or maybe she had a new puppy at home that she was excited about.

Or maybe our meeting was funny for a moment and then she let it go.

I’ll never know.

Today I can look back on this and see the humor in it.

And I’m really working on trying to remember that I never know what someone’s thinking. It’s challenging sometimes, especially at the moment when my speculations arise.

I try remind myself that my thoughts are almost always negative.

That’s just how I seem to be wired.

The lack of an email response doesn’t mean that someone has stopped liking me. The unanswered text message does not spell certain doom for a relationship.

Things come up in life. People get busy or sidetracked.

Most of the time I’m just imagining the worst.

And I wish there was a cream for that.

My Email To Chipotle

Here’s the email I sent to Chipotle:

Dear Chipotle,

I don’t visit your restaurants very often. Although your food is good, your service has always been a little “unusual” for my taste.

But I did visit last night and it was such a deep personal experience that I felt compelled to email you.

The time was 9pm.

There was no one in line. Only me. However, 4 employees walked passed me without so much as acknowledging me. Obviously, they were proponents of the “tough love” movement.

I was grateful to them for being willing to help me improve my character by teaching me patience.

I stood there for 10 minutes looking at them while they cleaned. Okay, maybe 12 minutes. I don’t want to sell them short. It was magical. Please forward them my gratitude.

Obviously, something traumatic had happened before I’d gotten there. They were out of everything and there were tidbits strewn all over the counter. It was like someone had murdered a burrito.

Don’t worry. I get it! A bad burrito is a bad burrito and it must be punished. Insubordination spreads like a cancer among burritos, and it’s best to stamp it out immediately.

Not everyone gets to be a chimichanga, no matter what your parents tell you.

Anyway, while I continued to stand there, the whole staff vanished into the back for what seemed like forever.

Hey, sometimes you need to get away.

After a time, they all returned to the counter carrying nothing.

We all stood together looking at the metal containers in the burrito assembly station. They were still empty. No one spoke.

It seemed important for everyone to be together, perhaps taking a moment of silence honoring the burritos who have come and gone before us, those who have contributed selflessly to our greatness as a society.

Most of the awful in life can be fixed with a really good burrito. Not a lot of people know this, but I do.

So, I stood in solidarity with your staff.

A kind woman approached me from behind the counter and said, “Would you like white or brown rice?”

“Brown,” I replied as I reveled in the warm sunlight of her attention.

“We don’t even have any,” she said.

And I left without saying a word, knowing that I’d been part of something amazing. The lessons I’ll slowly digest for years to come.

Thanks for everything.

Sincerely,
James Gummer

 

Robin Williams And Mental Illness

 

To all that don’t understand how someone as rich, successful, and loved as Robin Williams could kill himself, I’d just like to politely and respectfully remind you that depression and other mental illnesses are medical conditions.

They are diseases.

And sometimes diseases are terminal.

Scientists and doctors can see the proof and effects of mental illness using PET scans and SPECT scans of the brain.

This is real.

No one ever asks why a rich, successful person gets cancer, or diabetes, or Alzheimer’s.

You never hear, “But your life is awesome! What’s so bad that you have cancer about it?”

Or, “Why don’t you just pick yourself up start acting a little less diabetic?”

Now, I don’t really expect that Robin’s death or even this short essay will cause major changes in how the mentally ill are treated or viewed. But I hope we can all start having conversations about it.

That’s how ideas and information spread sometimes, one person at a time.

And any progress is huge.

How Passion Works For Me

I like to camp at the Marriott, and forage the bar for cocktails, and tell ghost stories around the air conditioner.

That's “roughing it.”

Especially if there's no free wifi.

I can't imagine having to spend the night outside in the East Coast humity. That sounds like a punishment. I'm itching just thinking about it.

It's not that I don't enjoy nature. I like it very much, just not enough to sleep with it.

I feel like we're in the Friend Zone.

Also, I really don't like my routines to be disturbed because it brings up significant anxiety. And I'm not always in the mood to push through it, which is really what it takes for any sort of meaningful growth.

Most of the time, when I'm making choices, I have to pick the one that feels just a tiny bit less painful than the other. Possible change needs to stir some kind of passion within me.

There's been a lot of talk around the internet about passion lately. A quick Google search will bring you lots of interesting reading.

Some sites say you should follow yours into a career. Others say that's the worse thing you could do.

I'm not going to advise anyone either way, because I'm referring to passion in the largest possible context: As a force for change.

For instance, I don't like to travel. It's not that I don't want to see new places. I just find traveling to be a giant pain. There's long lines at the airport, unwashed people sitting next to me on the plane, lost luggage, and babies that scream the entire way across the Atlantic Ocean.

In spite of this, I did visit Germany when a former girlfriend was living there.

I loved her passion for her work as a dancer, her sense of humor, and her insecurities. I loved the way she was kind to me, and supportive, and understanding of my flaws. And she was beautiful, just the most lovely creature to ever walk into my my life thus far.

The opportunity to spend time with her had the power to smack me out of any compulsive routines. I got a passport. I left the country for the first time at the tender age of 39 to go to a place where I didn't speak a word of the language; I had a little picture book that I used to point to stuff I wanted.

Was it fun the whole time? No. But it was an investment of my life energy into something that I felt passionately about – a true intimate connection with an amazing person that I adored.

So, what's the lesson here?

It's possible for me to do amazing things. It's possible for me to break free of routines and habits.

If I'm passionate.

If I value the experience more than staying the same. If I value the opportunity more than I fear the change.

And also, when I'm passionate I'm successful, whether it's in music, or writing, or whatever. Passion makes me stick it out when things get tough.

It helps me to jump out of my normal comfort zone.

But still not into bed with nature.

This is my airport face.