How Not To Be A Jerk Face

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 They’re 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.

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.





What’s On my Mind?


This isn't a real post.

Well, it sort of is.

Because I'm posting it.

And guess what? celebrates being 2 years old this month!

That's right!

I want to thank everyone who's read my work, offered advice and tutelage, and helped get things rolling.

I'd also like to thank all of the people who put up with me.

You see, before there was, there was just me texting a few friends.

I did it a lot. Probably too much. And it usually happened late at night during my “Cocktail Hour.”

Until they asked me to stop. Which I did.

After some of them threatened me.

Then I found Facebook and it's always asking, “What's on your mind?”

So, I started telling it. And some people liked it!

And some asked me to stop.

But, I didn't!

And was born.

So, in honor of 2 years, here's a little of what's on my mind.




The Real Value Of Star Trek


Sometimes the end of a relationship rips a hole in you so big that you're not sure if anything is going to fill it again. Something has been torn from you.

Before a certain someone came along, you were living just fine. But now that they're gone, you wonder if you can survive without them. You feel weak. A dull pain, or maybe a sharp one, throbs in your heart, that organ that does its job pumping blood and oxygen every day and you rarely notice it.

You feel it now, don't you? In your chest? It's still doing its job, but it's labored and deliberate.

The cloudy days are your favorite because that's the outer world expressing how you feel inside- gray, cold, dank.

You grasp onto anything that keeps the trace memory of a dead relationship somewhat alive, reliving conversations in your mind, wondering what you could have done differently, and telling yourself you did the best you could.

Maybe you did.

You can try alcohol, but that's short lived. You can try a rebound relationship, but that'll probably get messy, and hurtful, and sad, spreading the pain like a cancer. There's nothing lonelier than being with someone while thinking of, and longing for, another.

Sometimes the oddest things, the most unexpected things, bring us comfort. After one of the worst breakups of my life- Okay, I'll call it THE worst breakup- I learned to command a starship.

That's right.

I had missed Star Trek: Enterprise in 2001 when it aired since I'd spent several years not watching television. I discovered it one night on Netflix after already barreling through Firefly and The Walking Dead. I decided to give it a chance.

I'm glad I did. The characters, their lives and interactions, were compelling. And it is of course a space adventure.

And that's the point I want to make here. Because of that show, I was able to connect with something from my childhood that brought me comfort and joy. It helped transport me, if only for a few hours a night, to a time before romantic relationships even existed to me.

I watched so much Star Trek that summer that I seriously could've commanded my own vessel. I could've raised shields, fired the photonic torpedoes, and gave the order to take the ship to warp.

Not long after I began watching Enterprise, I listened to a podcast called The Mental Illness Happy Hour. Host Paul Gilmartin said that when his depression is especially kicking his ass, he finds World War II or serial killer documentaries to be soothing. He doesn't know why. They just are.

And I had been doing the same thing. Except for me, it was intergalactic adventures.

So, if you're struggling, I hope you'll follow your intuition wherever it takes you to find comfort. Maybe, you'll pick up a long-forgotten hobby, the joy of writing, or playing a neglected musical instrument.

Maybe you'll decide to take a cooking class, or study martial arts, or connect with something from a simpler time. A time before your breakup. A time before your relationship.

We can't go back in time. That's not possible. But I believe there are lessons there that can help us. And learning from them may bring us some joy in the present that we can take with us into the future.

I rediscovered my love of space adventures and of writing posts like the one you're reading.

What will you discover?