I’m satisficed

satisficerThat’s not a typo in the post title — it refers to my stance as a satisficer. According to psych research, one is a satisficer or a maximizer. When you’re trying to make a decision, what is important to you? Being sure you get the VERY BEST option, or being happy enough with what you pick?

Here’s a real-life example of this. My husband and I eat dinner at a neighborhood diner in NYC on the nights he finishes working around 10PM. If you’ve ever been to a NY diner, you know that their menus can be huge. Here’s how we approach deciding what to eat:

ME: I start with the section I’m most likely interested in — let’s say salads. I read the first option on the list, then the second. Which of the two do I want? Then I take that option and compare it to the next one on the list, which of those do I want? With a series of pairwise comparisons, I end up with the one I’m most interested in from that section. (And actually, if I pick the same one two or three times in a row, I figure that one must be the one I’m wanting so I don’t even read the whole list.) I’m satisfied! It’ll be good, I’m done. And if I don’t know what I want, I do this same exercise with the sections first. Sandwiches vs salads — ok, a salad. Salads vs the daily special — ok, still a salad. Salads vs burgers — ok, still a salad. Then the pairwise comparisons within that section, and I’m done. I’ll be happy with my salad, because it’s just dinnerIt’s just a salad. It doesn’t have to be the most amazing meal I’ve ever experienced. Hell, it doesn’t even have to be the most amazing salad I’ve ever had!

MY HUSBANDHe begins at the top of the menu and reads every single item on the menu, beginning to end. He pauses, mulls each option (I wonder if the onions are grilled….do you think the tomatoes are good yet? Bad tomatoes would ruin the burger), goes back to an earlier option, keeps reading, keeps interrogating me and the waiter, and this is a slow process because he’s also extremely dyslexic, and when he gets to the end of the menu, several big laminated pages later, he needs to re-read the beginning page since he doesn’t really remember what those options were. Finally he’ll pick something, and as soon as he places his order he realizes that he really should’ve ordered the other thing, what he ordered won’t be as good as that would’ve been.

What matters to him is that he get the very best meal he can possibly have at the diner. I always feel sad for him, because he rarely enjoys his as much as I enjoy mine. And how could he? It carries a heavy burden! It has to be the best! Mine just has to be good enough to be an enjoyable meal. There’s a lot of evidence that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers, and of course the distinction brings a lot of stuff with it, like temperament and personality (maximizers are more likely to be neurotic, for instance, and which came first, being neurotic? Maybe!). If you’re curious about yourself, here’s a little quiz:

satisficer

My score is 75 (the possible range is 13 to 91), so I’m not completely without standards. 🙂 Like everyone else, I care about the things I care about! It’s just a question of how big an umbrella that is, right? Do I care about my meals? Yeah, sure, I like tasty, healthy food. Do I care about what I’m wearing? Sure, I guess I care enough. Do I care about my family and friends? OH HELL YES. Do I care about my ethical concerns? ALL THE WAY. Do I care about my car? Sure, to the extent that it’s safe and cost-effective. Do I care about how well my home is decorated? Enough. I still haven’t done anything at all with the dining room, and I’ve lived here almost four years.

Like temperament, I think this is kind of a “just who you are” deal. If you tried to force me to be a maximizer at that diner, I just don’t think I could do it. I might fake it if you held a gun to my head, but I’d be faking it because really, it just needs to be a good enough salad. I’d pretend to read all the choices, but I’d be thinking about something else. If you forced my husband to be a satisficer, he’d get kind of paralyzed and pick something because of that gun to his head, but he’d hate what he ordered and would be torn up the rest of the night thinking about the perfect meal he didn’t get.

And thus ends today’s psychology lesson, offered after a lengthy telephone conversation with my maximizer husband going over possible hotel options in Laos, with me saying, “Sure honey, I like that one! Well yeah, that one sounds great! I don’t know, I like that one too!” I probably drive him crazy. 🙂

all the feelings

Several days ago someone — I can’t remember who, now — said that others were telling her how to feel in the face of whatever it was, I don’t remember that either. (Too much Oliver, Marc, barbecue, and Tex-Mex intervening.) Anyway, that is familiar to me as it is to you: Oh, don’t feel that way. You shouldn’t feel that way. You don’t really feel that way, do you? You should be happy! And that got me thinking about this broad topic.

It’s one of my common old topics; I’ve loved to think about this for decades. My favorite paper I published when I was in graduate school was about valence and emotions, and the impossibility of assigning “opposites.” What is the opposite of love? Hate? Indifference? (Solomon, R. C., & Stone, L. D.(2002). On “positive” and “negative” emotions. Journal for the Theory of Social Behavior, 32, 417–443, if you’re into that kind of thing.)(And this tickles me so much:)

ha! Bob was the philosopher, not me. But I'm a philosopher-wanna-be.
ha! Bob was the philosopher, not me. But I’m a philosopher-wanna-be.

Anyway. Back to all the feelings. In addition to the problem of opposites (which is a very silly idea if you think about it), there is also the problem of complexity, and this struck me when my friend was talking about others telling her how she should be feeling. There are some emotions, perhaps, that are pure and purely one thing. I don’t really think so, but I’ll go ahead and plant that as a starting point. Most, though, are very complex; some of the complexity is in our awareness, and some may not be. An example will help.

UntitledLet’s say I get an email from my son who has not spoken to any of us for so long. I haven’t, but let’s say that yesterday I got such an email. And let’s say it’s a nice one, maybe even one that includes an apology for his general assholiness. How do I feel? Happy to hear from him after so long? Yeah, sure. Furious at him for jerking us around? Absolutely. Relieved to hear that he is OK? Well of course. Sad that he is causing me so much pain? Yes oh yes.  Hopeful that he’s gotten his act together? Well, a mustard seed but maybe not even that. I feel like laughing and crying and punching something all at once. What the hell do I feel? I can’t tell you in a word, or a sentence (other than “lots of things at once”). And there are other feelings that are deeply embedded and maybe so common to me that I don’t recognize them but they are DEFINITELY part of the mix. Desperate, perhaps, because I am afraid he will simply disappear / hurt himself / abandon us.

But I have experience with other people whose children have just sailed, relatively speaking, through adolescence and into adulthood without being such a jerk, and some (but by no means all!!) just cannot get it. They can’t get what’s up with him in the first place — but that’s OK, neither can I — and worse, they can’t get the complexity of my feelings in the face of what “ought” to be simply a happy thing. So I have actually had people dismiss my aggregate of feelings and kind of scold me, telling me I ought to just be happy.

You ought to be finished grieving.

You can’t be furious at him for dying!

You shouldn’t be mad, I didn’t do that on purpose.

You have no right to feel hurt, you did it to me in the first place.

I don’t know why people tell others how to feel, or that what they’re feeling is wrong, or not what they should be feeling. Maybe some people prefer a simple world where feelings are this or that. Maybe some people feel afraid of others’ feelings for a number of reasons — perhaps because they can’t fix it (like someone else’s grief), or perhaps because they’re scared of feeling it themselves. Maybe some people feel something so different and can’t imagine that you might feel/experience it differently.

Actually, I think we often do this to ourselves, too. Or I’ll just speak for myself: I do this to myself, too. For quite a long number of years, I couldn’t acknowledge that I was furious with my dad for killing himself (never mind the rest). It took a long time to realize that I felt it, and then a longer time to be OK with feeling it. Guilty, check! No problem feeling that one. Relief, check! Sad, …… um …… yes? Overwhelmed, check! Partly it was hard to acknowledge the anger because what do I do with that? OK, I’m furious . . . and he is dead. Can’t get any satisfaction by telling him, and telling other people didn’t drain my fury. (What did drain my fury is a topic for another post, and it took me so very long to get there and then magically I was there, and then I went to eat barbecue.)

Why do we resist the feelings that we feel? We can be so scared of the “bad” or “difficult” feelings that we fight them, resist them, push back. That doesn’t work, and the harder we push the harder we have to push. This is one thing meditation does to help; you become able to sit with whatever you are feeling and acknowledge it and that very fact, the very ability to just sit there, helps a whole lot. OK, this extraordinarily broken heart is not actually going to kill me. It feels like it will, but it won’t. It’s a feeling. Fury won’t kill you. Despair won’t kill you. Heartache won’t kill you. These feelings won’t kill you. You might do something with them, you might turn the fury, despair, heartache against yourself or against someone else and act on the feelings, but the feeling is not going to kill you. I learned this for myself in January 2013. I often had to clutch the bedsheets to bear it, but I felt them all and they did not kill me. (In fact, sometimes seeing that it won’t kill us can be upsetting — as if it “must mean” that the thing wasn’t that big to us after all. We are a funny species.)

Anyway. Whatever you do, don’t tell someone else how to feel. If they tell you how they are feeling, don’t tell them that they are not feeling that, or that they should not be feeling that. For heaven’s sake. They may be telling themselves the same thing, and need some space for it to be OK, some validation that they feel that thing. As is often the answer, here’s what you do: shut the hell up. Listen. Try to understand.

Busy busy Tuesday for me, and a gorgeous day forecasted here. Hope it’s the same for you (and don’t tell other people how to feel). xo

taking things personally

This is one that really chaps my hide. I usually hate it when someone tells me not to take things personally — especially when it’s a person who uses “humor” to cover mean little attacks. There’s no one in my life like that now, but there has been in the past (this is why they’re in the past). The problem is that a lot of thinkers who write about well-being and ease and happiness say the same thing. Don’t take things personally. Hmph, I usually think, easy for you to say.

But of course I also think it’s true, and it’s an issue of discrimination, when to let it go and when to see it for what it truly is. Some things simply are personal! There might be ways you could work with personal attacks so they don’t rile you up quite as much, but it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater to take nothing personally. (And anyway, the world IS personal to me! I attach to it.)

arrayIt’s easy to think about super brittle people, people who are almost always grabbing every tiny little slight, even if they have to explain it long and hard for you to see how it’s a slight. That is taking things personally, and it’s no fun on every front. It’s very hard and exhausting to be around those people, because they’re probably going to take offense at some point and you were just trying to eat your salad and never dreamed they’d take your carrot complaint that way. And it is surely no fun to be that person, feeling poked at all the damn time, believing that the world is out to get you. This is one of those little stories I write about on occasion. It’s easy to call to mind people whose radar is so keenly tuned, it feels like it must be a full-time job for them, responding to all the personal slights and attacks. But I guess we’re all like this, and it’s a matter of degree and specific topic, perhaps. I have my own very large array watching out for my pet painful topics. It’s an issue of figuring out your typical little stories and bringing awareness to them. Ah, I always sense rejection and I think what she just said was rejecting, but I know that’s my thing so I’ll ask. OR come up with an alternative explanation other than the little story version.

Because the truth is that most people are not paying attention to you. They just aren’t. You are the center of the world but so are they. You look out of your eyes and see everyone in your orbit — coming closer to you, moving away from you — but they’re not usually doing that. Usually they are looking out of their eyes and seeing you doing those things, while they are also trying to dodge asteroid fields and black holes. And their own droughts and floods and earthquakes and deep sea temblors, most of which you aren’t even noticing because you’re too busy dealing with your own.

It’s another good thing about getting older. Your skin may dry out, but somehow slights can just slide off it, at the same time. Not sure how that works. Meh, so what, next! First of all, you’ve got some perspective and really don’t give such a shit about the tiny little things that used to wrap you around the axle; second, you’ve learned how to discriminate a little more and know who you can trust and who you should watch a little more closely — and it’s not everyone, by any means; and third, if you’re lucky you’ve learned a few things about yourself and you aren’t as affected by casual weird remarks. Even if the person saying it means it, you call bullshit because you know yourself, and just move on. Whatever, weird person, that’s on you. But more, if you’ve paid attention as you’ve gotten older, you just know that most people are clumsy and not paying morbid attention to every single word they utter, interrogating it to be sure it won’t interact with everyone’s little stories. That is EXHAUSTING.

So cut some slack, let things go — not everything, but most — and tend to your own orbit and system. That’s plenty of work.

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s so beautiful here; yesterday a high near 80 and today only 60, but hey. Sunny blue skies and 60 degrees in late January? I’ll take it. If we don’t celebrate our beautiful winters, the desperately hot and muggy summers win. Hope it’s not a gloomy day wherever you are.

ambiguity

ambiguityI am unambiguous about this: I adore ambiguity. Love it. It can be uncomfortable, and I may frequently have to pull myself out of little black and white boxes in the corner, where I’ll sometimes run for a thoughtless moment, but ambiguity is where it’s at, man. Because our lives are filled with it, and so is the world (although that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to know stuff, to state stuff with some degree of certainty, although it’s usually a much smaller set of certain things than you think). I remember when I started graduate school, my advisor said that to get a PhD in psychology requires a high tolerance for ambiguity. “Sign me up,” was my (probably only imagined) response. I haven’t always embraced it so much, but then again I wasn’t always very wise.

Freud said, “Neurosis is the inability to tolerate ambiguity.” His use of the word ambiguity meant — I think — the ways in which words can have different and even opposing meanings. Not just that things are vague. By that definition, I guess I’m not neurotic, though I didn’t need Freud to tell me that. I simultaneously relished each moment my husband was here and felt desperate that they were winding down, and looked forward with equal relish to having my place all to myself again. Relish on both sides of the equation, equal relish even, but opposite things to relish. I’m OK with that. I’m also OK with imagining that he felt exactly the same way; there was a time  that would’ve left me feeling rejected, but I know we all hold conflicting feelings and one does not negate the other.

My husband is one of the most intellectually complex people I’ve ever known, and he’s so advanced in his Buddhist path — just completing the 5th level of training — that he is comfortable in the ambiguity of the world in certain ways that I struggle with. But he frequently wants to know that what he sees/how he feels is the same that others see/feel. “Honey, do most people X?” “Honey, did they mean for us to hate that character in the show?” The most common thing I say to him when we spend time together is “I don’t know” because he asks unanswerable questions all day long. (It can be exhausting.) But these, checking on how most people see things, puzzle me the most. I don’t care if the writer/director meant for me to feel a certain way about a character, or if most people feel a certain way. I don’t care if most people in Austin do a thing, or if most New Yorkers do (or don’t). I’m comfortable with the fact that some do and some don’t and maybe today I do but tomorrow on the same issue I won’t. That’s fine with me.

One of the most fascinating things about ambiguity is what we do with it — we reveal ourselves, and if we pay attention we can learn something about ourselves. I learn things this way a lot, about myself and about people I know. Lots of situations are ambiguous and open to interpretation, and people often use the same old templates on ambiguous situations. One of my templates/systematic biases relates to rejection (I’ve written about this before, in my “little stories” post). A perfect example happened in August 1979; my then-boyfriend was being super weird. Strange, bizarre, nervous. He’d suddenly stand up, he was obviously distracted, and he seemed anxious. He said, suddenly, “Let’s go out to breakfast. I have to tell you something.”  So of course my immediate assumption was that he was going to break up with me. I was so sure of it. Instead, he asked me to marry him. That is so me. If ambiguous, then my bias toward expecting rejection comes out to help me ‘understand’ the situation. I’ve gotten so much better with this as I’ve gotten older (and as I went through graduate school), and being with Marc helped me with it a lot too. I’ve learned to challenge my biased reaction, to ask questions of myself and him, and to come up with at least one other explanation that might fit the actually ambiguous situation.

Honestly, that is one of the best techniques. Just come up with one other explanation. “Let’s see….he’s going to break up with me, or maybe he’s worried about something at work.” “Well, I think he’s either going to break up with me, or he had a nightmare that’s bothering him.” Just forcing yourself to come up with another possibility kind of breaks the hold that our one idea has on our imaginations. In fact, once I come up with an alternative, the whole scheme falls apart, the emotion drains away, and it’s much easier just to ask. (And a social psychologist would remind you to look for situational or environmental presses that may be influencing the behavior too. Just sayin’.) We all have systematic biases — every last one of us — and the more we rely on those biased responses, the stronger they become.

Living better through life experience and social psychology. 🙂 My work here is done for the day.

other people

When Marnie and Tom were here, we were talking about a young woman I know who is a mother and making what look like poor choices. It’s the ‘mother’ part of that sentence that matters, right? If she were just a woman making poor choices, we might shake our heads and tsk tsk a little bit because we love her and are concerned for her, but that’d be about the extent of it.  This is an issue I’ve thought about for decades. After I was a parent for a long enough time — maybe when my kids were midway grown — I began to deeply understand that I was still living my life and my kids were in it. My kids were part of my life, they were in my life, but it was/is my life to be lived. Maybe other people know that right off the bat, maybe others know it so well they don’t even think about it. Maybe I was just so young (I was), and maybe I had no self when I was a young mother (I didn’t), and maybe I was just so single-minded about raising my kids in a 100% different way than I was raised (I was). My eyes only looked outward, so what I saw outside of me was my life, entirely.

At some point I started being a factor in my own life, and I wasn’t very good at it when I started. This shift coincided with making a huge mistake, one I still regret, and while I can understand all the factors that went into it, it was still a mistake. We all have those. But to the point of this post, it was my life I was living, inexperienced as I was with that, and my kids were a huge and important part of my life but I was still trying to make choices for my own life.

i thouEnter Sartre, and Buber. People mis-use that Sartre line from No Exit: “Hell is other people.” People usually quote that line when they are talking about someone they dislike, or someone who is giving them a lot of trouble of some kind. Someone who consistently steals their lunch from the refrigerator at work, for instance, or a co-worker who is toxic. AAARGH, hell is other people. That person is hell, is making my life a living hell. But that’s not what Sartre meant. Sartre and Buber were both thinking about this issue of being the subject of your own life, and the way that others are the subjects of their own lives, too….which means they are seeing you as the object in theirs.

Sartre saw that tension as a terrible thing to experience. It always felt to me, when I read Sartre, that he experienced it almost as a physical violence, as if the other person was attacking, trying to flip him inside out or something. Trying to steal or even kill his very self. Buber’s take — I and Thou — was that we experience the other as an object but that is our work, then, to struggle to hold the other with the same central reverence that we hold ourselves. (This is a gross oversimplification of both, obviously, so apologies to Sartre and Buber for that.)

This is something I think about a whole lot, in two different streams. One stream relates to being a mother to my children, who may understand this intellectually but can’t understand it fully until they are parents of growing kids of their own. All kids judge their parents, of course, and do their best with the level of understanding they have at any given moment. That’s why our understanding of our parents changes as we ourselves get older and move through the stages of life our parents passed through. I try often to think about my mother as the I of her own life, making her own best choices for herself, and we kids were just in her life. It’s hard with her because she is a psychopath, but it’s still a very good exercise. There is a tension, certainly, for a mother; parents are supposed to make choices that are best for their children and that frequently means sacrifice of their own wishes and needs, big and small. Judgment is especially harsh for mothers, who are held to an even higher standard of sacrifice. It’s tough. My mother’s main and explicit lesson to us was, “Never have children, they ruin your life.” I remember being a young girl and wondering what the point was — I would have children and my own life would stop in service of theirs, then they would have children and their own lives would stop, then they would have children…..  Obviously I was missing most of the point and my life is as wonderful as it is exactly because I became a mother, but the question of a mother’s ongoing life is still (or can be) fraught in many ways.

The other stream of my thought about this relates to interactions with people in my life, of course. I think about this all the time and my thought is influenced by my training as a social psychologist. More than most, we social psychologists know the power of the situation to shape our behavior, and that it’s subtle and powerful and often outside our awareness and we do not like to believe it’s true. Oh no! I did that myself! I did it because…well, wait a minute, I’ll make up a reason. So when a friend does something that has a tinge of an effect on me, it’s easy for me to immediately wonder what might be influencing her action, rather than immediately assuming it’s something she’s doing to me. It’s a different slant on recognizing that she is the subject of her own life, but it gets me to that same neighborhood.

I actually think it’s a lot of fun to think about this in the midst of an interaction, either with a friend, or with a whole group of people. It’s a little shift of vision, that’s all, to see that she is seeing all of us as Other, and so is she, and so is he. There we all are, the subjects of our own lives seeing each other as objects. There we all are, with our own inner lives and conflicts and sore spots and prideful bits and secrets and worries, interacting with each other. Just realizing that every single person has a thick inner life going on that’s invisible to me also helps get me there where I want to be, trying to meet people with a kind of reverence for them as a whole living person.

The last Sunday of the year, y’all. I hope it’s a beautiful one.

stone

I’m flexible about names, apparently. Eight have been associated with me:

  • Lori Dawn, the two names I was given at birth
  • Peters, the last name I had at birth
  • Snyder, the name I got when my stepfather adopted me
  • Galloway, the name I took when I got married
  • Alyssa, a new middle name I added when I legally changed my last name to Stone
  • H____, the last name I took when I married

My name has been complicated, beginning when I was about 12 years old and my mother remarried. To be fair, back then (c1970), it was super super weird to have a different last name than your parents. Super weird. Divorce was weird. I didn’t know any other divorced kids. And since we moved every little bit, every few months (or less), having to explain why we kids had a different last name from our parents became too much trouble so we all started using the last name Snyder. (Eventually he adopted us so it was our legal name.) But when I was Snyder, it broke my father’s heart. And when I said I wanted to use Peters, it enraged my mother, who hated my father and I gather hoped he would simply disappear entirely. My name was just such a source of stomach ache and trouble.

So when I married Jerry, and got the name Galloway, hallelujah! A name that wouldn’t get me in trouble anywhere. My name, finally, a name of my own. Even still, all these years later, once in a while I accidentally write Lori Galloway — sometimes I notice I’ve done it and sometimes I don’t. In a deep way, that feels like my real name, still.

being a rock but not rolling
being a rock but not rolling

After Jerry and I divorced, I kept the name Galloway. It was my kids’ name, and anyway it was mine too! But at some point, in graduate school, I decided it really was not my name and I wanted a name of my own. I wanted to choose a name that would just be mine, a name that would forever be mine and that wouldn’t cause me any trouble, ever. And so I thought and thought and thought. I didn’t want a name that had ever been associated with me, all of which were fraught in one way or another. I thought and thought and thought. I thought about meaning, I wanted a name that meant something deep for me, something that reflected a solid place — I thought of that line from Stairway to Heaven, “to be a rock and not to roll.” Yeah, I want a name that is like that. So many of the names I considered were too far afield — Biblical, Arabic-rooted, etc., and I’m a way-too-white girl to carry that off. Finally, a friend said, “What about Stone?” It was a thunderbolt, so very perfect. YES! Stone! That’s so perfect. Lori Stone, that is so perfect, and it has no connection to any other name I’ve ever had. MY name, my very own name, just mine. Added a new name as long as I was at it, another name with meaning (Alyssa means “sane one”) and since I was a student I was able to do it very cheaply with legal services through the university. The court gave me a paper with a kind of silly scroll printed on it, and the clerk handwrote my new name. Lori Dawn Alyssa Stone. My very own name.

About a year later, I was filling out a form that asked for my mother’s maiden name and without even a pause I wrote Stone. WHAT??? How in the world had I not realized that, how in the world had it been so gone in my mind? It was Big Daddy’s last name, my beloved Big Daddy, Harve Stone. There was nothing obscure about the name, and yet it had completely slipped out of my mind when I picked it.

I just think that is so so hysterical. Paging Dr Freud, although I don’t know what he would say about it. I don’t know why it was so absent from my mind, I can’t even make up a story where it makes any damn sense at all.

Marrying and taking Marc’s name gave me pause, but I liked his last name and I’m loose about that kind of thing. But it was always a problem, since I write publicly and he is a therapist and doesn’t want his patients to find me and learn about me or him (and me neither, at this point, since it was one of his crazy ex-patients who stalked and tried to sue me). And so I live between names again — publicly and in Austin as Stone, and professionally and in NYC as H___.  Both names feel normal to me, but I do get in a little trouble now and then. Which name have I been using at my hair salon? Who knows me with which name?

I think psychology is the most fascinating thing — the human mind, the human noise we all make, the human flailing and thrashing, the human heart, the human trying so hard, the human push for meaning. Whenever I think of this one, it makes me laugh so hard, but it also touches me. Oh, little me, what was going on there? What was that about?

Happy Tuesday y’all, we’re getting so close to Christmas! I hope you feel mostly ready, and mostly happy. xo

propinquity

When I first heard this, I laughed. Sitting in my Intro to Social Psych class as an undergrad, I laughed. Out loud. It was the chapter on interpersonal attraction, and the claim was that “the propinquity effect” is one of the primary factors in interpersonal attraction. That means the main reason we find someone attractive is that they’re around. They’re nearby. On the face of it, it’s obvious (well how else could you ever find someone attractive, if you never encounter them! As a little girl, I used to worry, what if my true love is born in China and I never meet him?). And on the closer face of it, it’s disheartening. Really? That’s all it takes, is nearness? Is that all it takes, is that why we marry our high school sweethearts, is that why we hook up in college, because we see each other all the time so we are attracted?

braised tofu and quinoa salad, such a California dinner!
braised tofu and quinoa salad, such a California dinner!

Last night I thought about this while I was having dinner. There is a restaurant in my little boutique hotel, kind of sweet but small. The bar is a nicer place to sit, so I took a stool, ordered a glass of Pinot grigio and a salad, and started thumbing through a magazine I found in the lobby. The place was empty, just me and the bartender, but it was a friendly kind of quiet. He and I weren’t chatting at all, which made him my kind of bartender. He took my order (saying, “Nice!” when I ordered the salad) and then another woman took a seat at the bar. On the TV behind the bar, with the volume off, a hockey game was being played — the Stanley Cup maybe? — and the bartender noticed the other woman’s interest in the game. She said she loved hockey because she’s Canadian. Well, he’s Canadian too! And they were off to the races, talking and talking and talking, so excitedly. It was kind of adorable. When they started talking about how people get the Canadian accent so wrong (“It’s not aboot, it’s aboat!”) I decided to jump in too, since you know accents are one of my favorite subjects. Then she and I were talking when he turned away, then he and I were talking when her friend came, and it all started because the two of them were from Canada.

And I started thinking about how little we need to find each other. How little it takes to make a bond. Propinquity. Or how we grab these karasses, to use Vonnegut’s great word, and act like they really mean something important. But it’s a mistake to be contemptuous of these shared aspects of our identity, to dismiss the bond we can feel over having gone to the same school, having lived in the same city, having been born in the same country, or rooting for the same team. Those things don’t mean anything important in themselves, but they give us the merest little whisper of something we can grab, some tiny little way we can connect, and I find it so dear that we do that. It left me feeling so tender about people, watching those two Canadians, unknown to each other and living in LA, rush into eager conversation about what it really means to be cold (“I laugh when people here say they’re cold!”), how important hockey was in school, and then branching out into the rest of who they were. I think we long to do that, and we just need a touch of some kind to open that door.

One very interesting thing I’ve found about Beverly Hills — verified by both Canadians last night — is that the people seem very open and eager to connect. It’s easy for me feel put off by them because so often they are aggressively groomed (or else they remind me of the Dude) and boy that’s not me. I’m there in my traditional outfit — old, inexpensive jeans and a sailor shirt probably — with a need for a pedicure, hair carelessly tended to, mismatching accessories, no make-up, and I think we are just so different. But we aren’t, that’s my mistake. When I went to the restaurant for dinner a couple of nights ago, the waitress was sitting at a nearby table eating her dinner. She was exquisite, even in her black shirt and pants, the uniform of waiters. She got up and came to my table and the way she spoke to me, even with her soft voice, felt like she was my friend taking care of me instead of someone doing her job. After my meal, we talked for several minutes in a personal way and it was so lovely. At lunch yesterday, my client and I were eating at a sidewalk cafe and two cars smashed into each other right in front of us — very powerful and terrifying, I always forget how terrifying that sound is. The waiter came right over and talked about how people in Beverly Hills are always in such a rush, and we had a 10-minute conversation that drifted from this to that. I thought he was going to pull up a chair. Easy conversations all around, and not about the weather (maybe because the weather is almost always the same, and perfect).

I can’t wait to get home to Austin and have easy conversations with my people — it’s been interesting being here, and I’ve learned things and had lovely moments like the one I had last night, but I’m so ready. Tonight, though, I’m having dinner with an old friend from our high school years and his wife, also from his high school. They’re taking me to the Santa Monica Pier, so I’m sure I’ll have photos and stories to share. Happy Thursday y’all!