Living in my head and in your shoes
Seems I’ve always been a late bloomer.
Not intellectually. My grades through school were always decent enough. Never top of the class, but never far from top either. Bright enough that I seemed to exude that brainy, bookish, geeky look that said Uh-oh, another guy who just thinks all the time.
But in most other respects, I seem to chronically lag my peers.
I’ve always looked younger than my years. (Which has advantages when you get old enough. Although the silver hair gives it away.)
We have a photograph of me and my youngest daughter, taken on her first birthday, just a few days after moving to Yate (South Gloucestershire).
She of course, looks one year old. I look like the 22-year-old bespectacled geek that I was not, as I was actually 36.
(My wife looks at that photo and moans, Can’t believe I married a baby! What was I THINKING???)
When my near-sightedness kicked in at Grade 6, I had to pick the frames. I went for thick black plastic frames that made me look like a 1950-era university professor. But hey, that’s what everyody wants to look like, right?
This was the 70’s? Zeppelin? Disco? Bell-bottoms?
Even my mom, never known for her fashion sense, looked askance at my selection, but said nothing at the time. Probably because she never liked the latest fashions herself.
Hoo boy, did I get a right royal ribbing. Kids can be merciless.
By the time I needed a new prescription, I had clued into what my classmates had been wearing, and determined to correct my mistake.
Key words there: had been
Yep. I went for the triangular-oval gold metal frames that were now going OUT of fashion.
Always the laggard, see?
I may have inherited a measure of it. In Grade 2, when the Beatles were hot, all my peers were sporting mullets, jeans and 10-speed racing bikes.
My folks looked at this, and said,
No. Freakin’. Way.
What kind of parents would we be if we allowed our kids to be infected with this rakish, reprobate culture?
I actually remember Mom telling me that she and Dad would be failing us kids if they allowed us to look like THAT.
No, no, my boy, you are getting a crew cut, and you’ll wear cords. And bikes? You can have a bike just like what we used to ride.
Oh, the ribbing.
It is easy to be dispassionate about it now. But we paid a price for it then. My folks eventually realized their mistake. (Every parent makes ‘em.)
Socially, I seemed always to be on the outside looking in. And never allowed in.
On school outings, I was often walking by myself. The latest hot gossip always seemed to reach my ears a day after it had reached everyone else’s.
One day in Grade 5, realizing that an excited huddle conversation had been going on next to me for several minutes, and I’d been off in my own little world, I perked up and said, Hey! What? What’d you say?
A head poked out. Oh, go back to sleep, David!
(Not sure, but I think I might have said, OK.)
And girls? Oh pul-eeeze.
Hopeless. Hapless. Clueless. Pick you own choice of adjective.
I hadn’t the slightest glimmer of what flew around in their heads, but they sure seemed to have a clue what flew around in mine. And they weren’t impressed.
When you choose to live in your head, you had better accept that you are going to miss stuff.
It took me way longer than most to realize that.
But there are some corollaries to that axiom.
ONE. Most stuff is worth missing.
I’ve got a lot of my old Grandad in me. A quiet, introspective man, he told me,
Twick . . . . (his nickname for me, which stems from having been born in Twickenham) . . .
Twick, the great thing about going deaf is, There’s a lot of drivel spoken.
He wasn’t actually going deaf. There were just times he wished he was. He had little use for groups of cackling hens. (Or roosters. He was quite PC about it.)
We drown in information these days. Most of it is marginally useful, totally use-LESS, or destructive CRAP.
If it’s really, REALLY important, fair bet it will find its way to your ears before you need it. (Exceptions: The free beer offer will expire in 5 minutes. But you know, somehow I think you’ll live.)
I used to be a news and social media junkie. Radio first thing in the morning, Facebook and BBC every evening.
Now? I haven’t completely divorced myself from them, but I do have days when I don’t hear or see any news, and I’ll frequently go weeks without Facebook, LinkedIn, et al. I steer clear of gossipy people. And I don’t feel one bit deprived.
TWO. When you live in your head, you can slay dragons.
You get to be the Spanish Inquisition.
You get to think up questions that nobody else ever asks, cuz they’re too busy yapping, chatting, cajoling, ANYTHING to drown out the voices in their heads.
Oh, how much they miss.
You can put yourself on trial.
Why did you say that? Why are you feeling the way you are today? What’s the evidence for that emotion? None? Wouldn’t it be better for you to stop obeying that emotion?
You can be the CAD techie playing with a drawing, switching layers on and off, as needed.
That layer’s useful, that one’s not. That one’s flat counterproductive, we’ll never need that again. DELETE.
You can prepare for the Vitally Few Things, that aren’t worth missing.
The dragons needn’t just be yours. You can be St George for others.
You can help them see that the Voices in their Heads might be friendly. Might be the Voice of Art. A Voice Worth Listening to. That other people might want to listen to.
One of the things I’m good at is having coffee with people, with no set agenda. Often I manage to turn the light on for them. Don’t know exactly how I do it, but I sure get a charge when I see the light bulb go on in their eyes.
But I could never do it if I was having coffee and yapping ALL the time.
THREE: You can live in your head, AND still know what’s going on.
That’s what my problem was as a youngster, really. I hadn’t learned to live in my head AND, keep my eyes and ears open at the same time.
The one-year-old girl I mentioned earlier is now a delightfully chirpy young lady who’s great company. If we’re out on an errand together, we will often engage in that most seditious of all practices, people-watching.
Everybody walking by is a story. A library of stories, really, though they might only be wearing the one today.
And some of those stories can surprise you. Some are beautiful. Some are troubling. Some are heart-rending.
Sometimes you can spot yourself in the story.
All are trying to make some sense of this thing called, Life.
Not many of them are stepping outside themselves, looking around, and asking,
What’s going on? What’s REALLY going on?
It’s the art of Living in MY head, and in YOUR shoes. Jordan Peterson calls in the art of Paying Attention.
Therein lies great value.