10 Feb Make Your Inner Kid Proud
SELDOM DO A FEW days go by without feeling the need to turn life into a story. I write to explore our daily experience. This pursuit sustains me as it never gets old, only we do, and as we do our perception changes, and what we once cared for doesn’t matter anymore, and the world we inhabit every day, although familiar, is made anew.
Life can be so interesting; just look up.
I wrote the first draft of this story at 2:30 am. It’s extreme, although I wouldn’t really consider that morning, just late, if not for the fact that I was already sleeping. So I guess it was my morning, and I contemplated with that voice in my head — really. You want to do this? Okay, okay… But now? Yes, why the hell not.
You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you,
writes Ray Bradbury in Zen in the Art of Writing. I think he’s right.
Writing before the sun comes up. Emotions, thoughts, ideas are lucid and sort of strange. The darkness of the outside world vibrates on a different frequency. The day isn’t ending — it’s just begun, and there’s a meaning to the darkness that will soon be full of light, as opposed to being drained of it.
This inspires my writing with a metaphysical curiosity and wonder. Strange, too, is how the nocturnal scurry, hang, fly, walk in the darkness.
I once heard a rattle outside the door; is it raining? My heart beat quicker. Then something like a metal pole vibrated and fell onto the concrete. What the ..? I stepped into the night and greeted three opossums perched on the fence a few feet from me, their glowing yellow eyes peering into my soul.
I stood there, staring back. We parted with a mutual respect; I returned to bed, they, to the world of the nocturnal.
Even when I give myself ample time to get ready, I find myself scrambling out the door on the way to work. I grab my pink canteen full of hot coffee, my only remaining socially acceptable liquid transmitting apparatus.
I recently left my other one, a sober grey, on top of my car as I spun away. The helpless canteen flew off the car and was crushed under its wheel, the canteen’s Final Destination. So that was the end of that.
It’s me and you, hot pink canteen. I’ll usually take a book, whatever I’m reading, and if I have anything, a snack. The San Diego mornings retain a touch of California winter — a month of cool weather and rain, and then it was over. A layer of dew melts from my car and from the blades of grass on the lawn next door. Steam rises from the car’s exterior as it thaws.
I give the hood of the car a knock with my knuckles — a little good mornin’, and get in. The sunny blue sky unfolds overhead, the blue of midmorning, pale and endless.
The freeways of San Diego interlace like the weaves of a wicker basket; I still haven’t fully grasped them. I jam out to my music and maybe even shed a tear on the drive. Music — would the soul last without music? That’s what music does— it carries us.
Passing faces in their cars; so many passing faces. We trust each other on the road. We trust each other with our lives, and while we bend the rules we rarely break them completely, because we’re all thinking the same thing.
Not, I hope I stay alive on this drive. At least not explicitly. Rather, I have ten minutes to get to work, and this is how I’m getting there, and I’ll pass you and stay in this lane, and I cannot notice that you’re thinking about life too, or maybe you’re singing because you’re happy.
Maybe you’re preparing for the biggest day of your life, and I’m just trying to pass you. Somehow we’re in this together, and somehow, we don’t see that. We’re just driving, and maybe that’s okay. We’re all just people.
It’s been nine months at this restaurant — how are we supposed to know we’ve changed? The turning seasons we recognize, but what about ourselves?
Each day means something; but I don’t look back at 190 or so individual days of work out of the 270 total days. It’s been nine months. Today is one of those days.
Today is all that matters, and it’s so hard to recognize this. But if we can, perhaps it won’t feel like nine months, but 190 individual days of building something.
Character, wisdom, skill, the ability to creak open the door of our heart. And maybe in that time, we’ll get to know ourselves better, no matter what it is we’re doing.
After settling in at the restaurant, I turn on the tunes. This has become my home, in a way. I’m going to miss it. The first floor has a large wall-to-wall window I crank open before I wipe down the tables.
Crisp ocean air wafts through the room. On a gust of wind, the pungent scent of sea lion often hitch a ride from the cove below; understandably off-putting, but I don’t mind it. I like that there are massive, blubbery beasts on the sand and in the cold ocean water; we’re a part of the wild, and the smell reminds me of that.
I fill an empty spray bottle with some soap from upstairs. I’m pretty confident where to find most things. When I started, the restaurant felt like Hogwarts with a hundred secret doors and endless places to hide a massive jar of olives or rolls of receipt paper.
I fold the fresh white rags and start cleaning tables, setting up plates and roll-ups, going through the motions. The motions feel good. As I focus on extricating some dry food from the table’s surface, my mind drifts.
The air, the music, cleaning — the thought that I’ve been up for many hours, yet this is part of my life just as writing is, what I’m doing here, the work, growth — it will fluctuate, but the writing will remain because writing binds my experience; a Tuesday morning epitomizes what we consider mundane.
We don’t have to change, but maybe, just open our eyes however slightly to see reality for what it is. Do nothing but clean the table, as if it’s the most important job in the world.
We’re not just cleaning tables, or feeding babies, or unlocking doors for kids to enter, or pouring foam in the shape of a flower, or driving the mail truck through the snow.
We’re constructing the fabric of reality, and perhaps the fact that we do whatever we do with a smile means more to the universe than what we’re actually doing. What we’re doing isn’t what we think we’re doing — how can it be?
I was embarrassed to share this part of my life, as if working is something to be ashamed of. But it’s not work, this is life, and somehow we must find a way to cherish it, whatever it is, and somehow keep going, however we can.
I make sure the tables look good; the roll-ups crisscross on the small plates. The floor is clean. I return to my station at the host stand. I like it here — greeting co-workers as they saunter in for the morning shift. Maybe I can make that a purposeful experience, too.
The inconsequential experiences comprise our days, our months, our years, our lives. I want to appreciate scrubbing down a table and feeling the weight of it beneath my hand, and part of me knows it’s because the future is bright.
But what if this is it? How could that change the experience? Should it?
I simply hope to cherish this, and try, no matter how many times I fail, to open up and be me. It’s been gradual, but I’ve felt it. I recently discovered a bench that’s tucked away in the cove. I started going there on my break; the bench sits in the sun and overlooks the water on a dirt trail. I wish I had more than thirty minutes. I don’t sit on benches enough.
But maybe that’s because when I’m not working, I’m not out enough where there are benches. The time slot makes me appreciate the sun as it warms my face, my arms, my shoulders, the moment fleets. I listen to the birds and the voices of passing hikers.
I wonder what makes me me. I don’t know who it is that sits here in peace, and enjoys watching the passing faces, the parents with their kids, the couples out for a morning stroll, the dogs of the world.
There is something in me that craves this feeling, and I don’t know what to make of it, other than to savor it. The natural world is life-giving, maybe all we really need to be happy.
What’s out there on the other side of that horizon? What’s out there that will unlock whatever lives inside of us. I know it isn’t something I can hold; all I can come up with is the feeling of becoming, a journey, a quenching of my soul that longs to experience all this world has to give.
What’s out there that the kid I was, the kid I am, needs to become what he’s meant to be? Would that kid be proud of me?
That kid — pre-teenage years, which nobody wants to remember — was happy to be alive. I’m still him. I’ve grown, thank god, and as we grow up, we expect something different out of life.
But when I look at pictures of the kid I was, he always has the biggest smile, and I wonder where that comes from. I honestly don’t remember. What makes a kid smile like that; is it the feeling that they are enough already, or is that even something that crosses their mind without the pressure to be?
Nothing they could do or chase could beat the excitement of playing with a friend, or feeling the burn of a crush, or maybe just swinging, or sitting under a tree, or building a fort.
That was it; that was life. Perhaps that was enough. The spirit of play. Yet we grow up, and the world loses its luster. Colors lose their potency as the weight of the world bears down on us.
Sometimes we just need to listen to the birds to remember who we are. We can never let our inner kid down, we only lose touch. It’s never too late to search for that kid again.
The noise of what life is supposed to mean shapes our path. We might make a right and our inner kid makes a left, and the further we traverse, the more lost we feel as the trees appear like ominous shadows instead of the beautiful unknown.
This doesn’t mean we’ve gone down the wrong path. We’ll look back one day after making it through — and we will have made it through.
One day, we’ll look back and see each experience as necessary to get to where we’re meant to go. Take one step, and feel the light of the sun again. You are the light, the love, every bit of nature.
Majestic and chaotic, serene and roaring. We expect ourselves to be different from the natural world — perfection — based on a modern ideal. And maybe we can be perfect, but what will we have to give to reach perfection? Maybe, we can’t, and never could be.
Perennial change designs nature — building and breaking, freezing and thawing, dying and rebirth. That’s what makes it interesting, not constant sunny days, but change. Perhaps our core is churning, yet we hide behind an untouched face; underneath the surface, diamonds are forming — diamonds of vulnerability that want to shine.
Diamonds of humanity which long to see the light. Trained with years of acting, we hardly creak that outer crust of reality and explore the world beneath, where everything good resides.
And maybe that’s where that kid is, underneath, just waiting to shine and breathe. Perhaps vulnerability comes with seeking, and knowing that there are diamonds underneath all of this shit, and if only we could be real — if I could drop the fear.
Let the tears fall, for with each drop, the parched soil of our soul loosens. Let them fall. With each drop we better understand what it means to be alive, that nothing is certain, and that it is a gift to be you.
Feeling this is all our inner kid could ever ask of us.
I guess I’ve always just wanted to smile.