Asking for directions, after all these years | Chuck's World

Mar 08, 2017

A bazillion years ago, my friend David and I occasionally would play a game. It was more of an exercise, really, just a thing we did sometimes. We’ve had a lot of both over the years, things we tend to do together, and time. Particularly time.

Our friendship is now inching up into its fifth decade, unbroken by the years passing, spouses met and married, jobs taken and changed, or geography. It’s geography where the game comes in.

We grew up together in Arizona, meeting in a high school hallway and never finding a reason to stop meeting. I got married in 1983 and moved up here, missing his wedding the next year, but even by then he and his new wife were growing less enchanted with life in Phoenix in the 1980s.

When I visited them on a trip back then, my friend, who had always been and remains a passionate proponent of gun control, showed me his newest purchase, a handgun that Clint Eastwood might have passed over because it was a little too big. A powerful weapon, this gun, and rationalized and accepted by my buddy because of where he lived and the crime situation there at that time. He was ready to try some place new.

His current employer had a job opening in south Seattle, so he took the transfer and moved up in the spring of 1986, his wife staying behind for a few weeks to tie up loose ends. I found him an apartment on my block he could sublease, and thus began our game.

For the first few weeks after his arrival, my own rookie experience with the Northwest still pretty fresh, I’d quiz him as soon as we left a building.

“Which direction are we facing? How do you get downtown from here? What bus do you take to go north?” And so on. It was really about the only thing I could share from my own experience of moving from Arizona to western Washington. You have to stay oriented, or it can mess with you.

I joke all the time about having no sense of direction, but it’s just a joke. First, whatever we’re talking about, it’s not a “sense” in the (sorry) sense that it’s inherent in most people. I don’t think it’s inherent, or it is at this stage of our evolution. I could be wrong. But I’m right on at least a conscious level. We don’t gaze toward the north and know it’s north. We might. The ability just doesn’t come with the original equipment.

So forget the jokes, although Lord knows I don’t know which direction I’m facing a lot of the time. But that’s because I’m just not thinking about it. Even at this age, I could train myself easily to know, in general, where I’m heading. Knowing where I’ve been would help, by the way.

This is mindfulness, which is unfortunate. First, it’s a word that looks like it was assembled by committee. I’m surprised it hasn’t been modified a few more times by now. Mindfulness-esque. Paramindfulness. It’s a mess.

It’s also a popular term, tossed around by those who would make us better. It makes me want to walk away when I hear the word.

But if you can tolerate the faddish nature of it, and strip away the Buddhist associations, although those are actually pretty good associations to have, you just have something our parents, grandparents, and teachers taught us: Pay attention. Be aware. Know where you are.

Now add in some of the stuff that feels woo-woo. How are you feeling? What’s up with that? Is it feeding you anything good? If not, figure out how to fix it. It’s not a big step; a little practice and it becomes second nature. You don’t have to wear special costumes or anything.

I don’t really practice mindfulness, but I get there sometimes, mostly through turning off the screens in my home and staring at the walls. Sometimes I’ll review the day and make plans for the next one. Sometimes I’ll think about painting the walls. It’s a very flexible thing.

And sometimes, I’ll leave myself notes, usually shorthand to remind myself of thoughts that might eventually form real sentences and show up in a newspaper. Occasionally this is helpful, but most of the time they get stuck in files with clever names like “Ideas” and buried on my hard drive, never to be read again and probably for pretty good reasons.

I found one of these a while back, nothing but incomprehensible fragments from a sleepy brain, and in the middle there was a note to myself: “Maybe try being honest here.”

I have no idea what I wrote that week. I can only hope it wasn’t full of lies. I really do try.

I’m trying here. I honestly believe that a man who panics when a disembodied GPS voice says, “Head east” should be paying more attention.

Not paying attention to where the sun sets or rises, assuming I can see the sun. There’s a compass on my phone; I’m not going to get lost.

But I don’t care for much of what passes for news these days, and I don’t seem to be alone. Some heads are being buried in some sand, and one of them might be mine. It’s probably time to start paying attention, pick a direction, and go that way. And maybe try being honest, just to see how it feels.

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