Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Conversation I Just Had That Could Almost Be a Monty Python Sketch

Upper West Side Mom: I would like to schedule a make-up class for my son.

Me: Ok, great! Is there any particular day or time that would work best for you?

UWS Mom: Oh, anytime really.

Me: Ok, let me look at our schedule. How about tomorrow afternoon at 4:00pm?

UWS Mom: No, Wednesday's don't work.

Me: Huh. Okay.... It looks like there's a Friday at 12:45pm.

UWS Mom: Actually it really needs to be in the morning, like before 11:00.

Me: Right. Well... many of our morning classes are full. However, I think we could make space in a class Monday morning at 9:00am.

UWS Mom: WHAT!?

Me: What?

UWS Mom: That's so EARLY!

Me: *long pause* So... not an option?

UWS Mom: Is there anything else?

Me: Hmm.... Maybe Saturday or Sunday?

UWS Mom: *horrified look*

Me: Right, well then I think Monday 9:00 is really our only option.

UWS Mom: *disgusted sigh* You don't have anything later? But still before 11:00?

Me: No, I'm sorry.

UWS Mom: *disgusted sigh* Are you sure?

Me: Let me check again. *pretends to do something on the computer* No.

UWS Mom: OK. Monday at 9:00. I guess.

Me: Okay, all set. We'll see you on Monday!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Death of Innocence

I have the unique opportunity to observe innocence every day. It appears to me in the form of wide-eyed and playful three and four year olds prancing around my office having fun. Sometimes they just sing softly to themselves, lost in their own fantasy world. Sometimes they explode into what, if replicated by an adult, would appear to be a psychotic breakdown. All of this is for the most part pleasant and often charming, or at least amusing -- but it can also be extremely uncomfortable.

Innocence sometimes upsets me, because I know that it is fragile. It is a state of being that cannot last, but leads inevitably towards disappointment and despair. All is not lost, however, for even these dark places are not the end but themselves lead to another, more hopeful and wiser level of consciousness. But even though I know that, it doesn't keep me from looking at these innocent children and shuddering at the pain that lies ahead of them. At various moments, bits of their care-free world are going to disappear until almost none of it is left.

I witnessed one of these moments the other day, and its actually a pretty amusing story, so stick with me.

I was typing away frantically at my desk when a small boy approached me timidly with an obviously brand-new scooter. He presented it to me shyly, very proud of it but worried about how I might react.

"Is that your scooter?" I asked, pretending to be stunned. He nodded, smiling very big now. He was adorable, with large, round eyes and chubby cheeks.

"Wow!" I said. "I bet it goes really fast!"

"It does," he whispered, as if confiding a huge secret.

I continued to admire it, and he slowly began to warm up to me until we were the best of friends. We had shared a moment. We had a thing. We were brothers-of-the-scooter, united in a common interest. Colleagues and compatriots. Had I been of the right size, I bet I could have asked him to let me take a ride, and I bet he would have let me.

And that, my friends, is trust.

"Show me how it works," I said, smiling, thoroughly delighted by this encounter.

He obliged and stepped up onto the scooter, pushing himself around the office slowly while showing off his driving skills. I applauded. He beamed, and smiled at me with what could only be described as pure love.

"Tyler!" shouted his nanny, suddenly noticing the situation, "I told you no riding that inside!"

She was a big, strong woman with a thick Jamaican accent and a demeanor that suggested she'd take no back-talk from either of us. She swooped in with a regal air and snatched the boy and his scooter away, dragging them both back to the other side of the room.

In a moment she returned, this time carrying only the scooter. She deposited the boy's treasured possession behind my desk.

"I put this here," she said, and it was like a command.

"Um, sure," I replied weakly.

She walked confidently back to the child, who looked at her with confusion and panic. I could practically hear his little heart thudding in his chest from where I sat. Where? Where is it? He asked these questions with his eyes, barely able to speak.

"That man took it," the nanny announced, pointing at me, "He says you can't have it." And she sat down, the matter now finished and resolved.

The boy looked at me in shock. How can I describe what I saw in those eyes? Pain. Confusion. Betrayal. Anger.

My mouth worked, but I had no way to communicate the truth - and even if I could, I would not be believed. I was a villain. I had violated the trust he'd placed in me.

This is why I don't like innocence. It bursts so quickly, and authoritarian nannies are always blaming me for it. See where I'm coming from??

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Birthday Meditation

Given that my very first blog post ever (recently discovered by archeologists and dated circa 2005) was a reflection on my 24th birthday, it seems somehow appropriate that I return to the blog briefly to record my thoughts about having survived yet another year.

Today I am 29, which sounds like a respectable, mature age in which one can really be taken seriously as a proper adult who has his act together. Alternatively, 29 could be considered as the age in which one truly feels that their youth is dying, and that they only have one final year of fun and excitement before the big “three-oh” arrives with its attendant expectation of maturity.

I don’t really feel either way. In fact somehow I don’t feel any different than I did when I wrote that ancient blog post about turning 24. I’m perhaps a little less confident and little more tired than back then, but I have the same idealism, the same neuroses, the same wry smile, and, with little variation, the same fundamental strengths and flaws. I suppose the idea that one day we are just “grown-up” and different than when we were young is an illusion, and I can easily see myself in thirty years looking with confusion at my aging body and thinking, “but I’m still the same person inside!”

Growing up is a process of constant becoming that is ongoing in every minute of life. It has no beginning or end. At ninety years old I’ll still be growing up, I’ll still be learning, I’ll still be dealing with the challenges of life as best as I can.

I’m not going to lie. The year since my last birthday has been easily the most difficult and challenging year of my life. It was the year my idealism, carefully nurtured within the protected bubble of academia, really came head to head with the sharpest of cold, hard realities. And unfortunately I dealt with this crisis in the way I so often have – by hiding from the world, by cowering in fear in my little room.

I wrote a play in grad school in which a young man gains the courage to leave his self-imposed isolation and take a brave step outside his room and into the unknown world. It’s a shame, looking back, that I had to end the play where I did, because the story does not end there. After all, the young man has to leave the room again the next day, and the day after that. And while stepping out into the uncertain and often unfriendly world does get easier, it never gets easy. A leap of faith is fantastic, but it is not a once-in-a-lifetime event. Every day is a leap of faith, and it’s scary every time.

I may still be young, but I have enough experience in life now to realize two things:

1 – The happiest times of my life are connected to the times in which I was unafraid to take risks, unsatisfied by the path of least resistance, willing to try and not afraid to fail.

And, paradoxically,

2 – The happiest times of my life were those in which I was least concerned with “success,” with “accomplishments,” with measuring myself by some kind of arbitrary standard or comparing myself to others. I knew that my sense of worth and value was unconnected with anything outside of myself, and that I was no better and no worse than anybody else.

In summary, what is needed is a sincere excitement to try new things, without being overly concerned about whether I’ll succeed or not. Too long I have hid my face from the world and let my passion for life lie dormant. There is too much to do and see to let myself slip away into the shadows.

Happy Birthday to me!