“I’d rather die of passion than die of boredom.”

Vincent-Van-Gogh-Alienated-Artist_SF_HD_768x432-16x9

The din of the cafes was growing with the setting sun as he walked the cobblestone streets of Auvers-sur-Oise. He came around the corner and saw the boys as he always did while returning home. The boys were always quarreling over something, distraught, and he always took time to engage them, and soon they’d be distracted by whatever joke he made. Today they were fidgeting over something which he could not see.

When the boys separated he was astonished to see that one was holding a small pistol.  “Be careful there,” he stepped forward, hands outstretched, “that is a dangerous toy you have.” He grasped the gun, but the boy did not let go, so the man pulled at it. He did not expect the sound of the firearm exploding and felt confused at the sting in his chest. Still holding the gun at his side, he looked down blankly and realized that the bullet had gone into him. The boys’ stared in surprise, which quickly became fear and they disappeared down the stone street.

Instead of pain, the man felt a curious, focused energy. He walked slow and calm until he found the doctor’s residence. The doctor had returned from his day of house calls and immediately examined him. “I cannot get to it,” he said finally, after they sat in a quiet room with only a clock ticking in the corner. He put a bandage over the wound with expert care, sealing it and the man’s fate. “It will be fine,” he told the man.

“I’m not worried anymore,” the man answered and sighed.

“What happened?” the doctor asked .

The man looked at him warmly “A mistake. I didn’t know what was happening. But I’m feeling better already.”

“Did you do this yourself?” the doctor asked.

The man did not answer, but laid his head back, and gazed out the window. “We don’t know what we do sometimes. I put my heart and soul into my work, and I have lost my mind in the process.”

The doctor glanced at him with narrowed eyes, eyes that knew how to judge the body, but not the mind. Yet even his professional judgment would not help the sepsis taking root in the man’s chest, the infection that would overtake the man’s health, and in a few hours his life.

Vincent Willem van Gogh.

Born: March 30, 1853, Zundert, Netherlands

Happy Birthday, Vincent.

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TED Talk Tuesday: Social networking isn’t so social

Sherry Turkle hits a little too close to home:

“Across the generations, I see that people can’t get enough of each other, if and only if they can have each other at a distance, in amounts they can control. I call it the Goldilocks effect: not too close, not too far, just right.”

I don’t even have a smart phone and I’m getting sucked in. The instant companion, the reassuring presence of people in my texts. They’re there, but not too close. Technology is good at providing what we want. But not what we need. Sherry describes it well:

“…I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy.”

Isnt it true? The prickly pear. The conversation with someone that seems like you’re peeling an artichoke to get to the goodness inside? Well, that’s ok. TV and movies has us thinking we need to have the perfect response and the right gestures, but that’s not life:

“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”

It’s time we recognize that using our smart phone isn’t so smart sometimes. It’s time we unplug. If the cell phone is making you happy, by all means, keep it up. But if it’s not…? If it’s just calling you back to the instant connection to everyone and no one, the intimacy that feels good, but doesn’t satisfy, then it’s time to listen to Sherry:

“Technology is making a bid to redefine human connection — how we care for each other, how we care for ourselves — but it’s also giving us the opportunity to affirm our values and our direction. I’m optimistic. We have everything we need to start. We have each other. And we have the greatest chance of success if we recognize our vulnerability.”

The perfect backyard and the perfect person.

I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.

“That yard looks like a park,” I said.

I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”

The transience of life

I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.

Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…

Does it matter?

Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.

Again and again and again.

Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.

Until we don’t do it anymore

Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?

I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.

The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.

Don’t blow through the pleasantries.

“Hi there.”
“Hi”
“How are you?”
“Good. How are you?”
“Almost perfect.”

It’s true that I’m almost perfect. Really.

I’m being more honest than when I say “ok” or “good”.
I’ve also heard people give the depressing “Not bad” and “Can’t complain”.

The “How are you”s are part of the exchange of pleasantries. They’re supposed to be pleasant, right? Then why do we blow through them with a catch phrase? And then we stall, searching for something more tangible to talk about, like the weather, which will save a conversation, yes, but it will also make you want to check your cell phone for more stimulating conversation with faceless people.

I realize that the so-called pleasantries breakdown the walls we have built up. They slowly bring the conversation to more meaningful levels, so that we’re more comfortable.

Why is that?

Sure, our genes may be coded with the fear response to strangers. Strangers who may be from another tribe who want to kill me for my food, shelter, or women, but why continue the drive-by pleasantries today, especially in this country, where survival is pretty easy? Even in low-income areas, no one is starving.

Ok, so keep the superficial pleasantries…what’s next?

When we get to the more meaningful part, we circle around asking the “how” and “why” question and get neck-deep in the comfortable quicksand of what we did, where we went, or what someone else is doing. We might get to some feelings, like “It sucked.’ Or “It was awesome.” But when was the last time we asked a probing “Why?” follow up?

We’re conditioned to make the “How are you?” the start of the conversation, and it’s ok to make it a greeting. Hey, it’s the best greeting I can think of..It jumps right into YOU. But instead of it being the start of the conversation, I think it should be the conversation. Let’s keep the courage of our convictions and see how someone else feels. Maybe give each other a new perspective?

The “how”s and the “why”s are the reason we’re here: It makes up the dialgoue that enables us to connect with people and grow.

I think a good start to connecting is to take that greeting seriously.

So…
How are YOU?

Food is more than fuel

On my way home last week I stopped at Chipotle, a restaurant famous for its burritos. After I got my food, I made my way home, and I passed a Firehouse Subs restaurant, a McDonald’s, a Taco Bell, and a Burger King. The drive-thrus were lined with cars with people waiting for their own quick meals. At home, I ate the burrito, my hunger driving me past savoring the taste to get the food in my stomach. Afterwards, I grabbed a bag of banana chips, and as I snacked, I looked at the ingredients.  The first ingredient read, “Bananas”. The last one read “Banana flavor”. As I sat there on my couch, I felt full and satisfied, and ready to tackle my chores, but I didn’t feel good. Why?

Although the food was real, I didn’t know what I’d eaten

The restaurant workers were nice enough. The cashier even talked to me beyond the usual banter, but all I did was hand over my credit card. A quick swipe and I was done. I had eaten alone, speaking to no one.  I had finished quickly, but usually I am the slowest eater in the dinner party. I chew and talk, while others chew and swallow.

I like picking parsley from my garden and chopping it on my cutting board

From my couch, I looked out my window, and saw the parsley growing in my garden. I liked hearing it crunch under my knife, and suddenly smelling its fresh and pleasant fragrance. I would mix it into the noodles that I had cooked, and the aroma of the tomato sauce and capers and parsley danced together into my nose. I would look at what I’d made, swirl a bite onto my fork, and chew it. It was a good experience. It made me happy.

I knew it would be a long time before I’d have the full and satisfied feeling of a restaurant burrito and  bananas with banana flavoring.

And that was ok by me.