Thursday, September 21, 2017

Holding Hands


            You know that cute old couple holding hands as they walk across the parking lot? That cute couple is us.
            When I hold hands with Kim, it may mean that she is walking over uneven terrain where the slightest stumble, or even an awkward step, can cause shooting pain into her slowly healing back. She no longer uses a walker, and we have not yet looked for a good hiking stick, so at times I substitute for the stick, which is something I feel good about.
            But there is more to it. Handholding is a direct connection, flesh to flesh. It says, “I am here, here with you, and we are connected.” A hug does the same thing, of course, but handholding is different, more intimate in a way. For many people, hugs seem to have replaced shaking hands, a ritual that historically was simply an indication that you were not carrying a weapon in your right hand – a form of connection, to be sure, but not intimacy. A hug, unlike a handshake (unless you have excellent flirtation skills) also can add erotic or romantic overtones, which most of us scrupulously avoid when greeting or parting from friends. And a hug is a pause in the action, giving it a certain intensity, especially when expressing support for someone going through a hard time. You become a prop, like a hiking stick, and you express your role as non-erotic lover. That’s a good thing.
            Handholding seems, at first glance, to be somewhat less than a hug – less intimate, less romantic. I think of the phrase “just friends,” which indicates a falling short of a preferred relationship, probably as lovers. Handholding is less than hugging and kissing.
            For me, however, handholding is something Kim and I do as we are going about the minor projects of our life together – walking across the parking lot to the grocery store, sitting on the couch watching something from Netflix, or taking our daily mile or two “hike” on the paths around our condo. Sometimes in bed I will gently put my hand on her shoulder, and she will reach up in response to hold my hand. We are connected as partners in the busyness of our life. Before Kim’s surgery we would hold each other up as we walked, especially when there was ice in the parking lot.
            I’m reminded of the cynical definition of marriage: two people jumping out of an airplane together, each thinking the other is a parachute. Well, now I provide more physical support than Kim does, but she’s still my parachute, providing all kinds of emotional support for me while encouraging my better self. Holding hands means that connection. We spend so much time together that some say that we are connected at the hip. Nope. We are connected at the hand.
                  I am, of course, making this up. The meaning of an event, like the meaning of a work of literature, is constructed by the audience or participant. Meaning is a matter of interpretation rather than residing somehow in the event itself. And that being said, I choose to interpret handholding with Kim the way I do. One of the most valuable things I learned at Amherst was in the fraternity pledge I took: “Place the best construction on the words and deeds of my brothers.” Well, we are all brothers, even the sisters among us, and I can choose to interpret events – that is, the meaning of an event – is ultimately up to me, even when the event is as apparently insignificant as holding your partner’s hand. Epictetus and the Stoics taught us that while we don’t have control over what happens to us, we do control how we choose to respond to what happens. This is as true for love as it is for anger.
            I don’t want to exaggerate here. Sometimes it can be annoying when your partner wants to hold your hand. Kim doesn’t seem to enjoy it when cooking my dinner, for example, and I find one-handed typing unnecessarily difficult. Choose your occasions, however, and it works.



Thursday, September 14, 2017

Anger


I don’t get angry very often, and sometimes that pisses Kim off. On occasion, she says, she will do things to provoke my anger, just for the hell of it. Kim has always been good at exploring new experiences. Just las week she tried to instruct me in how to be angry. In anticipation of a meeting with a sales rep to request demand a refund for an unsatisfactory sofa we bought, Kim had me practice sounding angry as we rehearsed the conversation. I couldn’t do it. Kim laughed at me. Again.

I wrote about anger over a year ago in a post about Darkness:
·      Anger. I go to a dark place whenever someone it angry with me. This is bad enough when I don’t deserve it, but even worse when I do. Now, what? I do remember one time when Kim was angry with me about something or other and I was angry with her for being angry with me. “I hate feeling this way,” I told myself. So I decided to stop feeling that way. It worked, almost instantly. Doesn’t always work for me, unfortunately, but I sometimes use a Jedi Mind Trick to change someone else’s anger to love, or at least tolerance.

What doesn’t anger me?
·      I am not subject to road rage because 1) I am seldom in a hurry, which, come to think of it, may provoke road rage in others, and 2) when I see foolish driving, I think to myself, Yes, I’ve done that.
·      I am fairly immune to personal snubs and insults, mainly because I am unaware of them – one of the many advantages of being self-absorbed. When it’s explained to me why something should have hurt my feelings, I understand, but that’s my brain’s understanding – my heart, or whatever organ is involved in anger (the Greeks thought it was the belly), does not engage. And my poor memory of prior insults also protects me from anger.

What does anger me? I’ll skip the obvious targets – plastic packaging I can’t open, Trump’s boorish ignorance, litter. Kim tells me that when someone feels anger, it’s usually because he or she feels hurt. That makes sense, but I don’t think it applies to me very often. I’m too insensitive to be easily hurt.

I do find myself getting angry when I get lost. When we travel, whether on a road trip or just around town, I am in charge of logistics. It’s my job to get us there on time. While I have given over much of the workload to Gertrude, our GPS, I still feel the brunt of responsibility. In fact, getting us places on time, along with the television remote, are the major loci of my power. So it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when we do arrive at a place on time, so much so that what we do when we get there, whether it’s a dental appointment or a B&B, is much less important than my logistical success. My work is done.

So I get angry when I can’t find Max’s Appliance Store in Traverse City even though we’ve been there a half-dozen times. I get angry when I turn the wrong way leaving the store selling us windows for our new cottage. I get angry when I miss our exit on the Interstate, usually because Kim wants to discuss sex or money. When this happens and I curse, Kim laughs and shrugs it off, but not me. I fume, which makes Kim laugh even more.

Notice, here, that my anger is usually self-directed. As I mentioned, I do sometimes get angry at Kim when she becomes angry at me, usually for something I’ve done wrong. It’s convenient to deflect that self-anger outward at someone else, much the way guys worried about their own sexuality become homophobes, but it’s still, essentially, for me, self-anger. The alternative is to see myself as a victim, hurt and therefore angry, and that’s no fun. By blaming myself and becoming angry at myself, I maintain the illusion of power and control, expanding my range beyond the car and the tv remote. And I have the power to end it.

What do I do when some asshole really pisses me off? I try to reason that it’s probably better to be angry at an asshole than to actually be the asshole who angers people, and with that dubious reasoning, my anger dissipates. Somewhat. Or I think of encounters with assholes as similar to encounters with bad weather – it makes little sense to become angry with a tornado.

I suppose the bottom line here is that I am conflict-averse, so I play these mind games to avoid conflicts that might make me angry. I blame myself. I shrug off assholes. I use my GPS. Emotional constipation works for me.


P.S.:  Wrath, an extreme form of anger, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. When I was a Starbucks barista I would give customers a 10-cent discount if they could answer my daily trivia question, one of which was to name the Seven Deadly Sins. Few could. My theory was that the one they named first was the one they found most tempting.




Thursday, September 7, 2017

Noticing


I’d been dating Kim for about a year when she asked me what color her eyes were. “Green,” I guessed – correctly, as it turned out, and she married me.

I vaguely recall reading in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, years ago, a scientist’s commenting, “I’m not much of a noticer.” I know what he means, and so does Kim.

            Cases in point:

Kim did some redecorating. She placed a large basket of seeds and pods that she had collected on a counter about five feet from where I eat three meals a day. She asked me to close my eyes and describe what is on the counter. I did so, except for the basket of stuff.

I asked, “How long has it been there?”

“About a week.”

Also:

            I was drying the dishes while Kim rested. I wiped the invisible dirt off of the mixer, as Kim had taught me to do, and then went to put it away. But where does it go? I found an open spot on the kitchen closet floor.

            About an hour later Kim asked, “Why did you put it there?”

            “I wasn’t sure where it goes.”

            “It goes the same place where it’s been since we moved in, seven months ago!” She sounded more amused than annoyed, but I may be kidding myself. I moved it back to the counter, next to the refrigerator.

            But that was the old David. The new David is designing and building a house, and suddenly I’m noticing things. I’ll walk into a store and wonder whether the floor is engineered hardwood or a laminate. I’ll notice the feel of a doorknob in my hand, and whether the ceiling lights in a restaurant are recessed floods or flush mounted. I’ll notice the hinges on kitchen cabinets that I see in the background of some Netflix movie. In the same kitchen I’ll notice whether the refrigerator has French doors or side-by-side. I’ll drive by a house and notice that the white exterior paint has some gray in it. OK – so I didn’t really notice that until Kim pointed it out to me, but I did notice it. And I’ll notice an increase in the estrogen levels in my blood.

            I am confident that this change is only temporary, and that the old non-noticing David will soon return. There are signs that he is crawling back. Just yesterday Kim asked me if I like where she moved the statue of the crow.

            “Yes,” I said, quickly scanning the room.