Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Character of the Universe

Last night I went to the Marsh Theater, which I'd sworn off just a month ago after an obnoxious encounter at the door. Usually I stick to my guns, but my "fitness guy" was doing a one-man, one-act show. I've known for a while that he does stand-up/improv, but I'd never seen him perform. He's a nice guy, personable and friendly even when forcing you to do things to your body that are probably forbidden by the Geneva Conventions (case in point, my calves and ass hurt today; I can take one or the other but both at the same time is true injustice). Mike also has a great sense of humor, but easy-going as he is, I've never seen him as the instigator of humor. Well, last night he was hilarious. He did great characterizations; his delivery, facial expressions and body language, and the things he said were really funny. I would never in a million years have pictured him as the schlep he pretended convincingly to be on stage.

* * *

Today one of the associates at my firm took me out for lunch, her mildly expensive treat. While I appreciated the gesture, as I put on my jacket, I found myself wondering what in the hell we'd have to talk about for an hour. She's the kind of person who would make a great soda; she's always bubbly, never flat. She's such a happy camper that it's hard to tell if it's for real. Nobody can be that happy all the time—or can they?

Well, our lunch conversation didn't provide any definitive answer, but like Mike's performance, it did open my eyes to a whole "new" side of someone who I only know in one context. For one thing, she loves spicy food. If I'd had to guess, I would never have picked her for a fire-eater. The next surprise was hobbies: among other things, she's been quietly at work on a documentary about a former prisoner-of-conscience. Given my experience of a few nights ago, I now take these quiet filmmakers more seriously. I asked her about her previous work experiences, and across the board they've been much more eclectic and interesting than the work lives of most people I've known. And we share a common layperson's interest in things like alternative medicine, spirituality, etc. Oh, and she likes jazz. But what surprised me the most was her candidness regarding the decision to live in San Francisco.

Most of us who live here know that our choice to do so is not without a cost. Many of us will never own a house, and most of us will never get ahead. Sure we have beautiful surroundings, easy access to nature and cultural events, and open-minded neighbors that we eventually come to take for granted. But at what cost? She told me that if she had to do it again, she would have left ten years ago, but once you land one of those coveted rent-controlled apartments it's easy to get complacent. The topic came up because I'm tired enough of the constant struggle that I routinely revisit the "should I really be here" question, but like everyone else I know who is plagued by the question, I can't come up with an attractive alternative. So we give up certain things and from time to time feel wistful, which is what I wasn't expecting from my lunch partner. Wistfulness.

* * *

During an argument with a recent friend one issue that came up was the notion of knowing one another. She said, "You don't know me," and I thought, "who gives a shit?" Nobody really knows anybody; it's all circumstantial. Even the people who think they know you best, only know the parts of you they can see. The rest they either surmise or don't and never would in a million years.

My own personal belief is that we don't even truly know ourselves. Even when you say, "if ___ were to happen, this is how I'd react," the truth is that you don't really know for 100 percent certain what you'd do. Or maybe I'm wrong, but I know of myself that when I frame those kind of suppositions to myself, I'm making as educated a guess as I can. Often I'm 99.9999999 percent sure of my hypothetical reaction(s). But you know what? Just as I can be surprised by other people, I can surprise myself, too, and that surprise often becomes the center of growth.

When you grow, you expand, and when you expand the world gets bigger and smaller at the same time. I don't know about anybody else, but that's what drives me to live—to keep on keeping on. 'Cause you know what? A lot of life stinks. It's unfair, it's uncouth, and it often fails to be charming. But then there are moments, in fact, enough of them, that subconsciously propel you forward to the next one. Moments in which you forget all the wretched things, moments in which someone else perfoms for you and makes you laugh or you find out you have something in common with someone unexpected, or moments in which you remember what it was like before you learned what you know now, and not only are you glad that you're not where you once where, but you're excited about what's around the corner. Those kind of moments.

Moments in which you witness the character of the universe.


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