Monthly Archives: July 2018

Healing the Future

When I was 8, my 9-year-old cousin Skip showed me a drawing he’d made of a rowboat, and it shocked me.

When I drew, my subject matter was pretty much limited to fighter jets with the US Air Force insignia on the side. I probably drew boats, too, so it wasn’t that Skip had drawn a boat that amazed me. It was how he drew it.

My drawings were flat  — two dimensional. But Skip’s boat had three dimensions. It projected off the page, and when I saw that something in me died.

To the extent that any 8-year-old knows what he’s going to be when he grows up, I didn’t fancy myself an artist. But until then nothing had persuaded me that my drawings were inadequate, either.

Skip’s did, and in my despair I ignored that he had learned it from a book, and maybe I could, too. All I could think was that this was yet another instance where I wasn’t good enough, that I couldn’t do it, and that I might as well give up. So I did.

No Latitude for Mistakes

Such thinking didn’t originate with that episode, of course. It was a continuation of experiences that began years before, all convincing me that I was inadequate, that the turf that I could call my own — the realm where I was adequate and capable — was pitifully small and subject to further erosion.

That subconscious belief washed over into adult life, limiting my willingness to try new things only when I thought I could be good at them immediately. There was no latitude for making mistakes. I had to be perfect.

I never took up playing the guitar for that reason. Yet, like millions of others, I played air guitar along with  Mark Knopfler, Billy Gibbons and Carlos Santana, and still regret that I didn’t give it a try. I never risked surfing while living in Hawaii, and body-surfed in the islands only because I’d done a tamer version of it on the Mainland and loved it.

Years later, a wonderful artist and former high school classmate,  Claire Watson Garcia, gave me a free painting lesson and strongly urged me to continue. I didn’t.

Unfounded Assumptions

Self-doubt and saying “no” was such a part of my identity that I assumed that’s who I really was. But after the failure of three long relationships (two of them divorces), I began to re-examine my life and realized that many of my assumptions were unfounded and had been forced upon me by childhood circumstances.

In the mid-1990s, I attended a men’s retreat led by New Age author Dan Millman. Millman, a former gymnast, did a great job of mixing instruction with physical activity, and the finale was breaking a board with our bare hands.

The premise was that if we could break a board, we could also break through personal issues. So before we broke the boards, we had to write on them what we were trying to break through.

I wrote:  “Holding back.”

I broke the board successfully, but breaking through the control and perfectionism behind the holding back has been a long and difficult process. I’m still working on it.

“I Can’t”

A few days ago, after more than a year of pondering it, watching YouTube videos and consulting knowledgable friends, I finally decided to replace my kitchen faucet.

This was not a vanity project. The faucet stopped working in March of 2017, I’m embarrassed to say. But since the spray hose still worked, I limped along, not wanting to pay a plumber, yet not wanting to give up on the idea that, dammit, I could do it.

The hang-up, as usual, was self-doubt. Just as I concluded from Skip’s drawing that I was not an artist, I also learned long ago that I was not mechanical. My brother, Dave, the kid who raised and lowered the family trash can into a tree with a block and tackle, he was mechanical. He became an engineer.

I was an athlete who could spell and loved to read, and discovered later that I could write. Beyond that, every new thing, every change in the status quo was a challenge and a referendum on my self-worth, and my reaction was always “I can’t.”

Open Mind, Willing Heart

But when I started questioning my assumptions, not many of them were valid. Including, it still amazes me to say, the idea that I have no mechanical ability. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that with an open mind and a willing heart, I can do far more than I thought.

It began with replacing a washer in a leaky bathroom faucet — laughably easy for many, but for me it was a beginning. Then I risked replacing the flush valve in a toilet. The new one included instructions on how to clean it. So I took apart the old one, cleaned it, put it back together and it worked.

Wow, I did that?

I replaced a doorknob, a toilet lever, a lamp socket. I put up a new mailbox and, despite massive misgivings, installed a dryer vent.

At that point, I was almost giddy with success, and when an electrical outlet started smoking, I consulted a contractor friend. Suitably informed, I turned off the circuit breaker, pulled the outlet from the wall, took pictures of the wiring, bought a new one, wired it and installed it.

At that point, I felt like I was on the North Face of home repair. Screw up electrical stuff and you’re homeless.

And then the piece de resistance: I removed the defective kitchen faucet — which proved to be as deeply resistant to change as I am — and installed a sleek new one. It will be a week or so before I stop sharing my amazement at that accomplishment.

Inconvenient Opportunities

It’s absurd that I waited a year to brave it, especially with all the junk from beneath the sink sitting on a coffee table in my sunroom, reminding me daily of my unwillingness. That I finally overcame it was huge, and exposes another level to the experience that goes beyond the satisfaction of having a cool new faucet.

Household breakdowns — like divorces, getting laid off and so many other things I resent and resist — are always inconvenient and uncomfortable, but they are also opportunities.

When I hold back, I’m a victim; the past is running me. Accepting that life is about problem solving opens up possibilities to change, grow, and take back my life.

Taking action led to a series of accomplishments that unlocked a limiting mentality and opens me up to things I may have set aside — like drawing and painting — and to possibilities I may never have even considered.

In other words, It’s about hope and changing the trajectory of a life. It’s about healing the future.



Aging, Not Old

I got an email recently from the agency that represents me requesting that I audition for the role of  a “somewhat clueless old man” in a movie that begins shooting in three weeks.

It’s not the first such request I’ve had. In fact, in just the past few months, I’ve had a half-dozen invitations to audition and with one exception — a role in the “Mr. Mercedes” TV series — all of the casting directors were looking for some version of a doddering old codger.

One of the requests came a week or so ago, and this was for a series of appearances that would have added up to a handsome check. Which I could very much use.

But they wanted a guy in his late 70s or 80s who sounded like a shambling old coot.

As I told my agent, I’m 73, but I’m also “supple and fit,” In fact, I had spent two hours earlier that day at the YMCA lifting weights. I also included a photo from a job last year that had me 30 feet up on a climbing wall.

When we were in our early 60s, a friend of mine used to say, “We’re getting old, JW.” He had special dispensation to use my first two initials, but being identified as getting old pissed me off. 

I’m not oblivious to changes as I age. My hair used to be brown; now it’s white, although I prefer to call it silver. The muscles I’ve worked hard to maintain are shrinking. I’ve got the kind of wrinkles I remember seeing on my grandfather’s face, and I’ve lost an inch in height. I took losing that inch personally. That was part of my identity, and I’m still not OK with it. But that’s reality.

Then one day at the gym a heavy-set guy lumbered past wearily, and commented, “I’m getting old. I’m 61.”

I was 62 at the time, and in far better shape than he was. I said nothing, but it gave me the answer I was looking for.

“We start aging as soon as we’re born,” I told my friend when I saw him next, “but getting old is a state of mind, and I’m not going there.”

That’s still my operative premise. Aging is reality; getting old is a choice. And that was the energy behind yet another note to my agent — this one more combative.

Hi J——, 

At the risk of being a pain in the you-know-what, my reaction to this audition is same as the one last week for P——.

Namely, clients have an outdated notion of what “old” is.

“Ageism,” as it is sometimes called, is probably the result of the lack of attention it gets due to the flashier, trendier stuff that seem to captivate the media and social media.

In any event, I am not a “clueless old man.” I would argue that whoever wrote that description is far more clueless than I am, and that such ignorance is getting tedious. 

As we both know from my last email, I am fit and agile and, if called upon, can go 30 feet up on a climbing wall.  

I told [another agent] the other day that on my very first job in the business 13 years ago, the photographer commented about my “weathered look.”

I did NOT give him a noogie, but I’m getting to the point now where it may be necessary to start knuckling some skulls. 

Thanks for hearing me out. No offense intended to you … I just needed to vent. And to explain why I am disinclined to audition for clueless people.