Make it stop. Please, just make it stop.
I have read, I have learned, I know, I teach; It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters – Epictetus.
This is what happened to me:
I may have had a glass or two too many last night. Yesterday would’ve been my dad’s 93rd birthday. He passed away about a year and a half ago. As you know, Mom was on her own for a year before I moved back home. We have our differences, but, somehow, manage to be close. I’ve been grappling with falling back into a healthy, happy routine this rare week home, and, admittedly, I’ve been a little out of sorts. I knew, yesterday, when she didn’t materialize from her bedroom until almost two hours later than usual that she was moping. She is more a scarcity mindset than I. I think abundance, usually. In other words, I’m the glass half full and she’s the glass half empty. So, last night, I filled two glasses half way, twice, and we had a lovely chat. The day passed without much mention of Dad, until last night. She’d had a glass of her incredibly cheap Robert Mondavi wine she can buy on sale for six bucks. I’d had the last glass of my 2009 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir I bought at their tasting room, Taste at Oxbow. I’d been to V. Sattui to pick up my wine club selections for September and October on Monday, so I decided to select one to open for my second glass. I offered Mom a glass, too, and, as she loves all the V. Sattui wines she’s tasted thus far, she accepted my offer. We decided it would be a toast to Dad’s birthday. With that in mind, I selected a 125th Anniversary special, the 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, one of Dad’s favorite varietals. Our neighborhood is in the shadow of the Mt. Veeder District. I used to ride ponies from one friend’s house, over the mountain, to another friend’s house. And back. Fond memories, a lovely area, and a fantastic wine. Mom sat at her chair at the kitchen table, I leaned on the kitchen counter by the sink, and we talked for quite a while, about Dad and other things. It was one of the nicer moments we’ve had together this week. I was grateful for that.
After our wine, I stayed up until nearly 2:00 AM, writing. My bad. I forgot that it was Thursday today. Thursday’s are the worst in this neighborhood, on this street, in this house, and, especially in my room. And so, this is what happened to me;
At about 6:00 AM, the neighbor across the street leaves for work. The houses in our neighborhood are almost fifty years old. Most have had windows replaced and have been updated, insulated, central heat and air conditioning installed. Not ours. It is neat as a pin and as original as a stock car from the same era. No after-market parts have been installed. The same old style furnace, no air-conditioning, and the furnace has no filter, just forced air heat coming from some dusty old relic underneath the house. The furnace makes an ominous clunking sound at the end of each cycle. The thermostat is the retro dial style. You can’t program it for different temperatures at different times of the day and night, you actually have to walk into the living room, every time you desire a change in temperature and twist it one direction or the other. The windows, all original, and, I’m certain, several layers thinner than they were new from years and years of being cleaned, inside and out, with drums and drums of Windex. They are the old aluminum slider style, single pane. Napa is a very comfortable climate, most of the time, so central heat and air, dual pane windows and insulation wasn’t considered necessary back in the 1960’s when these homes were built. But, with the insulation and the dual pane windows, not only is efficiency added, but noise is decreased. Like the noise of the neighbor unlocking his car, which goes “beep beep” when he does, every morning, this morning included, at some point before 6:00 AM.
Shortly after that neighbor leaves, his next-door neighbor goes to the gym. Before getting into his car, he walks across the street, collects the local newspaper from behind my car, in the driveway, and puts it up on the porch so my mom won’t have to toddle all the way down the steps and across the driveway in her robe and slippers to retrieve it. And I can hear every footstep. This man’s wife died after a long battle with cancer a few months ago. He has kept her car and, on occasion, drives it to the gym. This was one of those days, I know, because he hasn’t quite figured out how to unlock it with the remote and so, always sets the horn a honking.
Thursday. Garbage day. Garbage day cubed. This is Cali, this is the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, you need an engineering degree, a flowchart and a consultant to figure out which trash receptacle each item from your McDonald’s bag goes into, plastic, paper, paperboard, Styrofoam, plastic utensils and napkins, which, somehow don’t qualify as paper. I’ve actually seen entrepreneurial homeless people assist tourists in appropriately sorting their trash in hopeful exchange for a tip. Kind of like the homeless folks at intersections who will wash your windshield with a spray bottle of something, piss, probably, and a soggy, blurred, newspaper. Napa Recycling and Waste Services is actually a software client of mine. That was a fun week, at the landfill/compost heap. Nice folks, though. So, meanwhile, back on my street; there are no less than three “garbage” trucks, maybe more. One truck collects the contents of the “blue can”, which are mixed recyclables including wine bottles, beer bottles and other stuff I don’t know about. This matter will be sorted out and recycled by type, glass, plastic, cardboard, etc. Another truck collects the contents of the “brown can”, yard waste, which will be composted. The third truck collects the contents of the “gray can”, which is just rubbish, the stuff that can’t be composted or recycled, and so, I assume, goes into the landfill. I don’t know if there is a truck devoted to the new “food scraps” project, which are being added to the compost pile, and, I’m certain, will do nothing in improving the foul wind that blows from the south of town where all this occurs. This household is not yet participating in the “food scraps” for composting project, so I don’t know the finer points and whether trucks are committed to the effort. At any rate, it sounds like there are twenty of them revving up and down the street, from one house to the next, revving again to power the mechanical arm that picks up and upends the containers. And they all have squeaky brakes. This cacophony all begins at about 6:00 AM and lasts half the day.
I mentioned, yesterday, that the City of Napa is replacing the curbs, gutters and sidewalks in front of nearly every home on our street where the city planted Chinese Pistachio trees, now all nearing fifty years old. The elder trees have roots close to the surface that have raised the sidewalks dangerously, broken curbs and even raised the street in places. Beginning at 7:00 AM the very talkative men in orange shirts arrive, they fire up all their dusty yellow tractors (backhoes and dozers, I know my Tonka Trucks), their dump trucks and diesel pickup trucks. One dump truck and one dozer just do laps around the block continuously from 7:00 AM until 3:00 PM, with a break around 11:00 AM for lunch, I assume. There are jackhammers and other strange bits of man-propelled power equipment that make an extraordinary amount of noise.
So, by 7:00 AM, between the garbage trucks and the men at work, the noise is fearsome. Then, our gardener arrives. He mows, he blows and he goes. But we have close to a quarter acre here, all lawn and leaves, there’s a lot of mowing and a lot of blowing. I can’t even begin to imagine what decibel rating to attach to the morning I endured this day.
My reaction to just the street repair yesterday was not happy. I walked around the house with clenched teeth and a pissy attitude and I let every little noise just eat at me until my nerves were raw. To add insult to injury, Mom had the TV on louder than usual, so she could hear it over all the other noise. I felt like crawling into a corner, crouching down, holding my hands over my ears and rocking back and forth. I went to the coffee shop downtown, instead, and had a lovely day. I had planned to do the same today. But, for whatever reason, my reaction today was different. After breakfast by the noise of the leaf blower, literally, right outside the sliding glass door off the dining area, I took a nice, long shower and sat down at my desk to listen to a conference call for work. I got busy doing this and that, then I got to working on an article I’ve been trying to pull together for a couple of months and the next thing I knew, it was 3:00 PM and completely silent out front. I reacted very differently to the same stimuli from yesterday to today. Rather than let every little thing get to me, rather than foster the agitation I felt at the first noise and allow it to escalate from there, at some point today, I just chose not to react. I got far more done with a lot less stress. True, I would’ve loved to have gone to the coffee shop, and, in fact, probably will tomorrow, if for no other reason, because the cello player is there on Fridays. But, still, the point is, we can react to what happens to us or we can choose not to. The choice is ours. By choosing not to react to every little thing that happens to us, we are choosing to be in control. We are perfectly capable of controlling our reaction, our response, to everything in life, good and bad. Do you get that? Life doesn’t just happen to us, we get to decide how we are going to react, or not, to each and every situation and event that unfolds in our midst. We can choose to get angry when someone does something we dislike, or we can choose to ignore it and move on with more important things. Getting angry doesn’t solve anything, and, in fact, just makes things worse, in most cases, for us far more than our intended target. Acknowledging the situation, making a few mental notes, as a lesson for the future, and just getting on with our day is a much more peaceful and fruitful reaction and one we are totally capable of and in control of. Isn’t it cool to know you are in control of your emotions, that no one has the power to MAKE you angry or sad or hurt? Only you can make you angry or sad or hurt. You choose. You choose how you are going to react. Or not. Of course, it takes practice. I still get my feelings hurt, I still get mad, I still get sad, but then I stop and I think about it; what does allowing these negative feelings, these reactions really accomplish for me? Bad juju and a derailed day productivity-wise, and it certainly doesn’t change or remove the catalyst or source of those negative feelings, in fact, it further empowers them. The only way to render them powerless is to choose not to react in anger, hurt or sadness. Life is good, we are in control!
I had a two-hour massage tonight, it was amazing. I have the best massage therapist ever. I’ve had several, I know I’ve got a good one. First example; he is silent when he dispenses the massage oil onto his hands. Every other massage therapist I’ve ever had sounds like a guinea pig licking the roller in their water bottle when they dispense the massage oil. Am I right? It detracts from the experience, I’d noticed it, but had never really made note of it until I got this therapist. I’ve never heard him depress the dispenser. Amazing. I know. The rest is just magic, he has very gifted hands, and elbows, and forearms. He is intuitive, asks the right questions and really likes what he does. I know from talking to him a bit that this is sort of a family tradition, his mom was a foot reflexologist, so this guy, his foot massages are divine, nearing orgasmic.
I will admit, I am a rather tense person. My muscles are pretty much flexed at all times. All of them. I do not relax. Ever. I may think I do. I don’t. I’m tough to massage because I am always clenched. I try really hard to relax; I breath deeply and focus on the area that’s being massaged and with every ounce of intention, I try to relax, which is probably the wholly incorrect approach, but it ‘s what I know to do. I have gotten better. I have. But, there is this one spot, mid-back, right along the spine, more on the right side than on the left, when he runs his thumb down that particular area it’s like shock waves. I convulse, totally involuntarily. It’s something between pain and ticklish, but I, like, twitch and spaz out a little, sometimes my leg kicks a little bit and once, I almost farted. That is my involuntary reaction, and though it is certainly unintended, I am a little embarrassed. So, I try really hard to choose my reaction, here, too, just like I do with anger, hurt, or sadness. We may think anger, hurt and sadness and other negative reactions, negative emotions, are involuntary. They are not, we have the power to choose how we react to anything that happens to us. So, tonight, on the massage table, I decided to put this to the ultimate test. I decided that I had the power of presence, the mind control, to overcome this embarrassing, involuntary, spastic, convulsive response to focused massage on that one area that, obviously, needed therapy. It took a time or two, but by the third time he ran his thumb down that sensitive area, I was able to relax enough to not feel like I was being tickled and electrocuted simultaneously. The mind is a very powerful thing and it is open to suggestion. Make a suggestion, they’re yours to make and no one else’s.
I’m home now, obviously, all limber, warm and relaxed. I’ve had a lovely conversation with my man, far, far away, and as I finish up this little letter I am also finishing up that last glass of 2010 V. Sattui Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, the 125th Anniversary Edition. That is how I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my evening. Good night, all.