Take What You Can Get

I often find myself at community events, expos and all kinds of fun events interacting with the public – sometimes through my work, sometimes it’s with one of the organizations where I volunteer. Maybe I’m just a spectator. Even as many times as I’ve gone to these events, and despite my saying I won’t be surprised at anything… I usually am. Sometimes, even when I think I’ve seen it all, I’m surprised by the mish-mash of people I see at these events. The people watching isn’t quite as good as what you find at an airport – that’s a blog post for another day soon – but it’s still pretty interesting, and one of the things I really get a kick out of. I love the observation almost as much as actually talking with people to hear their stories.

Depending on the event, you may have anything from moms and kids, business attendees picking up a stress ball, retirees replenishing their personal stashes of pens, note pads, key chains and such. There’s sometimes the student crowd who are there for extra points in some class AND to snag a power bank or car charger if they find one, assuming they haven’t been cleaned out by the previous groups. I really do appreciate when community members support these events – it sure makes the day more interesting.

As my grandfather said, it takes all kinds to make the world go ’round, and you can find a lot of those kinds at these community events. Depending on the purpose of the event, you might find fun costumes (our city does a completely delightful caterpillar parade to celebrate spring, and you are likely to find butterflies and all sorts of costumes… awesome), politicians stumping with speeches (GREAT people watching), people passing out the aforementioned goodies, and people “trick or treating” for said goodies – just there to take whatever they can get.

The takers/getters intrigue me; they may or may not even WANT the items they’re grabbing, but they snag whatever is available for the taking. My mind wanders as I’m watching this go down: is this what they do in other areas of their lives? Or are they giddy and caught up in the euphoria of the goodies? Perhaps they’ve discovered the answers to life’s great questions lie in a nifty stylus pen or a funeral home fan with just enough firmness to not flip & flop as they furiously wave it? I’ll grant you this from personal experience – at summer events across the Deep South, a good funeral home fan is the answer to at least one of life’s great questions…can I create enough of a breeze so that I don’t pass out of heat exhaustion before I get to my car and turn the A/C on MAX? (and the answer is just barely)

I guess the personal growth nugget for me here is that watching the “getters” is sort of a metaphor for life, in a weird way. They are so busy “getting” that they are never satisfied with what they got, because they’ve already moved on to the next “get.” There’s not time to enjoy the squishy stress ball because the next shiny object is already in view at the next booth. Oooooh, I need to get that pack of tomato seeds – check. Free bottle of water – check, and can I get an extra?

Sidebar: let me offer a little color on the tomato seeds. Anyone who knows me knows I LOATHE the mushy wretchedness of a tomato. Blech. So if I picked up your tomato seeds, I am 100% in “getter” mode… or I wasn’t wearing my reading glasses, and I totally think I picked up something else. Boy, am I going to be surprised when I get home – and NOT in a good way. My nose is wrinkled as I type this – just thinking about them grosses me out!

Okay, back to my bits, here. I hope I’m at least cultivating an attitude of contentment and gratitude along with those tomatoes. Otherwise, the frenzied hunting & gathering leaves no time to appreciate the fruits of the labor. It’s always about the next “get,” valuable or not. Sort of a twisted keeping score where whomever collects the most trinkets wins, even if sometimes they ultimately don’t.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I think drive and ambition are bad things. They’re not. I hope I achieve some measure of balance in the grand scheme of things. Because, when the “getting” is over and I’ve made it home with 2 bottles of water, a pack of tomato seeds and 3 notepads from the local banks and realtors, did I just take what was there to get? Or did I also take time to gather and get what I really needed from the day – which, honestly, often has more to do with the interesting people than their things.

Giving ‘Em the Business

I always made it a point to catch up with my Gram Fuller at least once a week. Even in college, as soon as I set up my own long distance plan and connected it to my first credit card, it was so I could call and catch up with her – mainly to see what shenanigans she and her posse of little old ladies were getting into. They did league bowling and lunches out on the town well into their 80’s, and I’d have absolutely loved to be a fly on the wall with them (yes, these were the days before cell phones and unlimited talk/text/data and long distance wasn’t included in any minutes plan – stay with me here).

She might have a golden yarn to relay, like the time they got pulled over for speeding – can you imagine the officer’s surprise to walk up on a cackling car full of sassy senior citizens? He let them off with a warning, and I’m sure he walked back to his car shaking his head, secretly hoping to be like them someday. I can just picture them “giving him the business,” as she called it… and actually that could mean anything from playful teasing to a serious dressing down, depending on the situation. Thankfully, we got way more of the teasing and playfulness – as is usually the case with grandmothers, right?

By the time I was calling from college, the business was far more tame, more likely to be of the pie baking variety, or volunteering at the church’s fundraiser. They might be manning the purple cow booth at the local grape jamboree or heading to their weekly lunch at Honey Bee’s.

Don’t get me wrong – they weathered serious storms – world wars, the Great Depression, family tragedies, the grind of working years, raising children, retirement, aging and losing their spouses. Throughout it all, they had each other – their own little troupe of Golden Girls. And they sure had fun giving each other and their families “the business.” I so admired her combination of grace and determination as she aged – it can’t have been easy, but she continued giving us the business, remarking often how her own mother would say that getting old isn’t for sissies. Even as she lay in the hospital after a devastating stroke, the twinkle was there, and she tried to manage a little chuckle as my dad and my sister came to visit and were up to our usual at her bedside – giving each other the business. That’s kind of what we do – laughter is good for what ails us. The not taking ourselves too seriously helps us cope, even when the outlook is bleak.

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Our Golden Girl at Niagra Falls, circa 1993

My husband Jimmy would say I might have paid attention a little too well, as he gets “the business” often. Like, a lot. Most of it is in the playful teasing category, and I hope I don’t cross the line into hurtful jabs without meaning to. We have plenty enough serious in our lives – just like you probably do. So we treasure the moments when one of us says something silly or does something goofy, or even quotes one of our favorite movies, opening the door for a little “business.”

Movie one-liners are one of our favorite ways to communicate.  We’ve had entire conversations that were nothing but funny movie lines.

Jimmy: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

Me: “I carried a watermelon.”

Jimmy: “He wouldn’t know a good idea if it hit him in the Pechanga.”

And so on. And on. And on. Bonus points are awarded if we can both switch movies and stay on track. Not that the bonus points mean anything beyond that we’re proud of the volley of zingers, challenging each other to dig deep, not wanting to be the one who has to throw in the towel.

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Having the time of our life at the Dirty Dancing live show in Memphis

So that’s it for now. I’m thankful for “the business.” I don’t have a pretty bow to put on my thoughts here, no major epiphany or great advice to share – other than reminding myself it’s okay to take a break for funny in the midst of whatever I’m working through. You have the same occasional pass too. I’m grateful for those moments where you let go of the stress and just have some fun. I really am. And now I’m moving on.

Me: “I’m going to hop out of the car here and pick up some flowers.”

Jimmy (catching the switch from Dirty Dancing to The American President): “No, sir. No hopping.”

You Do What Ya Gotta Do

I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve muttered this old saying. Sometimes it’s just an acknowledgement when someone says thanks for some extra effort, an aw-shucks shrugging off, “No problem!” kind of response.

And there are the other times. The times when it’s not me saying I get to choose Door Number One, with its fancy, top-shelf hootie-hoo whatever it is with a party to boot… it’s usually doing what needs to be done, even if it’s Door Number Three. The new word for this is “adulting”, which those in their 20’s often say with either great accomplishment or equally great disdain in their voice. It usually depends on whether they’re buying the spectacular shoes and big-screen TV, or they’re suffering through another bowl of ramen noodles so they can make the rent payment without having to ask their parents for help. The ramen crowd always gets props from me, by the way.

Funny sidebar: I’ll never forget one of my high school friends, when he’d break the rules, his dad would always say in his best game show host voice, “You’ve done it now, Mister… now you get to see what’s behind Dooooooooor Number Three!” Which was, of course, his funny way of announcing the grounding or whatever consequence was to follow. Funny to him, mind you… not to my friend so much. He never tipped his hand as to what was behind Door Number One or Door Number Two… we knew for sure Door Number Three was always going to be a major bummer though.

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Tell him what he won behind Door Number Three!

Okay, so that was a little bit of a rabbit hole, but kind of not. Usually Door Number Three was the result of the infamous “poor life choices.” So I guess Door Number Three was about the here & now – what often was, and still sometimes is, way more fun in the moment than doing the right thing.

It boils down to emotional intelligence, which completely fascinates me. Someone who can put their emotions in perspective within the greater situation almost always earns at least some measure of respect from me. I totally get that it’s not that they don’t HAVE feelings – it’s that they can keep them in check as the situation warrants… the old stiff upper lip. Not always terribly popular, by the way. I want Door Number One, or even Door Number Two, and I want it now. Bring on the ice cream sundae… with extra sprinkles. You too?

I also  get that some of us are just more impetuous than others, and it takes serious commitment to stretch our emotional intelligence. Delayed gratification. Choosing to “do what you gotta do.” And let’s be honest, we all have those moments when we just want to take the easy way out – whether it’s a shortcut at work, putting off the groundwork that makes things happen down the road, or blowing off the 5am workout and staying in bed.

Maybe for you, it’s choosing to stop and take a deep breath when you get that snarky email from a bullying colleague. It’s logically rebutting their laundry list of demands and emotional spew, when what you really want to do is the old “eye for an eye,” repaying their snark with well-deserved sarcasm.

Someone asked me this week about my leadership style and how I establish respect. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it comes down to EQ, and just “doing what you gotta do.” It’s choosing Door Number One when you sometimes want Door Number Three, if just for a minute. Staying above the fray. For me, when I don’t make it personal and emotional, I don’t get dragged into the drama. And I sure don’t need the drama.

Okay, so I’m moving on for now. I’m rolling up my sleeves and getting on with doing what I gotta do. Catch you next time – and thank you for reading.

PS – here’s a good recent read re: EQ, from Forbes.