Wile E. Coyote and Wasteful Thoughts
I’ve started reading Sean Carroll’s so-far-fantastic-book The Big Picture. It’s tagged as an exploration of the origins of life, the origins of meaning, and the origins of the universe. What could be more fun? My Kindle lists it at 840 pages but so far each one is worth reading so I expect it will jog all kinds of thoughts and questions that I will translate into posts.
The book opens with Wile E. Coyote defying gravity after running headlong over a steep cliff. You know the scene. He’s still running. His legs churn the air into fluffy clouds like butter. He stops and it dawns on him that he is not moving. He turns to look at the camera and his expression says it all. He looks down, looks at the camera again, and disappears in a swoosh. All we see is a tiny poof of sand when he hits the dirt a mile below.
My first thought, with Wile E. suspended above the hard sand, was of my Mother. A little odd, yes. I’ve written much about my Father but my Mom is worthy of a few stories in her own right. I thought of her because this is how she behaved. She was a queen of wasteful thinking. She would stop, mid-sentence, mid-meal, mid-whatever to assess the minutia of relationships. Everything was parsed and scrutinized. Motivations, the real meanings of words, why someone wore that sweater? It was all sieved and funneled while she was consumed with figuring out if she still liked the person or not. And that’s just before breakfast.
Are You Struggling to Stay Afloat?
I’m exaggerating but it was entirely exhausting to me. I am of that happy and dopey ilk who doesn’t notice these things. I know that when people are mad, they say things they don’t always mean. And I know that there are times when people play word-games and mind-games. But I’m usually just not interested. Some say it’s a flaw. I say it keeps me out of a lot of hot water and away from the edge of a lot of steep cliffs.
I moved away from Mom’s house years ago. I followed my work but learned quickly that moving had the benefit of keeping me out of most of the family’s petty struggling. I’m the oldest, and a boy, which in my Mom’s generation and heritage, put me a little bit above the fray. But that never meant that she didn’t phone me with updates. This got me in trouble more times than not. One time, I had enough and did an end-around with Mom.
She phoned and started right in: “Now, don’t tell your sister this…” and I stopped her cold.
“Mom,” I said. “If I can’t say it to the whole family at the Christmas party then I don’t want to know.”
The phone went quiet until Mom barely whispered “Okay.” It was an “Oh? That’s how you want to play it?” okay. She said goodbye. As was her wont, she didn’t call and answer my calls for six months.
When she finally started taking my calls again we spoke as if nothing had ever happened. We got on fine after that and I was seriously out of the family gossip loop. I can’t say how many days or weeks of good living I’ve recovered from that move but it was well worth it.
Wile E Coyote and You
There’s a difference between Wile E. and my mother and the multitude of people who live like this. When Wile E. figures out that he’s not moving, he stops running. He sees that he’s not getting anywhere. Most people who live like my Mom did never notice that their wasteful thoughts and actions aren’t getting them anything but frustration and pain and hurt relationships. And when they fall to the dirt they blame other people.
We all have blind spots like this. I like to sulk. If I’m fighting with my wife, I like to take a few days to get over it. To mull things over. It’s stupid, yes, and counter productive, and completely contradictory to the entire philosophy of this site. But, in the middle of it, it’s my first reaction. Knowing is the first part of changing and I work on it. But it’s not easy. Knowing how we react to things is like Wile E. stopping before he runs out off the cliff. Once you’re struggling in mid-air with nothing below you there’s only one place to go. And it hurts when you get there. So stop. Or at least, keep trying.