Is real change even possible? Yes, given a measure of gratitude.
I’m going to say yes. I’ll even double-down and say it’s really not that hard. It just takes time. And a measure of gratitude.
It’s Thanksgiving. We should be thankful for what we have. A lot of it really has nothing to do with our choices, not that inheriting a healthy body or a probing intellect isn’t something to be thankful for. But we’re getting close to the time of year when we’ll make resolutions to get something different–something more than what we have now. We’ll promise ourselves change. It’s a good time to think about we’re going to change.
Thus, I’ll list the changes I’ve made that have improved my quality of life. I’ll list them in no particular order. You can take it for granted that I’m thankful for each of them.
1. I Stopped Watching TV.
When I was a small child my family moved around a lot. My parents were lounge musicians. But they weren’t just any lounge musicians who played weekends at the local Holiday Inn off the freeway and worked a day job selling washers at Sears. They were lounge entertainers in the American outback, headlining places like Battle Mountain and Tonopah in Nevada, and Death Valley in California. In those days of the early 70s, many of those towns still had no television service. Thus, when we’d get to a place where I could actually indulge, I watched TV non-stop, sometimes long into the night. I watched everything–not just the children’s programming I found generally insipid. I remember being inspired by Serpico and Starsky and Hutch.
So as a result I became wedded to the TV. It was a love affair. But I guess changed.
Finally, one summer night in 1982 or so in the middle of a night of off-season reruns I sensed a great and disturbing urge within me. At first, I denied the urge. It overpowered me. I got to my feet, slowly and haltingly walked across the carpet to the TV (this was before we had remote control) and . . . I turned it off.
It was the first time I had ever willingly turned off a TV. And I never quite turned it back on, with the exception of a brief fascination with cable news in the late 1990s.
So now I find that much of the swirling folderol of popular outrage escapes me. I spend much of my time online doing stuff–interacting with people. Every once in a while I’ll force myself to look up from my drink at a bar or my airplane seat and look at whatever is on the screen. It’s powerless over me now. I’m happier.
2. I Started Walking Again
I had always walked when I could–sometimes miles at a time. My favorite way to get to know a new place has always been to walk around town, even through sketchy areas. I’ve rarely been accosted. I suppose it helps that I’m almost 6’2″ and bear a passing resemblance to some stock-company “heavy” from a 70s cop show, but I tend to think dangers are overestimated by people who . . . well. . . watch too much TV.
Anyway, when I started working the I.T. world I couldn’t walk as much. I gained weight. I got depressed. I’d try to go to the gym, but it’s just not the same. It’s boring. At a gym you’re essentially worshipping in a church of narcissism. You’re a bore among other bores offering up sacrifices in sweat to the trickster god who’s eventually going to kill you anyway, no matter what you do. So when I decided to start walking again it came as a great relief. After a brisk mile or two I’m energized and can actually handle problems and not just sneer in their direction. I also get to see interesting and beautiful things. And even meet people now and then.
Walking really helps.
3. I Forgave Myself
This gets mentioned a lot in self-help books. I never understood what it meant until I wrote a novel.
When I was done — after having failed in it so many times over twenty years — I looked back and wondered why this time it had been different. Something had changed that had allowed me to complete a story arc and produce an actual book. As I thought back on it, I realized that after I had written the plot and the major scenes and the intertwining narrative, I had needed to show a real change in the protagonist. And after thinking it over, I realized what my protagonist needed more than anything was to forgive himself for things he had done so he could forgive others for the things they had done to him. Self-forgiveness was his closure.
It was around that time that I realized even in a fictional world I am far better at giving advice than taking it.
So I learned to forgive and to love, so that I could be forgiven and loved. And it has seemed to work.
Those are the major things I’ve done to improve my life. I could go on and list other things like giving up wheat, drinking more water, surrendering jobs and ambitions that paid for the things it turned out I didn’t really want or need after all, and so on. All of those are good things and good changes for almost anyone to make.
But yes, this Thanksgiving I’m thankful for changes I’ve made. I’m thankful for life.
And I’m thankful for you, dear reader, especially if you’ve made it this far.