Life’s Simpler Things: Salvation or Swindle?

We all have excuses for ignoring the simple things. Here are mine:

Simplicities_Salvation or Swindle__Where Excuses Go to Die

Here’s part one of an ongoing series in which our rationale for taking life’s simplicities for granted are admitted to – and mocked.

Sometimes, stopping to smell the roses is boring.

Let’s face it, some of life’s simpler things are real snooze-fests. Take nature watching, for example, or going for a walk. I’ve never been one to just up and stroll around aimlessly. I mean, I enjoy walking, but it makes a lot more sense to me when there’s a destination. Also, I like to look like I have a destination. It’s all good to get into your head, appreciate your surroundings, sit on a bench, or listen to birds, but I’d rather get something out of it, like the clarity needed to make hard decisions or work through tough problems. Call me tightly wound, but a mental payoff is required.

In the rare times I find myself walking on a beach, I always pick a point and head toward it. That way, on the return trip, I can at least relish a building sense of accomplishment and follow-through. I don’t need to stop and smell every rose or stand in awe beneath every majestic tree. I’m walkin’ here: they aren’t exactly whizzing by.

PLEASE DO NOT TELL ME ABOUT YOUR AUDITIONOtherwise, I exercise often and love the productive ache that follows a new routine. You can’t beat the feeling of achievement in the hours after a good workout, and I’ve learned that my physical activity requirements can be met without my having to wander up a hillside, forcing myself to feel serene because the hillside is. Don’t get me wrong, I like hillsides, but here in Los Angeles, our  hiking trails are often poseur-crowded fashion runways ranked by the number of celebrities rumored to use ’em. Tranquil is as tranquil does, so most local hillsides are out.

Los-Angeles-Unified-School-District_File-PhotoFresh air is the simplest and greatest of life’s restorative pleasures, and admittedly it helps keep me sane. I’m not so delusional, however, as to believe I won’t encounter a mouthful of L.A. bus exhaust as soon as I step outside. Hence the destination part: when I get to where the fresh air is actually located, I know I’ll enjoy it that much more. Plus, if the endpoint is genuinely serene, chances are I’ll be able to relax there, carefree. This could be measured by the ability to take off one’s pants without getting arrested.

Nature watching is life-affirming stuff, but it’s best when it sneaks up on you, like when the sound of rain draws me to a window and compels me stay, or when I find myself transfixed by something as simple as a squirrel at the base of bush or the wind whistling through a corridor. It’s not city living that keeps me from this state; it’s my own wavering ability to be still and just listen – a different matter entirely.

I-SHOULD-NOT-HAVE-FIRED-OFF-THAT-FLARE-GUNOver the years, “helpful” friends have recommended other forms of meditation, including suggesting that cleaning out a closet can be Zen. I’d rather chew a sheet of aluminum foil. Talk about a surefire way to wind up muttering angrily to myself! Not exactly the desired mental payoff there…

Then there’s yoga. Sure, I could detail myriad reasons and excuses for why you’ll never find me among the vapid hierarchy of yoga class attendees, but let’s leave it at genuine post-traumatic stress disorder. If you think naked, breastfeeding, yoga mommies are asinine, try cellblock yoga masters who will break your face if you get it wrong. Oh yeah, they’re real. I’ve seen ’em.

Hey great Seated Cobra Plank now give me your shoes

Civilians tell inmates it’s relaxing and healthy, then they leave us alone to make it a blood war. Yoga in prison is for placing bets. Besides, if you’re dumb enough to do anything that even resembles martial arts on a prison yard, you deserve what follows, Karate-man. After that, out here with the Volvos and Subarus, it’s difficult to take it seriously.

KIDS_NOT EVEN ONCEWatching children play always lifts my spirits, as long as I don’t have to leave with any of ’em. Otherwise, other people’s kids are fun to watch in nearly all stages and moods. In fact, seeing my friends interact with their children after they’ve turned red-faced with defiant rage, screaming at their parents who, only a minute before, had been expressing pity at my childlessness is truly one of life’s greatest rewards. Who says a last laugh can’t be a simple pleasure?

So what’s left other than popping bubble wrap? Strolling in fresh snow, now that’s living! And when a return mug of hot chocolate is your destination, it’s about as restorative and life-affirming as you can get.

The point is, whether it’s saving our sanity or downgrading our dignity, stopping to smell the roses isn’t always something that comes naturally. And if you’re like me, you can think of all sorts of excuses why.

Part two of this series will pick those apart. But first, I’m off to enjoy the simple pleasures of an all-beef hot dog with jalapeno peppers and Mittelscharfer mustard.

 The Great Lifeboat Swindle