We all have recurring dilemmas in our lives. One of mine reared its unattractive head last week.
I was having a conflict with a former business associate because I’d ended the association. It got personal and it got very ugly. I pulled back from the increasingly bitter exchange and tried to think about it calmly.
Naturally, I wanted to see myself as a blameless victim. But it didn’t quite work. I don’t care whether you divvy up the percentages showing me to bear 20% of the blame or more or less; the fact is, I bore some responsibility. At some points, I hadn’t acted well and I felt uncomfortable recalling my behavior. Sic transit total victimhood.
Fortunately, it was a Saturday and we were in the thick of one of my favorite events, the Texas Book Festival. Moving through the free-for-all of tents and exhibits, I bumped into the Typewriter Rodeo. This is a group of young writers with manual typewriters, quick fingers, and even quicker wits who’ll write you a new, fresh poem for nothing. Or for a tip, if you’d like.
You step up, you tell one of them who the poem is for, and you go on to describe whatever underlies your request — a mood, an occasion, a relationship. It’s kind of unnerving because it can be so damned revealing: Who are you and why are you here? You’re telling that to a total stranger who has fingers poised, ready to write the verses of your life. It’s part art, part therapy.
“I think I’ve acted like an asshole recently,” I said to David Fruchter, who was commandeering one of the keyboards. (David, it turns out, hosts a weekly radio show, Slappy Pinchbottom’s Odd Preoccupation, Sundays at 4 pm on KOOP 91.7 FM.) “And you know,” I told him, “I don’t want to be an asshole.”
He nodded — like this wasn’t a strange request from a woman he’d never met before. Then he bent over and started typing. Minutes later, he gave me this poem on a gold rectangle of paper:
How to live life without being an asshole
the first thing to know
is that every single one of us
is more than capable
of serious — i mean SERIOUS
no one is exempt.
and realizing that, about yourself
(and everybody else)
is a big step toward prevention
(which as they say is worth a pound
if not a pounding!)
paradoxically, forgiving your own
can be the best way to quiet it down
and taking a moment every day
just to sit
and watch your thoughts go by
can be a big help
I took my poem, read it, left a tip, and walked away. I knew the Typewriter Rodeo served other purposes for other people — like romance and sentiment and whimsy. For me, it helped calm me down a little and made me think about how I could be a better person.
Self-reflection, a little judgment, humor, ideas on how to live better. Good grief, what a deal. I’m thinking Typewriter Rodeo should be on every corner of the universe.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)