Anomaly

Years ago, I read a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb that discusses black swan theory as it applies to financial markets and to historical events.

A black swan is an event that cannot be predicted from current or past conditions, has a significant impact, and, after the fact, is treated with a variety of rationalizations to explain it.

Last weekend, persuaded by the rainy weather, I decided to take on some serious cleaning projects; the kind that called for gloving up.

I looked under my kitchen sink, where I store my household cleaning supplies, and started pulling out yellow latex gloves, molded to fit either a right or left hand.

One by one, I found myself calling out Right…Right…Right. I had four or five right-handed gloves and absolutely NO left-handed gloves. (Believe me. I looked.)

How could this be? I bought the gloves in pairs. Maybe I lost one or two gloves from tears and they had to be thrown away.   But I couldn’t imagine the odds of having four pairs where early retirements were imposed for same hand.

Maybe this event is not significant and would not qualify as a black swan. Maybe this was just an anomaly –- but I felt compelled to try on different explanations.

I looked under the sinks in the bathrooms. I considered that gloves were separated from their mates as past household chores took my plastic bucket and diluted Pine Sol into other rooms.

I considered recent repair chores. Did I re-hinge any cabinet doors where I was more likely to get my left-hand glove caught on the hardware?

I couldn’t come up with a good explanation.

I started laughing.

OMG, I guess I’m not supposed to do any cleaning today.

Looking for excuses, this was the first thought crossed my mind.

I laid out the gloves and just looked at them. They looked so silly, like rubber chickens, stretched out next to each other.

Then I started thinking about how I would use what I had to do what I wanted to do.

I thought about doing my heavy scrubbing just with my right hand. I picked up each glove and examined them for flexibility. I looked at the possibility of wearing a right-handed glove on my left hand.

I filled my bucket a quarter way high and dropped in heavy splash of gold colored cleaner. I tried not to breathe in the fumes.

I thought about the surprise and the strangeness of the situation; how my first reaction was to look for explanations. Maybe I wanted to find a way to blame myself for the anomaly. Then I laughed at not being in control. Then I set my mind to thinking of ways to work with what had been given to me.

I probably spend too much time and energy, in all sorts of situations when something really unexpected occurs, mentally re-hashing how the situation evolved and ruminating on whether I should have done something differently.

I guess it’s human nature to seek out a certain level of predictability in life, to make plans, to seek out preferred outcomes.   A certain period of loss seems reasonable to indulge in. It takes a while to regain your bearings and get over things.

But it seems important not to be taken in, not to fall into whining or regret. It’s important to face the unexpected with humor and humility. It can be energizing to use anomalies or unexpected circumstances as motivation for invention or for adaptation.

Feeling the hot water as I wring out a sponge while wearing two right-handed gloves is no small thing.

Perspective

One day last week, while on errands, I made a stop at the local Jewel grocery store. I was probably driving a little too fast when I pulled into a parking spot in between a couple shopping cart corrals.

As I unbuckled my seat belt, my mind was fixated on remembering my plastic tote bags from the trunk. (The local stores started charging 7 cents a bag in February.)

Trying not to kiss the blue metal station wagon door next to my car with my own car door, I looked up and saw a large dog with a cone around his head hanging out of the open back seat window.

I started laughing then I felt a well of empathy rising inside of me.

The sight of a dog looking so human because of his circumstances was funny. In that moment, I also felt surprisingly gifted with an image that could serve as a trigger for PERSPECTIVE.

I generally think of gratitude in terms of experiences that make feel connected to things I love or value. I don’t like to think about gratitude as a game of comparisons.

For instance, I don’t believe it serves parents to tell their kids how lucky they are because they are not working in a sweatshop in Malaysia. I believe there are so many things to be grateful about in your actual experience that you don’t need to muster up the feeling by reminding yourself that someone has it worse.

But at that moment, while I was opening my car door and saw this slightly bewildered, slightly bored gentle giant of a dog, I felt very fortunate.   I thought It must be awful to be locked up in the back seat of a car unable to scratch your head!

Wow, the image gave me plenty of perspective. In the scheme of things, not having the basic freedom of mobility and not understanding why seems like a incredibly disheartening experience.

The expression on the dog’s face said it all. It was funny because I could imagine it being worn on a middle-aged man or woman. The dog was somehow more than human. His feelings were so real and transparent.

I also smiled in the moment because the sight was unexpected.

I guess the words human, humor, and humility are connected.

I thought about the many times in my life when I would make a slightly dark observation or twist a phrase into something close to it’s intended meaning but make it much more memorable because it didn’t fit in a typical way.

That impulse has helped me find perspective. Laughing or appreciating the irony of a situation has helped me detach and not feel like a victim.

To me, something can be funny simply because it is unexpected. I get a lot of pleasure from hearing in the flow remarks in the course of an unscripted conversation.

Humility is often triggered in a similar way.

When I realize I can’t will someone to return a text to me any faster or can’t dictate the weather.… lot’s of things remind me that I can’t control everything. Rather than be upset, I recognize how these experiences create or sort of gateway for perspective.

I face my share of disappointments. They are real and deserve to be recognized. But, in general, I love to be surprised.

Those surprising sights and remarks are often funny. Being thrown off kilter can remind you of the vulnerability you share with EVERY HUMAN BEING (and dogs too).

Smiling while feeling empathy for a cone-protected Fido, locked in the backseat of a station wagon, is no small thing.

 

Little Black dress

On most Sunday mornings, I go to a meditation center. It’s nice to take time to go inside yourself among other people who are doing the same.

Although there is no formal dress code, it feels appropriate to dress modestly and comfortably. In other words, long skirts serve the purpose well. It seems that I have a few suitable Sunday outfits for summer but not for these transitional months.

Not one to make a sport or pastime out of shopping, recently, I decided to check out some places for a long skirt that I could wear on Sunday.

I went to The Village in my old neighborhood, my favorite resale shop. It was a Green Dot Weekend (with special discounts on items marked with a colored sticker), and it was very crowded. I didn’t stay long.

Then I went to a couple strip malls on steroids. Anchored by a major discount retailer but not as big and overwhelming as a suburban shopping center, I checked out the racks at Marshall’s.

Slim pickings, for sure; a mish mosh of new spring arrivals, warm-weather vacation getaway tops and winter items tagged for clearance.

A deal is a deal, right? After a few tours of different sections within the store, I realized that there were no long skirts to try on.

I began looking at spring tops and winter items that had been marked down. When shopping for clothes, I often employ the same strategy as I do when wine shopping. I look at the original retail price then at the discount price. I tend to look more seriously at buys that represent a good value.

When I started thumbing through the clearance items, I came across a cotton-knit black dress with three quarter sleeves. It had a high scoop neck. Except for a little flare at the bottom, it was pretty simple – well, it was plain.

OMG. $23.99

I gathered it, along with a few name brand tops and headed to the fitting room. I probably was juggling 6 hangers, just barely making the limit I could take into the fitting room at one time.

When I stopped looking for a particular thing, I SAW SO MANY THINGS THAT I WASN’T LOOKING FOR – things that maybe suited me in surprising ways.

I put a patterned long-sleeve tee and a highly reduced sheer Calvin Klein top in my TO KEEP pile.

Then I tried on the dress. It was so simple, and pretty much out of season. But it was a classic. With my natural curves and a scarf or jewelry, I could see pulling it from my closet for many occasions.

I don’t think I ever had a little black dress before, a go-to dress, and I was very happy about MY FIND.

I thought about the mental state I brought to the day’s shopping. It seemed that having a relaxed awareness rather than a single-minded focus was the key. I’m appreciative when I can slip into that space.

That I found a perfect little black dress (for $23.99, no less) is no small thing. (Okay, if I could find fashion forward shoes that don’t hurt my feet – that would be a miracle!)

Radio Days

Saturday, I ran a bunch of errands. I’d like to take credit for the efficiency at which I executed them, but I almost seemed to be on autopilot. As I drove west, I seemed to be programmed to turn into a driveway every ¼ mile or so.

I put gas in my car. I bought a new bath rug at Bed, Bath & Beyond (and even remembered to take one of their coupons with me). I stopped at Pet Supplies and bought a multi-week supply of kibbles for India. I stopped at Harvestime and stocked up on produce and other essentials.

I almost get tired now thinking about my route.

And in between all my stops, I flicked the car radio on. I confess that turning the radio on as soon as I get behind the wheel is almost as automatic as buckling up.

I listened to a few favorite shows on NPR.

Between the Mobil on Crawford and the strip mall where I bought discount salon shampoo and checked out bathroom rugs, I caught the end of Moth Radio, a re-broadcast of live storytelling events that are held in cities across the country.

A featured story was delivered by a thirty-something, recounting how, as a young landlord, he discovered a renter that he decided he had to let go taking the refrigerator with him. Very funny and very real.

Before I hit the grocery store I listened to Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Recorded here in Chicago most Saturday mornings, host Peter Sagal tests minor celebrities on some arcane bit of cultural trivia. This past Saturday, his guests, who recently released the hip-hop album, Run the Jewels, were asked questions about rabbis. (A twisted play on Running the Jews…)

LOL.

I caught some music from a bygone era on XRT’s Saturday Morning Flashback, where all selections come from a particular year, and I found myself totally entranced by a Ted Talks show, which focused on our culture’s relationship with screens and how they’re changing our lives.

I remember leaving the car’s engine on, sitting in my car and listening to the segment for several minutes after I arrived at my destination.

I might be very old school, but I really like listening to THE RADIO.

I like the intimacy of it. No matter what goes into production, I focus on the human voice. I feel like I’ve come to know DJs on favorite stations. They feel like friends.

I like the live nature of it. I know that each song or interview is planned, but it feels like it is coming to me fresh.

Just like I prefer perusing a printed newspaper instead of pre-selecting online stories, I like listening to radio the same way. I welcome the possibility of being introduced to something I might find especially compelling that I didn’t know to look for.

I like the randomness of music that might flow to me instead of compiling a playlist. Perhaps a memory will be more vivid to me at some point in the future because I’ll associate an event or experience with the unexpected tune I noticed playing on the radio at the time.

In a world of controlled and documented events, I like to be SURPRISED.

Spending a day with the ever-new and oh so familiar companionship of the radio is no small thing.