Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Bridge Between Goals and Accomplishments: A Tale of Two Homies

Somewhere between the first Iraq War in 1991 and the current debacle, I toyed with the idea of joining the military. Not for scholarships or adventure, nor an ill attempt at GI Jeannette. But for all the aspects most veterans detest--the 4 am drills, the grueling tasks of basic training, and the ability to say I’d done more before 9 am than most people do all day.

While I no longer have a desire to enlist, my fascination with discipline and those who’ve got it on lock is very much intact. Discipline equals efficiency. A disciplined person possesses a self-regulating mechanism that propels him or her to perform at optimal levels. These are the people who chair four committees at the church, volunteer on the weekends, work overtime, get there early, stay late, send the follow-up email, eat right, do Pilates, and have great hair.

To me, these attributes are like the moon…awe-inspiring and out of reach.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments.”

-Jim Rohn

My good friend Jeannine is one of the most disciplined people I know. We started college the same time and she finished two years before I did. Jeannine enrolled at Howard University in 2005 and recently earned her masters degree. She is currently pursuing her PhD. in neuropsychology.

Jeannine’s schedule is focused to the half hour. She rises no later than 7:30 am any day of the week, and is up at least three times a week before 5:30 am. She’s frequents the gym at least four times a week, works part time, attends church regularly, and studies profusely.

There’s some people that do it all in a way that’s “holier than thou.” Jeannine was never like that. Her drive is not of the corny, overachiever, “sididdy” sort. She’s the kind to stop by the party, leave after a couple hours, and not scoff at the rest of us for keeping it going until sunrise.

We often joke about residing on opposite ends of the continuum---her dogged tenacity, my carefree capriciousness. Yet I crave the willingness to jump up at the butt crack of dawn and grind vigorously towards my goals without the distractions of a daydream, or a nap, or an intriguing New York Times article, or a fine brother at the gas station, or emails, or foolishness on YouTube, or text messages, or a poem on my heart, or a night on the town, or in the lounge, or a dinner date, or a lunch date, or anything remotely captivating.

If I had Jeannine’s brand of fortitude, I honestly believe my life would be different. I’d be happier, I’d get things done, I wouldn’t procrastinate. Shoot, I’d probably be rich.

But my girl declares that while the grass is certainly tidier on her side of the fence, it’s definitely not greener. “I like my life but I don’t like my life,” she said. “I get very depressed. Very.”

Jeannine went on to explain that the trait that I admire so much in her is a gift and a curse. She enjoys being dependable, but the regimen can often be monotonous and lonely. “It’s a vicious cycle. I’m expected to be this way because I’ve built a reputation on being this way.”

[Delect Inject: Ay, there’s worse things to build a reputation on, but whatever…]

We’re both poster children for our astrological signs: Jeannine’s a Capricorn, known for pragmatism and ambition. I’m a Libra, known for being chill and charming. Surprisingly, as much as I want to be like her, Jeannine wants to be like me. “I wish I could be more laid back,” she said. Ehhh…be careful what you wish for, homegirl; my grass isn’t greener either. It’s overgrown with weeds and strewn with Corona bottles.

I discovered from interviewing Jeannine that while we’re total opposites in regards to discipline, we have the same issues dealing with our notorious characteristics. Jeannine mentioned that she is social but introverted, meaning she relishes in company, but doesn’t require it all the time. I too, am gregarious and sociable, but value solitude.

It’s about balance. Too much discipline garners stress, depression, and anxiety. Too little discipline equals less productivity, ultimately leading to regret doused with “shoulda, couldas.”

When it comes to me and my homegirl, it would do both of us some good to exchange doses of each other’s crowning attributes.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Who You Callin' Lonely!

Image by Gabriella Fabbri

“Wow. I never thought I’d actually hear you say that.”

I chuckled at Jessica’s Monday morning reaction to the news that I endured a lonely spell over the weekend. Instead of sucking on the lemon, I slipped on a new dress, a pair of "get 'em" stilettos, and stepped out to a grown and sexy event, by myself, looking hot to def, and had a ball.

Jessica has known me for nearly eight years, and like many of my constituents, balks in the rare event that I mention the “L” word.

Even for me, it took a cathartic conversation a couple years ago to comprehend the word's applicability to myself. I had called my boy Redd in Philadelphia because I was in dire need of some bass in my ear, i.e., male attention. And I told him so.

“Aww, you just a little lonely, that’s all,” he said.

The record screeched. The music froze a la Smooth Criminal (the extended version). A hush descended over the crowd.

He might as well have called me fat. “Aww, you just a little fat, that’s all.” Or, “Aww, you just a little stupid, that’s all.”

At the time, I equated the word “lonely” with desperation. Like a stray mutt, a lonely man or woman was a bitter derelict that nobody wanted or had any interest in. They wore melancholy frowns and cried themselves to sleep at night after bruising their knees in prayer for a mate. None of which, applied to me; I get my carpe diem on whether or not there's a fella in the wings.

Therefore, I viewed Redd’s stinging diagnosis as an insult to my self-esteem, like saying I didn’t have any. But after marinating on the concept, I not only accepted but embraced the idea that “lonely” happens. And it's okay.

Even still, loneliness is a very specific feeling for me. Being “alone” and being “lonely” are not synonymous. I spend an enormous amount of time alone, but I am rarely lonely in the conventional sense of the word:

“Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone. It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.”

-Paul Tillich
There’s loneliness and then there’s solitude. Solitude is a chosen state of loneliness, one that I crave and require. Henry Miller said, “An artist is always alone - if he is an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.” As an artist/writer/student of life, I spend quite a bit of time in thought, which demands some level of seclusion daily.


"It would do the world good if every man would compel himself occasionally to be absolutely alone. Most of the world's progress has come out of such loneliness."

- Bruce Barton

However, the loneliness that prompted the conversation with Jessica and Redd was not of the aforementioned abstract artsy fartsy persuasion. No, it was the good old-fashioned, wish- somebody-was-around sort. The empty, gazin’-at-the-wall, cognac sippin’, listenin’ to Billie Holiday or Lenny Williams kind that’s natural for everyone…but still shocking to several of my friends when it comes to me.

I asked Jess what it is about some people that makes them (or at least appear to be) immune to loneliness?

“INDEPENDENCE is the one and only thing that makes a person less susceptible to being lonely. Like, they are DANDY being solo,” she wrote via email. “Whereas a more emotional and sensitive person like me can’t have that.”

Jessica’s reference to “dandy being solo” alludes to people that can be comfortable going to the movies, lunch, dinner, lounge, festival…on the solo tip. I suppose there is a level of independence in the sense that I don’t depend on a ride-out partner in order to go somewhere. But for the record, I’m not a cyborg. I’ve strut into locales only to find that folks are clumped tightly into impenetrable pods incondusive to even the most savvy solo adventurer.

When it comes to the single life, another friend said I handle it better than anyone she knows. Well, I handle it like I handle most things—I don’t sweat it (or try not to). Again, it’s a matter of perspective. Just like I didn't perceive myself as lonely, I don’t perceive the single life as something to deal with like halitosis. It flows, it ebbs. Sometimes the block is hot, other times it's not.

Like the law of attraction, if you don’t worry about it then it’s not a problem...except for the occasional Waiting to Exhale moments.

When asked if men get lonely, Sylus, 29, said, "Yeah, all the time. Humans are made to be in relationships." The solution? "You find someone to fill that slot, fill that void. And if she's cool being in the slot, then that's what you do."

John, 41, agreed that men have their spells and they don't necessarily equate to horniness. Sometimes men just want company too. "And dammit, cuddling is cool!" he added.

And so, loneliness is yet another emotional wave that rises and falls. Some folks panic and drown. The rest of us are known to recruit a dolphin or borrow a surfboard and ride it out with a splash of finesse.