It’s true. Turns out that most of what I’ve ever needed to know was in fact, learned in Kindergarten. But ‘most’ is not everything. Grade school brought me the Scholastic Book club, Curious George and Clifford. Not long after I started reading was when I first started writing.
And High School? High School was the first time I ever played tennis on a team, took Drivers Ed, got my license and learned to type.
It may not seem like much of a big deal now, but back then typing was still thought of in secretarial terms. Real men wrote and secretaries typed. But as a mere sophomore, I didn’t have a razor or a secretary. Even if what I was writing back then was good enough to print, what editor was going to read a teenagers hand-written story on 3-ring ruled notebook paper?
I was between a rock and a hard place. I needed to learn how to type.
Knowing I was already swimming upstream against the pre-existing sexist stereotypes of who did the typing in America, my own troubling realization of not being all that interested in girls only compounded my conundrum. Looking back, I don’t think I could even conceptualize what was happening, but I ‘knew’ enough to know it was mission-critical to keep my terrifying secret hidden. Forget about burning in hell, if my friends ever even remotely suspected what was going on inside me, I was done.
Long before the days of the personal computer, I remember having read that the best defense is a good offense. If that’s true, then how do I learn to type and still fly under everyone’s radar? After flexing my brain awhile as I furiously lifted weights, I came up with a way to explain wanting to learn how to type in terms my friends could understand. The conversation went something like this:
“How many girls are there in typing class?”
“Oh, we dunno…25. 30?”
“And how many guys?”
“Dunno. How many?”
“Three. Figure it out.”
Awestruck at my strategic prowess in having figured out a way to get close to the opposite sex, there was suddenly an unexpected line of guys outside the Guidance Office trying to get into Typing class. I was now certifiably ‘cool’. The class was full and I was getting what I wanted with no one being any the wiser.
But don’t congratulate me just yet. My pubescent swagger rapidly evaporated as quickly as we took our places behind the rows of manual typewriters on that very first day of class. Our teacher stood up from her desk, wrote her name on the board, turned to us and said “I’d like each of you to put your hands on Home Row”.
I’ll spare you the gory details except to say our teacher was ingeniously clever to have employed that simple request as a singular gauge of our skill level as a group. It told her what she needed to know.
Turns out, ‘Home Row’ was as simple as learning to put my left index finger on the “F” key and my right on the “J”. Everything else from that point forward began falling into place like clockwork. Once my two fingers knew where they were, the other three (and my thumbs) soon learned where to go and what to do. My hands learned to work together too. Words were formed. Sentences spaced and the rest was mine for the taking…with a little bit of correction fluid along the way.
As fascinating as all this must be to you my good Reader, piano players, guitarists and anyone who texts at 40 words-a-minute with their thumbs already understands the power of Home Row. Stay grounded to your Home Row and you’ll be fine. But let your hands drift just one letter off and your prolific production suddenly reads as ‘yjod’ instead of ‘this’. Not good.
If you think about it, all of us rely on one form of ‘Home Row’ or another. From the earliest age, the values we employ, the lessons we learn in forming the opinions we hold and the decisions we subsequently make…all of it depends on being grounded in some form of a reference point…a home row.
But typewriters are bulky to carry around and I needed to come up with a way to make Home Row portable and ever so more convenient. But what? And how? We’ll come back to this in a minute, but having been absent from your screens the past two weeks, let’s just say Home Row has taken on a whole new significance for me in recent days.
I’m now at the end of my fourth week of an eight-week quit smoking program. My quit day was this past Thursday and yes, I’ve slipped back more than once. But with the help of my smoking coach Kathy, instead of dwelling on my failures (an old card trick of mine), this time I’m choosing to focus on the 90 or 120 times when I felt the urge and didn’t light up…not a bad percentage for a beginner.
It feels good to have turned a corner in the journey towards putting smokes in the rear view mirror instead of between my fingers.
I am nowhere near being out of the proverbial woods when it comes to taming my Beast. I do not underestimate the tricks of addiction and how easily I can talk myself into anything. But at least now, I’m the one calling the shots…raising my consciousness as best I can rather than just defaulting to some low level brain activity that has me reflexively reaching for the pack sitting next to the ash tray on end table to my left.
I’ve learned to put the ash trays away. I am learning to wait five-minutes when the impulse strikes. I’m chewing the gum as I relearn how to focus on breathing air, feeling it instead of inhaling smoke and everything hidden inside that. With each passing day, I reinforce my own understanding that the urge will indeed pass and the world will keep spinning just a little while longer.
What I hadn’t counted through all of this was how my coping mechanisms were going to go way out of their way to adapt the Home Row idea, reinventing it in the form of a portable deck of cards. Able to tuck an entire Home Row in my shirt pocket was good. It was easy to carry the whole deck with me when those mini-moments of crisis popped up out of nowhere. Your methods are probably different than mine (as they should be) but I’ve since come to appreciate my deck as being constituted with three kinds of cards and this just into the Newsroom…they play well beyond just the scope of tobacco.
Place Cards. When I get into a jamb, some of the mental cards I draw out of my imaginary deck are place cards. Literally. Places like the floating platform just off Waikiki Beach. Anchored several hundred feet offshore, I swam out and pulled myself up and on to its Astroturf surface. With no one else there, I remember laying out flat with my face up to the sun. I can still feel the tropical sun drying me off as the gentle surf rocked the floating raft with its own undulating rhythm. I could hear the laughter of the people back on the beach. Even though it was more than 30-years ago, I can remember telling myself to take a mental snapshot in that moment, noting everything. Even though I didn’t know why, I knew I wanted to remember that moment for the rest of my life. And I have. I was not the cause of that moment. I was simply there and lucky enough to be conscious of it. The Starship Enterprise may have had a transporter room, but I can travel back there and to all kinds of other spots I’ve been by simply pulling a place card from my deck.
In fact, if we’re real with ourselves, I think each of us has dozens of places we can go, powerful images of places we’ve been; reminders of where we’ve traveled since. The trick is deciding if you keep the positive cards or the painful ones. The places we go in those moments are good ways of reminding ourselves what we’re standing for…or putting up with. In the moment the cigarette is whispering seductively in my ear, what place card do I choose? Where do I choose to go? Or do I stay put, do nothing and light the tempting urge in front of me and puff myself away? Sorry, Eve, but you are not a Serpent and Life is so much more than an apple.
Face cards. These are people. Some of them I’ve loved. Some of them are people who went out of their way to hurt me and some are simply those I’ve noticed when they didn’t know I was looking. In their photographs, I learned to catalog love and hate, safety and peril. One night, sobbing deep into the night turning into a concerned face, poking me, asking “Hey buddy. You OK?” I can point to the times when turning back to Life was as simple as hearing the screams of a newborn or the laughter in the voice of the one who loves me best. Face cards. They can carry the image of my grandpa working his tomatoes as easily as they show Uncle Lee’s face as we sat on his porch…not saying much of anything. True, not a word may have been said, but then again, none were needed. The look on his face told me all was well.
This week, my heart turns to his face as he goes back home after spending way too much time in and out of the hospital. He’s got pneumonia and hasn’t been able to shake it. He’s lived a long life or is what’s ailing him the cancer now racing through his neck and down his throat? The doctors say there’s nothing much more they can do…they’ve suggested it might be best if he goes home to die. Ironic in that not long ago, it was Lee himself who said that’s exactly what he wanted…to die at home, surrounded by what he knew and those that loved him. The phone hasn’t rung today…maybe he’s still here. But he is. Inside. I have his face memorized. He’ll be there to draw on as long as I live.
I’m learning about face. I learning that whenever I’m confronted with the option of taking a shortcut or some other kind of cheap way out, my answer is as easy as pulling one of my face cards. Seeing the look of theirs reminds me of what’s important about mine. And I choose better. I step smarter. Problems are simply something else to face and we’re never really alone when we do it.
Trump cards. Two weeks ago, I mentioned to you that my doctor, his friends, Rick and I were all going to be taking a good long look at the physical me, inside and out. It was time. Part of that was looking down my throat..way down my throat and all the way to the outer reaches of my stomach. No issues. So far so good.
Another part was looking up from the other end. They did and what we found was a tumor in my large intestine. This was just a couple of days ago. Cancerous or benign, the surgeon told us, whatever it is, it is big enough to be blocking me. It has to go. Now. I agree. My 30-year anniversary with Rick is next month. I’m staying. So a few days from now, a portion of my colon and the blockage that lies in between gets cut out. The two ‘new’ ends get sewn back together and I should be right as rain. Scary? Oddly, no.
What’s grounding me right now isn’t the prowess of my medical team or some dry survival statistics being really pretty good. I’m OK because as important as face cards and place cards are, I’ve got trump cards too. Home row is important and trump is all about Home.
For me, trump are the cards I pull when all else hangs in the balance. It is my faith in some manner of larger power far beyond my own when I can’t prove it or touch it, but from my past brushes with medical disaster, I know to be true and present. It is the sound of the words, “I love you” ringing in my ears as I head to work or get back from the store. It is the realization that Spring really is coming when I hear the birds at dawn like we both did this morning.
I don’t know what the next week holds. I don’t know if quitting the smokes will be any easier. I don’t know if Uncle Lee will be on this side or passed over to the other. I don’t know a lot about the tale the laparoscopic exercises of the coming week will tell. But one thing I know is I’ve got trump. I’ve got Love and my Life is better for having lived it that way. I have so much more to go and so much more to tell. I don’t know what the cards hold for me, but I know where Home is and that’s where my Heart will always be…could there be a better hand? I am, indeed, a very lucky man.
Home Row: http://mcgeesites.wikispaces.com/file/view/Correct-finger-placement-for-faster-typing-on-laptop.gif; Tomorrow never comes, I quit today: http://rlv.zcache.com/stop_smoking_tomorrow_never_comesquit_today_tshirt-r8589a5bd8ebe46e08fcc2bc715fbd295_804gs_324.jpg; Place Card – Hawaii: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/616n1-H8ATL._SY300_.jpg; Face Cards: http://www.heritagemakers.com/assets/img/product/alias/29.png; Trump Card Home: http://cdn2.listsoplenty.com/listsoplenty-cdn/pix/uploads/2010/05/Card-House-cottage.jpg; Home is in the Cards: http://p1.pichost.me/i/1/1236147.jpg
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