I Stay Away
I’m a fast mover by nature. I’m the kind of person who would rather stay late and get everything done before taking a break. In fact, I can rarely rest unless I’ve finished all my work and completed all my chores (which means I can never rest in theory). So while doing the one thing that brings me peace yesterday—riding my skateboard around the car port behind my townhouse—I lost my footing while trying to turn sharply over a pool of unseen water leaking from the washing machines. Before I knew it I was on my side, unscathed and unhurt, except for a pain emanating from the top of my left foot. I’m not sure how you can hurt the top of your foot while falling backwards off of a skateboard, but I found a way to do it and—let me tell you—if you think your fourth toe isn’t all that important, think again. I’ve been reduced to about 30% of my standard walking speed, which about drove me insane this morning while trying to get through airport security. I hate holding people up. I try to get my business done quickly and efficiently so that the guy behind be doesn’t have to wait, but it’s hard to move fast on one foot. “Slow down, take it easy,” I said to myself. “You can’t go any faster than this.” Once I resisted the urge to increase the pace and accepted the reality of my situation, a surprising and unexpected calm came over me. I don’t have to move at full speed all the time. It’s probably not all that healthy, to tell you the truth, the constant rushing. Yet, I often hurry to nowhere, trying to be on time for some unknown appointment. Today, however, I'm moving at a more realistic speed. Sometimes a small foot injury can become enlightenment in disguise. It’s like life telling you: “If you’re not going to slow down, I’m going to take matters into my own hands.”
I love flying for a similar reason: an airplane is pretty much the only place I can disconnect and relax because it’s one of the few places the cell phone and internet can’t penetrate. There’s no choice but to unplug. I get a lot of thinking done on planes; sadly, the same type of pondering and self-reflection I used to achieve on a daily basis before 24/7 news cycles distracted me from happiness. I always choose a window seat and most of the time I’ll just put on my headphones and stare at the blue. Since I’m flying to Seattle today I’ve got my playlist set up thematically: lots of Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, etc. I can’t honestly say most of those songs sound as powerful or emotional today as they did in high school, but I find that the Alice in Chains catalog may have help up best—an interesting development because they were probably my least favorite Seattle band back then. Today, however, I’m a bit emotional listening to the more tender, gloomier hits like “I Stay Away.” When the group’s lead singer Layne Staley died, I was working at Tower Records on Market and Castro and that whole month we were mourning the loss with an epic playlist over the store’s speakers. I can’t remember when it happened exactly, but at some point I was standing behind the register and talking with a customer about Staley’s death—a long-haired, weathered man I had never seen before and would never see again. “I was just up there visiting him,” the guy said to me suddenly. I was taken aback; this guy apparently new Layne well. “He was in bad shape, but I didn’t expect this,” the man told me with remorse, and he continued on with a number of intimate details about Staley’s condition that only could have been known to friends and family. It was a bit forthcoming and surprising, but the man was clearly venting to a sympathetic ear in me and I listened quietly and intently. It would be another few years before I realized the guy I talked to that night was likely Mike Starr, the former Alice in Chains bass player who would sadly succumb to a similar and tragic fate. I can’t say that with certainty because I remember the man’s hair and demeanor more than I remember his face, but after watching Starr’s appearance on Celebrity Rehab in later years I’m pretty sure that’s who it was.
It’s not easy to make serious changes in life, even when you so badly want to alter your path from its current trajectory. Sometimes it takes an injury, a run in with death, or a situation beyond your control to force that needed change upon you. Part of the reason I find it so difficult these days to eat better, exercise, relax, and manage my stress levels has to do with my inability to slow down and allow life to unfold at a more manageable pace. Flying, for me, is a reminder of what life can be like when you stop to take a breath. What’s funny is that during college I developed a short-lived phobia of flying after a very bumpy ride between Oakland and San Diego scared the piss out of me. Today, however, I think I’m at my most calm on an airplane; ironically, for exactly the same reason that flying used to scare me: the lack of control. Getting on a flight at one point used to frighten me because I was in essence handing over my ability to control my environment to a stranger. Today it’s that same scenario that brings me nothing but relaxation and peace. Take me away, captain! I’m in your hands. I can't wait to let go.