Monday, December 3, 2007

Going Up the Down Ladder


I've been a Northern Exposure fan since the pilot episode in 1990 (it was canceled in 1995). The writing was witty, funny, and thought-provoking; the characters were interesting individually, and dynamic together, whatever the combination. The series also played a huge role in my move West. Every single time an episode would end, I'd be in tears, my heart yearning for the tall trees, and thinking, "Wherever that is... that's my home. That's where I should be." I would tell my ex that, and would be met with the insipid Sure-Dear-That'll-Never-Happen smile. As it turns out, I've ended up about an hour's drive from Roslyn, WA (where much of the series was filmed), and he lives 2600 miles away. Lesson here: Never give a stubborn gypsy an indifferent, shush-now, smile.

I got to thinking about the series again the other night, when I made the comment about External Validation being taken out by a 1-2 punch. There was an episode of Northern Exposure, titled Grand Prix, in which Ed Chigliak (a budding shaman) goes to battle the demon, External Validation on behalf of a friend who is struggling with her goals. In the meantime, Ed is also doing a bit of wrestling with his own demon, a little green man named, Self Doubt.

As Ed is resolutely marching off to battle his friend's demon, Little Green Man tries desperately to talk him out of it (as only Self Doubt would): "Ed, you're dealing with the demon of External Validation. You can't beat External Validation. You want to know why? Because it feels sooooo good."

It's true. We all want to be recognized for our accomplishments, for the good that we do. We all want a pat on the back and a "Hey, nicely done." Even if we tell ourselves it doesn't matter, somehow it does. And somehow... it's never enough, is it? Why? Behind every success there's failure. We know we're not perfect, so all the external validation in the world isn't going to convince us otherwise. When someone compliments me on something I've created, while I'm graciously saying, "thank you," I'm really thinking, "You have no idea how many mistakes I scribbled out and how much paper got wasted."

Every now and again I'll do nice things for a friend of mine who tends to sigh and say, "You're too good to me." I'll blush in return and say, "Ahhh.... no. There's no such thing as too good." But I'm thinking, "You don't get it. I'm not looking for your undying gratitude! This is just who I am. It's what I do. More, it's what I like to do and whom I like to be. You're the one granting me the favor by allowing me to do it." But. He's got his thang, just like I've got mine, just like you've got yours, just like "all of us in this together by ourselves." (Another nod in Lily Tomlin's direction). While our paths might cross, might intertwine, might even run parallel, we still each have our own journey and our own walkin' to do. If we can keep that in mind, we'll all get along a lot better.

Anyway, back to my pointy point, we get a little puffed up on External Validation and... Bap!... Self Doubt comes along and takes us out at the knees. See, External Validation & Self Doubt ride tandem. They'll sneak up and blind side a person without so much as a "by your leave." EV says, "Dude... you've made it... relax, have a beer." Then, just as you're kicking back on the oh, so cozy Sofa of Complacency, SD, sticking to his own agenda, whispers in your ear, "Don't listen to him. He's full of shit. You've done nothing. You never will. Why even try?"

They're dangerous fellows, to be sure, and it's best to be rid of them. Send 'em packing, back to the trailer park outside of Roslyn, WA where they belong. Lacking a shaman in training to do the wrestling for you, what can be done? Step outside yourself. Do the things you do, simply because they're there for the doing. Enjoy what you're doing, even if it's some perfunctory task. I dislike sweeping the floor... a lot. However, once I force myself to begin, I often find myself enjoying the whispery swoosh of the broom, and even singing in rhythm to it.

In Chapter 13 of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says;
"Success is as dangerous as failure...
What does it mean that success is as dangerous as failure?
Whether you go up the ladder or down it,
your position is shaky.
When you stand with your two feet on the ground,
you will always keep your balance."

(Balance. There's that word again.)

"See the world as your self."

Let the rhythm of the broom become your song; let your song become the rhythm of the broom.

I'll talk to you later... got me a floor what needs sweepin'.

"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody."
~Bill Cosby

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