Yesterday, I was playing Battleship with my cousin’s 5 year-old son. The game started well enough but as soon as I started getting ahead (I’ve got 29 years of strategic thinking on him), he started whining. He wanted to play, but apparently didn’t want to do it if it meant losing. His whining got me thinking about my own recent behavior.
My friend Dan Paluska started an art/media project called “Brooklyn Mobile.” It’s a cart he takes around downtown Brooklyn, asking people if they would like to make Youtube videos. The intention of the project is to create a case-study in democratized news; the cart allows people on the street to be news-creators as opposed to the questionably motivated Fox News, CNN, CNBC and others. The reality of Brooklyn Mobile is a lot of teenagers giving shout-outs to their peeps.
I often help Dan schlep the cart around Brooklyn. The two of us hawk passerby’s asking, “Would you like to make a free Youtube video?” We make a funny pair: two tall white dudes with a ramshackle cart asking a primarily black and latino downtown Brooklyn population is they’d like to be on the internet. It’s a blast.
Anyway, a film company took interest in Brooklyn Mobile and wanted to film it as part of some lame public relations campaign for a behemoth multinational corporation. Dan is in Costa Rica, so he asked me if I wanted to do it. Because working the cart is fun and I’m vain, I said I would.
The past week has been frigid and snowy in New York. I had planned to take the cart out to refresh my skills, but weather and some other obligations thwarted this ambition. Then a blizzard hit the night before filming—not exactly ideal conditions to push a cumbersome cart around town.
To make matters worse, my week hadn’t been going as planned. A bunch of things I wanted to get done were undone. I was hoping that the production company would cancel and free up my day so I could get back on track. Several emails and calls from their contact said that the shoot was still on.
I am not a flake. I don’t cancel last minute. If I say I’ll do something, it’ll take an act of God or some other force I can’t control to stop me from doing it. I make this my policy for a couple reasons:
- When I don’t keep my word, others don’t believe me. How can I expect people to trust me if I don’t do what I say I’ll do? When I don’t (and it happens), I clean it up as best I can.
- When I don’t keep my word, I don’t believe myself. Just as others lose trust in me when I break my word, I come to distrust myself based on the evidence I give myself.
The snowstorm, while being an act of God and a force beyond my control, was, I knew, not a deal-breaker. If the day of filming wasn’t snowing or howling wind, I could take the cart out, albeit with a bit of difficulty.
I spent the night before praying the production company would cancel because I knew I wouldn’t. I gave grave reports to them about how shitty conditions would be. I bitched to friends about how much of an inconvenience it would be. I would still do it, but I wasn’t going to like it.
The filming day arrived. The sky was blue and a foot of fresh snow covered most surfaces. I woke up early to prep the cart. Everything came together. The production company filmed me. I had fun.
After the filming I met up with my cousin and her kids to go sledding, then later played Battleship. When my 5 year-old opponent flared up, the thought occurred to me: how often do I choose to do something and then as soon as it deviates from my plan, I start whining. Isaiah wanted to play Battleship, but as soon as it looked like he might not win, he started to complain (He didn’t win. Score for me.). I wanted to get some media exposure (‘why’ is a separate post), but as soon as conditions didn’t suit me, I started complaining.
What if I could show up and do the things I say I’m going to do without complaining? What would life be like if I didn’t resist it?
It reminds of a Chris Rock skit where he expounds on the difference between niggas and black people (I’m quoting Rock, so please don’t misconstrue this as some racial commentary). He says that niggas are always bragging about things they’re supposed to be doing. “I take care of my kids,” “I ain’t never been to jail,” and so forth. Rock says, “You’re not supposed to do those things.”
What resonates about Rock’s skit is how I often want credit for doing things I’ve agreed to do. “I keep my word,” “I tell the truth,” I brag. Cracker, you supposed to do those things. What’s more is the actual activities necessary for keeping my word and doing the things I set out to do is rarely a big deal (occasionally it is). It’s the resistance around doing the things that is so taxing—the fear, the resentment for being put out or whatever objection I have that day. What would life be like if I did what I said I was going to do without commentary, without expecting a merit badge? If this were the case, I think my similarities with a 5 year-old might be few and far between.