"I can't stand to see you sad
I can't bear to hear you cry
If you can't tell me what you need
All I can do is wonder why"--Marshall Crenshaw song
The Antelope Valley in California sits some ninety miles east of Los Angeles. It's a place of high desert, in which mountains alternate with high elevation flatland. It's a desert of raging seas of grass and shrub.
Southern California weather follows cyclical patterns. In an El Nino year, the rains cause Winter and Spring floral blooms that carpet Antelope Valley hillsides with golden poppies and vast fields of lupines. In a la nina year, drought conditions confine the poppies to far fewer places, including a brief burst of glory at the Antelope Valley poppy preserve.
So often one experiences that cycle of feast and famine in the effort to socialize with others. When things flow, everything blooms. When things fail, the wither curls stems for miles.
Those rich, familiar feelings haunt and instruct. A good person, for blameless reasons, moves away from one rather than having an endless chat. For the most inexplicable reasons, another good person becomes one's friend. One inadvertently gives offense to one with a comment that inspires endearment in another. I'd say something clever like yin and yang except that it's like those little pachinko balls bouncing off posts--magical and exciting yet so indeterminate and ultimately irrelevant.
Everyone lives in a dark night, with lighted office buildings all around. Before I set up my law firm with a friend, I did a job interview at a solid downtown Dallas defense firm. The folks there treated me with kindness and deference. Yet I'll never forget that sense of mismatch. It's sometimes in the little casual things. I joked with an assistant ushering me from here to there that when I worked in downtown Dallas a decade before, we called the local green-neon-lighted skyscraper "Gumby". From her reaction, you'd have imagined that I said we called it "Bless Josef Stalin".
The kind man who led the section in which I had hoped to work gave me a cordial interview, yet I knew from ten seconds in or so that I'd flown across country for basically no reason, as either the position was filled or imminently going to be filled. It's not anything that he said, but instead that telltale pause, a kind of "explaining to do as yet undone" pause that one listens for in deposition in order to "pounce" with incisive questions, just as Sherlock Holmes listens to heel-impaired shoes and dogs that do not bark. I knew that I was not only a round peg in a square hole in their world, but that also my peg might not even be traveling in the same board game as theirs. I've valued that experience, because it taught me that I should own my own business, and it taught me that although I am much more flexible about such matters than I was at twenty five, I am still a fish out of water in certain traditional law firm settings. This propelled me to start a firm with a friend, a wonderful choice.
I think that as time goes on, I realize that we're all walking through the darkness, amid neon skyscrapers. The aphorism encourages one to light a candle rather than to curse the darkness, and there's a point in that saying. But there's also a point to blessing, if not exactly the darkness, then what one learns from the darkness.
In the darkness, it's all right that one fails to appeal to every passing lantern. It's even okay that sometimes one walks in solitude in the fog. People largely ignore one, and sometimes they find one boring or simply not likable. But I'm not planting show orchids here. I'm planting marigolds. A little common-place bit of gold, not to everyone's taste.
They sprout, they bloom in the sun, they pass on. In another time, more flowers grow.
There's no shame in planting marigolds, or in being a marigold. Perhaps the only sad thing is to imagine oneself forced to be a hothouse flower when an unassuming bloom suffices nicely.