Jack Bauer Never Sneezes: A Day of Living on Purpose

“Jack Bauer never sneezes.”

“What did you say?”

“Jack Bauer doesn’t just sneeze.  He doesn’t  just cough.”

It came randomly from the back seat through a mouthful of food.   I looked in the rear view mirror at my son in time to catch him wiping his mouth on his sleeve.   I suppose the magnitude of his epiphany necessitated an immediate broadcast, even if the words had to  sneak past a double cheeseburger.  He had that look he gets when he’s thinking hard on something, head tilted to the left, eyes up and to the right.

Kiefer-Sutherland-as-Jack-Bauer-24-15078200-1024-768

Image courtesy of fanpop.com. Swagger courtesy of Keifer Sutherland.

“Explain what you mean, Sweetie.”

“We sneeze or cough or trip over our shoes in real life, and it doesn’t mean anything.  When Jack Bauer does any of those things it actually means something, or it will mean something later on in the program.  He never just sneezes.”   I watched him hold his stare for a moment until his taste buds came calling for a sip of Dr. Pepper.

24 was all the rage in our home at that time, and Jack Bauer was our hero as he saved the world from sure annihilation each week.  Though my son’s observation didn’t carry any planetary implications , the ten year-old had accomplished a rather impressive feat of his own by noticing something that took me years of writing to discover:  everything in a story–dialogue, actions, non-actions, revealed information–should work to move the story forward.

Hemingway mastered this concept of streamlining.  He could tell a story with the sole use of dialogue as in “Hills Like White Elephants”.  The conversation between the main characters gives us all we need to see the themes of love, control, security, and manipulation.  Writing, however, was not the subject of my thoughts that day as my son swallowed his remaining fries.  His observation propelled me onto a great what-if.  What if I looked at my life like a writer looks at creating an episode or a book or a movie?  Though I can’t escape the common reflexes of sneezing, coughing, and blinking like Jack can, what if I tried to capture all that I did under the category “On Purpose”?

What-is-the-PURPOSE-of-your-business-anyway

Whatever

Realizing that this concept was also known as “mindfulness” (in self-help books and Whole Foods) and “action” (in the business world), I stuck with the juvenile term “purpose” since an oft-used complaint in my childhood home was, “Hey, you did that on purpose!”  But what I tried to lie my way out of in my youth I would now embrace and celebrate.  After years of living on purpose in every action of the day I would be able to look at the fruits of my labor and proclaim, “Yes, I did that on purpose.”

My experiment design was as flawless as it was simple.  That night I made a list of all the things I would like to see change as a result of my journey.  I set my alarm for the next morning for 6:00, despite the fact I had been up at that hour maybe four times in my life.   I resolved that every step I took that day–every word I said, every bite I ate, every task I performed–would be with purpose, non-reactionary, and mindful.  Somewhere along the way I’d heard that when you’re trying to form new habits it’s best not to try to change so many things at once.  Keeping this in mind I decided to leave some of my metaphysical aspirations on the back burner and focus on small, easy-to-measure goals, and though I don’t remember most of them, I know they included being healthier, being more disciplined in my writing, and being wiser financially.

My Day of Living on Purpose started with success.  At 6:23 when I finally noticed it was the alarm ringing–not the fire truck in my dream–I made my first decision with purpose.  Since I stayed awake so late the night before thinking about all  the ways my life was going to get better, I found myself tired on this first day.  Of course now that I was striving for better health I found that extra sleep was the prudent choice.  My husband had to take our children to school in deference to my wise decision, and as he said goodbye I made a mental note to include the importance of cooperative spouses in a piece I would inevitably write about purpose-filled living.

Around 10:00 I rose out of bed with purpose and put on my exercise clothes.  This was going to be a great day.  I ate a healthy breakfast and wrote a few paragraphs of an article that was due by the end of the week.  As I  headed out the door to start my new running regimen my friend Joan called and asked me to hang with her at the pool.  It was only 12:00, and I had to make my second important choice of the day.  I told my friend I would call her back after giving careful consideration to her proposal.

By 12:01 I decided to meet her at the pool because relationships are a key component of one’s overall well-being.   In keeping with my goal of eating only nutritious foods I packed a small cooler of raw carrots and broccoli, a little bit of fat-free ranch dressing, and a little to-go bottle of wine, which is made from grapes.

At the pool Joan confided in me about the struggles she was having with her teenage daughter, who had adopted an air of disrespect towards authority.  We watched a mother comfort her toddler who was becoming frustrated with her doll.  I lamented at the heartache Joan’s daughter was causing the family.  I remember Joan’s daughter as a sweet little girl playing with her dolls by the pool like it was yesterday,

“What do you think Michael and I should do about it?”

“Maybe she just needs a swift kick in the behind,” I said.  We laughed at the ridiculous suggestion, perhaps a little bit louder than we realized, as we got a few looks from people around us.

“I’m really worried about her.  Maybe things will be better once she goes to college.”  Joan sadness was apparent as she watched the little girl whose crying was now transitioning into a full temper tantrum.

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Or where your misguided intentions cause lots of trouble. Image from sherrienguyen.com

I reached for a carrot and took a sip of wine (only my third of the day) to wash down the  last of my lunch.  That’s when I noticed the little girl losing her balance.   The mother had walked away and not wanting to waste a moment I jumped out of my chair, lunging for the screaming toddler before she fell into the pool.  In my rush to help the girl I must have swallowed my food the wrong way, and the carrot had become lodged in my windpipe.  Before I could panic about my own predicament the girl’s mother tackled me, sending me to the concrete and onto my back, dislodging the carrot and wine in the process.

Unfortunately the landing place my lunch found was the angry mother’s face.

Later that evening I waited for Joan to explain to the detectives that the charges of assault against a child and public intoxication were based on a complete misunderstanding of the situation.   My cellmate was Hector, a nice, elderly man brought in for true public intoxication.   Tears crept down my dirty face, and I could barely walk due to the pain ripping through my back.

“Jew wan sun of my chez burr?”  His outstretched hand held the remainder of a jalapeno-laden cheeseburger from McDonald’s.

“Sure,” I shrugged, taking the sandwich, grateful for his kindness but wondering how he managed to sneak it in.

My Day of Purpose was marked by productivity in my work, maintaining both a healthy body and friendship, and an altruistic urge to look out for the needs of those around me.

I took a bite of the burger, and one whiff of the spicy peppers sent me into a sneezing fit.

Jack Bauer never does that.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/writing-challenge-dialogue/#more-37229

Football and Quantum Physics: Spooky Sports Action at a Distance

I wrote an e-mail similar to what’s below to my daughter last football season, but it seems especially appropriate today with Tebow’s departure from the NFL:
Sports these days is becoming a sore subject.  I am at once happy and sad about Peyton’s success on the field Monday, as I also am concerning the Jets’ win.  If I were the type of person to appeal to a sports deity I would definitely say he/she has some sort of controversy with me right now.  Not believing in the power of my fan-dom in the first place in that it has any effect on the outcome of games or even who is put into the game for longer than two snaps, my inclinations are only confirmed in the fact that NOTHING is going the way I would choose in the perfect JJ Stone’s-World-of-Sports scenario.
I should have seen this reality rising to expeditiously smack me in the face since in that very same world the following truths exist:  I run marathons; John Elway’s team never wins; Michelle Beadle is on SportsNation;  Tebow plays quarterback, free safety, kicker, special teams, coaches, and announces every football game, although I’m beginning to tire of hearing how he’s wanted to be quarterback since he was a little boy; I have a black belt in karate or some other Asian-sounding thing; you go to the Olympics in boxing but none of your blood is ever spilled forth from your beautiful face; child #3 wouldn’t have a torn ACL; child #2 would still be playing baseball; Daddy would admit that I’m better than him in basketball.
So you see, I’m in quite a quandry.  My biggest sports “victory” this week was that child #3’s fantasy team pulled out a come-from-behind victory going into Monday Night Football with Eric Decker’s good game for the Broncos.  His bench outscored his starting lineup because he benched Aaron Rodgers accidentially (who had 39 fantasy points) and played Andrew Luck (who had a whopping 5 fantasy points).  This all begs the question….when your greatest satisfaction in sports for the week can be attributed to your son’s fantasy team victory, how many standard deviations from reality does that make you?  Sports inhabit the entertainment realm in the first place, and now we have fantasy sports on top of that?  With all these extra dimensions of reality maybe string theory is truly that unification model physicists are searching for.

Lessons from a Politically Incorrect Mom

One cold December night our family had the privilege of spending time with two children from a foreign land.  My brother had befriended a classmate, David, who had moved with his family from Israel to America.  David and his little sister ate dinner with us one night and afterwards attended our church’s annual Christmas party for kids.  They seemed to enjoy it.

Later that evening we dropped the two beautiful children off at their house, their big brown eyes wide with excitement from the night’s festivities.  Their sweet mother stood in her driveway thanking us profusely in broken English for letting her children hang out with us.  As my mom turned to leave she paused as if a light bulb of awareness suddenly came on, a tiny voice letting her know that some sort of disclaimer needed to be made.

She turned back to the Hebrew mom still standing and waving in the driveway.  “By the way, I really didn’t think about this before…but I hope it’s okay.  We had hot dogs for supper tonight.  Your kids loved them. I buy the inexpensive kind so they probably don’t have much pork in them at all, your family being Jewish and everything.”  So after dropping Hiroshima, she continued by immediately delivering Nagasaki .  “Oh, and we took your kids to church, and they sat on Santa’s lap.  They also sang Christmas carols.”  She basically couldn’t have potentially offended them more if she would have replaced David’s yarmulke with a Santa hat and handed him a basket of Easter eggs to replace his dreidel.

I like to imagine in my mind that the next day as David’s family hightailed it on the first available flight back to Israel that security guards arrested my mom as she chased the plane down on the runway holding a box full of Jimmy Dean sausage and American flags, something to remember us by.

My mom meant no offense, and I truly don’t think any was taken, but when she got back in the car that night she thought for a minute and then let out the tiniest of laughs.  Then, slowly, as the scope of what just happened fully hit her, her laughter picked up until she was in full-blown crying mode.  And I was right behind her.  My mom has always found it easy to laugh at herself, and from times like this I learned two important lessons.  First, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.  Second, don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself, laugh often, and laugh so hard that you cry.