The problem with not listening to yourself is that if you don’t listen to yourself for long enough, your self will eventually force you to listen and you may not much like the way this happens. Because you may find yourself staring at the back of your car in the parking lot of a Starbucks wondering how the hell you managed to lock your keys in the trunk. Especially when one of your unchecked to-do list items is to renew your Triple A membership.
Here’s a fun fact about LA: You may be a mere five miles from home, but driving that five miles could take you half an hour. Taking a bus that same five miles? An hour. Probably more like an hour and a half. Okay, fine. Two hours and fifteen minutes, once you factor in waiting at the wrong bus stop, watching the bus you want pull away as you fume on the wrong side of a light and six lanes of traffic, getting on the right bus going the wrong direction, realizing transfers only work once and you wasted yours going the wrong direction and now you have to find more cash before you can get on the second/third bus you need to actually get home so you can get your spare car key and do the whole damn thing all over again.
As I was stomping down the street after bus number two, still fuming, I started to wonder how my peaceful evening turned into an epic urban adventure across five miles of rage-encrusted concrete. As I was scrunching up my face to glare at whatever happened to be in front of me – trees, liquor stores, old ladies with shopping bags – it occurred to me that this much disaster couldn’t possibly be fruitless. It had all the hallmarks of the Smarter Me rapping Dumber Me on the side of my stubborn skull. So I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and said, “FINE. WHAT DO YOU WANT.”
The answer? “It’s not what I want, it’s what you want. You want dinner. Because fuming burns a lot of calories and you’re about two seconds away from passing out on the sidewalk. See? Your hands are shaking. Luckily, you stopped right in front of an El Pollo Loco and they have chicken burritos. Stop bitching and buy something with protein.”
So I did.
After replacing the brain cells my rage devoured with avocado and grilled chicken, I realized life wasn’t actually out to get me. Life happens for you not to you. You just have to let your brain see it. So I let my brain see that the bus I needed was right across the street. I could sit in the sun and digest my burrito while I waited. I could climb onto a deserted bus and have my own row and peace and quiet to realize that I needed to slow the hell down and take a break.
I tend to fall into the trap of thinking I need to be productive all the time. This doesn’t mean I’m productive all the time. No. That would make sense. What this really means is that when I’m not productive I’m feeling guilty about not being productive. This makes me a slave to my to-do list and also kind of annoying. The more I’m ruled by my to-do list, the more I bow to what’s urgent rather than to what’s important. Sitting on that lumbering bus with absolutely nothing to do for hours but rearrange my priorities helped me realize that I need to be better about doing what’s quiet and important rather than what’s scream-y and trying to set things on fire for attention. I need to write instead of fret. I need to plan my big projects instead of micromanaging small ones. (I need to renew my stupid Triple A membership.)
If I’d given myself the space to figure this out sooner, I probably wouldn’t have locked my keys in my car. But Smarter Me realized that giving Dumber Me just enough rope to hang myself was the best thing that could happen to me on a Wednesday night. Because I would have nothing to do but sit on an endless succession of buses until I remembered what was important.
Spending three hours zigzagging across LA on a bus was my soul’s way of telling my brain to shut the fuck up and listen. Because sometimes all you need to hear is the swish of tires on asphalt.