June 1, 2011

Using my Antennae

I was watering the lawn yesterday.

I like watering the lawn.

What I don't like is when colonies, entire civilizations of ants living under the grass decide to come out and party it up.

They get in everywhere.
They're all over the grass, they're climbing up the hose, my pajamas, entering the holes in my Crocs.

Then I am forced to start my daily lawn watering ritual dance. A flick, a kick, a slap, a jerk. Lots of stomping and pounding on the ground. Limbs flailing all over the place. An 'aaa!' here, an 'eeew' there, with a few 'Get off of me you freak!' and some 'DIE ANT! DIE!'.
All set to tribal music.

Sorry, I forgot.
I hate watering the lawn.

And when the water stops, they hang around for a bit and then recede back into the invisible hole they appeared from. I can almost hear the murmur after the end of a party.
'Great party huh. See ya tomorrow Tom.'
'Yea, say hi to Elle for me. Bring her tomorrow.'
'It's back to work now. Better dry up and get that report finished.'
'This early morning communal shower thing really gets me fired up for the rest of the day!'

They love it. I'm tellin' ya. They love it.
If they didn't, they'd move to a dryer place.

Anyway. That’s not what I wanted to talk about.

As much as I hate them, you have to hand it to the little guys.
They got spunk.

If you were on perfectly solid ground and were faced with the prospect of having soft, doughy, scaly, piece of flesh under your feet, would you dare to move on, onto the unknown?

Compared to the sandy, marshy, grassy ground that an ant is used to on my lawn, the marble flooring inside the house would be like walking on the moon. But they do it. They enter the house with courage and confidence. They explore  the unknown, as if it's their birthright.

Yes. I know they're foraging for food. Thank you for telling me.
A little patience and you'll see where I'm going.

They're following a scent. Pheromones, they call it.
Actually, I think we call it that.
I'm not sure what they call it.
Maybe 'food smell'.

Their instincts tell them to follow that scent. They follow the scent that's the strongest. When they do, they are getting closer. Closer to their reward.

Do they know what's at the end of that trail?
Do they have a picture of a cupcake or piece of pie or even a big pile of sugar, that they are following?

They are just following their instincts. Every step they take, they are rewarded by a stronger scent. If the scent gets weaker, they change their path.

Smelling their way through the day. Through their whole lives.

Did you know some of them live for almost two years?
Just a bit of ant trivia, you can impress your friends with.

You realize we humans don't do that? We don't smell. We don't use our instincts, as much.
We head out with the picture of a big pile of sugar in our mind and a road map to get to it.

Right from kindergarten. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Choose your picture.
Cupcake, pie, chocolate cake, cookie, ice-cream, fruit bowl or a pile of sugar.
(aka astronaut, doctor, teacher, vampire slayer etc.)

And how will you get to it?
Take a right at the big potted plant, under the main door, up the giant steps into the kitchen. Crawl up the cupboard and at the window sill sits the cake pedestal.
(graduate with honors at XYZ university, make the Dean's list, get an internship at UVW company, get this degree, get that award etc.)
There you will find the elusive cupcake. 

Is it weird that my mouth is watering?

Guess what?

Daniel Gilbert, PhD, (that's right. PhD quotes are back) Harvard psychologist, studies human delusion.
Seriously, he does that for a living.
You think I could do that?
Nooo, not as the subject of the study. I mean as …
Never. Mind.

He basically measures the gap between what we think will make us happy and what actually does. He says, "We're such strangers to ourselves, nowhere more than in our pursuit of the holy grail of happiness. We usually overestimate how things will affect us and this 'impact bias' causes a great deal of mis-wanting".

We're better off aiming for happiness moment to moment than trying to engineer happiness through long-term planning. This is because—as science now shows us—human beings are fairly hopeless at predicting what will make us happy or how long that happiness will last.

Basically that means, we need to smell our way through life as well. And we may not have antennae or pheromones to do this. But we have instincts too.

Like should I go to the party where I don’t really like anyone or stay in and watch TV?
If it feels good to stay in and watch TV, do it.
Yes, there will be consequences. You'll feel left out the next day when everyone is gossiping about how drunk Patricia got, and who left with whom. But, if the joy of watching TV is more than the loss of gossip participation, do it. Watch TV.
Should I start writing a blog because I like writing?
If it feels good, do it. Doesn't matter if no one ever reads it.
And if you get millions of readers like me, YAY!
Should I quit my job that makes me want to die inside?
If it feels good then go for it.
I did.

Do I regret quitting what would be a 'dream job' in London for many?
I'm not lying.
I really don't.

Because, if I wouldn't have quit, I wouldn't have known that I like writing.
Or that I'm creative. Or that I like drawing. Or that I'm brave/stupid enough to want to open a restaurant.
Or that I love the people I love too much to stay away from them for too long.

I'm not saying life has been a cake walk since I quit. It's been tough. Sometimes, I think it's been harder than when I was working. But, I didn't quit work because it was too hard. I quit work because it wasn't me.
I've never wanted to go back.

I've ignored my instincts all my life.

The joy I felt when I wrote a story that my teacher sent into a kids magazine way back in third grade.
That was an instinct that I was too young to understand.

My habit of making handmade cards for my friends in high school was my instinct telling me I like to draw.
I ignored that.

My enthusiasm in spending hours over my friends outfit for her cousin's wedding in college was my instinct telling me I like clothes and colors. I should look into it.
I ignored it.

The desperate anguish I'd feel when I'd return from a family holiday to an empty apartment in London, was my instinct telling me I wasn't happy being away from my family.
Yup. I ignored it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen.
I reached that little white hill that my map was leading me to.
Turned out to be salt instead of sugar.

If I had listened to my instincts, I would have taken a different path, and I'd be doing the back-stroke in a sea of sugar.

But it's okay. Better late than never.
I'm feeling my way to happiness now.
Although it involves excruciating pain for my parents who'd really like to know where the h*ll I'm going with my life.
I've brushed off the dust on the instructional manual of my instincts. And I'm using them. Full throttle.

Jessica's graduation speech in 'Twilight: Eclipse'  really hits the nail on the head:

"When we were five, they asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up. Our answers were things like astronaut, president, or in my case… princess.

When we were ten, they asked again and we answered - rock star, cowboy, or in my case, gold medalist. But now that we've grown up, they want a serious answer. Well, how 'bout this: who the hell knows?!

This isn't the time to make hard and fast decisions, its time to make mistakes. Take the wrong train and get stuck somewhere. Fall in love - a lot. Major in philosophy 'cause there's no way to make a career out of that. Change your mind. Then change it again, because nothing is permanent.

So make as many mistakes as you can. That way, someday, when they ask again what we want to be… we won't have to guess. We'll know."

I have a new found respect for ants.
Adventurous, brave and persevering.


Don't you wish you could talk to one? Like interview him?
Yeah. Yeah.
Me neither.
That would be so stupid.
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