The Problem with Comfort

What follows, here in this post, is The Best Thing I’ve Ever written. If I make an untimely departure from this earth– this will be my lasting legacy to this planet. I used to write stuff like this more frequently; sometimes for other people to read, sometimes just for me. But again, this is my best one ever. And it’s called:  The Problem With Comfort.

The background to what prompted it: I have an amazing friend named Melissa. One of a small handful of Most Amazing People I’ve Ever Met:  incredibly artistic; genius intelligence; insight into the world and human nature beyond most anybody I’ve ever met.  Her brain operates at light-speed.  She’s really, truly, incredible– the cream of the crop, humanitywise.  And she’s not just the only one:  her whole family is like that.  She has 6 or 7 brothers and sisters; all of them are incredibly gifted geniuses, but a bit wacky.  They’re kind of like the Royal Tenenbaums, or also kind of like the Glass family (if you’ve read “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger).  Anyway, put her and me together in a conversation, and interesting things result.

So this little essay– the best one I think I’ve ever written– was something I wrote to her a few years ago.  She was on the verge of a major life change.  She was in a situation where she was feeling comfortable for the first time in her life… but had an earth-shattering opportunity that ignited her every sense, but was unproven, risky and (everybody else thought) completely crazy.  So at the time I wrote this, she was completely torn up about whether to go ahead with it, or not.  We explored it very thoroughly in phone conversations; after one such conversation, I was inspired and wrote this to her in one shot. But it was stuff that had been bouncing around in my head for years.  I just needed something to catalyze it, and make me collect it in one place, and write it down.  And that is what follows after the jump.

I’ve saved this and, over the years, sent it to friends when I thought they could use it. I’ve never previously published it publicly because  I’ve always thought it is “special” and I didn’t want it to get endlessly forwarded around the internet. (I had a vision of my grandmother sending it back to me.) But I’ve decided to publish it now, and I hope that whoever finds this will get something out of it.

Enough of my explaining. Enjoy.

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Dance like your life depends on it. Because maybe, just maybe, it does.

“Why don’t you laugh? Why d’you look at me like that? That’s how I am. There’s a devil in me who shouts, and I do what he says. Whenever I feel I’m choking with some emotion, he says: ‘Dance!’ and I dance. And I feel better! Once, when my little Dimitraki died, in Chalcidice, I got up as I did a moment ago and I danced. The relations and friends who saw me dancing in front of the body rushed up to stop me. ‘Zorba has gone mad!’ they cried, ‘Zorba has gone mad!’ But if at that moment I had not danced, I should really have gone mad– from grief. Because it was my first son and he was three years old and I could not bear to lose him. You understand what I’m saying, boss, don’t you– or am I talking to myself?”

–Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek, p. 72.


Okay. I’m down in Los Angeles. There are two things of note here, quite in conflict with each other, but not really separable.

First– let’s talk about The Grove. I came to this place yesterday; it is like the Ultimate Mall– it’s not just a shopping center, but it is carefully designed to be almost some sort of destination… a place to bring the whole family… with dancing water fountains, a santa and sleigh suspended between two buildings, and other incredibly contrived shit like that.Almost (but not quite) as contrived as Santana Row, which adds fucking APARTMENTS to the mix so that you literally never have to leave. Not quite as bad as that, but still in the same family tree.

Now mind you, in the last month, I have been to this mall more times than I have been to ALL OTHER MALLS IN THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS TOTAL. I absolutely loathe malls for this reason: every single square inch of them is designed to take away your money. And rarely do they sell you anything that you actually need. If you go to a mall, chances are that you are going to drop $50, $100, or even more… and you really won’t be any better off than if you’d just gone home instead and not stopped there.

So yes, I detest malls. But I seem to keep finding myself at this one. (There is a high degree of correlation between this, and the fact that my girlie works there. How about that.) But that doesn’t mean I like this place. It’s like a square block chock-full of every single thing that I hate about Los Angeles, a town that I’m otherwise trying to make my peace with.

Last night was especially bad. The Grove had some sort of holiday tree-lighting bullshit, complete with choir, Dionne Warwick, VIP seating, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, broadcast by radio stations, etc.

Do you see why I hate this? NONE of that stuff matters in life. None of it.

But the fatass that owns The Grove wants you to think it does, because by your merely going there, chances are quite high that you will drop that $50, $100, or more. I don’t want to be a curmudgeon, but what sort of cause for celebration is lighting a tree? Even in the grandest of Christmas spirits, this is a non-event. Yet the fanfare that accompanied this was incredible: red carpets, VIP seating, and television commercials.

The event was a chaotic nightmare, unlike anything I’ve seen in years. I was stuck, waiting for Maya to get off work. I spent the time in a bookstore. When I emerged, the place had suddenly become overrun with thousands of swarming people. It was shoulder-to-shoulder; nobody moving; families with strollers trying to push through the crowd. It took ten minutes to go a few hundred feet. But what made it worse was that there were NO PATHWAYS, no areas designated for through traffic. It was a TOTAL MOB. Three fire trucks and dozens of police were there; but they weren’t directing foot traffic at all, instead they were just standing there looking official. I became totally exasperated when my only escape route was barricaded off and I could not escape.


Then today, I’ve found myself at The Grove again. I took a little break and went to the movie theater and watched The Motorcycle Diaries.

My choice of movie was mostly dictated by this: what is starting soon, so that I can get back to my official employment, that I was playing hooky from? So I decided on that. And although I’m not otherwise really huge on Che Guevara, I will take a biography (especially a highly rated one) over the usual schlock any day.

First, more than half the movie took place in Peru, filmed at places I’ve been. Viva la homeland!

Beyond that, though, I was not expecting the movie to be so marvelous. Rather than pay attention to the little seedlings of Guevara’s revolutionary thought– which it could easily have done– the film instead was an interesting study of motivation, and discovery. It’s a study of two friends who start with the same direction, but end up diverging onto their own roads through life. It’s an story of a person’s discovering their life’s calling; and an examination of things that go through a young male mind: the push-pull between leaving the nest and discovering the world, and the instinct to settle down and nest. It was a peek into a mind that saw through BS and remained true to his self. Whether or not this romanticizes Guevara’s later life is irrelevant, because the focus here was on a young man’s discovery of the world and himself.

So after the movie, I stayed and watched the credits, which included real footage of Guevara’s road trip buddy, Alberto Granado, now an aged man. For several minutes, I just stayed there and pondered the things that I always ponder: where am I in the world? What direction is it going in? What am I doing to Make Shit Happen in my life? How can I make a difference? What can I do to make sure I see past the white noise, and give emphasis to what matters, and dismiss that which doesn’t?

And so I emerged from the movie theater, feeling uplifted and encouraged, only to find that I was once again in… The Grove.