Monday, January 12, 2009

Memoirs of a Docent

"We must learn to distinguish morality from moralizing."
Henry Kissinger
Winner of the coveted "World's Most Ironic Come Back to Bite your Ass 2009 Award", in great part because he said it years ago, and I just rediscovered it.

I’ve been a docent at a Southern California Water Smart Garden since I retired about 5 years ago. In my professional life, I was an attorney writing and negotiating business contracts to buy and sell professional services and subcontracts. Managed to get out before my ethics were compromised, that is, before work began to feel like a Mission Impossible scene where the hero escapes the last closing door by sliding beneath it like a slider heading into home plate. Despite the lack of professional respect or commensurate pay, I actually liked what I was doing, and believed I was doing good. Now that retirement has overtaken who I was then, I have shed that mask like a retiring superhero who simply becomes his once secret identity.

The up side of getting no respect was that, never being suicidally inclined, I didn’t define my identity by what I did. I always peed sitting down, but that didn’t threaten my grip on my own value. Once I retired, I had to become acquainted with the person beneath that conservative dress suit. Get back into my own skin and my old t shirts.

I gave some thought to what I’d do to keep busy, and in how I valued such activities. I decided to get out of the lawyer ‘business’ and into the gardening ‘pleasure’.

To keep my mind from slowing down, I sought something to keep my body from freezing up and becoming brittle. Gardening, when done right, can be a sort of purification ritual, an improvisational tai chi and moving meditation, and a simple stretching and slow moving in all physical gardening actions. I may have only successfully grown cabbage once, but there are other measures of success in my current career.

I haven’t had to stretch my brain to learn new lessons since I was trying with mixed results to memorize the 8 times table a while back. My experiences as a docent have been in realm where I have never been before. I have some residual interpersonal skills and expertise in kissing management ass that served me well those first touchy months.

People I worked with for most of my professional career are strangers to me now. But they knew I was a smart-ass, but tempered by being on the losing/weak/defensive side in contractual transactions. I once knew how to smear Vaseline on the lens of my actual thoughts to make them presentable to mixed company. With other docents, I have had to learn a whole new set of interpersonal skills. Trouble is, as my Daddy used to say, it’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. I’ve got to remind these new friends what a cynic I am. Must work on my profanity, dammit!

This is not to say that I’m surrounded by boors and morons. This is more like and advance apology. Should I offend even those of my fellow-docents who I’m slightly fonder of than I am of poison ivy, I offer these, the “least of my brethren” my sincere apology. I may occasionally remember my experiences with docents in this blog, and if that offends, then I'm sorry you can't quit your moralizing, and doubly sorry you're a hypocrite, and that you identified something I said with your own character. I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I couldn’t be sorrier. Seriously.

In addition to my gardening activities, I now hereby decree that this blog will be about my growth in every respect, notes of lessons I’ve learned, skills I’ve mastered, and my attempts to chronicle lessons lavishly failed. I’m the center of this tiny universe and make no apologies for speaking my biases here. Notwithstanding the foregoing however, to the best of my knowledge, no actual persons or events was/will ever be discussed here. Should anybody in real life disagree with that, I hereby stipulate that my autobiography often misquotes me. Immoral as hell.


Martha in Michigan said...

I see your regulars (me excepted, obviously) don't know exactly what to say to that analysis and declaration. "I once knew how to smear Vaseline on the lens of my actual thoughts to make them presentable to mixed company." That's the kind of phrasing that makes me keep coming back for more! Not only clearly and elegantly and evocatively put, but possessed of a core truth instantly recognizable to the middle aged.

Why do you suppose that we lose that filter as we age? I don't think it is only, or primarily, that our brains in general are losing skills and efficiency. Rather, I believe we just don't care anymore what others think of us. They can't hurt as as much, for one thing. But even if they could, we have grown tired of compromising, of feeling dirty, as if we were collaborators in some unseemly business. We have come to appreciate, quite viscerally, that life's too short. Truth emerges as more important than the white lies of going along to get along, and f--- 'em if they can't take a joke.

Weeping Sore said...

What you said. I'm enjoying "retirement" from the organizational position. Now, other docents don't constantly tell me what I should do.
You're right about not caring as much. I suppose that could go too far, but for now, I'm in a place where the balance feels about right.

Dr Zibbs said...

That looks very relaxing. And I can't wait for my PA ground to thaw so I can get my veggies in.