Still Angrily Impatient…But Not Always

A bunch of years ago, when I first started working on changing, or better, working on the whole me, a friend described me as angrily impatient. That’s still true. It’s something that has both caused me grief and served me. Probably more of the former than the latter.

For about 10 years, I was a photojournalist. During that era of my life, my opinion is it definitely caused me more grief, than helped. My last job in this capacity was in Cedar Rapids, IA. I can recall four distinct times being angrily impatient was not in my best interest. In the first, I had just started my job. I received an assignment to photograph some kids at a local event. It was in an auditorium. I remember getting there, and kids, being kids, it was difficult to get the attention of those I was supposed photograph. I really didn’t want to shoot this. Out comes Mr. AI, and in a manner not conducive to working with kids or persons in general, I did what I thought was necessary to get the picture done and out of there. When I returned to the paper, I was called into the managing editor’s office. He’d already had several parents call about “the rude photographer.” Strike one.

Another time Mr. AI showed up was a portrait I’d been assigned  of some guy who’d been responsible for updating a local theater. When I was working with the fellow, he kept wanting to ‘direct’ the photo. After several minutes of this, I finally said something to him akin to, “I’m the professional here. We’ll do it my way, understood?” Another phone call to the editor, another lecture. Clearly, Mr. AI wasn’t earning anyone’s welcome and causing me many more problems then he was solving. Strike Two.

The last time in Cedar Rapids this happened was the straw that broke the editor’s back. I was shooting a University of Iowa football game. It was raining pretty hard and in those days, maybe still, Iowa used Astroturf on their field. Funny thing about Astroturf and rain, they don’t play well together. In fact, there’s usually a pretty good lake that forms on the field. As a sideline photographer, I knew I was supposed to get on my knees to shoot, but with a field that wet, it would have been like jumping in a pool. An Iowa state trooper came by and ‘ordered’ me down on the field. Maybe I squatted, maybe I didn’t, I really don’t remember. What I do remember was standing, not kneeling. Up comes this state trooper, grabs my jacket, starts pulling me down with a “I said get down!” command. As you might imagine this went over like a lead balloon. Not only did I not go down, I told this guy if he put his hands on me again I’d file assault charges. A pretty good shouting match ensued. Unfortunately for me, the assistant sports director of the university is witnessing the whole thing. Not only did I get called in to the editor’s office, I was fired. Strike Three, you’re out! I remember him saying, “Donny, when I hired you I told you I would stand by you. I have. For three, long years. I just can’t anymore.” There was no begging forgiveness or another chance. It was to be the end of my career as a newspaper photographer. There’s almost never a day since I haven’t wished I knew then what I know now. I might still be shooting. It was one one of the most painful lessons ever. To this day, I don’t photograph much of anything. There’s still a stigma about what was lost. Maybe some day.

Did I learn anything from this? Yes. Many years later, I was in a situation with a K-12 school official. This guy, a former principal, and clearly someone used to getting his way, approached me on a project we were working together on. He asked me a question about an area of the project I was not responsible for. When I answered his question with that information, he began screaming at me. I mean screaming. In olden days, I might have strapped on my six-guns and invited him out to the street at high noon. This time, I stopped, caught me breath, and asked myself what this guy really needed. I knew his boss could be a real handful, he was likely under a lot of pressure from her. So, what did I do? I told him he was correct and asked him what I needed to do to make his life easier. The change was almost immediate. His anger deflated, we finished up what needed to be done with success. No one died. No one got fired.

While I’m nowhere near as angrily impatient as I was back in Iowa, I’m reminded how true it still is when I think about my relationship with my friend, Bruce. He is one of the most loving, caring men I know. He learns, he says, by asking questions – lots of questions. And that’s where I become angrily impatient with him. I can always feel the onset. It’s like I want to strangle him, never would of course, but the urge is there. I ask myself, “Who else in my life asked a lot of questions? How did I feel about it? Why does it make me angry – and is it really anger or my old friends fear & sadness? Another question might be, “Who didn’t ask me questions?” Right now, that seems to be the more relevant question. The answer would be Dad. He wanted me to be the way he wanted me to be, not the way I was. Another answer might be Mom. At the times Dad was raging, why wasn’t she asking him the questions of why he was taking his frustrations out on me.

With Bruce, I think it’s about how I’m processing his questions. Seems like (to me) he’s asking variations of the same questions repeatedly, so my frustration is, “He’s not getting it. Either figure it out, or stop with the questions!” It might also be that there’s a part of me which doesn’t want to allow somebody (Bruce) to get to know me that intimately. Because? Because if he does, he won’t like what he finds out about me; therefore, he won’t like me.

There’s a ring of truth to all of the above. Not enough question from Mom & Dad. Not wanting someone to know something about me which might cause them to dislike me. Nothing I can do about the former. For the latter, I want to be willing to accept whatever the outcome is. If someone doesn’t like me because of something they learn (I’m not a criminal, after all) that really isn’t my problem. It’s theirs. All I can do is be myself, warts and all. That’s either acceptable to someone else, or not, based on their own preconceptions. I don’t have to change the parts of me I like, only the parts I want to change.

I imagine, I’ll carry angrily impatient the rest of my life. How I choose to deal with it, well, that’s How Am I Changing?

 

Apathy isn’t always about not caring…

It seems like I’ve always had the ability to piss persons off just by looking at them. I’ve talked about this before in the post called Putting it in Context.

Mostly, I believe, this is because I learned to be incredibly apathetic about my environment. I believe this began around age five when my maternal grandfather died. He was the human I was closest to at the time; even more than my mother or father. It’s been 55 years, yet I can remember the event as if it were yesterday (don’t ask me what I had for lunch yesterday, though.)

I was playing on the sidewalk in front of our house on Blue Hills Ave. in Hartford, CT. My grandfather, or Zayde as I called him (it’s the Yiddish word for grandfather) was sitting on the front steps of our house. My brother was playing just down the sidewalk from me with one of our neighbors. Zayde, got up from the steps, took two steps in my direction and fell down, dead from a heart attack. He was 72.

I didn’t cry. In reality I didn’t really understand what was happening. What I do know is from that moment on, both my parents agreed there was the Donny before Zayde died and the Donny after.

While I didn’t comprehend death, I seemingly did comprehend Zayde wouldn’t be coming into our house any more. There would be no more trips to the drug-a-store as he called it in his broken English. There would be no more protecting me from my father’s temper. No more foraging for wild blackberries so he could make his “women’s whiskey.” No more anything. With my one real ‘friend’ gone, I retreated more and more into my own world and there weren’t many allowed in that space.

One way, I believe I learned to keep others from getting too close, allowing me to have a place in my heart for them was to be indifferent if not just outright hostile toward them. And, it was fairly effective. There were a few persons who were given permission to see me as the loving being I am. The operative word is few. Letting too much of the world get close meant if I trusted larger numbers of persons I would ultimately get abandoned or hurt and my ‘risk manager’ just wasn’t about to let that happen. We’ll talk more about the  risk manager in another blog.

The outcome of all this ‘protection’ I was affording myself was not only lonely at times, but in order to effect the outcome of no one getting close, I also pissed off quite a few persons. Up to this point, I’ve been describing my history. Who I am/was and how I got there. Once I became more aware of my inner landscape, of who I really am, I began letting the walls down a bit. There was still a lot of protection from my risk manager, but he got the message not everyone was dangerous and had to be kept out. Working on this behavior, excepting it as a part of me but not letting it run my life was one of the changes which allowed me to become the trainer I am today. You can substitute the word teacher, I just don’t want to create the image of someone in the traditional educational system, K-12. I teach IT professionals how to support Apple technology.

And that’s what lead me to this post. In June of 2011, I taught a class in Music City. This was a five day class (as opposed to many of my classes which are only three days.) In this class I had a young fellow from Georgia. Honestly, I cannot recall having done anything which might be considered untoward behavior to the guy, but something must have occurred for him because before lunch on the third day he had sent several emails to the training center with complaints “as to your (my) demeanor, attitude and professionalism in the classroom.” I was blown away! Not only had this not happened to me as a trainer before, it hadn’t happened in other areas of my business life for many years. I took it pretty hard. I talked to the training center officials, assured them I had no idea what might have happened but I would apologize to the entire class. I did just that.

Just a little later, the students must have received an email from the training center asking them about how the training was going. My guess is the center was looking to see if the incident was isolated or if the whole class felt the same way. Another young fellow in the class, reading the email, looked up at me and said, “That does it. I want the number of the training center right now!” I provided the number to him and he called the project manager. “I don’t know what you’ve heard, but I want you to have another perspective. I think Donny is doing a wonderful job in the classroom. I think, and several others think he’s a great teacher who is clearly passionate about his work. I appreciate everything Donny is doing for us and I don’t think there’s anything the matter. The individual you heard from is not representative of our class. He shows up late every morning and only seems interested in meeting his wife for lunch.” He hung up. I was so moved I almost started to cry. I couldn’t remember the last time someone had stood up for me like this.

On the fourth day, the ne’er-do-well called me out of class in the morning. He told me he thought it was extremely inappropriate I had apologized to the class. He said he was going to request a re-do of the class with another instructor. I said that was his prerogative. Nothing more transpired between us the rest of the day. He sat through the class playing with his iPod Touch. My thought was, “He’s paying for this class. He can do whatever he wants.” I left him alone.

In the classes I teach, each student at the end of class gets to evaluate the class from the perspective of the classroom, the materials used, the training center in general and of course, the trainer. That’s me. In the rating system used, 1 is bad; 5 is best. The students can also leave comments in any of the sections being rated.

Day five. Last day of class. Most of the students have been great. Then, there’s the guy who’s been a challenge. No iPod today. Well, at least not in the same manner as Day four. We get through the day without incident. End of the day. Evaluation time. I’m resigned I’ll get pretty good marks from most of the class and probably 1s from the guy from Georgia. Oh, well, it’s only one guy in one class, I’ll survive.

As Mr. iPod is finishing is evaluation, he looks over to me and says, wait for it, “I gave you all 5s.” I’m thinking, “He’s lying.” But, he calls me over, wants me to see he’s on the up-and-up. Once again in this class, I’m floored. I ask him if he still intends to take the class over with another instructor? He says, “Nope. I’m good. The first three days were very different than the last two. You (me) changed and I got what I came for.”

Human nature. Go figure. Maybe the first three days he was having trouble with his girl friend. Maybe he wasn’t getting enough sleep. Who knows. What I tell myself about this, is once again, I managed, without trying, to piss someone off (I made it about me; kinda crazy, but sometimes that’s what I do.) Whatever it was that changed for him, I’m grateful. I don’t like those 1s.

I continue, each day, to watch how I show up. I really don’t want to piss anyone off. And, the lesson here is sometimes, it just happens. Can’t be helped. If it happens because the old me shows up, and he does, I take a lesson from my friend, Willie. I ask for a do over. I explain I don’t like showing up like an asshole and if the person I know I’ve offended is willing, I attempt to make amends. Just a simple, oops. Each day is a trial. Most days, I win.

How am I Changing? The part of me who is apathetic and indifferent to others and doesn’t care if I piss someone off was/is valuable. It probably helped me survive a lot of stuff I might not have otherwise. Perhaps there’s still a place for that ‘me’. But the me I want to show up most days, is more open of heart, empathetic and understanding. Changing for the better; not just for others, but especially for me.