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June 19, 2008

So few questions, so many answers!

How can a simple oil change turn into $786.49 in repairs? I will tell you -- it's magic. You need an oil change, maybe ask the guy to check out the fan belt which is making a weird noise and before the day is out you leave with a new radiator, some spark plugs and apparently the grave of Al Capone.

It's very mysterious, car repair.

I love my Jeep. This is the first major repair Big Red has needed in almost two years so I'm happy he likes his new radiator, the third one we've purchased together. It seems this car is my second-longest relationship next to my twisted affair with this crazyass city. A while back I dated a guy who didn't understand my affection for the Jeep. I know it doesn't have air conditioning (believe me, I KNOW) but it was the car I could afford at the time, and now it's paid off and I keep it in good condition. It works for me, I feel it is a very happy relationship most of the time.

But on our third date this guy told me I needed to go out and lease a new car and get rid of my Jeep. Told me how I needed to get a BMW, maybe, or a Lexus SUV.

"Don't you think it's time you got a real car?" he said, as if I had asked him. As if he knew me better than I knew myself. As if we had known each other for years not mere days.

So I got rid of the guy and it was a lot cheaper. Problem solved!

I like my old beat-up Jeep. It suits me. It gets me to and from the mass transit parking lot, and gets me to the grocery store and my few little errands, and I can load a whole Meyer lemon tree in the back and if it all tumps over and spills dirt everywhere it's no big deal. You can hose out the inside real easy. Plus that vehicle just loves a new radiator the way I love a new handbag. We're kindred souls!

I guess I could have argued with the guy, or tried to give my side of the story or tried to show him how he was wrong and I was right, but lately I have noticed I just have a poor appetite for arguing. It's a change for the best -- I used to argue a lot, especially when I was married. I'm one of those people who stores up completely random facts (and what I don't know I can make up quite convincingly) so that I tend to really be good at arguing. Plus I'm very expressive, what with the colorful vocabulary of my own and the hand gesturing and dramatics. It took me a long time to realize that arguing wasn't a skill I wanted to continue developing in my life and that sharpening my debate teeth wasn't adding to my happiness. That perhaps it was best to be good at other stuff like eating Fritos and speaking Spanish and making hand-knit flowers.

And maybe, just maybe, it's ridiculous to feel you ever have to argue FOR your feelings or choices with anyone.

I reckon I spent about 2/3 of my life arguing, feeling defensive about something or going around answering questions no one had even asked. That's the one that kills your relationships -- answering up all sorts of questions no one is asking you to solve. Like when that guy answered a question I had not asked about my Jeep. I never asked his opinion about my car. I never asked for his help in the auto realm. I never asked him if I should get a new vehicle. I never even brought up the subject! It was a question I never asked but boy did he think he had the answer.

It's not a limited example -- people are always giving unsolicited advice on how you ought to live your life. But it wasn't until recently I saw how much advice-giving I did in my own relationships! Even on the phone a few weeks ago I was giving totally unsolicited advice to my folks about the new puppy. They hadn't asked but I sure was answering. Luckily they love me and I did catch myself before I carried on too long. What on earth makes me an expert on their lives? What makes me the authority on all things dog-related? Nothing! My sole job is to enjoy the puppy and buy him many goofy toys and enjoy my parents' stories about said puppy. End of my role. But it's a hard habit to break, all that answering.

How many times have I been talking to a friend and my friend makes a statement and all the sudden I'm answering questions she didn't even ask? Or I'm in a meeting -- answering a question no one ever asked. I used to do that all the time in meetings, sometimes I was showing off how much I knew about the subject matter, or sometimes I was just talking to show I was "on top of my game" and sometimes I did it out of habit!

A few weeks ago Faith and I were at the Home Depot together and she started looking through the display of seed packets in the garden center.

"I'm going to grow some zucchini again this year, too," she said.

She picked up a big seed packet of organic zucchini seeds.

"Oh wow," I said. "You're going to have a whole army of squash!"

"I know!" she said, "I can't wait!"

And right at that moment I realized I was on the verge of answering a question she never asked me. She did not ask me my opinion about what she should purchase, or when, or how many or where to plant them or anything at all. Faith is a grown woman with her own home and husband and yard and life and does not need my unsolicited opinion. And people are going to do what they want to do anyway. It is truly liberating to realize such a thing. I can just shut up and enjoy someone's conversation without telling them how to do it "right." As if there is a right way. As if people want to be told the "right" way to do anything.

Amazing, isn't it?

Arguing is a hard habit to break, too! Sometimes I take the bait and then later I see what I did and feel dumb. Because all that energy wasted on ... what? But sometimes I don't engage and let other people just argue and talk and carryon and they get to win and I get to breathe.

If I don't take the bait or offer up my own answers to questions no one is asking me, it turns out that I don't wither up and die. Is that something or what! The world keeps spinning on its axis. I don't suddenly become less of a person or lose IQ points or walk slumped over or find myself covered in warts because I didn't say something. In fact, the stress level decreases. Life is smoother. Things don't seem so hard and contentious. You get to just see people for who they are and not have to be sizing them up, judging them, deciding if you agree or disagree, offering your input on how they should live their lives. It is revolutionary.

So, anyway, my Jeep has a big-time tune up and a new oil filter and air filter and some wires and a fan belt and some spark plugs and of course a brand new radiator. It is really a good thing I decided to stop shopping for nonessentials so my car could pick out a pretty radiator just in time for summer. The mechanic did throw in a free car wash for me (even put the shiny stuff on the tires!)

I walked down to the repair shop at lunchtime to pay the bill and pick up my keys.

"You should get new seatcovers," said my mechanic as he handed me the receipt. "The camouflage doesn't seem like you. Maybe get something with flowers!"

Funny I do not recall asking his opinion. But I kept my mouth shut all the same. No need to break up with a perfectly good mechanic, especially one who throws in a free car wash.

My beautiful new radiator!

Posted by laurie at June 19, 2008 8:41 AM