Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Stream of (Total) Consciousness -- 8/21/13: Happy Endings

The few responses I received about my recent post, "Life on the grass," all commented on how positive and optimistic the article was. This was in stark contrast to the typical feedback I get, which often include things like, "Are you okay?" and "I'm a little worried," and "You're sooo good looking." 

I realize that what I write isn't always the most uplifting stuff to read. When I first started this blog several years ago, I made a point to end every piece on an undeniable uptick, but in time, doing so began feeling cliched and disingenuous; I wasn't being authentic. Because the reality is that things aren't always fit for Pollyanna. Sometimes I feel down. Sometimes I experience frustration. Sometimes I don't know what the answers are. Sometimes I screw up, sometimes I get embarrassed, and sometimes I need to process my feelings in order to work my way through those issues -- and this is the perfect forum to do so. 

Take yesterday, for instance. Faux Rocco (the guest I've been caddying for who looks like professional golfer, Rocco Mediate) and I were on the seventh tee on Pacific Dunes, which sits approximately 40 or 50 yards from the eighth green, where another group of guests was currently playing. Typically, this is no big deal; the distance between tee and green is substantial enough so as to allow play to continue on each without the risk of disturbing somebody on the other. 

But yesterday morning, the hole on the eighth green was cut in the back right, meaning the players over there were that much closer to us on the seventh tee. Seeing this, what I should've done was told FR to wait for the group on No. 8 to finish before hitting his tee shot; that way, they could knock their putts in -- and then he could hit his tee shot -- in total peace and quiet. My guess is that's the standard protocol for this type of situation, but honestly, doing so didn't even occur to me. I've been on that tee probably 20 times, often alongside experienced caddies, and I've never seen play on seven interfere with anything going on over at eight.

That is, until FR hit his worst tee shot of the day and yelled, "Oh, NOOOOOOO!" at the top of his lungs -- then it all clicked into place. I was able to see the situation clearly and in its entirety -- the too-close-for-comfort proximity, the proper etiquette I should've enacted, and my egregious error in judgment for not doing so. 

The group on eight immediately looked up at us in bewilderment, and as they made their way off the green and past our tee, the caddies -- two of the most experienced loopers at the resort -- simply smiled and waved. 

Full, upfront disclosure: I have no idea what that gesture truly meant, because we never saw those guys the rest of the day, and thus, I never spoke to them about it. But in my experience, caddies don't just wave at other groups to be nice. At least, they don't wave at me. Any of their nods of acknowledgement I've observed are typically reserved for their friends, and considering I don't really have any of those, I'm never involved in any of these inter-group interactions (in fact, during today's round, I crossed paths with another caddie on the course -- literally, we walked right by each other -- and my "How's it going?" went completely ignored). That's why this, in my mind, was a WTF Salute, and as the one who was "in charge," as the one who should've managed the whole situation better, it was almost certainly directed at me. 

It's one thing to screw up with your guests (and lord knows I've done that plenty) but it's an entirely different -- and much more uncomfortable -- thing to screw up with your peers, especially when the social integration process has already been extremely difficult. You want to do a good job, you want to be respected, and you don't want to be perceived as the new guy who doesn't know what he's doing. Given that, I immediately decided that, if I were to go into the caddie shack after the round, I was going to take off the new, baby blue hat I was wearing, so as to not be so easily identified.

Surprisingly, I was actually able to forgive myself for this breach of etiquette, for not knowing better in the first place. As I mentioned before, it's not a predicament I had ever faced, making it just one of those "Well, now you know" kinds of things that I'd be aware of going forward. What I had a much harder time forgiving myself for, though, was what I did in its immediate aftermath:


I didn't do anything. I didn't yell out, "Sorry!" I didn't give the hand-raise/head-down move to acknowledge the mistake. I didn't even turn my head in the other group's direction. I just stood there, hiding behind the reflective tint of my sunglasses, staring off into the distance until they had passed -- as if acting like nothing had happened would change the fact that something had.

When it comes to the responsibility for a mistake, there are two things you can do: take it or avoid it. And unfortunately, I've been avoiding it lately. A lot. I avoided it (for too long) during Towel Gate, and I avoided it again here. There have even been times when I've given my player a bad read and broken my cardinal rule of not immediately owning it. I'm not sure why I do this, and I'm certainly not proud of it. It's just that I get so overwhelmed in the moment with insecurity and embarrassment that I end up short-circuiting -- my body locks up, my thoughts shut down, and I cower in the metaphorical corner, just waiting for it to all be over. In a world of fight-or-flight, I've managed to create on Option C -- freeze.

And what's so frustrating is that by the time I snap out of it and come back to life, it's often too late to do anything about it. Whereas I had a three-day period to process and rectify the situation after losing my guest's towel, I wasn't afforded that opportunity here. The window to make things right was only open for a moment, and I was too scared to step up and handle things before it closed.

That's just how it is, though; s*** happens, and it happens fast, and you have to be able to keep up. And in an odd, bear-with-me sort of way, it's not all that different from an issue with my writing. I know I've talked about it ad naseum, but the biggest insecurity I have in regards to writing is my speed -- it's not that I can't come up with what to say, it's that it takes me too long to do so. I have to write, and re-write, and re-write again, going through a million different drafts until I finally get it the way I want it. So I've always thought that a natural way to speed up this process would be to somehow improve the quality of my first draft, because the better that first one can be, the quicker I can ultimately get the last one right.

It's the same thing with my mistake management. Though I may end up resolving each incident the correct way, it takes too long for me to get there. It takes too many drafts. And when I'm not given the time to do so, I end up leaving a wake of wrongs that are unfortunately never righted. The key, then, is advancing that initial reaction so that it consists of more than a full onset of self-imposed rigor mortis. Do it right the first time, and you don't have to worry about doing it again.  

Just as coming out here has afforded me the opportunity to progress my skills as a writer (and I have gotten faster), it's also providing me plenty of chances to improve as a Screw-Up Artist. Working as a caddie is arguably the most constant, black-and-white job I've ever had, where every minute of every day is filled with potential landmines that can blow you up with every step you take. Reading putts, judging the wind, calculating yardages, upholding course etiquette, getting on the proper shuttle -- these tasks aren't as ambiguous as the bullet points on my previous job descriptions. You're either going to be wrong, or you're going to be right -- and it's going to be obvious to everyone involved. 

Despite the transgressions of yesterday, in the end, all was mercifully not lost. I actually did a decent job caddying, helping Faux Rocco get around with his best score of the trip. He even complimented me afterwards on, of all things, my green reading. And though I may have angered a couple of my fellow caddies on the eighth green, I also probably saved another of my peers while I was on the second tee, where I picked up something that they'd left behind and would surely be looking for, something that's easy to lose yet hard to find, something that I know firsthand can cause a caddie an uncomfortable amount of anguish:

A towel.

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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?