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Last week, the Urban Man attempted to spend a whole day getting real. No kidding: I tried to devote a full 24 hours to looking life boldly in the eye. I meant to stop dodging issues, deluding myself, or ignoring bills stuffed in drawers. I intended not to duck hard facts, even if they hit me square on the forehead.
I chose this regimen after a conversation with my friend Dave in which we determined, over beers, that only about 10% of what the average person thinks in any given day is actually true. The other 90%, we concluded, is myth or mis-assumption. We figured about four hours is spent wrongly imagining what our lovers think, or our bosses. At least two hours picturing ourselves in a heroic light. Then there's sales pitches, political ideologies, sex fantasies, video games, TV shows, financial advisors, rock anthems from the 60's, lurid novels, and fashion.
The rest of the time we sleep.
In fact, when you think about it, 10% may be a high estimate for reality. Maybe it was like that even for the Neanderthals, who probably spent longer hours painting cave walls than, you know, actually spearing bison.
Me, I thought: what if I could double my reality quotient to 20%? Hey, what if I could get real 50% of the time? Maybe I could conquer the world. At the very least, I could write a self-help book.
That night, I sipped anti-oxidants and stayed up watching depressing news reports. I set my alarm for six and bucked myself up with a half hour of Dr. Laura's book, Stop Whining and Start Living. Then, as I headed to the office through a harsh L.A. dawn, I made sure not to picture my city as a field of dreams or a campground of terror and beauty—but a mere collection of franchise food chains and areas zoned R-1 to R-4.
At work, I looked myself hard in the washroom mirror, noting each flaw and pore. By eight, I had typed a three page to-do list. By nine, I had the courage to say to someone, "Word is that you held a project meeting to which I was not invited." By 9:30, I had dared to check my portfolio. By 10:30, I had written down everything my wife had ever done to me. By 10:45, I had made an honest assessment of my career. At 11, I set realistic deadlines. And at noon I spent a full 10 minutes developing a steely-eyed, yet world-weary stare.
Then it was time to break for lunch.
Outside, I popped on my gray fedora, purely as a defense against the sun, and set out for a health food restaurant alone: I mean, we do enter and leave this world alone.
But then, when I sat down in a stiff-backed chair and the waitress came, she said to me, "Hey, I like your hat."
And lo, I'm sorry to report that's all it took. At once my head filled with absurd and heroic notions. I was Humphrey Bogart. Dashiell Hammett. A better-looking Studs Terkel. An off-duty spy from the world of hip. Immediately, I thought, "What foolish premise can I explore with the rest of my afternoon? What fantasies can I stir?" I thought, "Surely, it's not reality that matters, but the narrative we impose on reality. In fact, isn't the truth merely an irritation, a hurdle, an unhealthy obsession with the past? Isn't life actually about developing a story arc?"
And yes, by one p.m., the experiment had ended, and the Urban Man had slipped back into the illusions which sustain him, year in and year out, here in the metropolis.
Still, when I did the math, I saw I had spent nearly six hours "getting real;" a full 25% of a day facing facts. And later, as I drove home through streets which had again filled with terror and beauty, I said aloud: "Not bad. Not bad at all."
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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