Sundays in Laguna
December 2005

You know how sometimes when you're walking along the beach and you see a shell or something that catches your eye and you pick it up to give it a closer look? (Or if you're like me you hold it as far away from your face as you can so that you can actually take that closer look.) And then you kind of decide whether or not you're going to stick the shell in your pocket or toss it back into the sand or the water? Sometimes I find myself tucking little bits of broken shells into my pockets and tossing really nice, unbroken ones back - it's so weird sometimes what floats my boat.

Anyway, this morning I was walking along the beach picking up the occasional bits of shells and stones and found it kind of odd that every once in awhile I'd think to myself, "I should keep that shell."  Should? Hmmm...Why should I keep that shell? (Go ahead, imagine yourself trying to answer that question.)

Where is this should coming from? Do I like the shell or not? Should feels so demanding - like there's some kind of a mandate behind it. I mean really, it's just a shell. It's not like I can pay the rent with it or anything. When I thought about it I couldn't find one good reason why I should keep a shell. I realized I was collecting them and bringing them home because I liked them and the word should felt out of place in context of gathering shells at the beach.

Later on this morning at Jim Otto's Sound Spectrum I was standing in line to pay for my CDs, (which were already sitting on the counter) when the lady in front of me picked up the soundtrack from Brokeback Mountain that Jim had special ordered for me. She gave it a look, commented out loud that it looked interesting and stashed it in with the other albums she had in her hand. I quickly pointed out to her, (good-naturedly of course since it's Christmas) that yep it was a great album but, that one was already sold. There were a lot of people in the store and everybody laughed - I guess I came off just a little bit possessive about that disc. Jim told her where she could find another one in the racks and she went off to find it, laughing and sheepishly apologizing.

Another guy standing at the counter picked the album up, (oh no, not again) and asked me about it. (Whew.) He flipped it over and saw that one of the tracks was a song by Willy Nelson and told me a story about how he'd seen Willy in a little dive bar somewhere before he got famous. That's the thing I love about shopping at Sound Spectrum - you've got all these people in there who because of the more intimate nature of the place are always talking to each other about music and performers and telling lots of fun stories. Something about the atmosphere in there is so laid back and unpretentious that it just opens people up to chatting with strangers. Can't remember that ever happening in a Virgin Megastore.

Anyway, I got to talking with a few people about the soundtrack from Brokeback Mountain and from there it wasn't long before I was carrying on about what a great movie it was. To the lady who tried to swipe my disc I said, "You really should see the movie on the big screen because of the sweeping panoramas and the Rocky Mountain vistas and the whole feel and look of the film."

Should. There's that word again. They come from all directions, these shoulds that are really more about a person's unique experience in life than universally proven truths. But still we offer them up as if what worked for us is naturally going to work for everybody else.

You really should see this movie on the big screen. Why? Because it worked so well for me seeing it that way? You really should see Brokeback Mountain. Why? Because I thought it was such a great film and was so beautifully crafted? Big screen or little, it may or may not have the same relevance for you as it did for me, so my should in this case is pretty biased. And so I think are most of the shoulds or should nots that we love to exhort each other with. I might toss a shell back and someone will come along right after me, pick it up and feel like they've made the find of the day. One man's toss-away is another man's treasure. That kind of a thing.

So how do I share my enthusiasm for something without turning it into a mandate? Is there a way to talk about Laguna Beach for example, without saying, "You really should visit it sometime." How's about I just share my stories and let people choose for themselves whether they feel like it's a place they want to visit or not? Or tell them why I loved Brokeback Mountain on the big screen without inserting the word should in there.

The assumption that because something speaks to me it's going to speak to everyone else in the same way is a bit of a stretch. But using the word should pretty strongly implies that what works for me is going to work for you. To wit, somebody told me I really should see the Passion of Christ back when it was playing in theatres. My first thought was, "No, I shouldn't. I can't think of anything I'd rather see less than the torture and killing of someone, no matter how artfully the film was crafted." Of course that's not what I said to this person - but the word should in there provoked a reaction that probably wouldn't have been there otherwise.

OK, try this one: "You should get a tattoo. I love all of mine - it's the most amazing experience, an amazing journey into knowing and owning your body."

Huh? I should get a tattoo because you love yours so much? Sure Tom, I'll run right out and get tattooed because you think I should.


"I love my ink - I love looking down and seeing this beautiful artwork here in my flesh. Every bit of the artwork on my body has some personal significance and has been a part of this extraordinary journey into knowing who I am and claiming ownership of my body. I know it's not for everyone but it sure is something that's worked for me."

I know, I know, it sounds like I'm quibbling over words and semantics and stuff like that. But I really like having some consciousness around the words I use when I speak or when I write. The more closely my words match what's in my thoughts the clearer my communications are and the easier it is for people to understand me. There's a way to provoke and there's a way to share and I like understanding the distinction between them.

The word should carries the assumption that what I'm telling you is either in your best interests or is something you're certain to like. But wow, that's such a weighty presumption. I mean really now, why would that woman in the record store this morning go see Brokeback Mountain on the big screen just because a total stranger told her she should?

I honestly have no idea how to tie together the story of picking up shells at the beach this morning with my feelings about the word should. I thought I had them tightly woven in my head when I started writing but now it's a crap shoot as to whether they can be pulled into a single flowing thought. Maybe you shouldn't listen to anything I say because I'm usually just making it up as I go and it might end up going nowhere. Oh, excuse me, did I just say you shouldn't do something?

Eh, listen to me or don't. I'll still keep talking and writing, shells will keep washing up on the shore and who knows, maybe one of the them will end up with you someday. I have a large wooden bowl full of treasures I've gathered from the beach in Laguna - shells and stones and bits and pieces of beach glass. I carried them home in my pocket because I liked them, but I also really love giving them away. You know, sharing a little bit of my beach with you. I like the idea of you taking the shell or the stone knowing it was a gift rather than feeling like it was something I thought you should have, because in reality I can't think of one good reason why you should have a shell from the beach in Laguna.

Adding should to an opinion feels like adding should to a gift. Does it really need to be there? For example: "We really should be saying merry Christmas and not Happy Holidays." Excuse me?  Feeling like we're being compelled by somebody else's should in the matter feels a little heavy-handed to me. Wishing somebody happiness and good cheer is a gift regardless of how it's said. Without the word should involved my gifts or my opinions or my wishes for good cheer can be carried along in lightness and be seen as sharing rather than exhortation.

So as I waltzed out of the music store this morning my parting words to the woman who tried to snatch my CD were: "Merry Christmas!" This from a guy who isn't Christian and had no clue as to whether the woman I was saying it to was Christian either. Didn't matter - it was what was in my heart and in that moment no amount of shoulds or should nots could have touched me. She looked at me with a big smile, waved and I swear I saw her blowing me a kiss under her breath. I'm so glad I didn't stop to think about the shoulds or should nots of saying Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays because the look on her face was a happy one and it's been with me all day long. Had I stopped to analyze the shoulds or should nots the moment would have passed me by.

All I need to do is share what's in my heart or in my thoughts and everything else will come from you. Somehow that feels so clean.

And that my dear friends is my Sundays in Laguna story for this holiday season and I'm sticking to it. And while I'm at it, Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah or Happy Holidays, take your pick. They all come from the same place in my heart and all of them work for me. Oh yeh, did I mention that I think Brokeback Mountain is one of the most amazing films to come along in years? Not saying you should go see it but I'm sure glad I did.  :-)

from the water's edge...
Pussy Cap