March 16, 2008

Redefining moments

It's been an interesting two weeks since I wrote about Shaharazade's being up for sale. A handful of days in Florida for a work-related software convention gave me the opportunity to visit family and talk to my parents about the situation. They were very encourgaging and proved to be a good sounding board off of which to bounce my thoughts. I came away with an extensive list of questions to ask the current owners, and a feeling of confidence that I might actually be able to handle such a potentially crazy enterprise. At this point, it all hinges on the question at the top of that list I've put together: What was the current owner's personal income from the restaurant last year? If it's an amount I could comfortably live on, then I'm going to begin the process of pursuing this. Trouble is, these people are hard to get ahold of. Messages to the e-mail address at the shop's website have all bounced back and phone messages left with staff have been slow to be passed on. Through a few conversations this morning, though, I learned the following:

-- The owners apparently don't spend much time in the shop, as their daughter runs it for them. I know that the husband/owner usually stops in on Sunday mornings, so I planned to have breakfast there today. Of course, I just missed him and his daughter wasn't working, but I was told that my phone messages had been passed on.
-- The owner of a store down the street gave me the low-down on the restaurant's kitchen-- It's supposedly so tiny that they have propane-powered heating elements instead of a stove. Considering the quality of their food, that knowledge (if it's accurate) gives me profound admiration for the kitchen staff. It also tipped me off to what's probably one of the greatest challenges of running the place.
-- Another shop owner, of the awesomely funky Lost Dog coffee shop (my second favorite place in Shepherdstown), informed me that the husband/owner of Shaharazade's is also the town mayor, which gives me another possible avenue of contact.

I also made sure to walk past the realty office that's advertising the restaurant and get their phone number. So, I'm hopeful of talking to someone this week. With my luck, I'll find out that they've already accepted another offer, but at this point even that would be a relief. See, I'm following my typical pattern on this: Once I get an idea or a desire in my head, I grasp it tenaciously and become obsessed and impatient to see it through to fruition. And if that impatience goes on too long, I either become excited and slip into irrationality, or discouraged and blow the whole thing off. Since talking to my parents, it's been more of the former than the latter. I've been allowing myself to visualize life as the owner of Shaharazade's, and to wonder about such things as where I'd end up living if this comes to pass (and yes, I've already googled rental properties in the area). At the moment, I can feel the physical manifestation of that anxious excitement-- an intermittent tightness in my chest as if a fist were wrapped around my sternum and trying to yank it out from between my ribs. It's unsettling, to say the least. No wonder I have such issues with dukkha. But I'm trying my damndest to squelch the grasping and remain calm until I can get enough information to rationally decide whether to move forward or just let go.

In the meantime, I've been exploring that feeling of confidence that began in Florida, as well as just where I am at this point in my life. It's not that I'm generally lacking in confidence (I've been known to occasionally border on arrogance. Yes, me. Really!), but the growing realization that I'm at a crossroads and that I need to step out of complacency into something unknown has led me to a questioning state of soul-searching that challenges my self-assurance. I'm a slave to stability. I've had only three full-time jobs in my life. I spent 7 years at the first and only left because the company went bankrupt. After 9 years at the second job, I faced a situation similar to what I'm experiencing now, except that I ended up completely despising that job and crying in the car during morning commutes until I found my current position. In September I'll have been at this job for 9 years, so I'm apparently coming up on my version of the "Seven (or so) Year Itch". That's apparently my life-change cycle. Roughly every seven to nine years, I go through the same round of questions: What and how much can I handle? What and how much am I willing to handle? Is this [idea that I'm pursuing] the right direction for me? If I decide that it's not, or if it just doesn't work out, what else do I want to/am able to do? Will this choice drag me to the depths, or will it bring out latent strengths buried by complacency? Just how do I want to re-define myself?


Imagine your brain as a canister filled with ink,
now think of your body as the pen where the ink resides.
Fuse the two, KAPOW! What are you now?
You're the human magic marker, won't you please surprise my eyes?
It's in your nature, you can paint whatever picture you like,
no matter what Ted Koppel says on channel 4 tonight.
So modify this third rock from the sun,
by painting myriads of pictures with the colors of the one.

I'm sick of painting in black and white
My pen is dry and I'm all uptight
So sick of limiting myself to fit your definition

Picture the scene, where whatever you thought
would, in the blink of an eye, manifest and become illustrated.
You'd be sure, man, that every line drawn reflected a life that you loved
not an existence that you hated.
So, must we demonstrate that we can't get it straight?
We've painted a picture, now we're drowning in the paint.
Figure out what the fuck it's about,
before the picture we painted chews us up and spits us out.

I'm sick of painting in black and white
My pen is dry and I'm all uptight
So sick of limiting myself to fit your definition

All of this has put my head in a whirl and created a hell of a distraction, which is obvious by the way I've just been babbling. And of course, it's affecting me at work. It was very hard to focus at the convention in Florida. There were moments when I was seriously interested in what I was learning and how I could apply it at work, but just as many others when I was day-dreaming and thinking of questions to ask the owners of Shaharazade's.

I did have one moment of peace, though. The convention takes place at a resort/convention center in St. Pete Beach, which is not a bad spot considering that it's Florida. It's right on the beach (and I lucked into a room with a view) about a mile and a half up from the somewhat fabulous Don Cesar hotel. Tradition at this convention includes an after-dinner stroll down the beach for drinks at the Don's swanky bar. Up till this year I'd resisted that tradition, but this time around I decided that I should finally see the place. If you're into 100 year old cognac and expensive cigars, it's your kinda place. Me, I had two ginger ales, said my goodnights to the group, and headed out to the beach to stroll back to the resort alone.

After the chaos of three days with family, a whirlwind of software seminars, and the Big Issue I've been pondering, that solitary night-time walk along the Gulf of Mexico was wonderfully refreshing. I passed a few other people, but none walked as close to the water as I chose to. About halfway along, I caught up with a group of sandpipers scuttling along the edge of the surf. I followed them for a while, losing sight of them against the water in the dim light, then glimpsing them again as they ran from the tide flowing up the beach. Farther along, just before the spot where I needed to turn away and head up to the resort, was a heron stalking along through the breakers. He was engrossed in hunting and ignored me as I squatted on the sand to watch him. How he was able to see anything in that dark water is beyond me. To me, he was barely more than a long, pale silhouette against the grey and black gradients of flat sea, horizon, and midnight sky above. But observing his focus and determination served to center me, however briefly, and I hope to hold on to the image when I feel that damned fist closing around my sternum.

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