Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What Do Americans Want? More!

This tale begins and ends with biology.

One afternoon, during my junior year in college, I sat in biology class, befuddled as usual. So I tuned out the teacher, flipped a page in my notebook, and wrote out my post-college goals. They were as follows:

1. Be a writer.
2. Live in a big city.
3. Have a partner.

Miraculously, within eight years, I'd achieved everything on my to-do list. You'd think I've been content ever since--and I am, at least where the city (San Francisco) and the partner (Nick) are concerned. And yet, I continue to strive, plot, and scheme. I'm always looking ahead at what's next, whether it's my next career move or my next meal (or both).

In that sense, I suspect I'm typically American. Unlike, say, the Italians, who savor il dolce far niente, Americans typically don't know how to appreciate "the sweetness of doing nothing." We're rarely content with where we are, what we have, who we are, and what we do. We're always looking for something else, something new, something more.

There's a fabulous scene in one of my favorite films, Key Largo, that expresses the perpetual American drive. Edward G. Robinson plays a gangster on the run, holding the occupants of a Florida hotel hostage so he can elude the police--as a hurricane approaches, no less. I'm paraphrasing and condensing here, but basically, Humphrey Bogart says to Edward G.: "I know what you want. You want more!," to which Edward G. heartily agrees.

Stay with me, as I'm about to connect the dots.

Last Friday was a warm, sunny day, so Nick and I did something we rarely do: play hooky. We scampered off to our favorite beach, Gray Whale Cove, just south of San Francisco. Nick snoozed on and off, I read the newspaper. And then I did something that's even more rare than playing hooky. I simply sat and watched the sunlight sparkle off the waves. After a while, my mind drifted back to my college junior days, when I scribbled down my life's goals in biology class. I saw myself then and now. I felt a deep contentment.

As I continued to watch the sea with no purpose in mind, I noticed a spout of water shooting up, about 100 yards off shore. The water often sprays upward here after crashing against a rock, so I didn't think much about it. And then, another spout, and another, and before long, a large black fin poked through the waves, followed by another. Whales! In all the years we've enjoyed Gray Whale Cove, we had never seen a whale here before. (I tried to grab a photo; below is the best I could manage.)

Maybe the whales were there on previous visits and I just didn't see them? Who knows. But this much is certain. If we hadn't taken time off to "do nothing"--i.e., go to the beach--and if I hadn't been gazing at the sea without motivation, I'd probably have missed this thrilling example of biology in action. Or, to put it another way, by not looking for "more," I found it.

Pin It!


  1. Sometimes we need to stop, look and smell the roses, or we will miss the season altogether. Great post.

    1. So true, MerCyn. I wish I didn't need to be reminded of this sooooo often.

  2. I hope your whale sighting will lead to many more moments where you can just sit and enjoy all that you are. Ambition and dreams are surely wonderful things. But I think all of us forget that sometimes it is the best thing to jus "live."

    Mac Davis knew what he was talking about, eh.

    1. It is sweet to 'stop and smell the roses,' Judi. I just need to do it more often!

  3. Hi, I drop by to catch up now and then. Don't be too hard on Americans wanting more. I'm in Glasgow, Scotland and I think it's a western disease. It could even be the way of the world. Personally I'm a dreamer so slow and low is my tempo. I've seen fox, deer, badger and all manner of wildlife in an urban setting. Yet my neighbours haven't and I don't think they believe it.
    I loved this post and I'm extremely jealous of your whale sighting.

    1. Thanks David. I'm jealous of your fox sightings! Thanks for leaving a comment and reading my blog. I really appreciate it. Jim

  4. James, it is a little known fact, but whales have a sonar that can detect sweet guys with great blogs MILES from the shore, and tend to expose themselves to them. So it was not really such a coincidence.

    It is true, I have a degree in science. I know. :)

    Always a bring a little americana to me each day here in the sunflower fields of France.

    1. Tim, you're too kind. And I'm jealous of your sunflower fields in France. Sounds beautiful. If I get back to France (and I must!), I will definitely look you up! xox Jim