We’re Not in the Business of Not Dealing with Jerks

Yesterday I went looking in my email account for a poem Tony and I once wrote together, which mentioned Taco Bell. I was looking for this poem because I recently discovered Taco Bell Quarterly, a real and wonderful literary journal that just released its second issue. It is no way associated with or endorsed by Taco Bell, but all the submissions must relate to Taco Bell in some way.

It’s the best kind of literary project, as far as I can tell: the premise is almost a joke, though not completely, which means that all the writing has a great tone, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is full of surprisingly moving and honest stuff. If there is a way to thrive in 2020, I am positive that it involves finding the art in Taco Bell.

I couldn’t find the poem Tony and I wrote, but I did find an email I wrote to a friend ten years ago. The email discussed my self-doubt—some things never change—and it included this funny paragraph.

Tony and I had this conversation the other day.  I was talking about how sad it is to be an adult because you have to give up on your dreams, or at least it feels like that to me. Tony asked me what dream I felt I was giving up. I told him, “My dream of everyone realizing that I’m a genius.”

It’s funny because it’s true! It’s amazing that, ten years later, my dream still lives on, against all odds. When will I give up on the idea that there is a deeply hidden genius within me, waiting to be discovered? Likewise, when will I free myself from crippling self-doubt about my own intelligence or value? What would happen if just embraced the fact that I’m not a genius or an idiot? Would I just float right off the planet, straight into the sun?

I told Tony about finding this old email, and he said he remembered that conversation. It scared me when he said that, because I have always known Tony to have an absolutely terrible memory. It’s one of the most liberating parts of being in a long-term relationship with him; he has very little memory of our shared past, so I feel no obligation to maintain a cohesive identity for his benefit. When you are married to Tony there is always the possibility for reinvention and renewal, or so I thought until he revealed that he remembered something I said to him ten years ago.

My sister has a memory like a steel trap. It’s a scary part of her otherwise pleasant personality. What does she remember about dumb or mean or embarrassing things I did when I was five, or fifteen, or three weeks ago? So much more than me, I’m sure! Her memory gives her infinite power to crush my fragile ego. Luckily for me she wields this power deftly, with a lot of grace and kindness, but still I’m wary. There are some things I don’t want my loved ones to remember about me. My past, for instance.

My sister’s memory is especially impressive in regards to books. You can ask my sister about a book she read five years ago and she will remember key plot points, names of characters, perhaps even a bit of dialogue that stuck with her. So little of any book stays with me past a general impression: I liked it or it was sad. I would be a terrible librarian, which is what my sister is. She is a great librarian and I would bet her book memory against anyone else’s on earth.

I’ve been reading a lot more this year than usual and I wonder what effect it might have, if any. Though I know I will remember very little about any individual book, is it possible that I will find meaning in the collective? Is there value in pouring a bunch of words on my head, beyond the immediate enjoyment it gives me in the moment? Does it need to have value beyond that?

“We’re not in the business of not dealing with jerks,” my boss said to me in passing earlier this week. Truer words have never been spoken. I want to cross-stitch her quote onto every pillow in my house, rent a plane and write it across the sky, have it tattooed onto my body. I do have to deal with jerks on a more frequent basis than I would prefer.  If I could just accept that, understand that I’m not in the business of not dealing with jerks, how much better off would I be?

My dad gets me a Zen desk calendar every Christmas and he has since I was in high school. It’s always difficult to read the degree of irony in anything that my dad does—there is usually a lot–and I don’t know what he really thinks about Zen desk calendars. I like them, even if the idea of a bit of Zen in the middle of one’s 8-5 is absurd and antithetical to Zen. In being so antithetical to Zen, though, are Zen desk calendars actually the most Zen of anything? Is this what my dad is thinking? I don’t know.

Today’s Zen calendar entry is as follows:

What we call “I,” is just a swinging door which moves when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves, that is all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this movement, there is nothing: no “I,” no mind nor body; just this swinging door.
-Shunryu Suzuki

I would love to be the swinging door. I would love to be Taco Bell. I would love to embrace all jerks with empathy and good humor. I would love to give up my dream for good, for real, forever this time. I would love to have a pure mind, even though that sounds kind of facist when I write it.

I probably won’t ever be able to do any of it, but I’ll keep trying. Life is funny. My only advice is to marry someone who will forget everything you ever did or said, and quickly.


2 thoughts on “We’re Not in the Business of Not Dealing with Jerks

  1. Love this piece Emma, especially the part about the Zen calendar given to you by your father. We once had a conversation about the difference between dusk and twilight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like a conversation my dad would have! Thanks as always for reading, Sheila. I forgot to include my other piece of advice: get one really kind and thoughtful neighbor and keep her for your whole life. It’s worked quite well for me!


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